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The Corresponding Society and the Fourth International Supporters Caucus

July 17, 2021
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This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is fisc.jpg

CROSS POSTED from the Splits&Fusions Blog

I am reminded that it is 25 years since Arthur Scargill launched his Socialist Labour Party which was to give the Fourth International Supporters Caucus (FISC) its all too brief moment in the sun.

It is arguable that without the SLP experience FISC would have languished in total obscurity but this small grouping had an existence, in one form or another, for a substantial period beforehand.

To understand FISC and what it was you have to look at debates on the far left in the early 1990s, for and against continued entry into the Labour Party and the questions of if, how and when to orientate towards broader social movements and open parties.

For the ISG, British section of the Fourth International, these internal debates led to a number of comrades, individually or in small groups, leaving the organisation. Some of these then coalesced, around 1992, as the Corresponding Society. This was made up of former ISG supporters but was also open to other socialists from different traditions.

CS looked to developments such as Rifondazione Comunista in Italy and set itself the task of regrouping the class struggle left with a view to “re-founding of a mass party of the left”

Within the CS those who considered themselves still to be supporters of the FI, and who wanted to pursue a relationship with it, styled themselves the Fourth International Supporters Caucus and also set up an International Viewpoint Supporters Club on the basis that they would be a group selling IVP, the English language FI magazine, outside the ISG.

FISC then sought a formal relationship with the FI which was opposed by the ISG which argued, quite understandably, that the FISC comrades had placed themselves outside the official Section at different times and for varying political reasons and did not constitute a coherent group.

This interesting document is part of a Militant Labour internal bulletin reporting on discussions with the USFI. It gives an introduction to the CS and FISC, and reproduces a FISC report.

With the announcement by Arthur Scargill of his intention to break from Labour and create a new party, the CS opened up a discussion with him. When the SLP was formed the CS dissolved with most of its former members joining the SLP.

Whether FISC, or the IVP Club, continued to exist in a formal sense at this point is debatable but comrades Heron, the Sikorskis and Wood were an identifiable current within the SLP, allied to the Scargill leadership, and were commonly referred to as FISC eg in the pages of Weekly Worker.

The story of what happened next has been told before. Scargill rigged the SLP congress in 1997 with 3,000 phantom votes to outvote all opposition driving out much of the left and most critical voices. A detailed description from a WW/CPGB standpoint can be read here.

The following year the FISC found themselves out of the SLP and, it seems, went in different ways. At least one, Wood, joined the Socialist Democracy Group and was later active in the Socialist Alliance remaining close to the Socialist Resistance project and the FI section.

Brian Heron , Carolyn Sikorski and Patrick Sikorski do not appear to have joined or formed another group but continued to be active in various campaigns.

Any further information would be welcomed.

CORRESPONDING SOCIETY & FISC Archive

Addendum- we have just found some material relating to campaigns and events the CS were involved with.

Four page leaflet Unshackle The Unions Campaign

Draft letter and artwork for a Modern Politics of Socialism Conference

Conor Cruise O’Brien and Rayner Lysaght…

July 10, 2021
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In 1970 Red Mole published a profile of Conor Cruise O’Brien.

Tariq Ali writes “I commissioned Rayner to write this profile. We published it in The Red Mole on 1-15 October 1970. O’Brien asked for space to reply. He got it. Then Rayner wrote a reply to the reply.

Would be worth digging up and publishing as a pamphlet.

Talking about digging, I remember going to speak at an RMG cadre school in Dublin in the early 70’s. Rayner arrived in a raincoat and wellies carrying a hefty spade and announced he had come as a ‘grave-digger of capitalism.’

Rayner’s profile can be found here: Red Mole v1 no10

The reply from O’Brien with Rayner’s response is on the letters page (page 4) of Red Mole v1 no13

In addition, Niall Meehan has sent us this pamphlet by Rayner:

End of A Liberal: The Literary Politics of Conor Cruise O’Brien

The Republic Of Ireland

July 6, 2021
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Rayner Lysaght’s long out of print book The Republic of Ireland has been cited by a number of comrades as an important work.

It is a 250+ page small paperback and my copy is labelled property of the Londonderry Co. Education Committee.

I would like to scan this book and have it transcribed to go up on the Marxist Internet Archive where it can become part of a larger collection of Rayner’s work.

I am currently seeking a quote for the OCR and re-typing work.

Any comrades willing to grubstake this project with a small donation would be very welcome!

Rayner O’Connor Lysaght Presente!

July 3, 2021
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Our friend and comrade Rayner Lysaght has died.

Rayner Lysaght at the Frank Conroy Commemoration, 2013

We reproduce an obituary from Socialist Democracy- Ireland.

Rayner O’Connor Lysaght Presente!

2 July 2021

Rayner Lysaght passed away today after a period of illness. His illness went largely unnoticed in the socialist meliu in which he spent his life. Yet he was a central figure in the foundation of the 60s “New Left” reimagining of a socialism in Ireland beyond the Communist Party.

In part this is because the movement that he helped to found, with its full-throated commitment to rebellion and revolution, seen by the state as an existential threat, would be foreign to many of today’s activists.

In a very short time he, and his comrade Peter Graham, helped build the Irish Workers Group and the British International Marxist Group as sections of the Fourth International, publish the iconic Red Mole journal, and was associated with the Saor Eire group.

