Solidarity: a journal of libertarian socialism

Complete online archive of the Solidarity journal published by the London group of libertarian socialist organisation, Solidarity.

The final incarnation of the Solidarity journal, published from circa 1982 - 1991. Initially called Solidarity: new series vol1, then Solidarity: Journal of the London Solidarity Group and finally Solidarity: a Journal of Libertarian Socialism.

Submitted by Steven. on June 18, 2013

Solidarity: new series vol1 #1

Debut issue of the reforged Solidarity journal from the early 1980s.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 27, 2021

Contents

  • Editorial - about ourselves
  • Making A Fresh Start
  • Marx And The Current Unemployment - John King
  • Ford Workers Dent Brazil's Labour Code
  • Chinese Workers Rights Attacked
  • Book Reviews

Files

sol-vol1-1.pdf (24.69 MB)

Solidarity: new series vol1 #2

Second issue of the Solidarity journal from the 1980s.

Includes an article by Cornelius Castoriadis which marked the beginning of the group distancing themselves from him.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 27, 2021

Contents

  • Editorial - CND
  • Facing War - Cornelius Castoriadis
  • Response to 'Facing War' - Andy Brown
  • Letters

Files

sol-vol-1-2.pdf (26.27 MB)

Solidarity vol1 #3

3rd issue of the Solidarity journal from the 1980s.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 27, 2021

Contents

  • Editorial - Notes on the Labour Left
  • Bolivian miners go for self-management
  • On Socialism - Andy Brown
  • 'Facing War' - responses to the Castoriadis article in previous issue.
  • Reviews (Murray Bookchin, Sheila Rowbotham and Castoriadis books)
  • Letters

Files

Solidarity vol1 #4

4th issue of the Solidarity journal from the 1980s.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 27, 2021

Contents

  • Editorial - The road to 1990
  • The Police Bill: an analysis - Sol Ishtar
  • A Scenario (Warrington trade unionist harassed by the police over leaflet)
  • The Peace Movement - out on the street
  • On Castoriadis (ongoing comment on the 'Facing War' article and responses)
  • Book Reviews
  • Letters (including resignsation letter from John King over the Castoriadis article etc)

Files

sol-vol1-4.pdf (29.71 MB)

Solidarity vol1 #5 1984

4th issue of the Solidarity journal from the 1980s.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 27, 2021

Contents

  • Crisis In Print: The story of CoastalPress
  • The Amway Experience (American 'pyramid selling' cult)
  • Logo magazine (sanguine remarks on pisstake mag by London anarchos)
  • Modern Socialism and Revolution - Andy Brown
  • More on Socialism (response to the above) - L Erizo
  • Book Reviews

Files

sol-vol1-5.pdf (30.09 MB)

Solidarity Journal #6/7 Spring 1985

Double issue of the Solidarity Journal from 1985.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 27, 2021

Contents

  • Editorial
  • On the (Clive) Ponting Affair
  • Notes on the Miners Strike - S.K. French & Ken Weller
  • The Sandinistas and the working class: a suitable case for demystification - L Campesino & Ian Pirie
  • Fundementalism: the last days of this wicked system of things - Bob Potter
  • Reviews
  • Letters

Files

Solidarity Journal #8 Summer 1985

8th issue of the Journal of the London Solidarity Group.

PDF courtesy of Sparrow Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on October 29, 2021

Contents

  • Myths and the Miners - Andy Brown
  • About Solidarity - John Cobbett (an update on the group)
  • Control & Utopia: Questions of Power - John Cobbett (Le Guin & Foucault)
  • Letter: Nicaragua: Why the FSLN should be demystified - L Campesino
  • Letter: Sweden - Goran Lipen

Files

Solidarity Journal #9 Autumn 1985

9th issue of the London Solidarity Journal.

Contents below. PDF from Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 1, 2021

Contents

  • Beyond Eurocommunism - Paul Anderson
  • Struggles in the Communist Party
  • Science as social control - Petr Cerny
  • Review: A History of the Irish Working Class by Peter Berresford Ellis
  • Review: Poland 1980-82, class struggle and the crisis of capitalism by Henri Simon
  • Review: The Bureaucratisation of the World by Bruno Rizzi
  • Letter: Miners Strike by Cajo Brendel

Files

Solidarity Journal #10 Winter 1985/6

10th issue of the London Solidarity Journal.

Contents below. PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 4, 2021

Contents

  • The First 25 Years of Solidarity
  • Community Warning - Andy Brown on the Brixton Riots
  • The Ugly Social Consequences of Elegantly Simple Formulae - Petr Cerny on intelligence testing
  • Book Review: Metcalf & Humphries - The Sexuality of Men
  • Book Review: Ken Weller - Don't Be A Soldier!
  • Book Review: Edward Thompson - The Heavy Dancers
  • Book Review:: Ben and Edward Thompson - Star Wars: Self Destruct Incorporated
  • Letters - fundamentalism, Communist Party, Foucault

Files

Solidarity Journal #11 Spring 1986

11th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal.

Contents below. PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 11, 2021

Contents

  • 57th Variety Act: the degeneration of the Workers Revolutionary Party and the explusion of Gerry Healy - Robin Blick
  • The Party's Over - Ken Weller on the WRP
  • Brazil: Liberal Illusions - Neil Terry
  • Nicaragua: Higher productivity, tighter organisation and more discipline - Goran Liden on the Sandinistas
  • Organisation or Spontaneity - Mick Larkin on his experiences in a miners' support group
  • Book Review: Denver Walker's Quite Right Mr Trotsky - Ian Pirie
  • Book Review: Lib Ed magazine - S K French
  • Letters: including Cajo Brendel on Poland/Solidarnosc

Files

57th Variety Act - Robin Blick

WRP Central Committee members Vanessa and Corin Redgrave briefed journalists wit
WRP Central Committee members Vanessa and Corin Redgrave briefed journalists with their side of the story in a London hotel.

Few people have noted the spectacular split in the Workers' Revolutionary Party as more than a diverting entertainment. We invited two ex-members of the WRP's forerunner, the Socialist Labour League, to comment on the show. Below, Robin Blick casts an experienced eye backstage, while Ken Weller adds an afterword. Both find circumstances which ought to give all Leninists urgent cause to rethink their ideas of revolutionary organisation.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 12, 2021

Content warning: rape / abuse of power.

Many readers of Solidarity will have followed the evolution of the crisis in the Workers' Revolutionary Party, and each will have their own view on both its causes and possible outcomes. I am doing nothing more than adding my own insights with the possible advantages that a ten-year membership (1961-71) and subsequent involvement in another split (the Oxford-based opposition of Cowley shop steward Alan Thornett in 1974) might provide.

It is a truism to say that the WRP was a Leninist organisation like no other in Britain, or for that matter anywhere else at present. Certainly, the disclosures about the Gerry-built internal regime are redolent more of a religious cult than a secular political movement; and this, together with the alleged sexual depravity of its leader G Healy, sets it apart in many respects from the other groups which make up the family of Trotskyism.

The unquenched (and entirely justified) venom and glee which erupted among scores of former WRP inmates at the news of Healy's disgrace is certainly unique in recent British politics and perhaps can only really be compared to the revulsion against Stalin unleashed by Khrushchev’s 'secret speech' of 1956.

Year Zero

Even so, can the rest of the 'revolutionary left' distance itself from Healyism quite so neatly? After all, as Trotsky put it, "The party in the last analysis is always right, because the party is the sole historical instrument given to the proletariat for the solution of its basic problems". Let us ask the question, what would Healyism in power look like? Of course, with or without its fallen leader the WRP will never assume state power, but if it ever had, under its former regime, Britain would surely have had its own 'year zero' and witnessed its own 'killing fields'.

Within the limits imposed by the constraints of a liberal society, the WRP gave us more than a glimpse of what can, in other circumstances, times and cultures, burst forth as Gulag or Auschwitz. Reports in Newsline, the party's paper (now renamed Workers' Press), allege that for years Healy plundered the movement's supporters to the point of penury, physically attacked members, sexually exploited or abused young women, and sold opponents of Arab despotisms into torture and execution, without any objection from those around him.

Each abomination found its justification in a familiar argument: the end justifies the means. If the leader is tired, worn down with the cares of leadership and grappling with the destiny of humanity, is it not natural, even necessary, that the younger female ‘cadre’ should be placed at his disposal to ease these burdens and thereby enable the party to lead the human race out of barbarism?

What is a rape placed on the scales of history and weighed against the menace of impending military dictatorship and nuclear catastrophe? And if the leader’s performance is enhanced by some of the good things of life – say a £15,000 BMW – is it not right that Party members should sacrifice their own little luxuries to make it possible?

Finally, if the continued financing of the Party – the only hope of humanity, remember – hinges on securing and sustaining finance from regimes that habitually torture and massacre their opponents, then shouldn’t the party go along with and even publicly endorse such regimes’ every act of depravity? It may even, as part of the fulfilment of the tasks of history, offer its services – at a price – to bring yet more victims within their grasp. All this has been alleged against Healy by his former comrades.

Once the absolute abstraction of ‘the revolutionary leadership’ is accepted as the only answer to the problems of the human race, then it becomes all to easy for otherwise quite decent and well-motivated people to cheerfully contemplate, and even participate in, the degradation or extermination of any part of it.

This, the morality of the Jacobin, passed through Lenin more than anyone else, into the main current of contemporary Marxism, whether Stalinist, Trotskyist or other. It is not unique to Healy, his faction, or the WRP as a whole. Readers would be hard put to it to find any revolutionary or radical grouping which subscribes to a conception of morality and ethical conduct that repudiates in toto the Leninist subordination of human beings to the requirements of party regimes and the social systems they create and rule over.

There has been much talk, both in their press and at their meetings, of what the anti-Healy faction call 'communist morality'. However, talk is all it is. The writer has yet to have explained to him what precisely, in any given situation, this 'communist morality' would permit or forbid. Its current advocates voted with only one dissention for the WRP Central Committee resolution approving the execution in March 1979 of more than twenty opponents of the Baath regime in Iraq; one of the victims, Talib Suwailh, had only five months earlier brought 'fraternal greetings' to a conference of the WRP's front organisation the All Trades Union Alliance. Where was the vaunted 'communist morality' then? Free men and women, meeting not in Baghdad but in London, found they could not oppose such a vile motion.

For twenty years, according to the foremost proponent of this 'communist morality', Cliff Slaughter (Newsline, 20.11.85), Healy had been busy converting the WRP into a "private brothel" - hardly an activity which, in view of Healy's position, would have escaped the notice of someone as observant as Slaughter. Yet again, 'communist morality' failed to guide the actions of those who could and should have put a stop to what has been called Healy's "byzantine debauchery".

In fact, the reason is quite simple. Ideologically based and orientated morality cannot function in such situations precisely because it is subordinated to a supposedly 'higher' end - in this instance, the triumph of communism. 'Fascist morality', 'Christian morality', 'Islamic morality': each has proved itself capable of the most terrible crimes against humanity because of a similar opposing of ends and means.

Slaughter should be asked - as I hope to when given the chance - what does 'communist morality' lead us to conclude about the repression of the Kronstadt garrison by the Bolsheviks in 1921? Were not vile means subordinated to lofty goals then, as he accuses Healy of doing now? Did the 'communist morality' of Lenin and Trotsky - and it is to their example that we are invited to turn for inspiration in such matters - prevent them from framing and murdering their political opponents, outlawing, contrary to earlier pledges, all opposition groups, first outside and then within their own party, and unleashing on the Soviet people the first totalitarian political police in history, the Cheka?

I hope, but doubt, that in the course of the WRP's much advertised public quest for the roots of its present crisis, the search for the historic roots of Healyism will transcend the barriers of sacred texts and even more sacred leaders. Healy may be a monster. But what he is, where he came from, should give us all food for thought. Both factions of the WRP, in their various ways, are still telling us that morality is subordinate to politics, that 'the moral is political'. Surely it is time the matter was put the other way round. The political is moral.

WRP: The Party's Over – Ken Weller

As controversy over the expulsion of party founder, Gerry Healy grew, WRP Genera

Solidarity member Ken Weller reviews the new Workers Revoutionary Party chorus line and finds it parading the same feet of clay.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 12, 2021

We are not puritans - indeed this writer is strongly critical of the neo-puritanism infesting the radical milieu. We couldn't give a monkeys what consenting adults get up to, even those with whom we strongly disagree. Nevertheless, what has happened in the WRP seems to have far transcended anything acceptable to revolutionaries, with Healy turning himself into a kind of 'mobster thermidor'. Moreover, even the critique of the Healy regime by the WRP majority is infused with an attitude which shows that they haven't come to terms with what was wrong. It tells us that they haven't rejected the organisational forms that created Healy and allowed him to thrive.

For example, Newsline (30.10.85) contains an interview with the general secretary of the WRP, Mike Banda, and quotes him as saying:

"This group [the Healyites] lack the most elementary concept of revolutionary morality. They willingly defend the corrupt sexual practices of a 'leader' who thinks nothing of abusing his authority to degrade women and girl comrades and destroy their self-respect".

But what sort of authority is it which can be used or abused in such a manner? What sort of organisation is it which allows such 'abuses' to go on for well over twenty years? What we are seeing is a familiar feature of Leninism, an attempt to unload onto an individual 'errors' which go far deeper.

The crisis within the WRP, which would be a hoot if it were not for the fact that real people got hurt, raises at least a couple of points of interest to libertarians. Religious and political sects, of which the WRP was a prime example, are more a symptom of the deep malaise of society than a pointer to any solutions. This is an area to which we have devoted some attention. Recently, in issue 6/7 of the current series of Solidarity (Spring 1985)1 , we published a long article by Bob Potter, 'The Last Days of this Wicked System of Things', which dealt with the purely religious variety; but the parallels with their political brethren were clear. In Solidarity for Social Revolution #7 (March-April 1979), we printed a whole supplement, 'Suicide for Socialism'2 by Maurice Brinton, which dealt with the political-religious cult of Jim Jones and the People's Temple and the mass suicide of over nine hundred of his followers at Jonestown, Guyana. In describing such groups, Brinton commented:

"In such organisations the Leader may become more and more authoritarian and paranoid. If he has achieved institutional power he may kill, torture or excommunicate (Stalin, Torquemada) increasing numbers of his co-thinkers. Or he may order them "shot like partridges". If he is a 'leftist' authoritarian devoid - as yet - of the state power he is seeking, he will merely expel large numbers of his deviant followers. Deviance - above all - cannot be tolerated. Such men would rather live in a world peopled with heretics and renegades and keep the total allegiance of those who remain. One even wonders whether (unlike most of their supporters) they still believe in what they preach - or whether the maintenance of their power has not become their prime concern. Jim Jones' rantings about defectors and 'traitors' is not unique. It is encountered in a whole stratum of the political left. Many 'radical' leaderships boast of how they have coped with previous deviations. But however 'unreal' the world they live in, the core of followers will remain loyal. The Leader is still the shield. Even in Jonestown anything seemed better than the other reality: the painful alternative of deprivation, material, emotional or intellectual".

