History of British Trotskyism Postcript

By Rob Sewell

[Section 2]

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."

[To be continued]

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

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