That period in Rayner’s life ended with the assassination of Peter Graham in 1971. FI leaders from across Europe rallied around his grave to sing the Internationale. No-one was ever charged with his killing.

Rayner Lysaght behind Charlie Bird and to the left of Tariq Ali

at the funeral of Peter Graham, 1971.

Rayner went on to establish himself as a leading writer of Irish working-class history, rediscovering and reapplying the analysis of James Connolly following a long period of counterrevolution with his 1971 book The Republic of Ireland.

However, he had one major fault. He was someone who lived in the mind and was totally unsuited to dealing with the business of publishing and of working with academia.  As a result, much of his work was stolen by academics and then refuted by them in a later wave of revisionism without him receiving the recognition that is usually extended in these fields.

How many remember D R O’Connor Lysaght and his early researches and writings on the Irish working class, the Irish Citizen Army and his rediscovery of the history of the Limerick Soviet? These issues live on, stripped of their revolutionary content by an elite that wants to remember the IRA and the Black and Tans as equality deserving of commemoration.

In later years he received some recognition through the Irish Labour History Society and through the trade unions for publications on the development of the trade union movement in Ireland and he republished privately theoretical socialist works from Ireland and Europe.  A major achievement in anyone else’s life, the publication of Trotsky’s transitional programme As Gaeilge (An Tidirchlar), was a mere footnote in his.

As noted, much of Rayner’s work has fallen out of favour. That’s because the whole idea of working-class independence, of a Workers’ Republic, has fallen out of favour in a world constrained by a pallid reformism.

Yet Rayner was right. His opponents were wrong. The promises of peace, justice and prosperity have come to naught. The reformist current is on the ebb. The tide of revolution will swell again.
 

No Life Like It- A tribute to Ernie Tate

June 14, 2021
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From The Socialist Project in Canada comes this recording of a meeting in tribute to Ernie Tate.

An internationalist tribute to the life, activism and legacy of Ernie Tate (1934-2021).

Ernie Tate believed capitalism is a cruel and unjust system that has to be changed. Ernie was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1934 and emigrated to Canada in 1955. As a Marxist, union activist and revolutionary, Ernie spent his life working to achieve that in organizing against the war in Vietnam, in union struggles at Toronto Hydro, for protecting universal healthcare and living wages, and much else. Ernie, along with Tariq Ali, was a leading organizer of the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign in Britain, worked for Bertrand Russell’s International War Crimes Tribunal and was a founding member of the International Marxist Group in Britain. In 2014, Ernie published a memoir of his life on the far left in Canada and Great Britain called Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s and 1960s. This two volume memoir is an important resource for anyone interested in a gritty account of mid-20th century revolutionary movements. It has been a source of information for the 2020-2021 Undercover Policing Inquiry hearings, taking place in England, in which the illegal and immoral activities of police agents in infiltrating the left have been laid bare.

This online event is a reflection upon and celebration of Ernie’s life, activism and legacy with many of his comrades and friends from around the world, including: Tariq Ali and Phil Hearse (England), Richie Venton (Scotland), Barry Sheppard and Suzanne Weiss (USA), Pam Frache, Judy Rebick, Carolyn Egan, Sam Gindin, Bryan Palmer, Rob Fairley, and John Riddell (Canada), and Patrick Bond (South Africa).

0:00 Intro w/ James Clark
2:22 Welcome w/ Jess Mackenzie
6:24 Ernie Tate on Socialist Method (video clip from 2014 book launch of Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s and 1960s)
9:24 Bryan Palmer
18:44 Judy Rebick
24:07 Tariq Ali
40:43 Marush Connor and Cliff Connor
46:22 Phil Hearse
1:02:31 Carolyn Egan
1:08:51 Barry Sheppard
1:18:39 Peter Boyle
1:21:03 Patrick Bond
1:24:24 Richie Venton
1:33:34 Suzanne Weiss and John Riddell
1:39:17 Spring Socialist Network Tribute
1:45:20 Sam Gindin
1:52:28 Rob Fairley
2:01:50 Pam Frache
2:08:37 Ian Burchall tribute to Ernie Tate read by James Clark
2:09:57 Norman Traub tribute to Ernie Tate read by James Clark
2:11:31 Linda Loew
2:14:40 Slide show of photos and words of Ernie Tate
2:18:50 Concluding remarks of solidarity, love and gratitude by James Clark
2:21:52 “The Internationale” by Erin Saoirse, Angela and Amelia

Check out Ernie’s articles and special pamphlet about Ernie’s union work: Class Politics at Work.

Organized by Socialist Project (https://socialistproject.ca/), Spring (https://springmag.ca/), Centre for Social Justice (https://www.socialjustice.org/), and w/support of Socialist Resistance (https://socialistresistance.org/), Green Left Weekly (https://www.greenleft.org.au/), Socialist Viewpoint (http://www.socialistviewpoint.org/)

Moderated by James Clark. Video recorded and edited by Tanner Mirrlees.

The Irish Citizen

June 4, 2021
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In a recent post about the Irish Solidarity Campaign, which the IMG was centrally involved in, I commented:

“It is not clear whether there was a national Irish Solidarity Campaign bulletin or other materials.”

