The decision of Healy, Banda and Slaughter to sabotage all political discussion within the International Committee gravely undermined the work of all its sections, but it sealed the doom of the Workers Revolutionary Party. February 1984 was the last chance the WRP had to objectively confront the political and theoretical questions underlying its protracted degeneration during the previous decade. But the refusal to tolerate any discussion of its own work inside the International Committee meant that one month later, with the outbreak of the strike called by the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM), the WRP was totally disarmed in front of the greatest class battle in Britain since the General Strike of 1926.
The political implications of the rejection of the struggle against revisionism was immediately revealed in the first few weeks of the miners’ strike. Forgetting all the lessons of the 1953 struggle against the Pabloites in France as well as the further lessons which it had extracted from the fight to correct the errors of the French OCI during the May-June events of 1968, the WRP pursued essentially the same revisionist line that it had once opposed.
In the Open Letter written by Cannon in 1953, he specifically cited the apology offered by the Pabloites for the refusal of the CGT—the Stalinist-controlled French trade union federation—to transform the August General Strike into a political struggle against the government. Fifteen years later, the Socialist Labour League sharply criticized the failure of the OCI to place political demands upon the Communist and Socialist parties during the May-June General Strike—specifically, the refusal of the OCI to demand that the CP and CGT take the power.
In its statement on the split with the OCI in 1971, the ICFI majority stated:
“May-June 1968, with the French workers on General Strike, themselves striving for an alternative government, was the greatest testing time for the OCI. But what did the strike reveal? It revealed the theoretical bankruptcy and political impotence of the OCI whose leadership—guided by a superficial impressionist analysis of De Gaulle’s coup in 1958—had exaggerated the strength and viability of the Fifth Republic, abandoned its revolutionary perspective and written off the revolutionary capacities of the French working class... It is an undeniable fact that at no time during the General Strike did the OCI leadership advance a socialist program. Nor did it attempt to undermine the political credibility of the Stalinist leadership by critically supporting the demand of the Renault workers for a ‘popular government’ by advancing the demand of a CP-CGT government.
Instead, the OCI leaders tail-ended the working class and restricted the political scope of the strike by demanding a central strike committee. This was a complete evasion of the political responsibilities of revolutionary leadership.
“Is it necessary to remind the OCI leaders that one of the chief reasons for the definitive split with the Pabloites was their refusal to address political demands to the trade union bureaucracy and fight for a CP-CGT government in the French General Strike of 1953? Revolutionists do not abstain on basic political questions—only centrists and syndicalists do.” (Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, Vol. 6, New Park, pp. 34-35)
In 1974 this experience was recalled in the reply written by Pilling and Banda to the Blick-Jenkins tendency:
“It is abundantly clear from the comparison of the OCI policy and the Transitional Program that the central strike committee demand was an evasion of political responsibility and a cowardly refusal to advance transitional demands and to build the revolutionary party through an implacable struggle to destroy the illusions of French workers in Stalinism and reformism by demanding that the Communist Party and Socialist Party take power and carry out socialist policies.” (A Reply to the British Agents of the OCI Liquidationists, WRP, p. 31)
These previous betrayals pale in comparison to the role played by the WRP leadership during the miners’ strike. During a struggle that lasted for one year, the WRP never once placed a single demand on the mass political organization of the working class—the Labour Party. It never issued a call for the mobilization of the working class to force the resignation of the Tory government, new elections and the return of the Labour Party to power on a socialist program. All the tactical lessons of the miners’ struggle of 1973-74, when the WRP, despite confusion and inconsistency, did fight for such a policy and won enormous support within the working class, were forgotten.
The WRP justified its refusal to place any demands upon the Labour Party by insisting that Thatcher could only be replaced by a Workers Revolutionary Government formed under the leadership of the WRP and based on Community Councils. Thus, its call for a General Strike was pitched outside the actual political development of the British working class and its relationship to its own traditional party. From the very start of the strike, the WRP insisted in its press and on public platforms that the Labour Party was irrelevant to the on-going struggle of the miners against the Thatcher government, for it could under no possible conditions replace the “Bonapartist” dictatorship.
In fact, the theory of “Bonapartism” was created to fill the gap between the WRP’s refusal to demand that the TUC and the Labour Party bring down the Tory government and its propaganda campaign for a Workers Revolutionary Government. The claim that Thatcher had been transformed, in the course of March 1984, into a Bonapartist dictator provided the apriori substantiation for the WRP line that a full-blown revolutionary situation existed in Britain. From this came the further deduction that Thatcher could be replaced only by a Workers Revolutionary Government under the leadership of the WRP, and that any suggestion that there existed a number of intermediate links was a capitulation to reformism. The theory of Bonapartism was not derived from any analysis of the development of the class struggle and the relations between class forces in Britain, but was concocted to justify a political line that had already been worked out.
For all its left-sounding rhetoric, the line of the WRP throughout the miners’ strike conveniently enabled the Healy clique to avoid any conflict with its opportunist friends in the Labour Party and with the Scargill leadership of the NUM. For all the talk of a revolutionary situation, the WRP leaders consciously ruled out any criticism of Scargill—thus exposing the fact that their own call for a General Strike was utterly hollow.
The criminally opportunist nature of the WRP’s relations to the Labour lefts around the GLC and Lambeth was clearly exposed throughout the miners’ strike. Not once did the WRP raise the demand that they mount a campaign within the Labour Party against Kinnock’s collaboration with the Tories, using their position within the London workers’ movement to organize mass strikes in solidarity with the miners around the demand for the resignation of the Thatcher government. This abstention from raising this central and essential political demand was the greatest favor the WRP could do for the Labourites, who dreaded nothing more than the prospect of coming to power in the midst of a mass mobilization of the working class around the miners’ strike. A Labour government, brought back to power on the wave of a mass anti-Tory offensive, would have immediately faced demands to guarantee miners’ jobs and reopen the closed pits, to abolish the anti-union laws, to restore social services, to create jobs, etc.—demands that the Labourites could not satisfy. The radicalization of the masses would have proceeded far more rapidly than in the aftermath of the Labour victory of 1974.
