More Healyite than Healy
David North and the Law
For over 20 years the gang of political bandits led by Gerry Healy shamelessly used the capitalist courts to disrupt, harass, frame up and bankrupt political opponents within the workers movement. Now the American Workers League’s David North, who rushed to claim this heritage as his own after his former British boss Healy was ousted a couple of years ago, is squealing like a stuck pig over how “anti-communist” appeals to the courts will “undermine democratic rights.” Why? Because it looks like the WL is going to get saddled with the court costs in one of the Healyites’ most infamous lawsuits: the sinister case of Alan Gelfand vs. the Socialist Workers Party.
An agent provocateur of the Workers League, Gelfand was expelled from the SWP in 1979. Then, backed and bankrolled by North & Co., Gelfand sued the SWP in federal court claiming that his expulsion was the work of U.S. government agents in “control” of the organization. Citing the Healyites’ notorious “Security and the Fourth International” slanders that central leaders of the SWP were agents of the FBI and the Stalinist secret police, Gelfand demanded that the court reinstate him as a member and “remove” particular SWP leaders and members from the party. As well as appealing to the class enemy to determine the membership of a self-proclaimed socialist organization, the Northites also called on the court to pry into the SWP’s minutes, finances – in short, every aspect of its functioning! Two key “character” witnesses for the Healyite prosecution were former cops from the notorious LAPD red squad, the Public Disorder Intelligence Division.
As we wrote in “The Strange Case of Provocateur Alan Gelfand - Healyite Slanders and SWP Cowards”: “It would be difficult to overstate the danger posed by this case, which if upheld would give the capitalist state a license to ‘regulate’ the internal life of working-class organizations” (WV No. 321, 14 January 1983). While the court has yet to come down with a final decision, the SWP has asked for an interim settlement of $101,000 for legal costs. This has North screaming foul, declaring that “The actions taken by the SWP since the trial could only be taken by police agents who are deliberately seeking to undermine democratic rights through legal actions which have far-ranging implications” (Bulletin, 3 March). So what does that make David North who boasts that he alone went all the way with Gelfand in his obscene appeal to the agencies of the capitalist state to police the left and labor movement? Whose agent is he?
A Calculus of Marxist Decency
Opposition to the use of the bosses’ courts within the workers movement is among the most elementary of class principles. It is axiomatic for Marxists that the state is not “neutral” but the armed fist of the ruling class. Any worker who has ever faced the strikebreaking force of the courts and cops knows this. David North wouldn’t know the class line if he tripped over it, as he frequently does – because more often than not the Healyites have put themselves on the wrong side of it in the pursuit of their own advantage. In their two-volume opus on the Gelfand suit, the Workers League brags that this was a how-to “model” in “making use of the capitalist courts.” But now North and Gelfand are yelping that the same courts they used against the SWP could make them pay.
When the forces of capitalist “law and order” suit their convenience the Healyites have been willing and even wanton in using them. But when they’re on the receiving end, as in the case of the SWP motion (which we hardly condone), like a dying man who finds religion the Healyites suddenly discover class principles. Back in ‘83, in the midst of suing a British leftist newspaper, Socialist Organiser, Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party cynically announced that “the principled policy of the WRP” was to “close ranks in defence” of any “section of the labour movement” under attack by the class enemy! The WRP, you see, was begging for left support against a BBC program reporting on their financial ties to a variety of “Third World” Arab nationalist regimes.
Running to the state against their political opponents became the stock in trade of Healyism two decades ago with the vicious beating of Ernie Tate. In 1966, Tate was set upon by Healy’s goons outside a Healyite meeting in London for distributing SWP leader Joseph Hansen’s pamphlet “Healy ‘Reconstructs’ the Fourth International.” The pamphlet documented the trumped-up expulsion of Spartacist from the 1966 London conference of Healy’s International Committee.
When Tate circulated a letter of protest against this hooliganism the WRP sued him and threatened libel suits against left-wing publications in Britain who printed the letter! In 1975 the Healyites’ well-heeled movie star “angel” Vanessa Redgrave dragged former WRP member Alan Thornett through the courts over an outstanding personal loan.
