The revolutionary tradition of the Fourth International and the centrist tradition of its Epigones Gerry Healy and the ”International Committee” – A Reply from the RCIT to ”Socialist Fight”
By Michael Pröbsting, Revolutionary Communist International Tendency (RCIT), October 2013, www.thecommunists.net
The British group Socialist Fight, which is part of the Liaison Committee for the Fourth International (together with the LC in Brazil and the TMB in Argentina) has published a polemic against our analysis of the degeneration of the Fourth International after World War II. (1)
The subject of this document, written by comrade Laurence Humphries, is an important book for our movement called The Death Agony of the Fourth International, which our predecessor organization Workers Power (Britain) published in 1983. (2)
We appreciate comrade Humphries’ contribution for two reasons. First it is a welcome contribution if an organization, which claims to stand in the tradition of Trotsky, deals with the history of the Fourth International. This, in itself, is not a taken-for-granted in times like the present in which the degeneration of pseudo-Trotskyism has reached such low levels that hardly any of these epigones bother to show any interests in the history of our movement. While we do not agree with the positions of Socialist Fight, we appreciate their interest in the subject of the post-WWII development of the Fourth International.
Secondly we welcome comrade Humphries’ contribution because it helps to clarify the programmatic differences between the LCFI and the RCIT which we consider to be differences between centrism and Bolshevism.
Unfortunately, there is nothing positive to add to these comments. The SF/LCFI document is politically and theoretically wrong. Despite some mild criticism, it praises the thoroughly centrist tradition of Gerry Healy and claims that he as well as his partners in the so-called ”International Committee” in the years after 1953 – Pierre Lambert, James P. Cannon, Nahuel Moreno, etc. – represent the revolutionary continuity of the Trotsky’s Fourth International. As such, the SF/LCFI concludes at the end of its document: “Workers Power has characterised the split in 1953 as a centrist split and did not break with Pablo’s method. WP are wrong theoretically. In 1953 the opposition to Pablo did fight. (…) The 1953 split was a principled defence of Trotskyism against liquidation and revisionism and was therefore a definite continuity of Trotskyism.”
In fact, as we will demonstrate below, Healy and the ”International Committee” were rather a centrist current – in rivalry with the other centrist split of the Fourth International (the so-called ”International Secretariat” of Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel) – which did not restore the revolutionary continuity of Trotsky’s Fourth International. The document proves once more that central leaders of Socialist Fight – and thus the LCFI – who have been members of Healy’s organization in the past (most prominently Gerry Downing, the central leader of the SF/LCFI) still adhere to this rotten tradition. Healy’s pupils fail to break with their master.
In addition the SF/LCFI document also distorts the history of the Fourth International and confuses simple facts as well as the arguments of its opponents. It simply lacks any serious dealing with the subject as we will show.
I. Incessant Confusion of Facts and Positions
The lack of seriousness on behalf of the SF/LCFI starts already with the fact that nearly 30% of the document is a largely concealed copy-and-paste job. The author has simply incorporated, literally, sentence-for-sentence and paragraph-for-paragraph large chunks of another study to which he refers only once. With the exception of one paragraph, he presents this material as his own. The study, from which the SF/LCFI plagiarizes so extensively, is called “The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy” written by Bob Pitt, a former member of Healy’s WRP, in 1989. (3) Naturally there is nothing wrong in quoting from other publication. Quite the contrary, this assists the reader in studying original sources and in better checking the facts. However, this is, of course, not possible if an author conceals the source of nearly a third of his document which was simply copied and pasted.
In the real world, any scientist or scholar who presents the insights of others as his or her own, is immediately dismissed. In politics, we have no other sanction than contempt for such shameful tricks. Why did the LCFI conceal its extensive copying? Maybe because the original study is not only much better researched, but is a superior political analysis of the rotten tradition of Gerry Healy?!
Unsurprisingly, this vast copy-and-paste job gives the SF/LCFI a certain contradictory character since the paragraphs stolen from Bob Pitt usually contain more critical notes on Healy’s “achievements” than the paragraphs written by the SF/LCFI itself.
The LCFI could have at least minimized the damage if it would have copied more of Bob Pitt’s study and not cut out his insightful and fundamental criticism of the bankrupt tradition of Gerry Healy. But, unfortunately, the LCFI cut out precisely those critical sentences and parts of sentences which denounce the rotten methods of Gerry Healy in the paragraphs it integrated into its own article.
The disorganized and disorientated but still revolutionary Fourth International during World War II and its collapse into centrism in 1948-1951
However, this is definitely not the only defect of the LCFI document. The first few paragraphs of the document are representative for the whole article. The article starts as follows: “The Fourth International during the war years of 1940-1945 prepared for Trotsky’s prognosis on the future of Imperialism and the tasks of the Fourth International. WP maintains that the struggle inside the Fourth International that wars and revolutions were Imminent was correct. WP have argued that the FI was not a continuity during this period and neither tendency represented a serious left opposition and therefore does not constitute a continuity of Trotskyism.”
