Gerry Healy: An Appreciation
Gerry Healy was a consummate dialectical materialist, but he never took his scientific theory as his starting point. In spite of, or rather because of, his mastery of this method, his starting point was always objective, some new development in the class struggle at the international level. Such events as a new deepening of the capitalist crisis, a lurch in the direction of bonapartist dictatorship or a revolutionary upsurge in some part of the world always served as the first cause of a new theoretical departure. In each such new moment his philosophy was reborn in his mind as a living and developing process and rapidly concretised into political perspectives as a guide to immediate revolutionary practice. He understood that thought is dialectical because nature is dialectical. This was the secret of his success.
“The source of all thought is in the external world”, he would repeatedly insist in his many cadre training classes, and as historical verification of this assertion he led his students in an intensive study of Volume 14 of Lenin’s collected Works which contains his famous work, Materialism and Empirio-Criticism. This work, it must be said, is by far the best starting point for anyone, whether of the Marxist persuasion or not, who wishes to undertake a serious study of philosophy. The materialist outlook is proven again and again in this work; Healy would repeatedly refer to page 101, where Lenin begins one such proof with a quote from Engels:
“The most telling refutation of this [the idealist outlook, which holds that thought is primary to the external world] and all other philosophical crotchets is practice, namely, experiment and industry. If we are able to prove the correctness of our perception of natural processes by making it ourselves, bringing it into being out of its conditions and making it serve our purposes into the bargain, then there is an end to the Kantian incomprehensible ‘thing-in-itself’. The chemical substances produced in the bodies of plants and animals remained just such ‘things-in-themselves’ until organic chemistry began to produce them one after another, whereupon the thing-in-itself became a ‘thing for us’, as for instance, alizarin, the colouring matter of the madder, which we no longer trouble to grow in the madder roots in the field, but produce much more cheaply and simply from coal tar.”
The concept of the “thing-in-itself” was analysed at length by the great German philosopher Emmanuel Kant, (1724-1804). Healy concentrated on this concept in all his education classes. Kant accepted that the external world of matter was real and existed independently of our consciousness of it, but that the world of thought also had its own independent existence and through our sensuous perception reflected the external world in such a way that we could never know the real truth of the things we perceive. Things remain “in themselves”. The “thing-for-us” is the thing-in-itself once its inner truth, or Essence, is revealed to consciousness through practice. Lenin goes on to explain this as follows:
“What is the kernel of Engels’ objection? Yesterday we did not know that coal tar contains alizarin. Today we know that it does. The question is, did coal tar contain alizarin yesterday? Of course it did. To doubt it would be to make a mockery of modern science. And if that is so, three important epistemological conclusions follow:
1). Things exist independently of our sensation, outside of us, for it is beyond doubt that alizarin existed in coal tar yesterday and it is beyond doubt that yesterday we knew nothing of the existence of this alizarin and received no sensations from it.
2). There is definitely no difference between the phenomenon [this thing as it exists as a sensual experience] and the thing-in-itself, and there can not be any such difference. The only difference is between what is known and what is not yet known. And philosophical inventions of specific boundaries between the one and the other, inventions to the effect that the thing-in-itself is ‘beyond’ phenomena (Kant) or that we can and must fence ourselves off by some philosophical partition from the problem of a world which in one part or another is still unknown but which exists outside us (Hume) – all this is sheerest nonsense, Schrule, crotchet, fantasy.
3). In the theory of knowledge, as in every other sphere of science, we must think dialectically, that is, we must not regard our knowledge as ready made and unalterable, but must determine how knowledge emerges from ignorance, how incomplete, inexact knowledge becomes more complete and more exact.”
Why must we think dialectically? Healy explained: simply because it is the only way to proceed materialistically. There is a strong tendency for idealist philosophers and scientists to introduce much confusion concerning the concept of matter, but for Lenin, and after him for Healy, it is simple enough. Matter is a general philosophical category denoting all that exists external to, and independently of, the world of thought, whatever its nature, whatever we know of it today or may discover in the future. The reason why we must think of matter dialectically is because all matter is interconnected and in eternal motion and change. Motion is the fundamental attribute of matter; it is the mode of existence of matter. Since, as we have said, matter is all that exists beyond the world of thought, then this motion, the mode of existence of matter, is included in the general concept of matter itself, since it is its very nature. If we do not grasp the external world in its movement and life, then we have not grasped it materialistically.
