The ICFI Defends Trotskyism

Letter from the Workers League Central Committee to the Workers Revolutionary Party Central Committee

To The Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party

Dear Comrades:

At its meeting of November 17, 1985, the Central Committee of the Workers League discussed at length the crisis in the Workers Revolutionary Party and the decision to end daily publication of the News Line. You can rest assured that the Workers League stands fully behind the struggle against Healy and the renegades who have split from the party and who are now resorting to the capitalist courts in order to destroy it. These are the actions of petty-bourgeois elements who hate the principles of the Trotskyist movement, have contempt for the working class and have broken completely with the Fourth International. There will be no compromise with the renegades. All the political resources of the International Committee must be mobilized to expose and destroy this rotten clique.

But for this struggle to be waged requires the maximum clarity within our own ranks as to the historical and political issues which must be confronted in the aftermath of the split. For this reason we are troubled by your CC statement, published on November 12, 1985, and are in sharp political disagreement with the manner in which the WRP is conducting the struggle against the anti-party renegades since the split of October 26, 1985.

We are deeply disturbed by the mounting evidence that our comrades in the leadership of the British section of the International Committee of the Fourth International have not yet begun to analyze the political issues raised by the split nor confronted the source and nature of the degeneration that has produced the explosion inside the WRP. Our great concern is that in the absence of such an analysis, which is the precondition for the theoretical rearming of the section, the split will remain at the level of a purely organizational break with Healy and his supporters. This would mean that the WRP will continue to drift further and further away from Trotskyism and the International Committee of the Fourth International.

The basic source of our disagreement and the cause of increasing friction between us is that the Workers Revolutionary Party leadership is not prepared to acknowledge, except in a verbal and platonic form, the authority of the International Committee of the Fourth International. Precisely because it does not recognize that the most essential feature of Healy’s political degeneration was his subordination of the international movement to the practical needs of the British section, the WRP leadership is in real danger of continuing, albeit in somewhat different form, the same nationalist-opportunist course.

Permit us to examine the Central Committee statement of November 12th, since it lays bare all that is wrong in the conduct of the WRP leadership.

After 16 years of continuous publication, the daily newspaper of the Trotskyist movement in Britain has been shut down virtually without discussion. Despite the fact that neither the Workers Press nor News Line could have been launched or sustained without the enormous sacrifices of the cadre of the entire World Party, the ICFI was not even informed in advance, let alone consulted, about the plan to liquidate the News Line. Comrade North was told over the telephone by Comrade Slaughter of the decision to end daily publication on November 11th, two days after the vote had been taken by the WRP Central Committee and Special Conference.

At the IC meeting held on Tuesday, November 5th—for which the delegates from North America made a special trip—not one word was said by the British delegation, which included Comrades Slaughter and Dave Bruce (standing in for Mike Banda who chose not to attend) about the imminent demise of the daily News Line. Both delegates must have known that the proposal to end daily publication was going to be put before the upcoming Central Committee. Only a few hours before the IC meeting, Comrade Banda had written a statement in which the General Secretary declared that the founding of the daily newspaper in 1969 had been a “colossal political mistake.”

This and other liquidationist opinions expressed by Comrade Banda were not brought to the attention of the International Committee. While Comrade Slaughter, who knew of Banda’s views, once referred obliquely to the danger of an organizational collapse, he also chose not to raise the question of the News Line’s future.

Here, again, we have the continuation of the same unprincipled attitude toward the International Committee that has exemplified the political degeneration of the Workers Revolutionary Party. The leadership continues to believe that matters pertaining to the internal life of the WRP, above all, the discussions within its leadership, should not be the property of the International Committee. As for its decisions, the IC is of use only as a decorative rubber stamp.

No doubt Comrade Slaughter will object that the decision to end daily publication was forced upon the WRP for all sorts of irresistible reasons, i.e., shortage of money, shortage of staff, shortage of members, etc. Whether true or not, this is really beside the point. These reasons could have been presented on November 5th to the International Committee. At any rate, after the experiences of the Healy expulsion statement and the turn to the bourgeois press, we hope you will forgive us if we bluntly tell you that we are tired of being told, after the fact, of the necessity for actions which were taken without consulting the International Committee.

Your statement declares: “At present our party does not have the physical or financial resources to produce a daily revolutionary paper of the type required to lead the working class.” On what information is this conclusion based? There has not been, as yet, any financial report given to either the WRP membership or the ICFI. The International Committee has only just begun an examination of the WRP’s finances.

