Statement of the International Committee of the Fourth International
How the WRP Betrayed Trotskyism

Youth Training: A Fabian Escapade

In the aftermath of the criticisms of the Workers League, a few cosmetic attempts were made to refurbish its Trotskyist credentials inside the International Committee and to remove the most obvious targets from further attack. Healy’s by-line virtually disappeared from the News Line and except for one short article—a rambling piece which carried the bizarre title, “How Hegel Fell Into the Tory ThinkTank”—Healy wrote nothing more on philosophy. To counter the assertion that the WRP was abandoning Trotskyism, the News Line carried prominent advertisements which announced a new series of lectures at its Education Center on the theory of Permanent Revolution. However, changes of this kind did not represent a departure from the WRP’s opportunist course. In fact, the slight shift which was to be observed on the question of Permanent Revolution was permitted by Healy only because the political changes in the Middle East had temporarily derailed his old alliances. Thus, Iraq and Zimbabwe could be easily cited as a vindication of Trotsky’s characterization of bourgeois nationalist duplicity. At the same time, Healy worked with S. Michael to cultivate new relations with the Iranian regime.

But there was no fundamental change in the political line and, in fact, the various zig-zags in positions were the public reflection of the maneuvers going on behind the scenes. Healy was hard at work deepening his unprincipled relations with the trade union bureaucracy and sections of the Labour Party.

Healy saw the opportunity to win the support of the trade union bureaucracy for a reformist scheme that could be used to deflect the youth away from revolutionary struggle. The idea of a job training scheme for youth had been germinating in Healy’s brain for a while, ever since he had been taken for a tour of state-controlled youth centers in Iraq. Armed with what he had seen in “socialist” Iraq, Healy began the liquidation of the Young Socialists into his pet “Youth Training” project in 1981, which gathered steam in the aftermath of the spring and summer riots.

The public justification for this scheme was that jobless youth were a menace to the labor movement and that the Young Socialists would undertake to provide some minimal weekly training to give young people a few rudimentary skills. Healy proclaimed that the YS was setting an example that the entire trade union movement should follow. That is, he proposed that the burden and expense of providing youth with basic skills should be carried by the labor movement with, wherever possible, friendly help from bosses and various bleeding-heart liberals.

The trade union bureaucrats were naturally delighted to hear that Healy was no longer in the business of mobilizing youth against themselves and the reformists in the Labour Party. They were more than happy to provide a bit of cash, pieces of old machinery, the remnants of first-generation computers and spare circuit boards, hairdryers for would-be beauticians, yarns of wool for potential dress-makers, used spark-plugs for a future generation of motor mechanics, and worn-out boxing gloves for aspiring heavy-weights. This last contribution gave rise to some anxiety within the leadership of the WRP, after Vanessa Redgrave suggested that fighting on the premises of Youth Training might frighten away potential contributions from liberal pacifists and other birdwatchers. Thus, boxing and karate classes were banned, and subsequent attempts to reverse the immediate loss of members by offering classes in Spanish and English drama proved unsuccessful. It seems that youth were more interested in perfecting their skills in the martial arts to get ready for the next round against the cops in Brixton than in preparing for holidays on the Costa del Sol and performances at the Old Vic.

In their noble efforts to bring the bright light of culture to the benighted youth of the inner cities, the WRP leadership completed their abandonment of the Transitional Program. The political content of Youth Training was utterly reactionary, aimed at diverting young people away from the struggle against capitalism and its servants in the labor bureaucracy.

First of all, Trotsky placed upon the capitalist system full responsibility for unemployment. To suggest that the cost of unemployment be borne by the working class and its organizations means to accept the claims of the capitalist state and the employers that they are bankrupt and unable to provide jobs and training. In the 1938 resolution on youth, adopted at its founding conference, the Fourth International declared:

“In the fight against unemployment the slogans raise the school age, organize apprenticeship, make sense only to the extent that the weight of this must be borne not by the working class but by the big capitalists. Hence the Bolshevik-Leninists owe it to themselves to formulate the demands of working class youth in this field as follows:

‘Prolongation of the school age to 16, with a grant for family support in working class and small farmer families.

