"The feeling that all was not well was strengthened by my experience on the EC. Of course, Ted did most of the political leadoffs, which were to his usual high standards. But the contribution of most of the EC members was not on a very high level. Looking around the table I could not help thinking: all these years and all these successes, but where are the cadres? It was a worrying thought, but I immediately found a hundred reasons—or rather excuses—for the low political level of the organization, including its leadership. The comrades were all very busy. The organization had changed since I was last in Britain. There was the pressure of mass work, etc., etc. Still, something had to be done, or else we would be building on sand."
The rise of the parvenus
The revolutionary years of the 1970s ended in defeat. It was not a dramatic defeat like that in Italy, Germany and Spain in the inter-war period. The workers’ organizations were everywhere intact. The dictatorships had fallen in Greece, Portugal and Spain. Nevertheless, it was a defeat in the sense that the great expectations of the working class had been frustrated by the leadership, which had once again saved capitalism.
In 1975, The Times published an editorial with the title: “Capitalism is Dead in Portugal”. It ought to have been true, and it could have been true, but it was not true. Not by the actions of the fascists, but as a result of the policies of the Socialist and Communist leaders, the marvellous Portuguese Revolution had been defeated. The same was true of Spain, Greece and Italy, where power was within the grasp of the working class.
There is no more dispiriting experience for an army than to be defeated without a fight. In many countries, the advanced workers felt that they were very close to power, and yet it just slipped out of their hands. The resulting demoralization had to be seen to be believed. I had personal experience of this in Spain, where I have never seen such disappointment. This was, once again, a case of counter-revolution in a democratic form.
As was the case following World War Two, the betrayals of the Stalinists and Social Democrats prepared the way for a recovery of capitalism. The bourgeoisie, which had been in a state of panic, recovered its nerve. The governments went onto the offensive. The pendulum began to swing to the right. These were the years of Reagan and Thatcher, of monetarism and attacks on the working class.
In 1979, following a period of sharp class struggle, the Conservative Party came to power under Margaret Thatcher. This marked a fundamental change in British politics and the Conservative Party. The Conservative Party was run by a narrow circle of unelected Tory grandees, all aristocrats. The bourgeois provided the money and the conservative middle class the foot soldiers. For a long time this arrangement worked very well. But by the 1960s, the bourgeois and especially the petty-bourgeois were becoming restive.
Disaster struck when they decided to elect the leader. The election of Margaret Thatcher, a shopkeeper’s daughter, as Party Leader marked a sudden shift. In her person were united all the prejudices, ignorance, lunacy and fanaticism of the Conservative middle class rank and file. The Conservative Party rank and file consists of stockbrokers, lawyers, shopkeepers, estate agents and similar riffraff. They are of limited intelligence, mostly fanatical chauvinists, racists, anti-European, pro-hanging and flogging, and extremely right wing.
As long as there was no democracy in the Conservative Party, everything was fine. The aristocratic Party grandees selected the leaders from their own ranks, keeping the middle class rabble at arm’s length. Harold Macmillan was probably the last of the old-fashioned Tory grandees. Ted regarded him as an intelligent representative of the ruling class. Macmillan did not conceal his dislike of Thatcher and her policies. He described her policies of privatisation as “selling the family silver”, which was not a bad way of putting it. But the age of the Tory grandees had past. The hour of the parvenus had struck.
However much the Tory aristocracy despised this middle-class parvenu, they needed somebody like her to wage all-out war on the working class and the Labour Movement. Brash, ignorant and narrow as she was, she also showed a single-minded determination to get things done. Macmillan had warned that there are three things that no sensible government should ever attack: the Brigade of Guards, the Roman Catholic Church and the National Union of Mineworkers. Thatcher declared war on the miners and decimated the British coal industry. Later, the powerful print unions were smashed. After that, the union leaders were easily cowed.
Not long ago they produced a film about Margaret Thatcher. Even by Hollywood’s standards it is a very bad film. Thatcher is portrayed as a truly remarkable woman—somebody to be admired. Her rise in the Tory Party is depicted as the triumph of a brave and talented woman who “succeeded against all the odds.” This misses the point entirely. The miners were savagely beaten (the extent of police brutality is only now coming to light), literally beaten into the ground. They were mercilessly smeared by our “free press”, arrested and sent to prison on trumped-up charges, their pits were closed, their jobs taken away, their communities destroyed. Is all this to be justified because a shopkeeper’s daughter succeeded in “getting on” in the Tory Party?
A man or woman can be brave in a very reactionary cause. Adolph Hitler showed a lot of guts in the early years when he was struggling for power. Does that entitle us to praise him? Nor does the fact that Thatcher was a woman provide any excuse for praising her. She and her government used all the combined force of the state to crush the miners in what resembled a civil war. The true Iron Ladies were the miners’ wives who fought with admirable courage and tenacity to defend their communities. Yet none of the Hollywood “feminists” ever thought about making a film about them.
In 1980, after the resignation of Callaghan, Michael Foot was elected leader of the Labour Party. A former Left, he had gone to the Right, although nobody really noticed this metamorphosis. Formerly considered to be a fine orator (in the narrow British parliamentary sense), he was by now so inarticulate that even his own mother could not have made head or tail of what he was saying half the time. He was very successful at losing elections, and needed some excuse for his failure. The gentlemen of the press were happy to provide it: the reason for all of Labour’s woes was the Militant Tendency. “The Militant Tendency”, he proclaimed, was “a pestilential nuisance”. This at last gave the green light for the witch-hunt which the press had been incessantly baying for.
By all the laws of politics, Labour should have won the 1983 general election. The economy was in free-fall; there was mass unemployment; poverty and inequality were increasing, and Margaret Thatcher was deeply unpopular. But events suddenly took a different turn when the Argentine Junta invaded the Falkland Islands (known as the Malvinas in Argentina).
The Falklands War changed everything. The British Marxists did our internationalist duty by opposing our own bourgeoisie. Ted systematically denounced the reactionary war aims of the Thatcher government, which before this had had excellent relations with the brutal Argentine Junta. Only after Galtieri’s military adventure did they discover that the regime in Argentina was “fascist”. In fact, the Conservative Foreign Minister, Lord Carrington, had been secretly negotiating with the Junta for the handing over of the Falkland Islands at a later date.
However, the Junta was in a hurry. There were mass demonstrations and protests in Argentina, and Galtieri decided to cut across the revolutionary movement by staging a military adventure. He calculated that London would not resist an invasion of the Malvinas. This was a serious miscalculation. Thatcher could never accept the humiliation of the seizure of the islands by the Argentine military.
Ted regarded the war as reactionary on both sides. The Argentine masses have deep anti-imperialist instincts which are progressive. However, there was not an atom of progressive content in the actions of the Junta, which were purely aimed at diverting the attention of the mass protest movement. It was a complete travesty to present this as an anti-imperialist struggle in any shape or form. Unfortunately, large sections of the Argentine left, including so-called Trotskyists, allowed themselves to be carried away by the patriotic wave, in some cases even offering their services to the Junta. All the so-called Trotskyist sects worldwide scandalously supported Galtieri’s reactionary adventure, falsely alleging that it was an anti-imperialist struggle.
On the other hand, the arguments of Thatcher about defending the rights of the Falkland islanders were false and hypocritical. Her war aims were dictated purely by the global interests of British imperialism. We carried out consistent anti-war propaganda, but found ourselves isolated. Although at first there was no enthusiasm in Britain for this war, the military victory gave Thatcher the excuse to play the patriotic card in the next election. The end of the conflict produced a general sense of relief, and insured the victory of Thatcher in the next general election.
The rise of Neil Kinnock
For all his faults, Michael Foot was not Tony Blair. He did not like the Militant and would have been glad to get rid of the Marxists, but he was not a witch-hunter at heart and he pursued the matter half-heartedly. The bourgeois were not impressed. Poor old Michael! I suppose his heart was in the right place, although his head was somewhere else altogether. The ruling class needed someone quite different to bring the Labour Party to heel. It needed someone with guts; it needed someone with brass balls; it needed a schoolyard bully. In short, it needed a Neil Kinnock.
Foot was replaced by Neil Kinnock, another ex-Left who had gone far to the Right. He represented a new breed of Labour leader, a very adequate expression of the generalised right-ward shift in society. I am ashamed to say that Neil Kinnock is a Welshman. I too am a Welshman and proud of my people. Above all, I am proud of the Welsh working class, which ever since the days of the Chartists and the Newport uprising has always been in the front line of the class struggle. In particular, I am proud of the Welsh miners, those fine class-conscious proletarians whom I have been privileged to fight alongside.
But there is another side to the Welsh nation, which like all other nations is sharply divided on class lines. There is no snob in the world like a Welsh snob. There is no social climber in the world like a Welsh social climber. And there is no class traitor in the world like a Welsh class traitor. I met quite a few of that breed when I was at university. I can therefore say with absolute confidence: no primitive amphibian lurking in the Cambrian swamp ever slithered out of the primeval slime with such eagerness as these creatures struggle to climb out of the class they have come from. Their sole aim is to “get on”, preferably to get on in the Parliamentary Labour Party. I hasten to add that any resemblance between these remarks and any person, alive or dead, is purely coincidental.
The ruling class had had a nasty shock when the Marxists succeeded in winning a sizeable influence in the Labour Party in the 1970s. They organized a split-away of the right wing and the formation of the Social Democratic Party (SDP), in order to undermine Labour, and at the same time orchestrated a vast witch-hunt against the Militant Tendency and the Labour Left. Their chief agent in the campaign to defeat the Labour Left and push the Labour Party to the right was Neil Kinnock.
No sooner had the erstwhile “Left” Kinnock grabbed the Labour leadership from the faltering hands of his ageing predecessor, than he declared all-out war on the Labour Left, headed by Tony Benn, up to whose knees he did not reach, politically, intellectually, morally or in any other respect. But before annihilating the Bennite Left, he first had to deal with the Militant Tendency.
Kinnock knew that it was the Marxists of Militant who gave backbone to the Lefts. Obediently taking his cue from the establishment and the media, he took up the struggle against Militant with the zeal of a crusader. He stepped up the witch-hunt against the Marxists in the Labour Party under the full glare of the media, which was constantly urging him on. In his deluded brain he imagined that this would get him more votes. Instead, it caused a damaging split in Labour, demoralised its activists and lost support. As a result, despite the unpopularity of the Thatcher government, “Boyo” succeeded in leading the Labour Party into resounding defeats in two general elections with no trouble at all.
Labour was fatally weakened in the face of the Thatcherite onslaught. Thatcher and her crew rained blows on the working class, crushing the miners with the tacit or even open complicity of Kinnock. The only serious resistance to Thatcher, apart from the miners and printers, was the Militant Tendency in Liverpool and in the anti-Poll Tax struggle, which finally brought Thatcher down.
In reward for these inestimable services to the Conservative Party, Neil Kinnock is now Lord Kinnock and is drawing a handsome salary from the EU. In addition, he holds the unenviable record of the longest-serving Leader of the Opposition in British political history to date, and the longest never to have become Prime Minister. His actions served to fatally undermine the Party, preparing the way for an openly bourgeois Labour leader in the person of Anthony Charles Lynton Blair, a man who thought the Labour Party ought never to have been created. Incidentally, Kinnock was actively supported by the late Professor Eric Hobsbawm, one of the architects of “New Labour”.
