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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).

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Behind the Smokescreen

Marxism on the Rack

(Reprinted from Socialist Press No 8, May 15th 1975).

The assortment of attacks made on the Workers Socialist League by the Workers Revolutionary Party can be divided into two categories: those which have the appearance of a defence of Marxism; and those whose light-minded fraudulence declares itself on the surface. The two types have, however, a common political content. Marxism, from being a guide to action, is debased to a collection of misquoted snippets to be used as a factional weapon against opponents and to blind the members of the WRP with unintelligible ‘science’.

Let us deal first with one of the numerous examples of self-evident frivolity. Banda’s turgid fourteen part epic contains just one fragment of reply to our detailed and documented accusations on the WRP’s falsification of the history of the Fourth International (in Cde Thornett’s Second Document and The WRP School of Falsification).

We pointed out that in his introduction to Volume One of the WRP’s Trotskyism versus Revisionism: a Documentary History Cliff Slaughter simply invents a leading role for the British section, headed by Gerry Healy, (now National Secretary of the WRP) in the struggle against the revisionist grouping of Michel Pablo within the International in 1951-53. Far from attempting to refute the charge, Banda quotes our question:

“Why does Cliff Slaughter’s commentary distort and invert the fight against revisionism and make it look as if the British section played a leading role, when in fact it produced not a political word?” (Emphasis added).

And then Banda continues:

“Leaving aside the lie contained in Thornett’s assertion until later (much later – Banda’s ten following instalments never return to it!) what is most important is that he elevates the word (the idea) above the deed. He ignores, and deliberately so, the actual fight in practice against all forms of revisionism for which the WRP, and before it the SLL, is so rightly hated in the discussion circles of our opponents. For Thornett the only real activity is theoretical activity divorced from the material and social life”.
(Workers Press, May 8th 1975, p9).

Such ‘logic’ has a charm all its own. Even to refer to what others have said (or not said) brings the charge of ‘idealist philosophy’ from Banda. Perhaps he thinks that political struggles can be conducted without benefit of words? But no – he himself is the author of fourteen wordy instalments against us, studded with paragraphs beginning (quite accurately). ‘Risking repetition’, and ‘In other words . . . ’. And a mere half page later he is accusing us of nothing less than . . . silence – on the capitalist state!

Such methods of polemic are nothing better than dragging Marxism in the mud, as the following – more central – examples will show.

The series begins with an attempt by Banda to paper over the cracks exposed in the WRP’s version of “Marxist philosophy” by Cde. Thornett’s Second Opposition Document and by an article in Socialist Press [no. 4]* taking up the reply to this document by G. Healy. The sentence to which Banda, like Healy, objects is the following:

“All knowledge begins from the struggle of man against nature, now in the form of the class struggle – the conflict of revolutionary theory in the form of the Party with spontaneity in the form of the class”.

This is the only quotation from Thornett taken up in Banda’s first article, and is deliberately isolated in order to tear it from its context. It comes from a whole section dealing with the way in which the WRP substituted interminable abstract and academic though heated debates on philosophy for any concern whatsoever for programme and the party’s practice in the class struggle, specifically its orientation towards the working class and the unions.

This was a fundamental difference that emerged between the cadres now in the WSL, for whom Marxist philosophy was, in the words of Lenin and Engels, a “guide to action” and the WRP leadership, for whom philosophy became (during a period of political degeneration within the movement) a rationalisation of the WRP’s separation from the class, and its inability to penetrate the unions.

Banda sums up this contempt for programme and rigid separation of theory from practice when he writes in Part 7:

“the struggle for the dialectic is the struggle to develop programme and perspective”.

For him, programme is developed in abstract debate on philosophy, rather than philosophical understanding tested and developed attach point in the fight for programme in the daily struggles of the working class. Ideas, for Banda, are worked out in the head and then presented to the class in the form of ultimatums.

Yet while this is the idealist philosophical position of the WRP leadership they have to dress it up as Marxism in order to befuddle and discipline WRP members. One of the most abused works of Marxism in this process is Volume 38 of Lenin’s Collected Works (the Philosophical Notebooks).

