What is the Workers League?
Why Should Anyone Believe David North?
In our article “The Workers League and Mark Curtis” (Workers Vanguard, No. 480, 23 June) we asked: “...why should anybody believe David North? Who is the Workers League to say that Curtis is guilty, and why?” North’s Workers League made an international campaign out of helping railroad Mark Curtis, a member of the Socialist Workers Party, into 25 years in prison on charges of burglary and sexual abuse. In its lame response to our article the WL’s Bulletin (14 July) protests, “But the issue is not whether you believe the Workers League.” Of course for them it can’t be. Anybody the least bit familiar with David North and his minions would have to be completely deranged to believe anything they say.
To frame the rest of its lies, the Bulletin claims that the Spartacist League maintained a “15-month silence” over the Curtis case. On the contrary — Workers Vanguard publicized the Curtis case in the Partisan Defense Committee column in our 1 July 1988 issue (No. 456). Here we noted that the PDC had sent a letter demanding the charges against Curtis be dropped and had contributed $100 to his defense. Others were urged to do the same. It is hard to imagine that the megalomaniac North missed this issue given that it also featured an article about himself entitled “Anatomy of a Healyite Russia Hater — David North: Joseph Hansen’s Natural Son.”
Who Is Whose Agent?
The Bulletin sneers, “Spartacist even raises its eyebrows because a 1976 FBI index of leftist groups does not list the Workers League, as though this was some sort of necessary credential.” The FBI’s 1971 ADEX file was not some kind of “honor roll,” it was the government’s hit list of those targeted as “enemies” of America. War at Home, a recent pamphlet on “Covert Action Against U.S. Activists,” details the government’s dirty war against everyone from the Black Panthers to pacifist preachers and grandmothers. Yet somehow the Workers League, which advertises itself as the most proletarian, the most internationally connected, indeed the sole repository on the face of the planet of “Marxism and the struggle for socialism,” didn’t get included in the FBI’s ADEX file — the “short list” of Americans these official hitmen had lined up in their sights.
How come? If the Workers League wasn’t on that list then where were they?
This is all the more suggestive given the Northites’ claim that the U.S. government took over the SWP in order to destroy... the Workers League. In “The Carleton Twelve,” a demented saga retailed as “proof” that SWP leader Jack Barnes and his coterie at a Midwest college were groomed by the FBI (in league with Joseph Hansen) to infiltrate the SWP, we read that “The State Department’s greatest fear was that Trotskyism, as embodied in the International Committee, would emerge as the revolutionary alternative to the Stalinist bureaucracies.” Well then, how is it. that the U.S. government wasn’t concerned about the Workers League when it drew up the ADEX list?
In a recent scurrilous piece, “The Militant and the Miners,” the Bulletin (29 September) names SWP members working in the coal fields and smears them as “part of an intelligence- gathering operation on behalf of the government and the coal bosses.” Why? Because they were hired! The fact that SWPers get industrial jobs at all, when they are members of a self-proclaimed socialist organization, is offered as proof positive that they are police agents.
In concocting this paranoid conspiracy theory against the SWP the Workers League presents reality through the prism of the McCarthyite I950s, i.e., when anyone with even vaguely socialist leanings was run out of their job. What About Ed Winn? He worked for the NY Transit Authority but ran as the Workers League’s candidate for president. By the WL’s measure this should make him a cop. And how did Mark Curtis end up getting thrown behind bars for 25 years when, according to the Bulletin, all SWP. members are either cops or police dupes? How come Curtis got jail and Ed Winn got a presidential candidacy?
Witnesses for the Prosecution
Then there’s the question of a state attorney from Des Moines, Iowa eagerly taking the line of argument from the Bulletin, a “communist” newspaper, to convict a leading member of the SWP. In our article we asked if it was simply “One More Coincidence?” that prosecuting attorney Catherine Thune used virtually the same words in her summation at the Curtis trial as those that appeared in the Bulletin article “The Strange Case of Mark Curtis” (5 August 1988). The Bulletin replies: “The statement was reported by the Des Moines Register, the principal daily paper in the city, and evidently read as well by the prosecutor, who incorporated the seven questions into her closing argument on September 9.” Doubtless the state’s attorney reads the daily newspaper. The problem is that the seven questions raised in the Workers League’s statement which were picked up by the prosecutor could not be found there.
