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Chapter 3 (1950-1955) The Club, Socialist Outlook, International Committee

BY 1950, WHEN Gerry Healy secured his ascendancy over the Trotskyist movement in Britain, the Fourth International had entered a deep political crisis. Confronted by the stabilisation of capitalism, the continued vitality of reformism, the expansion of Stalinism and the consequent marginalisation of Trotskyism, the International’s leaders had become deeply disoriented. In an attempt to overcome the movement’s isolation, this leadership – in particular its secretary, Michel Pablo – began to jettison some of the main planks of the Trotskyist programme.

Although the Fourth International’s political collapse really dates from 1948, when a wholesale capitulation to Stalinism in its Titoite form took place, it was at the Ninth Plenum of the International Executive Committee, in November 1950, that the International first embraced those programmatic revisions which Healy would later furiously denounce as Pabloism. Healy’s own organisation in Britain, however, had already anticipated this slide into ‘Pabloite revisionism’ by several months. The perspectives document adopted by the Club at its national conference the previous August had defined ‘the basic antagonism in the world today’ not as the class struggle internationally, but as the conflict between US imperialism and Soviet Stalinism. A ‘developing economic crisis’, Healy’s document insisted, compelled the USA towards an ‘armed showdown with the Soviet Union and the colonial world’. With imperialism ‘forced to prepare for, and then embark upon, a world war under extremely unfavourable conditions for world capitalism’, the stage was set for ‘an international civil war’ in which the Fourth International would be able to lead successful revolutionary struggles.1

Typically, Healy sprang these new perspectives on the Club without giving the membership any opportunity to discuss them before the conference. In a manoeuvre which Ted Grant condemned as ‘Zinovievist trickery’, Healy presented the conference with an entirely new document, while claiming that it was merely an amended version of the original, and quite different, draft.2 In imposing Pablo’s political conceptions on the British section in this way, Healy demonstrated the utter contempt for Bolshevik methods of party organisation which was a distinguishing feature of his political career.

There seems no reason, then, to dispute Livio Maitan’s claim that, when Pablo’s famous essay ‘Where Are We Going?’ was circulated for discussion within the International early in 1951, Healy expressed no disagreement with it whatsoever.3 Nor did Healy challenge the adoption, at the FI’s Third World Congress in August-September 1951, of a full-blown ‘Pabloite’ programme. This put forward the perspective that with the outbreak of another world war, which was held to be both imminent and inevitable, the counter-revolutionary character of Stalinist parties outside the USSR could be transformed. Following the supposed examples of the Yugoslav and Chinese CPs, some of these parties could be expected to break with Stalinist politics and ‘project a revolutionary orientation’.4 All the British delegates to the Congress – Healy, John Lawrence and Bill Hunter – voted for these perspectives. And in the Club itself only Betty Hamilton and Charles Van Gelderen opposed the Third Congress decisions.5

The Parti Communiste Internationaliste, the French section led by Bleibtreu and Lambert, did take a stand against Pablo at the Third World Congress. For, while they were enthusiastic supporters of the IS’s pro-Stalinist line on Yugoslavia and China, they baulked at its application to France, where the PCI had its base in the anti-communist Force Ouvrière trade union confederation. Faced with the PCI leadership’s stubborn resistance to his policy of ‘entrism sui generis’6 in the French Communist Party and the Stalinist-dominated CGT unions, in January 1952 Pablo abused his authority as FI secretary to suspend the majority of the PCI central committee.

Needless to say, the French received no support from Gerry Healy. On the contrary, when Pablo’s bureaucratic action was narrowly endorsed – by five votes to four – by the IS, Healy sided with Pablo.7 And at the IEC Twelfth Plenum in November, Healy voted for the expulsion of the PCI majority from the Fourth International.8 According to one account, Healy even turned up in person at Pablo’s side to inform the Bleibtreu-Lambert faction that they had been expelled and replaced as the official section by the ‘Pabloite’ minority led by Pierre Frank and Michele Mestre.9 Healy played a no less rotten role in relation to the FI’s Vietnamese section, within which a minority faction supported the Bleibtreu-Lambert position. Before chairing a meeting of Vietnamese comrades who were about to return from France under orders to enter the Viet Minh, Healy approached his fellow IEC representative Peng Shuzi who was to address the meeting, and persuaded him to remain silent about the Mao regime’s persecution of Trotskyists in China. Peng was left in no doubt that this was ‘an instruction or suggestion from Pablo’.10 In order to defuse opposition to the entrism sui generis tactic, Healy and Pablo thus conspired to conceal from the Vietnamese Trotskyists the extent of the repression they could expect at the hands of Stalinism.

