The Unbroken Thread

Introduction

 

THE PURPOSE of this book is twofold. It is, firstly, to show that the modern ideas of Marxism have their direct roots in the working out of ideas in the previous period. Secondly, it is to show the central and unique role played by Ted Grant in the development of these ideas since the death of Trotsky in 1940.

Ted Grant was born in Germiston, near Johannesburg in South Africa. At the age of eleven, he was introduced to the writings of Bernard Shaw, HG Wells, Maxim Gorky, Jack London and others by Ralph Lee, a member of the Communist Party and a friend of the family. Within a short time, the reading material graduated on to the works of Marx, Engels and Lenin, so that by the time he was fifteen, Ted Grant was a confirmed Marxist.

His association with Trotskyist ideas began with the critique that Trotsky made of the Sixth Congress of the Communist International, in 1928. By a bureaucratic oversight (much regretted by the Stalinists later), Trotsky's criticisms were circulated to delegates. Some American communists smuggled copies out after the Congress and began to organise the distribution of Trotsky's writings, using, among other means, the paper they founded, The Militant.

"I think it was in 1928 or 1929", Ted Grant recalls, "when the American Militant was sent to radical bookshops in a number of different parts of the world, and a few were sent to Johannesburg. They published all Trotsky's criticisms of Stalinism, including his analysis of the aborted revolution in China in 1925-27. We used to wait eagerly for the arrival of each new batch of papers. We read them avidly from cover to cover, especially the writing of Trotsky himself. These contributions made an enormous difference to our understanding."

Within a few years, Ralph Lee was expelled from the Communist Party and he, Grant and another supporter, Murray Gow Purdy, formed the Workers' International League in South Africa. They regarded themselves as a left opposition to the Stalinist leadership within the Communist Party, as did all the newly-formed Trotskyist groups throughout the world. The WIL around this time organised a strike of black laundry workers in Johannesburg.

In this period, however, the black proletariat was far smaller, with less social weight, in comparison to the situation that developed after the war. It was understandable, therefore, that South African Trotskyists should have looked for inspiration to the many-millioned working class movement in Europe, with its mightier organisations and longer traditions. Not long after Hitler came to power in Germany, in mid-1933, Ted Grant left South Africa, as he put it, for 'broader horizons' in Europe.

The small South African group had already corresponded with the Trotskyist movement in Britain, regularly receiving Red Flag, its newspaper. Travelling with another supporter of Trotsky, Sid Frost, Grant went by boat, first to France, then on to London. While they stayed in Paris for a week or two, they met and discussed with Leon Sedov, Trotsky's son and a key organiser of the international Trotskyist movement.

In Britain, Grant joined the Independent Labour Party, but only briefly, and then the Labour League of Youth, the youth section of the Labour Party. With other Young Socialists, he was very prominent in the day-to-day struggles against the Mosleyite blackshirts, including the famous battle of Cable Street.

In 1938, Ralph Lee also came to Britain, and with Grant and others formed a Trotskyist group, once again calling it the Workers International League. Lee was a talented speaker and writer, but within two years returned to South Africa, largely for personal reasons. The continuity of Ted Grant's own political work was saved around this time by 'good fortune': called up in 1940 to serve in the Pioneer Corps, he unfortunately suffered a fractured skull in an accident, and was invalided out of the Forces, without ever having donned the khaki.

The Workers' International League was a marked success in wartime conditions, its theoretical leadership mainly the work of Grant. By 1944, the WIL took over the remnant of the Revolutionary Socialist League, another smaller group, to form the Revolutionary Communist Party. The RCP continued the success, especially in the recruitment of industrial militants. So much so that the War Cabinet was supplied with a secret memo from the Labour Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, outlining the policies of the RCP, and giving brief biographies of its leaders, including Ted Grant. Although it was not carried through in the end, it is clear that the capitalist class was seriously considering banning the RCP.

Unfortunately, the marvellous momentum of the wartime work was not reflected in the fortunes of the RCP afterwards. This is not the place to give a history of British Trotskyism, but without going into all the background and the causes, it is enough to know that the RCP broke up in 1949-50. Suffice to say that this was in large measure due to bureaucratic interference and outright manoeuvres by the leadership of the Fourth International, of which the RCP was a part.

The International leaders had never been capable of facing up to and explaining the new situation that arose after the war. It was only Ted Grant who had come to terms with developments and described them in Marxist terms. By the time of the demise of the RCP, Ted Grant was the dominant theoretical force within British Trotskyism, and, as the extracts in this volume show, a hundred times more correct than the alleged theoreticians of the International.