Return to London: the Militant International Review
I came back to Britain in the autumn of 1983 together with my partner and comrade Ana Muñoz. My return was due to a potentially serious health problem. But that was nothing compared to the problems that were being prepared. Ever since Ana and I had returned to London, we felt that something was wrong. I say “felt” because neither of us could put our finger on it.
Ana told me later:
I came to Britain with great expectations. This was the centre of our International. It was supposed to be our model. But I saw that things were not the same as in Spain and felt there was something not quite right. There was not the same atmosphere of comradeship.
Peter Taaffe proposed to put me on the British EC and offered me a position. I said that I would accept any post he considered useful. He suggested political education or the theoretical journal, the Militant International Review (MIR). I discussed it with Ted, and decided to choose the editorship of the MIR. This had been under Lynn Walsh but it was practically defunct. I took it over and revived it.
The feeling that all was not well was strengthened by my experience on the EC. Of course, Ted did most of the political leadoffs, which were to his usual high standards. But the contribution of most of the EC members was not on a very high level. Looking around the table I could not help thinking: all these years and all these successes, but where are the cadres?
It was a worrying thought, but I immediately found a hundred reasons—or rather excuses—for the low political level of the organization, including its leadership. The comrades were all very busy. The organization had changed since I was last in Britain. There was the pressure of mass work, etc., etc. Still, something had to be done, or else we would be building on sand.
So, with Ted’s enthusiastic collaboration, I set to work on the theoretical magazine. It was not easy because I had many other things to do. My main responsibility was in the International. I was away for half the year on international trips. And I had nobody to help me with the MIR. I was the only one working on it and all the time I was the editor it was starved of resources.
Nevertheless, the MIR came out every quarter, as regular as a clock. I always discussed the editorials with Ted, and he often dictated them. By this time he had difficulty in writing and he and I regularly collaborated on articles and documents. The journal was a fantastic success. There was a real thirst for theory among the members and especially among the full timers. At every congress there were always a number of resolutions congratulating us on the MIR and asking for a more regular theoretical journal.
This was out of the question as long as I was working on my own. I repeatedly asked Peter Taaffe for another full timer, but he always gave evasive answers: “we don’t have anybody to spare” was the standard reply. But this was not the real reason. Finally, he grudgingly allowed Clive Heemskirk to help with the MIR, but it was still a low priority. Despite the fact that there was a big demand for the MIR, for all the years I was the editor it was never discussed once on the EC. That was no accident.
Part of the problem was that the group around Taaffe had a contemptuous attitude towards theory and “theoreticians”. But more importantly, they disapproved of my close relation with Ted Grant, against whom they were already beginning to intrigue. Eventually, Taaffe decided that my running the MIR was too much. Arguing that I had “too much on my plate”, he pressed me to give the editorship back to Lynn Walsh. By that time I was too worn out to argue. Reluctantly, I handed the journal back to Lynn Walsh.
Liverpool and the witch-hunt
The rise of Trotskyism within the Labour Party alarmed the ruling class. The right wing and its capitalist backers were beside themselves. They could afford to laugh at the antics of the sectarian groups on the fringes of the Labour Movement, but this was different. Here was a strong Marxist tendency firmly entrenched in the mass organizations of the working class. It was potentially dangerous and not to be tolerated. The full weight of the capitalist media was mobilized to launch a new witch-hunt against the Tendency, demanding our expulsion from the Party.
Our success in Liverpool was the result of decades of consistent and patient work in the Party, which eventually enabled us to win control of Merseyside District Labour Party. As a result, from May 1983 onwards we had effective political control of Liverpool City Council. By this time, the Militant Tendency had become a household name and had grown rapidly in numbers and influence. Under the leadership of Militant, Liverpool City Council led a mass struggle against the Thatcher government, which again brought us into the limelight. The events around Liverpool showed that militant struggle forced concessions from the Tories and was successful.
It is often alleged that Marxists do not stand for reforms. This is false. Marxists understand that without the day-to-day struggle for advance under capitalism the socialist revolution is impossible. Our criticism of the reformists is precisely that they do not struggle seriously for reforms, but continually capitulate to the capitalist class. What happened in Liverpool is an object lesson in the difference between Marxism and reformism.
As a result of our policies, thousands of jobs had been created, and thousands of houses built by Liverpool Council, which forced the government to make big concessions. The Liverpool electorate supported the councillors in every election, with increased majorities. You can imagine if the Labour Party nationally had taken such a stand. However, the right wing was to squander this political capital in the years ahead. Far from welcoming this, the right-wing Labour leadership of the ex-“Left” Neil Kinnock regarded it with overt hostility.
Kinnock could not immediately come out against Liverpool Council, which stood on a programme of opposition to cuts in services as well as any rate increases. He hypocritically offered it “trainloads of sympathy”, while doing everything possible to isolate and undermine it. The only hope we had of long-term success was if other Labour Councils followed Liverpool’s example. But one by one, the “Lefts” ran for cover in the battle over rate-capping, while Kinnock, reflecting the stance of the ruling class, passed openly onto the offensive against Liverpool and Militant. His pathetic advice to Labour councils was to operate a “dented shield”, i.e., capitulation to the Tory government. By 1985, Kinnock launched an all-out assault on Liverpool. At the Labour Party Conference he made a speech that was a vicious attack on Liverpool council and Militant.
It must nevertheless be admitted that some mistakes were made, in particular the issuing of redundancy notices to the council workforce. It is true that this was a tactical move, which was not actually going to be implemented, in order to gain some time. There was never any real intention to carry out the sackings, and this was explained to the unions. But it was a very risky tactic, and Ted raised serious objections to it on the EC. He warned there could be serious consequences and he was right. In his speech, Kinnock laid heavy emphasis on the issue of “a Labour council scuttling around the City in taxis to give out redundancy notices.” It had been a propaganda gift to our enemies.
To be fair, even if our tactics had been 101 percent correct, the witch-hunt would have taken place anyway. The ruling class was alarmed at our successes and they were determined to get rid of us. The witch-hunt against the Tendency was being urged on by big business, the state and the mass media. The real reason for Liverpool’s defeat was the deliberate sabotage of Kinnock and the right-wing union leaders, and the total lack of support from the Left councils such as Ken Livingstone’s Greater London Council, and Margaret Hodge’s in Islington Council. So-called Lefts like Livingstone made a lot of noise about peripheral and trendy issues, but when it came to a serious fight over questions affecting the working class, he ran for cover, leaving Liverpool in the lurch. Eventually, they resorted to the capitalist courts to carry through surcharges and disqualifications, while the right wing carried through expulsions.
On February 22, 1983, the Labour Party’s National Executive Committee expelled from Labour Party membership the five members of Militant’s Editorial Board, including Ted Grant, who was the political editor. There were 85 resolutions protesting against the expulsions to the NEC of the Labour Party and not one in favour! Party regional conferences in London, Scotland and the Southwest, all came out against the expulsions.
The Militant’s Editorial Board appealed, and the final decision had to be put to Labour Party Conference, where the leadership could count on their control of the union block vote to push the expulsions through. In October of that year, the expulsions were ratified by Conference. Two-thirds of constituency delegates voted against expulsions, but the appeals were lost when the unions cast their block votes: 5,160,000 to 1,616,000 in each case except for one. Ted Grant got 175,000 more votes opposing his expulsion than the others did. In a defiant speech to the Labour Conference, Ted said: “We’ll be back!” He told them that there is no way Marxism can be separated from the Labour Movement. That was undoubtedly the only correct position to take.
It is entirely false, however, to say that the witch-hunt rendered our work in the Labour Party impossible. On the contrary, the publicity greatly assisted us. We set up a special anti-witch-hunt department at the centre, which coordinated our campaign and organised numerous events. We took on a press relations officer as we were in the media every day. Such was the avalanche of publicity that Rob Sewell’s office at Hepscott Road was lined with box files filled with press cuttings from 1982 onwards. The Tendency appeared regularly on TV and radio, and often on News at Ten during this period.
It was under the impact of the witch-hunt and the massive publicity that accompanied it that the Militant Tendency grew quite rapidly, with 1,000 active members registered in 1980, and 4,500 by the end of 1983. In the YS, some 320 branches supported the Tendency. By contrast, only 20 supported the sects, 35 supported the left reformists, and around 35 were non-aligned.
In 1984, at the beginning of the miners’ strike, our industrial Broad Left initiative, Broad Left Organising Committee (BLOC), had become the largest left force in the trade unions. For the first time in history, a Trotskyist, John MacCreadie, was elected to the General Council of the Trade Union Congress, but was manoeuvred out by the right wing. During the year-long miners’ strike, given our position in the mining areas, we managed to win over 500 miners to the Tendency. In 1984, we filled the Wembley Conference centre with a Militant Rally of 3,000 supporters. In 1985, the National Rally filled the Royal Albert Hall with 5,000 supporters. In 1988, we filled the Alexandra Palace in London with 7,500 supporters, who were addressed by Ted and other comrades, including Trotsky’s grandson Esteban Volkov, who spoke to the gathering by telephone from Mexico City. This was the high point of the Militant Tendency.
As Ted always explained, the right wing will never give up without a fight, with no-holds-barred. The witch-hunt was being stepped up all the time. Restrictions were imposed on MPs speaking at our meetings. True, it culminated in a wave of expulsions. But here again we must have a sense of proportion. At most 220 comrades were expelled, but thousands joined our ranks. On Merseyside alone we had, if my memory serves me, over 1,500 members. A number of local parties refused to carry out the bans, although some were taken over and reorganised, resulting in suspensions and expulsions. This was, however, inevitable, as the right wing—and behind them the ruling class—were never going to give up their control of the Labour Party without a ferocious struggle.
Tensions in the leadership
Ted was in general patient, loyal and tolerant in his dealings with comrades. But there was always a line that could not be crossed with him. Like Lenin and Trotsky (and also Marx and Engels), Ted was absolutely intransigent on theoretical matters. He was not prepared to tolerate even the slightest deviation on theory, or the slightest slackness. This did not necessarily make him friends.
Rob Sewell told me of one CC meeting where there was a discussion about the work of the YS. A youth comrade from the West Midlands intervened and said the way to build the YS was to engage in stunts and attract publicity. Ted immediately intervened to correct the young comrade. “Stunts are OUT! Stunts are OUT!” he said, raising his voice, which he never used to do. This time, however, he was determined to drive home the point that we must not build with the method of gimmicks and shortcuts.
I can remember another discussion on the CC, when Bryan Beckenham, who then lived in Bristol, although he was from London and was recruited in Sussex University, made a speech (I cannot remember the subject). Bryan was a good comrade but he can be classed as an “aginner” (a kind of permanent oppositionist). On this occasion, Ted got a bit impatient and in replying said: “The trouble with the Bristol comrades is that they do not think!”
This comment merely provoked a few laughs from CC members, who were well-used to Ted and his ways. The comrades knew there was no spite or viciousness intended against Bryan or any of the Bristol comrades. Ted was completely transparent. You could see right through him, and what you saw was what you got. He spoke his mind, put everything on the table, and that was that. For that very reason, he was organically incapable of conducting manoeuvres and intrigues.
There was a growing and now permanent undercurrent of tension between Ted and Peter Taaffe, although it rarely surfaced publicly. In private conversations it was a very different matter. On many occasions, Peter complained bitterly to me about Ted, how he was quite impossible to work with, how he was causing a lot of problems, and what a hard time he (Peter) had in dealing with him. He would say “this man is impossible”.
