In 1974, with a tiny handful of comrades in other countries, we set up the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI), which quickly began to grow and spread to other countries. Ted was always very keen on the international work. He wrote all the main documents of the CWI and later the International Marxist Tendency (IMT). His world perspectives were the political foundation upon which all our international work was built.
Ted’s international work: Spain
We paid special attention to the situation in Spain, which we understood to be a key country in the development of the class struggle, as the Franco regime was entering its death agony. Our approach was correct and within a couple of years, starting with a tiny group of just six comrades, the Spanish organisation of the CWI grew to 350, and became the second-biggest section within the International.
Throughout this period, Ted consistently stressed the perspective of socialist revolution and the leading role of the working class. He polemicised against the bourgeois and reformist critics of Marx and the revisionist ideas of people like Mandel and Cliff. His predictions were brilliantly confirmed by the recession of 1974-75, and the revolutionary movements in Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy in the 1970s. Ted was extremely interested in Spain. In 1938, together with Ralph Lee, he wrote an introduction to Trotsky’s Lessons of Spain, which the comrades published as a pamphlet on their own press. Trotsky wrote a letter congratulating the comrades on this initiative, though sadly that letter has gone missing. In 1973, he wrote a pamphlet which we recently reprinted as the introduction to Felix Morrow’s classic, Revolution and Counter-revolution in Spain.
The Spanish working class took decades to recover from the terrible defeat of the revolution in the 1930s. However, by the 1960s, there were signs that the proletariat was stirring. Ted greeted with elation the first strikes of the Asturian miners in 1962-63. Between 1964 and 1966, there were 171,000 working days lost due to industrial action. Between 1967 and 1969 the figure rose to 846,000, and from 1973 to 1975, there were 1,548,000. Ted correctly saw in this ascending graph symptoms of a growing revolutionary crisis in Spain. We carried several articles in the paper with the title: “Franco tottering”. But he seemed to go on tottering for quite a long time! Nevertheless, Ted had accurately diagnosed the situation.
As a result of a correct perspective, we were able to orientate our small forces to Spain in advance. In the early 1970s, we set up the Spanish Young Socialists Defence Campaign through the British Labour Party Young Socialists. This was an extremely effective campaign, which served to link our international work with our work in the trade union and labour movement in Britain. As a result, we succeeded in winning over a number of trade unionists, including two British Leyland shop stewards.
Through the IUSY (International Union of Socialist Youth) we got contacts with the Spanish Young Socialists, who were working underground. In 1972, I was part of a delegation from the British Labour Party and Young Socialists at the Congress of Toulouse of the Spanish Socialist Party (PSOE). This marked the culmination of a process that would lead to a split between the old right-wing exile leadership of Llopis and the Party in the interior which was far more to the left.
The emerging leader of the PSOE in the interior was a young lawyer from Seville called Felipe Gonzalez. At that time he was a “left”, at least in words. But already at that congress I noticed the presence of a smartly dressed German, Hans Matthöfer by name. He was later a minister in the West German government and was there to represent the SPD. The Second International, the German Social Democracy and the CIA were all very interested in Spain and the PSOE.
The strategists of Capital had drawn the same conclusions as us. Spain was on the eve of a revolutionary situation, and something had to be done about it. I made several trips to Spain to try to establish a group, but it was extremely difficult. Not only did we have the problems of underground work, but in those days there was no Internet, Facebook or mobile phones. Letters were slow and you had to be careful what you wrote. Even telephones were not that common.
When Franco finally died on November 20, 1975, Spain was indeed in the grip of a revolutionary situation. We held an emergency meeting in London and it was decided that the only solution was for me to move to Spain. This was a big step to take. My then-wife, Pam, made a big sacrifice in accepting this idea and she did so without hesitation. We had two young children (Stephanie was five and Liza was only two). We lost our house and a lot else besides. But we both considered it necessary for the sake of the Spanish Revolution. We moved to Madrid in January 1976. Pam played an active role in building the tendency in Spain under difficult conditions, and remains active in the movement to the present day.
This is not the place to give a detailed account of how the Spanish section was built. Suffice it to say that in difficult underground conditions we went from just six comrades to 350 in the space of 18 months, and soon became the second biggest and most influential section of the International. That was no accident. We based ourselves on the ideas and methods worked out by Ted, which I have always followed and have always got good results. I might add that more or less at the same time, Lynn Walsh was sent to Portugal in a revolutionary situation and achieved nothing whatsoever.
