Thursday, September 3, 2009

Some Political Bandits at the End (1989)

Spartacist No. 43-44 (Summer 1989)

Some Political Bandits at the End

22nd March 1988

Dear Comrade,

Obviously, it is important that we gain the maximum support for the campaign to get the Russian government to release all documents relating to Leon Trotsky and the Moscow trials: Truth must out. The trail of blood left by Stalinism needs to be acknowledged by all, even if it is unpalatable to some communists.

By the same token, we must see that errors of a similar type are not committed in this country by people purporting to be Trotskyists.
That is why the current issue of the Syndicalist journal, Solidarity
, is so alarming. It contains a secret internal report of the WRP.

This shows that the WRP received large infusions of funds from Libya and other Middle East governments. Apparently, a total of at least £1,075,163 came from these sources.

Even more disturbing, the secret report reveals that the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein wanted information about the activities of opponents of the regime living in Britain. So members of the WRP acted as spies for their Iraqi paymasters. As a result, Iraqi left-wingers, returning to Baghdad, were tortured and executed.

In my opinion, it is vital [for] working-class organisations, as a matter of urgency, to make the following demands:

First, that the full facts be revealed about the WRP's associations with Colonel Gaddafi and other Middle East dictators.

Second, that the names of all those involved be made public.

Third, that both the WRP and these individuals be asked to account for their actions.

The principles of glasnost should not be confined to the precincts of the Kremlin. Unless we are a bunch of hypocrites, the British left must see to it that the same principles of frankness and openness operate in this country. Otherwise how can we expect Mikhail Gorbachev to reveal all?

Yours fraternally, Raymond Challinor

Spartacist replies: We thank Raymond Challinor for his letter, originally sent to the editors of both Workers Press and Revolutionary History and printed here with his agreement. The “secret internal report” of the WRP to which Comrade Challinor refers is the by now infamous report of the David North-dominated “International Committee” Control Commission, dated 16 December 1985. Substantial excerpts of this report were published in the Spring 1988 issue of the British anarcho-syndicalist journal Solidarity. Subsequently, the British Workers International League (WIL) published the report in full in the April 1988 issue of their newspaper Workers News. The WIL is the only one of the remnants of the implosion of Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party (there are currently at least seven publishing journals in Britain) to have made the report available to the international workers movement. Interested readers who wish to obtain a copy of the report can order one directly from the WIL (1/17 Meredith Street, London EC1R OAE, England).

From the time Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) imploded spectacularly in the fall of 1985 (see “Healyism Implodes,” Spartacist No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86), it has been clear that none of the myriad cliques and tendencies which spun out of it were interested in a real reckoning with the WRP's despicable record of political banditry. For 20 years the Healy cult, with a brutal internal regime held together by mind-numbing “dialectical” mumbo-jumbo, violence and security fetishism, was a mill for the cynical destruction of those leftists who made the mistake of joining it. Healy was infamous for his capacity for wild swings in political line in pursuit of egregious and often mutually contradictory opportunist appetites. (In “Wohlforth Terminated,” Workers Vanguard No. 61, 31 January 1975, we cited the Healyites’ high-turnover operation in lumpen youth milieus as the political context for their programmatic oscillations in the early 1970s.) By the late 1970s the WRP had become shameless apologists for Near Eastern dictators and oil sheikdoms. But to the extent that the Healyites had a coherent political core they were cringing legalist/Labourite economists and virulently anti-Soviet in concrete program. Those who had stuck it out for years with Healy, through every twist, turn and betrayal, could not be expected to function very differently without him.

Soon after the implosion the dubious David North, who came to replace Tim Wohlforth as leader of the tiny American Workers League in 1976, stepped into Healy 's misshapen shoes as lider maximo of the WRP’s “International Committee” (IC). North claimed the allegiance of the German and Sri Lankan IC sections, the majority of the Australian section led by Nick Beams, and a minority of the old WRP under David Hyland. North expelled the rump of the post-Healy WRP led by Cliff Slaughter, which retained in its international orbit only a minority of the old Australian IC led by Phil Sandford.

The Northite IC has clung to every despicable hallmark of Healyism, from the use of the capitalist cops and courts against opponents in the workers movement, to the “Security and the Fourth International” slander campaign against leaders of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP), who the IC claims are and were (even in Trotsky's time!) agents of the capitalist and Stalinist secret police. Not only does the shadowy North, who won his spurs in the Healyite organization as mouthpiece for “Security and the Fourth International,” continue to retail the Stalinist slander that Trotsky was killed “by his own people,” but his organization has made its sinister efforts to aid the American capitalist state in railroading SWP member Mark Curtis on phony rape charges into its chief international activity (see “The Workers League and Mark Curtis,” Workers Vanguard No. 480, 23 June 1989).


Healy's long-time lieutenants, none of whom ever objected at the time to any of the betrayals perpetrated by the WRP in order to get money from Near Eastern bourgeois governments, moved in to depose Healy not because of the receipt of that money, but because that money dried up.