Healy’s method of training cadres in dialectical logic was itself a dialectical practice. “We do not have a teacher-pupil relationship”, he would always insist. Each comrade had equal right and responsibility in the discussion and Healy would end each class by summarising the movement of the discussion as a whole, and drawing conclusions from it. He would often quote this passage from Lenin:
“Dialectics is the teaching which shows how opposites can be and how they happen to be (how they become) identical, - under what conditions they are identical, becoming transformed into one another, - why the human mind should grasp these opposites not as dead, rigid, but as living, conditional, mobile, becoming transformed into one another.” (V.I. Lenin, Collected Works, Vol. 38, page 109)
Healy would conduct each training session dialectically, taking contributions to discussion from those present and holding each such contribution in dialectical relation, united them into a whole which had its own movement and life. This moving whole, (form), he knew, would manifest the laws of dialectical motion and change as manifested by the movement and changes of the external world of matter, and by human society and human thought, as formulated by Engels:
1. The law of the unity and conflict, interpenetration and transformation of opposites.
2. The law of the transformation of quantity into quality and vice versa
3. The law of the negation of the negation.
Early in his life Healy set out to intervene in the class struggle at the international level, and he understood that the final emancipation of the working class depended in the first instance on the construction of a leading organisation, a political party, which would correctly reflect the class struggle in the only possible way, materialistically and dialectically. In this he proceeded from the classical Marxist proposition, “the crisis of mankind resolves itself into the crisis of leadership for the working class.”
Without wishing to engage in comprehensive biography, we must surely understand Healy in his “movement and life”. He was born into a poor farming family in Ireland in 1913. In the election of 1919 Sinn Fein swept the board and announced their “Democratic Programme of the First Dail”, proclaiming at the same time the right of the people of Ireland to the ownership of Ireland. The result, as is well known, was the ghastly oppression under the British Army and the Black and Tans. Then came Healy’s first political experience – his father was shot by the Black and Tans. Few of us in Britain, where the class struggle has been mitigated by the economic cushion of the profits of empire, have had such harsh experience.
In 1928 Healy moved to Wales where he trained as a ships radio operator, then joined the seamen’s union and the Communist Party and began to study Lenin, but he encountered a problem. Studying the Lloyds shipping list he noticed that oil was being exported from the Soviet Union to fascist Italy and Spain during the Spanish civil war. He protested, and was accused of being a Trotskyist and promptly expelled from the Communist Party. The infamous Moscow frame-up trials of the old Bolsheviks in the 1930’s convinced Healy that the Trotskyist position was actually correct – the Soviet Union was a degenerated workers state ruled by a corrupt bureaucracy under Stalin, and he joined the Trotskyist Militant Group.
From this point on Healy remained a leader of the Trotskyist movement, nationally and internationally, editing various newspapers and journals, and in 1959 he became national secretary of the Socialist Labour League, a new organisation formed largely by people expelled from the Labour Party for opposing nuclear testing and fighting for full employment and trade union rights. Under Healy’s leadership the SLL made good progress, and by 1961 sufficient finance had been raised to install a modern printing press in the Clapham headquarters, clear evidence that the level of theory and practice had been raised to a high level. Then into this situation came something in the nature of a spark to ignite this explosive mixture of theory and practice – in that same year Lenin’s philosophical notes were published in English as volume 38 of his Collected Works, and never has such a seemingly mundane event as the publication of a book proved to be such an important moment in the political history of the working class. Healy pounced on it, mastered its content, and for the rest of his life made it the basis of his political work. He understood that here was the scientific theory to guide the world social revolution, and from then on cadre training stood at the centre of his practice, both nationally in his own organisation, and internationally in his work as a leader of the Fourth International. Others, however, who could not make the break from the subjective idealist outlook we are trained in from birth, Trotskyist leaders such as Ted Grant and Tony Cliff, degenerated into petty bourgeois opportunism and became his bitter political adversaries.
Healy’s method of cadre training in materialist dialectics as a guide to practice led to results that none of his adversaries could achieve. In 1964 plans were laid to launch a daily news-paper. Healy’s detractors ridiculed the idea, but further confirmation of his perspective came then the Young Socialists, having been expelled on bloc from the Labour Party, allied themselves to the SLL and threw themselves into the preparation work for the daily paper. On 27 September 1989 the first Trotskyist daily paper in the world, the Workers Press, began publication, its print shop bought and paid for to guarantee complete editorial freedom.
