Workers Socialist League Index | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive

The Battle for Trotskyism

Documents of the opposition expelled from the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974.

Written: 1975.
First Published: February 1976.
Source: Published by Folrose Ltd. for the Workers Socialist League.
Transcription/HTML Markup: Sean Robertson for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Copyleft: Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line ( 2012. Permission is granted to copy and/or distribute this document under the terms of the Creative Commons license. Please cite any editors, proofreaders and formatters noted above along with any other publishing information including the URL of this document.

Battle for Trotskyism

An Account of the Expulsions from the WRP and the Political Methods used by the Leadership

The purpose of this final section of the pamphlet is to set out in detail some of the main events in the development of the Trotskyist opposition within the Workers’ Revolutionary Party, as they arose in the latter part of 1974. It covers the period of the expulsions and the establishment of the Workers’ Socialist League at the end of the year to carry forward the struggle for the basic principles of our movement in the working class. It is important at the outset to make the point that although most of the events described below took place in the main centre of the proletarian cadre of the WRP in Oxford and the Western area, nevertheless similar problems, which will be referred to, were confronted in all the areas of the work of the WRP, particularly in London and Yorkshire.

That there should be a crisis within the WRP at this time in all the areas of its work was inevitable, when the enormous possibilities for the strengthening of the Trotskyist movement were opened up by an international offensive of the working class, including the defeat by the miners of the Tory Government early in 1974, the onrush of the Portuguese revolution after the overthrow of a fifty year-old fascist regime, and the breakthrough of the liberation forces in Indo-China. These were the developments for which the Fourth International had been founded, for which the Transitional Programme had been written. Yet in every sphere of its activities, there was a growing sterility in the development of the WRP, an inability to carry forward its defence of correct principle into the working class, to maintain the gains in membership made at the height of the anti-Tory feeling in the working class at the end of 1973, or to build an international that could have any meaning for the mass of the world working class and peasantry.

This was the essential basis of the crisis within the ranks of the WRP, and what follows is an attempt to describe the way in which Gerry Healy, General Secretary of the WRP, dealt with the opposition when it emerged. It has been necessary to include a good deal of detail in order to combat the confusion which has been spread and to establish what actually took place. The detail provided should also help in understanding the method of Healy and the WRP leadership and the form it takes of manoeuvres and adaptations to the positions put forward by the opposition. It shows as well Healy’s overwhelmingly subjective response to the political points of difference raised.

In order to bring this subjective method out clearly, it is important to begin this account with a brief history of the Cowley cadre, which was the highest point in the development of the SLL / WRP, and which played a central role in the struggle against the opportunist methods and centrist zig-zags of the leadership.

Recruited mainly out of the Communist Parry, the Cowley cadre was attracted to the strengths of the WRP: its fight against Stalinism, its orientation towards the economic crisis, its emphasis on the role of leadership and the importance of building a revolutionary party, as well as its serious approach to historical and theoretical questions.

When opposition began to emerge in the WRP, it is not surprising that its sharpest expression was at Cowley. As well as being the main WRP penetration into the workers’ movement, it was where WRP members had the responsibility of leadership in a large car plant. It was here, in the mass movement, where the policies and perspectives of the WRP were shown to be wrong; not in the offices of the editorial board – but painfully in the everyday struggles of the working class.

Cowley and the WRP leadership

The main struggle for trade union organisation in the old Morris Motors plant (later to be known as the Assembly Plant) began in 1956 with a successful strike against company-selected compulsory redundancy. This struggle was followed by three years which saw the rapid growth of the trade unions, mainly the Transport & General Workers Union. In July 1959 management retaliated against this development in shop-floor organisation and the T&GWU convenor was sacked for allegedly organising an overtime ban on his track. The resulting strike was settled by a compromise cooked up by T&GWU General Secretary, Frank Cousins, by which the sacked convenor was employed by the Pressed Steel Company with an understanding that he would never hold trade union office. This struggle opened a new stage in the fight to organise the factory, with RF, a steward in the paint shop, in the leadership.

With the paint shop as the spearhead, the drive for 100% trade union membership began in earnest and by 1966 the final sections were closed. The new strength of the unions then turned towards the rapid improvement of wages and conditions, a development to which the employers replied with the infamous “Cowley Noose Trial”, the first of a number of witch hunts carried out in Cowley by groupings of anti-communist forces backed by the mass media.

The “Noose Trial” began three weeks before the General Election of March 31st 1966. A group of blacklegs had been disciplined by a mass meeting and ordered to pay a day’s pay to the Life Boat Association, as a condition for a return to work, by the rest (they had equally benefitted from the improved conditions won in the strike). Next day, the Daily Mirror headlined “Workers Tried under Hanging Noose” and the witch hunt was on. The “trial” became the main plank of the Tory election campaign. It was headlines and first item news every day until the election, after which it disappeared from the media and became the subject of a T&GWU Regional inquiry.

It is clear that the “trial” was not simply a Cowley question, where the employer saw an emerging Trotskyist leadership – it was also the opening shots of the offensive by the ruling class against the growth of shop floor trade union power which had taken place since the war and was epitomised in the Cowley Plant. (A power which is held back today by the bureaucratisation of the convenor layer which was produced in that period).

On September 14th 1966 BMC announced redundancies throughout the group in response to recession in the industry – the “Noose Trial” witch hunt had been partly a preparation for this. In the Morris Plant 1,300 were to be sacked on October 28th. Through a combination of divisive company tactics and a refusal to fight by the Stalinists who controlled the Combine Committee, the recommendation from the Morris Motors Joint Shop Stewards Committee to fight the redundancies was defeated at a mass meeting after a hard fight by the leadership. 1,300 workers went through the gate.

It was therefore with this background of struggle and militancy that the beginnings of a Trotskyist cadre was established and began to develop in Cowley. But their development could never be separated from the battles and level of militancy in the Plant which continued after the October redundancies, turning quickly into struggles for wages and conditions with the number of strikes in the Assembly Plant running at between 300 and 600 per year.

The test of a revolutionary movement must be its ability to develop such cadres with roots in the mass movement and in the big industrial sections of the working class. Failure to do this in favourable objective conditions condemns a party to a propaganda existence and calls into question the programme on which that party fights. It is clear now that the development of the Cowley group could only take place through the sharpest fight against the economism and individualism arising from their background and any failure to carry through such a fight would threaten the cadre with destruction. It is important, therefore, to look a little closer at the methods developed by Healy and the WRP leadership in that period.

The development of Trotskyism in the Cowley car plant was always linked closely to the university. The first SLL branch in Oxford was built by a group of students, some of whom came from the SLL intervention in the Labour Party youth movement in the early sixties. By 1964, a large branch had been built which began to take up the fight for Trotskyism with those car workers who were already questioning aspects of Stalinist policy. An important attraction for these workers was the youth movement built up during 1964 – 1965, which had regular meetings attended by hundreds and had branches in every part of Oxford.

The combination of factory and university in Oxford had another effect on the developing factory cadres. Not only could those students who had taken a serious turn to Trotskyism fight for the theoretical development of these workers under conditions where they themselves were strengthened by the struggle in the mass movement, but the essential struggle against the idealistic positions and abstractions coming up in the university and from places such as Ruskin College, training ground of the Trade Union bureaucrats, demanded a turn to theoretical questions which could otherwise have been avoided.

Healy later claimed personal credit for the Cowley cadre but in reality it followed these developments. Healy’s involvement came in 1966 following a decision by Alan Thornett and RF to attend one of his public meetings in Swindon. Healy, of course, well knows the role played by the students and youth. He never refers to it today, but in the late sixties he regularly used it as an example of how a youth and student movement should work. (It is also interesting to notice that two of those who played a role in the student movement in that period came over to the opposition at the time of the expulsions and are part of the leadership of the WSL today. Two others have stayed with Healy, the rest having left the movement).

An SLL branch was finally established in the Morris plant in 1967. Healy had fought hard for it since his involvement, conducting long hours of discussion on Stalinism and the economic crisis and delivering a series of lectures on historical materialism, dialectical materialism, the history of the Bolshevik Party, the Russian Revolution and the Fourth International. Whilst it is possible now to see the limitations of much of the material presented, (downright lies as far as the International is concerned), it was this fight for theory, displayed both by Healy and previously by the youth and student branch, which was the decisive factor in deciding the group to join the SLL.

The problem was, having been attracted to the movement by the strength of Trotskyist tradition in the SLL, these workers were then faced with the other side of Healy’s politics – his opportunism. This meant that recruitment, which could and should have provided the basis for their political development, became for some a blockage beyond which they could not pass.

The clearest example of this was RF. He had worked in the Morris plant since 1947. He had a history in the European Stalinist movement and had fought on the streets and underground against fascism. He organised the first strong trade union base in the factory and became convenor in the late fifties. Healy’s relationship with him was completely opportunist. He never fought RF politically, he developed that soft personal relationship with him which characterised his trade union and party work, centred around efforts to influence key people. This not only meant that much of the trade union work developed by Healy rested on manoeuvres and personal relationships but it, tragically, blocked the development of RF, the key to whose development lay precisely in a sharp principled fight with him on party questions. This avoidance of conflict led RF from a proud history of proletarian struggle to the point where he saw Alan Thornett, with whom he had worked the closest, as a threat to his personal position.

These developments were of course part of the class struggle and not just of academic interest. RF’s subjectivism was recognised by British Leyland and the T&GWU bureaucracy and, although the major role was played by the right-wing and the Stalinists, RF’s position was a factor in the victimisation of Thornett in 1974. Healy’s method now threatened the very existence of the cadre he had helped to create.

As a sectarian, it was in his factory work that Healy displayed the most complete separation of theory from practice. He would talk correctly about the unity and conflict of the revolutionary party and the working class, unity within the class struggle – but in conflict with the spontaneous level of struggle of the working class. He would say that the development of cadres came through the contradictory relationship, with the conscious struggle of the party being decisive. He would theoretically agree that the training of a communist involved a continuous fight against subjectivism – the individual starting from his own requirements and not the requirements of the working class through the party. Yet while expounding these formally correct positions he was maintaining and developing the most unprincipled relationship with RF and others, relationships which started precisely from the personal requirements of the comrades concerned, and tagged the requirements of the party opportunistically onto the tail-end. Verbal conflict over general political questions could take place, but no party demands must be placed on individuals where such relationships existed. This results in the party getting something out of the arrangement for a time, but the unprincipled nature of it excludes proper political development. Thus in periods of stress, people who have made genuine contributions pass over to betrayal.

In the case of RF it led to a number of very unprincipled positions in the factory which Healy either ignored or supported. (The theory was that the relationships had to be maintained ready for the big day. The problem was that when the big day came the subject of the compromise was often on the other side). In 1973, RF accepted, at the final stage of negotiations, a 6p per hour Company offer as settlement for an 8p per hour claim without even going back to a meeting of members first. This was on the annual review affecting 8,000 workers. For this, Healy actually defended him against Thornett who had sharply clashed with him over it. Healy argued that Thornett was causing a split over a wages issue and that the most important thing was the unity of the branch – in other words, avoid conflict. (Much later, when the opposition emerged in the party, Healy returned to this incident, arguing that Thornett’s position had been “ultra-left”. This was a manoeuvre to attempt to hold the support of Tom White who had supported RF at the time).

In January 1974 RF came out in favour of recommending, to a mass meeting, acceptance of Phase III of the Tory pay laws. He argued that since a recommendation for rejection would mean certain defeat (it was during the three-day week) a popular line should be taken – again to avoid conflict. He only moved off this position after a sharp struggle locally. When the struggle developed to defend the day-workers’ four day retention agreement, in the same period, which took the form of a sit-in strike led mainly by Thornett, the Company based their case on earlier concessions made by RF. Initially, in this instance, he had agreed with management’s interpretation – only changing his position when challenged by a number of shop stewards including Thornett. This sit-in was defeated, but could not be separated from the overall struggle in the factory on the defence of agreements and the correct preparation to defend jobs by occupation if the factory was faced with closure or redundancies.