Ted was always an enthusiastic admirer of the Irish Marxist, James Connolly. “It is really extraordinary how Connolly developed the Marxist position on the national question independently of Lenin”, he said. He lamented the fact that Connolly had been killed in 1916. Certainly, things would have been very different if he had lived. The petty-bourgeois nationalists would not have found it so easy to hijack the Irish national liberation struggle.
When the Troubles began in Ireland in 1968-69, the movement started with the students, and was undoubtedly a reflection of the events in France. We did not have a base in Ireland at the time, except for one comrade, Paul Jones, in Derry. The Derry Young Socialists played an outstanding role in fighting the Paisleyite reaction. They built barricades and produced a bulletin called The Bogside Bulletin. Unfortunately, this revolutionary potential was brutally cut across by the intervention of the British Army and the bombing campaign of the Provisional IRA.
Thanks to Ted’s clear thinking, ours was the only tendency on the British Left that maintained a firm class position on the Irish question. We were the only ones who opposed the sending of British troops to Northern Ireland in 1969. All the other groups, including the CPGB, the Labour Left and the SWP supported the sending of troops “to defend the Catholics”. We moved a resolution at the Labour Party Conference in the autumn of that year, in which we pointed out that the British Army would be sent to Ireland, not to defend the Catholics but only to defend the interests of British imperialism.
Later, the SWP and the others who had supported sending British troops to Ireland did an about-face and began shouting: “troops out!” They became uncritical cheerleaders for the Provos. That was as much of a betrayal as the previous support for imperialism. Ted was quite merciless in his condemnation of the so-called armed struggle, which he correctly defined as individual terror, a method long ago condemned by Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
Ted was implacably opposed to the methods of the Provisional IRA, which was originally a right-wing split from the Official IRA. After the failure of its bombing campaign in the 1950s, the IRA had gone to the left under the influence of the Stalinists, but they also pushed it in a reformist direction. Their biggest mistake was to get rid of the arms. So when the Paisleyite Protestant bigots attacked the Civil Rights demonstrations in 1969, the people were left defenceless. This left the door open to the Provos who were able to offer the youth guns, generously provided by right-wing politicians in the South.
I should add that we were never pacifists and were not opposed to armed struggle in principle. What we were against was any attempt to substitute the conscious movement of the working class for small groups of terrorists. We were in favour of an armed workers’ defence force to defend workers from sectarian attacks. But the tactics of the Provos were entirely reactionary and counter-productive.
Ted pointed out that guerrilla tactics were suitable to a peasant country, where, to quote Mao Zedong, the guerrillas would merge with the population “as a fish swims in water”. The problem here was that the guerrillas were in a minority, since the majority of the population were Protestants who were implacably opposed to the unification of Ireland. Under such conditions, the IRA’s bombing campaign was bound to end in disaster, and it did.
Under difficult conditions we built a group in Ireland that attempted to stand for a class policy. Paul Jones seems to have disappeared and I don’t know what became of him. As I recall, the first comrade in the South of Ireland was Finn Geany in Dublin. John Throne came a bit later. The other leading comrade in the North was Peter Hadden, who I had recruited in 1968 when he was a student in Sussex. Tragically, he died of cancer three years ago. We had parted company politically at the time of the split in Militant, but I always had a high opinion of him and maintained fond memories of our time together in Sussex.
My good friend Peter Black, who joined the IRA in 1966, and fought for many years in the ranks of the socialist Republicans, has told me many times that in that same year, on the anniversary of the Easter Rising of 1916, the Republican leader Seamus Costello quoted approvingly from an article that Ted had written about Connolly and the events of 1916. It seems our ideas were beginning to have an effect, although we knew nothing about it until many years later, by which time Costello had been murdered, along with so many Irish Republican socialists.
Shortly before Ted died, I took Peter Black to see him. Peter, a great admirer of Ted, was a bit overawed and seemed at a loss for words. “Shall I ask him a question?” he whispered. “Of course,” I said. He said: “Ted, what do you think of the armed struggle?” Ted did not hesitate: “Arms are very good,” he said laconically, “but you have to know when to use them.” Peter’s face lit up. “That is the reply I wanted to hear,” he exclaimed. “The reformists always say no to arms, and the militarists only know about arms. But what Ted said is what I agree with.”
