From 1976 on the policy of the WRP was marked by a thorough-going abandonment of Trotsky’s theory of Permanent Revolution and an adaptation to bourgeois nationalism which assumed grotesque dimensions. The central perspective of establishing the political independence of the working class, without which there can be no strategy for proletarian revolution, was entirely liquidated in pursuit of counter-revolutionary alliances with the semi-colonial bourgeoisie. Healy and Banda found new friends all over the world—from the bourgeois radical Gaddafi to the bloodstained tyrant Galtieri. Excuses, apologies and justifications were found for their crimes and betrayals, from the Libyan call for the self-immolation of the PLO to the execution of Iraqi communists.
There was one national struggle, however, toward which the WRP offered no such leniency—that of the Irish Republicans against British imperialism. The volumes of Marx and Lenin which had been gathering dust in the WRP library were brushed off whenever an IRA bomb exploded in London, and suitable quotations on the impermissibility of individual terrorism were culled from a specially-prepared index-file. One would have thought that the sole contribution of Marx to the Fenian question consisted of extended diatribes against nitro-glycerin.
The acid test of the WRP’s attitude toward the right of oppressed nations to self-determination was not Libya, Iraq nor, for that matter, Algeria—as Banda, covering his own tracks, has recently suggested. The cutting edge of the struggle against imperialism in Britain is the uncompromising defense of the right of the Irish people to unify their country. The attitude of Healy, Banda and Slaughter was a foul mixture of chauvinism and cowardice. The last series of articles worthy of Trotskyism on the Irish question that appeared in the press of the WRP was written by the late Jack Gale in the early 1970’s. This was before the WRP liquidated all work directed toward the building of an Irish section of the International Committee.
The hostility of the WRP toward the Irish struggle rose in direct proportion to its adaptation to the national bourgeoisie of the Middle East—thus demonstrating that these relations had been developed not as part of an anti-imperialist strategy but rather as a political confidence game aimed at securing material resources to service Healy’s maneuvers with sections of the labor aristocracy in Britain. It is obvious that the ferocious denunciations of “IRA terrorism” had far less to do with a principled defense of Marxist theory and the education of Irish workers and youth than with the WRP leaders’ anxiety over their own legal status and their relations with Labourite reformists.
But putting aside any speculation about the personal motives of Healy and Banda, their attitude toward the Irish question had a definite political content that was expressed in various documents of the WRP. By 1981 the leadership of the WRP was well on the way toward rejecting the unconditional defense of the right of Irish self-determination. In fact, it must be stressed that the most abominable statements to appear in the News Line came after this political shift had been made.
In the aforementioned Manifesto ‘81, adopted at the Fifth Congress, the WRP’s approach to the Irish struggle reeked of the arrogant paternalism of the Labour bureaucracy. The WRP defined its program toward Ireland not in terms of revolutionary struggle aimed at smashing British imperialism but from the standpoint of “Government policy in the north of Ireland... based on scrupulous observance of the principles of non-intervention and self-determination for the Irish people.” (p. 19)
This is the language of imperialist “white papers” and Whitehall. The three paragraphs reserved for Ireland never issued a call to the British working class to demand freedom for the Irish people. It is hard to believe that in a statement that presented the program that the WRP planned to implement once it had taken power there was reference to “the north of Ireland”—thus indicating that Her Majesty’s “Workers Revolutionary Government” formed under Prime Minister Healy and Foreign Secretary Van Der Poorten (Banda) would recognize the 1921 Partition of the six counties and, even more incredibly, still view them as part of Great Britain! One can not help but wonder with foreboding what grim fate would have awaited IRA prisoners of war after their dossiers had been reviewed by Home Secretary Slaughter.
The next resolution which addressed the Irish question was Banda’s magnum opus entitled “Trotsky’s Theory of Permanent Revolution Today.” Had the Old Man lived to read this improbable document, he would have publicly disassociated himself from it with the declaration “if this is Trotskyism I am no Trotskyist.” The Irish national struggle merited again no more than three brief paragraphs, buried inside a section of the document that carried the sub-title, “Victory to the PLO.” As a matter of fact, these paragraphs did not deal with the Irish struggle as such. Rather, the references to Ireland provided nothing more than a backdrop for the scoring of a few factional points against the “Militant” tendency.
While Banda’s document acknowledged the historical legitimacy of such diverse trends within bourgeois nationalism as the Chinese Kuomintang, the Indian National Congress and the Arab Ba’ath Socialist Party regimes in Iraq and Syria and proclaimed its “unconditional defense of Cuba, the Nicaragua Sandinistas and the Salvadorean FMLN against US imperialism,” (pp. 10-11) Ireland and the IRA seemed to have slipped Banda’s mind and no one else inside the WRP leadership took any notice.
The probable cause for this omission was finally explained one year later, in the last programmatic document produced jointly by Healy, Banda and Slaughter—the Resolution of the Seventh Congress of December 1984. The Irish struggle was referred to as “an inseparable part of the British Socialist Revolution”—a claim which, when read within the context of the right wing evolution of the WRP, provided an orthodox-sounding cover for practical indifference to the specific responsibilities of British Trotskyists to the struggle against British domination of Ireland. As we will soon illustrate from statements which appeared in the News Line, the Irish struggle was seen simply through the prism of the developing class struggle in Britain and the practical interests of the WRP.