The Des Moines Register did run substantial quotes from the WL’s “The Strange Case of Mark Curtis.” The 18 August 1988 issue featured a piece entitled “Socialist newspaper calls Curtis’ claims incredible” which highlighted quotes from the Bulletin arguing that Curtis could not possibly have been framed up by the cops. Here was an apologia for the Des Moines cops, who viciously beat Curtis, coming from a “socialist” newspaper. The question still remains as to how the prosecuting attorney got her hands on the whole text. Who gave it to her, the Workers League, or someone else?
The Bulletin claims it was “compelled” to write the Curtis article. which would become the script for the prosecution, because “the Workers League was seeking ballot status in Iowa for the first time... and the first question which many workers in Des Moines raised was the party’s attitude to the Curtis case.” This is odd. Previous to “The Strange Case of Mark Curtis,” one can find no mention of the Workers League seeking ballot status in Iowa. They didn’t take their election campaign to Des Moines until after the Curtis article had been published.
Besides, why are they protesting so much? This wouldn’t be the first time that David North and his Workers League have used the agencies of the capitalist state to “get” the SWP. There’s the matter of one Alan Gelfand. RWL agent, Gelfand was expelled from the SWP’s Los Angeles branch in 1977 after filing a “friend of the court” brief in the SWP’s suit against the FBI, based on the wild-eyed Healyite conspiracy theory (as told by Healy and co-authored by North) that the SWP was government-controlled.
Gelfand appealed to the courts of U.S. imperialism to reinstate him as a member, to review minutes, finances and other internal business of the SWP, and to remove members and leaders from the organization. Two of the key character witnesses in the Gelfand suit, which the Workers League boasted was a “model” in “making use of the capitalist courts,” were ex-cops from the notorious LAPD red squad.
Now they retail the testimony of two Des Moines cops against Mark Curtis as unimpeachable evidence. No answer in the Bulletin reply to our question: “What kind of purported socialists retail the cops’ story as if it were ‘The Truth’?” By the Workers League’s lights the cops, prosecuting attorney and court were the instruments of “workers justice” in jailing Curtis.
The “Heritage” North Defends
“What is the substance of this claim that the Workers League, and David North in particular, are ‘shadowy’ and ‘sinister’?” asks the Bulletin. How about this for starters. David, who calls himself “North,” made his political career out of loyally serving as the American stooge of Gerry Healy. He made his way to the top by co-authoring the “Security and the Fourth International” smear that SWP leaders were government agents. He carried out Healy’s orders to pursue the expensive Gelfand provocation. When Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party hailed the execution of 21 Iraqi CPers by the Ba’athist regime, North’s Bulletin duly followed suit. The payoff for these crimes was millions in money from a variety of Middle East regimes including Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Abu Dhabi.
This whole dirty business hit the fan following the downfall of Healy’s WRP as accusations flew fast and furious between Healy’s former lieutenants. A Control Commission of the International Committee delegated to attempt to control the damage reported that the sum of 1,075,163 British pounds sterling had been received from an assortment of Near East colonels, sheiks and dictators.
Here it was revealed that among other services offered was an agreement with the Libyan government to provide intelligence on the “activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere” by “Zionists.” Even the IC Control Commission noted the “strongly antisemitic undertones” of this agreement in which “the term Zionist could actually include every Jew in a leading position.” An ex-WRP member told the London Sunday Times (7 February 1988) that the Healyites had taken information from the Jewish Yearbook and the Jewish Chronicle and sent it to Libya.
In return the WRP demanded £50,000 from the Libyan government to buy a web offset press, and a month after the agreement was signed the WRP’s daily News Line was launched. So much for the Bulletin’s protests that the Workers League is neither “shadowy” nor “sinister” because it has lots of campaigns and a weekly newspaper.
Of course, the findings of the IC Control Commission, an investigation carried out by the guilty, can only be the tip of the iceberg. Nonetheless it was too hot for the Northites to publish in their press. Could it be that North was worried that his current colleague Nick Beams, leader of the Australian Socialist Labor League, would be exposed as not only complicit but on the front lines shoveling Arab gold into his section?
