An Open Letter to Other Supporters of the IC
There is today a gross scandal in the Trotskyist movement, involving charges of an extremely serious nature leveled against the leadership of the British Socialist Labour League (SLL). Because of the political similarity between the Spartacist League and the SLL, and the close organizational relations existing at various times in the past, we feel it our responsibility to make our views on the matters involved clear and unambiguous. The content of the charges is revealed in the following letter circulated by Ernest Tate.
"I believe it is a tradition in England that all socialists should be allowed to sell or distribute their literature, without hindrance or fear of violence, outside public meetings. I would like to report an outrageous violation of this tradition to your readers and ask for their assistance in preventing it from happening again.
"As quite a number of people on the Left know, I manage Pioneer Book Service, a large outlet for Trotsky's books in England, and I or some of my friends try to cover most meetings with our literature. On Thursday, 17th November, I went along to Caxton Hall to sell literature outside the Socialist Labour League's meeting on the 10th anniversary of the Hungarian revolution. "
"I arrived at 7 :15 p.m. and began to sell the International Socialist Review and a pamphlet, critical of the S.L.L., entitled "Healy 'Reconstructs' the Fourth International." Several people were selling literature. A group of Irish Communists were selling their publication and someone was selling the English Militant.
"Initially there was some baiting of me by the Socialist Labour League supporters who were selling the Newsletter. At 7:50, Gerry Healy and Michael Banda entered the hall. A few seconds later Healy came to the entrance and indicated to his followers that I should be removed from the front of the hall.
"I was immediately set upon and physically assaulted by six or seven Socialist Labour League supporters. My literature was knocked from my hands. I was punched and thrown to the ground, my glasses were smashed, and as I lay on the ground I was kicked repeatedly in the groin and stomach.
"After the attack I had to attend the casualty department of Middlesex Hospital and I was forced to stay in bed for the greater part of the next day. At the moment of writing I am still badly bruised.
"The issue is a simple one. The Socialist Labour League Leadership hope by their actions to prevent me selling my literature outside their meetings. They hope to take away my freedom of speech. This attack comes after a number of threats against me and my friends by members or supporters of the Socialist Labour League. At Brighton during the Labour Party Conference, my comrades were physically threatened and prevented from selling our literature. The same was true at the recent anti-war demonstration in Liege, Belgium, where I was threatened.
"I refuse to be intimidated. Neither a Fascist Mosley nor an ultra-left sectarian Gerry Healy who imagines himself to be a Trotskyist, should be allowed to curtail our democratic rights. I intend to be present at the next public meeting of the Socialist Labour League to sell my literature. I ask for the full support from all people on the Left to ensure I do it without interference from the misguided followers of Gerry Healy.
"Fraternally, ERNEST TATE”
Following the circulation of this letter among Left and labor circles in England and its reprinting by several radical publications, the SLL instituted legal proceedings against Comrade Tate and threatened publications printing Tate's letter with the same treatment.
"Alighting from Coaches"
That Healy had Tate beaten is not disputed - in fact it is defended, as being within the framework of bourgeois "law and order." According to Healy's lawyers, the Tate letter
"described a disturbance on the pavement outside Caxton Hall, where the meeting was being held at which our client was a speaker. The letter states that Mr. Healy indicated to his followers that the writer of the letter should be removed from the front of the Hall and that he was assaulted by supporters of the Socialist Labour League. We are instructed that this is inaccurate. Mr. Healy, in fact, asked a steward to clear the pavement in front of the entrance to the Hall in order to allow passengers alighting from coaches to enter the Hall without being obstructed."This grotesque legal language only serves to point up the hypocrisy of a man claiming to be a proletarian revolutionary leader using such a law – from the period when lords and ladies descending from their coaches had the right to smash beggars, petitioners, children and anyone else in their way – against another member of the labor movement.
Healy's legal action was clearly intended to intimidate other publications from printing the letter and to end public discussion of the whole matter. Two of the papers which had printed the letter, the Socialist Leader and Peace News, issued retractions and paid the costs demanded by Healy.
Perhaps Healy's having Tate beaten might have been rationalized as an uncontrolled individual outburst of anger; but the appeal to "the Queen's Justice" implicates the entire SLL leadership, both in the initial hooliganism and in the attempt to suppress discussion within the workers movement.
