In the 1980s, fervent - and paid - supporters of Gaddafi were accepted by many as a respectable section of the British left! This article from Socialist Organiser 343, 28 January 1988, tells about it, and the lessons we must learn.
Do you like shoddy thrillers? Try this story, then.
The cast of characters:
A very well-known actress and film star, Vanessa Redgrave.
Her brother, a less well-known actor, Corin Redgrave.
Colonel Gaddafi, military dictator of Libya.
Various unnamed members of the Libyan intelligence service.
The Labour leader of the Greater London Council, later to be an MP, Ken Livingstone.
Ted Knight, Labour leader of Lambeth Council.
Gerry Healy, long-time leader of a quasi-religious sect known as the WRP and lyingly calling itself a Trotskyist organisation which deals in working-class politics.
Steven Miller, journalist and a member of the WRP Central
And many others photographers, accountants, left-wingers in the labour movement, rank and file members of Healy's party.
The story is roughly as follows. Mr Healy's organisation was the biggest organisation calling itself Trotskyist in Britain for over two decades, until the early 70s. In the 50s and early 60s, it was not nearly as crazy politically as it later became, but it was always run like a mini-police-state.
No dissent was tolerated. There was no discussion. From about 1960 the members were mainly young people who were subjected to immense moral pressure and, if that failed, sometimes physical violence. The organisation became a sort of cross between the Moonies and the Scientologists, spouting an incoherent pseudo-Marxist goobledegook. Its politics zigzagged wildly.
As it became crazier, denouncing almost everyone who disagreed with it as 'police agents' or 'spies', the organisation was overtaken by other groups on the left, in the first place the SWP. By the mid-'70s its most important base was in the theatre. It recruited or influenced a large number of well-known players, directors, and managers.
It had started a daily newspaper in 1969, and had all the trappings of a mass party, though it never had a membership of more than a few thousand. By the late '70s it had perhaps no more than 500 members. But it continued in the old lavish style. How?
It was possible because in 1975-6 Gerry Healy had sold the organisation to the Libyan government and secret service. Over the subsequent years he received an immense amount of money, at least a million pounds, probably more. He also put the organisation to doing money-spinning jobs for the vile tyrants who run Iraq, and entered into lucrative relations with other Arab states.
The WRP's press, which in the early '70s had (wrongly) denounced Gaddafi as a 'fascist', now glorified Gaddafi and his regime. It praised Iraq's dictator Saddam Hussein.
And more: Healy offered the information-getting capacities of his organisation, and of the reporters and photographers of its paper Newsline, to his employers. In this capacity the WRP spied on and photographed Libyans, Iraqis, and other Arabs in this country, and sent reports about them back home.
Some of those spied on no doubt paid dearly for it. Newsline publicly justified the execution of 20 Iraqi leftists for the 'crime' of organising politically in the army: one of them had five months previously brought greetings to a WRP conference! The WRP's leading committee decided with one dissenting vote to approve the executions.
Mr Healy provided another service for his paymasters. His formal agreement with the Libyans obliged him (and his organisation) to provide information of prominent 'Zionists' in business, entertainment, journalism and the arts. Here 'Zionist' meant Jew (and readers of the denunciations of 'Zionism' in Healy's press could not but be aware of it). Healy and his organisation spied on Jews for Gaddafi.
Healy's organisation filled the air around them as far as they could reach with 'anti-Zionist' propaganda. The film stars' publicity value was high and was used as part of the operation. The good and important cause of the Palestinians was made part of the circus, used by the WRP as cynically as by their Arab bourgeois paymasters.
But the WRP continued to decline and become more and more cut off from the labour movement. By about 1980 it was an irrelevant side-show.
Meanwhile, Labour's defeat in the 1979 election had led the left wing to go on the offensive in the Labour Party. Tony Benn challenged the Labour Establishment and got the enthusiastic support of the rank and file, 83% of whom voted Benn for deputy leader. At the same time, the Labour left won control of a number of local councils - in the first place Lambeth. This Labour left contained a heavy sprinkling of ex-members of the WRP, shaken out over the years.
The question arose: how would Labour operate in local government under the newly-elected Tory administration? The slump which was to destroy millions of jobs and dampen working-class militancy had only just started. The labour movement plainly had the strength to make the Tories' anti-workingclass programme impossible, by direct action.
But the Labour and trade union leaders were not willing to mount a concerted challenge to the Tories. So in 1979-81 the ball was at the foot of the local government left.
