History of British Trotskyism

Postscript

By Rob Sewell

As Ted Grant’s history finishes in 1950, the reader will obviously want to know what has happened since that time. Given its scope, writing a postscript on such a subject is a daunting task. A serious undertaking, however, would require at least another book if not several. That is a luxury that we cannot afford, but we will return to in the future. Nevertheless, I will attempt to give at least a brief outline of subsequent developments. Despite the inevitable gaps and omissions, it will, I hope, serve to set the present work in context and provide it with a certain continuity.

In 1950, after his expulsion by Gerry Healy from the Club, Ted attempted to regroup and salvage as much as possible from the wreckage of the RCP. It must be said – and was admitted by Ted later – that he had made a big mistake, in hindsight, by not backing the Open Party faction. He was still hoping to salvage the leadership – above all, Haston. It was a gamble that didn’t pay off. If it had succeeded, at least the basic core of the RCP would have been kept largely intact. They would have intervened much more effectively in the crisis that hit the Communist Party in 1956. However, that opportunity was lost with the destruction of the RCP by the Healy-Cannon-Pablo-Mandel conspiracy.

By the autumn of 1950, Ted’s supporters amounted to a handful of around thirty people, mainly in London and Liverpool. Given the difficult objective circumstances and the weakness of the organisation, they had no alternative but to work within the Labour Party and prepare the ground for an inevitable change in the situation. With such small forces, under the conditions prevailing in the 1950s – which resembled crossing a barren desert – it would have been madness to contemplate building an independent party outside the Labour Party. In other words, work inside the Labour Party was not based on a previously worked-out strategy or tactic, but simply a matter of necessity.

Just after his expulsion Ted issued an open letter, Statement to the British Section of the Fourth International, in an attempt to define his political position on a series of issues. Without any full timers or apparatus, the comrades struggled to hold things together. Minutes of their meetings record attempts to follow up contacts for the group. Visits to other areas outside of London and Liverpool were infrequent, but Ted managed to travel around to follow up some contacts. Other decisions taken were to set up a ’30 "development fund" and, as a first step in establishing an apparatus, to buy a duplicator at ’12 and 10 shillings. These were certainly the "dog days" of the tendency.

In May 1951, the first national conference took place in London. It was reported that there were 20 members in London and 11 in Liverpool, with a scattering of contacts around the country. Ted introduced a document entitled Stalinism in the Post War Period (see Appendix V), which fleshed out in a more comprehensive form the character of the new period and the perspectives for Stalinism.

"For Marxism neither pessimism nor spurious optimism can play a role in determining the analysis of events. The first necessity is to understand the meaning of the conjuncture of historical forces leading to the present world situation.

"The overthrow of Stalinism in the areas in which it holds sway will most likely be a long process. It is true that Stalinism remains a regime of permanent crisis. In it, the element of socialism, in the state economy, is in permanent contradiction to the Bonapartist state apparatus and the privileged caste whose interests it serves. Thus the regime of Stalinism in Russia itself bears a striking resemblance, even more than the Bonapartism of bourgeois origin, to the Caesarism of Ancient Rome in the epoch of the decay of the Empire. In that it bears a close resemblance to fascism. In the long run the regime of Bonapartist autocracy is incompatible with the economic base set in being by the October Revolution. That is the source of the permanent convulsions, and the endless removal of officials by the insatiable moloch in the Kremlin. The victories of Stalinism can only be a preparation for its downfall. But this only so from a long-term point of view. Undoubtedly Stalinism has been strengthened for a temporary period." [1]

This analysis provided the organisation with a more coherent perspective and was used as a basis for recruitment to the group. The conference endorsed the document unanimously and it was issued as a duplicated public pamphlet the following month. A decision was also taken to launch a theoretical magazine every two months. Figures like Jimmy Deane and his brothers Arthur Deane and Brian Deane, Alec Riach, Sam Levy and others helped to gather funds to launch the new publication. The first issue of the new magazine called International Socialist, with Ted as its editor, appeared in February 1952. However, the lack of resources and a paucity of funds meant that the magazine appeared only spasmodically between February 1952 and April 1954.

Healy’s opportunism

For the Grant tendency, the key question was how to work in the Labour Party. The Healyites – as Ted predicted – "joined the Labour Party at the wrong time, and would inevitably leave the Labour Party at the wrong time." Within the Labour Party, the Healy group had no idea of how to work and was simply pursuing an opportunist policy. They were chasing a phantom left wing that didn’t exist, while hiding their "Trotskyism" and dressing themselves in the clothes of left reformism.

Even worse, they had the false idea of "building the left" in alliance with a layer of the left reformists. Healy had set up the Socialist Fellowship in 1948 and then launched a paper called Socialist Outlook with such "left" luminaries as Bessie Braddock, and her husband, Councillor Jack Braddock, who moved far to the right and ruled the Liverpool Labour Party with the methods of Tammany Hall.

The Healy group was conducting a policy of "deep entrism". They simply liquidated themselves into the Labour Party. The Socialist Outlook, following Pablo’s line, was distinctly left reformist and pro-Stalinist in character. It was no different in essence from Tribune, the paper of the Labour Left. For instance, its issue of 19 September 1952 had the banner headline: For a Bevan Victory at 1952 Conference! [Nye Bevan was one of the leaders of the Left]. The issue of 27 November 1953 thundered: The Tories Must Resign – Let’s have a petition to get them out! And so on, and so forth.

Even so, this luke warm left reformism was still too much for the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party who banned the Outlook in 1954. Fearing expulsion, Healy’s supporters immediately closed down the paper. When Transport House banned the Fellowship, the Outlook published a statement: "As loyal members of the Labour Party who have never had any interests separate and apart from the Labour Party we are obliged to accept the decision of the NEC."[2] In other words, they capitulated without a squeak.

After the closure of the Fellowship and the Outlook, the Healy group deepened its opportunist line within the Labour Party – which was in effect Pablo’s policy of entrism of a "new type". They began to sell Tribune instead of their own paper. In fact, after the closure of the Outlook, they didn’t have their own newspaper for two years. As Harry Ratner later admitted, "we wanted to help create a broad left current in the Labour Party and unions’" and "this was consistent with our strategy of deep entrism into the Labour Party."[3]

After his expulsion, Ted’s "open letter" to members of the British section of the "Fourth" analysed the role of Outlook. "The political role of the Socialist Outlook was determined not by the anaemic editorials," stated Ted, "but by the leading articles of those MPs, etc., whose policies were transparently one of sweetening the bitter pills of the right wing. At the same time, the editorials were coloured by the need not to ’offend’ the Stalinist fellow travellers on the Editorial Board. The editorial produced a line of ’criticism’ which is worthy of the notorious ’Friends of the Soviet Union’."

He went on to quote examples from the Outlook: "The leadership’ would like it to be." "We are far from suggesting that the Russian Government at all times and under all conditions supports progressive movements." "There is a distinct flavour of power politics about Moscow’s attempt to secure peace in Korea in return for an extra seat on the Security Council." These were the examples of "serious Trotskyist criticism"! Amongst such statements falls the following: "Russian foreign policy is determined by what the government of that country considers is in the interests of the Soviet Union, but that as India proved does not, by any means, always coincide with what is in the best interest of the international working class. Or even, in the long run, the best interest of the Soviet Union itself"!

The sheer opportunism and pro-Stalinism of the Healyites went hand in hand with perspectives of immediate slump and Third World War. "Economic necessity compels the United States towards an armed showdown with the Soviet Union and the colonial revolution’", reads their 1950 conference perspectives resolution. "Imperialism is being forced to prepare for, and then embark upon a world war under extremely unfavourable conditions’But we must be ready for war – we must be organised in such a way that, despite enormous disadvantages, we can go forward to the construction of the party in war no less than in peace."[4]

From bad to worse

As was seen earlier, the leaders of the International had capitulated to Titoism and Maoism. This adaptation to Stalinism was clearly evident in the political position of the resolutions of Pablo, Mandel, Frank and co. In 1951, the Pablo leadership came out with a perspective of an impending Third World War. Under prevailing conditions, Pablo maintained that this "new reality" corresponded to "the conception of Revolution-War’ upon which the perspectives and orientation of revolutionary Marxists in our epoch should rest." Instead of a struggle of classes, there was now a struggle between the camps of imperialism and Stalinism. This meant a policy of "deep entrism", where the Trotskyists would hide their identities. Cannon, Healy and the rest of them supported this position whole-heartedly. "We consider these documents to be completely Trotskyist", wrote Cannon on 29 May 1952. While Healy was organising "work brigades" to go from Britain to "socialist" Yugoslavia.

As an aside, it is opportune to deal with a myth that has been peddled around by the Healyites over the years. Bill Hunter, a former supporter of the RCP majority, had slavishly gone over to Healy after the break-up of the RCP. A leading Healy acolyte, he was expelled from the Labour Party by the NEC in late 1954, following the proscription of Socialist Outlook. He was in the same Constituency Labour Party as Ted Grant, in East Islington. The local Labour Party refused on two occasions to endorse the expulsion. At a third meeting, the Labour General Management Committee (GMC) was faced with the clear choice of endorsing the expulsion or being disbanded. Under those circumstances, under protest, Ted abstained on the vote. Ever since, in order to blacken Ted’s name, the Healyites have raised a hue and cry over this issue, accusing him of betrayal and supporting the right wing. Hunter repeats this story in his autobiography. Later the story was linked to the fairytale that in 1964 Militant supporters supported the expulsions of Healyites from the party for their political ideas – which was never the case.

Ironically, the correct stand taken by Ted was the position that Healy had endorsed a few years earlier in Manchester. When the question of disciplinary action over Salford City Labour Party was being undertaken in May-June 1951, there was a threat of closure of the Party by the NEC. "Should we still carry on defying Transport House to the point of being expelled?", wrote Harry Ratner. "We had throughout been in touch with Gerry Healy and the Club’s Executive in London [of which Bill Hunter was a member]. Their instruction was that we should avoid expulsion in view of the Club’s long-term entry strategy’ We had made a principled stand, and everyone would understand why it was necessary to make a tactical retreat to avoid the disbandment of the local parties and expulsion of militants."[5]

The position that Ted took in 1954 to abstain in a vote in face of disbandment of the local Labour Party was absolutely correct. While protesting against the expulsions, it was madness to allow the bureaucracy to simply close down the party and empty out all of the left wingers on a question like this. Of course, in an attempt to slander Ted Grant, the Healyites, including Ratner and Hunter, were prepared to use Ted’s abstention to cast a slur on his revolutionary character.