It goes without saying that I was horrified by the idea of a split between the leading comrades. On the other hand, it was not at all clear to me what or who was responsible for these conflicts. I knew that Ted could indeed be difficult and stubborn, and Peter’s complaints seemed plausible. On more than one occasion, I remonstrated with Ted to be more reasonable, but was met with a sullen response. Ted already had an inkling that they were intriguing against him, but I could not believe that this was possible, and attempted to act as a conciliator. That was my big mistake.
On reflection, I can see how Peter Taaffe took advantage of every mistake made by Ted, every little conflict or difference on the Central Committee. He would not usually contradict Ted openly, but after the meetings he would approach individuals who had had some minor brush with Ted and say: “You see how this man treats you. This man is incapable of treating people as equals.” Ted always sought to give the CC a political and educational character. When some people complained that “the CC is not a school”, Ted would rebuke them, saying that that was just what it was. Taaffe, in private, would twist this into the idea that, for Ted the CC was only a school, with Ted as the headmaster: “He has no respect for people and treats important CC members like little children.”
We only discovered years later how successful this tactic had been. Many CC members were influenced by these false arguments and slowly, by degrees, Ted’s authority was undermined. This only shows to what degree the political level of the cadres was falling. This was especially the case after 1980, when it was agreed to make the CC a full-time body. As a result, leading trade unionists and cadres like Pat Wall, Jim Brookshaw, Muriel Browning, Tony Mulhearn and Terry Harrison were excluded and their valuable input lost.
Peter Taaffe constantly boasted of the “high level” of the CC members, but this was just a form of flattery. In fact, the process of theoretical backsliding was becoming more and more evident. This was probably the most important element in the degeneration of the Militant.
The anti-Poll Tax campaign
Following the Liverpool struggle, we organized and led the anti-Poll Tax campaign. This was what led to the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. It was a great success, but the campaign also exposed serious weaknesses in the Tendency. As Ted put it, sometimes successes can be more dangerous than defeats. The success of the anti-Poll Tax campaign went to the heads of some of the leaders. They were, to quote an expression of Stalin, “dizzy with success”.
When Thatcher introduced the retrogressive Poll Tax it was the Militant that led the battle against the Tory government, involving millions of people in a mass non-payment movement. Ted had addressed the importance of the Poll Tax soon after the 1987 general election. At the CC meeting he called for a mass campaign of non-payment to beat the tax. He predicted that a national movement could develop like the one against Lloyd George’s Rent Act in 1915. This call was taken up by the Tendency, starting in Scotland, where the tax was to be introduced first.
This was to be the biggest movement of civil disobedience in British history, and it was led by the All-Britain Anti-Poll Tax Federation, which we had established and led. In March 1990, 250,000 people demonstrated in London, and a further 50,000 took to the streets of Glasgow. This impressive mass movement terrified the strategists of capital. By this time some 14 million people were refusing to pay the tax. This eventually led to the resignation of Thatcher in 1990 and the repeal of the Poll Tax.
Despite these enormous successes, however, there were serious problems in the Tendency. The most serious was that the political level of the cadres was declining, and the leadership was doing nothing to counter this trend. Ted Grant continually stressed in meetings of the Executive Committee the need to thoroughly educate and train the new comrades who entered our ranks. Unfortunately, these calls went largely unheard.
The new wave of recruits included very raw people. It was correct to recruit rapidly, but on condition that serious steps were taken to raise their political level. But very little was done to educate the new recruits in Marxist ideas. The level of the Tendency, already getting very low, was diluted even further. It was a kind of “Lenin Levy”, which Stalin used to water down the Bolshevik Party with large numbers of raw, pliable members. This gave a further impetus to the process of political decline. Indeed, it was during the anti-Poll Tax movement that this process reached a decisive tipping point.
When Ted said, “Sometimes success can be more dangerous than failure,” he was absolutely right. The leadership was buoyed up by success. It went to their heads. The membership was plunged into a maelstrom of pure activism. There was constant pressure from the centre to get quick results. Ted was naturally pleased by the success of the Anti-Poll Tax campaign, but he also saw the dangers. His repeated warnings were ignored by the EC who reacted in the same way as a drunken man at a party when somebody warns him that he will have a bad head in the morning. In fact, they were intoxicated with a sense of their own importance.
The dangers of the campaign possibly breaking the organisation were raised at a Regional Secretaries’ meeting in September 1990. It was made clear then that the Tendency was substituting itself for the movement, that we were completely overstretched and turning ourselves into an anti-Poll Tax union instead of a revolutionary Marxist cadre organization. There was a big danger we could wreck the organisation if we continued with this. The organization was being stretched to breaking point. In many areas, the branches stopped meeting, or had become de facto anti-Poll Tax bodies.
The Tendency was being dissolved into the Campaign. Ted criticised the approach of the full-timers in substituting themselves for the class. “We can’t do this at the expense of our organisation”, he said. But from the centre the pressure was being piled on. There was no doubt that the campaign was destroying the cadres, who were exhausted by the prolonged years of struggle. If things were to continue like this, the Militant was on the point of self-destructing. The inner tensions in the leadership were building up. Ted began to complain more loudly.
At one Central Committee (this was after the crisis had come out into the open), he likened the way the anti-Poll Tax campaign was going to the Charge of the Light Brigade. During the Crimean War, somebody gave the order for the brigade of light cavalry to advance down a valley towards a battery of Russian heavy artillery—something that should never be done. Obeying orders, the Light Brigade advanced and was cut to ribbons. Observing this act of foolhardy bravery from a nearby mountainside, a French officer was heard to remark: “C’est manifique, mais ca n’est pas la guerre!” (“It is magnificent, but it is not the way to fight wars!”)
“Dizzy with success”
I should say a few words about the role of Peter Taaffe, who came down to London from Liverpool in 1965 to assume the role of secretary of the group, since Jimmy Deane had left the country. He was our first full timer and it must be said that he did a very good job. Peter made big personal sacrifices when he came to London. He and his wife Linda, a very loyal and self-sacrificing comrade, lived in a basement flat in Hackney, bringing up a young family in difficult conditions.
Nobody can deny Peter’s role in building Militant in the early years. But let us also be very clear on one thing. All the political ideas came from Ted Grant, and most of the organizational ideas came from the same source. Our successes were all the result of Ted’s political guidance. He wrote all the perspectives documents and theses on national and international questions. He led off in the political sessions of the central committees, conferences and congresses. Above all, he was responsible for the clear orientation to the mass organizations of the working class.
These were the ideas and methods that guaranteed our success, and as long as we continued on these lines we were successful. But later on some of the leaders began to get swollen heads. This was particularly true of a layer of the younger full timers who came to the fore in the 1970s. Our generation had come up the hard way. We had to fight for and earn every position. But these people did not have to fight for anything. They were immediately catapulted into leading positions which they had not won by their own efforts, and which frankly, in many cases they did not deserve.
Peter felt frustrated for a long time. I know because he frequently expressed his frustration to me. He wanted to play a bigger political role in the leadership, but was continually overshadowed by Ted. Over a time this developed into a strong personal antipathy, although he was very careful to disguise it. It emerged as little asides but never as a direct and open political clash. The reason for this was that Peter recognised Ted’s colossal theoretical stature and political authority. Peter undoubtedly had talent, although his main talent lay in the organizational field. He was very intelligent and a good speaker, but he was never a theoretician. All the ideas came from Ted.
Even in the later stages of Militant’s degeneration, I noticed that whenever Ted spoke, the followers of Taaffe would be looking out of the window or doodling, whereas Taaffe would be carefully taking notes of everything Ted said. There was nothing wrong with that, of course, and it showed that Taaffe was well-aware of Ted’s superiority in the field of ideas. But there was another side to him, of which I only became aware many years later: he was ambitious. This had disastrous consequences for the Tendency. I do not believe that this was always the case. It developed slowly over a long period. Gradually it took the form, not so much of a theory, but of a different approach to the work, and eventually, to a very different strategy and ideas about party-building.
A fatal role was played by the group around him. These young revolutionary careerists were arrogant and pushy. They were intoxicated with the successes of the Tendency. Most if not all of them were young students straight out of university. But their knowledge of Marxism was superficial at best. Impatient for quick results, they were always looking for shortcuts and magical formulas. They favoured activism over theory, which they privately regarded with contempt. They were greedy for leading positions, which they could only get by currying favour with the general secretary. Peter encouraged them and did nothing to check their arrogance. He leaned on them for support in his clashes with Ted, and they fed his ambitions. There would be conversations in the pub, in which the parvenus would say: “Ted is too old. He is out of touch. He is putting off the youth. Why do we have to bother with him?”
Ted had always spoken at the LPYS conference Militant fringe meetings, which had become mass meetings of 2,000. There was now a deliberate campaign to prevent him from speaking. There were complaints that he spoke for too long and that he failed to explain things. This was entirely false. Ted was very popular with the young comrades. This is the impression Ted made on Greg Oxley, who had only recently joined the LPYS:
I remember listening to Ted’s speech during the 1974 Conference of the LPYS. He was a most remarkable and inspiring speaker. At times I could feel the hairs bristling on the back of my neck. The enthusiasm he could generate in young workers like myself was not because of any affected style, nor even of any particular oratory technique. It came from the clarity and power of his ideas. Ted had a profound insight into the politics of the day, and used this to illustrate the fundamental processes at work. With every fibre of his being, he communicated an unshakable confidence in the working class and in the socialist future of mankind.
Taaffe encouraged the fairy story that Ted Grant was unable to connect with the youth. He would argue repeatedly in private: “You don’t take a horse around the full race course on the first outing.” The problem was that the young careerists wanted to speak and shine in the limelight, but could never compete with Ted. That irritated them and bruised their ego. They argued that the youth needed less theory and more agitation. That was quite wrong.
In fact, most of the youth loved to hear Ted speak, especially on Marxist theory. In the evenings of the YS conferences, drinking in the bar, Ted would give an impromptu question and answer session. “Ask any question you like”, he would say. The young audience was completely captivated by his speeches on dialectics, science, human origins and the Big Bang. His clear and consistently materialist explanation of these fascinating questions raised their level, made them think and encouraged them to read.
From behind-the-scenes grumbling and gossip about Ted, it was only one step to behind-the-scenes manoeuvres. In this way, a clique was gradually formed that operated outside the structures of the Tendency. It was not the result of a thought-out strategy. It formed organically, spontaneously, just as crystals will form spontaneously, once a suitable medium is present. The constant backstage criticism, backbiting and jokes were intended to isolate Ted. What they did not realise is that they were behaving like a man who is sawing off the branch he is sitting on. As long as Ted’s political authority in the leadership was strong, this served to hold things together. In destroying that authority, they were working for the destruction of Militant.
I was in Spain during the second half of the 1970s, when this process took shape, but I was in regular contact with the work in Britain and came back several times a year to report on our progress. Peter Taaffe, who I was on good terms with, would always ask me what I thought of the British section. He wanted to hear words of praise and usually I did not disappoint him. But I was concerned about some things. In the LPYS Conference, which I often attended, we now had a decisive majority. The right wing (who in the LPYS were really left reformist) were a small minority, and there was another, even smaller minority of sectarians. Neither of them posed any threat to us. Yet I noticed that when they moved critical resolutions, instead of answering them politically and using the debate to raise the level, they were being hammered.
