Workers Vanguard 141 (21 January 1977)
Opposing Healy Slanders, Suppressing Workers Democracy
London Meeting: Fake-Trotskyist Family Reunion
At a London meeting attended by some 1,500 people last Friday, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Lambert, Michel Pablo and representatives of the American Socialist Workers Party (SWP) were to have shared the same platform for the first time in over 25 years. Behind the speakers was a banner proclaiming, “For Workers Democracy – Against Frame-Ups and Slanders,” and the ostensible purpose of this reunion of renegades from Trotskyism was to condemn the outrageous accusation by Gerry Healy that SWP leaders Joe Hansen and George Novack were “accomplices of the GPU” in Stalin’s 1940 assassination of Leon Trotsky.
To be sure, Healy’s disgusting slanders deserve nothing but utter contempt from revolutionists as they are manifestly absurd and groundless, and, moreover, serve to fuel the Stalinist lie that Trotsky was murdered by “one of his own.” But the main purpose of the meeting's organizers lay elsewhere. Planned at an October 1976 session of the “United” Secretariat (USec), at the same time as an abortive pact was worked out between the USec and the French OCI (see “No Tango in Paris,” WV No. 137, 10 December 1976), Friday’s meeting provided a forum for the chieftains of the squabbling factions of competing revisionists masquerading as Trotskyists to publicly bury the hatchet.
Much of the meeting was an orgy of indignation against Healy and his Stalinist practices, from gangster attacks against other leftists to pernicious cop-baiting and character assassination. Healy richly deserves the harshest condemnation for his venomous slanders and thuggery, but the ex-Trotskyist dignitaries who use his travesty of anti-revisionism to justify their own maneuvers have little to boast about as partisans of workers democracy.
Starring in the role of “saved” sinner and prodigal son was former Healy lackey Tim Wohlforth. After a dozen years as servile Gauleiter of American Healyism, Wohlforth was blackjacked by his master (and perforce accused of harboring a suspected “CIA agent”).
Wohlforth, now a book reviewer for the SWP’s Militant, appealed for sympathy because of the trials and tribulations he and his companion Nancy Fields faced after being dumped by Healy (“no one knocked on our door”). In the, process he inadvertently revealed his own moral cowardice and total unfitness to be a revolutionary leader. According to Wohlforth, “the hardest thing that I ever said in my life” was to get up in a meeting with Healy and say that he “disagreed with the proceedings.” But this “disagreement” was not sufficient to prevent him from voting (“against my convictions”) for his own removal as head of the Workers League. By his own testimony, then, Wohlforth demonstrates that he would have stood in the front ranks of the capitulators to Stalin in the 1920's. If he cannot stand up to Healy's blustering, how could he have resisted the onslaught of Stalin, who had the full resources of state power at his command, or the pressures exerted by the bourgeoisie?
You Scratch My Back, I'll Scratch Yours
In the chummy atmosphere of a family reunion, the meeting also celebrated the “growth and vitality of the Fourth International.” Mandel put it most clearly: the meeting was not called to refute Healy's vile frame-up, but “to defend the Fourth International through our solidarity with comrade Hansen and comrade Novack... because it needs defending.”
The intervention by Lambert of the OCI – by far the most political of the evening – gently chided the USec majority for refusing to discuss with the OCI so long as the latter refused to characterize the Mandelites as “revolutionaries” (after all, he pointed out, terms such as “centrist” are a legitimate part of political debate among ostensible Marxists). But at the same time he abandoned the OCI's anti-Pabloist tradition and accepted the USec's ultimatum by several times pointedly referring to this gang of revisionists as “the Fourth International.”
Lambert went out of his way to imply that the OCI had never considered the Socialist Workers Party as anything but revolutionary. He claimed that in 1963 when Healy characterized the SWP as centrist the OCI had rejected this label. This bald assertion cannot alter the fact that during the late 1960’s and early 1970’s the OCI referred to the SWP as “revisionist.” Moreover, in 1962 Healy had split the Revolutionary Tendency (RT – predecessor of the Spartacist League/U.S.) of the SWP when the RT majority refused to sign his dictated statement avowing that the SWP was revolutionary and not centrist.
Mandel in his closing speech returned Lambert’s compliment, stating that he must “give credit where credit is due” and praising the OCI for having played “an excellent, excellent leading role" in the campaign to free Leonid Plyushch and to defend other left dissidents in the Soviet Union. Referring to the liberation of Plyushch last February, Mandel assimilated the OCI to the USec by triumphantly proclaiming, “we got him out.”