In 1953, a split took place in the International, when Healy split away - together with the American SWP – to form their own International Committee of the Fourth International. There were no real political differences between the sides. These were manufactured later to justify the split. Cannon simply didn’t want Pablo interfering in his organisation in the States. Pablo had incurred Cannon’s wrath by supporting an opposition current within the SWP around Bert Cochran. So Cannon decided to split with Pablo and base everything on "his man" in Europe – Gerry Healy. This suited Healy down to the ground, since he wanted to be the "big man" in Europe. All the nonsense about "Pabloism" was simply a smokescreen. The fact is that both Cannon and Healy had previously accepted Pablo’s pro-Stalinist line without question:

"This [Pablo’s] general analysis was endorsed by the Third World Congress of the Fourth International in August 1951", noted Harry Ratner. "It was at first only opposed by the majority of the French section – the Parti Communiste Internationaliste. When they were instructed by the International to enter the French Communist Party, they refused to do so. In January 1952 Michael Pablo, using his authority as Secretary of the International, suspended a majority of the PCI’s Central Committee. The PCI split, and, a few months later, the majority, led by Lambert and Bleitreu, were expelled from the International.

"This action and the general line of the International were generally supported, in particular by the American Socialist Workers Party and by Healy’s group [the Club] in Britain. It was only over a year later that the leaders of the SWP, faced with an internal faction fight against an opposition supported by Pablo, began to criticise ’Pabloism’ as an attempt to liquidate the Fourth International and capitulate to Stalinism. For a time, the Healy group continued to support and advocate Pablo’s general line. In fact, when in July 1953 Pablo presented to the International Secretariat a draft entitled The Rise and Fall of Stalinism as a basis for discussion at the forthcoming Fourth World Congress, Healy agreed that it be circulated to all sections in the name of the International Secretariat, and only made minor criticisms of it."[6]

When the row broke out into the open, Ratner admits they "were taken by surprise." So Cannon and Healy were in fact the original Pabloites. Healy’s leading collaborator and editor of Socialist Outlook, John Lawrence, together with his supporters, faithfully carried on with their pro-Stalinist line. Healy subsequently expelled them – not for their Stalinism, but for their support of Pablo. Lawrence, being politically consistent, broke from the International and ended up in the Communist Party. So, 1954 left Pablo and the International with nothing in Britain.

Hungary 1956

Within two years, the crisis developing within the Communist Parties following the earth-shattering revelations by Khruschev at the Twentieth Congress of the CPSU, exposing many of the crimes of Stalin, provided the Trotskyist movement with renewed possibilities. These events unfolding in the USSR served to push the International into a far more critical and correct view of Stalinism. Desperate to find new allies in Britain, Pablo went so far as to place an advertisement in the Tribune newspaper of the left reformists, appealing for help in the founding of a new section of the International in Britain.

Sam Bornstein, who was in touch with the International, urged Pablo to get in contact with Ted Grant’s group. After some discussions, this led to a fusion with some other supporters of Pablo in London and the recognition of the new group as the official British section. In reality, Ted’s original group formed the overwhelming majority of the section, the others being largely passive members who soon fell by the wayside. Nevertheless, it served to reactivate a layer of older comrades like Jock Milligan, Marion Lunt and Ann Keen.

Recognition by the International came however with the promise of resources to pay for two full timers and a new magazine. By the end of the year Ted, together with Pablo supporter, John Fairhead, became full-timers, and a new magazine, Workers International Review, was launched. Pablo wanted Fairhead appointed as an ally against Ted’s dominant political influence within the group. However, Fairhead didn’t last long and he soon left. His political evolution went originally from support for Healy’s Socialist Outlook, into the Communist Party, through the RSL to the Cliff group, then the Posadists and into the Labour Party. From there he joined the Tory Party and became an executive member of the right wing Tory Monday Club! "I wasn’t surprised", said Ted later. "He was a public school boy and from a Tory background."

This attempt to re-establish a group in Britain coincided with an unfolding political revolution in Hungary. On 23 October 1956, the events in Hungary shook the world and provoked a further deep crisis within the Communist Party. Two general strikes and two insurrections took place within six weeks. The Russian army stationed in Hungary went over to the revolutionaries. Eventually, they were withdrawn and backward troops were sent in to put down the uprising, with stories that they were going to Berlin to put down a fascist coup d’etat. The uprising was eventually put down in cold blood by Russian tanks.

The revolutionary events in Hungary created a storm of unrest within the Communist Parties internationally. The Stalinist leaders denounced the uprising as a "counter-revolutionary" movement. But large sections of the rank-and-file of the CP could not stomach this line. Peter Fryer, the British Daily Worker correspondent in Hungary sent back dispatches of eyewitness accounts of revolution in Hungary, which were suppressed by the leadership. They were eventually printed in the Manchester Guardian. In Britain, a big layer of the Communist Party was in ferment and open to the ideas of Trotskyism. Within a year, the crisis had resulted in the Communist Party losing a third of its membership.

This called for an abrupt turn by the tendency towards these possibilities in the Communist Party. A sharp debate took place within the group of how to approach these potential recruits. Ted raised the question of an open banner and the launch of an open organisation, as the only effective means of appealing to the dissidents within the CP. This was resisted by some comrades, such as Sam Levy, but was accepted by the group. In early 1957, the Revolutionary Socialist League was launched and the Workers International Review issued an Open Letter to the Communist Party over Hungary, written by Ted, urging them to take up the struggle for genuine Leninism.

"Comrades! New shocks lie ahead", stated the Open Letter. "Yesterday the 20th Congress, today Hungary, tomorrow...(?)

"The intervention of Russian troops was designed to prevent the setting up of a socialist democracy on the borders of Russia, because this would have been the beginning of the end for the Russian bureaucracy. Already some Russian soldiers have deserted to the side of the Hungarian people. This is an omen of the future! The intervention of Russian troops prevented the masses establishing a socialist democracy in Hungary, but in the future when the Russian masses rise, who will defend the Russian bureaucracy then? In the coming period great events impend, in the East against Stalinism, in the West against capitalism. We can best help the workers of Russia and Eastern Europe by conducting an implacable struggle for the overthrow of capitalism and imperialism in Britain and the West.

"Comrade of the Communist Party! You can best help in this task by a clear understanding of the problems of the working class and the theory and practice of Marxism and Leninism. We are convinced that you will come to understand that the revolutionary struggle can be carried through to a victorious conclusion in Britain and internationally only on the programme of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, which your leaders have abandoned."

Flexible tactics

In a document also written by Ted, entitled The Present Situation and Our Political Tasks (1957), the need for flexible tactics towards Communist Party dissidents was sharply posed:

"Large numbers of key and important cadres can be won for the Fourth International from this work. To accomplish this task, any attempt at the imposition of a line a la Stalinism is impermissible. For example, many of the best elements will not be prepared for an entrist perspective immediately. The first necessity is the winning of a nucleus among them to the programme and banner of the Fourth International. At a later stage, the problem of work within the mass organisations and of perspectives for the coming epoch must be discussed. But at the present stage of development, immediate entry of such a grouping into the Labour Party would mean the drowning of many excellent people in the social-democratic swamp, and the complete disillusionment of others in the possibility of real Labour Party work. Actually the best, most hardened elements in the Forum movement is at present the most antagonistic to entrism."

The document continued: "The situation demands above all a flexible tactic. Entry must not be made a fetish – any more than the concept of open work. Our tactic at the given time is dictated by the opportunities open to us and the possibility of perspectives for the future. It would be greater madness to adopt a formalistic attitude and turn our backs on the immediate possibilities of work under the independent banner – the modest successes of Workers International Review have underlined this. The essence of tactics, in politics as in war, is to concentrate the greatest forces in that sector of the battlefield where the state of the fight most favours victory. Successful work in the open field can prepare the ground for greater successes in the future within the Labour Party, where the decisive struggles will take place." [7]

Ted and other comrades made contact and discussed with a layer of CP dissidents, but were shocked at their very low political level. "In the past," recalled Ted, "the old Stalinists would first of all ask about your programme. But the first question these people would ask is: how many are you?" After decades of miseducation by Stalinism, it was not easy to win such people to a small organisation and the results were very modest. As an example of the pernicious effects of Stalinism on worker activists, it is sufficient to cite the following example.

The Stalinists had controlled the electricians’ union (ETU) from the top, by completely bureaucratic means, including ballot rigging. But in 1956, a series of important ETU leaders broke from the CP and began an opposition fighting for internal democracy within the union. Among those with whom Ted had discussions was Frank Chappel, the leader of this group, who then was still on the left. He did not join and later swung far to the right and became a reactionary witch-hunting leader of the union.

Basically, ideas, theories and principles did not attract these former Stalinists. They were more impressed by Healy’s organisation, which was bigger and had far greater resources, including a printing press. As a result, Healy managed to recruit a whole layer of people, including Brian Behan (the brother of Brendan Behan, the famous Irish playwright), Peter Fryer (the former correspondent of the Daily Worker in Hungary) and Brian Pearce. Using Healy’s resources Fryer became editor of the newly launched weekly Newsletter, which became the organ of the Club in 1957.

However, rather than convincing these ex-Stalinists of Trotskyism, they seemed to have recruited Healy to a version of "third period" Stalinism. Within a few years, Healy had abandoned his extreme opportunist version of work in the Labour Party and launched the Socialist Labour League early in 1959. They swung wildly from the most cowardly opportunism to the most insane ultra-leftism. But the honeymoon did not last long. Healy’s internal regime of bureaucratic centralism, based on bullying and terror, soon led to the expulsion of Behan, Fryer and a whole host of others.

Years later, Healy’s stooge, Bill Hunter cynically turned against his long-standing mentor. He revealed what everyone already knew – that Healy was a petty tyrant and a dictator within his organisation. "Walking out of meetings", states Hunter in his autobiography, "which he used as a deliberate method of pressure later in the 1970s, the attempt to resolve party problems with force of will, fear, administrative actions and violence..."[8]

It was clear to anyone with the slightest grasp that Healy had absolutely nothing to do with genuine Trotskyism. However much he hides, Hunter cannot escape the fact that he uncritically supported the Healy regime – until it collapsed in 1985 with the expulsion of Healy. "Healy could never have acted as he did without the support of a whole group of other people around him in the leadership", remarks Harry Ratner, "people such as Mike and Tony Banda, Bill Hunter, Cliff Slaughter and Bob Shaw, and the failure of people like myself to speak out."[9]

As already stated, Ted Grant believed that Healy entered the Labour Party at the wrong time, and would also leave the Labour Party at the wrong time. This prediction proved to be absolutely correct. Nevertheless, the zigzags of the Healyites produced a certain questioning within the tendency, so Ted used this experience to write a document in March 1959 to answer these doubts and clarify the situation. The document gave a short history of the Labour Party tactic and analysed the differences with Trotsky’s conception of entrism and the long-term work that we were conducting within the mass organisations.

Clearly the classical conditions for entry, as laid down by Trotsky, did not exist in Britain at that time. The work of the Marxist tendency in the Party was based on the perspective of a future mass left wing, which would develop at a time of political and economic crisis. It was inevitable that the mass of workers, who would turn towards their traditional organisations in times of social crisis, would serve to create mass left reformist and even centrist currents. But this did not mean, as the sectarian groups tried to claim, that the Marxists were "burying themselves in the Labour Party." What was necessary was to combine Party work with independent work, fighting at all times for Marxist ideas and policies. The overwhelming majority of the new supporters came from outside of the Labour Party, but was won over by the clarity of our ideas and our orientation towards the mass organisations.

