In this final chapter of the biography of Ted Grant, Alan Woods writes about Ted as a man. You can find all the chapters here
Natura il fece,e poi roppe la stampa
Nature made him, and then broke the mould
(Ludovico Ariosto, Orlando furioso, x 84)
What was Ted like?
The readers of Socialist Appeal and the In Defence of Marxism website know Ted Grant as a Marxist theoretician of stature. But what of Ted Grant the man? He was a very humane person—not at all like the stereotype of a sinister revolutionary of popular imagination. He was always approachable and would converse on all manner of subjects with anybody who happened to be handy—a bit like Socrates in the Agora at Athens, only it was more likely to be the bus stop or the fish and chip shop.
So completely was Ted identified with revolutionary politics that he literally lived in the office of the RCP, and later was more at home in the office of Militant and Socialist Appeal than in his own house. He would stay at the Militant centre in Hepscott Road until very late, reading the papers and drinking endless mugs of tea. Since there was always a night shift of comrades guarding the centre, he was never lonely. He spent a lot of time talking to comrades on the night rota, as Terry McPartlan recalls:
I worked at the Militant Centre for a couple of years in the mid 1980s during the miners’ strike and the Liverpool Council battles. I worked in the print shop, but used also to do the night rota regularly. Ted used to work late at the centre, sometimes till 9 or 10 at night. I used to sit and chat with him. I always had lots of questions. I remember him as being very approachable and friendly. He always had time for us youngsters. I was only 21 or 22 at the time but he was never too busy to spare us a few minutes. I would take him to Brick Lane for a curry, or fetch him one in from the curry shop as he called it. I became friendly with Ted and stayed in touch with him up to the time he died.
He always made a deep impression on people who met him. This was above all the result of his encyclopaedic mind. I remember when I was at university in Sussex we had won over a couple of students from Healy’s organization. They were very bright kids and wanted to speak with Ted, so I fixed up a meeting. The conversation went on for a long time, and they were obviously mesmerised. Afterwards I asked them how it went and they said they were amazed at the encyclopaedic scope of his knowledge. At one point one of them asked him if he knew anything about Scandinavia, to which he replied: “Not much” and then commenced an hour-long speech on the politics, history and economic life of Norway, Sweden and Denmark.
He had the knack of immediately connecting with workers and trade unionists, listening intently to their problems and opinions and then making very concrete suggestions on how to act. He knew the trade union and Labour movement like the back of his hand, and this knowledge always enabled him to give sound advice on the practical problems of day-to-day work. But with Ted the overall perspectives were always the main thing. The general aims of the movement had always to be kept firmly in mind.
About his personal life there is little to say. I was told he once had a “crush” on Millie Lee, but if that is the case, nothing ever came of it. Ted never got married and had no children. If he had had a family during the hard years of the 1950s, who can say whether he would have survived politically? The pressures of capitalism find their most painful expression through the family. In reality, Ted saw the movement as his family and in a way looked upon us as his children. About his blood relatives he spoke very little. However, there was one big exception.
He had a special affection for his elder sister Rae, whom he would ring up daily. She was a diminutive little thing, like a doll. She looked so fragile you felt that if you gave her a hug she would break in pieces. But she was a very charming and intelligent lady and had quite a strong character. She lived in a very smart apartment in a prosperous suburb in the outskirts of Paris called Meudon-la-Forêt, which was tastefully adorned with French modern and impressionist paintings.
She spoke with the accent of the cultured British upper classes, and she had the British “stiff upper lip”. On one occasion I asked her whether her first husband, who lived in South Africa, was still alive. She answered in her usual measured tones: “No. He died.” I enquired about the circumstances of his demise. She replied, as cool as a cucumber: “Some men broke into his farm and tortured him to find out where his money was. And he died.” I was taken aback by this: “That is absolutely terrible!” I said. “Yes,” she said in exactly the same tone: “Jolly bad show.”
This brought to mind a story about the Duke of Wellington. During the Battle of Waterloo, he was sitting on his horse observing the course of the fighting, when an officer alongside him said: “Good Lord, Sir, a cannon ball has just taken off my leg”. To which the Iron Duke replied imperturbably: “Good Lord, Sir, so it has.”
Rae hero-worshipped her brother and was always asking questions about him. To my astonishment, she once asked me: “Does Ted have a girlfriend?” She must have been ninety and he was in his late eighties at the time. I replied diplomatically: “Not as far as I know”.
He would visit her every year. Her husband (his name was Raymond) had been a prosperous jeweller, but had died years before. She said he had been active in the French Resistance, but I never learned any details about that. Anyway, he left her enough money to live comfortably and she would give Ted money to buy clothes. This seems to have been a tradition that went back for many years. There is quite an amusing letter written to Ted by Jimmy Deane from Paris, where he had been in contact with Rae. It is dated June 24, 1947:
I called upon your sister as requested. She has quite a lot of useful things for you—with them you should be the best dressed man in the party! They are all neatly packed in a big suitcase which is also meant for your use, i.e. you can keep it.
Harry will be over here soon and will return to London long before I will, so I shall get him to take the case.
Your sister is very interested to know how things fare with you. You should reply to her letters. You will look far to find such an excellent supporter… (Incidentally she wants to know why she has not been receiving the SA [Socialist Appeal]—perhaps you would arrange this Ted).
As you probably know your younger sister is now in New York. Rae, herself, is in very good health, and is much relieved at being able to keep her apartment a little while longer.
She was very kind to me, an excellent meal and an insistence that I should take away a few, but valuable, things like cigs, tea and coffee.
Incidentally, you should really try to come over for a couple of weeks’ holiday. It would do you the world of good, relieve you of mental (and physical…) constipation. If you put yourself to it you could have it all fixed up in a few weeks and it would be better that you came before the Congress (August) and not after. Why don’t you try? I am sure Rae would assist you—she would be very pleased if you came.
So much for now Ted. Would you pass the enclosed address to Solidaritat. The comrade is doing good work amongst POWs in the south and wants material direct from London.
Be good, and try to get over there for a few weeks.
Very best wishes,
Note the carefully worded sentence: Ted “should be the best dressed man in the party!” Between “should be” and “is” there is a vast difference! Jimmy knew very well that Ted had an extraordinary talent for appearing badly dressed, and that all his sister’s efforts to endow him with the blessings of haute couture were doomed to fail. He was not at all fashion conscious, nor did he usually pay any special attention to his appearance. Even on sunny days he would be dressed in a suit and tie, usually also with a raincoat and invariably with an old cloth cap on his head. He once walked along a beach in Italy in summer dressed in this attire—to the astonishment of the Italians, all of whom were showing off their sun-tanned anatomies in the latest skimpy swimwear.
The exception was when he visited Rae in Paris. Rae, unlike her brother, was extremely fashion conscious. She was always impeccably dressed and used lipstick even when she was in her nineties and she would not be happy unless her brother appeared before her suitably dressed. But Ted always forgot to buy clothes until it was time for the next trip to Paris. Some weeks before leaving to see his sister, the alarm bells would be ringing. Ted would start pestering comrades to help him to buy a new suit.
To this urgent demand he would attach strict conditions. It had to be a blue serge suit, he explained, because that was what Rae liked. He would go from one shop to another, leaving a trail of chaos behind him until finally he obtained what he was looking for. After many years of this performance, somebody asked Rae what she thought of Ted’s new suit, to which she answered in exasperated tones: “I wish to goodness somebody would tell him to stop buying those awful blue serge suits!”
He had another sister, Anita, who lived in California and was a talented artist. I met her once. She was the youngest of all of them but she died before Rae. Rae passed away about a year before Ted. We did not tell him, for fear of the negative impact on his health. Strangely enough, he never asked about her. I think in his heart he knew.
The art of public speaking
Ted did not just have a profound grasp of politics. He had a very highly developed political instinct, a keen insight into the workings of bourgeois politics and the minds of politicians. Indeed, sometimes he talked about the leading politicians of the day as if he knew them personally. I believe he studied the articles in the press so assiduously that he could think his way into their heads, anticipating their actions and seeking out the hidden meanings behind their words, exposing their calculations.
In other words, he had a profound grasp of psychology, by which I mean class psychology. I have found something very similar in the writings of Marx and Engels. They also spoke in familiar terms of the leading bourgeois politicians like Lord “Johnny” Russell and Palmerstone. This is particularly the case in the marvellous correspondence of Marx and Engels, that wonderful Aladdin’s cave of ideas.
Ted was a good writer, particularly in his earlier years, but where he really came into his own was public speaking. He would usually speak for an hour—sometimes more—and could always hold people’s attention. His speeches showed a thorough grasp of the subject matter, with plenty of facts (“facts, figures and arguments are what is needed”, he used to say, when advising on writing or public speaking).
He sometimes turned the volume up for added effect. In the 1970s Ted visited West Rainton, a small village outside Durham where there was a branch of the Militant. The comrades held a meeting in an upstairs flat. It was a red hot day and the windows were open. So people outside could hear Ted in full flow out of the window attacking capitalism and so on. Later, after Ted had gone back to Gateshead, the comrades went to the pub. A group of workers were sitting in the corner talking about something they had heard on the way to the pub. “Did you hear that bloke speaking on the radio? He’s right what he was saying”, they said. In fact they had been listening to Ted at full volume.
How many people have heard him begin in the time-honoured fashion: “Comrade chairman and comrades...” He never read his speeches. He told me that the purpose of a good set of notes is not to use them. “Read them through once before speaking then put them on the table and forget about them”, he said. This last piece of advice could be a serious problem for the person in the chair. The audience would be in place, the chair would be looking at his watch impatiently, but Ted would sit there, oblivious to the world, reading through endless pages of notes with an expression of the utmost concentration on his face. The chairperson’s proddings were completely ignored: “I’m just going through my notes”, he would say. Nothing, but nothing, could ever make Ted hurry.
In the end, however, the audience’s patience, and the chairperson’s sufferings, would be amply rewarded. It was always an inspiration to hear Ted Grant speak. It was not just the content of his speeches, but the obvious enthusiasm he always showed. This was contagious, and this was much appreciated. Ted never used speeches to make personal attacks, as the sects so often do. There was none of that kind of negative, mean-spirited, spiteful element in his speeches that so often characterises the ranting of the sects. There would be no personal attacks, but he would often give vent to his sense of humour, especially when speaking of the bourgeois or right-wing leaders.
Sometimes he would even burst out laughing when speaking of the stupidities of these ladies and gentlemen, and this was so infectious that it would have everybody splitting their sides. However, the real reason for his success as a speaker was his extraordinary grasp of Marxist theory. This is what gave his speeches such a wealth of content. Without a firm grasp of theory, no amount of facts and figures will suffice. This is something many people who think it sufficient to stuff their speeches and articles with a pile of undigested statistics and imagine they are great Marxist orators would do well to ponder.
