1990s >> 1994 >> no-1083-november-1994

Book Review: ‘Gerry Healy – A Revolutionary Life’

On the Trot

‘Gerry Healy: A Revolutionary Life’, by Corrinna Lotz and Paul Feldman, Lupus Books. 366 pp, £15.00.

The title of this book is a misnomer. Gerry Healy was not a revolutionary, Marxist or socialist Indeed, Ken Livingstone MP, in his sycophantic Foreword, gives the game away when he says that Healy “wanted to find ways of working with the Left in the Labour Party”.

Gerry Healy was born in Ireland where, in 1920, he saw his father murdered by the Black and Tans. He came to Britain in 1928, and joined the Merchant Navy. Some time later, he joined the Communist Party and became a courier for the Communist International. But in 1936, he was expelled from the Party, and dubbed a Trotskyist for questioning why the Soviet Union was selling oil to Mussolini’s Italy as well as Republican Spain. In fact, Healy knew nothing of Trotskyism or Trotsky at that time, although in 1937, after listening to Jock Haston speaking in Hyde Park, he joined the Militant Group, Britain’s only Trotskyist organisation at the time. But within a few months about a third of its members split from the Group, and formed the Workers International League. By 1938, Gerry Healy and his little group adopted the now well-known Trotskyist tactic of “entrism”, and joined both the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party.

By 1938, there were already four different Trotskyist groups in Britain, all claiming to represent the views of the Old Man himself. Healy joined the WIL some time later; and, in 1941, he volunteered for National Service. He was rejected and, for the rest of the war, worked in a number of engineering factories. During this period, Healy and the various Trotskyist groups supported the increasing number of strikes, and were called “fifth column saboteurs” by the Communists.

In March 1944, the WIL and another Trotskyist group, the misnamed Revolutionary Socialist League, came together to form the equally misnamed Revolutionary Communist Party. But, again, it was all to end in tears for Gerry Healy. The problem was, as before, “entrism” into the Labour Party. Jock Haston and a majority of the RCP opposed entry, whilst Healy and a minority were in favour. Some of them, including Healy, did join the Labour Party; the others remained outside. By 1949, the Revolutionary Communist Party had disintegrated. Healy and his group continued their struggle inside the Labour Party until 1959, when they were expelled. They then formed the Socialist Labour League. Each time, Gerry Healy was a large fish in a very small pond.

In July 1973, the Socialist Labour League transformed itself into the Workers Revolutionary Party under Gerry Healy’s leadership. On 1 May 1976, a daily paper, News Line, was published by the WRP. At the 1979 election, the WRP stood 60 candidates; but by the mid-1980s, the Party was in deep trouble; and, following allegations of Healy’s alleged sexual improprieties with female members of his staff, the Party’s recently discovered debts of £250,000, and allegations of infiltration and disruption by MI5, Healy was persuaded to retire from the leadership. By 1988, the WRP was finished. Healy, Vanessa Redgrave and a few others formed yet another party, which they called the Marxist Party; but, shortly after, this also split On 14 December 1990 Gerry Healy died.

What were Gerry Healy’s political views?

He believed that the Bolshevik coup d’état, in Russia in 1917, was a socialist revolution, despite the fact that the conditions for a socialist revolution did not exist either in Russia or elsewhere. After becoming a Trotskyist, and for the rest of his life, he described the Soviet Union as a “degenerated workers state”; and rejected the arguments by socialists that, in fact, the USSR had merely become yet another capitalist state, with all the features of capitalism found elsewhere in the world.

Healy never accepted that the workers must free themselves without the necessity of aspiring leaders such as himself. He believed, just like members of both the Labour Party and Communist Party, that nationalisation had something to do with socialism; and, unlike socialists, he was a nationalist who supported movement such as the Palestine Liberation Organisation and other so-called liberation movements. In all the different groups and parties that he led, he did not accept, or even conceive of, democratic control by the membership. Like many other would-be leaders of the working class, he was, in fact, their political enemy.

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