Such tactics applied internally are not new to Healy. We have not previously spoken of the atmosphere of physical intimidation that surrounded the April London Conference, but it was present. We have since heard well-authenticated accounts of the use by the SLL leadership of calculated violence ("punch-ups") to silence internal critics. We already knew that Healy had developed a technique, which destroyed the revolutionary morality of those around him by systematically forcing them to make false confession against themselves. It was for refusing to do this that Spartacist was expelled from the April Conference of the International Committee.
What has now led Healy to employ these tactics outside his movement? This summer the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) issued, for their own purposes a pamphlet on the April Conference entitled "Healy ‘Reconstructs’ the Fourth International," the one Tate was attempting to sell outside the SLL meeting. The pamphlet consists mainly of correspondence between Spartacist and the SLL prior to and following the Conference. It lays bare – most clearly in Healy's own words – the criminal wrecking tactics he employs within the international Trotskyist movement. In denouncing the pamphlet in the 20 August Newsletter, the Political Committee of the SLL stated: "We shall not hesitate to deal appropriately with the handful of United Secretariat agents who hawk it around the cynical fake-left in England."
"Outside the Working Class"
Healy has attempted to put a theoretical face on his actions against. supporters of the SWP – one similar to that used by the Stalinists in the thirties to justify their gangster attacks on Trotskyists. Then Trotskyists were labelled "counter-revolutionary" and beaten when they attempted to circulate literature explaining what was happening in the Soviet Union. The SLL at a "Special Conference" held 26 and 27 November passed a Declaration on the Socialist Workers Party, printed in the 3 December Newsletter and reprinted in the Bulletin. The document describes tie SWP as "turning completely away from the working class." The dispute between the SLL and the SWP is "a fight between the working class and the servants of the class enemy." It states:
"We tell the SWP: The days when you could address us as 'comrades' are long since gone. Your political actions have placed you outside the camp of Trotskyism and of the working class... There can be not the slightest question of your telling us what we must do to reestablish our reputation with you."At the conclusion of the document appears the statement: "The issues raised in the Nov. 21st letter by Farrell Dobbs, Secretary of the Socialist Workers Party, about what happened at Caxton Hall on the night of November 17th, we cannot discuss at this stage for legal reasons." Yet even if supporters of the SWP must be cleared from the streets as "servants of the class enemy," the appeal against them to the bourgeois courts is not explained. The Trotskyist movement has always opposed any appeal to the bourgeois state, even against Fascists.
The turn by Healy and the SLL leadership to the political methods of the petty bourgeoisie and to the bourgeois courts is not the action of either genuine revolutionists or of "ultraleft sectarians." Such methods have no relation to the formal politics of the SLL, the politics of revolutionary Trotskyism. How is this contradiction to be explained? We say that Healy is an aggressive and greedy adventurer whose particular politics have changed frequently. At the present he is claiming to adhere to the revolutionary Marxist program of Trotskyism. Tomorrow his politics will be something else, just as they were only a few years ago when Healy was indistinguishable from the Bevanites in the Labour Party.
Furthermore, Healy is an adventurer peculiarly preoccupied with sharp financial deals and with technical and material matters: His Plough Press does heavy commercial work – using his comrades' labor. He believes that "weak" national sections should financially support the "strong" one, i.e., his. Thus in 1961 he took over $1,000 from those of us who were then his supporters in this country in order to make a world tour. The tour never materialized, nor was the money returned or otherwise accounted for. (Copies of the relevant correspondence and cancelled checks would be available to any bona-fide workers' investigating commission.) Since then Healy has always sought, successfully, to conduct his relations with comrades in the U.S. at a profit. Churchill once described England as a nation of small businessmen. Healy stands as the left wing of his nation.
The persistent adherence by the Spartacist League to the revolutionary principles and program of Trotskyism, to which Healy gives lip service, have twice led Healy to break with and attempt to destroy us. Because of this adherence, the Spartacist League is not now besmirched by the public exposure of the gangster tactics Healy uses. Just as Farrell Dobb's telegram of condolences to Mrs. Kennedy came as a revelation, even to those who were most aware of the deepening revisionism of the.SWP, so Healy's outrageous beating of Tate, compounded by dragging the victim before the courts of Elizabeth II's England, is a striking exposure of his and his leading committee's bankruptcy as revolutionists.