Many people have commented that Ted always used the most extraordinary arm movements during his speeches. This often placed the chairperson in mortal danger, and glasses and bottles of water, and even his own eyeglasses frequently went flying. This was a source of harmless amusement for everybody except the long-suffering chairperson. “That was your fault!” he would say jokingly to the chair. Was this perhaps the reason why Ted always began by addressing himself to the Comrade Chairman, as if to excuse himself in advance? We shall never know.
He was very adept in dealing with hecklers and people who interrupted or attacked him in meetings. Once, while he was speaking in Madrid on the Spanish Civil War, he was furiously attacked by an old Spanish Stalinist. At the end, in his summing up he said: “We have had a free and democratic discussion in the best traditions of our movement—not like the Stalinists who settled their differences with ice-picks.” On another occasion in Italy a hardened sectarian made a nuisance of himself speaking at inordinate length and abusing Ted in the usual way. In his reply Ted announced: “We have had a very democratic discussion, in which everybody could express his views—including the Man from Mars.”
Ted had a limitless appetite for political work and discussion. But he had his own routine and would not allow himself to be deflected from it. He did not read the daily papers—he devoured every line. “You must read them all, from the first page to the last.” He would say: “This is contemporary history”. He considered the British press to be the best in the world. By contrast, he regarded the American press as parochial.
Every day he read The Financial Times and—for reasons that I could never grasp—The Daily Express. He also read the MorningStar for Labour movement news and also to see what the Stalinists were saying. In later years, he took a special interest in the numerous obituaries that were carried in it—an indication that it too was a dying organisation. “Another one gone”, he would exclaim, with a mischievous smile. As if that were not enough, every evening he also read The Evening Standard.
When I first knew him he used to read The Times, which was then a very fine paper indeed. Ever since it first appeared in the 18th century its front page was filled with small advertisements—no photos or striking headlines, in fact, nothing to attract the attention whatsoever. This sober and serious appearance expressed the very nature of this great organ of the British ruling class.
Trotsky pointed out that the British ruling class did not think in years but in centuries. Nowadays they are incapable of seeing further than the end of their nose. The decline of British capitalism has been mirrored in the decline in the perspicacity and intelligence of their political representatives. This, in turn, is reflected in the fate of The Times. The contents of The Times were wide-ranging and comprehensive, and its editorials provided a serious analysis of events. Of course, everything was written from the standpoint of the ruling class, but it was written by the serious representatives of the bourgeoisie, the people Ted used to call the strategists of Capital.
Ted observed that the serious representatives of the bourgeoisie often arrive at similar conclusions to those of the Marxists, although from a different class point of view. It was therefore a great disappointment when The Times was taken over by the Canadian press baron Thompson. The change was immediately noticeable. The content was thinner, the analysis more superficial, and everything was geared to the “market”. In the 1960s I happened to meet a man who was high up in The Times, and I told him I thought The Times had never been the same since they took the adverts off the front page. He disagreed, of course, on the basis that one must move with the times (the pun was unintentional). It subsequently ended up in Murdoch’s hands and went completely down the drain.
In retrospect, what happened to The Times was no accident. Ever since the British aristocracy and the bourgeoisie reached a compromise in the 19th century, with the creation of the modern Conservative Party, the bourgeoisie was content to allow the aristocrats to decide the political line and strategy, especially foreign policy, in return for letting them get on with what they understood best—the gentle art of moneymaking. In reality, they had a division of labour.
The bourgeois in general are incapable of broad generalizations and strategic thinking, being limited to the immediate need for maximum profit. The landowner (assuming he is of the wealthier kind), has no such need, and consequently is able to think in broader terms. But the middle class Tory rank and file are another matter altogether.
Proud of their insular ignorance and total lack of culture, they are prone to sudden attacks of hysteria, as we have seen lately over the issue of Europe. This makes them dangerous to the British public at large, and potentially dangerous to the ruling class itself. For generations, the Conservative grandees kept this rabid dog on a short leash. Its views and prejudices found their expression in the pages of papers like The Daily Mail, The Daily Express, and to some extent The Daily Telegraph (Ted referred to the latter as “a clerk’s paper”), but not The Times.
The final indignity was when The Times was bought by Rupert Murdoch, the Australian billionaire and media mogul. Murdoch dragged the British press down to his own gutter level, starting with The Sun, which used to be a Labour paper in the past but is now fit only for use in the gentlemen’s lavatory, and then only in dire emergencies. The Times did not escape this general decline. Once it had fallen into Murdoch’s palsied claws, its fate was sealed. The Old Thunderer was silenced forever. Ted gave up his beloved Times and took up The Financial Times, which now occupies the same place. He was reading The Financial Times the morning he died.
Ted was very good at reading papers but he was also very good at selling them. On demonstrations he would always be there, pacing up and down the lines of marchers, with his Socialist Appeal held out boldly in front. He invariably sold more than anybody else. Terry McPartlan also remembered how Ted sold papers:
I was on the 1992 miners’ demonstration in London. The Tories wanted to get rid of the remaining pits. We produced a Socialist Appeal four-page broadsheet. It went down very well on the train down to London and I sold about 100. It was raining stair rods and we were all absolutely drenched. I bumped into Ted on the Embankment near one of the bridges. He was soaked to the skin and was carrying some very soggy broadsheets. “How many have you sold Ted?” I asked. “About 120” he said, “but have you got any dry ones?”
Greg Oxley formed the same impression:
Ted was not just a theoretician. He was a militant in every sense of the term. The delegates making their way into Labour Party, LPYS and trade union conferences would find him standing in their path, waving the paper around and calling out to them. In this, as in raising money for the movement, his sheer enthusiasm and his bold, direct approach got excellent results. He would say “Have you got your copy of the Militant?” with the same forthrightness as one might say “Have you got your entrance ticket?” Ted was a man it was difficult to say “no” to!
Ted had a very wide range of interests and could speak about football and horse-racing (as we have seen, he enjoyed the occasional bet), as well as literature and culture in general. He had read all of Dickens and Shakespeare. He used to quote the famous lines from Julius Caesar:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyage of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat;
And we must take the current when it serves,
Or lose our ventures.
But his favourite author was the American socialist writer Jack London. He particularly liked Jack London’s The Iron Heel. He said: “It is really incredible how Jack London could foresee fascism twenty years before Hitler came to power in Germany”. He also admired London’s short stories, especially The Scarlet Plague, which describes the world after a catastrophic epidemic of a disease that has no known cure. The handful of survivors of this catastrophe soon reverts to a primitive level of culture. Even language is affected, since there is no need for complex sentences to express complex ideas. One of the survivors, an old man, was a scientist. But nobody now remembers the great achievements of science and technology, and when he tries to explain these things to his grandchildren, they think he is telling them a fairy story. Ted thought this was a perfect description of what could occur after a nuclear Holocaust.
The reason he liked this story so much is because of its materialist approach. Human culture and civilization has a material base. If industry is destroyed, culture will begin to deteriorate and decay. He contrasted Jack London’s materialist method to the lunacy of the Argentinean “Trotskyist” Posadas who considered that a nuclear war was inevitable and that we would build socialism on the radioactive ashes.
A writer he prized most-highly was the English novelist John Galsworthy. Of the Forsyte Saga he once remarked to me: “he [Galsworthy] showed the bourgeois as they really are, and they never forgave him”. What a wonderfully perceptive piece of literary criticism! However, he and I could never see eye to eye on James Joyce, who I regarded as the greatest novelist of the 20th century, while Ted did not approve.
Another author he liked was the American writer John dos Passos. He recommended the second part of his great USA Trilogy, called 1919, as a marvellous description of that revolutionary year. He detested Agatha Christie because her books were so full of the self-satisfied smugness of the English middle class: “Here everything is for the best in the best of all bourgeois worlds”, he once said. Of Orwell’s famous book 1984, Ted said: “You can tell this was a book written by a dying man. It is so full of black pessimism”. George Orwell was in fact dying of tuberculosis at the time. But I think that the pessimistic tone also had political roots.
A section of the Left intelligentsia had been impressed by the theories of bureaucratic collectivism and state capitalism before the Second World War. After the war, the whole world was divided up between monopoly-capitalist imperialism and Stalinist Russia. The idea gained ground that the corporate-bureaucratic system of monopoly capitalism in the USA and the Stalinist totalitarian system in the Soviet Union were essentially the same, and humanity was condemned to a bleak future as a result.
The terrifying image of a boot stamping on the face of humanity forever is an expression of both the organic pessimism of the petty-bourgeois intellectual and a false political theory. It is noticeable that in 1984, the working class is presented as ignorant and brutalized “proles”, entirely subservient to the ruling elite. This adequately expresses the real opinion of the working class held by so many “Left” intellectuals even today.
Ted liked to quote from the Bible. And why should he not? The King James Authorised edition is, alongside Shakespeare, one of the jewels of the English language, and contains many pearls of wisdom. Among his favourite quotes was “Behold, there ariseth a little cloud out of the sea, like a man’s hand.” (Kings, 18:44). How many times did he refer to a particular phenomenon as “a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand” without comrades realising where it came from?
Another favourite was: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke, 16:13). Ted used this very striking quotation to explain the contradictory position of reformist Labour leaders who try in vain to “serve two masters”, that is, the workers who elect them, and the bankers and capitalists who own the means of production and exchange and make all the important decisions.
His all time favourite was: “Yet man is borne unto trouble, as the sparks fly upward”. (Job, 5:7). Was he thinking about the trials and tribulations of his own life? I do not think so. It was simply the beauty of the poetry that attracted his attention. But he often referred to another, very different Biblical quote: “As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly”. (Proverbs, 26:11) Ted often used this quote when referring to the mistakes of Mandel and the other leaders of the Fourth International. More than once we decided to cut this phrase out of a document for fear it might provoke more than the usual controversy. I don’t suppose it would have helped matters if we had pointed out its saintly origins. In a similar vein, he liked to use the words that Oliver Cromwell addressed to the Presbyterians of Scotland: “I beseech you, in the bowels of Christ, think it possible you may be mistaken”.
To descend from the Kingdom of Heaven to more mundane matters, Ted had a lifelong weakness for cowboy films. This goes back to the 1940s when such films were very popular. It seems that they even played a role in the faction fight with Gerry Healy. After yet another tense battle of nerves, the comrades would relax by going to the movies. The film would naturally be a Western, and they would decide in advance which actor would represent different characters in the faction fight. Of course, the villain would be Healy, and when he eventually got his just deserts, the comrades would roar with laughter, which inclined the rest of the audience to entertain serious doubts concerning their sanity.
There is a story (the truth of which is impossible to establish) that Ted and Jock Haston were supposed to write an editorial for the old Socialist Appeal. As usual the article was late. So Jimmy Deane decided to take drastic measures to call the miscreants to order. He ordered the pair into an office and sat them down at a table with lots of paper, pens and ink. He then locked the door. Things went very quiet—too quiet—and after a while they opened the door to discover that Ted and Jock had escaped through the window and gone to the local cinema to see a Western.
