Tuesday, 22 February 2011

The embarrassment and dangers of strange bedfellows

Those of us of a certain age will remember the WRP of the 1980's with a mixture of horror and humour:

In many respects it was a nightmarish  parody of a wannabe revolutionary organisation - complete with their  'Marxist College of Education' where its  full-timers could learn the use of small arms and short-wave radios - and the monstrous leader Gerry Healy with his coterie of celeb hangers-on and harem of young female members subjected to a revolutionary 'droit de signeur' - in fact a leadership cult much  like the corrupt gurus of a sixties.

But most of all it brings back memories of the party's  slavish admiration of Gaddafi's regime  and his 'green book'  pseudo-theory of third way Arab radical nationalism. 

To quote a WRP congress resolution of 1980: "the Workers Revolutionary Party salutes the courageous and tireless struggle of Colonel Gaddafi whose Green Book has guided the struggle to introduce workers' control of factories, government offices and the diplomatic service, and in exposing the reactionary maneuvers of Sadat, Beigin and Carter... We stand ready to mobilize the British workers in defense of the Libyan Jamahiriya and explain the teachings of the Green Book as part of the anti-imperialist struggle."

Not surprising at the time the WRP's extraordinary feat of producing a daily colour newspaper - The Newsline - was attributed to funding by Gaddafi. More sinisterly there were also rumours of Newsline photographers sending Libyan security services pictures of dissidents on demonstrations in London.

Partly for this reason, and partly because of the details about the party regime revealed at the time of their very acrimonious and very public split in 1985 the WRP became something of a laughing stock on the  Left.  

But there were all too real dangers too: Healy was a monster and it was simply  good luck that he was only in the position of leading a small political sect - he would have been equally qualified to  head up some horrible regime in a deformed workers' state.

But most importantly the story of the WRP show the  propensity of some so-called Marxists to grasp onto the most unlikely and dangerous sources of inspiration. Theirs' wasn't the first instance of this - and it won't be the last -  Castro, Ho Chi Minh, Saddam  have all fulfilled this role - as has guerillaism,  'third-worldism',  various nationalisms and most recently radical' Islam.. all in the name of anti-imperialism.

Ultimately I can only think that this phenomenon is born of desperation in dark times of political downturn and defeat - and a lack of confidence that the working class has the ability to re-assert itself politically.  But whatever comes out of the current events in Libya is testament to that ability. 

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