On March 28, 1979, the Tories introduced a no-confidence motion which, for the first time in more than 55 years, brought down a government. Just four days before, the WRP finally noticed what was going on and issued a belated warning that “reactionary forces are gathering for an unprecedented, all-out attack to pauperize the working class, smashing its organizations and basic democratic rights.”(News Line, March 24, 1979)
But on the same page, featured prominently in its frontpage advertisement for the 19th Annual Conference of the Young Socialists, was the slogan, “Bring Down the Labour Government.”
Proclaiming that “The ides of March are indeed upon us,” a resolution passed by the Conference, which had been drafted by Banda, declared: “All those who stood for the retention of this grotesque charade of a Labour government now stand completely unmasked. The WRP and YS policy of bringing down the Labour government as part of the struggle for power has been indisputably vindicated. But the fact that the Tories in their own reactionary and perverse way have underlined our warnings a thousand fold does not give us any satisfaction.” (News Line, March 26, 1979)
Not even Banda’s Churchillian rhetoric could hide the fact that the policies of the WRP had gone disastrously awry. He admitted with some chagrin that would have been far preferable if the Callaghan government of job destroyers and wage cutters had been brought down and dealt with by the working class a la Heath in January 1974.” (Ibid.)
In reality, it would have been far preferable had the WRP fought the Labourites from 1975 on a la Trotsky—that is, by concentrating their fire against the Labourite traitors for opening the doors for the Tories, by demanding that the left-talkers break with Callaghan and sack the right wing, by intervening inside the on-going struggles against the pro-Tory Labourites inside the local Labour Party branches, and by systematically mobilizing the working class on the basis of Transitional demands. Such a policy would have immeasurably enhanced the stature of the Party in the eyes of Labour Party militants and the working class as a whole.
The demoralization of the resolution was revealed by the fact that it took a Tory victory for granted and did not even bother to call for the mobilization of the working class to stop the Tories and vote Labour.
There was then another shift in the political line of the WRP. Recognizing that its entire previous line had been discredited by the Tories’ parliamentary coup, the WRP leaders sought to throw dust in the eyes of their members and the working class by claiming that it did not matter if Thatcher won. They denounced, with mind-boggling sophistry, various revisionist groups for having said that a Tory government would be worse than a Labour government:
“What is decisive in Britain today is not whether Thatcher and Joseph subjectively hate the working class more than Callaghan and Healey and are therefore more anxious to attack them.
“The decisive factor is the objective world crisis and its impact on British capitalism. The stage is set in Britain for civil war, whoever wins the coming General Election.
“To claim, as all the revisionists do, that major attacks on workers can only take place if the Tories win and that they are relatively safe if Labour wins, is to leave the working class unprepared for the battles ahead.” (News Line, April 7, 1979)
This line of reasoning was a mockery of Marxism. The objective significance of the political forms through which the class struggle is manifested was discounted. A Trotskyist would have argued as follows: “Regardless of the subjective similarities between Thatcher and Callaghan, we must not allow the Tories to come back to power and carry out the job begun by Heath. Though Callaghan has betrayed us, there is no point in punishing him at our expense. First things first. We must mobilize the working class, on the basis of a revolutionary program, to keep the Tories out. We must foil the Social Democrats’ attempt to demoralize the workers by calling for a massive, but critical, vote for Labour. This will strike a blow against capitalism and create the best conditions to expose the Social Democratic traitors for once and for all.”
The WRP said nothing of the sort. Instead, the News Line statement continued: “We know that large numbers of workers will vote Labour in the election, in the fervent hope that their jobs and living conditions can be preserved by another Labour government. Workers’ interests cannot be protected in that way.”
What then did the WRP propose? It ran 60 candidates to put forward what it called “socialist principles”—that is, in place of a genuine political strategy to mobilize the working class it offered a propaganda diversion. An election intervention with candidates running under the Party banner could only be effective if this campaign was based on a struggle to mobilize the working class against the Tories, while exposing the Labourites and preparing workers for the inevitable revolutionary showdown with these reformists.
Rather than fighting on this clear revolutionary line that every politically-conscious worker could understand, the WRP intervention was a model of political evasiveness and ambiguity:
“The Workers Revolutionary Party participates in this General Election, not in order to rally the workers behind Callaghan, Foot or Benn, but in order to take forward our perspective of organizing the struggle for power.”
The essential content of the WRP line—that there is no difference between Social Democrats and Tories—reproduced the same crude error that Trotsky had examined in his struggle against the Stalinists prior to the victory of Hitler. Answering the Stalinist argument that in as much as fascism and Social Democracy serve the bourgeoisie there exist no difference between the two, Trotsky wrote:
“The gist of this Stalinist philosophy is quite plain: from the Marxist denial of the absolute contradiction it deduces the general negation of’ the contradiction, even of the relative contradiction. This error is typical of vulgar radicalism. For if there be no contradiction whatsoever between democracy and Fascism—even in the sphere of the form of the rule of the bourgeoisie—then these two regimes obviously enough must be equivalent. Whence the conclusion: Social Democracy = Fascism.” (Germany 1931-1932, New Park, p. 63)
Only occasionally and buried deep within their election statements did the WRP leaders call for a Labour vote. However, within the ultra-left form the seeds of the germinating opportunism were already beginning to sprout. On Election Day, after having declared repeatedly that the outcome of the balloting was of no significance and that civil war was imminent, the WRP issued a surprising call for a massive turnout by workers and the middle class to “deliver an electoral death blow [!] to Toryism.” (News Line, May 3, 1979)
It then warned that Thatcher intended to destroy the trade unions and basic rights of the working class. As a deterrent to this threat the News Line pointed to its 60 candidates and stated: “While not enough to form a government, we offer a clear socialist policy alternative to the world economic crisis of capitalism and its manifestation in bankrupt Britain.” (Ibid.)
But what were workers to do in the face of the imminent Tory victory in which the destruction of the workers’ movement was threatened? The following astonishing perspective was offered:
“In the next General Election, whenever that might be, we will work to field sufficient candidates to form a government.”
This was no passing remark: Faced with the reality of a Thatcher government, the four-year-long experiment with ultra-leftism crash-landed—and Healy bailed out with an opportunist parachute. The period from 1975 to 1979 had been characterized above all by a turn away from the working class, both within Britain and internationally. As we will later show, in its work outside Britain, the WRP had already been cultivating opportunist relations with non-proletarian and reactionary forces. A similar shift within Britain itself, though disguised for a period with ultra-left demagogy, had been thoroughly prepared.