Workers League Cult Attacks Marxist Spartacists
Lord of the Fleas
Our party, the Spartacist League, is currently being subjected to the “polemical” attentions of one David North. In fact, a series on “The Politics of the Spartacist League” appearing in North’s Bulletin is already in its 13th part and still going. But who or what is David North? He is the little lord of neo-Healyite, anti-Healyite, total Healyism – i.e., of nothing-who heads the American Workers League (WL), a very small and very discredited staphylococcal pimple on the rump of ostensible Trotskyism.
Why North chooses this moment to work us over at such length must have something to do with his having become, at the moment, the top dog in a fragment of what used to be called the “International Committee” (IC), an unpleasant formation once built by Gerry Healy in his own image. When Healy was ousted last year by backstabbing intrigues among his lieutenants, including North, the “IC” broke into at least four pieces, with splits within its sections in several countries.
Only someone who wanted to be “the leader,” never mind of what, would rush to claim Healy’s mantle. Healy’s IC was an appendage of his British organization, the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP), which was distinguished by its physically brutal internal regime and by its capacity, unmatched by garden-variety opportunists, for wild swings of political line in pursuit of egregious and often mutually contradictory appetites. To the extent that the Healyites had a coherent political core, they were cringing legalists/Labourite economists, and virulently anti-Soviet in concrete program. Through it all, the hapless denizens of the IC were assured that, small and miserable though their own groups might be, the British WRP led by Healy (who eventually dubbed himself the IC’s “founder-leader”) was conquering the masses through its daily paper.
In fact, Healy’s daily paper was also a fraud which, lacking a sufficient number of members to support it, came to depend on funding from the most unsavory forces. And the WRP’s sole significant “contribution” in many years to the British class struggle came when it made itself the “vanguard” of a redbaiting, union-busting attack on the National Union of Mineworkers, on behalf of the right-wing leaders of the Trades Union Congress. Healy’s “expose” of miners’ leader Arthur Scargill’s minimal criticism of anti-socialist Polish Solidarność was timed for maximum exposure in Margaret Thatcher’s Tory press, and became the opening shot of the campaign to isolate the militant miners union on the very eve of their heroic strike.
When Healy was pushed out of power in the IC last year, the lid came off a real stinking garbage can. We responded by publishing a special issue of our Spartacist (No. 36-37, Winter 1985-86) on “Healyism Implodes,” There we re viewed Healy’s history, which impinged on our own history until about 20 years ago; the next issue of Spartacist (No. 38-39, Summer 1986), devoted to the degeneration of the Socialist Workers Party, also had some relevant things to say about Healy and his IC. And now we find ourselves being vilified at such great length in the Bulletin. We know from experience that this means we’ve touched the WL where it hurts, and that the Northites have decided it’s time for them once again to administer some “education,” Healy-style, to their supporters – a refresher course in cynicism and how not to think.
North got involved early on in the whisperings of proffered deals among longtime Healyite henchmen that started when Healy started losing his grip on the WRP/IC. Gerry the tinpot despot had got old, while at the same time evidently becoming more uncontrollable than ever in his habits. When Healy reneged on an earlier promise to retire, Mike Banda, Cliff Slaughter and others in England started playing around with revelations of alleged spectacularly abusive behavior by Healy. At the same moment, a first-rate financial scandal erupted: unpaid bills, some going back two years, came to light and it was estimated that one and a quarter million pounds would be required or the WRP would cease to exist. The “revelations” process, begun as blackmail, acquired its own momentum: the leadership was in pieces and the members began to clamor for an explanation for some of the more grotesque atrocities. For example: why were WRP photographers sent to the Iraqi Embassy to photograph Iraqi dissident protesters, the pictures then to be turned over to the Iraqi regime?
North himself became a “leader” in the IC when he was specially chosen by Healy to head the Workers League as his reward for eager services as a mouthpiece for Healy’s infamous “Security and the Fourth International” slander campaign against the historic American Trotskyist movement. In the early 1980s, though, North began testing the waters for a revolt against Healy, through timid criticisms – always withdrawn with craven apologies – mainly of Healy’s idealist-gobbledygook perversion of dialectics. Now he claims he “fought” Healy. He has to make such a claim, ludicrous though it is. Once Healy the supreme authority of the IC was exposed as the emperor who had no clothes, the members revolted. No longer could they be kept in line with doubletalk “dialectics,” endless mindless activism and felt threats. All of Healy’s loyal lieutenants scrambled to wash their hands of the IC’s more spectacular crimes and organizational “excesses.” The contest was on: who has less filth on whose hands? Banda, Slaughter, North, etc. all lacked credibility as virgin crusaders against Healyism (the “new Nixon” had similar problems). Soon the IC house of cards was a pile of rubble.
The departure of Healy and his well-heeled ally, actress Vanessa Redgrave, with a minority of the British WRP was only the beginning. North’s demand that the WRP recognize the hegemony of the IC (i.e., him) took another minority out of the WRP, along with most of the WRP youth. Cliff Slaughter leads what’s left now sans Banda, who split after writing his ignorant anti-Trotskyist diatribe, “Twenty-Seven Reasons Why the IC Should Be Buried Forthwith and the Fourth International Built.” North took the bigger piece of the split in Australia as well as the West German and Sri Lankan groupings. (The Peruvians who went with North have recently departed, allegedly in solidarity with some form of Stalinism/Maoism.)
