red arrow left 

G12: Chapter 12 (1986-1989) Expulsion)

THE STORY of Healy’s expulsion from the WRP, combining as it did sexual scandal and the opportunity to discredit socialism, was seized on gleefully by the capitalist press. For weeks afterwards the tabloids were filled with scurrilous articles carrying such headlines as ‘Red in the Bed’. Faced with this press campaign, and fearing violence from the Banda-Slaughter majority, Healy remained in hiding for some months after the split in the WRP. He did not attend the WRP minority conference on 25-26 October 1985, but sent it an ‘interim statement’ accusing his opponents of ‘liquidating the WRP into the Labour Party as rapidly as possible and virtually abandoning the class struggle’. Healy did recognise that the split marked ‘the end of the old WRP’. Not to worry, though: ‘A new WRP is already well underway to replace the old. Its cadres will be schooled in the dialectical materialist method of training and it will speedily rebuild its daily press.’ All this would mark ‘a great revolutionary leap forward into the leadership of the British and international working class’.1

 

Until shortly before the WRP broke apart, Sheila Torrance had shown considerable personal hostility to Healy, even going so far as to tell her own supporters that she would ‘never have him as a member of the organisation again’.2 Yet the minority conference passed a resolution denouncing the Banda-Slaughter faction for having conspired to ‘frame and expel the founder-leader of our movement, Comrade Gerry Healy’ and declared itself ‘proud to proclaim him as a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party’.3

 

To the rank and file Torrance either denied Healy’s sexual corruption outright or, alternatively, claimed that his ‘private life’ had nothing to do with his politics. This latter argument certainly contrasted sharply with the author’s own experience as a WRP member in the late 1970s, when he tried to ward off Torrance’s inquiries into his own private life on precisely these grounds, only to be told firmly that no such separation of the personal and the political was possible. ‘Everything’, Torrance had insisted, ‘is interconnected.’ It now appeared that Torrance was proposing a quite startling revision of dialectical materialism. The new version read: ‘Everything is interconnected – except Gerry Healy’! The dialectical processes which operated throughout the material universe apparently ground to a halt as soon as they approached the great Master of Dialectics himself.

 

All this appeared to justify the WRP majority’s accusation that ‘the entire anti-party group of Torrance, Mitchell and the Redgraves is being centred around Healy’s charisma’.4 In reality, Torrance regarded the cover-up for Healy purely pragmatically, as the price to be paid for maintaining her bloc with his personal following, which included the two International Committee sections – in Greece and Spain – who had sided with the WRP minority mainly on the basis of support for Healy the individual.5 She had by no means abandoned her objective of removing Healy from the leadership. Her line, as Richard Price summarises it, was that the Banda-Slaughter faction had attacked the entire tradition of the movement Healy had built, and that it was therefore necessary to ‘preserve the corpse of Healy, if you like, stuff him and put him in a glass case’.6

 

When a new Central Committee was elected at the WRP minority’s ‘Eighth Congress’ in January 1986 Healy was nominated by little more than half the party branches,7 Torrance having let it be known to her supporters that he should remain in retirement. The nominations Healy did receive would, all the same, have been sufficient to ensure his election to the CC. So pressure was put on him behind the scenes to withdraw, and Healy, presumably aware that he commanded insufficient forces at the congress to defy Torrance, was obliged to acquiesce. Ray Athow then announced to the delegates on behalf of the standing orders committee that Healy was retiring from the leadership due to ill-health, although he would be able to attend CC and PC meetings as a ‘political advisor’.

 

This compromise – identical to the one that Torrance and Mike Banda had cooked up back in September 1985 – was seen by loyal Healyites as a disgraceful snub to their beloved leader. The day after the congress, Corin Redgrave arrived at a Political Committee meeting accompanied by Savas Michael of the Greek section to demand that Healy should be restored to the party leadership. Paddy O’Regan, supported by Torrance and most of the PC, told them bluntly that this was a ‘split issue’, and sent them away empty-handed. Michael later met with Alex Mitchell and Ben Rudder in an attempt to gain their support for Healy’s reinstatement, but got nowhere with them either.8 Even among the WRP minority, it is clear, Healy had been reduced to an isolated and discredited figure.

 

As for the WRP majority’s attitude to their expelled leader, the hysterical atmosphere in which the split had been carried out showed no signs of abating. As Dave Bruce observes, ‘there was enormous outrage against his sexual corruption, and anger that these women should be treated in that way, which was perfectly laudable. But it became expressed in some rather irrational ways’. He cites the example of minority supporter Jean Kerrigan, who appeared at the party centre after the split to collect her severance pay and P45, leading to ‘a tremendous fuss that we were letting supporters of rape onto the premises. Which was an outrageous thing to say about Jean Kerrigan. She’d never supported rape in her fucking life, and she was no particular admirer of Healy. She like a number of others identified with the paper. They’d made enormous sacrifices for that paper – she’d broken with her family, she’d given it her life – and it wasn’t something that they were going to lightly surrender’.9

 

Such considerations had little impact on most members of the WRP majority, whose leaders had consciously whipped up such feelings of hatred against the minority. One product of this was the campaign of violence that members of the WRP/Workers Press conducted against supporters of the Torrance-Healy minority, which continued well after the split. Healy himself was not subjected to this – from the time that he returned to political life around December 1985 he was always well guarded. It was rank-and-file minorityites who were made to pay for his crimes. This campaign culminated in an attack on minority supporter Eric Rogers by Phil Penn, a member of the WRP majority Central Committee, as a result of which Rogers was partially blinded and Penn received a three-month prison sentence after being convicted on a GBH charge. Workers Press then tried to cover this up by falsely accusing Penn’s victim, and other innocent members of the minority, of attacking Penn. ‘Revolutionary morality’ in action!