Meanwhile, in Britain, the Club continued to pursue Healy’s unprincipled approach to entry inside the Labour Party – without any noticeable success. As Jock Haston had pointed out, Healy’s technique of deep entry kept the Trotskyists’ politics secret from the Labour Party rank and file, but failed to fool the bureaucracy, who were well aware who the entrists were.11 In April 1951 the National Executive Committee decided to proscribe the Socialist Fellowship, condemning it as a ‘disruptive influence’.12 Healy capitulated without a fight, and immediately wound up the organisation. In a letter to the NEC, the Socialist Fellowship national committee explained that the now liquidated Fellowship’s supporters were ‘loyal members of the Labour Party who have never had any interests separate and apart from the Labour Party’.13 This mangled paraphrase of the Communist Manifesto only served to underline the depth of Healy’s political opportunism.14

In any case, Healy soon had bigger fish to fry. The proscription of the Socialist Fellowship was followed by Aneurin Bevan’s resignation from the Labour government in protest at the decision to cut Health Service expenditure in order to finance a massive armaments programme. After discontent had been further fuelled by Labour’s defeat at the 1951 general election, Bevan became the focus for rank-and-file opposition to the Labour Party leadership and its right wing policies. In contrast to the mere front organisation which the Socialist Fellowship had become, Bevanism was a genuine left wing movement with a real base of support in the party. It was undoubtedly necessary for Trotskyists to develop a political orientation towards this movement and carry out work inside it. But Pablo, ignoring Bevanism’s organisational amorphousness and unambiguously left-reformist character, greeted this development as the beginnings of a centrist tendency which could be won to a revolutionary programme. Trotskyists could best promote such an evolution of the Bevanite movement, Pablo wrote, ‘by penetrating it and helping it from the inside to develop to its last resources and consequences’, thereby accelerating its ‘left centrist ripening’.15

Healy eagerly seized on the opportunist implications of this perspective, in order to transform British Trotskyism into a left component of Bevanism. Thus Bevan’s speech to the 1952 Labour Party conference was hailed by Socialist Outlook with the headline ‘Bevan Gives the Lead that Workers Want’. Bevan’s election to the NEC on a record vote, and the replacement of right wingers Dalton and Morrison by the Bevanites Harold Wilson and Richard Crossman, the front page editorial stated, was ‘the clearest indication’ that the rank and file wanted socialism.16 A month later, next to a message of support from Michael Foot on behalf of Tribune, the paper carried the headline ‘Aneurin Bevan Demands a Real Socialist Policy’. Yet, by Socialist Outlook’s own admission, Bevan had done no more than defend political positions which were commonplace in the Labour Party before 1945, and he had made it plain that he had no desire to wage a serious struggle against the right wing.17

Healy provided a ‘theoretical’ gloss to this political adaptation in his review of Bevan’s book In Place of Fear. Not only did Healy accept Bevan’s reformist conception of the working class advancing to socialism ‘through the gate of parliament’,18 but in doing so he shamelessly echoed the patriotism underpinning Bevan’s political philosophy. ‘Great Britain’, Healy wrote, ‘can never regain its position of world leadership under capitalist auspices.... Britain, however, can rise to a newer and higher level of world leadership, provided the Labour movement resolutely carries its struggle for Socialism to victory here in the coming period.’ The chief conditions for success, as enumerated by Healy, were: ‘1. Complete reliance on the organised power of the working class. 2. No confidence in Britain’s capitalists or America’s imperialists. 3. Finish without delay the job of nationalising, democratising, and reorganising industry along socialist lines. 4. Put into effect a Socialist and democratic foreign policy.’ This programme, which was to be implemented by a future Labour government, was, Healy wrote, ‘the only road to workers’ power and Socialism in Great Britain’.19

Tom Kemp has written that Healy’s attitude to Bevanism, as expressed in this article, was that of a ‘fully-fledged Pabloite’20. But this only reveals the problem in using the term ‘Pabloism’ in reference to politics which had general support within the Fourth International. Indeed, for all Healy’s later fulminations against ‘Pabloite liquidationism’, if he had any difference with Pablo in this period it was that Healy favoured a more thoroughly liquidationist course within the Labour Party. After all, the FI leadership did take the view that, in addition to Socialist Outlook, the British section should publish ‘a theoretical organ, openly defending revolutionary Marxism’21 – only to have their repeated requests to this effect ignored by Healy.22 Indeed, Pablo himself would subsequently criticise Healy’s adaptation to Bevanism as an ‘opportunist application’ of the entry tactic!23

When a struggle broke out within the American SWP between the pro-Stalinist Cochran-Clarke faction, who took their inspiration from Pablo, and the party’s old guard headed by James P. Cannon, Healy was scarcely in a position to take a political stand against ‘Pabloism’. His response was merely one of anxiety that the dispute in the SWP might spill over into the International, which – according to Healy – was making great strides under Pablo’s leadership. ‘Some very serious work in the mass movement is being done now’, Healy wrote to Cannon in February 1953, ‘and in France in particular. Everyone wants to get on with the job, and the nearness of the war adds to their determination. My first feeling, therefore, is one of extreme worry – are we threatened with another international split? If so we must avoid it at all costs. Our movement must not go into the war smashed up and divided!’24