When Rob Sewell joined the Tendency, he went to London and was taken by Ted to see a cowboy film. Rob says it was an unforgettable experience. Throughout the film there was a constant stream of banter and laughter from Ted, as well as a running commentary about the political significance of various things, in particular the weakness of the bourgeois state apparatus the further West you travelled in the US, hence the name Wild West! The rest of the audience for some reason were not especially pleased by these commentaries, but Ted certainly enjoyed himself.
His other hobby was betting on the horses, a trait that he may or may not have inherited from his father. On Saturday afternoons in the 1980s, I would walk past his office and overhear snatches of a telephone conversation. What important aspect of world revolution was he talking about? Then occasional sentences became clear: “What! Greased Lightening came last in the 2.30! It is a swindle! We were robbed!”
Ted insisted that without enthusiasm one can accomplish nothing. He himself was always brimming with enthusiasm, and his enthusiasm was contagious. He always ended a conversation with an encouraging phrase: “Keep up the good work!” “Bring home the bacon!” or “Keep the Red Flag flying!” In all the years I knew him, with the possible exception of the brief phone conversation we had just before the crisis in Militant, I cannot remember a single moment when he was depressed or pessimistic.
I was once in Dublin and met Matt Merrigan, who was then district secretary of the ATGWU. He later became president of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions. He had known Ted in the 1940s. He asked me if I knew Ted Grant. I answered in the affirmative. He said with that half ironical, quizzical voice that Dubliners adopt when they are about to pull your leg: “Tell me, is he still optimistic?” I said he was. He said: “Let’s face it: Ted Grant would be optimistic if he was falling off a cliff.” The comment was meant to be ironical, but I guess it could be true.
In the course of his long and active life, Ted Grant often found himself isolated and in an apparently impossible situation. That was the case when the old RCP was destroyed by Healy in 1949. It was the case in the barren years of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. It was the case in 1991 after our expulsion from the Militant Tendency, which also took place in an objectively difficult situation. But Ted and those of us who followed him were not at all worried. We knew that the correct ideas, methods and perspectives would triumph in the end. And that has been proven by the march of events.
Ted was amazingly unconcerned about his personal safety. Sometime in the 1980s, I was walking with Ted in Victoria railway station in London. It was in the middle of an IRA bombing campaign and as a precaution, the authorities had removed the litter bins. Ted wanted to throw some rubbish away and expressed his annoyance at the absence of the appropriate receptacles: “I don’t understand all this fuss over a few bombs,” he said. “During the war I used to walk around in the Blitz. It never bothered me.”
I listened to these words in astonishment. The image of Ted strolling absent-mindedly through the streets of London with bombs falling all around him stayed in my mind ever since. I do not doubt it for a moment. He was always blissfully unaware of his surroundings, being on another plane altogether. He could read, work or sleep amidst any amount of noise. For example, he was knocked down by a lorry in 1940 when crossing the road and hospitalised. This made him unfit for service, which fortunately allowed him to remain full time for the organisation. It kind of makes sense now. He always was oblivious to dangers of crossing the road.
At parties and socials Ted could be induced to sing songs—if singing is the appropriate word, for he had no singing voice at all. He always sang out of tune and often forgot half the words, but his singing voice nonetheless had a pure, child-like quality, and the comrades enjoyed it immensely. Apart from the South African songs already mentioned, other songs in his repertoire included (to the tune of My Darling Clementine):
In Siberia, in Siberia, where the Arctic Sun doth shine,
Sat an Old Bolshevik who they called a dirty swine:
Party Comrade, Party Comrade, what a sorry fate is thine.
Comrade Stalin does not love you, cos you left the Party Line.
And (to the tune of Auld Lang Syne):
And should Old Bolshies be forgot
And never brought to mind,
You’ll find them in Siberia
With a ball and chain behind.
A ball and chain behind, my dear,
A ball and chain behind.
And Stalin shot the bloody lot
For the sake of the party line.
He also used to sing a parody on Brecht’s celebrated United Front Song (here the Popular Front Song):
There’s a place, Duchess, for you!
March on to the Bourgeois United Front,
For you are a Bourgeois too!
Ted’s sense of humour
Many years ago, when I was a young student, Ted once asked me: which are the most important qualities needed by a revolutionary. I thought to myself: maybe courage, or a high political level? Ted smiled and said: A sense of proportion and a sense of humour. In this reply we have Ted Grant’s character expressed in a few words.
As the years have passed I have understood the real meaning of Ted’s words. A revolutionary has to understand what is possible and what is not possible at a given time. One needs to understand how the working class moves and adapt to it, without losing for a moment the general perspectives and principles. It is necessary to learn the rhythm of history and try to keep in step with it. This is an art that cannot be learnt from textbooks. It involves, on the one hand, a profound knowledge of the dialectical method, and on the other hand, the necessary experience that gives one a feeling for the workers’ movement.
Part of the secret of his eternal optimism was the fact that Ted always had a great sense of humour. He had the capacity to laugh at almost everything. He would roar with laughter at the stupidity of Bush and Blair, of Reagan and Thatcher, and the foolish antics of the sects, fiddling and fussing on the fringes of the Labour Movement. Ted was always ready to laugh at even the most serious situation. His sense of humour had nothing in common with the unpleasant, cynical jibes of the petty-bourgeois, a type of humour that is not really humorous at all, but contains a poisonous element: a kind of sneer disguised with a forced smile.
His humour was of the good, healthy proletarian kind. He said: “Take any shop steward or convenor in a factory. You will never find one that lacks a sense of humour or is too serious with his workmates. They are always good humoured, ready to have a laugh, drink a pint of beer and talk about the latest football match. If they were not, the workers would never vote for them.”
This is very true and accurately reflects the healthy psychology of the working class. It is in direct contrast to the narrow, humourless psychology of the sectarian, who imagines that you cannot be a serious revolutionary unless you look as if you have just consumed half a pint of vinegar. I am never quite sure whether they are born with this strange facial expression, or whether it is the result of years of practising in front of a mirror. Either way, such individuals will never be listened to by the workers, who will regard them as extraterrestrials—an opinion which in some cases I am inclined to share.
Often Ted would cause a riot of laughter quite unintentionally. One of the causes of this was his invariable tendency to mispronounce foreign words and names. Despite his devotion to internationalism, Ted was not very good at foreign languages. He had made a valiant effort in the past to learn French, but he spoke very little and with a barbarous accent—in fact, he made no attempt to master the French pronunciation at all. His lack of linguistic aptitude led to some comical situations.
In the 1970s, after the fall of the Junta, there was a revolutionary situation in Greece. The PASOK was formed by Andreas Papandreou and adopted a very Left stance, bordering at times on centrism. Ted often mentioned this in his speeches, but there was just one snag. He was organically incapable of pronouncing Papandreou’s name properly. It always came out as “Pappy Andrew”. The comrades attempted to correct him many times but eventually were forced to give up, and so Papandreou remained Pappy Andrew forever after.
I remember an even more comical mistake in the 1980s, when I had returned to Spain after eight years. The radical Basque nationalists had launched a party (or rather an electoral coalition) called Herri Batasuna. One day Ted was reading his Financial Times as usual, but with a grimace on his face that indicated a mixture of perplexity and indignation in equal measures. Finally, irritated beyond measure, he exclaimed: “That’s a stupid name to give a party!” I asked him what party he was talking about. “You know—that Basque party.” “You mean Herri Batasuna?” “Yes, he replied irritably. Whoever heard of calling a party after a man! And who is this Harry Batasuna, anyway?” I explained that the name means Popular Unity in the Basque language. But I could see he remained unconvinced.
I have been active in the revolutionary movement for many years and have known all sorts of people, many of them admirable, intelligent and dedicated comrades. But I have never met anybody who commanded such deep respect and sincere affection as Ted Grant. Even his enemies respected his integrity. But his closest comrades looked upon Ted with the same warm feelings of affection that are normally reserved for a close relation.
Ted was a very humane person. He loved children, though he never had any of his own—perhaps it was for that very reason. Whenever he passed a child in the street, he would say hello and pat them on the head—sometimes to the consternation of their parents. He revelled in the company of comrades’ children and would always spoil them.
He would never pass a beggar or homeless person in the street without rummaging in his pockets for some change. He would always stop and talk to the newspaper seller on the corner near the Old Street office who would slip a free copy of the Evening Standard into his plastic bag. When alighting from the bus, he would unfailingly call out to the driver “thanks, driver!” even if it meant infuriating the passengers by holding up the bus.
He always showed the greatest concern for comrades’ health and well-being. If a comrade was ill, he would always receive a phone call from Ted enquiring after his health and giving unsolicited and very insistent advice on what should or should not be eaten (or drunk), and a complete guide to exercise. The nature of the advice depended on whatever bits and pieces he had read that day in the papers: sometimes it was hot and cold baths, other times it would be to eat plenty of onions, etc. Above, all you were urged to drink plenty of tea, which Ted drank literally by the bucket.
Ted was generally mild-spoken, rarely raising his voice. But for him Labour’s right wingers were always “the Neanderthal Men and Women”, which I thought was a bit unfair on our Palaeolithic ancestors. He did not like bad language, however, and never swore. I can think of just two exceptions. He would sometimes refer to Margaret Thatcher as “that bitch”.
Nowadays that might be considered slightly politically incorrect (not that Ted was ever bothered about political correctness). But then, this lady was responsible for the wholesale destruction of Britain’s mining communities. She habitually displayed to an extreme that cold cruelty that is specific to the British ruling class, so Ted’s attitude was understandable. And I imagine she was referred to in far less flattering terms in the public bars in Wakefield and the South Wales Valleys.
The other exception was Tony Blair, the right-wing leader of “New Labour”, of whom he always spoke of in terms of utter contempt: “Blair is a bourgeois. He is only a member of the Labour Party by accident. He could equally well have been a Tory”. Ted would refer to Blair as “that bastard”, or, if he was feeling more charitable, “that odious little carpetbagger”. He would only very rarely speak like that, and then only in internal meetings.
However, in the Labour movement Ted always insisted that we should avoid personal attacks and the kind of accusatory strident language of the ultra-lefts always use. He was delighted when we came across a letter written from Marx to Engels, dated November 4, 1864, in which he explains the manner in which he dealt with the English reformist trade union leaders in the International Workingman’s Association:
It was very difficult to frame the thing so that our view should appear in a form that would make it acceptable to the present outlook of the workers’ movement. In a couple of weeks, the same people will be having meetings on the franchise with Bright and Cobden. It will take time before the revival of the movement allows the old boldness of language to be used. We must be fortiter in re, suaviter in modo [strong in deed, mild in manner]. You will get the stuff as soon as it is printed. (Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Volume 42, p. 11)
Ted always stressed the importance of youth. “He who has the youth has the future,” he said, quoting Lenin. As a young student I sometimes thought he was a bit hard on some of the older comrades. It was quite natural that, as a youngster, I looked up to older comrades who I regarded as veterans. But Ted was neither sentimental nor nostalgic.