Well, it turns out the ISC actually had a national newspaper, the Irish Citizen (presumably a nod to People’s Democracy’s Free/Unfree Citizen), which ran for several issues.

We have vol2 no1 (1973, I believe), a four page tabloid the centre pages of which contain the ISC’s draft manifesto and vol2 no2 which is 8 pages.

Can any readers tell us more?

Saor Eire: The Unfinished Revolution

June 2, 2021
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Our friend Michael Healy has published a new magazine on the history of the Saor Eire group which may be of interest to our readers.

He introduces it in this short video:

One of the indispensable ones

May 25, 2021
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Mick Gosling 26 September 1952 – 7 April 2021

By Penelope Duggan, International Viewpoint

At Ford Dagenham

The driving force of Mick Gosling’s life was the defence of working people’s rights and a commitment to socialism to achieve that.

Mick (James) Gosling grew up in Stevenage, in a left-leaning working-class family – his father had been involved in Michael Foot’s 1945 election campaign in Plymouth. Mick himself joined the LPYS at fourteen.

In 1970 he went to Kent University in the heady days of student radicalization when Kent was one of the hotspots, “Oxford, Essex, Kent unite, one struggle, one fight” is a fondly-remembered slogan. He soon joined the International Marxist Group. Friend and comrade Dave Wimhurst remembers “he was completely tireless in his efforts to support the battles of the day. This was the era of Apartheid, Troops Out of Ireland, the National Front, the Vietnam War, Pinochet’s dictatorship, the Miners’ Strikes, along with the eternal struggles against Racism, for Women’s Rights, Gay Liberation, and, locally, a couple of University occupations to help organize and maintain.” Tony Graham adds: “I can see him now spontaneously responding to the day’s events, tapping away on a roneoed sheet for mass distribution late at night cultivating an active way forward in simple, crisp, clear language.”

For Jean-Claude Bibi from Mauritius, “Mick was one of those who convinced me to join the International Marxist Group at Kent University in early 1972. His […] support for the independence of Angola, Mozambique, Namibia were part of his permanent commitment to struggle against social injustice and imperialism.”

Mick was particularly committed to supporting workers’ struggles and building the “workers-students alliance” as we called it. This meant not only the 1972 sit-in in support of striking catering workers at the university but the local miners. Davy Jones recalls “While some of us curled up in our beds, Mick was up at the crack of dawn in a minibus headed for the picket line at Betteshanger Colliery. His consistency and dedication were second to none.”

In 1972 he took out a year out of university and went to the North-East as an IMG organizer. There too he threw himself into local struggles. One was in defence of an IMG member, a lecturer at a local college who was victimized for supporting a students’ occupation over grants. Liz Lawrence reminds us “He kept his job as a result of a successful student and trade union mobilization.” [1] Just before returning to Kent, Dave Carter remembers, Mick organized a picket at Wallsend shipyard following the coup in Chile as two Chilean warships were being refitted there. He wrote a front page article for the IMG paper under the name Chris Balfour. (Red Weekly 21 September 1973)

Mick continued with his frenetic level of activity in his final year. Tony Graham remembers “Just before his finals, we were in occupation over the university’s badly-handled dismissal of a CP student. The CP hadn’t wanted to defend him (!) but we did anyway and won. Immediately after our short victorious campaign, a day or so before his finals, Mick disappeared into his study to plough through his revision for a few days and nights. He won a First which, given his profound commitment to the struggle, seemed to come from nowhere.” A probably apocryphal story went the rounds that Mick should have had a viva (oral exam) to confirm his First, but that David McLellan (the well-known academic Marxist) did not want to face Mick, known for keeping up cogent and informed arguments for hours, and gave it to him anyway.

The possibilities opened up by that degree – using it to make a career or achieving bourgeois honour – did not matter to Mick. Instead, he used his brilliance and talents for the causes he believed in.

For several years after leaving Kent he put his one of his talents to good use on the IMG paper Red Weekly (replaced by Socialist Challenge in June 1977). His colleagues and comrades on the paper remember him as “an excellent writer, and a great member of the team at a time when we were often working late into the night to get everything pasted up ready to go to the printers (talk about old technology!),” (Martin Meteyard). Geoff Bell continues, “Those were good, optimistic days and sharing them with Mick helped make them more so. He was both a good person and a fine writer, and that ability should not be forgotten, nor that he used it for the greater good.”

One of his major articles as the campaign for the referendum on Common Market membership hotted up was the centre spread “A Most Uncommon Market” in the 30 January 1975 issue. Another was a detailed briefing on the car industry in the wake of the Ryder report in 1975. (Red Weekly, 18 September 1975). In October 1977 he co-authored the Socialist Challenge pamphlet “The Battle for Grunwick” with Geoff Bell, Tessa van Gelderen and Jonathan Silberman. [2]

Of course, Mick did more than write, he was also a talented organizer. In 1977 he worked with Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Grant and Phil Marfleet to build the Stop the NF demonstration in Wood Green. Jeremy Corbyn recalls “Mick was a fantastic anti-racist campaigner. He spent his life opposing racism in any form!”

In the 1978 council elections with Mick Sullivan, he stood as a Socialist Unity candidate in North Islington to defend the rights of the local council tenants who were being ignored by the then right-wing local Labour Party.

