43 comments on “Denis Healey dies at 98

  1. Karl Stewart on said:

    When someone dies at the age of 98 after a very full life, it’s not a tragedy, but it’s crass, a bit pathetic, and downright wrong in this instance, to say “good news.”

    Healey was a senior Labour politician, yes on the right of the party of the time, but loyal to Labour and had many admirable traits during his life – not least his military service during WWII and also his “squeeze the rich until the pips squeak” call during the 1970s.

    So a bit of respect is in order in my opinion.

  2. Andy Newman on said:

    Karl Stewart,

    Agreed, and among his admirable qualities were “straight talking, honest politics”.

    Recall Healey castigating Thatcher during the Falklands war for revelling in the slaughter, and then defending rather than retracting.

  3. John Edwards on said:

    Denis Healey’s budget of 1976 marked the end of the post war settlement based on the aim of full employment and the beginning of the monetarist policies continued by Thatcher.

    On the other hand we should acknowledge that Healey remained loyal to the Labour Party and never defected to the SDP as he might well have done.

    Does anyone have a source for his promise to “squeeze the rich until the pips squeak”. One obituary I read says this a myth and he never said it

  4. david walsh on said:

    It was actually ‘squeeze property speculators until the pips squeak.’ It dated, I think, from the secondary banking crisis in the mid 70’s.

  5. Healey was reputedly secretary of the Oxford University students branch of the Communist party in the immediate pre war years but left at the point when sections of Britain’s ruling class was still hopeful of constructing an anti Soviet front and before the defeat of Nazi Germany was certain.
    At what point he became an anticommunist collaborator with the intelligence services of either Britain or the US is hard to divine.

  6. He broke from Communism to join the pro-US wing of social democracy.

    He did it subjectively. Quite a few Trotskyists did it objectively. particularly those who refused to line up with the USSR, the PRC and the DPRK when Korea was subject to imperialist assault under the auspices of the United Nations (know what I mean anticapitalista?)

    That tendency may have capitulated to US imperialism in many ways but it did keep Britain out of the Vietnam war.

    Give me Healey (and Wilson) over Blair.

    But give me Tony Benn and Jeremy Corbyn over all of them any day.

  7. Surprisingly, Andrew Rawnsley mentions Healey’s support for the expulsion of the Chagos Islanders so that the Americans could build a base on Diego Garcia. Incidentally, this was in exchange for a discount on the price of Polaris nuclear missiles.

    On a more positive note, Healey fought against plans to upgrade Polaris with Chevaline and later opposed the bombing of Kosovo, NATO expansion and the Iraq War.

    “I don’t think we need nuclear weapons any longer” is what he said a few years ago.

    I am saddened by his passing.

  8. George Hallam on said:

    Nick Wright: Healey was reputedly secretary of the Oxford University students branch of the Communist party in the immediate pre war years but left at the point when sections of Britain’s ruling class was still hopeful of constructing an anti Soviet front and before the defeat of Nazi Germany was certain.

    This seems a bit confused.

    “the point when sections of Britain’s ruling class was still hopeful of constructing an anti Soviet front” sounds the period before the Ribbentrop–Molotov non-aggression Pact (23 August 1939).

    “before the defeat of Nazi Germany was certain” could refer to a number of dates the Soviet encirclement of the 6th army in Stalingrad (22 November 1942), the Soviet winter counter-offensive (5 December 1941), the German invasion of Russia (22 June 1941).

    According to his autobiography Healey volunteered to join the army immediately after Chamberlain’s declaration of war (page 44) but he was only called up a year later. In the meantime he was preoccupied with preparing for finals in his final year, “So I did not finally break with the Communist Party until the fall of France.” (page 46)

    The French government moved to Bordeaux, on 14 June and the cabinet agreed to ask the Germans what their terms would be for an armistice. The Armistice agreement was signed on 22 June 1940.

    Prior to the German offensive (5 May) the British and French were planning to attack the Soviets.

  9. Just seen the news the Henning Mankel, author of the Wallander novels and a member of the Palestine solidarity flotilla that was attacked by the IDF has died of cancer aged 67.