From the time the old WRP started up its subsidized daily News Line in May 1976, its pages full of uncritical adulation of the Libyan dictator Muammar Qaddafi, it was clear that Healy's organization was on the take from the Libyan regime. Slaughter's rump WRP was forced to admit as much in the aftermath of the implosion and with the membership clamoring for the truth, an International Committee Control Commission was convened to investigate. The Commission’s “Interim Report,” dated 16 December 1985, was more of an exercise in damage control than a real attempt to get at the truth; its revelations were used by David North in his cynical IC powerplay and the Commission didn’t even attempt to investigate allegations that other IC sections had also received Near Eastern oil money. Moreover, the Commission never aimed to hold accountable the WRP leaders who were implicated. All names were deleted from the report except those of WRP members who had split along with Healy, presumably so North would have plenty to hold over Slaughter et al. in the future.

The report documents the WRP’s receipt of a total of £1,075,163 from the Palestine Liberation Organization as well as the governments of Libya, Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Iraq from 1977 to 1983. No surprises here. More damningly, the report reveals some of the concrete services to be provided by the WRP to obtain the alliance with Qaddafi: in an April 1976 secret agreement with the Libyan government the WRP agreed to provide intelligence information on the “activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere” by “Zionists.” Even the Control Commission report acknowledges that this agreement had “strongly anti-Semitic undertones, as no distinction is made between Jews and Zionists and the term Zionist could actually include every Jew in a leading position.” So the WRP agreed to in return for Arab gold. Healy’s organization became spy on leading British Jews in return for Arab gold. Healy’s organization became agents for Qaddafi, and a lot more than publicity was involved.

The Control Commission reports that in connection with this agreement, the WRP demanded £50,000 from the Libyan government to buy a web offset press. The Control Commission says it was unable to find any documentation that this money was received. But the WRP did launch the daily News Line a month after the agreement was signed and did (according to the report) spend £188,500 to buy two Hunter offset presses some time in the period between September 1974 and April 1981.

The London Sunday Times (7 February 1988) obtained a copy of the report and exposed the WRP as having been “paid to spy for Gadaffi.” An ex-WRP member told them that the WRP had called information on leading “Zionists” from the Jewish Yearbook and the Jewish Chronicle and sent it to Libya, What was the response of the Slaughter WRP to the Sunday Times revelations? A statement (Workers Press, 13 February 1988) that “no worker with any sense will believe such rubbish.... There is no evidence that the party when led by Healy ever spied on ‘Jews’, prominent or otherwise,” On the contrary, the £542,267 that the Control Commission documented the WRP got from Libya is a hell of a lot of evidence. The April 1976 spying agreement is what cemented Healy's alliance with Qaddafi.

Perhaps the most vicious crime of the Healy-led WRP was the fulsome support they gave to the Iraqi Ba’athist government's execution of 21 Iraqi Communist Party members in 1979. Both the Australian and American IC sections reprinted articles from News Line hailing the execution of these working-class militants: the Healyites positively gloried in it, portraying the Communist oil workers, the most class-conscious section of the Iraqi proletariat, as agents of counter-revolutionary Stalinism. Whet the WRP imploded, some members reported that they had been assigned to take photographs of a London protest against the Iraqi government, photographs which they believed had been turned over to the Iraqi embassy. About this deed, the Control Commission reports “a receipt for£ 1,600 for 16 minutes of documentary footage of a demonstration is in the possession of the Commission.” Who was the receipt made out to? Needless to say, we aren’t told. The perpetrators should be brought to proletarian justice. But that is the least concern of any of the Healyite remnants.

What Are North and Beams Covering Up?

After the IC Control Commission delivered its report, Cliff, Slaughter and his followers immediately began to cry foul. In a 14 January 1986 letter to all WRP members, Slaughter wrote:

“Is it only the WRP which received financial assistance from one or other Middle Eastern bourgeois national governments? Which other sections did so?

“Is it not a fact that the Australian section did receive a sum of (tens of thousand [sic] of dollars) in 1983? (We do not say of course, that to seek such assistance is always wrong, it is wrong when political principles are sold for the maintenance of such relations).

“Is it not a fact that the receipt of this. money by the Australian section [w]as reported to the Central Committee of the SLL (Australia) only in the month before the IC meeting of Dec 16? And is it not a fact that the IC delegate, Cde Beams, was told by his CC in Australia to report this matter to the IC?

“Is it not true that Cde Beams failed to report the matter to the IC or to the WRP delegates, but that he did report it to at least some of the delegates who supported the WRP suspension and certainly to Comrade North? That is what happened.

“Finally: is it not true that Comrade North and Beams agreed the matter should not be raised at the IC because they considered it did not constitute a “class betrayal”? How did they differentiate between the class betrayal of the WRP in this matter - on which was based the argument for suspending the WRP from the IC without charges and without a hearing — and the actions taken on behalf of the SLL(Australia)?”

