Part Five

End of an Era - The Last Years of the RCP

[Section 2]

Looking back on things, this was a big setback for the movement. The conference set up a commission to carry through the fusion. As expected, with the backing of the International, Healy got a majority on the Political Bureau and a majority on the National Committee. Despite the size of our support, we weren't even going to get a single full-timer, as the leading bodies, which were dominated by Healy, would choose these positions. Under the fusion terms, the majority had to accept the leadership of the minority until the following conference. This conference would be organised to assess the fusion and then elect a new leadership. The problem was, Healy being Healy, he would use every rotten means to destroy the old RCP leadership and take control of the organisation. The man was a gangster and would revert to any means to get a majority, as events subsequently proved.

This was the fatal thing about entry. It wouldn't have been so damaging if we had entered with our own forces under the control of the RCP leadership. That was our position, but Haston as well as the Open Party fraction had rejected it. The other option, which also could have avoided the break-up, would have been to support the Open Party faction. But after the liquidation of the RCP, things started to unwind at a considerable speed.

Having accomplished what he had set out to do Healy received a new access of confidence. He experienced an injection of adrenaline. As far as he was concerned, he had been shown to be correct in the struggle he had started in 1943. Then he began, as one might expect, a real campaign against the RCP leaders. He wanted to make sure that he had the majority by the time of the next conference. We didn't have any full-timers, and so were compelled to seek work. Then Healy went up and down the country and for anyone who was in opposition, it was chop, chop, chop. Anyone who wasn't prepared to accept Healy's domination completely was expelled even without a report to the National Committee. This happened for instance to Bill Cleminson, a leading engineering worker in Sheffield, and a member of the Central Committee, as well as other comrades in Sheffield. They were just chopped off. In Newcastle, David James, who was in opposition in the RCP over our position on China, was also booted out. Alec Riach, and the leading comrades in Scotland, when they saw what was happening, simply left. I felt utter disgust. Our tendency was dissolving in front of our eyes. Our only hope was to muster as much opposition as possible for the Club conference.

However, in the period leading up to the conference, Haston came up to me and said that he had had enough, and that he was leaving the organisation. He said he still considered himself a Trotskyist - a position he held for some time after leaving. "I still maintain my position of Trotskyism", he said, "but I can't stand the atmosphere in this organisation any longer." We pleaded to him, "For God's sake, Jock, wait until the conference itself. At least keep quiet and let us wage a struggle, while we still have the opportunity of getting a majority in the organisation. We can then put it on the same footing as the best days of the RCP. But if you walk out now, we can see what will happen. You will simply give the Healyites an opportunity to destroy the organisation altogether."

But all our efforts were in vain. Haston was obviously a broken man. He wasn't really concerned about the movement any longer; he was only interested in himself. That was what it amounted to in the end. He had completely lost his perspective and faith in the revolutionary movement. He was totally demoralised, even at that stage, though he still considered himself a Trotskyist. He refused to accept our argument to wait until the conference, and sent a letter of resignation from the organisation to the Political Bureau in February 1950. Haston was then formally expelled from the Club the following month.

This was just the opportunity Healy had been waiting for. As soon as Healy received Haston's letter of resignation, he said, "Ah! We've got them at last!" He immediately called a special meeting, an aggregate in London, and sent out a directive to the provinces to attend. At this aggregate, he and John Lawrence, the joint leaders of the tendency at that time, moved a resolution condemning Haston. The resolution stated that Haston was a renegade and a traitor, and that any member found talking to Haston, or having any relations whatsoever with Haston, would be immediately expelled from the organisation.

Of course, we fought against this hooligan attitude of Healy. It may have been possible, if we could have retained friendly relations with Haston, to have saved him politically and brought back into the movement. This has happened before, when individuals have fallen by the wayside and been drawn back in later. At least a friendly approach and sympathetic attitude could have politically neutralised Haston. But for Healy, such an approach was impossible. It was completely ruled out. Healy wanted revenge for the past. For him, Haston was now an enemy of the movement, and a traitor to the working class! Of course, treated in this fashion, branded a class traitor, Haston began to shift to the right, ending up sadly in the camp of the reformist bureaucracy.

Healy used the opportunity to carry through a widespread purge throughout the organisation. He set about creating a climate of absolute intolerance. Up and down the country he closed or amalgamated branches before the conference. In the RCP, I had been a member of the North London branch, and maintained the support of the branch. To undermine my position, Healy quite arbitrarily moved a resolution in the Political Bureau to reorganise the branch and moved me to a branch in East London, where Bill Hunter was the leading light. Hunter, who in the RCP had shown a tendency towards anarchistic and undisciplined behaviour, which we tolerated, now became an obedient tool of Healy.

Following the aggregate, Healy came down to my branch to explain his resolution against Haston. Once Healy had finished, a comrade called Dave Black objected: "But Comrade Healy, what am I to do when you are moving a resolution like that in relation to Haston? I have a wife who is a member of the IKD. [An organisation in opposition to the International] "Do you expect me to refuse to talk to my wife?" Healy's answer was typical of the man: "Well, comrade, get another wife!" This is an actual fact. Needless to say, the comrade concerned immediately left the movement. Healy was a complete hooligan. I do not need to say any more on this because I think these examples speak for themselves.