The Workers League is not contesting the right of the WRP to make an organizational retreat, if that is absolutely necessary, and temporarily suspend daily publication. But such a serious decision would have to be based on the most careful discussion within the International Committee, concentrating not only on matters relating to financial and physical resources but above all on questions of politics and perspectives.

The absence of political preparation is evident from the first issue of the twice-weekly News Line, dated November 16th. In a 16-page paper, four pages are devoted to sports and two to television. There is no editorial statement. The main foreign news story, on page 4, is supplied by Reuters. On page 5, we are surprised to find an article reprinted from the Irish Socialist Press, which, we presume, is the organ of a group in Ireland which is seeking to establish a relationship with the WRP. As far as we know, neither the politics of this group nor the nature of its relation with the WRP has ever been discussed within the International Committee. And yet a full page is made available to them in which they make the following politically-dubious remarks:

“This is the reality of capitalist Ireland. And there is one other factor. The Protestant working class is understandably totally opposed to a bourgeois ‘united’ Ireland. Make no mistake!

“We support them totally in this. Why should Protestant workers throw off the shackles of Paisley’s form of religion to embrace the no less obnoxious religious repression in the south.” (Our emphasis)

This is not the place where we wish to explain our objection to the above formulation, which could be taken as an indication that this group does not take an unequivocal stand on the right of the Irish people to self-determination. Nor do we find encouraging this group’s reference to its on-going perspectives discussion “on the issue surrounding the United Front strategy in Ireland.” (Our emphasis)

At any rate, the place for such an article is in an international discussion bulletin, not in the public organ of our British section, where it is printed without comment. If the editorial decision to publish the article was based on the fact that this group endorses the expulsion of Healy, we consider this unprincipled. Unfortunately, the publication of this article again reflects the fact that the political foundations of your work are not firmly embedded in the Trotskyist concept of a world party of socialist revolution.

This is why, in our opinion, you do not really understand that the daily News Line is a political conquest of the International Committee, and that its development is of the greatest concern to every section. If you do not believe that the International Committee should be consulted about a decision which not only affects every aspect of our British section’s work and its relation to the workers’ movement but also the political life of the entire World Party, then it is clear that we have very different conceptions of the historic role of the Fourth International.

The existence of a World Party is of no political or practical significance, and talk of the international character of the socialist movement loses all meaning, unless it implies, by its very nature, the right of communists of one country to not only advise, but also pass judgment on, the struggle of communists in other countries.

But this is precisely what the WRP leadership is not prepared to concede, and herein lies the enormous danger of continued and irreversible degeneration. We cannot help if you take offense, but we suspect that your refusal to discuss the fate of the News Line stems from a reluctance to submit the real political perspective of the leaders of the British section to international criticism.

Moreover, having studied Comrade Banda’s private memorandum (which Comrade Bruce, to his political credit, at least made available to Comrade North the day after the IC meeting, and even expressed his disagreement with it), which he described as his “last Will and Testament,” we have good reasons for doubting the statement’s claim that “Proposals by the Central Committee on the relaunching of the revolutionary daily paper will be put before the Workers Revolutionary Party’s Eighth Congress early next year.”

The CC statement does admit a nationalist degeneration of the WRP over “several years,” but otherwise says nothing about this, which is the essence of the matter. For all the appearance of bitter struggle within the WRP leadership under Healy, its political existence was that of a nationalist clique which rejected any form of supervision or discipline by the International Committee over its work. This was the fundamental significance of the British section’s refusal to allow any discussion of criticisms of its work, made by the Workers League between 1982 and 1984, within the ICFI. Free of any control or supervision by the international movement, the WRP ever more openly rejected the fundamental principles of Trotskyism in relation to the Permanent Revolution, the Transitional Program, and the struggle against Stalinism, revisionism and centrism. While briefly referring to a “profoundly nationalist degeneration,” the CC Resolution cannot honestly confront the nature of this degeneration nor explain why no one within the WRP leadership fought against it.

Instead, the Resolution dishonestly evades these fundamental issues by placing virtually all its emphasis on the personal degeneration of Healy and his supporters while attributing all responsibility for the demise of the daily newspaper to “past leaders of the Workers Revolutionary Party, and in particular the group of renegades led by G. Healy, A. Mitchell, C. Redgrave and V. Redgrave.”

