Thursday, March 03, 2011

Who Courted The Colonel (and the Colonel's son)?

LSE students say Gaddafi money should be restituted to Libyan people

Socialist Worker photo

IN the Spring of 1976 I packed my flask and peanut butter sandwiches, and set off to thumb my way from the Midlands where I'd been staying, to London, where I'd been invited to the offices of the Workers Revolutionary Party and its publications, for a chat with journalist Alex Mitchell. Later in the day Alex took me over to see the top man Gerry Healy. What they had to tell me was that though the WRP had been in financial difficulties, and had to close its then paper Workers Press along with its London printing operation, it had been having discussions with new friends in the Middle East, who were prepared to help it launch a new paper. Knowing my interest in the Middle East, on which I'd contributed articles before, they wanted me to come and work for this paper.

I didn't need asking twice, and not just because I needed a job. Some years previously the Party leadership had persuaded me to give up a column I'd begun writing in Free Palestine and back out of a speaking invitation I'd received (on the dubious grounds that I'd be sharing a platform with Ivor Montague, an old Stalinist). If the interest in the Middle East that had started growing when the 1973 oil crisis coincided with the miners' struggles had led to a less negative and sectarian response, I was pleased to see it. I had heard that the Party had been contacted by former adherents of Pierre Lambert's Paris-based international organisation, first in Israel and then among Palestinians. I'd not heard much. But if these promising sounding contacts had led to us finding new support for our paper, as well as it paying particular attention to the Middle East, that was fine by me.

The first week I sat down at a desk in what was to be the News Line office I read a BBC Monitoring Service digest saying Libyan radio had reported a delegation from the 'Revolutionary Workers Party' visiting from Britain. There might well be some obscure group with that precise name (Posadists from Paddington?) but Alex had just come in looking like he'd caught the sun, and I could hazard an intelligent guess. Someone saying they were from the BBC 'phoned to ask about the report. Naturally I told them I hadn't a clue.

Then a delegation from Libya arrived, nice warm friendly people, though they were whisked off upstairs to a closed meeting, from which there came a lengthy joint statement that appeared as a two page centre-spread in News Line. Not exactly a secret conspiracy.

Whatever largesse flowed from Libya's oil wealth did not reach the pockets of most WRP members, who continued toiling to raise funds for a daily paper, premises and apparatus out of proportion to the party's shrinking support and membership. To impress the friends, and obtain contracts, the party's new printshop in Runcorn, staffed by dedicated comrades, had to over-invest in what was to become surplus capacity, also purchasing quantities of newsprint destined to take up space and not be used, because someone had told Healy its price would soar.

Gerry Healy got invited to lecture on Marxism in Beirut, and later enjoyed a motor cycle escort when he was in Baghdad. My colleague Jack Gale got to cover the war in Lebanon, leaving me the run of two pages and a Reuters machine, plus perusal of various papers that came in. I eventually got to travel, to Scotland to join a youth unemployment march, and to report the firefighters' strike from Birmingham.

On the News Line, I was told to stop a corner of 'Fourth International news' I'd begun including once a week, just items such as a meeting in Dusseldorf, a demonstration in Sri Lanka, or a new journal launched by our Venezuelan comrades. "Our readers don't want to know about this sort of thing," Alex Mitchell told me firmly. I started to say that, on the contrary, workers, and especially the young, were excited to know that we were part of an international movement, as I had been when I joined as a teenager. No use. I should have realised that when he alluded to "our readers" in a certain tone he wasn't talking about those whose papers I delivered in Brixton.

Alex was sent abroad to cover conferences in Mediterranean countries of parties in which, I guessed, the Colonel had an interest. Our own comrades in Greece and Spain had to take a back seat or not be seen at all.

Having only lasted a couple of years on News Line, and never been a leading party member, or what you might call a "close associate" of Gerry Healy ("arms length" might better describe it ), I cannot confirm or deny more sensational claims about acts supposedly performed for Gaddafi. I was never asked to "spy" on the Jewish community, or I would have pointed out you could consult the Jewish Yearbook in any library, purchase a copy of the Jewish Chronicle at the newsagents, or join a conducted tour of synagogues. Nor have I ever been approached by anyone purporting to investigate such alleged activities.

