This article was originally published in the Bulletin on November 20, 1987.
Barely two years after her expulsion from the International Committee of the Fourth International, Vanessa Redgrave, the well-known actress and political adventuress from the British ruling class, has emerged as the most sycophantic cheerleader for the chief Soviet Stalinist bureaucrat, Mikhail Gorbachev.
Freshly returned from her third trip this year to the Soviet Union, Redgrave has embarked on a major propaganda campaign on behalf of Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika. This campaign has all the earmarks of an official mission on behalf of the counterrevolutionary Kremlin bureaucracy.
This became clear at a play/meeting called jointly by “Vanessa Redgrave Enterprises” and the “Marxist Party” on November 15 in London. Members of the International Communist Party, British section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, were physically barred from entering and then assaulted by a squad of over 30 goons organized by Redgrave and the so-called Marxist Party.
Given the fact that this so-called party was formed just a few months ago with less than a dozen members, the sudden appearance of 30 burly men as enforcers and bodyguards, equipped with truncheons and walkie-talkies, raises questions about how these individuals were recruited.
The play was advertised in the theater and classified sections of the British bourgeois press and ostensibly staged to sing the praises of glasnost (openness) and “historical truth.” Nevertheless, Redgrave and her associates mounted the type of violence and intimidation which has not been witnessed in the British workers’ movement since the 1930s, when the British CP regularly organized physical attacks to silence the Trotskyist movement’s exposure of Stalin’s crimes.
Inside the theater, Redgrave delivered a report from the Moscow bureaucracy’s celebrations of the seventieth anniversary of the October Revolution to an audience made up largely of middle class people who could afford the 5.50 pound ($10.50) price of admission.
Observing the performance from the audience was Gerry Healy. For nearly 50 years, he played a prominent role in the Fourth International. Back in the 1930s, he was repeatedly beaten up by Stalinist thugs as he sought to expose their crimes against the working class. In the 1950s, he led the fight in Britain against the Pabloite revisionists, who seized upon the death of Stalin to proclaim that the bureaucracy was reforming itself and that its political overthrow was no longer necessary. He ridiculed those who declared that Khrushchev’s 1956 “secret speech” meant a break with Stalinism.
But now, just two and a half weeks short of his seventy-fourth birthday, Healy has decisively severed all political connections with Trotskyism and degenerated into a pathetic toady of the Kremlin bureaucracy. Not entirely recovered from the effects of his recent KGB-approved visit to Moscow for the official commemoration of the October Revolution, he sat in a second-row seat, sniffling and wheezing, resembling some of the aging Kremlin bureaucrats he now celebrates as co-leaders of Gorbachev’s “political revolution.”
No renegade from the Fourth International has ever sunk so low. The only difference between Healy and his longtime nemesis, Joseph Hansen, is that the latter began his political career as a servant of the Soviet bureaucracy, while Healy has ended up as one.
Now to the performance itself, which represented the transformation of low politics into high camp. The thrust of Redgrave’s theatrical presentation was to portray, with the aid of lighting and sound effects, the new Kremlin boss as the leader of the political revolution.
“The political revolution is now taking place in the Soviet Union under the banner of perestroika and glasnost,” Redgrave declared.
Despite her enthusiasm for the machinations of the Moscow bureaucracy, she found herself forced to admit that Gorbachev’s November 2 speech “was wrong in a fundamental respect. Gorbachev eclectically combined an attack on Leon Trotsky and Trotskyism with an attack on the crimes of Stalin.”
In this analysis, the inspiration of Healy was apparent. What Trotsky had traditionally referred to as the Stalin school of falsification, rooted in the social interests of a parasitic bureaucracy, was being palmed off as a mere case of theoretical confusion.
If this is to be believed, all that is needed to set Mikhail Gorbachev straight is a crash course in Healy’s version of the “practice of cognition.” In truth, the real “eclectic” is Redgrave herself, who shamelessly intermingles half-truths with barefaced lies in the service of the Kremlin oligarchy.
Quoting Gorbachev’s praise of Stalin for having “politically and organizationally crushed,” i.e., physically liquidated, the Trotskyists in the Soviet Union, she declared, “But in this way, nothing can be explained at all.”
Despite Redgrave’s friendly advice, Gorbachev is not interested in “explaining” anything. As the representative of the counterrevolutionary caste which usurped power from the Soviet working class, he is desperately fighting to maintain the bureaucracy’s monopoly over political power and privileges against the revolutionary movement of the working class, both within the Soviet Union and internationally. Redgrave is his willing apologist and accomplice.
Having dismissed Gorbachev’s reaffirmation of the monstrous slanders against Trotsky and Trotskyism and his justification for Stalin’s crimes as merely a philosophical problem of “eclecticism,” Redgrave cited the Kremlin boss’s promise to write yet another Stalinist version of CPSU history as “proof that the political revolution is well under way”:
We in the Marxist Party entirely support this decision. It will establish the truth of Trotsky and the Left Opposition without which there cannot be a total and complete historical truth.