We address this question directly to Comrades Banda and Slaughter: are you suggesting that present leaders of the WRP, above all, yourselves, do not bear substantial responsibility for the present crisis in your party and in the International Committee? For many years both of you played the decisive roles in defending Healy’s politics and methods against correct criticisms both within your section and the ICFI. At least in the eyes of the international comrades, your unflagging support for Healy played a far greater role in building up his prestige and authority than anything said or done by Mitchell and the Redgraves, who, it must be remembered, only entered the revolutionary movement after both of you had been outstanding leaders of the British section and the International Committee for many years.

Perhaps the above observations will be taken as “un-comradely,” but how can the confidence of the international working class and the cadre of the Fourth International be reestablished in the Workers Revolutionary Party if its leaders refuse to accept any responsibility for the crisis in their own organization? This attempt to evade responsibility is yet another serious warning that the WRP leadership is unwilling to make an objective analysis of the degeneration of the party, which would require not only condemnation of Healy, Mitchell, the Redgraves and Torrance but also a critical re-examination of the present leaders’ political biographies.

Instead, attention is focussed on Healy’s personal degeneration which the CC statement largely attributes to a “bureaucracy,” whose existence, it claims “enabled his vile personal practices to continue.”

In our opinion, this concentration on the question of bureaucracy is a facile evasion of the real problems confronting the WRP. Any attempt to attribute the political degeneration of Healy and the WRP as a whole to the existence of a Party “bureaucracy” is to make a mockery of Marxism. On the scales of the British labor movement, not to mention the German and American and those of the Stalinist variety in the deformed and degenerated workers’ states, the “bureaucracy” upon which Healy rested is so miniscule as to barely deserve mention.

Moreover, when you attempt to extend this explanation to the Redgraves and Mitchell, it becomes truly ludicrous. We totally condemn their present political course which has led them to cross class lines and use the capitalist courts against the party. But no one can seriously claim that either Corin and Vanessa Redgrave or Alex Mitchell joined and remained in the British Trotskyist movement to find “personal prestige and privilege.” And even if that were the case, it would be necessary to explain how such people were brought into the leadership of the party and allowed to remain in positions of authority for so many years.

This is where the real political content of the split emerges with such clarity. Healy has found a political base of support among those elements within the former leadership that have no connection whatsoever to the historical struggle of the ICFI against revisionism. None of them played a role in the theoretical fight against the American SWP or the French OCI. With the exception of Torrance, their rise to positions of authority within the party is entirely bound up with the SLL-WRP’s retreat from the Trotskyist principles for which it had fought in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Vanessa Redgrave and Alex Mitchell are most of all identified with those policies and practices which exemplified Healy’s conscious repudiation of the programmatic foundations of the Fourth International, i.e., the rejection of the theory of Permanent Revolution and the establishment of unprincipled and mercenary relations with bourgeois regimes in the Middle East.

Having been politically corrupted by these reactionary relationships, it is only natural that they should find nothing wrong with Healy’s depraved abuse of the cadre of the Trotskyist movement. Nor should it come as a surprise that the renegades, after having carried out for many years under Healy’s guidance a practice based on the rejection of a proletarian class line, now make use of the capitalist courts against the WRP. As for Torrance, the most “outstanding” feature of her political character has been her total indifference to the International Committee. Her only association with international work was when she helped to count the money collected from sections of the ICFI.

No, it is not a “bureaucratic degeneration” that we are dealing with; it is a political degeneration toward opportunism, which has been manifested in the resurgence of Pabloite revisionism at every level of the section’s perspectives and which the renegades most completely personify. In our opinion, the most important lesson of the present struggle that must be grasped by every cadre of the International Committee is the enormously reactionary practical implications of any retreat from the defense of Trotskyist principles and the struggle against all forms of revisionism.

But it is precisely about this that the Central Committee statement says absolutely nothing: there is not a single reference to Pabloism! Instead, you have coined an entirely new political term, “Healyism.” In what way does this new term enrich the theoretical vocabulary of the International Committee? We contend that this term is without a serious political content. It serves only to divert the WRP members away from an analysis of the growth of revisionism inside their party, and it deprives them of the historical perspective which they must have in order to comprehend this degeneration and fight to reverse it. We can assure you that we are not splitting hairs over terminology.

