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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

Behind the Smokescreen: WRP Opposes Marxist Method

(Reprinted from Socialist Press No 17, Sept 17th 1975).

For those who thought the bottom of the ditch had been struck, Workers Press, daily paper of the Workers Revolutionary Party, has yet again revealed undreamed of depths of distortion and slander against the Workers Socialist League. Although most of the present members of the WRP have probably never known any other political method from their leadership, it has not always adopted such positions.

Until 1974, members of the Workers Revolutionary Party and its predecessor the Socialist Labour League had for many years been able to subject to the most merciless criticism the various tendencies inside the labour movement proclaiming themselves to be Marxist. To carry out this task, the WRP in the main had no need to misrepresent the political positions put forward by these groups. The speeches and publications of representatives of these organisations provided the WRP with all the ammunition they needed.

It is an indication both of the political strength and integrity of the Workers Socialist League and the continuing political degeneration of the WRP that, in order to attack our group, the WRP is forced to distort and misrepresent our programme and analysis to a degree unheard of in the workers movement since Stalin first set about trying to discredit Trotsky by slandering him and falsifying his political positions.


The latest example of this misrepresentation can be found in an article in the August 27th issue of Workers Press. The article is written by Jack Gale, for many years the ‘whipping boy’ of WRP General Secretary, Gerry Healy, who saw Gale as representing centrist tendencies inside the WRP. Gale now seems to be worming his way back into favour by his scurrilous attacks on the Workers Socialist League which appear from time to time in the pages of Workers Press. His latest offering must qualify him for the title “Most Dishonest Political Writer in British Journalism”. No mean feat when one considers the many (un)worthy contenders for that particular title.

Perhaps the most glaring distortion to any objective reader of Gale’s article is the way in which he reprints our statement of critical support for the LCDTU lobby of the TUC Conference (published days before the WRP announced they were holding a lobby). The statement exposes the Stalinist politics of the LCDTU and states the WSL will fight to expose these through its own slogans. Gale reprints the statement and then blandly asserts that it says the opposite of the words on the page! He writes:

“His call to support the Stalinist lobby does not include a single demand which could separate his tendency from Ramelson’s stunt”,

and goes on:

“Thornett has no difficulty in placing his group in total subservience to both the Stalinists and the reformists”.

Such statements by Gale tell us nothing about Thornett’s policies but speak volumes on his inability to read even a simple passage written by the WSL.

We call on all our members and supporters to support the lobby of the TUC called on September 2nd, and organised by the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions.
The lobby is demanding a rejection of wage restraint and a fight against unemployment.
We support this lobby even though the record of the LCDTU has always been to come to the defence of the trade union bureaucracy.
We consider it necessary to pose our alternative demands to the TUC and expose those of the Communist Party, for which the LCDTU is a front organisation.
Our statement of critical support for the LCDTU Lobby.


But the main aim of Gale’s article is to demonstrate that on the question of the Labour Government Trotsky stands on the side of the WRP and not on the side of the Workers Socialist League.

The present policy of the WRP is to call on the working class to “force the Labour government to resign” on the grounds that it is an anti-working class government that is a coalition with the Tories in all but name. The WRP propose that the Labour Party conference must adopt the WRP’s socialist programme on which the Labour Party must fight the election that would be brought about by the resignation of the government.

The Workers Socialist League believes that this policy is incorrect. Of course, we do not disagree about the totally reactionary nature of the Labour government. The Wilson government is leading a massive attack on the jobs and living standards of the working class. They do this because they start, not from the need to overthrow this bankrupt capitalist system and introduce socialist policies, but from the need to prop up capitalism at the expense of the working class who voted them into power.

The so-called ‘left-wing’ of the Labour Party, while they object in words to the policies that Wilson is carrying out, in practice do nothing that would seriously challenge his right to attack the working class on behalf of the bosses.

What, then, is to be done about this Labour government? The Workers Socialist League believes that most members of the government have nothing in common with the labour movement at all. They really belong with the Tories. We believe that these ministers, like Wilson, Callaghan, Healey and Jenkins, should be removed from power.

