The Socialist 27 July 2006 |
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Ted Grant 1913-2006
Militant pioneer dies
TED GRANT, one of the founders of Militant, the forerunner of the
Socialist Party, has died at the age of 93 in London. Grant, of South
African origin, was one of the foremost leaders of the Marxist,
Trotskyist movement of the last 60 years. He made a major contribution
on a number of important theoretical and political issues, such as his
analysis of the phenomena of 'proletarian bonapartism', the development
of deformed workers' states in Eastern Europe and China in the post-1945
Peter Taaffe, Socialist Party general secretary
At first, he leaned towards an analysis of Russia and Eastern Europe
as 'state capitalist', but soon corrected this. Ironically, the main
theoretician of what is now the Socialist Workers' Party (SWP), the late
Tony Cliff, took up the discarded ideas and developed them into his
erroneous theory of 'state capitalism'.
Ted Grant's reply, in his pamphlet, 'The Marxist Theory of the State',
even today is a very effective answer to 'state capitalist' ideas and
analysis of the processes at work in the Stalinist states in the
post-1945 situation. The same was true of his analysis of the Chinese
revolution and on a number of other issues.
Even at that stage of course, his best period politically, he was not
politically infallible, as some of his latter-day supporters maintain.
He correctly opposed going into the Labour Party when the time was
inappropriate in the late 1940s, only to capitulate to those Trotskyist
forces who joined the Labour Party after the Revolutionary Communist
Party disintegrated in 1949.
He rationalised this on the basis that 'it didn't really matter',
given the isolation of Marxism, whether Marxists were in the Labour
Party or outside. In fact, at that stage, an independent tactic would
have been much more effective, with work concentrated in the trade
Nevertheless, Ted Grant did maintain a thread in defending the basic
analysis of Trotskyism against ultra-leftism and opportunism. This
allowed a new generation, like Keith Dickinson, Ted Mooney, Terry
Harrison, with others like myself and Tony Mulhearn, joining the
Trotskyist movement in Liverpool a little later. This was the main base,
together with London, and isolated ones and twos in areas like South
Wales and Nottingham, of what subsequently became Militant.
The launch of Militant
IN HIS obituary of Ted Grant, Alan Woods claims that, "in 1964, we
decided to launch a new paper called Militant. We held our first meeting
in a small room in a pub in Brighton". This is a blatant piece of
historical falsification, which is unfortunately a trait of his small
organisation when dealing with the history of Trotskyism in Britain.
In fact, Alan Woods was not involved in any of the activity in the
Labour Party Young Socialists on a national scale until after 1964.
Militant was founded in 1964 but it certainly was not established "in a
pub in Brighton", where Alan Woods just happened to be studying as a
student at that stage.
The founding of Militant was a product of discussions mainly in
Liverpool and London. This farcical attempt to rewrite history does no
justice either to the memory of Ted Grant or the contribution that he
made. It is a self-serving attempt to enhance Alan Woods' own 'historic'
I was elected as the first editor of Militant in 1964, and the only
full-timer in 1965, with Keith Dickinson working with me as an
invaluable unpaid 'part-timer' for the paper from 1965. This began a
long collaboration with Ted Grant, which was not always easy, but which
lasted for 25 years.
Ted Grant's strength was his defence of the main propositions of
Marxism applied to contemporary events. His weaknesses, evident from the
very beginning of our collaboration, was his dogmatic approach and his
incapacity to recognise and develop the independent talents of others,
particularly the younger generation who were filling out the ranks of
Militant. This was tolerated by other Militant leaders on the basis
that, in general, there was political agreement, although important
clashes took place on some issues, particularly on nuances and
Ted Grant made a very important contribution in the 1960s and 1970s
to the development of Militant as a significant force in the British
labour movement. However he was sometimes found wanting, particularly in
the rapidly changing situation in the 1980s.
For instance, his lack of tactical awareness and flair was a source
of conflict with some of the main figures in the Liverpool drama from
1983-87. At this period, while Ted Grant was respected by the supporters
and leaders of Militant, it had been evident for some time that his best
days, particularly on the public platform, were behind him.
