Written: 1974 / 75.
First Published: February 1976.
Source: Published by Folrose Ltd. for the Workers Socialist League.
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In reading these documents in 1976, several important points need to be born in mind, if they are to be correctly understood in their historical context. The first, and most obvious point is that the first two documents were both written for circulation and for discussion within the ranks of the Workers Revolutionary Party. And in seriously fighting for this discussion to take place (under conditions where all of those later expelled were still members active in the WRP itself) the documents were couched in terms which would create least barriers among WRP members – not the terms of outright polemic between different groups, which has of course emerged since the mass expulsions.
The second point to remember is that whereas since 1974 a whole bevy of political groups have taken up (at least in a form of words, if nothing more) some of the demands of the Transitional Programme, creating the impression that these demands have always been current, this was certainly not the case when the first two documents were written, and certainly, as both documents make clear, the WRP was a million miles away from advocating such demands.
The third point is that the conditions under which these two original documents were produced had an effect on the style and finish of the text – the Second Document, in particular, was hurriedly typed right up to the eve of the First Annual Conference, since the expulsions had ensured that the opposition had to take charge of producing the document themselves. Corrections to the text were equally hasty and inadequate.
However, we feel that since both the First and the Second documents have already had worldwide currency in their original form, and since it is now virtually impossible to emend the mistakes in the text, that this book will reprint them as they first appeared. The only exception to this has been to recheck and correct (in the few cases necessary) the various quotations from Trotsky and Lenin.
As this book goes to print a further savage blow has been struck, by the leadership of the WRP, against the struggle to build a Trotskyist party in Britain. On Friday February 13th, at a press conference for the capitalist press, Alex Mitchell, editor of Workers Press (the daily paper of the WRP), announced on behalf of the Healy leadership that its production was to cease within 24 hours. Mitchell’s completely unpolitical statement blamed the problems of Workers Press on falling circulation and rising costs. But neither of these were “technical” problems – they went right to the heart of the political relationship between the party and the organised working class – the main issue at stake throughout the struggle inside the WRP in 1974.
When the daily Workers Press was launched in September 1969 it brought together all the political and material strengths built by the movement over years of previous work. For the five years before 1969 the main energies of the Socialist Labour League (forerunner of the WRP) were directed to laying the foundations for the daily paper. The day it started (with four pages and five editions a week) was for us a proud victory. As the chief instrument of party work Workers Press immediately became a vital weapon in the struggles of the workers movement, giving leadership in the trade unions, defending workers in struggle, replying every day to the lies of the capitalist press, challenging and answering the Stalinists and the right wing, and thus showing the centrists and revisionists that it is possible to build parties of the Fourth International to lead the struggle for power.
Out of the years of work came a qualitative leap, prepared and integrated into the development of the party cadre. For the first time since the Third International was politically destroyed by Stalinism, almost half a century ago, the international workers movement possessed a voice which spoke every day for the politics of revolutionary Marxism.
This achievement is now in chaos. The physical liquidation of revolutionary parties begins when they turn away from the continuous study of the real development of the workers movement, when they abandon the fight continuously to defend and develop the body of knowledge of Marxism and its programme, and to carry these into the day-to-day battle for leadership within the class struggle itself. For the WRP a turning point was passed in November 1974 when the Healy leadership bureaucratically expelled Comrade Alan Thornett and over 200 members on the eve of the first annual conference.
The two documents published in this book, which Comrade Thornett put forward for internal discussion, sought to correct the positions of the party and to convince the party that the method and demands of the Transitional Programme had to be fought for, day-to-day in the spontaneous struggles of the working class.
The political core of the two documents, and the struggle which emerged around them in the WRP, was the warning that the sectarian politics and maximum programme of the leadership had for the past year been liquidating the party and in particular its trade union base. By Autumn 1974 this had reached an advanced stage with almost every region outside London in a state of near collapse. (The only important exception was the Western Area which had developed rapidly, to a membership of 700, and continued this development to the point where its leadership was expelled for raising the criticisms which sprang out of that struggle for development).