He lived for the present—and above all, the future. He was impatient with the “old glories” whose main interest in life was talking about the old days. So he would always avoid the company of the old-timers who frankly bored and irritated him with their inane chatter and endless anecdotes about the past. At the end of every national meeting, conference or Marxist School, you would always find Ted sitting with the youth, talking animatedly about politics, theory or the present world situation.
There was one exception, however. He was fiercely loyal to that very small number of older comrades from the RCP days. When some of the younger comrades wanted to remove Arthur Deane from the National Committee, arguing that he was not playing a proper role, Ted sprang to his defence. He insisted that it was necessary to keep comrades like Arthur on the NC. I am sure that Ted had no illusions about the role Arthur was now able to play. But he regarded him as part of our historical capital, of what he called the “Unbroken Thread”. Doubtless, he also felt that he owed a debt of gratitude for past loyalty to the Tendency through many difficult times.
When Jimmy Deane was very ill in hospital at the end of his life, Ted would ring him regularly every day. Jimmy had had a stroke, but he continued stubbornly to smoke in bed. As a result, there was a fire, and he was burnt. Of course I could only hear one side of the conversation. Ted persisted to the last in encouraging him: “Jimmy, you must not give in. You must fight, do you hear? You must keep your brain active. You must read. Keep on reading, Jimmy. Keep on reading!” There was something deeply touching about these conversations between two old comrades, each nearing the end of his life, and each fighting a losing battle against an inescapable destiny.
Ted last saw Jimmy in January 1993, when he and Rob Sewell visited him at his care home in Liverpool. Jimmy asked to dictate a letter to Socialist Appeal, which was probably the last thing he wrote:
I would like through the pages of the journal to express my best wishes to all the comrades. The ideas you represent today have a very long history. I myself took up those ideas in the mid-1930s and helped to pioneer Trotskyism in the Liverpool area. Given the collapse of Stalinism and the attack on Marxism today, it is necessary to support and defend those ideas as we did in the old days.
The establishment of Socialist Appeal is a valuable asset in this work, and I would like to share with you the sense of achievement in what you have accomplished so far. A Marxist tendency must combat any traces of ultra-leftism that arise out of impatience. Patience was one of the great virtues of Trotsky. He suffered terribly, but had the ability to learn from events and arm a new generation of comrades. He had the perspectives, the theory and also the faith in the working class. He educated the youth that there are no shortcuts. Those who go down this path will only cut their own throats. I have seen it many times in the past.
The most important thing is to learn and address the real movement of the working class, using the scientific ideas of Marxism. You have to go back to basics all the time. There are no easy solutions to difficult problems. But there will be big opportunities in the future.
I have known Ted Grant for decades. He has played a vital role as the key theoretician of the Trotskyist movement. He has made, and continues to make, an historic contribution through the development of Marxist theory and the training of Marxist cadres. I wish you every success and am confident that you will go from strength to strength on the basis of correct theory, perspectives and methods.
Jimmy Deane, Liverpool
Diet and exercise!
Ted was always very health-conscious. “Marx and Lenin did not look after themselves”, he used to say, with a reproving look, as if he were scolding the founders of scientific socialism for their carelessness. He was also very particular about his diet. He would eat enormous quantities of fruit for breakfast, for example. He did not smoke and only began to take the odd glass of red wine with food in the last few years because he read somewhere that it was good for you.
On the other hand, he had a voracious appetite, and more than one comrade found himself eaten out of house and home after one of Ted’s visits. He had a disconcerting habit of describing what was put on the table as “poison”, and then eating everything in sight. Ana and I often had Ted round for dinner. Ana asked him if there was anything he could not eat. He answered: “Oh I eat everything.” The first course was onion soup, and we noticed that Ted was painstakingly removing all the onions with a fork. This task, however, proved beyond the capabilities of even the most educated Marxist.
Breakfast would consist of bananas, apples, and oranges, all of which he would wash painstakingly and then peel. Lunch would usually be very thick slices of wholemeal bread, thickly spread with butter (which would also be spread liberally on his copy of the Financial Times), and filled generously with chunks of Cheddar cheese. His favourite dinner was a curry (mild) in an Indian restaurant in Brick Lane, with copious quantities of rice (he usually wheedled the owner into giving him a free extra portion, and he kept his own jar of chutney in the restaurant’s fridge).
He was inordinately fond of sweets—any sorts of sweets—chocolates, and of course, cakes, which he devoured by the plateful, and then looked round for more. And he drank tea in industrial quantities. Well, maybe “tea” is putting it too strongly. What we normally refer to as “tea” Ted dismissed as “beer”. He liked weak tea—VERY weak tea, in fact, it was more like a cup of hot water that he waved a tea bag over.
His eating habits tended to attract unwelcome guests in the form of mice. The enormous mounds of newspapers that adorned his desk (as well as the table of his front room) provided them with first class hotel accommodation. When the comrades complained of this, Ted indignantly denied that there were any mice in his office. One day Peter Taaffe entered his office while his face was buried, as usual, in the Financial Times. A mouse was gambolling quite happily on the desk in front of him. When finally his attention was drawn to the offending rodent, he put down his Financial Times, waved his hands and said: “shoo!” The mouse scarpered and Ted looked at it guiltily.
Ted had a theory for everything, so he naturally had a theory for getting rid of mice. He informed me that the only way to get rid of mice is to remove all traces of food and thus starve them out. He confessed in a low voice that he had once killed a mouse by throwing a slipper at it: “I felt like a murderer!” he confided to me, as if fearful he might be overheard and apprehended for a dreadful crime. The man who was portrayed in the bourgeois press as a sinister revolutionary was literally incapable of harming a mouse.
Despite putting away enormous quantities of food, he did not put on weight because of a strenuous programme of exercise carried out religiously for at least an hour every night before going to bed, as he called it, his “daily dozen”. Only in the last few years, when he could no longer take exercise, did he begin to acquire a belly. When I say strenuous, I mean strenuous. He would do all kind of stretch exercises, run on the spot and punch the air as if he was engaged in a boxing match. Finally he would look in a mirror and distort his face into all kinds of amazing grimaces.
This exhaustive programme of physical jerks would astonish the people in whose houses he was staying during his frequent speaking trips to the provinces. They included one exercise (taken, it seems, from yoga) during which he would stand bolt upright on his head. He explained that the purpose of this was to allow a free flow of blood to the brain. Whether this worked or not is anybody’s guess. But there is no gainsaying the fact that Ted’s brain was in perfect working order all his life.
When I was in Sussex University, he came down to address the Socialist Society, and I informed the comrades of Ted’s exercise routine, including the head-stand. The comrades were rather sceptical, so, half in jest, I invited Ted to do a practical demonstration for the Fighting Fund. Within seconds, we found ourselves speaking to Ted’s shoes, while keys and coins came clattering out of his upturned pockets. They were soon returned to their rightful place, accompanied by several pounds for the Fighting Fund.
There was nothing spiteful about Ted. He was not personally malicious, and was incapable of dishonesty, manoeuvres and intrigue. This probably placed him at a disadvantage in the kind of ugly factional struggle that led to the demise of Militant. He was used to fighting on an altogether different and higher plane: the plane of theory and ideas. On that plane nobody could touch him.
In Shakespeare’s Scottish play there is a famous scene when Macbeth is confronted with the ghost of Banquo, who he has murdered. Confronted by the spectre of his murdered victim, he loses all self-control, and before the assembled nobility, breaks out into speeches which must inevitably betray his guilt.
Sometime in the 1990s, Ted was selling the Socialist Appeal outside the Labour Party Conference. When right-wing MP Roy Hattersley walked up to the Conference hall, Ted boldly stepped forward to offer him the paper. Hattersley looked at him in astonishment and for a moment was lost for words. Then he finally exclaimed: “Ted Grant! But I thought we had gotten rid of you!” It was a speech worthy of a Shakespearean tragedy, though it is not recorded whether he bought the paper.
On another occasion, Ted was at the Labour Party Conference. As usual, it was being held in very smart surroundings in a Conference Centre. Because of our financial limitations, Ted always stayed at a modest bed and breakfast place. However, in British seaside resorts, even the most modest bed and breakfast places are noted for their English breakfasts, which, unlike the skimpy trifles one gets served on the European Continent, are serious affairs. Here one can confidently expect a feast of bacon, eggs, sausages, black pudding, baked beans, fried bread and similar dainty cholesterol-laden morsels.
But Ted had a problem. He was always late for breakfast. So he was obliged to go directly and breakfast-less to the Conference Centre. While partial to all this traditional English fare, Ted was very particular about his breakfasts. He was especially insistent on having fruit: fruit in abundance, fruit in industrial quantities, fruit without any restriction, let, or hindrance. Moreover, it had to be fruit of a pristine kind, polished and sparkling. He had read all about the evils of pesticides and therefore took the most extraordinary care to wash his fruit before introducing it into his mouth.
All this is perfectly sensible and conforms to the highest known standards of alimentary science and hygiene. It has, however, to be admitted that comrade Grant took these very sound principles to unusual extremes. He would insist in washing not only apples and pears, but also oranges and bananas. He would scrub them thoroughly in the kitchen sink before peeling them, in readiness for consumption.
So far so good, but on this particular morning, Ted had a problem. In the rather splendid building that had opened its doors to the Labour Conference, there was no convenient kitchen sink in sight. He found a convenient table in the foyer, where he spread out all his fruit. But as much as he searched, no such thing as a sink could be discovered. However, being of a nimble and resourceful mind, he soon discovered a highly suitable alternative.
Opening the door that had the word “Gentlemen” written over it, he proceeded to unload his large bag of fruit into one of the porcelain wash basins conveniently provided by the management in the interests of personal hygiene. He was completely wrapped in thought, busily scrubbing a banana, when a New Labour MP in a smart suit and shoes like plate glass mirrors strode through the door, urgently pursuing the call of Nature.
The said gentleman—who was so famous that I have forgotten his name—stood there aghast. The sight of an elderly gent dressed in what appeared to be second-hand clothes, washing a banana in the men’s room, with apples and oranges bobbing up and down in the sink as water splashed everywhere, momentarily deprived him of the power of speech. After a few seconds it returned sufficiently for him to pronounce five monosyllables: “Good God! It’s Ted Grant!”
The gentleman hurried out without having accomplished his intended mission. In consequence, they attempted to deny Ted Grant access to the Labour Party Conference—even to the humble part of it designated for man’s most basic needs. We pointed out, politely but firmly, that Ted was a member of the National Union of Journalists and thus entitled to be admitted as a Gentleman of the Press. Yes, right to the end they could no more rid themselves of Ted Grant, than Macbeth could get rid of Banquo’s ghost.
