When the delegates to the Sixth Congress of the WRP assembled in the late summer in 1983 they could celebrate the results of eight harrowing years of disastrous errors. The party which had been formed just a decade earlier was already on its political death-bed, suffering from an incurable case of opportunism which not a single leader inside the WRP was willing to diagnose despite all the unmistakable symptoms.
The perspectives documents prepared for the Sixth Congress epitomized the almost unfathomable degeneration which the WRP and its principal leaders had undergone. They had already reached the stage where they were not only incapable of political analysis, but were totally unable to approach the work of their organization with a modicum of honesty. Healy, Banda and Slaughter were all consciously living political lies, attempting to conceal from the party ranks what they themselves knew to be the stark truth: that the WRP was a compromised and politically-corrupt organization whose leaders had betrayed all the principles for which they had once fought.
This entire document was characterized by a truly astonishing theoretical poverty. It was virtually without anything that could be seriously described as analysis. What passed for “perspective” was contained in a few opening paragraphs which stated that:
“The contradictions of world imperialism have completely and irreversibly torn apart the world capitalist economy. This has precipitated a crisis of over-production and indebtedness which is plunging the world into the most devastating slump in history and is pushing the capitalist banking system toward imminent collapse.”(Documents and Resolutions of the Sixth Congress, p. 17)
The specific and contradictory forms of this crisis were totally ignored. No analysis was made of the strategy being pursued by the bourgeoisie nor of the changes in the economic policies of the leading imperialist powers. Any concrete examination of the actual problems of the labor movements in Europe and the United States was avoided. In fact there was but a fleeting reference to the United States, the center of world imperialism, in the document. Combined with “imminent collapse,” the main resolution claimed that “there arises before the working class of the advanced capitalist and colonial nations the prospect of decisive and imminent revolutionary struggles for power...” (Ibid., p. 18)
In Section 2 on “The struggle for power,” the resolution asserted:
“In Britain the re-election of the Thatcher government on June 9 accelerates the economic, social and political crisis gripping British capitalism and vastly intensifies the class struggle.
“The working class faces a violent class-war government which is using its parliamentary majority to seize absolute powers to impose its ruthless slump policies.”(Ibid.)
No attempt was made to explain the relation between the imminence of revolutionary struggles for power and the reelection of Thatcher. Why, if a revolutionary situation existed in Britain, had the middle class swung in such large numbers behind the Tories? Was there any economic basis for this phenomenon?
The split inside the Labour Party and the formation of the Social Democratic Party was not assessed objectively from the standpoint of changes in class relations. Instead, it was brushed aside as a purely subjective plan “to wreck the chances of Labour ever forming another government.” (Ibid.)
The resolution continued: “The Tories’ siege measures signify a sharp new stage of the world slump and a rapid intensification of the class struggle.” (Ibid., p. 19)
In fact, the worst of the world slump was over by 1983. The continued stagnation in the British economy was in sharp contrast to the rate of growth in the United States. But this growth was characterized not by productive investment but by an enormous increase in fictitious capital and financial parasitism. Thus, the relative upturn was not accompanied by a significant fall in unemployment levels nor in a let-up in the bourgeois offensive against the labor movements of Europe and the North America. The unprecedented scale of mergers that were carried out from 1981 on—as well as the privatization measures implemented by Thatcher—represented a reorganization of capital to offset the declining rate of profit at the expense of a drastic increase in the rate of exploitation of the working class, while temporarily providing financial sops for the middle class. But these changes were not referred to in the resolution, let alone analyzed and comprehended from the Standpoint of the development of the class struggle and the tactics of the revolutionary party.
Rather than striving for concreteness, the resolution complacently remained at the level of theoretically-impoverished abstractions, such as:
“Not a single basic problem facing the working class—jobs, wages, working conditions, the social services, housing education, health care or basic democratic rights—can be maintained or defended without the revolutionary struggle for power. This is the essential objective truth which flows from all the conditions of the present economic and political crisis.” (Ibid.)
