Throughout 1983 Cliff Slaughter, working behind the scenes with Healy, laid the ground work for a political provocation against the Workers League, the organization of US Trotskyists which worked in solidarity with the International Committee of the Fourth International. In April 1983 Slaughter seized on an editorial which had appeared several weeks earlier in the Bulletin, the American party’s twice-weekly newspaper, to use philosophy as a pretext for attacking the Workers League. In a short statement noting the 100th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx and paying homage to his work, the editorial had failed to specifically mention the contribution of German classical idealism to the development of materialist dialectics. Though this was hardly a matter which should have aroused any special notice and though Slaughter knew that North, who had been in Britain when the editorial was published, had not written it, the IC Secretary wrote a grave letter to the Workers League suggesting that something was dreadfully wrong inside the American organization.
Three months later, protesting the fact that he had not received a written reply, Slaughter again wrote to the Workers League demanding that his criticisms be answered:
“You will recall that I sent you a short letter, drawing your attention to certain sentences in a Bulletin editorial. This editorial wrote about Marx’s theoretical contribution without the essential content of the dialectical method achieved by the ‘negation of Hegel’s philosophy. Do I take it that you received this letter and that a reply can be expected.” 13, 1983)
Prior to these letters, Slaughter had not visited the North American continent in more than five years. At that time, he had supposedly come to attend a week-end meeting of the Workers League Central Committee, but missed half the sessions because he was more interested in brousing through New York City bookshops in search of Max Raphael’s study of Pablo Picasso than in discussing the problems of the American movement. Then, before the CC meeting ended, he had to be rushed to the airport on Monday afternoon so that he wouldn’t miss his scheduled lecture at Bradford University. For the cost of a round-trip trans-Atlantic ticket, paid for by the Workers League, the American comrades had the pleasure of his company for a few hours. Now, on the basis of an editorial which had not mentioned Marx’s debt to Hegel, Slaughter was pretending that he had detected serious weaknesses inside the Workers League. It should be added that these two letters on the Marx editorial were the first the Workers League had received from Slaughter in six years and only the second in eight years.
In October 1983 at a meeting of the International Committee, North gave a lengthy report on the political situation in the United States and the plans of the Workers League to intervene in the 1984 Presidential elections on the basis of the fight for the political independence of the working class from the two main capitalist parties through the formation of a Labor Party based on the trade unions. In accordance with a plan that had been worked out with Healy prior to the meeting, Slaughter expressed alarm that North’s report had failed to concentrate on the progress of the struggle for dialectical materialism in the United States. Banda then intervened, after having glanced at the headline of the current Bulletin, which denounced Reagan’s nation-wide speech justifying the US invasion of Grenada. Attacking the headline, “Reagan is a Liar,” Banda declared that it should have read “Hands Off Grenada” and that this represented a complete repudiation of revolutionary defeatism. North rejected this attack, pointing out that Banda should have first read the newspaper before attacking the Workers League’s position on the invasion. He then called to Banda’s attention the fact that the headline preferred by Banda—“Hands Off Grenada”—in fact appeared in another part of the newspaper. When the meeting was over, Banda apologized to North and said that he would inform the IC delegates that he was withdrawing his criticism.
But following this meeting of the International Committee, Slaughter decided to press ahead with the attack on the Workers League—charging that further study of the Bulletin had convinced him that the Workers League had indeed failed to take a revolutionary defeatist position. Later, in the midst of the explosion inside the WRP, Slaughter would admit that this entire incident was concocted by the WRP leadership in order to hit back at the Workers League because of the criticisms it had made in 1982 (A transcript of his remarks is in existence).
In a letter to the Workers League that was received in early December 1983 (There was no date on it), Slaughter attacked the report that had been given by North at the October meeting, criticizing “its heavy emphasis on the ‘political independence of the working class’” and warning that this “showed the dangers that we are not holding fast to these very basic lessons of Trotsky’s last struggle and the whole struggle of the International Committee.” He warned that an exaggerated emphasis on the independence of the working class “will become a weapon in the hands of all those who retain the mark of pragmatism, because it will be treasured by them as something more ‘concrete’ than the explicit struggle to develop and comprehend the categories of dialectics as the method for that life-and-death matter of grasping the rapid and all-sided development thrown up by the world crisis.”