* * * *

ALTHOUGH THE leaders of the SWP put themselves forward in 1953 as the defenders of ‘orthodox Trotskyism’ against ‘Pabloite revisionism’, the party had in fact already established a lengthy record of political support for the European leadership of the FI. The American section had failed to oppose the turn towards Tito in 1948, endorsed with only minor reservations the decisions of the 1951 Third World Congress, and in 1952 had assisted Pablo in expelling the recalcitrant majority of the French section, against whom Cannon had defended Pablo’s political positions as ‘completely Trotskyist’.25 It was only when a minority faction in the SWP, with the backing of the Paris-based International Secretariat, began to push for this pro-Stalinist line to be implemented in the United States that the party leaders moved into opposition.

If the SWP’s resistance to Pablo had been minimal, Gerry Healy’s had been non-existent. Indeed, at the Third World Congress in 1951, Healy told the exiled Chinese Trotskyist Peng Shuzi ‘Pablo is my intimate friend. He is a genius politically and organisationally’, and even informed Peng’s daughter that ‘Pablo should think of himself as the successor of Trotsky’!26 So it is not surprising that, when the SWP leadership came into conflict with Pablo, Healy’s initial response was to try and straddle the two sides. Nevertheless, his fundamental loyalty to the SWP, and to James P. Cannon in particular, was never in serious doubt. It was, after all, the SWP leaders who had raised Healy from his position of ignominy within the Workers International League in 1943, and had guided his subsequent struggle for control of the British section. The publication of Socialist Outlook, which by 1952 had become a professional-looking weekly, would have been impossible without financial backing from the SWP.27 Healy was even dependant on the US Trotskyist movement for his personal political style, which he had developed into a crude caricature of Cannon, complete with imitation American accent.

In aligning himself with the SWP majority, Healy performed his usual trick of simply shifting his political position without explanation or self-criticism. At the IEC Plenum of May 1953, during discussion of a draft resolution on Stalinism, Healy suddenly announced that it would be a mistake to become over-optimistic about developments in the Stalinist parties following Stalin’s death, citing the example of Yugoslavia and the failure to anticipate Tito’s capitulation to imperialism over the Korean war.28 This mild criticism provoked an angry response from Pablo, who told Healy that he should refrain from expressing views which were contrary to the political line of the International. And at the end of the meeting the other British delegate, Socialist Outlook editor John Lawrence, was taken away by Pablo for a two-hour talk.29 The method which had been used against Haston and Grant – adopting a member of the British section as the FI’s ‘man’, and organising a faction around him against the established leadership – was now to be employed against Healy himself.

Healy, however, completely misjudged the intensity of the factional struggle which was about to erupt in the International. He saw no incompatibility between acting as an advocate for Cannon and maintaining comradely relations with Pablo, whose support for the SWP minority Healy explained as a consequence of political impatience, due to lack of experience in leading a national section. Healy was convinced that Pablo could be dissuaded from making ‘serious errors’ in relation to the SWP.30 As for the British section, Healy envisaged that no trouble would arise – for, as he wrote with characteristic disregard for the facts, ‘we have blasted conciliation to Stalinism here for some time now’.31

Immediately after the May IEC Plenum, Healy nevertheless took the precaution of having the Executive Committee of the British section (now known as the ‘Group’) elect him as its representative on the IS, in place of Lawrence.32 But Healy proved politically incapable of using this position to challenge the line of the International’s leadership. In July, he agreed that ‘The Rise and Decline of Stalinism’, Pablo’s draft document for the forthcoming Fourth World Congress, should be sent out to the sections in the name of the IS, and failed to record any differences with its political adaptation to ‘liberalising’ tendencies in the Stalinist bureaucracy.33 And when Pablo’s document was discussed by the Group’s EC in August, Healy stated only that he would argue on the National Committee that certain changes were necessary in order to ‘strengthen it’.34

As far as Pablo was concerned, even this represented an unacceptable display of independence on Healy’s part, and in early September Healy was summoned to Paris where he was put under heavy pressure to break with the SWP leadership. It was this experience, following as it did the emergence within the Group of an organised Pabloite faction headed by Lawrence, Hilda Lane, Fred Emmett and Audrey Wise, which brought home to Healy that a fight was unavoidable. Pablo, only yesterday a man whom Healy had felt ‘extremely close to’ and had ‘grown to like considerably’, was now found to embody ‘all the old cominternist vices’. Pablo’s methods, so Healy told Cannon, ‘sickened me to the point that it almost made me physically unwell’. He complained bitterly that the FI leadership wanted ‘an International of spineless creatures who will accept revisionism to the point where they become the left cover for Stalinism’.35

As this was precisely the role which Healy himself had performed over the past few years, his modest claim that he was ‘engaged in the greatest struggle in the whole history of our movement to defend our basic principles’36 scarcely carried much conviction. In the absence of a critical evaluation of his own contribution, and that of the tendency he led, to the Fourth International’s political degeneration, the fight which Healy proceeded to wage in the Group had the character of crude factional manoeuvring, devoid of political principle.