“The Party is built in struggle”, Healy would always insist, “We do not start from what is possible, but from what is objectively necessary.” Hence he led his Party to meet every challenge arising from the class struggle, and they came fast enough. In 1971 the basis of world trade was transformed when the US dollar was taken off the gold standard. Seriously weakened, the ruling class was impelled to attack the working class and take back all the gains we had won since the end of the Second World War. Anti-trade union laws fell like rain, working practices were attacked, dock workers’ leaders were jailed for defending jobs. Healy concluded that these heightened conditions of class struggle necessitated the transformation of the Socialist Labour League into a political party, rallies thousands strong were held, and the League became the Workers Revolutionary Party in 1974. Membership of the WRP grew to several thousands, the circulation of the daily paper rivalled that of the Stalinist Morning Star, and candidates stood in elections, but at the centre of all this was cadre training in dialectical materialist theory and practice led by Healy. A college was established and residential courses open to the public were held.
Healy’s insistence on philosophical training, and his determination that the practice of the Party must be inseparably connected with it, engendered opposition, much of it from the unspoken resentment from those who could not master their own subjective idealism. Cliques began to form and in 1985 the Party suffered a serious split following the intense struggles surrounding the miners’ strike of 1984-5 which heightened all the contradictions contained in the Party. In a six-part series written for the Party’s daily paper, by now re-named News Line and printed in full colour on new presses, Healy explained that the leaders of the split were fighting shy of training themselves and the members in materialist dialectics, regarding it as something to mention in passing when making speeches. For their part the leaders of the split were incapable of any attempt to analyse and make serious reply to Healy’s views and could only resort to ludicrously false accusation as to his personal integrity.
Such theoretical shortcomings quickly caused a second split in 1986, the objective cause this time being the developments in the Soviet Union under the leadership of Gorbachev, who was struggling to restructure the government and economy, to restore Soviet democracy and reveal the truth of what had happened under the dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy. Healy, who was already aware that vital theoretical developments had been made in the Soviet Union by such philosophers as E. V. Elyenkov, insisted that the political revolution, long ago envisaged by Trotsky, was unfolding in the Soviet Union, and that the consequent overthrow of the Stalinist bureaucracy would be a great step forward for the world social revolution. However, his opponents saw these dramatic changes as the restoration of capitalism and the disagreement was deep enough to cause a split. Capitalism was of course restored later when Boris Yeltsin overthrew the government in a coup in 1993, but that did not mean that Healy was wrong. In spite of the restoration of capitalism, the end of Stalinism has opened up immense possibilities for world social revolution.
Following the split a minority remained with Healy, those who had consistently taken the theory and practice of dialectical materialism seriously, and these formed themselves into a new organisation called the Marxist Party. Its first practice was a series of cadre training classes, and soon a new theoretical journal, the Marxist monthly, appeared, but by now Healy had been suffering poor health for some years, and he died on 14 December 1989.
This appreciation of Gerry Healy would not be complete without an account of what happened to the organisation he left behind. Shortly after his death the Party split again. One leading member, Healy’s personal secretary, was unjustly expelled and a number of other leaders left with her and formed an organisation called “A World to Win”, and published a political biography of Healy entitled Gerry Healy, a Revolutionary Life, (Corinna Lotz and Paul Feldman, Lupus Books, ISBN 0 9523454 0 4)
With Healy gone the leaders of the Party proved unequal to the challenges of new developments. It soon became clear that they had not really grasped Healy’s dialectical analysis of the changes taking place in the Soviet Union. The contradictory situation there contained both a revolutionary and a reactionary moment. Reactionary because of the tendency to the restoration of capitalism, and revolutionary because the defeat of the Stalinist bureaucracy. The essence of Healy’s position was that in spite of the tendency to restoration of capitalism the world revolution would receive a mighty impetus because the greatest obstacle in its path, the Stalinist bureaucracy, would be removed. When the political revolution was defeated and capitalism was restored there by the counter-revolutionary coup led by Boris Yeltsin in the period 1991-93 the sceptical attitude of the Marxist Party leaders became determinated into a deep pessimism. Shortly before his death, in an article entitled Sceptics and the Political Revolution in the November 1989 issue of Marxist Monthly Healy, writing from long experience, described just such situations as follows:
“Sceptics can be arrogant and assertive towards internal party relations or passive towards materialist dialectics. In this way they achieve ‘peace of mind’ by concealing their real sceptical differences from their political colleagues. But the sceptics themselves by no means refrain from decision-making when they consider it politically suits them. Their organisational manifestation is their clique or ‘personal ties’ relations. In this way, they have almost a tribal instinct for self-preservation. Their basic outlook is that the interests of the clique come first, especially that of their ‘leader’, who is the political guru whose ego demands unconditional support and political adulation. This is indeed an absolute precondition for being recognised by the clique as one of their ‘trusties’”.