For all his talk about imminent revolution, Healy, who had degenerated into a petty-bourgeois windbag, had no idea at all about how to bring about a revolutionary situation. It was clear that the Thatcher government was determined not to make the “mistake” that Heath had made in 1974—when he called an election to win a mandate to use military force to break the miners’ strike. But the strike caused a shift within the middle class and the election went against Heath, who for several days desperately maneuvered to see whether there was some way to stay in office. Within sections of the bourgeoisie, the possibility of a pre-emptive coup was considered. The political situation was, as the WRP had correctly analyzed in 1973-74, on the knife-edge.
In the situation which existed in 1984, the central demand to bring the Tories down and return the Labourites to power on socialist policies would have had a powerful impact upon the mass movement, and created the conditions for the exposure of the Labourites. In so far as the Labourites, including and above all the Lefts, refused to support this demand and fight for it, their credibility within the working class would be shattered. On the other hand, if despite the sabotage of the Social Democrats, the Tories were forced to resign (or, for that matter, attempted to remain in power in the face of mass popular opposition), a pre-revolutionary situation could well have emerged in Britain.
But the objective role of the WRP was to create a diversion on the left in order to deflect attention from the Labourites and their allies in the TUC and NUM bureaucracy.
In late January, the Thatcher government had announced that it was abolishing trade unionism at the Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) at Cheltenham as of March 1, 1984. While this action was no doubt aimed at strengthening the state apparatus, it was used by the Political Committee clique to stampede the Party into accepting a complete revision of the Marxist conception of Bonapartism.
As employed by Trotsky and all the great Marxists, Bonapartism is not a term which is used to describe the various reactionary measures of a bourgeois government. Rather, it penetrates into the depths of the political situation and defines a particular state of class relations in a given country. The value of this concept lies in the fact that it focusses the consciousness of the Party on what is essential in the political situation, enabling the cadre to grasp its contradictory forms of appearance. It sharpens the Party’s comprehension of the dynamics of the class struggle and enables it to take note of all critical shifts in the movement of class forces and changes in the state apparatus.
In his writings on Germany, Trotsky defined Bonapartism as a regime that arose under conditions in which society had been polarized into the two opposed camps of revolution and counter-revolution; in which neither the revolutionary working class nor the fascist hordes of the petty-bourgeois organized by Big Capital were as yet able to decide the issue of power; and in which, based on this temporary and unstable equilibrium, the government appeared to rise above class society and played the role of “arbiter” between the two hostile armed camps. As Trotsky wrote:
“...As soon as the struggle of two social strata—the haves and the have-nots, the exploiter and the exploited—reaches its highest tension, the conditions are given for the domination of bureaucracy, police, soldiery. The govern-ment becomes independent’ of society. Let us once more recall: if two forks are stuck symmetrically into a cork, the latter can Stand even on the head of a pin. That is precisely the schema of Bonapartism. To be sure, such a government does not cease being the clerk of the property-owners. Yet the clerk sits on the back of the boss, rubs his neck raw and does not hesitate at times to dig his boots in his face.” (Germany 1931-1932, New Park, pp. 223-24)
Trotsky repeatedly stressed the essential impotence of the Bonapartist regime, whose “strength” rests on an utterly unstable and temporary equilibrium:
“The Papen government represents only the intersection of great historical forces. Its independent weight is next to nil. Therefore it could do nothing but take fright at its own gesticulations and grow dizzy from the voids appearing on all sides of it.” (Ibid., p. 227)
Another form of Bonapartism analyzed by Trotsky was that which emerged in France in 1934—the government of Doumergue. In analyzing different conditions and different forms in Germany and France, Trotsky placed central emphasis—in accordance with the dialectical method—on the origins of the regime. This was an approach never considered by Healy, who proceeded entirely from a surface examination of Thatcher’s actions and thus derived Thatcherite Bonapartism from the arbitrary self-transformation of the existing government.
But in the case of Doumergue, what Trotsky considered decisive in establishing its Bonapartist character was that it had come to power through the extra-parliamentary actions of “several thousand Fascists and Royalists, armed with revolvers, clubs and razors” on February 6, 1934. (Whither France, New Park, p. 3) The elected government, despite its Parliamentary majority, immediately capitulated to this rabble. The Radical Socialist Prime Minister Daladier accepted his own political demise and gave way to an extra-parliamentary “arbiter,” Doumergue, who was called out of retirement to form a new government. Trotsky analyzed this situation as follows:
“In France the movement from democracy toward Fascism is only in its first stage. Parliament exists, but it no longer has the powers it once had and it will never retrieve them. The parliamentary majority, mortally frightened after February 6, called to power Doumergue, the savior, the arbiter. His government holds itself above Parliament. It bases itself not on the ‘democratically’ elected majority but directly and immediately upon the bureaucratic apparatus, the police and the army... The appearance on the arena of armed Fascist bands has enabled finance capital to raise itself above Parliament. In this consists now the essence of the French Constitution. All else is illusion, phraseology or conscious dupery.” (Ibid., p.5)
The origins of the Thatcher government were elections (1979 and 1983) in which she won immense Parliamentary majorities, based largely on the rightward shift of broad sections of the middle class and the political paralysis of Social Democracy. As in every capitalist state—above all, in the United States—vast powers are placed in the hands of the chief executive. In that sense, the ruler’s “person”—no matter how insignificant—is dressed up with various “Bonapartist,” if you will, trappings. But do these trappings make a given regime Bonapartist?
Every sociological definition, as Trotsky insisted, is at bottom an historical prognosis. Terminological disputes are of no significance unless they lead—or have the potential of leading—to different political and practical conclusions. From the standpoint of describing the viciousness of the Thatcher government, what difference is there in referring to it as an extremely right-wing and anti-working class Tory government or as a Bonapartist dictatorship? What has been added to the political clarity of the working class if we utilize this more sophisticated term?
