By Gerry Downing 15 October 2014
Mike Banda 1930-2014
Mike Banda (Michael Van Der Poorten), the former General Secretary of the Workers Revolutionary Party died on August 29 aged 84. Corinne Lotz fills us in on his early life:
“Mike Banda attended the elite Trinity College in Ceylon’s (now Sri Lanka) second largest city, Kandy. Due in part to the influence of Hilary Abeyaratne, an inspirational teacher at the school, he and his younger brother Tony became activists in the Trotskyist Bolshevik Party of India, Ceylon and Burma (BLPI) whilst in their teens.
The BLPI merged with the larger Lanka Sama Samaja party in 1950 to become a section of the world Trotskyist movement, the Fourth International. It was at this time that the Van der Poorten brothers departed for Britain where they joined the Group, as the British section of the Fourth International was known at the time.” 
Mike and his brother Tony arrived in England sometime in 1950 or 51 and immediately reported for duty as Trotskyists to Gerry Healy, whose apparent uncritical supporters they remained until 1985 when the WRP expelled Healy with their belated assistance and they then renounced Trotskyism (“Trotskyism was not a golden thread but a rotten rope” Tony Banda opined in late 1985). Mike Banda embraced Zionism in his post-WRP years as we shall see later.
Max Shachtman and James P. Cannon
Forty years before his own death Mike wrote an obituary for another Trotskyist, James P Cannon, who died in August 21, 1974. In it he sought to prove that Cannon and the US SWP had little historically to offer the world Trotskyist movement and that the WRP and the ICFI, historically and at that time, represented the continuity of Trotskyism. He describes the major event that led to the birth of world Trotskyism when Cannon and Maurice Spector of Canada became Trotskyists in page 15 of his pamphlet James P Cannon – a critical assessment thus:
“Cannon’s silence (on Trotsky – GD) was of no avail. Foster and Lovestone, the other leaders of the CP, were only encouraged to intensify the baiting of Trotsky. Their allegiance was to the apparatus. Cannon’s genuine concern for his faction and the party impelled him finally in 1928 to take an active interest in the Left Opposition and defend Trotsky. But, as Cannon would have said, he didn`t plan it that way. As a delegate to the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, Cannon went to Moscow as usual preoccupied with American problems. By a rare quirk of history he was appointed to the Comintern`s Programme Commission where by some bureaucratic error Trotsky`s ‘Criticism of the Draft Programme’, elaborated by Stalin and Bukharin fell into his hands with the effect of a thunderbolt:
“Maurice Spector, a delegate from the Canadian Party, and in somewhat the same frame of mind as myself, was also on the programme commission and he got a copy. We let the caucus meetings and the Congress sessions go to the devil while we read and studied the document. Then I knew what I had to do, and so did he. Our doubts had been resolved. It was as clear as daylight that Marxist truth was on the side or Trotsky. We made a compact there and then – Spector and – that we would come back home and begin a struggle under the banner of Trotskyism (History of American Trotskyism, pp. 49-50.)
Expulsion from the CP
Cannon smuggled the Trotsky document out of Russia. This document constituted the basis of the organization of the Left Opposition in the US. It is however a debatable point whether Cannon realized the real significance of Trotsky`s critique. He never subsequently explained what ‘doubts` were resolved by the “criticism`. It is more probable that Cannon, representing a class-struggle tendency in the party, could not reach a compromise with Foster and Lovestone, – who were supported by Stalin, and that this drove him empirically to seek the help of Trotsky. To say this, however, is not to disparage the sterling labours of Cannon, Dunne, Skoglund, Swabeck and others in propagating, at the risk of assault and expulsion, they seminal ideas of Trotskyism in America.” (our emphasis). 
But that account in the italicised passages above is to disparage and denigrate every struggle for Trotskyism in the USA (until Trotsky and his true heir, Gerry Healy, appeared on the scene to put matters right) and portray it in the worst possible light. Cannon did not understand what was going on the USSR initially, what a backward fellow! And then, when he did read Trotsky’s Criticism of the Draft Programme and said he agreed with it, as did Maurice Spector, he probably did not agree with it at all and only pretended to do so! He would have capitulated to Stalin, Bukharin, Foster and Lovestone if he could and he was only driven to “empirically to seek the help of Trotsky” by base motives of protecting his own domain in his backward “class-struggle tendency” within the CP! David North may well expose Banda’s charlatanry in The Heritage we Defend against Banda’s repudiation of Trotskyism in his 27 Reasons  but he is silent on this far earlier hackish repudiation of every ‘Trotskyism’ except that of Gerry Healy in 1974.