    An interesting character who apart from anything else was a Maoist in his earlier years reflected in the themes of some of his novels, including The Man From Beijing and A Worried Man.

    He used a lot of his money to fund humanitarian projects in Africa.

    One of the good guys I suspect, even though his membership of a group subscribing to the “three worlds” theory put him on the side of the Khmer Rouge. I don’t know the extent tonwhichnhe understood or broke with that.

    Maybe a post about him would be useful?

  10. George Hallam: “the point when sections of Britain’s ruling class was still hopeful of constructing an anti Soviet front” sounds the period before the Ribbentrop–Molotov non-aggression Pact (23 August 1939).

    Hardly confused.
    Sections of Britain’s ruling class still had hopes of turning Hitler against the Soviet Union long after Stalin concluded that the bourgeois democratic capitalist powers were not serious about an anti nazi front and took out a short term insurance policy in the form of the Ribbentrop Molotov pact.
    A full year elapsed after France surrendered (22 June 1940) and Operation Barberossa began (22 June 1941). Bourgeois opinion was that the Soviet Union would collapse and it is hardly credible that at that point the likes of Halifax had given up on their original conception that the British Empire would come out on top and that some kind of rapprochement with Germany would be possible.
    Our present queen’s uncle acted on this assumption and her sisters in law took out an insurance policy with one provider (by marrying Nazi officers). Her husband and their brother, Philip, had already taken out a policy with a different provider by joining the Royal Navy.
    Whilst the British Expeditionary Force was in France facing the german army Britain was supplying state of the art fighter planes to Germany’s fascist ally Finland which was engaged in a border conflict with the USSR.

  11. Nick is mistaken. When the BEF was in France, Finland wasn’t yet an ally of Germany. And while Finland was wrong to form that alliance, it is doubtful that it was ever truly a fascist country. Certainly during the period that the BEF was in France, Finland wasn’t fascist.

  12. RP:
    Nick is mistaken. When the BEF was in France, Finland wasn’t yet an ally of Germany. And while Finland was wrong to form that alliance, it is doubtful that it was ever truly a fascist country. Certainly during the period that the BEF was in France, Finland wasn’t fascist.

    This is close to being a distinction without a difference. Certainly the Finnish leader Mannerheim (Iron Cross, 2nd and 1st class (1918) with 1939 bars (1942) and the Knight’s Cross of the Iron Cross (1942) with Oak Leaves (1944) was a wily enough operator to avoid full incorporation in the Third Reich – although he was offered command of German troops in Finland.
    In 1940 dozen Hawker Hurricanes were transferred from RAF resources to Finland and used against the Soviet Union.
    In 1942 Finland handed Soviet Jews over to nazi Germany along with thousands of Soviet POWs.
    A substantial number of Red Army political officers died in concentration camps.

  13. Andy Newman on said:

    Nick Wright,

    On the question of Healey as a hardened anti-communist, this is certainly true, and he was a key figure in both anti-comminist propaganda in the UK left, and also in polarising international opinion against the USSR.

    Hugh Wilford’s ” the CIA , the British left and the Cold War” details Healey’s key role, where he was well placed as the Labour Party’s international secretary from which position he promoted British security services misinformtion as good coin

    Certainly a political giant, but also a bad pony

  14. George Hallam on said:

    RP: while Finland was wrong to form that alliance, it is doubtful that it was ever truly a fascist country. Certainly during the period that the BEF was in France, Finland wasn’t fascist.

    ‘Fascist’ is an emotive word, so perhaps it’s best to avoid using it.

    However, try finding out something about P. E. Svinhufvud, the Lapua Movement, Suojeluskunta and Lotta Svärd.

  15. “Fascist”, when applied to the internal politics of Finland in late 1939, when the USSR attacked it, is not merely an emotive word. It is an inaccurate word. Although it was not a model democracy in every respect (the CP was illegal), it had a vibrant labour movement, a multi-party system with a large social-democratic contingent in parliament, and none of its top political leaders – Cajander, Ryti or Kallio, were remotely fascist. There was certainly a powerful strain of Finnish national chauvinism within the country, and Finland’s record in occupying Karelia between 1941 and 1944 was brutal. But a “fascist” state with a social-democratic foreign minister (Väinö Tanner) in 1939-40? Hardly.