Ted was implacable in his criticisms of the leaders of the Provisional IRA. At the 1994 Labour Party Conference, he went to a fringe meeting on Ireland which was addressed by a couple of MPs, and also by Mitchell McLoughlin, the Sinn Fein Chairman, who was accompanied by a couple of heavies. There was quite a big audience. After the speeches there were questions from the floor. Ted put his hand up to speak and then proceeded to demolish the Sinn Fein position. He pointed out that 30 years of “armed struggle” had achieved nothing. The Protestant and Catholic workers were divided as never before, and the prospect of Irish reunification had never been so far off as today. “In forty years not a blade of grass has been liberated”, he said.
He pointed out that the methods of individual terrorism didn’t work and had in fact made the situation worse. The bombing campaign had only strengthened the state apparatus and made it easier for the state to use the same repressive measures against the working class in Britain. It had resulted in the deaths of many of the most self-sacrificing and politically advanced layers of the Republican youth. He then explained that in fact, there was “only one majority in the North of Ireland: the working class”.
As one can imagine, this didn’t go down very well with many of the Lefts who had been giving fairly uncritical support to Sinn Fein for years. But to everyone’s surprise, when McLoughlin replied to the discussion, he spent the whole of his time answering Ted’s points. He actually conceded that many of the points that Ted made were true.
After 30 years, what used to be called “armed struggle” ended ignominiously with the sell-out called the Good Friday Agreement. With over 3,000 deaths, and without having secured a single one of their objectives, Adams and McGuiness, the leaders of the Provos, exchanged their bombs and Armalite rifles for smart suits and ministerial portfolios, and entered a coalition government with Ian Paisley and the reactionary UDP.
In the end, life itself dealt a harsh verdict on the tactics of the Provisional IRA, and an even harsher one on those irresponsible elements on the Left in Britain and internationally, who, from the safety of their offices and university seminar rooms, applauded every action of the IRA. What have these ladies and gentlemen got to say now about the actions of their former heroes? They have nothing to say. They remain silent, which is the best service they can render to the Irish people and to humankind in general.
It is ironical that these sectarian numbskulls try to attack our Tendency on the Irish question. Yet left-wing Irish Republicans are showing great interest in what we have to say, and we also are listening respectfully to their views. We come from different traditions, but we are finding a common language because life itself has shown the futility of trying to find a short-cut through the bomb and the gun. A fruitful dialogue has begun between British Marxists and Irish Republicans. It was long overdue.
The Sri Lankan debacle
For a long time, Ted had emphasized the role of objective factors in the defeat of the Trotskyist movement following World War Two. The prolonged economic upswing created the conditions for the strengthening of reformism in the advanced capitalist countries. On the other hand, the victory of the USSR in the war, followed by the overthrow of capitalism in Eastern Europe and China (albeit in a deformed, Bonapartist manner) served to strengthen Stalinism for a whole period. The road to the masses was therefore blocked to Trotskyism.
But as time went on, Ted hardened his attitude in relation to the criminal policies of the so-called leaders of the Fourth. He recalled that the Trotskyists had important forces in countries like Bolivia and Sri Lanka. But it was all thrown away through the blunders of the leadership. In Sri Lanka, there were big possibilities, but the “Trotskyist” Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) joined a popular front government in 1964. As a result, they were decimated. This was a consequence of the policies of Mandel and co. They thought the permanent revolution was merely abstract. But it is very concrete.
NM Pereira, the main leader of the LSSP, had always had opportunist tendencies. Ted knew the LSSP leaders very well and always referred to them by their first names (or rather their initials). So NM Pereira was “NM” and Goonawardene, was “Leslie”. Ted told me that “NM was never a Trotskyist”—a judgement that was all too true.
Ted recalled that in the 1950s, NM Pereira and the other LSSP leaders had a complete contempt for Pablo, Mandel and co. They knew that they had made every mistake possible and a few besides. “We have built a mass organization”, they thought. “What have you people built?” The problem was that the leadership of the International did not possess the slightest authority in their eyes.
Ted compared this situation with the colossal authority that Trotsky had held before the war, although he was only one man. The difference was that Trotsky had demonstrated time after time the superiority of his ideas, while the “leaders” of the Fourth made one blunder after another.