Two months later, RF moved further to the right. He came out in opposition to a determined fight over speed-up and the defence of the mutuality agreement, proposing instead the sham ‘resistance’ of giving the timings a try and fighting later when the tracks reached full speed. After long discussion there was no agreement. Healy supported Thornett who was advocating all-out defence of the mutuality agreement at the point where it was broken, but it was too late. Different positions were adopted in the factory, the shop stewards voting for Thornett’s position. Thornett published it in the T&GWU Branch News as an individual and was victimised for it. (The company cited his statement as the main reason, saying that it was causing disruption).

That RF’s subjectivism had turned on to Alan Thornett was not surprising. It had always been Thornett and the local branch who had fought him, with Healy as National Secretary maintaining the unprincipled relationship. It is little wonder that RF maintains even now, a year and a half after his break with the WRP, that his quarrel is only with Thornett not the party – which he sees as Healy.

Another similar relationship which Healy had in Oxford for a number of years was with JP. Again an examination of this episode is important for an understanding of Healy’s method. JP was a militant Communist Party shop steward on the Morris Minor track in the late fifties. He was later moved by management to the spare parts division which was largely non-unionised and with appalling conditions and rates of pay. He soon emerged in the leadership of the AUEW and led, in the early sixties, a series of highly successful struggles for wages and conditions.

JP had been one of the first workers, along with a CP worker from the Pressed Steel Co., to begin to discuss with the early SLL branch and collaborate with the development of the YS in the town. He joined the SLL when the factory branch was established, leaving in 1971, when he came out in favour of Measured Day Work,

Healy’s relationship with JP did not at first sight appear as soft as his accommodation with RF, but in essence it was, because again it was avoidance of conflict over party questions. JP had a hostility to theory which could have been broken down through a fight against his individualism and for party responsibility, but this was never done. In fact Healy never took him up over anything prior to the MDW fight by which time it was too late. An example of this was brought painfully home to SLL comrades in other parts of the country when, speaking at a Stalinist Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions Conference in London, JP put an entirely Stalinist position. He was at the time a leading public figure of the SLL and Healy never even took it up with him. Imagine what would have been the result if a member of one of the London branches had adopted a similar position!

From the beginning of the SLL intervention the fight in the factory had been a political one. The factory was in the forefront of strike action against both “In Place of Strife” and the Industrial Relations Act. When the Company’s counter-offensive on wages and conditions began, the factory struck for seven weeks against MDW – the most determined resistance in the Leyland combine. The fight for political leadership in the plant involved a continuous fight against revisionism in the form of Stalinism, Pabloism, State Capitalism, reformism and the right-wing. It was this fight, carried forward despite the dangers and the limitations imposed by Healy’s method and the maximum programme of the WRP which trained the cadres which came forward into the WSL after the expulsions.

WRP Sectarian politics Expose the Party to the Attacks of the Employers and the Right Wing

Following the division with RF over speed-up, the Marina assembly workers struck for three weeks in defence of the mutuality agreement – which was negotiated primarily by Thornett and provided for mutual agreement on work effort prior to implementation. The strike ended with a Company threat to sack the labour force and discontinue car production in Cowley, and a split vote at the crucial mass meeting. This gave the press the chance to begin to attack Thornett, who had chaired the meeting, for ‘manipulating’ the vote.

As the assembly workers returned to work, Thornett’s own section – the transport drivers – struck in defence of yet another agreement broken by the Company, this time on the question of lay-offs. The strike on Thornett’s section, which is vital to production, meant that the plant, about to reopen after three weeks, would remain shut. The Company weighed up their options. They knew the leadership suffered a degree of isolation following the correct campaign for occupation during the oil crisis and then the pull-back when the oil was restored. They knew that this inevitable degree of isolation was compounded by the policies put forward by the WRP during that period and they knew there was a subjective division between Thornett and RF. They decided to act. First, in order to split the plant, they sent the foremen down the tracks to tell the production workers that Thornett had deliberately engineered a strike on his own section because he had lost the vote the day before at the mass meeting and was determined to keep the plant shut. This was effective when taken alongside the witch-hunt which had started in the press and the fact that there had been continuous action since the previous December, defending agreements against the Company. The next day, recognition as deputy convenor and shop steward was withdrawn from Thornett, the transport drivers struck in his defence and the witch-hunt began in earnest.

For the next three weeks the transport section was under attack from the combined forces of the British Leyland Motor Corporation, the T&GWU bureaucracy at National, Regional and District level, a group of backward women led by Carol Miller, the right-wing, the National Front, – the biggest national witch-hunt for many years, and Reg Parsons who coordinated much of it. (Parsons now a company stooge, joined the SLL in 1967, and left in 1971. He had a harsh rigidity and a hostility to theory.)

The stakes were high for Leyland and it is not surprising that the struggle centred around Alan Thornett. He had been the main defender of the mutuality agreement and stood between the company and speed-up. Thornett had been at the centre of all the struggles in the factory since 1966, when he became Deputy Convenor, having been a shop steward since 1962. Thornett had joined the CP in 1959 and left in 1964 with differences over Trotskyism. He was a founder member of the SLL factory branch and a member of the Central Committee until his expulsion as an “anti-party element” in December 1974. Leyland were determined that he would never act as a shop steward again.

The transport drivers stood the test of the witch-hunt, the threats, demonstrations and manoeuvres by the company and trade union bureaucracy. The T&GWU Regional Committee then moved in and removed RF and Thornett from their elected positions of Convenor and Deputy Convenor and forced them to stand election again under the impossible conditions of the witch-hunt. The 5/55 branch was split up and militant layers of workers demoralised. The employers and the forces of reaction gained a partial success. The right-wing took the convenor’s position, resulting in the ending of almost every agreement in the factory and the imposition of speed-up.

Because of the strength of the transport section, Leyland were forced to restore Thornett’s shop steward’s card which was an important success and represented the successful defence of an important principle. Whilst trade union positions were lost, the cadre held strong and the basis was provided for a further political development which was to make this cadre, at a later date, the spearhead of the Trotskyist opposition in the WRP.

Healy today tries to separate the correct tactical positions taken by the WRP during the struggle – worked out in conjunction with the local branch – from the overall wrong positions of the WRP which were a major factor in the employer’s attack. The wrong perspectives and predictions were as much a part of the struggle as was the complete inability of the WRP to mobilise any support at all from any other sections of workers anywhere in the country. From Ellesmere Port, for example, claimed by Healy as his other car industry base, there was nothing. Cowley was seen to be an island – as the only significant industrial penetration of the WRP. All these questions must be taken into account when examining the role of Healy and the WRP leadership in the victimisation struggle.

As Healy’s method emerges the question arises – how were the principled struggles, fought in Cowley for many years, carried out? The fact is that many of the worst aspects of WRP practice had never been brought into Oxford, or they had been fought against by the local leadership; not so much as a conscious fight but a fight arising out of the requirements of the work in the mass movement. If the full force of WRP method, as applied in London for example, had been brought in it would have been impossible to achieve what was achieved.

In the London branches, the long hours of discussion involved in training cadres in factories was never permitted. The long hours spent by the Oxford comrades in extending the trade union work from Morris Motors to other sections of the trade union movement in Oxford, (where branches were built in Pressed Steel, the hospitals and in other major sections) would never have been possible in the London movement where the only person allowed to do this kind of detached work is Healy himself. This method not only makes serious trade union work impossible, but restricts the political development of those comrades who are confined solely to general work, selling papers, collecting money and so on.

It is important to note that it was not Healy who extended the work in Oxford beyond the assembly plant branch, but the Oxford leadership. He was never at any time involved in any of the branches outside the assembly plant. The first meeting he attended of any of them was just prior to the expulsions when he wanted to oppose Alan Thornett.

The method of instant recruitment, which by 1974 was a predominant factor in the WRP in order to attempt to offset the liquidation of the party resulting from the leadership’s maximum programme, was also resisted in Oxford. New contacts had to be tested out before their membership could be considered. Again this was something imposed by the objective conditions in the factories. This difference, between the Oxford work and the national work of me WRP, was in essence the difference between a serious fight for leadership in the factories and pure propagandist method.

It was possible, in this way, to avoid aspects of Healy’s method, but the Oxford branches could not be separated from his method as a whole or from the wrong national perspectives of the WRP – and for this the branches paid the price in struggle.

Development of Opposition to Healy

As we explained in our first document differences over party perspectives began to emerge in Oxford from December 1973. These were over the three day week, the practice of the party leadership in drawing a mechanical connection between economics and politics, and later, the perspectives advocated during the oil crisis of military coups and police – military dictatorships. Differences also emerged over the designation of reformist class collaborators as ‘corporatists’, the constitutional changes, the wrong positions of the leadership on nationalisation and workers control and most important, the revision of the Transitional Programme – the founding document of the Fourth International. At the same time Alan Thornett was in conflict with the leadership of the party over the trade union work and the way the leadership used its authority. This had reached the point where one man – Gerry Healy – was making all decisions in all fields of work in the WRP and as we have since found out – in the International Committee as well. Under these conditions, committees ceased to function and the work of party comrades in leadership positions in the factories became paralysed.

Alan Thornett has been accused by Healy of hiding these differences from the party – this is not true. Differences held during the oil crisis by both Alan Thornett and Tony Richardson were discussed with Healy at the time. Special discussions took place particularly when questions were raised in the Oxford branches over an article by Alex Mitchell which called for uncritical support for the minimum programme of the Labour Party at the time of the February (1974) election. Thornett’s differences over the three day week were well known to the Central Committee, as was the opposition in Oxford to the call to campaign in support of a triple alliance between miners, railmen and engineers – each of which was only banning overtime. This was a policy patently impossible to advance in the factories and guaranteed never to go beyond the editorial board of Workers Press (who presumably had dreamed it up since neither the C.C. nor any trade union committee had discussed it). In addition, Thornett’s differences over trade union work were discussed many times with Mike Banda, who was nominally in charge of the trade union work nationally.

Nor were the differences confined to Alan Thornett and Tony Richardson. Opposition to the party’s policies emerged in other areas also. In London, opposition to standing candidates in the February election was discussed in some branches, and considerable alarm was expressed at the near total failure of Workers Press to call for a Labour government at all. Although some who experienced this drifted away from the party, those who remained continued to carry out faithfully the agreed line of the leadership. Later, when the question of constitutional changes arose and the decision was taken to stand candidates in the October election, some of the branches were in open opposition to these policies. But this opposition was fought against by the local leadership including Thornett. The party line was upheld and neither Thornett nor anyone else gave any hint that they held a critical position. This of course is entirely consistent with the method of democratic centralism, the method through which the fight to build and develop the Oxford branches has been carried out.

Conditions on the Central Committee

Most of the differences were discussed to some extent on the Central Committee. We say to some extent because the truth is that there has not been any real discussion on the C.C. for years. Alan Thornett, Tony Richardson and Kate Blakeney have been virtually the only C.C. members to introduce any kind of questioning of the leadership perspectives. At each meeting C.C members struggle to make points they know the leadership expect to hear because they know that the slightest deviant contribution will be held as an anti-party position and attacked as such – predominantly by denigration and invective. This is not to say in any way that the fight for members to make strong political contributions should not be a sharp one, or that repetition does not play a role in this political development, but the motive behind Healy’s attacks is not to strengthen that political development but to bring any critical member into line or to destroy their credibility.

For years comrades such as Cyril Smith, Jack Gale and Tom Kemp have been used as whipping boys by Healy at C.C. meetings. Every C.C. member knows this to be true. These comrades have been reduced to tears many times in front of C.C meetings when attacked as “anti-party” over contributions they have made. Cliff Slaughter was attacked for years as embodying ‘the most pernicious form of subjective idealism in the party’. He abandoned party work for long periods, and had recently done so. He would not attend his area committee or even his branch for many months at a time. He was, however, kept on the C.C. (whenever he was prepared to attend) and remained as secretary of the International Committee of the Fourth International and in charge of the international work for the WRP. This is an example of the way in which Healy, as a centrist, is able to combine left sectarianism and opportunist positions; it is also an example of his contemptuous attitude to international work.

When the opposition emerged, Slaughter was fully rehabilitated and brought back to provide the ‘theoretical’ basis for the fight against the Thornett documents. Despite all the harshness expressed by Healy against Slaughter in the C.C. and other internal meetings, he really has the same soft relationship with him as with RF and JP discussed earlier in this writing. Slaughter’s are the politics of cowardice and conformity, of the period when Trotskyism was a tiny embattled movement, unable because of objective circumstances, to win a mass appeal. It is no coincidence that he is now wheeled out to give support to a leadership that has continually declared that he is a man to be despised.