"From every point of view the work is impossible without an understanding of the perspectives, whatever the momentary situation may be", explained Ted. "Otherwise the work proceeds purely empirically as with the Healyites, in a series of convulsive leaps and jumps in all directions. The tendency is at the mercy of every episodic conjuncture and turn in events, blown hither and thither by momentary favourable and unfavourable winds, instead of – while taking these into account in everyday work and explaining to the membership the meaning of all events – nevertheless fitting them into broad perspectives of the movement. It is the failure to understand the tactic of entrism, and its application, which has resulted in the new tactics of the Healyites. They will produce an abortion."

Opposition in the USFI

Although we were the official section of the International, we were always in political opposition to the leadership on a whole range of questions. Despite the fact that the Hungarian events found us on common ground, other developments produced sharp disagreements. In the Sino-Soviet dispute, for instance, rather than viewing it as a national conflict between two bureaucracies, the International decided to give critical support to the Chinese bureaucracy as allegedly more "progressive". In the meantime, Pablo, who had moved into opposition, supported the Russian bureaucracy, claiming that Khrushchev’s "de-Stalinisation" campaign opened the door to the "self-reform" of the bureaucracy. Neither position had anything in common with Trotskyism.

Juan Posadas, a leader based in Argentina, went so far as to support the Chinese bureaucracy’s call for a nuclear war on the United States! Eventually he set up his own "Fourth International" based in Latin America and at an Extraordinary Conference in 1962, declared:

"We are preparing ourselves for a stage in which before the atomic war we shall struggle for power, during the atomic war we shall struggle for power and we shall be in power [sic!]. There is no beginning’ there is an end to atomic war, because atomic war is simultaneous revolution in the whole world, not as a chain reaction, simultaneous. Simultaneous doesn’t mean the same day and the same hour. Great historic events should not be measured by hours or days, but by periods’ The working class will maintain itself, [and] will immediately have to seek its cohesion and centralisation’

"After destruction commences, the masses are going to emerge in all countries – in a short time, in a few hours. Capitalism cannot defend itself in an atomic war except by putting itself in caves and attempting to destroy all that it can. The masses, in contrast, are going to come out, will have to come out, because it is the only way to survive, defeating the enemy’ The apparatus of capitalism, police, army, will not be able to resist’ It will be necessary to organise the workers’ power immediately."[10]

So, in Posadas’ mixed-up mind, those who are left after an atomic war, terrified and in a state of shock at millions dead, would rise up and take power! This showed how far these people had regressed theoretically and politically. These ideas have nothing in common with Trotskyism, and much more in common with the ideas emanating from the lunatic asylum. After capitulating to Stalinism, Posadas became a mouthpiece for the Maoist bureaucracy, only in an even more extreme form.

The Lanka Sama Samaja Party

The only authority that a Marxist leadership can have is a political and moral authority. This was what Lenin and Trotsky based themselves on in the formative years of the Communist International. It never occurred to them to use organisational methods to impose their ideas on the International. Only after Lenin’s death, in the period of the bureaucratic degeneration, did Zinoviev begin to use the apparatus to impose the "Moscow Line" – a development that inevitably ended in the destruction of the Third International.

In the 1930s, despite all the difficulties, the colossal personal authority of Leon Trotsky kept the small forces of the Bolshevik-Leninists together. He waged a stubborn struggle to defend and preserve the genuine ideas and traditions of the October Revolution and the Bolshevik Party. But the other leaders were not at all on a similar level. Like Zinoviev, Cannon, Mandel and the others imagined that it was possible to demand authority and obedience. Lenin once warned Bukharin: "If you want obedience, you will get obedient fools". They dissipated all the political and moral authority which the Old Man had bequeathed to the Fourth International, and attempted to make up for their lack of authority by using organisational methods against their critics - as with the British section. This was a sure way to destroy the Fourth International even before it had had a chance to build a serious mass base. Most of the sections remained small and isolated from the mass movement of the working class. One of the main exceptions was Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

The Ceylonese Trotskyists in effect founded the labour movement in that country. They even invented the word for socialism, which did not exist in Sinhala. They coined the word Sama Samaja – which means literally "equal society". It is not particularly scientific, but it is the nearest equivalent they could find to "socialism".

Whereas in other countries the Stalinists expelled the Trotskyists, in Ceylon it was the other way around. The Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) was the traditional mass party of the working class in Ceylon. As a result of its courageous stand against British imperialism in the Second World War, the LSSP gained mass support, and became the second major party next to the bourgeois UNP. In 1953, it had led a successful general strike on the island, and had established Trotskyism as the leading force in the working class. However, in comparison to its successes, the failures of the leaders of the International gradually undermined their authority in the eyes of the leaders of the LSSP.

The false positions of the leaders of the Fourth International led them to make one mistake after another. This served to further undermine the credibility of the International leadership. Over a period of time, this was to have major repercussions in the largest section of the International, the LSSP. They did not possess a shred of political and moral authority with the LSSP leaders, who had a mass organisation. Ted recalls that in meetings of the International in Paris, the LSSP leader, N.M. Pereira would sit with an ironical expression. "I believe N.M. was never a Trotskyist", says Ted. "But whereas Trotsky – one man alone – would always be listened to with respect, Mandel, Pablo and the others had no authority at all with the LSSP leaders. They would sit there thinking: ’We are mass leaders. What do these people represent? They do not have correct ideas. They do not have the masses. So what good are they?’ And in fact, they had a point."

Without the check of an authoritative political leadership internationally, the opportunist pressure on the LSSP leadership inevitably took their toll. In the late 1950s, under the pressures of the adverse objective situation, the LSSP vacillated politically, taking a conciliatory attitude towards the government of the newly emerged SLFP, a split-off from the UNP. Eventually, in 1964, the LSSP voted to enter the bourgeois government. This was finally too much for the International leaders to swallow. Having failed to correct the opportunism of the LSSP leaders for years, in order not to offend them, they were compelled to condemn the Party’s turn to popular frontism. Needless to say, the complaints from Paris were contemptuously dismissed by the LSSP. Then, when the damage was already done, the International Secretariat split the section, causing a deep blow to Trotskyism in Sri Lanka.

"The International leadership played a shameful and destructive role in Sri Lanka," Ted states emphatically. "Having remained silent for years about the opportunist policies of the LSSP leaders (which was quite evident), Mandel and the others suddenly performed a somersault of 180 degrees and organised a split off of the Left led by Edmund Samorakody. He came to London and we had a friendly discussion, during which we tried to persuade him to stay in the LSSP and organise a left opposition, but he refused. He was sincere but a bit ultra-left. Naturally, the split led nowhere. Later on we contacted the left wing of the LSSP and we won a sizeable section out of it – the NSSP, which was unfortunately wrecked by the adventurism of Bahu. But that is another story."

A difficult period

From the early 1950s, a small trickle of recruits were made by the Grant tendency, including in South Wales, which was later to became an important stronghold. In early 1950 in Liverpool, Jimmy Deane drew a young 16-year old Pat Wall into the tendency. Pat had joined the Labour Party during the general election, and within two weeks had been made secretary of Garston CLP. "He was very keen to find out more about economics and the theories of Marxism, and was told by councillor Bill Sefton (who ended up in the House of Lords) to go over to Walton and ask the Deanes," recalls his life-long partner and comrade Pauline Wall. "After that he read and read and read. He devoured all the Marxist classics." Pat played a leading role for the tendency on Liverpool Trades Council and in the Labour Party (which was one body at that time), serving to develop and train up a group of younger comrades such as Terry Harrison. Terry had joined the Labour Party and disillusioned by the experience was toying with the idea of joining the Young Communist League. However, he picked up a copy of our youth paper Rally in a ward meeting and decided to get in touch. Pat had become a Labour councillor in Liverpool and later in Bingley, and after a battle with the right wing and an investigation by the NEC, later became Labour MP for Bradford North. He remained a committed Trotskyist until his tragic death in August 1990. He will be remembered by many for his passionate oratory at Labour Party conferences and numerous public meetings, as well as his genuinely common touch. He was truly a great man.

The experiment of the RSL was wound up after possibilities within the Communist Party dried up. The tendency issued a new publication called Socialist Fight, edited by Ted Grant, which appeared irregularly from January 1958 to June 1963. Others on the editorial board included Pat Wall (Liverpool), Dave Matthews (Swansea), and Muriel Browning (Llanelli). At this point, finances were in a particularly bad state. The paucity of resources resulted in the Socialist Fight coming out in a duplicated form during 1960, only reappearing in print in mid-February 1961.

In 1955, Ted had been chosen as the Labour candidate for Liverpool Walton, the Constituency Labour Party where the tendency had the strongest roots, but was blocked by the Regional Official who had the full backing of the right wing National Executive Committee. "I would have been expelled anyway", commented Ted. However, another comrade, George McCartney, an experienced comrade from the days of the WIL and RCP, was put forward instead, got selected against the then Tribunite (and later extreme right winger) Woodrow Wyatt. After an NEC inquiry, George finally managed to get endorsed, but failed to win the seat in the 1959 general election, as did the Labour Party nationally. Soon afterwards Eric Heffer, a former member of the CP, became the candidate and won the seat in 1964. Nevertheless, Walton was to remain a bastion for the tendency until the Walton by-election fiasco in 1991. Despite his advanced years, George remains a supporter of Socialist Appeal to this day.

The Labour Party bureaucracy had closed down the Labour League of Youth in 1955 and no national youth structures existed. The tendency correctly predicted on the basis of the 1959 general election defeat that a youth movement would soon be re-established, as the Labour Party would need the youth if it was to fight another general election successfully. That took place in the February of the following year with the establishment of the Young Socialists. This coincided with a ferment amongst young people, with the national apprentices’ strike in 1960 and the development of a mass anti-nuclear war movement around CND.

Ultra-leftism

In 1959, the Healyites swung wildly in the direction of ultra-leftism and set up the Socialist Labour League – typically, proclaimed by Healy without any consultation with the membership of the Club. They applied for Labour Party affiliation and were swiftly and predictably (given the 1946 conference decision) proscribed by the bureaucracy. Healy was keen to provoke expulsion. He advised Ratner to "let Transport House expel you and fight to get the local party to refuse to accept it, even if it means disaffiliation." It was clear to Ratner that "Healy and the Executive Committee adopted a policy of unnecessarily provoking expulsions from the Labour Party."[11]

Despite these clear provocations by Healy, we were attacked for our alleged capitulation to the right wing by Sean Matgamna, the ex-Healyite, in a pamphlet produced by Workers’ Liberty called Seedbed of the Left. "The Grant tendency was so venomously hostile to the Healy tendency that it refused to specifically oppose the proscription of the SLL in February 1959", states Matgamna.[12] He goes on to repeat the bile over Ted’s abstention in 1954, which we have already mentioned.