However, Mick wanted, as he would have said, to “get stuck in” directly to the class struggle. So it was by political choice that he got a job at the Fords factory in Dagenham in 1978. He was an active union member, shop steward and finally chair of the TGWU Ford, Paint Trim and Assembly Branch I/1107, the largest union branch in Ford and one of the largest TGWU branches in Britain.

Ten years later, with neoliberalism in full force and restructuring underway, Ford made a determined effort to get rid of him. They charged that he had chaired a branch meeting with Bernadette McAliskey during work time, despite attestations he was at work either side of the lunch break during which it was held, and that he had sanctioned unconstitutional stoppages and walk outs at times he was not even present on the factory floor. So determined was management to get rid of him that they mailed a four page document to all the workers in the plant repeating their disproved allegations – and that he had hidden the fact he had a university degree – and threatening that the strike action in defence of Mick proposed by the union would lose workers money and put the future of the factory in danger. Thus, despite international solidarity from Ford workers as far afield as Spain and Brazil, Mick’s sacking was confirmed in 1989. [3]

For the next couple of years Mick put his writing and organizing skills to good use for the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, building up the trade-union contacts that were essential to its work.

Kathy Lowe remembers him as “one of the first national organizers of the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom (CPBF).” At the height of the 1984-85 miners’ strike the Daily Mirror claimed NUM president Arthur Scargill had paid for his mortgage with money donated by Libya. This report was also to go out on the “Cook Report” on Central TV, synchronized to go out with the Mirror “exclusive”.

The CPBF representative told Mick’s funeral, “Mick was CPBF national organizer at the time and Granville [Williams] remembers at that year’s TUC in Blackpool Mick organized a petition in support of Arthur Scargill. It wasn’t all that popular with some trade unionists – it was the sort of dirt they wanted to believe – but he remembers a packed fringe meeting which Mick organized.” Another major issue for CPBF in Mick’s time as organizer was gagging orders on the British press over the North of Ireland, for which Mick was warmly welcomed by Sinn Fein during a visit to Ireland some years later.

Although Mick moved on to work for Hackney Council, he remained an active member of the CPBF National Council and was its treasurer from 2007 to 2012.

As Hackney Press Officer throughout the 1990s he is remembered by colleagues as having dynamized the whole left-leaning communications operation – starting the magazine Hackney Today – before being victimized again when the council was taken over by the right wing: “Because, with a rabid slash and burn chief executive running out of control as the politicians fell apart, they couldn’t have ‘lefties in the press office’.” [4] One of the things he did while there was to produce a dossier to expose the racist witch-hunt of workers from West African backgrounds at Hackney Council and how hundreds were targeted by the Home Office immigration department.

While at Hackney he still followed what was happening with Ford. The NUJ obituary remembers that much later “Mick was incensed by the treatment of workers at manufacturing plants divested by Ford. More than 560 jobs were lost at Visteon’s plants in Enfield, Belfast and Basildon in Essex, with staff being given less than an hour’s notice. Mick joined Visteon workers when they were protesting outside Ford’s plants, handing out leaflets to Ford workers on their way to work and asking them for their support.”

In 2009 he met a delegation of Ford workers from France fighting to keep their jobs, led by Philippe Poutou, later to become nationally known as a presidential candidate and national spokesperson for the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste.

After his victimization at Hackney Mick stayed in local government press and communications work for several years, working for the London Borough of Southwark.

The experience gained as a trade-union organizer in Fords were put to good use throughout the rest of Mick’s life. As CPBF former secretary Jonathon Hardy put it “Mick was brilliant at radiating energy and encouraging everyone to keep going with the same political passion he always showed. He carried all this with an immense amount of humour, generosity and friendship. Something in that experience of organizing Ford workers in Dagenham, encouraging, persuading, never posturing or puritanical, was a fantastic model for campaigning and political activism and was there in all his work in the Campaign for Press and Broadcasting Freedom, in Hackney Press Office, in the National Union of Journalists and beyond.”

As a local council press officer Mick was a member of both the NUJ and Unison and was active in both. His NUJ branch was London Press and PR – he was branch chair for many years and delegate to NUJ conference a number of times.

In 2007 he proposed a motion to NUJ conference calling on it to “condemn the savage, pre-planned attack on Lebanon” [in 2006] and the “slaughter of civilians in Gaza” over the last few years to boycott Israel. This was adopted after two recounts before being shelved by the national leadership after protests led notably by BBC journalists. [5]

Although Mick ceased membership in a revolutionary organization he never stopped fighting injustice and racism in all their forms, even in his last years when he suffered from debilitating ill health brought on by his unfortunately life-long alcoholism.

Living in Hackney since 1983 he was involved in many local movements, such as Hackney Stand Up to Racism and Fascism and Hackney People’s Assembly Against Austerity as well as different attempts to build a left-wing unitary alternatives such as Respect or the Socialist Alliance, rejecting sectarianism.

In 2011 at the founding of the Hackney Alliance to Defend Public Services he was elected treasurer, as he was when, with others, he reformed Hackney Trades Council in that same period. This was a frequent role as Mick was in the words of his wife Kathryn Johnson “excellent with money” or of Alan Gibson “magnificently trustworthy and great at getting money in”.