This led to an unprincipled situation, where Pablo and Mandel were silent about the LSSP leaders’ opportunism, for fear of causing offence. They could then still claim that they had a “mass organization” in Sri Lanka, while NM Pereira and the others could do just as they pleased. The result was a foregone conclusion. The rightward slide of the latter towards the swamp of opportunism continued unchecked, with disastrous consequences.
For years, Mandel and co. had turned a blind eye to the opportunism of the LSSP leaders, and this ended predictably with their capitulation to popular frontism. In 1964, the LSSP joined the coalition government of Sirimavo Bandaranaike. Three of its MPs became ministers: NM Pereira became Minister of Finance, and two other LSSP leaders also accepted ministerial posts.
Then the leaders of the so-called United Secretariat of the Fourth International did a 180 degree turn and expelled the whole party. Instead of launching a political campaign to win over the rank and file of the LSSP, they resorted to a purely administrative measure that excluded, not just the leaders, but the entire party. This was absolutely typical of the methods of that tendency.
The leader of the Mandelite faction was Edmund Samarakody. He came to London at the time, and I met him. He struck me as a sincere man, but he was completely ultra-left and impatient. We advised him to stay and work inside the LSSP, but he could not accept this, and went into the political wilderness. A few years later, when we had already parted company with the Mandelite USFI, we found out about the existence of a left opposition inside the LSSP.
We contacted them and established close connections, and managed to win them over. Ted went to Sri Lanka and played a big role in winning them. He also persuaded them to stay and fight for a majority within the LSSP. After several years of work within the LSSP, our comrades managed to win a de facto majority. This led to a sharp conflict with the old leadership, who, however, refused to convene a party congress, where they knew they would lose control. The comrades, using the party statutes, raised enough support within the ranks to convene a congress anyway.
The old leadership refused to recognise that congress and thus it led to a split with a large group (probably the majority) constituting themselves as the Nava Sama Samaja Party (NSSP) with around 700 members. This very successful work was unfortunately destroyed by the antics of one of its leaders, Bahu (Vickramabahu Karunaratne), who wrecked the whole thing.
In one of his trips to Sri Lanka, Ted delivered a speech at the congress of the party, during which he made a sharp attack on the right-wing President of the island, J.R. Jawardene. Since Sri Lanka is not a very big place, and the name of Ted Grant was quite well known, the news soon reached the President’s ears. He was furious and issued an order for Ted’s arrest.
For some days, Ted was on the run, going from one comrade’s house to another. Finally, he was arrested and taken straight to the airport for immediate deportation. Some years later, Vasu (Vasudeva Nanayakkara, another leader of the NSSP at the time, and an outstanding veteran of the Sri Lankan Trotskyist movement), described to me how Ted was virtually carried by the Criminal Investigation Department to the exit as he continued to shout his protests to the last. “He was the most courageous man I ever knew”, said Vasu. However, back in London, we were not so pleased, since Ted’s actions, heroic or not, meant that he would henceforth be prevented from re-entering Sri Lanka.
The two main leaders of the NSSP were Vasu and Bahu. In every respect, Vasu was superior to Bahu. He was personally honest and very talented, but he was always very modest. Unlike Bahu, he was a genuine mass leader and a strikingly effective orator. He was well known in Sri Lanka. Yet, for reasons I could never understand, he accepted Bahu as the main leader and “theoretician”.
Bahu played a very bad role. I believe he had once been the President of the Oxford University Union and he really had a swollen head as a result. He always insisted on signing his articles and documents as Doctor Vickremebahu Karunaratne, although to the best of my knowledge the founder of scientific socialism never signed his books as Doctor Karl Marx.
This pretentiousness was symptomatic of his whole outlook. Puffed up with his own importance, he made one political blunder after another. He had a completely wrong position on the national question, which we endeavoured to correct. But he was completely arrogant and incapable of recognizing mistakes.
We had a whole series of debates with the Sri Lankan leaders. These were a model of democracy in line with the Leninist traditions of the Bolshevik Party. The Sri Lankan comrades were in a small minority in our International. In fact, they did not succeed in convincing anybody in any other section. But they were always treated with the greatest respect and answered in a friendly and comradely manner. That was always the method of the tendency of Ted Grant.
These debates were characterised by the most scrupulous democracy, tolerance and good manners. Despite his intolerable attitude, Ted was always personally friendly to Bahu, or “Wicky” as he called him. But on the political questions, he was, as always, implacable. Many comrades to this day look back with nostalgia to those debates, which were the finest example of the Ted Grant School of internal democracy.