This can be answered if we examine the way in which the WRP arrived at this new definition of the Thatcher regime and the political conclusions which it was used to justify.
An editorial entitled “End of An Era” appeared in the March 3, 1984 issue of the News Line. It dealt with the failed attempt by TUC leaders to persuade Thatcher not to go ahead with her plan to abolish unions at GCHQ. “When they emerged from Downing Street,” wrote the imaginative Mitchell, “they were ashen-faced and shaken men.”
From this event the WRP drew the most awesome historical conclusions. It claimed that 150 years of collaboration between reformist trade union leaders and the ruling class had ended and entirely new class relations had been created:
“Hitherto, the ruling class in Britain had ruled through the trade union bureaucracy. It has used the reformist labour and TUC leadership with utter cynicism since World War I when it acted as recruiting sergeant for the imperialist slaughter in the trenches of Europe.
“During World War II Labour Party and TUC leaders were again in the forefront of helping imperialism through its most mortal crisis. Bevan ran the strike-breaking Ministry of Labour for Churchill and the ruling class while Morrison was in charge of the anti-working class anti-union witchhunts organized from the Home Office.
“Last week Thatcher accused today’s faithful reformist servants of being a bunch of subversives and potential traitors. She declared their trade unions to be incompatible with the state she’s busy creating.
“Freed of trade unions, GCHQ and the whole of the security establishment can be transformed into a direct instrument of violent state conspiracy against the working class.”
There was as much confusion as there were words in this statement. First of all, on the question of the GCHQ, the abolition of this small union in the heart of the state security structure, was primarily an attempt by Thatcher to discipline the state apparatus in preparation for major confrontations with the working class. However, this action did not make her a Bonapartist ruler, any more than Reagan’s far more significant firing of 12,000 air traffic controllers in 1981—leading to the physical destruction of their union—transformed his Administration into a Bonapartist dictatorship.
A far more fundamental error, which had grave implications for the entire perspective of the WRP, was the claim that the GCHQ decision meant that the British ruling class no longer relied on the reformist bureaucracies of the workers’ movement. This incredible claim, which provided the basis for a renunciation of any systematic struggle against the Social Democrats, was the real foundation of the definition of the Thatcher regime as Bonapartist.
As for the sociological foundation of this phenomenon, none was given. Rather, the News Line attributed this transformation of Thatcher’s parliamentary regime into Bonapartism to “the intransigence and ruthlessness of the Tory ruling class and the state machine.”
Aside from this psychological factor of “ruthlessness”—hardly something new for the British ruling class—no actual shifts within the structure of class relations were hinted at or analyzed.
We must stress that the claim that Thatcher no longer relied on the Social Democratic bureaucrats was entirely false. One can assume that during the visit to Downing Street, the union officials, as they were served a cup of tea, were reminded by Thatcher of their responsibility to the British state, and warned of the dangerous consequences of trade union defiance of Parliamentary rule. She most likely referred darkly to dangers she faced on the right and pointed to their well-known dread of the masses gathering on the left. With the miners’ strike due to begin within a few days, she begged the union leaders to stand firm against the storm and to see Britain through those trying days. And the TUC officials, in turn, said they would do the best they can, but warned her that they did not know how long they could maintain control over the class struggle. If they emerged from 10 Downing Street “ashen faced,” it was not because they believed the government to be strong, but because they knew it to be very weak and that the defense of capitalism now rested on their none-too-sturdy shoulders.
On March 7, 1984, the News Line declared that “The Thatcher government is moving rapidly away from traditional parliamentary democracy in the direction of Bonapartist dictatorship. The introduction of political vetting for civil servants at the Ministry of Defence is a clear sign that the preparations for dictatorship by Thatcher and her ruling class advisers are well advanced.”
Except for the administrative dissolution of the GCHQ unions, which in no fundamental way changed the nature of class rule, the WRP could not point to a single action by the bourgeoisie that indicated a real break with parliamentary rule.
The News Line then made the following strange observation: “One of Thatcher’s main objectives since 1979 has been to ensure that there will never again be another Labour government, since this would bring the political representatives of the trade unions into office.”
Lest anyone forget, from 1975 on one of the major objectives of the WRP had been that there should never be another Labour government because the Social Democrats rest on the Tories. But that aside, this “analysis” of Thatcher’s intentions explained nothing. The question was not one of Thatcher’s intentions but the class policy of the bourgeoisie. If the WRP was suggesting that the ruling class was about to destroy the Social Democracy in Britain, this was wrong. Such an action could not be carried out without civil war, under conditions in which a mass fascist movement had been brought into existence by the bourgeoisie. But even within the framework of this paragraph, the statement amounted to nothing more than journalistic hyperbole. Had Kinnock been dismissed from the Privy Council? Was Thatcher on the verge of disbanding Parliament and arresting the leaders of Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition?
These questions are raised not to ridicule the suggestion that parliamentary democracy in Britain and throughout Western Europe is living on borrowed time. Indeed, it is. But the fact of the matter is that the bourgeoisie in Britain—contrary to the claims of the WRP—relied heavily on the Labour Party and TUC bureaucracies throughout the miners’ strike, thus saving the ruling class the “expense” of experimenting with more dangerous and problematic forms of rule.
Another question should be raised: If Thatcher indeed intended to prevent any further Labour government, would this not have revolutionary implications for the working class. Moreover, the entire line of the WRP—that there cannot be another Labour government—meant accepting the Tory position.
By March 8, 1984, the News Line was claiming that the abolition of GCHQ unions meant that “Thatcher has already turned the calender back beyond 1834. She has resurrected the Combination Acts which were repealed nine years before the Tolpuddle martyrs’ trial.”
