Banda/Slaughter vs Healy/Redgrave
Healyites Blow Up
The spectacular explosion of the British Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) is a sweet moment of revenge for a wide swathe of Trotskyists, ostensible and others who have been abused and slandered by the Healy/Banda machine of political bandits over the course of decades. The story broke late last month when two warring wings – one led by Gerry Healy and actress Vanessa Redgrave, the other led by Healy’s long time hatchet man Michael Banda and above-the-battle intellectual Cliff Slaughter – expelled each other. The ostensible basis was the rather remarkable charge that the 73-year-old Healy had been sexually abusing woman comrades for the last 19 years or so. What gives the event its prurient and vicious British bourgeois press but the fact that Healy’s role in the WRP roughly mimicked that of Stalin in the CPSU. The WRP’s supreme organizational principle was keeping the ranks in line by a combination of simple physical gangsterism and the cult of Healy as unique interpreter of the twin mystifications, “security” and “dialectics.”
As we continue collecting and evaluating the information, we think WV readers will find informative the article reprinted below from Socialist Organiser No. 251, 7 November 1985. The article, titled “The WRP Proves Us Right,” appeared under the byline of Sean Matgamna, a sharp-tongued British centrist. Matgamna and his Socialist Organiser know whereof they speak. And they surely have earned the right to enjoy the WRP’s downfall, having been hauled into the capitalist courts by Healy/Banda for having published “libelous” statements about the WRP which were manifestly true.
Matgamna’s article presents, from his own political standpoint, as good an interpretation of the split as we are likely early to encounter. And he nails the whole WRP cabal for its most corrupt political act – the explicit justification of the execution of Iraqi Communist militants by the Ba’ath military regime. “Healyites: Kill a Commie for Qaddafi” was WV’s headline in 1979 when the WRP thus took to the loathsome logical conclusion its corrupt press agentry for murderous bourgeois-nationalists like Libya’s Qaddafi, Iran’s Khomeini and the PLO’s Arafat.
In bringing Matgamna’s article to the attention of WV readers we of course are not endorsing Matgamna’s centrist political views, particularly his stance toward the Labour Party – from which, we think, he also derives the characterization of Healy as a revolutionary in the immediate postwar period and the evaluation presented of the alignments in the British Trotskyist movement at that time, i.e., around the demise of the Revolutionary Communist Party.
REPRINTED FROM SOCIALIST ORGANISER NO. 251, 7 NOVEMBER 1985
By Sean Matgamna
Kennington Park Road, South London, last Saturday, 2nd. Four people are selling “Newsline” as they wait for the anti-apartheid march to come by. Two men and two women; all of them are in their late 20s or early 30s.
Suddenly a half-brick comes whizzing through the air from the other side of the road and lands at their feet. It has been thrown by a burly man, also about 30.
The brick is only the start. A steady rain of stones follows the brick across the road, and soon the intrepid four take refuge in the rhododendron bushes.
Triumphantly, the bombardier then jumps on a wall, raises both hands above his head after the fashion of football fans, and chants “Healy! Healy! Healy!” Then he drops back into the housing estate.
After the events of the WRP’s week, it’s a wonder they haven’t been going for each other with guns and knives! The picture of what has happened in the WRP is now reasonably clear.
The organisation has split down the middle. The Healy faction’s claim that they have the majority of the members of the old organisation on their side may even be true. The bourgeois press credits the old WRP with five to seven thousand members, but it was probably not more than one-tenth of that. So when the Bandaites jeer that Healy only has 250 supporters, they are admitting that he has something like half the organisation.
The Healyites have declared their expelled Central Committee minority to be the WRP, and claim to have held a special conference which “rejected” Gerry Healy’s expulsion and instead expelled Michael Banda and the other “conspirators” who raised their hands against the great leader.
Their resolution explicitly gave Healy a special place in the WRP, making it an article of faith to believe Gerry Healy to be “the outstanding leader of the world Trotskyist movement in the post-war period.” They have brought out one issue of their own “Newsline” (eight pages and without any sports section hich undoubtedly points to a propagandist deviation by them away from mass work) and an issue of “Young Socialist.” They have launched an appeal for £250,000 to bring out their “Newsline” daily from next January.
Gerry Healy is accused of sexual abuse of 26 and more women. This salacious “red-in-the-bed” stuff has been spread all over the tabloid press for the last week. But by far the most important and interesting developments have been the other charges that the Bandaites have laid against Healy and implicitly against their own organisation and its entire history.
In “Newsline” and in interviews with the bourgeois press, WRP general secretary Michael Banda has repeated SO’s [Socialist Organiser] comments on the WRP phrase for phrase and sometimes word for word.
1. Denounced Healy’s followers such as the Redgraves as people who have the attitude of religious cultists towards their “guru” Healy. We were sued for saying that.
2. Denounced Healy for systematic and routine violence and brutality against members of the organisation. We were sued for saying that.
3. Denounced Healy for using pressure, intimidation and violence to coerce young women comrades, into sexual activity with him. We were sued for saying that the organisation “exploited” raw young people.
4. Newsline now denounces the Healy faction for hiving a morality of “anything goes for the organisation.”
5. They challenge the Healy-Redgrave faction to sue them if what they say is not true. “In the days when they, dominated the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, newspapers, political opponents, trade unionists and individuals who happened to cross them were showered with writs” (“Newsline” 5.11.85). You can say that again!