There could not have been a better characterisation of the leadership of the Marxist Party during its final years and there can be no doubt that Healy was giving warning of a situation which already existed. The undisputed leader of the Party at this time was Corin Redgrave, who had worked in close association with Healy for many years and had been a highly respected leader throughout the Party. During the state inspired splits in the WRP in 1985 and 1986 he staunchly defended Healy in practice and was instrumental in founding the Marxist Party, of which he became General Secretary and editor of the Marxist Monthly. However, immediately after the death of Healy he began to degenerate politically and philosophically, and to adopt deeply opportunist positions. Cadre training ceased and he positively resisted the attempts of leading members to re-start cadre it. The Party leadership became a clique comprised largely of new members chosen by Redgrave, who had not the slightest knowledge of Marxist theory and no experience of the crucial democratic centralist organisation of the Party. (See appendix 1 below.)
Redgrave had become the “guru” with, in Healy’s words, a tribal following. In 2001 he drafted and placed before the Annual Congress an anti-Leninist, social chauvinist perspective calling for armed forces to be retained by the capitalist state for “the legitimate defence of a population from a threat from a more powerful neighbour” and for “self-defence at home”. Only one member, the writer of these lines, offered any opposition, advancing Lenin’s position of revolutionary defeatism on the basis of the Second International resolution on imperialist war as adopted at the Basle congress in 1912. Lenin mercilessly exposed the treachery of the leaders of the Second International who supported their own countries in at the start of the First world War in 1914. In a pamphlet entitled Left Wing Communism - an Infantile Disorder, he wrote as follows:
“The Mensheviks and the Social-Revolutionaries in Russia (like all the leaders of the Second International throughout the world in 1914-20) began with treachery - by directly or indirectly justifying ‘defence of country’, i.e., the defence of their own predatory bourgeoisie. They continued their treachery by entering into a coalition with the bourgeoisie of their own country, and fighting, together with their own bourgeoisie, against the revolutionary proletariat of their own country. Their bloc, first with Kerensky and the Cadets, and then with Kolchak and Denikin in Russia - like the bloc of their confreres abroad with the bourgeoisie of their respective countries - was in fact desertion to the side of the bourgeoisie, against the proletariat. From beginning to end, their compromise with the bandits of imperialism meant becoming accomplices in the imperialist banditry” (See Lenin Collected Works, Vol. 31, page 39)
Redgrave absented himself from the Party congress and no case was made in favour of the perspective, yet all present, with this one exception, voted slavishly in favour.
In 2002 Redgrave publicly disassociated himself from Marxism in an interview published in the Arts Telegraph. “Quantum physics”, he said among other things, “has stood dialectical materialism on its head.” This could have been nothing but a deliberate falsehood. In the first place it is universally accepted among Marxists that quantum mechanics, to give it its proper name, is a scientific confirmation of dialectical materialism. Secondly, he must have been aware that Healy had written extensively on this matter in the past. (See the series of articles in the News Line in 1981 headed Hegel and Lenin at www.gerryhealy.net). In these articles Healy refers to a book by M.E. Omelyanovsky entitled Dialectics in Modern Physics. In this book the author states:
“Let us point out once more that, in accordance with the experimental data of modern physics reciprocal transformability is an inalienable property of elementary particles. Motion is the mode of existence of matter, motion being not only a change of place but also a change of quality. The experimental data of elementary particles convincingly confirm this very important proposition of dialectical materialism and gives it new content”. (Page 233).