The other factor which inhibited any kind of .critical discussion at C.C meetings was the constant threat of removal from the committee or expulsion from the party. Healy never recognised that C.C. members are elected from conference. Comrade DT from the North East coast, for example, was removed from the C.C. at the July 1974 meeting because it was said by Healy that his contribution was ‘pessimistic’. Healy’s normal response to a contribution in discussion which he doesn’t like is ‘you should be thrown out’. This method avoids politics and avoids clarification and restricts the development of C.C. members and of the party; it also restricts the party leadership’s ability to assess the development of the movement.

Healy in any case was becoming more remote. The meeting of October 12th in 1974, where Alan Thornett first put his differences, was the first C.C. meeting in 1974 that Healy had attended all through. At every other meeting he had excused himself after the report and discussion and was not present for the reports from the regions or for discussion on the work of the party. This was a recent development and part of the degeneration of the Healy leadership. It was an important factor because of the obvious importance of all C.C. meetings. Healy is, after all, a full-time paid official of the WRP and if nothing else should be prepared to attend one full C.C. meeting per month. The C.C. is, after all, the body to which he is responsible between conferences. It is the utmost arrogance and indifference not to attend. What can be more important? How can he be “too tired”? It raises the question – does the leadership exist for the movement or the movement for the leadership? The question can rightly be asked – why was this situation tolerated by C.C. members? The answer is connected with the whole method of leadership of the WRP. At first it seems very hard and political – ruthless decisions are necessary in a revolutionary movement and so on. Members are swayed by the demagogy of Healy’s speeches. The decision to challenge Healy in a meeting on any point is a hard one, invoking bitter invective from the leadership and probably resulting in removal from the Committee of the comrade who has made the challenge. Any challenge involves a questioning of the whole of Healy’s method and leads directly to his wrong theoretical positions and therefore cannot be tolerated. The conduct of meetings and methods of debate cannot be separated from bureaucratic centralist positions. Any challenge therefore which does not attempt to go beneath the surface can never get off the ground. But it is the objective conditions which predominate. Whilst the party is expanding and Healy appears to be delivering the goods, no one questions the regime.

The rigid sectarianism which dominates the meetings is one of the reasons why new cadres from the trade unions disappear so quickly. They cannot live in this kind of airtight atmosphere which in any case excludes their proper political development. This is not to say that members should not be taken up extremely sharply at C.C. meetings, but this should be done with political strength, not simply with threats and invective.

We have fought to take up the politics behind Healy’s attacks. They are the politics of subjectivism. Therefore the attacks do not start from the need to strengthen and develop the party and party members, but rather to bring them into line or destroy their credibility. This subjective method means that conflict is never more than words. It is never related to the practice of the movement. To the extent that practice is involved at all it only ever gets as far (and then only in a distorted way) as the practice of the individual – completely unrelated to the practice of the party itself. This means that programme and perspectives are left out of the discussion and we are left with simply another aspect of the sectarian method of the Healy leadership – the philosophical basis of which is the separation of theory from practice.

A number of important issues have run parallel with the developments outlined above from November 1973 – June 1974. All party trade union work on a national scale had ceased. We describe the collapse of the TU committees and the effects this has had on the party in the first document. For example, incredible as it may seem, there was not a single national TU campaign or intervention by the party in the whole of 1974. The political content of Workers Press had declined considerably and many of the positions it was putting forward were wrong. In January a group of ex-WRP / SLL members around Robin Blick, himself a party member for many years and foreign editor of Workers Press until 1972, began publishing the Bulletin, a regular critique of the WRP.

All those WRP members who set up the WSL were in complete hostility to the Bulletin tendency throughout that period. “Blick-Jenkins” were abused by Healy at that time in much the same way as Alan Thornett and anyone who supported him were abused as soon as criticisms were raised. But there is no doubt that a number of the questions Blick took up were correct and played an important role in the development of the positions contained in our first two documents. This does not in any way constitute or imply political agreement with the Bulletin group then or now. On the contrary, we have fundamental political differences with the Bulletin group, but we recognise and acknowledge the role played by them through their critique of the WRP in that period. They were correct in their challenge to Healy on corporatism, workers control and nationalisation and Healy departing from the transitional programme. It remained a verbal challenge, but it made an important contribution, though it remained very much a verbal challenge, since the group themselves hold a liquidationist position on social-democracy – which has never been supported by the WRP opposition.

Healy Changes WRP Constitution

The first major move from the WRP leadership came with the constitutional changes in July 1974. These changes were a clear preparation by Healy to deal in a bureaucratic and organisational way with the embryonic opposition which he could sense was developing, mainly through Alan Thornett’s position. Healy at that time used RS – claimed by Healy to be a member of the Bulletin group – as a vehicle to get these changes through. With a technique now so familiar to us (one year and over 200 expulsions further on) Healy did not challenge RS politically but charged him with failing to attend a PC meeting and forced him to defend himself simply on that basis. RS had been expelled by the Political Committee and had appealed to the CC which unanimously rejected his appeal. He had then claimed his right under the constitution to circulate material under the 10-day rule and to appeal in person to the conference.

Prior to the conference, at the June CC meeting, Healy made it clear that, whilst RS would be allowed to address this conference, no such thing would ever happen again. He told the Central Committee that the constitution of the WRP (it was only adopted 7 months earlier on the basis of the 15 year old SLL constitution) was ‘liberal’ and ‘Menshevik’ and that the 10-day rule and appeal to conference clauses should never have been there, they had, he said, ‘slipped in’. He went on to make proposals to change the constitution at the special conference by deleting the 10-day rule and the right of appeal to conference and substituting an appeals committee.

Alan Thornett opposed these amendments on the CC, arguing that the clauses being abolished were correct ones and that the amendments would only further expose the party to attack from the Bulletin group. He went on to argue that the amendments were an erosion of party democracy, and he could not accept that the SLL and WRP had had a Menshevik constitution for 15 years. Thornett said he had advocated and defended these clauses ever since he had joined the SLL and could see no reason for changing them now.

After the CC vote was taken an amazing situation arose. Thornett was accused of splitting the party – with this, his first vote against the leadership in six years. After the meeting Healy told Thornett that he (Thornett) had a responsibility to reverse his vote in the form of a letter to the General Secretary, this was argued on the basis that Alan Thornett’s vote would be used against the WRP by Blick. Eventually Thornett agreed to write such a letter. The letter made it clear that the vote was withdrawn not on the basis that it was wrong but on the basis that the vote might be used by enemies to attack the party.

At the conference itself, Healy argued in favour of his constitutional amendments in the terms of the need to defend the WRP against police agents and political opponents of the ‘Bulletin’ variety. The proposals were not, of course, presented to the branches before the conference, nor were they mentioned in advance at the conference itself. The active rank and file members of the party in the conference were generally prepared to accept the changes out of loyalty to the party and respect for the leadership, though a few voted against the alterations in the 10-day rule, and one delegate against the ending of the appeal procedure.

After the conference was over, (the same evening) the situation descended to farce. Tony Richardson, Alan Thornett and John Lister were summoned to Healy’s flat. At the CC meeting Tony Richardson had asked a question in the discussion on the constitutional changes, simply seeking clarification of a detail and had received an answer acceptable to him. He had then voted in favour of the constitutional changes. As soon as the three comrades arrived in the flat Healy said that Richardson had been wrong to ask the question. He went on to demand that Richardson make a statement agreeing that he was wrong to have even asked the question. It was not the question itself, Healy said, but the questioning of the leadership which was wrong. Tony Richardson refused to make such a statement, defending his position on the basis that the question had not been critical of the leadership, and that he had completely accepted the answer he had been given and had voted in favour of the constitutional changes.

Healy displayed great hostility to this reply and promptly called a meeting of the political committee, there and then, in the flat at 1.00 in the morning. When the meeting assembled he put down a motion expelling Tony Richardson if he would not agree that asking the question had been wrong. He eventually agreed to make such a statement in order to avoid expulsion. It was now becoming clear that the practices of the Healy leadership had little to do with Bolshevik conceptions of party organisation or Bolshevik politics.

At the Special Conference itself there was a further development which had an impact on those who later moved into opposition to Healy’s sectarianism. The conference had almost entirely centred on attacks on the Bulletin group. As the conference was closing it was discovered that the Bulletin group were distributing leaflets outside the Hall. An instruction was then given from the platform that no delegate was to take or read the leaflets. It seemed to some delegates that the implications of what was involved in this instruction went far beyond the dangers from the politics of the Bulletin group and towards the politics of sectarianism. In Oxford we had always made a point of reading revisionist material in order to develop our knowledge of what they were doing then politically. Healy’s instruction amounted to a burning of the books.

Healy Fabricates the ‘Political’ Basis for the Fight

The next development came at the September 14th CC meeting. At 3.00 p.m., when the meeting was due to start, the Political Committee was already in session – an unusual occurrence. When the PC members came into the meeting, Healy announced that the political report would not be given by himself as General Secretary but by Vanessa Redgrave, who had been in the party nine months, Redgrave made a contribution in which she said that the working class had finally broken from reformism and Stalinism. Alex Mitchell went on to make a contribution almost as bad.

When the discussion started Healy demanded a contribution from the Western Area and Alan Thornett spoke. He said that the working class had been on the offensive all of that year. The miners had forced the Tory Government to resign, this offensive had continued through a wages movement and now it looked as if the working class were going to replace the minority Labour Government with a majority Labour Government. He went on to say that such a government would come into power under conditions of great economic crisis and that the battles to be fought in the coming winter would be between the working class and the Labour Government who would defend capitalism.

Cliff Slaughter then got up and altered completely what Thornett had said. Thornett, he said, was of the opinion that the working class would come into conflict with capitalism through a Labour Government. He then went on to say that this was exactly what was being said in the latest ‘Bulletin’ – which he had already open and underlined when he came out of the political committee meeting. Alan Thornett vigourously protested that he had been misquoted, but this was brushed aside by Healy. Healy then demanded that Tony Richardson and Kate Blakeney speak. They both defended the original position put by Alan Thornett making it clear that his position had been distorted.

This manoeuvre can be seen in hindsight to have been quite crucial to Healy. In one move it established a fabricated ‘link’ between Thornett and Blick and it ‘established’ that Thornett was moving towards social democracy. This distortion is now quoted in almost every article attacking Thornett. It is never mentioned, of course, that Thornett immediately challenged the accuracy of it or that no such position appeared in either of the two political documents he submitted or that no such statement has ever appeared in Socialist Press or in any statements or literature put out by the WSL.

After the tea break Healy stormed back into the meeting and demanded a show of hands on who had been receiving copies of the Bulletin. Half of the Committee put their hands up, including Alan Thornett and Kate Blakeney. Healy then demanded to know why they had not complied with the instruction issued from the Political Committee in July that any documents received from the Bulletin Group be sent into the centre by return of post. Thornett and Blakeney said they were not aware of such an instruction. One thing was clear, whether an instruction had been issued in July or not, this was another example of burning books.

In line with the politics of Healy a further decision was taken of some importance. Without a single word of discussion, the meeting agreed to recruit 3,000 new members in the next 10 days. This item took literally 30 seconds. To have spoken or have voted against such a position would have meant certain branding as anti-party and opposed to building the party. No one did this. In spite of this resolution the WRP continued to decline.

Alan Thornett Resigns from the WRP

The next day Alan Thornett was faced with a situation where he had been politically framed on the Central Committee and branded as a supporter of social democracy and an agent of the Bulletin group. The Healy leadership was taking increasingly dictatorial and bureaucratic decisions. The movement was faced with recruitment decisions which not a single branch in the party could possibly (or ever did) carry out. (The only thing such decisions did was put a weapon in Healy’s hands. He could select any individual in the party and politically beat them down for not carrying this decision out, as and when he decided.) Alan Thornett knew he had an opposition position which was not politically developed. He was beginning to see that the emerging differences ran very deep but could see no possibility or perspective of fighting these through under the conditions created by Healy. Faced with this situation he took a wrong political decision. He resigned.