So North’s IC doesn’t amount to much. Its record is of a bunch of political bandits who became corrupt press agents for despotic “Arab nationalist” capitalist regimes. Alleged to have received at least a million pounds from 1977 on from Libya, Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Iraq, among others, Healy’s British group and its subservient IC worked to give “anti-imperialist” cover to anti-working-class crimes by their patrons. In 1979 the Healyites hailed the execution of 21 members of the Communist Party of Iraq by the Ba’ath regime. This is North’s IC – loathsome, but at least it’s all his. Provided that the American WL (which Slaughter in 1984 said had 74 members) can avoid its fair share of the implosion. North played the “who’s dirtier?” game when required to oust Healy and secure the IC label. Once that was accomplished, he began to move to belittle the IC’s crimes in the service of oil-rich Near Eastern dictators. Now he’s embarked on a crusade to rally his ranks, not least through a hate campaign against the Spartacist League.
Why us? For one thing, we are the acknowledged Trotskyist organization in this country. Our forces are rather larger than North’s. We exist today as an international tendency, the only one to have fought in a principled political fashion against both the degeneration of the ex-Trotskyist (now explicitly anti-Trotskyist) Socialist Workers Party and, early on, against Healy’s fundamental corruption of the IC. This history, covering two decades, is long documented, most lately in the last two issues of our Spartacist.
Healyites: Counterfeit Trotskyists
The Workers League’s own history begins with its former leader – Tim Wohlforth – acting as Healy’s agent to split the left opposition (Revolutionary Tendency, RT) inside the SWP in 1962. The pretext was an ultimatum that all RT members must sign a document affirming they believed that the SWP, which was then centrist and moving rapidly to the right, remained a “revolutionary party.” In the hope that the SWP would remain aligned with Healy as part of the International Committee, Healy identified the party leadership’s deepening revisionism as solely the property of right-wing elements like Weiss and Swabeck, putting forward the perspective of the RT effecting “a united front where possible with the center elements” – i.e., the Dobbs leadership. Most of the RT, led by Jim Robertson and Geoff White, refused to sign the Wohlforth/Healy diktat. Wohlforth’s only successful “united front” with the Dobbs regime was in setting the RT majority up for expulsion.
In the present Bulletin series, great exception is taken to our remark that Wohlforth in 1964 “engineered his own group’s expulsion” from the SWP. Aha, says Bulletin editor McLaughlin, or whoever is actually writing the series, the Wohlforthites were expelled for an exemplary fight against the Ceylonese Trotskyists’ class-collaborationist betrayal in 1964. No doubt for distant consumption, the Bulletin fulminates that Spartacists, “as 100% American radicals... could not understand why someone would risk being thrown out of the party because of a dispute over events taking place halfway around the world.”
What happened in Ceylon didn’t drop magically from the skies at the moment Wohlforth decided he wanted out of the SWP. “Trotskyism” in Ceylon was founded very late and by some people of extremely privileged social origins. The Ceylon Trotskyists, the Lanka Samasamaja Party (LSSP), involved themselves in anti-imperialist activism and plebeian social struggles, achieving something of a mass electoral base. When after independence from Britain the main ruling-class political formation split to produce a populist, “national” party, the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP), the LSSP was pulled in its wake, led by the LSSP’s reformist wing, which had always ultimately called the shots for the party’s vacillating “center.”
By 1960 it was evident even to a distant American comrade like Jim Robertson that the situation had gone rotten. On 8 August 1960 comrade Robertson wrote a letter (reprinted below) to the SWP Political Committee (PC) urging the SWP to wage an open struggle against the LSSP’s course. Robertson’s letter was appended to the PC minutes, as were news articles from this period from the Ceylon News reporting the LSSP’s electoral pact with the SLFP and its withdrawal of opposition to the SLFP’s chauvinist “Sinhala Only” language program. The Ceylon News quoted longtime LSSP spokesman N.M. Perera: “the only logical tactic was for the LSSP to join hands with the SLFP in a Government and gain control of that Government. This was the only means the LSSP now seemed to have of gaining power.”
The SWP, which didn’t have much going for it in Ceylon, was proposing to publish a Militant article criticizing the LSSP’s policy as a classic “Popular Front.” But a letter dated 14 August 1960. by Gerry Healy (also reprinted below) urged the SWP to hold up any comment. Healy’s implication is clearly that he has people lined up who might he disturbed by criticism of their party. If only the SWP will avoid flying off the handle in such a delicate situation, Gerry will take care of it. What is striking in Healy’s letter, as much as his claim that the situation could be saved by maneuvers, is his gratuitous mendacity in suggesting that the reports in the Ceylon bourgeois press were just a pack of lies.
It was a foregone conclusion that the LSSP would decisively capitulate when opportunity presented. In 1964 the SLFP offered the LSSP ministerial portfolios; the LSSP eagerly accepted. Embarrassed, the Pabloite USec hastily expelled the LSSP, as elements of the left wing shook themselves out of the LSSP, finally. Now Wohlforth also discovered betrayal in Ceylon.