Bahu’s criminal policy in the end led to him to actually defend the military intervention of India in Sri Lanka. This, he justified by developing a hair-brained theory that the Indian bourgeoisie was somehow a progressive “industrial” bourgeoisie, whereas the Sri Lankan bourgeoisie was compradore! In the end, we did not succeed in getting the Sri Lankans to correct their mistakes, which ultimately led to the destruction of the section. But those debates served to educate and steel the cadres and raise the level of the whole International. And that, in a genuine Leninist organization, is what counts.
Pakistan and the role of Lal Khan
A big breakthrough for our international work occurred in 1980, although this was not immediately apparent. A young man who had been forced to flee from the military dictatorship in Pakistan came to London to seek out Ted Grant. The man who is now known as Lal Khan was destined to play a major role in Pakistan and in the International.
The son of a Punjabi army officer, Lal Khan decided not to enter the army and instead became a medical student. This was a time of violent class struggle in Pakistan. The magnificent revolution of 1968—9 had been derailed by the reformist leaders of the PPP. This had tilted the whole centre of gravity to the right, leading to the breakaway of Bangladesh, war with India and the rise of Bonapartist tendencies in the army.
Lal Khan was elected general secretary of the students union of Nishtar Medical College, Multan, in 1978, defeating the Islamic fundamentalists, armed and supported by the vicious Zia-ul-Haq dictatorship. There were bloody clashes on the streets and on the campuses between revolutionary students and reactionary Muslim gangs backed by the army. Lal Khan was involved in these shootouts, which nearly led to his death.
He was ordered to be shot on sight by the military command council on May 10, 1980, on the direct orders of the dictator. For twenty days, the military and the police were hunting for him throughout the country. He was arrested, and sentenced to flogging and imprisonment. In the end, he managed to escape to Amsterdam, where he established a small group of revolutionary exiles and published a paper called The Struggle.
Lal Khan was told about the Ted Grant group by a left-wing friend in Karachi. He immediately came to look for us in London, where he established very close relations with Ted, who came to regard him almost as a son. Shortly afterwards, I met him at an international meeting, and thus began a close political and personal bond that has united us ever since.
I always had a high regard for Lal Khan, who clearly stood for our ideas and showed great promise. But, apart from Ted, I detected a certain coldness towards him on the part of the other people who were involved in international work in London. I could never understand this at the time. Only later did it occur to me that the reason was that he was not a yes-man.
Lal Khan could see the huge difference between Ted and the others, and they had very little authority with him. This irritated them considerably. Even at this early stage it is clear that an unhealthy tendency was beginning to develop in Britain. This was characterised by constant attempts to play down Ted’s role. The layer of pushy youngsters who fancied themselves as future leaders of the world proletariat imagined that they could boost their prestige by running Ted down behind the scenes. For these small minds, Lal Khan’s closeness to Ted Grant was therefore not a plus, but a colossal minus.
A surreptitious campaign against Lal Khan went on for years, despite the fact that he was doing very good work in the painful and arduous conditions of exile. In the end, I got so tired of it that I took responsibility for Pakistan, although to tell the truth, I did not have much time with all my other responsibilities. I did it mainly to keep the others off Lal Khan’s back. That is how bad things had gotten in the late 1980s. But we will come to that later.
Ted had many discussions with Lal Khan, in which he came to the conclusion that the Pakistani Marxists should work in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), despite the profound contradictions and peculiarities of that party. Those who questioned our orientation to the PPP were immediately proved wrong when millions of Pakistani workers and peasants came onto the streets to welcome Benazir Bhutto on her homecoming in April 1986. She described the scene in her 1988 memoir Daughter of the East:
“The eight-mile drive from the airport to the Minar-i-Pakistan in Iqbal Park usually takes 15 minutes. On the unbelievable day of April 10, 1986, it took us ten hours,” Benazir Bhutto recalls. “The figure of one million people at the airport grew to two million then three million by the time we reached the Minar-i-Pakistan. (...) The black, green and red colours of the PPP seemed the only colours in Lahore that day. PPP flags and banners billowed in the dry, hot breeze until they formed an almost continuous canopy. People were wearing red, green and black jackets, dupattas, shalwar khameez, hats. Donkeys and water buffalo had PPP ribbons braided into their manes and tails.”
