By the end of 1950, the wrecking actions of Healy had destroyed the Party. What followed was the most difficult period in Ted’s life. It was a grim period, both personally and politically. It brings to mind the words of the Bible: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John, 1:23). He found himself isolated; the movement itself was struggling to survive. In crossing a desert, every step requires a tremendous effort. A man trying to climb a dune composed of loose sand finds that for every painful step forward, he slips back again, exhausted. This happens again and again. In the desert nobody can hear your voice. And there is no end in sight.
These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives everything its value. (Thomas Paine, The American Crisis)
A voice in the wilderness
By the end of 1950, the wrecking actions of Healy had destroyed the Party. What followed was the most difficult period in Ted’s life. It was a grim period, both personally and politically. It brings to mind the words of the Bible: “I am the voice of one crying in the wilderness” (John, 1:23). He found himself isolated; the movement itself was struggling to survive. In crossing a desert, every step requires a tremendous effort. A man trying to climb a dune composed of loose sand finds that for every painful step forward, he slips back again, exhausted. This happens again and again. In the desert nobody can hear your voice. And there is no end in sight.
Ted once told me of a conversation he had with Jock Haston in the late 1940s. Haston was already pretty demoralized and was at the point of abandoning the movement. His thinking was clear from this exchange. He said: “What if Shachtman is right and there is a new ruling class that is developing the means of production. Shouldn’t we join them?” Ted’s reply was absolutely characteristic. “In that case, we would join the slaves, like Spartacus.” In this one line you have the essence of Ted Grant.
During the long capitalist upswing that followed the Second World War, the small forces of genuine revolutionary Marxism were reduced to a tiny handful, isolated from the masses. To add to the political problems, Ted was in severe financial straits. After being forced to give up full-time political work, Ted took a job for a while as a door-to-door salesman, selling brushes.
In the late 1940s, Ted had been living in the offices of the RCP, in 256 Harrow Road. The dissolution of the Party therefore made him homeless. Thrown out of the Party headquarters, Ted went to live in Hackney in an old caravan on a derelict bomb-site. It was not very comfortable, but at least it was rent-free. Until, one day, he was served with an eviction notice by the council after a complaint by a woman who must have been unnerved by her unconventional neighbour. In the end, Ted got lucky. The council re-housed him in a flat, 64 Oakley Road, Islington, a road he remained in for the rest of his active life.
In Ted’s archives there is a touching letter he received from his younger sister Zena, who had participated in the movement throughout the 1930s. She joined Lee’s South African WIL after the war. According to Ted, she became a Shachtmanite, but she dropped out of activity after the break-up of the movement. She remained in South Africa and ended up as a renowned grower of exotic plants and shrubs, which were featured in various magazines. In the latter part of her life, she and her husband were subject to a violent attack at their home, which resulted in them giving up their beloved farm and plants for fear of future attacks. She died of liver cancer in the mid-1980s.
“I never attacked her for these Shachtmanite views”, Ted said. But this letter indicates that there had been some pretty sharp disagreements, so much so that she asks him for forgiveness for the harsh things she had said. This letter offers us a fascinating and all-too-rare glimpse into Ted’s personal circumstances and relations with his family.
PO Box 2852, Johannesburg
15th December 1955
My dear Ted,
Many thanks for your long and enjoyable letter. It’s grand reading what you write but difficult to do so. Be a love and don’t write on both sides of the paper!
I was delighted to hear that you had such a wonderful trip to Paris. Actually I was luckier than you having spent in all three and a half months there. Next to Paris—London is the most wonderful City! However don’t let’s argue about the merits or demerits of either. I’d give a great deal now to be in one or another of them. I’m afraid finances just don’t permit any changes or holidays at the moment but one just goes on hoping and planning for the possibility in 1957. As you are no doubt aware SA [South Africa] politically is a cesspool—a demoralising country to live in. Yet one has one’s ties and roots and the earning of a living to consider.
Anyway one day I hope to see you again in 1957. I’m sorry to hear that you are in financial difficulties and am glad that Ray and Rae did a little to help. Believe me if ever I am able I shall gladly do what I can. At the moment we are still not entirely on our feet. Raymond has this large family to support and although the Nursery is improving steadily what I draw from it and Teddy’s earnings just keep us reasonably paying our way. Our prospects are quite bright as we have improved our facilities and are almost out of debt apart from bonds and the like.
However don’t hesitate to let me know if things are really tough. Isy was most impressed by the fact that you never mentioned your circumstances to him. A few hours before he received your letter he had one from Rae asking him to do what he could to assist you. It is at least gratifying to know that you are well and leading an active political life—a life of your own choosing. I was most interested in your attempt to gather the shattered forces of the Movement together and I wish you and your comrades’ success in doing all that you want. You have a rare courage and persistence and I admire this notwithstanding [from] where or how it derives, in your unshakeable beliefs and convictions or if you suck it out of your thumb. I do only hope that you get your full measure of satisfaction doing what you want. I doubt if I’d ever be politically active again. I was edified and proud of my dear brother, that his work in the RCP has stood the test of time and appears to be so accurate. I suppose being a true revolutionary enables one to care so little for one’s own “brief spam” and to work for a future so remote and so impersonal.
I’m very glad though that despite the work you had to do in Paris, you found time to play a little and drink the good grape and enjoy the inexhaustible beauty of Paris. I suppose English beer and food is a little stodgy—especially after the fare one has in Paris. I think the most civilized people I know are interested in good food.
Incidentally your little sister Zena is considered an excellent cook—she thinks so too. Perhaps when I come to London next and money and buying possibilities are better than last time I’ll be able to spoil you and cook some good meals for you. I always have a tiny ache and regret that perhaps I wasn’t as nice to you as I might have been. I did argue and hurt you at times—if so I hope you have at least forgiven me, if not forgotten it. (...)
I want you to get this for Christmas so must get it off in a hurry. I wish you so much happiness and success in all you do. Much love and blessings for Xmas and New Year.
It takes a particular kind of courage to keep going in a period of general backsliding and apostasy, such as the 1950s. But Ted took all these difficulties philosophically. I mean that in the literal sense of the words. His attitude to adversity brings to mind that of the Stoics, or even more, of the Cynics of ancient Greece. By one of those strange quirks of history and language, the word “cynic” nowadays means precisely the opposite of what it meant then.
History has dealt unkindly with the Cynic philosophers. The term “Cynic” comes from the Greek word κυνικός, kynikos, “dog-like”, and from κύων, kyôn, “dog.” It may have been intended as an insult by their enemies, but they seem to have embraced it cheerfully, pointing out that dogs behave more naturally than “civilized” people. The Cynics lived a simple life and tried to reduce their needs to a minimum in order to win freedom. They were also rebels who rejected all the accepted norms of “civilized” behaviour. The founder of this philosophy, Diogenes of Sinope, is famously said to have lived in a barrel. The story goes that when Alexander the Great offered to give him anything he wished, he replied: “Stand aside, you are blocking the sun”.
It is this total indifference to material things and social conventions that Ted Grant shared with them. In some ways he resembled the popular image of an absent-minded professor, the kind of man whose shirt buttons are done up the wrong way, who has egg stains on his tie and odd socks on his feet. Of such people it is often said that they have their “head in the clouds”. This is meant as a mild rebuke, but in fact it is a compliment. The minds of most people are filled with everyday mundane considerations. Such “practical” thought is useful for basic survival but extremely limited. But a man or woman whose head is “in the clouds” lives on a different level. Their thought has reached a higher level—the level where real human thinking can begin, the level of philosophical thought.
It is only by maintaining one’s eyes firmly fixed on the highest principles and broadest historical generalizations that it is possible to rise above objective difficulties. As Trotsky wrote about his own position in the dark days of the 1930s: “Life is not an easy matter… You cannot live through it without falling into prostration and cynicism unless you have before you a great idea which raises you above personal misery, above weaknesses, above all kinds of perfidy and baseness.” (Trotsky, Diary in Exile, p. 68).
Ted Grant was able to survive this difficult period precisely because he was able to transcend the existing conditions through the power of thought, to see beyond the particulars and rise to the level of the general. That is why he always insisted on the importance of perspectives, which set out from the given, but seeks to uncover the hidden processes that lie beneath the “facts”, and allow us to peer into the future. That was the secret of his indomitable sense of optimism. It reminds one of the words with which the young Trotsky greeted the birth of the 20th century:
Death to Utopia! Death to faith! Death to love! Death to hope! thunders the twentieth century in salvos of fire and in the rumbling of guns.
—Surrender, you pathetic dreamer. Here I am, your long awaited twentieth century, your “future.”
—No, replies the unhumbled optimist: You, you are only the present. (The Age of the Permanent Revolution, A Trotsky Anthology, p. 41)
Against the stream
In the space of just a few years, Ted had lost almost all his old friends and comrades. The great exception was that redoubtable family from Liverpool, the Deane family: Jimmy, Arthur and Brian. Despite all the difficulties, they managed to keep the Tendency alive. The group had a base in Liverpool around the Deanes, and in the Labour League of Youth, where they published a small duplicated paper called Rally. They attempted to regroup and salvage as much as possible from the wreckage of the RCP. Without any full timers or apparatus, the comrades struggled to hold things together.
They faced formidable obstacles. The older generation was largely destroyed, exhausted and burnt out, dragged down by the pressures of family life, their consciousness blunted by the prolonged upswing in capitalism. Their old hopes of revolutionary change seemed now to be hopeless dreams. Some remained loyal to the ideas but became separated from the Tendency, only to return after a delay of many years. But for every one of these, there were many more who lost hope altogether, either dropping out of politics or even drifting to the Right.
The main reason for their isolation was to be found mainly in the objective conditions: the prolonged economic upswing in the United States, Western Europe and Japan. Ted used to say: “Even if Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky had been present it would not have made a fundamental difference. It would still have been a question of winning the ones and twos.”
The financial difficulties still persisted. As late as 1958, his relatives in South Africa were still worried about him, as we can see from the following letter from his brother Isy in Johannesburg, dated July 31:
Just a few lines to let you know we are now all well. Sadie has had a rather serious internal operation and Adele an emergency appendix operation but they are now both almost back to normal.
Business in this country has slumped badly, and there is almost a depression taking place. This may be an after effect of the American recession, because there is not much unemployment but money is very scarce. We are in no danger, but many smaller firms have closed down and the owners have lost all they had.
How are things with you? Do you need any clothes? If you do, don’t hesitate to tell me the truth, and I will send you some. We hear that England is having quite a wave of prosperity, but I do not usually believe what the newspapers say.
Hoping to hear from you soon, and that this finds you in the best of health,
With love from all,
Ted’s brother, who was a partner in a wholesale business back in Johannesburg, was not wrong about the economic situation in Britain. Business was booming and there was full employment. Living standards were rising, and people could buy more of the kind of things that seemed to be commonplace in the United States if you could believe the things you saw in the films. For the first time, washing machines and refrigerators appeared in some homes. There were televisions and even cars—second hand of course. Compared to the misery of the 1930s, things did not seem too bad.
The Conservatives won the general election in 1951, although the Labour Party polled almost a quarter of a million total votes more than the Tories and their National Liberal allies combined. In fact, Labour won the highest number of votes of any political party in any election in British history. The economic upswing that followed allowed the Tories to remain in power for the next thirteen years. Their new-found confidence was summed up by the Conservative leader Harold MacMillan in his celebrated phrase: “You have never had it so good!”
In May 1951, the first national conference of the group took place in London. It was reported that there were twenty members in London and eleven in Liverpool, with a scattering of contacts around the country. In the circumstances, the group had no alternative but to work in the Labour Party. The conference decided to launch a theoretical magazine, the International Socialist. The programmatic basis of the group was Ted Grant’s Statement to the British Section of the Fourth International, circulated after his expulsion in the autumn of 1950.
Jimmy Deane, his brothers Arthur and Brian, and others helped to gather funds to launch the new publication. The first issue of the new magazine, with Ted as its editor, appeared in February 1952. It was supposed to come out every two months. However, the lack of resources and a paucity of funds meant that the magazine appeared only spasmodically between February 1952 and April 1954. In Liverpool, a base was established in the Walton constituency. By 1952, Jimmy Deane was chair of the party, and he worked very effectively with the secretary, Laura Kirton. But progress was slow and difficult.