  16. Francis King,
    I like he suggestion that in banning the Communist Party Finland seemingly just failed to attain the more elevated status of ‘model democracy’.
    Other minor blemishes on its democratic status like sending Jews and Soviet POWs to Germany presumably are mitigated by allowing a contingent of social democratic MPs to retain their seats
    Exactly how fascist does a country need to be. You pays your money, you take your pick.
    here is what George Padmore had to say
    “Hitler certainly knew that Stalin’s attack upon Finland was a defensive move directed against Germany, but, with the French Army and the B.E.F. standing on his western frontier, he could not risk going to the assistance of the Finnish Fascists. It was precisely in order to avoid a major war on two fronts that he signed the pact with Stalin in 1939. Why should he jeapodise it before settling accounts with the Democracies? Knowing the anti-Communist sentiments in the West, he could well afford to leave it to the Western Powers to render aid to Mannerheim (which they did) and perhaps get themselves invoked in a major war in Scandinavia and the Arctic.”

    The social democratic leader Väinö Tanner, of course, was sentenced in 1946 to five years for his role in the anti Soviet military conflict.

  17. Nick, as RP said: “Certainly during the period that the BEF was in France, Finland wasn’t fascist.” That seems to me to be a simple statement of fact. Political pluralism, no charismatic leader, no single-party dictatorship. A country needs to be a lot more fascist than that before it deserves the label. To the best of my knowledge, George Padmore was not an expert on Finnish politics. The passage you cite does not suggest that he was, at any rate.

  18. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: But a “fascist” state with a social-democratic foreign minister (Väinö Tanner) in 1939-40? Hardly.

    It seems that ‘social-democratic’ is another emotional term.

  19. John Grimshaw on said:

    Surely a modern capitalist state can have elements of fascism within it, but not be “fascist”? How do we characterise modern Hungary? As far as I can see modern Ukraine is probably not a fascist state (yet) but does have fascists within it? But then so does Putin’s Russia. Zihrinovsky’s lot got quite a lot of votes last time.

  20. John Grimshaw on said:

    Vanya:
    Just seen the news the Henning Mankel, author of the Wallander novels and a member of the Palestine solidarity flotilla that was attacked by the IDF has died of cancer aged 67.

    An interesting character who apart from anything else was a Maoist in his earlier years reflected in the themes of some of his novels, including The Man From Beijing and A Worried Man.

    He used a lot of his money to fund humanitarian projects in Africa.

    One of the good guys I suspect, even though his membership of a group subscribing to the “three worlds” theory put him on the side of the Khmer Rouge. I don’t know the extent tonwhichnhe understood or broke with that.

    Maybe a post about him would be useful?

    Thanks for this post Vanya. This is a sadness to me. Henning Mankel in the literary sense was a great friend to me over the years. I didn’t know he used to be a Maoist, but I should’ve guessed. But then Stieg Larsen used to take guns to Northern Eritrea/Ethiopia I think, in the 70s.

  21. In the case of Väinö Tanner’s party, ‘social-democratic’ was and is the party’s title. ‘Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue’. One may like that party or not – that is a matter of taste. But the affiliation of Tanner at that time is simply a matter of fact.

  22. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: In the case of Väinö Tanner’s party, ‘social-democratic’ was and is the party’s title. ‘Suomen Sosialidemokraattinen Puolue’. One may like that party or not – that is a matter of taste. But the affiliation of Tanner at that time is simply a matter of fact.

    Getting hung up on definitions is one thing; worrying about the titles that organisations give themselves is something else.

  23. John Grimshaw on said:

    Francis King,

    As far as I can see the SDP of Finland was a normal style social democratic organisation. It only had any political power after 1906 when the mandate was extended, but then weakened after the formation of the Communist Party of Finland. SDP members were imprisoned, tortured or forced to leave for Russia in the 1940s and the Communist Party was illegal until 1944. After the war the SDP became a much more moderate party, but then that’s probably true across “trans-Atlantic” post Marshall Europe.