Thus, at the Group’s National Committee meeting later in September, Healy used as a pretext for his attack on Pablo’s supporters the publication in Socialist Outlook of an article arguing that a future world war would be ‘an openly-declared war of ideologies, Communism against capitalism, with the world split into two warring camps’. This, the very same line which he himself had been instrumental in imposing on the British section, was now held up by Healy as evidence that the ‘whole Pablo gang are capitulatory from top to bottom’.37 And although Healy persuaded the NC to endorse a series of amendments to ‘The Rise and Decline of Stalinism’, one member of Healy’s faction – Harry Ratner – recalls that he was ‘at first sight rather impressed by Pablo’s thinking’ and was ‘not at all convinced when Healy and others said it would open the road to Stalinism’.38 It is not surprising, therefore, that Healy found difficulty getting an NC majority for his organisational measures against the Pabloites. When he proposed to remove Fred Emmett from his full-time post on the staff of Socialist Outlook and replace him with Bill Hunter, both Ratner and Bob Pennington indicated that they would vote against this, and Healy was forced to adjourn the meeting until the next day in order to bully his erring supporters into accepting Emmett’s sacking.39

While organising with characteristic belligerence in order to maintain his hold over the British section, Healy still believed that the dispute could be contained within a united International. The SWP leaders, however, had other ideas. Ignoring a succession of letters from Healy urging that they should campaign for an Emergency Conference of the FI rather than provoke a split,40 in November 1953 the SWP issued the famous Open Letter, publicly denouncing Pablo for having betrayed the Trotskyist programme and declaring that ‘no compromise is possible either politically or organisationally’ with the FI leadership in Paris.41 The split was formalised a week later with the founding of the International Committee of the Fourth International, comprising the US, British and Swiss sections of the FI, together with the expelled majority of the French section.

Confronted with this fait accompli by the SWP, Healy moved quickly to carry out a purge in the Group. In this he was assisted by Pablo giving his British followers the International’s authority to defy the discipline of the national section. On 20 November the National Committee suspended Lawrence, Emmett and four others from the organisation, and the following day the Pabloites announced the formation of a new ‘official’ section of the FI.42 Healy and Pablo between them thus succeeded in imposing a split on the British Trotskyists before a conference was held or a thorough discussion carried out in the ranks. The result was that many members took sides because of personal allegiances rather than on a political basis.43

The low political level of this struggle was reflected in Socialist Outlook. The not exactly world-historic issue around which the Healyites and Pabloites waged their initial public fight was Lawrence’s proposal to launch a petition demanding that the Tory government resign.44 Although Healy rightly rejected this idea on the grounds that you couldn’t fight the Tories ‘with bits of paper’, and accused the Pabloites of capitulation to reformism,45 he ignored his own role in generating reformist illusions among British Trotskyists. And the ‘mass working class action’ which Healy counterposed to the circulation of petitions was discredited by the familiar Healyite practice of exaggerating the existing level of consciousness in the working class. ‘Already many workers are asking’, Healy supporter Jim Allen insisted, ‘not "will there be a general strike" but "when?".’46

In March 1954 Lawrence utilised a review of Isaac Deutscher’s Trotsky biography to push a classically ‘Pabloite’ line on the Chinese revolution. The theory of permanent revolution, Lawrence asserted, had found ‘confirmation in China where the Communist Party is ... compelled to undertake a socialist revolution in order to solve the bourgeois tasks of national independence and freedom from landlordism’. Mao Zedong, according to Lawrence, was acting – ‘although not consciously’ – as a Trotskyist.47 Yet, instead of Healy’s faction taking the opportunity to publicly lash this manifestation of ‘Pabloite revisionism’, it was left to Mike Kidron of the state capitalist Socialist Review Group to expose Mao’s record as a butcher of Trotskyists.48 Healy’s silence was understandable. At the IEC Eleventh Plenum of April 1952, he himself had argued vigorously for a resolution on the Chinese revolution which incorporated an identical analysis to that now put forward by Lawrence.49

If any clear political differences emerged during the course of the dispute, this was largely because of the Lawrence faction’s speedy evolution towards openly Stalinist positions. Thus Healy was able to make some correct points against Lawrence’s attitude towards the popular frontist Paris Peace Congress against German rearmament of March 1954.50 But such political questions took second place to the organisational battle for control of Socialist Outlook, which involved winning a majority among the shareholders of the Labour Publishing Society, the paper’s legal owner. At the LPS annual general meeting in May 1954, the Healy faction were able to defeat the Pabloites and take over the management committee and editorial board.51 This victory, which is presented in Healyite mythology as a major political triumph over Pabloism,52 is put into perspective by Harry Ratner, who points out that the result ‘did not necessarily reflect the real measure of support for the respective camps.... It just happened that we were better organised, worked harder and got round to more people’.53