At a WRP aggregate meeting on 18 October 1985 (as reported in Newsline, 20.11.85), Cliff Slaughter said of the pro-Healy faction:

"Here again is a cynical ideology with strong parallels in the extreme right, in fascism. There is a monopoly of information and monopoly of power and discipline. The leader knows no rules of right and wrong: only what he wants is important".

Authoritarian sects

It is remarkable how many features such sects, whether religious, political, or both, have in common: a belief that they are the elect, and that consequently normal rules of decency do not apply to them; paranoia about supposed enemies; hyper-activity; physical or social isolation of members from outside influences; the acceptance of an infallible leader who frequently has a droit de seigneur over women in the group (we would like to squash here and now the counter-revolutionary rumour that Gerry Healy and the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, both on the run from their respective cults, had a secret meeting in Bermuda with a view to swapping organisations). Such cults also share a vision of the imminent final crisis; and have none too choosy methods of fundraising.

While we reject Leninism in all its varieties, it would be a mistake - if only it were that easy - to claim that all such groups conform to the behavioural norms of the WRP. Yet can it be denied that large chunks of the Leninist inheritance provide rich pickings for nascent Stalins, Joneses, Hoxhas, Pol Pots or Healys?

Libertarian organisation

Our own views about politics and organisation were most succinctly expressed in our Open Letter to the International Socialists (now the Socialist Workers' Party) in September 19683 :

"It is remarkable how few socialists seem to recognise the connection between the structure of their organisation and the type of 'socialist' society it might help bring about.

"If the revolutionary organisation is seen as the means and socialist society as the end, one might expect people with an elementary understanding of dialectics to recognise the relation between the two. Means and ends are mutually dependent. They constantly influence each other. The means are, in fact, a partial implementation of the end, whereas the end becomes modified by the means adopted.

"One could almost say 'tell me your views concerning the structure and function of the revolutionary organisation and I'll tell you what the society you will help create will be like'. Or conversely, 'give me your definition of socialism and I'll tell you what your views on the revolutionary organisation are likely to be'.

"We see socialism as a society based on self-management in every branch of social life. Its basis would be workers' management of production exercised through Workers' Councils. Accordingly, we conceive of the revolutionary organisation as one which incorporates self-management in its structure and abolishes within its own ranks the separation between the functions of decision-making and execution. The revolutionary organisation should propagate these principles in every area of social life".

One of the hallmarks of such a revolutionary organisation ought to be a willingness to discuss ideas in an open way. It is in this spirit that we publish Robin Blick's article which raises a number of important questions with which we do not concur in every detail. In particular we do not agree with his comment that

"Readers would be hard put to it to find any revolutionary or radical grouping that subscribes to a conception of morality and ethical conduct that repudiates in toto the Leninist subordination of human beings to the requirements of party regimes and the social systems they rule over".

In our view there have been a number of libertarian tendencies, with not all of whom we would agree, who do not share or practice the authoritarian visions of Leninism, or for that matter social democracy, and it is possible to create revolutionary groupings which avoid the subordination Robin describes. Nevertheless, the idea, explicit or implicit, of the primacy of the party elite is a serious danger which needs to be constantly guarded against.

Finally, the WRP ratfight has exposed yet another feature of corruption (one not restricted to them alone). Details are coming out about relations with a number of the ‘Leninoid' Tamany Halls in local government, where in return for jobs, grants for front organisations and contracts, the WRP gave political support and cheap printing to support the political careers of particular individuals. It is becoming increasingly clear how the poor, old and homeless are deprived to pay for flats and BMWs for the 'revolutionary leadership'.

  • 1http://libcom.org/library/solidarity-journal-67-spring-1985
  • 2https://libcom.org/library/suicide-for-socialism-jonestown-brinton
  • 3https://libcom.org/library/open-letter-comrades-solidarity

Working Collectively: Organisation or spontaneity? - Mick Larkin

If it is true that a little experience is worth a lot of theory, then eighteen months in a miners' support group should teach a great deal about organising. On the basis of just such experience Mick Larkin offers his thoughts on self-organisation and some of its difficulties.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 12, 2021

The first meeting of County Durham Miners' Support Group after the strike began was quite an event. Faced with the question ‘how do we organise from now on?', an assembly of about a hundred people, mostly ordinary workers, unanimously decided to adopt the classic anarchist structure, a sovereign assembly which mandates a co-ordinating body without executive powers. Obviously, I was overjoyed; but sadly, there's been a lot of backsliding since then.

It does seem that the ideas we are trying to promote (such as participation and grass-roots control) are becoming popular, even taken for granted, but once they are put into practice it seems to bring out all sorts of contradictions which people aren't willing to deal with. For example, the question of delegates being subject to the mandate of the assembly seems simple enough; but in practice this comes down to someone having to say "Excuse me, Mary, I think that's out of line with what we decided last week/last month see it says in the minutes for March 23rd...", etc. It seems to me that this is out of keeping with the working-class traits we so rightly admire such as spontaneity and 'earthiness'; in other words, it all seems a bit cerebral.

Anyway, even if we could persuade people to adopt this approach to organisation, do we really want to live in a world where people are always referring to motions carried, alterations to paragraph three line six, and so on?

Now there are no doubt reasons people can come up with as to why this is not really a problem, but in my experience, to say that we can trust in spontaneous self-organisation doesn't take into account that well-known phenomenon, the tyranny of structurelessness. One example of this, which I've run up against a lot, goes like this. Imagine that someone suggests a new way of dealing with a situation (and we’re obviously going to need plenty of them). What often happens is that this suggestion throws people a bit and there’s a silence. The people who are content with the status quo, and who are usually quite articulate within it and respected by many people, don't bother to take up the suggestion and discuss it. Instead, they suggest a more familiar alternative, volunteer to carry it out, and then change the subject on the assumption that the lack of dissent means that this is what people want. It often is, but only because that's what they're familiar with.

The original suggestion is lost almost without anyone noticing, unless the person who raised it in the first place stops the meeting, which requires a certain amount of confidence, and asks to go back to it. Obviously this seems pedantic; 'spontaneity' has thus worked in favour of the articulate elite and the anarchist gets labelled 'bureaucratic'. 'Relying on people's spontaneous common sense' can thus result in a debased form of volunteerism where it's understood that certain people usually write the leaflets, the assembly's final approval becomes a formal 'rubber stamp', and the majority sink into passivity. To an outside observer, the action may seem to be a grass-roots decision; but I for one have now become very suspicious when I hear that a certain group has spontaneously developed an anarchist-type organisation. If you scratch the surface, you may find a leading militant behind it all.

Utopias and realities

All this seems quite a dilemma to me. We tend to think of a self-managed society as the kind of place where cleaners can argue the toss about developments in the third world, where the milkman has a say in town planning, and people generally think for themselves and get involved.

But could it be that this would all become ridiculously pedantic and boring? Have we been developing our utopias while ignoring the realities of human psychology, such as the fact that people have a limited attention span, find it difficult to be open in large groups, don’t want to be making choices all day, and have better things to do than decide what the graphic on a leaflet is to look like?

If we try to promote a simplistic conception of the 'sovereign assembly', where, for example, all one hundred people try to write a leaflet, this will quickly be seen as impractical and rejected. So instead, we have to develop a more subtle approach which relates to what people are really like. Rather than just identifying a problem and leaving it at that (something I find a bit annoying when I read other people's articles), I'm going to try to suggest some ways this might be achieved.

Possible solutions

I think it basically comes down to looking at things differently. It's a well-known fact that we abstract the infinite variations in the world around us and filter them through a particular, limited interpretation. This is inevitable, but sometimes it leads us to set up unnecessary dilemmas. For example, there are three basic ways to write a leaflet. The worst is to leave it to the experts. The most impractical is for a whole group to try to do it at the same time. The most usual (in groups where anarchist forms of organisation have developed) is to mandate someone to draw up a draft, then submit it to the group for possible alterations. This last is not bad so far as it goes, but it's very susceptible to degeneration if, for example, the usual people always get asked to do the draft. Many people are not confident enough to voice their opinions in a large meeting - the draft is often just read out and people are expected to make comments upon it off the cuff.

A big step forward in terms of participation would be achieved if it were realised that the involvement of the group is vital in the initial creative stage of the process if everyone is to feel it is 'their leaflet'. This is much easier to achieve if we realise that projects get formulated through different levels of detail. Although one hundred people cannot write one leaflet, they can sketch out the basic concepts they want included, then give it to delegates to draw up. If this kind of outlook were accepted, we would not get the situation which often now occurs, where people try to get into the detail of a leaflet en masse, realise it's not on, and leave it to a few people to draft; by which stage much boring time has been wasted and people are starting to get pissed off with the idea of participation.

Obviously people should be expected to share their skills and positions rotated to help people build up their confidence. Various people, especially feminists, have done a lot of work on breaking down meetings into smaller groups, so we need to consider what aspects of this are worth taking on.

Finally, we should try to promote the idea that a large number of copies are made of any draft leaflets, etc., and distributed before the meeting, so that people have a chance to formulate clearly what they want changed. So that's a start, maybe. No very earth-shattering concepts there, I'll agree, but I don't think that's really what we're in need of. What is required is a practical reworking of the structures that exist inside and outside, so that they are as efficient as possible for the new purposes we want to put them to.
This concept of anarchism may seem pedantic, and I'd be only too pleased if someone could persuade me that such rigour is all unnecessary, but experience suggests that there is a real need to develop effective forms of organisation which counter all kinds of elitism. Otherwise, 'spontaneity' becomes the tyranny of structurelessness and participation is about the most boring thing you can imagine.

Solidarity Journal #12 Summer 1986

12th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, with articles on South Yemen, management psychlogy and Brazil.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 15, 2021

Contents

  • South Yemen and the Socialist Dream - Ken Weller
  • Management Psychology: Is Anarchy Boosting Corporate Profits - Eva Brickman
  • Workers' Party Grows Fast In Brazil - Nick Terdre
  • Letters - Lib Ed collective, Donald Rooum.

Files

Solidarity Journal #13 Winter 1986/7

13th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, including interviews with Class War and Ian Bone.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 15, 2021

Contents

  • Solidarity and Class War meet uptown - Andy Brown
  • Sound and Fury: Ian Bone interview - Andy Brown
  • Book review: ASP Woodhouse's "Purity and Liberty: Being the Army Debates (1647-49) - John Cobbett
  • Book Review: Freedom: A Hundred Years 1886-1986 - Ken Weller
  • Book Review: Immanuel Wallerstein's "The Politics of the World Economy" - Brian Morris
  • Letter: John Slater on management psychology article from previous issue

Files

Solidarity and Class War meet uptown – Andy Brown

Class War "bash the rich" march on Hampstead

On the face of it, the arrival of a new anarchist group with a newspaper which outsells other libertarian papers several times over is a promising thing. But Class War's other tactics include organising 'Bash the Rich' outings and disrupting CND meetings. While Fleet Street brands them 'political nutters', some sections of the Left have reproved their behaviour as 'fascist'. What is their own view?

Author
Submitted by Fozzie on November 15, 2021

Andy Brown talked to three of the most active members of the London group. Two want only to be identified here as 'Janet' and 'John'. The third, Ian Bone, was also later coaxed into talking frankly about his personal history and convictions for a second interview. Here is what they have to say.

Why did you get involved with Class War in the first place and why do you think it has grown so rapidly?

IAN: Basically, because most working class people have anarchist ideas or are receptive to anarchist ideas though they wouldn't necessarily associate them with being anarchist ideas. For instance, they're anti-boss so they steal from the boss and they've got a sense of working class solidarity and community. All the existing anarchist papers at the time that Class War started, like Freedom and Black Flag, to working class people they might as well have been from another planet. The idea behind Class War was to produce an anarchist magazine which ordinary working class people could make sense of, and they would feel had some relevance to them. We also wanted it to be a good laugh as well, as I think humour is very important. So, basically, I feel there was a big gap in the market and Class War was meant to fill that.

Do you think you've been successful?

IAN: To an extent yes; to the extent that we've established a good populist anarchist paper. It's got a large sale (12,000 are currently printed) and lots of people want to read it, but the problem now is where we go from here. We've cornered a small market, and since we're big in a small market, what we've got to do is find ways of selling more and more. We've got to decide whether we are going to hang about in the anarchist milieu or whether we are going to go more popular, and personally I would like to see more stories in Class War about Dirty Den and Ian Botham rather than the kind of articles which have been in there lately.

Have you experienced any problems in moving from propaganda to action?

JANET: Class War started as a propaganda group, but we felt, particularly bearing in mind some of the wild rhetoric in Class War, that we had to do something more than just produce the propaganda. We felt that we needed something to back it up, otherwise we were going to appear to be like a lot of people just mouthing off and not doing anything about it ourselves. When we were trying to set up some kind of actions, we also felt that it was important to get other people involved so that they could do things on their own and develop their own activities. That was the original idea behind the 'Bash the Rich' thing. Looking back, it seems not totally successful, but the objective was to get people involved, and to build up people's confidence and to get publicity.

Some people have said in response to the 'Bash the Rich' marches that the idea was a bit macho. Do you think that's a fair accusation?

JOHN: As soon as you do anything in that way you get accused of being macho; we get this accusation just because of the type of paper we put out. Other organisations which don't share our style don't do any better. They don't have any more women in their groups.

JANET: The other thing about that is that we think that's very sexist because the accusation is based on the assumption that violence or anything associated with it, such as aggression or militant action, is a male thing, and the direct inference of that is that women are peaceful 'nice' people who just want to sit down in the road on demonstrations. We feel that this accusation is just a misnomer which arose from a lot of dubious ideas coming from Greenham Common.

Do you then intend to continue with the 'Bash the Rich' marches?