The theoretical degeneration of the WRP and the practices which this produced are bound up with the capitulation to the Pabloite attack on the programmatic foundations of Trotskyism. The specific forms this took within the British section, especially the WRP’s totally unprincipled relations with bourgeois nationalist regimes in the Middle East, must be concretely studied. Of course, this cannot be accomplished overnight. But by ignoring this entirely, regardless of your intentions and despite the organizational break with Healy, you allow this political degeneration to continue. Within this context we find highly disturbing the statement’s failure to issue a call for a return to the theory of Permanent Revolution and the Transitional Program.

Unless the attention of the party is concentrated on these fundamental questions of the history, principles and program of the Trotskyist movement, the cadre of the British section and the international movement cannot be rearmed to defeat this revisionist attack. But instead of making them conscious of the crucial historical issues at stake in this struggle—the defense of the entire political and theoretical heritage of the Fourth International—the cadre are told by Comrade Banda that “the party has been split not on tactical and programmatic issues, but on the most basic question of revolutionary morality.” (News Line, November 2, 1985)

If that were truly the case, we would have to state that the split was without any principled content; for how is it possible to discuss “revolutionary morality” apart from tactical and programmatic issues? It is entirely appropriate to quote Trotsky on this question: “A centrist readily resorts to pathetic moralizing to cover up his ideological emptiness; he does not understand that revolutionary morality can be formed only on the basis of revolutionary doctrine and revolutionary policy.” (Writings of Leon Trotsky (1933-34), Pathfinder, p. 234)

We find the roots of Healy’s moral degeneration and his abominable abuse of comrades in his political degeneration, not the other way around. Insofar as dangerous tendencies toward subjectivism were to be observed many years before, these were for a long period held in check by the principled struggle waged by the British section for the building of the Fourth International. We will not accept any attempt to rewrite the history of the Fourth International from the standpoint of the moral depravity of Gerry Healy. For this reason we do not agree with the News Line’s publication on November 8th of a document dealing with the 1943 expulsion of Healy, which, in the absence of an explanation, suggests that his expulsion at that time was correct, and that his readmission into the party was a tragic error that has taken the movement 42 more years to correct. This is a false subjective method which serves only to discredit the entire history of the International Committee.

In fact, in the light of Healy’s subsequent degeneration, it would be worthwhile to review what James P. Cannon had to say about the issues raised in the struggles within the British section of the Fourth International during that period. He was addressing the right-wing faction inside the SWP led by Goldman and Morrow:

“Do you know what kind of regime your pals in England have? They have a minority led by Healy whose crimes consisted in the fact that he supported the unity line of the International Secretariat, that he broke with the sectarian nationalism of the WIL, and became a real internationalist, rejected their nationalist taint, and has been sympathetic in general to the Socialist Workers Party political position.

“Do you know what this regime calls Healy? A quisling of the Socialist Workers Party; that is, an agent of an enemy country.” (James P. Cannon’s Writings and Speeches, 1945-47, Pathfinder, p. 182)

It is Healy, not we, who spits on the history of the movement and who rejects the principles for which he fought for many years. If it was his earlier struggle for internationalism which enabled him to overcome, or at least suppress, his serious subjective weaknesses, it was his turn away from those same principles which produced a political degeneration that allowed those weaknesses to develop out of control and assume such malignant forms. Rather than printing childish anti-Healy cartoons, such as that which appeared in the News Line of November 16th, we should expose his revisionist politics, his rejection of the principled struggles upon which the movement is based.

Why do we insist on this approach to our history? Because our political relations and those of all other sections of the ICFI with the British movement have been based on principles, above all, on the agreement that the building of the World Party of Socialist Revolution is the fundamental historical task of our epoch. The tradition created by the struggle to build the Fourth International still lives within the WRP, despite the political degeneration of the organization which found its most reactionary expression in Healy. But that tradition must be consciously revived and strengthened. This means, first of all, that the British section must reforge its relations with the International Committee.

This internationalist perspective must animate all aspects of the work of the Workers Revolutionary Party. We are convinced that once the WRP recognizes the necessity for the closest collaboration with the International Committee and fights to break consciously with the nationalist opportunism of the past period, it will quickly recover from the present crisis and acquire tremendous political strength. Armed with this perspective the present cadre of the WRP will generate out of the struggle for Trotskyism all the necessary physical and financial resources to produce a daily paper of the type required to lead the working class.

We trust that this letter will be taken as a fraternal contribution to the on-going discussion within the WRP. Accordingly, we kindly request that you make this letter available to all members of the Workers Revolutionary Party.


David North, on behalf of the

Central Committee of the Workers League