During the struggle of 1953-54 the British section produced not a single independent theoretical contribution to the struggle against ‘Pabloism’.54 Nor was any attempt made to analyse the origins of the Fourth International’s political crisis. Indeed, throughout the fight with the IS and its supporters, Healy – following his mentors in the SWP – continued to protest his adherence to the very Third World Congress decisions on which the Pabloites’ policies were so evidently based. In the face of such confusion and downright political dishonesty, the 1953 split in the International, far from upholding the continuity of Trotskyism, could serve only to deepen the political disorientation of the movement.

* * * *

THE 1953 SPLIT in the Fourth International may have forced Healy to take a confused half-step back from the pro-Stalinist line he had pursued over the previous five years, but it failed to alter his course of political liquidation into the Bevanite movement. This was one aspect of ‘Pabloism’ which Healy had no intention of challenging. In September 1953, at the very time that he was flaying the ‘capitulatory’ politics of the Pabloites, Healy was telling Socialist Outlook readers that the forthcoming Labour Party conference presented an opportunity to deliver ‘the knock-out blow’ to the bureaucracy. And how was this to be achieved? ‘It is to be hoped’, Healy wrote, ‘that the Bevanites on the platform will join forces with the rank and file on the floor and thus guide the conference in a real Socialist direction.’55 This approach – which has been summarised as ‘hope the Lefts fight’!56 – offered not the slightest warning as to the real willingness of the leaders of the Labour left to take on and defeat the right wing.57

Healy’s problem was that his attacks on Pablo’s British supporters threatened to damage his relations with the Bevanites, who stood closer politically to John Lawrence’s group than to Healy’s. Healy evaded this difficulty with his usual political dishonesty. Thus he denounced as ‘a shameful cover for the hideous facts of class collaboration’ Lawrence’s endorsement of the Paris Peace Congress,58 yet he refused to criticise Jennie Lee for having attended the same conference.59 And while he condemned Lawrence’s readiness to build a campaign against German rearmament in co-operation with anti-German chauvinists,60 Healy remained silent on the fact that some of the worst examples of such chauvinism were to be found in the Bevanite journal Tribune.61

In order to counter the accusation that his polemics against Lawrence also reflected on the Bevanites, Healy stepped up his sycophancy towards Aneurin Bevan to unprecedented levels. Bevan’s resignation from the shadow cabinet in April 1954, in protest at Attlee’s support for US warmongering in South East Asia, prompted a breathless eulogy from Healy. ‘Implicit in the position put forward by Bevan’, Healy wrote, ‘is the recognition that what the world faces today in its struggle for survival is an international class struggle. Implicit in the statement of policy he proposes is a rallying cry for international working class action. Implicit in his attack on the counter-revolutionary plans of American Big Business is an appeal to the great and traditionally militant American working class .... Our task is to aid in spelling out the programme for Labour implied in his stand.’62

At this time the Bevanites were also being courted by the Communist Party, which was attempting – not unsuccessfully – to draw the Labour left into a cross-class ‘peace’ campaign. Healy’s Group, small though it was, represented an obstacle to the Stalinists’ aims. It was scarcely accidental, therefore, that in March 1954 the CP weekly World News published an attack on Trotskyism which included potted political biographies of Healy and other former RCPers involved with Socialist Outlook. The Labour Party right wing gratefully accepted the political ammunition provided by the Stalinists, and the following month the National Executive Committee pronounced that anyone associated with Socialist Outlook was ineligible for membership of the Labour Party.63

Healy launched a campaign against the ban – ‘Join the Labour Party today’ was the fighting slogan, ‘And Ssh! Still read Socialist Outlook64 – and he was able to rally broad support within the labour movement, in particular among the Bevanites, who were themselves under threat of expulsion.65 Nevertheless, at the 1954 Labour Party conference the reference back of the NEC’s report on Socialist Outlook, moved by Jennie Lee, was lost by 1,596,000 votes to 4,474,000.66 Speaking at a Socialist Outlook meeting during the conference, Healy had demagogically warned the right wing that ‘no matter what they fixed by the use of the block vote, they would not prevent the Outlook from appearing or becoming a bigger paper’.67 But this proved to be so much hot air. In October 1954 Socialist Outlook ceased publication, and the Healyites turned to selling Tribune. It was in co-operation with the Bevanites’ paper that Healy carried out his intervention in the ‘Blue Union’ struggle of 1954-55.