Every worker in the world must support and assist in the carrying out of this decision.
How “every worker in the world” is supposed to assist the highly-trained liars of the CPSU’s propaganda department in concocting a new official history, Redgrave did not say. The implication is, in any case, clear: the struggles of the international proletariat are to be subordinated to the interests and maneuvers of the Soviet bureaucracy.
For those understandably skeptical of her tale of the “political revolution” being led by Gorbachev in the Soviet Union, Redgrave asserted her authority as an eyewitness.
I’ve been to the Soviet Union three times this year,” she said. “I’ve been able to talk with everyone I wanted to—historians, writers, technicians, youth, and workers. Every assistance was given for these discussions. No attempt was made at all to interfere or stop them.
One can well imagine Vanessa Redgrave, six feet tall with flowing red hair, her picture on the cover of Ogonyok magazine, encircled by Soviet photographers, wandering incognito through the streets of Moscow, notebook in hand, collecting data on the conditions of the working class. Truly, there is nothing new in this world. Similar testimonials were given by touring celebrities 50 years ago, in the midst of the blood purges, proclaiming that their personal observations had convinced them that Soviet jurisprudence was a model for the entire world.
No doubt, the KGB is delighted with the tributes of their wonderfully stupid and delightfully pliable “Vanushka.” The members of the Politburo must have enjoyed a good laugh as they reviewed daily KGB reports of the progress of Redgrave’s Moscow visit. For Gorbachev and his associates, it was very useful for the KGB to have her wander “freely” through Moscow!
After all, here is a celebrated but not very intelligent “Trotskyite” who slavishly supports the dominant wing of the bureaucracy. When she returns to Britain, Redgrave will proclaim to one and all that the “political revolution” is not, as Trotsky insisted, the task of the Soviet proletariat led by its own revolutionary party in the overthrow of the bureaucracy, but is miraculously being accomplished by the bureaucracy itself.
There is no doubt that such a person is, whatever his or her intentions, a valuable KGB asset in the systematic effort to deceive and disarm the Soviet working class and disorient revolutionary-minded intellectuals.
As for Redgrave’s play, it offered a glimpse of the type of “complete historical truth” which she promises the Gorbachev bureaucracy will write. In a three-act and four-hour travesty of Soviet history, the performance skipped from 1924 to Khrushchev’s “secret speech” of 1956 and then again to Gorbachev’s own speech to the CPSU’s Twenty-Seventh Congress earlier this year. Omitted was any reference whatsoever to the struggle of the Left Opposition, the founding of the Fourth International and all but the barest mention of the Stalinist blood purges of the 1930s.
The greatest portion of the performance was given Over to an obscenely sycophantic “dramatization” of recent speeches by Soviet bureaucrats.
The utter cynicism of the entire affair was illustrated by the fate of Moscow party chief Boris Yeltsin, both in Moscow and on Redgrave’s London stage. Sacked from his party post in a Stalin-style purge only days before the production, Yeltsin’s name still appeared in the programs of the London play. But on the stage itself, the figure of Yeltsin disappeared just as surely as it was purged from the “vanguard of perestroika.” So much for Redgrave’s artistic integrity. She treats objective historical truth as the small change of her immediate practical needs.
One might add that these practical needs are not only of a political, but also, material character. As an international star of stage and screen, she is not unmindful that new Soviet economic policies will provide many opportunities for fat Moskfilm contracts. She would be among those who would directly benefit from the realization of plans to permit the convertibility of the ruble and the repatriation of profits.
Lost in the midst of Redgrave’s whirlwind romance with Mr. Gorbachev has been her past interest in the fate of the PLO. For years, she campaigned for the exclusion of Israeli artists from the British stage and utilized her reputation as a defender of the Palestinians to raise vast sums of money for Healy’s various enterprises.
But she has willingly turned a blind eye to Gorbachev’s preparations to restore diplomatic relations with Israel and says nothing about the Kremlin’s cynical indifference to the fate of the PLO. Like the British ruling class whose moral standards she so perfectly embodies, Redgrave has no permanent friends, but only permanent interests.
In political terms, Redgrave is the direct descendent of those “radical tourists” like Lady Passfield and George Bernard Shaw, who toured the Soviet Union in the 1930s as the leaders of the October 1917 Revolution were being exterminated in the basements of Lubianka Prison and returned singing the praises of Stalin.
Trotsky, in his 1938 article, “The Priests of Half Truth,” described Redgrave’s political forebears of that period:
The more extensive the privileges of the new leading stratum became, and the more conservative it grew in the defense of its privileges—the greater became the number of its friends among the bourgeois intellectuals and the liberals, snobs who keep up with the vogue of the day. The inspirers of this state of mind became Walter Duranty and Louis Fischer, downright sycophants of the Soviet oligarchy. Under their guidance, small-minded professors, mediocre poets, lawyers who had not succeeded in attaining prominence, bored widows and ordinary lonesome ladies, seriously began to take their friendship with the Soviet Embassy in Washington for service in the interests of the October Revolution. Many of them displayed a readiness to defend the Soviet Union to the last drop of blood ... not theirs, to be sure, but that of the ‘Trotskyists.’