After the RCP disintegrated Grant continued to put forward a Marxist view in a variety of journals and magazines. He was editor of The International Socialist, a theoretical magazine, and later editor of the paper, Socialist Fight. 'When that was coming out duplicated,' he recalls, 'I was doing most of the work for it myself. I wrote most of it. I typed it once, proof-read it and typed it again to justify it (adjust the type to fit evenly between the margins). I even had a hand in working the duplicator from time to time.'

In 1964, he was one of the founders of the newspaper Militant, still going strong, twenty-five years later, as 'the Marxist voice for Labour and Youth'. As political editor of the Militant he has written regularly on all major political questions, as well as contributing to Militant International Review, writing pamphlets and documents, and giving countless speeches and lectures.

Because of the growth in support for the paper, the leadership of the Labour Party began to expel its supporters, beginning with the editorial board, in 1983. After having rejoined the Labour Party in 1950, with thirty-three years continuous membership, Ted Grant was expelled. But to expel the 'head' of a movement, is not to expel the movement itself. The political work of half a century cannot be erased by a flash of the block vote. The fruits of fifty years of work, of an unrivalled contribution to socialist theory are there to be seen: in the development of a Marxist tendency deeply rooted in and inseparable from the labour movement. Political parties, tendencies and individuals, cannot be judged simply by the formal position they happen to adopt at any one point in time. Even the most limp-brained 'theoretician' can stumble upon a correct idea once in a while. It is better to judge a theory or a set of ideas dialectically, in other words, to examine them in the process of their origin, formation and development.

It was not for sentimental reasons that Lenin and Trotsky urged young comrades to respect the traditions of the socialist movement. It is because in the traditions lie the distilled conclusions of all the theoretical debates and discussions of decades, made sharp by the living experience of the working class. Many young workers today, for example, will take for granted, 'assume', the correctness of certain theoretical concepts, analyses and political methods. Even much of the terminology, the 'jargon' of Marxism, which is more exact and meaningful (as befits a science) than that of the trendy and superficial political sociologists of capitalism, is taken for granted.

But this Marxian theoretical tradition, so often taken as read today, did not appear from nowhere; it had to be fought for. It had to be established and consolidated against all the illusory ideas, the opportunism and ultra-leftism that pervaded the working class movement, including the so-called Trotskyist movement, after the war. And in creating that theoretical tradition, in carrying on the development of Marxism in an unbroken thread from the work of Leon Trotsky, there has been no greater contribution made than that of Ted Grant.

For four decades since the end of the war - nearly five since the death of Trotsky - Grant has defended the method of Marxism against all kinds of alien ideas. What makes this achievement all the more remarkable is that this has been a period, for the most part, of economic upswing and political reaction, at least in the advanced capitalist countries. In the hey-day of the post-war boom, it really did seem to many that capitalism had learnt to overcome the crises and class struggles of the past. The forces of genuine Marxism were reduced, literally, to a handful in one part of the globe. The Stalinist parties became ever more degenerate. The former 'Fourth International' became a circus of middle-class sects, prey to opportunist and ultra-left influences.

It is to one person alone that the credit must go for the maintenance and development of Marxist theory in this most difficult period. Through having an international perspective, and anticipating the limitations of the boom, it was possible to retain complete confidence in the working class and the future of socialism. This, combined with an unbreakable will, ploughed the ground for the later period when the forces of Marxism have been able to grow from tens to tens of thousands. Support for these ideas has spread not only in Britain, but internationally.

In Britain, Militant has established Marxism, which in its modern form is Trotskyism, as a bona-fide current of opinion in the labour movement. Stalinism has for decades besmirched the genuine heritage of Marx and Lenin and has thrown up clouds of confusion and doubt in the minds of active workers. More recently, the traditions of Leon Trotsky have been dragged in the mud by a bewildering variety of middle-class ultra-left groups, most of whom have as much connection with workers as with the man in the moon.

But clearly distinguishing themselves from the Stalinists on the one hand and the middle-class 're-re-revolutionaries' on the other, the supporters of Militant have worked to build an increasingly significant base of support for their ideas in both the Labour Party and the trade unions. This has been done by debate and discussion, patiently explaining their views with a battery of facts, figures and arguments. Personal attacks, sneers, physical threats, intimidation, stunts: notwithstanding the lies of the capitalist media, these have no place whatsoever in the methods of political work instilled by Ted Grant into Militant supporters.

