Wednesday, August 12, 2009

David North: Joseph Hansen's Natural Son (1988)

Workers Vanguard No. 456 (1 July 1988)

Anatomy of a Healyite Russia-Hater

David North: Joseph Hansen’s Natural Son

Workers League leader David North has made no small effort to ensconce himself as the undisputed “leader” of the shattered remnants of Gerry Healy’s corrupt International Committee (IC). To do so of course requires that North declare all of the other former leading lights of Healyism (including the “founder-leader” himself) to be hopeless “renegades.” Never mind that North was trained, tutored and installed as a leader by the same crew he now denounces in order to proclaim himself to be the sole surviving repository of Healyite “orthodoxy.”

One of the most recent installments of this cynical charade is North’s book The Heritage We Defend. Ever so modestly described as “A Contribution to the History of the Fourth International,” in reality it is a 500-page treatise against Healy’s longtime hatchet man Michael Banda. Against Banda’s ignorant, anti-Trotskyist “Twenty-Seven Reasons Why the IC Should Be Buried Forthwith and the Fourth International Built” – a way station on Banda’s road to becoming a Stalinist PR man – North attempts to claim as his own the revolutionary heritage of James P. Cannon’s Socialist Workers Party. This is really egregious considering that the Workers League published hundreds of pages written by their former leader Tim Wohlforth, sneering that Cannon was a barely Marxist, vulgar “window smasher.” This was Wohlforth’s way of making himself out to be, in effect, the first real American Marxist.

As for North, he was specially chosen by Healy to be the WL “leader” as a reward for his eager services as mouthpiece for Healy’s obscene “Security and the Fourth International” campaign – a psychotic smear job impugning the integrity of the old, revolutionary SWP and Trotsky himself. Slandering the SWP’s Joseph Hansen as a conscious agent of the FBI and the Russian secret police, and an accomplice in the murder of Trotsky, the Northites have for over a decade echoed the Stalinist lie that Trotsky was killed by one of his own.

“Security and the Fourth International” grew straight out of Gerry Healy’s own particular combination of years of political banditry and paranoid megalomania. It was Healy’s way of “explaining” his International Committee’s failure to definitively expose and defeat Pabloism, the revisionist current originated by Michel Pablo which in the early I950s abandoned Trotskyism with the perspective of liquidation into the mass Stalinist and social-democratic parties. In the 1960s Joseph Hansen became the main spokesman of the Pabloite degeneration of the SWP as it abandoned the struggle for an independent proletarian vanguard. But instead of political struggle the Healyites concocted their devil theory that Hansen had been hired by the U.S. government and the Kremlin Stalinists to destroy the SWP.

Declaring themselves to be the Fourth International, Healy’s IC kept up a vicious vendetta against the long-since reformist SWP, including the use of the capitalist courts. This is not the only time they crossed the class line. A secret report (which surfaced as part of the fallout from the Healyites’ spectacular implosion) by an IC Commission to investigate “the corruption of G. Healy” details payoffs that were received for services rendered to a variety of oil-rich Arab despots. This included supplying photographs to the Iraqi embassy of a demonstration of opponents of Saddam Hussein’s Ba’athist regime in Iraq. The report of the IC investigation says that while the “Commission has not vet been able to establish all the facts... a receipt for £1,600 for 16 minutes of documentary footage of a demonstration is in the possession of the Commission.” An indisputable and monstrous fact is that the Healyites hailed the execution of 21 Iraqi Communists by Ba’ath rulers in 1979. Healy’s payoff was blood money!

As the Spring 1988 issue of Solidarity, a British journal of “libertarian socialism” which leaked the secret IC report, notes: “It is certain that the anti-Healy camp know far more about the dirtier aspects of the WRP’s past than they have so far publicly admitted.... These include North, who has resolutely chosen not to make public even the skeletal information we publish....” Of course he hasn’t. Of all Healy’s former lieutenants, North is uniquely the one who clings to the real “heritage” of Healyism – in particular the scandalous “Security and the Fourth International” campaign.

“Counterrevolutionary Through and Through”

But North could well be hoist on his own petard. In The Heritage We Defend he writes that “Trotsky had branded the Stalinist bureaucracy as ‘counterrevolutionary through and through’....” One can look through everything Trotsky ever wrote and never find this falsely and stupidly one-sided formulation. On the contrary, as he said in “The Class Nature of the Soviet State” (October 1933): “Whoever fails to understand th[e] dual role of Stalinism in the USSR has understood nothing.” The formulation “counterrevolutionary through and through” which North embraces was the work of... none other than the devil incarnate of Healyism, the arch-agent himself – Joseph Hansen.