Would they use local government as a springboard for struggle, and refuse to carry through Tory cuts - or would they administer the cuts? That was the real choice, and Socialist Organiser said so at the time. The local government left decided to cut while swearing blind they weren't. They raised rates - that is, they compensated for cuts in central government money by taking money from local working-class people in taxes.
The left was then organised in the Socialist Campaign for a Labour Victory, which published Socialist Organiser. We split on the issue. A minority who were to start Labour Briefing went for the disastrous rate-rise policy which was to lead the local government left, stage by stage, to shameful collapse.
The first test case was Lambeth, where a former leading WRP member, Ted Knight, was council leader. He had left the WRP perhaps a decade before. Knight wanted to go for cuts. The local Labour Party overruled him, at first. Then he went for rate rises, before finally pushing through cuts in April 1981.
The orientation of the left was debated at a series of conferences. At one of these, in early 1981, something not seen for a long time happened. The WRP turned up at a mainstream labour movement event.
A new alliance was being forged: the WRP, the paid snoop and spy of the Arab police states, was getting into bed with the leaders of the local government left.
Soon a new weekly paper was started, Labour Herald. Its editorial board included Ted Knight and Ken Livingstone. Its executive editor was Steven Miller, a member of the WRP Central Committee!
Pumped up with advertising from local government, and able to get 'big name' contributors on the strength of its 'big name' editors, Labour Herald became something of a force on the Labour left. The WRP printed it on terms which allowed it to survive with a very small paid circulation and without a visible network of supporters.
The relationship continued after Ken Livingstone became GLC leader. While Ken Livingstone kissed the Queen's hand at the opening Of the Thames Barrier, he had his arms linked with Gerry Healy, who was kissing a different part of Gaddafi's anatomy!
Labour Herald printed the standard articles glorifying Libya and denouncing demon Zionism. Its cartoons on the Middle East were especially vicious, and are cited as evidence by those who allege that sections of the left are anti-semitic.
The whole thing blew up in October 1985. Mr Healy - now 73 and enfeebled - was expelled by the WRP on charges of physical violence, including rape, against some of his comrades, Those who expelled him must have known about these activities for decades. Labour Herald was one of the casualties of the WRP split.
Of course, it isn't a shoddy thriller but a true story. All these things happened in our own movement and on its fringes. Nobody capable of thinking about politics could have read the WRP press and failed to know that those who produced it were singing for their supper. You didn't have to know that they had a contract to spy on Jews for Gaddafi to recognise that their press was blatantly anti-semitic. The vicious character of the internal regime of the WRP had been the subject of horror stories by exmembers for decades, even when it was still more or less a political organisation.
How was it possible for such an organisation to gain the influence it did through Labour Herald? Why was it not exposed? Why did the normally witch-hunting press keep silent?
It was all done by the libel laws! The Healyites would go to court at the drop of a disparaging adjective. When SO published a little article telling some of the truth about the WRP in response to their incursion into the debate on the local government left as voting fodder for Knight, we were hauled into the toils of litigation with the millionaire Ms Redgrave,
The process cost us thousands of pounds and is still unresolved. The case is still in the lists dormant, because, of course, Ms Redgrave will not go into court with people who will fight the WRP and tell the truth about them.
But it wasn't just the libel laws. The foul politics of the WRP and Labour Herald could get by on the left because they differed only in degree, and not in kind, from the politics of much of the rest of the left. And the left is too often cynical, and willing to live with a high degree of corruption. Ken Livingstone has been able to get away with naked careerism as well as his association with the WRP, which he went into because having 'his own' sycophantic weekly would help his career.
The fact is that bought and paidfor snoops, spies and vulgar apologists for vicious Arab police states could, when they choose, pass themselves off as part of the left and find acceptance there. It's something for us all to think about.
The evidence: report of an inquiry set up by the WRP and its international co-thinkers after they expelled Gerry Healy
The Commission was able to secure a section of the correspondence relating to the Middle East from the files in G Healy's former office.
The documents examined by the commission are seven relating to Iraq, four relating to Kuwait and other Gulf states, 23 relating to the PLO and 28 relating to Libya. The following report bases itself mainly on these documents.
From internal evidence in the documents under our control, it is obvious that much more material must exist, which was'either taken out of the centre when the rump was in control or kept elsewhere.