Open Opposition Emerges

At 12.00 that night, after Thornett’s resignation, Healy visited Thornett’s house with Tony Banda. Thornett was out. Healy met John Lister who had just returned from a YS outing and was unable to explain Thornett’s resignation. Healy began telling Lister that Thornett had made a social democratic contribution on the CC, and that he had been “propped up” by Healy throughout the victimisation struggle. This was the beginning of the preparation to slander Thornett’s Oxford work as a prelude to any possible split.

At 6.30 a.m. the next morning Thornett received a phone call from Healy and a meeting was arranged for 10.00 a.m. in Oxford. At this meeting Healy was emotional. Thornett explained that he was not prepared to discuss his political differences, arguing that they were very deep and could well split the party – a risk which he was not prepared to take, particularly because the differences were only half formulated and only half understood. Healy then asked Thornett to tell him personally, in confidence, what the differences were. Thornett replied saying he could only regard Healy as party secretary and for that reason there was no question of personal confidences. Healy responded by saying that he would be prepared to resign as secretary if it would make a discussion possible but Thornett said that this would make no difference, he had taken a decision to go out of politics and it was final. He had taken this decision because it was not possible to raise differences in the WRP and there was nowhere to go politically outside the WRP. He therefore could see no political future.

Healy then made a statement which revealed much about his subjective method. Thornett’s leaving would he said “put a cloud over me” and went on to say he could not continue as national secretary under those conditions.

This statement was a glimpse of what was to emerge more clearly later – that Healy had rested his personal prestige on two things. Cowley on the one hand, arguing that he had built the worker base, and philosophy on the other – ‘complicated’ and ‘impressive’ philosophical lectures which baffled everyone but bore no resemblance to his practice.

A further meeting between Thornett and Healy was fixed for Tuesday evening. There was a Western area committee that evening (Monday) but due to the impact of Thornett’s decision no one from Oxford attended. Events now began to develop quickly. At 9.30 the same evening a car driven by Aileen Jennings picked up John Lister, Tom White (a member from Cowley and the one who has remained in the party in Oxford) and Kate Blakeney. They were taken to Healy’s flat in Clapham. When they arrived Healy began screaming at John Lister, demanding to know what Alan Thornett’s political position was. John Lister didn’t know, having had only a brief discussion late on Sunday night with Alan Thornett.

During the interview John Lister was subjected to continuous vilification and intimidation. Later Healy switched his attention to Tony Richardson. He said he wanted him brought to London from Oxford, saying that he would get the truth out of him. He told Jennings: “Fetch the heavies – and I want them big.” While she went away there was more screaming at John Lister. When she came back Jennings said all that she could find were Paddy O’Regan and Norman Harding. Healy said they would have to do and despatched them to Oxford, instructing them to take Kate Blakeney, John Lister and Tom White back with them.

At 3.15 a.m. on Tuesday morning they arrived at Thornett’s house with John Lister. Thornett later told the Control Commission that “it was obvious from John Lister’s appearance that he had been subjected to severe intimidation”. John Lister was able to relay to Alan Thornett, during the night, that the experience in Clapham had been horrifying and he intended to resign from the party and leave town as soon as possible. He left that same day. At 5.15 a.m. O’Regan, who had stayed in the house through the night, came upstairs and woke Lister. Thornett went down and asked him what was going on. He said they were going to find Tony Richardson. John Lister then went with them to Tony Richardson’s room in Cowley, and then to the factory.

On the factory gates they were approached by GH who asked them what they were doing. O’Regan said they were looking for Tony Richardson and asked him to go into the factory and try to find him. O’Regan said that Alan Thornett was waiting for Tony Richardson in the car GH had seen the car and knew this to be false, a factor which made him very suspicious of the whole thing – a suspicion which later became one of the sources of rumours of ‘heavies’.

When Healy met Thornett on Tuesday evening he was accompanied by Kate Blakeney and Tom White. He had a proposition to put – if Thornett would rejoin the party the following conditions would apply:
A) His party membership would be regarded as continuous.
B) He would have two weeks leave of absence from party work to think through his position.
C) After the general election, a special CC meeting would be called (all weekend if necessary) at which he would be able to present his differences.
D) His differences could then be put to a conference of the party before the end of the year.

Thornett said that he would consider this suggestion and contact the centre. On Wednesday evening there was a Western Area agregate meeting which was organised by Kate Blakeney. On Thursday at 1.10 pm Thornett rang Healy asking for his membership to be restored under the conditions discussed on Tuesday. This was accepted. Meanwhile Tony Richardson had left Oxford, correctly fearing physical violence being used against him.

On Thursday evening there was a meeting of the Assembly Plant branch convened and attended by Healy who presented Alan Thornett’s resignation to the branch in completely non-political terms – saying that Thornett had personal problems. Healy, according to most of those in attendance, had been drinking and had a further drink at the bar before the meeting started. This became later, as conflict developed, the source of the so called ‘rumours’ of drinking used by Healy to avoid the politics. During this meeting he made a statement which later became the source of ‘rumours’ of violence used by Healy in a similar way. He said “We are a hard party and we visit people”. Healy also made a statement at this meeting to the effect that Tony Richardson had been on drugs recently and had originally come from a hippy milieu. Both of these statements were made in front of the whole branch and were malicious lies calculated to destroy Tony Richardson’s political standing.

All these developments raised a difficult problem. John Lister and Tony Richardson had no wish to remain outside politics, and their own experience of the bureaucratic methods of the Healy leadership impressed on each of them the necessity for a political fight within the WRP against Healy. It was clear to them that such bankrupt organisational methods must be based on bankrupt politics, a conclusion which forced them to begin a serious study of the political questions involved.

The problem was how, with the hysterical atmosphere prevailing, could they return to party work in physical safety? It was clear that this hysteria would have to abate before they could safely contact the centre. Thornett was in contact with Tony Richardson during this period and shared his view that the risk was too great. On Wednesday September 25th John Lister, judging the time right, contacted the centre and asked to re-enter the work. He was called to Clapham for discussions with Healy on October 1st. The discussion was properly conducted, there was no intimidation, and it was agreed that he resume party work. He would however be removed from his positions as branch secretary and from the sub-area and area committees.

Tony Richardson’s case was different as Healy was showing particular venom towards him. Eventually however the decision had to be made and he contacted the centre. He was called to Clapham for ‘discussions’ in Clapham at 9.00 p.m. on Tuesday evening. The interview again was in Healy’s flat. Alex Mitchell was present and so was Aileen Jennings. At his interview considerable physical violence was used on him. Tony Richardson gave a full and detailed report of this to the Control Commission but of course not a single word was recorded. These methods are only used on the most loyal members. Tony Richardson had 11 years as a continuously active member in the SLL / WRP. He was sacked from AEC Southall having established a principled record as a shop steward, and has established a similar record over the last 4 years in the fight against the right wing in the Cowley Body Plant.

Tony Richardson arrived at Alan Thornett’s house at 2.15 the following morning – physically and mentally shattered by the experience. Giving evidence later to the Control Commission Thornett said that it could be seen at a glance that Tony Richardson had been seriously maltreated. It was these developments which drove Thornett to go beyond the limited criticisms he had developed so far and set out to look deeper into the political basis of the Healy leadership. It was clear that a leadership which indulged in such methods was completely alien to Bolshevism. It could not possibly hold a correct political position. The historical, philosophical, and class nature of the Healy leadership now had to be subjected to re-examination.

Thornett Puts his Position to the Central Commission

The election campaign was now underway, with Kate Blakeney standing as candidate in the Swindon constituency. During this period, despite the fact that Thornett at this point was tactically opposed to the standing of candidates, the campaign was carried through strongly by the whole western area and the leadership including Thornett, whatever is now said by Healy. In Oxford there was widespread opposition amongst the members to standing candidates and participation in the election work. Thornett fought at all times against this and for party policy. As a result of this no one in Oxford knew he had such differences.

The election took place on October 10th and the majority Labour government was elected. On October 12th a special meeting of the CC was called to listen to Thornett’s position. Thornett had worked out a detailed case. He began by noting that Cliff Slaughter had given the political report – something he had not done for 6 years since Slaughter had been out of party work for a long period of time. Thornett asked if he had been brought back from the wilderness to lend ‘theoretical’ support to Healy’s political position. Healy intervened saying that references to people’s practice should be kept out of the discussion. Slaughter later said that this accusation was wrong, he had in fact come out of the wilderness in July – in time for the special conference.

Thornett went on to speak for 1½ hours covering the oil crisis, Healy’s imminent military coups position, the WRP’s maximum programme, nationalisation and workers’ control, corporatism, the election, TU work, and the central question of the departure of the WRP leadership from the Transitional Programme. He finished up requesting a control commission to investigate the treatment of Tony Richardson on the basis that the control commission was the correct body to deal with this question. The submissions were moved as a motion in line with the constitutional procedure for forming a minority faction if there was no agreement.

After he had finished his statement there was a brief reply by Slaughter followed by a short discussion and then the meeting was adjourned until the following Saturday, giving the leadership the opportunity to prepare a more developed reply. During the tea break Healy had asked Thornett not to form a faction yet, he argued – from a point of view that might have had some validity if the WRP were organised on Bolshevik principles – that once factions are formed camps are formed and “free and open discussion” would become very difficult. Healy said that if Thornett held back from forming a faction he would personally ensure a free discussion throughout the party.

As events began to develop it became obvious that this was not to be the case. Healy began to manoeuvre in every part of the country to stop the discussion taking place. On Sunday October 13th Healy attended a joint meeting of the Pressed Steel and General branches in Oxford. It was the first time he had attended either of these branches since their formation three years before. A resolution was put down that Tony Richardson and John Lister be brought back onto the committees. Healy said he generally agreed with this but asked that it be laid on the table for a period. He said this was just a formality – until the Control Commission reported.

On Saturday 19th, the recalled CC meeting was opened by a report by Slaughter, who attacked the positions Thornett had put at the previous meeting and defended the draft of a leadership document he had produced for the conference. Thornett spoke next, developing further his position. A long discussion followed. At the end of the meeting there was no agreement. The decision was therefore taken that Thornett would document his differences and put the document to a further CC meeting in two weeks time. A further decision was taken that a drafting committee would be set up which would produce a revised leadership document attempting to ‘incorporate’ the points made by Thornett. Healy moved that Tony Richardson be on this committee, a move designed to compromise his position. When the vote was taken Tony Richardson abstained. With the redraft document Healy was hoping to avoid an independent opposition document emerging and an independent position being put at conference.

The ‘main line’ of Slaughter’s draft of the leadership document was then put to the vote with Alan Thornett voting against and Tony Richardson abstaining. The meeting then voted unanimously that Thornett be given full rights to put his position in the party including circulation of his material and the facilities afforded for him to speak to aggregate meetings in all areas. This decision was never revoked and never carried out.

It was becomingly increasingly clear that the enormous upsurge in the working class, and the movements that led to the overthrow of the Tories in February had led to discussion and questioning in branches in different parts of the country. There was disagreement in many areas directed in particular against the new methods of recruitment which involved signing people up who had no idea that they were joining anything other than an organisation that was vaguely opposed to the Tories, and who were often never even seen again. The impossible recruitment targets imposed on the CC could only be carried out in this insupportable way. In Yorkshire they produced some votes on the Area Committee against the targets which were being put forward. In North London dissent was registered in various ways. There was a demand for discussion on the splitting of branches in Camden, when no basis for new branch leaderships existed. In Holloway there was discussion at some length on the sub-district committee about the Healy theory of corporatism, and whether this made it possible to carry on trade union work at all on this basis in an area where there was virtually no support in the working class. These mild expressions of discontent were not put forward in any spirit of disloyalty to the Party, but in an effort to improve its work and allow it to operate more effectively. However, the expression of the mildest opposition was met with the most ferocious abuse, visits to branches by Banda, Torrance and others. Those members who were not driven from the movement altogether by these methods, were, as in the case of AC and JB in Camden, simply suspended by Healy personally without any pretence at a constitutional procedure. It was only in the context of the independent development of the opposition in the Western Region, of which these members were totally unaware, that this behaviour can now be understood. Healy tried, not without some success, to wall off all members of Party who were likely to express even the mildest criticisms from the possibility of coming into alliance with the opposition on the CC. His methods, however, backfired, since those who began by questioning the lack of proper discussion in the Party, ended up by undertaking, much later when the Thornett document appeared, a more thoroughgoing critique of the WRP leadership and its methods on the lines proposed in the documents. The bureaucratic and anti-Bolshevik methods of Healy were an important contributory factor to this. However, it was only the appearance of the documents that made it possible for them to be given a general political content.