Far from re-examining the political roots of this disintegration, the response of the Healy leadership was to accelerate it by launching a mass recruitment campaign which nominally brought into the WRP ‘members’ with no agreement on the party’s politics or programme, or even elementary knowledge of them.
At the same time the true history of the Trotskyist movement – especially the struggle against Pablo’s drive to liquidate the small cadres into the Stalinist apparatus in the 1950’s was falsified in the WRP leadership’s fraudulent selection of documents in his ‘history’ Trotskyism versus Revisionism. In the factories the WRP cadres were hamstrung by the maximum, all-purpose, formula “nationalisation of the means of production without compensation under workers control”.
The leadership held them back from campaigning on the central workers control demands of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme as fought for today by the Workers Socialist League. These demands start from the defence of living standards through the fight for a sliding scale of wages based on figures worked out by trade union committees – which brings in the element of workers control. The demand for the defence of jobs is for work sharing on full pay – again administered by the elected committees of workers.
But central to mobilising mass support in these struggles we place the demand for the ending of business secrets, forcing the employers to open their books to trade union committees elected to examine and report on them. Firms refusing these demands must be occupied and demands placed on government for nationalisation under workers management and for a programme of public contracts to maintain production.
The WRP opposition raised these questions out of living experience, out of the need to fight on a programme which would be a bridge from today’s consciousness of the masses to the tasks of social revolution – and Healy bureaucratically and unconstitutionally gagged and expelled them. The leading working class cadres were driven from the party and branded as ‘reformists’, but within months experience was to show who such charges should really have been aimed at.
A WRP Central Committee member – Tom White – established himself on the Ryder Committees at British Leyland, Cowley – committees whose sole purpose is class-collaboration, speed-up and sackings.
Yet the WSL, through its principled opposition to Ryder, became the tendency most hated by the Trade Union bureaucracy and most vitriolically witch hunted in the capitalist press. With the expulsion of the working class cadres Healy cut off the roots that had been sunk with such difficulty in the workers movement. These roots promised, with the aid of a regular daily press and a tested party cadre, to give decisive leadership to the working class as it pressed forward on the offensive, driven by the economic crisis despite the craven class collaboration of its leaders. In cutting them off Healy placed the daily press and the party itself in danger. As the opposition warned, the obverse of sectarianism was opportunism and liquidation.
The year since the expulsion of the WRP opposition and the founding of the WSL has seen important developments. The movement has been established as a fighting organisation in which every intervention, even on the most basic issue, is seen as inseparable from the fight for programme. Through our fight in the motor vehicle industry the demands for “open the books” and “work sharing on full pay” have been taken up by mass movements. Our fight for programme and leadership resulted in Comrade Alan Thornett – victimised as a member of the WRP in April 1974 – being re-elected into leading trade union positions in British Leyland, Cowley. However, our opposition to ‘worker participation’ has made the movement the target for national press witch hunts and further attempts at victimisation by the employers.
At the Biennial Conference of the T&GWU we were able to counterpose to the wage control of Jones a policy for a sliding scale of wages worked out by elected committees of workers. Similarly in the Health Service our demands were established as national policy of ASTMS and we have been able to carry these gains into interventions at local level against the cuts in the health service and the Labour Government’s attacks on the whole range of social services. We have tested and confirmed in practice the essential correctness of our political struggle in the WRP opposition.
The sectarianism of the Healy leadership was never simply a degeneration of the WRP alone. It dominated the International Committee of the Fourth International and now tears the movements apart in those countries where the IC has any forces. Whilst Healy was making preparations, in August 1974, to expel Thornett large scale expulsions were being carried out in the United States Workers League (sympathising section of the IC) of members, some of whom later formed the Socialist League. The WL National Secretary, Tim Wohlforth, was removed from the leadership and hounded out of the movement by Healy with scurrilous accusations of having CIA connections.
Following a meeting in Sydney of the Australian Socialist Labour League at which Healy was asked questions about Thornett’s expulsion, a wave of expulsions was carried out. This has been followed by splits and expulsions in the Portuguese section; and in January 1976 Dimitris Toubanis, secretary of the Workers Internationalist League of Greece and the majority of that movement were removed for pressing for discussion on the practice of the IC and the WRP.
