The myth of the golden age

Submitted by Matthew on 3 March, 2013 - 3:37

The history of the British Trotskyist movement has largely been written from the viewpoint of the majority of the RCP (the main Trotskyist group in the 1940s). There is a myth of a golden age of the RCP. But it is a myth.

The RCP collapsed in 1949. Its central leader, Jock Haston, quickly evolved to the right, and was involved in the right wing of the ETU for much of its subsequent life.

The minority of the RCP, which was led by Gerry Healy, has had a very bad press. In some ways it is a deservedly bad press. But it is misleading to read the Healyism of the 1970s and 80s backwards into history.

The Healyites were confused, politically very confused indeed. But, for example, they refused to follow the RCP leaders in their position that the East European states were deformed workers’ states. They didn’t have an alternative, and eventually they followed Cannon into accepting the “deformed workers’ state” formula. But they were better than the others.

The only Trotskyist group in the world to support the final totalitarian Stalinist coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948 was the RCP.

Throughout the late 1940s the Healyites advocated involvement in the Labour Party. From 1945 that made very good sense indeed, and the sectarianism of the RCP majority was no golden age.

The Healyites’ regime was always pretty authoritarian, but it did not become the full-scale horror which IS and SWP emulated until the late 1950s or early 1960s. And the Healyites did things. They organised the left. They related to the broad labour movement.

The horror story is told that when the RCP collapsed, and its remnant went into a fusion with the Healy group which had separated from the RCP in 1947 and gone into the Labour Party, publishing a monthly paper, Healy got the leadership although his supporters were a minority, and used the leadership to purge the majority. It is true, and it is a horrible story.

But it had been established in the middle 40s that they could not agree on what to do in the Labour Party. The majority had come into the Labour Party after the RCP collapsed, but their basic attitude had not changed. They remained sectarians, making propaganda in an alien environment rather than trying to organise the left.

For the Healyites to accept rule over their Labour Party work by the old RCP sectarians because they were a majority was never reasonable. I don’t know whether Healy and Pablo had it in mind to fuse and then smash the old majority, but in reality there was no possibility that the call for unity could have answered any of the practical questions about activity in the Labour Party. The Healyites were right to think that the old RCP majority would ruin their work in the Labour Party if they got a chance.

The golden age of the RCP is a myth, and one to which IS and the SWP used to subscribe.

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