Tuesday, 15 November 2016

The Walking Red - Ted Knight Returns

The news that Ted Knight has returned to politics after being elected as Chair of the Gypsy Hill Branch of the Labour Party has both shocked and excited Trot Spotters around the country, especially as not many people knew he was still alive. A former leader of Lambeth Council he is best remembered for his role in being found guilty of "wilful misconduct" by auditors and was one of 31 Councillors forced to repay lost interest through a surcharge.

Knight was also renowned for his connections to Gerry Healy's Workers Revolutionary Party and it's predecessor the Socialist Labour League. Knight was expelled from the Labour Party in 1956 for his involvement in the SLL which was a "proscribed" organisation. Knight returned to Labour in 1970 through his meeting Ken Livingstone.

Livingstone, Knight and McDonnell were all involved in the production and promotion of  the newspaper Labour Herald which was printed on the WRP's presses and had a similar political line to Healy on a whole range of issues. Knight and Livingstone regularly addressed WRP meetings over the years until Healy was expelled by his own party for sexual abuse.

Even then Livingstone was happy to to write an introduction to Healy's hagiography after his death, praising the abusive charlatan in no uncertain terms:

Paul and Corinna have been friends of mine for over 13 years. When they asked me to contribute a foreword to their biography of Gerry Healy I was delighted. At a time when political memories are growing increasingly short, it is good that the effort has been made to record the life of Gerry Healy, a revolutionary Marxist who had a massive impact on the working class socialist movement, in Britain and internationally.

The fashionable obsession with the "end of history" is no more than a disguise for jettisoning valuable common experiences and major contributions made by revolutionaries such as Gerry Healy. Naturally this suits those who would like to bury for ever the memory of his unique concept of political work.

I first met Gerry Healy in 1981, shortly after I became Leader of the Greater London Council and was immediately captivated by his vivid recollection of events and personalities on the left. He had recognised the changed political climate which enabled Labour to take control of County Hall, and that we were using the immense resources of the Greater London Council to support those struggling for jobs and other rights.

Gerry Healy saw that it was possible to use the GLC as a rallying fortress for Londoners who were opposed to Thatcher's hard-line monetarism. Contrary to the image spread by his opponents, I was impressed by the non-sectarian approach that the News Line took on the reforms the GLC introduced. News Line's coverage was thorough and objective throughout our struggles. Given we were under siege by the Fleet Street press, it was a relief to pick up the WRP's paper in the morning! The GLC's public relations department usually put the News Line articles on the front page of the daily press cuttings bundle.

The first discussion I had with Gerry Healy made a great impact on me. Coming from a party where long term thinking is usually defined by the next opinion poll, I was challenged by the broad sweep of his knowledge and the freshness of his approach. He knew how to operate in the political present through his understanding of the movement of economic and social forces.

Although we were in totally different political organisations, Gerry Healy always tried to find a point of connection with the world in which I moved. He did this because he wanted to find ways of working with the left in the Labour Party on common issues and principles. But he never laid down conditions. He accepted that there were fundamental differences between us, but they should not prevent us from collaborating against the Tories. It was a refreshing change from the world of intrigues and back-stabbing politics of the Labour Party. That is why I felt happy about speaking at News Line rallies, even though I came under a lot of fire from those like Dennis Healey within my own party.

During the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon, Gerry Healy and the News Line worked with a group of us in the Labour Party to end Labour's silence on the repression of the Palestinian people. In the aftermath of the slaughter of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shattila camps, we succeeded in winning the recognition of the Palestine Liberation Organisation as the sole legitimate representatives of the Palestinian People by the Labour Party Conference of 1982.

Gerry Healy and I both endured great upheavals during the 1985-1986 period with the Tories abolishing the GLC and the WRP torn apart by a major split. We lost touch for a time, but renewed contact a few years before he died because of his work in the USSR. I was happy but not surprised to discover that we had reached similar conclusions about the dramatic changes in the Soviet Union during 1987-1989. Our last meeting in the summer of 1989 was devoted to a long conversation about the significance of perestroika and glasnost. We both knew that the events in the Soviet Union would change the lives of everyone in the world, and especially those involved in socialist politics.

The other area we had a close understanding about was the role of the secret services in Britain. We knew that joint campaigning between genuine Marxists and socialists in the Labour Party was viewed as a dangerous threat by the intelligence services. In particular, contacts between us and national liberation movements such as the Palestinians drew even more attention from the British state.

My own research and experiences have strengthened, not weakened, my conviction that MI5 considers even the smallest left organisation worthy of close surveillance and disruption. Given the pivotal role of Healy in maintaining contact with Yasser Arafat's HQ through the WRP's use of the latest technology, MI5 clearly felt that they had to stop the growing influence of the WRP. I have never changed my belief that the split in the WRP during 1985 was the work of MI5 agents.

It was a privilege to have worked with Gerry Healy. I know this book will give those who did not know him an opportunity to understand his contribution to the working class revolutionary movement.

Of course the WRP has long gone except for a tiny rump around Sheila Torrance who still publish the News Line..daily.

I wonder how long it will be before Red Ted writes for the daily News Line?

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