In 2015, like many other longtime socialist activists, he joined the Labour Party. As Dave Kellaway writes: “While having no illusions in the Corbyn project he was fully behind it from the beginning, seeing it as a big opportunity for socialists. Happily, he lived to see the left consolidate its leadership of his local Labour Party.

“More recently I remember him in his wheelchair, supported by his wife Kathryn Johnson, at Hackney Stand Up to Racism and Fascism meetings or making sure he still had his say at the Hackney North and Stoke Newington General Committee.”

His final years were spent as an officer – treasurer again – of Hackney Trades Council and as a leading member of the Hackney North and Stoke Newington Labour Party. In the February 2020 meeting he stepped down as auditor for the Hackney Unison branch, of which he had remained a retired member.

In the last period of his life, Mick’s severe ill-health restricted his life more and more, but his ever active intelligence pushed him to maintain his interest and involvement as far as possible, alongside Kathryn and with her unfailing support. As Dave Kellaway noted “The last time I saw him I could still see his brain working at a hundred miles an hour despite his weakened body preventing him from expressing himself with the old fluency. He was as interested as ever in news of the movement here and internationally.”

The many, many tributes to Mick all underline the way in which he encouraged and enthused others by his own dynamism, his sharp intelligence, his eloquence in speech and writing. His interests were wide-ranging: history, literature, politics …. and football – he was a Spurs fan. He could, and often did, talk about each of them for many hours. He was a fascinating, entertaining companion. Yet, as Kathryn underlined at his funeral, his alcoholism was obviously a way of dealing with an inner pain and suffering; but the other way he expressed it was in that lifelong fight for social justice in all its forms.

Mick was, to use the words of Bertolt Brecht, one of the indispensable ones because he struggled all his life. [6]

People cited from Facebook comments, tributes at Mick’s funeral or personal correspondence with the author who knew Mick since they were both students at Kent.

Footnotes

[1Mother Grumble, 12 May 1973 “Victory Against Victimisation”.

[2] The Grunwick dispute was a British industrial dispute involving trade union recognition at the Grunwick Film Processing Laboratories in Chapter Road, Dollis Hill in the London suburb of Willesden, that led to a two-year strike between 1976 and 1978.

[3The Militant, 10 March 1989, Hackney Union News, May 1989.

[4] Tash Shifrin “Mick Gosling – always a socialist”.

[5Press Gazette, 7 June 2007 “Broadcasters call to end NUJ Israel boycott”.

[6] “In praise of Fighters”, song from the play “The Mother”, 1930.

Cliff Slaughter- a critical appraisal

May 8, 2021
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Cliff Slaughter, for several decades the chief ideologist of the Healyite movement, the Socialist Labour League (SLL) and then the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) died at the beginning of May.

Andrew Burgin, a well-known leader of Left Unity, posted some appreciative notes on Facebook. Phil Hearse, who was expelled from the Young Communist League in 1963 for being an SLL supporter, and was then in the Healyite youth movement, has written a critique of Andrew Burgin’s notes, and both are published below.

Andrew Burgin:  A Few Words for Cliff Slaughter

I’m sad to hear that Cliff Slaughter has died. He played an important part in my political life and political education.

In 1985 the Workers Revolutionary Party expelled its long-time leader Gerry Healy for the sexual abuse of 27 female comrades. I was at the WRP college of Marxist education in Derbyshire when news came through of the decision to lay charges against Healy. Peter Jones who was lecturing at the time stopped the class he was teaching and closed the school.

Comrades returned to their districts and almost immediately went into a series of aggregate discussions. At the first London aggregate Cliff was present, even though London was not his district he had speaking rights because he was secretary of the International Committee. Several hundred party members were assembled sitting on benches in the large garage complex of our Clapham headquarters.

Sheila Torrance who was on the political committee and effectively ran the London area defended Healy against the charges. Her argument was that Healy’s role as a revolutionary socialist was a more important consideration than the allegations of sexual abuse.

Slaughter spoke directly after Torrance. He dissected her argument and in a hugely powerful speech made the case for a revolutionary morality and linked the abuse directly to Healy’s politics. He concluded that the abuse itself expressed the degeneration of Healy’s politics and of those who now sought to defend him. It was the politics.

The aggregate was a difficult meeting to be in, not least because a number of the women comrades very bravely spoke of what they had experienced. Only a minority of comrades supported Healy at that aggregate. Healy had little support throughout the party and both the central committee and the overwhelming majority of full-time workers supported his expulsion. Healy’s supporters chose to split the party.

Before 1985 Slaughter had been a somewhat remote figure in the party, at least to ordinary members. He wasn’t a full-time party worker and so was only seen on the platforms at the big events. He wrote regularly for the party’s theoretical journal, the Labour Review and crafted political documents at Healy’s request.

From the time of the split Slaughter worked to understand and to try and overcome the degeneration of the organisation.

The tyrannical party regime which Clare Cowan documents so well in her history of the WRP had damaged many comrades and many still bear the scars. Cliff was one of the central figures in the post-split period who sought to repair the damage and set the organisation on its fe

et politically speaking. The crisis in the organisation did not end with the break with the Healy group but the party went through a series of political convulsions. At every point Cliff with some others including Geoff Pilling and Tom Kemp attempted to raise the level of discussion and to overcome the abuses of the past. Cliff supported the women comrades who insisted that the women’s question was central to the understanding of the degeneration of the party. A women’s commission was established and the question of women’s oppression was placed at the heart of the party’s work.

