In this article published in Militant in February 1979, a few months before Margaret Thatcher’s victory in the General Election, Ted Grant highlighted the root causes of the decline of British capitalism and the need for British capitalists to strike a blow to the workers’ rights and conditions. He exposed the failure of the reformist policies of the right-wing Labour leaders who in the three years of the Social Contract gave the capitalists a bonanza of profits while not guaranteeing any improvement for the workers. The hysterical campaign by the capitalist media against the unionised workers was an indication of the big class battles to come.

In the “transition” from the Franco dictatorship to bourgeois parliamentary democracy there was huge potential for genuine social change, for a revolutionary movement towards socialism. The leaders of the Communist Party, however, did not see their role as leading such a movement. On the contrary, they highlighted the “democratic” nature of ex-fascists and promoted reformist illusions.

In March 1977 Indira Gandhi called elections after a period of governing through “emergency” measures, which included the brutal clampdown on the labour movement. Her gamble didn’t pay off. The main beneficiary of the elections were right-wing forces gathered around the so-called Janata party. On the left the Communist Party of India, having supported Indira Gandhi’s measures, failed to gain from the situation, and the Maoist CPI-M shamefully backed Janata.

The capitalist crisis of the 1970s, combined with the Labour Party being in government after 1974 and carrying out austerity measures, had the effect of pushing the ranks of the party to the left. In these conditions the ideas of the Marxist wing, gathered around the Militant began to get a wide echo. The Marxists dominated the LPYS, the party youth wing, but were also winning many positions within the party, such as Andy Bevan’s selections as the party’s national youth officer. This provoked the wrath of the bourgeois media.

In 1978 war broke out between Vietnam and Cambodia, two countries that were supposed to be “socialist”. This bemused – and embarrassed – the Stalinist Communist parties, who could not explain this phenomenon. Ted Grant explained that the two regimes involved in war were bureaucratic, deformed workers’ state, with a one party, military-police dictatorship in power. Marxists supported the nationalised, planned economies in these countries, but raised the need for genuine workers’ democracy.

In 1979 Thatcher began to implement a long series of anti-working class policies on behalf of the British ruling class in an attempt to counter the decline of British capitalism. But, as Ted Grant pointed out, senile British capitalism was seeking to achieve higher profits through speculation and financial deals, rather than from investing capital to develop industry as it had done in the past. As he explained, “The bourgeoisie has forgotten completely that the production of real wealth is the production of manufacturing industry. They are more interested in the chase after nominal gains, rather than genuine gains for the economy itself.”

The 1972 Labour Party conference marked a turning point in the British labour movement. The high tide of radicalisation and class struggle that mounted up during the summer was finally reflected in the LP, pushing through a sound victory for the Tribune lefts at the party conference. Ted Grant drew the lessons of these developments—a powerful vaccine for the revolutionary vanguard against sectarianism—and pointed out that it was about time to launch a campaign in the whole of the labour movement to compel the Parliamentary Labour Party to abide to conference decisions.

The 1972 TUC conference revealed the increasing pressure from the working class for radical policies, and the victory of the “lefts” was a clear indication of this. However, many trade union leaders were not prepared to give a true expression to the militant mood that had developed within the rank and file. What was really required was that the trade union leaders should commit the Labour Party to socialist policies, if the movement was to be successful.

In the summer of 1972, two years into the Tory government, the workers’ anger erupted in the biggest wave of strikes since the 1920s. This radicalisation was reflected also in many left-wing motions being passed at trade union conferences. Ted Grant argued that it was time to reclaim the TUC for working class policies.

In 1971 the then Tory government brought in the Industrial Relations Act, which was aimed at curbing working class militancy. A year later, in July 1972 the British dockers went on strike, after five of their leaders were arrested under the new Act. Far from curbing the working class, there was a magnificent show of strength and solidarity, that could have sent the Tories packing if only the TUC leaders had been prepared to call a one day general strike and commit Labour to a socialist programme once in power.

In this article Ted Grant drew the lessons of the dockers’ strike in the summer of 1972. In spite of the audacious stand of the workers, who defied every attempt to intimidate them, the final agreement contained only marginal gains because of the role played by the trade union leaders.

In May 1972 the LPYS organised a march against the attempt by the Tory government to abolish subsidies on rents. Ted Grant pointed out the need for mass action organised by the trade unions to win this battle, as was the case in Glasgow during the First World War.

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