In fact, our tendency maintains quite the opposite. WP(B)/RCIT reject the opinion that the Fourth International in the war years of 1940-1945 did not represent the continuity of Trotskyism. What we say is that it was severely weakened and disorganized in this period and that it made a number of errors. It stopped following the tradition of authentic Trotskyism when it programmatically adapted to Stalinism, in particularly its Yugoslavian version, Titoism. This did however not take place, as the LCFI wrongly ascribes to us, in 1940-1945 but in 1948-1951. We made this plainly clear in our book and it is astonishing how the LCFI could miss that:
“In 1951 the centrist positions of the Third World Congress on Stalinism, on Yugoslavia, and general perspectives (the impending "civil war" perspective) proved, beyond doubt, that a programmatic collapse of the Fourth International had taken place. The fact that no section voted against the Yugoslav resolution - the cornerstone of all the errors - is a fact of enormous significance.
The FI as a whole had collapsed into centrism. From this point on, the task facing Trotskyists was the refoundation of a Leninist-Trotskyist International on the basis of a re-elaborated programme of revolutionary communism. Manoeuvres to replace the leadership of the FI were entirely insufficient. The programmatic basis of the FI had to be changed. The manner by which this could have been done in the early 1950s is a matter of tactical speculation. What is decisive for us is that it was not done. The historical continuity of Trotskyism was shattered – as was evidenced by Pablo's use of the Congress documents at the Tenth Plenum of the International Executive Committee in February 1952, to usher in "entrism sui generis" The opposition in America, Britain and France that did emerge in 1952-3 was subjectively committed to opposing Pablo. However, they have to be judged not by their impulse but by their politics. Their "orthodoxy" was both sterile and based on post-war revisionism, prompted by the Yugoslav events. It was not authentic Trotskyism.
Thus we cannot view either component of the 1953 split as the "continuators" of Trotskyism. Both were centrist.
The IC, itself developing in a rightward direction (e.g. Healy's work in the Labour Party) was distinguished from the IS by the pace of its development. It recoiled from the most blatant expressions of liquidationism issuing from the IS, but not from the right-centrist documents that underpinned that liquidationism. Therefore the IC did not constitute a "left centrist" alternative to the IS.” (4)
Cowardly SWP(US) Leadership Deviates towards Social-Patriotism
Of course Marxists have to make a number of criticisms of the leadership of the Fourth International during the war. This is particularly true for the cowardly adaption to domestic imperialist pressures by the strongest and most important section of the Fourth International, the Socialist Workers Party (USA), which – in addition to this – could also operate under relatively legal conditions. Despite their relatively advantageous conditions, the SWP – which later would become one of the key forces of the ”International Committee” split after 1953 – adapted to social-patriotism. Already before US imperialism entered World War II in December 1941, the SWP leadership stated in an Editorial of its paper “The Militant”: "As horrible as war is, we would not hesitate to urge Roosevelt to enter the war, if it were really to be a war of democracy against fascism. (…) But this is not our war. This is an imperialist war. (…) It is important to make these workers realize that Roosevelt’s war is not a war against fascism. The real solution is to transform the imperialist war into a war against fascism. (i.e. against Germany, Italy and Japan; MP). That can only be done by taking all power out of the hands of the capitalist class.” (5) And the central leader of the SWP, James P. Cannon, stated at a trial on 19/11/1941: “We consider Hitler and Hitlerism the greatest enemy of mankind.” (6) What a difference to the classic communist slogans of Lenin and Liebknecht: “The main enemy is at home” and "Turn the imperialist war into a civil war"!
The SWP propaganda disorientated the US-American workers’ vanguard because it told them that their main enemy is not their domestic ruling class but the German fascists. They criticised the Roosevelt government for not seriously fighting Hitler. The SWP leadership called the workers to oppose the US government’s war because it was suspected of not really fighting against fascism. When however it turned out that the US bourgeoisie did fight and indeed smash German fascism – naturally for their own imperialist interests of world domination – the SWP propaganda left the vanguard workers’ politically unarmed, since their main enemy was supposed to be Hitler and not Roosevelt. When faced with its biggest test in history, the future central force of the co-called “orthodox Trotskyist” International Committee turned out to replace the Bolshevik-Leninist attitude to imperialist war with centristic deviations towards social-patriotism.
This cowardly opportunist deviation of the SWP leadership however cannot remove the fact that many Trotskyist leaders and members fought heroically during the imperialist war for a revolutionary program. From 1943 onwards the Fourth International reorganized in Europe under a new leadership (around Pablo and Mandel) and elaborated – despite some weaknesses – a revolutionary programmatic response to the challenges of the beginning revolutionary phase.
