The political crisis which suddenly erupted inside the Workers Revolutionary Party in the summer of 1985 and which rapidly developed into a devastating split within its central leadership is an event of extraordinary significance for the Fourth International. Within a matter of weeks, the oldest and founding section of the International Committee of the Fourth International virtually disintegrated. The three principal leaders of the WRP—Gerry Healy, Michael Banda and Cliff Slaughter—who represented collectively nearly 140 years of experience within the socialist movement were thrown, almost overnight, into the most vicious factional conflict the Trotskyist movement has ever seen. Despite a period of intimate political collaboration which spanned three decades, Slaughter and Banda were to be found on one side of the factional barricades and Healy on the other. And it was not long before the unstable coalition between Banda and Slaughter broke up and they were engaged in a war to the death no less frenzied than that which they had previously waged against Healy.
And yet, the collapse of the Workers Revolutionary Party between July and October 1985 came as a complete surprise only to those who had not taken notice of the protracted degeneration in the political line of the party during the previous decade. The circumstances surrounding the development of the split—the political disorientation and demoralization which followed the end of the miners strike in March 1985, the savage internecine warfare within the Central Committee, the eruption of a dirty scandal involving Healy, the unprincipled cover-up by the Political Committee of his gross abuse of authority, the apparently sudden collapse of the WRP’s financial structure, the conspiracy to defraud the International Committee—arose out of the nationalist degeneration and uncontrolled growth of opportunism within the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party.
This conclusion, which flows inexorably from a Marxist analysis of the whole development of the WRP since its formation, is rejected by all the different tendencies, except one, that have emerged out of the collapse of the Healyite organization. Except for the members of the newly formed International Communist Party—who, significantly, represented the only principled opposition to the Healy leadership prior to the split and based their struggle upon internationalism—all the others insist that the blame for the crisis in the WRP must be placed upon Trotskyism and the International Committee of the Fourth International. In one way or another, they claim that the degeneration of the WRP (in so far as they admit that any degeneration took place) was the inevitable product of the struggle for Trotskyist principles.
However different the surface form of their attack, all the tendencies hostile to the ICFI agree on one central point: Trotskyism has been historically incapable of rooting itself in the working class and its resultant isolation is the cause of all political degeneration and splits within the Fourth International.
In defending himself against the International Committee, Healy alleges that his Trotskyist opponents believe in “whiter than white socialism of the purest water and the smallest number...” (WRP Political Committee Statement, May 30, 1986). His ally, the petty-bourgeois Greek nationalist S, Michael, denounces the ICFI for putting forward “the reactionary return to the practices of the period of defeats and isolation of Trotskyism ...” (“A New Era for the Fourth International,” January 21, 1986) As the principal leader of the Fourth International during “the period of defeats and isolation” was Leon Trotsky, the practices which Michael is fighting against are those associated with the founding and building of the World Party of Socialist Revolution, i.e., the struggle against Stalinism and centrism. He declares that the fight for Marxist principles and program “means to work to impose defeats on the world working class and the Fourth International.” (Ibid.)
In another statement, Healy defended his practices by insisting on the necessity of opportunism and attacked David North, a leading supporter of the International Committee, in the following manner: “For him...the most vital question is to maintain doctrinal purity [which is] possible only in the smallest discussion group: numbers encourage only doctrinal impurity.” (News Line, February 14, 1986)
To sum up, Healy’s position is that it is impossible to build a movement in the working class without betraying Trotskyist principles. This is the first time that a tendency which claims adherence to Trotskyism has openly declared that its guiding principle is to have no principles!
Banda, in a somewhat more bombastic form, shares the same position and has concluded that the Trotskyist movement must be destroyed. In an infamous document published in February and upon which the now defunct Slaughter-Banda-Bruce faction of the WRP based its split from the International Committee, Banda declared:
“It is certainly no accident—in fact it proceeds logically and practically from this very conception of the IC in 1953—that not a single section of the IC—and this includes the Workers League of the United States—at any time in the last 32 years has been able to elaborate a viable perspective for the working class.” (Workers Press, February 7, 1986)
The conception attacked by Banda, upon which the ICFI was based, is that of the revolutionary hegemony of the proletariat and the Lenin-Trotsky theory of the Party. Sublated into this conception is the historical struggle against Stalinism, centrism and all those agencies of imperialism within the workers’ movement who remain tied to the apron-strings of the bourgeoisie.
It is significant that Banda, just weeks before he wrote the above-quoted lines, stated 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) This was nothing more than a fancy middle-class way of admitting that Banda’s split with Healy was totally unrelated to any question of principles and program.
Another crusader for “revolutionary morality,” Cliff Slaughter, has concluded that the degeneration of Healy as well as his own is the result of the “isolation” of the Trotskyist movement. “At no time after the death of Trotsky did the FI prove capable of overcoming its isolation from the great mass struggles... This smallness and isolation were of course decisive factors in militating against the successful development of Marxist theory.” (Workers Press, April 26, 1986) This statement, which seems plausible to organic opportunists and to those unfamiliar with the history of the entire Marxist movement, is in basic agreement with Healy. The Trotskyists, he claims, cannot develop Marxism because they are small. They are small because they are isolated from the working class. Why are they isolated? Slaughter does not say, but gazes longingly at the answer propounded by Healy, who has already declared that isolation is the inevitable price paid for principles.
Of course, when they speak of isolation, it is not from the working class, but from the Stalinist and Social Democratic bureaucracy and from the various currents of petty-bourgeois radicalism and nationalism. Trotskyists, they maintain, are “isolated” insofar as they reject the bribes and blandishments of those who currently occupy powerful positions within the workers’ movement or who currently enjoy a following within the middle class or among the masses of the semi-colonial countries.
