Andy Blunden April 1986
I joined the WRP in Britain, the Workers Revolutionary Party, in 1974. At that time Gerry Healy had been leader of the movement there since 1945. I know of only two members of the movement internationally who had been members of the Party, or of any of the Sections, since before that time. That is to say, almost every member in Britain had joined a party of which Gerry Healy was already the leader. So we found it almost impossible to separate the organisation we had joined, its principles- the socialist revolution and Trotskyism- from the man himself. He himself frequently made such statements as “I am the Fourth International.”
Now I would say that at any time up to a year ago, if anybody had said to me- nobody did, but if anyone had said to me- that Gerry Healy had been abusing young women I would have denounced them. I would have denounced them as a provocateur and dismissed such an allegation.
Nevertheless, starting from the end of the miners’ strike in March 1985, such was the crisis in the Workers Revolutionary Party, particularly centred on Healy’s conception that Fascism was imminent in Britain and such was the skill of the campaign conducted by a small group of people right in the central leadership of the WRP, that when I was told, in a ten second, one-liner in the middle of the night, some time , I think in May or June, that Healy had been sexually abusing young women, that I believed it immediately.
The WRP exploded on October 9th last year on the question as to whether rape was acceptable as a political method, whether it was acceptable for a member or a leader of our movement, and that question was taken to the membership on that day with the beginning of a series of occupations and walk-outs by members. I was an enthusiastic participant in that campaign which blew Healy out of our movement once and for all.
But all of us realised at that time that having discovered that the unquestioned leader of our movement for several decades was a rapist, wasn’t going to be dealt with just by expelling him. That there were profound implications of that event that would reflect on the entire nature and history of our movement. And it was for that reason that no sooner had Healy been expelled than the leaders of the other sections internationally began a rear-guard action to defend their positions and to do the WRP which had expelled Healy.
I, in fact, left London and returned to Melbourne, which is my home town, the very day that the International Committee, the ICFI, which had been basically appointed by Healy previously, suspended the British Section. The WRP was suspended ostensibly for crimes which had been carried out under Healy’s leadership, particularly in relation to mercenary relations established with sections of the Arab national movement, and the International Committee in fact alleged that Healy had been expelled from the right. In this way the leaders of the other international sections adapted to the fact that Healy had been totally exposed and driven out, but attempted from there to defend their own positions.
At the special conference of the SLL which I went to immediately on my return to this country, we began a battle against a witch-hunt of the WRP which was based on a refusal of the SLL in this country to examine their own role in this degeneration, their own leadership, and the really total abandonment of Marxism which had taken place in this section, using instead a witch-hunt of the leaders of the WRP as a smoke screen for that cover-up of their own role. This took the most degenerate form- and a form which is particular, and a real problem in Australia- of Nick Beams, the National Secretary, saying, by way of excuse, that ‘we were only following the line of the WRP’. Others remarked, of course, that we thought that this question had been settled at Nuremburg.
While accusing the WRP of having covered up for Healy, the Socialist Labour League to this very day carry on a cover-up of their own role. In fact, two leaders of the SLL, Cheryl Crisp and Angelo Lopez, had been in Britain in September and were told at great length, by both Healy and Banda, exactly what the issues were in the WRP at that time. They in fact knew more than I did at that time. They returned to Australia and the membership were told nothing.
We took up a position inside the SLL that these profound questions had to be taken before the whole working class. That it was impossible to discover this kind of degeneration within your movement and not take it to the working class as a whole and seek to correct these mistakes, that the old idea that we had a monopoly on the truth, that the truth emanated from the top and was handed down, had to go. The only way to resolve these problems was to go in front of the whole working class and state openly and honestly that these betrayals and this degeneration had taken place and this was a starting point for correcting these mistakes- mistakes to say the least. The SLL refused to do so.
At an aggregate meeting in Melbourne in the middle of January when I put it to the meeting that a public meeting should be held, like this one, Richard Phillips said ‘No, this would be tantamount to liquidation.’ I find it intriguing, though I welcome it, that the members of the SLL have attended here, but how they avoid liquidation by sitting in the audience instead of them taking the platform and putting their position, I cannot understand.
Our call for a public discussion in the working class as a whole, of this degeneration was met by the leadership with expulsion motions. We were told that any member who discussed these questions with non-members would be expelled- that this was basic. Specifically, if you were to discuss these questions with those who had been driven from the ranks of the movement in the past, and which we held had as much right to know what had taken place within this movement which had been so much a part of their own lives, whatever the course of events had been which had driven them out of the movement, they had a right to know- we were told that if we discussed these questions with ex-members we would be expelled. We were told that if we had any contact, or if we maintained any contact with the WRP, we would be expelled. And finally, we were told that if we did not ‘recognise the political authority of the International Committee of the Fourth International’ we would be expelled at Easter- we were given the date.
Now we went in fact to a special conference at the beginning of March on this question. We made it clear that if we were to be expelled for refusal to accept this political authority then we were being expelled for holding a political difference in the movement. This International Committee is a committee which has carried out and organised all of the actions under Healy’s leadership. It is a committee which, whether you like it or not, has lost nay authority, if it ever had any, which is highly questionable, because what authority it had was never more than illusory. It had lost all authority. The only way in which a revolutionary movement can gain political authority in the working class is by fighting for it, by, over a period of years, participating in the struggle of the working class+, and giving that leadership. The pre-condition to establishing authority to lead in the working class is to begin by recognising that you do not have that authority. Consequently, in order to establish the authority of Trotskyism in the working class, we had to recognise that we had no such authority. We had been dancing to Healy’s tune for any number of years and we weren’t any longer dancing to the tune of Dave North, Nick Beams of anybody else.