Therefore the actual amount of money received from these relations and the extent of these relations must be considerably bigger than what we are able to prove in this report. The documents at our disposal clearly prove that Healy established a mercenary relationship between the WRP and the Arab colonial bourgeoisie, through which the political principles of Trotskyism and the interests of the working class were betrayed.
A secret agreement with the Libyan government was signed by (name suppressed in original) and Corin Redgrave on behalf of the WRP (exhibit 5). This was never reported to the ICFI. The Commission has not yet established who in the leadership of the WRP, beyond the signatories, knew of the agreement.
This agreement includes providing of intelligence information on the "activities, names and positions held in finance, politics, business, the communications media and elsewhere" by "Zionists". It has strongly anti-semitic undertones, as no distinction is made between Jews and Zionists and the term Zionist could actually include every Jew in a leading position.
This agreement was connected with a demand for money. The report given by the WRP delegation while staying in Libya included a demand for £50,000 to purchase a web offset press for the daily News Line, which was to be launched in May 1976. The Commission was not able to establish if any of this money was received.
In August 1977, G. Healy went himself to Libya and presented a detailed plan for the expansion of News Line to six regional editions, requesting for it £100,000...
G. Healy lined up publicly with the reactionary forces in the Middle East. During a visit to Kuwait, Qatar, Abu Dhabi and Dubai in March-April, 1979, G. Healy, V. Redgrave, and (name suppressed) met with the Crown Prince of Kuwait, Sheikh Sa'ad, and some of the ruling bourgeois families. The sole purpose of this trip was to raise money for the film "Occupied Palestine".
The trip ended finally by the delegation urging the feudal and bourgeois rulers to censure a journalist of the Gulf Times who had written an article on the real purpose of their visit. The delegation finally received £116,000. In October 1979, Vanessa Redgrave visited Libya and asked for £500,000 for Youth Training (exhibit 9). As of February 1982 the WRP had received "just over £200,000" from Libya for Youth Training (exhibit 10).
In April 1980 a WRP delegation led by G. Healy visited Libya, presenting his redrafted WRP perspective and asking for more money. From March 8 to 17 1981 G. Healy made a further visit to Libya, putting forward demands totalfing £800,000. The Commission found a report in Healy's handwriting of this (exhibit 11).
Money received from the Middle East
The following report on monies received from the Middle East was put together by the Commission from a careful analysis of many documents and cash books. We were told repeatedly that Healy wanted no formal record kept of the money coming in. A full list and graph of what was found is in exhibit 16. A list by year shows the following amounts coming in:
Analysed by country, where it is possible to distinguish, the amounts are+
Abu Dhabi 25,000
Unidentified or other sources 261,702
The Commission was told by both (name suppressed) and (name suppressed) that frequently cash was brought to the centre which would not be immediately banked. Therefore, it was possible for large sums of cash to come and go without ever being recorded.
Gaddafi's foreign legion
What we wrote in 1981
... The WRP is no laughing matter. It is a pseudo-Marxist goobledegook-spouting cross between the Moonies, the Scientologists, and the Jones Cult which committed mass suicide in the Guyana jungle three years ago.
It recruits and exploits mainly raw, inexperienced, politically, socially, and psychologically defenceless young people. It employs psychological terror and physical violence against its own people (and occasionally against others).
It is very widely believed to be in receipt of subsidies from one or more Arab governments, from Gaddafi's Libya at least. Of course there is no public proof of this. But for years, during which its membership has not been more than four or five hundred, it has published a very glossy daily newspaper, Newsline, which has survived despite having only a tiny circulation.
Its relationship to Gaddafi was and is that of a mercenary Hollywood publicity-agent to his client... It also supports and shamelessly justifies the widespread murder of Communist Party members by the Hussein dictatorship in Iraq.
It supports the repression of women, gays, and socialist activists by Khomeini of Iran, whose reactionary Muslim regime it also supports.
Its vehement campaign against Israel and much-publicised support for the Palestinians has nothing in common with working-class politics when it is coupled with crawling, uncritical, cap-in-hand support for the Arab bourgeois regimes who have in the past betrayed the Palestinian masses (and will in the future)...
Today the WRP - the sycophant of Gaddafi and other bloody anti-working-class dictators - is no longer part of the labour movement. Gerry Healy, Cliff Slaughter, Michael Banda, etc. long ago betrayed Trotskyism, socialism, and the working class itself. (And, as a matter of fact, they betrayed themselves too. But that's their business).