Another group which has deserted the International Committee in the aftermath of the split has summed up the position of all the anti-Trotskyist tendencies in the clearest form. The Liga Comunista of Peru has declared that the degeneration of Healy and all previous struggles within the Fourth International demonstrate the complete bankruptcy of Trotskyism, which, they assert has existed “in the form of small revolutionary sects, increasingly isolated from the masses.” (Comunismo, March 1986)
Justifying their decision to abandon the revolutionary struggle against the national bourgeoisie in Peru, they claim that the Fourth International has sat “on the sidelines of the new development of the world revolution, when this was reinitiated in the decade of the 40’s with Albania, China, Yugoslavia, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, Korea, Algeria, etc.
“The Trotskyist movement couldn’t learn anything from these developments...The practice of the sect relieved them of any direct obligation in the leadership of the masses, allowing them to ignore or characterize all these developments in the most arrogant manner.” (Ibid.) The characterizations to which they object are such Marxist terms as national bourgeoisie, Stalinist bureaucracy, petty-bourgeois radicalism, centrism, etc..
The theoretical leader of this group, Jose B., has taken this analysis to its ultimate lengths by asserting that the class basis of Trotskyism in the proletariat is the source of its isolation from the masses: “Evidently it is a case of a movement rooted in social forces totally adverse to the social forces which are objectively revolutionary. Therefore it must be objectively destroyed.” (Ibid)
Not long after this document was published, Cliff Slaughter rushed off to Peru to shake the hand of its author—in such haste that he forgot the organization’s telephone number and was stranded for several days at the Lima airport.
It is remarkable, but not surprising, that all of these renegades should present an interpretation of the crisis of the WRP which, in its essentials, corresponds entirely to the analysis which was presented last December by the leading anti-Trotskyist organization in the world today, the American Socialist Workers Party. In the December 2, 1985 issue of Intercontinental Press, Doug Jenness, one of the main leaders of the SWP, traced the origins of the degeneration of the WRP back to 1961-63, when its leaders defended “orthodox” Trotskyism against Pabloite revisionism:
“The Cuban revolution did not develop in the way that had been expected by the World Trotskyist movement, that is, on the basis of its ‘theory of permanent revolution.’ The majority of forces who considered themselves part of the Fourth International, however, wholeheartedly embraced the revolution and began to adjust their theory to take account of the way the class struggle was actually unfolding.
“Healy and his followers, on the contrary, elevated the ‘theory of permanent revolution’ to the level of a dogma. From this position they considered that since the Cuban Revolution was not led by a Trotskyist party, there was no socialist revolution.”(p.726)
This statement, which marks the first time the SWP revisionists have admitted that the June 1963 split within the International Committee was precipitated by their rejection of the theory of Permanent Revolution, shows the real significance of the position of all those who now attack the ICFI, regardless of whether they are “pro-Healy” or “anti-Healy.” The SWP declares that the degeneration of the WRP is the product of its defense of “out-dated” Trotskyist principles. The renegades of all stripes agree. So while Healy justifies his betrayal of principle by claiming that the working class cannot be won to Trotskyism, the renegades agree with him on this decisive issue.
There is a precise scientific term for the trend that all these renegades represent: Liquidationism. They represent that most reactionary wing of opportunism which has now broken with Trotskyism and is demanding the destruction of its organized expression, the International Committee of the Fourth International and its national sections.
The class basis of this tendency is the petty-bourgeoisie in all capitalist countries, who have succumbed to imperialist pressures and who no longer believe in the viability of a revolutionary perspective based on the international proletariat. This tendency is most pronounced in the major imperialist centers, where the working class remains dominated by the Stalinist and Social Democratic bureaucracies, and in those less-developed countries where the radical petty-bourgeoisie dominates the mass anti-imperialist struggle.
The opportunist degeneration of the WRP, which was personified by Healy, facilitated the growth of right-wing tendencies not only in Britain but in other sections as well—especially Greece, Peru, Spain and Australia (although^n the latter country the right-wingers represented a small minority whose attempts to destroy the Socialist Labour League were decisively defeated). As the split within the WRP and ICFI has revealed, these opportunist forces became transformed into a full-blown liquidationist tendency, whose battle-cry is “Junk Trotskyism!”
For this reason, however explosive and unanticipated, the unequivocal separation of the ICFI from all these liquidators is the precondition for the growth of the revolutionary vanguard all over the world and for the establishment of the political independence of the proletariat from the petty-bourgeois agencies of imperialism in the workers’ movement of every country.
Unlike our opponents among the liquidators, the International Committee of the Fourth Internationa) does not content itself with mere assertions. All the liquidators, with a host of petty-bourgeois academics at their head, are propounding all sorts of theories to explain the collapse of the WRP. But not one of them has undertaken a serious analysis of the political and class line of the WRP during the past decade. This is not merely a question of personal weaknesses. They do not want any objective analysis of how the WRP degenerated, lest the working class should be armed with the lessons of the experience. Instead, they prefer an atmosphere where there is a maximum of confusion and demoralization and in which they can leave their question marks dangling over the viability of Trotskyism and the socialist revolution.
However, the International Committee has conducted the necessary examination of the degeneration of the WRP—and it demonstrates irrefutably that this degeneration was accompanied at every step by an abandonment of Trotskyism and its international strategy of World Socialist Revolution. Far from representing a break with this degeneration, the liquidators are its most diseased product.