Friday, June 5, 2009

Healy's Workers Press Folds (1976)

Workers Vanguard No. 97 (20 February 1976)

Editorial Note

Healy's Workers Press Folds

LONDON, February 14 – The English radical movement is buzzing over the news that Workers Press, daily newspaper of the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) of Gerry Healy, is going under. The bourgeois press yesterday broke the story, followed by the publication in today's Workers Press of a front-page “Final Edition” statement which salutes “the continuous daily publication” of Workers Press as “a magnificent achievement” but presents no plan for the resumption of any public organ, daily or otherwise.

A brief report in the Daily Telegraph (13 February)stated that Workers Press would
“cease publication after tomorrow due to severe financial difficulty, it was announced last night. Mr. Alex Mitchell, editor, said the paper had to close because its printer, Plough Press Ltd., would cease trading from midnight tonight. He emphasized that theprinters were not going into liquidation, and all financial obligations will be met in full. Workers Press... began daily publication in September 1969 as a competitor with the Communist Morning Star. Since last September it has been losing an average of £6,500 amonth.”
A somewhat longer story in the Manchester Guardian (13 February) noted that the WRP “has never fully recovered front the defection last year of Alan ‘The Mole’ Thornett [now head of the Workers Socialist League (WSL)], one of its key supporters in the trade unions. The £50,000 crisis appeal which the WRP launched last year to keep the newspaper afloat is still £ 14,000 short of its target.”

The financial crisis of the WRP/ Workers Press/ Plough Press is political in nature. The Healyites' unsavoury reputation for political chicanery extends into the financial arena, and rumours of-the most lurid sort are rampant. But at bottom the ignominious debacle of the self-baptised “first Trotskyist daily in the world” is a linear product of the much-vaunted Healyite “method”. This method can be roughly summarized as: pretend you're a mass party, dupe as many people as you can into believing it and you will become one. After all, nothing succeeds like “success.” (Even the claim to be “first” is a phony. To our knowledge, the first Trotskyist daily newspaper was the Vietnamese-language Tia Sang published in Saigon by the Internationalist Communist League in the late 1930's.)

The collapse of the WRP's Potemkin Village merely demonstrates once again the fallacy of get-rich-quick charades. Workers Press editor Mitchell himself described the paper's circulation as never having exceeded 20,000 (Guardian, 13 February). It should be recalled that the American Communist Party required a fund of at least a million dollars before launching its Daily World in 1968, recognizing that only such a fund (and several thousand guaranteed subscriptions from Soviet libraries) could cushion the financial drain of a daily paper not supported by a mass base.

The Healyite organization simply does not have the cadres, resources or influence among the advanced workers to sustain a daily press financially or to justify such an undertaking politically. When a party has deep roots in the. workers movement and the advanced workers daily look to it for leadership in their struggles, then a daily newspaper becomes not merely justified, but obligatory. But for an organization of the WRP's modest size to seek to sustain a daily on the basis of the “unstinting devotion and sacrifice of its readers, supporters and subscribers” (Workers Press, 14 February) is consummate cynicism.

The essence of Healy’s “method” has always been to use crisis-mongering combined with appeals to revolutionary voluntarism to wring every last ounce of energy (and shilling) out of his supporters, tossing aside the burnt-out and bitter shells. But pyramid swindles (an old financial con game, in which the investments of new clients are used to pay dividends to the old ones) are dependent upon an ever-expanding base, and always collapse in the end.

The abrupt suspension of Workers Press seems to have caught Healy's international co-thinkers by surprise. The U.S., Workers League (WL), always secure in the knowledge that the best way to please Gerry is to imitate his every gyration, announced less than two weeks ago its intention to launch “the first daily Trotskyist newspaper in the United States in 1977” (Bulletin, 6 February 1976); the Australian Healyites are already on record singing a similar tune. The grandiose pretensions of the American grouping are typically out of phase with its real situation: having purged its founding head, Tim Wohlforth, the WL has just recently made another switch in National Secretary, with David North taking over after Fred Mazelis’ brief moment in the sun.

A thought-provoking sidelight on the Workers Press affair is the concomitant escalation of the Healyites’ campaign of slanders against Joseph Hansen, ideologue of the reformist Socialist Workers Party (SWP) in the U.S. The WRP’s descent into paranoid, witchhunting began somewhat earlier, with Healy's personal instigation of the “Nancy Fields case” which succeeded in driving Wohlforth out of his WL in solidarity with his friend Fields. Healy accused his long-time American lackey of deliberately covering up Fields’ alleged family connections with the CIA. After the ensuing dogfight (whose outcome was never in doubt) the pages of Workers Press and the Bulletin were filled with veiled accusations against Fields. In typical Healyite fashion, the articles were careful to note that the WL inquisition had found Fields innocent of any involvement with the CIA – thereby protecting against any possible legal action for slander – then proceeded to pile on paragraph after paragraph of insinuations.

In recent months the WRP and its international claque have been indulging in a disgusting orgy of slanderous personal vilification directed at long-time SWP spokesman Joseph Hansen. Entitled “Security and the Fourth International,” a seemingly endless series of Workers Press centerfolds has sought to smear Hansen as possessing guilty knowledge of the assassination of Trotsky by the GPU in 1940. The technique is to present masses of both true and unproven factual minutiae about the circumstances of the assassination followed by a series of rhetorical questions directed at Hansen; the implication is that Hansen deliberately covered up facts in his possession and misdirected those who sought to protect Trotsky and then to unmask the GPU network which had murdered him. As in the Fields case, Workers Press craftily avoided direct statements, contenting itself with the sheer bulk-of the campaign and the cleverly worded “question” to convey the slanderous content. But in the last weeks, the WRP has thrown caution to the winds. It has been mass distributing a throwaway. reprinted from Workers Press, which leaves little to the 'readers' imagination. The two articles reprinted in the handbill, “We Challenge the IMG” (Workers Press, 3 February) and “We Challenge the WSL (Thornett Group)” (Workers Press, 4 February), publish photos of Hansen and a rather less prominent SWP spokesman, George Novack, provocatively captioned in bold letters: “Accomplices of the GPU.”

The WRP knows full well that the reformist SWP would not in principle shrink from using the bourgeois courts against left-wing opponents (indeed, the Healyites have crossed the class line in such a fashion on at least one occasion). Perhaps as Workers Press’ parting shot, Healy has committed this outrageous and criminal libel, figuring that now he’s got no press left to lose! In view of the years-long political banditry of the Healy tendency, the present slander campaign and its current escalation are a not inappropriate swan-song for Workers Press.

As of now, there is no basis for speculation about the future press plans of the WRP. But there can be no doubt that the suspension of Workers Press is a grave blow to the organizational pretensions of the Healyites both in England and internationally. Just as Stalinists glory in their identification with a bureaucracy administering state power, so have the Healyites flaunted the WRP's daily, their crown jewel.

We do not want to gloat over the spectacular failure of the WRP's financial/political adventure. Revolutionary politics is not a safe “business,” and there are many mishaps that can befall an organization even in normal times. Bourgeois legal repression, ebbs in the class struggle, honest miscalculations of the economic and political conjuncture can have disastrous consequences for a socialist organization. But there is little similarity between the wrenching leaps that a serious Marxist organization finds itself compelled to undertake and the cynical contortions into which the Healyites propelled themselves when they launched the daily Workers Press. An authentically Trotskyist daily newspaper – an undertaking which awaits the future mass proletarian party, whose nucleus we are today struggling to build – will have little in common with Workers Press.