Cliff insisted that this was an issue for the whole of the left and argued against those on the left such as the SWP which referred to Healy’s sexual abuses as a ‘bedroom farce’ and those such as Ken Livingstone who said that Healy’s expulsion was the work of state agents.

Slaughter had joined the Communist Party at university in the late 1940s. In 1956 in the wake of the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian Revolution and the revelations of Stalin’s crimes in Khrushchev’s secret speech he, along with thousands of other CP members, left the party.

Cliff was among a small number who were won to Trotskyism. They included Brian Pearce who was part of the CP historians group, Peter Fryer who was the Daily Worker correspondent in Hungary at the time, and Brian Behan the building workers’ leader. Most of the recruits from the CP left or were driven out after a short period but Cliff remained.

He regretted hugely the part he had played in sustaining Healy’s regime but tried to overcome that through the building of a healthy political tendency in the post-split period. The years after the split saw the party reach out internationally to try and re-establish the Fourth International and Cliff wrote many of the position papers and political documents that guided that work. Cliff’s death has sent me back to look through the those documents and internal bulletins produced after 1985 and there is a wealth of material from Cliff, much of which bears re-reading today.

Others will write about the books that he is best known for; Coal is my life and Marxism, Ideology and Literature among others. I most often return to a short book he wrote in 1996 titled ‘a New Party for Socialism – Why? How? When?’. He sought to deal with what was is and will be one of the central problems for the left, the question of a new party. Cliff begins the book clearly and simply writing, ‘the working class needs a new party. Why is this idea becoming more and more widespread?’ In 100 pages Cliff sought to give shape to all the arguments around this question and to lay the basis for beginning that work.

In recent years Cliff moved on politically and his close comrades can speak more knowledgeably than I can about his ‘Bonfire of the Certainties’.

I salute a comrade who devoted his long life to the struggle. I send my condolences to his family, friends and comrades. RIP. The photo shows Cliff [second from right] at a WRP rally in 1978.

Letter to Andrew Burgin from Phil Hearse

Dear Andrew

As you know, despite current tactical differences I have immense respect for your determination in the face of personal adversity, and your tireless commitment to the cause of the working class, the oppressed and the Left.

However, your FB obituary notes on Cliff Slaughter, admittedly a first response, are seriously misplaced.

You talk about his role after the 1985 split with Healy and his last-minute turn to oppose Healy’s abuse, and then you talk about his role in the original ‘New Left’ in the mid-1950s, but what is missing is the central part of his 30-year political career as ideological chief prop to Gerry Healy. In this capacity, Slaughter participated in every mad ultra-left and sectarian turn— and justified it.

He fully supported and justified the brutal and insane internal regime. He used his intellectual prestige to back up Healy’s gaslighting of the membership with insanely comical ideas about dialectics[i]. He fully participated in the slanderous and disgusting campaign on Security and the Fourth International (see below), a chronic breach of revolutionary morality.

Slaughter fully supported the WRP’s criminal abstention from the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign and the Anti-Nazi League. He stood and watched as people were stuck at Central Committee meetings, with no objections.

Slaughter jumped ship from the rotten clique of pro-Healy leaders, not as the ship was sinking but after most of it was sunk. He was someone who cannot have been unaware of Healy’s sexual abuse, despite his later protestations. But you had to admire his chutzpah in his 1985 affectation as someone who could help lead the ex-WRP comrades forward. Those WRP members who forgave everything because he opposed Healy at the last minute were naïve. Slaughter finally broke with Healy when it was obvious, he was going down. You don’t need a weatherman to see which way the wind blows.

In 1985 the WRP, after the expulsion of Healy and shorn of its hardcore last ditch Healy defenders, held a meeting at Friends House on Euston Rd to explain all. Key speaker: Cliff Slaughter. He laid most of the blame at Healy’s door, but said ‘we were all to blame.’ But what he never said was that some were more blameworthy than others.

And there was more gaslighting in limiting the discussion to mainly sexual abuse and the internal regime. That was crucially important, but elided over the basic fact that the regime could not be separated from the WRP’s ultra-sectarian politics, its whole political history.

Slaughter’s collaboration with an abusive and violent regime went back decades. Bob Pitt recounts:

“Healy could not have acted as he did…without the support of a whole group of other people around him in the leadership. Healy himself was well aware of this, and made a specific point of involving other leading SLLers in his attacks on political opponents. In September 1959, for example, when two dissidents were visited in the middle of the night and entry forced into their house, he had insisted on taking Cliff Slaughter along because, Healy explained afterwards, it was important to commit people like Slaughter.”[ii] 1959!

The death of anybody who gave their life to the fight for socialism is sad. But the version of socialism that Cliff Slaughter fought for was mired in sectarianism and abuse—abuse of the WRP members and abuse of the rest of the Left. Which Slaughter did not oppose, but actually participated in, until 5 minutes to midnight?