The First Document is Submitted

During the two weeks following the recalled CC meeting Thornett worked on his document, completing it on Friday November 1st. Also during this period Tony Richardson was working with Slaughter and Healy on the draft leadership document. From the beginning Richardson pressed for the inclusion of a section explaining why Slaughter’s second draft – unlike the first which was written before Alan Thornett put his position to the CC – contained a ‘programme’ of transitional demands. He maintained that this was a major adaptation to Thornett’s position and as such should be explained. Slaughter and Healy consistently refused to include such an explanation. If Thornett was so completely wrong why was it necessary to rewrite the leadership document and include whole sections of what Thornett had said?

A glimpse of Slaughter’s real position (of unprincipled opportunist support for Healy) came to the surface when after a discussion in which Tony Richardson challenged him on this adaptation he said he didn’t agree “with all this stuff of Healy’s”, meaning Healy’s defence of his wrong positions, but had agreement with Healy only on the economic crisis. The final draft was produced entirely by Slaughter with none of the points raised by Tony Richardson included.

On Tuesday 22nd October there was a Western Area aggregate meeting in Swindon. It was chaired by Alan Thornett and addressed by Healy. Healy’s adaptation to Thornett’s position came strongly into his contribution in which he raised for the first time the demand for public works – the complete absence of this demand from the Workers Press or any of the SLL or WRP documents was one of the points raised by Thornett. Healy presented a position which was completely opposite to his position at the previous CC meeting – where he had ridiculed the Transitional Programme, transitional demands and Trotsky’s concept of a bridge between the present consciousness of the working class and social revolution. They (Thornett) want “Sydney harbour bridge” he had said.

The full force of this adaptation however was not to break until Saturday October 26th when Workers Press carried for the first time in the history of the SLL and WRP a programme of transitional demands which were (with some important omissions) exactly what Alan Thornett had argued at the previous two CC meetings.

The next day, Sunday October 27th, was the 5th Anniversary Rally of the Workers Press, held in Hammersmith. Both Healy and Thornett were on the platform. Thornett welcomed the transitional demands put forward in the previous day’s Workers Press. He said “This raises a direct challenge to property rights. Only the Transitional Programme will today show the way forward for the working class. We have to demand – as did yesterday’s Workers Press – a sliding scale of wages to protect against inflation and a sliding scale of hours to protect jobs. We must demand that the books of the employers are opened to committees of trade unionists as part of the struggle for workers control of the factories. If wages and jobs cannot be protected we must demand the nationalisation of the firms concerned without compensation. This must be linked to the demand for public works to keep the factories open based on an economic plan drawn up by workers from below leading towards the development of a national plan”.

He went on to say that this puts the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International at the very centre of the struggles of the working class today. “By fighting for these demands – which cannot be met under capitalism – the Transitional Programme provides a bridge between today’s consciousness of the working class and social revolution”.

This was the first time such a speech had been made at an SLL / WRP meeting and it had a big impact on many of the workers present, many of whom contacted Thornett during the tea break to discuss it.

Despite the current Workers Press being full of transitional demands, Healy managed to get through the whole of his speech without mentioning a single one, graphically showing that the Workers Press lead article was an adaptation tactic as part of the internal struggle against Thornett, not the method of the leadership. How else could the General Secretary speak on a major public platform on a Sunday, with the Workers Press putting forward a brand new programme for the party on the day before, and not even mention it?

Following the 5th Anniversary Rally a Central Committee meeting was called for Saturday 22nd November. The agenda for the meeting would allow Slaughter to present his redrafted document on behalf of the leadership, and Thornett to present his document before both were discussed and voted on.

As soon as the discussion period commenced, Tony Richardson and Kate Blakeney spoke in favour of the general line of Thornett’s document, whilst disagreeing with aspects of it. Healy’s immediate response to this was to intervene and declare that an “anti-party clique” had been revealed. His tactic was to avoid the politics which were being presented by creating a diversion around the claim that a “conspiracy” existed. When the documents were finally voted on, the leadership document was adopted with three votes against and Thornett’s document defeated with three votes in favour.

After the vote Alan Thornett made a statement saying that he wished to form a minority under the constitution. He said that not only was this his elementary constitutional right but this was also procedurally the correct point to form a minority since both positions had now been discussed by the CC and a vote taken. Healy attacked this immediately, saying: “I will not have any factions in this party. I will expel anyone who forms a faction”. It became clear later that by stopping the formation of a constitutional minority, Healy was able to maintain the characterisation of Alan Thornett, Kate Blakeney and Tony Richardson as an anti-party clique and this was central to the method he was to use in expelling the opposition.

On Sunday 10th November, an Oxford area aggregate, the first of only three such meetings which Alan Thornett was to be allowed to address, took place in Oxford. Healy spoke first, putting the leadership position, followed by Thornett who defended his document. This meeting, probably more than any factor, consolidated support for the political positions Thornett was putting forward.

The central theme of Healy’s speech was to “demolish” Thornett’s quotations. He had arrived at the meeting with an enormous pile of books. Unfortunately the tactic fell flat when he had great difficulty in following the intricate line of argument worked out to ‘prove’ the ‘misquotations’. The argument had obviously been prepared by someone else. (In fact he was using the draft of an internal document which was circulated shortly afterwards.) After all this not a single ‘misquotation’ was established.

Healy then set out to defend the WRP’s maximum programme by claiming that the political situation in Britain during 1974 had been one of dual power. He argued that dual power had existed after the Tory government was brought down – not through the existence of organs of dual power (soviets) – but through the latent strength of the working class. (An argument which would seem to establish that dual power had existed as long as capitalism since the latent strength of the working class was always there). By basing his characterisation of the period on the latent strength of the working class and not on the level of consciousness reached by the working class – as expressed in struggle and organisational form – Healy was groping for some ‘theoretical’ basis for the maximum programme he was defending.

Later in his speech Healy attempted to defend his position – that Heath had set out to deliberately crash the economy – against Thornett’s document which had taken this point up. He said the situation at that time “was a period in which dual power was building up to a test of strength which brought down the government.”

Healy then turned to the defence of his previous attacks on the Transitional Programme, claiming that it is a maximum programme. He argued: “The sliding scale of wages and hours will not be obtained in a capitalist society, only a socialist society; the big job is taking power. Thornett underestimates the taking of power element in the demands, so in a period of dual power he is turning transitional demands into their opposite and holding back workers. As the struggle develops the revolution is the only way to realise the campaign for the Transitional Programme. This shows that these demands are maximum demands”. He went on to put a similar position on workers’ control: “Thornett says workers’ control can be won without the state being headed by the proletariat; it is sheer hum bug. You can only have workers’ control under such a dictatorship”.

In replying to Healy, Alan Thornett concentrated on Healy’s attacks on the Transitional Programme. Thornett said that “the separation of the WRP from the working class was the result of a maximum programme more appropriate to a revolutionary situation. Healy has said that I am against nationalisation. That is a distortion. I have said I am opposed to the slogan nationalisation of the means of production without compensation under workers’ control because it is a maximum demand. We should campaign for the nationalisation of individual factories and industries which is posed within a programme of transitional demands. Healy has not understood the difference and the relationship between the nationalisation of individual industries and the nationalisation of the means of production – which is the full socialist programme.”

Thornett went on to take up Healy’s contention that the sliding scale of wages and hours are maximum demands. “This is a stark revision of the Transitional Programme” he said. “Healy says they are maximum because they can’t be realised under capitalism, but this is exactly what makes them transitional! Transitional demands are those demands which propose a solution to the immediate problem – wages or jobs- but precisely because they cannot be conceded under capitalism means that to fight for them is to embark on the road to workers power”.

Thornett added that the leadership document was an adaptation to his position and contained a series of transitional demands – “a sort of Transitional Programme”. He said that Cliff Slaughter had tried to ‘prove’ that the party document flowed from the document of the special conference in July. This was not so. The July special conference perspectives were a straight maximum document as was the manifesto for the October 10th General Election. “You can’t suddenly come along and say that on October 10th a maximum programme was necessary but a month later a transitional programme is needed. That would in any case be a regression, and this in a period when the working class is going forward not backwards”.

The only other speakers in the discussion were Tony Richardson, who spoke in defence of Thornett’s document and Cliff Slaughter who tried vainly to defend the worst of Healy’s positions.

On Monday 11th November there was a meeting of the Western Area Committee. This was presided over by Sheila Torrance. Alan Thornett did not speak on his document on the grounds that it was to be the subject of special meetings and the job of the area committee was to organise the work of the party. Torrance however held no such reservations and began attacking Thornett’s positions, putting forward some utterly untenable positions in doing so. She said for example that in the course of the Scottish lorry drivers strike workers had broken from, and gone beyond, their trade union leaders and that this was because “being determines consciousness”. In other words, she was expressing support for a position of straight spontaneity: workers moving beyond reformism out of economic struggle on the basis that their “being”, their involvement in struggle, determines it. Yet the WRP made not a solitary political gain from that strike.

On Wednesday 13th November Healy ordered the return of £300 of party funds deposited in Oxford against the possibility of obtaining a party vehicle. The money was returned immediately. Healy had been pressing that Alan Thornett be supplied with a party car since January. The pressures had increased dramatically as Thornett’s opposition position emerged. Thornett had deliberately obstructed the purchase of a vehicle knowing it to be a move to politically compromise him. After the October 10th CC meeting the offers of material goods reached unheard of proportions, including fitted carpets in Thornett’s house and the fitting out of a study for him to work in – all of which Thornett avoided.

Also on November 13th, suspensions began in other parts of the country. Comrade AC in London was suspended without any charges by Healy himself. When AC asked for written charges; as provided for under the constitution, he was accused of being a “Blick agent”. He was also told to cease work immediately on the Trotsky on Britain anthology which had been his main party work in the final period of his membership. In fact he completed and sent in entire files of notes which were largely published some weeks later by Healy.

On Friday 15th November Healy attended a meeting of the Assembly plant branch, which was now in solid support of Thornett with the exception of Tom White who supported Healy but was not revealing it. (He later made a statement to the control commission which became the basis for one of the charges on which Thornett was expelled). Healy’s immediately hostile and highly subjective attitude met with a sharp reaction from branch members who were demanding that the discussion take place in a proper way without personal denigration. Healy left the meeting with tempers high on all sides.

On leaving Oxford Healy went direct to Swindon where he intervened in the sub-area committee meeting with threats and intimidation. He told the committee that he had just come from Oxford where Thornett had no support at all in the Assembly plant branch and added that he intended to expel Thornett and Blakeney. Healy then carried out one of his major frame-ups. He told the meeting that he had knowledge that Kate Blakeney had told FW (a member of the SLL / WRP for many years but at that time inactive) that Alan Thornett had differences with the leadership. It turned out that this had happened during the count of votes on the night of the General Election when WRP comrades were waiting for the results. FW had asked Kate Blakeney if it were true that Alan Thornett had differences with the party leadership and she said yes. Nothing further was discussed.

It is worth going into this incident a little deeper for the insight it gives into Healy’s method. There was nothing wrong with what Blakeney had said. Firstly it was true and secondly it was general knowledge in the whole of the Western region that Thornett had differences and this had been discussed at two Area Committee meetings and in most of the branches. Healy himself had given a full report to three of the Oxford branches before the night of the election. After making the accusation Healy demanded signed statements on what Kate Blakeney had said, obtaining the following statements from FW and CN:

“On Thursday 10th October, K. Blakeney disclosed to me that differences existed between A. Thornett and the CC.”
F. A. W.
“On Monday the 4th November after a meeting between G. Healy, A. Jennings and R. B., J. G. and myself (C. N.) I stated that F. W. had mentioned to me during the week after the General Election that K. Blakeney had said that it seemed a difference existed between A. Thornett and the central leadership of the party”.
C. N.