However, regarding our "attitude" to the proscription of the SLL, Matgamna clearly uses Healy’s old methods to manufacture a slander against his opponents. After all, why let the facts get in the way of a good story? He ignores the fact that on the front page of the Socialist Fight for April 1959 there was an article entitled Socialist Labour League. It is worth quoting in order to nail this slander.

"The National Executive of the Labour Party has proscribed the Socialist Labour League and its journal the Newsletter’ this is a blow against democracy in the movement. There should be room in the party for all who stand for a socialist policy. With full and fair debate, it should be left to the membership to decide what policy should be adopted. Heresy hunting and proscription can only damage the party and not assist in building it up. All those in the party who believe in democracy will protest against this decision. Socialist Fight whilst disagreeing with many of the policies of the SLL, will support moves of protest against the banning." (My emphasis).

At the beginning, as we predicted, the YS attracted a large number of young people. However, Healy, who had gone on an ultra-left binge and had just written off the Labour Party, suddenly realised the possibilities, turned 180 degrees, and threw all his resources into the YS. With Healy’s strong apparatus, and youth paper Keep Left, the Healyites were able to take control of the YS nationally by various dubious means.

The next largest group in the YS at the time was the Cliff group, widely known as the "state caps", which produced Young Guard, edited by Gus Macdonald (now Lord Macdonald, and a Cabinet Minister in the Blair Government) followed by Ted Grant’s group, made up of a few dozen comrades. YS Conferences became quite heated, with accusations flying around about "Healyites" and "Pabloite revisionists" and the like, to the bemusement of the NEC representatives attending the conference. One year, a puzzled Ian Mikardo, the left MP, leaned over to his colleague, and asked, "why all these attacks on Pablo Picasso and Denis Healey?"

In Liverpool, our comrades produced a duplicated magazine called Rally through the Walton YS branch. It was edited by Beryl Deane, and was aimed towards the youth not only in Liverpool, but had a circulation in the YS branches of London, Tyneside and Swansea. The comrades intervened in the apprentice’s strike and won a number of young workers to the tendency, particularly in Liverpool.

Breakthrough among the students

Another vital area that opened up for our development was in Brighton – which was hardly the Petrograd of Britain. In 1960, my elder brother, Alan Woods had joined the YS in our home town of Swansea. Our grandfather and mother were both members of the Communist Party. Our grandfather – a tin plate worker, an active trade unionist and a veteran member of the Party – had introduced my brother to Marxism from an early age. Alan’s political upbringing resulted in sharp arguments in the local YS branch, which was dominated by members of the tendency, such as Dave Matthews, Colin Tindley, Bill Smith and Phil and Alan Lloyd.

Having been regularly defeated politically at the YS, and with our grandfather running out of arguments against Trotskyism, he was eventually won over. In 1963, Alan went to Sussex University, which at the time was a new and experimental university with only 300 students. One of them was Thabo Mbeki – now President of South Africa – who had an Anti-Apartheid group around him, most of whom were won to Trotskyism through Alan’s work.

At the time, Alan was the only comrade in the whole of the South of England. After consistent work in the university and later in the town, he managed to establish a powerful group of supporters, including workers such as Dudley Edwards and Ray Apps, a local bus driver and regular delegate to Labour Party conference. Dudley, an engineering worker, had a long history in the movement, and played a leading role in the Revolutionary Policy Committee in the ILP. He subsequently joined the Communist Party, but left disillusioned. He had also been in Germany just prior to Hitler’s victory, and spoke to many meetings about this experience. After many discussions with Alan (he later admitted he was testing us out) he eventually joined.

The work of the comrades in Sussex was a real breakthrough for the tendency nationally. For a number of years, a large part of the tendency’s finances as well as leading personnel came from the Sussex area. Without Alan’s work in Sussex, we would never have been able to develop the tendency nationally as we did. Nowadays, Peter Taaffe and the leaders of the so-called Socialist Party (the rump of the old Militant tendency) try to belittle the role of Alan, but the record speaks for itself. "Brighton played an enormous role both financially and politically in the past period", noted the report given to the National Editorial Board in May 1965.

Student comrades won at Sussex opened up many other areas of the country for the tendency. The comrades even won over the entire active membership of the Brighton Young Communist League, including Jim Brookshaw, a print worker and national chairman of the YCL, who remains a firm supporter. Through this work, we established a key position in the Brighton Kemptown Labour Party, with a building worker comrade, Rod Fitch, eventually becoming the parliamentary candidate in 1983.

The work in Sussex was therefore a decisive turning point in the fortunes of the Militant tendency.

Fusions and splits

In the early sixties, there was a move to re-unite the two Fourth Internationals – the International Secretariat based in Paris (Pablo, Mandel, Frank, and Maitan) and the US-based International Committee (Hanson, Healy and Lambert). Since the original split lacked any principled basis and was just the result of prestige and clique politics, the question of re-unification should have presented no great political difficulties.

However, as Ted always says, the pseudo-Trotskyist sects are "unlucky at fusions and lucky at splits." If you do not approach politics in a principled manner, then every attempt at unification will merely unite two groups into ten. And this was no exception. Immediately, instead of two Fourth Internationals, there were four or more. Poasdas and the South American Bureau refused to accept the unification. So did Healy in Britain and Lambert in France. Meanwhile, inside the IS, Pablo had quarreled with Mandel and the others, who soon retaliated by expelling him!

Undeterred by these problems, the International leaders began to beat the unification drum and put pressure on everyone and his uncle to unite - irrespective of political differences. It was a case of "all in together, never mind the weather." A sure recipe for disaster. In Britain, under the auspices of the International, there was an ill-advised attempt to rejoin forces with a largely Nottingham-based group around ex-CP members Pat Jordan and Ken Coates – stooges of the Paris leadership – who had launched the Week magazine. Coates – an adventurer who ended up as a Labour member of the European Parliament – had been briefly a member of the Healy group, but had been expelled.

These people had previously joined the Grant group in the late 1950s, and Jordan became organising secretary for a period. However, they manoeuvred with Pablo, and established a faction. This didn’t last long and they left to form their own International Group – a minuscule outfit, entirely petit bourgeois in composition and in outlook. In fact, just the sort of people Mandel could feel at home with. The politics of this group were one hundred percent pure opportunism. The Week had an entirely reformist content, involving various left MPs and such like. They were known as the Weak people – a little unkind, perhaps, but entirely accurate. These were the people in whom the International placed all its hopes.

The International had a big problem in Britain. One year earlier they had reunited with the American SWP but not with Healy, for whom an International leadership based in Paris was the kiss of death, since he would no longer rule the roost in Europe as the Americans had hitherto allowed him to do. He immediately started an hysterical campaign against "Pabloism" (conveniently forgetting his close relations with Pablo in the past) and the "betrayals" of Hanson and the American SWP (conveniently forgetting his close relations with them).

Paris demanded that the official British section should unite with the International Group to fight Healy. This was vigorously resisted by a large part of the tendency, but was eventually pushed through. Under the pressure of the International, a shaky fusion took place at a conference at Seven Oaks in Kent in September 1964. Jimmy Deane – the then secretary of the group – mistakenly heralded this as "a very important step forward for the Trotskyist movement in Britain." He continued: "In adopting its statement on unity, the conference showed its mature attitude towards the differing experiences of comrades and towards the existence of secondary tactical differences."[13]

However, there was a lot of wish-fulfilment in this. As usual, the leadership of the International displayed bad faith, immediately commencing their manoeuvres against the British leadership. The "secondary differences" soon developed into sharp differences and things fell apart within a matter of months, with Jordan and Coates boycotting the leading bodies and eventually walking out to build their own separate International Group (later the International Marxist Group).

This was a blow to Pierre Frank, a member of the IS with a grudge against Ted and those other comrades who refused to recognise him as a great Leader and Teacher of the International. By splitting away immediately, Jordan and Coates had deprived him of the possibility of manoeuvring against the British leadership. He did not hide his displeasure at this turn of events, chiding the splitters: "You are too cowardly to fight."

The tendency had learnt a painful lesson on the impossibility of short cuts. Unification with the Mandelites turned out to be a farce. A misguided attempt to collaborate with the Cliff group in developing the Young Guard paper also ended in failure. In both cases, the main mover was Jimmy Deane, who had illusions in the possibilities of unification. After the failure of these attempts, Jimmy became disillusioned and moved away from active involvement in the movement, although he has always remained loyal to the ideas. He is now very ill and incapacitated after a severe stroke. But this proletarian revolutionist with his thick Liverpool accent and impressive presence was a man of tremendous ability, and is fondly remembered by all who worked with him. He was a victim not only of the period, but also of the crimes of the so-called leaders of the Fourth.

The launching of Militant

This was probably the lowest point in the fortunes of the tendency. We were a tiny, isolated group, with no paper, no money, no full timers and no centre. In the YS we were one of the smallest groups. Alan Woods recalls:

"We faced continuous attacks not only from the bureaucracy but from the sects and from the International which was determined to crush us. But we had something more important than all these things. We had the ideas of Marxism, and we were not downcast in the slightest. We were confident in our ideas and perspectives. Ted played an absolutely key role at this time. He never lost his optimism, his unshakeable confidence or his famous sense of humour.

"Paradoxically, the difficult conditions helped to train us. The young comrades who were coming into activity at that time were used to fighting for the ideas. As a result we were not afraid of anything. It made us tough and determined and also sharpened us up politically and theoretically."

In the summer of 1964, a decision was taken to launch a new publication, and after much debate, the name of Militant was chosen. With Jimmy Deane’s departure abroad for work reasons, another decision was taken to find a replacement at the London centre. A new young recruit from Birkenhead, Peter Taaffe, was chosen to come to London on a full-time basis and help produce the paper and assist with the national work. Within a few months of launching Militant, the group rented three small rooms from the ILP in Kings Cross Road. It was to mark a new chapter in the development of Ted Grant’s Militant tendency.

The Healyites, who had no idea of what to do with their control of the YS, decided to break from the Labour Party and build their own independent youth organisation. They decided to provoke expulsion from the Labour Party by using hooligan methods. Despite their intolerable conduct, involving the use of physical violence to break up meetings, they did not find this very easy. Most Labour Party members are indulgent towards young people, and not enthusiastic about expelling them.

Eventually, in 1965 after a few expulsions, their ultra-left tactics brought the youth into collision with the bureaucracy and they split the majority of the youth away. As a consequence, the official YS was closed down, and later the youth that remained were reorganised into the Labour Party Young Socialists. The hooligan provocations of the Healyites gave the Labour bureaucracy the excuse to clamp down on the youth organisation. The bureaucracy imposed severe restrictions, such as the appointment of the National Committee by the adult party, the YS Federations were banned and discussions at conference were confined to youth issues. Every effort was used to get around these bureaucratic restrictions, including a tongue-in-cheek resolution moved one year "calling for the support of all members of the Viet Cong under the age of 25"!