Marxist philosophy and science
Ted Grant’s knowledge of Marxism was tremendously wide-ranging, from economics to history, from philosophy to science. His lively and inquisitive mind turned its attention to all kinds of things that go well beyond the immediate sphere of politics. In connection with his passionate interest in Marxist philosophy, he followed all the developments of modern science very closely. He subscribed to The New Scientist, which he devoured every week from cover to cover.
He had a very poor opinion of modern bourgeois philosophy. He described the modern philosophers as flea-crackers, using Marx’s language. This is a harsh judgement but it was completely accurate. Ever since the death of Hegel, “official philosophy” has added little or nothing to the sum total of human knowledge. The endless quibbling over the meaning of words, the meaningless speculation over “morality in general”, the monstrous abstruseness that makes even the most complicated pages of Hegel seem like models of literary clarity—this is what passes for philosophy in the universities today.
One only has to compare this rubbish to the great philosophers of the past to see a very concrete example of the senile decay of bourgeois thought and culture. It brings to mind something Hegel wrote: “By the little which can thus satisfy the needs of the human spirit we can measure the extent of its loss.” (Phenomenology of Mind, Preface, 1:8).
There was one remark that struck me as particularly profound. Ted said that in the human mind, “matter has finally become conscious of itself”. A more beautiful way of expressing philosophical materialism it would be difficult to imagine.
Ted had very firm views on many scientific questions. For instance he strongly disagreed with the view that was common a few years ago, that the neutrino was a particle with no mass. “How can the neutrino have no mass?” he argued. “That is impossible! They will eventually discover that it has some mass, although a very small amount. You will see!” And that was precisely what they did find. Forty years ago, he would give enthralling lectures on dialectical materialism and science in which he challenged the two rival theories of the universe that were vying with each other at that time: the “Big Bang” and the steady state theory.
Later on, the latter theory was shown to be false. Fred Hoyle, the British scientist who had first advanced the steady state theory, publicly repudiated it. Ted was very impressed by Hoyle’s intellectual honesty: “It must have taken a lot of guts to renounce a theory that one has held for years”, he remarked. After the collapse of the “steady state” theory, the Big Bang seemed to have won by default. It was generally accepted as “the only show in town”, but ever since, doubts have remained and contradictions have piled up.
Ted remained convinced that this theory will also in the end be replaced with another. I think he was right. He was very keen that Reason in Revolt should appear as soon as possible for the following reason. The Americans had plans to launch a rocket into space with a powerful telescope that could penetrate deeper into space than ever before. The further one looks into space, the further back in time one can see. So eventually, they should be able to see the Big Bang. But Ted always maintained that the Big Bang theory of cosmology is incorrect. “They will not see the Big Bang”, he insisted. “All they will see is galaxies and still more galaxies stretching into infinity”. So far, none of the observations have contradicted Ted’s prediction.
Ted was convinced that many of the mistakes and mystical trends in modern science were because too many scientists were influenced by science fiction. When you think of ideas like parallel universes where supposedly every life is exactly replicated in different time-scales, it is hard to disagree. At one time he enjoyed reading science fiction novels. But he stopped reading them because he became increasingly irritated by the strain of mysticism and idealism that was creeping into them. One day, he expressed great indignation at a novel that included a cloud that had consciousness. “A cloud cannot think!” he snorted angrily. And that was that.
Necessity and accident
When we were working on Reason in Revolt, he gave a very striking example of the dialectical relationship between necessity and accident: “It is an accident that the earth was at a distance from the sun that permitted the development of life. But once life had arisen from natural causes, it developed according to the laws of natural selection—that is to say, it developed according to necessity”.
He always had a materialist answer for all kinds of mysticism. For example, when the Spiritualists said that they heard a voice when nobody was present, Ted retorted: “If there is a voice then there must be vocal chords, or else I do not know what a voice is!” He described religion as “spiritual booze”, which I thought was very apt.
One time, when he was staying at my house in Brighton (I was still at university), there was a knock at the door. It was a Jehovah’s Witness. In my experience, it is best to avoid getting entangled in pointless discussions with them. But Ted didn’t mind. He stood on the doorstep for quite some time arguing with the man. At one point the latter said: “You can’t prove evolution”. That was a big mistake. Ted went into a long speech explaining in great detail why Darwin was correct. In the end, the unfortunate Jehovah’s Witness had to beat a hasty retreat.
This knowledge of science was of particular interest to the younger comrades. He outlined Engels’ brilliant essay Labour in the Transition from Ape to Man is a simple and comprehensive manner. He explained how the opposable thumb and fingers was a necessary precondition for the development of labour and the brain, holding up his hand to illustrate the point. Ted maintained that if other life forms reached the development of a conscious brain, physically, they too would have two hands, two eyes, and would in many ways be similar to us.
He also considered the question of whether life existed on other planets, and if so, what would it look like? To the former question he responded with a resounding yes. Religious people believe that life in general, and humankind in particular, is the unique creation of the Almighty (or, as Ted used to call Him, the “Ju-Ju Man”). But amidst the billions upon billions of galaxies in the universe, the material conditions for life must exist. Recently, scientists have discovered that there are at least 17 billion stars that have planets like the earth circling them. In reality, there are many billions more, and the probability that at least some of them have the conditions for the development of life is overwhelming.
In regard to life on other planets, Ted would say that they would also be subject to the laws of evolution and therefore would be similar (though obviously not identical) to life on earth. This argument of Ted’s is not at all as strange as it might seem. Nature furnishes many examples of the way animal morphology develops, and it shows how similar forms can emerge, conditioned by the need to adapt to a given environment. For example, scientists have proven that the organ of the eye has evolved independently on the planet Earth between 50 and 100 times. The notion that alien life forms can assume any shape whatsoever, which is popular with the authors of science fiction novels, is entirely false. Likewise, the wild imaginings of mythology and religion are contradicted by the laws of animal morphology.
For example, the Christian idea of an angel as a humanoid creature with wings is impossible in nature. Given the size and weight of the human body, the wings would have to be extremely large. But such large wings would need to be supported by a huge breast bone (sternum). So instead of the beautiful creatures we see in Renaissance paintings, we would have an ugly monstrosity with a huge bone protruding from its chest—not something the Virgin Mary, or anyone else, would like to be visited by on a dark night.
Animal morphology is not something arbitrary. It must be determined in very specific ways, and similar initial conditions will always tend to produce similar results. Let us take three examples: a dolphin, a shark and a plesiosaur. The first is a mammal, the second a primitive fish and the third a giant reptile. They are completely different species, and they evolved entirely separately, their development being separated by millions of years. But all three have a shape that is very similar.
The reason for this is that the forms of life are determined by the physical environment, the laws of natural selection and, ultimately, the laws of physics, which are the same throughout the universe. The streamlined bodily form of marine animals like dolphins, sharks and plesiosaurs is determined by the need to overcome the density of water in order to swim at fast speeds.
The same forms are constantly repeated because they obey the same rules of physics and what is called convergent evolution. The wing is yet another example of convergent evolution in action. Flying insects, birds, and bats are completely different species but they have all evolved the capacity of flight quite independently. They have “converged” on this useful trait.
We know what conditions are needed to give rise to life in carbon-based organisms, and we also know how natural selection works. It is therefore entirely probable that “alien” life forms will not be that much different from the forms that have evolved on earth. Of course, these forms have displayed a wonderfully rich variety, but they are all determined and limited by definite laws. At the very least we can safely rule out little green men with three heads and clouds that think.
Thirst for theory
Shortly before his death, Ted commented on the lack of Marxist theoreticians in the movement internationally: “Cliff and Mandel were bum theoreticians, but at least they were theoreticians”, he said “Who do they have nowadays?” Then, with a look of perplexity he added: “I don’t know why Lenin wrote so many books, because nobody reads them anymore, and if they do, they don’t understand a single word”.
In the field of theory, Ted was head and shoulders above any of his contemporaries. He was thoroughly grounded in Marxist theory and knew the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky like the back of his hand. His admiration for that great revolutionary and martyr, Leon Trotsky, whom he habitually referred to as “the Old Man” was boundless.
From a very early age, he was always a voracious reader. He always stressed the vital role of Marxist theory. He always insisted that young comrades should make a careful study of the works of the great Marxist teachers. Apart from Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, the writers he most admired were James Connolly, Plekhanov (especially The Monist View of History), Rosa Luxemburg, Labriola, and, to a lesser extent, some of Bukharin. Ted’s writings cover an enormous variety of subjects, from fascism to the colonial revolution, from the history of the Communist International to the Spanish Revolution.
Whenever he had to write a theoretical work, Ted always first went back to the Marxist classics. He called this “moulting”, though I could never understand why. Perhaps it was because when an animal moults it casts off a lot of dead fur or feathers and acquires a fresh outfit. Anyway, you would often find Ted in his room, green pen in hand, completely absorbed in Anti-Dühring, State and Revolution, or something of the sort. This was in addition to The Financial Times, which was his daily bread.
A careful attitude to theory was the basis of all his work and the secret of his success. It explains how he was able to keep together a small group of loyal comrades in the dark and difficult years of capitalist upswing that followed the Second World War, when the forces of genuine Marxism were isolated for a whole historical period, reduced to a tiny handful of supporters in Liverpool, London and South Wales.
We can learn a lot from Ted in this respect. He did not treat theory as if it were some fossil from a museum, but as a vital element in the equation, a compass that could show the way forward, a searchlight in the dark. He tried to teach us to approach it in the same way. For my part, I took this lesson very much to heart. Unfortunately, not everyone did. I consider it to be the first duty of every serious revolutionary to study theory. If this is not done, it is impossible to build serious cadres. At best, one will have half-trained people who are capable of mindlessly repeating undigested ideas and slogans. Such people can never think for themselves. That is quite dangerous for a Marxist tendency.
I have known many capable people, loyal comrades and sincere revolutionaries. They read the papers and scour the Internet and always have a lot of useful and interesting information about current events, facts and figures, quotations, and so on. Yet they do not have a serious grasp of the subject they are talking about because they do not possess a serious grasp of theory, of the dialectical method. Hegel once wrote:
It is in fact, the wish for rational insight, not the ambition to amass a mere heap of acquisitions, that should be presupposed in every case as possessing the mind of the learner in the study of science. (Hegel, Philosophy of History, III. Philosophic History § 13)
This marvellous sentence sums it all up, that rigorous attitude to theory that was Ted’s outstanding characteristic at all times. It was sometimes a bit frustrating for young comrades to submit their articles to his exacting attention, for Ted was a perfectionist and unsparing in his criticisms. But this was the way in which we were trained to fight for Marxist theory and to develop an implacable attitude to principles.
