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

Behind the Smokescreen

An analysis of the sectarian politics of the Workers Revolutionary Party

A collection of articles first printed in Socialist Press

Written: 1975 / 76.
First Published: June 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.

Behind the Smokescreen

News Line – The Rot Goes On

By Adam Westoby

(Reprinted from Socialist Press No 36, June 16th 1976).

“Although Communists may not be writing for bourgeois publications today, the Communist publications are for the most part run by second-rate bourgeois journalists. The explanation for this is that the apparatus of the press and party, materially independent of the party membership itself, has grown to monstrous proportions upon a narrow internal organisational base and now not only provides employment for Communist journalists, but also attracts bourgeois journalists, most often incompetents who are unable to make successful careers in the capitalist press. In particular, this explains the extremely low level of the Communist Party press, its lack of principles, the absence of any independent views or individual merit in it and its readiness at a moment to call black white and vice versa.”
Leon Trotsky in 1929, writing on Communists and the Bourgeois Press.

Trotsky’s comment was directed nearly forty years ago at the corruption of the Communist International in the hands of the Stalinist faction. But it sheds an equally sharp light on the political degeneration of the press of the ‘Trotskyist’ Workers Revolutionary Party.

In six weeks of publication the News Line (successor to the collapsed Workers Press, built as a daily paper in the 1960’s by the Socialist Labour League) has established a lamentable record.

And it has revealed that the “new” leadership of the WRP are loyal to not a molecule of Trotskyist principles or even of political consistency.

News Line is presented as reflecting the political positions of the WRP.

Yet in the main the news reports are taken straight from the agency wire services or the capitalist press, with little or no attempt made to assess or develop the material so as to bring out its class significance, though occasionally a concluding paragraph is routinely tacked on.

Trade union news, and the most outrageously hypocritical statements of labour bureaucrats, are more often than not reported without comment, as though they were of good coin.

And where the WRP do commit themselves to expressing their opinion it starkly exposes the political degeneration which gathered pace over the last two years under former General Secretary G. Healy and his continued under his equally sectarian and opportunist successors.

The May 26th Day of Action, for example, brought a prime example of straightfaced lying next day in News Line’s ‘What We Say’ column:

“The Workers Revolutionary Party supported the demonstration because we will always back any action by trade unionists to defend their rights.”

In fact, the News Line carried not one word of support for the May 26th demonstrations until May 26th itself! On the actual day, with characteristic opportunism, it carried a statement of support.


But while a dozen or so WRP paper sellers busied themselves on the London demonstration, the WRP mobilised a contingent of . . . TWO people! One each end glumly carried a “Teachers Section” “All Trades Union Alliance” banner.

This one incident exposes one of the main characteristics of the News Line: it presents itself as the voice of a big movement with roots in the working class – while in practice speaking only for a small sectarian group with no serious practice or programme in the workers’ movement.

Indeed its programme has now reverted to sectarianism even more shrill and empty than the WRP programme challenged within the WRP in late 1974 by Alan Thornett and others.

That challenge led to the expulsion of over 200 WRP members thought to be critical of the Healy leadership, combined with a temporary adaptation to Thornett’s critique in the form of printing some of the demands in Trotsky’s Transitional Programme.


These demands have now all gone from the WRP’s press, replaced by barren calls to “Bring Down the Labour Government”, to “Read the News Line” and join the WRP.

Elsewhere in the paper the international news – especially relating to the Middle East and Palestinian struggles and Vietnam – is presented in utterly selective and opportunist fashion, reflecting in this case the turn of the WRP leadership to Stalinist and nationalist policies.

News Line even includes reports from its ‘own’ correspondents which are open apologetics for anti-communism.

Take for example, the two lengthy pieces billed as “from our special correspondent” in Tripoli (the capital of Libya) on May 5th and 7th.

These were totally uncritical praise of the nationalist regime of Colonel Gaddafi, and his stage-managed campaign for mass support to counterbalance the pressures being applied by Egypt, Tunisia and US imperialism against the Libyan line of support for the Palestinian struggle.


The articles could virtually have been written by the Libyan propaganda services:

“The crowd was now pressed up to the platform, trying to get nearer to their youthful leader” . . . “This is the awakened and unmistakeable voice of the Arab masses” . . . “A short speech, not demagogic or falsely emphatic, punctuated by chants, cheers and claps. A last short sentence and straight into the waiting Range Rover. The mercurial Colonel is off again”.

In three full pages not a word of political criticism or even assessment of the Gaddafi regime was uttered. Yet what is the political character or Libyan government?

Gaddafi came to power by toppling the pro-American clique round King Idris in 1969. His regime is Arab nationalist, certainly, but at the same time based on a narrow caste in the Army and petit-bourgeoisie, thoroughly and explicitly anti-communist, and based ideologically on the religious shackles of Islam and the Koran.

In May-June 1973 Gaddafi launched a ‘Cultural Revolution’ aimed against ‘decadence’, atheism and communism.


Marxist books were piled on the street and burned, and members of the (illegal) Communist Party were rounded up and jailed.

In January this year Gaddafi’s constitutional ‘reform’ gave a monopoly of all political rights to his hand-picked ‘General National Congress’; trade unions were limited to ‘purely professional activities’ and banned from recruiting except with the approval of the regime.

A demonstration by left wing students in Benghazi against these dictatorial ‘reforms’ was crushed by troops – about a dozen students were reportedly killed.