As a historical perspective this is true—but this declaration was not sufficient as a perspective to guide the immediate practice of the Party. As Trotsky wrote: “An idea, correct from the point of view of revolutionary strategy as a whole, is converted into a lie and at that into a reactionary lie, if it is not translated into the language of tactics. Is it correct that in order to destroy unemployment and misery it is first necessary to destroy capitalism? It is correct. But only the biggest blockheads can conclude from all this, that we do not have to fight this very day, with all of our forces, against the measures with whose aid capitalism is increasing the misery of the workers.” (The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany, Merit, p. 135)
The resolution asserted:
“Occupations to prevent the wholesale destruction of shipyards, coal mines, factories and workshops must be backed by the formation of Community Councils, a revolutionary, Soviet-type organization to establish organs of working-class power.” (Resolution, p. 19)
We have already exposed Healy’s attempt to palm off his Community Councils—conceived as offspring of the capitalist state whose purpose is to defend one of its branches—as genuine Soviets. But aside from this crucial fraud, the reference to Soviets was utterly hollow without having established in serious theoretical terms the actual existence of a revolutionary situation.
The resolution then attempted to fill the theretical vacuum with the traditional verbiage: “The revolutionary tempo of events calls for the Workers Revolutionary Party to turn decisively and boldly to the broadest layers of workers, trade unionists and youth to build the party, to construct new branches and to expand the circulation of the daily News Line.’’ (Ibid.)
The resolution then asserted that the party’s central objective was to increase its membership to 5,000 by the coming November. Later on, after the collapse of the WRP in October 1985, the International Committee would learn that the actual active membership of the WRP had never been higher, during the 1980s, than about 600 members. The thousands to which Healy referred—without ever being contradicted by Banda or anyone else—were the “dead souls” of the WRP. They existed solely as notations on pieces of paper, a form of fictitous human capital that demanded an ever-increasing rate of return from the real and declining membership of the WRP. The ultimate goal of all membership drives was not the physical increase of the real number of workers inside the party, but rather the increase in the per capita paid by each branch to the London center. In other words, the membership figure of the WRP was an imaginary integer which while useless in determining the real strength of the party inside the working class was essential in calculating the weekly income from the branches.
This organizational charlatanry complemented the political charlatanry. The document attempted no examination of the work of the party inside the trade unions—an omission that reflected the fact that no systematic work had been conducted in that sphere since the split with Thornett. No less significant was the way in which the WRP attempted to smuggle in a change of line on the nature of local government without any examination of its work over the previous two years, which had been based on an incorrect definition of their class character.
Two incompatible perspectives were put forward within one document. Once again, the Community Councils were equated with Soviets:
“The Community Council will be the equivalent of the Soviets developed by the Russian working class in its struggle for power. They must shoulder the immediate responsibility for defending the workers’ occupations and protecting the essential social services of each community, housing the homeless and protecting the localities from the attacks of fascists, the racialists and the police.
“They will become the local, regional and national organs of workers’ power and the foundation of a Workers Revolutionary Government based on the overthow of the capitalist state by the working class under the leadership of the Workers Revolutionary Party.” (Ibid., pp. 46-47)
But the fraudulent character of this perspective was glaringly exposed in the very next paragraph:
“The role of the Community Councils will also be historically decisive in mobilizing against the Tory government’s planned abolition of the Greater London Council (GLC) and the six Metropolitan County Councils.” (Ibid.)
In other words, the Soviets—organs expressing the existence of dual power—were assigned the decisive role in defending organs of bourgeois rule. Why should the GLC be of any importance once the working class has broken with parliament and established its own organs of power?
In reality, ultra-left tub-thumping disguised the most cowardly opportunism and non-revolutionary perspective. “Build Community Council to save the GLC”—or, had Lenin used this formulation in 1917, the rallying cry of the Bolsheviks would have been: “Build Soviets to defend the Provisional Government!”
Then the resolution undermined the previous passages. For the first time the WRP admitted that the metropolitan county councils were “instruments of bourgeois class rule” and conceded that the “defense of social services and basic democratic rights is a class question. It can only be carried out by the working class, not groups of councillors.” (Ibid. p. 47)
However, no indication was given that this new conclusion was a correction of the previous line or that it required a re-assessment of the previous work that had been done by the party and of the type of relations it had established with the likes of Livingstone and Knight. In fact, the next paragraph demonstrated that this “correction” was nothing more than a verbal accommodation to the undeniable fact that the GLC and the county councils are part of the capitalist state. Thus, to reconcile the old opportunist practice with the verbal genuflection to orthodoxy a new formulation was advanced:
“We call on Labour-controlled councils to move out of the council chamber and into the communities to build massive local resistance through the establishment of Community Councils. By turning to the local community and initiating the demand for Community Councils they can provide the working class with new forms of organization to develop the independent strength of the class.” (Ibid.)
