The Method of Marxism

Introduction

 

AS HAS already been mentioned in the introduction, there are many more articles and documents written by Ted Grant than could ever be contained in a single volume. Moreover, a section on the 'Marxist method' could, with justification, have included any or all of these contributions to socialist theory. Whatever the selection made, there would always be some glaring omissions. The three items included do not easily fit into any of the previous chapters, but the editors feel that each one is worthy of inclusion in its own right.

The first item is reprinted from the International Socialist of May-June 1953, and it defends the Marxist view on the question of morality. At that time, with the post-war boom beginning to accelerate, the capitalist class and their ideological representatives in the labour movement discovered a new-found confidence in their system. Right-wingers, writing for example in the New Fabian Essays, sought to demonstrate that the ideas of 'class struggle' and 'capitalist crisis' were no longer applicable to the modern 'welfareist' state. Grant's defence of socialist theory in the field of economics has already been dealt with in Chapter Five.

But the right wing also regurgitated the pompous middle-class philosophy of the earlier, Victorian Fabians, dismissing the alleged 'crude materialism' of the Marxists and basing themselves instead on a more lofty Christian morality. In the golden age that capitalism seemed to promise in the 1950s, it was the middle class, and not least the careerists and place-seekers in the labour movement, who were guaranteed their place in the sun before all others. Many of the latter became senior Labour ministers, before betraying the Party as it moved left.

Having been granted their personal 'socialism', therefore, the philosophers of the right wing were uneasy living with the radicalism of the post-war years and still less comfortable with the memory of the bitter class struggles of the inter-war period. The political 'morality' they advocated, as Ted Grant explains, was in 'reality no more than a 'reflection of their own middle class prejudice; it was shallow, and vague, lacking either consistency or method. Today, unfortunately, the same muddle-headedness characterises much of the political 'theory' of sections of the labour movement. Grant's critique of Richard Crossman's essay, therefore, although written thirty-five years ago, is still one of the most modern articles in defence of the Marxist method and the morality of the socialist movement.

The second item is a document, dictated in 1966, in defence of the basic tenets of T'rotskyism. It was a reply to an Irish socialist, Brendan Clifford, who put the classic Stalinist position, using garbled and one-sided quotations from Lenin to show how Trotskyism was a 'counter-revolutionary trend' opposed to the ideas and methods of 'Leninism'.

Clifford circulated his views inside a small left wing group, the Irish Communist Group. His document was of more than historical interest because the position he adopted was an attempt to justify a Stalinist 'stages' theory of social revolution in Ireland. That would mean that the first task for the labour movement would be to participate - with middle class groups and the 'nationalist' elements within the capitalist class - in a struggle for the unification of Ireland, with socialism relegated to some distant future.

The position adopted by the Trotskyists was that there was no barrier between the struggle to unify Ireland and the fight to transform society, that they were indissolubly linked. The unification of Ireland on a capitalist basis was ruled out, and conversely, the socialist transformation of society would be the basis upon which the unification of Ireland would become a reality.

But the starting point of the Trotskyist position on Ireland was a defence of the general theories of Trotsky and T'rotskyism. The reply to Clifford, therefore, was a broad statement, outlining the early, pre-revolutionary differences between Lenin and Trotsky, and showing how their theoretical concepts compared to the living experience of the October revolution. Trotsky's formulations proved more precise than Lenin's 'algebraic' formula, but in reality both were vindicated by events: arriving at exactly the same position in 1917 after having travelled different paths. After the Revolution, both Bolshevik leaders considered their previous differences to be redundant and they were only dredged up after Lenin's death, by the Stalinists eager to peddle the myth of 'Trotskyism'.

The reply also described the rise of the Stalinist bureaucracy in Russia and drew a sharp contrast beween the 'four conditions' for workers' democracy laid down by Lenin and the real situation as it became in the Stalinist USSR. As a matter of interest, some of the comments made about the attempts by the Russian bureaucracy to introduce reforms in the 1960s have a very modern ring to them. Like Gorbachev twenty years afterwards, Nikita Kruschev tried to move the sluggish Soviet economy forward by giving 'incentives' to managers and by 'de-centralisation' of economic planning - to little effect in the long run.

The final item is the speech made by Grant at Labour Party annual conference in 1983, appealing against his expulsion by the National Executive Committee in February of the same year. The NEC had begun an 'enquiry' into the newspaper Militant, on the urging of the capitalist press and Tory ministers, who goaded Michael Foot, the Labour leader, with having 'extremists' in his party.

The NEC eventually decided to expel the five members of the Militant editorial board the day before a parliamentary by-election in Bermondsey, in South London. As a result of the preoccupation of the Party leadership with attacks on its own left-wing, and the campaign of the media to highlight the divisions in the Party, Labour lost what up to then had been a safe seat. This was an anticipation of the equally disastrous general election result later in the year.

All Five members of the editorial board, Ted Grant, Peter Taaffe, Lynn Walsh, Keith Dickinson and Clare Doyle, were given leave to appeal to the annual Party conference in October. When their appeal speeches were made, contrary to normal practice, the press and TV were excluded. As the transcript shows, there was considerable sympathy among the delegates, easily a majority, against the expulsion. But the big block union votes, controlled by a handful of trade union officials, carried the day for the right wing.

As the Militant argued at the time, the expulsion of the five became the prelude for a wide ranging witch-hunt in the Party and a large-scale shift of policies towards the right. Increasingly, the apparatus of officials has become tied down in keeping dossiers, organising enquiries, closing down Party branches and constituencies and expelling Marxists. Party rules have been modified several times, and even then, bent somewhat, to engineer expulsions.

But it is equally true, as Ted Grant said in his contribution, that those expelled will be back. Whatever may be the subjective wishes of this or that MP, union leader or Party official, there is no power on earth that can stop the growth of Marxist ideas inside the Labour Party.

In the development of a mass Marxist current, embracing thousands and hundreds of thousands of workers, an invaluable role will be played by discussion, education and the study of theory. The best and most class conscious activists must be armed with an understanding of the richness, the breadth and the development of socialist thought. This publication will play a central part in that because it is due to the work of Ted Grant, more than anyone else in the post-war period, that Marxist theory has been defended at the same time as being significantly deepened and extended.

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