On the basis of quotations snatched from this volume the WRP leadership attempts to create a prestige – an aura of authority. Yet this in itself is a degeneration from the early days of this leadership. Cliff Slaughter [WRP CC member] wrote in 1962, for instance, in Lenin on Dialectics:

“Anyone undertaking a systematic study of Lenin’s Notebooks will have to have beside him [NB, emphasis added] Hegel’s Logic; only in this way can one see the continuity between separate notes and extracts. Even without this, Marxist students will find many of Lenin’s brief notes very stimulating and worth detailed study . . . But these notes and extracts are part of a single project, and are therefore best taken as a whole, read through and reworked several times by the student in the light of his own knowledge of Marxism and of Lenin’s own writings and actions”. [p. 7]

This insistence on seeing the necessity to enrich theory through practice is correct, and is the position of the WSL. Banda however, desperate to defend Healy’s “philosophical” jungle of snippets and distortions, has to throw this aside. Thus we read (part 3):

“Before one can understand Lenin, says Westoby wagging his finger at the Oxford ‘uneducated’ WRP, one must have read Hegel’s Science of Logic. Indeed one can only read Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks in ‘parallel’ with Hegel’s Logic, according to this arrogant and politically shallow man. Quite the opposite is the case [!]” [emphasis added]

Where does Slaughter stand on this question now?


Throw away your Hegel (and your Lenin) and follow Banda, therefore, into the wilds of philosophy and such gems of clarity as this:

“Dialectical thought concepts are now entering matter through us via the self impulse of the universal movement of matter. As this takes place we arrive at the moment of actuality which is causality. Lenin explains that ‘The unfolding of the sum total of the moments of Actuality NB equals the moments of dialectical cognition’ (Lenin, Collected Works Vol 38, p. 158).
At this dialectical moment of causality, the cause (essence) cancels itself into the effect abstract thought already posited in us as a part of a previous dialectical process). This is the only way to grasp the dialectical relationship between man and nature”. (emphasis added).

On such a passage – which closely reproduces one in Healy’s Notes – we can only be brutally frank. In our opinion it is simply gobbledygook. It has nothing to with ‘grasping the dialectical relationship between man and nature’ or with the struggle for an understanding of Marxism within the revolutionary party. It simply strings together – without the slightest explanation – a series of categories from several hundred pages of Hegel’s Science of Logic. Being culled from a piecemeal and opportunist reading of Lenin’s Philosophical Notebooks it gets them hopelessly confused. If Banda – or Healy, who has so far made no public reply in writing – think they can explain with reasonable clarity (and brevity) what they mean by, for example, ‘the cause (essence) cancelling itself into the effect (abstract thought already posited in us)’, our columns are open to them. In our view the only purpose of such passages is to establish on a bogus theoretical basis the authority of the WRP leadership which, in the field of programme and practice in the national and international workers movement, is now completely bankrupt.

Banda continuously retreats from any analysis of class questions into the abstract realm of “philosophy”. Thus man’s development in unity and conflict with nature through production is separated rigidly by Banda from present-day class society, and the form now taken by man’s struggle with nature.

Man’s unity with nature remains what it always was – that man (like the material world itself) is a material being and a part of the universal movement of matter. This is elementary Marxism, which we do not need Banda to tell us. But clearly Banda needs reminding that man’s struggle with nature goes through a historical development, at the centre of which is the development of the means of production which in turn force changes in the relations of production – different forms of society.

It is this struggle which has developed man and his knowledge of the world, whilst at the same time changing the world he lives in.

Indeed rocks, plants, animals, the oceans and the air all share the same “unity” with nature as Man. They are all material bodies. Yet only Man has developed tools, production relations, knowledge and the material class struggle. If our “philosophy” is not to descend to the meaningless and the general therefore it must advance beyond discussing the general conditions for man’s development of knowledge, to the process of struggle through which the development takes place.

Banda pulls back from this step, and indignantly protests:

“Westoby wants to ‘prove’, using the authority of Lenin, that the struggle of opposites is more fundamental, ‘more essential’ than their unity”.

This is a crass one-sided distortion of our article on Healy’s revisions of Marxism. But even given this, has Banda stopped to consider the content of what he is saying? How does he reconcile his present position with Lenin’s extensive quotation from Hegel in the Notebooks which includes this key passage (stressed and restressed at previous SLL / WRP cadre schools summer camps)?

“But it has been a fundamental prejudice of hitherto existing logic and of ordinary imagination [i.e. idealism] that Contradiction [i.e. conflict] is a determination having less essence and immanence than Identity [i.e. ‘unity’]; but indeed, if there were any question of rank, and the two determinations had to be fixed as separate, Contradiction would have to be taken as the more profound and more essential. [emphasis added]. For as opposed to it Identity is only the determination of simple immediacy, or dead Being, while Contradiction is the root of all movement and vitality, and it is only insofar as it contains a contradiction that anything moves and has impulses and activity.” [C.W., p. 139].

Banda and Healy want to leave us then with ‘unity’, ‘Identity’, or ‘dead Being’ cut off from the living struggle of opposites.