Banda goes through the major incidents and turning points in Cannon’s political life and finds him severely wanting in all of them and only grudgingly awarded any points at all to the man who was primarily responsible for founding Trotskyism as a political current in the international workers’ movement. Some of his points are valid but it is the entire thrust of the argument that is so outrageously sectarian and wrong. He is correct is siding with Trotsky’s criticism on Cannon’s leadership on the question of the need to fight the accommodation the ‘progressives’ were making to Roosevelt’s New Deal, he is right in his insistence that they back the candidature for the Presidency of CP leader Earl Browder and thereby orientate to the CP ranks and in criticising the capitulation at the Minneapolis trial to the same forces and correct to criticise the ultimatistic post war American Theses. 
Whilst making all these points he utterly fails to acknowledge that Cannon’s catastrophist American Theses was the methodological basis for Gerry Healy and the SLL/WRP. Capitalism was always in its deepest ever crisis, a police state was upon us within the year and we needed desperately to build the party so that we were ready when the “leap in consciousness” that this would produce in the working class which would elevate the WRP to the leadership of the revolution overnight. Therefore Cannon’s real historical contribution to history in the lessons learned in the great class battles of the Teamsters in the Twin Cities of Minneapolis-St Pauls in the early 1930s, the great flexibility in relating to all forces thrust into that struggle, his genius is dealing with Tobin and the Teamsters bureaucracy is marginalised, or at least consigned to a historical curiosity not to be attempted today. His defence of the Transitional method of Trotskyism was a mere literary exercise totally repudiated in practice by the WRP itself. Banda’s function, with Cliff Slaughter and other intellectuals, was the give a theoretical gloss to whatever unprincipled manoeuvres Gerry Healy wanted to perform.
What Else Happened in 1958 and 1974?
This pamphlet attacking the legacy of Cannon cannot be separated from struggle that took place in the late 1950s and the later great struggle that took place in the WRP from late 1973 to late 1974. Both struggles showed Healy’s violent opposition to a large influx of workers into the party and his total inability to live with any level of internal opposition in the group whatsoever. There is never a suggestion in the SLL/WRP of the “seething internal democracy” of the Bolsheviks that Trotsky spoke of. All votes had to be unanimous; if not the oppositionists were hauled before Healy to retract their votes. In a sense the politics of Banda’s assessment of Cannon is a product of the way the struggle was fought against Brian Behan and then Alan Thornett and the major working class base won from the CP in 1957-8 and in the early 70s around Oxford and the Cowley car plant. No wonder Cannon’s great work in the Teamsters had to be denigrated; here now was the second major implantation in the working class itself after Brian Behan’s expulsion in 1960 and the repudiation of the work of the rank and file orientation that brought 500 shop stewards and trade union militants to a conference in 1958. Workers Liberty comments on it thus:
“The Healyites began to advocate a rank and file movement in 1957. It reflected their own base in the building industry. SR’s (Socialist Review, forerunner of the SWP – GD) riposte was a policy which they took, like much else, from the ILP: a proposal for creating industrial unions, breaking up the big conglomerate unions into industrial units. Whatever the merits of such a scheme, it had nothing to do with the central problem, which is that the trade unions have a well-paid bureaucracy and that bureaucracy has interests antagonistic to the needs of the rank and file. That bureaucracy exists in single-industry unions as well as in others.
The Healyites had a big industrial conference — big for the time — in late 1958, with 500 people the big majority of whom would have been real industrial militants. It created a stir in the bourgeois press. The Guardian became interested, and the Communist Party denounced the event right, left, and centre. There had been a big strike, for his role in which Brian Behan served six weeks in jail. Maybe the Healyites were a bit ultra-left. But the Cliffites responded not only by observing that but by publishing a vicious piece of quasi-witch-hunting.” 