Only a few of the old RCP comrades such as George Macartney and Arthur Cowderoy were left, together with Brian Deane and his wife Beryl, who did excellent work among the youth. They had a trade union base in the Liverpool Central branch of the ETU. There was a trickle of young recruits, but most dropped out. A major boost was the recruitment of a youngster called Pat Wall from Garston. Together with Jimmy, he became a regular delegate to Labour Party conference.
Ted was put forward as the prospective Labour candidate for Walton, but the vote was lost narrowly. In retrospect this was probably not a bad thing. I personally cannot see Ted Grant as a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party, giving lectures on perspectives to the back benches. And while it may be theoretically possible to build a Marxist tendency from such a position, there are always serious risks involved. In such a small group, to have the leading comrade drawn into the morass of parliamentary life would have almost surely had negative consequences.
Although he had very important qualities, Jimmy had a tendency to look for shortcuts. He had placed a lot of hopes onto Ted getting elected, and he took the result very badly. To make matters worse, he was involved in a bad accident and had a series of personal problems. Towards the end of 1954, he suffered a personal crisis. Ted began to have serious worries about Jimmy’s morale. The idea that he could lose his most trusted comrade, having already lost so many, must have cost him many sleepless nights. But on January 4, 1955, Jimmy wrote to reassure him that the worst was over:
May I first offer you the warmest greetings for the coming year. I sincerely hope that 1955 will bring some successes in the way of a functioning national group.
I want to say how sorry I was to have been compelled to leave the discussion on Monday. I was in a difficult position, and didn’t feel that my action would have been interpreted as it seems to have been.
You need have no anxiety at all about my political future. In this sense your analogy of MS [Max Shachtman] and the Old Man was entirely misplaced. Frankly, the rumoured [sic] attitude of the comrades makes one a little (!) indignant.
Anyway, I’ve no intention of becoming deeply involved in LP committee work, I’ll do what I can from the floor. In the next few months I shall try to get a caucus organised in the Walton area, and an ETU caucus on the TCLP [Trades Council and Labour Party] as well perhaps as get the comrades taking up the real work—for the most part they’ve missed everything.
One thing which will have to be done is to find a bridge to the industrial elements with Healy in Birkenhead. Pennington is a very good type, so too are many of the others.
My intention quite definitely is to come to London in the summer to work with you in building a functioning centre, developing regular, living, contact with the various elements around us in the provinces, via regular correspondence, model resolutions, directives, and if possible a regular monthly journal.
This, incidentally, would be the greatest help for the comrades in Liverpool and would enable us to win the best elements in the LPRG [Labour Party Marxist Group, led by Healy], possibly training one or two for professional work.
Better than anyone else I know the opportunities in Liverpool (indeed much of it is outside the work of the group, not, of course, deliberately so), but in the end, as a tendency, it is a question of building an active functioning centre in London, with a journal and a professional.
Please keep in touch.
With warmest greetings to you and the comrades,
As subsequent experience showed, Jimmy made a bad error of judgment when he described Bob Pennington, who was one of Healy’s main henchmen on Merseyside, as “a very good type”. However, this letter shows that he had recovered from his depression and had swung back into activity. Ted wrote back to express his immense relief:
It was a heavy blow to me politically and personally to think you might be drifting away (…) You and I are the last of the Old Guard and I would like to see you playing the rôle which you are fitted for (…) I always thought that both on Merseyside and nationally you had a vital role to play in the building of the Tendency. From this point of view your letter came to me like a hot cup of tea after a cold and exhausting day. (Ted Grant to Jimmy Deane, January 12, 1955)
“Will There Be a Slump?”
This barren decade seemed never-ending. It was a frustrating time, a time of small meetings, of long and frequently fruitless journeys to visit just one contact. With his habitual dogged determination Ted trudged from one poorly attended meeting and one draughty hall to another, always carrying his battered old briefcase bulging with speakers’ notes (the age of the supermarket plastic bag had not yet dawned). In the Lewisham Journal, February 20, 1953 there is a small notice under the heading: N. Lewisham Labour League of Youth, which reads as follows:
North Lewisham Labour Party League of Youth were addressed on February 12 by Mr T. Grant on “Russia Today.” Those present found this a most interesting talk, giving an entirely new light on an important subject.
Mr Grant said that the plans laid down by Lenin for the Workers’ Democracy had been completely disregarded and Russia was now an official bureaucracy.
It was inevitable that a political revolution would overthrow Stalinism and this would probably be largely influenced by a successful Socialist policy in any of the Western countries.
This lecture was the third in a series provided by the National Council of Labour Colleges.
North Lewisham Labour League of Youth meets every Thursday at 61, Lee High Road. All people between the ages of 16 and 26 are very welcome. There are many varied interests, including political education on many problems, theatre visits and ice skating expeditions.
No information is given on how many people attended this most interesting talk, but it was probably just a handful.
Even the youth were affected by the prevailing conditions. They were encouraged to be non-political, to dedicate themselves to buying clothes, shoes and records, to listen to American music, to idolize Bill Haley and Elvis Presley, to drink Coca-Cola and dance Rock-and-Roll. But nothing can ever completely eradicate the innate rebelliousness of young people. Ted used to tell us: you can win over any youngster under 25 years of age, except for careerists and oddballs. I believe that is true. Gradually they began to attract a new layer of youth. But that was later, and it took a long time and many disappointments to get there.
There are certain parallels between this period and the long upswing in capitalism before the First World War. Similar conditions tend to produce similar results. Reformism was reinforced in a period where unemployment seemed to be a thing of the past. In the general upswing, the recessions were so fleeting and shallow that they were hardly noticed. Under such conditions, the capitalists were able to make big concessions.
All the ideological representatives of the bourgeoisie were convinced that capitalism had solved its problems and that slumps were a thing of the past. Keynesianism was embraced by the reformist leaders of the Labour Party in Britain and by the European Social Democracy. The Stalinists soon followed the same path. And so-called Trotskyists like Ernest Mandel and Tony Cliff echoed the same ideas in different ways.
Ted Grant took a firm stand against this trend. In his short but masterly essay called Will There Be a Slump? written in 1960, Ted answered the arguments of the Keynesians from the standpoint of classical Marxist economics, and concluded that the boom-slump cycle had not been abolished. He pointed out that Keynesian deficit financing was intrinsically inflationary and that it would inevitably reach its limits and turn into its opposite:
Undoubtedly the economy, since the Second World War, has developed on somewhat different lines to those following the First World War. But every decade of capitalist development has tended to be different to every other decade. The basic laws underlying the development of capitalist economy have, however, remained intact.
The fundamental cause of crisis in capitalist society, a phenomenon peculiar to capitalist society alone, lies in the inevitable over-production of both consumer and capital goods for the purposes of capitalist production. There can be all sorts of secondary causes of crisis, particularly in a period of capitalist development—partial over-production in only some industries; financial juggling on the stock exchange; inflationary swindles; disproportions in production; and a whole host of others—but the fundamental cause of crisis lies in over-production. This in turn, is caused by the market economy, and the division of society into mutually conflicting classes.
None of this has been changed by the developments of the period since the Second World War (…)
Whatever the exact date, it is absolutely certain that the unprecedented post-war boom must be followed by a period of catastrophic downswing, which cannot but have a profound effect on the political thinking of the enormously strengthened ranks of the labour movement.
At the time, the bourgeois believed they had resolved all the contradictions of their system, and the possibility of a serious crisis was ruled out. It took some time, but Ted’s perspectives for Britain were brilliantly confirmed by the recession of 1974-75 and the huge swing to the left in the 1970s. Britain saw a massive strike wave and huge demonstrations against the anti-trade union laws of the Heath government, and a sharp turn to the left in the Labour Party and the unions. Those ultra-left sects who had written off the Labour Party were left with their mouths agape. They had understood nothing and foreseen nothing. In a few years, the Marxist Tendency in the British Labour Party, led by Ted Grant, was transformed from a small group into the biggest and most successful Trotskyist tendency in the world.
This shows the vital connection between theory and practice. A correct theory will permit serious progress, as long as it is accompanied by correct tactics, methods and the will to succeed. Ted possessed all these qualities and a marvellous ability to transmit them to others, especially the youth.
The death of Stalin
On March 5, 1953, Stalin died. Ted was convinced that Stalin was murdered. He pointed to the so-called Doctor’s Plot as proof that Stalin was planning a new purge that would have wiped out all the other leaders. In January 1953, Pravda began to whip up a campaign against threats of “counter-revolution”. It was the prelude of another mass purge, as in 1937. These moves sent a shudder through the ruling circle.
Ted said that by this time, Stalin was almost certainly insane: “If you have a regime of absolute power, in which all criticism is prohibited, it eventually drives you insane”, Ted argued. “Just look at all the mad tsars and Roman emperors. And Hitler in the end, he was completely mad. His last order from the bunker was that the Germans deserved to die because they had not been able to defeat the Slavs, who would now be the Master Race.”
Ted was right. Towards the end, Stalin’s mind was clearly unhinged. In the absence of any check or control, he believed himself to be omnipotent. Stalin was completely paranoid. He lived like a recluse in his dacha. He saw enemies everywhere. In his paranoid state, he no longer trusted anyone. Lifelong Stalinists were rounded up and imprisoned. Generals were arrested, tortured to extract false confessions and shot.
Then Stalin turned his attention to the ruling clique itself. In 1952, he accused his faithful puppets Voroshilov and Molotov of being British spies, and banned them from attending meetings of the leadership. Mikoyan was denounced as a Turkish spy, and even Beria was banished from Stalin’s presence. He even arrested members of his own family, including both his sisters-in-law, and had them sent to camps.
A new purge would not only mean their liquidation; it would endanger the whole position of the bureaucracy and undermine all the gains of the planned economy and the Soviet Union itself. There were warning signs that the discontent of the masses was reaching its limit. A new purge could be the spark that lit the powder keg.
The story that has emerged since, is that after one of the usual late-night drinking bouts in his dacha, Stalin suffered a stroke. When the guards reported that Stalin was ill, the members of the Politburo told them to “leave him on the couch”. When the doctors finally arrived, the Boss was already dead, and they all breathed a sigh of relief.
Was Ted right about Stalin being murdered? He was old and may have died naturally, but at the very least, this was what might now called an assisted death. It is highly probable that this nest of vipers played an even more active role in sending the beloved Leader and Teacher to a better world. They had the motive, the means and the opportunity. If so, the cause of his death was probably not a stroke, but poison. Beria had access to a very wide range of poisons that would be difficult to detect. The fact that no mention of such an act was ever found in the NKVD archives is not surprising. Beria would not have wanted to leave any evidence.
After Stalin’s death, things moved quickly. Beria, who was angling to take power, was arrested and shot. After a brief interregnum, in which first Malenkov, and then Bulganin and Khrushchev ruled, power passed into the hands of Nikita Khrushchev. At the 20th Congress of the CPSU in 1956, Khrushchev shocked the world by denouncing the crimes of Stalin. His speech fell like a bombshell on the international Communist movement.
The French connection
Among the not-very-numerous letters by Ted that can be found in his archives, there is a very interesting one that proves that, although Ted and his comrades were formally outside the International, they were following its internal life very closely. Ted and his comrades never lost sight of their international mission, and tried to maintain contact with people in France and other countries. I refer to the highly illuminating correspondence between Ted and Jimmy Deane with their old friend Raoul, which sheds light on these connections.
On December 4, 1955 Raoul wrote a letter addressed to Ted, Jimmy and Arthur Deane:
I have not written since your trip because we had lot of things to settle here.
I write you two words about something which is in the line of what we discussed here: Last CC (three weeks ago) representatives of the PCI [Parti Communiste Internationale] in the International Committee (Cannon, Healy, Bloch and some others) told us an international conference was under preparation for the end of spring or beginning of summer. One never knows if those guys will realise what they seem to intend to, but the fact is that this decision is taken.
