Militant’s Real History
In Reply to Ted Grant and Rob Sewell
This is a reply to Rob Sewell’s Postscript to Ted Grant’s History of British Trotskyism. This reply is written by Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party. It has the full support of the Socialist Party Executive Committee.
Ted Grant is a longstanding Trotskyist who was part of the leadership of Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party) and the Committee for a Workers International (CWI) until he left with Rob Sewell and Alan Woods in 1991. This was after they and a small number of others were decisively defeated in the political discussions within the ranks of Militant and the CWI over the period of a year. They received seven per cent of the vote at a special conference of Militant convened to discuss the outstanding political differences between the two trends, the majority in Britain and the CWI, and the Grant-Woods-Sewell minority. Since then, they have largely disappeared as a significant tendency within the labour movement in Britain and internationally.
Now, however, they have ‘resurfaced’ and have published a book by Ted Grant, which claims to be a "history of British Trotskyism". It is not, as others like the ex-Trotskyist Harry Ratner have commented (in an article on the What Next? website). It is the memoir of Grant, and a slanted one at that, which seeks to enhance his role at the expense of others. Apart from commenting on one or two points, where Grant has changed his position on his own history since leaving the CWI, we do not deal with his book. We leave that to others like Tony Aitman in his informative and telling piece, which we carry as an appendix.
Most of our comments are directed towards the Postscript of Rob Sewell, which pretends to deal with the ‘history’ of the Trotskyist movement from 1950 to the present day. It does nothing of the kind. It is virtually denuded of political arguments. (It does not even deserve to be described as ‘Trotskyist’ in character, having more in common with the Stalinist school of falsification of other people’s, and particularly our, ideas and actions.)
"Why reply to a tiny grouping and at such length?" will no doubt be the reaction of many, given the character of Sewell’s Postscript. After all, we are used to a campaign of almost continuous distortion of our ideas from every conceivable sectarian organisation. This has had as much effect on us as a drop of water on a hot stove. We have not even deigned to answer what appeared at some times to be an avalanche of personal attacks directed against the leadership of the Socialist Party and the CWI. Moreover, since he left our ranks, Grant has periodically issued an ‘Open Letter’ to our members predicting our imminent demise, which we have not even bothered to reply to.
For some reason the Grant group still consider themselves important. They are a perfect example of the peculiar law which seems to operate with tiny ‘revolutionary’ groups; their awareness of their importance is in inverse proportion to what they actually represent.
Rather than deal with them, we would much prefer to deal more extensively than we have with the tumultuous worldwide events and the role of Marxism in shaping the socialist future. But as the journal of bourgeois finance capital, The Economist, once put it: "Who controls the past greatly influences the present".
It is necessary, as we have consistently done, to defend from a Marxist standpoint those historically progressive and working class movements in history, in order to pass on the lessons of these events to the new generation. This is even more important when what is involved is the real history of the Marxist and Trotskyist movement. In the 1980s, Militant was the biggest and most influential Trotskyist organisation in Britain, and one of the largest Trotskyist organisations in Europe since the International Left Opposition in the 1930s.
In our book The Rise of Militant we sought to chart out how this was achieved and the role which individuals played in this. We gave due merit to those who made a contribution to the building of our organisation, including those like Ted Grant and Alan Woods who had parted company with us. No serious challenge was made to this history. Sewell’s account – clearly with the approval of Grant and Woods – now seeks belatedly to undermine our interpretation of this history. He seeks to bolster not just Grant’s but his own role, as well as his brother’s, in the building of Militant to the detriment of others.
We have decided to answer this. Our reply seeks to explain the political roots of our differences with this group but we are also compelled to reply to their organisational ‘criticisms’. This, of necessity, means going into some detail. Even this can serve to illustrate how honest socialists and Marxists should approach history, and the difference between a genuine Marxist organisation capable of attracting the best of the working class, and those condemned to forever remain on the margins of the labour movement.
Peter Taaffe, October 2002
The Rise of Militant, by Peter Taaffe, the official history of 30 years of Militant, the forerunner of the Socialist Party, serialised on this site