Harry Wicks was one of the founders of Trotskyism in Britain. His memoirs have been published by Socialist Platform Ltd., and some additional material has been made available through the Revolutionary History web page. The following note was a contribution by Harry to the international rejection of the campaign of slander conducted by Gerry Healy’s Workers Revolutionary Party, and its International Committee, against the American SWP. Harry had taken an active part in the defence of Trotsky against the Stalinists, and had helped to guard Trotsky in Norway. He also contributed substantially to the work of the Committee to Defend Leon Trotsky, and was therefore in a strong position to comment on Healy’s attacks on the SWP.

From the Workers League Internal Bulletin, March 1977

Answer to the slanders against the SWP of America

by Harry Wicks

The campaign of calumny against the leaders of the Socialist Workers Party of America, conducted by Healy, raises the question whose interests are served by such a slander. To attack the integrity of Trotsky’s intimate collaborators and co-thinkers can result, unless defeated, in the denigration of Leon Trotsky. There can be no possible doubt that this last onslaught serves to confuse ever-growing numbers of workers who are turning to revolutionary Marxism. It also serves to cover the politics of the traducers, who, faced with an unparalleled opportunity to grow in a condition of unfolding class struggle, find themselves hampered by their sectarian past. Healy knows better than most that the power of the lie is limited, truth will eventually break through. But even so, by correct timing, a lie can serve an immediate and factional aim. His campaign coincides with an intense interest in Trotskyism. At the moment the mass media, the bourgeois press, the Labour leadership and government ministers are busy promoting a witch-hunt against the influence of Trotskyism. To most political observers on the left it is clear that this sustained barrage against Marxist influence in the Labour movement, is but the prelude to the next attack on the living standards of the working class. The aim of the government is to discredit the Marxists who alone are urging workers to fight back against another round of wage restraint. In Britain today the crisis is visible. It is biting into every worker’s standard of living. The government’s economy cuts have savaged the Health Service, Education and Transport. Unemployment is growing, layoffs increasingly become the talk of the factory floor. As the trades unions and Labour government prepare their plans for the third year of wage restraint, there are signs, small, limited, fragmented, of the workers’ resistance maturing. It is this real fear on the part of the establishment that a more dynamic leadership could merge with a rising movement against the social contract, that helps to explain the frenzy of the present campaign in the media against Trotskyism. It is against this political setting that any dirt against Trotskyism gets currency in the bourgeois press. Again let me ask whose interests are served by this factional attack on the Trotskyist leadership?

It is not new; for fifty years the new leaders of the Trotskyist movement have been slandered. “Pensioners of Capitalism”, “In the service of Franco”, “Agents of Hitler” and “Agents of counter-revolution” were some of the lies orchestrated by the Stalin machine in the past. Let us not forget the concrete situation and circumstance that the most mendacious story of all was circulated, that of the “Wrangel officer”. The objective of that lie was to connect the Trotskyist opposition with a counter-revolutionary coup. Prompt, firm and public exposure at the time compelled the G.P.U. to admit that the alleged “Wrangel officer” was in fact a member of their own force. What prompted the Stalin machine to circulate such a brutal lie? The year was 1927 and the inner party discussion was under way. The nearer the date of the fifteenth Party Congress approached, so the balance sheet of Stalin’s political line plunged deeper and deeper in the red. It was the year that the Anglo-Russian Trade Agreement ignominiously came to its end. In April, Chiang Kai-Shek massacred his Communist allies in Shanghai, Stalin’s Chinese policy had aborted a promising revolutionary situation. It was also the year of the visible growth of the Nepmen in the Soviet economy. Faced with such defeats, the Stalin leadership were fearful that the left opposition programme would find a road to the party masses. To avoid that, slander supplanted critical debate in the months preceding the Party Congress. The writer of these lines, remembers to this day, the impact of the slander on party members in Moscow in 1927. It served an immediate purpose to confuse and disorientate those party workers who were awakening to the power of the Trotskyist programme. All this of course is ABC to Healy, he has spent a lifetime fighting the politics of Stalinism, but whether or not he has rejected the Stalinist method of political debate is open to question.

To attack George Novack for dereliction of duty in defending Trotsky is a complete travesty of the truth. At the time of the Moscow trials it was my privilege to be the first secretary of the Provisional Committee for the Defence of Leon Trotsky here in Britain. We knew of the magnificent efforts being made in the United States to get an enquiry into the Moscow accusations. Novack was most outspoken in letters and even cablegrams for us to work along similar lines and get a broad defence committee established. Unfortunately here the left intellectuals, the so-called liberal stream, were neck-deep in the Popular Front. They were prepared to remain silent, or as many did, openly supported the Moscow accusations. We did however make an effort to get signatories to a simple appeal for an enquiry. In spite of the fact that our appeal was published with a bare handful of signatories in the Daily Herald (Labour’s daily paper) and the Manchester Guardian, the response was disgraceful. Defeated in the effort to get a broad committee established such as in France and the States, we had to counter the campaign of the Communist Party by a series of meetings. Throughout that period, bitter as it was, I have no memory of Healy either signing that appeal for the defence of Trotsky or participating in those meetings. Possibly that is unjust, he might not have been around when Trotsky’s defence was a vital question, particularly to those he slanders.

Updated by ETOL: 28 November 2009