Texts will be published: International situation—USSR, China and so on—situation in Europe—Problems of the Fourth.
This conference will be organised by and with the “official” sections of the IC. By the way, for the Sinhaleses [Sri Lankan], they say: we are fed up waiting for a clear standing from them, so now, we go on our way and will see what they will do then.
This means, mainly being given the actual situation, that you will not, perhaps, be invited. Obviously, if you do not move, you will not be. It would be obviously meaningless to say suddenly: “We have heard of an international conference—why shall we not be invited to participate under one form or another.” But what would not be stupid would be to accelerate the writing of texts on those problems (international situation, etc.), send them to the PCI—and to us—so that, utilising the fact of your contribution, we at least could raise the point of an invitation towards yourself.
There is a CC today here to discuss about the participation of the party to the electoral campaign. I don’t know the results for the moment, and will write you when it will have taken some shape.
Apart from that, all is, for the moment, going well.
Will we have the pleasure, some of these days, of a letter from you, explaining, for example, which kind of conclusions your group has drawn from the trip here?
I think we will have soon, no?
NB December 6th. For the first time in its history the PCI decided not to participate in the electoral campaign.
We reproduce Ted’s letter of reply in full. It is dated January 8, 1956:
Dear comrade Raoul,
I am sorry that we have not written before, but just the same as you, we had, and still have, a lot of things to sort out, and few comrades to do it.
Now, the first thing we would like to say in relation to the trip to France is that it has been of great value and benefit to the British comrades, as we hope it has been to you. It has taught us (especially me personally) the need for international collaboration and discussion. This is particularly important for the leading comrades in Britain and France where the possibilities of such collaboration are present.
So far as the position in the French PCI is concerned I must say that the experience of discussion both between the majority and minority have given us an understanding of the reasons why your particular faction adopts the attitude that it does, although as yet you do not have a clearly worked out political position. An observation with which I think you will agree.
After discussions with Bloch particularly, and other leaders of the PCI it seems to us that the official leadership of the PCI has largely the position of Pablo and the IS of 1950-51 on the questions [of] China, Russia, Yugoslavia, etc. It is obvious that in the next few years it will be impossible for them to maintain this, and we hope that if you have a firm political position together with material supplied by ourselves, they may be influenced to move in the more correct political position. I hope, of course it is difficult to say over the short and unsatisfactory discussions that we had, that we may be able to move them. That will depend on many things including satisfactory work by ourselves, and partly by the work of your faction, on a firm political basis.
Of one thing we are convinced, and that is the need for firm collaboration between your faction and ourselves. Personal contact, where that is possible, but perhaps even more important close contact in exchange of document, letters, etc.
At the same time we think that it is vitally important for your faction to integrate itself in the PCI. We believe that if you do this on a correct political platform nationally and internationally you will either convince or win the majority in the party. But, unless the faction has clear ideas on national and international questions, then, we think the work of the faction will be entirely barren.
It is true and this I must say for myself personally, if I do not speak for anyone else, as I told you myself, I can understand the feeling of frustration and irritation at the policies of the leadership which affect your faction, but, a programme cannot be based on that, although that is very important.
At the same time I must say that many of the ideas you have on organisation are obviously correct; though, as I told you, you will find most of them in the material of the Movement in the past. Nevertheless, even so, we learned quite a bit on the question of organisation in the discussions that we had with your tendency. As a matter of interest we include a clipping taken from the Daily Herald on the organisation of the British CP and the way in which it finances itself. There is no need to make any comment, because it speaks for itself.
We agree with you on the vital importance of participating in the international discussions. Work has been commenced on the production of international documents and all the important questions, and we will send you the rough drafts when they are completed for suggestions and amendments. One way in which you can help us, and this is of vital importance, is to find a way of sending the texts in English of the documents which we will use, especially those of the SWP. (You can take it for granted that the Healyites, who are theoretically bankrupt, will produce nothing on these questions, but will faithfully tag behind the SWP, whatever they write.) The SWP will undoubtedly also translate the French material as they have resources and are very efficient in this respect (and material in other languages too). Please find a way of getting these texts to us as well.
This is particularly important as we wish, not only to produce our own documents but to write criticisms of the other material. Otherwise as usual with the SWP they will adopt and incorporate some ideas in a distorted and deformed way in order to avoid criticism, and this can be very harmful for a clear discussion and education of all comrades concerned. That is one of the ways apart from lies and distortions in which the discussion after the war was ruined and crushed with the terrible consequences for the whole International that we see. So I reiterate again, the importance of getting these documents to us immediately.
Incidentally, in passing, events have already annihilated the document produced by the SWP on the Soviet Union, even before it has been translated into French! But this of course, you already know and there is no need for me to deal with it.
One point I would like to make is that when the discussions have been put on paper between Chaulieu and myself and Raoul and myself I hope you will send us a copy for amplification, clarification and exchange of ideas. Incidentally, entre nous, after reflection I must say that we believe the Chaulieu tendency is even more barren than that of Shachtman, Cliff, Johnson or any of the other revisionists on the question of the Russian state. Really, the whole sum and substance of his position is based on a misconception on the question “relations of production”.
Of course all the revisionists take this as their standpoint, but at least recognise that the state owns the means of production, and that the relations of production, are thus, as they put it, between the state and the working class. For Chaulieu the conception is even more muddle. He finds the relations of production in a mystical fashion in the direct relations within the workshop itself between managers and workers or foremen and workers. This is more the conception of Burnham and syndicalism, that has nothing in common with Marxism.
If I were to give an analogy in a society based on slavery he would find the relations of production in the relations between the overseer with the whip and the slave, rather than between the owner of the means of production, the slave-owner and the slave. In fact, as we know in many large numbers of instances the overseer was himself a slave, no matter how brutally he treated the slaves, he himself was a tool of the real owners of the Means of Production. Similarly, foremen are wage slaves, on a slightly higher level than the workers, and even managers are employees of the owners of the means of production. The relations of the means of production in modern capitalist society are the relations between the owners of the means of production, machinery, factories, etc. and the working class. I quote the section of the document against Cliff on this question.
Of course, this is just an aside, and I hope we will have correspondence on this question. Jimmy is translating some of Chaulieu’s most important material from the French, and we will write a criticism of it for the French comrades, (much as it goes against the grain). The British comrades have exhaustively discussed this question and come to a conclusion on it.
I would like to say that personally we were very impressed with the devotion of the comrades of the Raoul Faction. You have the makings of a really good group, if they penetrate the working class and find a correct political platform. I would reiterate again, that the leading British comrades have been lax in not participating more actively in the International discussions and in the life of the movement, even though there have been tremendous difficulties in the way. We hope that a collaboration between ourselves can mend this and assist both the British and the French comrades.
A rough draft of a text on British Perspectives has been completed. As soon as it has been duplicated we will send you a copy for suggestions and discussions if you would like to add anything to it.
We would end by thanking again the French comrades for the wonderful political and comradely hospitality, hoping to hear from you again soon.
In a lengthy postscript, Ted deals with electoral tactics and our attitude to the traditional workers’ parties (in this case, the French Communist Party and Socialist Party):
PS: We are writing to you after the election results in France. First, we would like to say that it is difficult for us to make a criticism on the basis of our lack of knowledge of French. But, nevertheless if we are correct in our understanding of the material which appeared in La Vérité in the last six weeks we were greatly shocked. We may be wrong of course, because of the question of language, but if we are correct we would have to say that in our opinion it showed complete sectarianism and isolation from the problems facing the working class.
In the first place, it is a pity, as you correctly say, that they did not have a candidate of their own in at least one constituency, though of that we are not competent to judge because we do not know the material circumstances of the party. But, in the middle of an election campaign, merely to put forward the slogan of general strike and of struggle between the classes, is, in our opinion, irresponsible. To call for general strike constantly is to make a mockery of the idea, and not to be taken seriously by the working class.
The material in La Vérité in our opinion is on a similar level to that of the ILP, which impartially condemns both the Conservatives and the Labour Party equally and thus alienates the Labour and Trade Union workers. In our opinion, the campaign in France during the election should have been conducted on the basis of a government of the CP-SFIO [French Socialist Party]—with of course, our programme and ideas. Of course, there was much in these articles that was correct in its criticism of the antics of the CP and the anti-revolutionary propaganda, and a treacherous policy of the reformists. This, while necessary, is not enough for agitation among the masses.
We think, and this applies also to the comrades of the Raoul faction, and of course we are speaking frankly here, as between comrades, that they have not a correct orientation in relation to the problem of Stalinism in France. It may be true as both the comrades of the majority and minority argue that many advanced workers up and down the country have seen through the treachery and crimes of the CP in the last ten years.
It may even be true that a large part, perhaps even the majority of these who vote for the CP, are sceptical of the CP and only support it for lack of an alternative. But, and this is a big but, it would be entirely wrong to think that the working class views the problem in the same way as the Marxist Tendency does. So far as the working class are concerned, the tendency after frustrations and defeats where there is not a strong Marxist party to explain the lesson, is to a certain extent to blame the working class for the defeats.
The apathy and indifference to the adventurist and irresponsible action of Stalinism notwithstanding, even though large sections may recognise this in an unclear fashion, does not lead to a clear understanding of the role of the leadership. In some ways it is a similar problem to the mass party of the working class which we face in Britain. Despite 50 years of reformism, the workers are not yet disillusioned with the Labour Party. It will require great events and great struggles before even the right wing of the Labour Party is discredited completely, and only then, if a Marxist wing and a revolutionary wing is built up will it be fruitful.
Similarly, it required great events and 50 years of experience to discredit the SFIO. The Stalinists are far cleverer betrayers, and much more difficult to expose than the reformists. We believe that the election propaganda of our party in France should have been based on a patient appeal to the rank and file militants in the Trade Unions, the CP and the SFIO contrasting the policy of the official leadership to what the policy should have been.
We believe that the problem of the CP remains the key question for our comrades in France, and unless they adopt a correct tactical orientation towards it they will hopelessly isolate themselves from the masses. On the one hand of course, it is necessary to reject decisively the capitulationists of the Frank and Pablo school. On the other hand it is necessary to guard against sectarianism and to study clearly the process that has taken place among the masses. For example, though for us the popular front experience of 1936 and 1945-47 has decisively shown the criminal betrayal of Stalinism to the bourgeoisie, that lesson is not so clear to the masses.
Even if there are many hundreds and thousands of militant workers who are not organised at the present time, and have seen through the betrayal of the CP this does not apply to the millions who vote for the Communist Party; it cannot apply to the mass of the working class. As we told you, when we were in France, a popular front is a virtual certainty, depending upon the foreign policy of the Kremlin.
We believe that the election and its results with the inevitable instability of the social conditions and relations between classes in France mean that the propaganda of the CP can now have a tremendous effect on the working class. At this stage of course, the bourgeoisie is doing everything in its power to avoid such an experience, among other reasons of course because of the foreign policy of the French bourgeoisie that we should orientate towards Washington and not Moscow. But the moment that the mass movement of the working class begins to thrust itself forward, and get beyond the balance of the “normal” relations, they will inevitably turn “to the strike-breaking conspiracy of the popular front”, in order to save themselves.
As far as we are concerned we understand that in 1936 it was the struggle of the masses that gained the concession of 40-hour week, holidays with pay, etc., and that these were subsequently taken away behind the shield of the popular front. But the masses do not see it this way and the propaganda of the CP will have a great effect in the present situation in France.
Because of our weakness, and that is an important factor in this situation, there is no force which can explain to the mass of the workers through agitation exactly what a popular front will mean. But even if there were a strong Marxist party, in the given situation, with the mass support for Stalinism even if the comrades are correct, and it is of a lukewarm variety, it is likely that a popular front stage could not be avoided.
The comrades must not think that what is axiomatic for them is axiomatic for the class. The apathy, indifference, despair, weariness and frustration of the masses, the cynicism towards the CP can rapidly change in an initial upsurge once again into enthusiastic support. Of course, this support will be of a watchful character rather than the uncritical acceptance of the CP in the past. But, our comrades will break the neck of the Tendency if they do not prepare themselves and the working class for these events.
