History of British Trotskyism Postcript

By Rob Sewell

[Section 1]

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]

[To be continued]

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[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.