IAN: I think most people in Class War would acknowledge that the 'Bash the Rich' marches were unsuccessful. They were a failure because we were totally ghettoised. All we had was a lot of anarchists marching through Kensington or Hampstead or Bristol and it didn't break out of the anarchist ghetto and we were just isolated and surrounded. The possible exception is Henley regatta, where a lot of people who weren't anarchists did turn up to have a laugh at the toffs. As regards marches the 'Bash the Rich' campaign is at an end, but the basic strategy of class hatred, of having a go at the rich wherever you can get at them, is still valid. We've obviously made a mistake in attaching to that a load of old tactics which were outdated, and I think we've learnt from that.

Does it worry you that a lot of people got arrested on those marches and got bashed by the rich?

JOHN [who had recently been charged himself]: Not that many got arrested, and the majority of those who were arrested were released without charge. It was only a small minority who got heavy fines and we do operate a bust fund which was started because of things like that.

IAN: There weren't that many arrested. The biggest number of arrests was probably at Henley Regatta where forty-five to fifty people were arrested and no-one was sent to prison. Most of the people got off with fines and the worst fine was something like £150. It's obvious that any kind of marches of that type are a total failure. The police have got their tactics so worked out; not just for the 'Bash the Rich' marches, but 'Stop the City' events, the campaign against police repression, all those type of marches are a dead loss. We do want to pursue the 'Bash the Rich' idea but not in that kind of way.

A lot of people seem to confuse Class War with 'Stop the City'; what was your involvement with that?

JOHN: We just went along like everyone else. Individuals in Class War might have taken a small part in organising it but as a group Class War took absolutely no part in organising it and we didn't attend as a group. Individuals went along.

Was your experience on those types of events part of the reason why you moved towards a more structured organisation?

JANET: Well, there are several reasons why we have moved to a more structured organisation, one of which is that Class War as a paper is sold by people all over the country and they do just as much if not more work than the London group in selling the paper, but they were having no say or very little say in what went into the paper and its general strategy. Another reason was that we felt we could achieve a lot more by being better organised and setting up better communications and better relations all over the country.

JOHN: We were getting a lot of letters from people all over the country in isolated places saying "How can I get involved?" or "What can I do? "and all we could tell them was "You could sell some papers for us". So another reason was that if we could get groups going all over the country then it would be easier for people to get involved.

IAN: I think that's important. We didn't want to be a group in London producing a paper which other people up and down the country sold without a say in what went in the paper. I could refer here back to my experience in Solidarity in the early seventies. When I first came into contact with Solidarity and was really enthusiastic about its ideas, I wanted to be part of that paper's production. Basically, it turned out to be pretty difficult to get involved, because I think that most of the people who were involved in Solidarity at the time didn't really want it, and the paper was being produced by a small group up in London. I got the impression that people were being allowed in on sufferance, and rather than tell new people to fuck off they were told to go and form their own Solidarity group.

JANET: We felt that if we were better organised then we could help individuals and small groups to build up their own confidence to do things on their own and to be autonomous. We could offer them support with things such as public speaking and printing and help them build up their skills.

IAN: Also, I'm fed up with the anarchist movement just being a total shambles, just from the aspect of there being a lack of any co-ordination or coherence. What we wanted was to get together some people who had some coherent ideas and could act on them to develop strategy to change things.

So how, at the moment, would a local group go about getting its ideas across in the paper? Do they have any editorial control at the moment?

JOHN: The paper is rotated between any group which has a reasonable number of people and they take turns in producing it. The last three issues have been done in totally different places each time. Whichever group does it has total editorial control over what goes in but when the paper is all laid out and ready there's a meeting of all the delegates from the different groups who check it and if there's anything they really object to (which is quite rare, fortunately), then it's dropped or whatever. It's basically down to the group which produces the paper.

There were reports in one or two of the papers, particularly 'City Limits', that the move towards more organisation was strongly opposed. Is there any truth in this?

JANET: The article in City Limits was totally inaccurate, but there was some opposition to the changes. City Limits gave the impression that anarchists are opposed to all forms of organisation and that those who left were the anarchist element, which wasn't really accurate.

JOHN: There was strong opposition, but it was from a small minority, and the reports going around at the time were true to the extent that about three people had left, but out of a London group of twenty to twenty-five people it didn't really mean that much.

IAN: I think basically practically everyone outside London was in favour of the federation, it was a small number of people in the London group who opposed it and left.

How do you feel you can ensure that your organisation doesn't degenerate into yet another Trotskyist workers' party?

JOHN: Because we are structured in a totally different way. We are not a party, we haven't got membership, we don't want to be the vanguard of anything, we just want to play our part in agitating towards a revolution or whatever. We never had any ideals to become the leadership or anything like that. We just felt we could operate better if we were organised that in way.

IAN: Also, the first conference drew up an 'Aims and Principles' which basically enabled people to agree about whether they wanted to be part of the federation or not. It says things like class struggle is important and that we believe in violence to overthrow capitalism. Within that basic agreement there is room for a wide measure of disagreement in the federation. For instance, we haven't got a line on Ireland or animal rights. There is room in the federation for a very wide range of opinions, and we are not trying to create a party with a view on everything.

So, if a local group disagreed with the views of the group which was doing the paper, would their views be printed?

IAN: If it came to the crunch and a local group disagreed very strongly with something which was in the paper then presumably they would just refuse to sell it. There have been cases where individuals in the London group have not liked particular articles in the paper and have just refused to sell it.

Would you expect a group to censor sexist material, for instance?

JOHN: Yes. We've got in the 'Aims and Principles' that we are totally opposed to sexist material so the groups aren't stupid enough to put anything like that in, anyway.

And the same for racist material?

JANET: Again, this is covered in the 'Aims and Principles'.

IAN: Yes. We are not a bunch of liberals like Freedom who will just publish anything. Lots of articles are just chucked out because we don't like them or don't agree with them.

Having said that, would you like to comment on the bizarre allegations of racism in Class War?

JOHN: To cut a long story short, you could say that they have all been totally disproved now. We have been re-admitted to the AFA [Anti-Fascist Action] and there was an article in the Guardian saying it was all total rubbish. One of the reasons the allegations might have arisen is, because a lot of people don't really like Class War, so they thought that an easy way to get rid of us might be to call us fascists.

IAN: We've been very unpopular on the Left, and the allegations basically came frow a couple of sources, Gerry Gable of Searchlight and David Rose in the Guardian, who just repeated his allegations. Gable himself has talked of a 'good tradition of anarchists' and referred affectionately to Freedom people, saying that anarchists who are part of the socialist tradition he welcomes. But us, all of a sudden, because we believe in violence and try to break out of the anarchist ghetto, and because we heckle CND rallies, we heckle Kinnock, we heckle Ted Knight and we heckle all these sorts of people, we get up their noses. One of Gable's main things was that we heckle Ted Knight and Tony Benn, and this was positive proof that we were fascists!

They just can't understand it, they don't mind a few idiots waving a few black flags, but they just could not understand where we were coming from. A lot of anarchists also called us fascists. A lot of pacifists called us fascists. Freedom at one stage called us fascists because we believe in enforcing class power. We are not a bunch of liberals who believe in freedom of speech; the idea that freedom of speech is an anarchist thing is a load of shit.

JOHN: We were becoming a threat, so they were worried.

IAN: A lot of people were very pre-disposed to welcome these allegations; not just people on the Left, but also people in the anarchist movement, because it 'proved' what they'd been saying all the time. The good thing about it was that we didn't knuckle under to the particular accusations of Gable and co. and we've come through it, and now it's Searchlight who are discredited. However, I think that as soon as the fascist thing vanishes something else will crop up. I've heard all sorts of stories, including one that we were funded by BOSS. No doubt someone will soon be saying that we're funded by MI5 or the CIA! I take it as a sign that we've been successful.

I noticed that in one of your denials you went so far as to say that no member of Class War had ever had anything to do with a fascist group. Do you then refuse admission to people who are ex-fascists or ex-racists?

JANET: It's difficult. Someone is not born a fascist and people sometimes go through a phase of being racist or actively fascist when they are fifteen or sixteen. If they've genuinely changed then it's very difficult to hold it against them or the rest of their lives. Obviously, we would be dubious and if someone like that got involved - we would check them out.

IAN: People are full of shitty ideas. We want to change things and if we can persuade someone out of racism we'd welcome it.

Another allegation made against Class War is that in a country where sixty per cent of homes are owned privately your type of anarchism is always doomed to be the voice of a minority.

IAN: That's like saying that there's no working class any more because they own their own homes, they've got videos, they go on holiday to Spain and so on. Though the working class have got an improved standard of living, they are still just as class conscious and they are still selling their labour power for their entire lives, and I think there's as much of a chance of a revolutionary movement developing in the society we live in now as ever there was.

What evidence do you see of this class consciousness developing?

IAN: Well, I don't see any signs that extra class consciousness is developing today, I simply think that the working class is class conscious in the kind of ways that Solidarity has held so dear over the years; such as stealing at work, stealing time from the bosses, clocking in for other people, buying stolen goods, the black economy. People don't consider those things crimes; even though the state to them that they are terrible they don't believe it. It's remarkable how the working class has managed to preserve its basic class consciousness given the stuff in the press and on the television, but I think it's just as much there as ever it was.

So how do you see the movement developing at the moment and how would you see a change in the way things are organised coming about?

IAN: Firstly, as regards Class War I would look back to As We See It1 by Solidarity, where it defines the kind of things which should be encouraged in the working class, like anti-hierarchical struggles, opposition to differentiation, support for autonomy, and support and co-operation. I think that all the working class needs is a shove in the right direction and we've just got to put our shoulders to the wheel wherever working class struggle is most intense and try and push it further. We ourselves can't conjure things out of nothing, we can't go and cause riots, we can't act as a vanguard and go round and lead this that and the other struggle.

When you mention riots, the popular papers seem to have this image that it is all caused by outside agitators, like the famous man in the balaclava helmet who was supposed to have started three riots in one weekend in completely different parts of the country. Just as a simple matter of clearing up facts, could you tell us whether any member of Class War at any time had played any part in starting any riot?

JANET: That's clearly the nicest thing for the media to believe, isn't it? It's less threatening than the idea of a load of people spontaneously rioting. Class. War has always supported what has happened, whilst being critical of some aspects of what has taken place on riots, for example, rapes and muggings and things like that. We are very critical of that and think it's very important not to get carried away in the adrenalin of the moment, and to remember the less positive aspects of the riots, and to try to deal with that as well and to influence that.

If there were to be a fundamental change in the social system, how would you like to see things organised? Could you, for instance, give us an idea of how you would like to see something like healthcare operating in a completely free society? [This question caused some confusion and there was a lengthy pause and a couple of false starts before it was answered].

IAN: You can't draw up plans for the anarchist utopia. When it comes to the working class changing society then in all previous upheavals they have proved them-selves totally capable of creating new forms of organising things. I don't think it's our job to come up with blueprints, I think it would be a total waste of time.

You don't think that one of the reasons why the Trotskyists are more successful at organising than we are might be that they give people clear ideas about the sort of changes they are looking for?

IAN: I don't think that's true. I don't think they are any more worked out than us, and some of the blueprints we do produce are just a joke. I remember a Solidarity pamphlet called Workers' Councils and the Economics of a Self-Managed Society2 where there were lots of little diagrams and arrows going round showing how this assembly would elect people to that assembly. That was just worthless.

JANET: Nevertheless we do have some ideas about health. We would like to see it run by the people who actually work in it, but also it would actually involve the patients and potential patients, who would have a say in it. I would want to see a totally different approach to preventative health care, and a system where a patient got a say in what was happening and there was much more co-operation between the people who have the misfortune to be patients and those who are working to cure them, which is sadly missing from the health service at the moment.

IAN: What we have got to after is concrete solutions to people's problems now. I'm really fed up with reading that in an anarchist society there won't be any crime. Even if that is true, what good is it to someone living up an estate when they get mugged? Let's face it, who wouldn't believe in anarchy? It's like heaven on earth. I also believe in sunshine every day, and everyone would put their hand up in agreement, but so what? We need to be more practical.

Your latest project is the Class War single3 , which I'm told is heading up the independent record chart. At the risk of giving your dubious musical efforts a plug, could you explain what the idea is behind this?

JANET: We think that we should use lots of different means of communi¬cation and be more imaginative, so we're interested in using any means: records, videos, holograms, anything which will get our politics across.

JOHN: We also wanted to prove that if you put an anarchist record out it doesn’t have to be a hundred mile an hour punk thrash.

Is there anything you’d like to add in order to make your own brand of anarchism clearer to people?

JANET: One thing which I think is important to say is that although Class War is an anarchist organisation, not everyone in the federation is an anarchist. Some people view themselves as libertarian socialists and we come from a lot of different backgrounds.

Finally, could you clear up one confusion. A lot of the popular press writes of you as if you were terrorists. Do you actually believe that terrorism can be a useful tactic?

IAN: So far as I'm concerned, terrorism is a form of arrogance. It's usually carried out by people who want to act on behalf of the working class rather than work with them.

EDITORS' NOTE: The views expressed here are, of course, those of members of Class War, and not Solidarity's. Nevertheless, Solidarity publishes them as part of its longstanding policy of attempting to provide reliable information on subjects which the rest of the Left either ignores or distorts. Unlike virtually every other report on the activities of Class War, we have made every effort to ensure that this interview accurately reflects the views of members of this group, and both transcripts have been checked for errors by the people spoken to. Class War asked us to print their address, which is PO Box 467, London E5 8BE.

  • 1https://libcom.org/library/as-we-see-it-solidarity-group
  • 2http://libcom.org/library/workers-councils-economics-self-managed-society-cornelius-castoriadis
  • 3Libcom note: Class War – Better Dead Than Wed! (Mortarhate Records 1986) https://www.discogs.com/release/478537-Class-War-Better-Dead-Than-Wed

Ian Bone: Sound and Fury – Andy Brown

Today Ian Bone is a leading activist of Class War, the group he helped to found. But surprisingly, or not, he was once a member of Swansea Solidarity. Andy Brown gets the man the 'Sunday People' says has “a degree in sociology... and a heart overflowing with hate” to tell the story of what happened in between.

Author
Submitted by Fozzie on November 16, 2021

Could you tell us how you first became an anarchist, socialist or whatever label you would apply to yourself? How did you become politicised?

IAN: All sorts of reasons. My old man was a socialist and he was a butler, and I inherited my class hatred from seeing the way the upper class lives. But as regards why I became an anarchist I don't know really.

How did you first come into contact with anarchist ideas?