It is necessary to conduct a sustained propaganda, as the comrades are undoubtedly doing for independent class action but linked with a skilful criticism of the policies of the CP in order to try and separate the advanced elements from the leadership. We see that already the CP is setting popular front committees in the localities. We do not know what character these are, but we suggest that the comrades should demand that class committees linking all the workers in the factories and the neighbourhood together should be formed, and that all bourgeois elements should be expelled from the popular front committees, as was suggested by Trotsky in the past. If the comrades adopt a correct policy instead of a sectarian one we believe that in the next period it should be possible to make big gains from the CP, even the SFIO and in the Unions and among the factory militants.
Of course, in these few scattered notes and comments I am not dealing with the situation in France as a whole, because, of course, the comrades are thoroughly familiar, and know better than we do the crisis of the regime, the meaning of poujadism9 in relation to the instability of the petit bourgeoisie, and the details of the political problem in France. Nevertheless, the rise of reaction on the right merely reinforces the conclusion which we have drawn here.
We think, however, that the problem is to link the day to day work with the problem of an independent class orientation both of the CP and the SFIO, pointing out as the comrades are already doing that only a class policy directed against big business can win over the vacillating petit bourgeoisie, and solve the problems of the nation as a whole.
If a popular front should be formed under the impact of events, if we prepare the militants in advance, it should be a period when we will make swift gains, after the disillusionment following the first raptures. But the history of revolution in all the main countries seems to indicate that some such stage, given our weakness is inevitable as was the Kerenskyiade in Russia, the coalition government in Germany, a new Labour government in Britain, etc., etc.
This is not a worked out thesis but a few hurried notes, on which we would like your observations. If you disagree with us perhaps we can discuss the matter in correspondence.
The correspondence shows that Ted and Jimmy initially had some hopes for Lambert’s faction, while Raoul, for his part, was always keen on getting together with Ted’s group. However, it was not to be. By then, Lambert had already entered into an alliance with Cannon and Healy against Pablo.
It is clear from this exchange that Raoul was keen for Ted and the others to be present at an international conference. But things turned out differently. Cannon’s manoeuvres had resulted in the PCI joining a second “Fourth International”—the International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), of which Gerry Healy was the British representative. Naturally, there could be no question of fusing with Healy.
Nevertheless, Ted always maintained friendly relations with Raoul and some of the other leaders of the Lambertists. The Brazilian Trotskyist Serge Goulart, who was a prominent member of the Lambertists for many years before joining the International Marxist Tendency, recently said: “It is a pity that we did not join with Ted Grant instead of Healy. Who knows what that might have meant?” Alas, the answer to that question will never be known.
Suez and Hungary 1956
The sleepy atmosphere of British politics was rudely shattered by dramatic events on a world scale. On July 26, 1956, Colonel Nasser announced the nationalization of the Suez Canal. The same day, Egypt closed the canal to Israeli shipping. The British press intensified its vicious campaign against Nasser, while the Conservative government of Sir Anthony Eden prepared to launch a military operation, together with the French and Israelis, to seize the Canal and occupy Egypt.
The strategists in Paris and London cooked up a cynical plan, whereby the Israeli army would attack Egypt and then Britain and France would send in troops under the pretext of “keeping the peace” and keeping the Suez Canal open. This was a lie. The British and French imperialists were only interested in defending their own interests. Both Paris and London wanted to overthrow Nasser and reverse his policies of nationalization. Israel, as usual, was pursuing its own expansionist agenda.
In general the mood of the public was against. The young conscripts, who were being sent to fight a war that they neither understood nor wanted, were even more against. The British author David Pryce-Jones recalled that as a young officer, after the ultimatum was submitted to Egypt, he had to explain to his troops why war with Egypt was necessary—without believing a word that he was saying.
Protests against the war erupted as soon as the invasion began. Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell and the Labour right wing were quite prepared to back the government, but the overwhelming majority of Labour Party members were opposed to the invasion of Egypt. There were stormy scenes in the House of Commons on November 1, 1956, when a violent debate in which Labour MPs compared Eden to Hitler, almost degenerated into fist-fights.
The Labour Party and the Trade Union Congress organized nationwide anti-war protests, starting on November 1. On November 4, an anti-war rally in Trafalgar Square was attended by 30,000 people—the biggest rally in London since 1945. Addressing the Trafalgar Square rally, the Left Labour MP Aneurin Bevan thundered:
They have besmirched the name of Britain. They have made us ashamed of the things of which formerly we were proud. They have offended against every principle of decency and there is only one way in which they can even begin to restore their tarnished reputation, and that is to get out! Get out! Get out! (Aneurin Bevan, Speech in Trafalgar Square, November 4, 1956)
The crowd at Trafalgar Square then marched on 10 Downing Street, chanting “Eden Must Go!”, and attempted to storm the Prime Minister’s residence. The violent clashes between the police and the demonstrators were captured by television cameras. This movement shook the government and was a powerful factor leading to Eden’s resignation. In the end, it was pressure from the Americans that forced Eden to pull the troops out of Egypt. Conservative voters were deserting the government in droves and Eden was totally demoralised.
However, while the attention of the world was focussed on Egypt, even more dramatic events were being prepared in Eastern Europe. The speech of Nikita Khrushchev at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in which he denounced the crimes of Stalin, sparked off a chain reaction that spread rapidly through Eastern Europe. There was a revolutionary ferment in Poland, which culminated in the Poznan uprising of June 1956.
A hundred thousand workers and their families poured onto the streets. They occupied a police station and smashed up the city’s Communist Party headquarters. Workers released political prisoners and armed themselves. Workers’ councils were elected in the factories. There were clashes between workers and the Polish army. Poznan was paralysed by a general strike. Finally, the uprising was put down by military force. But it led to the victory of the “reformist” wing of the Polish bureaucracy, led by Wladyslaw Gomulka, who successfully diverted the movement along nationalist lines.
The Polish events sparked off a revolutionary movement in Hungary that went much further and shook the world. On October 23, my 12th birthday, I was listening to the radio, when reports were broadcast of a mass demonstration in the Hungarian capital Budapest. The Hungarian Revolution had begun. As usual, the revolution started with the students, who marched in their thousands through central Budapest to the Parliament building.
A student delegation entering the radio building to try to broadcast the students’ demands was detained. When the delegation’s release was demanded by the demonstrators outside, they were fired upon by the hated State Security Police (AVO) from within the building. This was the spark that ignited the fuse. Hungary exploded in revolution. Thousands of workers were organized into militias, which fought desperate gun battles with the AVO. Soviet troops stationed in Hungary fraternised with the workers and turned their guns against the AVO.
The government collapsed. An attempt was made to form a new government along the lines of Gomulka in Poland, but in reality, the Hungarian “reformer” Imre Nagy was suspended in mid air. The real power was in the hands of the workers’ councils that sprang up all over the country. The most important was the Budapest Workers’ Council, which was a soviet in all but name. By the end of October, the fighting had almost stopped, and a sense of normality began to return.
The Soviet bureaucracy was terrified by the events in Hungary. They could accept, albeit reluctantly, a deal with Gomulka in Poland. But they could never accept the rule of the working class that was beginning to take shape in Hungary. They withdrew the Soviet troops that had been stationed there and had proved unreliable. This move was met by huge relief in Hungary, but it was premature. The Politburo had decided to crush the Hungarian Revolution in blood.
On November 4, a large Soviet force, mainly drawn from backward troops from Central Asia, crossed the Hungarian border. They had been told that they were being sent to put down a fascist uprising in Germany. The Hungarians put up a heroic and desperate resistance that continued until November 10. Young children attacked Soviet tanks with Molotov cocktails. Over 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet troops were killed in the conflict, and 200,000 Hungarians fled as refugees. Mass arrests and denunciations continued for months. Imre Nagy was executed in 1958.
These bloody events caused shock waves. The general reaction was one of revulsion. It caused a serious crisis in the ranks of the Communist Parties everywhere. In Britain, one third of the members left the Party, including thousands of leading trade unionists and intellectuals. I had personal experience of this, since my mother and grandfather were both members of the Communist Party. They were shocked at what they could see on the television screens, but still remained loyal to the CP. My mother, who had stopped going regularly to Party meetings, went to a meeting in Swansea where the Hungarian events were being discussed. She was shocked by what she saw and heard.
The leading light of the Communist Party in Swansea was a man called Harry Stratton. By coincidence, his wife (I forgot her name) was Hungarian, and they often went to Hungary for holidays. I remember that on one occasion (before 1956), he had brought back a badge, which he proudly showed me: “This is the badge of an AVO officer”, he told me in hushed tones, like a priest showing off a holy relic. There was a violent scene at the meeting that discussed the uprising, as my mother later told me. Harry Stratton’s wife was hysterically sobbing, saying repeatedly: “They are killing my people.” Her husband shouted at her: “Shut up, woman.” My mother was deeply shocked at this incident. She was a very humane person and could not understand how a man could treat any distressed woman in this way, let alone his own wife. Scenes like that must have occurred in many Party meetings up and down the country.
The Revolutionary Socialist League
These dramatic events found the Fourth International in a lamentable situation. Having been Pablo’s stooge in Britain for years, Healy now discovered the Original Sin of “Pabloism”, about which he never ceased to rant and rave, conveniently forgetting that he himself had been the original Pabloite. Certain unforeseen consequences flowed from this.
After Healy went over to the Americans (the US SWP), Pablo was left empty-handed in Britain. The British section of the “International” was for a short time represented by a group around John Lawrence. However, under the influence of Pablo’s revisionist ideas, Lawrence developed pro-Stalinist tendencies. As a result, most of his group joined the CP and were very soon dissolved into it.
When, in October 1956, the Hungarian uprising caused a massive split in the British CP, Pablo was reduced to putting an advert in Tribune, appealing for anybody who wished to re-establish the section. Sam Bornstein and John Fairhead, together with a number of individual Trotskyists in sympathy with Pablo, agreed to set up a section of the International under the name of the Revolutionary Socialist League. Ted’s group also joined.
When I asked Ted how was it possible to collaborate with people with whom we had such profound differences, he just shrugged his shoulders: “They helped us at the time. They gave us some money to publish an Open Letter to the Communist Party. And anyway, we did not have much of an alternative”. He added:
We had no illusions about Pablo and the others, but as there was nothing to lose, we went along anyway. As a result we found ourselves once more inside the Fourth International. Lacking any viable alternative, Pablo was compelled to recognise us as the basis of a new British section.
There were two full timers for the new organisation, Ted and John Fairhead. Fairhead, however, did not last long. After leaving the group he travelled far to the right and ended up in the right-wing Tory Monday Club. Soon the group was recognised as the British section and they began to publish a modest printed monthly four-page paper called Socialist Fight. They also produced a small pamphlet called Hungary and the Crisis in the Communist Party, aimed, as the name suggests, at the rank and file of the CPGB.
Pablo seems to have had the idea of uniting all the Trotskyist groups in Britain—including Healy. If that was the case, then he was sadly mistaken. On August 16, 1956, Ted wrote to “Gabriel” (Pablo) on the first steps of the new group and Healy’s predictably hostile attitude to it:
Dear comrade Gabriel,
Please excuse the delay in replying to your letters. As you have probably heard from comrade Bornstein the work is proceeding as satisfactory [sic] as can be expected. Group meetings are being held regularly and a better spirit pervades among the members. Regular contact is being maintained with our members in the Healy group. Bornstein has informed you of Healy’s recent manoeuvres. Personally I agree completely with your approach to the question and we will inform you of any developments.
Last Sunday, Fairhead, myself and Levy attended an open meeting of the friends of Tribune where we received a very favourable reception from the members of the Healy group (mostly young and fresh). After the meeting Healy turned up, and disturbed the atmosphere, immediately started to insult and jeer at us, with his usual lies and slanders. We will see what comes of this at next meeting. He will probably try and prevent us from getting any time to speak, but this will only serve to expose him.
But inside the group there were some serious doubts about the whole business. On February 4, 1957, Jimmy Deane wrote a letter to Ted:
I was very pleased indeed to see you and to be able to discuss one or two items—the future will give us an opportunity to discuss the various problems more fully. I must say that I am very pleased with the fact that you are now full-time, which I am sure will mean a great deal to our movement and will produce excellent results.