‘Reorganization of the school in cooperation with the factory: the school should prepare children for life and work; it should weld the youth to the older generations; hence the demand for control by workers’ organizations over technical education.

‘Reduction of the period of apprenticeship to a maximum of two years.

“Forbidding of all work not connected with the actual apprenticeship.

“This setting up, at the expense of the bosses, in connection with every business or group of businesses engaged in manufacturing, mining, or trade, of apprentice schools, with an attendance of at least three percent of the personnel employed in the business or group of businesses.

“Choosing of the instructor by the labor unions. Control of these schools by a mixed commission of workers’ delegates and delegates of the apprentices themselves.” (Documents of the Fourth International, Pathfinder, pp. 279-80)

Whereas Trotsky developed these transitional demands to mobilize the youth alongside the working class against capitalism, Healy proposed instead the reformist demobilization of young people in line with the requirements of capitalism and the labor bureaucracy.

Not only was the Youth Training scheme indefensible from the standpoint of Trotskyism, it was based on theoretical conceptions which were utterly anti-Marxist. Healy developed the idea that youth could not be won to revolutionary struggle as long as they were unemployed, a position which he derived from a serious misunderstanding of certain passages in Marx’s Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844. Thus, he made the organization of youth in revolutionary struggle dependent upon full employment, a curious variation of the two-stage theory of revolution—whose first stage, once completed, would make the second stage impossible.

In late 1982 the WRP published a statement entitled “Six Reasons Why you should join the Workers Revolutionary Party”—which should have been called, “Six reasons why the WRP is a centrist organization.” In its third reason, the WRP proudly proclaimed that its youth movement concentrated on discouraging young people from occupying themselves with politics.

“The Workers Revolutionary Party allocated over one-third of its financial budget to the development of its youth section, the Young Socialists. We support the non-political aims of the Youth Training movement which is encouraged by the Young Socialists to provide skills for jobless school-leavers and unemployed youth forced to enroll in the government’s wage-cutting YOP schemes.

“We believe that the youth, with no job, no skill and outside the trade unions, are cut off from the rest of the working class and cannot develop as conscious participants in political life. We therefore see this task of learning a skill as standing above politics.” (Emphasis added)

A more thorough-going renunciation of revolutionary struggle could not have been penned by the Tory minister for education.

As in all of Healy’s pet projects, behind the public display of high-minded altruism there was a payoff being worked out behind the scenes. Bill Sirs, the man who helped the Tories throw tens of thousands of steel workers on to the dole, was among the most enthusiastic supporters of Youth Training and celebrated the opening of one of its premises. Attempting to cultivate friendly relations at all levels of the bureaucracy, the WRP toned down its criticisms of these professional traitors. Thus, reason number four for joining the WRP had only this to say about the WRP’s policy for the trade unions:

“All members of the WRP are obliged to be members of their appropriate trade union. The party supports the TUC in its decision to organize unemployed workers and youth into the trade union covering his or her occupation as if they were at work.

“It is, however, quite another thing to campaign and implement it. The TUC is not doing this, and every effort must be made to force them to carry it out.”

Here in a public statement aimed supposedly at recruiting workers into a revolutionary party, there was no reference to the historical treachery of the TUC and its on-going collaboration with the Tory government! In its servility to the bureaucracy the WRP was now competing with the Stalinists.

In regard to the latter, the tone of the WRP was strangely muted. In reason number one it described its attitude to the Stalinist gangsters in the Kremlin as follows: “The WRP has fundamental political differences with the bureaucratic leaders of the Soviet Communist Party on the nationalist orientation of ‘socialism in a single country’.” The “river of blood” separating Stalinism and Trotskyism had now been downgraded to “political differences.”

The statement went on to describe “peaceful coexistence” and “peaceful road to socialism” as “policies which threaten the gains of the international wording class and will, if not checked, lead to disastrous defeats for the working class.”

As if the policies of Stalinism had not already led to disastrous defeats and as if there still existed the possibility that these policies, which arise from the deepest needs of imperialism and are socially based upon a parasitic and counter-revolutionary bureaucracy, could be “checked.”