I do know the WRP leadership channelled resources to a group within the Labour Party, with the paper Labour Herald, including Ken Livingstone and then Lambeth council leader Ted Knight, both of whom were battling the Thatcher government at the time. If that was Libyan money, it could have gone to worse causes (and sometimes did). I also know, from friends at the printers, that they turned out large quantities of Gaddafi's Little Green Book, though what happened to these I don't know. I never saw a copy myself, I don't recall it going on display in our bookshops, and I don't think it ever replaced Volume 38 of Lenin's Works as compulsory reading for the WRP school and Healy's lectures on Dialectics.

An amusing sight recounted by Alex Mitchell was that of Libyans on a plane returning from London, snipping off labels from garments they'd bought, so customs would not know they had been shopping at Marks and Spencer, historically a Zionist-supporting firm. I don't know if they'd be allowed to carry scissors on an airliner today, but Marks and Sparks has a branch in Tripoli these days. On the Western side hypocrisy has continued to surround the Libyan trade. At the height of supposed sanctions my last employer, its CEO a Rear-Admiral, hosted the second Libyan delegation I'd seen, signed contracts, and began sending lecturers out to Libya to run training courses, though they had to change planes a couple of times as British Airways was not going there.

Since then links have considerably increased, of course, as Libya was brought into the fold, and though irate Americans worked themselves up over the Megrahi affair and firms like BP going out to do well for themselves, American business has been just as keen as the British.


Sean Matgamna in Socialist Organiser, followed by the BBC Money Programme, both did exposes on Healy's links to Gaddafi's Gold, but I don't know whether they have managed to keep up with the more recent, and 'respectable' connections. My friend Keith says: "Colonel Gaddafi's son Saif was given a 'doctorate' by the LSE, he subsequently gave a £1.5m 'grant' to them. The Oxford University Press even printed his thesis, The Role of Civil Society in the Democratisation of Global Governance, probably encouraged by Saif's proposal to purchase 20,000 copies himself. The publication has now been put on hold, before they were able to complete the transaction. As to whether OUP now has 20,000 copies stored somewhere of a thesis now thought to be largely plagiarised, it doesn't reveal".

Oh no, not another Little Green Book saga ?! I suppose as Brent TUC assistant secretary I could enquire at the OUP in Neasden, but don't think we want to be lumbered with them even to give away as Christmas prezzies.

That venerable institution, the London School of Economics, has been embarrassed by attention drawn to its dealings with the Colonel's regime, and apparently they did not just take his money.

Andrew Coates, writing on Facebook, notes that Anthony Giddens the former director of the LSE, and noted theorist of the Third Way, has been in a spot of bother (More Here). Baron Giddens, as he became, made a trip to Libya in 2007 to discuss 'democracy' with the Colonel, observing afterwards:

“If Gadafy is sincere about reform, as I think he is, Libya could end up as the Norway of North Africa.”

As one-party states go, Libya is not especially repressive. Gadafy seems genuinely popular. Our discussion of human rights centred mostly upon freedom of the press. Would he allow greater diversity of expression in the country? There isn’t any such thing at the moment. Well, he appeared to confirm that he would. Almost every house in Libya already seems to have a satellite dish. And the internet is poised to sweep the country. Gadafy spoke of supporting a scheme that will make computers with internet access, priced at $100 each, available to all, starting with schoolchildren.

Will real progress be possible only when Gadafy leaves the scene? I tend to think the opposite. If he is sincere in wanting change, as I think he is, he could play a role in muting conflict that might otherwise arise as modernisation takes hold. My ideal future for Libya in two or three decades’ time would be a Norway of North Africa: prosperous, egalitarian and forward-looking. Not easy to achieve, but not impossible.


Who is His Lordship?

Many people who studied sociology in the 1970s and 1980s began with a foundation course based around Gidden’s Capitalism and Modern Social Theory. An Analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber. This was a solid, if somewhat summary, overview of the bases of contemporary social thought – a seen through the ‘founding fathers’.

A Contemporary Critique of Historical Materialism (1981) followed. This attacked Marxism as a dogmatic mono-causal theory. In place of economic determinism we should pay attention to a multiplicity of social antagonisms, from class to sexuality to state and social power. It outlined an overall left agenda for social advance, bringing Giddens close to radical socialism on some issues. He developed his own ‘structuration’ theory, which is basically a conceptualisation of everything agreeable to left-of-centre sociologists that has ever been said about structure and agency. By the time of the 1995 Second Edition and the Fall of Communism Giddens dropped socialism (or ‘the cybernetic model of socialism’) altogether. He began to talk of being “beyond left and right”.