I did not like this and considered it unnecessary and counterproductive. I expressed my concerns to Peter. When he asked me the usual question: “What do you think of the British section?” I said that I was concerned about some of the full timers. “Why?” he asked, surprised. “Well, for one thing I can’t get a political discussion with any of them. All I get is ‘ECs’ and ‘CCs’, and ‘DCs’ and ‘BCs’.10 And they don’t know their asshole from their elbow.” I think he was genuinely shocked. But it was the truth.
Of course, Peter Taaffe was far superior to the elements that surrounded him. He understood Ted’s role very well. He did not seek to drive Ted out of the organization. He just wanted a bit more of the limelight. Had he not earned it by his tireless work all those years? And was Ted not becoming an obstacle? What he wanted was for Ted to take a back seat, to retire gracefully and hand over the organization to the “Young Guard”.
He once said to me: “Don’t you think a man of Ted’s age should be sitting in front of a fire reading the paper with his slippers on?” He said it in his usual joking style, so I just laughed. But Ted did not see the funny side of it. He said: “What they want is to put me in a back room where I can write the documents and give them ideas. I am not a back-room boy and never will be!”
Looking back on it now, one can see the process that was taking place. Of course, the wisdom of hindsight is the cheapest kind. It was not easy to see a process that took shape only gradually, so gradually as to be imperceptible. That was especially true of me, as I was living in Spain at this time. However, there was another, more important reason. If you are not looking for something, you are not likely to see it. After all, we had spent years fighting to win these positions, so it was like a dream come true. The successes of the Tendency were real and palpable. I was therefore not inclined to seriously criticise or to find fault. That was my mistake.
The notion that a leading comrade could put personal prestige before the interests of the working class and the socialist revolution seemed so alien to me that I never seriously took it into account. One could understand how a person could be greedy for office in a big organization, say the Labour Party, a trade union or the Soviet Union. But to be greedy to hold office in what was, after all, a relatively small and poor revolutionary group—that was beyond my comprehension altogether.
When things finally came to a head, the Majority reacted indignantly to the accusation that there was a bureaucratic regime in the organization (though it was quite true). They said: “From a Marxist point of view, a bureaucracy must have a material basis. Where are our privileges? We do not have big salaries.” Answering this argument, Ted said: “A bureaucracy does not necessarily have a material base. You can have a bureaucracy in a football club or an old ladies’ knitting circle, not a bureaucracy like that of the trade unions or the Soviet Union, but a particularly poisonous bureaucracy based on personal prestige, back stabbing, intrigues and the struggle for positions.” How right he was!
Manoeuvres in the International
Peter Taaffe asked me if I wanted help at the International Centre. There were a number of comrades from Britain who could help. I confess I was very pleased to accept, since we were seriously understaffed. They sent me “reinforcements” in the persons of Tony Saunois, Laurence Coates and a couple of others. The last-named was the son of Ken Coates, who we have already mentioned. If I were a genetic determinist, I might have said that he had inherited all the unlovely traits of his progenitor, multiplied by a factor of ten. He was the worst of a bad bunch, but they were all “cadres” of the Taaffe School. The problems began almost immediately.
In Hepscott Road they habitually referred to the International as “the international department”. That little detail speaks volumes about their real attitude to the CWI (Committee for a Workers’ International). It was seen as a mere adjunct to the British section and its leadership. Any petty little pygmy from Britain imagined him- or herself a giant in comparison to the leaders of other sections. The International ought to know its place! They basked in the achievements of others and gloried in a borrowed authority that they had not earned and did not deserve.
This psychological attitude was given a physical manifestation when, alleging lack of office space, the “international department” was consigned to a portakabin in the parking space outside the main building at Hepscott Road. These young careerists now felt supremely confident. Sitting behind their desks in the portakabin, with a direct line to the General Secretary, they felt they had at last “arrived”. They had the “power” and could do just what they liked. The only slight problem was that there were some people in the way, namely Ted Grant, Alan Woods and Ana Muñoz. But so what? They would be dealt with sooner or later.
They began to move into different national sections. The other sections were mainly quite small and their leaders young and inexperienced. The authority of the British section was colossal. So it was quite natural that people would assume that any full timer from the International would have the same authority.
The “cadres” began to lord it over the sections, strutting around like peacocks. Although they had no real grasp of Marxism they saw themselves as great theoreticians. Listening to them reminded me of those books: Idiot’s Guide to Philosophy or Politics for Dummies, etc. When they spoke, the noises that came out sounded vaguely as if they were saying something profound. But when you came to analyse it, they had said nothing at all. This could not last. In the well-known phrase of Abraham Lincoln: You can fool some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. There was one conflict after another. I was receiving complaints about the conduct of international full timers. But there was not a lot I could do about it on my own.
I complained repeatedly to Peter about the conduct of some of the young full timers he had sent into the International “department”, allegedly to help me. In reality, they were doing the opposite. I would tell him my concerns and he would listen intently and take note. He always appeared sympathetic. He would make all the right noises: “Did he really do that? I see. Well, I must have a word with him about that.” “Don’t worry, I will deal with it”, etc. It was all an act, of course. I am sure he did speak to his “boys” afterwards. He would say something like: “You had better be more careful. Alan is asking questions.” Things would calm down for a while, then the whole wretched business would start all over again.
Ted told me I was wasting my time: “You are complaining to Satan against Beelzebub”, he said. He was quite right, as it happens. Ana and I were being systematically marginalised. Saunois and Coates had a direct line to the Boss’s office and decisions were being made behind our backs. The conduct of Coates towards Ana was particularly despicable. Constant petty harassment, pressure, and humiliation were enough to undermine the morale of a comrade who had always showed exemplary devotion and loyalty to the revolutionary cause.
I have no doubt that this was a cowardly way of getting at me—through my wife. In order not to add to the pressures on me, she did not inform me of what was going on. Ana had been through the harsh school of underground revolutionary work under the Franco dictatorship. She was caught by the police after a demonstration and was detained and beaten up. She is no coward and never complains. Yet she told me later that she suffered more from this harassment than she had at the hands of Franco’s police. In the end she had a nervous breakdown.
Is that so hard to understand? We are revolutionaries. We expect to be attacked and harmed by the class enemy. But to be betrayed and ill-treated by one’s own comrades—that is very hard to bear. In this way, even the hardest revolutionaries find themselves disarmed in the face of the aggressions of people without any moral scruples who usurp positions of responsibility and abuse them for their own ends.
Things got worse. There followed a whole series of “incidents”. The leader of the French section, Greg Oxley, was summarily expelled. The female leader of the Danish group had a nervous breakdown, and there was a crisis in Sweden. There was also a crisis in Greece. We discovered that the Irish leadership had resigned. I believe the decisive year was 1989.
Then in 1990, we learned that the majority of the German EC (four out of six) had resigned. In the case of Germany, this was connected with the revolutionary crisis in the East, where the masses were on the streets and the Stalinist regime was crumbling. I believe that the comrades in West Germany made some political mistakes in their approach to these developments. But it was our job to convince them, not to ride roughshod over them. Instead, the German EC was completely ignored and marginalised.
The method of removing leaders of national sections was first practiced by John Throne in the early 1980s in Germany when he sent Hans Gerd Öffinger, a co-founder of the section, out of the national centre to work in the provinces. This was roughly similar to Khrushchev sending Malenkov to work as the manager of a power plant in Kazakhstan. It was a very bad precedent. From 1986 Bob Labi was put in charge of Germany, a task for which he was entirely unfit. As a result, there was a crisis. A new leadership was installed that could be relied upon to follow the Line from London.
The reasons for these crises and resignations were never made clear to Ted or me. By this time, we had been effectively sidelined. It is clear that all the information was being censored by somebody at the centre. The extent to which we were being kept in the dark only emerged later, when the crisis in Militant had erupted. We sent comrade Alistair Wilson to Dublin in the summer of 1991 to make contact with Finn Geany. I believe Finn was our first member in the South of Ireland. But I had had no direct dealings with him and therefore had no telephone number. Alistair found his phone number in a Dublin telephone directory and I rang him up. The conversation went like this:
Hello, Finn, how are you?
Very well, thanks, how’se yourself?
It’s been a long time.
Yes it has [pause] I suppose you know I am no longer a member of the organization?
Yes, Finn, I did know that. But I don’t know why.
WHAT?! You mean you have not read our letter?
It appears that the comrades who resigned sent a letter to the IS in 1989, explaining the reasons for their action and making a series of criticisms of the way the Irish section was being run. Neither Ted nor I ever saw that letter. If we had done so, at the very least we would have asked questions. But that letter got as far as somebody’s desk in Hepscott Road and no further. Naturally, when the comrades got no reply, what were they supposed to think? They would assume that the IS was united in rejecting them. How many other letters went the same way? We may never know.
The Walton adventure
By now the rise of Militant seemed unstoppable. The BBC journalist Michael Crick, who wrote a book about Militant, described it as the fifth political party in Britain. We were not a party, of course, but there is some truth in this assertion. But all that was soon to be thrown away in an irresponsible adventure. In April 1991, the group around Taaffe convinced him to launch a “new turn” in Scotland and create an open organisation. All this was done behind the backs of the organisation and its elected bodies.
Earlier the same year, a National Conference was held in London. A British Perspectives document, written by Ted dated November 12, 1990, was presented, and adopted by a unanimous vote. In this document there was not the slightest hint of any change in our tactics or the work in the Labour Party. Yet, within a few months the whole situation had changed. In June, the Tendency was demagogically stampeded into fighting a by-election in Walton, Liverpool. The Liverpool comrades decided to stand Leslie Mahmoud as a “Real Labour” candidate against the official Labour candidate Peter Kilfoyle. This was backed by Peter Taaffe.
How is it possible to explain the suddenness of the change? Such an important turn, which represented a dramatic break with all our previous traditions and methods of work, ought to have been the result of a thorough and democratic debate at every level of the organization. It was not. The whole thing had been cooked up behind the backs of the organization. For years, some of the people in Liverpool had been inclined to leave the Labour Party, particularly after the witch-hunt that followed the defeat of the struggle around Liverpool Council. At that time they were dissuaded by the EC. Peter Taaffe agreed with Ted that such a move would be disastrous. But by now he had changed his mind.
The leadership decided to prioritise this campaign. Militant poured in comrades from all over Britain and even abroad. No expense was spared, and the comrades were encouraged to believe that we could win the seat even against the Labour Party. It showed how far out of touch with reality the leading circle had become. The result was a shock. Leslie got 2,613 votes, while 21,317 votes were cast for the Labour candidate Kilfoyle. Despite all the work we had done, and despite the superhuman efforts put into the election campaign, we had been decisively rejected. The members were shattered, but instead of reconsidering their position, the majority leadership proclaimed the disastrous result as a “success”, which should be followed in other parts of the country! Militant published on its front page a banner heading: 2,613 Votes for Socialism!
Anybody can make a mistake. But if a mistake is not corrected it will lead to bigger and more serious mistakes. Instead of acknowledging their mistake, the Majority approved a resolution on Walton, which hailed the experience as a great success. In it we read: “We have put down a marker for the future” (paragraph 6). It continues: “We took a principled stand in Walton”; as a result “our credibility will be greatly enhanced”. It went on: “We reaffirm the correctness of our decision to stand in Walton” (paragraph 7). “Any decision by us not to stand would not have been understood by the best workers in the Liverpool area. It would have been a dereliction of duty to our class and would have led to the demoralisation of the forces of the left in Liverpool.” And so on and so forth.
