WRP: The Party's Over – Ken Weller

As controversy over the expulsion of party founder, Gerry Healy grew, WRP Genera

Solidarity member Ken Weller reviews the new Workers Revoutionary Party chorus line and finds it parading the same feet of clay.

We are not puritans - indeed this writer is strongly critical of the neo-puritanism infesting the radical milieu. We couldn't give a monkeys what consenting adults get up to, even those with whom we strongly disagree. Nevertheless, what has happened in the WRP seems to have far transcended anything acceptable to revolutionaries, with Healy turning himself into a kind of 'mobster thermidor'. Moreover, even the critique of the Healy regime by the WRP majority is infused with an attitude which shows that they haven't come to terms with what was wrong. It tells us that they haven't rejected the organisational forms that created Healy and allowed him to thrive.

For example, Newsline (30.10.85) contains an interview with the general secretary of the WRP, Mike Banda, and quotes him as saying:

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"This group [the Healyites] lack the most elementary concept of revolutionary morality. They willingly defend the corrupt sexual practices of a 'leader' who thinks nothing of abusing his authority to degrade women and girl comrades and destroy their self-respect".

But what sort of authority is it which can be used or abused in such a manner? What sort of organisation is it which allows such 'abuses' to go on for well over twenty years? What we are seeing is a familiar feature of Leninism, an attempt to unload onto an individual 'errors' which go far deeper.

The crisis within the WRP, which would be a hoot if it were not for the fact that real people got hurt, raises at least a couple of points of interest to libertarians. Religious and political sects, of which the WRP was a prime example, are more a symptom of the deep malaise of society than a pointer to any solutions. This is an area to which we have devoted some attention. Recently, in issue 6/7 of the current series of Solidarity (Spring 1985)1, we published a long article by Bob Potter, 'The Last Days of this Wicked System of Things', which dealt with the purely religious variety; but the parallels with their political brethren were clear. In Solidarity for Social Revolution #7 (March-April 1979), we printed a whole supplement, 'Suicide for Socialism'2 by Maurice Brinton, which dealt with the political-religious cult of Jim Jones and the People's Temple and the mass suicide of over nine hundred of his followers at Jonestown, Guyana. In describing such groups, Brinton commented:

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"In such organisations the Leader may become more and more authoritarian and paranoid. If he has achieved institutional power he may kill, torture or excommunicate (Stalin, Torquemada) increasing numbers of his co-thinkers. Or he may order them "shot like partridges". If he is a 'leftist' authoritarian devoid - as yet - of the state power he is seeking, he will merely expel large numbers of his deviant followers. Deviance - above all - cannot be tolerated. Such men would rather live in a world peopled with heretics and renegades and keep the total allegiance of those who remain. One even wonders whether (unlike most of their supporters) they still believe in what they preach - or whether the maintenance of their power has not become their prime concern. Jim Jones' rantings about defectors and 'traitors' is not unique. It is encountered in a whole stratum of the political left. Many 'radical' leaderships boast of how they have coped with previous deviations. But however 'unreal' the world they live in, the core of followers will remain loyal. The Leader is still the shield. Even in Jonestown anything seemed better than the other reality: the painful alternative of deprivation, material, emotional or intellectual".

At a WRP aggregate meeting on 18 October 1985 (as reported in Newsline, 20.11.85), Cliff Slaughter said of the pro-Healy faction:

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"Here again is a cynical ideology with strong parallels in the extreme right, in fascism. There is a monopoly of information and monopoly of power and discipline. The leader knows no rules of right and wrong: only what he wants is important".

Authoritarian sects

It is remarkable how many features such sects, whether religious, political, or both, have in common: a belief that they are the elect, and that consequently normal rules of decency do not apply to them; paranoia about supposed enemies; hyper-activity; physical or social isolation of members from outside influences; the acceptance of an infallible leader who frequently has a droit de seigneur over women in the group (we would like to squash here and now the counter-revolutionary rumour that Gerry Healy and the Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, both on the run from their respective cults, had a secret meeting in Bermuda with a view to swapping organisations). Such cults also share a vision of the imminent final crisis; and have none too choosy methods of fundraising.

While we reject Leninism in all its varieties, it would be a mistake - if only it were that easy - to claim that all such groups conform to the behavioural norms of the WRP. Yet can it be denied that large chunks of the Leninist inheritance provide rich pickings for nascent Stalins, Joneses, Hoxhas, Pol Pots or Healys?

Libertarian organisation

Our own views about politics and organisation were most succinctly expressed in our Open Letter to the International Socialists (now the Socialist Workers' Party) in September 19683:

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"It is remarkable how few socialists seem to recognise the connection between the structure of their organisation and the type of 'socialist' society it might help bring about.

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"If the revolutionary organisation is seen as the means and socialist society as the end, one might expect people with an elementary understanding of dialectics to recognise the relation between the two. Means and ends are mutually dependent. They constantly influence each other. The means are, in fact, a partial implementation of the end, whereas the end becomes modified by the means adopted.

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"One could almost say 'tell me your views concerning the structure and function of the revolutionary organisation and I'll tell you what the society you will help create will be like'. Or conversely, 'give me your definition of socialism and I'll tell you what your views on the revolutionary organisation are likely to be'.

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"We see socialism as a society based on self-management in every branch of social life. Its basis would be workers' management of production exercised through Workers' Councils. Accordingly, we conceive of the revolutionary organisation as one which incorporates self-management in its structure and abolishes within its own ranks the separation between the functions of decision-making and execution. The revolutionary organisation should propagate these principles in every area of social life".

One of the hallmarks of such a revolutionary organisation ought to be a willingness to discuss ideas in an open way. It is in this spirit that we publish Robin Blick's article which raises a number of important questions with which we do not concur in every detail. In particular we do not agree with his comment that

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"Readers would be hard put to it to find any revolutionary or radical grouping that subscribes to a conception of morality and ethical conduct that repudiates in toto the Leninist subordination of human beings to the requirements of party regimes and the social systems they rule over".

In our view there have been a number of libertarian tendencies, with not all of whom we would agree, who do not share or practice the authoritarian visions of Leninism, or for that matter social democracy, and it is possible to create revolutionary groupings which avoid the subordination Robin describes. Nevertheless, the idea, explicit or implicit, of the primacy of the party elite is a serious danger which needs to be constantly guarded against.

Finally, the WRP ratfight has exposed yet another feature of corruption (one not restricted to them alone). Details are coming out about relations with a number of the ‘Leninoid' Tamany Halls in local government, where in return for jobs, grants for front organisations and contracts, the WRP gave political support and cheap printing to support the political careers of particular individuals. It is becoming increasingly clear how the poor, old and homeless are deprived to pay for flats and BMWs for the 'revolutionary leadership'.