  24. John Grimshaw,

    That’s about right. I wouldn’t want to prettify the record of the Finnish SDP – or of the Finnish CP for that matter. But the misuse of the label “fascist” to designate any country left-wingers want to justify invading can have dire consequences. The rhetoric of Labour MPs justifying the attack on Iraq comes to mind.

  25. George Hallam on said:

    John Grimshaw: As far as I can see the SDP of Finland was a normal style social democratic organisation. It only had any political power after 1906 when the mandate was extended, but then weakened after the formation of the Communist Party of Finland.

    The Finnish Social Democratic Party set up the Finnish People’s Delegation in January 1918 which functioned as the government of ‘Red’ Finland during the civil war.

    It was defeat in the civil war (February to April 1918). In the repression that followed 73,000 Reds were up into camps where an estimated 20,000 died of disease and malnutrition. There were thousands of summary executions including 50 members of parliament.

    There is a case to be made that it was this repression that weakened Finnish social democratic, not the formation of the Communist Party of Finland which only occurred in August 1918.

  26. George Hallam on said:

    Francis King: the misuse of the label “fascist” to designate any country left-wingers want to justify invading can have dire consequences.

    Agreed.
    But if that is the problem then tackle it directly.

    Sweeping judgements about historical issues on the basis of definitions and labels is no basis for analysis.

  27. Andy Newman on said:

    Francis King: But a “fascist” state with a social-democratic foreign minister (Väinö Tanner) in 1939-40?

    Did not Mussolini’s state have two anarcho-syndacalist ” revolutionaries” in its labour ministry? I cannot remember their names off hand.

  28. Francis King:
    Nick, as RP said: “Certainly during the period that the BEF was in France, Finland wasn’t fascist.” That seems to me to be a simple statement of fact. Political pluralism, no charismatic leader, no single-party dictatorship. A country needs to be a lot more fascist than that before it deserves the label. To the best of my knowledge, George Padmore was not an expert on Finnish politics. The passage you cite does not suggest that he was, at any rate.

    Francis,
    You are correct to insist that regimes should not be characterised as ‘fascist’ simply because they do not find favour with the left. The Comintern characterisation of fascism: Fascism is “the open terroristic dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic, and most imperialist elements of finance capital” works for me.

    However, in true Comintern didactic style we should look at this question dialectically. What tendencies were prevalent. Where was this country heading n the concrete conditions of the interregnum before Barbarossa?.

    Finding social democrats in these conditions willing to govern with bourgeois parties while the Communist Party is suppressed hardly constitutes an admirable form of political pluralism.

    In my book, especially with Mannerheim as the charismatic leader in reserve, a Finland allied to Nazi Germany and fighting a war with the Soviet Union was ‘fascist’ enough.

    I go with Dimitrov again… “Still, fascism may not completely dispense with bourgeois democracy–e.g. banning revolutionary parties or even competing bourgeois parties–depending on “historical, social and economic conditions.”

    I guess George Padmore was expert enough in the political conditions in which he was writing. I have to confess that I quoted him purely in order to inoculate us against any passing daft trot taking an interest in this debate. Padmore being something of a hero to these people but nevertheless still a fairly reliable witness to the times.

    (Finland, incidentally, was not invaded by the Soviet Union because it was fascist but because its was 35 miles from Leningrad and was allied to Nazi Germany.)

  29. Nick Wright,

    Nick – Finland was not allied to Nazi Germany when the USSR attacked it on 30 November 1939. The USSR had a pact with Nazi Germany at that time, Finland did not. Finland turned towards Nazi Germany after the Winter War, when it had become clear that Germany would attack the USSR sooner or later, and collaborating with Germany seemed to represent the best chance of getting back the territory the USSR had annexed. Of course, there could be no innocent alliance with Nazi Germany, and Finland’s record in occupied Karelia between 1941 and 1944 was appalling. But the Finnish-Nazi collaboration was a result of, rather than a cause of, the Winter War. Would Finland have joined in Germany’s attack if it had not previously been attacked by the USSR? We cannot know. But given how quickly after June 1941 the USSR lost the territory it had annexed from Finland in March 1940, I cannot see that the Winter War did the USSR any good, and quite possibly did it a lot of harm.