A central revision of Healy, Slaughter and Banda is that they make man merely a part of an objective natural process, eliminating therefore the need for a leadership rooted in the working class, exercising leadership over real sections of the class. The ending of capitalism is thus viewed by the WRP in a similar way to the erosion of a cliff by the sea or the sprouting of a bed of daffodils, as a natural process within which conscious preparation becomes irrelevant. This is done by sophistry. Banda writes:

“At one point Westoby makes the astonishing remark that ‘Healy thus reduces the class struggle to a mere ‘natural process’’. Now if the class struggle is not a ‘natural process’ what is it? Tell us, Mr. Westoby; is it a supra-natural process? . . . His use of the word ‘mere’ serves ‘merely’ to cover his tracks”.

No, Mr Banda, the struggle of classes is a natural process within which Marxists fight for leadership. Healy belittles this fight and we exposed his position. But now Banda assures us that the road to the dictatorship of the proletariat is just a natural process, and the role of the WRP is merely to observe and correctly identify that process, while throwing a few ultimatums at the working class.

Trotsky began the Transitional Programme:

“The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterised by a historical crisis of leadership of the proletariat”.

For Banda and Healy however the situation is now simply a stage in the ‘natural process’ towards socialism, the “universal movement of matter” towards the dictatorship of the proletariat, which will presumably irresistibly drive workers towards the WRP (despite its refusal to put forward or fight for policies to develop and train new layers of workers). The Transitional Programme is thus reduced by the WRP to a few handy phrases ,and its Marxist method and starting point abandoned.

Thus there is no reckoning in Banda’s article with the central charge made in the Philosophy section of the Second Document – that the WRP leadership separates theory from practice and thereby lifelessly counterposes its abstract schema of maximum demands (nationalisation without compensation under workers control of all industry, banks and land) to the mass movement of the working class, In such a way that workers are cut off from the political means of struggling for these demands.


Because the WRP permits no discussion on the practice of the party, as was shown by the suppression of discussion on Cde Thornett’s original document (not one aggregate or meeting was held for Cde Thornett to put his position outside Oxford and the Western Region) this separation continues.

The maximum programme is clearly taken up and exposed by Trotsky in the Transitional Programme – a document which comes in for a sustained attack by Banda in four parts of the fourteen part series. This begins most significantly (Part 7) with an attack on the method of the Programme, in particular the concept of the “bridge”.

For Banda and the WRP the ‘bridge’ between the present consciousness of the working class and revolution is to be the sudden realisation one day by the mass of workers that the whole economy must be nationalised without compensation under workers control, and that therefore they must in their millions join the WRP.

This idea is termed by Healy and Banda a “leap” and is supposedly brought about not by any principled and continuous intervention in workers’ daily struggles, but by paper sales, recruitment drives and more paper sales. Meanwhile workers supposedly wait for the WRP to knock on their door.

Trotskyists, however take their starting point from the Transitional Programme:

“It is necessary to help the masses in the process of the daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist programme of the revolution. This bridge should include a system of transitional demands, stemming from today’s conditions and today’s consciousness of wide layers of the working class and unalterably leading to one final conclusion: the conquest of power by the proletariat”.

This seems pretty clear to most readers. It is the founding document of the Fourth International. While the details of some of the demands might well have changed since 1938 the task and the method expressed here remain, and it is this task which is rejected by the WRP.

Reformists and Stalinists reject the need for a ‘bridge’ because they do not intend to overthrow capitalism. But Trotskyists do need to bring workers. in struggle to the point where the full programme of revolution can win mass support.

This is the Marxist method; but contemptuously thrown aside by Banda. Why do workers need to struggle in order to learn these lessons when they can read all the right slogans in Workers Press? Why bother with programme if you have “philosophy”? He ridicules the concept of fighting for a programme including transitional demands in the mass movement, stating:

“Thus the party becomes transformed from an opposite to an adjunct of the spontaneous movement. The crisis of leadership becomes reduced through the method of Thornett into a crisis of self-mobilisation of the working class – and Marxism is flung unceremoniously out of the window”. [Part 8]

But, on the contrary, the question taken up by the WSL is the mobilisation of the working class (ignored by the WRP) through the struggle for demands which go beyond reforms, posing the questions of power an leadership:

“It is easier to overthrow capitalism than to realise this demand [sliding scale of hours] under capitalism. Not one of our demands will be realised under capitalism. That is why we are calling them transitional demands. It creates a bridge to the mentality of the workers and then a material bridge to the socialist revolution. The whole question is how to mobilise the masses for struggle”.
[Trotsky’s Writings 1938-1939, pp. 43-4].

Thus Banda directs all the time away from the practice of the WRP which refuses to take this starting point, and so finds itself a dwindling force even in those unions where it did once have strong positions.


