The abandonment of the theory of Permanent Revolution by the Workers Revolutionary Party did not take place overnight. Rather, through a series of pragmatic maneuvers, devised by the WRP leadership to establish relations with Arab bourgeois regimes, Healy, Banda and Slaughter paid less and less attention to political considerations of a principled character. Never proceeding from the standpoint of building the International Committee of the Fourth International, the WRP’s work in the Middle East moved further and further away from its supposed point of departure—the defense of the PLO and the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination—to developing alliances with all the regimes in the Middle East as the opportunities arose.
With ever-increasing cynicism, the WRP exploited its relation with the PLO to increase its bargaining power with Arab bourgeois leaders. Corresponding to this process, the WRP was impelled to translate its practical opportunism into outright programmatic revisions of Trotskyism which, echoing Stalinism, endowed the Arab and semi-colonial bourgeoisie with the leading role in the anti-imperialist struggle. These revisions, in turn, paved the way, from 1979 on, for political betrayals of an utterly grotesque character.
On April 29, 1976, the Workers Revolutionary Party signed an agreement with the Libyan government. Neither the terms nor existence of this document were ever reported to the International Committee of the Fourth International, which learned of it for the first time in November 1985, when it was discovered by the Control Commission that had been established by the ICFI to investigate the political degeneration of the WRP.
This unprecedented violation of democratic centralism meant that the practice of the British section in the Middle East was outside of any political control by the International Committee. For a period, the development of this sort of behind-the-scenes contacts was concealed by formally correct declarations on the political situation in the Middle East, such as the ICFI’s denunciation of the 1976 Syrian invasion of Lebanon and the Tel al-Zaatar massacre. In November 1976, in a statement drafted by th WRP Political Committee, the ICFI published what was one of its last Trotskyist declarations on the Middle East:
“To defeat this aggressive conspiracy is the responsibility of the Jewish and Arab workers alike. Only the unconditional victory of the Arab peoples against Zionism, the overthrow of the racist Israeli state and the creation of a democratic socialist Palestine can end the menace of another war. In this struggle the Arab ruling class can and will play a treacherous and cowardly role, vacillating between imperialism and the Arab workers and peasants. This is the unquestionable lesson of the Syrian invasion of Lebanon...
“The liberation of the Arab nation from imperialism and the definitive defeat of Zionism cannot be entrusted to the reactionary Arab capitalists and landlords. This task can and must be carried out by the Arab and Jewish workers under the leadership of the International Committee of the Fourth International.” (News Line, Nov. 13,’ 1976, p. 9)
This statement concluded with a call for the building of sections of the ICFI “in all Arab countries and Israel.”
In July 1977 the WRP signed a joint communique with the Libyan government which the ICFI learned about after its text was published in the News Line. This initiated a policy of petty-bourgeois adulation of Col. Gaddafi which we shall document further on.
During the following year, the WRP dramatically expanded its activities in other Middle East countries, cultivating relations with the Ba’athists of both Syria and Iraq. The timing of the relationship with the latter is particularly sinister, as the Ba’athists were then locked in a bitter factional struggle against the Iraqi Communist Party. In order to exploit this struggle for its own advantage, the WRP provided an unspeakable defense of the execution of members of a working class party.
On February 2, 1979, in an article entitled “A Conspiracy Exposed,” the News Line reported with favor the execution of 21 members of the Iraqi CP for “illegally forming cells in the armed forces.” On March 8, 1979, in response to a readers’ letter protesting this class betrayal, the News Line defended the executions in a full-page unsigned statement.
It declared that the “Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party of Iraq has played a hundredfold more progressive role in the Middle East than Stalinism”—thus abandoning the class criterion in its evaluation of political tendencies and forgetting that the Trotskyist criticism of Stalinism in the Middle East has always centered on its unprincipled and opportunist relations with the bourgeois nationalists. It was on this basis that the International Committee criticized the Communist Party of Sudan in 1971—while protesting the execution of its leaders by the hangman Nimeiri. But in 1979, the WRP denounced the Iraqi CP and justified the murder of its members for just the opposite reason—their failure to fully abide by the terms of an opportunist agreement between the Stalinists and Ba’athists!
“The fact is that the CP members were executed according to military codes which the Iraqi CP discussed, approved and agreed to implement. To this day the Iraqi CP has not called for the repeal of tlte military laws which ban the formation of secret cells in the army. It has never contested the fact that the arrested officers were guilty [!] of the charges brought against them.
“This is a straight case of Moscow trying to set up cells in the Iraqi armed forces for the purpose of undermining the regime. It must accept the consequences...
“It is a principle with Trotskyists that we defend workers, whether they are Stalinists, revisionists or social democrats from the attacks of the capitalist state.
“But, as the facts show, that has nothing to do with the incidents in Iraq.” (p. 10)
As if this was not enough, the statement went on to warn the reader who wrote the letter protesting the executions that he “should start from these revolutionary considerations, unless he wants to become a pawn in the cynical conspiracy of the Stalinists and imperialists in the Middle East.” (p. 10)