It first issued from the big and unwise mouth of Dave Weiss (D. Stevens) during the 1952-53 fight against the pro-Stalinist liquidators in the Cochran-Clarke faction in the SWP. And it was Hansen who landed the assignment of defending Weiss’ statement. This Hansen did with his usual quite capable vigor, including the amplification that the Kremlin Stalinists were not only “counterrevolutionary through and through” but “to the core” (“What the New York Discussion Has Revealed,” Joseph Hansen, SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. 15, No. 4, February 1953). Indeed Hansen was the biggest exponent, if the number of pages count, of the view North falsely ascribes to Trotsky. Yet who in the Soviet Union could be characterized as “counterrevolutionary through and through”? Only an out-and-out Great Russian fascist, something out of the present-day Pamyat or perhaps a CIA mole in the KGB could fit this bill. But this certainly doesn’t describe the Stalinist bureaucracy. A conservative nationalist caste resting on the proletarian property forms established by the Russian Revolution, the Kremlin bureaucracy is the product of and reflects the contradictions of a bonapartist regime issuing from the degeneration of a workers revolution in a backward country surrounded by imperialism.

In “Not a Workers’ and Not a Bourgeois State?” (November 1937), Trotsky explained:

“The proletariat of the USSR is the ruling class in a backward country where there is still a lack of the most vital necessities of life. The proletariat of the USSR rules in a land consisting of only one-twelfth part of humanity; imperialism rules over the remaining eleven-twelfths. The rule of the proletariat, already maimed by the backwardness and poverty of the country, is doubly and triply deformed under the pressure of world imperialism....

“In its capacity of a transmitting mechanism in this struggle, the bureaucracy leans now on the proletariat against imperialism, now on imperialism against the proletariat, in order to increase its own power. At the same time it mercilessly
exploits its role as distributor of the meager necessities of life in order to safeguard its own wellbeing and power. By this token the rule of the proletariat assumes an abridged, curbed, distorted character. One can with full justification say that the proletariat, ruling in one backward and isolated country, still remains an oppressed class. The source of oppression is world imperialism; the mechanism of transmission of the oppression – the bureaucracy.

“If in the words ‘a ruling and at the same time an oppressed class’ there is a contradiction, then it flows not from the mistakes of thought but from the contradiction in the very situation of the USSR. It is precisely because of this that we reject the theory of socialism in one country

Far from characterizing the bureaucracy as “counterrevolutionary through and through,” in the Transitional Program, the founding document of the Fourth International, Trotsky wrote that “all shades of political thought are to be found among the bureaucracy: from genuine Bolshevism (Ignace Reiss) to complete fascism (F. Butenko)” The dual nature of the Kremlin oligarchy is fundamental to the Trotskyist position of unconditional military defense of the Soviet Union combined with the call for political revolution to oust the bureaucracy.

Trotsky presented his fullest analysis of the contradictory nature of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the last political battle of his life, against the repudiation of Soviet defensism by the petty-bourgeois Shachtman/Burnham opposition in the SWP in 1939-40. Even in the context of some of the most heinous counterrevolutionary crimes of the Soviet government – the destruction of the Bolshevik Party, the strangulation of proletarian revolution in Spain by the Kremlin bureaucrats, the beheading of the Red Army – Trotsky never characterized the bureaucracy as “counterrevolutionary through and through.” But Shachtman certainly did.

Defending Baron von Mannerheim’s Finland against Soviet intervention, Shachtman argued that in Poland the Red Army had acted only as a “counterrevolutionary force.” Trotsky, who saw the possibility for a social transformation in Finland coming with the Red Army intervention, pointed to the expropriation of the capitalists and large landowners in Eastern Poland which took place despite the Stalinist degeneration of the Soviet workers state. Against Shachtman he argued:
the Kremlin with its bureaucratic methods gave an impulse to the socialist revolution in Poland.... This impulse in the direction of socialist revolution was possible only because the bureaucracy of the USSR straddles and has its roots in the economy of a workers state.”
As Trotsky noted, the seizure of Eastern Poland was both “a pledge of the alliance with Hitler” and “a guarantee against Hitler” through the nationalization of semi-feudal and capitalist property. To understand this means understanding real dialectical materialism as opposed to the cynical shell game of “dialectics” employed by the Healyites. For years they were distinguished by obfuscating, idealist lectures on the ever-mystical “dialectic” which nobody could understand – except Healy. Only the self-declared “founder-leader” was meant to understand, just as only he could determine “security” clearances. “Dialectics” and the “Security” slanders were the underpinnings of the Healy cult, designed to keep the membership completely confused and above all intimidated by their omnipotent leaders.