Wohlforth’s restlessness prior to the emergence of the Ceylon pretext is testified to by Albert Philips, bloc partner of Healy and Wohlforth in splitting the RT. “The Methodology of Frustration,” a document by the Philips group dated 23 April 1964, complains that “several months after the 1963 SWP convention,” the “frustration” at the SWP’s degeneration that had “characterized the Robertsonites” showed up in Wohlforth. “There had been no real changes in the SWP,” Philips observes, “yet comrade Wohlforth thought it was time for a reevaluation.” At the November 1963 tendency meeting, says Philips, “it was stated that the party was an unfinished centrist organization, and that we had better put ourselves in the best factional position for the time when we would be expelled.” After the Kennedy assassination, says Philips, “in terms that the Robertsonites never dared to use, comrade Wohlforth explicitly called for us to split.” But under pressure from those like Philips who still wanted to cling to the SWP and its purported “proletarian core,” Wohlforth “pulled back,” Philips says, from an open split perspective. Instead, he demanded a discussion on Ceylon, violating internal discussion procedures, knowing this would get his group expelled from the no longer very democratic SWP.
Now North recasts this deliberate organizational provocation as a supreme political act of internationalism. And no doubt inspired by that paragon of internationalism himself, Gerry Healy, who had intervened so strongly in 1960 to reassure worrywarts like Robertson that he had the Ceylon problem in hand.
Healyism: A Machine for Destroying Cadres
We had refused to accept Healy’s 1962 rupture as definitive, given that we and Wohlforth both still claimed to stand on the same anti-revisionist program. Unity negotiations were undertaken in 1965. But at the infamous 1966 IC Conference in London, Healy expelled the Spartacist delegation, ostensibly on the grounds that Robertson had missed a session without “permission.” In remarks to the conference, Robertson had sketched out the views of the Spartacist group. His subsequent absence was then used as the excuse for savage attacks by Healy & Co. on the Spartacists for petty-bourgeois arrogance and American chauvinism, and an “apology” (confession) was demanded. As the next two decades of Healy’s history amply demonstrated, this method was absolutely characteristic: to try to extract cringing false confessions from comrades, rendering them thereafter subservient instruments, destroyed in their own eyes and before their comrades.
For David North, the Spartacists’ refusal to be diverted from a Trotskyist course (they call this “Robertson Breaks from Trotskyism”) constitutes “American nationalism and the wounded vanity of an arrogant petty bourgeois.” The Bulletin series echoes Wohlforth’s own 1970 opus, “What Is Spartacist?”, which sneers at “Robertson’s noble battle for honor, his unbending head.” Never mind who that “international” was and what it did for the next 20 years. Robertson should have done like me – I David North always groveled (until I was ready to knife them).
North’s own account of how he “fought” Healy is revealing. In an October 1985 speech to the British WRP “Special Congress” North describes how he raised his differences over “dialectics” beginning in late 1982. “We decided,” he says (using the royal “we”), “to come and take the first opportunity to raise it with Gerry Healy in an objective manner. Well, the reaction was an explosion. We were told immediately, within a half a minute... he said the alliance is finished.”
After the Political Committee unanimously supported Healy, North says, he was privately approached by Banda, who “said that in fact he had grave differences.... And I must say that while I was shocked by the depth of the political differences that existed between Comrade Banda and Gerry Healy, I wasn’t in a sense surprised.” After “lengthy discussions,” it was “agreed that there would be a common fight in the International Committee to raise these issues.” North returned for the next IC meeting “fully expecting” to pick up his alliance with Banda. “But instead when I arrived I was immediately confronted [by Banda].... I was immediately told that the notes which I had written constituted a huge attack on Marxism. He said he had been wrong to come to an agreement with me.” They then went into a WRP PC meeting “in which we [North] were told that if we pressed ahead with these differences it would mean a split with the Workers League. And I must say under those conditions... “ (guess what!) “we thought that given the enormous authority and experience of the British section we should reconsider our position.” North “bit our tongue, we said we did withdraw the document, it wasn’t really a document it was notes....” And so it went, right up to the end.
But, says North today, Robertson still should have submitted himself to international authority. Never mind why North thinks it’s so natural, and so smart, to grovel and lie (it never occurs to North that in 1966 we thought: we’ll say what we believe and see what happens.) But what makes Healy (and the rest of his crew, like Banda and Wohlforth, now shown to have been a bunch of semi-competents and semi-gangsters) synonymous with “international authority”? Gerry was hardly the only person around laying claim to the mantle of the Fourth International.
We spent a long time looking at the fragments of the disintegrated Fourth International, i.e., as it emerged from World War II and the Second World Congress in 1948. In 1953-54, “orthodox” Trotskyists put together the International Committee out of national factions which had come out against the revisionism which gained hegemony under Michel Pablo in the early 1950s.
With the senior cadres of the American SWP used up, as we had direct reason to know, that left an IC mainly of Healy’s forces in England and Pierre Lambert’s in France. Healy claimed to be the IC in the face of the SWP’s political defection, and we were prepared to give him some conditional credit based on what looked like impressive work in England and some good documents. We were the majority of the small forces which had opposed the centrist degeneration of the SWP, once a revolutionary party and a close collaborator of Trotsky’s struggle for the Fourth International. We had no doubt of the necessity for disciplined subordination of our national group to a programmatically cohesive international movement committed to Trotsky’s program. So Healy thought he had us on trial in his “IC” kangaroo court? We had Healy on trial too, and so long as there seemed to be a programmatic basis of agreement, we were very patient about it. In 1962 we evaluated our first close encounter: “if Healy intervenes roughly and using authority to try to shove a puppet regime down our throats. it opens up a lousy vista of the future of the IC” (Jim Robertson, letter to Geoff White, 27 September 1962).
