On Thursday, the 14th of December 1989, Gerry Healy, the leader of the Trotskyist movement in Britain for 35 years and a cofounder of the International Committee of the Fourth International, died in London at the age of 76.
His death was only the physical confirmation of what had been a political fact since the time of his expulsion from the International Committee on October 25, 1985. The Gerry Healy who had once fought so ardently for the revolutionary Marxism of Leon Trotsky had ceased since that date to exist.
By the time of his death, Healy had betrayed all the basic Trotskyist principles for which he had fought, beginning in 1937 when he was expelled from the British Communist Party at the age of 24 for having opposed the Moscow Trials of the Old Bolsheviks and the Stalinist betrayal of the Spanish Revolution. After a protracted degeneration along nationalist opportunist lines, Healy broke definitively with Marxism. He died a supporter of Mikhail Gorbachev and an apologist for his program of capitalist restoration.
But it is not only the evil men do that lives after them. While we are not inclined to forgive what Healy did during the final years of his life, we would consider it intolerable to forget what he accomplished in an earlier period. Notwithstanding the fact that the International Committee was compelled to expel him from its ranks and fight mercilessly to expose his opportunist degeneration, it has never attempted to diminish, let alone deny, the political contribution which Healy made over a very long period to the building of the Trotskyist movement. After all, it was not the International Committee but Healy himself who denied his own past.
Healy was neither an incidental nor accidental figure in the revolutionary workers movement. Indeed, when the biography of Gerry Healy is finally written, it will inevitably comprise an important chapter in the history of the Fourth International and the British working class. The contradictions and striking paradoxes of this multifaceted and immensely capable man can only be understood within the framework of the complex and tortured history of the international communist movement.
While the hysterical subjectivists of the present-day Workers Revolutionary Party attempt to soothe their shattered nerves and justify their own betrayals by exorcising Healy from not only their memories but from history as well, they can achieve on the basis of such efforts only a form of pathetic self-delusion. Nothing they do or say can erase the fact that Healy’s political activity, which began only four years after Lenin’s death, encompasses a vast part of the history of the communist movement in the twentieth century. When Healy joined the British Communist Party in 1928 as a 14-year-old Irish working class youth, Leon Trotsky was laboring in Alma Ata on his critique of the draft program of the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. Thus Healy’s political life spanned the degeneration of the Communist International, the catastrophic betrayals and defeats of the 1930s, the founding of the Fourth International and the assassination of Trotsky, the Second World War and the entire postwar period.
The life of such a man is inevitably a concentrated and significant expression of an entire epoch. To study the biography of Healy is to critically examine the essential problems of the Fourth International, with whose development the life of Gerry Healy is inextricably linked. Our aim is neither to condemn nor to justify. “Not to weep, not to laugh, but to understand,” advised the great Spinoza, and this should be our own attitude in assessing the life and struggles, the victories and defeats, the rise and fall of an important figure in the history of the Trotskyist movement.