David North: A Joseph Hansen of the Second Mobilization

But just how is it that David North has come to embrace the politics of Joseph Hansen – a man he has reviled as the sinister arch-nemesis of Trotskyism and slandered as the number one agent responsible for the supposed infiltration and takeover of the SWP by the U.S. government? Applying the demonology of Healyism to North himself one can only ask: can he be far behind? Not subscribing to the paranoid conspiracy theories that are the stock-in-trade of Healyism against their opponents, we can trace the political genealogy of Hansen/North’s shared anti-Soviet revisionism back to the source. In his 1953 document “What the New York Discussion Has Revealed,” Hansen proclaims,
I trace the current differences back to the discussion on Eastern Europe....
First of all, in taking the position that Stalinism had brought about an overturn in property forms in these countries, I raised the question myself as to how this affected our estimate of the political character of Stalinism. My answer was that the power to make such changes did not require us to revise the concept of Stalinism developed by Trotsky. Stalinism still remained counterrevolutionary to the core.”

Leaving aside Hansen’s wrongful attribution to Trotsky the view that the Kremlin bureaucracy was “counterrevolutionary to the core,” his analysis of the differences that developed within the SWP and the Fourth International are quite to the point. The SWP had a very hard time for a couple of years explaining how deformed workers states were created in Eastern Europe. So did the leadership that emerged at the head of the Fourth International in Europe where the most promising cadres had been killed by war and by fascist and Stalinist repression. As we noted in “Genesis of Pabloism” (Spartacist No. 21, Fall 1972), they were confronted with the question:
“ the Trotskyist understanding of Stalinism correct if Stalinism shows itself willing in some cases to accomplish any sort of anti-capitalist social transformation? Clinging to orthodoxy, the Trotskyists had lost a real grasp of theory and suppressed part of Trotsky’s dialectical understanding of Stalinism as a parasitic and counterrevolutionary caste sitting atop the gains of the October Revolution, a kind of treacherous middle-man poised between the
victorious Russian proletariat and world imperialism.”

Empirical evidence tore a gaping hole through the Trotskyists’ post-WW II attempt at wooden orthodoxy. The impressionistic Pablo simply threw overboard “the old Trotskyism” and declared that the Stalinists could play an “objectively revolutionary” role; his conclusion was deep entrism into the Stalinist and mass reformist parties in Europe. During 1951-53, Pablo’s liquidationism led to the destruction of the Fourth International. The SWP (with Healy in tow) waged a belated and partial fight against Pabloism, splitting out the anti-liquidationist International Committee. But a few years later over the Cuban Revolution the SWP followed suit and Joseph Hansen was the main theoretical apologist. The need for a Trotskyist party was dropped as Castro’s petty-bourgeois guerrillas were embraced as the modern-day equivalent of Lenin and Trotsky’s Bolsheviks.

In the name of combatting Pabloite revisionism the Healyites reacted by simply putting a minus where the SWP put a plus. Making a caricature of the sterile, formal “orthodoxy” that had characterized the post-World War II SWP, the Healyites argued that since there was no Trotskyist party in Cuba no social transformation had taken place – in short they stood Pabloism on its head. In contrast the Spartacist delegation to the 1966 conference of Healy’s international Committee argued:

“...the petty-bourgeois peasantry under the most favorable historic circumstances conceivable could achieve no third road, neither capitalist, nor working class. Instead all that has come out of China and Cuba was a state of the same order as that issuing out of the political counter-revolution of Stalin in the Soviet Union, the degeneration of the October. That is why we are led to define states such as these as deformed workers states. And the experience since the Second World War, properly understood, offers not a basis for revisionist turning away from the perspective and necessity of revolutionary working-class power, but rather it is a great vindication of Marxian theory and conclusions under new and not previously expected circumstances.”
– ”Spartacist Statement to International Conference,” Spartacist No. 6, June-July 1966
The Healyites’ opposition to the SWP over the Cuban Revolution had little to do with fighting the Pabloist liquidation of Trotskyism. In fact Healy’s line was that the Fourth International had been rebuilt, the International Committee was it, and Pabloism was simply proto-Stalinism. In contrast the Spartacist delegation to Healy’s 1966 IC conference argued that the actual reconstruction of the Fourth International could only he achieved through completely rooting out this revisionism: “Up to now, we have not done very well, in our opinion, in smashing the Pabloites: the impact of events alone, no matter how favorable objectively or devastating to revisionist doctrines, will not do the job.” As we pointed out: “The ‘orthodox’ movement has still to face up to the new theoretical problems which rendered it susceptible to Pabloism in 1943-50 and gave rise to a ragged, partial split in 1952-54.” This was borne out in the Healyites’ embrace of various “Third World” Stalinists like Ho Chi Minh and Mao’s “Cultural Revolution.”