From the time of our inception as an independent tendency in 1964, we sought to work with and examine those who stood to the left among ostensible Trotskyists – e.g., Healy, Lambert in France. Guillermo Lora in Bolivia, the group in Ceylon around Edmund Sarnarakkody. These tendencies (except for Healy, who was a political bandit) proved to be nationally defined and delimited and/or used up.
Throughout, we were also aware of the United Secretariat (USec) led by the erudite Belgian Ernest Mandel. The USec was the Pabloists sans Pablo (who we also checked out) and somewhat allied with the SWP of Dobbs and Joseph Hansen. The USec had by far the most groups in the most countries, adhering to them in a semi-accidental way; then they got a big jolt from the international “generation of May ‘68.” It was our observing that the anti-revisionists had not done a very good job of exposing the USec’s (and others’) claims to be the Fourth International that evidently got us tossed out of Healy’s 1966 IC conference.
A decade or so later, Healy, North & Co. concocted a devil theory to explain the survival of Pabloite revisionism: the U.S. government, and also Stalinism, had adopted Hansen and then Jack Barnes to do the devil’s work. Healy, though, proved to be a very different sort of character – a political bandit capable of anything. What form the “anything” would take for him and those who through the self-selection process of groveling and lying became his creatures was not predetermined at the time Healy broke with us in 1966.
But it quickly ceased to be our problem at all, because by 1967 Healy had broken far away from “orthodox” Trotskyism. His forces emerged as the most vulgar, super-Pabloite cheerleaders for Stalinism (Mao’s “Cultural Revolution”) and Third World nationalism. The “Arab Revolution” line the Healyites adopted as the excuse to hail the 1967 Arab-Israel conflict proved most fruitful. A transclass, transnational, totally disembodied “Arab Revolution” is elastic enough to embrace any act by any Arab regime, depending perhaps on which monarchy, theocracy or military dictatorship is dispensing patronage. Thus in 1979 Healy hailed the execution of militant Communist workers in Iraq, who were allegedly undermining the glorious “anti-imperialist” Iraqi army. But later, Healy supported Khomeini’s Iran in its war with that same Iraqi regime.
The alternation of leftist posturing and egregious opportunism – that was Healyism. And the Workers League was a smeared carbon copy of that prototype. Wohlforth himself was dumped in 1975 amidst Healy’s slanderous CIA-baiting of Wohlforth’s companion, Nancy Fields. That set the stage for North’s ascent, but Healy evidently never got much joy out of his U.S. epigones. Indeed he seems to have concluded a decade ago that his loyal American satellite wasn’t worth too much. In an article titled “Healy writes off the American working class” (Workers News, 27 May) Martin McLaughlin whines:
“It suffices to say that from 1975 to 1984, a period of nine years, WRP leaders made exactly two trips to the United States for brief discussions with the Workers League, once each by Michael Banda and Cliff Slaughter.We know a bit about Healy and we know he never thought much of Wohlforth. Apparently he thought even less of North.
“Healy never returned to North America alter the struggle against the renegacy of Tim Wohlforth in 1974-75.”
The Big Lie as “Method”
The present Bulletin series strings together lies so outlandish and shameless that they are clearly designed to drive away anyone in or around the WL who has the ability to read and think. This use of the Big Lie was perfected by Stalin as a method of control; Healy/ North elevated this method to a psychotic principle. It goes like this: here, comrade, are 50 articles in the Spartacist press calling for the smashing of apartheid, the forging of a genuine Bolshevik party to lead a proletarian revolution, for the establishment of a black-centered workers republic in South Africa. Memorize them and then go out and sell the Bulletin which says that Spartacist “Opposes Anti-Apartheid Struggle.” If you have a problem with this, you don’t understand “dialectics.” You are supposed to know you’ re lying; then having lied, you are bound to your leaders until you finally slink away – ashamed, destroyed. Such intentional destruction of cadre is a Healyite hallmark, the ugly cult side of Healyism.
In the past, the WL has smeared us as “racists” and “fascists” (see our article, “Smash Fascist Smear of SL,” WV No. 379, 17 May 1985), and even as “the fingerman for the world capitalists” (Bulletin, 2 December 1969). In November 1978 a leaflet of the German Healyites, now with North, called Jim Robertson the “main spokesman for the national interests of the American bourgeoisie”! We note our demotion to the old “middle-class radical” category in the current series, which simultaneously portrays us as black nationalists and white racists, Shachtmanites and Stalinophiles (i.e., anti- and pro-Russia).
The Bulletin’s first installment claims that our statement of simple fact – that the Hormel meatpackers strike was knifed – reveals our “virulent hatred of the working class and deep pessimism” (Bulletin, 1 April), then quotes from WV a citation which proves rather the opposite: “After a hard, bitter fight the heroic Hormel strike has been smashed.” Counterposing to us its own prostration before the local P-9 bureaucracy, the WL hails a federal court suit against the backstabbing UFCW International and another “major proposal” – “to take the strikers’ case to International President William Wynn, even out to his golf course if necessary.” The coy parenthetical note, “We will consider the Spartacist position on the use of the capitalist courts in a later article,” tops it off.
Did David North Go to Carleton College?