A question that is sometimes asked is why Ted did not write more books. The books that he did write were in the last period of his life and were written in collaboration with myself. There are several reasons for this. Always extremely self-critical, Ted would take a long time before putting pen to paper. He would insist on reading and re-reading the Marxist classics before writing. These delays would cause great frustration among comrades impatient to receive the results of his theoretical labours. But he would not be rushed.
Perfectionism has its good side but can also have very negative consequences, for the simple reason that the world is not a perfect place. By setting a very high theoretical yardstick, on the one hand, Ted made sure that no revisionist ideas crept into the organization, and that was extremely positive. He would insist on going over everything people wrote with a fine-tooth comb. It might be said that this could have the effect of discouraging people from writing. But in answer to this complaint, one could equally say that it also discouraged people from writing nonsense.
Because of his uncompromising attitude to theory, not everybody found it easy to collaborate with him. More importantly, Ted was not prepared to entrust the important task of writing to anybody. I began my literary and theoretical collaboration with him in 1969, with Lenin and Trotsky, what they really stood for, and over many years we developed a special relationship, based on mutual trust and respect.
In the latter years, his hands began to tremble and his writing, never very brilliant, became almost unreadable, even for him. By this time he could not type, either, and never learned to use a computer (he often threatened to do so but nothing ever came of it). He was therefore physically unable to write. His articles were dictated to a secretary, but this was not a very satisfactory arrangement, since it was never enough merely to type the words. One had to understand the precise meaning of what he was saying.
I spent many hours discussing the content of documents and articles with Ted. Sometimes he would dictate, but it was always necessary to discuss and clarify. In the end, there was a very close bond between us. Only after the split in Militant was it possible to raise the question of writing another book. I proposed writing a book on Marxist philosophy and science, but Ted was unenthusiastic. “We should produce a weekly paper first,” he said.
He was still nervous about the idea of a book, but I persevered and commenced work anyway. Eventually, he came round and was very pleased with the result. He collaborated much more readily with the following book on Russia, which was partly dictated and partly compiled from his marvellous earlier writings on the subject. A few years before he died, he reminded me that Marx used to put his name on articles written by Engels and vice versa, and suggested we could do the same. I regarded that as a very moving compliment.
During the faction fight that led to the split in Militant, the Majority faction said that Ted Grant and Alan Woods were “mere theoreticians”. This winged phrase says all that needs to be said about that tendency. When Reason in Revolt came out, our former comrades commented sarcastically: “You see! Ted and Alan have abandoned politics to write books about philosophy!” That philistine attitude towards theory was answered long ago by Karl Marx himself.
The Russian writer, Annenkov, who happened to be in Brussels during the spring of 1846, has left us a very curious report of a meeting at which a furious quarrel occurred between Marx and Weitling, the German utopian communist. At one point, Weitling, who was a worker, complained that the “intellectuals” Marx and Engels wrote about obscure matters of no interest to the workers. He accused Marx of writing “armchair analysis of doctrines far from the world of the suffering and afflicted people”. At this point, Marx, who was usually very patient, became indignant. Annenkov writes: “At the last words Marx finally lost control of himself and thumped so hard with his fist on the table that the lamp on it rung and shook. He jumped up saying: ‘Ignorance never yet helped anybody’.” (Reminiscences of Marx and Engels, p. 272, my emphasis, AW).
As a matter of fact, Reason in Revolt, played a key role in establishing the International Marxist Tendency. It has been translated into many languages and has been commended by many workers, socialists, communists, trade unionists, and Bolivarians, including Hugo Chávez himself. My first contacts with Hugo Chávez were made through the book Reason in Revolt. Chávez was an avid reader and was enthusiastic about the book, recommending it to everybody.
Hugo Chávez was curious to know about Ted. He asked me: “Who is the other author of Reason in Revolt?” I told him it was Ted Grant.
Is he a scientist?
He is a scientific socialist—a Marxist.
Ah! Very good. Please send my warmest greetings to comrade Ted Grant.
I told Ted about this conversation and informed him about the advances of the IMT in Venezuela. He brightened up: “So we are doing well, then?” “Yes, Ted, we are doing very well. And it is all thanks to you”. More in order to get him to speak than anything else, I asked him: “If you were to meet with Chávez, what would you say to him?” He answered immediately: “I would tell him to take power.”
In effect, for the last ten years, we have been advocating the taking of power by the working class in Venezuela at every opportunity and using every possible forum. In countless speeches and articles, in meetings in steel mills, to oil workers, in mass rallies of peasants, in the newspapers, on the radio, and in television interviews, I have consistently argued that it is impossible to make half a revolution, and that in order to succeed, it is necessary to expropriate the landowners, bankers and capitalists.
As I write these lines, we heard the tragic news of the untimely death of Hugo Chávez following a long battle with cancer. His death places a question mark on the future of the revolution. Despite numerous advances, the main task still remains to be done: the expropriation of the oligarchy. The workers and peasants are striving towards this end. They want to take the power, yet power eludes them. Now, after Chávez’s death, the fate of the revolution is in the balance. The question of leadership has never been posed so sharply and urgently as now.
For many years, Ted followed the twists and turns of world relations and gave many speeches on the subject. Thanks to the thorough education we received from him, the International Marxist Tendency has been able to find its way unerringly through the intricate labyrinth of world politics and explain every new turn, from the wars in the Balkans to the war in Afghanistan, and the latest criminal adventure of t imperialism in Iraq.
But Ted’s work was not only about world politics and theory in general. He wrote a tremendous amount on the tactics of the working class movement and the building of the revolutionary tendency. His grasp of tactical questions was always second-to-none. Basing himself on the ideas of Lenin and Trotsky, he systematically worked out the way that Marxism could be established as a mass force in the present epoch through work in the mass organisations of the working class.
Theory is not an optional extra like the angel on the Christmas tree. There is a thirst for theory. The advanced workers and youth want to understand what is happening in society. They are not attracted by tendencies that merely tell them what they already know: that capitalism is in crisis, that there is unemployment, that they live in bad houses, earn low wages, and so on. Serious people want to know why things are as they are—what happened in Russia, what Marxism is, and other questions of a theoretical character—and more importantly, what to do about it.
That is why theory is an essential tool of the revolutionary struggle. The attitude of the so-called practicos to Marxist theory is in the true tradition of Weitling and the Bolshevik Committeemen, but not at all in that of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky.
Esteban Volkov and Pierre Broué
In 1997, Esteban Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson, said that Ted Grant’s “deep knowledge of Marxist theory, and particularly the thoughts and works of Leon Trotsky, leap from the written page. Such knowledge is the fruit of a long life tenaciously dedicated to the meticulous study of Marxism both in theory and in everyday practice.” I think Esteban and Ted only met on one occasion, in 2003 when Esteban attended a World School of the International Marxist Tendency. But he was well-aware of Ted’s history and ideas, and greatly appreciated his writings. They embraced warmly, and in that moment one could sense the meaning of one of Ted’s most characteristic utterances: “retying the knot of history.”
I first met Esteban Volkov in Mexico 25 years ago. We formed a close personal and political friendship that has lasted till now. This is not the place to relate the details of his life, which has been so full of tragedies. Now a sprightly 86-year-old, Esteban is the survivor of a family that was decimated by Stalin. At fourteen years of age Esteban, was present in the first attempt on Trotsky’s life in May 1940, when a Stalinist murder squad led by the Mexican painter Siqueiros assaulted the Trotsky home, spraying the bedrooms with bullets. Miraculously, the family survived, but Esteban was wounded in the foot by a bullet. Not long afterwards, he saw his grandfather when he was mortally wounded by another of Stalin’s assassins. For the rest of his life, Esteban Volkov has been tirelessly working to defend the memory and ideas of Trotsky.
Not long ago, Esteban spoke at a meeting organized by the Brazilian section of the International Marxist Tendency in São Paolo, which was attended by over 1,000 people. When he saw the size of the audience and the enthusiasm for Trotsky’s ideas he became very enthusiastic. He told the comrades: “I attended an IMT meeting in Pakistan with over 2,000 people present. It was marvellous, but I thought it might have been an exception. But now I see a similar number here in Brazil. Something is definitely changing in the world!”
Esteban had frequently mentioned Pierre Broué to me. They were extremely close, but I never had the time or opportunity to meet Pierre until just a couple of years before his death from cancer. It is a matter of deep regret that my friendship with Pierre began late, when he was already suffering from the illness that eventually ended his life. I was, of course, well acquainted with his works and greatly admired his books. For his part, Pierre followed Marxist.com and the work of our Tendency with the keenest interest. We were on the same political wavelength and this political agreement eventually led to his adhering to the International Marxist Tendency.
As a young man, Pierre joined the French Resistance, in the dark days of the Nazi occupation of France. Pierre is internationally renowned for his tireless work as a historian of the international revolutionary movement. His histories of the Bolshevik Party, the Communist International, the German Revolution, the Spanish Revolution, and above all his magnificent Life of Trotsky have been widely admired. His book on the Left Opposition was another major contribution by this outstanding Trotskyist writer, who dedicated his life to the fight for international socialism.
The first time Pierre contacted me, in 2000, was to ask for permission to translate my article The Real Story of Red October, which I willingly agreed to. Unfortunately, by the time I met Pierre in person, he was gravely ill. I visited him in Grenoble, together with Greg Oxley, the editor of La Riposte. I found him lively and alert, with a sharp and very Gallic sense of humour. His revolutionary spirit shone through in every sentence. He was delighted to see us.
He said: “This is a new beginning for me in many ways”. From that time on, we developed a friendship that lasted until Pierre’s tragic death. I remained in phone contact with Pierre on a regular basis and he remained optimistic to the end. His collaboration with the IMT undoubtedly gave him a new lease of life. He frequently told me of his plans to work and write when he recovered. He was full of ideas, plans, and suggestions. Unfortunately, his death put an end to these plans. At the hospital in Grenoble I mentioned to him that Ted Grant had just celebrated his ninetieth birthday, and asked him to say a few words to him. I reproduce in full what he said:
Ted Grant is known to me for many years, of course. As we say in France, he seems to have been around since the days of Clovis!11 Unfortunately, I do not believe we have ever met, but we had a mutual friend in Raoul, who was a longstanding militant in the Trotskyist movement in France. He often spoke to me of Ted, and held him in very high esteem. However, for some reason, perhaps for fear of being accused of “factionalism” or whatever—that’s the way things happen in the organisation to which we both belonged at that time—he never showed me any of Ted’s written material.
Regrettably, I didn’t make the effort to get in touch with him at the time. Only in the last few years have I been reading his material, which I found very interesting. Anyway, I am now very much looking forward to working together with your tendency. We must discuss politics, and methods of work, of course, and try to arrive at the fullest agreement. I believe this is quite possible.
To Ted himself, I would like to say: Ted, you were always a fighter. You have been struggling for many years. You have always defended revolutionary ideas. This was very important work, and you accomplished a great deal. At ninety years old, you are not a young man any more, but I think I might yet be attending your 100th birthday party!
