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

Strange Interlude: The 1983 Elections

On election day in 1979, the WRP was boasting about its plans to field enough candidates in the next election to be able to form a government. But when Thatcher called a snap election in May 1983, those who recalled those ambitious plans may have been surprised to read in the News Line of May 10, 1983 that “The Workers Revolutionary Party proudly announces that it will stand 21 candidates in. constituencies in England, Scotland and Wales’—that is, just one-third the number of candidates it had put up four years earlier. However, no analysis was given of this major shift in the political strategy of the WRP.

The statements of the WRP throughout the election proved that it had learned absolutely nothing from the 1975-79 fiasco, and its line in May-June 1983 was even more eclectic and contradictory than in the previous campaign.

The May 10th issue the News Line carried a WRP Political Committee statement that was headlined “Class Vote to Oust the Tories.” It stated that if Thatcher was reelected, she “mil set in train a program aimed at reversing history and sending Britain back to the early days of the 19th century.” The statement further warned:

“The tasks before the ruling class are the physical destruction of the trade unions, the imposition of a slave-wage economy, and the dismantling of the social services and the NHS.

“No political opposition can be tolerated. The Tories plan early legislation to abolish the Labour Party levy so that it will be starved of funds. At the same time, trade unions will be fined in the courts for strikes that are deemed ‘illegal’ and their funds confiscated.”

Incredibly, despite this analysis, the WRP leadership could not bring itself to issue a forceful call to return Labour to power. Instead, its central line amounted to a passive evasion of the immediate tasks confronting the working class dressed up with pompous rhetoric:

“We say that the answer is the mobilization of the working class under the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party to smash the outmoded capitalist system and the establishment of a socialist Britain and a planned economy based on workers’ control and management.”

It is difficult to determine whether the authors of this were idiots, cynics, criminals or a combination of all three. First, they spoke of mobilizing the working class under the leadership of the WRP under conditions in which the party’s influence during the previous four years had declined so drastically that it was able to field only one-third the candidates it had run in 1979. Second, it was undeniable that the working class in its overwhelming mass was still politically dominated by Social Democracy. Thus, at a time when the WRP was warning of the imminent destruction of the labor movement should Thatcher win re-election—and was obviously unable to mobilize a significant section of the working class under its own banner to meet this threat—it saw no urgent need to fight for the victory of the Labour Party.

In the fight against fascism in Germany, Trotsky fought against the ultimatism of the Stalinists in relation to the Social Democracy despite the fact that the Communist Party led several million workers. But under conditions in which the WRP led no more than a few hundred—of which only a few dozen occupied any positions within the trade unions at even a shop steward level—the WRP placed no demands upon the Labour Party.

This was the political idiocy of—in the case of Healy—senile leftism. But what should we make of the following statement?

“The General Election cannot settle these historical questions. It takes class action under the revolutionary leadership of the WRP and the smashing of the capitalist state to achieve the aims of the socialist revolution.

“Nevertheless, the next four weeks will be decisive for the whole working class. They will be four weeks of intense political discussion throughout the workers’ movement in which the Workers Revolutionary Party will use its democratic right to campaign to recruit and to build the circulation of the daily News Line.” (Emphasis in the original)

After warning that the existence of workers’ organizations would be in imminent danger if the Tories won, the statement then casually asserted that its outcome was of no particular importance. Rather, the main thing was that the WRP would spend four weeks in intensive discussion. This was utter cynicism, for the WRP clearly did not take its own warnings seriously. What could they tell workers during the four weeks of discussion: “Your lives are in danger if Thatcher wins. But the results of the election don’t matter!”

The only call given for a Labour vote appeared as a political footnote after workers in 21 select constituencies had been told vote for the WRP.

Let us consider the political content of the WRP line in the 1983 elections more closely. During the previous three years it had cultivated the closest relations among the Labour left in the London GLC and with sections of the trade union bureaucracy. In 1981 the WRP insisted that Labour control of Lambeth Council and the GLC was so crucial to the fate of the working class that strikes should be called off and rate hikes should be accepted so that these Labourites would not be forced out of office. The WRP insisted that the elected officials had to be kept in office so that they could lead the anti-Tory struggle.