The next day, the News Line carried an editorial entitled “Changing rules for dictatorship” which discovered, at last, the necessary changes in state form that established the demise of parliamentary rule:
“The Tory government has approved important changes in Queen’s Regulations to prohibit servicemen and women from taking part in political marches or demonstrations.”
This, combined with GCHQ, was cited by News Line to prove that “Thatcher is changing the form of capitalist rule—moving from the parliamentary democracy in the direction of Bonapartist dictatorship under her personal supervision.”
One day later, in the March 10, 1984 issue of News Line, Michael Banda addressed a lengthy open letter to all trade unionists which attempted to substantiate the claims of Bonapartist dictatorship and ended without raising a single political demand, except to call upon workers to “Counter the threat of Bonapartist dictatorship by creating a workers’ revolutionary government which will nationalize the economy and establish a planned economy.” .
This proposal was placed alongside calls for the defense of the “ties of the Labour Party and trade unions from state intervention” and for struggle against “the increase in parliamentary election deposits of candidates.” What a muddle! The WRP combined calls for a revolutionary government with urgent appeals to defend the ties of the Labour party to the trade unions and to stop the increases in election deposits—but would not call for the bringing down of the Thatcher government, new elections and the return of a Labour government to stop the moves towards Bonapartist dictatorship!
The WRP told the masses to “create” a Workers Revolutionary Government but would not tell them to demand that the mass party with which they identified and which they created force the Tories out.
All these tortured arguments and calculated evasions served but one purpose: to avoid any struggle against the Labour Party and trade union bureaucracy.
On March 14, 1984, after the miners strike had begun, the News Line carried an editorial entitled “On Kinnock” which criticized him on many points but which left out the most important: his refusal to fight for the bringing down of the Tories.
The first days of the miners’ strike witnessed the mobilization of thousands of police against the miners, but these developments were simply used to bolster the arguments about Tory Bonapartism, which had become the indispensable theoretical cover for the WRP’s adaptation to the Labour and trade union bureaucracy’s capitulation to Thatcher. With each passing day the rhetoric became more frenzied.
The completion of the historic transformation of the Thatcher regime was proclaimed in an editorial in the March 29, 1984 issue of News Line entitled “Bonapartism!” It declared:
“Prime Minister Thatcher’s Bonapartist regime has been irreversibly established over the last four months. It is a regime of acute crisis which no longer rests on parliament but on the armed national police force, the judiciary and the military...
“It is the bankruptcy of British capitalism within the world capitalist crisis and the revolutionary striving of the working class led by the miners that has obliged Thatcher to sweep away parliamentary democracy as a form of capitalist rule and go over to openly dictatorial measures against the masses (rule by decree).
“Central to this attack is the outlawing of trade unionism, the social being of the working class.”
Here was the wild impressionism of people who no longer were capable of serious political thought. But it would be wrong to say that it didn’t have a political purpose. Its conscious use of grotesque exaggeration was aimed against any suggestion that demands for the bringing down of the Tory government could be addressed to the Labour Party. Instead, the WRP could use hollow left phrases which obligated no one to do anything, such as:
“Thatcher’s Bonapartist regime is the ante-chamber to civil war and demands the immediate mobilization of the working class behind the miners through the building of the Community Councils, practical organs of workers’ power in the localities.
“The old bourgeois-democratic regime is being replaced by a Bonapartist dictatorship in which Thatcher and her clique of ultra-right cabinet ministers and fascist-minded extra-parliamentary advisers are elevated above parliament to carry out the class requirements of big capital.
“In front lies ever-sharpening class struggle in which the Bonapartist and fascist conspirators can be defeated only by the victory of the socialist revolution.” (March 29, 1986)
The very same issue of the News Line carried in its center pages a lengthy interview with Ken Livingstone entitled, “The start of Thatcher’s overthrow.” Those who turned to these pages after reading the editorial might have expected that the interview would deal with plans for an insurrection in London, led by the GLC leader. However, this intrepid leader offered a more docile perspective. Livingstone pointed to growing opposition to Thatcher...among the wets in the Tory Party and inside the House of Lords! He was increasingly hopeful that these forces would soon rally to the defense of the GLC and oppose Thatcher’s plans for its abolition:
“It’s important to bear in mind that the Tory party and the British ruling class are not a united body. There are strong differences between the groups around monetarist policies, like Thatcher and Tebbit, and the old tradition squirearchy which has its base much more in the House of Lords.
“It now does really begin to look that although it will be close, there is a very real chance the Lords will actually reject the proposal to abolish the elections for 1985 because of the constitutional implications...
“There is a major prospect of a major split in the Tory party over the period of the next few months, not just on the question of abolition but on the whole direction and speed which Thatcher wishes to take Britain into a much more authoritarian, monetarist state...
“For the first time since Thatcher came to power, you can see real prospects of the government being defeated...
“The fight is far from over. I believe we are, in fact, at the beginning of the overthrow of the Thatcher government.
“It may take some years, but well see increasingly defeats for the government, climaxing in the removal of this government. I have no doubt about that whatsoever.”
What were News Line readers and the working class to think? What was the real perspective of the Workers Revolutionary Party: power through Community Council and a Workers Revolutionary Government or...through splits amongst the Tories and support from the House of Lords? Indeed, the Livingstone interview, which was printed in the News Line without criticism, exposed the rotten cynicism of the WRP leaders, who were basing their political line on the most immediate needs of their unprincipled maneuvering.
This gave to the political line of the WRP throughout the miners’ strike the appearance of schizophrenia. No demands were placed on the Labour Party, and the WRP coexisted comfortably with the lefts as these reformist traitors watched the miners’ strike drag on month and after month. But for the miners, the WRP dished up as many ultra-left phrases as necessary. For example, the statement of the WRP Political Committee dated March 13, 1984 declared that the miners were fighting the “Thatcherite state” and therefore:
“The very existence of the NUM has become a basic political issue which resolves itself into the question: which class is to rule Britain, through which government and through which party? This is the issue in the miners’ strike.