Redgrave’s sister Vanessa, who had also been in the leadership of the WRP, went the same way. While absenting herself from all Party meetings and practice for a period of years she nonetheless claimed the rights of leadership. Having accepted a CBE for “services to acting”, she later allowed herself to be described as “a great admirer of Prince Charles” in a glossy magazine interview. In the reactionary Daily Mail on 22 February 2010 a photograph of her appeared on her knees before Prince William, whom she praised for his “intelligence and human kindness.” Subsequently she described herself as a “philanthropic humanist.”
It is no surprise that such leaders could not live with the Party’s democratic centralist constitution which was eventually abandoned and replaced by a formal system of rules which better accommodated their clique relations. Voting became a matter of hand raising in favour of the perspectives put by these leaders, who, after Protagoras, imagined themselves the measure of all things. The magazine Healy founded ceased publication in 2003 following an abortive attempt to transform it into a commercial publication.
The death of the Marxist Party came in 2004 when Redgrave and his clique led the liquidation of the Party into a single issue organisation campaigning for peace and the retention of existing rights under the name “Peace and Progress”. No mention of Marxism or even the class division of society was made in its initial manifesto or any subsequent statement; indeed, all attempts at retaining a Marxist organisation and training of any kind were ignored and suppressed. This destruction of the Marxist Party, the British section of the Fourth International if only by historical connection, by Redgrave and his followers, was the conclusion of the state attacks on the Party as it then was, the Workers Revolutionary Party, during the period 1985-86. These attacks negated the Party in a quantitative sense only. With the founding of the Marxist Party we still had our revolutionary theory and practice, we were still training cadres under the leadership of Gerry Healy, we still had our democratic centralist constitution and we had a publication to take to the working class as a means of building the Party. Redgrave negated that negation qualitatively by destroying the Party completely. His purpose, as he himself made public in the Arts Telegraph interview in 2002, was to secure his “rehabilitation” in the eyes of the ruling class so as to be accepted back into their midst and be allowed to continue his acting career. Let history judge him.
Terry Button, 14 December 2006
Chronology of the Life of Gerry Healy
1913 Born December 3 Ballybane, County Galway, Eire. Father killed by the
Black and Tans. Sister dies of tuberculosis. Receives a little education
from religious fathers. Trains as a ship's radio operator in Cardiff.
1928 Joins Communist Party of Great Britain, (CPGB). Employed as ships
radio operator. Works as Comintern courier. Reads Lenin's Materialism
and Empirio-Criticism and other Marxist works.
1936 Expelled from the CPGB for protesting against Soviet Union supplying oil
to Fascist Italy and Franco forces in Spanish civil war.
1937 Joins Trotskyist Militant Group in August. Leaves Militant Group with
others to form Workers International League (WIL)
1938 Leon Trotsky founds the 4th International.
1940 Fights for unification of British Trotskyist organisation within 4th.
International. Establishes union organisation in Handly-Page factory
1943 Stalin dissolves Comintern.
1944 WIL unifies with the Revolutionary Socialist League to launch
Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP).
1941 Members of the RCP enter the Labour Party.
1948 Socialist Outlook launched.
1950 Socialist Outlook defends North Korea and splits with Tony Cliff group
which equates Stalinism with imperialism.
1951 Third World Congress of Fourth International. Liquidationist tendency
emerges under leadership of Michel Pablo, leader of French Section
1953 Death of Stalin. Fourth International Splits. Majority organises in
International Committee of the Fourth International. Healy elected
1954 Socialist Outlook proscribed by Labour Party NEC.
1956 Krushchev’s secret speech and the Hungarian Revolution. The
Newsletter is lunched. First summer camp cadre school.
1959 Socialist labour League formed.
1961 Lenin's Philosophical Notebooks (Collected Works Volume 38) first
published in English.
1964 Labour Party NEC expels Young Socialist majority. Plan to build daily
paper in five years.
1968 Anti-NATO demonstration in liege. All Trades Unions Alliance formed.
1969 Workers Press launched. First Trotskyist daily paper in the world
1972 Right to Work march. Preparations begin to launch the Workers
1973 Pageant of labour History at the Empire Pool, Wembley. November 1973.
1974 Intervention into Party affairs by Joseph Hansen, leader of the Socialist
Workers Party of America. Through CC member Kate Blakeney, and ex-
WRP members Robin Blick and Mark Jenkins, documents were supplied
to Alan Thornett, WRP CC member and leading shop steward at the
British Leyland works at Cowley, Oxford, for presentation to the Central
Committee. The documents were intended to subvert the Party
philosophical and political perspectives onto erroneous formal
opportunists lines. Blakeney/Thornet clique defy Party discipline and
59 members expelled
1975 College of Marxist Education opens to provide residential courses in
Marxist theory and practice. Suffers massive police raid shortly after
1976 January: Healy Calls for a Commission of Inquiry into GPU infiltration of
the Trotskyist Movement and assassination of Leon Trotsky.