When we have chatted about our respective pasts—yours in the WRP, mine in the IMG, you have said to me ‘well that’s your past, so you would defend it’. In other words, we can all look back decades, and it’s a moot point who was right and wrong. Well I don’t agree. The very existence of the WRP wasted thousands of activists and hundreds of cadres in pursuit of the bizarre fantasies of a cult leader. Its very existence created an unnecessary obstacle for really revolutionary tendencies like the IMG and IS/SWP.

The WRP defended politics which were wrong from its inception, deepening its sectarianism towards the working class and mass movements, and its chronic abusive factionalism towards the rest of the Left. Let me give you examples from my experience.

In 1977, or thereabouts, the WRP organised a meeting at Birmingham University on the theme of ‘Security and the Fourth International’, main speakers Cliff Slaughter and Alex Mitchell. Their case was the disgusting slander that Joseph Hansen, a longtime leader of the American SWP was a GPU (KGB) spy, as was Sylvia Callen, secretary of SWP leader James P Cannon. Also featured was the accusation that leaders of the American SWP, like Jack Barnes, Doug Jeness and Mary Alice Waters, who had all been to Carlton College in Michigan (the ‘Carleton College clique’) were agents.

Key themes in the speeches by Mitchell and Slaughter were that the ‘Pabloites’ – aka the Fourth International – were riddled with KGB and CIA agents. This of course was not an abstract question. The very existence of the Fourth International highlighted Healy’s lack of interest in building a real international movement, as opposed to a minor international fan clubs of tiny groups.  And of course the Fourth International’s existence created opponents on the Left who the Healyites routinely slandered. As it happened, the IMG weas at the time the dominant left tendency at Birmingham University, doubtless a factor in the choice of venue.

This whole campaign was based on a spurious ‘investigation’ written by Mitchell and American Healyite David North, published in 1975. It became the central political campaign for the WRP for several years. Its introduction said:

The findings of Security and the Fourth International constitute an indispensable foundation for the training of Marxist cadre and a powerful material weapon of the World Revolution. The agents which this weapon has already exposed, and those whom it will ultimately destroy politically, represent the spearhead of the counterrevolution. This fact must be grasped by every class conscious worker and youth: all the historically-accumulated instinct of the bourgeoisie for self-preservation finds its greatest level of consciousness in the elaboration of its strategy for destroying the revolutionary leadership of the working class.

This is the writing of a deranged sect. Actually it is a conspiracy theory dressed up as Marxism—other left-wingers differ from us politically because they are KGB or CIA agents, or motivated by them.

So Andrew, when did Cliff Slaughter ever one raise criticisms of this disgusting campaign? Never. He was centrally involved in it.

Let me mention a couple of other more personal experiences. In 1965 I went along to the SLL-YS Young Socialists May Day march the in central London on a sunny Sunday afternoon. SLL/YS organiser Bernie Dianant admonished Keith Veness for ‘kow-towing’ to me, ie talking to me in a friendly way. Since my 16-year old self could not spend every evening in YS activity I had to be struggled against.

The thing that struck me was that there was no one other than us there, literally no one. Because the SLL and YS did not go to the main Saturday May Day march, but had their own. Our cries of Victory to the Vietcong (not NLF) reached a few pigeons on the Embankment. The march was for supporters, no one else, intended to enthuse a couple of hundred youth with red flags and revolutionary slogans. Without them encountering other socialist and working class tendencies.

The same method was in evidence on October 22 1968, when 100,000 people in solidarity with the NLF in London, where the SLL gave out their infamous ‘Why we are not marching’ leaflets. The real answer to the question was that we are not marching ‘because we are a barmy sect with cultish features.’ There is no record of Cliff Slaughter objecting to this policy.

In 1978 when the Anti-Na League was launched, the WRP repeated its VSC stand-off operation and refused to join in. Jack Gale wrote a pamphlet arguing that the ANL over-estimated the fascist threat and was defending capitalist democracy (as if we don’t defend capitalist democracy against the fascists). This was ‘Why we are not marching’ part 2.  As Bob Pitt recounts[iii], almost simultaneous with the pamphlet’s publication Jack Gale was expelled, being one of those used as scapegoats for the lack of newspaper sales.  And did Cliff Slaughter object? To the policy on the ANL? Or the expulsion of Gale and the other sacrificial lambs?

Comrades who are nostalgic for the old WRP/SLL should not be. It did some good industrial work in the 1950s, and later at the Cowley car plant and on the London buses, and got a significant audience through the All Trade Union Alliance.  Its Right to Work marches were marvels of heroic endeavour, carried out by cadres who were clever and inventive. But they were marches for a cause—building the WRP—that was rotten. The Workers Socialist League split from the WRP in 1974, led by Alan Thornett and other Cowley comrades like Tony Richardson, as well as John Lister, showed the paucity of Healy’s grasp of the role of industrial work in developing a revolutionary leadership (at the time a debate about the role of the transitional programme).

Andrew, you sent round a clip from the huge SLL rally at Alexandra Palace in 1974. I was astonished by Healy’s speech, because he said what he actually thought— We are building a revolutionary leadership and when the working class moves into mass action, they will find us here waiting for them, prepared to give them leadership. It’s there, on the record, a completely false and exterior concept of building a revolutionary party. And did Cliff Slaughter object? One word, ever?