In 1981, again in the name of Healy’s celebrity Redgrave, the WRP brought their libel suit against Socialist Organiser editor Sean Matgamna after he published a scathing and eminently truthful expose of these unprincipled political bandits, gangsters and cultists. Interestingly, the suit took no objection to Matgamna’s charge that the Healyites were the paid agents of Libya’s Qaddafi. When the WRP went on a campaign against the BBC for reporting the same charges, Matgamna coyly asked, “Will the WRP Sue the BBC?” Of course they didn’t. A year later, Healy’s “expose” of British miners leader Arthur Scargill for criticizing Polish Solidarność as “anti-socialist” was timed for maximum exposure on the eve of the 1984-85 miners strike through the redbaiting, hysterically anti-Scargill Fleet Street gutter press.
“Security” and Healyism
For over a decade the Healyites plied their loathsome “Security and the Fourth International” campaign aimed in particular at veteran SWP leader Joseph Hansen who was slandered as an accomplice in the Stalinist GPU murder of Trotsky. Echoing the Stalinist lie that Trotsky was killed by one of his “own people,” the “Security” slander campaign was an attack on the revolutionary heritage of American Trotskyism. If Hansen was simultaneously an agent of the FBI and the GPU, then why not SWP founder James P. Cannon? Or for that matter Trotsky himself?
Hansen, a skilled polemicist, had tweaked Healy’s tail on more than one occasion. But the “Security” campaign was more than just a vendetta. It embodied the whole method of Healyism. The purpose of these cascading wild-eyed and paranoid lies was to keep the membership politically and morally straitjacketed, not to mention scared witless. Either you accept and defend the lies – all of them – or you yourself might be denounced as an agent of the CIA, FBI, GPU,... Indeed, David North’s road to power in the Workers League was paved by the termination of Healy’s former American toady, Tim Wohlforth, whose companion was framed as a CIA agent. And it was as the accomplice in and a main mouthpiece for “Security” that North won his spurs as Healy’s new American lackey.
Two years ago the political whorehouse that Gerry Healy built in his own image, the so-called “International Committee,” came crashing down when the self-declared “founder-leader” was ousted through the intrigues of his lieutenants (including North). With the lid blown off the Healyite rotting garbage can, the whole sordid history of physical violence against members and the scandalous pursuit of Arab capitalist gold was openly admitted (indeed Cliff Slaughter alleged that the WRP had acted as fingermen for the Iraqi Ba’athist regime against supporters of the Iraqi Communist Party).
The latest installment in this despicable saga is the jailing of Phil Penn, a founding member of the WRP and Healy’s former chauffeur. Penn, who went with the Slaughter wing, was thrown behind bars for four months on charges of assault brought by the Healy-Torrance wing (now sans Healy, who has split). Penn says he was assaulted by four of Healy-Torrance’s goons. We can’t claim to know what transpired in the incident. All sides have been well trained in the Healy school of gangsterism, brutal organizational practices and cynical lies to cover their tracks.
The Slaughterites argue in a letter protesting the jailing of Penn that “no organization calling itself socialist would collaborate with the police against members of the labour movement.” True enough, but for 25 years as Healy’s mouthpiece Slaughter was doing exactly that. According to North’s Bulletin, Slaughter was “among the leading protagonists and most forceful advocates” of the smear job on Hansen and offered to testify as a witness on Gelfand’s behalf. Since the WRP split, Slaughter has shamefacedly disavowed the “Security and the Fl” and the Gelfand case, claiming they were “frameups.” For his part North has clung to every despicable hallmark of Healyism.
David North loves the law. Last year, after our special issue of English-language Spartacist (No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86) on “Healyism Implodes,” we found ourselves vilified at great length in a 14-part series in North’s Bulletin. The first installment defended Hormel strike leaders for filing a court suit against the scabherding International, coyly commenting, “We will consider the Spartacist position on the use of the capitalist courts in a later article” (Bulletin, I April 1986). As we noted in response, the Northites “will be hard put indeed to consider the elementary labor principle that the bosses’ courts are not the vehicle for solving disputes in the labor movement” (“Lord of the Fleas,” WV No. 412, 26 September 1986). And of course they didn’t. It’s not just the courts, the Workers League also loves the cops. In 1971 the WL championed the New York City cop “strike,” aimed at increasing bonapartist terror against blacks and working people!