Just two months before, the WRP had virtually written off the Labour Party. Now it was claiming that the Labourites would provide the impulse for the independent mobilization of the working class against the capitalist state...by moving out of the councils! From this statement it was not at all clear that this was even being raised as a demand in order to expose the Labourites—nor was this appeal reconciled with the claim made repeatedly since 1981 that the light against Thatcher required that the councillors remain inside their council chambers.
Every section of the document bore the stamp of a diplomatic office job. The cynical attempt to reconcile the WRP leaders’ different sets of political books was illustrated in such empty declamations as:
“Every single theoretical and political struggle since that time (1938) waged by the ICFI against reformism, Stalinism and revisionism represents an imperishable conquest for the world working class.
“The forms of these decisive struggles—the splits and discussions on fundamental questions of Marxism as the theory of knowledge of the working class—have preserved and deepened the continuity of the struggle for the teachings of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky in the working class and which were imperishably established in the 1917 Soviet Revolution.” (Ibid., pp. 20-21)
What a load of bombast. There was not a feather-weight of political content in these holiday phrases: What struggles? What teachings? What splits’! What discussions? All these platitudes were dished up to the WRP membership in the section of the resolution: “The crisis of working class leadership.” At best one might say that this section illustrated the crisis as it existed inside the WRP, but it certainly did not show how to solve it within Britain or anywhere else.
The two sections that followed—“Defend the gains of October” and “The Struggle against Stalinism” were equally bankrupt, consisting of few abstract references to the October Revolution and the founding of the Fourth International. Of the present crisis of the USSR and Stalinism, not a word was written. Afghanistan and Poland were not mentioned. There was no new information—not even some economic data—to demonstrate the necessity for the political revolution.
Despite the fact that the WRP was still in the midst of its frenetic campaign to reestablish Communist Party control over the Morning Star, there was no analysis of the historical and political roots of the crisis within the CPGB and the nature of the competing factions. All that was to be found was a pathetic boast that during a mass rally in London at the end of the People’s March for Jobs ‘83, “the WRP
distributed thousands of leaflets asserting the principle [!] that ‘The Morning Star is the daily newspaper of the Communist Party.’ It was addressed to Communist Party members as well as the wider labour movement to reaffirm our party’s historical connection with the great gains of the Russian Revolution embodied in the nationalized property relations.”(Ibid., p. 40)
Now, it appeared that the historical continuity of Trotskyism in Britain was mediated through the Stalinist rag.
In the section on the danger of nuclear war, the resolution did not even call for the United Socialist States of Europe.
One of the largest sections of the resolution was devoted to a celebration of the march organized to observe the one hundredth anniversary of the death of Karl Marx.
“The Marx Centenary march was a decisive verification [?] of the Marxist method of dialectically-abstracted theory guiding dialectical practice. It proved Trotsky’s oft-stated principle that ‘Marxism is a method of historical analysis, of political orientation, and not a mass of decisions prepared in advance’.” (Ibid, p. 34)
In fact, the March had nothing whatever to do with the vindication of the Marxist method as defined by Trotsky. To start with, it was conceived originally by Healy as a means of exploiting the Marx anniversary to establish some connections with the Social Democrats and Stalinists in Western Europe, as well as reviving the flagging interest of various Middle Eastern regimes in the future of the WRP. That is why he selected “Only the revolutionary socialism of Karl Marx” as a slogan—a classic centrist phrase—in order to avoid having the march labelled as Trotskyist. There existed no political axis upon which the march was centered. It was not directed toward building new sections of the ICFI and establishing Trotskyism as the Marxism of our time. In practice, the marchers devoted most of their time trying to obtain food and lodging. None of the money raised by the marchers could be spent to meet their daily expenses. As a result, the marchers were at times reduced to the status of beggars.
The resolution continued: “We assembled 130 young people from YS sections in eight different countries for the march which commenced on February 12, 1983. This in itself[?\ signified the indissoluble historical link [?] between the revolutionary struggles of the working class today and the revolutionary philosophy of Karl Marx.” (Ibid.)