“In 1944 several of the European sections of the FI regrouped at a conference held inside Nazi-occupied Europe. They adopted the "Theses on the Liquidation of World War 2 and the Revolutionary Upsurge". These testified to the continuing revolutionary potential of the sections of the Fourth International. The theses, written at a time when anti-German chauvinism and pro-allied sentiments were growing rapidly in Europe, espoused a defeatist position in the war. They indicated that the reconstruction of the FI on a revolutionary basis was a real possibility. However, severe disorientation over the crucial question of perspectives obstructed this development from taking final shape.” (7)
We clearly stated our view on the timeline of the Fourth International’s degeneration also in another document, from which the LCFI quotes and hence should be aware of. Thus we wrote in “The Trotskyist Manifesto” in 1989:
“As a re-elaborated programme, it has had to confront the fact that the continuity of the revolutionary Marxist movement was broken in 1951 with the degeneration of the Fourth International into centrism.” (8)
“In 1951 the FI ceased to exist as a revolutionary organisation. In 1953 it ceased to exist as a united organisation when it split into warring centrist factions, none of which represented a political continuity with the revolutionary Fourth International of 1938-48.” (9)
And in another article on the history of the Fourth International we wrote:
“In March 1946 some 30 delegates from various sections of the Fourth International (FI) assembled in Paris. A police raid and arrests on the third day forced proceedings to move to a jail, but the disruption could not prevent the conference registering its fundamental achievement: the FI had survived the war.
Looking back on the war years, the delegates had reason to be proud of what Trotsky had dubbed "the only revolutionary force on the planet worthy of the name". They had taken many blows. The murderous hostility of the Stalinists had been unremitting. In the Soviet Union itself, several thousand Trotskyists were brutally killed between 1938 and 1941. Defiant to the end, they faced the firing squads with the Internationale on their lips. Internationally, Stalin's GPU had murdered dozens of key FI leaders, including Trotsky himself. (…)
The international leadership under van Heijenhoort managed to remain true to the positions adopted under Trotsky's guidance and even to develop them. This was of central importance to the fate of the FI. As a small, persecuted international of propaganda groups, its foremost strength lay in its programme, and its most important task was to defend it and win small layers of the vanguard to it, thus preparing the nuclei for future mass struggles. (…)
Nonetheless, by the time of the March 1946 World Conference in Paris, the Fl's cadre and sections had weathered the worst of the repression. Sections had certainly made errors in the name of the International but they had also shown the capacity to correct them in the course of collective discussions. The task now was to re-establish the organisation and re-orient the sections in the post-war world.” (10)
The Objective Difficulties for the Fourth International
However, the distortions continue. In the second paragraph of its article the LCFI writes: “What WP fails to appreciate is the objective situation for Trotskyism. It had come through the war very much weakened. Stalinism was much stronger and this period represented a growth of Stalinism particularly the victory in China and the satellite countries of Eastern Europe.”
Again, nothing could be more distant from real position of WP(B)/RCIT. We are fully aware of the difficult objective conditions for the Fourth International and stated this unmistakable in our book:
“On the one hand, the openly bourgeois parties and social democracy were revivified due to the victory of the "democracies". On the other hand, the Stalinist parties with the weight of Russian victory and their own partisan struggles were likewise strengthened. Far from these forces facing the loss of their material basis, or suffering political demise and organisational disintegration, they emerged from the war much stronger than they were in the late 1930s.
Moreover, the politics of class collaboration - established via the Popular Front before the war, and having behind it the prestige of the Second and Third Internationals, were not disrupted until 1946/7, when the post-war crisis had been overcome. The whole weight of bourgeois democracy and Stalinism was thrown into the scales against proletarian revolution.
Once the immediate potentially revolutionary situations were weathered, the enormous economic power of the USA was brought to bear in the West through Marshall Aid, and the Kremlin bureaucracy sealed off its East European glacis and began the process of transforming them into degenerate workers' states, having expropriated the proletariat politically in advance. In Germany the working class upsurge was very weak and was suppressed immediately by Allied and Russian military means. In Italy and France the Stalinists demobilised the partisan militias. In Central and Eastern Europe a varied combination of Soviet forces and indigenous Stalinists and their popular frontist allies were able to prevent any revolutionary upsurge from occurring.
Thus not only were the Trotskyists weak and disorganised, but the conditions for them to emerge from the situation of marginalised propaganda groups did not materialise. Instead, the counter-revolutionary social democracy and Stalinist parties grew in strength, isolating the Trotskyists yet again. Thus social democracy and Stalinism exerted tremendous pressure on the tiny and disoriented forces of the Fourth International.” (11)
Does SF/LCFI Defend Healy’s Notorious ”Security and the Fourth International” Campaign?
However, in the third paragraph, the LCFI comrades add to the difficulties for the Fourth International the penetration of the Trotskyist movement by Stalinist Agents. While this certainly was a problem for the Fourth International until the Stalinists assassinated Trotsky in August 1940, one can hardly claim that the political failures of Michel Pablo, Ernest Mandel, Gerry Healy, Pierre Lambert, Nahuel Moreno and James P. Cannon are related in any way to Stalinist Agents. Or maybe the LCFI believes that there were Stalinist Agents in the Fourth International’s leadership after World War II?! Well, maybe the LCFI indeed believes so, since it positively refers in its article (in the same paragraph) to the Healyite’s “International Committees investigation into the role of the GPU and their agencies inside the movement.” This “investigation” was particularly shameful and notorious, since Gerry Healy and his lackeys accused the SWP(US) veteran leaders George Novack and Joseph Hansen of being agents of the GPU and/or the FBI, i.e. of the US or USSR secret services! (12) George Novack was a long-standing leading theoretician of the SWP and Joseph Hansen was an important leader who worked as a secretary for Trotsky in 1937-40 in Mexico and was central in preventing the Stalinist agent Ramón Mercader, who killed Trotsky, from fleeing. Later the Healy/WRP leadership accused the entire SWP leadership of working for the FBI. The Peruvian group of Healy’s ICFI went on to attack Hugo Blanco as a supporter of CIA agents (i.e., the SWP leadership). Hugo Blanco was the famous leader of the Peruvian Mandelite USec section who played a central role in the early 1960s in the Quechua peasant uprising in the Cuzco region of Peru and spent many years in prison and exile.