“The reformist parties like the Labour Party and the Communist Party do not even pose let alone answer this question, because they are completely tied to the reformist parliamentary collaboration and accept the framework of Tory rule.
“The News Line and the Workers Revolutionary Party on the contrary declare categorically that the basic rights of the working class can be secured only through the struggle to expose, discredit and overthrow the dictatorial rule of the Tories and replace it with a workers’ state based on Community Councils and a planned nationalized economy.” (The Miners and the Case for a General Strike, WRP, p. 8)
All these abstract propaganda phrases about the need for socialist revolution were without any concrete tactical proposal for breaking the collaboration of the Labour Party with the Tories—which, contrary to all the phrasemongering about the Thatcherite state—posed the greatest menace to the miners and the working class.
The WRP had totally abandoned the Transitional Program which insists:
“Of all parties and organizations which base themselves on the workers and peasants and speak in their name we demand that they break politically with the bourgeoisie and enter upon the road of struggle for the workers’ and farmers’ government. On this road we promise them full support against capitalist reaction. At the same time, we indefatigably develop agitation around those transitional demands which should in our opinion form the program of the ‘workers’ and farmers’ government’.” (New Park, p. 39)
The founding document of the Fourth International goes on to say:
“It is impossible in advance to foresee what will be the concrete stages of the revolutionary mobilization of the masses. The sections of the Fourth International should critically orient themselves at each new stage and advance such slogans as will aid the striving of the workers for independent politics, deepen the class struggle of these politics, destroy reformist and pacifist illusions, strengthen the connection of the vanguard with the masses, and prepare the revolutionary conquest of power.” (Ibid.)
By late April the WRP was demanding that the TUC call an indefinite General Strike—but this one slight concession to recognizing the existence of mass organizations of the working class was vitiated by the refusal to connect this demand to the proposal that the Tories be brought down and Labour returned to power. The 1984 May Day Manifesto epitomized the reactionary role of such sectarian propagandism in the midst of a critical struggle by the working class, where it is above all necessary to establish a firm connection between the revolutionary program and the movement of the masses. The call for a General Strike was now presented in the most ultimatistic and apocalyptic terms imaginable:
“The Workers Revolutionary Party calls on the British working class to mark this historic May Day 1984 by fighting immediately to transform the miners’ strike into a General Strike to bring down the hated Tory dictatorship.
“Such a General Strike, waged by the whole of the working class and its middle-class allies, will involve the revolutionary struggle for power.
“Its outcome must be the overthrow of the historically-outmoded capitalist system, the smashing of the state machine, and the establishment of a Workers Revolutionary Government.” (Miners, p. 53)
Thus, the WRP informed the working class that it had to choose at once between Thatcher or...the sage of Clapham, G. Healy. To those who might have been thinking that a more plausible demand would be for the resignation of the government and new elections—which, after all, had been the line of the WRP during the last four years of the previous Labour government—it addressed a salutary warning:
“No Labour government, whether led by Kinnock, Benn or any other reformist politician, can secure the basic democratic rights of miners, above all their right to a secure job.” (Ibid., p. 56)
As a general truth, this statement was indisputable. But that is precisely why the demand to bring down the Tories and return Labour to power was so important during the miners strike. It would have created the conditions in which masses of workers could see the treachery of Social Democracy and break decisively from it.
The statement went on to outline the program which the WRP would carry out once it had been placed in power by the working class—which, disconnected from any strategy to bring the workers into conflict with the Labourites, remained a politically-harmless sectarian fantasy.
The May Day Manifesto had only one thing to say that made worthwhile reading: “The reformists of all shades become the bearers of panic, moods of gloom, fear and muddle-headed confusion on the question of capitalist parliament and the capitalist-state machine.” (Ibid., p. 57)
Unfortunately, the WRP leaders were describing themselves.
During the month of May as the miners prepared a mass demonstration in Mansfield, the WRP continued its agitation for a General Strike—which, bereft of any political strategy, differed in no essential way from the line of the OCI in 1968. It was a centrist evasion of revolutionary tasks.
However, the sincerity of the WRP’s campaign was itself soon exposed. At Mansfield, on May 14, Scargiil carefully avoided any appeal for wider action—precisely because he agreed with the refusal of the Labourites to transform the strike into a political struggle to bring down the Tories.
The News Line of May 15, 1984 was headlined: “Scargiil Avoids Wider Action”—the first direct criticism the WRP had made of the NUM president. It was also the last. Healy was enraged by this disruption of the relationship that he was now hoping to cultivate with the NUM president, despite the unfortunate spat the previous September over Scargill’s opposition to the Polish workers’ Solidarity.
A statement by the Political Committee of the WRP which appeared in the May 16, 1984 issue of News Line made amends to the NUM leader. It noted “the tumultuous ovation that greeted his speech” in Mansfield and welcomed the growth of “his prestige amongst miners and other workers.” Within the party, Healy and Banda launched a campaign to justify the abandonment of any critical attitude towards the policy of the NUM leadership and its refusal to fight for the expansion of the strike throughout the labor movement. In Political Letter 5, dated May 21, 1984, Healy and Banda wrote:
“At this stage in the miners’ struggle, sectarian sectionalism enjoys a mass base amongst them, although not necessarily throughout the trade union movement as a whole. This means that the finite ‘in-itself sectional character of the strike has temporarily produced a coincidence between the outlook of Scargiil who supports change through parliament and the miners who are embarked on a life or death struggle against the capitalist state for their future. We cannot jump over this finite stage with criticisms of the inadequacies of the NUM leadership.” (Seventh Congress, p. 107)
The WRP’s campaign for a General Strike—compromised from the start by the absence of a clear political perspective upon which this struggle could be based—was rendered absolutely meaningless by the adaptation to Scargiil. Throughout the miners’ struggle, Scargiil repeated again and again that he was not for the bringing down of the Tories. The campaign for a General Strike could only develop in a political struggle within the working class against this objectively reactionary line. It would have entailed an uncompromising day-to-day battle against Scargill’s centrist politics, a clear analysis of the limitations of syndicalism, the exposure of Scargill’s ties to the Stalinists, and an unequivocal denunciation of his refusal to fight for the immediate bringing down of the Tories. Only along these lines could the WRP have built up within miners and the working class as a whole the political consciousness necessary for the General Strike. The WRP leadership, besotted with opportunism, was incapable of rising above a narrow syndicalist perspective—and, in this sense, its capitulation to Scargill, “the A.J. Cooke of the 1980’s,” was the final outcome of its betrayal of Trotskyism.