This mass support was a remarkable confirmation of the perspective worked out by Ted for the PPP. It convinced Lal Khan of the urgent need to return to his homeland. As he explained to me:
After more than seven years of difficult and frustrating exile in Amsterdam, I decided that the time had come to go back. But before leaving I was determined to see Ted again. I travelled to London on October 29, 1987. At first, Ted was doubtful about the wisdom of this step. He questioned me closely about security: “Isn’t it too dangerous still? We can’t afford to lose you” and so on. But once he saw that I had already taken the decision, he accepted it.
After a long discussion, Ted gave me some very sound advice. He said: “Remember, the country you are going back to is not the same country you left seven years ago. You might not recognize many aspects of social life. Be prepared for a cultural and social shock”. He then continued:
“Don’t work with the people you worked with in the past. They will have changed so much, adapting to the dictatorship and being out of struggle, that they will have compromised themselves. Hence you must look for a fresh start and build with the youth. The new generation have not been scarred and demoralised by past defeats. They will have fresh minds that will readily understand and accept our ideas”.
The very next day I was on a plane to Pakistan. I have never forgotten that conversation and those precious words of advice, which enabled me to reorient myself in what was indeed a very different world to the one I had left behind seven years earlier.
Returning to Pakistan, Lal Khan built an impressive revolutionary Marxist organization under the most difficult and dangerous conditions imaginable. Presently, he is the editor of the Asian Marxist Review and the International secretary of the Pakistan Trade Union Defence Campaign. He is the author of 28 books in different languages on various subjects. And the organization that began with just two people now numbers thousands. Actions speak louder than words. Lal Khan has proved his worth not by words but by deeds. Those who spent years attempting to belittle his work must now hang their heads in shame.
The comrades wanted Ted to go to Pakistan but we thought it was too dangerous for his health. Nevertheless, it was his ideas and example that provided the inspiration for that great work, and nobody else, as every comrade in Pakistan knows. It is his portrait that presides over every congress of the Pakistan section of the IMT in Lahore, where over 2,500 workers, peasants and youth gather every year to pledge themselves anew to the cause of proletarian internationalism and the socialist revolution.
Under the political guidance of Ted, we had created the strongest Trotskyist tendency since the days of the Russian Left Opposition. By the late 1970s, Militant had not only consolidated its huge majority within the Labour Party Young Socialists, but also had a solid base in the Labour Party. We ran the LPYS youth paper, Left. We had a comrade from the LPYS on Labour’s National Executive Committee. We even succeeded in getting Andy Bevan appointed to the post of Labour Party national youth officer.
From counting the pennies, we now had a turnover of over a million pounds a year, a large premises, a big web printing press, capable of printing a daily paper, and, incredibly, around 200 full time workers—which was more than the Labour Party itself. We had roots in many trade unions and Labour Parties, including about 50 councillors and three Marxist MPs.
I should say a few words about them. All three MPs were admirable comrades in their own way. Dave Nellist took to parliament like a duck to water and became a polished orator, although, needless to say, we always attached more importance to the work outside parliament. Terry Fields, a Liverpool fire fighter, was a very pleasant and sincere man, dedicated to the cause of his class.
Last but not least, there was Pat Wall, who was the ablest and most experienced of the three. A charming, intelligent, quietly spoken man, Pat made a deep and lasting impression on me. He had the same gift that Ted possessed of being able to express the most complex ideas in the simplest language. And just like Ted he was able to speak to anybody about Marxism. I think that after Ted and Jimmy Deane, he was the most outstanding figure in our Tendency, and after them, the greatest influence on me personally.
Pat joined the Tendency at a very young age and played a crucial role in Merseyside in a very difficult period. An avid reader, he had an excellent grasp of Marxist theory. He had very broad cultural interests and had read widely. An ardent supporter of Everton football team, he was a lover of jazz, particularly Charlie Parker. His wife Pauline had become politically active through the Labour Party’s youth section. She helped out with the production of Rally (the youth paper of the Tendency in Liverpool) and soon joined the work of the Tendency. Pauline recalls how much hard work was put in duplicating the paper, helped by Laura Kirton, secretary of the Walton Labour Party. “It was typed on stencils, duplicated, collated and then bound down the spine with red tape”, explained Pauline. They used the Trades Council duplicator to get it out.
