Ted Grants contribution to Marxism
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Ted Grant's contribution to Marxism
By Alan Woods
Today, July 9 2003, Ted Grant celebrates his ninetieth birthday. For the whole of his thinking life he has steadfastly defended the ideas of Marxism. He has pursued a single-minded course and has never deviated for a moment in this battle, nor has he ever doubted the inevitability of the final victory.
As a young boy in South Africa, Ted became a Marxist and joined the Communist Party. These were the years when the Stalinist bureaucracy was consolidating its hold on power in the USSR. A group of militants in the South African Communist Party opposed Stalinism and moved towards Trotskyism (Bolshevism-Leninism). Following the lead of another remarkable man, Ralph Lee, Ted joined the International Left Opposition led by the great Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky. Leaving South Africa in order to further the international revolutionary movement he came to Britain in the 1930s and has lived here ever since.
In his lifetime Ted has played many roles, as he has described in his book The History of British Trotskyism. He is the personification of the unbroken thread that links the present generation with the rich tradition that stretches back through the Left Opposition to the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky and before that to Marx and Engels.
But Ted Grant is not just a symbol. He has always played a most active and leading role in the movement, where he has not only defended the ideas of Marxism but developed and enriched them in a profound and creative manner. His writings provide us with a rich treasury of ideas and cast light on the burning questions of our epoch.
Ted's writings cover an enormous variety of subjects, from fascism to the colonial revolution, from the history of the Communist International to the Spanish revolution. The variety of the subject matter reflects his almost encyclopaedic knowledge of world affairs that has astounded many who have had occasion to discuss with him.
Ted has always regarded himself as a faithful disciple of Marx, Engels, Lenin and, of course, that great revolutionary and martyr, Leon Trotsky, whom he habitually referred to as "the Old Man". He has always insisted that young comrades should make a careful study of the works of the great Marxist teachers, and he would always make a point of re-reading the basic works before making a new analysis of recent events. Needless to say, his detailed knowledge of every aspect of Marxism is second to none.
Importance of theory
This rigorous attitude to theory was Ted's outstanding characteristic at all times. It was sometimes a bit frustrating for young comrades to submit their articles to his exacting attention, for Ted was a perfectionist and unsparing in his criticisms. But this was the way in which we were trained to fight for Marxist theory and to develop an implacable attitude to principles.
It was this implacable attitude to theory that enabled Ted to maintain his bearings in the difficult period of capitalist upswing after the Second World War, when the forces of genuine Bolshevism-Leninism were isolated for a whole historical period.
When Trotsky was assassinated by a Stalinist agent in 1940, the weak forces of the Fourth International were deprived of its leading spirit. The untested leaders of the International proved to be unequal to the tasks posed by history. They buckled under the pressures and abandoned the ideas and methods of the Old Man. But Ted and his comrades in the leadership of the RCP in Britain remained firm.
The programmatic documents of the RCP in the 1940s, virtually all of which were written by Ted, show a profound grasp of the new world situation that arose after 1945. They have stood the test of time and can be read with profit by Marxists today. It is astonishing that Ted not only predicted the victory of Mao Zedong, but also explained what programme Mao would carry out - before Mao himself put it forward.
At a time when Mao was still writing about a long period of capitalism in China, Ted explained that he would have to nationalise the means of production and set up a state in the image of Stalin's Russia. Even more astonishing was Ted's prediction that Mao's China would inevitably come into conflict with Stalinist Russia. He made this prediction in the late 1940s in a document called Reply to David James, when there was not the slightest indication of any conflict between Moscow and Beijing.
It took over a decade for the prediction to come true, in the shape of the Sino-Soviet dispute. How was it possible for Ted to anticipate this development even before Mao had come to power? He based himself on what Trotsky had written as early as 1928 in the discussions of the new Draft Programme of the Communist International, when Stalin and his (then) ally Bukharin first put forward the anti-Leninist theory of Socialism in One Country.
Trotsky, with amazing foresight, warned the leaders of the international Communist Movement that if this false theory was accepted by the Comintern it would be the beginning of a process that would inevitably lead to the national-reformist degeneration of every Communist Party in the world - whether in or out of power.
At the time, Trotsky's warnings were ignored by the leaders of the Communist Parties. They considered themselves to be revolutionary internationalists and Leninists. They all stood for world revolution. How could the CI degenerate on national-reformist lines? The very idea was simply preposterous!
A mistake in theory will sooner or later manifest itself in a disaster in practice. That was always understood by Lenin and Trotsky, and Ted has always tirelessly repeated the same idea. Those proud leaders of the Communist Parties who disdained Trotsky's good advice in 1928 soon found that he was right. Under Stalin the Communist Parties were subordinated to Moscow and forced to carry out a policy in the interests of its foreign policy - that is to say, in the interests of the Soviet bureaucracy.