April: Meets Abu Jihad, Deputy Commander of Palestinian Armed
Forces. Subsequently lectures on Materialist dialectics to Palestinian
Military Cadres In Beirut.
May: Party technical resources, IT, print shop etc, developed. Daily
paper, Workers Press, re-launched in full colour as the News Line.
Struggle for correct Political perspective with respect to anti-imperialist
struggles in Vietnam, Libya, Iran, Zimbabwe
1978 Libel action against The Observer which had provoked the raid on
College of Marxist Education.
1982 Writes Studies in Dialectical Materialism
1983 Marx Centenary March from Trier to London.
1984 Miners' strike begins in March.
1985 State-organised conspiracy causes Party split and loss of material assets.
1986 8th Congress of the WRP. Party splits again
1987 Founding congress of Marxist Party July 8.
1987 November. First visit to Soviet Union. Delivers lecture on materialist
Dialectics at Institute of State Archives in Moscow.
1988-1989. Four visits to the Soviet Union. last visit from November 13 to
1989 Suffers fatal hart attack December 14.
Report from Cardiff Branch
On the 10th Anniversary of the liquidation of The Marxist Party
There were many factors contributing to the decline of The Marxist Party and its final liquidation on 14th November 2004. Here I will focus on the disregard for Marxist cadre education that increasingly characterised Corin Redgrave’s leadership following Gerry Healy’s death in 1989 and present material that documents some of the attempts to preserve education in the party.
By 1999 party education was sporadic, unfocussed and a growing cause of concern for many comrades. On the 7th February in that year a national school on the subject of semblance in Materialist Dialectics (which CR did not attend) decided that it was necessary to plan a programme of education for the coming year. Comrade SO and myself were given that task.
In March1999 we drew up a proposal, based on the Party’s constitutional requirement for all members to study the 3 component parts of Marxism:
The history of the Party
We laid out a methodology for the interaction of national and branch education, the connection with Party building and the development of the magazine. We proposed a series of dates throughout 1999 and into 2000.
The first of these national classes convened, again without CR, on 28th March 1999 to continue our study of Materialist Dialectics. Unfortunately, this was also the last event of the programme and no more nationally coordinated education work took place until May 2000 when a series of Area classes was organised to continue the study of Marxist theory.
It was around this time that CR began proposing alternative subjects for study. In late 2001, under his guidance, a national class was organised to study some articles from Trotsky’s notebooks. These were of interest, but did not directly involve us in the study of Marxist theory. Again, CR was absent from the class.
In February 2002 a national class studied Socialism and War, again, without CR.
It is clear that the drive for an energetic, planned approach to party education had completely dissipated by this point and the Cardiff branch responded by drafting the following proposal:
Proposal for Education 7/05/03
A grounding in Marxist theory has always been an essential part of training the members of our party. The ability of comrades to establish a dialectical materialist analysis of fast moving events and develop correct and effective practices has never been so important as we embark on transforming the party.
Several times over the past years we have begun to plan nationally co-ordinated programmes of education on dialectical materialism, Marxist economics and the history of the party. None of these attempts has proved successful.
We propose that in order for this necessity to be realized, one comrade is needed to dedicate themselves to the task of devising such a programme and taking a major part in its delivery, while supporting branches in their own studies.
We further propose that comrade CR should be the first choice for such a task. He has the strongest connection with the theoretical and historical basis of our party and with the work of GH.
We understand that it would mean removing many other tasks from him and that his important role in day to day work would make this difficult but we believe that a properly developed and supported education programme is an investment in our party that we cannot afford to overlook.
Proposed by the Cardiff Branch
The proposal was ignored and the concerns of the Cardiff branch (and of other comrades, no doubt) grew until, in the lead up to the 18th Party Congress on 28th February 2004, we sent the following letter to CR:
Dear Comrade Corin,
As it has not been possible to meet, we are writing to give you at least an idea of our concerns before the congress, in the hope that it may allow a more clear discussion. We are also forwarding a copy of this letter to comrade Chris.