Both of these statements confirm that Kate Blakeney acted completely correctly. They show that she had simply confirmed to FW what had been reported to the branches and nothing more. (She was later suspended and then expelled from the party on the basis of these statements after 14 years association with the SLL / WRP). In the three part series entitled ‘Thornett’s Expulsion’ in Workers Press of March 18th, 19th and 20th 1975, we find this incident distorted to outrageous proportions. It is worth a lengthy quotation:

“Direct proof emerged of the anti-party activities of this secret clique. Prior to the General Election Mrs. Blakeney had talked to party members in the Swindon area about the political differences between Thornett and the majority on the Central Committee although it had been explicitly agreed that the disagreement should be confined to an internal committee discussion.
Picture the potentially disruptive impact of this behind-the-scenes factionalising: the party is standing ten candidates in the General Election (including, incidentally, Mrs Blakeney) and she is telling comrades that Thornett is opposed to the election intervention even before he had raised it on the Central Committee”.

Surely no further comment is required on such a level of distortion.

On Saturday 16th November the Control Commission met in Oxford with its terms of reference changed from ‘An investigation into the treatment received by Tony Richardson in his interview with the General Secretary’ to ‘An investigation of the circumstances under which Tony Richardson and John Lister left Oxford’ (see Appendix 1). In other words it was no longer the party leadership which was to be investigated but the Oxford area. The Control Commission report, when it emerged was primarily intended to obscure the politics involved. It was a report based on lies and distortions and which became an expulsion instrument for Healy’s use in the events to follow.

We have reprinted the Control Commission report as Appendix 2 for those who wish to investigate it further. Few WRP members have actually seen the report and those who have were only allowed to see it in meetings. We hope that those who will now be able to study this document, supposedly published by a Committee whose duty it is to defend their political rights, will be able to see how it utterly ignored not only the reasons for which it was set up, but also any defence whatever of the rights of the members to fight for opposition positions within the organisation as allowed for in the constitution.

The following day, Sunday 17th November, was the second Oxford area aggregate meeting, attended by about 50 members. Healy spoke first, again launching a major attack on the Transitional Programme. He argued that the miners £30 wage claim was far more important than the demand for a sliding scale of wages. He seemed unable to grasp that not only was a sliding scale the key demand in the pits and the only way that miners could defend their living standards but, as a transitional demand, it was qualitatively different from a straight wage claim, and, being incompatible with capitalism, challenged the capitalist state.

John Lister took up this point in the discussion. He argued for the principles of the Transitional Programme and the importance of the demand for a sliding scale of wages. Healy replied immediately with a personal attack. He said Lister was a runner – that he ran out as full time organiser (in fact he was given one minute’s notice, at midnight on New Year’s Eve, 1973). Healy went on to say that it did not matter what John Lister said, the question was not what was said but “who was saying it” and “I know what you are”. After the meeting Healy again attacked John Lister personally. Lister replied by saying that he thought it was simply “denigration”. With this Healy told Jennings to record what had been said and stated that John Lister would now be charged on the basis that he had accused the General Secretary of “denigration”. Other than disciplinary sessions for suspension and expulsion this was the last meeting John Lister ever attended in the WRP. He was expelled in December without the suspension being lifted.

Preparations for the Expulsions Begin

On November 23rd, a meeting of the Central Committee was held. The first item on the agenda after the political report and discussion was the Control Commission report. It was first handed round and minimum time allowed for it to be read through once. It contained carefully selected fragments from the interviews linked to selected comment and downright lies. The report was entirely an instrument for mass expulsions. It was designed to poison members against Thornett and anyone who supported him. (It is interesting to note that Healy’s submissions to the Control Commission, contained in the early part of the report and the conclusions of the Control Commission itself at the end of the report are identical.)

After being read by the Committee the report was then open for ‘discussion’ and those accused were expected to defend themselves. Under these conditions all that was possible, without the opportunity to study and prepare a considered reply, was to take up some of the most outrageous accusations and conclusions contained in it. This Alan Thornett did, taking up the central accusation against him – that he had spread rumours of violence and drinking about the General Secretary. He said that he had acted at all times to stop the spreading of such rum ours of violence although he knew from Tony Richardson that violence and intimidation had taken place. He had acted in this way because he wanted the politics of both the opposition and the leadership to predominate and not be diverted into a discussion on violence. (It was clear that once the question of violence was raised, it would be used by Healy to end all discussion. This, in the event, is actually what happened, with Healy himself dragging the question of violence in for precisely this purpose).

Thornett explained in detail to the Committee how the rumours of methods of intimidation obtained currency in Oxford because of the actions of the General Secretary. First Healy had sent O’Reagan and Harding to Oxford. Then at the Assembly plant branch meeting he raised the matter with individual members in discussion. Finally, he spoke about it at the Oxford aggregate meeting. All this took place before the report was written. When questioned as to why he had not raised these issues earlier, Thornett replied that he had raised them, in the correct way, on October 12th., by asking for the Control Commission to be set up.

Tony Richardson spoke in a similar vein. He explained that although considerable violence had been inflicted on him, he had consistently denied it when asked by the Oxford comrades. He said that he had given a detailed report to the Control Commission of the violence and intimidation but none of this had appeared in the report.

Kate Blakeney then began to speak on the events she had witnessed in Healy’s flat on the night of September 16th. (This was on the occasion of John Lister’s interview the day after Thornett had resigned). Immediately there were screams of “lies” from various parts of the meeting – all from people who were not in Healy’s flat that night. Vanessa Redgrave was screaming “bourgeois pig” and Healy shouted to Aileen Jennings to “get the charge sheets” – they were already typed out. Kate Blakeney was then charged, found guilty (with only Thornett and Richardson voting against), sentenced to two months suspension and sent off the premises in no more than four minutes from the time she had commenced her speech. She had 14 years association with the SLL / WRP, was a Central Committee member (elected from conference by the way) and had played a key role in building the biggest area of the WRP outside London.

Kate Blakeney was not charged and suspended for anything she had said in the discussion, but on the Swindon statements of CN and RH. Healy’s entire motive was to silence her. The most bizarre aspect of this episode was Healy’s inability even to lay the charges correctly. He charged Kate Blakeney under clause 8c of the WRP constitution which applies to Political Committee members only. (See Appendix 1). She was never on the Political Committee. Such was the attention paid to democratic rights in the WRP. It was the last WRP meeting Kate Blakeney ever attended. She was expelled a few weeks later.

When the vote was finally taken on the Control Commission report, only Alan Thornett and Tony Richardson voted against.

John Lister was then brought in front of the Central Committee to face the charges arising from the Oxford area aggregate meeting. An additional charge had now been added to the original one of accusing the General Secretary of personally denigrating him. Lister was now further accused of having said to Healy that he expected to get a job at the centre if he agreed with Healy’s position. In fact, this had never been said at any time and it is difficult to see how it could have arisen. These charges were then read to the meeting and John Lister asked to reply, which he did by reading a prepared statement defending his position (Appendix 1). Healy responded to this with another lengthy attack full of personal abuse.

Healy then proposed to the meeting that John Lister be suspended from membership for two months. He challenged Lister to accept this, saying that he would have to undertake to defend his suspension inside and outside the party – or be expelled. After some hesitation and much pressure from Healy, John Lister said he could not agree with the charges or be expected to defend what he considered to be an unjust suspension. Healy then moved the motion on his expulsion which was carried with only Thornett and Richardson voting against.

After John Lister had left the premises Tony Richardson and Alan Thornett were very concerned with the outcome. It was clear that John Lister had a political position to put and that he was being prevented from putting it. They left the room to discuss the situation and came to the conclusion, wrongly, seen with hindsight, that Lister should not have stood on principle and allowed himself to be expelled. They concluded that the overriding factor was the need to stay in the party in order to participate as much as possible in the discussion on the political questions raised – even if this meant defending the decision wrongly taken, to suspend him from membership.

On returning to the meeting, therefore, Thornett and Richardson made the following proposal: that if the vote on John Lister’s suspension was taken again they would vote in favour of it providing his expulsion was withdrawn. They would return to Oxford and attempt to persuade John Lister also to accept it. They said they were proposing this because they could not see Lister expelled from the party by being forced to make the choice presented to him. This was accepted by the meeting and John Lister’s expulsion was rescinded, two months suspension being imposed instead. He was expelled a few weeks later.

Tony Richardson then made a further proposal to the meeting on the question of violence. He proposed, in order that the question of violence could be taken out of the arena and a return made to a discussion of the political issues raised, that he would be prepared to make a statement repudiating all suggestions of violence having taken place. This could take the form of a statement to party members and its purpose would be to remove all possible obstacles to political discussion. He said that since violence had taken place the statement would have to be made on this understanding and not prejudice the statements he had made on violence to the Central Committee and the Control Commission. Healy agreed to this immediately and sent the Control Commission members out to prepare a draft of the statement. He said that the purpose of the statement would be minuted on CC minutes and the minutes could record that it would in no way prejudice anything said in the past or in the future to the Control Commission or to the CC by Comrades Thornett and Richardson. In our view this was a correct and principled statement. We defended it politically in our letter to Healy dated November 29th. (Appendix 1). Unfortunately, with the Healy leadership we were dealing with manoeuvrers and not with Bolsheviks – the whole thing was quickly turned by Healy into an attack on Thornett and Richardson. There was however, no alternative other than to test it through and fight for the politics to be discussed.

Next on the agenda of the meeting came the charges against Alan Thornett and Tony Richardson of which there were three and one respectively. Healy made a statement saying that in view of the decisions taken and in order that the discussion could proceed, no action should be taken on these charges until after the conference. This was agreed by the Committee. In fact, this decision was never at any time rescinded. It was later overridden, unconstitutionally, by the Control Commission and the Political Committee when they expelled Thornett prior to the conference without reference to the CC.

At the end of the meeting a decision was taken to reaffirm the previous decision that Alan Thornett would have the opportunity to speak to aggregate meetings in every area and would be able to put his position to conference. Again this decision was later overruled by the Political Committee and the Control Commission.

Healy Decides to End Discussion and Expel Before the Conference

The next day, Sunday 24th November, an aggregate meeting of all members in the Western area was held in Oxford. As soon as the meeting opened, questions were asked about the suspension of Kate Blakeney and John Lister. Healy said he could not give a report to the meeting but letters would be sent to the respective branches explaining the position. No such letters were ever sent.

Healy addressed the meeting first. He opened his contribution by directing a series of questions to Alan Thornett. Thornett, he said, had raised certain questions but these only posed other much deeper questions which he now had a responsibility to answer. If Thornett was saying for example that this party has a sectarian leadership then this is a bankrupt party. Will he explain therefore the historical, philosophical and class content of this degeneration? If he was saying that the party contains the core of Trotskyism how can it then be at the same time a degenerate party? If he was maintaining that it was degenerate could he explain at what point the degeneration started? Furthermore, if he was saying that the leadership of this party was sectarian how was this being reflected into the work and perspectives of the International Committee of the Fourth International?

Healy went on to defend at length his contention that the landed aristocracy had reasserted their predominance over the bourgeoisie and concluded by repeating his main revision of the Transitional Programme and once more outlining his new philosophical revision – which had conveniently emerged at the Folkestone day school for WRP members – that the party was the “subjective impulse” igniting events. He said “Bridge is a nice word for people who don’t want to fight, but the bridge is a dialectical leap, an explosive thing in which the party plays the decisive role in transforming the consciousness of the masses to the taking of power”.

Replying, Alan Thornett said that he fully accepted his obligation to answer the questions posed by Healy. They were quite clearly the key questions and he had already begun working on material connected with them, some of which he would bring into his contribution today. It was more important however that the discussion throughout the whole party be broadened out to include these questions, which were not contained in his first documents. He asked Healy therefore if he would agree to the production of a further document which would take up these issues and go to conference alongside the first. Healy interjected saying that he fully accepted this proposal.

Thornett, having restated his positions, went on to take up Healy’s revision of Trotsky’s concept of the “bridge”, saying that Healy’s was a sectarian position. The party could only be the bridge if it fought on a programme which provided a bridge from today’s consciousness to social revolution. To reduce this to “one explosive leap” is precisely to leave out programme and amounts simply to saying “build the party”. What is involved, said Thornett, is a process, a series of leaps by which the working class must make the transition to revolution.