In the course of this struggle thousands of dockers in the northern ports, disgusted by their union officials’ collaboration with the employers, deserted the Transport and General Workers Union and joined the National Amalgamated Stevedores and Dockers Union (known as the ‘Blue Union’ because of the colour of its membership cards). The NASDU leadership proceeded to lead successful actions against compulsory overtime and against attempts to deny its members employment under the Dock Labour Scheme. But a six-week strike to enforce negotiating rights for the ‘Blue Union’, which began in May 1955, went down to defeat. The NASDU leadership turned out to be no real alternative to that of the TGWU. Not only did it do its best to sabotage the recognition strike, but it tried to force its thousands of new recruits back into the T&G, under instructions from the TUC. The ‘Blue Union’ membership had to take its leaders to court in order to secure the democratic right to join a trade union of their own choice.68

The mass exodus from the T&G was not a purely spontaneous development, but the outcome of a strategy consciously worked for by the Healyites. As early as 1953 Healy had met with a group of Birkenhead dockers who produced the rank-and-file paper Portworkers Clarion, and it had been agreed to prepare a breakaway. In August 1954 Healy himself, who was introduced as ‘a sympathiser from London’, addressed a mass meeting during the Hull dock strike which initiated the large-scale defections to NASDU. Indeed, the Group played a crucial organisational role throughout the ensuing struggle.69 John Archer goes so far as to describe this intervention as ‘Healy’s greatest achievement’.70 Given Healy’s political record, however, a more critical attitude seems appropriate.

Certainly, the T&G members who marched out to join the NASDU did so out of a healthy hatred for the union bureaucracy, and it was absolutely necessary to defend them against both the attacks of the right wing and the scabbing of the Stalinists. But it was quite a different matter to set out, as Healy did, to engineer a breakaway movement. Instead of working patiently to build a rank-and-file opposition to the TGWU leadership, which would have been the principled course of action, Healy tried to find a shortcut to establishing a political presence on the docks. Such methods can only be described as thoroughly opportunist. And Healy’s attempt to use an essentially conservative craft union like NASDU as a vehicle for his aims proved disastrous. It was one of Healy’s star recruits, NASDU secretary Dick Barrett, who tried to lead a return to work in London during the 1955 recognition strike.71 ‘In retrospect it was a fiasco’, one latter-day supporter of Healy’s strategy is forced to concede. ‘It led to a split on the docks and even to a certain amount of non-unionism.’72

Tribune gave full coverage to the ‘Blue Union’ struggle, which it saw as an opportunity to undermine the Bevanites’ enemies in the T&G leadership, and the Group enthusiastically promoted the paper’s sales in the docks. As a result of Healy’s efforts, Bevanism was able to acquire what it had previously lacked – a base in the trade union movement. After the collapse of the upsurge on the docks, the Healyites continued to work closely with Tribune, for example in organising meetings for the Bevanite MPs Crossman and Mallalieu in Yorkshire.73 In exchange for such services, members of the Group were occasionally allowed a letter or short article calling for a programme of nationalisation without compensation under workers’ control or for a sliding scale of hours in response to automation.74 But if Healy had been minded to draw up a political balance sheet in terms of what he got for what he gave, the answer would have been – very little. For Healy, of course, no such question arose. His purpose was not to build a revolutionary tendency in the Labour Party, but to pursue Pablo’s strategic line of ‘assisting the evolution’ of Bevanism into a supposedly centrist movement.

Healy’s own contributions to Tribune were shallow, journalistic pieces which did nothing to introduce Trotskyist politics to leftward-moving workers within the Bevanite current. But he did give his readers a taste of what passed for ‘orthodox Trotskyism’ within the International Committee of the Fourth International. In November 1955 Tribune published Healy’s fawning account of his visit to Messali Hadj, the Algerian National Movement leader held under house arrest in France. In an article notable for its total lack of political analysis, Healy paid tribute to ‘the amazingly confident personality’ of Messali Hadj and to his ability to create ‘an atmosphere which is unique for its calm, impressive feeling’.75 Clearly, crawling to Third World nationalists was not something Healy invented in the 1970s! But this was no mere personal deviation on Healy’s part. He was visiting the Algerian leader to convey a message of political solidarity to the MNA from the International Committee, which earlier that month had passed a resolution hailing Messali Hadj as a ‘living symbol’ of the struggle against imperialism.76

The IC had in fact proved to be politically stillborn. In November 1953, James P. Cannon had imagined that the authority of the SWP was such that the mere publication of the Open Letter would be sufficient to win the world Trotskyist movement away from Pablo and the official FI leadership. But most sections of the International, unable to understand why a split had been publicly declared before documents had even been circulated and a proper discussion held within the International, observed organisational discipline and refused to break with the International Secretariat. Most significantly, the only section with a real mass base, the Lanka Sama Samaja Party of Ceylon, declined to join the IC, even though its leaders were politically sympathetic to Pablo’s opponents.