This slanderous accusations were not only condemned by all other forces who claim to stand in the tradition of Trotskyism – irrespective if they were supporters or opponents of the SWP(US) – but was later also repudiated by the WRP leadership around Cliff Slaughter itself after it got rid of Gerry Healy in 1985. Do the LCFI comrades now really want to praise the insane and extremely slandering “International Committees investigation”?! (13)
Our suspicion that the LCFI comrades share the Healyite criminal idiocy of seeing the cause for political faction struggles in conspiracies of imperialist and/or Stalinist secret services is strengthened by another claim in the next paragraph. Here the comrades charge: “WP accuses the IKD, the German section: “The German section veered in a Menshevik direction”. Of course it would adopt this position Stalinist agents were in control of the organisation and created splits and factional activity. While else would they adopt these positions?” So unbelievable the LCFI explains the political right-wing degeneration of the German Trotskyist leadership by claiming that they were Stalinist agents! What complete nonsense, unsubstantiated by facts!
Some Other Nonsense
Unfortunately the nonsense continues. In the fourth paragraph the LCFI writes about the split in the SWP(US) in 1940: “The split with Shachtman in the SWP had left 40% of its cadre in the Workers Party which ended up justifying Stalinism.” This is an astonishing statement since the Menshevik opposition of Shachtman, Abern, and Burnham was certainly not “justifying Stalinism” but, quite the opposite, was deeply Stalinophobic and refused to defend the Soviet Union against imperialist attacks! It therefore took a neutral position during the World War II when Germany attacked the Soviet Union. How on earth can the LCFI seriously call this “justifying Stalinism”?! Is this an example of Healy’s famous caricature of “dialectical materialism”?!
A few sentences later, the LCFI author accuses “Germain” (which was the pseudonym of Ernest Mandel) that he “has remained an apologist for Stalinism ever since particularly his role during the 1968 Belgian general strike.” We are not aware that there was a general strike in Belgian in 1968, to speak nothing about a role of Mandel in such a fabrication. Can it be the case that the LCFI confuses this with the famous Belgium General Strike in 1960–1961 where Mandel indeed played a prominent (and right-wing centrist) role?!
Literally the next sentence contains yet more nonsense: “In the British Section there were two groups who were arguing for entry into the Labour party, the RCP and the WIL.” and – shortly after – “The RCP which was led by Jock Haston and Ted Grant initially opposed entry whereas Healy in the WIL received permission from the International Secretariat to enter the Labour Party in 1947.” This is simply impossible since the RCP was the result of a fusion of the WIL and the RSL in 1944. No WIL existed in 1948! Are the comrades completely ignorant of the history of British Trotskyism?! One is tempted to exclaim that it might have been better if the SF/LCFI author had copied much more of Bob Pitt’s study since it is certainly much more informed on the history of British Trotskyism!
The article becomes even stranger in the next sentence, where it credits Trotsky with advocating “entryism sui generis” while every informed historian of the Fourth International knows that the “sui generis” concept was an invention of Pablo and Healy in the later 1940s which called for a long-term entry into reformist parties and for opportunistically hiding the Trotskyist program in order to stay longer in those parties. This was the complete opposite of Trotsky’s concept which argued for an open struggle for revolutionary positions and a short-term entry tactic (more on this below).
So readers can see that already in the first four paragraphs, the SF/LCFI article contains so much nonsense and factual distortions that, were we to continue with a close examination of the rest of the article, we could fill a book. Obviously, this would not be a valuable use of either our or our readers’ time. Instead, let us now focus on the programmatic and theoretical essence of the document which, unfortunately, is consistent with the confused nature of the article as we outlined above.
II. The Supposed “Revolutionary Continuity” of Healy and the International Committee
The programmatic essence of the SF/LCFI document is its rejection of the WP/RCIT thesis that the Fourth International degenerated in the late 1940s and early 1950s into centrism, and that neither of the two splits in 1953 represented a break from, but rather a continuity of, centrism. In contrast to our position, the LCFI comrades claim that Healy and the ”International Committee” represented a continuation of the revolutionary tradition of Trotsky’s Fourth International:
“Workers Power has characterised the split in 1953 as a centrist split and did not break with Pablo’s method. WP are wrong theoretically. In 1953 the opposition to Pablo did fight. (…) The 1953 split was a principled defence of Trotskyism against liquidation and revisionism and was therefore a definite continuity of Trotskyism.”