Michel Pablo, the dean of anti-Trotskyist revisionism, did not show up, no doubt to the secret relief of Mandel and Lambert, since Pablo no longer maintains any pretense of Trotskyism or adherence to the Fourth International and might therefore give the game away. His message read at the meeting was in many ways the frankest of all He disparagingly, referred to “this nasty quarrel” which was “symptomatic of a certain ideological decomposition in the movement of epigones, who have not succeeded in linking themselves up seriously with the natural movement of the class.” But after denouncing the “exacerbated sectarianism of the sects,” in the spirit of the evening he went on to propose “our common task” which was to “search with the utmost determination for what can unite us and not divide ourselves.” All that was necessary, said Pablo, was a “common program which corresponds to the current necessities.”
The speakers wholeheartedly took up Pablo’s admonition. Lambert declared that he didn’t wish to discuss “who was correct” in 1953, when Pablo caused the split and destruction of the Fourth International with his liquidationist program of “deep entrism” in the Stalinist and social democratic mass reformist parties. Mandel, recalling Pablo’s 1950s talk of a “new world reality” in which the Stalinists could no longer betray, discerned that “Eurocommunism” has introduced “new and tremendously vulnerable elements of division into world stalinism,” which can have “fairly big effects in favor of Trotskyism.” He therefore proposed that “all comrades present here, of all different tendencies, factions and organizations," undertake a “common political campaign” to “ask” the European Stalinists to “immediately, openly and publicly rehabilitate all the victims of Stalin, all the victims of the Moscow trials,” and to call on the Spanish Communist Party to expel Trotsky’s assassin! After all, “it can’t hurt to ask”!
Following hard on the USec's prostration before a new wave of popular-frontism in Europe and Latin America, Mandel is proposing a “broad front” of the “family of Trotskyism” to fight “what remains [his emphasis] of the poison of Stalinism today in the working class movement, in the Communist parties and the trade-union organizations” in Europe. As the Stalinists seek to prove their reliability to the imperialist bourgeoisies, in classic Pabloist fashion Mandel capitulates to their talk of classless “democracy” rather than exposing its pro-capitalist essence. Is he preparing for entrism in the “Eurocommunist” parties?
Workers Democracy or Bureaucratic Suppression?
Any remaining doubts concerning the real purpose of the meeting were dispelled after the scheduled speakers had finished. As chairman Tariq Ali was announcing the end of the proceedings, Gerry Healy rose from the audience and demanded speaking time to answer the chorus of attackers. All serious defenders of workers democracy – purportedly the central theme of the meeting – would have wanted Healy to speak, but Ali, with the practised sleight-of-hand of union bureaucrats and shell game operators, called for an immediate vote amidst the uproar, then declared that “workers democracy” had upheld him.
As Healy continued to protest, with considerable support among the audience, the chair demagogically silenced him by bursting into the Internationale to close the meeting.
This outrageous violation of elementary workers democracy – at a meeting allegedly called precisely in order to defend it – again exposes the USec's rotten bureaucratic maneuvers. Moreover, it is only because the decomposition of the “United” Secretariat has reached such a point that it barely exists that this meeting was held at all. Today Mandel and Lambert exchange compliments on the podium and defend the integrity of Hansen and Novack; but when the SWP first sought statements denouncing Healy's slanders a year and a half ago, it took Mandel & Co. quite a while before coming up with a statement.
None of the organizers of this meeting are true defenders of workers democracy or of the Fourth International. The OCI systematically uses thug violence against its ostensibly Trotskyist opponents on the left. Pablo and his acolytes (today the Mandelite USec majority) refused to defend the Chinese Trotskyists jailed by Mao in 1949-51, slandering them as “refugees from a revolution” for their courageous defense of proletarian democracy against the bureaucratic Stalinist regime. As for the SWP, it responded to Castro's jailing of the Cuban Trotskyists by remarking, in the words of Barry Sheppard, now SWP national secretary, “There are Trotskyists and there are Trotskyists. But if I were in Cuba, I wouldn't be arrested.”
While the USec and OCI use Healy's despicable slanders as a convenient excuse for a reunion of the “family” of ex-Trotskyists, the international Spartacist tendency insisted that a genuine and principled programmatic regroupment of authentic Trotskyists can come about only through hard, open debate. A leaflet distributed at the meeting by the London Spartacist Group – cosigned by the iSt, the Organizacion Trotskista Revolucionaria of Chile and the Trotskyist Faction (expelled) of the German Spartacusbund – pointed out that “The real political issues which place all these squabbling, slander-mongering, violence-prone elements at one pole and the iSt at the other are currently posed by two decisive considerations: the popular front and the Fourth International.”
Exposing the speakers’ false pretensions to defending workers democracy, the leaflet explained that behind this lay their capitulation to reformist programs of class collaboration. It concluded, “without the struggle to create a programatically united and disciplined Fourth International the workers are left to wander into the new traps of capital... with the assistance of their revisionist would-be ‘leaders’.” Forward to the rebirth of the Fourth International!