Even while the WRP cuddles up to Gaddafi, he is making calls for French military intervention in Lebanon – an open invitation to world imperialism to crush the Palestinians. Even the News Line report itself is unable entirely to disguise the reactionary nature of the regime. It says:

“Very few women attend these meetings yet [Gaddafi’s public rallies], but no-one can doubt where their allegiance lies”.

The real reason why women are seldom seen in public in Libya is that the Gaddafi regime has done nothing to loosen the feudal-religious oppression of women, legally tying them to their husband and home, depriving them even of the most elementary civil rights.

When the toiling women really ‘awaken’ it is absolutely certain that they will share none of the News Line’s sudden and anonymous enthusiasm for Gaddafi.

Similarly, there is not a mention in the reports that the Gaddafi regime is one of extreme anti-communism, that communist and socialist political activity is suppressed, and that the reason the demonstration the News Line so enthusiastically reports is called the ‘Spring Festival’ is that the Gaddafi regime will not allow the political overtones of May Day.

If this might seem to be a freak omission by News Line, the accommodation to Palestinian nationalism is confirmed by the description of the PLO as “the spearhead of the Arab revolution as a whole” (June 14th) – with no word of criticism or call for a Trotskyist party to lead the struggles in the Middle East.

From Libya to London the News Line shows exactly the same lack of principle.

The early issues carried a daily column by Kenneth Tynan, the bourgeois journalist and theatre critic. He was offered space to spill out whatever reactionary idea might be in his head at the time.

On only one issue – the nature of the police in the capitalist state – did the paper’s editorial offer a word of criticism or assessment of what he was saying.

The News Line editor, Alex Mitchell (formerly of the Sunday Times) even gave an interview to the mystical – vegetarian – radical magazine Time Out in which he defended the employment of Tynan:

“There’s a waspish, idiosyncratic view of the world which we feel we should reflect. Tynan’s a doyen of art critics, so let him have a say.”

Since theatre criticism is Tynan’s speciality, this suggests that even though his opinions on the police are dangerous rubbish, his view of the theatre is worth listening to.

In News Line of May 10th Tynan took space to celebrate the opening of the new National Theatre on the South Bank (seats over £4 a head, in case you’re wondering about going to confirm his opinions).

After a few banal inches on the history of the new building and the need for a ‘crusading’ Minister of Arts, Tynan goes on to plead for plays which will leave him “emotionally exhilarated, intellectually stirred to the depths of my being. That sort of thing (sic!) . . . I mean a spokesman, someone who allows the theatre to become a cockpit of a society’s anxieties, problems and hopes”.

There are, goes on Tynan, two such playwrights – Trevor Griffiths and David Hare – who “would be willing to dedicate themselves to any enterprise that was going to show the people to the people interpret people’s lives”.

Now who are these playwrights? David Hare is very expert at constructing the involved dialogues between backside and deckchair which the middle-class theatre-going public find recognisably absorbing. His plays are consequently successful in the West End.


Griffiths, on the other hand, is an explicitly political playwright, and his standpoint is, unmistakeably, that of a sophisticated, psuedo-‘sympathetic’ anti-communist.

He has written one play (‘The Party’) which is a slanderous political portrait of the Workers Revolutionary Party, and was first presented at the Old Vic with Lord Olivier playing the part of former WRP General Secretary Gerry Healy.

The predecessor of the News Line, Workers Press, took care to review his work with a view to bringing out the political significance of his plays. This what it said – quite accurately – of ‘Occupations’:

“When the commercial television chiefs spend tens of thousands of pounds on the lavish production of a play about Antonio Gramsci, founder of the Italian Communist Party, and leader of the Turin workers during the great strikes of 1920, they know what they do . . . they procure and transmit a polished and obscene slander against Gramsci and against Lenin’s Third International”.

Workers Press explained how Griffiths identified Leninism with Stalinism and added:

“Round this central lie various subsidiary falsehoods rotate. Griffiths distorts the entire political situation in Italy in 1920”.

The review concluded:

“The Italian working class (and Gramsci) have contributed more than their share of hard-earned experience of defeat and fascism, Mr. Griffiths has chosen to falsify their history. It is a dirty occupation”.
(Workers Press, September 7th, 1974).

All this the News Line throws overboard (along with giving space to Tynan in the very next issue for his reactionary comments on the actors union, Equity).

From having independent, politically-serious reviewers of books, plays, and films drawn from the ranks of the party itself, and training them as journalists, the WRP’s press has degenerated to the hiring of ‘idiosyncratic wasps’ such as Tynan. (Wasps who, it should be added, clearly treat their contributions so lightly that they dictate them off the top of their heads, with the result that they are almost unreadable).

Many other examples could be cited. But what is important is to grasp that the degeneration of the party press is part and parcel of the political degeneration of the party itself.

It is the process which Trotsky described in which bourgeois writers brought on to the Communist press:

“live double lives, and bring duplicity and outright moral corruption into the ranks of the proletarian party. From this there follows an imperative necessity to protect the party from contamination by the hired journalists of the bourgeoisie – people who by virtue of their adaptability and agility easily take over responsible positions in the proletarian party, crowding out the workers”. (Communists and the Bourgeois Press, 1929).

James Cannon once said that it is a great deal easier to train a Bolshevik as a journalist than it is to turn a journalist into a Bolshevik. The News Line shows how right he was.

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