As we have shown in past documents, and will repeat here, Healy and the ”International Committee” shared the centrist capitulation of the Pablo/Mandel leadership towards Stalinism, Social Democracy, and bourgeois nationalism till the split in 1953 and after the split it was no less centrist than its rival. There was no qualitative difference between the adaption and capitulation to petty-bourgeois class forces between the centrist Pablo/Mandel wing and their counterparts Cannon/Healy/Lambert/Moreno. We will demonstrate this for a number of central issues.
Healy and Entryism “sui generis”: Pabloism under the Cover of “Anti-Pabloism”
As we have explained in numerous documents, both sides of the 1953 split subscribed to the centrist capitulation towards petty-bourgeois and bourgeois class forces under the cover of “entryism sui generis”. “The IC criticised Pablo for putting forward deep entryism into the Stalinist movement. However the sections of the IC would practise a much deeper entryism in the very heart of the social democratic and bourgeois nationalist movements.” (14)
Let us look more closely at Healy’s record. He called for entry into the Labour Party as early as June 1945. (15)He was soon to be supported by Michel Pablo, the new International Secretary of the Fourth International and the whole international leadership pressurized the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) – as the British section of the Fourth International was called at that time – to dissolve its organization and to enter Labour. The RCP majority around Jock Haston and Ted Grant argued for a continuation of the independent RCP work combined with continuing its faction work inside the Labour Party. (The RCP had already a number of members inside Labour and published a faction paper called “Militant”.) (16)
Here, we will not discuss whether an entry tactic into the Labour Party was sensible or not at that time. The LCFI comrades think that Healy was correct to push for entry work in the Labour Party. “As Trotskyists it was the right perspective to enter the Labour Party and carry out sustained deep entry work.”
Of course it as a tactical question and not one of principles when and if to conduct entry work in a reformist party. And it is also only of historical interest to discuss what would have been the best tactic for British Trotskyists in the later 1940s and 1950s. However we remark that we are not convinced of the Healyite/LCFI position that entry work was the correct thing to do in this period. The hard facts are that the Trotskyists lost the majority of its members during their entry period due to demoralization. Of course this was not only because of entrism but also because Healy – supported by his mentor Pablo – expelled many of them. (17)But also Healy’s group – which called itself “The Club” (surely the most apolitical name of any entryist formation in the history of Trotskyism!) – did not grow despite 11 years of entry work! (18) Quite the opposite, in 1954, “The Club” is said to have even shrunk to about 40 members. (19) After 1956/57 the Healy group did grow substantially, but not due to the Labour Party milieu, but because of the crisis in the Stalinist party after the Hungarian Revolution and the Stalinist counter-revolution. So the growth of Healy’s group in the later 1950s itself showed that its assumption – that a revolutionary force had to make entrism in the Labour Party because this was the only milieu out which it could grow – was contradicted by its own success.
The alternative position – proposed by the RCP majority around Haston and Grant – might not have completely avoided a numerical decline of the British Trotskyists, which was first and foremost a result of the end of the revolutionary post-war period and the beginning of the world-wide democratic counterrevolutionary period in the early 1950s. (20) But an independent organization would have at least improved the chances to keep the revolutionary banner and to consolidate a Trotskyist cadre. Such a cadre could have played a central role in fighting against the centrist degeneration of the Fourth International and preparing for the class struggles ahead.
However the main problem with Healy’s entryism was not a question of whether entry was correct in itself or not. The fundamental question was the programmatic and political nature of his entryism. Unfortunately, the SF/LCFI comrades fully subscribe to Healy’s (and in fact Pablo’s) understanding of “entrism sui generis”. Such they write: “It is true to say that Pablo and Cannon favoured the leadership of Healy who had entered the Labour Party on a principled basis. (…) The Workers Power document accuses Healy and his group of being Bevanite centrists or left reformists. We need to establish facts before accusations are flung around left and right. As Trotskyists it was the right perspective to enter the Labour Party and carry out sustained deep entry work.”
The truth however is that Healy’s entrism was thoroughly opportunist and had nothing to do with Trotsky’s method. It was rather the model for the liquidationist policy of which Healy, Cannon, Moreno, and Lambert would later accuse Pablo. Throughout the 11 years of its “entrism sui generis”, the Healy group never openly raised the banner of Trotskyism which makes them even worse than the arch-opportunists of CWI/Militant in the 1970s and 1980s. They just called themselves “The Club.” They never published a Trotskyist paper. Instead they launched the paper "Socialist Outlook" in an opportunist political bloc with left-reformists supporters of Labour minister Aneurin Bevan (who Minister of Health and later Minister of Labour from August 1945 till April 1951). The editorial board consisted of the two “Club” members, Healy and John Lawrence, as well as the pro-Stalinist trade union bureaucrat Jack Stanley (Secretary of the Constructional Engineering Union) and Tom Braddock (pro-Bevan Labour Party Member of Parliament). It had prominent contributors like Bessie Braddock (Member of Parliament and president of the Liverpool Labour Party, not related to Tom Braddock), Fenner Brockway (Member of Parliament) or Ellis Smith (Member of Parliament). Naturally such a paper never was and never claimed to be Trotskyist. Soon afterwards, this rotten bloc of Healy’s “Club” and the left-Labour wing founded the “Socialist Fellowship” as a left-reformist pressure group in the Labour Party.