There is one important difference which must be noted. With her Order of the British Empire in one pocket and her ex-membership card in the Trotskyist movement in the other, she is by no means just another “lonesome lady,” as far as the Stalinist bureaucracy and the KGB are concerned. She has been assigned a role which the discredited leaderships of the Communist Parties in Britain and abroad are no longer capable of fulfilling—winning a following in the petty bourgeoisie for the Kremlin’s counterrevolutionary policies of “peaceful coexistence” with imperialism, while waging a vicious campaign against Trotskyism.
For decades, the societies of Friends of the Soviet Union have been sorry affairs, inhabited only by aging Stalinists who have grown anemic after swallowing so many lies of the Soviet bureaucracy over the years. Now Redgrave, prostituting her acting abilities for the benefit of the ruling clique in the Kremlin, tells the middle class that by supporting Gorbachev, they will be participating in a “political revolution,” and the search for “the truth of history.” She recites the tortured bureaucratese of the Kremlin hacks as if it were Shakespeare.
Only the Trotskyists, she warns these petty-bourgeois forces, are opposed to glasnost and perestroika, and adds—in a faithful rendition of the Stalin school of falsification—that they are acting as the agents of the bourgeoisie and the CIA.
Such declarations win Redgrave celebrity status and front-page coverage in the bureaucracy’s propaganda organs, such as the newsmagazine Ogonyok, where she declared recently, “I consider that every upright, thinking, honest person, whoever they are, would wish perestroika success irrespective of what they know or don’t know about the Soviet Union.” Only the bourgeoisie and the Trotskyites, she assures her KGB interviewer, oppose it.
Within barely 24 hours of her November 15 production, the absurd and vicious lies of Redgrave were again refuted by objective events. A major article in Pravda denouncing “excesses” in the perestroika program brought immediate statements of concern from the world bourgeoisie.
Not least among them was that of Tory Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who called upon Gorbachev to resist his opponents in the Soviet bureaucracy. Speaking before the assembled bankers, speculators and other financial parasites at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in the City of London, Thatcher issued a statement of ringing solidarity with Gorbachev, declaring: “He is sure to encounter many obstacles—indeed it is clear that he is already doing so. But he is a man of great courage and I believe that he will persist.”
Immediately afterwards, the planning center of world imperialism, the United States Congress, sent an invitation to Mikhail Gorbachev, welcoming him to address a special nationally-televised joint session upon his upcoming visit to the United States. Never has a “communist” leader been so honored by the American bourgeoisie, which has traditionally reserved such invitations to only the greatest and most trusted representatives of world imperialism, such as Winston Churchill.
So, counted among the “upright, thinking, honest persons” with whom Redgrave and her “Marxist Party” are prepared to work in defense of perestroika and glasnost are none other than the foaming anticommunist and “Iron Lady” of world imperialism, Margaret Thatcher, and the leaders of the Democratic and Republican parties in the United States!
These representatives of world imperialism recognize in Gorbachev’s policies the counterrevolutionary drive of the Stalinist bureaucracy towards capitalist restoration. They welcome its attacks on the monopoly of foreign trade and its introduction of the methods of market economy in distribution. They see in the threat of unemployment, cuts in living standards and speedup against the Soviet worker promising opportunities for imperialist penetration of the vast territory which they lost in the October Revolution, 70 years ago.
Moreover, her adulation of glasnost corresponds to the growing chorus of bourgeois intellectuals and politicians who believe that imperialist interests can best be served through the development of closer economic and political relations with the Kremlin bureaucracy.
Just hours after Redgrave’s performance ended, British television featured an hourlong interview with American author Gore Vidal, who voiced precisely this sentiment. The grandson of a US senator and the half-brother of Jacqueline Kennedy, this American blue blood said that the US and the Soviet Union face a common challenge from Germany and Japan. Having himself visited Moscow, he praised Gorbachev, cynically stating that the deepest wish of the Soviet leadership was to be just like the Americans, i.e., capitalist. The perceptions of Gore Vidal, it is clear, are those of a trained writer.
Redgrave is now functioning on a political line which allows her to serve both the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy and her own British ruling class, simultaneously. As such, she can work with anyone, particularly against the Trotskyists.
In this political context, the events of November 15 must be taken as a warning to the British and international working class of the sinister character of Redgrave’s activities. Her “Marxist Party,” which numbers only a handful of members, is able to field paramilitary goon squads on the streets of London precisely because, in addition to Redgrave’s not inconsiderable personal fortune, it enjoys direct political and material support from the combined counterrevolutionary agencies of imperialism and Stalinism.
For this reason, the International Committee of the Fourth International has called upon the British and international working class to treat Redgrave as a political leper and follow her activities with hostile vigilance.