The congress at that time voted by a substantial majority that we would indeed be expelled, that it was obligatory to recognise this mythical and non-existent ‘authority’ in order to remain members. We therefore had no choice but to face up to our responsibilities to the working class, which came before a responsibility to the International Committee or anybody else. Consequently, we decided that we could no longer participate in a cover-up, we could no longer participate in keeping the truth of what had taken place inside our organisation from the working class and that we would have to split.
Last weekend, members of the Communist League, as we are now, met and passed a resolution on the question of the so-called investigation of ‘Security and the Fourth International’. We say that we completely repudiate this ‘investigation’, so called. This campaign in which we were all taught to regard all our political opponents in the working class as police agents, this campaign was not only used to slander our political opponents, it was most particularly used against members of our own movement. It was used first of all to cut us off from all political discussion. Of course, by dismissing all your political opponents as police agents you are prevented from learning from the political discussion and struggle against them.
Secondly, it of course created an atmosphere within the movement which facilitated the sort of bureaucratic despotism, mis-treatment of members, which is characteristic of the Healyite type of organisation.
We quite unreservedly repudiate this kind of practice, and can do no more at this point than extend apologies to those who have been slandered in the past. We are finished with agent-baiting and in future we will conduct all our political struggle in the working class on the basis of a principled political struggle.
This atmosphere which was built up around the primacy of security whereby leaders are allowed to do anything, because of course, it’s none of your business what they are doing, whereas members, of course, have no rights at all, created, and was central to, an organisation in which the top leadership and the political committee, the editorial board, dispensed the truth. The members were reduced basically to paper-sellers, through arduous, drawn-out, and really mindless activity centred around a daily paper, were not only prevented from making a proper theoretical development, and a criticism of the policies of the Party, but were placed in a position of abstaining from the struggle in the working class.
Now, there is one other point which I particularly want to raise. Our movement split initially on the question of rape, of relations between the sexes. It is of course stating the obvious to say that such a split is totally unprecedented in the Trotskyist movement, or the Communist movement in its whole history. But it is a fact. Of course, since that initial split, the questions involved have considerably broadened and deepened. But, we cannot ignore the fact that the split began on that question. That Healy had been using the abuse of female members, not only for his own gratification, but as a means of establishing his domination over the movement as a whole. But the denigration of the women’s movement that has been characteristic of the WRP in Britain, and of the SLL since its very inception, is entirely reactionary.
We couldn’t avoid drawing the conclusion from the nature of the split and what has taken place in our movement that this question had to be paid the most serious and thorough attention. It is a complicated question. It’s not a simple issue here. It’s not just a question that women weren’t given a fair show in the WRP. Not at all. The domination of female leaders of the movement by Healy was a means not only of his establishing his domination over these women, but of the whole party. It was absolutely inseparable from a position in which it was accepted that there was a gap between the supposed historical aims of our movement and the way our members actually lived- that people’s lives were destroyed.
People’s social being, their connections with the trade union movement, with their families, with culture as a whole, was completely cut off. In reducing people to activists and paper-sellers, and destroying them as human beings, we of course cut off any possibility that they could develop as Communists.
Healyism is, in fact, a reactionary parasitism that lives particularly off the self-sacrificing nature and dedication of those young people who are attracted to revolution. People of course in this period have come to a revolutionary party in order to fight, and prepared to sacrifice, and the Healyite parasite says ‘Thank you very much’, and has destroyed countless people.
When I came to Melbourne I found, and I say this quite unreservedly, that all the best political elements that our movement has attracted over the years, outside the ranks of the SLL. I remember myself from previous days in the WRP, the attitude towards these ex-members, that I had. That there was something wrong with them. And when of course we discovered what was happening to our movement, it became possible to understand why people had been driven out. And the expulsion of Healy and the change we are making, opens up the possibility of putting an end to this brutal and reactionary destruction of cadre that has characterised our movement over its whole period.
We don’t cover up or deny at all that we were a part of that history, that we carried out these betrayals, we participated in the slander of our opponents as agents and so forth. What we do say is that we intend to honestly and objectively evaluate that past. We are not for covering up or continuing anything. We are going to investigate this history. We are going to pull this past apart bit by bit to see that these mistakes and these betrayals and these distortions of Marxism will not be repeated again.
We do of course welcome any discussion from our political opponents, and I continue to use that phrase because we do have political opponents and we are not merging or building bridges with anyone. But we do think that if we're going to tackle the problems of building of revolutionary leadership then we do hve to engage in the widest possible discussion.
I have to say as well that in no way are we going to be rushed into formulating programmes or making grand statements about the nature of the epoch and so on. Of course, these things have to be done. But we recognise that, for myself 12 years, in a Healyite organisation, we have made some pretty incredible mistakes, and we don’t intend to be pushed or provoked into repeating these mistakes.
Nevertheless, you can be sure that having kicked the bureaucracy out of this movement in Britain- and I was, as I said, an enthusiastic participant in that struggle- our movement here of course has emerges in a fight against that bureaucracy- and I use that word advisedly, not because, of course, members of the Socialist Labour League live in a land of milk and honey, far from it. They are people who have given their lives to, such as it is, a struggle to build a movement. It is nevertheless a bureaucracy- based on full-time employment, cutting off the pressure of the responsibilities of leadership of the working class, which is replaced by the conservative pressures of conforming to the policies of the leadership.
Having fought against this bureaucracy we shall have no truck with any bureaucracy in any part of the labour movement. And rest assured that we will fight that to the end.