All the time they continued to feed their supporters with wild exaggerations, like the following: “Real Labour has been going three weeks in Walton. (...) Already Walton Real Labour has more members than the official Labour Party. We will go on; the left will take control of the City Council within the next two years.” (Article by Leslie Mahmood in Militant, July 5, 1991, my emphasis, AW).
Life itself dealt a fatal blow to these illusions. In the May 1992 local elections, the Broad Left candidates were wiped out and Leslie lost her seat. It was downhill from then on. As Ted had warned, this adventurism destroyed all the gains that forty years of patient work had achieved in Liverpool. And things did not stop there. Within a relatively short period of time, following the subsequent expulsion of Ted, myself, and the rest of the Minority, the leadership of the Liverpool organisation was expelled and the Tendency on Merseyside collapsed, resulting in wholesale demoralisation.
What Ted said about Walton
The group around Peter Taaffe, which was an undeclared faction within the leadership, decided to follow the well-trodden path of all the sects and break from the Labour Party. First there was the Walton electoral adventure, followed in rapid succession by the so-called Scottish turn, which Ted rightly described as a threat to forty years’ work.
Ted Grant was naturally opposed to the Walton adventure. But the leading group was determined to press on regardless. In order to do this, they first had to destroy Ted’s authority and remove him, and those of us who supported him, from the scene. Very quickly it led to a severe internal crisis and a devastating split.
A minority resolution, drafted by Ted and Rob Sewell, was presented to the CC meeting which was held shortly after the by-election defeat. This was in response to the majority resolution that praised the Walton adventure. It is worth quoting in full:
1. If we are to develop the organisation and prepare the ground for the future, we have a duty to seriously weigh up all our actions in the light of experience and learn the lessons of our mistakes. Those who fail to recognise their errors or admit mistakes, stated Trotsky many times, will never be able to construct a viable, healthy organisation.
2. To characterise the Walton result as some type of “Victory” is to completely misread the situation and miseducate the ranks of the organisation. Our first responsibility is to tell the ranks what it is, and not what we would like it to be. To dress up a setback in this fashion is the worst kind of deception for a Marxist organisation.
3. In making these criticisms, we do not for a moment take away the sterling efforts and sacrifice of the comrades involved in the election campaign who sought against all the odds to secure an electoral victory.
4. The problem lies squarely with the false policy of standing independently.
5. The policy was rushed through the CC after it was given a completely exaggerated, and therefore erroneous, view of the position in Walton. The majority of comrades, unfortunately, allowed themselves to be influenced mainly by subjective considerations, i.e. their hatred of Kilfoyle. It is true that Kilfoyle is a gangster, but this is the case with most of the right-wing candidates nationally.
6. The argument, used by the majority to justify their position, that we must orient our work for the next period “independently” is nothing new. We have to a great extent, both nationally and internationally, been forced to do so by the collapse of Left reformism, the boom, the swing to the right by social democracy and the virtual collapse in many countries of Stalinist parties. But our orientation towards the mass organisations was crucial. To put up a candidate in Walton was to break with the method, perspectives and theory formulated over forty years. As is the suggestion now that, despite the defeat in Walton, candidates may be put up in Scotland and elsewhere.
Our greatest gain over a period of decades was that we became a crucial and component part of the left. Despite the collapse of the left in both the trade unions and the Labour Party, we would have been strategically placed to become an important and even dominant part of the left.
7. A great part of the political capital of the Tendency in Britain and internationally was the fact that we were conceived as a component part of the labour and trade union movement. We were entirely different to the sects, who try and create phantom “mass” revolutionary parties outside of the time, experience and consciousness of the masses.
8. Apart from a few countries the classical conditions for entrism have not existed for forty years. This was certainly the case in Britain. All our trade union and political work has to be determined by our orientation towards the Labour Party.
9. The classical conditions for entrism will undoubtedly arise during the next epoch—two, three, five or even ten years—as the crisis of world capitalism, and especially British capitalism, unfolds.
10. These conditions are:
i) A revolutionary or semi-revolutionary crisis.
ii) The leadership of social democracy loses complete control of the Party.
iii) The masses move to left reformist or even centrist conclusions—there is a social ferment within the party. The left membership becomes open to revolutionary and Marxist ideas.
iv) The subjective factor is present to take advantage of the situation.
11. But by putting up a candidate or candidates this work is jeopardised. It can lead to a complete miseducation of the new layers, especially the youth, who may move towards us in the next few years. It is a complete miseducation of the cadres, who can draw dangerous conclusions. They can become ultra-left and adventuristic, this in its turn rapidly leading to passivity and substitutionalism.
12. There could be an argument for an independent revolutionary party, though incorrect. But to put forward the idea of an “alternative” or “real” Labour Party would necessarily be still-born. To be neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl is to get the worst of all worlds. A few years ago we had a good laugh at the expense of the Lambertists in France who tried to create a substitute Socialist Party. Like the Lambertists, the attempt to create a “substitute” Labour Party in Liverpool can only end in tears.
13. The perception of many workers in the trade union—who regard the Labour Party as their party—would be that of regarding us as alien to their political aspirations. The propaganda in the Militant over the last four weeks would reinforce this impression.
14. Up to now workers have recognised that we are organised, but as a component part of the Labour Party. But now the setting up of an “organisation” or Party in Scotland will break this view. The illusion that such an organisation or Party could gain affiliation to the Labour Party, like the Independent Labour Party (ILP) or the Co-op, is false and even dangerous.
15. The ILP and the Co-op, despite the former adopting a centrist policy for a time, had an affinity with the Labour bureaucracy. They were not afraid of the ILP, but regarded it as a possible left flank when the workers moved left, preventing them drawing revolutionary conclusions. They would be terrified of a revolutionary Marxist organisation or Party. The bureaucracy changed the constitution to prevent the affiliation of the CP in the immediate post-war period. There is no possibility of even the most leftward Labour Party accepting the affiliation of a Marxist party or organisation.
16. Now, if before or after the general election Kinnock launches a mass purge nationally the results could be disastrous. Formerly, if a mass purge was launched we would have retained the sympathy and support of wide layers in the Labour Party and trade unions. Now they would be indifferent. If you have an independent party or organisation go ahead and organise it. You can paddle your own canoe without being linked to the line of Labour.
17. The argument that when the conditions for entrism arise we can switch policies will not hold water. Youth and industrial workers, miseducated by an “independent” orientation would not be prepared to change. We would have a crisis in the organisation of massive proportions. Moreover it would be very difficult to get back under these conditions. At the same time we would lose many if not most of the new movement.
19. At best this has been jeopardised by the ultra-left binge in Liverpool and now in Scotland. The full effects of the defeats in Liverpool and nationally will be shown in the next few years.
20. As predicted the “Broad Left” did very little apart from our own comrades. Now it will fall apart. The Broad Left in any event comprises around 400 people—100 in Walton, 300 in the rest of Liverpool.
21. The mistake of the majority comrades was not to understand that the “left” in the trade unions and Labour Party was running in advance of the broad mass of workers. Now the entire Liverpool Labour Party and trade unions have been handed over to the right wing for a number of years.
22. The Liverpool organisation will have to maintain two apparatuses—the “real” Labour Party and Militant.
23. The Labour Party nationally has been reduced to a skeleton. But it is not Labour which will “wither on the vine” but the artificial Labour Party which is being created in Liverpool.
24. The “left”, having stubbed their toes on the reactionary policies of the reformists on the councils, in the unions and the national bureaucracy, in their “impatience” can draw for a while ultra-left and “radical” conclusions, only later to go back to reformist conclusions because the mass of workers “let them down”.
25. On the industrial front we have the example of Pilkingtons in the early 1970s, when the selling out of a strike by the national leadership of the GMBU under Lord Cooper led in desperation to the setting up of an “independent union”. This was supported by the SWP, WRP, CP and the Tribune lefts. We alone opposed it and pointed out the consequences. The majority of workers did not support it and the employers and union bureaucracy joined together to smash the union.
26. Unfortunately, many of the Liverpool comrades, on the basis of their success in the council elections, thought they could repeat this on the parliamentary plane. Instead of most of the leading comrades of the Tendency firmly opposing this, they capitulated to this mood. This will have grievous consequences for the Tendency in Liverpool and nationally.
27. That is the lesson of the attempts to create independent “left” Labour Parties in the pre-war and post-war period. All such efforts were doomed to failure. This new adventure on the part of the Liverpool comrades will inevitably fail, and will have as a spin-off a bad effect on the Liverpool organisation which right up to the present has to be subsidised by the national Tendency.
28. The new layers in the trade unions, even with a right-wing Labour government will not orient toward us but towards the Labour Party in order to change it. Far from being a “detour”, it is a blind alley to which the comrades are being led.
29. The argument that there was no alternative to standing is false from beginning to end. The fact that 500 workers attending Eric Heffer’s funeral wanted a candidate to stand showed the lack of objectivity and sense of proportion of the Liverpool and national leadership. Liverpool has a population of 500,000—Walton is a constituency of 70,000.
30. The idea that we had to stand, due to pressure from the working class, was proved to be false given the vote and the lack of participation by the Broad Left. In effect, the organisation substituted itself for the Broad Left.
31. At each stage, the majority comrades had to change their over-exaggerated views and expectations given the response from the workers of Walton. As the campaign progressed, reports varied from “victory” to “neck and neck”, then “substantial vote”, down to 10,000 votes, 5,000 votes, then lastly to 3,000 votes. Of course this change was not alluded to in our public material and seemed to disorient our comrades and supporters.
32. Big concessions were made to the non-comrades in the Broad Left: not to sell papers openly, collect FF [Fighting Fund], etc., no Militant leaflets on the official canvass. Recruitment was not seen as the priority despite the majority targets of doubling and trebling the membership on Merseyside. Everything was subordinated to maximising the vote. Even the programme that we stood on was not a revolutionary one. There was no explanation of the capitalist crisis and the need for a socialist planned economy, etc. The programme we offered the workers of Walton was in effect a left-reformist one. Our ideas were sacrificed to preserve the “unity” of the Broad Left—which refused to participate in the campaign in any case. It appears now they are preparing to attack us for undermining the campaign!
33. The argument that if we had refused to stand the rest of the Broad Left would have nominated a candidate is specious. We had a majority of the Broad Lefts and could have exerted pressure against this. In reality we pushed the issue. On the other hand if a splinter “Broad Left” had stood we could have disassociated ourselves from them. We could have supported the official Labour candidate while criticising Kilfoyle and the local and national bureaucracy of the Labour Party and putting forward a socialist and revolutionary policy.
34. There is nothing “new” in this. We have maintained this position in contradistinction to the sects for many years. A campaign of education of our Tendency in Liverpool could have prevented the fiasco of Walton. In the next period we could lose members and supporters in Liverpool as the futility of maintaining a dead “real” Labour Party becomes obvious to all.
35. For the last decades we have been criticised by the sects for alleged “passivity” and “adaptation” to the bureaucracy because we refused to break with the Labour Party. We laughed at this stupidity. Now for want of a better argument the majority have adopted the same spurious criticism of the minority. A continuation of the tried and tested policy of Marxism is hardly passivity.
36. We have been to the fore in advocating that the Tendency takes initiatives and independent work, but always with the proviso that all the work is subject to our general orientation, perspectives, strategy and tactics.