Healy’s Socialist Outlook was an unabashed cheerleader for the left-reformist wing in the Labour Party and its ministers. Instead of criticizing left-reformism and explaining its illusionary character, instead of attacking Bevan for being a member of the imperialist government and his followers for supporting this government, it refrained from such criticism and instead fostered illusions in left Labour. Healy usually didn’t call them left-reformist but rather “centrists” and gave the impression that with the push from the rank and file and friendly advice from him, they could become a driving force towards the socialist transformation of the society.
Its first issue in December 1948 ran the headline “Back to Socialism,” subscribing to the left-Labour wing’s illusion that Labour had a socialist past. Such illusions were even more strengthened when beside this title “Member of Parliament” Tom Braddock published a leading article with the headline “It is Time to Change Course”. (21)
In an editorial in May 1949 Healy’s Socialist Outlook would proclaim: "Labour Believes in Socialism." Instead of warning workers against the imperialist Labour government which worked hard to save capitalism through the post-war crisis and to assure that the Empire’s global influence could be saved as much as possible, the paper stated that Labour would bring Britain closer to socialism: "In Britain we have taken a great step forward towards socialism by defeating the Tories and establishing for the first time in our history a majority Labour Government." An astonishing “analysis” of the “orthodox Trotskyist” Healy after four years of an imperialist Labour government! In an Editorial in April 1951, Healy’s Socialist Outlookfantasized that the Labour Government was "itself engaged in freeing Britain from the exactions of the capitalist class..."! (22)
In another editorial in January 1950 Healy’s Socialist Outlook urged the Labour Government "to abolish capitalist exploitation and replace it with planned socialist co-operation." That Labour was a bourgeois workers party inextricably bound to imperialism was something which Healy found not suitable for his rotten alliance with the Labour Members of Parliament. Naturally, Trotskyists apply the tactic of critical electoral support for reformist parties – as our tendency has done many times in the past. But such a critical electoral support must be combined with explaining the petty-bourgeois nature of the labor bureaucracy and its role as an agent of imperialism in the ranks of the workers movement. Instead of spreading illusions that the reformist bureaucracy can lead the working class towards socialism, authentic Trotskyists have to make concrete demands from the party, warn the workers not to trust the leadership, warn them of their inevitable betrayal, and call them to organize independently in action committees to put pressure of the leadership and, if necessary, to act independently.
In contrast to such a principled approach, Healy was determined to pay court to the Labour left. Such in the October 1951 Election supplement he urged workers to vote Labour: "as an expression of your confidence in the workers' ability to govern this country...and to act so that the Labour Government will destroy capitalism." (23) Such centrist propaganda spread the ludicrous illusion that an imperialist government of a bourgeois workers’ party would express the “workers' ability to govern this country” and that the capitalist Labour Government could ever “destroy capitalism”.
Despite his later tirades of hate against Pablo, Healy implemented the same opportunist approach which Pablo himself was advancing. Healy famous election slogan “Labour to Power on a Socialist Program” was completely shared by Pablo.
“… this platform can be summarized in the formula: THE SP ALONE TO POWER IN ORDER TO APPLY A SOCIALIST POLICY.” (24)
Healy also continued this right-wing opportunism in his other non-Trotskyist publication of the time which he called “Labour Review” and which was designed to become "Labour's educational and theoretical organ" (Labour Review Vol.1 No. I January/March 1952). This not very educational organ did not try to educate workers to understand the anti-socialist, bourgeois nature of Labour but rather to paint it in pink colors. So when drawing a balance sheet of the Labour Government of 1945-51, he concluded that it offered a vision of future socialism: “They (the working class, MP) were given glimpses of what a Labour regime could accomplish and even more, what a socialist future could bring." (Labour Review, Vol. I No. 4) (25)
To show Healy’s unashamed opportunism, we will reprint an excerpt from an excellent analysis which our tendency published in 1986:
While Atlee came in for criticism it was not because of his vicious attacks on striking dockers or other workers. These incidents receive no mention in Labour Review. No, the main fault of the government was in the field of foreign policy: "The outstanding debit on the balance sheet of the Labour Government was undoubtedly its foreign policy." (ibid) For Healy the Atlee government and its "considerable achievements" (ibid) proved the possibility of using the Labour Party for socialist tasks. "We may not have to create a Labour Party, but let's use that Instrument to fulfill its socialist purposes." (ibid)
Of course this couldn't be done under the right-wing leaders. But happily an instrument for their ousting was close at hand. The Bevanites were the vehicle for the party's transformation. In order to encourage this development Healy advocated a road to socialism that was, in essentials, no different to that being advocated by the Communist Party, in their new programme the openly reformist British Road to Socialism: "What should be the right relation between parliamentary- and extra-parliamentary actions? Mr. Bevan criticises those who looked upon parliamentary action 'as an auxiliary of direct action by the industrial organisations of the working class.' But it would be equally one sided, as he does, to make industrial action always auxiliary and subordinated to parliamentary action. Both forms of action are indispensable for conducting the class struggle.’ (Labour Review Vol. I, No.2 May/August 1952).