Banda rhetorically asks “Where [in WSL’s analysis of the WRP] do rank and file workers fit into this scheme, or are they of no account?” [part 6]

The answer is painfully obvious – rank and file workers, insofar as they are attracted by the oratory and journalism of the WRP, are offered no Marxist training and no programme on which to struggle. They do not “fit in” to the WRP, and usually remain only for short periods, seldom reaching leading positions.

Workers are not turned by the WRP to the fight for leadership in the unions and so learn little of the power of the Marxist method and programme. Meanwhile the WRP continues to degenerate into a sect of middle class radicals mouthing phrases of revolution, but further each day from carrying it out.

Trotsky wrote of sectarianism (and this is not answered by Banda though quoted at length by Cde Thornett):

“Marxism has built a scientific programme upon the laws that govern the movement of capitalist society and which were discovered by it. This is a colossal conquest! However it is not enough to create a correct programme. It is necessary that the working class accept it. [emphasis added] But the sectarian in the nature of things, comes to a stop upon the first half of the task. Active intervention into the actual struggle is supplanted for him by an abstract propaganda for a Marxist programme”.
[Writings 1935-36, p. 26].

The reactionary side of such sectarianism, which entirely epitomises the WRP leadership, emerges when Banda (Part 13) attempts to answer Cde Thornett’s exposure of the inadequate programmatic demands put forward by the International Committee to recruit the basis of a section in Bangladesh must not be separated from the abstract, ultimatist demands, divorced from any concrete perspective for Bengali workers put forward in 1972 by the IC. Banda is certain on the other hand that the IC was not wrong – it was the Bengalis’ fault – they were too backward and religious to respond to the IC!! He writes:

“But if we did not recruit a sizeable group it was not for want of trying. Nationalist feeling was and is extremely intense and the support for Bhashani and Rahman was very intense. There were no developed trade union groups in Britain and little or no socialist consciousness even of a rudimentary kind . . . When the Pakistan army capitulated and Bangladesh was proclaimed, the Bengali workers – almost to a man – lost interest in the socialist struggle”. [Part 13]

It is scandalous that such words appear in a paper calling itself Trotskyist. Blaming the working class and Bengali peasantry for not correctly rallying round the IC banner is the lowest level of opportunism, worthy of any right winger.

The harsh fact is that the IC offered Bengali workers no programme, nothing to draw them towards socialism. It did not call in a concrete way for land nationalisation, workers and peasants councils; workers militia or workers control.

It did not put forward any way in which Trotskyism could become a living force in the working and peasant masses of Bengal, and abandoned these millions to the tender mercies of reformism, Stalinism and Sheikh Mujib.


We must take up briefly one more major attack on Marxism in the Banda series. He talks as if Healy were Lenin, and the WRP were itself the Bolshevik Party.

This comes ironically from a party which has done much to besmirch the name of Trotskyism and Bolshevism in the British and international Labour movement by its bureaucratic expulsion of its first opposition tendency since 1961.

Banda states for instance:

“The following extract from Trotsky’s appreciation of Lenin’s struggle for Bolshevik principles against Menshevik vacillation and opportunist equivocation confirms [!], unquestionably [!], that Cde Healy’s [!] life-long struggle for a democratic-centralist revolutionary Marxist party is based entirely on the precedent created by Lenin.” [emphasis added, part 11]

We need scarcely add here that Trotsky did not refer to Comrade Healy in the cited extract. Nor indeed is it possible to see any relationship between Lenin’s “One Step Forward, Two Steps Back” and S. Torrance’s bureaucratic attempts to stifle inner-party discussion in the WRP prior to its 1st Annual Conference. Yet Banda boldly asserts:

“Let Thornett remember this: slander the WRP and you slander Lenin!”

Many other points from Banda’s series stand in need of reply. Yet the prevailing methods – distortion of what is said, attributing to us things not said, fraudulent swaggering in the use or quotes supposedly ‘proving’ the WSL wrong, attacks on Marxist philosophy and the founding programme of the Fourth International, preparatory to blaming the masses for not joining the WRP, these methods run through the whole series.

What is confirmed again and again by Banda is the degeneration of the WRP, its inability now to reckon with its own past and practice, and the necessity of constructing the WSL to fight this wholesale revision of Marxism, and for the continuity of the Trotskyist programme and tradition.


* The article was prepared by the Socialist Press editorial board. Banda – and Slaughter – chose to attribute it to Cde A. Westoby, a university educated member of the WSL.

** Notes Towards a Study of Thornett’s Philosophy, G. Healy WRP Internal Document.

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