We think the Bulletin 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. Healy made recourse to the state against opponents a hallmark of his “tactics” 20 years ago against the USec’s Ernie Tate. North & Co. have themselves dragged the capitalist courts in to police the left – most notoriously in the case of one Alan Gelfand. WL agent Gelfand was expelled from the SWP and sued that organization in federal court in 1979, citing Healy’s notorious slanders that the FBI (along with the Stalinist GPU) controlled the SWP. He demanded the court uphold these slanders and reinstate him as an SWP member. Gelfand was vigorously supported by North and financed by Healy. Since the WRP split, Slaughter and Banda have belatedly disavowed both the Gelfand provocation and the scandalous “Security and the Fourth International” campaign against the SWP. North – a major mouthpiece of “Security...” – is still proud of it.
North’s cohort was one Alex Mitchell, formerly the editor of Healy’s British paper and now described by his ex-comrades as “ace Healy snoop and his top hand-shaker. Master-minded disgraceful ‘Security & Fl’ with North, justified killing of Iraqi CPers.... Mideast link man, widely mistrusted” (Workers Press, 7 June). The “Security...” slander campaign was aimed specifically at veteran SWP leader Joseph Hansen, accusing him of being an accomplice of the Stalinist assassination of Leon Trotsky. Mitchell is still with the Healy Healyites.
North was Healy’s accomplice in the loathsome assault on Hansen’s reputation, and, through that device, they attacked the reputation of the old SWP and Trotsky himself. After Trotsky’s murder by the degenerate Stalinist secret police in 1940, the Stalinists tried to put about the disgusting lie that Trotsky was murdered by “his own people.” This claim got no credence at the time, and the main effect of its resuscitation in new form by the IC was simply to discredit Healy/North.
Hansen had served as one of Trotsky’s secretaries in exile, one of the human links that welded the American party in its revolutionary days to Trotsky in his struggle to reforge an authentic Bolshevik international. Hansen was won in his youth to a revolutionary party; after that party degenerated, he spent long years as a centrist and then a reformist spokesman. In this he was no different from many others, in many countries, whose leftist impulses wore out before they themselves wore out.
For Healy, though, such an explanation is not sufficient. No, Hansen has to have been a police agent-indeed, a simultaneous agent for the FBI and the Stalinist GPU. The implicit corollary is: if Hansen, why not SWP founder James Cannon? And why not Trotsky himself? After Hansen died, the emphasis of Healy’s paranoid slander campaign shifted to the present SWP head, Jack Barnes. Hundreds of pages in the Healyite press sought to show that Barnes (who’s not one of our favorite people, by the way) was an FBI agent; in fact, they claim, so are all his cronies in the present leadership of the SWP. Why? Because a bunch of them all went to Carleton College, a small school in the American Midwest. For “proof” we are offered, among other things, a 1961 report on a visit to Carleton by... Jim Robertson! Robertson, then a leader of the SWP’s Young Socialist Alliance, went on tour for the YSA in 1961. At Carleton, he met with a loose group of youth, some of whom were SWP supporters. When he arrived he found that these leftist students “had all the party [internal] bulletins on the Cuba discussion and in the presence of a whole group of 18 students, their leader innocently asked me to fill them in on Wohlforth’s side in the dispute” (this letter by Robertson is quoted in the WL’s 1981 pamphlet, “Security and the Fourth International: The Carleton Twelve”).
Robertson, himself in opposition on Cuba, suggested the students should join the SWP if they wanted to be privy to its internal life. For Healy & Co., that these non-members had gotten some interesting documents (from SWP leader Carl Feingold) is “irrefutable” evidence of an FBI conspiracy, carried out by Hansen and Feingold, to groom Jack Barnes and his Carleton cronies to take over the government’s SWP operation from Hansen. Those familiar with Healyite doublethink will find nothing unusual about the idea that Robertson – elsewhere portrayed as the most pernicious agent of Hansen – here constitutes an unimpeachable witness to the Carleton College “conspiracy.” But perhaps there’s more to it. Is North himself an agent of Robertson? Why else would he use Robertson as an authority, when we all know how Robertson covered up for Hansen the FBI agent? Did David North also go to Carleton College?
As we have noted before, “Security and the Fourth International” was always a supremely cynical device, used along with a deliberately mystified “dialectics” to keep the Healyite membership scared witless and hopelessly confused. Healy was the man with the answers: who is a CIA/FBI/GPU agent and which “opposites” to hold fast to. Healy’s little heir, North, doesn’t believe his own lies, if there is any truth to the following story. According to Savas Michael (Greek IC section leader still with Healy), North visited Michael in Athens to line him up against Healy when it became clear the WRP was about to blow apart. Michael claims he asked North about “Security and the Fourth International” and North “spoke about a ‘personal vendetta’ between G. Healy and Joseph Hansen” (Marxist Review, May 1986).
Such a vendetta did indeed exist. A conscious revisionist and skilled polemicist, Hansen twisted Healy’s tail on more than one occasion – especially in his exposure of Healy’s antics at the 1966 London IC Conference. It was for selling Hansen’s pamphlet of documents on our exclusion from that conference that Healy had a Canadian USec leader, Ernie Tate, beaten up in London, then sued him when he protested. Then when Wohlforth was purged, his lengthy, lurid account of life in Healy’s IC was printed by Hansen in Intercontinental Press, the journal he edited. The Bulletin produced a reply to Wohlforth in the form of a polemic against our own article “Wohlforth Terminated” (WV No. 61, 31 January 1975). Hansen must have enjoyed himself thoroughly when he added the following footnote on the Healyite article:
“It is not clear why the Workers League Political Committee concludes that Robertson and Wohlforth have consummated ‘a political marriage that is pregnantHealyism and Racism
with historical ironies.’ Perhaps the WL PC misread the quip in the ‘Wohlforth Terminated’ article: ‘As for Wohlforth, we can say with sincerity: it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy’.”
