[Marxism] Vanessa Redgrave party's unblinking allegiance to Gerry Healy

Fred Feldman ffeldman at bellatlantic.net
Sun May 8 23:06:13 MDT 2005

Of cults and conmen
Vanessa Redgrave's unblinking allegiance to a discredited leader offers
a pointed and topical lesson

Nick Cohen
Sunday May 8, 2005


The fortunes of Vanessa and Corin Redgrave's Peace and Progress Party
were not, I'd guess, of great concern to many on Thursday night. It
fought Birmingham Hodge Hill, Brent North and Michael Howard's
Folkestone and Hythe - and lost its deposits in all three seats. Its
well-deserved obscurity is a pity in one respect only: Peace and
Progress shows what happens to parties when politics becomes a cult. 
It's the successor of the old Workers' Revolutionary Party, which was
notorious in the Seventies and Eighties. The press loved the WRP, not
only because the Redgraves were members but because it was convulsed by
sex scandals. The democratic left despised it because as early as 1980,
it was taking money from Saddam Hussein and spying on exiles from Iraqi
fascism. The trend from the extreme left to extreme right, so obvious
today, was alive and well then. 

In truth, terms such as 'left' and 'right' can only take you so far if
you're trying to understand groups such as the Workers' Revolutionary
Party. They are far closer to the messianic religious sects that obey
the orders of semi-divine leaders. Gerry Healy, the leader of the WRP,
didn't appear charismatic at first glance. He was a squat and ugly man,
who maintained his personal domination by isolating his members from the
outside world and their families. 

Sources of information which might question his teachings were closed
off, and it became psychologically impossible for the acolytes to
realise that the imminent revolution he promised was as far away as

When they went to summer camps, guards patrolled the perimeter and the
inmates spent every waking moment imbibing the thoughts of the master.
Intense paranoia about MI5 agents in their midst reinforced the belief
that the rest of society couldn't be trusted and safety lay in absolute
loyalty to the group. Healy made it harder for members to break away by
forcing them to invest vast amounts of their time in the party, which
would have to be written off as wasted years if they were tempted to

In her autobiography, Vanessa Redgrave described how her six-year-old
daughter Natasha 'appealed to me to spend more time with her. I tried to
explain that our political struggle was for her future and that of all
the children of her generation. She looked at me with a serious, sweet

"But I need you now. I won't need you so much then.'" 

One woman said she barely saw her husband and four children. 'We didn't
think. We were too busy, always busy, and could hope only to catch a few
hours' sleep.' She shook herself out of it when Healy forced his way
into her bedroom. 'Something snapped in me. I guess it was my faith, my
belief. The dream that filled my head and drove me forward now seemed
unreal and reality entered, tawdry, petty, seamy reality. It was as if
everything I believed in was proved, in one revealing second, to be
false, lies. I, my husband, my children, my comrades had sacrificed so
much for this animal.' 

She left but most stayed until 1985 when the tabloids let rip with a
'reds in the bed' exposé of how Healy had abused dozens of women and
stolen party funds. An audit of the books showed that he had taken about
£500,000 from Muammar Gadaffi and £20,000 from Saddam Hussein. Members
described how photographers were sent to picture exiles demonstrating
outside the Iraqi embassy. 'When Healy asked them to make blow-ups to be
delivered to the embassy, one at least had the temerity to refuse and
she quit.' 

Healy was sent off, but what was fascinating was that a handful of
members, including the Redgraves, went off with him. They stuck by Healy
until his death in 1989 and continued to revere his memory thereafter.
Nothing could shake their faith, not the rapes and beatings of party
members or the grovelling before tyrants. 

They were true cultists, men and women who blanked out all uncomfortable
facts. The question which is going to determine the future of Britain is
whether the cabinet is going the same way. 

On the face of it, Tony Blair's third election victory was as 'historic'
as many pundits said. The majority was respectable, very respectable by
the standards of most postwar governments and Tony Blair appeared to
have a mandate to implement his manifesto and pick his own retirement


(The rest of the article is a clumsy, in my opinion, to make parallels
between dead-end supporters of Healy and dead-end supporters of Blair.
The large numbers of the latter compared to the former themselves create
a total difference in the situation, as do the weight of material
interest relative to psychological factors in the latter case relative
to the former. The success of Blair is also a fundamental difference --
the fact that he has been elected Prime Minister of a major imperialist
power three times is not a minor consideration. The same reasons why,
for instance, it would be a mistake to treat Stalinism, the papacy, or
the Nazi party as a cult in the same sense that the Spartacist League or
the US SWP or the fascistic followers of LaRouche or the Branch
Davidians could be considered in some important ways to be cults. The
scale expresses very fundamental social and psychological differences.
And of course, I am also opposed to demonizing cults.  In their real
effects on numbers of human beings, Blair or Hitler or the Catholic
Church or Stalinism were much worse than any of the measly cultish
organizations -- even in psychological terms -- which is why the use of
charges of cultism to justify the slaughter of the Branch Davidians in
Waco were so criminal, even though technically true.
Fred Feldman)

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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