In July 1954 the LSSP delegates to the FI’s ‘Fourth World Congress’ visited Britain and proposed to Healy that a parity commission should be formed to discuss the possibility of reuniting the IC and IS. Healy eagerly supported this initiative, reasoning that Pablo had been seriously weakened by the defection of the Lawrence, Clarke and Mestre groups at the World Congress. Indeed, when IC secretary Gerard Bloch refused to participate in the parity commission Healy demanded his resignation and took over the secretaryship himself. However, after a single meeting of the commission the US leadership announced its opposition to continued negotiations. In compliance with the SWP’s instructions, Healy reversed his position, and on his proposal the IC unilaterally wound up the parity commission in April 1955.77

The International Committee itself remained no more than a loose federation of national groupings, and as such had nothing in common with Trotsky’s Fourth International. It lacked even a functioning international centre which could pose as an alternative to Pablo and Mandel’s IS. After 1955 the IC led an increasingly shadowy existence, gradually lapsing into almost complete inactivity. Such was the outcome of what Healy in 1953 had laughably described as ‘the greatest struggle in the whole history of our movement’.


1. ‘British Perspectives: final draft which includes all accepted amendments’, Club internal document.

2. Anon. (E. Grant), ‘Statement to the BSFI’ [British Section of the Fourth International].

3. R. Prager, ed, Les Congrès de la Quatrième Internationale, 1989, vol.4, p.9.

4. International Secretariat Documents, 1951-1954, 1974, pp.25-30.

5. Information from John Archer.

6. Entrism ‘of a special type’. Pablo explained that the bureaucratic character of the Stalinist movement made it impossible for entrists to appear openly as Trotskyists. So it would also be necessary to combine deep entry with the maintenance of an independent organisation, defending the line of the Fourth International and intervening in the Communist Party from outside. (International Secretariat Documents, p.37.)

7. Les Congrès de la Quatrième Internationale, vol.4, pp.15, 373.

8. Ibid., p.375.

9. R. Stephenson, The Fourth International and Our Attitude Towards It, 1976, p.13.

10. International Committee Documents, 1951-1954, 1974, p.170. For political reasons – he is writing after the 1953 split in the FI – Peng omits to name Healy. I am obliged to Al Richardson for the identity of the anonymous chairman.

11. J. Haston, letter to the Club, 10 June 1950.

12. M. Jenkins, Bevanism: Labour's High Tide, 1979, p.103; Labour Party Conference Report, 1952, p.14.

13. Jenkins, p.104.

14. The Communist Manifesto states that Communists ‘have no interests separate and apart from the proletariat’. As Keith Hassell comments: ‘The sleight of hand whereby "proletariat" becomes Labour Party speaks volumes’ (Workers Power, March 1983.)

15. International Secretariat Documents, p.35. During one of his subsequent political zigzags, Healy gave a revealing account of his tendency’s perspectives during this earlier entrist period. ‘Our politics’, he told the Socialist Labour League summer camp in 1964, ‘was determined by a conception that it was our task to encourage a centrist movement who we were to provide with a leadership. This left the question open how we were then to lead it.... And it was from this that the Pabloite orientation took place. Pabloism began in England. We had not understood then the nature of Trotsky’s theories of entry’ (SLL internal document).

16. Socialist Outlook, 3 October 1952.

17. Ibid, 28 November 1952.

18. Healy took the phrase from Trotsky’s Where is Britain Going? Trotsky, however, emphasised that ‘a workers’ government created by parliamentary means would be forced to construct new revolutionary organs for itself, resting upon the trade unions and working class organisations in general’. This had nothing in common with Bevan’s commitment to a parliamentary road to socialism.

19. Labour Review, August/September 1952.

20. News Line, 3 November 1985.

21. ‘Resolution adopted unanimously by 8th Plenum IEC’, Club internal document, 1950.

22. As late as August 1953, when Healy was already involved in his ‘historic’ battle against the ‘liquidationism’ of the International Secretariat, the IS was still urging – in vain, as far as Healy was concerned – ‘the publication of a genuinely revolutionary, Marxist, Trotskyist periodical which openly defends the full line and programme of the Fourth International’ (SWP International Information Bulletin, September 1953).

23. M. Pablo, Trotsky and His Epigones, 1977, p.23.

24. International Secretariat Documents, p.82. Strangely enough, this letter does not appear in the official ‘Healyite’ documentary history, Trotskyism versus Revisionism.

25. International Committee Documents, p.24.

26. How Healy and Pablo Blocked Reunification, 1978, p.76.

27. The SWP reportedly put up the then considerable sum of £5,000 to finance the paper. (Charles Van Gelderen, interviewed by Al Richardson, 4 October 1979. Transcript courtesy of Socialist Platform.)

28. Not that Healy accepted any responsibility for the FI’s adaptation to Titoism. According to him, it was all the fault of the French and the IS. In Britain, by complete contrast, the policy had supposedly been carried out ‘on the basis of traditional Bolshevik experience’ (International Committee Documents, p.63).