But then the question is, how is that to be achieved? We demand that those members of Parliament and Cabinet ministers who claim to be lefts should stop simply talking about their opposition to the Labour right-wing. Instead, they should immediately start a campaign inside the Parliamentary Labour Party to force the right-wing to resign.

We propose this because it is our firm conviction that these ‘lefts’ like Benn, Heffer and Foot have no intention of fighting the right wing and we want to demonstrate this in practice to all those class conscious sections of the working class who still believe that the Labour government would be all right if the ‘lefts’ were not obstructed from carrying out the Labour Party manifesto. Only by exposing their support for the right wing can the ‘lefts’ be exposed and destroyed as a political force.


The call to “force the Labour government to resign” on the other hand, assumes that the working class has already spontaneously broken from positions which it is quite clear that they still hold, including extensive grass roots support for the so-called lefts.

Moreover the WRP do not propose how the Labour government should be forced to resign, or what government should replace it. When the Tories were in power, the WRP correctly called for a general strike to force the Heath government to resign. Today, the WRP refuse to propose such action and at the same time offer no alternative as to how Wilson can be forced to call another election. Their apparently ‘revolutionary’ demand thus becomes a form of words to cover their complete lack of serious intervention in the working class.

In his article, Jack Gale sets out to distort our policy on the Labour government. He accuses Alan Thornett, a leading member of the WSL, of arguing, at the time of his expulsion from the WRP; that the Labour government would be forced to the left by the pressure of the working class, and would therefore come into conflict with capitalism. In this way Gale seeks by barefaced lies and distortion to show that the WSL has a tradition of ‘wrong positions’ on the Labour government.

But then another question must arise. Since this was supposedly such a basic difference with the WRP, surely such a position would have emerged as a part of the WSL’s position, and not be confined to an alleged verbal statement at one WRP central committee meeting? Thornett has consistently denied ever making such a statement, and Gale, after more than 6 months publication of the WSL Socialist Press is unable to find a single quote in any of the documents of the split or any issue of our paper to support his accusation. If Thornett and leading WSL members did hold this incorrect position it would inevitably be reflected in the pages of Socialist Press. We challenge anyone to produce a single quote from our publications that supports Gale’s accusation.

In fact Gale’s accusation on this question is not even serious. Its main role is to conceal at all costs the real political differences which Comrade Thornett raised first on the WRP Central Committee and in one opposition document (given a restricted circulation by that CC) together with another one authorised by Healy but suppressed. As Gale well knows and seeks to conceal, the discussion within the WRP on these differences was blocked at each point by the leadership and then abruptly ended altogether by the bureaucratic expulsion of over 200 WRP members immediately prior to the Party’s First Annual Conference last December.

Cde Thornett’s differences were not on the reactionary role of the Labour government, but on the sectarian wrong positions of the WRP leadership and its consequent abandonment of the method of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme, the Founding Document of the Fourth international. As his first document clearly stated:

“At the same time the party in its practice abandons the characterisation of this period in the Transitional Programme as:
“A pre-revolutionary period of agitation, propaganda and organisation.”
and therefore abandons what is the strategic task in such a period – again from the Transitional Programme:
“Overcoming the contradiction between the maturity of the objective revolutionary conditions and the immaturity of the proletariat and its vanguard.”
This has in my view led the party into propagandising the maximum programme on the basis that the revolutionary situation has grown so sharp that any other programme does not apply. It leads to the conclusion (rationalisation) that the working class has broken from reformism and Stalinism. The mechanical link between economics and politics, which has become central to the Party’s theoretical position over the recent period is in essence the abandonment of the Transitional Programme in which Trotsky says:
“It is necessary to help the masses in the process of their daily struggle to find the bridge between present demands and the socialist revolution”.
Instead of this approach, we have predominating the sectarian conception condemned by Trotsky that “revolutionary events inevitably push the workers towards us. This passive expectancy, under a cover of idealistic messianism, has nothing in common with Marxism”.