We have the evidence of the Socialist Labour League’s internal regime at the time from the 1959 resignation letter of Peter Fryer. It is outrageous to propose that the following extract could describe a party or regime which represented the continuity of Trotskyism:
“We who came into the Trotskyist movement from the Communist Party, hard on the heels of the experience of Hungary and our struggle with the Stalinist bureaucracy in Britain, were assured that in the Trotskyist movement we would find a genuine communist movement, where democracy flourished, where dissenters were encouraged to express their dissent, and where relationships between comrades were in all respects better, more brother and more human than in the party we had come from. Instead we have found at the top of the Trotskyist movement, despite the sacrifices and hard work of the rank and file, a repetition of Communist Party methods of work, methods of leadership, and methods of dealing with persons who are not prepared to kotow to the superior wisdom of the “strong man”.
That the ruling clique is an instrument of the general secretary is shown by the way it was elected. How many comrades know that the panel presented by the panel commission to the inaugural conference was first presented in toto by the general secretary to a meeting of the executive committee, as if that was the most natural thing in the world, then presented by the executive committee to the outgoing national committee, then presented by the national committee to the panel commission.”
This state of affairs had not improved over the years. The Battle for Trotskyism was the name the expelled opposition of 1974 based in the Oxford Cowley car plant gave to its collection of documents on that split, and it certainly was that, even if it did not succeed in its initial revolutionary impulse. They were expelled before the conference (the constitution had just been changed to deny them the right to appeal to it) by the time-worn Stalinist tactic of ‘re-registration of the membership’; all suspects had to sign a document denouncing the opposition or they were no longer members.
It was clearly a left split of serious revolutionaries who did wage a fight for Trotskyism for the next eight years, up to their political collapse to right centrism in 1982 over the Malvinas war. The charges of disloyalty to the party are spurious, who is obliged to be loyal to a party which treats its members in the manner described by Peter Fryer above and who intimidates and physicality assaults both its own members and political opponents as a matter of course?
How is one to conduct a legitimate political struggle in that atmosphere? All branches in the Oxford/Swindon/Reading area were visited by Healy, Banda and John Spencer without the knowledge of the area leadership in direct contravention of the norms of democratic centralism. Notorious violent incidents over the years include Mike Banda pulling a knife on John Lawrence during the 1953 split, the visiting of Ted Knight’s house in the late 1950s late at night with Cliff Slaughter forced to come along to teach him to be a thug also, the 1966 severe beating of Ernie Tate outside an SLL meeting (after the 1985 split Chris Bailey admitted to being part of the six-man team who did this on Healy’s instructions), the 1973 beating of Mark Jenkins, Tony Richardson in 1974 and Healy’s appalling beating of Stuart Carter during a Central Committee meeting in 1984 because he opposed the line of condemning the IRA over the Brighton bombing of the Tory Conference (no one came to his assistance, did some hold him down for Healy?) and Mike Banda’s own assault on Corinna Lotz during the 1985 split.
Mike Banda publicly apologised to Tony Richardson after the 1985 expulsion of Healy, which acknowledged that he lied to the party in those two appalling documents he produced against the Cowley oppositions at the time, A Menshevik Unmasked and The Anti-Party nature of the Thornett slander campaign. In the latter Internal Bulletin Banda replies to the Control Commission charge that Healy had beaten up Tony Richardson and was frequently drunk with a huge great diatribe against an allegation he knew to be true by accusing Thornett of anti-Irish racism:
“Trotsky wrote a propos the ‘month of the great slander’: Milyukov portrayed the Bolshevik movement as ‘German’.
…This is precisely what you are doing. In recreating the slander of ‘violence’ you are doing nothing new or helpful to the working class. You are only giving currency to one of the greatest and most pernicious lies in history – and you are doing it in order to exploit the liberal-humanist backwardness of sections of workers who have been confused by the terrorism of the IRA and alienated by the very real terror of the bourgeoisie. The weapon of your attack, borrowed from the arsenal of the imperialist bourgeoisie, is ultimately reduced to a crude chauvinist syllogism against Cde. Healy:
Most Irishmen are hard drinkers and violent fighters. Healy is an Irishman. Therefore Healy must, etc. etc.
At a time when British and Irish workers are fighting each other on the assembly lines at Longbridge (over the IRA Birmingham bombs)  and when the bogey of ‘Irish terror’ is being sedulously cultivated by the reactionary media, nobody should be surprised if your attack becomes the starting point for an offensive which could acquire ‘an explosive force’ in British politics
…Is there any point in continuing? Isn’t this what you are now suggesting in order to compound the confusion of your followers? Parsons (Cowley TGWU Convenor, former SLL member turned renegade – GD) had a reason to invoke ‘violence’. That was his passport to respectability and the privileged sanctuary of the TU bureaucracy – and the Leyland management. What are your reasons? Above all you have sought to use the issue of violence because you want to distract honest workers who want to know the truth about the desertion of three leading Oxford members in September. To know why you three resigned in September was to find out the extremely serious liquidationist threat represented by the Area leadership in the Western Region. This liquidationism was expressed in every level of activity in the Reading, Swindon and Oxford areas.”