The aggregate meeting had a profound effect on Healy. The political strength of the positions argued by the opposition; his own inability to answer any of the questions raised; the prospect of a further document which promised to be even more unanswerable than the first, together with the support which the opposition was attracting, led Healy to the decision, probably taken before the meeting had even ended, to end all discussion and immediately expel Thornett and all those who refused to fight against him.

In order to carry out this decision Healy organised a meeting of the Control Commission first thing the following morning, Monday 24th November. Nothing had happened between the end of the aggregate meeting and the Control Commission meeting, yet the decision was taken to overturn the decision taken by the CC only two days earlier, and expel Thornett forthwith. This is a very significant sequence of events. Saturday – CC decision to hold charges against Thornett in abeyance until after the conference. Sunday – Western area aggregate meeting. Monday – Control Commission decides to expel “at once”.

The new Control Commission report, dated November 25th 1974, which arose from this meeting, gave the following reason for the changed position:

“1) We now consider that these decisions were inadequate to protect the party against what was clearly shown in our Interim Report to be not a loyal minority but an anti-party clique. It aimed not at strengthening and building the party but at attacking and destroying it.”
“We recommend that the charges which arise from our Interim Report of November 23rd and which were left in abeyance at the meeting of the CC should be acted upon at once and Alan Thornett should be charged under Clause 9 (a) of the Party constitution.”

In stark contrast to Trotsky who always argued that the job of a Control Commission was to make an objective assessment and establish who was guilty, and in contrast to the Workers Press attacks on the IMG for its bureaucratic use of the Control Commission in the Lawless affair, the report went on to list the charges against Thornett and concluded:

“3) The first responsibility of the Commission is to uphold the democratic centralist structure of the Party and defend it against its enemies within and without. The rights of individual members under the constitution are subordinate to the rights of the Party which are under flagrant attack by the anti-party clique.”

This decision means that the constitution of the WRP and all the decisions .of the CC can be overturned by the Control Commission simply by labelling an opposition “an anti-party clique”. Once an anti-party clique is declared, says the report, “the rights of individual members under the constitution are subordinate to the rights of the party”. The leadership decides who, and what, constitutes an ‘anti-party clique’ and has the absolute right to expel.

The following day, November 26th, Healy organised to isolate Thornett and began further moves against him in the Western Area. (As we have already mentioned, special aggregate meetings had by now been held in various parts of the country, whose sole purpose was to attack Thornett in his absence.) The same day Thornett received the following letter by hand:

26th November 1974
Dear Comrade Thornett,
The meeting of the Political Committee on Monday November 25th took the decision that neither yourself nor Tony Richardson are allowed to move out of Oxford without the special permission of the Political Committee until the position is clarified at the meeting of the Political Committee this Friday, November 29th.
Both of you are required to attend. The meeting will start at 9.00pm and will be held at the Centre.
Yours fraternally,
Sheila Torrance
Assistant National Secretary.

That same night, having confined Alan Thornett to Oxford, Mike Banda attended the Bracknell branch (part of the Western Area) and proceeded to attack Thornett’s political positions. The following evening, November 27th, Banda visited the Basingstoke branch, also in the Western Area where he had a harder fight and was there until the early hours of the morning, using the vocabulary of denigration and lies which have become so familiar since, and much of which Banda published in Menshevik Unmasked. Banda followed this with a visit to the Bristol branch.

At each of these meetings Banda revealed the Control Commission report to those present, thus violating the decision of the CC that the report was to remain within the CC until a further decision was taken. In other words, Thornett must not reveal the contents of the report but Banda and Healy are free to do so. Also introduced into these meetings by Banda was the statement signed by Alan Thornett and Tony Richardson on violence – not in order to end discussion on violence and get back to the politics, but to present Thornett and Richardson as liars.

On Thursday 28th November, Healy cancelled a meeting of the Swindon branches which had been arranged, and called instead a joint meeting of the branch officers of the two branches. He stormed into the meeting and expelled TF on the spot, driving him out of the house. He then stormed around making abusive attacks on everyone and at one stage physically attacking CN. Healy ended the meeting by instructing them all to go to the centre on Saturday 30th November.

Tony Richardson attended the PC meeting on the 29th as instructed by Healy’s letter, taking KB from Oxford as a witness. Alan Thornett was unwell and unable to attend. At the meeting Richardson was told that Thornett was to be expelled and the area reorganised. He was then given letters to take back to the Oxford membership, concerning the reorganisation of the Oxford branches. The letters stated that “the reorganisation involves closing down the existing branches in your sub-district and the re-registration of all the members early next week”. This was the key move. Nowhere does the WRP constitution provide for ‘re-registration’. It is essentially expulsion with reapplication for membership on terms laid down by the leadership. Healy takes it straight from Pablo who used the method on several occasions. Banda had already threatened such action at a meeting of the Camden branch in London in response to much milder criticisms by those who claimed that the party was making no effort to build links in the working class. He rounded off his threat with the statement “and you won’t find that in the writings of Trotsky”! Quite so!

The same day, Alan Thornett, still a member of the Central Committee wrote to Healy objecting to the decision to end the discussion and substitute instead bureaucratic manoeuvring and expulsions (in Appendix 1). He reminded Healy of Trotsky’s letter to Cannon in which Trotsky argued that a control commission should be objective, its job being to establish who is guilty and not as Cyril Smith stated in Oxford, “we are here to defend the leadership”. In his letter, Thornett further defended the CC statement signed by himself and Tony Richardson, as a basis for the political discussion to proceed, a statement which Healy was now using in meetings to ‘prove’ that they had spread rumours of violence and in order to justify the ending of discussion. He concluded the letter by taking up Healy’s threat to expel anyone who formed a faction and Healy’s liquidation of the party. We quote at length because of the importance of the points raised:

By decision of the Central Committee there was to be a full and open discussion on my document. I therefore wish to protest about the following practices being employed by yourself and the rest of the leadership of our Party, in the course of the discussion.
I asked, at the Central Committee, for the Control Commission to investigate ‘the treatment received by Tony Richardson in his interview at the centre on Tuesday 1st October.’ When the Control Commission was set up, the terms of reference were changed to read ‘investigate the circumstances surrounding the absence from Party work of Comrade Richardson and Comrade Lister’. This, as you well understand, is a very different brief.
My reason for requesting a Control Commission investigation, as I explained to the Central Committee, was because investigations involving the leadership are one of the main functions of the Control Commission which can meet in camera and make a report under conditions where both the leadership and the membership are protected. I cannot agree with the statement of Comrade Smith to the Central Committee that the Control Commission “is not unbiased ” we are here to support the leadership”. Trotsky makes it clear that it is not the job of a Control Commission to support either a majority or a minority, the leadership or any party member or tendency, but to investigate objectively and report to the Central Committee and the Conference.
In a letter to James P. Cannon in the middle of a deep going factional fight in the SWP (involving people who were saying that the USSR was not a workers’ state), Trotsky makes the following points:
“A) Two things are clear to me from your letter of October 24th; that a very serious ideological fight has become inevitable and politically necessary:
B) That it would be extremely prejudicial if not fatal to connect this ideological fight with the perspective of a split, of a purge, or expulsions, and so on and so forth.

I heard for example that Comrade Gould proclaimed in a membership meeting: ‘You wish to expel us’. But I don’t know what reaction came from the other side to this. I for my part would immediately protest with the greatest vehemence such suspicions. I would propose the creation of a special control commission in order to check such affirmations and rumours. If it happens that someone of the majority launches such threats, I for my part would vote for a censure or severe warning”.
It is clear from this that a Control Commission does not automatically support the leadership, in fact if a leadership is in the wrong then it should be found guilty by the Control Commission.
In this case the Control Commission not only defined its function as one of supporting the leadership but has produced a highly factional report written as the centre piece of the leadership’s bureaucratic moves to silence me, my document, and anyone who supports my views.
When the Control Commission interim report was placed before the Central Committee, myself and Comrade Richardson voted against it because of its factional nature, its inaccuracies and omissions. Comrade Richardson, as you know, stated to the CC that he had given a complete report of the violence and intimidation received at your hands on October 1st. All of this is left out of the Commission’s report.
I understood that the interim report was to remain within the CC until the Conference, indeed it is the property of Conference under the constitution. I now learn that you are revealing this report to non-CC members under conditions where they are required either to sign a statement accepting it or be expelled from the party by the Political Committee. This seems to me to be not only an abuse of the Control Commission and therefore of the constitution of our party, but the use of dictatorial, bureaucratic and intimidatory methods to avoid political discussion and suppress a political opposition.
The Control Commission report speaks of rumours of violence and drinking circulating in Oxford. Such rumours were mainly spread by yourself in individual discussions with members, most of whom had never heard a word of it until you told them. There were, as you know, clearly definable sources of such rumours. One was the incident on the factory gates on September 17th involving Comrade O’Reagan, the other being your statement to the Assembly Plant branch on Friday September 20th that “we are a hard party and we visit people”, together with your drinking prior to that meeting. In spite of these incidents only a handful of comrades had heard of them until you began discussing them in the area. I had consistently acted to stop such rumours.
As you know, Comrade Richardson and myself signed a statement at the last CC meeting which was specifically designed to put an end to such rumours and to create the conditions for a political discussion on the differences. The statement was proposed by Comrade Richardson and in my view was completely consistent with Bolshevik practice. To quote again from Trotsky’s letter to James P. Cannon:
“A conciliation and compromise at the top on the questions which form the matter of divergences would of course be a crime. But I for my part would propose to the minority at the top an agreement, if you wish, a compromise on the methods of discussion and parallelly on the political collaboration. For example, (a) both sides eliminate from the discussion any threats, personal denigration and so on; (b) both sides take the obligation of loyal collaboration during the discussion; (c) every false move (threats, or rumours of threats, or a rumour of alleged threats, resignations, and so on) should be investigated by the National Committee or a special commission as a particular fact and not thrown into the discussion and so on.

If the minority accepts such an agreement you will have the possibility of disciplining the discussion and also the advantage of having taken a good initiative. If they reject it you can at every party membership meeting present your written proposition to the minority as the best refutation of their complaints and as a good example of ‘our regime’.
It was also placed, as you know, on the CC minutes that this statement – designed as it was to create the conditions for political discussion – would not prejudice any statement made by Comrade Richardson or myself to the Control Commission, previously or in the future. I object to this statement, which we signed in the interests of the party and in the interests of a full political discussion, now being used by you out of context and presented as some kind of “confession”. This statement designed to facilitate discussion is now being used to prevent it. I also object to the following additional practices which are designed to impede political discussion in the party”.

Thornett then listed these practices, most of which have already been dealt with in this text, concluding with the suppression of factions by Healy.