IAN: Funnily enough I went on a CND demonstration when I was about fourteen. It was the last phase of the first wave of CND, this would be about 1962. I was living in a small town in Hampshire and I went up with the local Quakers to the Aldermaston march. On the second day of the march, whilst we were having a really boring time marching along singing 'peace' songs and being ever so wholesome, about forty people waving red and black flags raced past and started fucking the police about, holding things up and generally messing CND about. I remember asking the famous question "Who are those guys?" and the Quakers told me they were anarchists. So then when I got back home I looked up anarchy in the dictionary and decided I was an anarchist because at the time I actually did think that I believed in chaos.

Then by sheer chance I found Freedom's address in a copy of Punch in a dentist's waiting room and wrote off to them and they sent me back a copy of Anarchy which was a special issue on some American educationalist called Homer Lane. It was totally incomprehensible to a fourteen year old! Eventually they sent me a copy of Freedom as well and then I think I got into anarchism through that and started calling myself an anarchist.

At Swansea you began a magazine called 'Alarm'. Could you tell us something about it and why it was successful?

IAN: It was just a local paper but I think it was successful because it basically dealt with council corruption and it named names. In other words, it didn't just say that Swansea Council was corrupt, it said Gerald Murphy (the then chairman) is corrupt and he took a backhander of £200 in the Townsman Club last night, and it came out every week with similar allegations. People were astounded; they knew a lot of this stuff, but they were astonished to see it written down. It was a paper which working class people wanted to read because it dealt with their everyday lives and also it was funny. It sold five thousand copies a week, so that ten to fifteen thousand people were reading it in a city of 180,000 people.

What eventually happened to Murphy?

IAN: Murphy went to jail for a couple of years as did the next council leader in Swansea, but I don't think that's particularly important. We weren't saying that what we want is a load of non-corrupt Labour councillors, we were basically saying that the whole practice of business and the way councils are run is corrupt. In the end we did have problems with Alarm, because people agreed with what we were saying but where did we go from there? We had big problems and we ended up standing for the council ourselves, which I think was a mistake. We got so far and then we didn't have the answers as to where to go with that amount of popular support. I think we can learn from that mistake.

What would you do now if you were in similar circumstances?

IAN: We should have been exploring ways of by-passing the council and getting communities running things for themselves. To give an example of the kind of thing we should have developed more, I remember that one day a woman wrote us a letter saying she had a handicapped kid who was playing in the garden and the wall of the garden, which led onto a main road, was knocked down in an accident. She'd been ages trying to get the council to do something about rebuilding it and we simply made contact with some people involved in Alarm who worked for the council's direct-labour organisation and the following week the first thing on their job sheet was to go up there and build the wall. We'd achieved direct contact between what needs to be done and the workforce.

What was the result when the 'Alarm' candidates stood for the council?

IAN: The four Alarm candidates who stood polled an average of 28 per cent of the vote in the wards where we stood1 , which, when you consider that the usual poll by lefty groups is minimal, was pretty high. I actually received the lowest vote of the four. In one of the wards, Mayhill, which is a big working class ward, the Labour councillor got 1200 votes, The Alarm candidate got 850, and the Tories, Plaid Cymru and the Liberals were all in the region of 300 votes. So basically the popular support was there but we didn't know what to do with it, and standing for the council was the wrong thing.

Do you think the fact that you didn't know what to do with that support is why 'Alarm' fell away?

IAN: We had no political solutions as to where to go.

Do you feel any danger that Class War might go the same way?

IAN: Class War could have gone the same way, in that we had a popular paper which people liked, and if we had been content to do that then it would have. That's why we've had to have a good rethink of our politics lately. As opposed to just putting our ideas over to estates and local communities, we should be trying to help those estates and communities to run things for themselves. In our latest issue there's an article about what's been happening on the Woodberry Down estate in Hackney, where again the tenants and the direct-labour organisation got together and started running repairs for themselves. We've got to start seizing control of territory and start running that territory for ourselves. I don't mean a bunch of anarchists should be doing this, but the working class people in that community. While you were in Swansea you were also involved in a project called 'Dole Express'.

Could you tell us something about that?

IAN: Dole Express was a Claimants' Union broadsheet which was given away outside the local dole office and people simply made voluntary contributions. I think we used to ask for one old penny, and quite frequently got more, so that money was never a problem. It used to deal with what happened at Box 7 last week, and how long people had to wait. It was really popular, and we used to get rid of a thousand of those each week.

Do you think that's generally what was wrong with Claimants' Unions?

IAN: I think most Claimants' Unions, whether they wanted to or not, ended up as a form of alternative social work. You got people's claim for them, which was fine, because after all it's better to have your giro than not having it, but that was the limit to it. As regards raising generalised class consciousness rather than a particular issue it's a dead end.

After 'Alarm' I believe you got involved in Welsh nationalism, even going so far as to translate your name into Welsh. Do you still have any faith in nationalist movements?

IAN: I was involved in something called the Welsh Socialist Republican Movement, because I was living in Swansea at the time and there was nothing else going on, and I knew a lot of people in it who were revolutionary socialists. I don't think I had any faith in nationalism at the time, I was in the anarchist wing of the WSR. It was not something I would involve myself in again.

You were also involved in a band called Page Three. Could you tell us the story behind that?

IAN: I put my musical career down to the folly of youth, but the Sun treated it seriously and took us to court for using the name Page Three. Apparently, we brought their name into disrepute. The judge found that we infringed the Sun's copyright but didn't make any award against us, presumably because he didn't think much of the Sun either. We ended up having to pay our own costs, which were minimal, while the Sun got landed with expensive legal fees.

Actually, that leads me to the final question. How would you respond to those who would say that Class War is a good joke, but not to be taken seriously?

IAN: Maybe they're right, maybe not, we'll have to wait and see, but I believe that the fundamental problem with the British Left is that they've got a 'holier than thou' attitude. The Left believes that it got all the right answers and that ordinary people are a bunch of mugs for not realising it. Working class people quite rightly resent that, and also being preached to about what they should be interested in rather than what they are interested in.

  • 1Libcom note: A detailed letter from Swansea resident Howard Moss is publised in Solidarity Journal issue 20 in which it is suggested that the figures were more like 5%.

Solidarity Journal #14 Summer 1987

14th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, including articles on "The Monocled Mutineer" TV series.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 16, 2021

Contents

  • TV Dramas About Radical HIstory - Ken Weller
  • The Monocled Mutineer: A Frank and Comradely Exchange of Views - Julian Putowski vs Alan Bleadsale
  • Review: Three Books on Sexuality - Nick Terdre
  • Review - Wildcat's "Class War On The Homefront" - Ken Weller
  • Letter from Cornelius Castoriadis
  • Letters: Nick Terdre and Andy Brown write on the Class War features in the previous issue.

Files

Solidarity Journal #15 Autumn 1987

15th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, including articles on Hungary 1956 and its effect on the British left.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 17, 2021

Contents

  • Hungary '56: The modest fruits of humbling pragmatism
  • Hungary '56: Moments of Mass Apotasy - Ken Weller
  • Book review: Ursula LeGuin's "Always Coming Home" - John Cobbett
  • Review: Two books on Hungary 1956 - SK French

Files

Looking back at 1956 from 30 years after - Ken Weller

Ken Weller
Ken Weller

Ken Weller from the Solidarity group is interviewed 30 years after the Hungary 56 events about their ramifications within the Communist Party in the UK.

Submitted by Steven. on October 26, 2015

Radical historians will need little reminding of certain 60th anniversaries coming up next year. At the 30th anniversary point, this rare interview with Ken Weller on the subject of “Hungary 1956” – actually ranging widely to take in the Suez crisis and the British left in the 1950s generally – appeared in Solidarity, last series (‘A Journal of Libertarian Socialism’), Issue 15, Autumn 1987, pp. 6-14.

HUNGARY 1956
Moments of mass apostasy

[Introduction as on the 1987 original] The Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolution in 1956 marked a turning point in post-war revolutionary politics across Europe. Nowhere was this more true than Britain, which saw the collapse of the Communist Party’s long domination of left-wing politics. Suddenly, whether one supported the programme of the Hungarian Workers’ Councils became, as it remains, the litmus-test for genuinely libertarian socialists. SOLIDARITY asked KEN WELLER, then a member of the Young Communist League, to recount the effects of the events in Hungary on the socialist movement here, and on himself.

SOLIDARITY: What impact did the Hungarian uprising of 1956 have on the British Communist Party?

KEN WELLER: First of all I think I ought to give you some idea of the political situation, before 1956, and show how different it was from the situation today. Apart from the Communist Party, which had about 35,000 members, you had a couple of moribund, fossilised groups like the Socialist Party of Great Britain and the Independent Labour Party, which was still in existence, tiny groups of Trotksyists buried deep in the Labour Party, and the anarchists. Militant struggle in industry was completely dominated by the CP. They had the Fire Brigades Union, the Foundry Workers Union, they were influential at a district level in many unions: for example there were seven districts of the Amalgamated Engineering Union in London, each with full-time officials and office staff, and with one exception they were controlled by the CP. Hundreds of people owed their jobs to their Party membership. I couldn’t understand, at one time, why an all-aggregate meeting [Editors: one which all members of the Party were entitled to attend] used to vote automatically for the leadership when ninety per cent of the membership were to a greater or lesser extent critical, and then someone said, “Well, it’s the people who have the jobs”; and I started counting up people who had jobs in London dependent on CP support that I knew of, and when I reached eight hundred I stopped counting.

People can’t realise how big an apparatus it was. There were the embassies, the Friendship Societies, the printshops, the front organisations, the unions; 120 were employed by the Electrical Trades Union alone. There were all the agencies of the Soviet government, Tass [the Soviet news agency], the Moscow Narodny Bank, all these sorts of things were full of people; I mean, the Soviet Weekly alone employed a network of people who were distributing agents for the paper, and so on.

Culmination of a process
Looking back at it now, you can see that the ’56 events were just the culmination of a process. You didn’t have an explosion out of nothing. There were things happening for years before that were relevant. You saw the gradual degeneration of the CP. The ethos and commitment were declining. Politically it was becoming more and more diffuse. In industry there was a situation where it was the only organisation which had any network through which militants could function on the left. It either controlled the shop stewards’ organisation in virtually every plant or was extremely influential: Fords, the Briggs plant in London, down on the docks, the building, the Firth steel plant in Sheffield which was the largest in the country, place after place up on the Clyde. They had a huge rank and file presence; I mean they had about two hundred members at Fords [Dagenham], they had the whole site, you know, the five factories, sewn up down there.

At the same time they had a network of officials implanted in the unions, not only in the unions they controlled, but unions in which they weren’t in control but had members on the executive; and so on the one hand they had pushes towards militant struggle from their members in industry organised on the shop floor, and on the other hand they had to protect their officials. These officials were used. For example, in the AEU Claude Berridge was the major Executive Committee member of the Communist Party (I mean a member of the EC of the AEU), and whenever there was a strike on dear old Claude would be sent down to tell them to go back to work! There was a growing lack of confidence. Over and over again this happened. What would happen would be that, say in Cossors or in Fords, where there was an agreement signed by people including CP members or fellow-travellers like Ted Hill of the Boilermakers, they would be pressurised by the Party to give in and not fight against the agreements; and when you look at some of these agreements and these betrayals, you could see that there was within industry a growing tension between the national policy of the Party and its compromises with union leaderships, and what its rank and file members wanted. This was building up, there’s no doubt about that, for a very long time before the ’56 events.

The same thing was happening outside industry. Although we see the CP as a monolith, in fact there were whole areas and issues where discussion could take place, provided you didn’t challenge the Soviet Union and Stalin, and that sort of thing. But there were quasi-discussions going on, people beginning to question various aspects of the CP’s policy or lack of policy. I remember they produced a pamphlet on the motor car industry in which the sole policy they put forward as a solution to the problems of the car industry was to increase the import tax on cars. When you’ve got people actually up against Ford management it’s not very helpful, in fact the Ford management would have agreed with them on that particular demand!

Events leading up to and in ’56 mover
I’ve given all this as a sort of background. Looking to events in ’56 itself: first you had the death of Stalin in March ’53; then you had the events in Berlin and East Germany, which were major, in June ’53; then the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU in February ’56, at which Khrushchev denounced Stalin’s murderous purges in a secret session. I remember the Sunday Times produced a special issue which contained the full text of Khrushchev’s speech – it was about an inch thick, it was a joke that someone had spent a whole week reading it and he finishes reading and someone knocks on the door and it’s the next issue; and then there were the Polish events where Gomulka came to power and the old guard were thrown out with massive demonstrations in the streets. Then came the Hungary events. You had these regimes which we’d been arguing were supported by ninety-nine per cent of the population in Eastern Europe, collapsing in an absolute shambles. Then you had the Suez events, where the British, French and Israelis invaded Suez; it was a year of shock after shock. I think the impact that Suez had in Britain has been largely forgotten – the demonstrations, there were spontaneous strikes in various places against the Suez adventure. There was a demonstration in Trafalgar Square which was the largest demonstration I have ever been on, followed by riots in Whitehall, a massive pinch-up with the police, the first of the big confrontations in Britain.

I remember being in Whitehall when the mounted police came out of the entrance of Downing Street and charged the crowd as it was forming – in other words you looked up Whitehall and there was just a black mass, but near Downing Street there were just a few people dotted around – and they charged and I saw one knocking over a middle-aged couple who clasped each other in their arms for fear, knocking them flying; and I looked in the gutter and there was a banner pole, like a broom-handle, about five feet long, and I picked it up and the same policeman on a horse came charging at me and I hit him as hard as I could with it, broke the pole, and he turned round and went back into Downing Street. I don’t know what happened to him; and then there was a battle in Whitehall which was quite nasty; the police would grab hold of someone and there would be a battle over their body; in one scuffle I ended up at the back of the crowd with a policeman’s epaulette in my hand, minus the policeman; and then there were marches through the streets with linked arms. It was an emotional event, caused by a combination of factors. At the beginning of that demonstration, some CPers turned up with banners, just a few, you almost had to respect them, and they were booed! This was the party which had dominated left-wing politics, effectively the only people who ever had demonstrations apart from the Labour Party; they turned up for the Suez demonstration and they were booed into the square. A massive change in people’s attitudes and perceptions had taken place over those few months.

Explosion of debate
These events were followed by an explosion of debate. Everyone perceives it as an explosion within the Communist Party, but it was a lot more than that, although it was related to these events; but because of the centrality of the role of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and the Communist Party in left-wing politics, they’d been acting as a sort of iceberg holding everything in stasis – mixed metaphors I know – for twenty years, and when this started everything came up for grabs. You had within the Communist Party the emergence of a duplicated paper called The New Reasoner, which was produced by Edward Thompson and John Saville. That started the discussion going. When they were expelled they turned it into The Reasoner . At the same time, a group around Raphael Samuel and a lot of other younger Communists produced the Universities and Left Review. Later on these two papers were merged; they were the origin of the New Left Review.