37. The action has undoubtedly played into the hands of Kinnock, Kilfoyle and Rimmer, who were able to portray the result as a victory for them and a rejection of the organisation by the workers of Walton. It will now be used, as was predicted beforehand, as the excuse for a purge in Liverpool and elsewhere.
38. In order that we can avoid disastrous mistakes of this type in the future, it is necessary to recognise the reality of the situation and draw out all the lessons concerning the medium and long-term development of our work.
39. Above all, we must strive to avoid the sickness of ultra-leftism and impatience. The Walton episode can only be seen in this light. That is why the proposed “Scottish turn”—the launching of an independent organisation—would be a grave mistake and result in the abandonment of 40 years of entrist work.
Only two votes were cast for this resolution, but Ted and Rob asked for it to be circulated to the membership. After a long delay, it was circulated, clearly marked “minority”. In addition, an addendum was attached giving the CC voting figures, a practise that had never been seen before, even with the Coxhead document. The reason for this was to show that the “minority” was crushed by the “majority”, and to give a clear message to the rank and file. For the “majority”, every means was permissible if it served to secure their victory.
The Scottish turn
Pressurised by our criticisms, the Majority still paid lip service to the importance of the Labour Party. The Majority resolution says that “Under the impact of major industrial and political conflicts, left-reformist and even centrist currents will appear inside the Labour Party” (paragraph 11) and that “the Labour Party remains the mass party of the British working class and it remains imperative that we orientate towards any developments within it”. (Majority resolution on Walton, July 1991, paragraph 12, my emphasis, AW).
Soon after this, the Majority stated:
We will not therefore, as the sects in the past have done, put a minus against the Labour Party... Even if the official ink with the unions is broken, this will not mean that the Labour Party will be historically “exhausted”.
Inevitably, a movement of the proletariat will find its reflection within that party from the direction of the trade unions. (Nationalism, Scotland and the Marxist approach, May 1992, pp. 13-14)
However, within a comparatively short period, this whole perspective was unceremoniously jettisoned. Almost overnight, and with no serious explanation, the Labour Party allegedly became a “bourgeois party”, no different from the Tories and Liberal Democrats. Now, instead of “orientating towards any developments within the Labour Party”, they are calling on the unions to disaffiliate from Labour.
During the so-called debate over the “turn”, they systematically distorted the ideas of the Minority: “Irrespective of time, place or circumstance the task, said Ted Grant, was for Marxists to merely sit in the Labour Party waiting for support to materialise when ‘objective’ conditions had sufficiently matured.” (Peter Taaffe, Militant’s Real History: In Reply to Ted Grant and Rob Sewell, October 2002). Where did we ever state this nonsense? There is no reference, as no reference exists. It is merely a repetition of the lies spread by the sects about us in the past!
The Walton adventure was quickly followed by the Scottish turn. In the beginning, this was presented as a purely local, Scottish affair, which they justified in terms of the concrete conditions in Scotland: The Majority document says: “There exist in Scotland specific conditions which have forced us to reconsider a major tactical shift.” (Scotland—Perspectives and Tasks, 1991, my emphasis, AW)
Thus, the supporters of the Majority argued that the need for a “major tactical shift” was dictated by purely local conditions in Scotland, namely the rise of Scottish nationalism and the growing electoral strength of the SNP. Ted pointed out that the real position of the Majority was not peculiar to Scotland. He warned that the Scottish turn would be the British turn tomorrow, and the international turn the day after tomorrow.
The “major tactical shift” was the setting up of an independent party in Scotland, although nowhere was this stated. The Minority document, which was dictated by Ted, answered this argument as follows:
That the SNP might begin to grow on the basis of the betrayal of reformism is entirely possible. But the argument that we can somehow prevent this from happening by setting up an open organisation in Scotland is false from beginning to end. Only by the struggle to arm the labour movement with a correct policy can a movement towards nationalism be checked. (Ted Grant, The New Turn—A Threat to Forty Years Work)
How vehemently did they deny this! They accused the Minority of telling lies, of putting words into their mouths and so on. All the while they were prodding the Tendency in the direction of the sectarian swamp, while loudly proclaiming their innocence. They proceeded cautiously, like a hunter who does not wish to startle his prey before shooting it.
As late as 1993, they were still indignantly denying the accusation that they would break with the Labour Party:
We are not repeating the ultra-left mistakes of the sects, particularly of the SWP. For them the Labour Party is dead and there is no question of it being brought back to life with an influx of workers in the future. (EC Reply to ex-Minority, February 10, 1993)
And once again:
Nothing that we have said or done can be misconstrued as a “break” with the perspective we have worked out for the Labour Party. Nowhere have we proposed an “open Revolutionary Party”. The ex-minority tries to build such a case on the basis of one or two isolated off-the-cuff comments. (Ibid.)
The Majority document called Scotland: Perspectives and Tasks (1991), states in paragraph 7:
Of course, it is necessary to avoid the quagmire of ultra-leftism. As a tendency, we have always resisted the temptation to run too far ahead of events, to overestimate our own forces, to rush into rash and reckless decisions which we would later regret. History is littered with the corpses of would-be revolutionary groups who have run aground on the rock of ultra-leftism.
The irony is that this precisely happened to them. And again:
It is not true that “all the sections of the old international are moving to break away from the mass organisations” (...) There is no International Turn. (EC Reply to ex-minority)
These constant denials reminded one of the famous line in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (Act III, scene II): “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” It was all a lie. Ted comprehensively demolished the dishonest attempts by the Majority to present the turn as a little local “detour” dictated by local conditions:
The advocates of the Scottish turn allege the existence of specific conditions in Scotland, which do not apply elsewhere. The same argument about specific conditions in Liverpool was used only yesterday to justify the Walton turn and we predict that tomorrow, we will be told about special conditions in Wales, Birmingham, London and elsewhere to justify the same thing. (Ted Grant, The New Turn—A Threat to Forty Years Work)
This analysis was one hundred percent correct. While continuing to deny any intention of breaking with Labour, they were slyly inching towards this inevitable conclusion, as we see from this statement:
While the Scottish turn arose from specific conditions in Scotland, it has now to be recognised that similar conditions (...) exist throughout Britain. (CC Resolution, November 1992)
They soon discovered that “similar conditions” existed, not only throughout Britain, but throughout the world. Just as Ted had predicted, the Scottish turn soon became the British turn. In the rest of Britain, they followed suit, adopting the name of Socialist Party of England and Wales, to demonstrate their separate identity from Scotland (though why Wales should be any different to Scotland remains a mystery).
What was supposed to be a little local “detour” dictated exclusively by peculiar conditions to the north of Hadrian’s Wall was now a universal principle, applicable to the entire terrestrial globe.
They did not feel confident enough immediately to break all links with Labour. In Walton they had stood as “Real Labour”. In Scotland they set up Scottish Militant Labour. But this transitional stage, was neither fish, nor flesh, nor fowl. So they inevitably ended up by creating a separate, politically autonomous Scottish party, ostensibly to speak in the name of the Scottish working class.
This soon became evident when, in 1998, Scottish Militant Labour was transformed into the Scottish Socialist Party and adopted the aim of an “independent socialist Scotland”. This initiative in Scotland was an attempt to emulate the earlier split-off from Labour in 1976, when John Sillars and Robertson set up the ill-fated Scottish Labour Party. We condemned this split at the time, but this was conveniently forgotten.
Adapting to nationalism
The Scottish turn was supposed to be a reply to the continued rise of nationalism in Scotland. It consisted in setting up an independent party, under the name of Scottish Militant Labour. This was supposedly meant to undercut the dangers of Scottish nationalism. In effect, although they vehemently denied it, the leaders of the majority group were bending to the pressures of nationalism. Soon after our expulsion, Ted Grant wrote a public document called, Scotland: Socialism or Nationalism, where we read:
The attempt to create a breakaway “independent” movement in the form of the SML is an adventure, doomed to failure, and will not have the desired effect of preventing the growth of nationalist moods among sections of the youth and workers. On the contrary, the type of arguments now being advanced by these comrades, which in effect pander to nationalist prejudices will have the opposite effect. (Ted Grant, Scotland: Socialism or Nationalism? March 1992)
The truth was that the leaders of the Majority in Scotland were impressed by the success of the bourgeois SNP and were inclined to adapt to nationalist prejudices. This, however, they hotly denied:
On no occasion have we adapted our programme to take account of the positions of the SNP or Liberals, and of course, the ex-minority cannot give any details. It is enough for them simply to shout “popular front” and their case is proven. Fortunately, comrades are not so easily duped. (EC Reply to ex-Minority)
But facts are stubborn things. Although Taaffe and the leaders of the Militant majority strenuously denied this pandering to nationalism, we can see how things turned out. Alan McCombes and Tommy Sheridan, the main leaders of the SML, leaned ever-more towards nationalism. This became more pronounced and even more disastrous with the transformation of SML into the Scottish Socialist Party (SSP). By the end of 2000, both McCombes and Sheridan broke publicly with Taaffe and the CWI, and took with them the SSP, together with the vast majority of its members. Taaffe was left with a tiny group mainly based in Dundee.
Initially, the SSP did make an impact. Given the growing disillusionment with the Blair government in London, they were able for a while to tap into the mood of a layer to the left of Labour and managed to win six SMPs and two councillors in May 2003.
Ironically, this success pushed them further in the direction of Scottish nationalism. The leaders of the SSP became the greatest champions of independence. Tommy Sheridan and Alan McCombes wrote a book called Imagine, which they published shortly after their break with the CWI and reveals to what extent they had already abandoned Marxism:
Socialists should be prepared to support such a step [independence], even on a non-socialist basis as promoted by the SNP.
The material foundations already exist in Scotland for a thriving, blooming socialist democracy (...) We have land, water, fish, timber, oil, gas and electricity in abundance. We have a moderate climate, where floods, droughts and hurricanes are almost [sic!] unknown. (Sheridan and McCombes, Imagine—A socialist vision for the 21st century, pp. 183-4 and p. 189)
The trajectory of the SML and the SSP represented the abandonment of everything we had stood for in the past. They were repeating the mistake of John MacLean who put forward the need for a separate Scottish Workers’ Republic. MacLean’s mistake arose also from frustration and a lack of confidence in the militancy of workers in the rest of Britain, but within a few years, the whole of Britain was rocked by a General Strike in 1926.
The opportunism of the SSP leaders was shown even more when, in 2004, Alan McCombes went so far as to proclaim the benefits of the SNP electing a “left” candidate to lead the SNP.
A victory or either Roseanna Cunningham or Alex Neil—both of them capable and charismatic figures—would have the effect of regenerating interest in politics generally. It would help to shift the ideological centre of gravity in Scotland further to the left and, at the same time, strengthen support for independence. All of this would create a more politicised climate, favourable to both the SNP and the SSP. (Alan McCombes, Where now for the SNP, Scottish Socialist Voice, July 2, 2004)
The SSP leaders went on to propose the establishment of an “independence convention”, a bloc between the SSP, SNP, and the Greens. They became champions of independence. “The clearest route to independence”, stated McCombes, “is the fast, broad highway of the independence convention, involving a united front of the SNP, the SSP, the Greens and other pro-independence forces.” (Scottish Socialist Voice, March 5, 2006, my emphasis—AW)
What is being proposed here is not a united front of workers’ organizations, but a popular front on nationalist lines, including the bourgeois SNP. There is not an atom of class content in it. And how the SNP was supposed to accept the idea of an “independent socialist Scotland” is anybody’s guess. Clearly, the word “socialist” in the slogan of the SSP was intended purely for decorative purposes.