– Intercontinental Press, Vol. 13, No. II, 24 March 1975
When Healy wrote of “D. North’s whiter than white socialism” he doubtless didn’t know how right he was. For North continues the long tradition of U.S. Healyite “colorblind” economism. Perhaps the most self-indicting piece in the Bulletin’s series is the one entitled, “An Obsession With Race.” It both proves that nothing in the real world stands in the way of what the Bulletin will print and that the WL’s profile in this deeply racist country is, on the black question, akin to the old AFL, job-trusted white-racist unions. Of the latter, founding American Trotskyist James P. Cannon said: “They also had nothing special to offer the Negroes; nothing at all, in fact” (“The Russian Revolution and The American Negro Movement”). According to the Bulletin’s research:
“The Workers Vanguard’s 1985 subject index contains references to at least 60 articles on the ‘black struggle,’ civil rights, police terror, racial attacks, fascist groups, etc. These included a number of articles on the MOVE bombing which was certainly one of the most important political developments [!] of the year, but dozens of other incidents as well.Talk about perfect Healyite hypocrisy. By rights, their tongues should grow hair and their toes shrivel up and fall off as they utter the word “index.” Can you imagine the WL putting out indexed bound volumes of the past years of the Bulletin so that advanced workers can study their record? Now what does the index controversy show? 1) That “only the Workers League” could refer to the hideous racist massacre of Philly MOVE by the state in such bloodless, colorblind terms. 2) That in Reagan’s America, racist terror has been unleashed viciously and consciously and often as part of the domestic reflection of the anti-Soviet war drive. 3) That the auto, steel and (U.S.) coal unions probably weren’t writing a proud new chapter in the history of the American class struggle last year.
“In the same one-year period, according to the index, the Spartacist newspaper managed a single article on auto workers, two on steelworkers and one on (US) coal miners.”
– Bulletin, 3 June
For the Bulletin, though, it demonstrates that the Spartacists “counterpose” the “struggle against racism from the struggle of the working class,” “making the working class, rather than the capitalist system, responsible for racial discrimination and prejudice.” Inexorably, what follows is an example of our work proving precisely the opposite: the successful SL-initiated, union-backed Labor/Black Mobilization to Stop the Klan in Washington, D.C. on 27 November 1982. Over 5,000 black workers and youth turned out and placed themselves under our leadership and the threatened KKK march was stopped in its tracks. It was a singular victory for labor, and particularly for doubly oppressed black labor, in Reagan’s America.
At the time, the Bulletin smeared the anti-Klan mobilization as “an adventure which played right into the hands of the police,” but this grotesque and cowardly lie is not now repeated. Now, North & Co. sneer that our “reaction” was “seemingly out of all proportion to the significance of the threat posed [by] a handful of KKK scum in a city which is 60% black.” Fortunately, black Washington residents and unionists from the Tidewater area docks didn’t see it that way.
Belittling the Klan danger, North & Co. pretend not to know that the November 27 display of labor/black power faced down the Reagan government’s determination to shove the Klan provocation down the throat of that city. Our mobilization was a labor action not only in its program but in the simplest literal sense. Respectful treatment from the cops for the mobilization was wrested not mainly by the size and militancy of the assembly, though that was impressive, but by the black union presidents who made it known in the face of police threats that their memberships would take amiss any interference with this heavily union-endorsed anti- Klan action. Again, to our statement that the fascists in this country have been able to poll hundreds of thousands of votes, the Bulletin snaps: “the Spartacists cannot point to a KKK candidate who has received such a mass vote.” Try these for starters: KKKer Tom Metzger received over 32,000 votes in a 1980 Democratic Congressional primary in California; a brown-shirted Nazi, Harold Covington, took 56,000 votes in a North Carolina statewide election for attorney general. The Klan, of course, endorsed Ronald Reagan and took his victory as their own. But this is just social reality and therefore has no place in the Northites’ attempt to work us over. Perhaps the most idiotic part of the Bulletin’s anti- anti-racist tirade is the denunciation of our slogan “Finish the Civil War!” as “utterly reformist”!
Northite “Internationalism”: Little Lords of Nothing
By the mid-I970s, the IC had become unashamed apologists for Near Eastern bourgeois regimes. In 1985 Slaughter admitted:
“GH [Healy] sought and found relations with bourgeois leaders like Saddam Hussein, Gaddafi, and Nkomo. It is not only that Marxism was distorted in order to mislead on their class nature. This Party, through Healy, sought financial support from these bourgeois, not just for this or that political purpose, but as a system.”But now that these revelations have served their purpose in dumping Healy, North & Co. want to turn the IC’s crimes into Healy’s personal responsibility. Slaughter says that it was when he “raised the question of Comrade North tackling his own responsibility for the IC’s past” that North “moved very quickly to propose suspension of the WRP from the IC.” He also spills some beans about Nick Beams, North’s bloc partner in Australia:
– News Line, 20 November 1985
“Is it only the WRP which received financial assistance from one or other Middle Eastern bourgeois national governments?...