Side by side with that, Peter Fryer, who’d been in Hungary during the struggles, wrote a book, Hungarian Tragedy, which had a profound effect. He also came in contact with Gerry Healy’s group of trotskyists, and started producing a paper called Peter Fryer’s Newsletter (it was actually called that, not The Newsletter1 ) which was mainly about dissidence within the Communist Party, and later took a broader political line. There was the quite spontaneous emergence of something called the Forum Movement. In locations up and down the country something over a hundred discussion groups emerged to become the Forum Movement, which had a couple of conferences where people from the Party, trotskyists, Labour Party and the non-committed, came together to have weekly meetings organised by the Universities and Left Review.

The ones I remember most vividly were held in a hotel in Southampton Row. I remember one on working class historiography, a pretty arcane subject, with Thompson speaking, and there were something like eight hundred people. That wasn’t exceptional; I mean, it was more than average, but you’d have hundreds, you’d have a hall packed week after week after week, for, oh, two or three years. And that was only one of the things. You had things like the Partisan Club; that was a club, founded by people who had come out in this milieu and wanted to create a place where people could meet, in Carlyle Street in Soho; they took over a building, and the cellar was a sort of coffee bar and God knows what else, and that was a centre where people over a whole range of political views could meet for the first time. Because of that the left outside the Communist Party began to strike roots, because they’d all had criticisms, and people began to respond to them.

CP domination destroyed
The most effective was Healy’s outfit, which didn’t have a name at that time. It had had a split a couple of years earlier and was down to forty or sixty people. By ’58 or ’60 it had probably six to eight hundred members. That was the sort of growth. Many other little groups also grew, not to the same degree; I’m just saying that the situation changed completely. The domination of the CP was destroyed. It was so vulnerable.

I was in the Young Communist League, an active member of the second-largest YCL branch, the Islington branch, and we began to be affected by this dissidence. It wasn’t a clear linear process. It was confused, bits here, bits there, and then suddenly, often quite late, in my case in ’58, all this dissidence began to fit together in a coherent whole. The YCL was the last political youth organisation in Britain not to be against conscription. All the others, including the Tories, were opposed to conscription, and the YCL had a policy for a cut in the call-up with a view to its speedy abolition! There was a YCL conference about ’57 where the dissidents actually won the day on a couple of issues. One was opposition to the death penalty, which would be banal now, and the other was calling for the abolition of conscription. And the leadership said, “Look, let’s make a compromise. We know we’re going to be defeated, but let’s have a compromise, we don’t want a too-sudden change.” They suggested a compromise which was a cut in conscription with a view to its speedy abolition tagged on. That was accepted, wrongly, of course, and then for the following year Challenge, the paper of the YCL, never had a single reference to the speedy abolition part! I mean, the political bankruptcy of that period! I remember the shock when the Daily Worker had its first criticism of the Soviet Union, and you know what the criticism was about? There was a woman shot-putter in some games in Britain who was arrested for shoplifting in the West End, and the Russians used diplomatic muscle to get her released and back to the Soviet Union. The Daily Worker said she should have stood trial. People don’t realise the climate of that time. The Party was frightened of putting forward policies which were different from the Soviet Union. The reason it was not opposed to conscription was that they had it in the Soviet Union, so they couldn’t in principle oppose it. The same factor motivated their opposition to unilateralism.

Divergences and realignments
All the movements which emerged in that period declined. They were temporary. People were clarifying their ideas. What I found quite interesting, quite shocking at the time, was that you were in a debate inside the Communist Party, all you dissidents were standing together shoulder to shoulder and fighting, and then you’d go down to the café afterwards and have a discussion and realise that many of the other dissidents were going in completely different directions. One group were dissident because they thought the Party wasn’t liberal enough and wanted to go into liberalism, whereas others wanted a more coherent line on class questions, if you want to use the jargon.

So the things that emerged in that period, the discussion forums and the papers, of which there were quite a few others as well, were temporary phenomena because people were clearing out their ideas, and these divergences and realignments were taking place, but in fact there were quite a lot of ongoing connections. It’s often forgotten that the first Aldermaston March was organised by an alliance of pre-existing radical pacifists, coming out of the Pacifist Youth Action group and the Direct Action Committee on the one hand, and on the other hand dissident ex-CPers like Raphael Samuel and a whole group of people around him. In industry you had the cracking of the wall, the debacle in the ETU where the CP were caught trying to rig the ballots; they were nailed by ex-CPers who’d been involved in previous waves of ballot-rigging and who knew what they were doing. Up until recently the present day the whole leadership of the ETU has been ex-CPers. You see that with a whole lot of trade union leaders who’d been tied to the CP by self-interest. You’re a CP member or fellow-traveller, you’re in a union which has elections; being a CP member, the CP will turn out votes for you, they’re the only people who can really do it, they’re the only people who are really organised.

What you had to give them was relatively limited: resolutions at your conference on East-West trade, that sort of thing. A lot of people used this opportunity to skip the prison and left, some of them for sincere reasons; others just didn’t see that it was of any value any more, it was in such disarray that it was of no value to them.

What I’m trying to say is that from then on the movement wasn’t the same. The CP wasn’t the same. When I went into Fords, the jewel in the crown, if you like, of the CP, in the late sixties, you found that there were only about seventy CPers top whack in the place; that they were probably divided into about five or six different factions who didn’t have the slightest inhibition about talking to outsiders about their disagreements. It was no longer a homogeneous organisation; and it’s true to this day.

SOLIDARITY: Which direction did you move in yourself, out of all the sort of dissident things that there were?

KEN WELLER: I was fishing for about two years after ’56. I was deeply dissident, but not clear in which direction I was going. In fact I was involved in all these things; I used to go to the Forum and the conferences and so on; but I ended up, shall we say, in ’57, ’58, moving towards Healy’s trotskyism, and became a member of Healy’s group, which later became the Socialist Labour League, and I was in that for a couple of years, two and a half years, something like that; and then Solidarity was formed. The staggering thing is, the first conference of Healy’s outfit all us dissident CPers went to, I remember how shocked we all were when we saw that many of the organisational and conference methods, you know, like the panel election of conferences, were practised in that organisation as well, to a more extreme extent, because a smaller organisation is much tighter; and in fact under the pressure of all these new people, in a sense they trimmed their sails and moderated things. For a while the SLL was a much looser organisation and grew rapidly. Then when people began to realise what was what, in about 1960, they had about five different splits in about eighteen months.

SOL: In an interview with the Guardian of 20th October 1986, Eric Hobsbawm said that a lot of people stayed in the CP who had the same criticisms, but decided they would try and reform it from within. Do you think that’s true; and why didn’t you decide to stay in, if you think it’s true?

K W: In that interview, he said “The same criticisms as another group of people”. History tends to be perceived in terms of the people who actually write things, so in fact the events of ’56 will be perceived in terms of magazines like The Reasoner and the Universities and Left Review, in other words people who find it easy to write, university, middle-class academics and so on, who become stars, and the other people who were involved, the vast majority, get forgotten. For example, there was a conference at which Andrew Rothstein was speaking about Hungary, and Jimmy McLaughlin, who was a famous CP industrial militant at Fords, was there. Rothstein was talking about the enemies of socialism, meaning the workers in Hungary, and McLaughlin got up in the middle of the conference and says “You’re the enemy, you filthy old swine!” 2 That’s the sort of thing which happened. Waves of people in industry went out of the CP, but they didn’t write about it. Now Hobsbawm was talking about a particular group of people when he says “They went out but other people with similar views stayed in”; he’s talking about a relatively small layer of people who remain crypto-Stalinists to this day; it doesn’t mean the seven or eight thousand people who left the Party, and the destruction of the milieu which the CP controlled, which is far more significant. What he means is that there were some people who left who had very similar views to some people who stayed to change things. What isn’t clear, in my view, is what influence Hobsbawm and Monty Johnstone and all those people had on changing things. The changes seem to be forced at every level by the change in the Party rather than any tiny group of people intervening at the top. The reason I didn’t stay on is I didn’t agree with the Party any more. How can you reform something when you increasingly disagree with every iota of what it is doing? It wasn’t a question of disagreeing with this or that, it wasn’t liberal enough or it wasn’t democratic enough; in every single aspect of its policy I couldn’t find any element to agree with, increasingly so as time went on.

SOL: In the aftermath of all these people leaving and so on, would you say the CP, what was left of the CP, became more liberal in response to all these criticisms, or became more Stalinist and defensive in reaction?

K W: I think it became more liberal in structure and policy, it’s much more liberal now than it was.

SOL: It is now, but in the immediate aftermath?

K W: Even over a relatively short period. They set up commissions on inner-party democracy, they democratised slightly; in a sense they were trying to catch up with their members. I remember Harry Pollitt coming back from the Twentieth Congress, at which he was present, and there was an aggregate meeting in the Friends’ Meeting Hall [House] in Euston Road, which was packed – I mean, most people say “Report back, yawn”, but this time it was packed (and it’s quite a big hall) – and he got up to make his speech and he says, “I know people have been hearing reports about what’s been going on at the Twentieth Congress, and Khrushchev’s…” – no, he didn’t say mention that, because it hadn’t been admitted, as it hasn’t in Russia to this day, that Khrushchev’s speech was official – “I know what you want to discuss,” he says, “but I’m going to discuss the real business of the Twentieth Congress,” and then spent an hour telling us about how the agricultural plans had been fulfilled, and so on. People walked out of that meeting absolutely stunned. There were plenty of dissidents who stayed in the party, but what happened wasn’t simply people leaving; the underpinning of Party internally was also crumbling, and of course the liberalism is just a reflection of that crumbling, in that they really couldn’t restrict discussion any more; you couldn’t have a statement in World News, which was the official Party inner journal, saying, “The discussion on this question will now cease” – people will just give them two fingers and carry on; and the sort of thing like people getting expelled for discussing political views with people outside the organisation, that doesn’t happen much any more; not simply because they’ve become liberalised, but it’s happened because people are no longer prepared to tolerate the old monolithism any more.

SOL: So why were you attracted towards the SLL?

K W: Because they were there, basically. A lot of these things are historical accidents. They were the people I came in contact with. I was involved with a dissident group inside the YCL; we produced our own paper and had a circulation of up to eight hundred, which was massive, believe me. A group of us in the YCL all left together, mainly working-class kids, well, we weren’t kids, young men and women, I suppose, and we came in contact with Healy’s people. My own path was through Peter Fryer, who I’d known in the Daily Worker; I’d met him and we’d discussed, and he sort of convinced me that this was the path of the future. Funnily enough he left in ’60 [corrected by KW to 1959], and then I left a little bit later. But that’s my own particular path. They had a critique of Stalinism, a critique that certainly on the face of it, as presented, looks quite reasonable and feasible – the Stalinist bureaucracy, the degeneration, and all this sort of thing; it’s only when you begin to realise Trotsky’s own involvement, and the structure of the trotskyist groups themselves, you have questions. It’s a learning process. There was nothing around available, no accessible critiques of trotskyism, ‘accessible’ being the key word. We’re dealing with a completely different political scene to today. Accident, that’s often the way people join things. I mean, if you asked yourself how you came in contact with Solidarity: it wasn’t that you sat down one day and said “Right, there’s fifty-six political groups and here’s their political programmes, that’s the one for me”; it doesn’t happen that way. I’m not saying it’s entirely luck; there obviously have to be things that respond to what you want; but that was the way I was moving. After about two and a half years in the SLL I realised that in some ways I’d moved backwards from my dissident days in the CP, if you know what I mean; I had a deeper criticism of what was wrong before I went in.

Taken from http://radicalhistorynetwork.blogspot.co.uk

  • 1 Ken later wrote that he’d got this wrong: “Peter Fryer’s paper was just called The Newsletter..."
  • 2 Ken amended this quotation: ‘what [McLaughlin] actually said was “You’re the enemy, you lying old swine”’ adding ‘This is significant, precisely because it was Rothstein’s lies which got up his nose.’

Chilli Sauce

7 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Interesting little bit of history there, thanks for posting it up Steven.

Entdinglichung

7 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

is he still around?

Steven.

7 years 1 month ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Entdinglichung

is he still around?

Yes, a few people are in touch with him (he donated a lot of Solidarity materials to us to digitise last year). He had his 80th birthday earlier this year.

imposs1904

3 years 8 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Any plans to digitise the last run of Solidarity? (I see issues 20 and 21 are up.)

Aaaaaaannnnnnnddddddd, what is the latest on the Quail book?

Solidarity Journal #16 Spring 1988

16th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, including an expose on the Workers Revolutionary Party.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 17, 2021

Contents

  • WRP: The Revolution Betrayed - Tom Burns
  • The Corruption of the Workers Revolutionary Party - excerpts from a report by a special commission of the International Committee of the Fourth International
  • Book Review: Ehrenreich, Hess & Jacobs - Re-making Love the Feminisation of Sex - John Cobbett
  • Book Review: Teresa Toranska's "Oni: Stalin's Polish Puppets" - Aki Orr and Robin Blick
  • Letters: Scottish Radicalism, Monocled Mutineer.

Files

Revolution betrayed - the Workers Revolutionary Party and Iraq

Gerry Healy early on, sharing the stage with Ted Grant and Sid Bidwell
Gerry Healy early on, sharing the stage with Ted Grant and Sid Bidwell

Two articles from Solidarity on corruption in the Workers Revolutionary Party and its links with Saddam Hussein and other Middle Eastern governments.

Submitted by Mike Harman on September 2, 2007

THE REVOLUTION BETRAYED
Elsewhere in this issue, in a dramatic exclusive, we publish a damning extract from the secret report of an internal inquiry into corruption within the Workers Revolutionary Party. The full report, which has been leaked to us, chronicles an astonishing tale of abject perfidy by leading members of the group. In this article, Tom Burns gives the background and comments on the inquiry's extraordinary findings

We publish this document in the interests of political hygiene. It consists of about half of the con­fidential internal interim report on Gerry Healy's Workers Revolut­ionary Party prepared by a "commission" of the International Committee of the Fourth Inter­national (ICFI). Following his expulsion from the WRP on October 19 1985, Healy and his supporters were expelled from the ICFI in December 1985. This was as a result of allegations of sexual abuse, even rape, of women in the party, physical assault on other members, and the establishment of a "mercenary relationship" with a number of Arab despotisms (see Solidarity issue 11).