Slaughter’s accusations have the ring of (self-serving) truth. The Central Committee of the Australian SLL did censure Beams, at a meeting held in February 1986, for failure to report receipt of money from Arab regimes to the IC, and according to Phil Sandford, Beams even voted for the motion (Socialist Labour League Internal Bulletin, February 1986). Sandford, who soon after led a split from the Northite SLL to found the Communist League in solidarity with Slaughter, claims in the same bulletin that “the SLL carried out a class betrayal in identical terms to that carried out by the WRP, but it is not possible to discuss that here for obvious reasons.” In an article in the December 1986 Socialist Press (journal of the Communist League), Sandford recounts the story of SLL leader Greg Adler’s 1979 trip to Baghdad, where Adler had been instructed to ask for $100,000 to buy a printing press. Sandford claims that Adler didn't ask for the money, but nonetheless Gerry Healy gave him quite a dressing down for daring to poach on his preserve. Sandford goes on to report:

“The SLL’s relations with the Libyan regime require a separate article. Suffice to say they were more productive financially thanks to an even more slavish public relations job in the pages of Workers News and such things as the memorable, Libyan-financed brochure entitled Libya - the true story.”
As part of their turn to “commercial enterprise, commercial print work,” the SLL also took money to print The Bell of Saigon, organ of the fascistic Vietnamese thugs who have attacked Australian leftists and labor meetings.

One thing is for sure, the Australian Healyite remnants are complicit with North and Slaughter in hiding the real truth. A letter of Simon Pirani (for the Slaughter WRP Central Committee) to the Northite IC dated 21 July 1986 cynically asks “whether the Control Commission has completed its work.” The equally cynical Peter Schwarz replies for the Northites, “You know as well as I do that the ICFI Control Commission was refused any access to any further information as soon as it had given its interim report” (correspondence published in March 1987 issue of Northite Fourth International). Both sides blame each other for the “incomplete” work of the Control Commission because neither side wants the whole truth revealed.

Why Did the Healyites Implode When They Did?

Another document in our possession sheds a lot of light on events in the WRP in the fall and summer of 1985, immediately predating the implosion. It is a “Financial Report” by Corin Redgrave, dated 8 October 1985. While Redgrave’s testimony must be taken with a grain of salt, he certainly gives the flavor of things:

“In the financial year 1984-85 scarcely a single rent or rates demand was paid on time. Bailiffs took walking possession of print shop, the party bookshops, and on one occasion at east, the party headquarters at Clapham. The total cost to the party in one financial year from court charges, solicitors’ fees, bailiffs’ fees and interest, was more than £7,000.”
On 3 April 1985 British Rail, to whom the WRP owed £25,515.58 for carriage charges, suspended credit to Astmoor Litho, publishers of News Line, and demanded cash payments before it would ship the newspaper. By 1 July 1985, not a single major wholesale supplier would deal on credit terms with New Park Publications. By October, the WRP owed £30,000 in back fees to their accounting firm, which was refusing to keep up the books. Redgrave claims that the mess was all the fault of the WRP financial apparatus who, unbeknownst to Healy (!), had been financing WRP operations though a £35,000 bank overdraft negotiated in October 1982. Redgrave also claims that from 1984 on, the financial apparatus had been selling and mortgaging party property, all apparently in a desperate effort to keep things afloat.

By the summer of 1985 the whole stinking house built by Gerry Healy was about to come tumbling down. And everyone in the leadership knew it. It was doubtless no accident that Aileen Jennings, whose infamous letter charging Healy with sexual misconduct touched off the implosion was a linchpin in the WRP’s financial apparatus. The WRP Political Committee originally labeled her letter a “provocation.” It was only when the WRP’s financial debacle could no longer be hidden that Slaughter et al. decided to use its revelations against Healy.

An emergency meeting of the international Committee was called in August 1985 to discuss the WRP’s financial crisis. Healy tried his usual trick of soaking more money out of the tiny IC satellites. The slimy David North, who was in on all the backstabbing intrigues in the WRP leadership from the beginning, saw that things were about to explode. North pledged to contribute £30,000 and, according to Savas Michael (leader of the Greek IC section. who stuck with Healy), he then didn't turn over the money (Marxist Review, May 1986). North knew exactly what he was doing with this maneuver, and in the aftermath of the implosion his “Control Commission” smugly documented the WRP's financial impasse, confirming the picture painted by Corin Redgrave.

Redgrave dates the WRP’s escalating financial crisis from October 1982. The “Interim Report” of the IC Control Commission details the drastic dropping off of Near Eastern oil funds between 1982 and 1983 (£271,217 in 1982, only £3,400 in 1983; nothing in 1984 and 1985). Thus the immediate motive seems clear. Healy's long-time lieutenants, none of whom ever objected at the time to any of the betrayals perpetrated by the WRP in order to get money from Near Eastern bourgeois governments, moved in to depose Healy not because of the receipt of that money, but because that money dried up.