There was at least one leader in the WRP who was well aware that the party line was a complete betrayal of Marxism, and that was Cliff Slaughter. In a lengthy article which appeared in the May 25, 1984 issue of the News Line, entitled “The General Strike and the United Front,” Slaughter—in the midst of an article that upheld the general line of the WRP—wrote the following about Kin-nock and Deputy Leader Haitersley:
“He [Kinnock] and Hattersley are reported to have said that ‘if they were Notts miners, they would be on strike.’ This is nothing but a deliberate and shameful evasion. They are not (and of course never were and never will be) miners. They are Labour Party leaders and they have a political responsibility.
“The workers who still support them including miners, who pay the political levy and vote Labour, expect that party to support them politically by leading the working class against Thatcher. Kinnock covers up his refusal to do this by shouting about what he would do if he was a miner...
“The question remains: why does not the NUM leadership call upon the TUC to call a General Strike?
“To do this would be an open challenge to the right wing on the most vital political question of all: the question of defeating the Tory government and the capitalist state and winning working-class power.”
Every word was absolutely correct—which simply raises the question: why wouldn’t the WRP place any demands upon the Labour leaders, and, moreover, why didn’t C. Slaughter organize a fight along these lines against the policy of Healy? Rather, by the time he came to the end of his article—which contained, if one read between the lines, devastating criticisms of the whole course being pursued by the Healy leadership and a clear prediction that such a line would lead to the defeat of the strike—everything was reconciled with the policy of the WRP. For this reason, Slaughter’s criticisms, far from clarifying the party membership—which does not normally read between the lines—served to bolster their impression that the WRP was fighting for Trotskyism among the miners. It is for this reason that Healy permitted this article to be published in the News Line and even welcomed it. The sauce of centrism was never ruined by a few pinches of Marxism!
For the rest of the year - with Slaughter’s article consigned safely to the archives, to be cited only if someone dared to accuse Healy of betraying the miners—the WRP followed Scargill’s footsteps in the most slavish manner, building up his prestige among miners and Party members, implicitly suggesting that he represented some new type of trade union leader never seen before. A full-blown Pablo-style justification for this adaptation was written by Banda into the perspectives of the Seventh and final congress of the Healy-led WRP, held in December 1984:
“What was important in the period prior to the strike was the consistent struggle against any tendency to impose sub-
jective images and ignore the real concrete developments within the mining industry and in particular the role of Scargill in relation to the development of new militancy amongst miners based on the fear of closures and sackings. Previous correct criticisms of the Scargill leadership on the Polish Solidarity trade union and the ballots of 1982 and 1983 could not obscure the changed relations between the classes in Britain and the impact of the miners on Scargill and other leaders...
“Any indulgence of the method of starting from preconceptions would have led directly to ultra-left gestures and adventurism which would have cut the party off from the miners. Despite our differences with Scargill on the perspectives of the overtime ban we defended the ban unconditionally against the opportunists and the potential strikebreakers. The ban, inadequate as it was, was an important factor in consolidating the unity of the miners and creating a closer relation with the Party.” (Ibid., pp. 69-70)
The above passage served to sanctify the WRP’s liquidation of any independent political line in relation to the strike. A WRP Political Committee statement which appeared in the News Line on October 27, 1984 declared:
“The Workers Revolutionary Party and the All Trades Unions Alliance completely endorse the policy of Arthur Scargill, his courageous defiance of the state and his stubborn defense of the NUM, the mining industry and its communities from Tory vandalism.
“His steadfast opposition to the Thatcher regime, the Tory press and the NCB has not only inspired millions, but it has also revealed in all its starkness the nature of the reformist maneuvers of the Stalinists on the docks and the retreats of the T&GWU and G&MWU in the steel, transport and power industries.
“Above all Scargill has shown up the TUC for the conniving, knee-crooking bureaucrats that they are.”
In fact, Scargill was covering up for them on the central question of bringing down the Thatcher government. Never in the course of the entire strike did he directly ask the TUC to call a General Strike. Insofar as he called for the mobilization of the labor movement behind the miners, it was with the most cautious wording. For example, the News Line reported in its issue of November 2, 1984 that he had stated:
“We believe that the time has now come to involve as much as possible in a public way the wider labor and trade union movement in a dispute which the Tories see clearly as a fight on the part of the Establishment against one individual union.
“And we are asking the trade union movement to respond accordingly and give the same sort of support to the NUM.”
On December 5, 1984, the News Line reported that Scargill had called on the TUC to organize “industrial action throughout the whole trade union movement,” and quoted him as saying: “We are not asking for moral support resolutions. We are asking now for practical assistance, and we have asked the General Council to be convened to mobilize industrial action in support of this union.”
But two days later, after the TUC rejected this appeal and simply reiterated its support for earlier empty resolutions pledging solidarity, the News Line noted that Scargill “welcomed the TUC leaders’ reaffirmation of all previous decisions in support of the NUM,” and then managed to present the situation in the most positive light: “The fact that the TUC leaders could not openly repudiate the NUM and had to give certain guarantees of support is a tribute to the firm stand taken by Scargill and the NUM leadership.”
