Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism

The Trial of the “Observer” Lawsuit

From the standpoint of tracing the political degeneration of the Workers Revolutionary Party, there was one politically-revealing event which took place during the waning days of the Labour government—the trial of the lawsuit brought by the Workers Revolutionary Party against the Observer newspaper. In September 1975, three years before the trial, the educational center of the WRP was raided by police after a defamatory article appeared in the Observer suggesting that caches of arms were hidden on the grounds of the school. The WRP correctly sued for libel, and the case finally went for trial in October-November 1978.

Neither Banda nor Healy testified on behalf of the WRP. Instead they left the elaboration of the party’s principles to three other members of the Central Committee—Corin Redgrave, Vanessa Redgrave and Roy Battersby—and the WRP’s attorney. Given the nature of the allegations made by the Observer, the newspaper’s attorneys inevitably attempted to focus the jury’s attention throughout the trial on the attitude of the WRP toward violence. This was not an unprecedented situation for Marxist revolutionaries, who have frequently combined an irreconcilable defense of the right of the masses to employ revolutionary violence against the organized state violence of the ruling class with a clear rejection of individual terrorism.

However, the behavior of the WRP defendants was a shameless and grovelling capitulation to bourgeois public opinion. The WRP witnesses—who were the plaintiffs in the case and faced no charges—did everything they could to portray themselves as respectable ladies and gentlemen who were members of an upstanding law-abiding petty-bourgeois discussion club. In all fairness to Dame Vanessa (OBE) and Sir Corin, it must be stated that these gifted thespians were performing the lines written by Healy. They had been instructed not to use the trial for the purpose of revolutionary agitation and propaganda. Their speeches were addressed to His Lordship in the courtroom and the middle-class jury. When questioned about their attitude toward violence, they answered as if the revolutionary principles of Marxism were entirely compatible with Quaker theology.

In violation of all revolutionary principles, the WRP allowed the tone of the trial to be set by its attorney, Mr. John Wilmers QC, who carefully tailored his presentation to appease the court and its prejudices. The News Line of October 25, 1978 reported his opening statement:

“The plaintiffs ‘believe most fervently in Marxism,’ Mr. Wilmers continued.

“‘They want to bring about a revolution in this country, but a revolution in the sense of a fundamental change, not in the sense of shooting it out in the streets.

“‘They speak of mobilizing the working class for the overthrow of capitalism and for the building of a socialist society.

“‘But they are fundamentally opposed to violence and force.

“‘They think they can achieve their aims by educating people in their beliefs and by propaganda.”‘

This opening statement, which went unchallenged and uncorrected by the WRP witnesses in the weeks that followed amounted to a repudiation of Marxism. On Thursday October 26, 1978, the News Line reported on the previous day’s testimony of Corin Redgrave. It was a travesty of Trotskyist principles.

“During the afternoon, Mr. Redgrave was cross examined by Mr. Colin Ross Munro, QC for the defendants, about the political policies of the Workers Revolutionary Party.

“Asked about the struggle for workers’ power, Mr. Redgrave said that it was being pursued by peaceful, legal and constitutional methods.

“‘No armed uprising led by the WRP?,’ asked counsel.

“‘Not so far as our aims are concerned,’ replied Mr. Redgrave.

“Mr. Redgrave told the court that the party may consider the possibility of resorting to arms ‘to meet force with force’—in the event of a fascist state in Britain.

“This would be a situation in which all forms of democracy had been abolished and the majority of people had lost their democratic rights.”

This testimony amounted to a cowardly repudiation of all the fundamental teachings of Marxism on the class nature of bourgeois democracy. The possibility of resorting to arms was limited to struggle against the fascist state—that is, until after the defeat of the proletariat. The testimony soon got even worse.

“Asked where the working class would obtain arms for an uprising, Mr. Redgrave said that it was possible that it could come from sections of the army who themselves might wish to defend democratic rights.

“‘That has been the history of such democratic rights in the past, and that was what happened in Portugal.’”

It must be kept in mind that this testimony was being given just at the point when the WRP’s agitation for the bringing down of the Labour government was at its height and when the Party had declared that it was engaged in the struggle for power. But, when speaking publicly and addressing a mass working class audience, Redgrave not only renounced revolutionary violence but declared his confidence in and support for the army of British imperialism and its state. If nothing else, this testimony exposed that for all its political bombast about bringing down the government and fighting for power, the WRP was awed by the capitalist state. Again and again, even allowing for the most careful phrasing aimed at protecting the WRP from further legal action, the Party’s witnesses went out of their way to appease the state, volunteering statements which served only to dupe the masses and undermine their political consciousness.

Redgrave went so far as to suggest that workers’ defense guards were only necessary where there weren’t sufficient police to patrol the areas!

On Saturday, October 28, 1978, the News Line published more nauseating testimony from Corin Redgrave, who was functioning as the chief spokesman of the WRP: “I have not taught violence, I have never practiced violence, and I oppose violence, and that is the course my party has always taken,’ he said.”

At the end of the trial, after the jury found for the plaintiffs and held that the Observer had written untruths, the judge denied the Redgraves and the other WRP plaintiffs the one thing they craved—respectability. However, the supreme irony of the case is that the conduct of the WRP plaintiffs did far more damage to their reputations than anything the Observer had accused them of.