On their departure the Healyites spread as many lies as they could about the "Pabloite Grantists" who allegedly assisted the right wing with their expulsions. In fact, while we totally opposed hooligan methods and violence anywhere in the labour movement, we vehemently opposed political witch-hunts, bans and proscriptions against the left. However, on one occasion the line had to be drawn.

The chairman of the Wandsworth YS was a Ceylonese comrade called Mani. He was an ex-member of the Healyites who had joined the Militant. He became the target of an organised hate campaign, in which members of the SLL recruited raw youth from the streets ("rockers" as they were popularly known) and sent them to break up a meeting where he was in the chair. They had been told that there was a "black guy who hates the rockers". On one occasion, Mani managed to persuade them to leave quietly, but the second time they caused a riot, whereupon the Party agent called the police. At that point, Mani closed the meeting in an attempt to defuse the situation. Subsequently, the bureaucracy moved the expulsion of a number of SLL members, and Mani counter-moved the expulsion of one who had personally been involved in violence.

Late on the Healyites tried to make a scandal out of this. In fact, there is no place for violence inside the workers’ movement, and those who resort to violence against members of the labour movement fully deserve to be driven out. Such actions cannot be justified. Trotsky explained this long ago when the Stalinists first introduced these alien methods into the workers’ movement. In fact, the Healy tendency had much more in common with Stalinism than with Trotskyism.

The Healyites did colossal damage to the image of Trotskyism in Britain and internationally. They systematically miseducated their members with the crazy perspective of imminent slump, world war or fascist dictatorship for more than 50 years. Their "third period" Stalinist methods acted like a mincing machine for their new recruits, burned out with paper selling and false promises of instant revolution. They quickly destroyed all those young people they had won, and having split away from the Labour Party on an ultra-left binge, were eventually reduced to splinters.

In a statement, entitled A Contribution on Ultra-Leftism, the Militant editorial board stated:

"In more recent times, we have had the activities of the ultra-lefts who, styling themselves Trotskyists, have abandoned all of Lenin’s teachings on left-wing Communism, and repudiated the Transitional Programme of the Fourth International.

"For them it is sufficient to issue ultimatums to the working class, the trade unions, the Labour Party, the Young Socialists’. To give the working class its marching orders. And when the workers and militants pass them by, they ’take off’, denouncing all those who fight, practically, for a consistent revolutionary programme and policy based on Lenin’s principles, as centrists, scabs, and ’Pabloites’.

"Experience has taught the British comrades that those who shout loudest today about betrayals, about sell-outs, fake-lefts, etc., are precisely those ’revolutionaries’ who were the deepest of deep entrists. The ’anti-Pabloites’ of today were in fact the most hysterical of the ’Pabloites’ of yesterday. Those who, in the past, refused to criticise Nye Bevan on the grounds that this would ’disrupt our relations with Tribune, are the same people who now denounce Tribune as the main enemy, and reserve their main fire, not – God forbid! – for the capitalist enemy, the Tories, or even for the right wing Labour leaders, but for the ’Left fakers’, and, of course, the ’Pabloites’." (The Bulletin, August 1966).

The final break

The Grant tendency had consistently opposed the political position of Pablo and the leadership of the United Secretariat, as they were called after the fusion of 1963. There were fundamental differences over China, the Sino-Soviet dispute, Cuba, guerrillarism, and the Colonial Revolution, which are outlined in the document reproduced in the appendix, The Programme of the International and in Ted’s book The Unbroken Thread. The conflict between the British section and Paris was such, that by the end of 1965, Pierre Frank, Mandel and Livio Maitan, who now called the shots in the International, decided to kick us out and recognise the Coates-Jordan group instead. This, despite the fact that that group represented less than nothing.

At the World Congress of 1965, the British comrades decided to put their views in writing. Since there was no confidence in the willingness of the USFI leadership to circulate our material, it was decided to duplicate the document Ted had written on the Sino-Soviet Dispute and the Colonial Revolution and send it to Paris for distribution. However, when the British delegates arrived they discovered that none of the other delegates had even seen the document. Ted commented ironically: "Lenin said that the Second International was not an International at all, but only a post office. But these people are not even a post office!"

At the International conference, Ted was given a total of seven and half minutes, excluding translation, to put the opposition case against the USFI position. A brief letter dated 19 January 1966 from Pierre Frank, who had consistently manoeuvred against the British section since it rejoined the International, informed us of our "demotion". The reply of the section simply stated that the leadership of the United Secretariat had no political authority, and was simply taking organisational measures to silence our opposition:

"The crisis of the International in part derives from a lack of understanding of this problem. For what fundamentally is the International? It is a programme, policy, method, and only lastly an organisation to carry out the former. We remain true to the ideas and methods of Trotsky." By this time Pablo had himself been expelled from the USFI (in 1964) and eventually went back to Greece and ceased active involvement in the movement. He died a few years ago in Athens at a ripe old age. Before he died he asked some of the Greek comrades to send his greetings to Ted and added: "You know, he was really the only honest man in those meetings (of the International leadership in the 1950s)."

After this experience, it was necessary to draw a balance sheet of the history of the Fourth International. Ted did this in a document called The Programme of the International. Thirty years of experience was surely enough to allow us to draw a clear conclusion. If a person or an organisation makes a mistake that is one thing. But if the same mistake is constantly repeated and no lessons are learned, then it is no longer a mistake, but an organic tendency. As painful as it might be, it was clear to everyone that this so-called International was dead, that any attempt to revive it was fruitless. After some discussion, it was decided that we should turn our back forever on these gentlemen and face firmly towards the mass organisations of the working class.

The opportunism of the Cliff group

By 1967, with the growing disenchantment at the Wilson Labour Government, the Cliff group (The International Socialists, who later became the Socialist Workers Party) and the International Marxist Group followed the SLL and left the Labour Party. They light-mindedly dropped everything they had said previously and ran off in all directions. In a purely opportunist fashion, they ran after the students involved in the anti-Vietnam protests, adapting their position to the prejudices of the students and petit-bourgeois layers.

The Cliff group, while holding onto their anti-Trotskyist theory of state capitalism nevertheless gave support to "state capitalist" North Vietnam. Earlier, however, they had refused to support North Korea at the time of the Korean War. The difference? In the 1960s, support for Ho Chi Min became very fashionable among the students. Later they scandalously supported the Mujaheddin Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan as "freedom fighters" against so-called Soviet imperialism.

In the early 1960s, Cliff had dropped any claim to Trotskyism and was even distancing himself from Leninist organisation. Rosa Luxemburg became all the rage among the petit-bourgeois enemies of Leninism – but only her weak side, of course. As crude opportunists, the Cliffites simply jumped onto whatever bandwagon was to hand. They drifted in whatever direction the wind was blowing.

A good example of this is their position on Ireland. In 1969, Militant opposed the sending of British troops to Ireland, and our supporters raised the issue as an emergency resolution on the floor of Labour Party Annual Conference. Although the resolution was overwhelmingly defeated, we made clear our opposition to British imperialism and the need for a united struggle of Catholic and Protestant workers based on a socialist programme as the only solution to the problems of Ireland. In contrast, the Cliff Group supported the sending of British troops to the North on the spurious grounds that they were being sent to "protect the Catholics".

The Marxist tendency represented by Militant explained that British troops were being sent in the interests of British imperialism, and that the working class should establish its own non-sectarian defence force based on the trade unions. But the Cliffites were "practical" people, who ended up supporting the instrument of British imperialism:

"The breathing space provided by the presence of British troops is short but vital", wrote Socialist Worker. "Those who call for the immediate withdrawal of the troops before the men behind the barricades can defend themselves are inviting a pogrom which will hit first and hardest at socialists."[14] Again, "Because the troops do not have the same ingrained hatreds of the RUC and B Specials, they will not behave with the same viciousness’" and that "The deployment of British troops in Ulster provides some sort of security against the lawlessness of the RUC and B Specials."[15] Later, in a complete volte face, these same people ended up supporting the campaign of individual terrorism by the Provisional IRA.

Embarrassed by these positions, they now attempt to deny or sweep them under the carpet. Eventually, Cliff, basing himself on his theory of state capitalism, would end up being neutral in the capitalist counter-revolution unfolding in the USSR and Eastern Europe. For him it was simply a shift "sideways", and was of no real significance.[16]

The IMG too gave uncritical support to guerrilla struggles everywhere while attempting to set up "red bases" [sic!] in the universities. They also supported every action of the Provos in Ireland, even going so far as to justify their bombing campaign in Britain as an "anti-imperialist struggle". "The IMG and Red Weekly unconditionally support the right of the Irish Republican Movement to carry on armed actions against British Imperialism", read their press statement issued on 23 August 1973. "We do not hold that in principle such armed actions have to be confined to the other side of the Irish Channel."

In practise, the IMG had completely abandoned the position of Marx and Connolly for the methods of Bakunin and the advocates of individual terrorism. The Militant, on the other hand, maintained a consistent class position. We, of course, condemned the repressive rule of British imperialism in Ireland, but we also unequivocally opposed the tactics of the Provisional IRA that completely played into the hands of imperialism and intensified the sectarian gulf in the North. As opposed to this petit-bourgeois stance of the IMG, we consistently argued for a class and socialist approach to the problems of Ireland as James Connolly had always done.

This tiny Mandelite sect, which had been pursuing the deepest of deep entry, now suddenly declared that the Labour Party was a bourgeois party, and actually called on workers to abstain in the 1970 general election (not that anyone heard them). They even went so far as to recommend that people should go to Labour Party meetings and break them up. Needless to say, they never attempted to do so themselves, preferring to confine this verbal demagogy to the university coffee bars, which was their exclusive sphere of "revolutionary action".

The Militant takes off

By 1970, the only tendency of any size, which remained in the Labour Party, was ourselves. The ultra-left sects found this amusing. But in the end the laugh was on them. These vulgar empirics had no perspective whatsoever and could see no further than the end of their noses (they have not changed much today).

Superficially, they seemed to have a point. The right wing policies of the Labour government of Harold Wilson led to a growing sense of anger and disillusionment among the workers. The attempt by Barbara Castle to introduce anti-union legislation resulted in miners’ lodges threatening to disaffiliate from the Party.

After the rampages of the Healyites, the LPYS had been reduced to a rump. I remember that in 1968, I was the only member left in the Swansea YS branch. Activity in the movement slumped. However, in relation to the LPYS, within a few years the Labour leadership relented and restored many of the democratic rights taken away in 1965, including the granting of a youth paper and a youth seat on the NEC.

The 1970s were a political watershed nationally and internationally. The defeat of the Wilson government and the coming to power of Heath ushered in a period of heightened radicalisation in the working class. Huge demonstrations took place against the government’s anti-union legislation culminating in the imprisonment of five dockers and the threat of a general strike. Factory occupations had reached unprecedented levels and eventually the government was brought down by the miners’ strike of 1974. The ruling class was on the retreat, with sections of the state preparing the ground for a future shift towards reaction, as witnessed by the views of Brigadier Kitson and others military figures at the time.