The text deals with the WRP's financial and other dealings with their foreign backers. It is large­ly self-explanatory, but a few background details may be helpful. The commission was set up at the insistance of David North, long­time chieftain of the Healyite Workers' League in the United States. North, together with the anti-Healy coalition inside the WRP headed by Michael Banda and Cliff Slaughter, was instrumental in the summer of 1985 in the ousting of Healy.

The ICFI inquiry had the reluctant support of the Banda-Slaughter WRP, who correctly fore­saw that an exposure of the facts could be a means of bringing pres­sure to bear to transfer control of the IC to North. (Indeed, the WRP was suspended by the ICFI on December 16, the day this report was submitted.)

The commission nevertheless had an interest in protecting the reputations of Healy's erstwhile supporters, since they had all been aware (to some extent) of what had been going on. One result of this was that the report as circulated to the WRP's leadership in late 1985 was censored. The names of those who had taken sides against Healy, together with those of Arab politicians and intelligence agents, were suppressed, and the copies of the documents from Healy's files which were attached to the original report as exhibits were removed.

The commission only had access to fragments of the documentary evid­ence. On October 9 1985, when the crisis in the WRP came to a head, Mike Banda and his anti-Healy supporters walked out of the party offices in Clapham. This left Healy's acolytes in control of the premises for about forty-eight hours, during which time they removed large quantities of the most sensitive documents. This report is therefore based on the few documents they overlooked, plus some material from other WRP files and accounts.

Healy of Arabia

Even these remnants disclose pay­ments of over a million pounds to the WRP from Arab regimes and the Palestine Liberation Organisation. The report clearly shows that for nearly a decade the WRP acted, quite literally, as the paid agent of brutal and oppressive foreign powers. This lasted from at least as early as 1975, when the first contact was made with the PLO, until 1983. During this period a series of agreements was concluded with the Libyan regime and the WRP's political perspectives were amended to suit their paymasters.

The document alleges that the WRP acted - through Gerry Healy, Alex Mitchell, Corin and Vanessa Redgrave, and a number of others -as a collector of information for Libyan Intelligence. This function had, as the report puts it, "strongly anti-semitic undertones". Put plainly, they were Jew-spotting in the media, politics and business. The Khomeini revolution and the Iran-Iraq war - in which the WRP's efforts to support both sides soon collapsed - put paid to their employment by the regime of Saddam Hussein. But before this disaster the WRP's connections with Iraq clearly generated more than the £19,697 identified in the report.

The Iraqi connection had sinister aspects. From 1979 on, the WRP provided the Iraqi embassy with intelligence on dissident Iraqis living in Britain. Since Saddam Hussein's dictatorship does not scruple to arrest the relatives of opponents, to use torture on a vast scale, or even to murder children, it seems likely that the WRP were accomplices to murder.

One example of the depths to which these corrupt practices drove the party occurred in March 1979, when with only one dissentient the central committee of the WRP voted to approve the execution (after pro­longed torture) of more than 20 opponents of the Iraqi government. One of the victims, Talib Suwailh, had only five months earlier brought fraternal greetings to the conference of the WRP's own front organisation, the All Trade Union Alliance (see the Slaughter group's News Line, 20 November 1985).

In addition to the £1,075,163 identified by the document as having come from the Middle East and Libya between 1977 and 1983, the report gives, in a section dealing with the WRP's internal finances which we do not print, breakdowns of a further £496,773 received between 1975 and 1985 from other sections of the International Committee, almost entirely from North America, Australia and Germany. This raises further questions about how additional Middle Eastern money may have been recycled to the WRP via other IC sections; it is known, for example, that the Australian section received at least one substantial payment from Libya.

The death agony of the WRP

The WRP's fission products included, at last count, six organisations plus a large number of dispersed and semi-detached individuals. On the anti-Healy side, in early 1986 Slaughter's WRP was expelled from North's International Committee; it in turn ejected North's British supporters, led by Dave and Judy Hyland, who then formed the 'International Communist Party1. Mike Banda was also expelled with a more politically disparate group who established a short-lived discussion circle, Communist Forum; Banda himself repudiated Trotskyism completely, and a number of his associates have joined the Communist Party.

In the summer of 1986 the WRP began negotiations with the LIT, Nahuel Moreno's Argentinian-based international apparat, (notable mainly for their enthusiastic support for the Argentine junta's invasion of the Falklands/Malvinas). These talks have, in turn, generated yet another inter­nal opposition (Chris Bailey, Gerry Downing, David Bruce, et al), who face expulsion if the marriage is consummated.

It is certain that the anti-Healy camp know far more about the dirt­ier aspects of the WRP's past than they have so far publically admit­ted. Indeed, their coyness about the past is one of the few things which unites the warring factions. Probably none of them know the full story, but virtually all of them know more than they have revealed so far. These include North, who has resolutely chosen not to make public even the skeletal inform­ation we publish; Cliff Slaughter, who for many years was secretary of the International Committee; and Dot Gibson, who was responsible for running - and falsifying - the accounts of the WRP and its com­panies. Silence denotes consent.

Healy and a number of his supporters are even better placed to be held accountable for the despicable practices which this report alleges. It states, for example, that Alex Mitchell and Corin Redgrave were as deeply involved as Healy himself in the dealings with Arab governments. So was Vanessa Redgrave, whose personal finances are alleged to have merged with the inflowing money.

One part of the document not published here states, "It was learned from cde [name suppressed] that one large IC donation of $140,000 to the party was never recorded. Under instructions from G Healy it was given to Vanessa Redgrave who had run into tax problems."

The pro-Healy WRP which emerged from the October 1985 schism has also had its problems. From the beginning Healy had an uneasy relationship with Sheila Torrance, who ran the organisation and the restarted daily News Line. In the summer of 1986, Mitchell suddenly quit, returning to Australia, and the association between Healy and his showbiz 11 on the one hand and Torrance on the other deterior­ated. The break came in December. Torrance kept a majority of the remaining membership and News Line, which by now had a circulation in the low hundreds.

Healy, the Redgraves, and a small rump, resurfaced in August 1987 as the Marxist Party, which has discovered a new messiah in Gorbachev, apparently due to lead a political revolution in the Soviet Union. Meanwhile, in early 1987 yet another faction, headed by Richard Price, broke away to refound trotskyist orthodoxy as the "Workers International League". Torrance, with what remains of her WRP, is currently embroiled in a tussle with yet another group led by Ray Athow over the party's remaining assets. Tedious, isn't it?

Their morals and ours

One important aspect of the corruption of the WRP not covered by the report is the mercenary relationship it established with certain local authorities. For example, the financially scandal-ridden Lambeth council was effect­ively dominated by a group of councillors who were covert members or supporters of the party (one, at least, received a party salary and car) with all that implies in terms of jobbery and corruption.

The Labour Herald, an important journal of the Labour "left" and formerly co-edited by Ken Livingstone and Ted Knight, was financed and controlled by the WRP. The party also had important influ­ence in, and access to, the highest levels of the GLC. We hope in future issues of Solidarity, with the help of our readers, to explore this further dimension of corruption. Incidentally, the WRP was far from being the sole beneficiary of such influence.

We apologise for what may appear to be an extended detour into political coprophilia. But the example of Healy's WRP raises questions which go far beyond that organisation alone.

What is relevant about this tale is not that the WRP was led by a monster (or monsters) - after all, there are plenty of those around - but that numbers of intelligent, self-sacrificing, and idealistic people (but what ideals?) accepted such a regime for decades. Psych­iatry as well as ideology is needed to explain such a phenomenon. Masochistic party or leader fetish­ism is only one facet of the problem. Another is the amoralism stemming from leninist ideology: the denial of any relationship between means and ends. For us repellent methods have only produced, and will only produce, repellent ends.

We cannot accept the attitude which says that if it is necessary to support, or keep silent about, the torture and execution of dissidents in order to augment party funds, so be it; or that ordinary people are simply there to be lied to, manipulated, exploited and sacrificed to the interest of the self-styled revolutionary elite; or that only the interests of the party - often embodied in its leader - are relevant. The symptoms presented by the WRP express in an extreme form the basic attitudes of a wide section of the authoritarian "left", and this is true both here and now and in the societies they have brought or might bring into existence.

THE CORRUPTION OF THE WORKERS REVOLUTIONARY PARTY
Extract from the Interim Report of the International Committee Commission, December 16 1985
From Solidarity, issue 16 (new series), spring 1988

Here, published for the first time, we extract four key pages of the 12-page report on corruption in the WRP, prepared by a special commission of the International Committee of the Fourth International

Relations with the colonial bourgeoisie
The Commission was able to secure a section of the correspondence relating to the Middle East from the files in G Healy's former office. The documents examined by the Commission are seven relating to Iraq, four relating to Kuwait and other Gulf states, 23 relating to the PLO and 28 relating to Libya. The following report bases itself mainly on these documents.

From internal evidence in the documents under our control, it is obvious that much more material must exist, which was either taken out of the center when the rump was in control or kept elsewhere. Therefore the actual amount of money received from these relations and the extent of these relations must be considerably bigger than what we are able to prove in this report. The documents at our disposal clearly prove that Healy established a mercenary relation­ship between the WRP and the Arab colonial bourgeoisie, through which the political principles of Trot­skyism and the interests of the working class were betrayed.

In late June 1976, the ICFI was informed for the first time that the WRP had establised official contacts with non-party forces in the Middle East. These contacts were with the PLO, a national liberation movement. However, in April 1976, two months earlier (and more than a year before a public alliance was announced between the WRP and Libya), a secret agreement with the Libyan government was signed by [name suppressed in original] and Corin Redgrave on behalf of the WRP (exhibit no 5). This was never reported to the ICFI. The Commission has not yet established who in the leadership of the WRP, beyond the signatories, knew of the agreement.

This agreement includes providing of intelligence information on the "activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, busi­ness, the communications media and elsewhere" by "Zionists". It has strongly anti-Semitic undertones, as no distinction is made between Jews and Zionists and the term Zionist could actually include every Jew in a leading position. This agreement was connected with a demand for money. The report given by the WRP delegation while staying in Libya included a demand for £50,000 to purchase a web offset press for the daily News Line, which was to be launched in May 1976. The Commission was not able to establish if any of this money was received.

In August 1977, G Healy went himself to Libya and presented a detailed plan for the expansion of News Line to six regional editions, requesting for it £100,000. G Healy also discussed the Euro-marches with the Libyan authorities and responded positively to a prop­osal to have the "Progressive Socialist Parties of the Mediterra­nean" participate in the marches. This would have included PASOK, a bourgeois party in Greece. These plans did not materialise. G Healy reported this in a letter to Al Fatah leader [name suppressed] (exhibit no 6).

This letter and a number of further letters to [name suppress­ed] (exhibit no 14) demonstrate that the relations with the PLO - which according to the claims made by the WRP before the ICFI were supposedly based on the principled resolutions of the Second Congress of the Communist International - were cynically used to make the PLO an instrument for obtaining money from the Arab bourgeoisie, thereby destroying any chance of building a section of the International Committee among the Palestinians.

The complete political opportun­ism of the relations to the Arab colonial bourgeoisie is most clearly revealed in a redraft of the WRP perspectives signed by G. Healy (exhibit no 7). This document was presented to the Libyan authorities during a visit in April 1980. It reconciles the WRP perspectives with the Green Book. Instead of the "working class" we find "the masses" and the Libyan Revolutionary Committees are identified with Soviets. The cri­terion of the class character of the state is completely abolished. Like almost every document found by the Commission relating to the Middle East, it ends with a request for money.

G Healy lined up publicly with the reactionary forces in the Middle East. During a visit to Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in March-April, 1979, G Healy, V Redgrave, and [name suppressed] met with the Crown Prince of Kuwait, Sheikh Sa-ad, and some of the ruling bourgeois families. When they were invited however to have dinner "with a group of left oppositionists led by the Sultan family"," according to their own report "the delegation declined to accept this invitation as we did not wish to intervene in the polit­ical matters in Kuwait" (exhibit no 8). The sole purpose of this trip was to raise money for the film Occupied Palestine.

The trip ended finally by the delegation urging the feudal and bourgeois rulers to censure a journalist of the Gulf Times who had written an article on the real purpose of their visit. The delegation finally received £116,000. In October 1979, Vanessa Redgrave visited Libya and asked for £500,000 for Youth Training (exhibit no 9). As of February 1982 the WRP had received "just over 200,000 pounds" from Libya for Youth Training (exhibit no 10). In addition to this a £100,000 fund was raised in the British working class. While approximately £300,000 was raised for this project, the real cost for the purchase, legal and building expenses for seven Youth Training Centres as of May 21, 1982 was £152,539.

In April 1980 a WRP delegation led by G Healy visited Libya, presenting his redrafted WRP perspective and asking for more money. From March 8 to 17, 1981 G Healy made a further visit to Libya, putting forward demands totalling £800,000. The Commission found a report in Healy's hand­writing of this (exhibit no 11). This report contains the following statements: "In the evening we had a two hour audience with [name suppressed]. We suggested that we should work with Libyan Intellig­ence and this was agreed. ... March 13. The delegation was visited by [name suppressed] from the intelligence". This has a special significance, considering the fact that the Libyan Intelligence has excellent relations with the German Special Branch (BKA).

The Commiss­ion has not been able to establish to whom in the WRP leadership, if anyone, this written report was shown. The same applies to all other written reports and correspondence.
At that point G Healy had considerable difficulty getting all the money he was asking for. The report goes on: "March 15th. We were told that [name suppressed] had promised £100,000 which we said was welcome but inadequate. ...April 9th. Met [name suppressed] for the first time since he returned from Tripoli. He had no news but paid up £26,500 to pay for youth premises already decided. This brings the total to date paid from the promised £500,000 to £176,500. It looks as [if] our visit made no impact whatsoever".

In May 1981, G Healy's letters asking for the money became more and more desperate. On April 15th he writes a letter, marked "confidential", to [name suppress­ed] of the People's Committee in the Libyan People's Bureau (exhibit no 12) urging him to give the money. On May 17, 1981 a "private and confidential" letter is sent to "dear [name suppressed]" (exhibit
no 13) through Alex Mitchell.

On August 25th Alex Mitchell asks PLO representative [name suppress­ed] for an immediate meeting to discuss "the very grave questions which have arisen regarding our revolutionary solidarity work in the Middle East". He informs him that "with the full agreement of the Political Committee, our Party's proposed visit to Beirut and Tripoli has been cancelled".

