This rejection of revolutionary Marxism at the most fundamental level found its most egregious expression in a campaign launched in November 1979, entitled “Thatcher Must Talk to the PLO!” Thousands of petitions were distributed to party members who were obliged to circulate them throughout the workers’ movement. For several months this campaign was publicized in the News Line. A number of things should be said about this campaign.
First, it exposed the opportunist character of the WRP’s relations with the PLO. What was initially depicted as a revolutionary alliance between the Palestinian masses and the proletariat of an advanced capitalist country was, in fact, a marriage of convenience in which the WRP agreed to serve as a middle man between the PLO and the British government, using the WRP’s influence in the workers’ movement to exert pressure on the Thatcher government. Second, it showed that Healy, in personally conducting the work in the Middle East, acted not as a spokesman of the revolutionary proletariat in Britain but as a “man of influence” and useful client. Rather than warning the PLO leaders of the dangers and futility of an orientation to the British bourgeoisie, Healy placed his party at the service of their illusions. In the process, he fortified the confusion of the PLO and disoriented the WRP cadre and a section of the working class.
On November 9, 1979, the WRP Political Committee published a statement which was reprinted as a leaflet for mass distribution. It stated: “The government must open negotiations with the PLO to secure a just settlement for the right of the Palestinian people to establish an independent state in their homeland.”
To involve the WRP in a political campaign along these lines amounted to a complete betrayal of the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination. What “just settlement” could be achieved under British imperialism? What Healy actually had in mind is indicated in the phrase “an independent state in their homeland.” In imperialist diplomacy as well as in revolutionary politics every word counts—and the political content of this formulation is what is known throughout the world as United Nations Resolution 336. This language implied a political settlement with Zionism, in which the historic partition of Palestine is accepted, the Palestinians are denied the right to return to and enjoy sovereignty in all parts of their homeland, and are restricted to a ghetto-state under the guns of imperialism.
The statement went on to agree with Arafat’s claim that Britain “has a great moral and historical responsibility...to make good her past mistakes.” The WRP statement then catalogued the crimes of British imperialism since the Sykes-Picot treaty of 1915—while suggesting that this foul record could be corrected on the basis of appealing to Thatcher’s conscience and urging her to talk to Arafat.
Speaking as class collaborationists who are attempting to Strike a bargain, the WRP Political Committee said the following: “It is now a stark reality that there can be no peace in the Middle East without Palestine, and there is no Palestine without the PLO. Today the PLO is recognized by more countries in the world than Israel. It is recognized by the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organization of African Unity, and the Non-Aligned Movement.”
Presumably the WRP Political Committee wanted to join this company and reassure everyone that it now believed that “peace” could be achieved through negotiations with imperialists.
This entire campaign carried with it the most reactionary connotations. In serving as the emissary of the foreign policy of the Palestinian nationalists, the WRP leadership was also clearing the way for class collaboration in Britain itself. If it is correct to demand that Arafat meet with Thatcher over the fate of Palestine, why shouldn’t the TUC bureaucrats meet with the Prime Minister over the fate of the trade unions? Such is the counter-revolutionary logic of the WRP’s abandonment of the heritage of Trotskyism. The Transitional Program had specifically rejected the politics upon which the WRP’s petition campaign was based:
“The workers of imperialist countries, however, cannot help an anti-imperialist country through their own government, no matter what might be the diplomatic and military relations between the two countries at a given moment. If the governments find themselves in a temporary and, by the very essence of the matter, unreliable alliance, then the proletariat of the imperialist country continues to remain in class opposition to its own government and supports the non-imperialist ‘ally’ through its own methods, i.e., through the methods of the international class struggle (agitation not only against their perfidious allies but also in favor of a workers’ state in a colonial country; boycott, strikes, in one case; rejection of boycott and strikes in another case, etc.).” (p. 35)
The relevance and applicability of this policy is not in the least affected by the fact that the PLO is not a government. The same principle is in operation in dealings with a national liberation movement, and the WRP, which was no longer operating with a class compass, had completely betrayed it.