 

Meanwhile, Torrance was having some success in getting the show back on the road. Whereas the WRP/Workers Press was in a deep political crisis and already beginning to break up, Torrance’s group staged a temporary recovery. Despite losing almost all the WRP’s material assets to the Banda-Slaughter faction, the minority resumed publication of the News Line on a twice-weekly basis in November 1985, and then raised the money to relaunch the paper as a daily in February 1986. With the minority bloc apparently holding together, and Healy shunted aside, it looked as though Torrance might have carried the day.

 

This soon proved to be an illusion. A capable organiser, Torrance had never had an original political thought in her life, and, although there was initially some critical discussion within the minority concerning the politics of the old WRP, she and O’Regan proved unable to develop any new perspectives or policies. The WRP/News Line remained committed to Healy’s view that Britain was in the grip of economic catastrophe and revolutionary crisis, and the party’s intervention in the long printworkers’ struggle at Wapping was characterised by the familiar call for an immediate general strike combined with the usual opportunist adaptation to the existing union leadership.

 

Not only was Torrance lumbered with Healy’s politics, she was still saddled with Healy himself. For, in the long run, there was little chance that Healy would meekly accept the humiliating ‘advisory’ role imposed on him, and it was only a matter of time before he tried to reimpose his political domination over the organisation. Indeed, when the beginnings of glasnost and perestroika became apparent in the Soviet Union, Healy demanded that the WRP/News Line should support the Gorbachev wing of the bureaucracy, which he claimed was launching the political revolution.10

 

Lacking any ideas of her own, Torrance had no objection to using Healy as a source of political advice, and at first was quite ready to go along with this. But the emerging pro-Stalinist line was challenged on the Political Committee by Richard Price, who rejected the identification of bureaucratic reforms with the political revolution, arguing that these developments were an expression of Soviet Bonapartism in crisis. At one PC meeting Price condemned Healy’s line that a section of the bureaucracy was playing a revolutionary role as ‘Pabloism’, which reduced Healy to apoplexy!11 Accustomed to an organisation in which his every word, however mad or mundane, was treated as the tablets from the mountain, Healy was unable to live with this kind of thing.

 

‘For supporting perestroika’, Vanessa Redgrave recounts indignantly, ‘Gerry and I were accused of “capitulating to Stalinism”. We realised that the split we had made before had been incomplete.’12 But to carry out a further split a pretext had to be manufactured. From August 1986 onwards, therefore, Healy began to provoke a series of confrontations with the WRP leadership. First of all he demanded the expulsion of Alex Mitchell, who had departed for Australia in May and resurfaced as a journalist with the Murdoch press. Then Healy objected to a series of articles written by Athow and O’Regan (‘G. Healy: Fifty Years a Fighter for Trotskyism’), which appeared in News Line in late August. And he resumed his complaints about being excluded from the party leadership the previous January.13

 

After the end of August, Healy and Vanessa Redgrave refused to attend CC and PC meetings, and relations with the WRP leadership were from this point carried on by letter, with Torrance-O’Regan demanding that Healy and Redgrave resume their responsibilities in the organisation, and the latter insisting that their differences should be circulated in an internal bulletin. Seeking a factional weapon to use against Healy, Torrance now shifted her line on the USSR, arguing that while the political revolution was indeed under way, Gorbachev was trying to restore capitalism. Healy supporter Mick Blakey then produced a document outlining the Healyite position. This completely ignored the possibility of capitalist restoration, and asserted that a ‘left moving section of the bureaucracy’ under Gorbachev was ‘de-Stalinising the bureaucracy’.14

 

Rather than carry out a serious discussion on this issue, Torrance responded with an organisational manoeuvre, calling a party congress at a mere ten days notice, which of course gave no time for the circulation of documents. When the congress opened on 31 October Corin Redgrave, acting as spokesman for the absent Healy, disputed the legitimacy of the proceedings on the grounds that the party constitution required a two-month pre-congress discussion period. He was able to win the support of nearly half the delegates for his challenge to standing orders, leaving Torrance and O’Regan stunned. They responded by adopting a conciliatory approach towards Redgrave and Healy in a vain attempt to keep them in the organisation.15

 

Richard Price recalls that he and a few other WRP members had discussed whether they should intervene at the congress ‘as a third force and open the attack on both sides, because by this stage we were really beginning to think ... that we had to get out of this mad organisation and were trying to think how to proceed. We decided on balance that the best way was to be ... the sharpest critics of Healy, as against the rather soft line that was put at the congress by Torrance and O’Regan. So we waded into Redgrave and Healy at that congress, on the question of Stalinism basically’. Under the impact of this attack, Redgrave’s support was reduced to about a quarter of the delegates. Healy now broke with Torrance, taking with him perhaps 40 out of a WRP/News Line membership which was by then reduced to around 150.16 In 1987 the Healyites began publishing a journal called the Marxist Monthly and launched a new organisation, the Marxist Party.