Sadly, Pierre died soon after and Ted never lived to see his hundredth birthday.
The final chapter
Hegel wrote in his Lectures on the Philosophy of History: “Life has a value only when it has something valuable as its object”. The one, overriding object of the life of Ted Grant was the noblest object of all: the struggle for the emancipation of the working class, for a better world, for a higher stage in humankind’s social development.
In the last few years of his life, Ted was not as active as he would have liked to be, for reasons of health, but his mind was still often clear and alert, and his conviction in the final victory of socialism undimmed. He was a man who only lived for the cause of the working class and the socialist revolution. That was the alpha and omega of his life right to the end.
Ted himself seemed to be convinced that he would never grow old, never mind die. That explains his well-known aversion to birthdays. I believe the first time we were able to celebrate his birthday was when he was ninety. And even then we had to trick him, taking him to a room upstairs in a pub where a large number of comrades, past and present, were waiting to “ambush” him. When Ana and I went to visit him on his 93rd birthday, he was completely indifferent to the decorations that the staff had kindly put on the door of his room. He wanted only to hear of politics, the revolutionary struggle and the work of the International Marxist Tendency.
The following incident may serve to underline the point. During the period when we were under attack in the Militant organization, Ted, Ana, Rob and I were gathered in my flat, trying to analyse the situation. At one point I said: “You realise what this is all about, Ted?” He looked curious. I went on: “Taaffe calculated that you were going to die, and I could be isolated and he would take over everything”. Ted’s face expressed utter disbelief. Then he threw his head back and started to laugh. I had never seen him laugh so much! He laughed so uncontrollably that the tears rolled down his face and he almost slipped from the sofa onto the carpet. “What! Me? Die?” he roared, helpless with laughing: “I’ll never die!” And it sounded as though he really believed it.
As time went on, the natural process of ageing began to take its toll, although Ted would never accept it. He regularly took a siesta after meals, but these naps grew longer and longer. During meetings of the IEC he would doze off, then wake up suddenly and make out that he had been listening to every word: “Just resting my eyes,” he would say. And if anybody asked him his age he would still reply: “twenty one”. But one can only defy Nature up to a point. Finally, Nature presented her bill. Ted was speaking at a meeting in London when he suddenly stopped in his tracks. Rob soon realised he had had a small stroke, and sent him to hospital. Thereafter, his ability to speak was severely impaired.
At first, I was pessimistic about the outcome. However, despite my misgivings, he made a good recovery. He had an iron constitution all right, but the red light was already flashing. Some dedicated comrades helped Ted as much as was possible (in particular Steve Jones and Sue Norris), but his physical condition was clearly deteriorating. This deterioration accelerated after an operation for prostate trouble. I spoke to him after the operation and he seemed exhausted. He never really recovered his powers after that. He was no longer able to carry out work as before, and only rarely spoke at meetings.
He had lived for many years in a small one-bedroom flat in Islington. The flat was cramped and austere, but he was very attached to it, and he would not leave it on any account. But in reality it was a death trap. In order to get to it you had to climb a flight of very steep stairs, which was dangerous in itself. There were still more dangers inside the flat. On one occasion, Ana and I went to see him with a comrade from the International. As usual, he was absorbed in his Financial Times. I noticed a smell of gas in the room and immediately opened a window (they were all shut). He had switched the gas fire on but it had failed to ignite. Half an hour later and he would probably have been dead.
On another occasion, Steve Jones knocked on his door in the morning (as he did every morning), but got no reply. It turned out that Ted had had a fall during the night and was unable to get up. He had been lying on the floor all night. In the end, he needed full-time professional care, which we could not provide. Steve and Sue found a very nice residential home in the countryside near Romford, where he would be near to them and also to Rob Sewell. Here he had his books and was visited by comrades who made sure he was well looked after. The staff were very pleasant and Ted was comfortable enough. He was physically strong for his age, still able to walk unaided, and not in any pain, but he was not happy. He longed to get back to work, and often told us so.
In the last period, it seemed as if all Ted’s strength was devoted just to keeping going. Normally very talkative, he became increasingly taciturn. It was an effort to make him talk. On sunny days, Ana and I would sit with him on a bench next to the duck pond. I tried to get him to engage him in conversation, and Ted listened and made the occasional comment, but his mind was far away. He longed to be active again. He wanted something no power on earth could give him. He wanted to be young again.
Ted’s last speech
In advanced old age, the body shuts down gradually, until all that is left is sufficient strength to stay alive. In the end, that goes also. Although in general, Ted’s concentration and memory were deteriorating, he had lucid spells when he was quite capable of participating in political discussions. I took advantage of these days to make some interviews on the history of the movement, which we published on Marxist.com.
This was the situation a few months before we took him to the World School of the IMT in Barcelona, in the summer of 2003. It was the last School he would ever attend. He had been looking forward to it for months. He now looked very old and frail. His memory was failing, although, as is always the case in old people, his long-term memory remained acute. His old powers of speech had gone, but most of those present at the School were unaware of the real state of affairs.
Ted had been around for so long, and he seemed to contradict all the laws of human ageing, that they could not imagine that he would fail to address the School. Some of the older comrades began to insist that Ted should speak. This caused us a lot of anguish. What if Ted were unable to complete his speech? What if he became incoherent? The thought that the last memory of Ted Grant in people’s minds would be a confused old man was too painful to bear. The comrades who were insisting did so with the best of intentions but they were wrong. Nevertheless, they were persistent and in the end we reluctantly gave in.
At the end of the School proceedings, shortly before the closing remarks, Ted advanced slowly to the platform. He stood before the microphone waiting for the applause to die down. Then he began to speak: “Comrade Chairman and Comrades…”
I confess I cannot remember much of what he said. Like other comrades who knew what the real situation was, I was in an agony of suspense. With every faltering sentence, with every pause that seemed like an eternity, I held my breath. Every person present was willing him to succeed, but I guess by now everyone realized that he might fail. But Ted Grant did not fail. This was his last battle, and he triumphed in that battle. The man was clearly struggling with every sentence, but he finished every one. Every word he spoke was like climbing Mount Everest, but he struggled onwards and upwards to the end.
When he spoke his final word, the entire audience rose to its feet as one amidst thunderous applause. Ted looked on impassively as the applause continued. It was an emotional moment. Some comrades were in tears. What were they applauding? The old man who stood before them with stooping shoulders and a tired face was only a shadow of the Ted Grant who had been our inspiration for so many years. His speech was only the palest of pale reflections of the great oratory of the past.
Partly they were applauding the greatness of the human spirit, the incredible courage and determination of a man who refused to give in even to the powers of nature, which sooner or later must conquer us all. Partly they were paying a well-earned tribute to the past. But there was something much more important than all that.
This diminutive figure that stood before us was the last remaining representative of a generation of giants, the still-living and breathing embodiment of the Unbroken Thread. This applause was for the ideas of Ted Grant, or more correctly, the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky, which Ted had defended, preserved, developed and enriched. Life is a marathon. It was as if he was saying: “I have run the race of time and the race is nearing its end. I now pass on to you the baton that I have carried all my life. It is up to you to carry it on to victory”. I do not think that anybody who was present will forget that moment.
He was a man. Take him for all in all.
I shall not look upon his like again.
(Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 2)
The last time Ana and I visited Ted was on his 93rd birthday. On the day of his birthday, as on every other day of his life, he wanted only to hear of politics, the revolutionary struggle and the work of the International Marxist Tendency. Small talk never interested him in the slightest. He seemed a lot slower than usual and did not talk very much. He was still able to walk us to the front door when the visit ended. But as left, we thought the outlook was not good.
I used to speak to him on the phone almost every day. On the Wednesday before he died, he phoned and asked when I was going to visit him. I answered that I would call in on Friday morning. He said goodbye and that was the last time we spoke. That meeting was destined never to take place. On the morning of Thursday, July 20, 2006, we heard the tragic news of the death of comrade Ted Grant, just a few days after his 93rd birthday.
Despite the fact that we had had plenty of warnings, when it finally came, the news of Ted’s death from a heart attack was a great shock to all of us. Despite his age and the obvious deterioration of his condition in the last period, we had grown used to the idea that he would always be there, a permanent fixture amidst all the turbulence and change.
Now Ted is no longer with us. The man who did so much to defend the ideas of Marxism, and who almost single-handedly saved the heritage of Trotskyism from shipwreck, has passed on. For those of us who were educated by Ted, who worked and struggled by his side to build the revolutionary movement, and who have remained loyal to him to the end, this was an irreparable loss.
Ted was the last living representative of a remarkable generation—a generation of revolutionary giants who fought under the banner of Leon Trotsky and who saved the honour of the October Revolution and preserved its heritage to hand it on, intact and immaculate, to the new generation. In the final 15 years of his life, Ted played a leading role in rebuilding our Tendency from scratch.
Ted Grant made his mark on politics in Britain and internationally. When Ted passed away, bourgeois papers wrote respectful obituaries that paid tribute to a man who had been their declared political enemy all his life. Prestigious papers such as The Times, The Guardian, The Telegraph, all carried obituaries that paid tribute to his achievements. Even the Socialist Worker, a tendency Ted had fought against ever since his polemics with Tony Cliff, had the honesty and dignity to write a decent and respectful obituary. The only exception was a spiteful article written by Peter Taaffe, which offended even members of his own Socialist Party.
Shortly before his death, I asked Ted what was left of the Fourth International today. He answered without the slightest hesitation:
There is nothing left—except the ideas, methods, programme and traditions of Trotsky and the Left Opposition. And you can only find these in our Tendency—the tendency that we founded, that used to be the Militant and is now Socialist Appeal and Marxist.com.
We have kept the banner flying. It has been very hard, but we have kept the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky alive and handed them over to the new generation. And we were the only ones to do so. I might add that over the past forty or fifty years, I have made a modest contribution to the ideas, adding to them and extending them on the basis of experience.
The sects have learned nothing. They have absorbed all the nonsense of the petty bourgeois—women’s lib, gay lib, black nationalism, guerrillaism—you name it! Not a trace of the old ideas remains. In fact, some of them, like the American SWP, no longer even call themselves Trotskyists. That is history’s revenge for the policies and conduct of the leaders of the SWP in the past!
The French Mandelites have abandoned the dictatorship of the proletariat (that is, revolutionary Marxism). They even called on the French workers to vote for Chirac in the Presidential elections, supposedly as “the lesser evil” as opposed to Le Pen. The Old Man must be turning in his grave! And naturally, they are splitting in pieces everywhere. Everywhere you look now on a world scale, the sects are in disarray.
These groups have no future at all because they lack the ideas of Marxism and are completely divorced from the mass organizations of the working class. They are busy building phantom “mass revolutionary parties” in the clouds. We wish them well as we wave them goodbye and get on with the serious work of building the genuine forces of Trotskyism, nationally and internationally.
