The policy adopted at the Fourth Congress of the Workers Revolutionary Party was the culmination of four years of ultra-leftist stupidities that had shattered the party’s base in the trade union and labor movement. As the delegates were meeting, the British bourgeoisie, shocked by the “Winter of Discontent” offensive and convinced that the Callaghan government had lost control of the situation, were preparing a parliamentary coup to oust the Social Democrats and install the most right-wing Tory government in the post-war period. The Fourth Congress took no notice whatsoever of these developments. Instead, Healy and Banda presented a document which glorified the WRP’s frenzied campaign to bring down the Labour government.
Large sections of the Fourth Congress perspectives were devoted to a justification of the Party’s line since 1975. It reproduced virtually every mistake which Trotsky had analyzed in 1931-32 during the struggle against “third period” Stalinism.
The document stated: “The Labour leaders no longer rest on the working class. For almost three years the government has ruled not by the consent of the working class but by reliance on the most reactionary elements in the Tory, Liberal, Scottish Nationalist and Ulster Unionist parties at home and with the endorsement of European and US bankers abroad...The continued existence of the rump Labour government carries with it great dangers for the working class because it obscures the conspiracies of the armies, the police and right wing.” (The World Political and Economic Crisis, the Building of the Workers Revolutionary Party and the Struggle for Power, pp. 29-30)
Every sentence exposed the complete disorientation of the WRP leadership. To claim that Social Democracy does not rest on the working class is to deny its historical origins and to ignore its specific political function. In Britain more than any other European country, the Social Democracy is the creation of the trade union movement. The fact that its leaders function as political agents of the ruling class has long been recognized by Marxists and for this reason the Labour Party is scientifically defined as a bourgeois workers’ party. The value of this concept is that it both lays bare the contradiction that dominates the political life of the working class and orients the revolutionists toward the struggle to break the masses from the Labour Party. In simply claiming that the Labour Party relies on the Tories and ignoring the essence of the matter, the reliance of the bourgeoisie upon the Labourites, the WRP turned political reality inside out and, as a result, turned the party’s tactics upside down.
Within three weeks, precisely because they had lost all confidence in the ability of the Labour Party to contain the working class, the Tories were to introduce a “no-confidence” motion to force new elections. But the Fourth Congress blithely proclaimed:
“Only a resolute struggle of the working class led by the Workers Revolutionary Party can bring down this rump Labour government and provide a socialist perspective for the British working class...
“The experience of the working class and our party has proved that no effective struggle against the Tories is possible without an implacable campaign against the government menace—and all those who hide their acquiescence to the Callaghan regime behind a facade of protest and reformist calls for the expulsion of Healey and Callaghan.” (Ibid., p. 33)
The political essence of this verbal bombast was petty-bourgeois pessimism and prostration before the Labour bureaucracy. It concluded that it was impossible to fight the right-wing leaders through the mobilization of the working class inside the Labour Party and the trade unions. Herein lies the key to unravelling the class content of the political line of the WRP. Its campaign to bring down the Labour government was based not on the rising militancy of the working class and its hostility to reformism, but rather on the growing frustration and disillusionment of the middle class with Social Democracy. Thus, the call for a General Election was an ill-conceived attempt to bypass the struggle against reformism within the workers movement by bringing to bear the social weight of the middle class in what would inevitably become a nation-wide referendum on the Labour government.
The policy of the WRP was shot through with hopeless contradictions. First, Healy shouted himself hoarse demanding that the workers bring down the Labour government, which, he claimed, relied on the Tories. Then, according to the Fourth Congress resolution:
“In the event of a general election the Workers Revolutionary Party will put forward its own candidates but will not hesitate to propose to Labours rank and file a common struggle to keep the Tories and Liberals out.” (Ibid., p. 32)
What Healy never explained is why this laborious electoral detour was necessary to conduct a struggle against Social Democracy! Why were such miraculous healing powers attributed to a General Election campaign? Nor did Healy explain why the Party should propose a common struggle to keep the Tories out if the Labour Party relies on the Tories.
Moreover, why was Healy insisting that the General Election had to be conducted under the existing Labour leadership—which is the only conclusion which could be drawn from the WRP’s explicit opposition to “reformist calls for the expulsion of Healey and Callaghan.” (Op. cit., p. 33)
This line proved to be a gross miscalculation—a political adventure in defeatism the likes of which had not been seen since Shachtman proposed to use Hitler to change the government of the USSR. The WRP demands for the bringing down of the Labour government dove-tailed with the perspectives of the Tories, who correctly appraised the mood of the middle class and forced the dissolution of Parliament in late March.