For daring to raise our political differences openly in 1966, we were denounced by Healy as petty-bourgeois American chauvinists, and expelled for refusing to confess to the charge. False confessions were a matter of “discipline” in the political cult of the megalomaniac Gerry Healy, the man whose shoes David North is desperate to fill. Almost two decades later Healy himself was ousted amidst lurid charges of moral turpitude leveled by his former lieutenants. In an interview “On the 1966 Split” in Spartacist (No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86) covering the subsequent rather spectacular implosion of Healy’s British Workers Revolutionary Party, comrade James Robertson commented:

“...we have some stuff to say now, because we were the principled people the whole way. And I would suggest that the main reason is not some morality associated with Americans versus English persons, but that over a long period of time, through many fights, through one tendency after another, we stood concretely for the defense of the Soviet Union, against imperialism, and against the damn Russian bureaucracy. That has in fact been our political compass, and it also generates a certain cultural superstructure and a certain morality.”
The “Principles” of Political Bandits

The Healyites had no such compass. Despite their inverted Pabloism over Cuba, denying that a social revolution ever took place, Healy’s International Committee had a perfectly Pabloite tailist line toward the Vietnamese Stalinists and went on to herald Mao’s “Cultural Revolution.” It was their support to the mythical “Arab Revolution” in 1967 that provided the theoretical preparation for their various forays across the class line, some of which have come home to haunt them. And it was under the cover of “anti-Stalinism” that the Healyites hailed the murder of 21 Iraqi Communists by the Ba’athist regime.

While they lined their pockets with Arab gold and availed themselves of the forces of the bourgeois state against leftist political opponents, the Healyites would still invoke Leninist “orthodoxy” when it suited their purposes. Last year saw North screaming foul at the SWP for using the capitalist courts against the workers movement, to wit wing the Workers League for costs in North’s years-long court suit against the SWP (see “David North and the Law,” WV No. 430, 12 June 1987). More recently, witness the 1988 “Election Manifesto” of the Workers League’s candidates for president and vice president. The call to “establish the political independence of the American working class from the capitalist class” is rather remarkable from an organization which continues to drag leftists through the bosses’ courts.

The WL’s election manifesto also demands that “The working class must defend the Soviet Union.” But repeatedly over the past two decades North’s Workers League has taken the side of virulently anti-Soviet forces – with Khomeini’s mullahs in Iran, with the CIA’s company union Solidarność in Poland, with U.S. imperialism’s Islamic cutthroats in Afghanistan. To cover for their anti-Sovietism the WL has invented a global conspiracy between Washington and Moscow. Or rather they borrowed it from Pierre Lambert Healy’s one-time bloc partner, who regularly vituperates against a “counterrevolutionary Holy Alliance, sealed a Yalta,” supposedly uniting the White House and the Kremlin. They just leave out the Cold War, and for a reason.

“Down with Imperialism and Stalinism! Unite Soviet and American Workers” was the front-page headline of “Workers League Political Committee Statement” in the 27 May Bulletin. This slogan, equating the bureaucratic misleaders of the degenerated/deformed workers states with the capitalist class enemy, comes straight out of Lambert’s Organisation Communiste Internationaliste. “Long live the struggle of the youth against the Stalinist bureaucracy and imperialism!” was the clarion call for the Lambertistes’ 1971 Essen Conference. The OCI’s Stalinophobia led straight into the camp of the most right wing Cold War social democrats. For example, several dozen of the OCI members, including Lambert himself served as paid functionaries of the French social-democratic union Force Ouvrière, which has been linked to the notorious CIA operative Irving Brown going back to 1947.

