The examination which the ICFI ha made of the political line of the Workers Revolutionary Party since its formation in 1973 has proved that the collapse of the organization in the summer and autumn of 1985 was the direct product of opportunism. The predominant expression of this betrayal of Trotskyism was the subordination of the interests of the world socialist revolution to the immediate practical needs of the British organization. The growth of chauvinism within the WRP expressed the direct pressure of British imperialism upon the party, above all its leadership. Healy, Banda and Slaughter came to look upon and treat the International Committee as if it formed part of a mini-commonwealth dominated by the WRP, to be used as a source of finance and to be manipulated in the interests of its own foreign policy.
By the 1980’s the methods through which they dominated the International Committee began to resemble those practices used for centuries by the British ruling class: perjury by day and forgery by night—and we mean this literally. Even after their Political Committee had broken up into a political saloon of brawling factions, its members could still serenely collaborate in August 1985 in the extortion of tens of thousands of pounds from the International Committee.
It is, of course, not possible to ascertain the “moment” the degeneration began. At any rate, such processes do not proceed in a straight line. There are days when even a dying man displays a vigor that astonishes his family and friends. But there can be no doubt that the political decay of the WRP was inseparably bound up with its turn away from the international struggle against revisionism—the theoretical mainspring of building the world party—in the early 1970’s.
The practical gains that had been achieved in Britain in the midst of the anti-Tory upsurge led the Socialist Labour League to neglect the essential theoretical and political struggle within the ICFI—above all, against the centrism of the OCI. At the very point when the mass movement required the heightening of the theoretical consciousness of the leadership and cadre, the British section was disarmed. The adaptation to the spontaneous trade union consciousness of the mass movement was then reflected programmatically in the founding documents of the WRP, which already indicated a serious opportunist deviation. Then, the political shifts within the labor movement following the election of the Wilson government produced differentiations within the WRP which the leadership could not confront objectively. The outcome of the factional warfare that erupted inside the Party beneath the pressure of the powerful British Social Democracy resulted in a shift in the class axis of the Workers Revolutionary Party. The political line which followed—the violent oscillations between ultra-left adventurism and right-wing opportunism—expressed the growing domination of the middle class, whose political gyrations during the past 15 years in Britain would resemble, if measured, the fever chart of a malarial patient.
By 1979 the catastrophic blunders which had been committed by Healy and Banda during the previous five years had largely separated the WRP from the real life of the British proletariat. The political line reflected ever more faintly the needs of the working class. Healy’s Political Committee had degenerated into a demoralized clique of yes-men, hand-raisers, and outright flunkeys—of which Mike Banda was merely the most distinguished representative. Realizing that the party was teetering on the edge of the abyss, Healy and Banda grabbed desperately to the rotten ropes of the trade union bureaucracy and various bourgeois regimes in the Middle East.
The next five years completed the transformation of the Party—from a proud Trotskyist movement into a corrupt appendage of the Social Democracy. No one expressed this transformation more completely and tragically than Healy himself. In the early 1970’s he made the one mistake that is impermissible for a revolutionist: he became satisfied with small successes. And even worse, he forgot that the gains of the British movement were the product not only of his own work and that of his comrades inside the SLL, but that of the world Trotskyist movement as a whole. He forgot that nothing would have been possible without the struggles of entire generations of revolutionaries, whose life and death struggles all over the world were epitomized in the genius of Leon Trotsky and the principles he fought for.
Healy had come to believe that he could cheat history, and that he had found a tactical shortcut to the revolution. He had even conned himself into believing that he could lead two lives: preaching revolutionary discipline in public while indulging himself in private. But this grand illusion was shattered in 1985. All the gains that had been built up over a period of four decades lay in ruins. Never had the horrifying implications of opportunism been more glaringly exposed. Healy, who had thought that he could violate the precepts of genuine revolutionary morality secretly and with impunity, landed publicly in the gutter, besplattered with mud and slime. The man who had developed such contempt for the “small Trotskyite groupos” of the ICFI, was deservedly driven from his Clapham headquarters by enraged Party members with sticks and stones, and found asylum only in a secret bunker provided by Vanessa Redgrave.
Only one force could have pulled the WRP, and even Healy, back from the abyss—the International Committee of the Fourth International. Nowhere else could the problems of the British movement have been studied objectively and analyzed within the context of the international class struggle and the historical development of the Trotskyist movement on a world scale.
There was, no doubt, a legacy of uneven political development within the International Committee. From the 1950’s on, opportunism—not isolation from the working class—had wreaked enormous havoc within the Trotskyist movement. Pabloism destroyed promising movements in countries all over the world. The desertion of the Socialist Workers Party in 1963 dealt a treacherous blow to the Fourth International. For a few years the Socialist Labour League and the French OCI alone represented experienced movements which were deeply rooted in the history and traditions of Trotskyism. The other sections of the ICFI which were founded during that period consisted of very young leaderships with no previous or significant experience in the revolutionary movement. They were dependent upon the SLL and the OCI for their theoretical and political schooling. The split in 1971 meant that the British organization exercised overwhelming influence inside the ICFI.
It was natural that Healy and the WRP should, for a period, exercise their authority as “first among equals” within the ICFI. Their aim, however, should have been to overcome the unevenness and work for the creation of an internationally homogeneous leadership. Instead, the WRP leaders more and more consciously sought to exploit the uneven development. The WRP leaders thus transformed the outcome of an historic process into a purely negative factor. Its leaders forgot that the “unevenness” itself was relative, and could provide the dialectical source for the education of the International as a whole.