Our branch continues to support the Peace and Progress project and the necessity of transforming the form and practice of the party. We understand that as a world scientific outlook, Marxism must evolve. The developments of science and changes within the class struggle necessitate that Marxism changes its form. Our concern, you will not be surprised, is for how we transform the party whilst retaining the continuity of its content as a revolutionary organisation.
We have considered the following question: what has to be retained in this negation in order for the Marxist content of our party to be preserved? We agreed that the structure of the organisation is not fundamental in determining its Marxist character. Democratic centralism is not a rigid formula but a method that must respond to different conditions. We concluded that the fundamental characteristics of a Marxist organisation are (in brief):
A) Its revolutionary political perspective – The necessity of the overthrow of world
Capitalism and its replacement with a world socialist system.
B) Its philosophy, the method of dialectical materialism.
These two are inextricable. They are the essence of the history of our movement. Without these our party, in whatever form, can no longer claim to be Marxist.
Before considering how best to ensure the continuity of this content, we need to assess how the Marxist Party stands now in relation to these fundamentals. How strong is the 'thin red line' that our party has always embodied? We believe that an objective analysis of our standing as embodied? We believe that an objective analysis of our standing as Marxists is essential in order to determine the way forward.
We are very aware it could be said that our branch has played such a minimal role in recent work that it cannot make an objective analysis of where we stand. We have tried to take account of this and eliminate subjective attitudes. We will not attempt a detailed survey in this letter but focus on three particular areas: the branches, the magazine and training.
In your letter ‘The Road to Peace and Progress' you characterise The Marxist Party as "a disciplined party of the Bolshevik type". We believe that this is a rather rosy picture of our organisation as it stands. Again we must emphasise that this is not about blaming, belittling or absolving ourselves of responsibility. The London branch, once the political backbone of our party, has collapsed. It is now impossible to bring about any form of collective practice in the capital. Chris may have something to say about this, but it appears that it is increasingly difficult to co-ordinate practice between all of the branches and in some cases even to communicate consistently. The undoubted successes of Peace and Progress have been achieved by the dedicated work of a few individuals rather than as the result of party practice.
We believe that The Marxist magazine, a crucial element of the party's existence has been in decline for some time. Circulation has at best remained stagnant, resisting all the attempts to raise it. The attempts to professionalise the appearance of the magazine with photos and more interesting layout have, under the pressure of time and money, been abandoned. Much more importantly for this assessment of our ideological strength is the gradual change in the content of The Marxist. The number of comrades who contribute to the magazine has greatly reduced over the last ten years. It has changed from an organ that published our analysis of various sides of the class struggle, with the occasional guest writer, to being, over the last few editions, predominantly a platform for writers with whom we agree. We understand some of the reasons for this and also the positive nature of finding more 'main stream' writers willing to be published in our magazine. What we are concerned with is what it says about the political and theoretical strength of our members. As former contributors to the magazine, we are all conscious of our own responsibility in this change.
We have neglected the education of our membership. There have been a number of initiatives over the last ten years, including several with the direct intention of taking up the study of materialist dialectics, but they have all fizzled out. There are newer members who have very little idea of even the basic concepts of materialist dialectics and there are some, like our branch, who were trained by comrade Gerry but who are rusty, to say the least. To further Trotsky's pianist analogy - our fingers are stiff with arthritis. We believe that materialist dialectics cannot be absorbed by osmosis or 'on the job' and cannot be left to individual members or branches to conduct. It was necessary to undergo a period of intensive training after the split and with the formation of The Marxist Party and we believe that such training is necessary now as we prepare to transform the party again. The relative ideological weakness of the party now and the likelihood of great bourgeois ideological pressures in following the road we have proposed make it essential that we begin such training.
We have to ask you what your attitude is to training members in materialist dialectics. You do not seem to have supported such efforts in the past and have often made alternative proposals for education work. We believe that your historical continuity with Gerry's work is very valuable and that any such programme of study needs to have your active support and participation, continuing, we would hope, into the new party where we could invite others to train in Marxist methods.
