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


  • 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



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'.

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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.