One cannot fight nationalism by pandering to the nationalists and separatist prejudices. (...) The launching of SML is an adventure. The comrades lack a sense of proportion and are repeating the experience of sectarian groups on the fringes of the Labour movement. It will end in disaster. (Ted Grant, Scotland: Socialism or Nationalism, March 1992)
Subsequent events, with the evolution and collapse of the SSP, have shown this to be a hundred percent correct.
The early successes of the SSP gave them big ideas. Its leaders were riding high. They soon concluded that they had no further need for the people in London and split away. The powerful Scottish organization that Militant had built was no more. Taaffe was left with hardly anything in Scotland.
By 2007, however, the initial gains by the SSP, which showed that there was indeed a constituency for the Left in Scotland, were all lost and the party imploded. It gives one no pleasure to say this, but it is time to remind the comrades of the SSP that in the building of the revolutionary party there are no shortcuts.
From the very beginning the venture was fatally flawed. To pander to Scottish nationalism was a complete break with the Marxist approach to the national question, which, while defending the right to national self-determination, emphasizes and fights for the sacred unity of the working class across national and ethnic lines. Even if one were to accept the need for an open party, as Ted did in the specific conditions of the Second World War with the RCP, it would have to stand on a clear revolutionary Marxist and internationalist banner. Otherwise it would have no reason to exist. It would moreover face towards the Labour Movement and offer a united front against the Tories, Liberals and Nationalists on the basis of a socialist programme. But the SSP did no such thing. It stood on a purely reformist programme with a fatal admixture of Scottish nationalism. In other words, it attempted to combat the SNP by stealing its clothes.
The attempt to break the political dominance of the Labour Party, or even establish a sizeable party to its left, ended in ignominious failure. It did not displace the Labour Party; nor did it do anything to combat nationalism. On the contrary, by spreading nationalist illusions in a layer of advanced workers and youth, it merely served to provide an even greater space for the Scottish nationalists.
The crisis breaks
In the history of the Marxist movement it often happens that splits take place that apparently have no political basis. But in fact, there is always a political basis. The classic example was the split between Lenin and Martov in 1903. That split ultimately led to the creation of the two main trends in the Russian labour movement: Bolshevism and Menshevism.
However, if one reads the minutes of the Second Congress of the RSDLP one would look in vain for any political differences. Apparently there were none. The differences were in fact implicit in the clash between the “Hards” and the “Softs”. The real political differences only emerged in the months following the split.
The split in Militant definitely had a political basis. The Majority were hell-bent on pushing the Tendency down the ultra left road. Within the leadership, Ted, Rob Sewell and I were firmly opposed to this ultra-left “turn”. Hegel pointed out, that necessity expresses itself through accident. A few months before the Walton affair, a violent row broke out within the international leadership. The immediate clash occurred, not immediately over the “turn”, but on a seemingly insignificant matter: the speakers’ list at an international meeting. That would appear to be an accidental question.
Peter Taaffe was a very cautious individual, and was not anxious to provoke an open rift with Ted and myself, the outcome of which was uncertain. But his protégés, our “Young Turks”, were pushing all the time. They were greedy for prestige and reckless about the consequences. Like all petty-bourgeois, they put their personal interests before those of the class and the party.
Taking advantage of my absence (I was in Mexico), they put forward a list of speakers for an international school, all of whom were selected from the Taaffe clique in Britain. Not one of them was an elected member of the IS, or even the IEC. Quite apart from the fact that this was a complete breach of accepted procedure, the proposed speakers had not been chosen for their political abilities (which were at best limited), but purely on their loyalty to the general secretary. It was a blatant attempt to up the ante in an effort by the leading clique in Britain to take control of the International.
Ted objected strenuously but was outmanoeuvred. When I got back to London, I rang Ted straight away to find out what had happened. When I heard his voice I was quite shocked. He sounded exhausted and very low. He said: “Alan, you are making a big mistake. There is a clique in the leadership and Taaffe is at the head of it.” I asked him to come and see me, which he did immediately.
He told me about the manoeuvring over the speakers’ list and I agreed that this was unacceptable and would take it up at the next IS meeting. This unleashed a chain of events that neither Ted nor I expected. I prepared what I thought was a reasonable and quite unanswerable case to put before the International Secretariat. But before I had chance to say anything, Taaffe launched a savage personal attack on me. There was no intention of having a rational debate. The aim was to intimidate, bully and crush us. Of course, it had the opposite effect. The leading group was quite prepared to go to any lengths because it felt threatened. It had to act quickly, to take defensive action, and as we know, the best form of defence is to attack.
Since the leading group did not possess the necessary political armoury to take on any opposition in a fair fight, they used the weight of the apparatus, the full timers, the weapons of slander, gossip and character assassination, to attempt to wear us down and drive us out. A hysterical witch-hunting atmosphere was created. In total contrast, Ted had never resorted to the use of the apparatus and administrative measures to deal with internal conflicts. He relied on the strength of the ideas. That was the method in which he had educated us. The methods utilised in this conflict were entirely alien to our traditions.
Our first reaction was to raise forcefully the existence of a clique at the head of the organisation, and to denounce the unhealthy internal regime which was being fostered. But there was a problem. Although the existence of the clique was a fact, it was almost impossible to prove. It came to most of the comrades as a shock, a fact which was exploited cynically by Taaffe and co. to create a hysterical atmosphere within the organisation. Taaffe swiftly called a CC in order to rubber stamp their authority and isolate Ted and me. Most of the comrades in the British organisation and in the International could not understand at first what was happening. Only with the emergence of political questions (Walton, etc.), and by experiencing the Majority’s behaviour, did the question of the regime become clear.
The oldest trick in the book is to describe an opposition as people who wish to destroy the organization and appeal to the Party to “unite” against an alleged “external threat”. They played on the comrades’ sense of loyalty. The comrades had been psychologically prepared by years of fighting to defend the organization against the Labour bureaucracy, and the leadership cynically based themselves on this natural desire of the comrades to unite “to defend the organization”.
Ted, Rob, Ana and I had dedicated our entire lives to building this organization, yet we were presented not as comrades with arguments to be answered, but as enemies to be crushed. They immediately mobilised the full strength of the apparatus to do just that. The story was put around that Ted and Alan had “gone mad” and were “attacking the organization”.
“This is Healyism!”
Immediately after the initial clash, Taaffe summoned an emergency meeting of the Regional Secretaries (a subcommittee of the Central Committee), where Ted and I were going to be “put on trial”. The two of us waited to be called in. Eventually, Ray Apps came in grim-faced and we both stood up. “Not you,” Ray snapped at me. They wanted to grill Ted—a 78 year old man—on his own. After some time, Ted came back, looking very tired. “How did it go?” I asked. “They have given me the third degree”, he said, referring to the methods of police interrogation.
When it was my turn, I told them: “Comrades, I will do my best to convince you of the correctness of my position. But I tell you now that if I do not convince a single one of you, if I am in a minority of one, I will take this to the end.” This caused a certain amount of consternation, but, as I foresaw, it did not change any minds. However, when I think of the faces around that table, I see that the majority of them later either dropped out of politics, or were expelled or split from Taaffe. Very few now remain.
The leading clique used every conceivable method to intimidate and demoralise us. When we came to the centre in the morning to work we were greeted with a wall of silence. Nobody said a word to us. Then they decided to make us open our bags and submit to a search before leaving the premises. In other words, the word had gone out: we were to be subjected to a systematic boycott, or as they used to say: “sent to Coventry”.
They must have thought this intimidation would break our will. If so, they made a bad mistake. I recall one meeting of the Executive Committee, when Lynn Walsh, one of the chief hatchet men, launched a hysterical attack against Ted. All the years of frustration, bitterness and resentment were distilled in this essence of bile. However, things did not go to plan. When Lynn was in full flow, Ted suddenly stood up and headed for the door. “Where are you going?” the would-be orator demanded to know. “I have to go for a jimmy-riddle. I need to go to the toilet”, Ted answered innocently, and the rhetorical balloon was deflated like a slow puncture.
The most vicious campaign was waged against Rob Sewell. Taaffe was particularly angry because Rob was in charge of the Organization Department, which Taaffe regarded as his personal fief. In his work, Rob had played a central role, and Taaffe was anxious to get him on his side. The Organisation Department was originally established in 1982 to fight the witch-hunt, but developed and became responsible for a whole host of things: the campaign against the witch-hunt and expulsions, recruitment, membership, Labour Party work and Conference intervention, Parliamentary work, the full-timers, the national annual rallies, press and publicity.
Rob, as national organiser, had also played an important role in the campaign against the Poll Tax. He was the author of the only two national pamphlets put out by the Tendency against the Poll Tax, Battle against the Poll Tax and We Won’t Pay, arguing the case for mass non-payment, which sold in their thousands. He was responsible for the organisation of the 250,000-strong protest in London in March 1990. Taaffe hoped that Rob would join his camp and was furious when he immediately came down on the side of the Minority.
Rob was going through an extremely difficult patch personally, because of concerns about the health of his recently born son. Despite this, intense pressure was put on him. Every meeting of the CC from then on became a hate session straight out of Orwell’s 1984. In one particular CC, there was an especially vicious session on the conduct of Rob Sewell. But Rob could not attend, as the CC had dragged on to a late hour and he had child-minding difficulties. This did not stop them.
One after another, the loyal CC members got up to stick the knife in. But this time they got more than they bargained for. Ted put his hand up to speak. His speech was brief and its effect devastating: “I have seen all this before!” he roared. “This is Stalinism! This is Zinovievism! This is Healyism!” He told the CC members that with the ideas and methods now being adopted, the big centre, the printing press, the full-time apparatus “would all turn to dust”. He sat down to a stunned silence.
The coup in Russia
Although they were united in their hatred of Ted (I cannot think of any other word for it), the leaders of the majority faction were painfully conscious of his enormous theoretical superiority. This was revealed in a rather amusing fashion in the late summer of 1991, when a faction of the old Soviet bureaucracy tried to carry out a coup d’état in Moscow. The news fell like a bombshell. A meeting at the centre of the leading comrades, including the International, was hastily convened. The aim was to decide our attitude to the events in Russia and the line to be taken by the paper. In spite of everything they had been saying about Ted, it was from him that they were expecting some ideas. All eyes were on Ted who, very uncharacteristically, sat silently looking out of the window.
After a pregnant silence, John Throne said: “Aren’t you going to say anything Ted?” “About what?” “What do you think about the coup in Russia?” Ted waved his hands defensively: “Well, the thing is, comrades, I have not been feeling very well lately, and I am a bit tired this morning. But anyway, what do you think about it?” There was a stir in the room, and someone muttered: “Ted’s on strike!” Needless to say, the “discussion” that followed was just a heap of empty platitudes, while Ted looked on with evident satisfaction.
Without the firm guiding hand of Ted Grant, the leadership of the Militant immediately lost their bearings. As could be expected, the line of the paper was completely wrong. The front page headline was “People’s Power”, referring to the Yeltsin crowd. In other words, they merely echoed the line of the bourgeois press. This amounted to de facto support to Yeltsin and the forces of capitalist counter-revolution.