This was real paranoia, to complain to the Control Commission (whose function its leading member Cyril Smith declared to be “to defend the party”) was to open the party up to charges of IRA terrorism! With a history of this kind of lies to cover up for Healy’s drunken thuggery it is small wonder he abandoned Trotskyism. We might well say to misquote Marx, “if this is Trotskyism, I am no Trotskyist”. Bob Pitt explains:
“All the conditions for a major crisis in Healy’s organisation were present (because of the falsified prediction of military dictatorship did not happen – GD) , and it was not long in breaking. The catalyst was provided by a group of former SLL members linked with the French OCI – Robin Blick, Mark Jenkins and John and Mary Archer – who in January 1974 began publishing a regular Bulletin aimed at WRP members. Although the Bulletin group held an unduly positive opinion of Healy’s earlier deep entry in the Labour Party, they were very effective at exposing the anti-Marxist absurdities of his current political line. In particular, the group emphasised the need for transitional demands instead of Healy’s ultimatist calls for the immediate nationalisation of major industries and the banks.
Healy’s reaction was to ban WRP members from reading the Bulletin, and to change the party’s constitution, removing the right of expelled members to appeal to conference. Even loyal party members baulked at this. Alan Thornett, the leading figure in the WRP’s factory branch at British Leyland Cowley, voted against Healy’s constitutional changes on the central committee. A furious Healy demanded, and got, from Thornett a written retraction of this vote. When the issue was put to the party’s special conference in July 1974 another Cowley WRPer, Tony Richardson, made the mistake of asking a question of clarification. He was hauled off to Healy’s office and forced to admit, on pain of expulsion, that he was wrong even to have asked the question.
Hamstrung in their industrial work by Healy’s sectarian ultra-leftism, and faced with a party regime which prevented any serious reassessment of the WRP’s policies, Thornett and his supporters opened up discussions with the Bulletin Group, and began with the latter’s assistance to organise a faction against Healy. In September, Thornett presented a document in his own name urging a return to the Transitional Programme, which was in fact written in large part by Robin Blick. It demonstrated irrefutably that the WRP’s politics were utterly divorced from Trotskyism.”
Mike Banda in a visit to Sri Lanka recently
Lastly let us look at what Mike Banda became after his political death as a Trotskyist in 1985. I was unaware of his embrace of Zionism when I went to his funeral and would not have gone had I known the details. As it was when Rhoda Atkins, his first English partner, spoke to give the Zionist line I was tempted to walk out but refrained in respect for his family; his six children were present. I had bought a wreath with a message that acknowledged the fine speeches he made in 1976 and later in defence of the Palestinians in Lebanon and Jordan; Black September perpetrated by the Hashemite monarchy of King Hussein in 1970-71 and Sabra and Shatila massacre by Lebanon’s Falange Christian neo-fascists in collaboration with the Zionist and Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in 1982. I was warned off this course so I substituted a far more modest Socialist Fight tribute. The wreath disappeared after I gave it to an usher, no doubt deemed not suitable for the occasion.
The affair itself was tightly choreographed by Estella Schmid, his partner, who allowed no spontaneous tributes, as is the custom in leftist funerals. And there was much emphasis on the defence of the Kurds and Balochis but none at all in defence of the Palestinians. I later googled the Kurdistan Solidarity Committee which he and Estella and Tony ran and found it endorsed by peers of the realm, Lords and Ladies and MPs, including one Labour one who had come under scrutiny for his expenses claims. I then understood why the Irish Republican Prisoners Support Group never got any response from them when we asked for collaboration. Solidarity with what Kurds? was the obvious question.
But nothing prepared me for the Letter to Liborio Justo from Mike Banda in June 1992, reprinted in What Next by Bob Pitt in 2002. It is shocking beyond belief, not a word of sympathy, not a jot or title for the Palestinians, everything for the oppressed Jews (Zionists) against them. Look at the following passage from this infamous letter and it must choke you as it does me to think that I one thought that this man was an inspirational Trotskyist leader who stood for the liberation of all humanity via the socialist revolution! “Hitler’s aim was to expel the Jews” he says, which was why he needed all those death camps you might think! – You do the rest of the rant yourself!