In Swansea, by turning to work among school students, we managed to win over a few young comrades, including Andy Bevan, who was to play a key role for the tendency. By 1970, democratic elections resulted in our tendency winning a majority on the national leadership of the LPYS, which started a national campaign to build up the youth organisation. Peter Doyle, chairman of the LPYS, was then elected as a youth representative on to the NEC of the party, the first time a Trotskyist was elected to such a position. We began to build up points of support within the Labour movement. Our decision to remain had been vindicated.

The mass organisations do not develop in a straight line but dialectically. Directly or indirectly, they reflect the processes at work in the working class and in society generally. The recession of 1974-75 put an end to the period of general capitalist upswing, which had lasted since 1950. This was the first serious economic recession since the war. Prior to that the cyclical recessions of the upswing had been very superficial, and had been barely noticed by the workers, while living standards generally increased. The 1970s were of a completely different character to the period that went before or even the subsequent period 1982-2000.

Internationally, the slump of 1974-75 had far reaching consequences. There were revolutionary movements in the ex-colonial world: Angola, Mozambique and elsewhere. Revolutionary developments also took place in Portugal with the overthrow of the dictatorship, in Greece with the overthrow of the military, in Spain with the end of the Franco regime. Italy experienced a pre-revolutionary ferment. In contrast to the period of "democratic" illusions in the 1950s and 1960s, the European bourgeoisie was preparing for a decisive showdown with the working class. The "Gladio" conspiracy proves beyond doubt that the ruling class was preparing for military dictatorships in Italy, Spain, Norway and Belgium. It has emerged since that sections of the ruling class and the military in ’democratic’ Britain had even contemplated a coup against the Labour government of Harold Wilson in the late 1960s.

In this period the pendulum of society swung far to the left. In Portugal, after nearly half a century of fascist and Bonapartist rule, on May Day 1974, one million people demonstrated on the streets of Lisbon. Since the total population of Portugal was only 8 million, this shows the extraordinary sweep of the revolution. The Times published an editorial saying, "Capitalism in Portugal is dead." Once again the masses turned towards their traditional organisations. Unfortunately, it was the actions of the leaders of the Communist Party and Socialist Party – especially the Stalinists in the first instance – that again saved capitalism.

This radicalisation also reflected itself within the British Labour Party. The Left succeeded in winning a slim majority on the NEC. Official Party policy also reflected the swing to the left, when it adopted a programme containing the nationalisation of the top 25 companies. The Militant tendency intervened in these events in a decisive fashion and began to grow.

From fewer than 100 comrades in 1966, the tendency grew to more than 500 by 1975. We had acquired our own printing press and the Militant newspaper had gone weekly in 1972. The tendency gradually built up its position in the Labour movement. This was only possible because we did not succumb to the pressure of ultra-leftism, but remained within the Labour Party while others left. This was one of the secrets of the later success of the Marxist tendency in Britain – an historical breakthrough with no parallel elsewhere.

The Committee for a Workers’ International

Alan Woods, who played a leading role in the British organisation since the early 1960s, became the tendency’s first regional full-time professional based in South Wales, which soon became a model area. From just the two of us in Swansea in 1969, we built a thriving area, with a number of shop stewards in Fords and the deputy convener, Albert Rosser, who played a key role in the Fords strike.

We had a good base among the miners as a result of our intervention in the miners’ strikes of 1970 and 1974. The paper was sold in a number of key pits. We led the bakers’ strike in Swansea and also a mass rent strike. On every national demonstration the South Wales contingent was among the biggest. But we did not base ourselves on "activism". We gave a lot of attention to Marxist theory. The South Wales Summer camp became the national Summer School. We also published the South Wales Bulletin of Marxist Studies.

In 1974, with a tiny handful of comrades in other countries, we set up the Committee for a Workers International. At this time Alan was given a key responsibility in our international work – that of building a section of the tendency in Franco’s Spain. In January 1976, Alan and his first wife Pam – who was also active in the movement – made a big personal sacrifice, and moved to Madrid with two small children (five and two years old) to build the tendency under the difficult conditions of illegal work in the Spanish underground. Within a couple of years, starting with a tiny group of just six comrades (three Spanish and three British) the Spanish organisation grew to 350, and became the second biggest section within the CWI.

But the Spanish bureaucracy had learned from the British experience. After a ferocious witch-hunt by the Socialist Party bureaucracy – the paper was banned and the majority of the comrades expelled. However, we maintained our orientation to the mass organisations, including a flexible approach, and were able to build up an important base for Trotskyism. Today, this has allowed us to wage mass struggles under the banner of the Spanish School Students Union. On several occasions since 1987, the Students Union has led national strikes of three million students.

Alan remained in Spain for eight years, till 1983, when he was obliged to return to Britain because of health problems. After returning to Britain, Alan played a leading role in the International, helping to establish our presence also in Chile, Argentina, Pakistan, Mexico and other countries. He also became editor of the theoretical magazine, the Militant International Review, and was expelled from the Labour Party during the purge against Militant supporters.

It is no accident that the tendency in Britain and Spain achieved a breakthrough precisely at this time. The success of our work in the mass organisations is determined, on the one hand, by the objective situation and, on the other hand, by the existence of patient, long-term preparatory work, which lays the basis for reaching large numbers of leftward moving workers and youth when conditions are ripe.

Marxists have never made a fetish of any organisational form or tactic. The golden rule is at all times to find a way of connecting with the working class, beginning with the active layer. This necessitates taking advantage of each and every possibility that presents itself at each stage, while keeping firmly in mind the general orientation and strategy.

The first witch hunt fails

The crisis of the Wilson-Callaghan Government of 1974-79 enabled the tendency to connect with a wide layer of radicalised workers as never before. The alarm bells were beginning to ring, not only in the bureaucracy of the Labour Party, but in the ruling class. For the first time, Trotskyism in Britain became a serious factor in the calculations of the state. The strategists of capital were alarmed by the sharp leftward turn of the Labour Party and correctly understood that the activities of the Marxists were playing a key role in pushing the Left, stiffening their resolve and urging them to go further.

Of course, this was not the main aim of our work, but a by-product. The left reformists had an ambivalent attitude to the Marxists. We were objectively allies in the struggle with the right wing, but we were also competitors and rivals, who were constantly winning ground at their expense. We were forcing them to go much further than they wished to go. Moreover, it is well known that a confused person always hates someone with clear ideas. They were at best unstable and unreliable allies.

In 1976, the witch-hunt against us began with an "exposure" in a Sunday newspaper, The Observer, by the well-known columnist Nora Beloff. Using material gathered by Reg Underhill, the Labour Party’s National Organiser, Beloff attempted to stampede the Labour Party into a witch-hunt. This had all the hallmarks of a premeditated provocation.

Unfortunately for the organisers of the provocation, however, the mood in the Party was not favourable for a witch-hunt. The tendency had won a lot of respect among activists by its tireless work and principled stance on all questions. We never went in for the kind of abuse and hysteria that is the hallmark of the ultra-left groups and cut them off from ordinary working class people. Ted always insisted that we should stick to defending our ideas with "facts, figures and arguments", to "patiently explain" as Lenin used to say.

The "Left" majority on the NEC refused to take action, and by the end of the year, our comrade Andy Bevan, who was chair of the LPYS, was selected - after an outstanding performance in his interview and a blunder by a Party bureaucrat – as the new national Youth Officer of the Labour Party. After an initial red scare and ruckus by the Labour officials’ union, Andy was eventually established in an office in Transport House, the Labour Party HQ. This gave us a tremendous opportunity to utilise our position in the LPYS to full effect, allowing us to take our ideas into wider sections of the Labour movement.

Following the 1977 national fire fighters’ strike, the following year’s TUC came out in opposition to the government’s wages policy. A month later, at the Labour Party conference, our comrade Terry Duffy, a delegate from Wavertree CLP, moved a successful composite also rejecting the government’s wages’ policy. The coming months saw the biggest movement of low-paid workers in history, in the so-called Winter of Discontent. In 1979, after some prevarication, Callaghan went to the polls and was defeated by the Tory Party under Margaret Thatcher.

The Thatcher Government

Labour’s defeat and the election of Thatcher resulted in a massive radicalisation in the mass organisations. The shift to the left was a reflection of the disgust with Labour’s pro-capitalist policies, and took the form of the rise of Bennism within the Labour Party. Michael Foot had replaced Callaghan as leader, and in 1981 Tony Benn came within a whisker – less than one percent – of defeating Denis Healey, the right wing candidate, for the deputy leadership.

After this leadership election, a section of the right wing split away to form the SDP. This move further reinforced the leftward shift within the party. It was under these conditions that the Militant tendency grew quite rapidly, with 1,000 active supporters registered by 1980. The rise of Trotskyism within the Labour Party alarmed the ruling class, which had long regarded the party as an invaluable prop of the capitalist system. The ruling class was never likely to accept the loss of control over the Labour Party without a struggle. It was obvious to us that a counter-attack was just a matter of time. The capitalist press launched a new witch-hunt against the tendency, demanding our expulsion from the party.

On a personal note, I joined the tendency in Swansea in late 1966, after attending a summer YS day school where Ted was speaking on the Russian Revolution. I remember vividly a discussion in the kitchen of a comrade, where I was informed that becoming a supporter of Marxism "was a commitment for life." At that time, I believe we had about 70 or 80 comrades nationally. By the time I became full-timer, when Alan left for Spain at the beginning of 1976, we had around 600 comrades. At that time I was elected from Wales onto the National Committee of the LPYS and also onto the tendency’s leading body. In early 1982, having successfully built up a powerful position for the tendency in South Wales, I went to work for the CWI, but was soon drafted into a newly formed "anti-witch hunt" department at our London headquarters.

In the fight against the witch-hunt, we organised a successful Labour movement conference of 2,000 delegates at the Wembley Conference Centre in London. Despite the protests and resolutions against the purge, eventually the "soft left" on the NEC capitulated under the pressure of the media campaign. The press was covering the activities of the tendency on a daily basis. Using the Underhill report, filled with a mixture of various documents, tittle-tattle and so-called evidence, the NEC expelled the Militant Editorial Board in 1983. The expulsions came just prior to the by-election in Bermondsey, South London – an apparently unassailable Labour seat which the Party lost to the Liberals.

At the end of 1983, I was appointed National Organiser of the tendency – a position I held until the end of 1991. I headed the Organisation Department responsible for Labour Party work, countering the expulsions, media relations, the MPs, councillors, co-ordination of the full timers, recruitment, organisation of the national rallies and meetings, as well as public campaigns, not least the anti-Poll Tax campaign. It was a huge operation. Massive rallies were held all over the county to protest against the expulsions, which in turn, led to greater and greater support for the tendency. This support also translated itself into the tendency’s growth in the trade unions, and development of the Broad Left Organising Committee (BLOC).