This was not the first time in the history of the Marxist movement
that a leader can play a leading pioneering role at one stage, but prove
to be lacking once the situation changes. The tragic example of
Plekhanov, the 'father of Russian Marxism', comes to mind. He was also
decisive in the period when the task was to put down roots, to
stubbornly defend Marxism against opportunism and ultra-leftism. But
Plekhanov proved to be utterly helpless in the face of great events,
when the rhythm of the class struggle and history changed.
New times, new tests
AS MILITANT grew to become the most effective and largest Trotskyist
movement in Britain and most of Europe, it was necessary to present our
ideas in the most popular and accessible form, without watering them
down or hiding what we stood for. Other younger speakers and leaders of
Militant were more involved and able to fulfil this task than Ted Grant.
This in no way devalued his past contribution nor undermined the role he
could still play in the development of Militant and Marxist ideas.
However, he did not recognise his limitations, which led to
increasing clashes in the ranks of Militant in the late 1980s. This was
combined with his failure of analysis on key contemporary events. One
such occasion was the October 1987 'Black Monday' financial collapse on
Wall Street. Ted Grant argued that this was a precursor to a new
1929-type slump. This was opposed by myself, Lynn Walsh and the majority
of what became the Socialist Party.
Similar clashes developed on other issues, such as perspectives for
South Africa, and including the issue of Stalinism, at a time when the
signs were there that not only was it disintegrating but that a return
to capitalism, not something previously encountered, could take place in
Russia and Eastern Europe.
Ted Grant and Alan Woods, because of their incapacity to understand
the changed situation, gave critical support to the organisers of the
coup in the Soviet Union in 1991. They justified this on the basis that
Trotsky had envisaged the position of 'critical support' for a section
of the bureaucracy. However, the bureaucracy had so degenerated there
was no wing, in 1991, which still adhered to the planned economy.
Ironically, as we have seen earlier, one of Ted Grant's great
historical merits was his analysis in the post-1945 situation of the
development of the Stalinist states of Eastern Europe under the pressure
of Russian Stalinism. However, he was incapable of recognising the
changed reality in these states in the early 1990s. Together with Alan
Woods, it was only in the late 1990s (!) that he came to the conclusion
that capitalism had indeed returned to Russia.
This was the background to the split of the Ted Grant/Alan Woods
group from the ranks of Militant in 1992. He had failed to win support
for his ideas, only receiving 7% of the vote at a national congress of
Militant supporters. The ostensible basis of the split was the launch of
an open organisation in Scotland, which was denounced as a "departure
from the work of 40 years".
The 'tactic' of work in the Labour Party had unfortunately become so
ossified in the minds of Grant and Woods that it became a permanent,
undeviating 'strategy', irrespective of the collapse of the 'traditional
organisations'. Unbelievably, they maintain that socialists and Marxists
should still work within the Labour Party because it is still a
'workers' party' at its base!
After the split of 1992, their groups in Britain and elsewhere were
on the margins of the labour movement. They are not a factor in most of
the crucial issues confronting the trade union and labour movement.
Alan Woods has become a 'benevolent adviser' to Hugo Chavez and,
latterly, has also abandoned the perspective of 'workers' democracy' for
Cuba. He believes that Fidel Castro is 'critically' doing the job of
Marxism and Trotskyism in Cuba. This is ostensibly because of Castro's
latest attacks on 'corruption', and his intent to mobilise a layer of
young people against this. However, while recognising the great gains of
the Cuban revolution, if they are to be maintained, it is vital that
workers' democracy is established in Cuba, both for the country and for
the wider revolution in Latin America.
So in marking the death of Ted Grant the new generation of socialists
should recognise his great contribution on the level of ideas, in one of
the most difficult periods in history for the Marxist movement. At the
same time, it is necessary to learn from his mistakes and avoid them if
we are to build a movement capable of establishing democratic socialism
in Britain and worldwide.
Rise of Militant, by Peter Taaffe - Read online
real history, by Peter Taaffe - Read online
State: a warning to the labour movement - Read