Third Way.

In the rest of the decade Giddens developed the theory, and policies, of the Third Way. There was no alternative to capitalism, only different ways of managing it. Social democrats backed equality and social justice within this framework. They should modernise society (welfare reform onwards) and help everyone ’pilot’ their way in the age of globalisation.

Tony Blair appeared to endorse this approach. In practice, Blair’s leadership was used to turn the outward practice of the Labour Party into a form of Christian Democracy (favouring social solidarity and market economics). Giddens’ own influence has left little ideological imprint. I wonder if even the author read Over to You, Mr Brown – How Labour Can Win Again (2007).

Giddens was beguiled by Gaddafi. He illustrates that the ability to willingly let the wool be pulled over one’s eyes is not confined to the left. ‘Tends’ ‘Coulds’ and ideal futures apart the fact that he could not see the basic character of the regime speaks volumes about Giddens The creatures that have found progressive radicalism in Islamism are paralleled by this state intellectual who discovered the merits of the Green Book State and its Great Helmsman.

Some say that there is no stupid idea that some intellectual somewhere has not come to support (as Karel Čapek observed in the War of the Newts )."

I believe we have seen this talk of a 'third way' that is "neither right nor left" before, and it was far more deadly in Europe than with Colonel Gaddafi.

It is reported today that a top man at LSE has resigned, in advance of an inquiry by Lord Woolf into the School's links with Gaddafi.

I do hope this inquiry will consider all LSE links with foreign dictatorships, and the more widespread practice among academic institutions, encouraged I believe by HM government, of pursuing contracts for courses for various unpleasant regimes. But I fear I am going to be disappointed and that once again it will be hypocrisy that prevails.

Meanwhile, as the latter-day WRP and miraculously surviving News Line urge the Libyan masses to rally to the side of Muammar Gaddafi against imperialism, I offer this little extract, from an item by Joe Murphy in the London Evening Standard about a shooting party, and dedicate it to the "conspiracy" buffs in some quarters who have been blaming "the Rothschilds" for the Colonel's little difficulties :

"The weekend took place in 2009 at Waddesdon Manor, the Buckinghamshire home owned by financier Jacob, 4th Baron Rothschild.
"Saif al-Islam Gaddafi was a guests of financier Nat Rothschild and Lord Mandelson, the former business secretary who was virtual deputy to Gordon Brown. The peer and Saif are said to have got on well and met again at the Rothschild holiday home in Corfu..."

While you're getting your head around that, have a thought for another family facing a dilemna.
In September 2009, Prince Andrew, the Duike of York, flew into Algeria to open a new British embassy there. While he was there, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi also paid a visit, and the two men stayed in the same compound, and had much to discuss. Now Labour's shadow justice minister Chris Bryant has had the audacity to suggest that Andrew should lose his job as a trade envoy. Speaking in the Commons, Bryant said: "Isn't it increasingly difficult to explain the behaviour of the UKTI (UK Trade and Investment) special ambassador for trade, who is not only a very close friend of Saif Gaddafi, but is also a close friend of the convicted Libyan gun smuggler Tarek Kaituni?"

Considering the hardware Britain has been selling to Gaddafi, such as sniper rifles, I would have seen no difficulty in explaining Andrew's behaviour or his value to the Department.

But with the freezing of Libyan assets, including presumably Saif (as houses?) £10 million mansion in Hampstead, think of the Windsors now having to decide if Andrew's friend should still be invited to the nephew's wedding.

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At 12:50 PM, Blogger Jeremy Green said...

We used to have a copy of the Green Book. I think it came in three volumes.