There can be no doubt—and I was one of the sceptics—that the collaboration with Pablo was a wise step. I see no reason why it should not be possible to enjoy a long and fruitful period of collaboration with these comrades, who, judging by the material I have read in the QI [Quatrième Internationale], have learned from the past and have, undoubtedly, a lot of talent to bring to the movement.
It is true that they have still the “imminence of war” outlook, but that is by no means a fundamental thing. In any case, the movement has entered a new stage. It is not a matter of being faced with a period of retreats and splits, when it was necessary to fight every innovation tooth and nail; on the contrary, whilst such a healthy attitude is, and always will be necessary, our task today is one of being able to patiently work (and win) with those who may not entirely agree with us, but who, thanks to events themselves, are travelling in the direction of understanding and grasping a truly revolutionary Marxist programme.
It seems to me that our own comrades have got to grasp the fundamental change in the situation, and recognise the flexibility of tactics. In this sense it is not so much that SL [Sam Levy] is wrong in exaggerating the LP work, etc., but rather that he resists the employment of tactics dictated by the new situation with regard to the Stalinists.
Incidentally, I’ve been reading through the 1945 document on perspectives and it is amazing how correct this document is. Even with regard to the crisis of Stalinism and the possibility of gains from the CP this document was absolutely correct. Also, rereading through our statement at the time of the entry of the RCP we have absolutely nothing to correct in it.
This letter is interesting, not so much for what it explains about the relationship with Pablo and the other leaders of the IS, but rather for what it says about Jimmy’s infinite capacity for making an excellent case for a bad argument. Revolutionary optimism is one thing, but Jimmy’s repeated delusions that these people would somehow learn from their steady stream of mistakes is another. He himself admits he was “one of the sceptics” about the wisdom of collaborating with Pablo and co. How could he not be? He knew better than anybody the appalling track record of these people, having lived for almost two years in Paris as RCP representative in the IS.
The “imminence of war” question was not a secondary issue. Nor was it an isolated case. There were many other differences of a serious character, such as the attitude to the Soviet bureaucracy (Pablo thought that Khrushchev was going to de-bureaucratise the bureaucracy), the attitude to the Algerian Revolution (Pablo gave uncritical support for Ben Bella’s “socialism”) and so on. Jimmy was not the only one who had been sceptical. Sam Levy, who he refers to in the letter, was so sceptical that he left the group altogether. From what Jimmy writes, it is clear he objected to the turn to the CP. He began to publish a small duplicated publication called The Socialist Current, or, as Ted called it, the “Current Bun”. It led nowhere, of course.
Under the circumstances, it was correct to appeal to the CP rank and file, which was in a state of ferment. But the RSL was unable to compete with the Healyites, who had a bigger apparatus and a paper. This placed us at a big disadvantage. Ted later confessed to me his surprise when he and Jimmy Deane went to speak to dissident members of the CP: “The old Stalinists knew something about Marxism and Leninism. The first thing they would ask you is: what is your programme? But these people only wanted to know: how many members have you got and what kind of an apparatus do you possess?”
There is in the Ted Grant archive a long list of names on a typed sheet, headed “Contacts, EG.” There is no date on it, but it is clearly a list of names of people Ted was supposed to be following up. Many of them were members of the Communist Party who expressed differences with the Party Line on Hungary, such as Peter Fryer, who was the Daily Worker correspondent in Budapest at the time of the 1956 uprising.
It is reasonable to suppose that this was in the period 1957-58. Number eight on this list is one “Eric Hobsbawm (CP)”. I do not know whether Ted ever spoke to the Professor, who at the time was a lecturer in history at Birkbeck, and, if he did, what kind of answer he got. I suspect that it would not have been a positive one. Like several other CP dissidents, in breaking from Stalinism, Professor Hobsbawm was not moving to the Left, but very, very far to the Right.
Most of the 10,000 or so who left the CPGB over Hungary dropped out of politics altogether. But some were attracted to Healy’s organization because it had more resources than we did. These former Stalinists included people like Cliff Slaughter, Tom Kemp, Brian Behan (the brother of the writer Brendan Behan), Ken Coates, Pat Jordan and, last but by no means least, Peter Fryer. That gave a considerable boost to Healy, but it also changed his political trajectory.
The new recruits brought with them a heavy baggage of ideas from the camp of Stalinism. In reacting against the revisionism of the CPGB, they reverted back to the ultra-leftism of the Third Period. Overnight, Healy’s line changed from that of the most abject opportunism to the most strident ultra-leftism. Ted expressed his astonishment that instead of Healy giving the Line to these people, they gave the Line to him.
Pablo and the IS
Ted and Jimmy Deane used to attend the meetings of the International Executive Committee in the late 1950s. This did nothing to change Ted’s mind about the political calibre of the International leadership. Pablo, the main leader, made one blunder after another. Pablo and the others were always looking for shortcuts. Trotsky warned against this long before, when he criticized the opportunist tactics of Stalin and Bukharin in the 1920s, in relation to Britain:
If anyone tried to leap over actual and necessary and inevitable stages, it was Stalin and Bukharin. It seemed to them that they would be able through cunning manoeuvres and combinations to promote the British working class to the highest class without the Communist Party, or rather with some co-operation from it. This was also the initial error of Comrade Tomsky. Again, however, there is nothing original in this mistake. That is how opportunism always begins. The development of the class appears to it to be much too slow and it seeks to reap what it has not sown, or what has not ripened as yet. Such, for example, was the source of the opportunistic mistakes of Ferdinand Lassalle. (Trotsky, What we gave and what we got, September 23, 1927; first published in The New International, October 1935)
When Khrushchev delivered his famous speech at the 20th Congress of the CPSU, Pablo concluded that the Soviet bureaucracy was going to “de-bureaucratise” itself. This was an attempt to find a short cut to building the Fourth International, which led in practice to the International tail-ending the Moscow bureaucracy. Then came the Hungarian Revolution, which the “reformer” Khrushchev drowned in blood.
The same mistake was made in relation to Algeria. One of the most important developments at the time was the Algerian War of Independence. The International gave a lot of support to the FLN, including material support, which Ted said was obviously correct. He always praised the tremendous courage and spirit of sacrifice of the Algerian people, who were fighting for their national liberation against French imperialism. Whenever he was making a financial appeal and wanted to provide an example of self-sacrifice, he would point to the millions of Algerian workers living in France who gave most of their pitifully low wages to finance the war of liberation.
In 1957, Jimmy Deane actually went to help the Algerian FLN in its fight against the French occupation forces. At Pablo’s request, he travelled to Morocco together with another comrade. The idea was to use his skills as an electrical engineer to knock out electrified fences. But according to the story that I was told, they were sent to work in a factory in Morocco, where their hosts were so impressed that they did not allow them to leave. They were kept virtually as prisoners and finally had to escape over the rooftops. Jimmy’s only comment to me was: “They were on a very low political level.”
As always with the leaders of the Fourth, they carried it to an extreme and veered sharply in the direction of opportunism. Pablo had illusions in the “socialism” of Ben Bella, who was then the leader of the FLN. Pablo carried this to the point of becoming a minister in Ben Bella’s government after the victory of the national liberation movement! The whole episode ended in tears when Ben Bella was overthrown in a coup in 1965. By that time, Pablo himself had been ousted from the leadership of the International by the clique led by Mandel, in alliance with the American SWP. But we will deal with that later.
It is quite true that Pablo was responsible for many of the mistakes the International made after the war, but he was not alone. Mandel, Maitan, Cannon, Hansen, Healy, Frank and Lambert, all had essentially the same line. The subsequent attempt to blame everything on “Pabloism” was simply an unscrupulous manoeuvre to divert attention away from the mistakes and crimes committed by all the others.
As a matter of fact, Pablo was by no means the worst of them. Jimmy Deane used to say that, of all the members of the IS at that time, Pablo was the only one who could have learned something. Towards the end of his life, Pablo told some of our Greek comrades: “Ted Grant was the only honest man in the International Executive Committee”.
Nevertheless, Pablo made some really hair-raising mistakes that disoriented the International. He thought that a Third World War was inevitable and indeed imminent. He expressed this idea in a pamphlet called “La guerre qui vient” (The Forthcoming War), which was published by the International in 1953. Ted and Jimmy completely rejected this view. In January 1957, a young comrade from Liverpool by the name of Pat Wall, who was still in the army, went to Paris, where he saw Pablo and Pierre Frank and attended the 12th congress of the French section as a fraternal delegate. He wrote to Ted on January 2, 1957:
(...) The Congress was very interesting, almost fifty people attended including several Indo-Chinese and fraternal delegates from Germany and Greece. On the first day’s discussion I had a word for word translation on the whole of the contributions on the international situation. Personally I must express my complete disagreement with their line on the war question and I hope that you and the other comrades will not make any concessions on this issue. The position that Pablo himself put I will summarise as follows:
1) Rise of the revolutionary wave increases the danger of war.
2) If it was only a question of French and British Imperialism there would be no danger as they are too feeble.
3) On three occasions the world has been on the brink of war—Korea, Indo-china and Formosa and on one unspecified occasion the General Staffs of both sides mobilised in complete readiness for war.
4) Owing to the social construction of US society (political backwardness of the working class?)—the US can launch war whenever she chooses.
5) War is considered the last resort of US Imperialism.
6) Middle East remains a source of world war danger.
7) All the events since 1945 can be seen as small parts of the International Civil War.
You will remember they once said that Korea marked the beginning of World War Three and as far as I know they still hold that position. To me the whole prognosis based on the theory that US imperialism, if she sees no other way out, will plunge into World War Three to defeat the Revolution in Europe, Asia and Africa is false. Just as false as the policy adopted between 1945-47 that World War Two had not ended. Not only that, but in the last analysis the position of Pablo, etc., can only be one of left-Stalinism.
The French section itself seemed quite a good crowd, serious and quite capable and I have had a very friendly reception from everybody.
Now for the second issue of the WIR [Workers’ International Review] in my opinion it was not as good as the first issue and I have several points to raise.
1) While there is a primary need for a theoretical paper and one dealing with international problems, I feel that the business of “Documents of the International” is overdone. Far too much space is being devoted to wholesale salutes to all and sundry. While in the main what is said is correct, the wording is somewhat abstract and it is not the best way of presenting our views on Russia, Hungary or Cyprus.
2) The articles on the Suez, conscription, United Front and most of all the reprint of the excellent Open Letter were all very good.
3) More space should be devoted to dealing with the situation in the Labour Party and Trade Unions and also the economic situation.
4) The wording of the section on Hungary is very bad and there seems a definite hesitation to come right out and belt the Stalinists. Mind you at the Congress Pablo did correct the position and state that at no time was there any danger of reactionary elements playing an important role. It is a pity that you could not have dealt with Deutscher in the issue as both the SWP in America and the Shachtmanites had articles on his views.
Well Ted it is easy to be critical from afar and especially as one who in actual fact is making no contribution to the tremendous volume of work you must have. I raise the points as friendly criticism and no doubt on many of them you can put me right.
Raoul, DeMaseu and all their friends have been wonderful and have gone out of their way to make my stay a happy one. I feel I shall be indebted to them all my life and after ten months in the army it makes me realise what the word comrade really means… and the food!!!
Well Ted I hope your trip up North was a big success. I will send a letter for the WIR on conscription which you can use if you like—it will be unsigned as there is no point at this stage of taking risks.
See you very soon.
All the best for the New Year.
PS. Send copies of all our material to a German comrade: Bertold Schaller…
Pat’s request for Ted to write something on Isaac Deutscher refers to the first part of his three-volume biography of Trotsky: The Prophet Armed that came out in 1954. It was followed by the second volume, The Prophet Unarmed (1959), and The Prophet Outcast (1963). These books made a big splash. But Ted was very critical of Deutscher and his treatment of Trotsky and his ideas. As far as I know, Ted never did put his views on Deutscher in writing, although he expressed them verbally often enough.