  30. John Grimshaw on said:

    Nick Wright: I quoted him purely in order to inoculate us against any passing daft trot taking an interest in this debate.

    Daft for taking an interest in this debate or daft enough to bother?

  31. John Grimshaw on said:

    George Hallam: The Finnish Social Democratic Party set up the Finnish People’s Delegation in January 1918 which functioned as the government of ‘Red’ Finland during the civil war.

    It was defeat in the civil war (February to April 1918). In the repression that followed 73,000 Reds were up into camps where an estimated 20,000 died of disease and malnutrition. There were thousands of summary executions including 50 members of parliament.

    There is a case to be made that it was this repression that weakened Finnish social democratic, not the formation of the Communist Party of Finland which only occurred in August 1918.

    Yes George I see that now. The Finnish Communist Party was formed in Moscow in 1918 by defeated left SDPers after the Conservative/White/German repression of the civil war. I note also that the “reds” did their own bit of terror as well. The majority moderate SDPers came to a compromise with the establishment after the civil war and agreed to abide by parliamentary means. Full suffrage was introduced in the same year I think? However I can still see no reason to characterise the Finnish government of this “inter-war” period as fascist, although there obviously were elements within Finnish society who were. But then there were in Sweden for example.

  32. John Grimshaw on said:

    Francis King:
    Nick Wright,

    Nick – Finland was not allied to Nazi Germany when the USSR attacked it on 30 November 1939. The USSR had a pact with Nazi Germany at that time, Finland did not. Finland turned towards Nazi Germany after the Winter War, when it had become clear that Germany would attack the USSR sooner or later, and collaborating with Germany seemed to represent the best chance of getting back the territory the USSR had annexed. Of course, there could be no innocent alliance with Nazi Germany, and Finland’s record in occupied Karelia between 1941 and 1944 was appalling. But the Finnish-Nazi collaboration was a result of, rather than a cause of, the Winter War. Would Finland have joined in Germany’s attack if it had not previously been attacked by the USSR? We cannot know. But given how quickly after June 1941 the USSR lost the territory it had annexed from Finland in March 1940, I cannot see that the Winter War did the USSR any good, and quite possibly did it a lot of harm.

    Sounds about right. Though of course for the Stalin apologists it does raise an interesting question about the nature of the Ussr’s foreign policy and it’s similarity to Western imperialism.

  33. Francis King,

    Francis
    Sure, we cannot know for sure that Finland would have joined the nazi attack on the Soviet Union but . . .context is all here.
    The Winter War started three months after the beginning of WW2 and ended with Finland agreeing to cede a substantial amount of territory. This agreement prevented the entry of British and French troops into Finland – this at a time when important elements in the British bourgeoisie were keen to achieve a rapprochement with Hitler against the Soviets.
    The failed negotiations that — starting in 1938 – preceded the Winter War were predicated on the assumption by the Soviet Union that Germany would attack. Finland’s resistance to Soviet proposals to cede territory, some for a 30 period, must have convinced the Soviets that Finland’s protestations of neutrality in the event a German attack amounted to less than a cast iron guarantee.
    The Soviet attitude may have been conditioned by the reactionary nature of the Finnish state, social democratic collaboration with the ruling elite, the repressive internal regime and the fact that just a few years previously many thousands of Finnish communists and other left wingers had been imprisoned with many dead included a large number of left wing members of parliament executed.

  34. George Hallam on said:

    Nick Wright: Sure, we cannot know for sure that Finland would have joined the nazi attack on the Soviet Union

    This is true, but only in the trivial sense that one cannot know what might have happened if something had been different.

    However, if you’re going to comment on military issues then you need to do your homework.

    In this context this means looking at Finnish war plans.