So for Healy the industrial struggle and the parliamentary struggle are put on equal footing. Whichever predominates at a particular time depends on external circumstance. Moreover the equal importance given to parliament and to industrial action meant a fundamentally parliamentary road to socialism: "It is not excluded that the movement for socialism can be carried far through the gates of Parliament and be “legalized”' to a considerable degree thereby.’ (Ibid)
All that is required is "the active vigilance of the mobilized masses" (ibid) and, more importantly, a Bevanite leadership in the Labour Party: ‘On the other side, which is popularly designated as Bevanite, are all those forces who, regardless of their previous positions and present differ have absorbed certain lessons from the post-war experiences and are seeking to overcome the defeats of the past. They wish to adopt and implement a programme of action that more closely conforms to the needs and aspirations of the socialist and Labour cause at this critical juncture of its evolution in England. (Labour Review, Vol. I, No. 4).
Flowing from this whole analysis Healy abandoned the Transitional Programme of Trotsky. He put in its strategy centering on the election of a Labour government pledged to absolutely vacuous ‘socialist policies’ led by the "left".
Throughout this period there is not one word of warning the potential for treachery inherent in left-reformism, and manifested in 1957 with Bevan's reconciliation with Gaitskell and the right. Instead, all we get is: ‘Mr. Bevan and his associates should be given the chance to lead the Labour Party and its next cabinet so they can carry through as far and as fast as they can his experiment in dynamic parliamentarism." (Labour Review Vol. I, No.2) And the socialist policies demanded of such a government?
1. Complete reliance on the organised power of the working class.
2. No confidence in Britain's capitalists or America's imperialists.
3. Finish without delay the job of nationalising, democratizing and re-organising industry along socialist lines.
4. Put into effect a socialist and democratic foreign policy. This is the only road to workers' power and socialism in Great Britain.’”(26)
According to Healy, such a left-reformist programme, which was to be implemented by a future Labour government, was, was ‘the only road to workers’ power and Socialism in Great Britain’.” (27)
These extracts from Healy’s writings demonstrate clearly that the famous opportunist theory of the CWI and IMT (Ted Grant, Peter Taaffee and Alan Woods) – that socialism can be introduced peacefully and via parliament – is not their invention. Healy discovered such “insights already” decades before (of course he himself took them over from the German revisionists Eduard Bernstein).
In addition Gerry Healy explained in the same article – called “The Way to Socialism in Britain” (Labour Review Vol. I, No. 2, May-August 1952) – how imperialist democracy can become more democratic.
“Parliament should be re-elected by statute more often than every five years…
This conservatorised section (!) of the government machinery, full of prejudices against Labour (!), will surely have to be renovated (!) from top to bottom and subjected to constant check and control by the working class before it can be considered halfway democratic.
Two conclusions can be drawn from this brief survey of British democracy as it actually exists. First, the democracy retains some (!) extremely antiquated features and undemocratic institutions. Second, even in a purely political sphere it is very remote from perfection. (!) Many more moves will have to be taken to purify its nature (!) and a wide gulf will have to be crossed before this restricted democracy, in which the capitalists and imperialists exercise their dictatorship behind the scenes, cedes before a genuine democracy of the working class.” (28)
This is nothing but a repetition of Kautsky’s schema that bourgeois democracy can be democratized and that the capitalist institutions can be “renovated” through pressure from the working class. Healy’s left-reformist propaganda is the complete opposite from the Marxist position on the nature of bourgeois democracy and the need for the working class to smash the whole capitalist state machinery via a – necessarily violent – socialist revolution and replace it with Soviet organs of working class power (workers control, councils, militias, etc.). Healy nowhere explained in his publications that the working class must build its independent organs of struggle in order to overthrow the bourgeois state. Such an open revolutionary propaganda would have endangered his political bloc with the left-reformist camp of Bevan supporters.
Healy’s close and uncritical collaboration with Bevan and his supporters was also an adaption to social-imperialism. Let us not forget that Bevan as Minister of Labour was finally co-responsible for the imprisonment of 10 gas workers for striking in 1950, and charging 7 dockers with organizing an illegal strike in 1951. He was also co-responsible for Britain’s attempts to hold as much as possible of the Empire’s global influence, for the creation of the Zionist state Israel which led to the expulsion of the Palestinian people, for the reactionary partition of India which left about one million dead and turned about 15 million people more into refugees, and the British colonial war against the Malayan Communist guerrillas after 1948. In fact, Healy and his “Club” practised a strategic alliance with supporters of the British imperialist government until Labour lost the elections in 1951.