“Is it not a fact that the Australian section did receive a sum of (tens of thousands of dollars) in 1983?...
“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 ?...
“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?”
– Slaughter, Letter to all members, 14 January 1986
According to the Slaughter Workers Press (28 June 1986) Beams “was formally censured... for failing to report to the December 17  meeting of IC leaders, held in London, on the SLL’s role in carrying out Healy’s betrayals especially in the Middle East.... At a further conference held on March 1 and 2 the [Northite Australian SLL] majority could not even agree on whether a betrayal had occurred when the SLL supported the execution of the 21 Iraqi communists.”
This article also notes that Beams and North had initially opposed Healy’s expulsion.
From virtually all quarters, save North’s own, comes the same story. Crisis in the WRP North maneuvering for junior “founder-leader” status - blocking with Slaughter/ Banda to dump Healy, banking on the demise of his bloc partners thereafter. Greek Healyite Michael says that when North visited him in September, “he spoke with the utmost contempt for the ‘unprincipled, nationalist British ‘ including his present day [now ex-] allies, Slaughter. Banda and Pilling. He called Slaughter ‘a physical coward’, Banda an opportunist and Pilling ‘an alcoholic’.” Slaughter supporter Bill Hunter, in his cogent reply to Banda’s “Twenty-Seven Reasons...”, adds:
“His [North’s] ‘authority’ is based on the Eighth Congress of the IC.... Every proceeding at that congress, every word which came out of it, is a monument of ‘Healyism’.”What is North’s IC?
- Workers Press, 15 February
When you turn over the rock to see what makes them move, you find a dead-end pecking-order invidiousness appropriate to those who aspire to be little lords of nothing. Certainly there is no connection between these fracturing grouplets and the class struggle, the defense of the oppressed. The German Northites - the Bund Sozialistische Arbeiter (BSA) have adopted a “new” line for electoral support to the German Social Democratic Party, according to the 25 July Bulletin. Only three days before, the Bulletin had published a BSA statement entitled “Social-Democracy and the ‘Trail of Blood’.” While the Peruvian regime was massacring hundreds of political prisoners, the SPD and its fellows were meeting at a congress of the Second International “only a few kilometers away.” Former SPD chancellor Willy Brandt, we are told, made what amounted to “a complete apology for the blood bath.” He is, according to the Bulletin, “on the side of imperialism in Latin America.... His political aim differs from Ronald Reagan’s only in nuances.” Yet it is to this very SPD that the German Northites now extend their electoral support. Beams’ Australian SLL admitted publicly that it had printed an exile organ of the fascistic Vietnamese emigres, The Bell of Saigon. This link with the thugs who have been physically attacking leftist and labor meetings was “explained” by the SLL as part of a turn toward “commercial enterprise.” Has the financially beleaguered WL found similar sources of income yet?
David North: A Healyite’s Healyite
North and his gang are worthless people for the international working-class movement. Separated from their own “continuity” – Healy – their trajectory might lead anywhere. With supreme cynicism, the Bulletin has begun a series penned by North on “The Heritage We Defend,” which obscenely tries to claim connection with Trotsky and Cannon. The heritage North really defends is Healy’s at its worst: “Security and the Fourth International”; eager ventures across the class line in pursuit of trivial opportunist advantage or financial support; shameless use of the bosses’ courts within the workers movement.
Programmatically, the IC under Healy and now North is a virulently anti-Soviet sect. Beginning with embrace of the Maoist “Cultural Revolution” in 1966, they have moved on to support virtually every hostile force on the borders of the USSR, from Khomeini’s Iran to the Afghan mullahs to Polish Solidarność. Their enthusiasm for Solidarność, the Pope’s and Wall Street’s best hope for plunging Poland into a bloody civil war for the restoration of capitalism, led them into the arms of Margaret Thatcher when they red-baited miners’ leader Arthur Scargill on the eve of the heroic miners’ strike.
“Anti-Stalinism” was their cover for supporting the beheading of the Iraqi proletariat when they applauded the execution of the CP members on the grounds that, after all, “they were only Stalinists.” In the 3 January Bulletin, North denounced Pabloism for overthrowing “Trotsky’s characterization of Stalinism as ‘counter-revolutionary through and through’.” This formulation owes nothing to Trotsky; in fact, it comes from Dave Weiss (“D. Stevens”), who put it forward during the 1953 Cochran-Clarke fight in the SWP. A historical irony here – it was Healy/North’s arch enemy, Joseph Hansen, who defended this one-sided formulation in the debate. (Any curious Northites are referred to SWP Internal Bulletin, Vol. 15, Nos. 3 and 4, February 1953.) By Healyite logic, North must be: 1) a hopeless ignoramus or 2) a secret agent of Hansen.
Trotsky in all his writings insisted on the contradictory nature of Stalinism, a conservative bureaucratic caste which rests upon the socialized property forms in the deformed workers states; at the same time Stalinism, by seeking accommodation with imperialism, undermines the defense of the workers states, necessitating proletarian political revolution. (Denying the dual nature of Stalinism, how can the Healyites explain such occurrences as the overthrow of capitalism in Vietnam? They can’t, which explains that characteristic Healyite schizophrenia: slavishly tailing the Vietnamese leadership, while at the same time denying that an anticapitalist revolution took place in Cuba.)