The book was highly influential among the British New Left, and that was enough to put me off it to start with. I took the trouble to read it, however, and found it quite interesting in parts. It was certainly very well written, but as Trotsky always said, content must come before style. There is a Russian proverb that Lenin liked to quote: “a spoonful of tar spoils a barrelful of honey”. And here there was not one spoonful but rather whole bucketfuls of the stuff. The last volume was particularly pernicious. Ted said that Deutscher was very resentful because we had won over his supporters, but I have no further information about this.
As for making political concessions to Pablo and co., Pat need not have worried. There was no danger that Ted would compromise on this or on anything else. He pointed out that the imperialists do not wage war for fun but to conquer foreign markets, raw materials and spheres of influence. In a nuclear war, everything would be destroyed. The existence of a nuclear balance of terror meant that a war would signify the complete annihilation of both the Soviet Union and the USA. The Americans had a word for this: MAD (Mutually Assured Destruction).
On the other hand, Ted tried to explain that the international class balance of forces ruled out a world war. The Second World War was only possible after a series of defeats of the proletariat in Italy, Germany, and Spain, etc. But at the present time, the forces of the European working class were stronger than ever. That was a major obstacle in the way of war.
Ted told me one amusing incident arising from this nonsense about an imminent nuclear war. At the end of one meeting of the IEC (he did not mention the date but it may have been around the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, when there was a lot of war hysteria in the air), a French female comrade came up to Ted with tears in her eyes. She said: “Goodbye, comrade, this may be the last time we will meet.”
Ted replied with his habitual good humour: “Don’t worry comrade. Go home and sleep soundly in your bed. There will be no war and I will see you at the next meeting.” I do not know whether these words of comfort helped restore her sleep pattern, but they were true enough.
Another consequence of Pablo’s theses on war was the lunacy of the Argentinean Trotskyist Posadas, who believed that a nuclear war between the USA and Russia was inevitable and desirable, and would create the conditions for socialism. His main difference with Pablo is that he supported the Chinese bureaucracy in its struggle against the Moscow bureaucracy (this was also the line of Mandel, Maitan, Hansen and all the others).
In the Programme of the International, Ted wrote:
Thus, to work with a perspective of world war in reality meant not only a lack of understanding of all the multiple social and military forces involved, but was a programme of the profoundest pessimism. To imagine war would solve the problems of the Socialist Revolution, was to be as light-minded as the Stalinists in Germany, who imagined the coming to power of the fascists in Germany would prepare the way for Socialism. In reality, the outbreak of world war would signify a decisive defeat for the working class. A nuclear holocaust would in more likelihood mean the mutual annihilation of countries and classes. At best, handfuls of survivors might succeed in creating some form of slave state and begin again the necessary development of the material productive forces, that with the working class, are the absolutely necessary pre-requisites of Socialism. The Posadists have merely drawn to an extreme the ideas of Pablo, Hansen, Mandel, Healy and co.
On the IEC, Ted was surprised by the strange behaviour of the Argentinean Trotskyists grouped around Posadas. They were ultra-Pabloite loyalists. Every time Pablo proposed something they immediately raised their hands in favour. Observing this conduct, after one session Ted went up to Pablo. “If I were you I would be very careful with those people,” he said. “Today they are voting 100 percent with you. Tomorrow they will be voting 100 percent against you.” Pablo probably paid no attention, but that was exactly what happened.
In Moscow, in August 1963, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom signed a treaty that banned all tests of nuclear weapons except those conducted underground. The Chinese bureaucracy was opposed to it because Mao wanted to get his own H-bomb. Posadas was even more implacably opposed to it for reasons already explained. The “workers’ states” would “win” and we could then start to build a communist society!
In Britain there was a small group of Posadists who produced a paper called Red Flag. I remember one issue, which was really a model of sectarian language. It began:
The phoney words of the peace-mongers [yes, not war-mongers but peace-mongers] may fool bone-headed reformists [members of the Labour Party] and Khrushchevite revisionists [members of the Communist party], but the Chinese comrades [sic] have rightly denounced the Test Ban Treaty as a sell-out of the world’s masses to imperialism.”
The fact that a nuclear war would kill many millions of people, and devastate the industrial and technological apparatus which is the only possible material base for socialism, appears to have escaped his attention. “In that kind of scenario,” Ted joked, “we would have a transitional slogan: Forward to barbarism!”
“Outside the Labour Movement there is nothing”
Ted always used to say: “Outside the Labour Movement there is nothing”. The truth of these words has been shown a thousand times. All history shows that the masses, when they enter into struggle, always tend to look for the road of least resistance. The masses do not understand small organizations; they will always first express themselves through the big, well-known organisations: the unions and the traditional parties. They will try, time and again, to transform these parties. Only on the basis of colossal historical events will the working class, having repeatedly tried to change these organisations, begin to look for an alternative.
In March 1959, Ted wrote one of his most important and influential works, Problems of Entrism, in which we read the following:
To the sectarian splinter groups on the edge of, or to the left of the Fourth International (The Workers’ League, the Socialist Workers’ Federation and other tiny grouplets), the problem is posed in the simplest of terms: the Social Democracy and Stalinism have betrayed the working class; therefore the independent party of the working class must immediately be built. They claim the independence of the revolutionary party as a principle, whether the party consists of two or two million.
They do not take into account the historical development of the movement of the working class, which conditions the tactics, while maintaining the principles of the Marxists. Without flexible tactics it is impossible to win or train the forces which must be won before a revolutionary party can be built.
Unfortunately, the movement of the working class does not proceed in a straight line. Otherwise, all that would be necessary would be to proclaim from the street corners the need for a revolutionary party—as the SPGB has proclaimed for 50 years the superiority of Socialism over capitalism—but with completely barren results.
We have to start with an understanding of the working class and the Labour Movement as it emerges historically, with the consciousness determined by objective conditions on the one hand, and the betrayal of Stalinism and Social Democracy, which for us are objective factors, on the other hand; and the weakness of the revolutionary forces, which also becomes an important factor of the historical process. How to overcome the weakness and isolation of the revolutionary movement, whilst maintaining its principles intact, is the basic task of this epoch.
Alas! The movement of the working class rarely moves in a straight line. Otherwise capitalism would have been overthrown decades ago. The betrayal of the Revolution by Social Democracy in 1914–20 led to the formation of the Communist International, which was intended as an organ of World Revolution. The degeneration of the Revolution and the subsequent betrayal of Stalinism had its consequence that the world proletariat was disorientated.
However, it is one thing for the cadres of the revolutionary movement to understand the role of Stalinism and Reformism; it is a different matter for the masses, and even for the active advanced guard, who in general only learn by experience.
If in order to create a revolutionary party, all that is needed is to proclaim ourselves as such, then every petty sectarian in history would be as great as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky put together. In fact, the relation between the class, the party and the leadership is far more complex. Over a long historical period, the working class has built mass organisations. It does not abandon these easily. Before they do this they will first attempt many times to transform the traditional organisations. Only in the last analysis will this process lead to the formation of new mass parties, which normally arise out of splits in the old mass organisations.
This fact will immediately become evident to anyone who takes the trouble to study the way in which the mass parties of the Communist International were formed out of splits in the old Social Democratic parties after 1917. Again, as Ted pointed out:
The working class does not come to revolutionary conclusions easily. Habits of thought, traditions, the exceptional difficulties created by the transformation of the Socialist and Communist traditional organisations into obstacles on the road of the revolution; all these have put formidable obstacles in the way of creating a Marxist mass movement.
All history demonstrates that, at the first stages of revolutionary upsurge, the masses turn to the mass organisations to try and find a solution for their problems, especially the young generation, entering politics for the first time. The experience of many countries demonstrates this. In Germany, despite the fact that the Spartacists represented tens of thousands of revolutionary workers steeled in the struggle against the First World War, and despite the fact that the Social Democratic leadership betrayed the workers in supporting the war and opposing the revolution of 1918, it was to the latter that the workers first turned after the outbreak of the revolution. It required years of revolutionary and counter-revolutionary struggles (apart from the mistakes of the leadership) before the CP was transformed from a small party to a mass movement.
This experience of every revolutionary awakening in the last 50 years in Europe demonstrates the truth of this theory. With the tiny forces we are able to mobilise at the moment, it would be laughable to suppose that the development of the revolution in Britain will follow any other course. Even as an independent force—if we had the forces and resources—it would be necessary to take this process into account. How much more so when, in relation to the problems posed by history, as yet we are a tiny handful. The task is to convert this handful into an integrated group with roots in the mass movement and then, from a cadre organisation, into a wider grouping, leading to the development of a mass organisation. How this is to be done is the main tactical consideration which dominates the work of the organisation at this stage. (Ted Grant, Problems of Entrism)
Ted used to say: “If we had the forces we would work in the Boy Scouts and the Girl Guides.” This showed his great flexibility. Unfortunately, for some elements, this wisdom is a book sealed with seven seals. Many mistakes have been made by people calling themselves Trotskyists because they think that in order to build the revolutionary party, it is sufficient to proclaim it.
The sectarian groups on the fringes of the Labour movement make a lot of noise, but have not the slightest conception of how to reach the working class or build a mass revolutionary party. This requires patient and systematic work in the mass organisations of the working class, as Lenin explained very well in Left Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder, and as Trotsky repeated a thousand times in his writings of the 1930s.
The battle over Clause Four
Ted explained that the embryo of the new society exists within the old in the form of the organizations of the Labour Movement: the trade unions, the shop stewards committees, the co-ops and the Labour Party. He pointed out that in the rule book of every major British trade union there is a clause that says the union stands for the socialist transformation of society, for the nationalization of that particular branch of industry, workers’ control, etc.
Even in something as apparently dry and bureaucratic as a union rule book, one can find fascinating insights into the history of the working class and the class struggle. Dudley Edwards, who was a marvellous old proletarian militant, pointed out that in the rule book of his own engineering union, the AEU, there was a post called “tyler” or the doorkeeper. This was the lowliest position in the union hierarchy, the first step that every budding bureaucrat must take before rising to the heights of the apparatus. Yet, Dudley explained that the post of doorkeeper originated in the days of the Combination Acts, when unions were illegal. In those days, the doorkeeper kept watch at the door with a loaded pistol in case of uninvited guests.
In order to prevent socialist revolution, the bourgeoisie tries by every means to undermine or destroy these embryos of a new society, the basis of working class power. In extreme situations, it attempts to destroy them physically. That is precisely the function of fascism: to destroy the child in the womb to prevent it from being born. Hitler closed down every workers’ organization, no matter how innocuous, not just the Social Democracy, the Communist Party and the trade unions, but even the workers’ chess clubs.
Normally, however, the capitalists are obliged to live with the Labour Movement. Indeed, they have found it convenient to do so. The reformist leaders of the trade unions and the Social Democracy have acted as a kind of safety valve that has saved capitalism on many occasions. The right-wing leaders are the trusted agents of the bourgeoisie within the Labour Movement. They can be relied upon to do the dirty work, to take upon their shoulders all the odium of unpopular measures to save capitalism in times of crisis, thus preparing the way for the return of the normal political rulers: the Conservatives and Liberals. A period of right-wing Labour government, moreover, has the advantage that it teaches the workers and the middle class a lesson: socialism is bad for you.
Ted used to compare the British parliamentary system to a cricket match. The ruling class has its First Eleven, its chosen team, which is the Conservative Party. But even the best team, as we know, can occasionally get into difficulties, or, as they say in cricket, be on a “sticky wicket”. At this point, the Second Eleven can safely be called in to do a spot of batting until it is eventually caught out. Then the First Eleven comes back again, and so on and so forth.
Hugh Gaitskell, the leader of the Labour party in the 1950s, was a perfectly splendid captain for the Second Eleven, from the bourgeois point of view. A respectable middle class gent, he presented no danger to their class interest. But there was a problem, or more correctly, two problems. In the first place, with the economy booming, there was no real need to call in the Second Eleven. Under the very competent leadership of Harold MacMillan (Ted considered him an intelligent bourgeois politician), the Conservatives were doing just fine.