And yet, in a national election in which the WRP warned of massive attacks on the labor movement if the Tories won, the election of Labourites was no longer of any importance.

Still stranger was the following paradox: Given the fact that the WRP was now in a de facto alliance with a significant section of the Labour Party and the trade union bureaucracy, why was it not calling for an all-out fight to oust the Tories—and, more importantly, demanding that Livingstone, Knight and their allies come to the fore to mobilize the masses on the basis of socialist policies.

Here we come to the criminal element in the policy of the WRP. As long as the Tories remained in power, the WRP’s friends among the Labour left would be able to lead soft lives as critical critics of the government, disguising their own treachery and impotence with meaningless radical sounding denunciations of the Tories. At the same time, the WRP would be free to pursue its opportunist relations with these parlor-pinks, without having to expose them in front of the masses. This mutually agreeable and cozy relationship would be threatened if Labour came back to power.

There is only one political conclusion that can be drawn: In 1983 the WRP was not at all interested in seeing the Labourites returned to power. From the standpoint of preserving its reactionary centrist alliances with the left Labour reformists and various trade union bureaucrats, the victory of Labour would have been “an ill wind that bodes no good.” It would have created a situation where the WRP would be forced either to openly challenge their friends among the lefts or risk being completely exposed in front of the entire working class.

The victory of the Tories in June 1983 came as a relief to Healy. It allowed him to return to the old game of building up his anti-Tory alliance inside the GLC and sections of the trade union bureaucracy... against the working class.

As soon as the election was over, Healy immediately returned to the bankrupt opportunist line which had been used between 1981 and 1983 to transform the WRP into an appendage of the labor bureaucracy of the GLC. A statement by the Central Committee of the WRP, entitled “The Only Way Ahead After the General Election” and dated June 11, 1983 declared:

“The defense of jobs will combine with the struggle to defend the Greater London Council (GLC) and the six metropolitan county councils which the Tories have pledged to abolish. At the center of the Tory plan is the desire to eliminate the social services provided by local government and to sack the hundreds of thousands of council workers who provide them.

“It is also a political attack on the rights and living standards of the working class communities, in the big inner-city areas. Labour-controlled councils must take the lead in inviting unions and all local community organizations to form Community Councils to mount a class resistance to the Tory dictatorship of central government.

“Into this fight must come the trade unions whose basic rights are going to come under renewed and even more ruthless attack from the Tory government.” (News Line, June 13, 1983)

This was nothing less than a reformulation of the same old treacherous plan to subordinate all sections of the working class to the state and its agents among the Labour lefts. The reference to the trade unions was especially cynical; for as we have seen, when Healy spoke of the trade unions coming “into this fight,” he meant—as was made clear in the case of the underground workers—that they should avoid any confrontation with the Labourite administrators of the capitalist state and abandon the defense of their members.

Finally, no account of the WRP election campaign would be complete if it did not include Alex Mitchell’s unique contribution to an understanding of the nature of the Communist and Labour parties. In the course of a lengthy “think piece” on the problems which the WRP had confronted in the course of the “Peoples March for Jobs”—which took place in the midst of the 1983 election campaign—Mitchell made this profound discovery:

“This brings us to the central political difference between the Labour Party reformists and Stalinists. The social democrats (Labourites) betray the working class but the Stalinists do it consciously. They are a party of organized treachery against the interests of the working class.” (News Line, May 16, 1983, entire section appears in bold in the original)

This observation provides much food for thought. If, indeed, the Labourites do not betray consciously, was it not therefore possible that they could be convinced to fight for the working class if only they could be shown the error of their ways? And, as for the Stalinists, Mitchell’s comment makes only more curious his passionate defense of the Communist Party’s control over the Morning Star just three weeks later.