In a Memo to G Healy, Alex Mitchell reports that [name suppressed] proposed to write a letter to Gaddafi and forward it through [name suppressed] of Libyan Intelligence. On August 28th, G Healy writes a letter to [name suppressed] in the name of the Central Committee of the Workers Revolutionary Party, complaining that he didn't get the money from Tripoli and blaming the Libyans for the price raise in the News Line (exhibit no 14). The same day G Healy writes another "private and confidential" letter to "Brother [name suppressed]" (exhibit no 15).

The last document in the hands of the Control Commission is a letter from G Healy to the secretary of the Libyan People's Bureau, dated February 10th, 1982, under the heading "Re: 1982 Budget" (exhibit no 10).

The Israeli invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 and the right-wing turn of the Arab bourgeoisie led to the drying up of the finances coming in from the Arab colonial bourgeoisie. Only a few documents could be found on the relations with the Iraqi bourgeoisie, although we know that many trips have been made there. The relations came to an abrupt end when the Iran-Iraq war started in 1980. The total amount obtained through these relations, according to the avail­able documents, is listed below.

The Commission has not yet been able to establish all the facts relating in the case of the photographs that were handed over to the Iraqi embassy. We do know the two WRP members were instruct­ed co take photos of demonstrations of opponents of Saddam Hussein. One of the members, Cde. [name suppressed], refused the order. A receipt for £1600 for 16 minutes of documentary footage of a demon­stration is in the possession of the Commission.

Money received from the Middle East

The following report on monies received from the Middle East was put together by the Commission from a careful analysis of many docu­ments and cash books. We were told repeatedly that Healy wanted no formal record kept of the money coming in. A full list and graph of what was found is in exhibit no16.

A list by year shows the following amounts coming in:

1977 £46,208
1978 £47,784
1979 £347,755
1980 £173,671
1981 £185,128
1982 £271,217
1983 £3,400
1984 0
1985 0

TOTAL £1,075,163

Analysed by country, where it is possible to distinguish, the amounts are:
Libya £542,267
Kuwait £156,500
Qatar £50,000
Abu Dhabi £25,000
PLO £19,997
Iraq £19,697
Unidentified or other sources £261,702

TOTAL £1,075,163

The Commission was told by both [name suppressed] and [name suppressed] that frequently cash was brought to the center which would not be immediately banked. Therefore, it was possible for large sums of cash to come and go without ever being recorded.

Tom Burns, Solidarity, issue 16 (new series), spring 1988
The internet version of these article originally appeared on http://libsoc.blogspot.com

John Manix

14 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

:r: :r: :) I have come across Solidarity's work before-specifically the issue about Kronstadt- and was very impressed with it. (Can I get an updated/reprinted copy of it please!)

Having recently seen the 1988 issue about the WRP and 85 break-up I am over the moon about the research and objective writing about a very complex and disturbing issue: Healy and the people and institution around him. I was a member of the SLL 64-71 and in my own way would like to thank you for a truthful and non-sectarian analysis. There are numerous issues that arise from the "implosion" , as an American journal called it. The issue of women, family members etc goes very deep, too much to go into presently.

A one -time US collaborator of Healy - Tim Wohlforth - co-wrote about related issues a few years. It is on his web-site timwohlforth . Tim is a writer nowadays but has written in his memoirs about awful occurences under Healy ( when he voted for his own expulsion!) in the 70s.

Devrim

14 years 6 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

I was a member of the SLL 64-71

Funnily enough Solidarity was formed by people who had been expelled from the SLL, but before your time.

Devrim

boosh39

13 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

It's shame that some good theoretical work tends to be obscured by the jaw-droppingly chaotic, delusional and oppportuistic history of the WRP. Ex-RCPer James Heartfield has made some useful comments in this regard at Left Business Observer:

"In my view, the former members of the Workers Revolutionary Party (UK) were mostly used up by the experience. Just as they tended to lionise Healy when he was alive, they tended to demonise him after he was dead, loading all their own errors onto Healy, as they had previously imbued him with near mystical powers.

There was some good theoretical work done in the forerunner of the WRP, the SLL on Marxist theory, though most of this was of a formal nature. Examples would be Tom Kemp and Geoff Pilling's books on Marx's Capital (though notably Pilling's on Keynes was rather weaker). Peter Fryer, a veteran of the Communist Party and the WRP paper, wrote some good stuff, too.

However, the post-collapse WRPers mostly reverted to the opportunist politics that underlay their organisational sectarianism - the Workers Aid to Bosnia being a good example, an activity that put a radical gloss on imperialist intervention in the Balkans.

The dynamic of the WRP's implosion was that their analysis told them that the crisis was deepening, and the working class was being radicalised by the experience. Though their own experience was telling them otherwise, they refused to believe that they were not increasing their influence but losing it. The party lived beyond its means, running up huge debts setting up youth training centres and other fronts. All the time, the leadership willingly deceived itself, as the party apparatus - massively bloated - forged reports from non-existent branches about successful recruitment drives that never happened. When the organisation went bankrupt, the central committee turned on Healy and made him scapegoat for their collective failures.

The real failing, though, was not organisational, but political. The organisation's analysis of accelerating class struggle appeared to be confirmed by the 1984-5 miners' strike, but if they were capable of paying attention to what was really happening they would have seen that this was the end of a cycle of class conflict, not the beginning of one. Unable to correct their analysis, they simply overshot the end of the runway, and blew up."

Mike Harman

4 years 11 months ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Just seen this by Ken Livingstone in 1994 - glowing preface to a biography of Healy talking about how they maintained contact through most of the '80s. http://www.aworldtowin.net/resources/GH.html

Solidarity Journal #17 Summer 1988

17th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, including an article on Israel and interview with Cornelius Castoriadis.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 18, 2021

Contents

  • Israel: Spilling The Blood To Save The Sperm - Avika Orr
  • WRP: Unfinished Business - Tom Burns
  • Marx Today: The Tragi-Comic Paradox - Cornelius Castoriadis interview
  • Letter: Ken Weller comments on the interview with him in issue 15

Files

Solidarity Journal #18 Autumn 1988

18th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, including articles on China and May 1968.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 18, 2021

Contents

  • Self-Management and Paris May 1968 - S K French
  • China: The Westernisation of Practically Everything - Andy Brown
  • Book Review: Clifford Harper's "Anarchy: A Graphic Guide" - Martyn Everett
  • Book Review: Assef Bayat's "Workers and Revolution in Iran" - Liz Willis

Files

sol18.pdf (16.8 MB)

Solidarity Journal #19 Winter 1988/89

19th issue of the 1980s London Solidarity Journal, including articles on Russia, Perestroika and the Labour Party.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive, Nottingham.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 22, 2021

Contents

  • In Moscow's Vaults - Ken Weller
  • Perestroika: Imposed Reforms Outpaced by Mood For Change - Patrick Kane
  • Labour Party Annual Conference: Damage Limitation Politics - Henry Worthington
  • Letters: Lawrence Gambone and Tom Cowan write on the Castoriadis interview in the previous issue.

Files

Solidarity Journal #20 Spring 1989

Issue of Solidarity: a journal of libertarian socialism from spring 1989 with articles about the decline of the nuclear disarmament movement, the failure of socialist parties in power, the failure of left-wing newspaper News on Sunday and more.

Submitted by Steven. on June 18, 2013

Contents

  • The Impracticable In Practice (Lack of socialist opposition to Conservative rule) - A K Barnard
  • Anti-Nuke Movements Falter as West Cheats on Missile Treaty - Paul Anderson
  • Dilemma Saps European Peace Movement - Bruce Allen
  • Book Reviews: Andy Weir reviews 3 books on mainstream newspapers The Independent, News On Sunday and Today.
  • Book Review: Anthony Wright's "Socialisms: Why Socialists Disagree and What They Disagree About" - Nick Terdre
  • Letter: Tim Francis on China article in issue 18.
  • Howard Moss: Correcting some of Ian Bone's claims about voting figures in the interview from issue 13.

Files

Solidarity Journal #21 Autumn 1989

Issue of Solidarity: a journal of libertarian socialism from autumn 1989 with articles on Salman Rushdie, Leninist vanguardism and more.

Submitted by Steven. on June 18, 2013

Contents

  • Satanic Verses Affair: Who is Afraid of Satan? - A El-Noor
  • Vanguardism: More Than Just His Masters Voice - Robin Blick
  • Letter: Nino Staffa on issue 19's articles on Russia
  • Letter: B L Spenser on Solidarity vs the trad left
  • Lertter: Michael Friedjung on China article from issue 18.

Files

solidarity-21.pdf (12.52 MB)
sol-21-p16.pdf (2.72 MB)

Solidarity Journal #22/23 Winter 1989/90

Double issue of the London Solidariy Journal from the 1980s-90s. Articles include Tianamen Square and the 350 British solidiers executed by firing squad in the First World War.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 24, 2021

Contents

  • Tianemen Square: Trading with China is Thicker than Blood - Milan Rai
  • Tianemen Square: Waiting for the Old Guard to Die - Tom Burns interviews a low ranking official of the Chinese government
  • Military Discipline: But he did for them all with this scratch rifle squds - Richard Schofield & Julian Putkowski
  • Book Review: Fiona MacCarthy's "Eric Gill" - Robin Kinross
  • Book Reviews: Mark Shipway's "Anti-Parliamentary Communism" and John Taylor Caldwell's "The Life and Times of Guy Aldred" - Sam Tolldady
  • Letters: Alison Weir and Liz Willis respond to the Satanic Verses article in a previous issue. Tim Wohlforth on Gerry Healy. Robert Peutrell responds to A K Barnard's article on the failures of the left in issue 20.

Files

Solidarity Journal #24 Summer 1990

Issue of the London Solidariy Journal from the 1980s-90s. Topics include Gandhi and the fall of the Soviet bloc.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 26, 2021

Contents

  • The End of Communism: Ten Months That Shool The World - S K French
  • Mahatma Gandhi: Cosmic Wheeler Dealer - Geoffrey Ostergaard
  • Book Reviews: George Woodcock's "Letter to the Past" & "Beyond the Blue Mountains" - Alex Comfort
  • Letter: A El Noor responds to letters about her article on Salman Rushdie's "Satanic Verses".
  • Letter: John King on the articles on Russia in issue 19.

Files

Solidarity Journal #25/26 Autumn 1990

Double issue of the London Solidarity Journal from the 1980s-90s. Topics include USA's attack on an Iranian airliner, Hungary and White Lion Free School.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 26, 2021

Contents

  • US downing of Iranian Airbus A300 in 1988: Truth the First Casualty of Government - Milan Rai
  • Hungary: From People's Republic to Republic in the name of the People - Bob Dent
  • Libertarian Education: White Lion Free School - Graham Wade
  • Book Reviews: Colin Ward's "The Child In the Country" , "The Allotment, Its Landscape and Culture" and "Undermining The Central Line" - Peter Marshall
  • Book Reviews: Noam Chomsky's "The Chomsky Reader" and "Manufacturing Consent" - Milan Rai
  • Book Review: David Goodway's "For Anarchism" - John Quail
  • Letter: John Caldwell writes on the review of his book on Guy Aldred in issue 22.
  • Letter: Cajo Brendel writes on the review of Lenin's "What is to be done?" in issue 21
  • Letter: Keith Flett writes on issue 22

Files

Solidarity Journal #27 Summer 1991

Issue of the London Solidarity Journal from the 1980s-90s. Topics include the Gulf war and Tianamen Square.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 29, 2021

Contents

  • The Gulf Conflict: Divided We Fell - Ken Weller
  • Tienanmen Square: Fifty Days That Shook The World - George Woodcock
  • Book Review: James King's "The Last Modern" biography of Herbert Read - Robin Kinross
  • Letter: Noam Chomsky writes on the article on the shooting down of the Iranian Airbus in issue 25/26
  • Letter: Nigel Wright on White Lion Free School article in issue 25/26
  • Letter: David Goodway on the review of his "For Anarchism" in issue 25/26
  • Letter: Bob Dent on his article Hungary in issue 25/26
  • Letter: Keith Flett on History Workshop

Files

Solidarity Journal #28/29 Autumn 1991

Double issue of the London Solidarity Journal from the 1980s-90s. Topics include Noam Chomsky on the middle east, the New World Order and the role of trotskyists sects in the UK Stop The War movement.

Probably the final issue.

PDF courtesy of Sparrows Nest Archive.

Submitted by Fozzie on November 29, 2021

Contents

  • Prospects For Gulf Peace: Breathing Light on the Middle East - Noam Chomsky
  • New World Chaos - Milan Rai
  • The War We Should Have Stopped: Ruthless Cuckoos In The Dovecot - Henry Worthington
  • Book Review: Randle & Pottle's "The Blake Escape: How We Freed George Blake and Why" + George Blake's "No Other Choice" - Andrew Weir
  • Book Review: "Assessing Radical Education" + Nigel Wright's "Free School: The White Lion Experience" - Michael Duane
  • Letter: Ben Webb, Peter Cadogan and Martyn Everett on Ken Weller's editorial on the Gulf War in the last issue.

Files

Ruthless cuckoos in the dovecot - Henry Worthington

What really went wrong with the national alliance against the Gulf war? Henry Worthington reports a classic case of those opposing the war on principle being manipulated by those who were not. Anti-authoritarians should look out, it could happen again.

Submitted by Fozzie on January 11, 2022

When Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on August 2 last year, the British Left was as surprised as everyone else. Kuwait was a faraway country of which the Left knew little, the invasion a spectacular interruption to the holiday season. To be sure, the crisis in the Gulf provoked a vague unease, but after the first few days, when it seemed that Saddam might sweep south into Saudi Arabia, the prospects of all-out war seemed to recede. Once the American forces were in place in Saudi Arabia and the United Nations had imposed sanctions on Iraq, the most likely scenario seemed a lengthy process of economic attrition which Saddam could not win. It did not seem too much of a priority to set up an anti-war organisation.

Not everyone was quite so complacent. For Socialist Action, a small Trotskyist group, the time was ripe for seizing. By acting fast it could set the agenda for an anti-war movement. In mid-August, taking advantage of the inactivity of the rest of the Left, it took the lead in setting up an anti-war coalition, the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf, doing its best to ensure that it was effectively under its control but did not appear so. Socialist Action is a remnant of one of the pro-Cuba factions in the erstwhile International Marxist Group and is no more than fifty strong. It is nevertheless well entrenched in the Labour hard-Left, with significant influence in the part of it that is sceptical about the idea of eventually setting up a 'pure' socialist party to Labour's Left. Indeed, among trot groups it is notable for the depth of its commitment to the Labour Party and its horror of appearing 'ultra-Left': it works more with non-trots than with other trots, whom it despises for raising 'maximalist' demands.