As the strike, isolated by the TUC and Labour Party, weakened and the prospect of defeat began to loom, the WRP grew increasingly disoriented and hysterical. At the News Line 15th Anniversary Rally on November 18, 1984, Healy declared:
“If the miners are defeated we will be illegal in Thatcher’s Britain.
“She not only intends to press ahead to destroy the trade unions. She’s going to make the most revolutionary elements opposed to her illegal.” (News Line, November 19, 1984)
However, despite the frenzied rhetoric, he still refused to call upon the Labour Party to campaign for the defeat of the government. He also took pains not to place excessive pressure on his friends in the GLC. With the fate of the miners’ strike at stake, he was diplomatically vague on the question of unity between the miners’ and those in local government opposed to Tory cuts:
“I say to our comrades on the local councils involved in rate cappings and the great movement that is building up that we must be prepared to unify that movement, if necessary, with the miners’ strike, with the organization of the General Strike.” (Ibid.) (Emphasis added) What mealy-mouthed political duplicity!
By the time of the Seventh Congress, the demoralization and hysteria that had gripped the WRP leadership as the miners’ strike approached its end was apparent in the way in which the main resolution on British perspectives evaluated the Thatcher government:
“For the British bourgeoisie it is no longer a question of trying to consolidate Bonapartism but of changing the form of the dictatorship. To smash the trade unions and establish state corporatist control over them the Tories must kick aside the parliamentary forms, i.e., destroy the parliamentary opposition of social democracy and replace it with the most extreme form of Bonapartism: fascism. This is the only way in which the world crisis of imperialism becomes the essence and motor force of the class struggle.” (Seventh Congress, p. 52)
These words could only have been written by petty-bourgeois politicians who had completely lost their heads. The growth of fascism was now seen as the driving force of the class struggle—a perspective that revealed utter despair. Moreover, to claim that Bonapartism had been consolidated would mean, in the language of Marxism, that the working class had been decisively defeated for an entire period. Later in the document, the WRP reproduced a quotation from Trotsky which made this very point—“The Bonapartist regime can attain a comparatively stable and durable character only in the event that it brings a revolutionary epoch to a close...”—but the Healy clique was so shattered by the class struggle that it didn’t even realize that they were contradicting in one section of the perspectives document what they had written in another section!
The Seventh Congress confirmed that the WRP was, from the standpoint of Marxism, politically dead. This is substantiated by the examination of a document written by Healy and Banda just three weeks after the Congress, in which they explained the “theory of knowledge” which guided the work of the Party:
“The properties of Party practice and its needs which are the source of sensation are revealed in their interconnection with other things arising in the active objective role of the practice itself. This is the dialectical materialist process of cognition in which changes in the objective situation as it unfolds can be analyzed.” (Op. cit, p. iii, Emphasis added)
This descent into solipsism—which declared the practice of the party and its needs to be the source of sensation—was a theoretical verification that the Party leadership was ruled in all its work by the most unrestrained opportunism, to the extent that it now defined the objective world on the basis of the practical needs of the “Party”—or to put it more correctly, the petty-bourgeois clique in its leadership.
Having been guided by a non-Marxist and centrist line that contributed directly to the betrayal of the miners and with its leaders close to panic as the strike neared its conclusion, the WRP entered the fateful year of 1985 on the verge of collapse. Hysteria reigned in the pages of the News Line. A statement issued by the WRP Central Committee on February 27, 1985 declared:
“If the Tories defeat the miners with the aid of the right wing of the TUC and the scabs, then there is nothing to prevent Thatcher and her desperate gang from carrying through her program of monetarist barbarism and imposing a police-military dictatorship.” (News Line, February 28, 1985, Emphasis in the original)
Incredibly, the same statement also asserted that the “exposure of the Congress House right wing strengthens the working class immeasurably; the conditions are favorable for the NUM to call on unions which back the miners to demand the TUC calls a General Strike.” (Ibid., Emphasis in the original)
One paragraph proclaimed the imminent destruction of the working class. Another paragraph declared that the working class had been “immeasurably strengthened.” And there was yet another contradiction in a third paragraph: “The Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party calls on all striking miners to stand firm behind Arthur Scargill and the NUM Executive.” But to stand firm behind Arthur Scargill, who had still not demanded that the TUC call a General Strike, meant that miners should reject the most recently worked-out line of the WRP. And then, after calling on all miners to stand firm behind Scargill, the WRP indicated that Scargill himself was wavering, urging that the NUM reject “defeatist calls” for a return to work!
By March 1, 1985, a herd panic had seized control of the News Line. The front-page lead declared that a return to work by the miners will mean “the end of free trade unionism in Britain.”
Within the week the Miners Executive voted to end the strike—an event which left large sections of the WRP, especially its petty-bourgeois and declassed elements in the Party apparatus, totally bewildered, demoralized and resentful. They had been told for months that the strike would end either in social revolution or defeat, the smashing of the trade union movement and the illegalizing of the WRP. Now, the miners’ strike had been defeated and, in as much as they were still legal, these tired petty-bourgeois began to think that capitalism’s crisis was not as bad as they had been led to believe and that perhaps they were wasting their lives in a futile cause.
In this situation, the survival of the Party depended, at the very least, upon an honest appraisal of the lessons of the strike and its defeat. But the leadership of the WRP had already past far beyond the point where it was capable of honesty in any political question.
Instead, it tried to carry on as if nothing had really happened. The WRP was not even able to admit that the miners had been defeated, for that would have raised too many questions about its own policies. So articles appeared in the News Line which attempted to cover over reality by citing statistics which recorded the financial cost of the strike to the government.
Lacking policies of its own to restore the strength of the miners and prepare them for the bitter struggle against further pit closures, the WRP leadership hung on desperately to Scargill’s trouser legs. This assumed pathetic proportions as Healy’s main goal in life became a personal audience with Arthur Scargill—which he finally was granted one month after the strike ended. This event was recorded in a personal letter, dated April 29, 1985, from Healy to Scargill, uncovered by the International Control Commission, which shows the extent of his political degeneration as his leadership of the WRP approached its final days:
This note is to express the most warmest fraternal thanks of myself and Comrade Aileen Jennings for the time yourself and your companions spent with us on Friday evening.
