187. Slaughter’s In Defence of Trotskyism, published in January 1973, was intended as an analysis of the break with the OCI. However, it unintentionally made clear that the theoretical formulations developed by the SLL during that struggle—the claim that the struggle for Marxist theory was more fundamental than questions of programme and perspective—were opening the party to a corrosive scepticism regarding the historic significance of the Fourth International. In it Slaughter asked:
“Will revolutionary parties able to lead the working class to power and the building of socialism, be built simply by bringing the programme of Trotskyism, the existing forces of Trotskyism, on to the scene of political developments caused by the crisis? Or will it not be necessary to conduct a conscious struggle for theory, for the negation of all the past experience and theory of the movement into the transformed reality of the class struggle?”
188. The political implications of the question mark Slaughter now threw over Trotskyism were made apparent by the manner in which the transformation of the SLL into the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) was carried out in November 1973. Founded at the height of the mass movement against Heath, the decision to launch the WRP had proceeded without any discussion in the International Committee, much less a thoroughgoing review of the political lessons of the struggle against Pabloism. Its formation was based on an adaptation to anti-Tory sentiment, and was conceived almost exclusively as the product of the numerical growth in support for the SLL. The WRP’s declared aim was to “undertake a specific political task: to unite the working class behind a socialist programme to throw out the Tory government and replace it with a Labour government.”
189. While this call provided the possibility of taking workers through the experience of a political struggle against the Labour and trade union bureaucracy, it made impermissible adaptations to reformist illusions. The WRP advanced an essentially electoral programme, which made only the most minimal reference to the party’s Trotskyist character, its international perspective and the International Committee. The programme of demands outlined was framed as a series of “basic rights”―for employment, a higher standard of living, social benefits and better housing, and to “change the system” in an unspecified way. This watering down of the historically developed programme of Trotskyism, in order to accommodate the trade union level of consciousness in the working class, was to have major ramifications, especially under conditions where the bourgeoisie was able to rely on the still considerable political resources of the labour bureaucracy.
190. The anti-Tory movement culminated in the coming to power of a minority Labour government under Wilson. The WRP had calculated that the spontaneous movement would continue and deepen, immediately bringing the working class into conflict with the Labour government. It declared in September 1974, “The expectations of the working class are high—way beyond anything that the minority Labour government can possibly fulfil… In the fight for basic rights, the working class established itself as a class… When the Tories and their Fabian agents try to destroy basic rights they are simultaneously invoking the revolutionary history of the oldest and most powerful working class in the world.”
191. The statement’s emphasis on the supposedly peculiar character and traditions of the British working class placed the WRP on a national axis, while the fight for “basic rights” did not rise above the level of trade union militancy. In addition, it involved a serious miscalculation regarding the tempo of development of the class struggle. Wilson settled the miners’ pay claim, abolished the Industrial Relations Act and raised pensions and social security benefits. These measures were accompanied by its Social Contract, piloted by leading left Michael Foot, which involved a deal between the government and the trade unions for voluntary wage restraint.
192. An ebbing of the class struggle followed, posing new political problems for the WRP under conditions in which it was prioritising sustaining the momentum of growth in Britain, over the struggle for clarity on perspectives. When the WRP responded to the renewed illusions in Labour by sharpening its offensive against the Wilson government, tensions were generated within the party’s membership—particularly amongst those who had been attracted on the basis of the anti-Tory fight. This discontent was actively exploited by the OCI, whose supporters secretly made contact with Alan Thornett, who headed the WRP’s trade union work and its Cowley factory branch at British Leyland. The Thornett faction was an unprincipled, anti-party tendency. Its documents were largely written by the OCI, with the intention of blowing up the WRP and removing Healy from leadership.
193. The WRP’s critique of Thornett’s positions was correct, but Healy repeated the mistake of moving to an organisational settlement before clarifying the political issues involved. As a result of the confusion the split engendered, the party lost its most important industrial base. Neither did the WRP make any attempt to involve the International Committee. Had it done so, it would have fundamentally changed the political dynamic. By resuming the struggle against the OCI and the resurgence of Pabloite revisionism, represented by Thornett’s right-centrist line, the WRP leadership would have politically rearmed the world movement in the face of the sharp shift that was emerging in the political situation internationally.
Cliff Slaughter, In Defence of Trotskyism, Trotskyism versus Revisionism (1975) New Park Publications, Volume 6, p. 226.