 

Torrance had successfully repelled Healy’s challenge to her leadership, but all that was left for her to lead was one small, politically disoriented national grouping. (The Greek and Spanish sections inevitably sided with Healy, although he and Savas Michael split shortly afterwards.) Most of those WRP/News Line members whose capacity for political thought had not been completely destroyed – and, surprisingly enough, there were some – joined the opposition grouping around Richard Price which broke with Torrance in February 1987 to form the Workers International League. A further group which included Ben Rudder and Jean Kerrigan walked out in December the same year. Today Torrance retains no more than a few dozen followers in the WRP/News Line, which still devotes itself to the orthodox Healyite rituals of producing a daily paper (with the world’s smallest circulation) and calling incessantly for a general strike.

 

Healy’s own organisation underwent a further split after his death when the Redgraves expelled Corinna Lotz, accusing her of acting as an agent provocateur. Outraged by this attempt to frame an innocent person as an agent – a practice which was, of course, entirely unprecedented in the Healyite movement – Lotz, Paul Feldman and other Marxist Party members broke away to form the Communist League. They produced a journal named Socialist Future which upheld the memory of their dead leader by parroting the most ludicrous of his political pronouncements.17 The Redgraves and their associates have since moved away from anything remotely resembling revolutionary politics – in October 1993 they even supported Yeltsin’s crushing of the Russian parliament – and generally seem to have lapsed into a sort of humanitarian liberalism.

 

As for Healy, up until his death in December 1989 his political hopes remained pinned to Gorbachev who, he was convinced, intended to ‘slash the bureaucracy’s grip ... by returning "all power to the soviets"’.18 According to Corinna Lotz’s account,19 he spent his twilight years working quietly on ‘philosophy’ in his study at the house in West Road, Clapham, which Vanessa Redgrave bought for him, and commuted regularly between London, Athens, Barcelona and Moscow delivering incomprehensible lectures in his unique brand of pseudo-dialectical gibberish. Surrounded by his small band of sycophants, Healy was probably contented enough. But it must all have seemed a bit of a come-down for a man who had laboured for decades under the delusion that he was destined to be the British Lenin.

 


Notes

 

1. Marxist Review, April 1986.

 

2. Interview with Richard Price, 22 November 1993.

 

3. Marxist Review, April 1986.

 

4. News Line, 31 October 1985.

 

5. The Australian, German, Peruvian, Sri Lankan and US sections of the IC sided with the WRP majority in October 1985. All of them subsequently broke with the Slaughter group.

 

6. Price interview. This is confirmed by Healy supporter Corinna Lotz, who accuses the minority leadership of wanting to ‘use Gerry as a figurehead, and have nothing to do with the flesh and blood human being, or indeed anyone who was then politically close to him’ (C. Lotz and P. Feldman, Gerry Healy: A Revolutionary Life, 1994, p.38).

 

7. Alex Mitchell topped the list with nominations from 55 branches – Healy was nominated by only 29 (Panels Committee report, WRP/News Line internal document).

 

8. Workers News, May 1987; Lotz and Feldman, pp.36-7.

 

9. Interview with Dave Bruce, 6 October 1993.

 

10. Back in 1956, Healy had initially taken a similar position in response to Mikoyan’s attack on Stalin at the CPSU 20th Congress, arguing that Mikoyan represented a ‘revolutionary’ wing of the bureaucracy. See chapter 4.

 

11. Workers News, April 1987; interview with Richard Price, 8 June 1994. Although the term ‘Pabloism’ is largely meaningless, there were certainly parallels between Healy’s views on Stalinism and those of the ‘Pabloites’ of 1953.

 

12. Vanessa Redgrave: An Autobiography, 1991, p.262.

 

13. ‘A political adviser’, Healy complained bitterly, ‘has no constitutional rights, apart from being able to attend meetings when the “adviser” has no vote – not even on branch issues. He is debarred for all time from being a delegate to Party Congresses. He is in fact a political “un-person” in the Party.’ This and other material relating to the split in the WRP/News Line was later published in The Marxist, June-July 1987.

 

14. Marxist Review, April 1987.

 

15. Workers News, April 1987; The Marxist, June-July 1987.

 

16. Price interview, 8 June 1994; Workers News, April 1987.

 

17. For example, the first issue of Socialist Future, which appeared during the 1992 general election campaign, argued in all seriousness that the election was merely a facade behind which the ruling class was plotting to impose a police-military dictatorship! Given that the class struggle at that time was at its lowest for about a century, this could only be regarded as an act of extreme self-indulgence on the part of the bourgeoisie.

 

18. Marxist Monthly, September 1988.

 

19. Lotz and Feldman, pp.1-192.