Open Letter to Socialists and Communists: Events in the WRP in 1984-86
Alex Mitchell, a former member of the Political Committee of the Workers’ Revolutionary Party and Editor of its daily newspaper Newsline, recently published his memoirs (Mitchell, A. 2012. Come the Revolution: A Memoir. NewSouth Publishing, Sydney, Australia. ISBN-13: 978-1742233079). The book appears 27 years after Mitchell ‘walked out of the party leadership and the editorship of the paper’ without any explanation to the membership, only to return in March 1985 for ‘re-integration’ once the 1984-85 miners’ strike was over. It remains a mystery as to why Mitchell delayed his political testament for so long, but the fact is he was back ‘in harness’ in time for events that explosively emerged in the WRP after 1 July 1985.
The last half of the book covers Mitchell’s time in the WRP when he became the principal confidante of the late Gerry Healy. Anyone active on the ‘Left’ of British and indeed international politics in the 1980s will know that the WRP atomized in late 1985 following its expulsion of Healy on 19 October 1985 for anti-communist activities, including psychological, physical and sexual abuse. In his book Mitchell repeats the lie, first widely circulated in 1985-86 by Ken Livingston and Vanessa Redgrave, that the split was the work of MI5 agents and claims that Healy was the victim of a frame-up based on fabricated evidence.
Despite the journalistic ease with which Mitchell had conducted previous investigations, for instance providing reams of ‘evidence’ concerning the murder of Leon Trotsky (How the GPU Murdered Trotsky: Security and the Fourth International, International Committee of the Fourth International, London, 1976), he has never backed up his accusations concerning the exposure of Healy with a shred of fact. Since publication of his book, Mitchell has been challenged repeatedly to name names and cite his evidence but has so far refused to respond. What has happened in the last 27 years to his investigative talents regarding a matter that to him is obviously on a par with the assassination of Trotsky?
I wrote a less well-publicized account of life within the WRP, covering a considerably longer period (from 1954) than Mitchell’s book (Norman Harding, Staying Red: Why I remain a socialist Index Books, London (2005). ISBN-10: 1-871518-25-3). I am a lifelong socialist, a delegate from the garment workers union to Leeds Trades Union Council and lifelong activist in the Leeds West and South Yorkshire tenants’ movements. I was active in CND took part in the first Aldermaston march and many more.
I not only witnessed at first hand the degeneration of the WRP under Healy but played a leading role from 1984-86 in the removal from the party of the man and his anti-communist politics and his sectarian and opportunist theoretical position that he bullied members to accept.
Simply because I told the truth, Staying Red anticipated Mitchell’s sensationalist re-opening of an attack on the comrades who organized the expulsion. It was clear to many comrades that the WRP was degenerating in many ways. In practice it was for his sectarianism and opportunism that we threw out Healy and his cohorts
Mitchell’s book, especially Chapters 24-26, contains gross lies against those who fought on principle to rid the communist movement of Healyism. He chooses to focus on the matter of Healy’s sexual activities, seeking to establish that it was the result of a state-orchestrated frame-up. He also re-opens groundless accusations that the ‘frame-up’ was coordinated with a similarly inspired conspiracy to bankrupt the WRP and Newsline. The facts are very different.
Healy was not expelled just because he abused comrades but because of his degenerate political and theoretical position that was essentially anti-communist, indeed Stalinist in all respects.
What was insisted on at the time was that it was essential to understand the political reasons for Healy’s expulsion. When we accused Healy and his supporters of the sectarianism and opportunism that we threw out of the party along with him, it was not about ‘flesh and bone with bad habits’ but that he was anti-communist, and that it was committed communists who threw him out.
Why resurrect events of 27 years ago? It is not the case, as some have idly suggested, that the memory of 1984-86 will fade away with Healy and that his former supporters will slip down into a bog of collective forgetfulness. It is also much more than ‘setting the record straight’.
Opposing the break from communism and Marxism within the WRP’s leadership was historically necessary. This political act should be firmly planted as part of the development of the historical struggle of the working class for the freeing of humanity from the barbarism of international capital. Without that act it could have become impossible for comrades to have made the major developments that they have achieved since 1985-86. They could have become part of the degeneration, suffered breakdowns, or abandoned politics and theoretical work completely. Because the deed was done, it ultimately strengthened a movement that was verging on being crippled in every sense.
Yes, Healy was barbaric and inhuman in his attitude to party members. But it is vital that today we recognize that it is the anti-communism of Healy and of his bagmen (and bag-women) like Mitchell that we are aiming at.
Better than any expensive court case, Chapter 16 (Uncovering and overcoming the horror: 1984 to 1986) of my book Staying Red not only refutes Mitchell’s lies but describes an object lesson in political degeneration and how to fight it. In it is the full report of the Control Commission to the Special Conference of the WRP held in late October 1985.
I invite all socialist and communist comrades to download Chapter 16 from https://stayingred.files.wordpress.com/2011/10/16.pdf and learn the lessons that I and many others did. By downloading the whole book at https://stayingred.wordpress.com/staying-red-pdfs/ you will probably understand still more!