The group is influential in the Labour Left Liaison umbrella group, which includes the Labour Women's Action Committee, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and Labour CND, and it has a major input into Campaign Group News, the organ of the Campaign Group of hard-Left Labour MPs. Unsurprisingly, the platform on which the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf was set up was a 'minimalist' one - "Stop war!" -and hard-Left MPs and the groups in Labour Left Liaison were among the first affiliates.

National CND, for the most part innocent of Socialist Action's existence, let alone its methods, was bounced into joining the Committee by Labour CND, whose secretary, Carol Turner, a Socialist Action veteran, was also secretary of the Committee; the Green Party, whose international committee at the time was under the influence of another trot faction, the tiny Pabloite group Socialists for Self-Management, was brought in at the same time. The Euro-communist Communist Party of Great Britain and the Stalinist Communist Party of Britain, both desperate for credibility, saw a bandwagon and jumped on board, and by early September the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf looked like an impressive coalition of anti-war groups.

The reality was rather different. Socialist Action made sure that it controlled the key positions on the Committee (Turner remained secretary of the Committee throughout its existence), and it blocked attempts by CND and the Greens to get the Committee to endorse sanctions against Iraq, on the grounds that such a move would be divisive - even though the only groups that would have been excluded by such a move were 'revolutionary defeatists' committed to backing Saddam if fighting broke out. (The idea behind this position, first formulated by Lenin during World War One, is that in an imperialist war revolutionaries should work for the defeat of their own side, with the intention of turning it into revolutionary civil war). For a few weeks, such people didn't bother with the Committee, seeing it as far too reformist: the Socialist Workers' Party and other trot groups put their efforts into setting up a rival to the Committee, the Campaign Against War in the Gulf, on a 'Troops out!' position. But the Campaign soon floundered, and the SWP and the rest of the revolutionary defeatists drifted into the Committee. The result was predictable. The Committee's meetings turned into interminable political wrangling. Not surprisingly, as the Gulf crisis dragged on through the autumn, the Committee proved incapable of exercising any purchase on public opinion or on the political mainstream. Just about the only thing it seemed to know how to do was call a demonstration in London - and even then it didn't have the resources to provide stewards or the wit to present interesting speakers.

The Committee's efforts at the Labour Party Conference in early October were particularly disastrous. Faced with a conference opposed to war but not prepared to undermine the leadership (which was anyway rather less than blood-thirsty at this point), the Committee made the extraordinary decision to put up a conference-floor fight on an anti-war resolution it knew would be badly defeated. In result, opposition to the war became identified in the Labour Party with the hard-Left, a kiss of death for any cause these days. With a few days hard work, the Committee managed to throw away any possibility of ever having influence over the mainstream of the Labour Party.

Its attempts to woo Liberal Democrats and Tories were virtually non-existent. To the media the Committee, despite constant damage-limitation by CND, came across as a bunch of unfriendly, paranoid, hectoring and above all incompetent extremists. Whereas elsewhere in Europe large swathes of Centre and even Right opinion opposed war before it started, in Britain the anti-war movement got stuck at an early stage in the Left ghetto. By mid-November, it was quite apparent to the British government that it would face only token domestic opposition if it backed George Bush's plans to evict Saddam from Kuwait by force. By the end of the year, it was clear even to its own supporters that the anti-war movement had failed, and that the only thing that could stop war was a climbdown by Saddam. The Committee stepped up its activity when the air war began in January (and in February at last threw out the revolutionary defeatists, who had by now become a serious embarrassment), but the number of demonstrators on marches dwindled rapidly as a sense of total impotence set in. By the time the land war started, the anti-war movement was on the slide. Perhaps, as the Committee leaders tastelessly put it, support would have grown again if the body-bags had started coming home; luckily we shall never know.

The point of all this is not that the war should not have been opposed. Despite the small number of 'Allied' casualties, the war was a human and environmental disaster. But the peace movement, such as it is, should not now be sitting back and saying that it was right all along: there are lessons it has to learn from the Gulf war.

In particular, it should be absolutely clear to everyone who had anything to do with the national movement against war in the Gulf that not wanting a particular crisis to turn into war is no basis on which to organise a credible opposition: it is essential that the movement from the start excludes those who, in the event of war, will support either side. In the run-up to the Gulf War Leninist advocates of revolutionary defeatism did immense harm to the cause of those opposed to slaughter on humanitarian grounds, and the peace movement should have had no truck with them.

It should also be extremely wary of allowing itself to be manipulated by small groups with their own hidden political priorities. Without CND, with its 65,000 members, the Committee to Stop War in the Gulf would have been a mere husk; outside the Committee, CND could have used its resources and skills to promote its clear position of using sanctions to get Saddam out of Kuwait rather than wasting its time and energy on a coalition that could not even agree to condemn Saddam's invasion. If there is a next time, it would be unfortunate to make the same mistakes.

R Totale

10 months 3 weeks ago

In reply to by libcom.org

God knows that SA seem like an unlikeable group, but bit surprising to see Solidarity taking up what seems to be a pro-sanctions position?

Fozzie

10 months 3 weeks ago

In reply to by libcom.org

Yeah it's an odd one that. Last ever issue, so anything goes I guess...

Blake Escape: book reviews

Peace activists Pat Pottle and Michael Randle outside the Old Bailey
Peace activists Pat Pottle and Michael Randle outside the Old Bailey, where they were both acquitted on 26 June 1991

Reviews of books by Geroge Blake and the two libertarian activists who helped him to escape from prison in 1966.

Submitted by Fozzie on January 11, 2022

The Great Escape, starring Hackman, Costner and Cruise

Michael Randle & Pat Pottle - The Blake Escape: How We Freed George Blake and Why Harrap, £12.95
George Blake – No Other Choice Jonathan Cape, £12.99

In late June twelve good folk and true weighed the case of Regina vs. Michael Randle and Pat Pottle in the scales of justice and acquitted them of helping George Blake, super-spy, escape from Brixton jail in 1966. Because they had the sense to ignore the judge and the prosecution, justice was served. Had they weighed the case according to case-law and rules of evidence as they had been instructed to by the judge, the only victors would have been a gaggle of die-hard Tory MPs, and their mentors on the top floors of the Daily Mail and Daily Express buildings. The jury proved that you don't have to be a conspiracy theorist to spot a political trial when you see one.

Unusual as that sort of common-sense is these days, such a verdict would have been obvious to anyone reading The Blake Escape, Michael Randle and Pat Pottle's own justification of why they delivered, unbidden, to Moscow one of its most stunning Cold War propaganda coups while steadfastly maintaining their own independence. In No Other Choice the long silent George Blake justifies his betrayal of the West in favour of the East. All three authors are making their peace with a world that looks upon them as outcasts. Like so many outcasts in their own time, their stature is likely to grow as years pass and new generations whose imaginations are unbowed by the Cold War will recognise their courage and sacrifices in the name of their respective political convictions.

Sufficient time has already passed, one might think, for such a re-assessment to occur. Randle and Pottle are off the hook, but Blake will never see England again, and he cannot even bequeath his book royalties to his children. Perhaps the establishment realised that the Randle and Pottle prosecution was slipping away from them. With the Treasury Solicitor's injunction on Blake's royalties at least some action was taken that could not be challenged and would pacify the Tory back benches.

Difficult as it is to separate ideology from anything that goes on in Britain, let's imagine this case without it. We would have a completely different story. For months after the books were published Hollywood agents would have been putting up their last Porsches for the film rights. After that, Gene Hackman as Blake, with Kevin Costner as Randle and Tom Cruise as Pottle, would have immortalised this ripping yarn (with only slight inaccuracies) for the silver screen, and their real life counterparts would be living the life of Riley on the back of their percent-ages of gross box-office take. It is not too surprising that things did not happen this way. Initially, nobody in government, East or West, could have really believed that the Blake escape was not the devious work of the other side. Indeed, Randle and Pottle did well to leave Blake with the East Berlin police and go home. Otherwise they might have faced the same sort of hostile interrogation from a bemused KGB as they might have had from MI5.

Moscow cannot have been overjoyed to see its super-spy back home, since they had a little explaining to do. One can easily imagine Blake angrily thumping a table in the Lubyanka demanding to know why they hadn't swapped him for an American tourist with one too many cameras. Blake had even met KGB man Konol Malady (convicted in Britain as Gordon Lansdale) while in jail, and he said it would be a breeze. But Blake did time for four years before it dawned on him that he was not being saved a place at the Bolshoi. Unfortunately, Blake does not tell us why this was, although of course, he may not know. He is sure, however, that he was not offered the immunity tendered to Blunt and Philby because he was not only from humble origins, but a bloody foreigner to boot. Some puzzlement on Randle and Pottle's part would have been in order too. Why hadn't they been given a roasting by MI5?

When Sean Bourke, the flamboyant IRA man who was also part of the escape, published his book on the affair in 1969, leaving Michael Randle and Pat Pottle's identities glaringly obvious, the government chose not to prosecute. One can only surmise that it feared undermining the ideological pillars of the anti-Communist crusade by giving an airing to Randle and Pottle's real motives in the course of a trial. Publicity would also have revived official embarrassment at the escape of Blake in the first place, and accentuated it by revealing that the perpetrators were not specially selected warriors from the massed ranks of Communist 'sleepers' and Cambridge KGB colonels, but a couple of peaceniks. Last but not least, MI6, which was only slowly recovering from a string of scandals revealing lunatic incompetence, would have been sent to Coventry by an irate CIA, aghast that yet another farrago of English muddling had taken place.

Trying Randle and Pottle then would have cast new light on the State's vindictiveness in handing down the heaviest-ever prison sentence in modern legal history on Blake. In the peace movement of the early 1960's Randle and Pottle had proved themselves as highly competent operators in the service of no foreign power, with skills in putting the anti-bomb case and in embarrassing the British government that many foreign powers might dearly have loved to emulate. Characteristically for pacifists of that era they had no fear of the authorities in pursuing peaceful direct action. They did not find their freedom of action circumscribed by the paranoia typical of later left-wingers, who often found greater comfort in inaction born of ‘certainty’ that MI5 was bugging their phones, or by other imaginative magnifications of the power of the state. And they have carried on in this vein, among other anti-war and anti-nuclear activities helping American deserters find sanctuary from the obscenity of the Vietnam war.

The sheer audacity of the Blake escape deserves unqualified admiration. The KGB, steeped in Stalinist bureaucratic traditions, would never have dared to plan such an operation, no more than any Western intelligence service. Indeed, neither the KGB, MI6 nor the CIA have ever sprung one of their own from the dungeons of the other. The truth of this escapade is far stranger than realistic spy fiction.

But Randle and Pottle's book is also a serious consideration of the issues involved in the Blake case. They trash the idea that Blake was shown at his trial to have betrayed agents to their deaths, citing Blake's defence counsel on the point. They even managed a little interview with the petulant Chapman Pincher - 'Our Curzon Street Correspondent' - who was used by the then Home Secretary, George Brown, to circulate the notion on the day of Blake's appeal against sentence that Blake had the blood of others on his hands. Pincher and Brown's smear was allowed to stand because the trial was closed and no one could challenge it.

George Blake's forty-two-year sentence enraged Randle and Pottle and the knowledge that it was out of all proportion, especially because it was unprecedented, provided the motivation for their act. They probably saw Blake as just as much a political prisoner as they were (they were serving sentences for their involvement in a sit-in as Wethersfield US Airbase, Essex), even though their distaste for Communism would have been almost as great as the State's. The inability of the British media to accept this has clouded their view of what really happened and meant that every media encounter with Randle and Pottle, even after acquittal, has been characterised by large helpings of 'moral outrage'. Michael Randle and Pat Pottle deserve our congratulations for standing their ground so eloquently in court and out.

George Blake's own story is not quite so inspiring, and not half as exciting, as Randle and Pottle's, despite the fact that this was real-life espionage. As the spooks never tire of telling us, real-life espionage is not how it is in the novels, and poor Blake gets tired of repeating the truism. Grilled by Tom Bower in the BBC TV documentary about him, his boredom with the endless harping on betrayal and patriotism is almost palpable. You can see he views his acts in themselves as totally undeserving of such attention, and he labours against the assumption of the media that grand philosophising and thorough ideological theorising proceeded his every act. The myth-makers of espionage would have us believe every spy tussles with their conscience the way Flaubert would tussle with a sentence. Blake is no genius, maybe not even particularly thoughtful. He fought extremely bravely in the Second World War (as a youngster with the Dutch Resistance, and later in the Royal Navy), and after that "ended up" in intelligence in the late 1940s the way other people end up in teaching. His 'good war' set him up as a spy without his having to think about it much.

However, the war over, his life of daily danger eased up, and he slowed down. He entered academic life to learn Russian; now he had time to think about his work and his future, and now he decided he was a Communist. Reverting to his good soldier type, he did the only thing he thought he could do, switch sides and work for the great socialist motherland. "My aim", he told a Guardian writer last year, "was simply to prevent Western intelligence services - the opposition - from undermining what I believe to be a valuable experiment, namely building a new society". This is the point at which we, as honest bourgeois citizens, are supposed to fall over in shock and dismay. But his action was in all the best traditions of espionage.

Betrayal lies at the heart of intelligence work, and only the slightest change in direction makes it treason. That is why intelligence services are so obsessed by moles. Professional intelligence officers know that even when they are being 'loyal' every good spy plays informer, makes friends on false pretences, betrays their confidences to other people, lies about their motives, and then uses ideology, bribes or blackmail to lock the unfortunate agent into cooperation. This is what the CIA chillingly calls a "controlled environment" - you or I would say "having them by the short and curlies". If this is the daily toil of being a spy, then the surprising thing is that more of them do not decide to play on their masters the game they play with their agents.

Perhaps the wisest comment on George Blake was a throwaway remark by Robert Cecil, who was once an assistant to the director of MI6 and spoke for the record on the 'This Week' programme. "One talks about loyalties", the aged spook said, "but what were his loyalties?". Cecil was puzzled. He knew that Blake was loyal to his friends. After all, he had helped organise fellow prisoners when he and other British diplomats were captured by the North Koreans during the Korean war and suffered appalling hardships. He had risked a gruesome death at the hands of the Gestapo. And yet he was capable of recruiting somebody and cheerfully despatching them to the wolves of the steppes. He was in other words, a perfect spy.