Applied to the U.S. the Northites’ resurrection of this slogan leads straight to the State Department “socialism” of Norman Thomas and Max Shachtman in his later years. The Bulletin writes that “Gorbachev’s policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness) are the road to the restoration of capitalism in the USSR and the transformation of Stalinist bureaucrats into capitalists.” Evidently, for the Northites, no counterrevolution to overthrow the remaining gains of the October Revolution would be required, just a cold transformation of the Soviet degenerated workers state into a capitalist state imposed from the top. As Trotsky argued, this is to run the film of reformism in reverse, positing a peaceful transition from a workers state to capitalism.

The Northites’ “analysis” of where Gorbachev’s Russia is going is unmitigated Third Campism, which parenthetically is a quintessential expression of petty-bourgeois American chauvinism – the charge which Healy came up with and North continues to trumpet against the Spartacist League. North’s view is reality seen through the prism and under the pressure of U.S. imperialism. As Trotsky argued against Shachtman and Burnham in “A Petty-Bourgeois Opposition in the Socialist Workers Party”:

A vulgar petty-bourgeois radical is similar to a liberal ‘progressive’ in that he takes the USSR as a whole, failing to understand its internal contradictions and dynamics. When Stalin concluded an alliance with Hitler, invaded Poland, and now Finland, the vulgar radicals triumphed; the identity of the methods of Stalinism and fascism was proved! They found themselves in difficulties however when the new authorities invited the population to expropriate the landowners and capitalists - they had not foreseen this possibility at all!”
– L. D. Trotsky, In Defense of Marxism

Healy and North also charged the Spartacist League with ‘being “agents” of Joseph Hansen because we were among the first to protest Healy’s despicable “Security and the Fourth International” slanders. In protest demonstrations outside Workers League meetings we defended Hansen as “an honest revisionist.” That’s more than we can say for North and his gang who have grievously crossed the class line so many times that who, what or where they are is forever a subject for debate.

We waged a relentless political struggle against Hansen’s anti-Trotskyist revisionism. Healy could never have done so because it would mean confronting his own politics. So he “explained” the SWP’s degeneration by slandering Hansen as a government agent who was hired to infiltrate and destroy the SWP. Yet here is North peddling Hansen’s “counterrevolutionary through and through” line. Any of the WL leader’s acolytes who accept the demented logic of his “Security” scam ought to be asking some nervous questions. How did it happen? Did Hansen secretly recruit North? And who will the next “great leader” be?

Consider the fate of North’s former lideres máximos. Yesterday’s self-declared “founder-leader” Gerry Healy is today’s KGB agent, according to the Bulletin. In North’s eyes, every one of Healy’s lieutenants (except North him self, of course) has become a demoralized renegade - from Banda to Cliff Slaughter, the longtime “theoretical” mouthpiece for Healyite crimes, who now admits that the “Security” slanders were a fraud. And let’s not forget Tim Wohlforth, Healy’s former hapless American toady, who warmed the seat North now occupies at the head of the Workers League. Wohlforth was axed amidst allegations of CIA connections through the family of his girlfriend Nancy Fields. Actually, to say he was axed is unfair to the real character of Wohlforth-he even voted for his own expulsion. Truly the son of “the god that failed,” in 1981 Wohlforth resurfaced in the pages of New Left Review in the role of saved-again social democrat denouncing Soviet totalitarianism.

Stalin never claimed that all the Bolshevik Central Committee at the time of the October Revolution were counterrevolutionary spies and traitors. Exempted were Lenin, a few who died early and a couple who lucked out and died a natural death at old age. David North, the new boy of the IC leadership, declares that every well-known leader of the British Healyites (SLL/WRP), and not least the leading American satellite, Wohlforth, are degenerate if not deeply flawed or downright wrong from the beginning. Thus North claims that he is the legitimate heir to what? At least Stalin, by hiding Lenin’s break with him, could claim the great Lenin. Moreover, Stalin could cite himself as an “Old Bolshevik.” But North, until the final implosion of the WRP, was a self-confessed toady to the “great” Gerry Healy and the heir to Tim Wolhforth.

Only someone who wanted to be “the leader,” no matter of what, would be so desperate to claim the heritage of authentic Healyism. To any rational elements in North’s WL and IC we can only say: Your organization is rotten through and through and to the core! North is attempting to secure his position at the head of an organization with a heritage of corrupt links with various murderous Arab colonels and sheiks. That this is not a suitable vehicle for the socialist liberation of mankind is a vast understatement.