Bevan and his supporters in the Labour bureaucracy of course were in no way “centrists,” but left-reformist bureaucrats who were determined to save capitalism through some social reforms. This, they sought, would also be the best weapon to defend capitalism against the “communist threat” from the Soviet Union and the working class. As such, Bevan advised his minister “colleagues” in 1950 – when Healy was constantly praising him – the following approach in order to “defend Britain against Russian imperialism”:
“Our foreign policy had hitherto been based on the view that the best method of defence against Russian imperialism was to improve the social and economic conditions of the countries now threatened by Communist encroachment. The United States government seemed now to be abandoning this social and political defence in favour of a military defence.” (29)
In his opportunism, Healy even went so far to advocate socialism as a tool to regain Britain’s status as a world hegemonic Great Power! In Labour Review, Vol. I, No. 3 (August/September 1952) he wrote: “Great Britain can never regain its position of world leadership under capitalist auspices.... Britain, however, can rise to a newer and higher level of world leadership, provided the Labour movement resolutely carries its struggle for Socialism to victory here in the coming period.” (30)
Healy repeatedly capitulated to Bevan and the Labour Left. He praised this imperialist minister constantly in his “Socialist Outlook” – despite that fact that the very same Bevan would denounce Nasser in 1956 for the nationalization of the Suez Canal as “Hitler,” “Mussolini,” and“Alibaba and his Forty Thieves.” (31) And the very same “centrist” (as Healy wrongly characterized him) Bevan who would soon support nuclear armament of Britain with the argument that otherwise a British Foreign Secretary would go “naked into the conference chamber” for the sake of “an emotional spasm” and make it impossible for Britain “to exercise influence on the policies of the superpowers”. (32)
Healy presented the imperialist minister as a “socialist”. After Labour lost the elections in 1951, Healy stated that if Bevan would take over the party’s leadership he could guarantee "the return of a new and more socialist Labour Government" (Socialist Outlook, No.41, 1952). Later that year, the paper ran the headline: "Bevan Gives the Lead that Workers' Want.” The Editorial below stated: "The first two days' proceedings at Morecambe have shown that the LP is turning resolutely to the socialist road the delegates came to Morecambe looking for a clear alternative to the old politics. Aneurin Bevan gave them such a lead in his speech of the first day." (Socialist Outlook, No. 51, 3.10.1952). A few weeks later Healy’s paper proclaimed: "Aneurin Bevan Demands a Real Socialist Policy." (Socialist Outlook, No. 56, 28.11.1952) (33)
In his study, former WRP member Bob Pitt reports about another opportunist propaganda of Healy’s paper: “In September 1953, at the very time that he was flaying the ‘capitulatory’ politics of the Pabloites, Healy was telling Socialist Outlook readers that the forthcoming Labour Party conference presented an opportunity to deliver ‘the knock-out blow’ to the bureaucracy. And how was this to be achieved? ‘It is to be hoped’, Healy wrote, ‘that the Bevanites on the platform will join forces with the rank and file on the floor and thus guide the conference in a real Socialist direction.’ This approach – which has been summarised as ‘hope the Lefts fight’! – offered not the slightest warning as to the real willingness of the leaders of the Labour left to take on and defeat the right wing.” (34)
When the paper was banned by the right-wing Labour Party leadership in 1954, Healy deepened his liquidationist policy. He switched his group into the left-reformist milieu around the paper Labour Left paper Tribune and sold their paper until 1957. In short, Healy’s entryism sui generis was built on a permanent bloc with left-reformists. To achieve this he was prepared to drop Trotskyism and to adapt politically to social democracy and – to a certain degree – to Stalinism too which was popular amongst sectors of left-reformist labour.
So to summarize. Healy and his group allied themselves with the left-wing of the Labour bureaucracy for about 11 years. He did so even in the period when the Labour Party and the leaders of this so-called “left wing” served in the imperialist government overseeing the oppression of radical workers on strike as well as the expulsion of the Palestinian people via the creation of the settler state Israel or the repression of the communist guerrillas in Malaysia. This was not a purely practical bloc – i.e., joint practical actions in the class struggle or in defence against the right-wing majority of the Labour bureaucracy which of course can be justified for revolutionaries. No, Healy formed a strategic political bloc which was based on a joint propaganda. He refrained from any serious criticism of the Labour left ministers and trade union bureaucrats. He spread the illusion that socialism can be introduced thorough a Labour majority in parliament. He was worse than the later arch-opportunist CWI of Ted Grant, Peter Taaffee, and Alan Woods since the latter, while also adapting to the Labour Left, at least published an independent paper which openly stated their version of “Trotskyism.”
Healy’s struggle against Pablo was in no way a political struggle against opportunism. It was a result of an apolitical organizational struggle caused by the fact that Pablo started to favor John Lawrence in 1953 instead of Healy, who until then was Pablo’s man in Britain. Similarly, by the way, James P. Cannon only started to oppose Pablo, when the latter organized Cochrane-Clarke faction in the SWP. In opposite to the SF/LCFI claims, the International Committee split in 1953 was neither ”a principled defence of Trotskyism against liquidation and revisionism“ nor did it represent “a definite continuity of Trotskyism.”
It is a shame that the LCFI comrades uncritically support Healy’s political bloc with the left-reformists: “A paper called the Socialist Outlook was published and printed with support from trade union leaders and Bevanities including Jack Stanley, Frank Allaun, Bessie Braddock and others. These were left reformists and supporters of Aneurin Bevan and an organisation was set up