The opportunist essence of the ultra-left deviation which developed in relation to the WRP’s line on the Labour Party emerged most clearly in its abandonment of the theory of Permanent Revolution and its strategy of World Socialist Revolution. In the first instance, the unprincipled relations established by the WRP with bourgeois regimes in the Middle East, starting in April 1976 with an agreement with the Libyan government negotiated and signed behind the back of the International Committee, was an attempt to overcome the political problems of the party by turning to non-proletarian and alien class forces.
In place of an international strategy aimed at the building of Trotskyist parties in as many countries as possible, the WRP evolved its own “foreign policy” whose purpose was to gather the material resources necessary to finance the work of the party in Britain. A policy based on this nationalist-opportunist outlook inevitably assumed the most reactionary forms imaginable. By 1978-79 the WRP had become, in the most literal sense of the word, a paid agent of the Arab bourgeoisie, in which the News Line functioned as a propaganda organ justifying the crimes and betrayals of the regimes with which Healy had established unprincipled alliances.
All the Marxist principles for which the Socialist Labour League (predecessor of the WRP) had fought in the early 1960’s against the capitulation of the American SWP to the Pabloites were dispensed with. In that period the SLL had led the struggle against Hansen’s attempt to liquidate the International Committee via capitulation to bourgeois nationalism. It insisted that the historical necessity of building Trotskyist parties in the former and semi-colonial countries retained its full validity, the episodic and limited successes of Castro notwithstanding. In its refusal to accept the designation of Cuba as a “workers’ state” the SLL was engaged in a defense of the Marxist theory of the class struggle at its most fundamental level—the conception that the historical path to socialism requires the international mobilization of the working class on the program of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Basing itself on the essential theoretical premises of dialectical materialism, the SLL fought all those, led by Hansen and Mandel, who suggested that petty-bourgeois nationalists could evolve spontaneously into Marxists and take the place of Trotskyist cadres in the working class trained under the leadership of the Fourth International.
In September 1963, in the immediate aftermath of the split with the Socialist Workers Party, Cliff Slaughter explained the fundamental differences that placed the International Committee in irreconcilable opposition to the Pabloites:
“In the backward countries, fighting to resolve the crisis of leadership means fighting for the construction of proletarian parties, with the aim of proletarian dictatorship. It is especially necessary to stress the proletarian character of the leadership in countries with a large petty-bourgeoisie or peasantry. On this question, the revisionists take the opposite road to Lenin and Trotsky, justifying their capitulation to petty-bourgeois, nationalist leaderships by speculation about a new type of peasantry. In recent years, the Pabloites have declared that the character of the new states in Africa will be determined by the social character and decisions of the elite which occupies state power, rather than by the class struggle as we have understood it.” (Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Vol. 4, New Park, p. 188)
Rejecting Hansen’s claim that “without conscious theory men will respond to objective forces’ and arrive at the path of Marxism,” and insisting upon “the decisive question of resolving the subjective problems of the world revolution,” Slaughter declared:
“It is in this sense that the fight for dialectics is the fight to build the world party in every country. Neither can succeed without the other. Dialectical materialism will only be understood and developed in the struggle to build the party against all enemies. The party can be built only if there is a conscious fight for dialectical materialism against the ideas of other classes. It is on revolutionary theory that the ability of the party to win the political independence of the working class is based.” (Ibid., p. 193)
In a passage which now reads as an indictment of the whole opportunist line pursued by the WRP itself between 1976 and 1985, Slaughter stated:
“The decisive test of a Marxist party’s orientation towards the mass movement is the degree of success in building a revolutionary cadre, whose links with the working class are forged in struggle against the opportunists and bureaucrats. In their concern over the past ten or fifteen years to ‘get closer to the new reality,’ the revisionists have produced a circle of leaders’ and a method of work diametrically opposed to this revolutionary preparation. For the colonial and semi-colonial countries, it is clear that the so-called sections of the Fourth International which follow Pablo have become mere apologists for the nationalist leaderships. Their abandonment of an independent orientation to the working class is explicit. Such a method produces only a soft group of professional advisers who are not adverse to becoming petty functionaries, as we see in Algeria. From these positions of ‘influence’ they help along the ‘objective’ process whereby the petty-bourgeois leaders are pushed towards Marxism.” (Ibid., p. 217) If anything, the repudiation of the theory of Permanent Revolution—conceived of not only as a critique of bourgeois nationalist leaders but as the strategy of world socialist revolution—was betrayed even more shamelessly by Healy, Slaughter and Banda than it was by the Pabloites in the 1950’s and 1960’s. They turned their backs on the proletariat and oppressed peasant masses of the semi-colonial and oppressed countries and unconditionally supported their subordination to the bourgeois rulers. Entranced by the mirage of these rulers’ political strength—produced by the temporary tactical advantages obtained as a result of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War and the rise in oil prices—Healy staked the political future of the WRP on the financial rewards that could be realized through various unprincipled alliances. In this way, the political line of the WRP became a by-product of recycled American, European and Japanese petro-dollars—confirming in the most direct sense Trotsky’s definition of centrism as a secondary agency of imperialism.