There was, however, a second reason, and a very weighty one. The bourgeois understood that the Labour Party was not just Hugh Gaitskell. Behind him there stood an army of millions of workers and trade unionists. A Labour government, no matter how right-wing, would always be under their pressure, and therefore could never really be trusted. Moreover, Labour had never completely rid itself of its socialist tendencies.
Clause IV, part four, of the Labour Party Constitution, adopted in 1918 under the influence of the Russian Revolution, was the clause that defined the Labour Party as a socialist party, pledged to the abolition of capitalism. Universally known just as Clause Four, it read as follows:
To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.
After losing the 1959 general election, Labour Party leader Hugh Gaitskell announced that he proposed to get rid of Clause IV, part four. For Gaitskell it represented an obstacle in his road to Number Ten Downing Street. In the words of Macbeth:
That is a step. On which I must fall down, or else o’erleap,
For in my way it lies. (Shakespeare, Macbeth, Act 1, Scene iv)
Gaitskell was the true lineal ancestor of Tony Blair. His programme was indistinguishable from that of Macmillan. He stood firmly in defence of Britain’s “nuclear deterrent”, against the Labour Left which advocated unilateral disarmament. But when he tried to get rid of Clause Four, he bit off more than he could chew. He underestimated the determination of the workers to defend the idea that the Labour Party must stand for a fundamental change in society. His efforts to make the Party respectable in the eyes of the middle class provoked the ridicule of the satirists, who were then becoming fashionable. They wrote a parody of Labour’s anthem, the Red Flag, which ended:
Then raise the umbrella high,
The bowler hat and Eton tie,
And just to prove we’re still sincere,
We’ll sing the Red Flag once a year.
Gaitskell declared war on Clause Four with all the passion of a crusader. He was confident of victory. Surely the Party would now see sense and support his bid to modernise it by throwing overboard all that ancient, cumbersome and outmoded ballast? He though it would be easy. But he was wrong. Although the right-wing Labour leaders had effectively turned Clause Four into a dead letter, the working class rank and file were fiercely attached to it. He was immediately faced with a ferocious battle.
In the end, Gaitskell was defeated by the resistance of the rank and file of the Party and the unions. In fact, it was then agreed to include Clause IV, part four, on Labour Party membership cards. For Ted, this was clear evidence that beneath the thick layer of bureaucracy, the proletarian roots of Labour still remained intact, a fertile ground on which the ideas of Marxism could grow in the future, when circumstances changed.
In 1994, Blair eventually succeeded in removing Clause Four as part of his attempted “counter-revolution” in the Labour Party, despite big opposition from the rank-and-file of the trade unions. While this was a setback, Blair was unable to break the organic link between Labour and the trade unions, which reflects the real class character of the Party.
Gulliver and the Lilliputians
In Jonathan Swift’s celebrated satire, Gulliver’s Travels, the hero Gulliver finds himself tied up by a host of diminutive beings known as Lilliputians. The Lilliputians were little men six inches in height, although in their pretensions and self-importance they imagined themselves to be giants. They were mean, nasty, vicious, morally corrupt, hypocritical and deceitful, jealous and envious, filled with greed and ingratitude—just like some real people I have known. Swift’s book nowadays is thought of primarily as a book for children, but in fact it was a razor sharp satire on the politics and politicians of the day.
When I think of what Ted had to put up with as the awful decade of the 1950s staggered to a close, I think of him as Gulliver surrounded by the Lilliputians that are continually dancing rings around the movement. Incapable of achieving anything themselves, they are always ready to criticise others who are trying to do something positive.
We have an example of this in the factional activity of a small group led by a man by the name of Pat Jordan, seconded by his sidekick Ken Coates. Jordan and Coates had left the Communist Party over Hungary in 1956. They first associated with the Cliff group. Then Coates joined the Healyite Socialist Labour League (SLL), as his organisation was known by then. Finally, he and Jordan went over to Pablo and Mandel, and thus joined the group led by Ted in Britain.
I met these two men in the early 1960s and formed a very negative impression of both of them. Jordan ran a small bookshop in Nottingham where left-wing literature was offered for sale, along with second-hand comics, and the kind of magazines that are sold under the intriguing heading “for men”. His alter ego Coates was a self-opinionated and loud-mouthed individual who had that unpleasant pushy manner that is usually associated with a purveyor of second-hand cars. I do not believe that he could have remained long in any group. His outsized ego would never allow it.
There was tension from the moment they joined. Although they were a petty-bourgeois group that represented nothing, they had big ideas. Jordan wanted to do us the honour of accepting the post of National Secretary of the united organization. The men in Paris would have been delighted to have these gentlemen leading the official section of the Fourth in Britain. But there was just one snag. The International already had a British section, and that was led by Ted Grant. The International leadership got round this inconvenience by manoeuvring with Jordan and Coates to undermine Ted’s position.
Since they were not capable of entering into a serious political debate with Ted, they all kept harping on the organizational deficiencies, of which, admittedly, there were many. From January 1958 to June 1963, the Tendency published a small paper called Socialist Fight, edited by Ted Grant, which our enemies called the Socialist Flight (“here today and gone tomorrow”). It was unkind but there was an element of truth in it. It was poorly produced and full of spelling mistakes. Its publication was irregular to say the least, and its layout was very drab. It usually had only four pages and was black and white. There were very few photographs. I remember whenever there was an article on Russia they would always use the same image—a picture of the Kremlin from a postcard somebody had picked up while on holiday in Moscow. The last few issues did not even have that: they were duplicated sheets stapled together. In the end it ceased publication altogether.
Coates and Jordan immediately organised what amounted to an undeclared Pabloite faction in the group, which was constantly sniping at the leadership. They took advantage of every shortcoming to make a fuss. Given the extremely difficult situation through which the group was passing, such disloyal activity was indistinguishable from sabotage. There are two ways of raising a criticism. One is that of an honest person who wishes to identify faults in order to correct them and improve the workings of the organization. Another, entirely different matter, is when people constantly look for problems, and exaggerate them in order to discredit and undermine the organization. The destructive criticism of Jordan and Coates and their hangers-on was definitely of the latter sort.
Ted was effectively subjected to a state of siege, a kind of slow torture, which he had to face on his own. Every meeting was turned into a wrangle over petty points and every conversation turned into a row. He repeatedly complained to Jimmy Deane, who at first attempted to play the role of conciliator. Blinded by his fervent desire for unity, Jimmy either would not or could not see what was going on. He wrote a letter to Ted dated July 10, 1959 in which he gave expression to his deep-seated frustration:
The state of the organisation is bad indeed, though the possibilities are very good. In my opinion the whole house has got to be put in order—organisationally (...)
Thanks to you we do have a political line which is correct and has been correct for many years. That is the first and most important thing, but it is not enough. Lenin and Trotsky were not only brilliant thinkers but also brilliant organisers. Indeed it was the latter as much as the former, that permitted them to make the contribution they did to history.
Now I know that you are bogged down with nearly all of the work, and that one cannot do everything. But you could, in every meeting you have with the comrades, drive home this attitude; make them, by decision of the meeting, face up to the practical consequences and tasks.
One must realise that much of the criticism is the result of a certain disregard for organisational efficiency by the leading comrades. It probably is true that they, the critics, are not bright organisers themselves—it usually works out that way. But again, one must recognise, that they are looking for a lead, and that in this sense their criticisms are quite valid.
In fact, Ted made repeated attempts to reach agreement. With almost superhuman forbearance, he endured the constant pin-pricks and sniping. But there are limits for all things. By this time, Jordan had taken over as general secretary. On the eve of a national conference, without any warning, and without having raised the question on the EC of which he was a member, Jordan issued an all-out attack on the leadership, centring on the question of the paper. This provocation was too much. Ted wrote an angry letter to Pablo denouncing what was an intolerable situation:
July 20, 1959
Dear comrade Pablo,
I had thought that this letter would not be necessary, as I had hoped the crisis in the leadership would be solved, and we could proceed amicably, with the real task of building the section. But things are taking a more and more serious turn.
It is not a question of political differences, though no doubt if things proceed on the present lines of development, political differences will be manufactured.
The serious thing about this crisis is that it is a crisis of confidence. The issue is not the nature of the paper. Many criticisms of the paper, its weaknesses and shortcomings could be accepted. But the problem then would be how best to improve the quality of the paper, its organisation, circulation and work. It is elementary you would agree, that questions of that sort should be discussed on the National Committee, Executive Committee, etc. before without any preparation or warning it is thrown by leading members to the organisation as a whole.
It is impossible to establish a collective leadership, if the members are working against each other. Surely seldom in the history of the Movement, can there be a situation such as developed in the last few weeks in our Group in Britain. Without raising the question for discussion in the National Committee, or the EC, 2 members of the National Committee, in collusion with the General Secretary, produce a Resolution two weeks before the Conference in the Nottingham branch condemning the paper root and branch and demanding it be scrapped, etc., etc. At the same time issuing an ultimatum to the EC that they have already duplicated the Resolution and will circulate it themselves unless the EC circulates it immediately. When Pat [Jordan] showed me the letter from [Ken] Tarbuk on these lines, I warned him of the results of activities such as these. The EC naturally were extremely indignant and explained to Pat the elementary rules of democratic centralism on this question.
It is impossible to build a leadership based on trust when a member of the EC, the General Secretary, goes behind the back of the EC and the other professional, especially on a secondary question of this character. It is even worse when one considers that for the last four months Pat has been jointly responsible for the Paper and never once raised the question for discussion on the EC or NC. (…)
Naturally the comrades throughout the organisation were indignant at this procedure. The Conference was badly organised. The first day’s discussion on the political questions was very good. But the second day because of the way that the agenda had been prepared (we must all take our share of responsibility on the EC for this) there was no real organisational report like that of Fairhead at the last conference, and the discussion on the Tarbuk document, precisely because there had been no preparation was not very good. Despite the fact that he had not presented any document Pat intervened in the discussion on the question in support of the Tarbuk position. I attacked him for this pointing out however that the question would be discussed at the incoming NC.
Tarbuk then proceeded to demand “Tendency Rights” on a secondary organisational question like that! Naturally the comrades were indignant at such an irresponsible attitude.
In my opinion, as I told Pat, he and Tarbuk had deliberately provoked an unnecessary crisis when there were no real differences, in order to provoke the intervention of the IS.
At the NC immediately after the Conference, Brian Deane moved Pat [Jordan] as the General Secretary. Sam Bornstein objected and pointed out that the General Secretary has to have the confidence of the majority of the members. In view of the irresponsible conduct of Pat and Ken Tarbuck of which I had warned Pat of the consequences, I seconded the motion of Sam. (I had explained the position to Pat when the issue had arisen in the form of the “bombshell” of him and Tarbuk). Pat then made a conciliatory statement and I suggested to Sam that under these circumstances the motion should be withdrawn. To the general relief of all the comrades, especially the Liverpool comrades, it seemed as if the question had been resolved amicably.
For the next week I went out of my way to try and smooth things out with Pat and convince him of the need to work together with the EC as a team. We had even agreed jointly to present a document on the paper to the coming Extended NC. This despite the fact that Pat had at first threatened to take the matter to the IS at which I had shrugged my shoulders.
However, he had threatened to split the organisation over the question of the control of the bookshop, saying he would take Glasgow, Nottingham and the colonial comrades with him, in the private discussions he had with me. (He is wrong on this question in any case...)
In spite of this I adopted a conciliatory attitude, hoping that common work and the results of the Conference would convince him. I think I had succeeded in once again establishing friendly relations with him. But all the work of the preceding week was destroyed at the EC. (...)
I can assure you that it is not fear of a discussion which has provoked this crisis but the method by which it was launched. (In fact only a handful of the comrades supported Pat in the organisation nationally.)
So far as my own attitude to the International is concerned it is the same as that of Jimmy Deane.
Perhaps you could visit Britain and discuss the problem with the comrades. There are many other factors which cannot be mentioned in a letter but can only be explained in discussion. I have had some sleepless nights worrying about a sterile and barren crisis, just at the time when important if modest gains can be made. Pulling together as a team and the organisation could possibly double within the next 12 months.
My personal attitude towards you remains as it was. I have always warned you against 100% supporters as they are always dangerous, and can reverse their position at a moment’s notice. This is a personal letter written in the hope that the crisis can be resolved.