At 9:16 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well Charlie, you still don't seem to have fully got your head around the WRP-Libya thing, it seems. Of course, you're absolutely right to condemn the LSE travesty (maybe you might also look at what Oxbridge does with Saudi and Russian oligarch money too) and top marks for finding the Rothschild-Mandelson thing,a good attempt to cloud the issue. But none of these (even if the LSE did have a lecturer espousing a 'third way' type of socialism) have, to my knowledge, claimed to be the vanguard leadership of the historic social movement of the international working class in the way that the WRP and its Labour Party proxies did (you included at the time I believe). I think even a work like 'Their Morals And Ours' would have to be stretched beyond recognition in the interpretation to cover what was involved in the Libyan operation, (I haven't even begun on Iraq). Vanessa would have some tales to tell, but I doubt that she will now. Let's just recall the Marxist position on Bonapartism, about which Trotsky wrote a word or two. Even if the money came with no strings (we can allow ourselves the daydream that Healy was principled can't we?) and was put to good causes, it was money given by a Bonapartist tyrant who had already killed and tortured many Libyan workers and oppositionists by the 1970s and 1980s, facts on the public record. You have still to discuss the awkward reality that the Runcorn printshop printed a paper for Gaddafi, which promoted his politics and which was distributed, along with NewsLine, free on Libyan Airlines planes, or was that merely a 'commercial contract job'? Can we apply the bare rules of capitalist enterprise to all of that, do you think? Don't you remember visitors from Libya beeing shown around WRP buildings in various parts the country and WRP cadres having to drag everyone available in to make it look as if the Party was bigger than it actually was? This is not the place to trawl back over the publications of the WRP to see what was said, by the Party itself, on Gaddafi, but it might make uncomfortable reading. People like us, who came from that tradition, have to make a full and no holds barred critique of what was done. We can return to the LSE and Mandelson another time.

At 2:58 PM, Blogger Charlie Pottins said...

I did not say Libyan money "had no strings attached". I instanced ways in which adaptation to Libyan or other influences affected what we could say in the paper and in the comrades having to sustain a burden of premises, apparatus, etc - the buildings you mention Libyan visitors being shown around.
I don't know if anyone in the Labour Party whom the WRP assisted claimed to be in "the vanguard leadership" of the working class, nor whether it adds anything to our understanding of the Libyan regime to denounce Gaddafi as a "Bonapartist tyrant". The term Bonapartist in Marxist use applied to a particular phase and type of dictatorship which balances between opposing classes, or by extension, power blocs. Gaddafi might have belonged in that category along with Nasser, etc, but if you are focussing on repression of workers "reactionary" might do. It is a pity these Libyan workers only get a mention in polemics against Healy. Were their cases raised more widely? Did anyone campaign on their behalf?
You say you "haven't even begun on Iraq". Nor did I, since I was only talking about Libya, not writing a history of the WRP's degeneration.
I have written about Iraq before.
As you say, "Vanessa would have some tales to tell". I'm sure she would, though whether she would understand their significance, I doubt. As you know, the Redgraves sided with Healy to the last, when the majority of the party had condemned both his abandonment of principles and his treatment of party members and others.
I fail to understand (or to "get my head round") how you can remember what News Line said or who visited premises back when, but have forgotten or missed the upheaval in 1985-6 when Healy was sent packing and everything came up for examination. (That was incidentally when I rejoined the WRP).
But any "discomfort" occasioned by reading old articles is outweighed by respect for the way comrades were prepared to examine and criticise their own party and its rightness - something other tendencies on the Left never seem to do.
It is more than outweighed by pride that the small Workers Press WRP (not to be confused with the present News Line caricature WRP) was able to negate the past, and punch above its weight on some issues, as when it supported comrades from Namibia and South Africa, fighting the racist regime, and welcomed them to speak out against crimes committed by the bourgeois nationalists and Stalinists, which the liberal press and others on the Left preferred to ignore.
- When it launched Workers Aid to Bosnia.
- When through the International Trade Union Solidarity Campaign it established links with workers in several countries, and some in exile, like Iranian trade unionists opposing another regime which Gerry Healy and co. refused to criticise.
The WRP is no more, but the struggles go on. I am not just engaged in the fight against the cuts but in campaigning for Iranian political prisoners, something which not only conflicts with the legacy of the late Gerry Healy but some of the live opportunists posing as the Left today.
I don't know who you are, or what part you played in that "tradition" which you claim. You seem better informed than me, yet unaware there has already been a good deal of "no holds barred" criticism of "what was done", and of what was not done -like building the international in which we claimed to believe.
But that criticism and examination of our history can only make sense and be of value if it is from the standpoint of the class struggle in which we are engaged today. It can help us to avoid further pitfalls, but not if it becomes an obsession and obstructs us from moving forward or even keeping up with events.
You say "we can return to the LSE and Mandelson another time", I say no, we have not got unlimited time, the time is now!


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