A little gem today from Sean Matgamna, proprietor of the Alliance for Workers Liberty. As part of the AWL’s recycling policy, which has the happy outcome of putting more of the tendency’s older material into the public domain, we have a 15-year-old critique of the late Gerry Healy. Why Sean feels this to be relevant at this moment in time is a mystery to me, but it does contain a few notable hostages to fortune.
Official “Trotskyism” since Trotsky has been an unstable amalgam of Trotsky’s hostility to Stalinism and reluctant endorsements of Mao, Castro, Ho Chi Minh, and Tito’s versions of Stalinism as deformed expressions of “the world socialist revolution.” Everywhere this “Trotskyism” has been inherently unstable.
There’s something to that, although I don’t think embracing Zionism marks any great ideological progress.
Healy was a highly volatile fellow who tended to believe what he wanted to believe, and ever more so as he got old at the heart of an organisation where his every whim was law. At the centre of a machine where no-one could make him take account of anything he wanted to ignore, Healy slowly went mad — or, if you like, retreated into such a childish, me-centred solipsistic view of the world that it came to the same thing.
Ahem. Well, we’ve seen that more than once…
For example, by the late 1960s the SLL was turning up at 100,000-strong anti-Vietnam-war demonstrations with leaflets asserting that the marches were a conspiracy by the press to boost the march organisers at the expense of great Marxists like Healy!
This is true, the famous “Why the Socialist Labour League is not marching” leaflet has gone down in legend. Nowadays, of course, the British left is much more mature, and pulling off such a madcap stunt – the equivalent, I suppose, would be turning up at a pro-Palestinian rally waving an Israeli flag – would be unthinkable.
Healy concentrated more and more on expounding a pseudo-Marxist, pseudo-Hegelian gobbledygook reminiscent, despite its verbiage about “dialectics” and so on, of nothing so much as L Ron Hubbard’s dianetics, around which the Church of Scientology has been constructed. This stuff mixed oddly with his continuing “political” concerns and the lines were often crossed: it was not unknown for the WRP press to denounce someone as both a police agent and a “philosophical idealist.”
Somewhere on my bookshelf I have a copy of Whither Thornett? by Mike Banda, a small classic of the genre. But again, this sort of thing was never exclusive to the Healy movement although it took a particularly sharp form there.
They churned out crude Arab-chauvinist propaganda lauding Saddam Hussein and Libya’s ruler Colonel Gaddafi and denouncing Israel and “Zionism.”
It’s just as well no current British left group would stoop to producing hasbara for a Middle Eastern government.
He dominated his organisation by uninhibited brute force. The ‘cadre’ of the group came to be the product of ‘selection’— survival— through a never-ending serious of savage sado-masochistic rituals, involving the pillorying, hounding, denouncing, then self-denouncing and self-prostrating at one time or another of most of the hard core. In this way Healy built a machine that was essentially depoliticised, ready like the Stalinist parties for any “turn.” It was a farcical caricature of Stalinism despite its verbal “Trotskyism.”
The sex and violence really is where Healyism was sui generis. But that’s not to say that the content, as opposed to the form, was unique. There is a man on the British left who was once a serial expellee from left groups and later, having accumulated some disciples, became a serial expeller; despite claiming that his group had only a soupçon of centralism leavening its democracy, he turned out to have a pretty short way with dissident comrades. I wish I could remember his name, or that of his group.
Still, it’s all good fun. Takes a swami to critique a swami.