What today is the WRP’s ultimatistic demand “make the Labour government resign” if not a refusal to help the masses of workers who still support the fake ‘lefts’ find a bridge between their present demands and the socialist revolution? Workers test their leaders in struggle, and it is in struggle to make their ‘left’ leaders fight that they will learn the need of new leadership and new policies. We support and seek to politically direct their demands on the ‘lefts’ because we see this as the only way of discrediting the ‘lefts’.

But the ‘lefts’ both in the Labour Party and the unions must also be confronted with a programme of demands which starts from the present problems confronted by workers, and goes beyond simple trade union demands – containing within them the necessity for the working class to take the power.


It is difficult for new WRP members and those who simply see each day’s Workers Press in itself, and have not seen objectively its many changes, reversals, and subtle adaptations over the last year to understand that prior to Comrade Thornett’s opposition within the WRP, virtually none of the demands now bandied around its pages were to be seen at all.

The sliding scale of wages had been mentioned twice, and the sliding scale of hours (now our slogan of work sharing on full pay) not at all. Indeed these slogans are still not understood or used correctly to this day by Gale since he confuses the two together, calling for an undefined “sliding scale of hours and wages”.

The demand for the opening of the books of the employer and an end to business secrets had never appeared in Workers Press prior to October 1974, and the demand for nationalisation was always followed by the wrong slogan of “under workers’ control” – while workers’ management was never called for.

To complete the picture, the demand for a programme of public works to ensure the defence of jobs in nationalised industries was never advanced.

For those WRP members who doubt this, the October 1974 Election Manifesto epitomises the empty rhetoric of the WRP programme at the point where Alan Thornett raised his differences. It was directly out of his intervention that subsequent verbal changes have taken place.

In addition of course the WRP only undertook any kind of campaign on the Shrewsbury Two after the opposition arose within the party, in an attempt to create the appearance of a serious trade union base.

But while cloaking themselves in words adapted from the Transitional Programme to conceal their more blatant wrong positions, the Healy leadership has found it impossible to cover the cloven hoof of the sectarian method which since the election of the Labour government has dogged the WRP and created its continuing political crisis. It emerges in the “force Labour to resign” slogan and in the inability of the WRP to penetrate the unions (so that not one WRP policy went on the agenda at the T&GWU conference, and not a single trade other than Equity has seen any serious intervention). It emerges in their pat maximum slogan, attached to everything and addressed to no-one, “nationalise industry, banks and land under workers’ control without compensation” – calling presumably on a Labour government of ‘corporatists’ to legislate what amounts to the social revolution!

Because the WSL does not follow these sectarian lines and directs instead a continuous struggle for programme and revolutionary leadership right into the labour movement, particularly in areas where the WRP has never been able to hold an organisation, Gale emerges to accuse us of reformism. He claims that because the Workers Socialist League does not support the policy of forcing the Labour government to resign, they therefore support keeping the Labour government in power.

Trotsky, says Gale, has demonstrated how every Labour government is a capitalist government that given the choice between defending capitalism and taking the road to revolution, always chooses to defend capitalism. Therefore the Thornett group are agreeing to keep a capitalist government in power and are therefore “clearly moving to the right”.

This is another dishonest argument. Of course, every Labour government has come to the defence of capitalism. In that sense all Labour governments are capitalist governments. But at the same time the Labour Party has historical ties with the working class through the trade unions which differentiates it from thoroughly capitalist parties such as the American Democratic Party.


It is because the Labour Party was built by and through the trade union movement in order to defend in parliament the trades unions from the attacks of the bosses and their political agents, the Tories, that the task confronting revolutionaries is to devise the means to break the working class from the Labour Party and in particular the ‘lefts’ who in the present economic crisis claim to oppose the attacks of the tight wing in the Labour government on the working class.

It was just such a fight that established the SLL and the WRP. For instance, in 1961, in a letter to the American SWP, the National Committee of the Socialist Labour League detailed some of the struggles it had undertaken against revisionist tendencies within its own ranks, each resulting in splits. It states:

“Finally there was Brian Behan, who proposed the ultra-left theory that the Labour Party was a capitalist party and that we should have nothing to do with it.”