Once again the WRP leaders were at their old game of using pseudo-dialectical phraseology to create a provocation inside the International Committee and to attack the struggle of Marxists inside the working class. As has now been revealed, Slaughter had abandoned anything approaching systematic work inside his own section since the mid-1960’s and was placed by Healy inside the leadership of the ICFI as a faithful retainer. He had degenerated into a theoretical charlatan and a political prostitute. Moreover, as his letter made clear to the Workers League leadership, Slaughter’s attack on the fight for the political independence of the working class meant that he had abandoned Trotskyism and joined the camp of Pabloite revisionism.
North replied to Slaughter in a letter dated December 27, 1983. He rejected formal references to the dialectical method as a means of settling political disputes. “Of that any pragmatist is quite capable. What must be studied and developed is the correct application of the dialectical method and historical materialism. However, this is by no means undermined by ‘heavy emphasis’ on the ‘political independence of the working class,’ I believe that a serious study of all of Lenin’s works—and, most explicitly, his earliest economic and philosophical studies—will reveal the inner connection between his concentration on the correct application of the dialectical method and his ‘heavy emphasis On the ‘political independence of the working class.’
“I must admit that I am disturbed by the very suggestion that an emphasis on the ‘political independence of the working class’ could be characterized as ‘very heavy’ within the International Committee—especially in relation to the report from a sympathizing section in a country in which the working class has not yet broken politically from the liberals. All the organizational, political and theoretical tasks of a Marxist party—above all, in the United States—are directed precisely toward the achievement of this political independence.
“While you suggest that this emphasis ‘will become a weapon in the hands of all those who retain the mark of pragmatism’, I see nothing that supports this conclusion. The whole fight against the SWP since 1961—not to mention the entire history of the struggle of Bolshevism—has hinged on this very issue. Far from embracing the concept of political independence of the working class, it is under relentless attack by Stalinists and revisionists all over the world today. The neo-Stalinism of the SWP does not originate in the head of Mr. Barnes but is a very definite response of US imperialism to the new stage of the capitalist crisis and the revolutionary upsurge of the world proletariat. In this way Pabloism serves as a medium for the transmission of imperialist pressures into the workers’ movement. As I have heard you insist so many times in the past, it is at precisely such a point that the International Committee must be on the alert for any trace of the revisionist outlook within its own ranks and at the same time intensify its political and theoretical assault against Pabloism. As you will certainly agree, this fight against Pabloism is by no means behind us.
“It is precisely for this reason that I believe that a clarification of the issues you have raised in your letter is very necessary.”
The Workers League decided that the time had come to challenge the basic political and class line of the Workers Revolutionary Party—first and foremost its abandonment of the theory of the Permanent Revolution. Having received no answer from Slaughter, North addressed a letter to Mike Banda, dated January 23, 1984, in which he expressed concern “that the International Committee is now in danger of losing the gains of its many years of principled struggle” and that the Workers League was “deeply troubled by the growing signs of a political drift toward positions quite similar—both in conclusions and methodology—to whose which we have historically associated with Pabloism.”
The letter stated that the ICFI was working “without a clear and politically-unified perspective to guide its practice. Rather than a perspective for the building of the sections of the International Committee in every country, the central focus of the IC’s work for several years has been the development of alliances with various bourgeois nationalist regimes and the liberation movements. The content of these alliances has less and less reflected any clear orientation toward the development of our own forces as central to the fight to establish the leading role of the proletariat in the anti-imperialist struggle in the semi-colonial countries. The very conceptions advanced by the SWP in relation to Cuba and Algeria which we attacked so vigorously in the early 1960s appear with increasing frequency within our own press.”
The letter then reviewed the response of the News Line to the recent meeting of Arafat with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak following the PLO leader’s forced evacuation from Beirut. While not attacking Arafat for having made this unauthorized trip to Egypt, North criticized the News Line’s glorification of this desperate maneuver:
The News Line, in the course of denouncing George Habash’s “slanderous accusation” against Arafat, had written:
“These verbal assaults are the product of limited minds and narrow outlooks. Arafat’s talks with Mubarak do not constitute support for Camp David. On the contrary, Arafat’s audacious diplomacy has helped to undermine the treaty between Egypt and Israel, not strengthen it.
“The essence of the Camp David conspiracy between Sadat, Beigin and Carter was to ignore the existence of the PLO as the sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people and to dismiss the struggle of the Palestinian people for self-determination.
“This is why the treaty was so vigorously opposed. But now Mubarak has welcomed Arafat in Cairo. This is not a meeting of individuals. It signifies the Egyptian government’s recognition of the PLO, its legitimacy in the Middle East struggle, and its inalienable right to fight for the liberation of Palestine.