The decision to move me to another branch just before the conference was completely unprincipled. But Healy was not satisfied with this. After being forced to give up full-time work, I managed to get a job as a door-to-door salesman, which at least allowed me some free time to organise our political intervention. It allowed me the opportunity to participate actively in the pre-conference period and in the discussions that went on in the run up to the conference. So Hunter moved, through Healy, obviously on Healy's instructions, that I should give up my current job and get a job in a factory. Of course I refused to accept this proposal. I just laughed at the idea. I asked Hunter what sort of a manoeuvre was this? It was clearly an attempt to stop my political preparations before the conference. Then when I refused, Hunter moved my expulsion at the branch and they voted to expel me. It seems difficult to imagine, doesn't it? But this was absolutely typical of Healy and his stooges. However, they were forced to backtrack, under pressure from the International, which preferred to take a more cautious line on my expulsion.

With Haston out of the way, and his hands completely freed, Healy's next move was to proceed against his "enemies", as he called them. Before the collapse of the RCP, Tony Cliff had about a dozen people supporting his state capitalist position. He now gained about twenty or thirty people out of the debacle that took place. A layer now supported Cliff as a reaction against the pro-Stalinist position of the Healy leadership. It is clear that Healy by his very nature was a totalitarian. He had nothing in common with the genuine methods of Trotskyism, and everything in common with the methods of Stalinism.

Healy decided to call an aggregate to "deal with" Tony Cliff. The supporters of Cliff put forward their views on state capitalism, and Healy was furious. I simply waited to see what line Healy would put forward. Healy turned to me and said, "why don't you answer him?" I replied, "you are supposed to be the leader, you answer him!" But they were politically incapable of answering Cliff's arguments on state capitalism. So, of course, Healy just expelled Cliff and his supporters on various charges. When Cliff's supporters wanted to present their document to the conference, they were refused. Later in the year, Cliff set up the Socialist Review group.

When Haston was expelled from the IEC and the International, he was accused of "shameful desertion", which was "the logical outcome of all the opportunist and liquidationist policy and of the hostility to the International which Haston, as the head of the ex-RCP, has personally shown during the whole of the last years…" The resolution asserted that his abandonment of Trotskyism was a reflection of "the pressure of the class enemy on the ideologically weaker and more confused elements in the movement." Then the IEC gave Healy the green light for an all-out purge, having approved "all the measures of revolutionary discipline taken by the English leadership against the deserters for the safeguarding of the programme and the organisation." It went on to demand "that all the British Trotskyists, loyal to revolutionary Marxism and the International, should fight with the utmost energy all complacency towards Haston and those demoralised elements who have followed him."[3]

Thus, having expelled Cliff for his ideas, they then moved a resolution that anybody in the branches who voted against the expulsion of Cliff's supporters was automatically expelled. This is an actual fact. Although I opposed them politically, I protested against this violation of their democratic rights, and I was expelled. Following this, Arthur Deane, Sam Levy, Sam Bornstein, Roy Tearse, and many others were expelled. We also heard that they had expelled Jimmy Deane and the Liverpool branch for offering opposition to their opportunist tactic in relation to the Socialist Fellowship. They were not able to answer the position put by Jimmy, and so he and the entire Liverpool branch were expelled. Many others simply dropped out in disgust.

We were left with the difficult job of organising all those who were driven out by Healy's purges, and who remained faithful to the political line and methods of the RCP. We attempted to gather together the remnants of the movement in Liverpool and London. This included people who had been lost, and people who had left the movement, as well as those who had been driven out. There were some very good comrades, worker comrades in the main, who had become completely demoralised as a result of all the things that had happened. We tried to save them. But as you can imagine, some of them placed the responsibility for this mess on the old leadership of the organisation.

We held a meeting to discuss what to do next. I was nominally a member of the International Executive Committee and, in order to appear impartial, they had suggested that I came back to the organisation. I suggested that I should go back and appeal against my expulsion and fight until I was expelled again, which would have been my third time. But the comrades said that it was a waste of time and voted against my proposal to return and fight. I believe now that the comrades were correct, and it was obviously stupid to go back under those conditions. So I accepted the decision of the group and we began the hard job of gathering together the forces once again.

To begin with, we had a small base in London and a grouping in Liverpool. All in all, we had maybe thirty comrades. But we were now operating under extremely difficult conditions, with no resources but our ideas and a faith in the future. We were under the pressures of Stalinism and reformism on the one hand, and under the pressure from Healy on the other. He had been given resources as result of the fusion, as well as the backing and recognition from the leaders of the International. We began with absolutely nothing. In a certain sense, as is always the case after a split of this character, our supporters suffered from a certain demoralisation. Nevertheless, we had no alternative but to face up to the task of rebuilding the movement from scratch.

There are those who have written off the whole experience of the WIL and the RCP as a failure. They are incapable of understanding our history. Unfortunately, life does not proceed in a straight line, and neither does the revolutionary movement. We can see this not only from the period 1938 to 1949, but also from the entire history of the Marxist movement since the founding of the First International in 1864. We have to understand developments in their broad historical context; otherwise we would draw pessimistic and false conclusions concerning the future of Marxism and the revolutionary movement.

"Neither to weep nor laugh but to understand" - this was a phrase of the great philosopher Spinoza which was often quoted by Trotsky. The experience of Trotskyism in those years is a treasure-house of ideas which, taken in their totality, teaches us how a genuine Trotskyist movement can be built and sink roots in the working class. The experience that I went through personally, as the principal theoretician of British Trotskyism, added enormously to my understanding of events and served to enrich our collective knowledge that was to lay the basis for our future work. In the Militant tendency, we created the most powerful base for Trotskyism in Britain ever, and possibly the strongest position internationally since the days of the Russian Left Opposition. On the basis of our experience, including this period of the WIL and RCP, we will construct a movement that will put these great achievements in the shade. Trotskyism will become a mass force in Britain and internationally. Hopefully, this present work will in a modest way help to arm the new generation for the historic tasks that lie ahead.

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Notes

[3] Resolution adopted by the Eighth Plenum IEC.