And let’s not forget one of North’s other former collaborators, Alex Mitchell. Mitchell, who worked with North on “Security and the Fourth International,” now plies his pen for the Sydney Sun Herald in columns attacking striking airline pilots. The Australian Healyites and the Northites call Mitchell a “literary prostitute.” Nothing new here — the Healyites have long been someone’s hired pen whether as PR agents for Mideast regimes or as the servants of Thatcher’s redbaiting, union-busting press. The Healyites’ “expose” of British miners’ leader Arthur Scargill’s remark that Solidarność was “anti-socialist” was timed for maximum exposure to knife the union on the eve of the 1984-85 coal strike.
And what about North himself? When Healy was overthrown by his conniving henchmen, North, who was among this number, tried to claim that he and he alone had fought the glorious “founder-leader” over “dialectics.” But the only difference North ever had with Healy was whether 2+2=4.67 or 4.83, and they compromised on 4.5. As for the oil money received from despotic Near East regimes, none of Healy’s epigones objected to the vicious betrayals perpetrated by their organization to get the money when it was coming in. On the contrary, as we point out in an article in the latest Spartacist (No. 43-44, Summer 1989), they “moved in to depose Healy not because of the receipt of that money, but because that money dried up.”
This is the only “heritage” David North defends. Nonetheless even the practiced liars who write for the Bulletin were incapable of squaring this history with their fulsome defense of the “integrity” of the Workers League leader. Quotes taken from our article are cut to conveniently disappear any mention of Gerry Healy. But North was nothing if not loyal to Healy. (Now he says that Healy has “placed his knowledge of the inner workings of the Fourth International at the disposal of the KGB.” If North really believes this maybe he’s worried that “glasnost” might go too far and fill in the “blank spaces” that would explain the Workers League.)
How did David come to call himself “North”? When his predecessor as WL leader, Tim Wohlforth, was getting the chop he whined, “I was even attacked as being an American pragmatist for purchasing an American rather than a British web offset press.” To parody the Bulletin, we could ask whether Healy named North after “Lord North” the British prime minister during the American War of Independence who proclaimed that he would see “America prostrate at our feet” — to curb against further excesses of “American pragmatism.” Or whether David christened himself “North” as a show of fealty to his British master.
As we noted in our article, the men North today denounces as “renegades” — i.e., Healy, Banda, Slaughter, Wohlforth — taught him everything he knows about practicing politics with no concern for honesty, principles or consistency. The Bulletin chooses not to respond to any of this. But for flavor look at what North himself wrote of one of his former mentors, Cliff Slaughter:
“Slaughter, a consummate cynic and hypocrite, epitomizes in his political and personal life all that is corrupt and perverse in the British petty-bourgeois intelligentsia. He is, therefore, a specialist in gathering into his net the most degenerate human specimens produced by this decadent social milieu: from hallucinating journalists, alcoholic university professors, and aging film directors of unfulfilled promise to neurotic middle class ladies who blame Trotskyism for their unsuccessful love affairs and failed marriages. “Yet it was Slaughter who the Northites once held up as the pre-eminent authority on “Security and the Fourth International,” who Alan Gelfand included on his list of witnesses as “an expert.” Now, it is the obviously twisted North who is calling Mark Curtis a “depraved rapist”!
— Bulletin, 9 December 1988
If one were to try to match the luminaries of the Healy cult with the more notorious Stalinists it would roughly translate into Gerry Healy as Joseph Stalin, Slaughter as Mikhail Suslov, Michael Banda as Georgi Malenkov, Wohlforth as William Z. Foster, Freddy Mazelis as Earl Browder. This leaves David North as a jumped-up, creepy little Lavrenti Beria — for now the only master of “Security.”
Bandits and Renegades
It is quite ironic that the Bulletin retails the Bolshevik Tendency’s grotesque slanders of the Spartacist League. The BT is a collection of embittered ex-members of our organization who trickled out of the SL under the early pressures of the Reagan years. Claiming political agreement with us, they needed an excuse to alibi their cowardly departure. So they “discovered” the “regime question” and their model was... Gerry Healy, a ready-made horrible example of megalomania, paranoia, gangsterism and unbridled greed. Now David North, who rode Healy’s coattails and helped build the cult of the loathsome “founder-leader,” happily quotes the BTs self-serving attempt to smear the SL with the colors of Healyism.