What eventually precipitated the crisis? The finances of the group were in crisis, so the EC had proposed that Pat Jordan find a temporary job for a few weeks over the summer in order to make ends meet. Jordan was not prepared to accept that. By this time, Jimmy Deane had understood the nature of the problem and had radically altered his views. On July 29, 1959, following a long telephone conversation with Ted, Jimmy wrote from South Wales where he was working:
Sorry we were cut off, they didn’t even give us the chance to reverse the charges.
(...) You must stand firm on the question of the bookshop. This must come under the control of the EC. Of this there can be no question at all. Anyone who refuses to place his work, etc., under the control of the supreme bodies has no right in the organisation at all—let alone a responsible post.
It must be made absolutely clear that the divergence here has nothing to do with political positions, for which there is all the room for airing and developing. This is a simple matter of elementary loyalties. This has got to be the issue. We will do everything possible to keep all comrades, even where they may feel they have fundamental differences.
The organisation will give them the opportunity to defend their ideas in the way normal to Marxism, in the way indeed normal in political life. That is one thing. That the activities of all the members must come under the control of the leading bodies and appointed comrades goes without saying, particularly the activities of a bookshop which was financed by the monies of the IS and ourselves.
Only the most disloyal and light-minded could behave in the way Pat and Brian B [Biggins] are behaving. It seems to me that they are not at all concerned with building a movement, but only with their own childish fantasies. Between them they will not be able to build anything; only in complete unity and with correct ideas can anything be built.
To split the movement in this way at this stage is a most terrible thing, a severe blow to us and a gift to all of our enemies. It is a crime.
What was wrong with suggesting that Pat should go to work for a few weeks? I don’t think that there was any mistake in this at all. For what he is doing for the organisation, I am not speaking about his own clique, he may just have well gone to work long ago. These people don’t seem to know even the most elementary methods usually adopted in the movement, nor the meaning of responsibility and loyalties.
Again, a comparatively untested and inexperienced comrade has been given an important post. Again we have a mess. Only experienced and tested comrades should be given posts of this nature (including that of sales manager, etc.). It only disillusions those who are not tough enough to withstand the difficulties of a small organisation coping with an enormous task.
On August 11, 1959 Jimmy wrote again:
Just received copy of 29/07/1959 EC minutes from GS. Please convey my thanks to GS and do persuade him to do all possible to attend the NC in Liverpool.
The minutes reveal an impossible position. It is quite impossible for PJ [Pat Jordan] to function in any responsible position with such a disloyal and unhealthy attitude. Indeed it is remarkable that he would continue, attempt to continue work, with such an outlook.
If he holds the attitude that the EC is not a trustworthy and responsible body, that it has an anti International attitude, that it has political and organisational misconceptions, surely all of this was not discovered only at the time of the Conference or a few days before it took place. In any case it is clear that his attitude is entirely light-minded and disloyal from the point of view of the IS. He is completely untrustworthy.
We must do everything to integrate him and others into the organisation but none of them can be given any responsible post. (...)
Pat’s evasion of the questions in relation to the RSL is dishonest, and, more important, reveal a complete lack of belief in the programme and policy. His characterisation of the EC of which he is a member and an attempt to place his conditions on the NC are entirely inexcusable. Who created the factional atmosphere—even to the point of demanding factional rights?
Personally, even if Pat were to agree to hand over the bookshop, etc., I do not feel that he can continue in any responsible post with his present attitude of mistrust and disloyalty.
The letter concludes with a request to Ted to find accommodation for Jimmy in London: “One thing, you must try help me find a suitable place to live in London. Even if at work I could devote my evenings at doing the Secretariat work—and quite a lot of other work too”. Finally, in discussing Ted’s trip to Liverpool for the NC, he makes an interesting suggestion: “If Arthur can come down with you by motorcycle you will find that it will be cheaper than by train”.
Jimmy’s idea that these elements could somehow be integrated in the group was a forlorn hope. You cannot unite oil and water; nor can you unite a proletarian tendency with unprincipled petty-bourgeois elements. The crisis was only resolved when Jordan and Coates broke from the group, although that was not the last we heard of the Lilliputians.
Soon after this, Jimmy Deane moved to London and became the General Secretary of the Tendency. When I joined in 1960, I regarded Jimmy as a giant, which he undoubtedly was. A Liverpool proletarian with a thick “Scouse” accent, he was not very big in stature, but was tough and wiry and gave every impression of being a hard man. Jimmy was the leading figure in a true Trotskyist dynasty on Merseyside.
Jimmy was born on January 31, 1921, the eldest son of Gus Deane, a blacksmith from an Irish Protestant family. His mother, the redoubtable Gertie Deane, had trained as a nurse. As a young woman she met many of the leading figures of pre-1914 Marxism, including Henry Hyndman and James Larkin. She was a well-known figure in the Merseyside labour movement, and was to be seen on picket lines well into her seventies. It was Jim and his brothers Arthur and Brian who recruited Gertie to the Trotskyist movement, although she was already from a sound socialist tradition.
Her father, who had been a member of the old Social Democratic Federation, was one of the first Labour councillors in Liverpool. But by all accounts, her dedication to political activism was not accompanied by a great interest in the mundane tasks of housework. The boys apparently would come home from work and find the house in a somewhat anarchic state, with unwashed dishes piled in the sink and their mother reading Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution.
During the early years of the war, Deane served his apprenticeship as an electrical engineer in Cammel Laird’s shipyard in Birkenhead. In the absence of a father in the house, it was Jimmy who had to play the leading role in the Deane household. Someone once told me that he used to maintain firm order in the house and administered chastisement to his younger brothers, occasionally of the physical kind! The younger Deane brothers, Arthur and Brian, were also active in the movement. But it was always Jimmy who played a leading role in the Trotskyist movement. All three brothers were active in the Revolutionary Communist Party in the 1940s, which is very well dealt with in Ted Grant’s History of British Trotskyism.
In 1944, Jimmy was sent to work in the mines but was taken ill and invalided out. He spent most of 1945 working as a professional at the RCP centre at 256 Harrow Road, London. He was a member of the party’s Central Committee and the on editorial board of Socialist Appeal, and was the London Industrial Organiser. He was active in the East London branch, and was particularly involved with work with dockers in the build-up to and aftermath of the great strike in June 1948. It was throughout this period that his lifelong friendship with Ted Grant, which had begun in the early 1940s, was firmly cemented, and lasted until his death.
After the dissolution of the RCP in 1949, Jimmy and his brothers Arthur and Brian played a key role in regrouping the small forces that remained loyal to the genuine ideas of Trotskyism.
Like any other mortal, Jimmy had his weaknesses. He was fond of a drink and could never resist a pretty face. His lack of punctuality was proverbial: he always turned up late to branch meetings. Frank Ward told me of one such incident, which, however, had an ironic twist:
I’ll never forget the time when he kept on being bloody late at the branch, and finally he turned up at some ungodly hour, late. He had all the minutes so we couldn’t start without him. He always had a story. This story was that his tram had caught fire, and we bloody censored him. And lo and behold, the following morning, we had seen there was a fire on his tram. The only time he told the truth we passed a motion of censure.
After the split with Healy and the demise of the RCP, Jimmy had played a key role in holding together the comrades in Liverpool, who later played a big role in reviving the Tendency. Gradually, a number of younger comrades joined the Liverpool group, the most outstanding of whom was Pat Wall, who later became one of the three Militant MPs but who died tragically before his time.
After Ted Grant, Jimmy was the outstanding figure in the leadership. He made a profound impression on me. He and Ted were very close both personally and politically. And Jimmy was one of the few people I knew who could call Ted to order. In fact, he used to enjoy teasing Ted in all kinds of ways. We would go to the pub after an NC meeting and there you would see Jimmy, pint in hand, provoking Ted into a discussion on Anti-Dühring or state capitalism or some other theoretical subject. Ted would get quite hot under the collar and Jimmy would have a great time contradicting him, just for the fun of it.
There is no denying the important role played by Jimmy Deane and his brothers in these difficult years. But this was not Jimmy’s best moment. He had a lot of family and financial problems, and drank a lot. I remember that he would chair meetings of the NC and be anxiously looking at his watch (the pubs closed at 2pm if I remember rightly). He would quickly close the meeting and literally sprint to the pub. By the time the rest of us arrived he would already be downing a pint.
The fact is that Jimmy was quite demoralised by this time. The responsibility for this must be placed at the door of the so-called leaders of the Fourth International. Yet despite all their crimes, Jimmy still held out hope that the International could be regenerated. This was the triumph of hope over experience! He supported the moves to “reunite the Trotskyist movement”, which was a false position. He allowed his naive optimism to get the better of his common sense and political judgement.
As an amusing footnote to this otherwise grim period, I came across a series of letters Ted wrote to his brother Isy, who had a small business in Johannesburg, in which he uses his knowledge of Marxist economics to advise him on investments. He strongly advised him to buy gold shares, which was very good advice, at a time when most bourgeois economists were inclined to write off gold altogether. Here is an excerpt from a letter written on April 16, 1960:
(...) There is talk in the press here of a possible coalition in South Africa! Gold and all industrial shares will immediately rise if this comes about.
By the way it occurs to me you may have discussed my suggestion to buy gold shares with other businessmen or so-called finance “experts”. If you did, take no notice of their advice. They can only follow the market. They do not understand the processes that make it tick. They are purely empirics without the necessary all-rounded approach that is necessary to a Marxist like myself.
Anyway this letter is written in a tearing hurry, in the hope that you will seriously consider my advice. It will not be long—perhaps a matter of days or a week or two—when the state of emergency will be ended—and this too will have an almost instant effect on South African shares, industrial and especially gold-mining shares. As the bourgeois express it “Confidence will be restored”—till the next explosion—which will come in the not too distant future.
The South African police think they are safe in their Saracen Armoured vehicles. It is only a matter of time if the Africans take to violence for them to learn the use of Molotov cocktails... to use bottles of petrol to set the tracks on fire and render them useless. In fighting in the workers’ quarters in India, in the last decade of British rule, the Indian workers used the same methods effectively against tanks and against the army.
He wrote on the same subject to Rae and Raymond (Friedheim) on July 20, 1960:
Re the question you ask re shares. My friend bought Oppenheimer shares in mines in the Free state as I advised. He bought Merievale shares. They are paying a dividend of 10% so he is already showing a profit.
Whatever you do, don’t make a further mistake and sell your shares. Owing to the outbreak in the Congo there may be a further delay in the rise in these shares. But once conditions return to “normal” in South Africa, and especially when the “emergency” regulations are entirely repealed, and that should be before the end of the year, there should be a rise in the shares. The dividends you receive on your shares should recompense you for the fall in their value. They have reached rock bottom now and unless there are further outbreaks of the Africans in the Union they will not fall any further. Now they can only rise. It is just a question of time. All the mining firms are showing bigger profits than they made last year. They need new capital from abroad. They and the manufacturing interests are exerting pressure on the government for a more “liberal” policy towards the Natives, and over a period are bound to succeed. As usual in South African politics they will probably engineer a split in the Nationalists if they do not make any gestures in the direction they wish. In any case your money is quite safe.
I am looking out for a safe investment which will show a quick rise. If I find one I will of course let you know, and the reasons why, the rest will be up to you.
Have you heard from Isy, Nita and Zena? I haven’t heard a word. I am afraid that Nita may be offended because I did not answer her letter right away. Isy owes me a letter as I have wrote three without a reply.
I am now in the pink of condition.
This correspondence raises the fascinating possibility that if Ted Grant had not been a revolutionary, he would have made an excellent hedge fund manager! His deep interest in the science of Marxist economics together with what may well have been an inherited gambler’s streak would have equipped him quite well for such a role. But whatever advice he gave to his family, Ted himself was certainly in no position to buy gold shares or anything else.
9 Poujadism was a reactionary movement founded by Pierre Poujade in the 1950s. Demagogically attacking the state and government using the tax issue, it appealed mainly to the “small man”, the petty-bourgeois, shopkeepers etc. After De Gaulle came to power in 1958, it largely faded away.