Sunday, June 21, 2009

Where is the Class Line in News Line? (1976)

Workers Vanguard No. 114 (17 June 1976)

Where's the Class Line in the News Line?

LONDON, May 6 – “At first glance it looks like the Daily Mirror,” writes the weekly London entertainment guide Time Out, comparing to the British equivalent of the New York Daily News and National Enquirer the Workers Revolutionary Party's latest desperate maneuver - a “popular” daily paper featuring big pictures, a “full racing card” and very little politics. The logo is indeed a deliberate imitation of that used by the sex-and-scandal British gutter press.

It looks like the Daily Mirror at second glance, too. The sympathetic article in Time Out notes, “despite appearances, The News Line is closely associated with the Trotskyist Workers Revolutionary Party,” commenting approvingly that most of the WRP’s political views have been removed from the new publication. Most of the news is “straight” reportage; thus News Line reports without comment that General Carvalho is being run for Portuguese President, or that the Italian Communist Party has proposed a grand coalition.

The WRP's daily Workers Press folded in February (see WV No. 97, 20 February 1976). Evidently concluding that even the fake-mass Workers Press had been too political to gain a wide readership, the WRP has now staked its hopes on trying to compete with the bourgeois press on its own terms. The accent is on sensationalism: spy scares, government sex scandals; tidbits of “human interest.”

Even the sports news in News Line is banal. The racing tips are mostly carefully hedged predictions on favourites – and the track record so far is not outstanding.

Once again the WRP’s antics provide fuel for the opponents of Trotskyism. The introduction to an anti-Trotskyist polemic (by Stalinist Monty Johnstone) notes with glee that the WRP “had also bitterly attacked the [CP's Morning] Star for having changed its name from the Daily Worker – only themselves now to adopt one which has not the slightest hint of a connection with working-class traditions and aspirations.”


The WRP took the opportunity in the interim between dailies to retire general secretary Gerry Healy, renowned for his political banditry and organizational thuggery, whose place has now been taken by the equally notorious Michael Banda. The Healyites’ organisational fortunes have continued to decline markedly, both in Britain and internationally. The WRP May Day march was claimed to have 2,000 participants, but WV observers counted at most 560, including a large number of children.

Perhaps in desperation, the Healyites have pushed their techniques of “mass recruitment” to bizarre lengths. For instance, the 1 May issue of the Healyite Young Socialist trumpets “200 Members Join Hull YS.” And how did the Hull Healyites “recruit” 200 new members to their Young Socialist branch?

Simple. They just held a disco (dance with records) and “everyone who attended the disco was signed up as a YS member”! Another article on the same page further amplifies the recruitment technique. It explains with an apparently straight face that at a YS “football rally” recently a discussion was precipitated by the arrival of a group of youth wearing swastikas. “In the end,” the article placidly concludes, “it was agreed that such signs could not be worn in a Young Socialists disco and they were taken off.”

By all rights the British ostensibly Trotskyist organisations who mourned the demise of Workers Press should be hailing its rebirth as News Line. If the closing of Workers Press was a “loss” as the International Marxist Group's Red Weekly said, surely News Line is a “gain”? And if, the Workers Socialist League (whose core was expelled from the WRP in 1974) was correct in calling the liquidation of Workers Press “A Blow to Trotskyism” then why is not News Line a “blow for Trotskyism”!

The WSL's assessment of Workers Press showed its failure to draw the proper balance sheet of Healyism, attacking only the organisational sectarianism of the WRP and not its opportunist political practice. The outstanding trait of the Healyite “method,” the pretense at a mass base (a “base” built on discos and not Marxism) was strikingly revealed in the failure of its “mass paper,” which never had any significant support in the working class.

Moreover, the Healy tendency's degeneration into anti-Trotskyist political banditry occurred many years before the expulsion of the WSL. The disorientation of the WSL, and its leanings towards rightist conciliation of the Labour Party, are shown in its insistence that the WRP should never have stood candidates against the Labour Party – at the same time as the WSL insists that the WRP had enough mass support among advanced workers to sustain a daily paper! You cannot have it both ways.

The liquidation of the Workers Press removed a barrier in the fight to create a Trotskyist Party in Britain. The News Line is a last wild gamble that will not succeed. The hoped-for advertising, which was supposed to provide the financial support for the new paper that would enable it to succeed where Workers Press could not, has not materialised, with only a handful of theatres and bookstores taking out classified ads. The modest fund drive goal of £4,000 a month was just barely reached in the first month, and the needed circulation of 30,000 copies a day will not be reached on newsstand sales. The new paper, having effectively liquidated such political face as the WRP has, will carry general secretary Banda and his gang of political bandits down to disaster.