The high point

In 1984 at the beginning of the miners’ strike, the BLOC had become the largest left force in the trade unions and held a successful conference of more than 2,500 representatives from all the main trade unions. For the first time in history, a Trotskyist, John MacCreadie was elected to the General Council of the Trade Union Congress. During the year-long miners’ strike, given our position in the mining areas, we managed to win over 500 miners to the tendency. In 1988, we filled the Alexandra Palace in London with 7,500 supporters. This was the high point of the Militant tendency.

On the political front, two of our comrades, Terry Fields and Dave Nellist were elected to parliament in 1983. These were to be followed in 1987 by Pat Wall, a marvellous comrade who had a great rapport with workers and youth. The Militant leadership of Liverpool City Council from 1983 onwards and its battle with the Tory Government also served to put the tendency firmly on the map. While our councillors in Liverpool were surcharged and banned from office, we had never been defeated at the ballot box. The Militant tendency had become a household name and had grown rapidly in numbers and influence. All those sects who remained outside of the Labour Party and had scoffed at our work in the party were left on the sidelines with their mouths open.

In October 1985, Kinnock, who became leader of the Party after Michael Foot had stepped down, made his infamous speech at the Labour Party conference attacking the Militant-led Liverpool City Council. This was the beginning of a concerted witch-hunt and a showdown with the tendency. "I think Neil’s speech was of historic importance", said Denis Healey. Bob Parry, Labour MP for Liverpool Riverside, however claimed: "Kinnock showed today that he is the biggest traitor since Ramsey MacDonald."

But at the end of the day, all these measures failed. Although they made life very difficult for us (what else could you expect the bureaucracy to do?) the results were really quite poor. By the end of the decade they had only succeeded in expelling around 250 comrades out of some 8,000 supporters.

We had created the strongest Trotskyist tendency since the days of the Russian Left Opposition. From counting the pennies, we now had a turnover of over a million pounds a year, a large premises, a big web printing press, capable of printing a daily paper, and, incredibly, around 250 full time workers - which was more than the Labour Party itself. We had roots in many trade unions and Labour Parties, including about 50 councillors and three Marxist MPs. To their utter exasperation, despite their repeated attempts, the Labour leadership had still failed to separate Marxism from the Labour Party.

 

The poll tax

 

After Thatcher’s third election victory in 1987, the Tory government moved to introduce a retrogressive Poll Tax in Scotland, and a year later in England and Wales. We saw this as a great opportunity to engage in mass work and lead a battle against the Tory government. In the end, our tactic of mass non-payment connected with the mood of millions of people up and down the country. At its height, around 18 million people refused to pay the hated tax. This was the biggest movement of civil disobedience in British history, led by the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Union, which we had established and led. 250,000 people demonstrated in London and a further 50,000 took to the streets of Glasgow. Without doubt, this mass movement, which terrified the strategists of capital, contributed to the repeal of the Poll Tax and the resignation of Thatcher in 1990.

Despite these enormous successes, there were serious problems in the tendency. The most serious was that the political level of the cadres was declining, and the leadership was doing nothing to counter this trend. In the end the reason for this became clear. Ted Grant continually stressed at editorial board meetings the need to thoroughly educate and train the new comrades who entered our ranks. Unfortunately, these calls went largely unheard. Alan Woods attempted to reverse the trend by building up the theoretical journal, but these attempts were deliberately sabotaged by the leading group around Peter Taaffe, who were already pursuing their own agenda at this time.

The Taaffe group favoured activism over theory, which they privately regarded with contempt. Given the changed objective conditions, which had become much more difficult, we had to run fast to stand still. Of course, the building of the tendency was very important, but activism began increasingly to overwhelm the tendency. The stress on growth alone served to politically dilute the tendency, weaken the cadres and open it up to all kinds of alien pressures and influences. As long as Ted’s political authority in the leadership was strong, this served to hold things together. However, behind the scenes Peter Taaffe, the editor of the paper, had other ideas.

With the wisdom of hindsight it is clear that Taaffe was getting big ideas about the real significance of the tendency and his role in it. Ted had always stressed the need for "a sense of proportion and a sense of humour". But a sense of proportion was just what was missing in the leading group in Militant. They were intoxicated with the successes of the tendency. These were real enough, but one has to keep things in their proper context. A tendency of 8,000 was a significant force, yes. But in comparison with the multi-millioned British labour movement it was still very small. Taaffe and his supporters did not grasp this fact. They were rapidly losing contact with reality. In the immortal phrase of Stalin, they were "dizzy with success."

A very ambitious man with a morbid fear of rivals, actual or potential, Taaffe decided that his talents were not sufficiently appreciated. Actually, despite a certain flair for organisation, Taaffe was never a theoretician and was deeply jealous of people whom he saw as on a higher level than himself. He surrounded himself with a group of yes-men and yes-women, who encouraged him in his delusions of grandeur and egged him on to confront Ted. But this he could not do openly. Instead, he resorted to behind-the-scenes manoeuvres to isolate Ted, spreading rumours about his allegedly impossible character, and worse.

Slowly but surely, a clique was forming around the person of Taaffe. He took personal responsibility for the tendency in Liverpool and West of Scotland, where he assiduously cultivated certain individuals at the expense of others. Although Taaffe was a talented speaker and a capable organiser, all his ideas were taken from Ted.

As long as he worked with Ted, his abilities were put to good use in developing the tendency. However, by this time, Taaffe was clearly attempting to boost his own stature by privately undermining those around him. Taaffe worked systematically to isolate Ted in the leadership. Within the space of two years, Ted was accused of "senile dementia" or, less elegantly, of "losing his marbles". He was denounced as "another Plekhanov" (the founder of Russian Marxism who eventually ended up a Menshevik). Alan Woods, meanwhile, was described as a "mere theoretician". Yet, this phrase reveals better than anything else does the narrow organisational mentality of Taaffe and his group and their contempt for theory. They did not understand the elementary fact that our tendency was built on the solid foundation of Marxist theory. Once that foundation was removed the entire edifice would inevitably collapse – which was just what happened.

In reality, Taaffe felt particularly threatened by Alan Woods, who was certainly on a higher theoretical level and was regarded by everyone as an excellent public speaker and writer. Since Taaffe was always looking over his shoulders for rivals, he imagined (wrongly) that here was a threat to his own position. He therefore did everything in his power to isolate Alan at every step, using different means of preventing from speaking at public meetings, withholding funds from the theoretical journal and even blocking the publication of his book on the history of Bolshevism. Alan’s main sin was that he was always close to Ted and consequently would never have countenanced any manoeuvres against him – or anybody else. Taaffe knew that it would be impossible to remove Ted without a battle with Alan Woods – something he feared because of the consequences, above all in the International. He therefore proceeded with great caution, concealing his intrigues as much as possible.

With the end of the Poll Tax campaign, things were coming to a head inside the tendency. Although our intervention in the Poll Tax movement was an outstanding success, because of the policy of "activism" promoted by the leadership – which at times meant that our most active people were running around aimlessly – there was a clear disproportion between the amount of effort put in and the concrete results in terms of growth. As a result, moods of frustration and impatience began to emerge within the organisation.

This even affected some of the leadership, particularly in the West of Scotland and Liverpool. They had been engaged in mass struggles and this seemed to have gone to their heads. They began to look for a short cut to success. Tommy Sheridan in Scotland in particular was keen to break from the Labour Party. Lacking a firm grounding in Marxism, and a clear perspective, they were affected by ephemeral moods in society, and the pressures of the moment. In practice, they abandoned the Marxist method in favour of eclecticism and impressionism. They had clearly lost all sense of proportion and were completely disoriented.

In April 1991, they convinced Taaffe to launch a "new turn" in Scotland. This was sold to the leadership as a temporary local "detour", allegedly intended to combat the threat from Scottish nationalism. Shortly afterwards, a violent row broke out within the international leadership with Ted and Alan accusing Taaffe of organising a clique. This led to a sharp deterioration in relations within the leadership. Then in May, with the death of Eric Heffer, the MP for Walton, the group around Taaffe came forward with the idea of standing Leslie Mahmood, who had been narrowly defeated in the selection process, against Peter Kilfoyle, the official Labour candidate and chief witch-hunter on Merseyside. The electoral challenge was depicted ridiculously as a principled question and the tendency was demagogically stampeded into fighting the by-election. It represented a fundamental break with our whole past orientation. Within the leadership, with Alan abroad, only Ted and myself spoke and voted against the proposal. Dave Nellist remarked later in private that "it was turkeys voting for Christmas."

All of our resources were mobilised to fight the by-election. Wildly exaggerated reports were given at national meetings to the effect that victory was within our grasp. In the end, Leslie, standing as the "Real Labour" candidate came third with a derisory 2,613 votes, while Kilfoyle won the seat with 21,317 votes. It was a humiliating defeat – bearing in mind that the Militant had recently led a mass movement in the city and effectively controlled the council. But Taaffe and his supporters could not admit this. Instead they resorted to blatant demagogy. 2,613 votes for Socialism! proclaimed the Militant in banner headlines, in an attempt to gloss over the humiliation and to raise the demoralised spirits of the rank and file comrades.

The majority leadership proclaimed the result as a "success", which should be followed in other parts of the country! In this way, what might have been a small mistake, which could easily have been corrected, was magnified into a colossal blunder that destroyed the Militant tendency. The idea that a small organisation could compete with the Labour Party was ridiculous in the extreme. As we explained many times, history has shown it is not possible for small revolutionary groups to reach the mass of the working class by a direct route. But by this time, rational argument played no role in the Militant leadership. They were hell-bent on pushing the tendency into what Ted aptly described as "a short cut over a cliff."

The group around Taaffe was not interested in listening to anybody. The only thing that mattered now was the prestige of the leading group and the infallibility of its Leader. The conclusions they drew were quite farcical. The Merseyside organiser, Dave Cotterill, subsequently wrote: "The Labour Party would wither on the vine." This shows the absurd delusions of grandeur that characterised the mentality of these people at the time. Of course, as we predicted at the time, it was the Taaffites who would wither away to nothing.

The Walton episode merely served to intensify the Labour bureaucracy’s witch-hunt against the tendency. "On the basis of photographic, and other verifiable evidence of Labour members campaigning for Mahmood in the by-election, the NEC Organisation Committee ordered 147 suspected Militant sympathisers to be suspended – the biggest ever crack-down against the organisation", wrote George Drower. "Proceedings were begun to expel allegedly Militant-supporting Labour MPs, Dave Nellist and Terry Fields."[17] The Taaffe leadership had deliberately placed their heads on a plate.

Within the leadership, Ted, Alan Woods and I firmly opposed this ultra-left "turn", which Ted characterised as "a threat to forty years work." As we explained in an Opposition bulletin, "After decades of successful work in the mass organisations, which have permitted us to make unprecedented gains, an attempt is being made to launch the tendency on an adventure which threatens to undermine the entire basis of the tendency."[18]

One of the things that always set us apart from the pseudo-Trotskyist sects was the extremely democratic and tolerant internal life within the tendency. Expulsions were extremely rare and dissenting views were always given a fair hearing. This was no accident. It was based on the colossal political and moral authority of the leadership, which in turn reflected that of Ted Grant, a man who was never afraid of political debate, but whom even his enemies would have to admit was always fair-minded, tolerant and loyal. But these clean traditions were trampled underfoot. Taaffe and his supporters did not possess the necessary political armoury to take on the Opposition in a fair fight. Instead they used the weight of the apparatus, the full timers, the weapon of slander, gossip and character assassination, to attempt to wear down and crush us.