To the members of the SLL and the other sections of the IC, we say: OUST HEALY! In the United States the American Committee for the Fourth International (ACFI) has consistently aped Healy. Its members have now individually defended Healy's attack on Tate by saying, "Well, we want to smash Pabloites, don't we?" while the Bulletin reprints Healy's cynical statement that questions pertaining to "the events around Caxton Hall" cannot be discussed "for legal reasons." The ACFI members, whose initial weaknesses were exploited by Healy in typical Comintern fashions, are now being made to accept and justify ever greater departures from revolutionary practice. As with Stalin's Comintern, sections that have developed along this path have no inner stamina to resist any threat or any "opportunity" domestically. At the first opportunity we will see ACFI's vaunted "internationalism" (i.e., loyalty to a British clique) change into the most vicious American nationalism.
As for the SWP, it is certainly their right to factionally use against their political opponents this act of hooliganism. However, as Oscar Wilde once pointed out, hypocrisy is the acknowledgement vice pays to virtue. The SWP today is chasing after the same pacifists, Stalinists and middle-class elements who have been and will be guilty of the most serious violence against the working class and its left wing, both directly and through the bourgeois state. However, despite the motives of the SWP, its objective call at the present time for democracy within the labor movement is correct. We concur, only insisting that this democracy be applied impartially to all sections of the workers' movement. Furthermore, we are for the defense by any measures necessary of the right of Tate or anyone else within the workers' movement to press their opinions. The legal defense imposed on Tate certainly merits the support of all militants, and contributions for this purpose may be sent to him c/o Pioneer Book Service, 8 Toynbee Street, London E1, England.
In addition to the defense of Tate, what can be done to apply the maximum pressure against repetitions of this conduct? Trotsky has offered us an example of how to proceed in his article, "A Case for a Labor Jury – Against All Types of Gangsterism in the Working Class Movement; On the Murder of the Italian Stalinist Montanari." In this emigre quarrel the killer had apparently been victimized by the Stalinists and after resorting to violence he was for a time falsely linked by them to the Trotskyists. The conduct of the Italian Communist Party then roughly corresponds to the SLL's now. The conclusion of the article from the New Militant, 5 October 1935, is reprinted here :
". . . The Montanari-Beiso case is important precisely because a conflict on the political plane has led to a supremely senseless act of murder of one emigre by another. In this there lies an ominously serious warning, and it is necessary to grasp its significance in time!
"The matter is now in the hands of the bourgeois law courts. The official investigation is obviously not intended to cast light on the bloody tragedy from the standpoint of revolutionary morals of the proletariat. The prosecution will probably try only to compromise the proletarian emigres and the revolutionary organizations in particular. But the agents of the Comintern will also try to exploit the trial for every vile purpose, as they are obliged to do. The duty of workers' organizations, without any regard for political banners, lies in one thing: in shedding the greatest light possible on this case, and thereby, insofar as it is possible, to prevent the repetition of gunplay in revolutionary circles.
"In our opinion, the labor organizations,must establish, without any further delay, an authoritative and non-partisan committee which would go over the entire material, including Beiso's letters mentioned in l'Humanite, to examine all the witnesses and representatives of the parties and groups who are concerned or interested in the case, so that the political, moral and personal circumstances in the case be clearly established. This is necessary not only in memory of Montanari, not only to reveal Beiso's real motives, but also to purge the atmosphere of all working class organizations of treachery, calumny, hounding and gun play. Naturally the interests of the case would be best served if the representatives of l'Humanite and of the Central Committee of the Italian C.P. were to take part in this Committee. But we may safely predict that they will most certainly refuse: these politicians stand only to lose from an impartial investigation, and much more than would appear on the surface. But the investigation ought not to be wrecked by their refusal to participate. Every honest participant in the labor movement is deeply interested in seeing to it that this abscess is opened which can otherwise develop into gangrene. The tragic case of Montanari-Beiso must be brought before a labor jury."Workers' Inquiry
In the event that the grip of Healy's clique on the Socialist Labour League is too strong, or Healy's leading collaborators on the International Committee too cowardly, to intervene directly to oust Healy, we think it appropriate to force a workers' inquiry to expose this fraud who disorients and corrupts the Trotskyist movement by posing as a revolutionary leader.