In our struggle with the propagandism and sectarianism of the WRP leadership we stressed at every stage that the failure of the IC to develop came to the fore and broke into crisis as a result of material causes: the insoluble crisis of production gripping the world capitalist system, forcing the working masses of the world into new offensives, weakening and breaking down all the ‘settlements’ and ‘understandings’ reached between imperialism and the labour bureaucracies on the basis of defeats for the workers movements. The real basis of our struggle within the WRP and then as the WSL was by no means local or national, it was – as we said from the outset – part of the process which has produced the revolutionary victories in Indochina in April 1975, the fall of fascism and beginnings of dual power in Portugal, the rout of US imperialism in Angola, and the new stage of the Spanish revolution after the death of Franco.
Yet the ossification of the IC as a world movement came to the fore most sharply in Britain. Why was this? Because it was in Britain, in the main section of the IC, that real roots had been sunk in the organised workers movement and the real problems of leading masses of workers in struggle – even for partial demands – put the IC’s political perspectives most sharply to the test.
The international content of the break from Trotskyism by the leadership of the IC faced us with a special responsibility. The lessons learnt by the 1974 opposition in the WRP must be carried into all sections of the IC. Healy and his fellow bureaucrats in the leadership of the WRP must not be allowed to destroy every independent fight for Trotskyist principles and the building of proletarian cadres in ‘their’ international movement. As soon as we were able, therefore, given the problems of establishing the WSL cadre and its paper – Socialist Press – we turned to the problems of the International. This book – the political record of the WRP opposition – should be considered together with our international perspectives document Fourth International – Problems and Tasks (published in Trotskyism Today Nos, 1, 2, and 3) which we have put forward for discussion in the world Trotskyist movement as a whole. We propose discussion on it not only with the sections and members of the International Committee, but also with the tendencies of the United Secretariat and of the Organising Committee of the FI.
Essential to these discussions are the political questions involved in the 1951-3 split with Pablo, the Socialist Workers Party 1963 Reunification, and the IC’s split with the OCI and the sections which supported it in 1971. In all these splits the building of independent Trotskyist parties and their independence (and scientific understanding) of the labour bureaucracies – especially Stalinism – were of fundamental significance. While discussions and political struggle among international tendencies must turn also on the major political issues of today, and the practical record of the sections within the workers movement, we do not believe these can be discussed in isolation from a thoroughgoing re-examination of the history of the world Trotskyist movement.
The first document in this book Correct the Wrong Positions of the Party – Return to the Transitional Programme was presented at the WRP Central Committee on October 12th 1974. It was the culmination of differences which had arisen over the previous year. Like the Second Document on Party Policy and Perspectives it was intended as material for the December 14th first Annual Conference of the WRP.
In the event Healy expelled everyone who had indicated agreement with the documents a week before the conference. The leadership then spent the entire conference attacking the documents and justifying the expulsions without the opposition being there.
Both documents carry the signature of Alan Thornett, and were presented and defended by him within the WRP. They were, however, the work of a small group of comrades who came together on the basis of political agreement on the Transitional Programme – agreement which consolidated as the battle emerged within the Party and the leadership’s manoeuvre became apparent. The third document (An Account of the Expulsions from the WRP and the Political Methods used by the Leadership) was largely compiled in August 1975 by the Executive Committee of the WSL as a factual account of the expulsions and to bring out in practical detail the opportunism and subjectivism of the Healy leadership, particularly as it worked through in relation to the Oxford factories.
As we have indicated, the struggle to establish the WRP and Workers Press is part of our history. In the teeth of the attacks of the Healy leadership we continued the fight for the party and the daily press up to the moment of our illegal expulsions.
The WRP expulsions and the breakup of the IC is a blow to the workers movement internationally. But defeat in a battle is not the end of the war. We have no intention of relinquishing this fight.
The Workers Socialist League takes up the struggle for a revolutionary party to lead the British working class to power and to rebuild the Fourth International on a principled basis. Our record is there for all to see. It is the battle for Trotskyism in Britain.