“Does this serve Camp David? Does it serve Zionist imperialism? Of course not. It is a severe diplomatic and political blow to the crisis-stricken Shamir regime and that is why Tel Aviv has been angrily denouncing the Arafat-Mubarak talks.” (December 30, 1983)
In response the Workers League wrote:
“...Article after article in the News Line presents this visit as a strategical tour de force on the part of Arafat that has left his enemies confounded once again. Such an approach, however sincerely motivated by the determination to defend the PLO against its enemies, serves only to mislead and disarm our cadre and the readers of our press.
“As Marxists, our starting point in making political analysis is never the conscious intentions of political leaders; it must be the class forces they represent and the logic of the class struggle of which their actions are a necessary expression. The policies of Arafat reflect his class standpoint as a petty-bourgeois nationalist. He is maneuvering not only between different bourgeois regimes within the Middle East but also between the opposing class forces within the Palestinian movement. However great his personal courage and heroism, Arafat’s policies cannot provide an answer to the great historic problems of the Palestinian struggle for self-determination. While it is our duty to defend him and the PLO against the reactionary machinations of the Syrian Ba’athists, we are by no means obligated to hail his pragmatic turn to Mubarak as some sort of strategical masterstroke.”
Challenging the News Line’s claim that “Arafat has brilliantly managed to bring Egypt back into Middle Eastern calculations and, at the same time, to stay out of the clutches of both Damascus and Amman,” North stated:
“The conception that the course of history is determined by inspired acts of genius on the diplomatic chess board belongs to idealist bourgeois historiography and not to the materialist conception of history. Our calculations, if not Arafat’s, are always based on an estimate of class forces and the potential of the working class for revolutionary struggle against the bourgeoisie. For us, the salvation of the Palestinian Revolution does not lie in escaping from the ‘clutches’ of Syria by leaping into the clutches of Egypt, Morocco and, in fact, Jordan—with whose King the PLO is presently engaged in intense negotiations and with whom Mubarak is now scheduled to meet next month. Are we now to welcome and place confidence in this new round of diplomacy? Our strategical goal should always be the mobilization of the working class—supported by the peasantry—against the bourgeoisie in each and every Middle Eastern country.”
North pointed out that the actual content of the WRP’s claim that it supported the “political independence” of the PLO was uncritical support for its maneuvers. “As used here, the slogan of ‘political independence’ is reduced to an almost meaningless abstraction, which serves to cover up the danger that the political logic of the PLO’s maneuvers—whatever Arafat’s intentions—leads inevitably toward its subordination to the interests of the Arab bourgeoisie and world imperialism.”
The letter continued: “By writing articles which serve only to justify what has already been done by Arafat and which paint in bright colors this or that pragmatic maneuver, the
danger arises that we are falling victim to a political outlook that calls into question the real necessity to build the Trotskyist movement in the semi-colonial countries and within the anti-imperialist national liberation movements. If Arafat, guided only by his intuition can successfully lead the PLO, what need is there for the training of Palestinian cadre as dialectical materialists? Involved here is not a single article or merely the Arafat-Mubarak episode. We now have gone through years of experiences since 1976 which have shown again and again that emphasis on the special qualifications of this or that leader paves the way for serious miscalculations, dangerous errors and intractable contradictions in our political line. Let us merely note that among the staunchest suppporters of Arafat’s meeting with Mubarak is Saddam Hussein, who we once enthusiastically supported but for whose overthrow we now regularly call, and that among Arafat’s bitterest opponents is Muammar Gaddafi, who until recently received the same sort of praise we now bestow upon the PLO leader.”
In conclusion the letter warned:
“We feel that the basic problem is that the International Committee has not yet drawn up a real balance sheet on its work over the last eight years. Surely we cannot simply go from alliance to alliance without making an analysis of each concrete experience through which the International Committee has passed. Without such an analysis we will face greater and greater confusion which inevitably, if not corrected, will produce political disasters within the sections.”
North called on Banda to help renew the “struggle against Pabloite revisionism—above all, against the manifestations of its outlook within our own sections. Let us begin this work by availing ourselves of the opportunity presented by the scheduled IC meeting to prepare the foundation for an exhaustive discussion on international perspectives, aimed at the drafting of a comprehensive international resolution... The time has certainly come for the International Committee to issue its reply to the attacks of the SWP neo-Stalinists on the Theory of Permanent Revolution and to demonstrate that it remains the indispensable scientific foundation for the building of the World Party of Socialist Revolution.”