The connections established by Healy were purely imaginary, but perhaps the most revealing statement was the following:
“The day-to-day experiences of the marchers brought them face-to-face with the capitalist slump: closed factories and steel works, out-of-work trade unionists and youth and the violent preparations of the capitalist state machine.” (Ibid., p. 35)
It isn’t necessary to march through Europe to verify this. Any youth born in any capitalist country can see closed factories and out-of-work trade unionists every day of the week. The question is, what policies did the marchers fight for among the unemployed? Were meetings held on the role of Trotskyism, on the struggle against Social Democracy and Stalinism? The resolution offered no answers because it had nothing to report.
“The Workers Revolutionary Party insists that only by uniting theory and practice in the way verified by the Marx March can a revolutionary leadership be built.” (Ibid)
Here was Healy’s “practice of cognition” in action: Cadres were brought “face to face” with the capitalist slump in their “day to day” experiences—while, of course, collecting a great deal of money for the WRP. In place of striving to give youth a theoretical insight into the nature of class society, Healy liquidated cadre training into blind and politically-destructive activism. Most of the youth who participated on the march left the sections of the International Committee when they returned to their countries.
The section which dealt with the recent national elections never rose above the leve of journalistic impressions. Great emphasis was placed on the manner in which the Tories conducted the campaign, from which the most drastic and ridiculous conclusions were drawn:
“The Tories mounted an expensive propaganda campaign costing more than £15 million during the three weeks of electioneering. They deliberately obscured the economic crisis, the growth of mass unemployment and the destructive impact of monetarism throughout British industry.
‘In its place they deployed the techniques of advertising to create an unreal world of ‘recovery’ and security’ and ‘resoluteness’. Thatcher herself was packaged by the Tory media men and given the image of ‘invincibility’. The opinion polls were rolled into action not to test public opinion but to form it and to coerce the middle class into falling in line with Thatcherism...It boiled down to a gigantic electoral hoax which exposed [to whom?] the fraud of bourgeois parliamentary elections. The tradition of secret parliamentary balloting was replaced by mass coercion on a scale not seen in any previous election [!!]...[It] revealed Thatcher’s desperate need to win an unassailable majority to sieze powers of absolute Tory rule...” (Ibid., p. 41)
Alex Mitchell’s word-processor was clearly out of control. If, however, what he was saying was true, why didn’t the leadership of the WRP take action to mobilize the working class against this mass intimidation to defend democratic rights—or at least campaign for a labor inquiry. In fact, this wild impressionism was part of the transition to the conception of Tory Bonapartism which was to become the obsession of the WRP within less than a year.
The perspective of Tory dictatorship was a political hallucination that exposed the utterly petty-bourgeois character of the WRP leadership and its prostration before Thatcher and the bourgeoisie. Minor incidents reported in the newspapers were seized upon and translated into world-historical developments. Thus, according to the resolution, the Tory seizure of absolute power “was confirmed within days of the election when Thatcher disbanded the Central Policy Review Unit, the so-called ‘Think Tank’, and brought it into her inner-office at Downing Street. [!!!] It was a major constitutional step [!] towards the establishment of presidential rule by executive order.” (Ibid, pp. 41-42)
Just as King James II imagined that he could stop the completion of the bourgeois revolution by throwing the Great Seal into the River Thames, Healy concluded that 300 years of parliamentary democracy could be ended by reshuffling the offices of a few bureaucrats at 10 Downing Street. The vast implications of Thatcher’s actions were expanded upon:
“Instead of rule via Cabinet and parliamentary debate [as the good old days of Baldwin, Churchill, Macmillan and Heath], Thatcher and her close circle of monetarists intend to make policy, draw up legislation and then use parliament to rubber-stamp it. It brings to end rule by consent and consensus [!!!—a la Heath] and inaugurates [!!] a Tory dictatorship in which unelected and unaccountable figures from the backroom of Downing Street [rather than from the backrooms of Threadneedle Street] are the real power-brokers and law makers.” (Ibid., p. 42)
This was the hysterical language of frightened petty-bourgeois democrats, who transformed their morbid fears and phobias into universal truths. In the Second World War there was a group of rather pathetic revisionist emigres from Germany who declared that Hitler’s victory had inaugurated a new historical epoch of barbarism. They thus concluded that the perspective of socialist revolution had been removed from the historical agenda for the foreseeable future. This gloomy perspective was repudiated by the Fourth International. Only Shachtman found it plausible. But it might be said in defense of the “retrogressionists” (as this tendency was known) that they were reacting to the most shattering defeats in the history of the workers’ movement. But what can be said in defense of Healy and Banda, who were reacting hysterically to...the movement of Thatcher’s “think-tank”?