29. Ibid., pp.60, 170.

30. ‘Pablo suffers badly from isolation in Paris’, Healy explained to Cannon. ‘It really is impossible to hold an international centre together when you have no national section to help it’(ibid., p.51). Healy was apparently oblivious to the fact that Pablo’s ‘isolation’ was due to his having expelled, with Healy’s support, the majority of French Trotskyists from the FI.

31. Ibid., p.52.

32. Ibid., pp.60-1.

33. Ibid., p.100.

34. Ibid., p.102.

35. Ibid., pp.51, 108-9.

36. Ibid., p.109.

37. Ibid., p.110.

38. Harry Ratner, interviewed by Sam Bornstein, 4 February 1987. Transcript courtesy of Socialist Platform.

39. H. Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, 1994, pp.192-3.

40. Healy’s letters of 9, 12 and 13 November 1953, have never been published. For the SWP’s reply, see International Committee Documents, pp.125-7.

41. Ibid., p.137.

42. Ibid., p.176.

43. This point is underlined by Lawrence supporter Alex Acheson, interviewed by Al Richardson, 12 June 1986. Transcript courtesy of Socialist Platform.

44. This resulted in the immortal headline, ‘The Tories Must Resign, Let’s Have a Petition to Get ’Em Out!’ (Socialist Outlook, 27 November 1953).

45. Ratner interview.

46. Socialist Outlook, 8 January 1954.

47. Ibid., 12 March 1954.

48. Ibid., 26 March 1954.

49. Tasks of the Fourth International, May 1990, pp.25-6; Peng Shuzi, The Chinese Communist Party in Power, 1980, p.138.

50. Socialist Outlook, 9 April 1954.

51. Ibid., 21 May 1954.

52. Cf. Bill Hunter’s article in Labour Review, December 1983.

53. Ratner interview.

54. The Healyite faction did produce a document entitled ‘The struggle against revisionism’, which attempted to explain the sudden outbreak of factional struggle as the culmination of a number of conflicts with Pablo and Lawrence. (In one of these – Pablo’s criticism of the Healyites for blocking with Transport House in expelling Stalinist fellow-travellers from the Labour Party – Pablo was plainly in the right.) Although the document appeared under the name of Burns (one of Healy’s pseudonyms), it consisted largely of passages lifted from the SWP’s polemics against Pabloism. The one innovation in Healy’s document was his argument that the ‘Pabloites’ underestimated capitalist-restorationist tendencies among the Stalinist bureaucracy. Ironically, when the bureaucracy under Gorbachev did turn restorationist in the late 1980s, Healy believed that the political revolution was underway! I am grateful to Paolo Casciola of the Centro Pietro Tresso for providing a copy of this document.

55. Socialist Outlook, 18 September 1953.

56. Keith Hassell in Workers Power, March 1983.

57. Michael Foot states that the 1953 party conference ‘was a restrained, inconclusive affair. Over the previous months, the Left had resolved not to open a new front against the Right’ (Aneurin Bevan, vol.2, 1975, p.405).

58. Socialist Outlook, 9 April 1954.

59. Ibid., 23 April 1954.

60. Ibid., 7 May 1954.

61. Later, Healy suddenly shifted his position and openly criticised the Bevanites’ attitude to German rearmament (see Socialist Outlook, 17, 24 September, 1 October 1954). He probably did so in response to the publication of Ted Grant’s pamphlet Socialism and German Unity, which took a distinctly more principled line than Healy had on this issue.

62. Socialist Outlook, 30 April 1954.

63. Jenkins, pp.182, 241-2.

64. Socialist Outlook, 13 August 1954.

65. Tribune, 13 August 1954, carried a front page article by Michael Foot denouncing the ban, under the headline ‘I Call This An Outrage’.

66. Labour Party Conference Report, 1954, p.165.

67. Socialist Outlook, 1 October 1954.

68. See Bill Hunter’s account in Labour Review, January-February 1958.

69. See J. Archer, ‘The Trotskyists and the Merseyside Docks Strikes, 1954-1955’, lecture to WRP Public Forum, 24 May 1990. This account is based on research by Steve Lloyd.

70. Ibid.

71. Tribune, 1 July 1955.

72. J. O’Mahony in New Problems New Struggles, Socialist Organiser pamphlet, 1989, p.39.

73. Tribune, 9 November 1955.

74. Ibid., 11 February, 16 September, 28 October 1955.

75. Ibid., 25 November 1955.

76. C. Slaughter, ed., Trotskyism Versus Revisionism, vol.4, 1974, pp.132-3.

77. For Healy’s zigzags over the parity commission, and the subsequent evolution of the IC, see Peng Shuzi’s account in How Healy and Pablo Blocked Reunification, pp.77-8