The split showed just how hopeless these people were when it came to working out a political line on any question. The events in Russia showed that very clearly. They made a “slight error” in confusing revolution with counter-revolution. We proved this with abundant quotes from Militant in a document entitled The truth about the coup. In order to cover their backside, they spread the fairy story that Ted and I supported the Stalinist coup. That was a lie. In fact, it was impossible to give support to either side in this struggle. It was a case of snakes against crocodiles.
Even worse was the position they later took on Yugoslavia. The breakup of Yugoslavia was a criminal act, which was not in the interests of any of the peoples of that country. It was actually the result of the machinations of German imperialism, which, following the unification of Germany and the collapse of the USSR, had ambitions to dominate the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
As one might expect, every one of the self-styled Trotskyist sects immediately took sides in the bloody civil war that followed, lining up behind one or other of the reactionary bourgeois nationalist cliques that crystallised around the former Titoist bureaucracies in Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Bosnia, Macedonia and Kosovo. That was a crime against Yugoslavia and a complete abandonment of the class point of view.
Lenin defended the right to self-determination but, like Marx, he never considered it to be an absolute right. It was always subordinate to the general interests of the proletariat and the class struggle internationally. Whether we support the right to self-determination in a given case depends on whether it furthers or hampers the struggle for international socialism.
In this concrete case, the breakup of Yugoslavia was entirely reactionary and has set back the cause of socialism, sowing hatred between people who previously lived and worked happily together, all in the interests of different greedy and rapacious ruling cliques. The criminal wars by which this end was achieved revived all the old demons that most people believed to be extinct. Massacres, pogroms, mass rape, racism and fascism turned Yugoslavia into a hell on earth.
All that has happened subsequently is the penetration of German and US imperialism into the Balkans, the enrichment of the ruling cliques and the impoverishment of the masses. And yet there were people who called themselves Lefts and even Trotskyists who thought that all this was worthwhile—on the grounds of “self-determination”. What a disgusting farce! The Taaffeites did not waste any time in falling into the same error. They enthusiastically embraced the cause of so-called “self-determination”.
During a debate we had in Madrid, with Ted and myself on one side, and Peter Taaffe and Tony Saunois on the other, one supporter of the Majority tried to heckle Ted by yelling: “Where do you stand on self-determination for Croatia?” To this pearl of wisdom Ted replied: “You mean: do we support the Chetniks or the Ushtase?” That is to say: do we support the Serbian fascists or the Croatian fascists? That was a very good answer.
“Fight and fight again!”
Soon after the conflict erupted, a handful of us met in my flat in Bermondsey. With his usual optimism, Ted said: “well, we will fight and fight and fight again, and if it takes two or three years we will win the majority.” I said: “Ted, you are mistaken. We haven’t got two or three years. We will be expelled by Christmas.” “Do you think so?” he said. “I know so”, I answered. It was clear from the way they were acting that they were determined to get rid of us. They could not permit a serious political debate, precisely for the reasons Ted had given. My calculations as to the timetable for the expulsions were off by just one month.
The majority faction was anxious to expel us as soon as possible in order to prevent the discussion from penetrating the ranks in Britain and internationally. They rigged the discussion in the International by inventing a rule (which was not written down anywhere) that only IS members could defend the case of the Majority and Minority. Since only Ted and myself supported the Minority on the IS, and Ted was not in the best of health, this was utterly impossible. The Majority got round this little difficulty very easily. The supporters of the Majority would also explain the ideas of the Minority! This absurd pantomime was carried out in several parts in Britain and even in the International. At the same time, the centre disposed of the services of some 200 full timers to “put the case” of the Majority.
The dirty tricks department was working overtime. All kinds of rumours were put in circulation: Everybody was informed that: “Ted Grant is senile.” This rumour had been quietly started long before. Lynn Walsh had books on dementia on the shelves of his office. They seem to have been his favourite bedtime reading. As for the author of these lines, they showed truly remarkable inventive skills. I learned that I had been offered a well-paid academic job in a Spanish university and was planning to abandon politics (I am still trying to find out which university that was). Rob Sewell was also said to be planning to abandon the cause, and apparently planned to move to the Highlands of Scotland.
I remember the astonishment Ted showed at Taaffe’s manoeuvres’ and intrigues. With an expression of utter perplexity, he said: “He’s got more tricks than a monkey in a box! I don’t understand it. He must spend all his time thinking up intrigues. He must think that this is what revolutionary politics is all about. That shows he is just a provincial politician”.
They held a special conference to defeat the opposition by a big majority. They were always obsessed with the idea of “big majorities”, as if that decided whether ideas were correct or incorrect. This is a sure indication of a psychology that is alien to Marxism and Leninism. It betrays the cowardly mentality of a bureaucrat who always desires to be on the winning side and seeks to hide his political spinelessness behind the idea that the majority is always right.
Towards the end of his life old Engels wrote: “Marx and I were in a minority all our lives, and we were proud to be in a minority”. Here we have the authentic voice of Marxism! When he returned to Russia in 1917 after the February Revolution, Lenin said: “I hear that in Russia there is a trend toward consolidation. Consolidation with the defensists—that is betrayal of socialism. I think it would be better to stand alone like Liebknecht—one against a hundred and ten.” (See Trotsky, History of the Russian Revolution, Volume One, Chapter 15, “Lenin and the Bolsheviks”.)
Let us remind ourselves that until the April 1917 Conference, Lenin was in a minority in the leadership of the Bolshevik Party. His April Theses were published in the Party’s daily Pravda under his own name. And let us remember that Trotsky had to fight as a minority to defend the genuine traditions of October against the Stalinist bureaucracy. No! It is not the Marxists but the traitors to Marxism who are always anxious to be with the “big majority”.
Some months before the final Conference, Ted made a highly perceptive and uncannily accurate prediction of what would happen. He said: “This will have four stages: 1) ‘collective leadership’, 2) the emergence of the Leader, 3) the expulsion of the opposition and 4) the destruction of the organization.” This proved to be correct in every detail.
I noticed that the delegates to the Conference fell into three broad categories. First, there were those we called the “head bangers”, mostly full timers who expressed their “loyalty” by their strident denunciations of the opposition. These were hopeless elements. Secondly, there was a layer of raw youngsters, who were completely uneducated in Marxism. It was clear that they did not understand what was going on, and voted in the way the full timers indicated. Most of them soon left the organization and dropped out. The big majority of those who voted to expel us, even at a leadership level, are now out of politics altogether.
Last, and most important, there were a number of older, more experienced comrades, many of them trade unionists with a long experience of the Labour Movement. They were clearly unhappy about the whole proceedings and more than one sympathised with our ideas. But the weight of the apparatus, a misplaced sense of loyalty and fear of a split, compelled them to vote for the Majority.
In the end, of course, Taaffe got his “big majority”. The whole thing was a farce. In the rigged October conference in Bridlington, some 93% voted for the Majority, a figure that Stalin would have been proud of. Those who were responsible for this criminal act of folly attempted to disguise this as a little tactical manoeuvre, a “detour”, to which Ted, with his customary sense of humour, replied: “Yes, a detour over a cliff”. And it most certainly was. The Majority faction argued that once we broke with the Labour Party, “We would grow by leaps and bounds.” The opposite was the case.
Expelled from Militant
Relations grew from bad to worse. At the end of November, Rob was forced to go to a CC meeting on his own, as Ted was ill and I was away. The whole thing turned into a bear-baiting operation. At first, the “Central Committee” excluded him on the grounds that it constituted itself as the CC “Majority”. Once they had dealt with all the business and made the decisions, they invited Rob into the farce to rubber stamp things. He was then subjected to denunciations and abuse from all and sundry. Taaffe announced that the “boycott of the Minority meant a split”. Rob’s record of attendance at the office was again raised, his lack of cooperation, his “sabotage”, “unacceptable behaviour”, “abysmal record”, “organisational incompetence”, his “scandalous” voting against the recruitment, subs and fighting fund targets, etc.
The meeting then passed a resolution, proposed by Ray Apps: “[This] CC reprimands RS for his failures to carry out his duties and responsibilities and putting factional activities before the interests of the Tendency (…)”. He was then pressed to resign, which he refused to do.
Ted was now clear that he would be expelled: “The sects always expel the Leader,” he explained. It did not take long for this particular prediction to materialise.
The day of our expulsion from Militant, in January 1992, was a real circus. Ana, Ted, Rob and I drove to the centre at Hepscott Road, where the farce commenced before we even got into the car park. We were kept waiting for a long time before the person on the front desk deigned to open the gates. Perhaps they thought we were carrying a bomb! Finally we were admitted into the tiny vestibule where all who entered the building were vetted. There we waited—and waited—to learn our fate. The only company we had were the potted plants that only Ana occasionally watered. After some time we could see some movement on the stairs that led up inexorably to the Executive Room.
The pantomime continued. Suddenly, through the large glass panel, we could see the Comrades of the Executive Committee marching in step like well-wound automata down the stairs. They marched grim-faced and stared straight ahead. The General Secretary came last. Eventually this Solemn Procession came to a halt at the bottom of the stairs. A dramatic gesture from the General Secretary, and the door that had been firmly shut against us swung open as if by magic. Such power! I was impressed.
But my initial awe was immediately transformed to disbelief. The purpose of opening the door was not, as I had foolishly imagined, to let us in, but to let the Comrades of the Executive Committee out. One by one, the Solemn Procession streamed out into the tiny vestibule (or rather, squeezed out, for there was not really room for all of us and the flower pots as well). Without further ado, Lynn Walsh began to read a prepared script on a piece of paper. This was already too much. I interrupted him: “Either you open that door and we have a proper meeting inside the building, or we are leaving right now!” The Comrades of the Executive Committee did not seem to be prepared for this unexpected contretemps. There was an embarrassed silence. Someone, I think it was Keith Dickinson, always anxious to be helpful, said: “But why can’t we meet here?” Then Ted, with his usual exquisite sense of timing, said in a loud voice: “I need to go to the toilet! I want a jimmy-riddle!”
Yet another sudden and sharp change in the situation! The Comrades of the Executive Committee looked at the General Secretary. He hesitated for a moment, like Napoleon carefully weighing up his next command at the Battle of Waterloo. Then he waved his hand: “Let him in”, he muttered. It was not his proudest moment. Once again the door swung open as if by magic, and Ted disappeared in the direction of the nearest available lavatory. There was yet another moment of pregnant silence.
I looked at Peter Taaffe and thought of all those years we had worked together building the organization. He then pointed to Rob and said: “Well, here is the new General Secretary, I see.” Probably this remark was intended to cover his embarrassment, or break the atmosphere, which you could have cut with a knife. But the sheer pettiness of this comment aroused in me a deep sense of indignation. So the pathetic ambition of one man, the stupid obsession with an empty title, was sufficient cause to wreck the work of forty years.
I turned to Taaffe and said: “Well, Peter, I always thought you were a big man. But now I see that you are a small man—a very small man.” Clearly nonplussed, the General Secretary looked the other way and said nothing. The rest of this sorry charade is hardly worth recalling. We were finally admitted to the Executive Room, and after the briefest of brief exchanges, the “charges” were read and we were duly expelled. This meeting was quite irrelevant, since the decision to get rid of us had been taken about twelve months earlier.
We left that sad building, its General Secretary, and the Comrades of the Executive Committee, with no regrets, rather, with a palpable sense of relief, like a man who has woken up after a bad dream. We had turned the page and could now commence a new beginning.