After the Congress ended and the delegates returned to their areas, Healy was apparently concerned that someone might study the documents carefully and detect their utterly bankrupt character. So within a week he wrote up a document entitled “A Guide to working with the Resolutions adopted by the Sixth Congress” that was published as the foreword in the pamphlet in which the congress documents were reproduced. Normally in the Trotskyist movement, Congress resolutions are simply read by party members and evaluated on the merits of their content. They are tested against the objective development of political events. This normal way of doing things was too easy for Healy...and too dangerous. The resolutions had to be rendered more profound—so that anyone who raised differences with the WRP resolution could be quickly expelled for attacking dialectics. So Healy’s “Central Committee Department” produced the following mumbo-jumbo:
“The four resolutions adopted by the 6th Congress are what the Congress asserted.’ In dialectical materialist terms they are the OTHER OF THE FIRST (OTHER OF THE 6TH CONGRESS)...
“From the 6th Congress decisions (assertion) to unity with immediate Being through contradiction (asserted). The presence of the positive in the negative (absolute essence) will denote recognition of the changes which have taken place since the Congress was held. This denotes both Semblance and Absolute Essence which is negated in anti-thesis through negation of the negation into our ‘theory of knowledge’ consisting of the logical’ and the ‘historical’ analysis of events.
“A synthesis is formed through essence in existence in which as a result of analysis those parts of Congress resolutions which have become most urgent, together with the changes’ emerge as ‘essence.’ We must counterpose these same ‘parts’ which have changed in essence, sharply to one another in order to determine the essence of the changes which have taken place.
“Congress proceeding through the antithesis of negation of the negation, which establishes the synthesis, allows analysis firstly to establish more clearly the importance of the abstract nature of the 6th Congress Resolution becoming more clearly revealed in the apprehension of the movement of dialectical thought.” (Ibid., pp. i-v)
Within the WRP a full-blooded sacred language had been created to both mystify and sanctify the revisionist politics of the petty-bourgeois clique that ran the organization. For all its apparent eccentricity, this grotesque perversion of dialectics became an essential and conscious means through which Healy worked to disorient and destroy the cadre of the WRP. By now it was no secret to a substantial section of the WRP leadership that Healy’s ramblings had nothing whatsoever to do with Marxism. Nearly one year had passed since both Slaughter and Banda had declared their agreement with the exposure of Healy’s dialectics that had been made by the Workers League. But they continued to defend it in front of the membership, knowing full well that the whole purpose of the exercise was to create such an atmosphere of confusion that the right-wing line could be pumped into the party without the members even realizing it.
As if to flaunt their own cynicism, they supported a resolution which specifically described Healy’s Studies as a “vital part” of the dialectical materialist training of cadre. The Political Committee clique, along with men such as Slaughter who continuously upheld its authority, embodied an organized conspiracy against the Party membership, which was denied any control whatsoever over the leaders. Healy himself, on a motion introduced by Cliff Slaughter, had been given absolute and supra-constitutional authority inside the WRP.
This state of affairs cannot be attributed to the whims of an individual. Within the WRP, a party that had emerged out of a long struggle for Trotskyism and which had gathered within it the most conscious elements within the British proletariat, a savage class struggle raged beneath the surface between the working class elements and the large layers of petty-bourgeois professionals and ex-students who had entered the party during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s. Healy rested more and more upon the latter, who tolerated and encouraged his grotesque abuse of authority—not only because he accepted for all the shouting and screaming, their middle class ways, but above all because they enthusiastically supported his opportunist line. A university lecturer like G. Pilling could disappear without an explanation for months at a time and abandon all political responsibilities. But when he chose to reappear, there was always a warm seat waiting for him on the WRP Central Committee and even on the International Committee, where he would be used by Healy to denounce genuine Trotskyists who knew no other life but the revolutionary movement.
We have devoted considerable space to analyzing the main resolution of the Sixth Congress because it establishes that the WRP had been, by 1983, destroyed by opportunism. This resolution was the expression of the intense crisis within the WRP leadership, which had abandoned any serious struggle for Marxism in the working class. All that was now needed to complete its fall into the political abyss was a push from the working class. Healy and company had not long to wait.