“There is another aspect of the Holocaust which neither the “democratic” nor “socialist” nations are too keen to talk about and that is the question: who was responsible for the genocide of the Jewish nation? Conventional wisdom has it that the sole responsibility was borne by Hitler and the Nazis. But this, I firmly believe, was an oversimplification and a subterfuge at best or a monstrous perversion of the truth at worst. Hitler’s aim was to expel the Jews. The Nazis even collaborated with the Zionists in transporting Jews to Palestine. But it was the allied imperialists, fearful of their indigenous anti-semites, who became accessories to genocide because they consistently blocked the exodus of Jews with their quota system and, worse still, deliberately stifled all news of the Holocaust for fear of creating a stampede of Jews out of Europe. This explains – to some extent – why the notorious Wansee decision for the Final Solution was adopted in December 1941 – 8 years after the Nazis came to power. The Gentile nations were part of the problem, not a solution, as they sanctimoniously maintain.
Nobody, except the Zionists – who remain authentic Jewish nationalists – wanted Israel. The British made a small gesture in the Balfour Declaration but quickly reneged on it when the Arab feudalists complained. The US sponsored Israel but not out of love for Jews, only as a bulwark against the twin threats of Soviet expansionism and Arab nationalism, i.e. Nasserism. Predictably, with the receding of these two threats the US now openly woos the Arab states and calls for the return of all Palestinians to Israel.
But Israel and the Jewish nation state has come to stay. With the recrudescence of anti-Semitism throughout the world – I advisedly include Argentina here – the exodus will increase dramatically. What then? There will be massive demographic changes and, in all probability the West Bank will be annexed and a new Palestine will emerge – in Jordan, which was Palestine before the British annexed it.” 
 Mike Banda (1930-2014) Corinna Lotz 14 September 2014, http://www.aworldtowin.net/resources/MikeBanda.html
 James P Cannon a critical assessment by Michael Banda, p. 15.
 The ICFI Defends Trotskyism, 1982 -1986, Documents of the Struggle against the WRP Renegades, http://www.wsws.org/en/IML/fi_vol13_no2/fi_vol13_no2_full.html
Theses on the American Revolution, James P. Cannon (1946)
This is Thesis 1:
“The United States, the most powerful capitalist country in history, is a component part of the world capitalist system and is subject to the same general laws. It suffers from the same incurable diseases and is destined to share the same fate. The overwhelming preponderance of American imperialism does not exempt it from the decay of world capitalism, but on the contrary acts to involve it ever more deeply, inextricably, and hopelessly. US capitalism can no more escape from the revolutionary consequences of world capitalist decay than the older European capitalist powers. The blind alley in which world capitalism has arrived, and the US with it, excludes a new organic era of capitalist stabilisation. The dominant world position of American imperialism now accentuates and aggravates the death agony of capitalism as a whole.”
 The seven ages of the Socialist Workers Party (UK) and its predecessors, Socialist Review and IS, Submitted by Matthew on 3 March, 2013, http://www.workersliberty.org/story/2013/03/03/seven-ages-socialist-workers-party-uk-and-its-predecessors-socialist-review-and
 Miscarriages of Justice:
“Appeals from the Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, and the Home Secretary, Roy Jenkins, not to embark on reprisals against Irish people went unheeded. The Irish Community Centre, an inevitable target for petrol- bombing, was hit twice. Less inevitable a target, perhaps, was a Roman Catholic junior school, though it too was attacked; as was the College Arms, a pub in the Kingstanding district known to attract a large Irish clientele. On Friday 22 November there were fisticuffs between English and Irish workers on the production line at British Leyland’s car assembly plant at Longbridge. A company spokesman explained that the men ‘had expressed their disgust at the reprehensible events of the night before’.” http://innocent.org.uk/cases/guildford4/guildford4.pdf
 Wednesday, August 12, 2009, David North: Joseph Hansen’s Natural Son (1988), Workers Vanguard No. 456 (1 July 1988)
On the Continuity of Trotskyism: For the political regeneration of the Fourth International
 A Letter to Liborio Justo, Mike Banda, June 1992. http://www.whatnextjournal.org.uk/Pages/Back/Wnext26/Banda.html