6. Banda describes Healy as “a classic case of schizoid paranoia.” Classic case or not, he has been publicly paranoid for at least a quarter of a century.
7. Banda denounces Healy’s works on dialectical materialism, long the bible on which WRP members were trained, as “an outrageous piece of charlatanism.”
8. Banda denounces Healy for justifying the execution of Communist Party members by the vile Ba’athist regime in Iraq. Reports have appeared in one bourgeois paper that militants from Iraq who came to the WRP school were later turned over to the Iraqi regime, which killed them. Banda is quoted as saying that the motive was to get “bags of money.” It is not clear whether this is true or not, though people within the WRP claim to have evidence that at least one person was so denounced to the Iraqi government.
There are also some political shifts by the Bandaites, adding up to a small move away from the lunacy of Healy and towards a slightly more realistic appreciation of the world they actually live in. It is still too early to assess this, because many things are obviously being said for effect, and the anti-Healy WRP has not settled down politically yet.
The probable reasons for the explosion and its dynamics are now pretty clear also: Healy had agreed to take a back seat or retire, no doubt under pressure, but apparently with the agreement of some who are now his supporters. But Healy is a half-crazy – and sometimes completely crazy – old man, who would not find that congenial.
There may have been political differences or nuances in play, but that would have had no autonomous weight. Healy seems. to have been forced to sign a written agreement to retire. But the Political Committee bloc that had pushed for his retirement then began to break up.
Two prominent WRP leaders, Mitchell and Torrance, seem to have changed sides, and perhaps others did too. The Political Committee reversed the decision that Healy would retire. A minority led by Banda revolted and appealed to the Central Committee, whose majority backed them. They decided on drastic action against Healy, and grabbed the weapons to hand. Hence the charges.
For the Bandaites it was probably a matter of survival. Theirs is a world where nobody has the right to disagree with the caliph, where disagreement is heresy against the leader in his capacity as pontiff and treason against him in his capacity as monarch. To “conspire” and lose, or to usurp and be overthrown, is to lose your head.
Healy has politically “executed” other long-time associates for a lot less than forcing him to retire. For example, Tim Wohlforth, leader of the U.S. clone group for a dozen years, was purged because he was slow to join Healy when Healy denounced Wohlforth’s wife as a CIA agent.
If Healy regained control, his defeated opponents would not have lasted long. So Banda and his allies acted as Healy had long taught them to act: brutally and without concern for decency, credibility or consistency.
The WRP’s atmosphere was saturated with incipient or actual violence, intimidation and terror. The organisation was a cult, built on the leader principle around Healy. Within it Healy did more or less what he liked.
It is as certain as anything is that in that organisation sexual exploitation, and where necessary harassment, intimidation, or ‘worse, would be part of the great leader’s way of life.
In one notorious case – I know the people involved – Healy beat up a woman comrade, a full-time organiser, because she wanted an abortion rather than to have his baby. (This is probably the case that got to the Control Commission in 1964 – she had two brothers and a husband in the organisation, one on the Central Committee.) But nevertheless it is also true that a considerable part of the ballyhoo against Healy’s sexual antics is both frame-up and an appeal to backwardness. Insofar as anything was voluntary in the WRP, many, of the “harem 26” must have acted voluntarily.
Despite the political and personal weaknesses and inadequacies that over 20 years ago turned Gerry Healy into a bitter enemy of the Trotskyism he set in his youth to fight for, Healy was once a revolutionary. He was one of a small group at the end of the ‘40s and the beginning of the ‘50s who had the courage to set out to rebuild the Trotskyist movement when it collapsed and fell apart under the leadership of Ted Grant and Jock Haston.
If today there is poetic justice in his treatment at the hands of his pupils, as well as essential truth in what they say against him, that is the measure of how degenerate Healy had become.
Machiavelli might draw the lesson for him thus: “He who rules by fear and terror should not live to get old and feeble.” Politically the Bandaites are in a hopeless situation. Everything they say against Healy condemns them too. They were not rank and file activists or raw youth, but Healy’s close associates for many, many years.
And what WRP tradition exists apart from the one Gerry Healy made and shaped for three decades? What do they know about politics except what he taught them? What have they ever been but Gerry Healy’s stooges, deferring when they felt inclined to take a view different from his?
Some of them may have gritted their teeth at various times – but if so, that’s all they did. Whether or not the WRP turned would-be communists over to the Ba’athist execution squads in Iraq, the WRP’s public justification of the execution of CPers by the Iraqi government was there in black and white-in “Newsline.”
And “party discipline” is no excuse for going along with Healy and the WRP across the class line – in glorifying the Iraqi regime, or Gaddafi for example.
Banda’s attempt to “blame Healy” is already going to preposterous lengths. Did Michael Banda and others beat up a Central Committee member in the north-west last June? Yes. “But Healy told me to,” says Banda! Nobody who went through Healy’s “machine for maiming militants” will fail to find some satisfaction in the present explosion. Public vindication for Socialist Organiser’s stand against the WRP is, of course, satisfying.
But if the Healyites and Bandaites eat each other up like the Kilkenny cats, that won’t undo the damage they have done to the Marxist movement and to the name of Marxism in the British labour movement.
We can only undo the damage by building the Marxist movement.
Honest members of the WRP can take the word of the Banda faction leaders for nothing. They should study the record, debate the issues that have divided the WRP from other leftists – like those who support Socialist Organiser – and break out of the WRP ghetto and into discussion with other socialists.