Of course the BT can supply no evidence for its slanders. Here’s one example of how they tried to handle it. In an article advertised as “SL and the WRP Split” (1917, Winter 1986) the BT, after noting the Healyites were notorious for beating up internal opponents, wrote, “This is something which the SL is not guilty of to our knowledge,” while claiming that “intimations of such appetites are increasingly common”! This is like asking “When are you going to start beating your wife?”! The added fascination with “finances” shared by the petty criminal mentality in the BT leadership has also lent something to its lurid tales about the SL.
It says a great deal about the unscrupulousness of North & Co. that they would attempt to pass off parodies of their own, only too true, revolting history as the “truth” about the SL. The Bulletin uses the BT’s lies to condemn our call to stop Solidarność counterrevolution in Poland, while now with the reins of government in its hands Solidarność has openly declared its drive to restore capitalism. They both denounce us for hailing the Red Army intervention in Afghanistan against the darkest imperialist-backed feudal reaction. They equally find repugnant our work to bring the power of labor and blacks to bear in successful mobilizations that have stopped the fascists — the BT calls it “ghetto work,” the WL claims it is “an obsession with race.” They both look instead to the good offices of the racist labor bureaucracy.
Despite differences in style, and insofar as one can find any political logic to either group, the Workers League and the BT have some overriding things in common: a shared hatred of Soviet Russia, an abiding hostility to the black working class in America, a bloodthirsty, vicarious enthusiasm for the death of others and a distinct smell of provocation.
Political Struggle by “Other Means”...
Having failed through episodic and flawed political struggle to uproot the Pabloite revisionism that destroyed the Fourth International, the Healyites substituted their psychotic “Security and the Fourth International” campaign, centered particularly on the charge that former SWP leader Joseph Hansen was simultaneously an agent of the GPU and the FBI who recruited Jack Barnes and a bunch of other students at Carleton College to run the SWP for the U.S. government. But while one might have to look elsewhere to explain the Northites, the Barnesites have had a linear political consistency since their inception.
They started as student cheerleaders for Castro and were recruited to the SWP, where their positions found an echo. By that time the SWP was pretty much a doddering and vulnerable organization. The brutally bureaucratic Barnes regime persisted until they had cleaned out all centrist vestiges and holdovers, i.e., any nominal Trotskyism, and completely took over.
As for the role of Joseph Hansen. Far from being the tool of both the Kremlin Stalinists and the U.S. imperialists in the destruction of the SWP, Hansen played the centrist lawyer who tried to keep a cover of “Trotskyist” orthodoxy on the galloping opportunism of the SWP. And far from brain-trusting Barnes, Hansen was the last obstacle to the full-fledged emergence of the anti- Trotskyist Barnes gang.
Barnes hasn’t changed his political positions since he joined and neither has the circle of people he was sufficiently able to also recruit. They have a central political core based on a radical program alien to Trotskyism — a Fidelista fan club of American agrarian-labor reformers. In contrast, the Northites have taken political positions all over the map as served their own convenient and grotesque opportunist ends.
In 1970 we recalled Lenin’s term for a phenomenon like the Healyites: “political bandits” or, if you like, political pirates, i.e., who will show any flag to attack any target. For this, the CIA- inspired graduate departments of elite universities attended by those among North and his crew were a good classroom. It, at the least, taught them how to write on every side of the question, like the position papers of the State Department.
The mendacious practices and assertions of the Workers League (and the Bolshevik Tendency) say a great deal about the Stalinist-derived breakdown and perversion of the “far left” both in terms of proletarian morality and any connection with the class struggle. When it has suited their own episodic interests North, his past masters and present collaborators have turned to the capitalist courts and taken subsidies from oil-rich regimes, have served the Queen and the venal right-wing British trade-union bureaucracy by smearing the leader of desperately striking unionists, and have generally crawled before alien class forces.
Devoid of any class basis or connection to reality North and his gang can and will say or do anything. And these are the guys that did their level best to get Mark Curtis 25 years.