REVOLUTIONARIES AND THE LABOUR PARTY – REPLY TO WORKERS NEWS (Workers Internationalist League) SEPTEMBER 1994
31/01/2014 by socialistfight
REVOLUTIONARIES AND THE LABOUR PARTY.
REPLY TO WORKERS NEWS SEPTEMBER 1994 REPRINTED IN DEFENCE OF TROTSKYISM NO 4
BY LAURENCE HUMPHRIES
Comrade Gerry Downing is to be congratulated in bringing out two important publications “The Methodology of Communism” In Defence of Trotskyism no 4 and his excellent series of articles on Imperialism and how to fight it in “In defence of Trotskyism” no 5.
I specifically want to reply to the article by the WIL formed after the split in the WRP in 1985 and not to be confused with the WIL which was formed by Gerry Healy and others in 1938-9. The article “Revolutionaries in the Labour Party” attempts to sketch out “A condensed overview of the attitude of the main revolutionary currents in Britain towards the Labour party” . I have major criticisms of the article and wish to present them now. I recognise that the article was written in 1994 and the political landscape has radically altered since the article was published, nevertheless I think it important to identify certain methodological mistakes that the article makes. I feel it is important to establish at the beginning my own political development with regard to these events. I started out as a member of the Labour Party in the early 1970’s, then joined the International socialism Group until I was expelled at the same time as the Sean Matgamma faction of Workers Fight in 1974. I then joined the Workers Revolutionary Party and was a member off and on until the split in 1985. For some years I was not active politically. In 1991 I re-joined the reformed WRP under Sheila Torrance’s leadership and was an alternate CC member until my disagreements over the nature of the Soviet Union led to me leaving the WRP and joining the Movement for a Socialist future led by ex-members of the WRP PF and CL together with PS and PW from the Trotskyist Tendency. A book was being written by PF called “A world to win” and very shortly the organisation changed its name to the AWTW and now exists as a website. My differences with them were that they rejected Trotskyism and remained a left leaning Liberal Democratic movement concentrating on Ecology and a Referendum on Democracy. They make some serious political contributions but in practice do not intervene in the Trade Unions and the Working class. They now end up as a talking shop and are not a serious political organisation. After some years in the political wilderness I joined Socialist Fight and the Liaison committee of the Fourth International.
Much of the early history of the CPGB and the Labour party and the early history of Trotskyism written by the WIL is a synopsis of Histories written by others. A History of Communism in Britain by Brian Pearce and Michael Woodhouse is a much better and more thoughtful analysis than presented here. Richardson and Bornstein in their two books on the Early History of Trotskyism is a much better rounded view of the early Trotskyist movement from 1938 onwards in their seminal works “Against the stream”. The WIL have performed a useful service in providing the background to the various Trotskyist tendencies that emerged after 1945. As an active participant in the Trotskyist movement in the 1970’s and 1980’s I wish to correct some methodological assumptions and assertions in the article.
In 1945 Gerry Healy led a minority inside the Revolutionary Communist Party the WIL into the Labour party to do serious entry work in the Labour party as Trotsky had advised before his death. The Haston/ Grant Majority opposed the move arguing that it was premature, but were later to do a somersault and themselves entered the Labour Party. Healy’s position was a correct tactic and the WIL started work inside the Labour Party in 1947. The article asserts “The Healyites in practice built a right-centrist tendency around the paper Socialist Outlook which in fact engaged in wholesale adaption to left reformists and Stalinist fellow travellers” . The WIL is here engaged in massive generalisations without any evidence whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that Healy and his group were attempting to win centrist leftward moving elements in the Labour party. They did form alliances with Braddock and Bevan, but these were tactical questions .There is no doubt that in its Politics and practice Socialist Outlook was a Trotskyist paper and it won plenty of workers to its cause to fight the right wing inside the Labour Party.
The Healy tendency from 1947 gravitated towards serious entry work in the Labour party dissolving the WIL and referring to itself as “The Group”. Because of harassment from Stalinist agents it was necessary to change the paper and a twice weekly “Newsletter” was produced which had a very significant effect on the docks and in the fight for the Rank and File against the Trade union bureaucracy.
The Tendency associated with Gerry Healy was the most important post war Trotskyist movement. It fought for principles and with a turn to the working class was able to recruit workers into its ranks. From 1956 onwards the Socialist Labour League was responsible for recruiting dissident members from the CPGB. I have identified the bureaucratic regime of Gerry Healy elsewhere. The nature of his leadership was put into question and like other members it was a shock when the WRP split asunder in 1985. Comrade Gerry Downing has written an excellent expose of the period and I would concur with everything that he has written on the subject.
