Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

Healy takes up the struggle for the Fourth International

45. As war raged across Europe, Cannon and the SWP continued their efforts to clarify the issues at stake with the WIL. Their struggle underscored the political maturity acquired by the US party over the preceding period. The unity of the British Trotskyists was not simply an organisational matter. It was impossible to ascertain with any degree of political or theoretical certainty the nature of the tensions between the RSL and the WIL, which centred on various tactical disputes. Moreover, there were differences within the WIL, with Haston, Grant and Healy in continuous conflict. Only within a unified organisation, and as part of an international movement, could these differences be fought out and clarified.

46. In an open letter to “a young friend”, written in 1943, the SWP’s Lou Cooper warned the organisation of the implications of its hostility towards the authority of the international movement:

“The general attitude of the WIL on this question serves to miseducate its many new members in the proven method of Bolshevik organisation. This is possibly one of the most serious consequences of any extension of the present WIL attitude. The membership will not know how to deal with future disagreements and divisions in the WIL itself. The way the WIL educated its new members, it is no exaggeration to say that the future may very well see groups of comrades breaking off from the organisation and yelling ‘I’m king. Recognise me’.

“Or possibly the WIL believes that future crises of society will affect everyone in its ranks similarly. Possibly there are some who believe that no dissident divisions will ever appear. All I can say at this point is, that if there are responsible comrades with this belief they had better hope and maybe even pray that this miracle occur. At the first real sign of disagreement all the miseducation on this question is going to bounce right back in the faces of the responsible members of the organisation. If you’re not going to educate your membership in the spirit of tried, tested and proven Bolshevik organisational methods, you’re not going to have Bolshevik-Leninists in time of real crisis.”[1]

47. Cooper’s admonishment was to have an impact on Healy, who had come to understand that past factional battles had clarified nothing. His reassessment was to prove crucial, as it marked the first real breach in the WIL’s narrow nationalism. In an internal bulletin entitled, “Our Most Important Task”, Healy decried the “for the record” approach towards fusion of the WIL, and advocated immediate unity with the RSL:

“If we accept the history of international Trotskyism since 1933 (which is a history of Bolshevik regroupment in the Fourth International), then we must place the question of the International as the most important question before the group. All other questions of group development, such as the press, industrial work or organisational activity are bound up with whatever stand we take on the International. If we accept the political principles of Bolshevism then we must accept the organisational method. It is not sufficient to say that we accept the programme of the Fourth International and that we expound it better than the RSL if we do not also accept its organisational method, which means that we must be affiliated to the International, accepting its democratic centralist basis; just the same as it is not sufficient to claim to be a Trotskyist and to be more conversant with the policy of Trotskyism than the organised Trotskyists, unless one joins a Trotskyist party accepting its democratic centralist discipline.”[2]

48. In opposition, the WIL leadership described the insistence on unity as “nonsensical especially in the present period of mass upsurge within the British labour movement.” Its concern was that affiliation to the Fourth International would cut across its freedom of operation within Britain. Repeating the arguments of the centrists against Trotsky in the 1930s, Haston and Grant stated that the attitude towards unity within the Fourth International “is one of tactics and expediency, and not at all a question of Bolshevik principles as such.”

49. In their writings, Healy’s political opponents attribute the basest motives to his alliance with the SWP and to his support for unification. They denounce it as a manoeuvre aimed at gaining international backing for factional ends. Such subjective interpretations are almost always aimed at discrediting a principled political approach. In Healy’s case, the stand he took was arrived at through bitter experiences with the national factional politics that dominated the WIL. In his contact with Cannon and the SWP, he was able for the first time to form relations with substantial figures, grounded in the major experiences of the international Trotskyist movement and with a proven record in the working class. Healy’s declaration for the Fourth International was not a pragmatic response that would secure him prestige and reward; it was a commitment to a political struggle that often incurred great hardship. The underlying issues of principle involved determined that it was Healy and the tendency he led that would play the major role in the development of British Trotskyism.

50. Despite the objections of Grant and Haston, the fight conducted by the Fourth International won majority support for unification within the WIL and the RSL, and in March 1944 the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) was formed. Disagreements remained, but these could now be addressed in relation to broader issues of world perspective.


Cited in Gerry Healy and his place in the History of the Fourth International, David North (1991), Labour Publications, p. 10.


ibid. p. 11-12.