National reformist degeneration
Having followed every twist and turn dictated by the Moscow bureaucracy, the Communist International was summarily dissolved by Stalin in 1943 without even calling a congress. The history of the Comintern was traced and analysed by Ted in The Rise and fall of the Communist International.
After the death of Stalin the Communist Parties of Western Europe gradually separated themselves from Moscow and became increasingly independent. But this did not mean a return to the old position of Leninist internationalism. To the degree that the C.P.s became more independent of Moscow they became more dependent on the pressures of their "own" national bourgeoisie and reformism. Under the guise of Eurocommunism they moved over to a position that was indistinguishable from Social Democratic reformism. They adopted in its totality the position of national reformism.
An even worse situation existed in those countries where the Stalinists had come to power. Each national bureaucracy, starting with Yugoslavia, asserted its right to follow its own national "road to socialism". In effect, each national bureaucracy was defending its own narrow national interests against those of the Moscow bureaucracy.
An extreme case of this was the clash of interests between Moscow and Beijing. This clash was nothing to do with principled political differences, as some people imagined. It was simply dictated by the conflicting interests of the rival ruling bureaucracies of Russia and China. The clash did not serve the interests of the working people of either state.
Lenin would undoubtedly have advocated the formation of a socialist federation of the USSR and China, linking the immense productive potential of both countries. Such a step would have been in the interests of the peoples of both the Soviet Union and China. Instead of this, we had the repulsive spectacle of Soviet and Chinese comrades "discussing" their differences in the fraternal language of rockets and artillery. This was a crime against proletarian internationalism and it was the direct result of the Stalinist theory of Socialism in One Country.
The Marxist Theory of the State
Perhaps Ted's most important contribution to Marxist theory has been on the question of the state and his writings on Stalinism in Russia, Eastern Europe and China after the Second World War. In his remarkable book The Marxist Theory of the State (Reply to Cliff) he comprehensively demolished the revisionist theory of "state capitalism" and showed how Trotsky's analysis of the USSR as a bureaucratically deformed workers' state was correct.
The subsequent developments in Eastern Europe, China and also the peculiar forms assumed by the colonial revolution given the delay of the socialist revolution in the West were explained by Ted in his analysis of the phenomenon of proletarian Bonapartism.
Today, when the fall of Stalinism in the USSR has produced widespread perplexity in the workers movement internationally, Ted's writings on this subject retain their full force and validity. In contrast, one would seek in vain in all the journals and books of the former Communist Parties of the world for any serious Marxist analysis. They prefer to ignore the question altogether, or else confine themselves to empty generalisations that explain nothing.
We should point out that Ted Grant actually predicted the collapse of the Stalinist regime in Russia as early as 1972, and explained why it was inevitable. Up until about 1965, the Russian bureaucracy was still able to play a relatively progressive role in developing the productive forces under the nationalised planned economy of the USSR, although at a very high cost in terms of bureaucratic mismanagement, corruption, swindling and chaos.
But bureaucratic totalitarianism is ultimately incompatible with a nationalised planned economy. In the end the bureaucracy undermined and destroyed the last remaining conquests of the October revolution. In his book Russia - from Revolution to Counterrevolution Ted traces the whole process from 1917 to the fall of the Soviet Union and explains exactly what happened.
Marxist philosophy and science
Ted Grant's knowledge of Marxism is tremendously wide ranging, from economics to history, from philosophy to science. His lively and inquisitive mind has turned its attention to all kinds of things that re well beyond the immediate sphere of politics. Forty years ago I remember he would give enthralling lectures on dialectical materialism and science in which he challenged the two rival theories of the universe that were vying with each other at that time: the "big bang" and the steady state theory.
Later on the latter theory was shown to be false. Fred Hoyle, the British scientist who had first advanced the steady state theory, publicly repudiated it. The big bang was then generally accepted as "the only show in town" but ever since doubts have remained and questions unanswered. Ted remains convinced that this theory will also in the end be replaced with another. I think he is right.
For many years Ted followed the twists and turns of world relations and gave many speeches on the subject. Thanks to the thorough education we received from him the international Marxist tendency has been able to find its way unerringly through the intricate labyrinth of world politics and explain every new turn, from the wars on the Balkans to the war in Afghanistan and the latest criminal adventure of US imperialism in Iraq.
But Ted's work was not only about world politics and theory in general. He wrote a tremendous amount on the tactics of the working class movement and the building of the revolutionary tendency. His grasp of tactical questions was always second to none. He alone was able to work out that Marxism could be established as a mass force in the present epoch only by serious work in the mass organisations of the working class.