It goes on to show how the NC did not regard ‘left’ and ‘right’ within the Labour Party as meaningless terms as Gale suggests:

“Whilst in the initial stage of the witch hunt (against the newly-formed SLL) we suffered some casualties through expulsions from the Labour Party, nevertheless, we have been able during the past year not only to make good these losses but in addition to organise an important campaign around the defence of Clause Four and the promotion of a policy for implementing this clause. This has brought our comrades into closer relationship with some of the Left centrists in the ‘Victory for Socialism’ organisation, whom we can influence and from whom we can recruit.”
(Trotskyism v. Revisionism, pp. 50-52).

A few years later took place the mass expulsion of the SLL-led Young Socialists from the Labour Party. This obviously changed the situation within the Party and squashed once and for all the idea of simply “taking control” of it by a revolutionary party standing on principles. We do not want to ape the actions of the SLL – but rather to draw attention to the sectarian revisions the WRP have now made on the nature of the Labour Party, and the method they once defended.

The Workers Socialist League does not support a capitalist government. It is our intention to fight to break the working class from their reformist leadership and we say this can only be done by demonstrating in practice the role of the Labour government and those that cover up for them.

But let the WRP answer the following questions. If every Labour government is a capitalist government and nothing else, then why has the WRP and the SLL called on the working class to vote Labour back into power at every election since the war? Moreover, since in the past the WRP have pursued the same policy as ours, that is, demanding that the ‘lefts’ fight Wilson and the right wing, why have they suddenly dropped this policy in favour of the abstract demand to force the Labour government to resign?

They could only justify this change of policy if they could demonstrate that this Labour government is somehow different from previous governments. But they themselves quote Trotsky to the effect that all Labour governments defend capitalism rather than take the revolutionary road. That includes Wilson’s 1964 and 1966 governments as well as the present Wilson administration. Why did the SLL not call for the removal of the last Labour government by the working class?

It is no good the WRP listing all the terrible things that this Labour government is doing, with the implicit (and on occasions the explicit) support of the Tories and then suggesting that this coalition in all but name makes this Labour government different from previous governments.

In 1966, Wilson launched a series of attacks on the working class, including the notorious Incomes Policy, the anti-union laws proposed in ‘In Place of Strife’ and the vicious attack on the leaders of the 1966 seamens strike. There can be no doubt that at the time he received the support of the Tories in all these actions which were aimed at making the working class pay for economic crisis which was at that time beginning to emerge in a big way.

It is not the WSL that is breaking from the “entire programme, analysis and strategy of Trotskyism” as Gale falsely accuses us, but the WRP.

Trotskyists do not simply proclaim general truths in the hope that if they repeat them often enough, the working class will eventually catch on. That is why it is not good enough for Gale to quote a passage in which Trotsky points out that the ‘lefts’ of his time were just as incapable of carrying out socialist policies as the right wing led by MacDonald. And it proves nothing for him to declare that it is not enough to expose the lefts, they must be actually removed. He knows the WRP at this point cannot remove either left or right wing MPs and that his words are mere bluster. Of course the lefts have to be removed but this cannot be done by telling workers that Trotsky demonstrated 50 years ago that the ‘lefts’ are no better than the rights.

Before the lefts can be removed they have to be exposed. The way to expose them is demand that they carry their words into actions, fight to remove Wilson and the right wing, form a government and implement socialist policies. It is through the struggle that the working class puts up to place these demands on the ‘left’ MPs that the possibility of winning large sections of the working class away from reformism becomes a reality, for if it is demonstrated in practice that the Benns and Heffers of this world are in fact no different from the Wilson and the Jenkins, then the question of an alternative leadership is immediately posed to the most class conscious layers of the working class. By seeking an idealist short cut round this struggle the WRP ensures it can remain only on the fringes of the Labour movement, and can never develop the revolutionary party necessary in the coming period.

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