In 1974 I was employed as a Clerk to Clay Cross Parish council at the height of the battles over the 1972 Housing Finance act introduced by the Heath Tory Government. Councils like Clay Cross in Derbyshire Conisborough in Yorkshire Liverpool and Lambeth in London led a fight against the act. Many councillors were surcharged and disbarred from office. The WRP and the Newsline were very active in Clay Cross sending reporters and photographers highlighting and recruiting supporters to the WRP. At all times it was important to win Labour Party members to the ideas of Trotskyism. I was directed by Healy to enter the Labour Party which I did. Labour Councillors like Arthur Wellon and Dave Nuttall were important leftward moving centrists who became attracted to Trotskyism. The main obstacle to winning these layers was the role of the “Militant” the Tendency led by Ted Grant. They were an extremely hostile centrist group who opposed anyone with principles and if they suspected that you were associated with the Healy tendency as I was they conducted the most vicious factional battle against you. I was Blacklisted and dismissed by Clay Cross parish council. This was due in no small measure to the activities of “The Militant”, a centrist group who I will discuss in more detail later. Their role now and then is to provide a Left cover for the Labour and Trade Union Bureaucracy. NL, a CC member at the time left me alone in the Labour party with no directions or advice. It was Healy who at the time recognised the seriousness of the situation and offered me employment at Runcorn which I turned down. NL, SJ and RB later split from the WRP to form a pro-Stalinist sect.
The Document further then comments on other Tendencies working in the Labour Party at the time. It firstly describes the Socialist Workers party, an opportunist centrist group which was expelled from the Trotskyist movement in 1950 over its refusal to defend The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) (a degenerated workers state) in its war against Imperialism represented by the USA. Its slogan at the time was neither Washington nor Moscow. It became an appendage of Imperialism with an abstentionist position on all issues involving Imperialist encirclement. It started as the Socialist Review Group, The International Socialism group or IS and now the SWP. The document is correct to identify its syndicalist credentials “However it won these workers by catering to their syndicalist outlook” . The SWP is now riven by crisis similar in appearance to the explosion that emerged in the WRP in 1985.
The other major tendency the document mentions is the “Militant”. The Militant owes its name to the weekly paper it published while it was performing its loyal role in the Labour Party. Its real organisation is the Revolutionary Socialist League. This centrist Tendency split into two groups in 1991 after its members were expelled at a Labour Party Conference by the Kinnock Leadership. The Group around the Leadership of Peter Taffe became the Socialist Party of England and Wales SPEW and it broke with Ted Grant over its attitude to the Labour Party. This was called the New Turn and Taffee and his supporters now opposed entry work and became an open political party. It has its own party grouped around the Trade Union and Socialist Coalition and stands candidates in Parliamentary and Local Elections. It has its own Industrial arm the National Shop Stewards Movement. Grant and his supporters wanted to continue entry work in the Labour Party and formed themselves into Socialist Appeal. Grant died in 2006 and the present leaders are Alan woods and Rob Sewell and their members are all in the Labour Party now. No mention is made of the Role that Grant and his supporters performed for the Bureaucrats of Transport House during the late 1950’s when genuine Trotskyist at the time were expelled from the Labour Party . They included Gerry Healy, Bill Hunter Robert and Millie Shaw and others. Grant and his followers sided with the bureaucrats when they abstained over votes for their expulsion was raised at General Management Committee meetings of local Constituency Labour Parties. There was never any principled defence of fellow Trotskyists. They became useful loyal servants for the Labour Party bureaucracy. There is no mention of this in the Workers News article, a major omission by the WIL.
The document accepts the influence of the Healy Tendency amongst large sections of unorganised youth “The formation of the Young Socialists in 1960 was followed by considerable expansion of the Healy Tendency” . In fact Healy and his supporters won the leadership of the Young Socialists through the weekly paper “Keep Left”. This was a massive strike against the right wing Wilson Leadership in the Labour Party, when expulsions were threatened, the SLL withdrew its members amongst the Young Socialists from the Labour Party and they became the youth wing of the SLL. This was the correct tactic of the time. Grant and his followers became the Labour party Young socialists. The SLL and before it the WIL had conducted a correct perspective as far as entry work was concerned. It won large sections of youth to its banner. Sheila Torrance now in the leadership of the WRP was won through the policies of the SLL.
The IMG and AT and the WSL I will deal with in another article, suffice to say that in 1974 when there was a faction fight inside the WRP over aspects of the Transitional programme I supported the majority against the minority of AT, AR, JL, AC, KB, RB and MJ who went on to form the leadership of the WSL. Having had time to reflect on the issue I felt the way that the majority bureaucratically expelled the minority without any debate was wrong. The minority should have been given the opportunity to present their arguments in a rational and democratic way.
As a Socialist Fight Member I have reappraised my position Vis a Vis the Labour Party and am in total agreement with the Socialist Fight “What we stand for on Entry work” “We recognise the necessity for revolutionaries to carry out serious ideological and political struggle and direct participation in the Trade Unions always and the mass reformist democratic bourgeois parties despite their pro capitalist leaderships when conditions are favourable” .
- In Defence of Trotskyism No 4 pg. 5
- In Defence of Trotskyism No 4 pg.9
- In defence of Trotskyism No 4 pg.9
- In Defence Of Trotskyism no 4 pg.10
- Socialist Fight: What We Stand For