The leaderships of the various unions and the Party - not being able to answer argument and debate - have frequently resorted to organisational measures to rid themselves of the Marxists. In the climate of witch-hunting that presently prevails inside the Labour Party, supporters of Militant are being expelled quite blatantly for their ideas. But these expulsions and restrictions will be in vain. Already, the Militant has come to represent a powerful Marxist current in a number of the major trade unions and in the Labour Party and it will not be possible for the ideas of the paper to be separated from the labour movement. On the contrary, these will be the ideas of the majority in the future.

The frustration of the witch-hunters arises out of their inability to answer the ideas of Militant. The paper has built for itself a reputation of solid attachment to political theory, its supporters taking seriously all the international, historical and theoretical questions that affect the workers' movement. It would not be an exaggeration to say that where the Marxists have an influence in the movement, there always follows a tremendous thirst for theory. The detractors of Marxism frequently sneer at what they perceive as unnecessary baggage, but the value of correct theory has been demonstrated time and time again.

While the Stalinists and the reformists acknowledge events only when they are struck on the nose by them (and even then sometimes not), the Marxists, as scientific socialists, can gain an insight into social processes and the laws that underlie them. It is possible by this means to develop a perspective, a prognosis of the likely out-turn of events, on the basis of a detailed examination of past and present conditions in society, the direction of change, and so on. Marxism can be said to be the science of perspectives, and in political questions, it repeatedly proves the invaluable advantage gained by foresight over astonishment.

Many examples can be given to show the superiority of Marxist methods in relation to current political questions. Just to take one issue, there is at present a great deal of discussion about the 'reforms' of Mikhail Gorbachev in the USSR and the alleged shift of Hungary and Poland towards 'democracy'. This is not the place to go into the question in great detail, but readers of the Militant will know that the paper has a well-founded and consistent view on the matter. It has argued that the Stalinist bureaucracy in these states is incapable of yielding any genuine democracy and will not be prepared to share power with any movement or organisation that represents the working class.

This view adopted by Militant has not been whistled out of an editor's thumb, but rests upon a long-standing theoretical tradition and an understanding of the social forces and processes in Eastern Europe. It relies upon a scientific appraisal of the origin of the bureaucracy, its role and relationship to the state, and so on.

On the other hand, elsewhere within the labour movement, there are illusions about how far the 'reforming' process can go, some commentators suggesting, for example, that the 'legalisation' of the Solidarity trade union in Poland marks a profound change and a step towards Western-style democracy. Which view is correct?

To answer this it is instructive to go back to 1980, to the period of the origin and growth of the Solidarity union. When the Polish regime signed an agreement at that time, also 'legalising' the union, there were similar illusions, not least within the leadership of the union itself, that the Stalinist state was prepared to tolerate and co-exist with it. Militant argued otherwise:

"There can be no half-way house. There will either be totalitarian control under a one-party state, as exists in Eastern Europe and Poland, or there will be control of industry and the state by the workers as envisaged by Marx, Lenin and Trotsky. An uneasy compromise between the two can exist for only a very short time…the bureaucracy, taking advantage of the inevitable disillusionment amongst the workers, and the ebbing of the movement, will inevitably move to strangle the unions, or incorporate them into the state machine." (Ted Grant, Militant 522, October 3 1980)

Unfortunately, because it gives no pleasure to a Marxist to see a workers' movement suppressed by martial law, the prognosis of the Militant was absolutely correct and borne out by events. The illusion - so bluntly and unceremoniously shattered - that Solidarity would be allowed to organise as a free trade union in a totalitarian state was shown to have been based, not on any firm theoretical premise, but on a hope and a prayer.

It is of more than academic interest to show the enormous advantage of scientific method over empirical impressionism. Theory is not counter-posed to political activity, but is dialectically linked to it. If it were only a question of working class self-sacrifice, heroism and a willingness to struggle, then socialism would have been established across the whole globe many decades ago. It is also a matter of organisation, direction, purpose and leadership. All too often, the most courageous workers' movements have been shipwrecked by 'leaders' completely blind to social processes. The huge benefit of foresight, of a grasp of perspectives and developments, lies precisely in the creation of the subjective factor: in building a leadership for the labour movement that matches in understanding what the workers always provide in determination.

But what also has to be understood, and the reason why this brief example is given, is that this Marxist analysis of Eastern Europe, on which could be built a uniquely correct understanding of events and a proven perspective, did not fall overnight from the sky. It represents an extension of a consistent Marxist critique that was established by Ted Grant in the debates and discussions in the first four or five years after the second world war. Moreover, this analysis was itself an extension of the position already worked out by Leon Trotsky before the war.