Quoting the famous passage in which Lenin denounced those formalists within the labor movement who vilified the 1916 Irish Rebellion as a “putsch,” the WRP leaders chose to distance themselves from this classical definition of the Marxist attitude toward wars of national liberation. They wrote:
“Lenin’s remarks, however, do not exhaust the concrete problems posed by the Irish national struggle today in the period—not of imperialist war and the domination of the British working class by reformism—but in the period of break-up of reformism and the developing socialist revolution in Britain and Ireland, “(p. 58)
This quote was followed by a series of perfectly correct criticisms of the limitations of Republicanism which place proper emphasis on the decisive role of the proletarian class struggle in Ireland as the means of resolving the national question. But the suspect character of these assertions are indicated in the above formulation—which replaced Lenin’s scientific characterization of the epoch with a “new” definition that amounted to nothing more, when read carefully, than an excuse for subordinating the entire Irish question to the political conjuncture in Britain. From the standpoint of Marxism, nothing was added by counter-posing “the period of the break-up of reformism and the developing socialist revolution in Britain and Ireland” to Lenin’s real definition of imperialism—which, on the basis of an objective world-historical study of political economy, he characterized as the eve of socialist revolution. Moreover, by definition imperialism, which Lenin defined politically as “reaction all along the line,” heralds the break-up of reformism. Thus, the WRP’s reference to “the domination of reformism” was a non-Marxist and an artificial construction which was smuggled in to justify their patronizing and egotistical attitude toward the Irish struggle.
Thus, the WRP would again and again denounce the terrorist actions of the IRA primarily from a chauvinist and selfish standpoint—i.e., its adverse effect on the class struggle in Britain, or more precisely, the political headaches it created for the WRP—rather than criticizing bourgeois Republicanism from a principled position which recognized the vast historical significance of the national struggle in Ireland and demonstrated the inability of bourgeois nationalism to carry out the unification of the Irish nation and secure its independence from British imperialism. A “critique” which made the denunciation of terrorism, rather than the inability of bourgeois nationalism to reunify the island, its starting point placed a shameful question mark over its commitment to the completion of the democratic revolution under the leadership of the working class.
Let us now examine how this line looked in practice. In July 1982 the IRA carried out a bombing in Hyde Park, London, in which several soldiers and their horses were killed. This was denounced by the News Line in an editorial which was defended a week later in a “Questions and Answers” column reply to a reader:
Stating that the bombing occurred “under conditions where the mass movement against the Tories is beginning to emerge, “the News Line claimed that “The bombings were a political gift to Thatcher which she lost no time in exploiting to the full. Within days the police were given another whopping pay rise and the SAS were called out as part of the security surrounding Falkland war service in St Pauls.
“All this has been accompanied by a racist campaign directed against Irish workers in Britain and a fresh deluge of patriotic calls from the media.
“It was for these reasons that we called on the labour and trade union movement to denounce the bombings as a state provocation...”(July 27’, 1982)
Not only was this statement a libel against the IRA, which had claimed responsibility for the action. But it amounted to a previously unknown tactical novelty in the Fourth International: “conjunctural opposition to individual terrorism.”
Presumably, Healy and Banda—who, by the way, was somewhat less enthusiastic about “armed struggle” when it took place within ear-shot of Clapham—would take a different view toward individual terrorism during ebbs in the class struggle, that is, during precisely those periods when Marxists must wage the most determined struggle against such subjective methods!
In December 1983, just as the WRP was defending the betrayal of the print workers by the SOGAT bureaucrats (men of “politically-moderate opinions”) it replied to the bombing of Harrods with an hysterical denunciation of the IRA. The arguments employed by the News Line were so cynical and opportunist that it managed to undermine the principled struggle waged by Marxists against individiual terrorism.
“It is an outrage against London workers and the Labourled Greater London Council (GLC), which has courageously [!] championed the right of the Irish people to self-determination. It is also an unexpected but highly welcome Christmas gift to Prime Minister Thatcher and her hated, crisis-ridden Tory government.” (December 19, 1983)
This editorial, which occupied nearly an entire page, had nothing to do with a principled criticism of terrorism and everything to do with glorifying the GLC and reformist careerists like Livingstone. What ramparts were “courageously” manned by the GLC bureaucrats in defense of Irish self-determination? The News Line made a respectful bow before Livingstone’s “firm gesture of support” for the electoral successes of the IRA, and warned that such noble acts of solidarity were “mindlessly damaged” by the “barbarous act” of the Sinn Fein, whose “reactionary xenophobia” had become “a blind hatred of everything British.”
These statements not only exposed the political rottenness of the WRP’s relations with the GLC; it also unmasked the hollowness of Healy’s and Banda’s conception of self-determination, which had nothing to do with Trotskyism. To argue against the bombs of the IRA by eulogizing the paper bullets of GLC press releases is to completely abandon the Marxist defense of self-determination. As Trotsky wrote:
“What characterizes Bolshevism on the national question is that in its attitude toward oppressed nations, even the most backward, it considers them not only the object but also the subject of politics. Bolshevism does not confine itself to recognizing their ‘right’ to self-determination and to parliamentary protests against trampling upon this right. Bolshevism penetrates right into the midst of the oppressed nation; it raises them up against their oppressors; it links up their struggle with the struggle of the proletariat of the capitalist countries; it instructs the oppressed Chinese, Indians or Arabs in the art of insurrection and it assumes full responsibility for this work in the face of the civilized executioners. Here only does Bolshevism begin, that is, revolutionary Marxism in action. Everything that does not step over this boundary remains centrism.” (Germany 1931-32, New Park, pp. 133-34)
The fight for this Bolshevik policy has no meaning outside the struggle to build a section of the Fourth International within the oppressed country itself. It is on this central question that Healy broke completely with Trotskyism. This is the real content of his political degeneration and capitulation to British imperialism.