When the Workers League delegation arrived at the IC meeting that had been scheduled for the weekend of February 11-12, 1984, it discovered that the WRP had failed to contact several sections and arrange for their attendance. The delegate from Sri Lanka, the national secretary of the Revolutionary Communist League, who had been a member of the ICFI since 1968, was not informed of the meeting and knew nothing about the differences that had been raised by the Workers League since 1982. The regular delegate from the Australian Socialist Labour League was also not informed of the meeting. When the Workers League delegate asked why the regular Australian delegate’s place had been taken by an inexperienced member of the SLL who was working in the News Line office for training, this objection was brushed aside. The Peruvian delegate had also not been informed of the meeting. As for the Greek delegation, one of its members was secretly engaged in an intimate personal relationship with Healy while the other, national secretary Savas Michael, had paid a visit to Iran on instructions from Healy and in clear violation of ICFI discipline. Moreover, his section was also profiting from these unprincipled connections with the national bourgeoisie. The WRP’s unprincipled clique faction also included the delegate from Spain, who was later identified by Healy’s secretary as another of his intimate associates. Moreover, as the Workers League learned later, the WRP leadership had initiated within the International Committee a slander campaign against David North, indicating darkly that he could not be trusted. “We don’t know who North is,” was the line.
Under these conditions, the outcome of the meeting was rigged in advance. Those delegates who were present at the meeting had not read North’s letters to Banda and Slaughter before arriving at the IC meeting and there had been no discussion of the political differences on the central committees of the respective sections. In fact, none of them even knew about the differences.
North’s report was delivered in reply to a draft of a perspectives resolution that had been prepared by Slaughter. This draft contained no analysis of any political or economic developments after 1971 and was confined to a sterile, formal and sketchy recapitulation of the history of the Trotskyist movement. Criticizing this draft for failing to make any assessment of the strategic experiences of the working class and the ICFI since 1971, North read through his report, which concentrated on establishing the identity of the international political line of the WRP and the American Socialist Workers Party. It reviewed the development of the WRP’s alliances in the Middle East since 1976, noting that “by mid-1978 a general orientation toward relations with nationalist regimes and liberation movements was developing without any corresponding perspective for the actual building of our own forces inside the working class. An entirely uncritical and incorrect appraisal began to emerge ever more openly within our press inviting the cadres and the working class to view these bourgeois nationalists as ‘anti-imperialist* leaders to whom political support must be given.”
The report went on to review the support given by the WRP to the execution of Iraqi CP members, its shifts on the Iran-Iraq war, the definition of Libya as a socialist state and the uncritical praise heaped by S. Michael upon the Khomeini regime. It then mentioned the WRP’s line on the Malvinas War and concluded by raising questions about the orientation of the WRP toward sections of the Labour Party bureaucracy in Britain. The report called into question the WRP’s evaluation of Livingstone and Knight and criticized its policy on the NGA.
The report noted that there had been a “long process of adaptation to petty-bourgeois forces, “and then stated: “This does have definite theoretical roots—an empiricist method dressed up with Hegelian phraseology—but one which has absolutely nothing to do with Marxism. The glorification of sense perception and the rejection of historical materialism.”
The report concluded: “We are worried by the depth of political and ideological differences. But we believe that the problems can be surmounted through serious and honest discussion. What is needed is a real discussion within the IC and the leaderships of the national sections. Documents should be prepared and circulated. This is the way to proceed. The IC can only emerge strengthened. The Workers League is very anxious to participate and to learn from this discussion. We treasure our collaboration with the British comrades and with every section of the IC. Let us set a definite timetable for this discussion and on this basis work toward an IC Conference.”
The British delegation consisted of Banda, Slaughter and the inevitable Geoff Pilling, who one month later was to again desert the movement—but not before he was given another opportunity to denounce the Workers League. Healy himself, a political coward, refused to attend the meeting to defend the line of his organization. That he left to Banda and Slaughter. Their defense consisted of allegations that the Workers League had grossly distorted the position of the WRP and had made all sorts of unsupportable inferences from the statements which appeared in the News Line. This was attributed to, of course, American pragmatism which had led the Workers League to “shoot from the hip.” The British delegates made it clear that they intended to split from the Workers League if the differences weren’t immediately settled—that is, if the Workers League didn’t withdraw its criticisms. The Greek delegate viciously denounced the Workers League in unashamedly chauvinist terms, declaring that North’s criticism of the WRP was a manifestation of “American messianism.” Not one of the delegates from the remaining sections present at the meeting expressed any agreement with the criticisms of the Workers League or suggested that they merited further discussion. The political climate within the meeting, especially on the part of Banda, became increasingly subjective and frantic. It was clear that there was not going to be any serious discussion of the issues, and that the ICFI, at that point, was unable to function as an international party.