You have refused my constitutional request at the last CC meeting to form a faction under section 8 of the constitution, by stating that “I will not have any factions in this party before or after the conference. I’ll expel anyone who forms a faction in this party”.
This is the opposite to Trotsky’s position who says on p. 131 of his 1938-9 Writings:
“The entire history of Bolshevism was one of the free struggle of tendencies and factions. In different periods, Bolshevism passed through the struggle of pro- and anti-boycottists, “otzovists”, ultimatists, conciliationists, partisans of “proletarian culture” partisans and opponents of the armed insurrection in October, partisans and opponents of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, left Communists, partisans and opponents of the official military policy, etc., etc. The Bolshevik Central Committee never dreamed of demanding that an opponent “abandon factional methods”, if the opponent held that the policy of the Central Committee was false. Patience and loyalty towards the opposition were among the most important traits of Lenin’s leadership. ( . . . )

In complete contradiction with reality, Pivert depicts the regime of the Fourth International as a regime of monolithism and blind submission. It would be hard to invent a caricature more fantastic and less scrupulous. The Fourth International has never prohibited factions and has no intention of doing so. Factions have existed and do exist among us. Controversy occurs always over the content of the ideas of each faction, but never over its right to existence. From the standpoint of Bolshevik ideas on party democracy I would consider it an outright scandal to accuse an opponent, who happened to be in the minority, of employing “factional methods”, instead of engaging in discussion with him over the gist of the question. If the differences are serious ones, then factional methods are justified. If the differences are not serious, then the adversary will find himself discredited. The factional struggle can result only in a more profound principled fusion, or a split. No one yet has invented another alternative, if we leave aside the totalitarian regime”.
Such practices as these are to my knowledge unprecedented in our movement – although there are precedents outside. You are well aware that since raising my differences I have made every possible attempt to accommodate to your position on how we proceed. I agreed initially not to form a faction at your request (the CC having voted me faction rights without a faction). I agreed to additional CC meeting in order to do everything to facilitate discussion and clarification. At each stage, however, you have turned these concessions against me.
In order to continue this campaign against me you have carried out practices highly damaging to our party and its work in the labour movement. You have:
1) Stopped the Area Committee from functioning, when you know that this is absolutely central to the work of the area.
2) You have confined me to Oxford by instruction – thus causing me to cease to function as area secretary.
3) You have cancelled the area school, which was necessary for the area, presumably to ensure that I would not have a platform or the opportunity to discuss with other comrades.
4) You have cancelled branch meetings crucial to the work.
5) You have directed the resources of our party for this whole period away from the struggle in the working class, towards the bureaucratic suppression of discussion because you so clearly have no political answer to the questions I raise.
These actions in my view threaten to seriously disrupt the work in the area, and in particular threaten to liquidate the proletarian base of our party. I want to make it clear that you shoulder the responsibility for this, not me. I proceeded in a correct manner to raise legitimate political differences in the party first on the CC, and then, through the CC in document form to the party as a whole.
Having made these objections, I intend to proceed with the discussion to the extent to which I am allowed. I intend to submit a further document on the lines you suggested and agreed to at the Western Area aggregate in Oxford; i.e. on the historical, philosophical and class roots of the degeneration of the leadership of our party, the start of an analysis of the international perspectives of the International Committee, including a further reply to your wrong position on workers’ control.
I write this letter in the hope that even now you will return to a proper political discussion in our movement.

Healy never replied to this letter. He proceeded instead to attempt to split off and expel those members who supported Thornett’s position. To this end the Swindon sub-district committee was instructed to attend the centre on Sunday afternoon and the Oxford committee on Sunday evening.

The method to be used at these interviews became clear at the Swindon session. Party members were split up and subjected to a tirade of abuse and denigration. Three were expelled on the spot for refusing to sign a statement denouncing Thornett. These expulsions were carried out by means of duplicated charge sheets, of which Healy had a pile. (Appendix 6). Similar duplicated sheets were also used in other parts of the country.

The same technique was used on the Reading committee. First Healy refused to treat them as a committee. Again they were split up into separate rooms and forbidden to speak to each other from the time they entered the premises until the time they left. They were exposed to organised intimidation. One leading member was called a “potential fascist”. Some of them were asked to sign statements of disassociation with all of Alan Thornett’s views or be expelled. The seven asked all refused and were expelled. During this time Alan Thornett was described as a ‘police agent’.

Meeting on the bus travelling to London, the Oxford committee decided that this method of intimidation would have to stop. A decision was taken unanimously by the fourteen members present to ask for an assurance of proper treatment before going into the centre and to ask for the charge of ‘police agent’ to be withdrawn against Alan Thornett. Until these points were accepted the committee would not agree to be split up. The committee had in any case been invited as a committee and should be met initially as a committee.

On arriving at the print shop (the venue of the meeting) the committee was confronted with an amazing scene. There were guards on the gates and more guards approached the bus as it pulled up. Aileen Jennings told the committee to remain in the bus whilst the names of those attending were taken. She also stated that the committee would be split up and taken to various places.

A statement was then made to Jennings that because of the treatment received by the Reading and Swindon comrades the committee wished to meet the PC first as a committee in order to ensure proper treatment and would require a retraction of the charge made against Alan Thornett that he was a police agent before the committee would agree to be split up. Healy was consulted and the reply came back that the Political Committee decides the conditions of interviews and the decision to split up the committee was final. The committee decided that members could not go into the print shop under those conditions and, after waiting an hour to give Healy the opportunity to change his position, returned to Oxford. The committee had been unanimous in each of the decisions taken. On arriving back in Oxford the committee met and passed a resolution which was sent to Healy. (See Appendix 1).

On Monday evening the Oxford branches met to consider the situation and the resolution of the sub-district committee. All branches supported the resolution. Their decisions were sent to Healy. (The resolutions are reprinted as an appendix to this book with the names and addresses removed).

It was only at this point, with suspensions and expulsions already well under way in all areas of the Party’s work, that dissident Party members from outside the Western region began to get in touch with the leaders of the opposition. In the Wood Green branch efforts were made to set up an opposition tendency in support of the positions of Thornett as allowed in the constitution, but the reply to this was simply to cut off all relations with the three members who had proposed this step.

In Leeds, GF, with seven years continual and active membership, was suspended within hours of making the statement that it was a pity nobody who supported Thornett’s document was going to be at the conference. BB, who has been associated with the movement since the early 60s was immediately suspended after the branch meeting that suspended GF, simply for protesting that he had not even been given enough notice to be able to attend the meeting that would question his membership. BB, who even though he never supported the political positions of the opposition, was subsequently put under very considerable and successful pressure to ‘resign’.

Also in Yorkshire JN and BO from Hull raised support for Thornett’s document and were subjected to personal attacks by Slaughter at the aggregate meeting on November 27th. They were both later expelled. In Castleford DG was removed from the branch for saying that the WRP leadership seemed paranoid about Thornett. She was expelled by a meeting she was unable to attend. (More details of the Yorkshire expulsions are available as an Appendix).

In London a group of nine members in the Camden branch was developing opposition of greater or lesser intensity to the political policies of the Healy leadership. Criticisms included opposition to the recruitment of those who had no understanding of WRP policies, failure to turn to the working class movement, and the complete ignorance of the branch leadership of any of the basic principles of Marxist theory.

It was on the basis of these points and of a desire to actually hear a discussion of the basic principles of the opposition, that some members of the Camden branch contacted the Oxford opposition in early December. Only at this point did this largely middle class group in London who opposed the policies of the WRP on its day-to-day practice and on grounds of general but not clearly worked-out principle, come together with the largely proletarian group in the Oxford area.

On Sunday December 8th a meeting was called of those in Reading not yet expelled. It was attended by Sheila Torrance who asked those present to sign the statement. They all refused and were expelled on the spot – with no reference to the Political Committee or anywhere else. Also on the 8th 35 comrades, some expelled, some not yet expelled, lobbied the London area aggregate meeting. (This was the meeting which had been originally organised for Alan Thornett to address). The purpose of the lobby was to make the London membership, who we knew were being fed the most incredible lies about Alan Thornett in meeting after meeting, aware of what was going on and the way in which opposition politics were being suppressed by bureaucratic means.

The meeting was held in the British Rail Training School at White City, which has a very large forecourt. When the lobbyers arrived they went on to this forecourt to give out leaflets. Shortly afterwards Torrance arrived with a number of stewards and pushed them out into the road. They were then accused by Healy of causing a disturbance on the road and attracting the police. The choice was Healy’s: leave the lobbyers on the forecourt away from the road, where there was no problem, or push us into the street and risk a visit from the police.

He chose the latter and then attempted to blame the opposition, accusing them of “violence”. All such charges were unfounded – even the photographs Healy has published only show oppositionists handing out leaflets. If more had happened it certainly would have been photographed since the lobby was surrounded by photographers.

On Monday December 9th letters were received expelling the whole of the Oxford sub-district members (with one exception). The same day Healy instructed the London branches to begin Workers Press sales on the gates of the Cowley factories. This only ended in the following June. They had instructions not to sell to any of the expelled members and not to sell anyone more than one copy.

On Wednesday December 11th Torrance sent letters to the few members in the area who had been formally expelled (most members had simply been cut off by the “re-registration” manoeuvre and were never again contacted by the centre). She offered the expelled members the right of appeal at the Conference on December 15th – conditional on there being no lobby outside.

By now it was clear that the outcome of the “appeals” was already decided, whatever the expelled members did. Torrance’s manoeuvre was to prevent any contact with other Party members. The expelled members decided for this reason to go ahead with a lobby regardless, and also to enter an appeal – which constitutionally could not be withheld.

The decision to appeal and to fight the appeals as far as they could be fought was important. The opposition had always wanted to fight within the WRP to try to change the positions of the WRP leadership. The eventual move to form a new movement only came after the fight had been carried as far as it could possibly be taken, including appeals. In addition to this members had rights under the WRP Constitution and these rights had to be maintained.

The First Annual Conference of the Workers Revolutionary Party – Guarded by Police

Extensive inner party security was employed to keep the venue of the first Annual Conference of the WRP a secret. Only selected leading members from the areas were informed beforehand. As a result, when on Sunday December 15th two coaches with over 70 members and expelled members of the WRP travelled to London to lobby the conference, they could not at first find any trace of it. Look-outs were posted at strategic spots but failed to locate the conference. At 3.30 p.m. the coaches returned home.

But at 6.30 in the evening an inspired guess by one of the remaining searchers located the conference in Battersea Town Hall. Cars were hastily organised and 21 comrades along with two suspended London members returned to lobby it. And it soon became clear that the massive security precautions taken by the WRP were not to protect the conference of revolutionary workers from the state, but to prevent their having any contact with the opposition.

When the lobbyists arrived just after 9.00 p.m. they were greeted by a large force of police, probably as many as 100, who appeared to have been in position for some hours. They were there to “protect” the conference from political opposition within the party. The implications of this conduct (even allowing for all the lying allegations about “provocation” from Healy) are grave and far-reaching in an organisation claiming to maintain the principles of democratic centralism and revolutionary Marxism.

This force of police was clearly called by Healy. They obviously had been in position for hours before the opposition comrades even had knowledge of the venue. There were uniformed police, plain-clothed police, panda cars, dog vans and policewomen. As soon as our comrades attempted to give out the second document (this was the first time the second document had appeared; it was not made available to the conference delegates by Healy) they were harassed by the police. A WSL letter of protest about this was sent to Healy who never replied to it. It was printed in Socialist Press on May 15th, edition seven.

In the light of Healy calling the police, it is interesting to note what he said in the letter on appeals signed by Torrance on December 11th:

“The Political Committee now declares that if your group or even one of its members should repeat this provocation (London area aggregate) outside the conference, then a resolution will be placed before the conference disallowing your appeal and treating you as people who have split from the party. Any attraction of the police to our conference would undoubtedly be considered the result of such a provocation”.
(Our emphasis)
The Expulsions Proceed

All the appeals were “heard” on Monday December 16th. The charges were read out, two minutes given to reply and then out of the door. It became so bizarre that one comrade, asking what she had been expelled for, could not be told. They then asked whether or not she had been asked to sign the Oxford statement. She said she had never seen it. She was then asked to sign it, refused and was expelled by the appeals committee.

Letters were then sent out by Healy expelling another list of comrades. John Lister, Kate Blakeney, AC and M from London, DG from Leeds and others were instructed to attend a Political Committee meeting on Monday December 23rd. These were all comrades who had been on suspension and therefore Healy left them until last. The only one who could actually attend, AC, was expelled for going on the lobby the week before.

After all the appeals were rejected, it became clear that nothing further could be done in the WRP. Faced with this situation all the expelled members met on Sunday December 22nd and took the decision to form a new movement – the Workers Socialist League. We did not choose to form it, but were forced to do so by the actions of Healy. John Lister and Kate Blakeney were expelled in their absence on December 30th. They had remained suspended since November. John Lister’s reply to his expulsion is reproduced as Appendix 1. Final contact with Healy was a letter saying that we would not be allowed to appeal to the International Committee because we had formed a new organisation.

Since that time Healy has produced reams of print vilifying the WSL and its members. This document has not dealt with that material because much of it has been answered in Socialist Press and more will be answered in the future. The purpose of this document is to illustrate the method by which Healy defended his sectarian leadership and to bring out the method by which we at all times tried to fight. We started at all times from the tradition of Marxism and the task of confronting the crisis of leadership of the working class internationally by the construction of revolutionary parties based on a fight for the Transitional Programme in the mass movement. We fought as this record shows, to direct at all times towards the politics involved and away from subjectivism, personal attack and bureaucratic method.

Workers Socialist League Index | Encyclopedia of Trotskyism | Marxists’ Internet Archive