Even the most experienced section with the largest membership would inevitably stagnate and degenerate unless it was constantly studying the political and theoretical problems of the world movement. But the WRP ceased to concern itself in the slightest with the complex political problems which the other sections of the ICFI were compelled to confront each day. While the WRP leaders boasted incessantly of their material resources, they failed to take note of the important theoretical work that was taking place within the IC sections. Unlike the WRP, which could cover up (for a while) its political crisis by drawing on big resources, the sections of the ICFI could only survive on the basis of a day-to-day struggle for a correct political orientation.
Morever, the ICFI sections had another great advantage over the WRP. The center of their existence was internationalism. This applied not only to a handful of leaders but to the membership as a whole. Within the WRP, however, the axis of political life was British. Large sections of the WRP membership—in fact, the overwhelming majority—knew absolutely nothing about the internal life of their sister parties. As the ICFI learned later, the press of their sections was not circulated throughout the branches of the WRP. Even more damning was the fact that the leaders themselves knew virtually nothing about the work of the sections—except for factional tidbits which they sought to exploit when the need arose. This provincial arrogance permeated the entire leadership. When Tom Kemp came to the United States to lecture for one year at a university, he never once contacted the Workers League—which learned of his extended stay only after he had left. Later it was discovered that he was a contributing editor on a magazine published by American Stalinists.
In the aftermath of the split, Slaughter invented the theory that there had been an “equal degeneration” in all the sections of the ICFI. This vicious slander—which had been created solely for the purpose of covering up for the crimes of the WRP leadership as a whole—ran up against one problem. When challenged, neither Slaughter nor anyone else in the WRP was able to substantiate these claims on the basis of a real political analysis of the work of the sections. They would have hardly known where to begin. Moreover, the really serious errors committed by sections generally came as a direct result of the confusion created by the disloyal interventions of either Healy, Banda or Slaughter at meetings of the ICFI.
Throughout the 1980’s there gradually emerged a recognition within the IC sections that something was seriously wrong inside the WRP. The fact that the WRP did not allow the criticisms of the Workers League to be properly circulated and discussed indicates that Healy, Banda and Slaughter suspected that its views would find broad support within the ICFI. This was historically confirmed: what appeared in 1982 to be the positions of a totally isolated minority became within three years, once the documents were carefully studied, the majority view of the leaders and cadre of the International Committee.
It is, nevertheless, a fact that the domination of the WRP continued within the ICFI for years after there were undeniable signs of political degeneration. In the best of all worlds, the ICFI would have promptly intervened and forced a discussion in the mid-1970’s, or even earlier. In reply, it can only be said that anyone who is familiar with the history of the workers’ movement knows how difficult it is to correct an old leadership—especially one that is identified with decades of struggles.
Moreover, the crisis of revolutionary leadership is not a phrase: It is an organic part of profound and complex historical processes within the political development of the international working class. Ultimately, the social impulse for the defeat of the Healy-Banda-Slaughter clique came from the upsurge of the class struggle in Britain—above all, the miners’ strike—which in the space of 12 months shattered the stability of the Healy apparatus and opened up the fissures through which the opposition within the ICFI and inside the WRP broke through.
From the standpoint of analyzing the class nature of the divisions which emerged within the WRP and the ICFI, it is highly significant that the center of principled opposition to the Healy-Banda-Slaughter clique within the British section emerged among the working class members in South Yorkshire and Manchester. This opposition was led by Dave Hyland, who had been deeply involved in the miners’ strike. It was among these proletarian forces, along with the leadership of the Young Socialists, that the ICFI found a powerful and unflagging base of support. During the meetings of the ICFI in October 1985, the security of the IC meetings was guaranteed by these miners. On one occasion they directly warned Banda—still the general secretary of the WRP—that they would directly intervene if he attempted any further provocations against the ICFI members. Later, in the weeks leading up to the final break between the ICFI and the WRP, the leaders and supporters of the Slaughter-Banda faction could hardly restrain their class hatred of the Hyland tendency. It was as if the miners’ strike was being refought inside the WRP.
The International Committee of the Fourth International has survived and defeated the most pernicious attack levelled against Trotskyism since 1953, and this is the most powerful vindication of the principles upon which the ICFI is based. Despite the size of the WRP apparatus and huge resources at their command, Healy, Banda and Slaughter could not stamp out Marxism inside the International Committee. The lessons of the past 15 years, acquired through bitter and protracted struggle, are now being assimilated in every section of the ICFI and they will never be forgotten. They shall serve as the basis for the education of all those who enter into the Trotskyist movement. The gains of the past year are now being systematically consolidated. Within the sections and among them, the cadre are being unified on firm programmatic foundations. An uncompromising and merciless struggle is being waged against the liquidators and their poisonous skepticism and cynicism. The great liberating ideas of Leon Trotsky are again firmly entrenched within the International Committee of the Fourth International.
June 9, 1986
Peter Schwarz, Ulli Rippert (Bund Sozialistische Arbeiter, West Germany)
Keerthi Balasuriya (Revolutionary Communist League, Sri Lanka)
Nick Beams (Socialist Labour League, Australia)
Dave Hyland (International Communist Party, Britain)
David North (Workers League, United States, in political solidarity with the ICFI)