Taking the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky as a method, rather than as a fixed dogma, Ted Grant has achieved more than any other Marxist theoretician in explaining post-war developments. As the material in this volume shows, the theoretical line that he laid down, especially in the first few years after the war, provided the starting point for an understanding of political and economic developments in the three parts of the world: the advanced capitalist countries, the colonial and ex-colonial countries and the Stalinist states.

No other tendency of the right or the left has had the same honest, earnest and open approach to discussion. In contrast to the Stalinists and the ultra-left sects, all of whom have made an industry out of hiding their previous mistakes and theoretical somersaults, there are none of the writings or speeches of Ted Grant that the author would not now be prepared to re-issue and debate.

That is not to say that there were never any mistakes made, especially in perspectives, in estimating the tempo of events. He who does not make mistakes does not make anything. But the tradition of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky was always one of openly admitting their errors, explaining them and going forward strengthened, with programme or perspective suitably amended. It is in keeping with this tradition that this selection is offered for those wishing to study the development of Marxism in the post-war world.

*

The selection of material for this single volume has been a very difficult task. There are many, many documents, articles and speeches that have, of necessity, to be left out. In the recent period, there have been major works on Spain and Portugal (mid 1970s), the National Question, the Falklands War, Gorbachev, Iran, the Philippines, Nicaragua, documents on world perspectives, like The Coming World Revolution (1984), and many more.

Every one of these works forms part of a consistent whole, linked each to the other, and based on the theoretical roots traced out in this volume. The material on the Falklands War, for example, deals with the fundamental question of war from a Marxist standpoint. It is available in pamphlet form and should be re-read after reading the section in Chapter One on the wartime controversy between the WIL and RSL.

Even in the realm of domestic British politics, there are many issues that are barely dealt with here, if at all. The long-running discussion within the Trotskyist movement about the role of the Labour Party, for example, is hardly done justice here. That may not please some readers, but unfortunately, that would be true whatever the final selection made. A full record of all Ted Grant's political work will have to await a more thorough search and collection than has been possible here. That, in any case, would mean a publication running to many volumes.

In so far as there has been any bias introduced in the selection of documents, it has been towards older material. This is because the earlier articles, many of them not having been reprinted since the original, are less likely to have been seen by the modern reader. But it is also because the theoretical contributions in the immediate post-war decade formed the bedrock upon which an entire tradition was subsequently built.

*

A word or two is necessary in relation to the editing of the material for this volume. The main reason why original articles and documents have been cut has been in an attempt to concentrate as much as possible in a single volume, without vulgarising or simplifying the theoretical constructions. Here and there short points have been taken out where they digress from the main theme, for example in a comment that would have had an immediate relevance at the time of writing, but which has since been lost.

It has been made clear where the material included is incomplete, ie where it is based on extracts from a larger work. But there is no indication in the text (for example …) where sections, paragraphs, and in some cases even sentences have been left out. There is no ulterior motive for this: the originals are a matter of record and when the collected works are published at some stage in the future the omissions and editing will be made good. The extracts have been closed up, and allowed to run together, simply for the sake of continuity.

The arrangement of the selected material into chapters has been broadly based on the theoretical issues dealt with, apart from the first and final chapters. Although this means inevitably that there are some articles and documents that, strictly speaking, overlap more than one chapter, the editors feel that this arrangement is a better guide to study than one that would have been based, whatever the subject matter, purely on chronological order.

The style of writing has been left as in the original and quotations, for example of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, have been checked as far as possible with modern editions. The chapter introductions are intended to provide the reader with some context in which to place the various writings. It would probably be useful to re-read the relevant part of the chapter introduction before beginning to read each new part of a chapter.

It is only to be expected that some of the material included in the book will be difficult to read or understand at the first attempt, especially for readers coming to political theory for the first time. That is unavoidable. Political theory often needs to be thought over, discussed and re-read. It means, in the proper use of the term, having to study, as one would study any other science. As Karl Marx explained:

"There is no royal road to science, and only those who do not dread the fatiguing climb of its steep paths have a chance of gaining its luminous summits."

A careful and diligent study of the material in this volume, combined with discussion and further reading of sources and basic works, will play an indispensible role in the political steering of future generations of socialists.

*

For having assisted in the production of this book, sincere thanks are necessary to many comrades. Special mention needs to be made of Anteus graphics for typesetting and lay-out; Helen Watson and John Viner for technical advice on graphics and design; Ginny Armstrong, Soraya Lawrence and Margaret Edwards for proof-reading; Alistair Wilson, Kevin Ramage and Tony Aitman for research, foot-notes and photographs; Alan Hardman for his work on the cover; and lan Hunter for digging out some of the original works that were so hard to trace.

John Pickard, May 1989

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