In the heated faction fight, Ted and the Opposition were treated abysmally. We were presented not as comrades with arguments to be answered, but as enemies to be crushed. They resorted to the pettiest methods of harassment to undermine our morale. When we went to the centre, nobody spoke to us, not even good morning. Later, our bags were searched before we were allowed to leave the building, and so on. As Ted remarked about Taaffe: "He’s got more tricks than a monkey in a box. He must think that this is what politics is all about! He has the mentality of a provincial politician."

The methods of the ruling clique in the faction fight were pure Stalinism. In one national meeting, which was an organised "hate session" against myself in particular, Ted made what must have been the shortest speech of his life. "I have seen these methods before. This is Healyism! This is Cannonism! This is Stalinism!" And he sat down, to a stunned silence. The fact is that the Taaffites could not tolerate opposition. They found they could not break us – as they had broken others – and so, after a farcical pretence at a "debate", we were unceremoniously expelled in January 1992.

The expulsion of the Opposition inevitably led to a split in the tendency in Britain and internationally. In Britain the Opposition had the support of several hundred mainly experienced cadres and trade union activists. The situation was far more favourable in the international. At the time of the split, the Opposition had the majority in the CWI. The Spanish, Italian, Belgian, Danish, Cypriot, Mexican, Argentinean and Pakistani organisations supported us. The Greeks were evenly divided, but all the worker comrades supported us. We had significant minorities in Sweden and Germany. In Ireland, the USA and Sri Lanka there was no debate and we were effectively prevented from putting our case. The French section had already been split by Taaffe’s manoeuvres – as had the Irish, as we discovered later – the expelled comrades joined the Opposition. If we exclude Britain, this means that we almost certainly had the majority of the international tendency on our side.

In Britain, however, we were once again reduced to a relatively small group with no resources. Our apparatus was reduced to one battered old typewriter. We managed to raise enough to rent a small room and launch a monthly magazine – the Socialist Appeal. Nevertheless, although small in numbers, we had sizeable international support. Despite the setback, we managed to take with us the main theoreticians of the tendency, including its founder, and win over a layer of important trade union comrades. We had retained comrades who had experience in building the tendency, even in the most difficult circumstances. These qualities were, and are, a sufficient guarantee for our success.

At the time of the split, Taaffe took the big majority of the members, including the youth, almost all of whom he soon lost, the press, the money and the apparatus. He had apparently everything in his favour. By the end of the decade, the results of his stewardship were clear to all. He has almost single-handedly managed to wreck the organisation. The huge centre in Hepscott Road has had to be sold off as a result of a financial crisis. They are now living off the proceeds, but this money will not last forever. In the meantime, they have lost the whole of the Scottish organisation. Just as we thought, Tommy Sheridan split away on a nationalist binge fusing with the Cliff group on the way.

Most of the former leaders of the majority faction have dropped out in demoralisation. The entire leadership of the Liverpool region was booted out. Taaffe has thus succeeded in destroying the Liverpool organisation that he was in charge of for so many years, and which used to be regarded as the jewel in the crown of Militant. The membership has been decimated, and probably stands at no more than a couple of hundred activists (at the time of the split in 1992 they claimed 5,000). Even the name of Militant – which was well known in Britain and internationally – has been unceremoniously ditched and replaced with a name that nobody has ever heard of. In short, they have succeeded in destroying all that was built up through decades of work.

They light-mindedly threw away the MPs – deliberately provoking their expulsion – as well as other important points of support built up over decades of patient work. On the international front, they have lost entire sections and experienced a series of splits – which still continue. Where they retain some support, it is largely down to the political capital developed by Ted in the past. In their continuing search for a magic formula, they set up an umbrella grouping called the Socialist Alliance. When this was recently taken over by the Cliff group, the Taaffites walked out in a huff. In short, they have shown that they are only good at destroying what others have built. Ten year later, it is all quite clear. It was not the Labour Party, but the Taaffites who have "withered on the vine."

The Unbroken Thread

Over the past decade, our tendency has been rebuilt from scratch. In Britain we have built upon the important points of support we had in the trade unions and are now engaged in rebuilding our base in the youth. On an international scale we have had a number of serious successes – especially in Spain, Italy, Mexico and Pakistan, where we are now becoming a mass force.

In 1992 we launched the Socialist Appeal magazine, which has gained a solid reputation for serious analysis, comment and militant policies in the labour movement in Britain and internationally. Our output of high quality Marxist theoretical material is second to none. In 1995 we began the publication of books, which have made quite a spectacular impact internationally, starting with Reason in Revolt, by Alan Woods and Ted Grant. This was the first attempt since Engels’ Dialectics of Nature to apply the method of dialectical materialism to the results of modern science.

This was followed by Russia – From Revolution to Counter-revolution, Bolshevism – the Road to Revolution, and a new expanded edition of Lenin and Trotsky – What they really stood for. Our books are translated into Spanish, Italian, Greek, Russian, Turkish and Urdu. Reason in Revolt is currently being translated into German and Dutch. Our articles and pamphlets have also been translated into French, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Portuguese, Rumanian, Serbian, Macedonian, Polish, Indonesian, Hebrew and other languages.

We can say without fear of contradiction that the political authority of our tendency, both nationally and internationally, has never been greater than it is now. In 1997 we launched the extremely successful website In Defence of Marxism (www.marxist.com), which has had far-reaching international appeal, and has been visited by hundreds of thousands of people worldwide. In the last year alone we had over one million successful page visits, and the number of visits is constantly increasing. We deal with a voluminous correspondence from all over the world, and there is a growing number of international collaborators - many of them with sister websites – the latest being in Turkey, Serbia, Poland, Ireland, South Africa and Indonesia.

The key to our success has been our firm defence of the ideas of Marxism, which has permitted us to gain an important following in a whole series of countries where we had nothing previously. We base ourselves on the classics of Marxism, and the contribution that Ted in particular has made over the last 60 years. Thus, although we are formally a young tendency, in practice we represent an unbroken thread that can trace its past back to the days of Trotsky’s International Left Opposition.

The contribution of Ted Grant, in close collaboration with Alan Woods, has been of the utmost importance. Ted’s political experience has been the bedrock of the tendency. In the past, his method and orientation, which are rooted in Trotsky’s approach, served to make the tendency a major factor in British politics. This process was unfortunately cut across by a combination of unfavourable objective conditions and the political weaknesses of a leadership that lost its head and was blown off course by events that it did not understand.

Some people imagined that after the crisis in Militant, everything was lost. For our part, the setback ten years ago did not dent our confidence in the slightest degree. On the contrary, in many ways we have been greatly strengthened. We are more convinced than ever in the correctness of our ideas - the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky – which can be modified in this or that detail, but which remain fundamentally the same as they were 150 years ago.

Engels once said that the party becomes strong by purging itself. The split in the Militant was part of the crisis of the Left internationally. We have learned valuable lessons from the experience. True, in Britain above all we lost a lot of people and were thrown back. But this is not the first time such things have occurred. We have been in a small minority before, as were the great teachers of Marxism. That does not worry us. We are convinced that in the stormy period that opens up before us on a world scale, great events will propel the working class into action in one country after another. Sooner or later the new generation will begin to look for an alternative to the blind alley of capitalism and the bankrupt policies of reformism.

The collapse of Stalinism, has produced a crisis within the Stalinist or former Stalinist parties, and opened up greater possibilities for the ideas of Trotskyism than ever before. Equipped with the correct ideas, methods and approach, we can build a genuine mass Marxist tendency at home and abroad. Ten years ago, the fall of the USSR plunged the Left – and especially the Communist Parties – into a deep crisis. But now the process has turned full circle.

The introduction of the market in Russia and Eastern Europe has spelt disaster for the masses. Gradually, the workers’ movement in Russia is beginning to recover, and inside the Communist Parties, there is a growing interest in the ideas of Trotsky. As we go to print, our Russian comrades will have published the book Lenin and Trotsky – What they really stood for, which Alan and Ted wrote in 1969, in the Russian language. In the coming period, the ideas of the Trotskyist tendency represented by the paper Rabochaya Demokratiya will get a mass audience in Russia, where a new edition of the October Revolution will be on the order of the day.

Events in Latin America, where the revolution in Argentina has begun, show that the so-called globalisation is expressing itself as a global crisis of capitalism. This is the epoch of the beginning of the world revolution. Given the weakness of the subjective factor, this process will unfold over a protracted period of time. This will provide us with a certain breathing space in which to build up our forces. We have long ago turned our back upon the myriad of sectarian groups, to whom we say: Let the dead bury the dead! We will face towards the fresh layers of the youth and the working class and its mass organisations, to find the new fighters for the revolutionary movement.

Ted Grant’s great contribution was to preserve the unbroken thread of genuine Trotskyism. On this unshakeable foundation we will prepare the cadres, theoretically, politically and organisationally, for the great tasks that lie ahead. This book will undoubtedly serve to assist in this historic goal.

We draw our inspiration from that great leader, thinker and martyr of our movement, Leon Trotsky, who, at the height of the Stalinist Purge Trials, wrote the following: "whoever seeks physical repose and spiritual comfort - let him step aside. During times of reaction it is easier to lean on the bureaucracy than on the truth. But for all those for whom socialism is not an empty phrase but the content of their moral life – forward! Neither threats, nor persecution, nor violence will stop us. Perhaps it will be on our bones, but the truth will triumph. We are paving the way for it, and the truth will be victorious. Under the terrible blows of fate, I will feel as happy as during the best days of my youth if I can join you in facilitating its victory. For, my friends, the highest happiness lies not in the exploitation of the present, but in the preparation of the future."

Rob Sewell,
March 18, 2002

Notes

[1] Stalinism in the Post War Period, June 1951, p. 19.

[2] Socialist Outlook, September 1951.

[3] Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, p.131.

[4] Ibid. pp.136-7.

[5] Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, p.160.

[6] Ibid. p.191, my emphasis.

[7] The Present Situation and Our Political Tasks (1957), p.7

[8] Bill Hunter, Life and Times of a Revolutionary, p. 155.

[9] Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, p.228.

[10] Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism, pp.663-4.

[11] Ratner, Reluctant Revolutionary, p.240 and p.277.

[12] Matgamna, Seedbed of the Left, pp.9-10, London 1993.

[13] National Circular, 1 October 1964.

[14] Socialist Worker, 11 September 1969.

[15] Socialist Worker, 21 August 1969.

[16] See Ted Grant, Russia – From Revolution to Counter-Revolution, London 1997, pp.222-226.

[17] George Drower, Kinnock, London 1994, p.279.

[18] The New Turn, dated 16 August 1991, p.1.