Something else I should mention in my timeframe was the 1965 beating of Ernie Tate, selling an anti-SLL pamphlet outside Camden Town Hall, on Healy’s instructions. Sections of the Left like Tribune who publicised this outrage were threatened with libel action and had to retract. At the time Isaac Deutscher was writing about Russia under a pseudonym in the SLL’s Labour Review, but stopped and denounced the SLL leaders he brought to his house to be admonished. And did Cliff Slaughter object to this use of violence in the workers’ movement?

Cliff Slaughter was the joint secretary (with the OCI’s Stephan Just) or the largely mythical ‘International Committee of the Fourth International’. This was mainly a lash up between the WRP and the French Trotskyist OCI and a few mini-groups in support. It never got much beyond exchanges of letters between Slaughter and Just.

At a mass youth rally in Belgium in 1972, the Healy organisation intervened to insist that the key task for youth was the ‘fight for dialectical materialism’. This ridiculous notion was an obvious attempt to provoke a split led to the OC, and was politically insane. And did Cliff Slaughter object? To any of it?

This in turn led to Healy’s bonkers attempts to re-write the Marxist theory of knowledge, and this gibberish became the centre of courses at the party’s training school in Derbyshire. All this was nonsense, as Cliff Slaughter must have known. And did he speak out about it?

I heard lots of rumours over the years that Slaughter was himself the victim of a bullying regime, and that he was ritually humiliated by Healy from time to time. If so, I would not be surprised. It is a typical mode of functioning for a cult regime to beat up (metaphorically) its most significant supporters. Typically in cults, loyalists are victims.

In Clare Cowans’ book, My Search for Revolution[iv], she makes it clear that sexual abuse in the WRP, as well as violence (she was a victim of both) went back years and extended to Healy’s ‘international comrades’.

Bob Pennington used to relate that in the 1960s, when Communist Party general secretary John Gollan used to say the British CP had not known about Stalin’s reign of terror, the Trotskyists replied “Harry Pollitt went to Russia 17 times, how could he not have known?”. Bob Penning added: “Cliff Slaughter went to Clapham High Street 317 times, howe could he have not known?” Well, he certainly knew the SLL had a frightful bullying regime, way outside of socialist norms and proletarian democracy.

Clare Cowen relates how Slaughter popped up at the end of the struggle, and elegantly stuck the sword into Healy when the beast had already been fatally wounded by more junior, rank and file, picadors and banderillos. But better late than never.

A big part of the leadership’s abuse of the membership was the setting of impossible goals and pointless activities, especially the endless sales of the daily press, a ridiculous project for a tiny organisation. This involved huge financial efforts that emptied members’ pockets. The movement took all their time and all their money, making it really difficult for people to have normal jobs and normal relationships. Yes, revolutionaries are often enthusiastic to be active on a daily basis is. But not for ever, and not when pointless activity robs them of the possibility of a life beyond the party. Edward Upward says ‘No Home but the Struggle’[v]. I agree, more or less. But not ‘No home but the party’, especially when the party is very small and its objectives and achievements, as well as its social roots, must necessarily be limited.

Against the WRP, I would of course defend the political and theoretical gains of the IMG. I’m not generally interested in saying my past is better than your past. But when we discuss the past and analyse the contributions to Left and revolutionary renewal, the contribution of the Healy-Banda-Slaughter-Mitchell-Redgrave leadership will be found to be mainly negative.

Redemption for Slaughter would have meant a complete account of the WRP’s existence as a cult and his part in it. Including, but not only, the things I have outlined above. It would have meant him telling the truth of the inside story of how Healy and the core SLL leaders operated.  A ‘rethinking of everything’, without such an accounting, is frankly changing the subject and avoiding responsibility.

With comradely greetings

Phil


[i] An operation with close similarities to L. Ron Hubbard’s ‘Dianetics’. There are many parallels in the lives of Healy and Hubbard. See Bare Faced Messiah, Russell Miller, 1981.

[ii] Bob Pitt, The Rise and Fall of Gerry Healy, Chapter 6, https://www.marxists.org/history/etol/writers/healy/pitt/Chap6.html

[iii] Pitt, op cit chapter 5

[iv] https://uk.bookshop.org/books/my-search-for-revolution-how-we-brought-down-an-abusive-leader/9781838590987

[v] All three volumes of Edward Upward’s Spiral Ascent are downloadable here. http://www.edwardupward.info/spiral.html

A few leaflets from the Spanish State…

May 4, 2021
by

During the 1970s LCR – ETA VI was the section of the Fourth International in the Spanish State- formed out of a 1973 fusion between the Liga Comunista Revolucionaria and a faction of the Basque nationalist movement ETA.

Having members in Britain, LCR-ETA VI supporters put out joint leaflets, in Castillian, with the IMG such as this one calling for troops out of Ireland:

LCR- ETA VI troops out Of Ireland

And this appeal to Spanish state workers parties, organisations and trade unions in Britain:

LCR- ETA VI Appeal To Workers Organisations

These two leaflets call for solidarity with the Spanish revolution. The second, from 1975, is specifically about the five death sentences handed down to Spanish / Basque militants and the Portuguese revolution.

LCR- ETA VI Solidarity With Spain LCR- ETA VI Solidarity With Iberian Socialist Revolution

Thanks to Brian Anglo for this wonderful material.

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