Pat’s work attracted many others, including Terry Harrison, who was the leader of the apprentices’ strike on Merseyside in 1960. In 1958, Terry was thinking of joining the YCL, but picked up a copy of Rally at a ward meeting and wrote off to find out more. It wasn’t long before he was participating in the work of the Tendency, part of a new generation of young comrades like Ted Mooney, Terry Harrison, Tony Mulhearn and Peter Taaffe.
I would have liked to have had more contact with Pat over the years, but as he worked as a mail-order company buyer, his work took him to many countries: Hong Kong, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, South Korea and even the United States. He told me that, from a personal point of view, his favourite country was Taiwan. But Pat was no ordinary “tourist”. He always did his best to establish political contacts on his foreign travels.
Sometime in 1975, I had a very revealing conversation with Pat about Spain. Pat told me about a visit he had made recently to a factory in Vitoria in the Basque Country. With his friendly, easy-going manner, normally he would be able to connect easily with the workers in any workplace. But walking around this factory in the company of management, he could sense a bristling hostility on all sides. “I have never in my life experienced such a mood of burning class hatred”, he recalled.
Pat’s instincts proved to be very sound. One year later, in March 1976, this mood burst to the surface in a semi-insurrectionary general strike. At the time, I was living in Spain, and we were attempting to establish a group in Vitoria. This was the town where we later built our strongest base. I was in Vitoria during the general strike and was present at a mass meeting in the church of San Francisco, which resembled a meeting of the St. Petersburg Soviet in 1905.
The next day the whole city was in turmoil, with the striking workers playing a game of cat and mouse with the police. On the evening of March 3, 1976, armed police surrounded the church and fired tear gas and smoke bombs through the windows. The church was packed with men, women, and children, and panic ensued. As they came out of the church, the police opened fire with automatic weapons. It was a massacre and a turning point in the struggle against the Franco dictatorship.
In 1987, Pat was elected MP for Bradford North. His remarkable powers of communication enabled him to build strong links with the Asian community in his Bradford North constituency, with the aid of Lal Khan, who was one of the main organisers of Pat’s election campaign. Pat won a resounding victory that gave a big boost to the Militant. He had the honour of being attacked as a Marxist in the Conservative election broadcast of May 27, 1987. He was quoted as saying: “A Marxist Labour government would mean the abolition of the monarchy, the House of Lords, the sacking of the generals, the admirals, the air marshals, the senior civil servants, the police chiefs and in particular the judges”.
On the day of the election The Sun also featured a photograph calling for Pat Wall to be defeated. Pat’s campaign cut across this by holding public meetings and also workplace meetings. He won the seat, recording a 9.9% swing from the Social Democratic Party. It was a great victory. His maiden speech in Parliament was typical of the man. Speaking in the House of Commons, January 10, 1990, he told the assembled MPs:
I am the grandson of a dock worker and was brought up politically on the Mersey docks, where I learned to debate and to fight politically among dockers and the dock industry.
This remarkable speech was a great inspiration not just for the workers in Britain but the youth and workers in the South Asian subcontinent. There were plans to invite him to speak in Pakistan, in Kashmir and Lahore on the fiftieth anniversary of Trotsky’s death. But his own death prevented it.
Unfortunately, this outstanding cadre of our Tendency never received the recognition that was due to him. Whenever our MPs were mentioned, it was always Terry Fields and Dave Nellist who were singled out for praise. This was no accident. Pat Wall was far too independent for some people’s liking. At the offices of the Militant I heard doubts expressed about him, on more than one occasion, and unfavourable comparisons made between Pat and “the other two”.
Cut off from direct participation in the activity of the working class, he felt out of place, like a beached whale or a caged tiger. He did not enjoy the life of a parliamentarian, and in the end even questioned whether it was worthwhile. My wife Ana and I invited him for dinner at our house and it was very clear that Pat felt desperately lonely. That was the last time I saw him.
Pat died in August 1990, of a very rare and disfiguring disease that attacked his immune system, causing a collapse of all the cartilage in his body. His tragic death occurred before the faction fight had broken out, but I have not the slightest doubt that Pat would have been on our side. He was, like Jimmy Deane, always a faithful comrade of Ted’s, which was why he was virtually sidelined. His untimely death was a terrible loss to the Marxist cause.