To conclude, we believe that in order to steer the negation of our party into a new form, it is essential that we assess realistically our starting point. If we are, as we propose, beginning from a weakened position, then this must have an impact on the decisions we take regarding our form of existence within the new party and the way in which we prepare. It is not too late to strengthen our ideological armoury, we can anticipate the tendencies that might emerge.
We believe that as a faction within Peace and Progress we must have a clear, uniting structure and a continuing programme of education, including materialist dialectics, in order best to withstand the ideological pressures which tend towards activism and reformism.
We hope that these thoughts are useful in your preparation for the Congress. We understand that your concerns go way beyond those we have raised here and that there are many other sides to be considered in this process. We hope, at least, to strengthen, one aspect that we feel has been neglected,
Andy, Jon and Louise
Unfortunately, I have no records from the discussion that followed but it is clear that CR did respond to our letter – by proposing that we study Darwin’s ‘The Origin of Species’. Again, very interesting, but completely rejecting what we had called for.
A series of classes on Darwin did indeed take place in May of 2004 and again CR did not attend.
The last piece of material I want to present is the notes that I made in preparation for the last meeting of the Marxist Party on 14th November 2004. This was the re-convened 18th Congress, called in order to dissolve the Marxist Party and formally bring Peace and Progress into being.
Preparatory Notes for Marxist Party Congress – 14/11/04
During the 17 years I have been a member of the Marxist Party, I have had tremendous respect for comrade CR, for his political and theoretical strength and above all, his ability to persuade by force of argument and to explain clearly the most complex notions.
The members of the Cardiff branch have reached the decision outlined today because we have had to conclude that we no longer have that respect or hold trust in CR’s political leadership.
CR is not the whole new party, but he is the main political force behind it and the form it is taking is shaped by him. We do not agree with that form and can no longer simply trust that he is right, as we have done for some while.
These are the main grounds on which we have reached this conclusion:
Since GH’s death, the Party’s education in Marxist theory has gradually been allowed to decline. There was much that needed to change in the approach to education under GH’s leadership and it was CR’s responsibility to preserve and develop GH’s legacy. CR did not take up this responsibility. Over the last 5 years, he has not actively supported attempts by other comrades to resurrect some study of Marxist theory and has made alternative proposals for study.
Question – Does CR believe that Marxist theory still forms the best basis from which to seek to understand the world and change it? If so, why not ensure that the whole party studied it? If not, why not say so?
2. Political Orientation
We disagree with the focus of Peace and Progress. The ’10 Theses’ created a formula that reduced the world class struggle to one issue – Human Rights and then to one example – Guantanamo. We agree that Human Rights are an important battle ground of class forces now and that Guantanamo is the sharpest point of this battle BUT, as Marxists, our responsibility is to demonstrate the universal connections within this particular and individual - to show why the US and UK have set themselves against International Law, the economic and political necessities driving them.
This is what we would have expected CR to offer a public meeting – an incisive Marxist analysis, cutting through the word forms of revisionist reflections. But this is not what we have seen at the two public meetings we attended recently. We did not hear one word of analysis in Cardiff, only a detailed description, appealing to a humanitarian approach. No perspective was offered (P&P was not even mentioned). The only slight hint of analysis of causes behind Guantanamo came from Mr. Begg. (Moazzam Begg’s father)
Is this a conscious tactic? To remove anything that might be seen as radical or leftist? If so, we do not agree with it. Many people agree that the war and all its consequences are wrong, what is needed is an analysis of why Bush and Blair are compelled to pursue it. To show how the fight for human rights is at the heart of all issues facing people in Britain – healthcare, education, employment, poverty, food, crime, etc. etc.
3. Party Discipline
Over the last period CR has acted on an increasingly individualistic basis, attending very few National Committee or Aggregate meetings and taking individual decisions without regard to NC decisions. At times the NC has been playing catch up with CR’s actions without any democratic process. It is clear that the Guantanamo Human Rights Commission is already his main concern and not the party. At times we have felt that CR has contempt for the party as it is and wishes to divest himself of the ties of a democratic centralist organisation. This may account for his resistance to any form of collective organisation in proposing the new structures for P&P, beyond an organising committee and a newsletter.
We do not look at the history of the Marxist Party with rose tinted glasses – much was wrong with it. But we cannot be part of an organisation that so unceremoniously dumps the history and principles of that Party.
For these reasons we will not be joining Peace and Progress and will vote against the motion to dissolve The Marxist Party.
Andy Marshall – November 2014