“All the resources and technical facilities which constitute the practice of our Party are at the disposal of the NUM and yourself as its President. If it is necessary we will print and publish anything which the union wants, for nothing, to the limit of our resources. If you wish to utilize our news-gathering facilities, then we will be only too happy to let you know our views, off the record, about what we understand is happening.
“A massive confrontation between the capitalist state and the working class, with the miners again in the forefront, is building up. Rest assured our Party will be by your side in the decisive days ahead.
“Rest assured that we will keep all the needs of the NUM in the forefront of our concerns in the coming most critical period. Just make the needs known and we will see what can be done.
“With our warmest handshake,
“[signed] Aileen Jennings, T. G. Healy”
The political significance of this letter—in which the leader of the Workers Revolutionary Party placed at the disposal of a section of the trade union bureaucracy the full material resources of the Trotskyist movement in Britain—is that it irrefutably records the end of G. Healy’s life as a revolutionary.
The political and organizational disintegration of the clique leadership in London now proceeded very rapidly. Under pressure from the party rank and file—especially those members working in Yorkshire among the miners—Healy and Banda groped for a new political line without, however, analyzing the work of the previous year. In an attempt to hold things together, the assistant general secretary in charge of organization, Sheila Torrance, proposed that the WRP mount a march in defense of the jailed miners. This proposal was initially opposed by Healy on the grounds that such an action could not be held under conditions in which Britain was in the grip of a rising fascist movement. He agreed to the march only after the Central Committee approved a resolution granting him full power to intervene in the progress of the march and move its location immediately if it came under fascist attack!
The internal life of the WRP began to resemble the final days of the New Jewel regime in Grenada. The center in Clapham was the scene of vicious infighting and wild conspiracies. Every office became the seat of a secret faction, and each group was drawing up its list of potential enemies and possible allies in the coming showdown. The WRP headquarters became the battleground for electronic warfare as offices and telephones, including Healy’s and Banda’s, were bugged. No one trusted anyone. Political relations which had endured for 10, 20, and even 30 years were coming apart. Suddenly, Healy moved to get back at Sheila Torrance for having opposed him on the Political Committee by moving for her suspension from the Party at the Central Committee meeting of April 27, 1985. This action was opposed by one member, Stuart Carter, who was then immediately suspended for 60 days “for opposing the CC’s authority to discipline its members and rule on their conduct at the meeting.” (Report on the Expulsion of Stuart Carter and Recommended Expulsions of His Clique, p. 2) The report to the branches justifying his expulsion continued: “He was not suspended for any differences on policy or programme. Stuart Carter continued his opposition even after the CC member in question, Cde ST, corrected the procedural error.” (Ibid.)
Carter, a leading member of the Young Socialists for six years, was expelled after he continued to defend his right to oppose the unconstitutional suspension of the WRP’s assistant General Secretary. On June 21, 1985, a letter justifying the expulsion was written by Banda, who had physically assaulted Carter during the meeting at which he had been suspended. Denouncing this youth leader for “petty-bourgeois individualism and lumpen-proletarian backwardness, “Banda asserted:
“The actions and statements of this reactionary clique and this constant harping on the theme of ‘democracy1 and counter-posing of the ‘rights of individuals’ to the centralised practice of the Party is a graphic example of the subservience to spontaneity, i.e. bourgeois ideology.
“It underlines again the vital importance of Lenin’s struggle embodied in What Is To Be Done? and his warning that the slogans ‘against dogmatism’ and for freedom of criticism’ constituted nothing more than the denial of the theory of class struggle, the rejection of the revolutionary party and the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. That is the essence of SC’s opposition.”
Under these conditions, the march to defend the jailed miners simply provided a public relations cover for the inner collapse of the Party. The leadership was now totally obsessed with Bonapartism, which it insisted was the key feature in the world situation. In a letter to Party members explaining the line of the march, dated May 8, 1985, Banda and Healy declared:
“This fight against Bonapartism must be up front of the practice otherwise we transform such demands as ‘Defence of trade unions’ and ‘No scab labour scheme for youth’ into Kantian images which idealistically confuse the five demands that constitute the revolutionary syllogism of the march itself.
“These must be placed in the following order of the syllogism: 1) Release the jailed miners. 2) Reinstate all sacked miners. 3) Fight pit closures. 4) Smash anti-union laws. 5) No scab labour schemes for youth.
“The error behind our London May Day chairman’s address arose out of routine Party practices which were guided by general propositions referring to the ‘struggle of youth’ and ‘the defence of trade unions.’ These omitted the central features of the international implications of Bonapartism as it is appearing now in Tory Britain, which should be in the forefront of the activisation of the Party’s practice, otherwise it lapses into generalized Kantian image-making.
“Such image-making, whilst formally correct, would be empty of Bonapartist content and consequently the source of sensation itself—hence its Kantian origin, and real danger for our work in Britain.”
During the previous December, the practice of the Party was made the source of sensation. Now the basis of all perception on a world scale was Bonapartism in Britain. This remarkable “insight” was elaborated in a theoretical innovation known as the five-part syllogism. All this proved the profundity of the ancient adage: “Those whom the Gods would destroy they first make mad.”
Seven weeks later, on July 1, 1985, Aileen Jennings, Healy’s personal secretary for 20 years, disappeared from London—leaving behind a letter, at the urging of Sheila Torrance, in which she denounced Healy for the gross abuse of a large number of female members of the WRP and the ICFI, and ignited an explosion that was to lead to Healy’s expulsion and the final disintegration of the WRP. As Trotsky had predicted: The great events that rush upon mankind will leave of outlived organizations not one stone upon another.