Unfortunately, I have not been able to be as active as I was in the past. But as you see I am still a young man and I am as fit as ever and optimistic about the future. We have a galaxy of talent with us now, nationally and internationally. The future of the Fourth International is our future!
At the present time, the political and moral authority of the International Marxist Tendency founded by Ted Grant has never been higher. Today, the ideas of Ted Grant are receiving a wider audience than they ever had in his lifetime. Through the work of the IMT and the growth of the “In Defence of Marxism” website (Marxist.com) his works are attracting a growing following. This is no accident. Twenty years after the fall of the USSR, the initial shock has passed, and there is now a growing audience for Marxist ideas and particularly for theory. Books like Russia: from Revolution to Counter-revolution have played a major role in explaining and educating the cadres on the basis of the Russian experience, while Reason in Revolt has acquired the status of a modern Marxist classic. These books have been widely acclaimed as important and original contributions to Marxist theory.
In the general ferment on the Left that has followed the fall of the USSR, it is possible to discern the outline of a regroupment on an international scale. Doors that were previously closed to us have begun to open slowly. The IMT has made significant progress in opening a dialogue with people who come from different traditions to ours: Venezuelan Bolivarians, Irish Republican socialists, Cuban revolutionaries, and veteran leaders of the Brazilian Communist Party.
I can say without exaggeration that we were the only Marxist tendency internationally to understand the significance of the Bolivarian Revolution. None of the other groups were able to intervene in any meaningful way. They had not the slightest idea of what was happening. It was thanks to Ted’s profound understanding of the nature of the colonial revolution and his grasp of flexible tactics that we were able to intervene so effectively.
In fact, one of the aspects of the work of the IMT that most impressed Pierre Broué was our work in Venezuela. He praised our work highly and had nothing but contempt for those Trotskyists who had failed to understand the significance of the events unfolding in South America. Our successes in Venezuela attracted a lot of attention in Latin America, and it was largely responsible for winning over an important group in Brazil, which was leading several factory occupations and was impressed by our work in the occupied factories in Venezuela. That is the best testimony to the correctness of Ted’s ideas and approach. It is the justification of his life’s work, for which we are all eternally indebted.
Our opponents have written many times about the demise of the IMT, confusing desires with reality. To paraphrase the famous words of Mark Twain: “Rumours of our death have been greatly exaggerated”. The IMT is in very robust health. It is growing steadily in numbers and influence. The prior condition for the building of a genuine Marxist International is the defence of the basic principles of Marxism. This implies an implacable struggle against all kinds of revisionist ideas, which in essence reflect the pressures of alien classes on the Marxist movement. We have broken radically with opportunist and sectarian tendencies and individuals, and this, far from weakening the IMT, has enormously strengthened it.
An idea whose time has come
Old Victor Hugo was quite right when he wrote: “There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come”. You cannot murder such an idea. You cannot shoot it or lock it up in a dungeon. You cannot send it to Siberian exile. It cannot be bullied or blackmailed into silence. All the efforts of the bourgeois and their hired apologists in the prostitute media and the universities to wipe out Marxism have failed.
The crisis of the euro, which Ted Grant foresaw over twenty years ago, shows that the bourgeoisie has no idea how to solve the problems of Greece, Spain and Italy, which in turn threaten the future of the European common currency and even the EU itself. This is a potential catalyst for a new economic collapse on a world scale, which will be even deeper than the crisis of 2008.
Yet the present crisis was not supposed to happen. Until recently most of the bourgeois economists believed that the market, if left to itself, was capable of solving any and all problems, magically balancing out supply and demand—the “efficient market hypothesis”—so that there could never be a repetition of the crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
Marx’s prediction of a crisis of overproduction had been consigned to the dustbin of history. Those who still adhered to Marx’s view that the capitalist system was riven with insoluble contradictions, and contained within itself the seeds of its own destruction, were looked upon as mere cranks. Had the fall of the Soviet Union not finally demonstrated the failure of communism? Had history not finally ended with the triumph of capitalism as the only possible socio-economic system?
That was then. But in the space of 20 years—not a long period in the annals of human society—the wheel of history has turned 180 degrees. And now the erstwhile critics of Marx and Marxism are singing a very different tune. All of a sudden, the economic theories of Karl Marx are being taken very seriously indeed. Das Kapital is now a best seller in Germany. A growing number of economists are poring over its pages, hoping to find an explanation for what has gone wrong.
In July 2009, after the start of the recession, The Economist held a seminar in London to discuss the question: What is wrong with Economics? The conclusion of a growing number of economists is that mainstream economic theory has no relevance. Nobel Prize winner, Paul Krugman, actually admitted “that the last 30 years development in macroeconomic theory has, at best, been spectacularly useless or, at worst, directly harmful”. This judgement is a fitting epitaph for the theories of bourgeois economics. Nothing that has happened since then gives us any reason to doubt it. The grinding crisis has served to underline the complete inability of either economists or politicians to offer a solution.
Twenty years ago, Ted Grant predicted that the collapse of Stalinism was only the prelude to an even greater drama—a global crisis of capitalism. We are now witnessing the painful death agonies of a social system that does not deserve to live, but which refuses to die. That is not surprising. All history shows us that no ruling class ever surrenders its power and privileges without a fight. That is the real explanation of the wars, terrorism, violence, and death that are the main features of the epoch in which we live.
But we are also witnessing the birth-pangs of a new society—a new and just society—a world fit for men and women to live in. Out of these bloody events, in one country after another, a new force is being born—the revolutionary force of the workers, peasants, and youth. Millions of people are beginning to react. The Arab Revolution brought millions onto the streets of Tunis, Cairo and beyond. The revolutionary wave that swept through Latin America in the previous decade is now sweeping through Europe. The magnificent movement of the masses in Greece and Spain is the answer to all those who argued that revolution was no longer possible. It is not only possible, it is absolutely necessary, if the world is to be saved from impending disaster.
The movement has so far lacked a far-sighted revolutionary leadership and a coherent programme to change society. That is its great weakness. It is destined to pass through a whole series of stages before the final denouement is reached. That programme must be elaborated, and a working-class leadership worthy of the name must be built.
“A wheel always turns”
After the fall of the Soviet Union, the defenders of the old order were jubilant. They spoke of the end of socialism, and even the end of history. They promised us a new era of peace, prosperity and democracy, thanks to the miracles of the free market economy. Now, only two decades later, these dreams are reduced to a heap of smoking rubble. Today not one stone upon another remains of those illusions.
The crisis of capitalism finds its expression in a crisis of ideas. In place of the earlier optimism, which stated confidently that capitalism had solved all its problems, there is an all-pervading mood of gloom. Not so long ago, Gordon Brown confidently proclaimed “the end of boom and bust”. After the crash of 2008, he was forced to eat his words. The bourgeoisie and its strategists have no explanation for the present crisis, much less a solution. It has lately even become fashionable to quote Marx in bourgeois journals. They ask themselves nervously whether old Karl was not right after all. But we could have told them the answer to that question a long time ago.
Ted Grant always said: “events, events, events” are needed to transform the situation. New and turbulent events are being prepared, which will have a profound effect on the consciousness of the working class. Despite what Francis Fukuyama says, history has not ended. In September 1939, when Poland was overrun by Hitler’s army, a Polish officer defiantly told his German captors, “A wheel always turns. This one will.” That officer showed a correct understanding of historical change.
The same is true of the Labour Movement, which will be shaken from top to bottom by the social and political explosions that impend. It is true, at present the right wing seems to be in complete control of the Labour Movement. But its apparent strength is in reality an optical illusion. It reflects the past, not the present or the future. It is the heavy weight of inertia. “Le mort saisit le vif” is a French phrase meaning “the dead seizes the living”. The Labour Movement that has emerged from the 1990s and 2000s is dragged down by the dead weight of those years.
To many on the Left the situation seems impossible. That is because they lack the dialectical method and see only the surface of things. We must learn to penetrate beneath the surface, to bring out all the hidden contradictions, and to understand that sooner or later, everything changes into its opposite. It will take time and events to shake off the heavy burden of routine that we have inherited. But the force of history is far stronger than the most powerful bureaucratic, state or media apparatus.
Ted frequently drew an analogy between the working class and the giant Antaeus, the giant of Libya, who wrestled with Hercules. The giant was thrown repeatedly to the ground, but on every occasion he arose again, having drawn new strength from his mother, the Earth. The working class, he said, is like that giant of Greek mythology. After every defeat and setback, it always rises once more, ready and willing to resume the fight.
That the working class and the youth are prepared to fight is shown by the events in one country after another: Venezuela, Greece, Spain, Portugal, Egypt and Tunisia. Ted Grant’s great contribution was to preserve the Unbroken Thread of genuine Marxism—of Trotskyism. On this unshakeable foundation we will prepare the cadres, theoretically, politically and organisationally, for the great tasks that lie ahead.
Sooner or later, the class struggle must find its expression inside the mass organizations. All the attempts of the right-wing bureaucracies of the Labour Movement to eradicate Marxism through expulsion and proscribed lists will also fail. Ted always used to say: “There is no way that Marxism can be separated from the Labour Movement, of which it is an integral part”.
The cynics and sceptics can only see the backside of history. They have had their day. It is time to push them out of our road and carry the fight forward. The new generation is willing to fight for their emancipation. They are looking for a banner, an idea, and a programme that can inspire them and lead them to victory. That can only be the struggle for socialism on a world scale. The choice before the human race is socialism or barbarism.
The task we are confronted with is by no means easy. It is roughly analogous to that which confronted Marx and Engels at the time of the founding of the First International. Even that organization was not homogeneous, but composed of many different tendencies. However, Marx and Engels were not deterred by this. They joined the general movement for a working class International and worked patiently to provide it with a scientific ideology and programme.
Speaking of the philosopher Anaxagoras, Aristotle likened him to “a sober man among a crowd of drunkards”. One could say the same thing about Ted Grant. There was nobody like him when he was alive, and nobody can replace him now he is gone. But in the ranks of the International Marxist Tendency there are many experienced cadres who have absorbed his ideas and methods, and are fully equipped to carry them into practice. His collected writings, which we are publishing, contain a wealth of important ideas.
The Roman poet Horace wrote a famous Ode: Exegi monumentum aere perennius. It starts with the words:
I have created a monument more lasting than bronze
And loftier than the royal structure of the pyramids,
That which neither devouring rain, nor the unrestrained North Wind
May be able to destroy nor the immeasurable
Succession of years and the flight of time.
The monument to which the poet referred was his immortal verses. But we are striving to erect a monument on a higher level: not in ink, or in stone or in brass, but an imperishable monument in the form of a proletarian revolutionary organization. In fighting for the ideas of Marxism, we will build a living monument to the memory of comrade Ted Grant, and help to provide the working class with the tools that it needs in order to achieve the final victory.
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.
10 Executive, Central, District and Branch committees
11 Clovis was an early King of France.