For more than 20 years, the Spartacist League has exposed the Healyites’ crimes against the workers movement. When Ernie Tate was beaten we raised the biggest outcry we could, printing his account and appeal for workers democracy together with an editorial, “Oust Healy” (Spartacist No. 9, January-February 1967). We campaigned against the “Security” smear campaign, including picketing Healyite meetings with signs asking, “Who Gave Healy His Security Clearance?” and defending Joseph Hansen as an authentic revisionist. When we first heard of the sinister Gelfand suit, which the SWP shamefully kept under wraps for close to four years, we immediately sought to defend the SWP and the workers movement against this criminal provocation. The SWP refused our appeal for more information. Now they’re appealing to the judge for retribution, with all the cringing faith in the capitalist courts of their “Watersuit” against the FBI where the SWP sought a legal license for its quirky brand of reformism.
For David North to rail against the SWP takes real chutzpah. In relation to any Marxist proletarian principles, the Healyites have all the programmatic and moral stance of a revolving door. Or as comrade Trotsky put it in speaking of the “morals” of the social democrats, liberals and anarchists who railed against Bolshevik “amoralism”:
“...they are ready for any baseness – rejection of convictions, perfidy, betrayal – in the name of ambition or cupidity. In the holy sphere of personal interests the end to them justifies any means. But it is precisely because of this that they require special codes of morals, durable, and at the same time elastic, like good suspenders”To the pursuit of the Healyites’ base interests, rank opportunism and financial advantage correspond base means – like dragging leftists through the capitalist courts and other eager forays across the class line. Their support for the mythical “Arab Revolution,” beginning over the 1967 Mideast war, provided an elastic enough concept for the Healyites to fill their pockets and to embrace any act by any of the colonels, sheiks and oil-rich strong men according to who was dispensing the patronage. He who pays the piper calls the tune. And in 1979 the Healyites grotesquely heralded the murder of 21 Iraqi Communists by the Ba’ath regime in Iraq, a monstrous crime against the international working class. Later the Healyites supported Ayatollah Khomeini’s Iran in its war against Iraq, as they have backed every anti-Soviet force on the perimeter of the USSR – from Mao’s Red Guards to the CIA-backed mullahs in Afghanistan to the Solidarność failed counterrevolution in Poland. This is all part of the “heritage” which North defends.
(Their Morals and Ours).
Insofar as the Workers League can claim a coherent political core, it is virulent anti-Sovietism and gross capitulation to the worst elements of the pro-imperialist, racist labor tops. As we concluded our article “Healyism Implodes”:
“‘Morality’ for Marxists is inextricably tied to program. The Spartacists’ unwavering adherence to revolutionary Trotskyism – our genuine, concrete defense of the Soviet Union against imperialism and against the treacherous Stalinist bureaucracy, our commitment to building an international party of proletarian revolution – this has been our political compass. From that also comes a certain superstructure, a certain morality.”Anything goes under the mantle of Healyism, and North, a Healyite’s Healyite, could go anywhere. This gang has traversed the class line so often that who or what they are is forever dubious. On those rare occasions when they talk of principles and feign Marxist orthodoxy, it’s time to “hold fast to the opposites” – to borrow a page from Healy’s shell game “dialectics” – and above all hold on to your wallet.
Spartacist, No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86
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Bulletin– 11 February 1986:
"Resolution on Security and the Fourth International
The 8th Congress of the WRP, held in Hammersmith, 8th and 8th of February 1888, reaffirms Its support for the ICFI investigation, Security and the Fourth International.
We reject the attacks by the Bands-Slaughter group, who no longer represent the British section of the Fourth international, and who are attacking Security and the Fourth international, as part of their continuing attack on the ICFI.
We call on the ICFI to continue the fight to expose the role of state agents in the workers movement throughout the world as a central task in the building of the revolutionary leadership internationally.
This congress sends its warmest fraternal greetings and support to Alan Gelfand for his struggle to expose the state agents within the SWP In America.
In this struggle, he doesn’t act as an individual, but represents the struggle of all workers for their democratic rights."