Faced with this situation, the Workers League delegation decided to bide its time and reluctantly accepted the British demand that it withdraw its criticisms. The alternative was a split under conditions in which the positions of the Workers League would not have been known within the sections of the International Committee.
The sabotaging of discussion would not have been possible had it not been for the disloyal role of Banda and Slaughter. Under conditions in which Healy was so politically weak that he could not defend his views in person, they orchestrated a factional gang-up against the Workers League. One day after the IC Meeting concluded, on February 14, 1984, Healy sent Slaughter a “Dear Cliff letter congratulating him for the “good political job” he had done. Healy boasted that “from the standpoint of the development of the dialectical materialist method we are strong enough to ideologically rout our most important and powerful imperialist opponents.”
This incredible slander was then upheld with the usual dialectical crack-pot verbiage: “Our opponents metaphysically saw the opposites as mutually exclusive opposites so they pitched their section as a part of the world party against the World Party itself. Both became mutually exclusive opposites in their heads. To maintain the metaphysical illusion they employed the pragmatic selection of quotations without any real content, weilding (sic) them in a subjective idealist way against the political development of the International Committee.
“We, as dialectical materialists see opposites in their unity and reciprocal interpenetration, met the challenge head on, as it were, exposing the arguments of our opponents concretely in the conditions of the world revolution that exist today. For us the basis of struggle started from the unity of the IC as the core of the World Party and the world economic and political crisis of capitalism. This was, and is, the basis for our theoretical generalisations and their manifestation in our practise as a unity and identity of opposites. All structures and the processes that embrace them, arise from this unity and interpenetration of dialectical opposites. That is why we transformed the opposites into one another, with no holds barred, and emerged with a new unity and identity of opposites on a new and higher level. We have avoided the split which was posed by the metaphysical pragmatists and established instead this new unity and identity of opposites, of which they are still a part. We look forward to this state of affairs continuing, also if necessary with no holds barred.”
Enraptured by the dialectical rotations of Healy’s head, Polonius-Slaughter immediately replied to the letter in order to declare his admiration for the profundity of its analysis. Dated February 16, 1984, Slaughter’s letter read:
“Thank you for your letter of February 14. I believe that what you say does penetrate more deeply to the essential content of what took place at the IC of Feb 11/12. The attack from the US Section has as its content the need of the imperialists to destroy the IC. To defeat this attack means that the dialectical materialist training of the cadre in the last period has indeed been in line with the needs created by the most fundamental processes of revolutionary change in the objective world. This objective necessity at the heart of this interconnection could not have been grasped so clearly and made consciously, the content of our response without the systematic work on Vol Mas well as Vol 38.
“Not only that: we have to understand as your letter says in conclusion, that the newly established unity and conflict of opposites is not a completed and self-contained process but develops always anew in interconnection with the world revolution of which it is a part. Hence we go forward ‘also if necessary with no holds barred.’
These letters, which were unearthed by the International Control Commission, were of a politically-criminal character. Stripped of their fake-scientific trappings, they expose the contempt with which Healy and Slaughter viewed the Fourth International and their indifference to the political impact of their unprincipled factionalism upon the international workers’ movement. They thought nothing of destroying Trotskyist cadre in the heart of world imperialism—built out of a decades-long struggle against revisionism—nor anywhere else in the world. Those who have read Slaughter’s writings on Gramsci, Lucacs and Walter Benjamin might ask how this cultured English humanist could bring himself to write such disgusting flattery in response to a letter which was as depraved as it was intellectually bankrupt, and how he could especially declare his support for a “no-holds-barred” approach to the struggle against the Workers League. The answer lies in the reality of the class struggle. When confronted with the fundamental issue of social revolution, the middle-class philistines—many of whom call themselves Marxists—will make whatever compromises are necessary with their consciences and align themselves with those who defend the interests of their class. In the 1930’s, there were to be found inside the British Communist Party men no less cultured than Slaughter, such as Palme Dutt and King’s Councillor D.N. Pritt, who defended the Moscow Trials—for the same class reasons.
Of course, the philistine does not like that the origins of his treachery should be traced to its class roots. That is why Slaughter, in the aftermath of the crisis that has exposed all that was rotten inside the WRP, now insists that its cause should not be sought in class forces—but in a soothing psychological abstraction which he calls “The British dislike of theory.”