The WL’s “anti-Stalinism” leans heavily on the notion that Washington and the Kremlin are united for counterrevolution in a global conspiracy against, e.g., Solidarność and the national liberation of Third World peoples. A glance at the real world, though, shows that more than 60 years of sincere Stalinist commitment to “peaceful coexistence” hasn’t reconciled (and can’t) the capitalist rulers to the continued existence of the Soviet Union. Indeed, a frenzied imperialist regime identifies as “Soviet surrogates” every movement for social freedom, from Nicaragua to South Africa. And needless to say the WL, busy denouncing Russian capitulations, never mentions how the Chinese are serving as direct military agents of U.S. imperialism from the Vietnamese border to Angola to Afghanistan.
Anti-Sovietism is a necessary credential for those who seek patronage from the maggoty labor bureaucrats, from those traitors to the working class who serve their “own” imperialism. And it’s among those traitors that the Healyites seek to nest. Thus the WL in the New York transit union seeks to entice the union tops to form a “labor party” by mimicking their bureaucrats’ hostile indifference to the defense of James Grimes, a black worker prosecuted for a courageous act of self-defense. The WL’s racist economism is fundamental. But there is also a chameleon-like quality to the WL’s politics. The Bulletin series paints us as “obsessed” with black people in America. But over South Africa, for example, they are simultaneously for imperialist “divestment” and for blood and vengeance, People’s War, and charge us with being obsessed with... white people. That’s because the Healyites/Northites are whores, and who they’re seeking to please varies from one moment to the next.
The thoroughgoing defense of the deformed and degenerated workers states against imperialism and capitalist restoration requires revolutionary leadership. It requires the forging of Trotskyist parties in each country welded together as disciplined sections of a reborn Fourth International. The international Spartacist tendency was forged to preserve and build upon the threads of continuity that link the authentic Fourth Internationalists of today to the movement of Trotsky’s and Cannon’s time. Those threads are slender. We are thinking not only of the murder of Trotsky and the decimation of the European Trotskyist groups by fascism and world war. We recall also the murdered Andres Nin, the Hanoi Trotskyists who were extinguished, and others about whom we know even less. From our independent inception in 1964, we sought to intersect and test out every kind of grouping that claimed to have something to offer in the way of international leadership. For our American-based grouping, tossed out of the SWP with small forces, the struggle for international collaborators was an uphill battle, and one that still continues.
Gerry Healy and his heirs are a world apart from this. They have a publishing machine, so we have to answer what they say. But what they say means nothing – their words are but applications for some sordid and episodic advantage, bearing no relationship to what they claim to believe. What is Healy, what is North? We have to concur with Trotsky’s remark about Stalinism, but in microcosm of course: to the extent the Healyites/Northites are part of the working class, they are its syphilis.
* * *
New York, N.Y.
August 8, 1960
To the Political Committee:
I am addressing you on the matter of our party’s public silence concerning the recent and continuing betrayal of the Ceylonese working class and of the world Trotskyist movement by the Lanka Sama Samaja Party. I refer, of course, to that party’s entry into a “Popular Front” electoral pact with the Stalinist party and with the left bourgeois nationalist party represented by the widow Bandaranaike.
In raising this matter privately with several members of your body I was told that letters have been sent the Ceylonese and that your view is that for the present a greater advantage is to be gained by revolutionary Marxists in the LSSP through our remaining publicly silent. I must disagree and urge you to reconsider.
When I read in the New York Times of the electoral pact and then of the election and finally of the continued support by the LSSP to the new capitalist government, my concern over this classically social-democratic capitulation was mitigated by two thoughts: (1) first that the construction of a genuine Trotskyist party for the island could perhaps emerge out of the shambles, and (2) that now the blocks would really be put to Pablo, not over an obscured vote by his English followers in a provincial British Labour Party meeting, but over a clear act of historic proportions by a major party, an act about which the central world organs of the FI would have to take a stand and on the grounds for or against elementary revolutionary principle.
But the silence in the Militant weakens both these hopes. Within Ceylon our silence while it may temporarily continue our “respectability” in the mouths of the leaders also places a terrible weapon in their hands against any militants they may have to contend with – “Even the Americans are only privately disturbed and are treating this as a matter between comrades.” And as for Pablo’s stature before the world movement, every day of delay allows him to say in effect: “You’re another maneuverer subordinating principle to tactics.” Comrades, that you condemn the Ceylonese ex-Trotskyists, I have no doubt, but your failure to raise this publicly and with great seriousness does the movement internationally a disservice.
With comradely greetings,
* * *
SOCIALIST LABOR LEAGUE
186 Clapham High Street London S.W. 4, England
14th August, 1960
We discussed at some length on our Organizing Committee (the equivalent of your Political Committee) the proposition concerning the situation in Ceylon.
The opinion here is that the Ceylon News, being a Ceylon Embassy information hand-out, is not reliable and should not be used as the basis of the piece for the Militant. We think that it is necessary to write again asking for the fullest possible information concerning the current situation in the party in Ceylon.
There is no doubt that they are in a severe crisis but if we take their situation and recent events in Europe it is not improbable that there will now be important developments inside the Pablo camp. This is all the more reason for us to proceed with caution - as you have in the past so rightly insisted.
We are going to cable them tomorrow for information and we suggest you do likewise and hold up for the time being publication of anything in the Militant.
Copy to J.P.C.