The basic idea was explained long ago by Lenin and Trotsky, and even by Marx and Engels, but Ted was the one who worked out how to apply this idea concretely in the present period. This remains a book sealed by seven seals for what Ted calls the "57 varieties of sects" who, for reasons best known to themselves, speak in the name of Marxism. So much the worse for them.
The post war upswing and the class struggle
The most difficult period in Ted's life was the long capitalist upswing that followed the Second World War, when the small forces of genuine revolutionary Marxism were reduced to a tiny handful, isolated from the masses. The reason for this isolation was to be found mainly in the objective conditions: the prolonged economic upswing in the United States, Western Europe and Japan.
There are certain parallels between this period and the long upswing in capitalism before the First World War. Similar conditions tend to produce similar results. Reformism was reinforced in a period where unemployment seemed to be a thing of the past. In the general upswing, the recessions were so fleeting and shallow that they were hardly noticed. Under such conditions, the capitalists were able to make big concessions.
All the ideological representatives of the bourgeoisie were convinced that capitalism had solved its problems and that slumps were a thing of the past. Keynesianism was embraced by the reformist leaders of the Labour Party in Britain and by the European Social Democracy. The Stalinists soon followed the same path. And so-called Trotskyists like Ernest Mandel and Tony Cliff echoed the same ideas in different ways.
Ted Grant took a firm stand against this trend. In his short but masterly essay called Will There be a Slump? Written in 1958, Ted answered the arguments of the Keynesians from the standpoint of classical Marxist economics, and concluded that the boom-slump cycle had not been abolished. He pointed out that Keynesian deficit financing was intrinsically inflationary and that it would inevitably reach its limits and turn into its opposite.
At the time, Ted's arguments were rejected by almost everybody, from the bourgeois economists, passing through the Right and Left reformists, to the revisionist sects, who ridiculed his position as "primitive slumpism". The supporters of Cliff in Britain (now the SWP) argued that Britain and the USA had established a "permanent arms economy" in which military expenditure had eliminated slumps, and that the working class would revolt against capitalism, not because of economic crises, but because of alienation (!)
This implicit acceptance of the arguments of the bourgeoisie and reformism led to a questioning of the central role of the proletariat in the class struggle. Almost all the sects in practice abandoned the working class and the labour movement in favour of "other forces" - the students, the peasants, the lumpenproletariat etc. They wrote off the proletariat of the advanced capitalist countries as "bourgeoisified", "Americanised" and so on.
The revolutionary events in France in May 1968 were completely unexpected by these ladies and gentlemen. They had written off the French working class and concentrated all their attentions on the students. Only about 4 million workers were organised in the unions in France, yet 10 million workers occupied the factories in a magnificent movement. In reality power was in the hands of the working class. President de Gaulle understood this very well. He told the US ambassador: "It's all up; everything is lost. In a few days the Communists will be in power."
This was perfectly possible, but the leaders of the French Communist Party had no interest in taking power. They refused to take power and the opportunity was lost. But the French events demonstrated the utter falsity of the arguments of the sects. I was in Paris at the time and I noticed the following thing. The Sorbonne university was occupied by the students and all the Left groups had their stalls in the central courtyard.
At that time they all had monthly journals that had clearly been printed before the commencement of the general strike. I examined the front pages of these publications and their attitude to the working class was immediately evident. The front pages all carried articles about Vietnam, Mao Zedong, Che Guevara - anything and everything, except the French working class. The only exception was the paper of Lutte Ouvriere, which was then called Voix Ouvriere.
Throughout this period Ted consistently stressed the perspective of socialist revolution and the leading role of the working class. He polemicised against the bourgeois and reformist critics of Marx and the revisionist ideas of people like Mandel and Cliff. His predictions were brilliantly confirmed by the recession of 1973-4, the revolutionary general strike in Spain, and the revolutionary movements in Portugal, Spain, Greece and Italy in the 1970s.
Last, but not least, Ted's perspectives for Britain were confirmed by the huge swing to the left in the 1970s, with a massive strike wave, huge demonstrations against the anti-trade union laws of the Heath government, and a sharp turn to the left in the Labour Party and the unions. Those ultra-left sects who had written off the Labour Party were left with their mouths open. They had understood nothing and foreseen nothing. In a few years the Marxist tendency in the British Labour Party led by Ted Grant was transformed from a small group into the biggest and most successful Trotskyist tendency in the world.
This shows the vital connection between theory and practice. A correct theory will permit serious progress, as long as it is accompanied by correct tactics and methods and the will to succeed. Ted possessed all these qualities and a marvellous ability to transmit them to others, especially the youth. His enthusiasm and unconquerable optimism was always contagious. He was never downcast even in the most difficult situations. This came in part from his own robust and cheerful character, but only in part. The real secret of Ted Grant was that he was constantly immersed in Marxist theory and this gave him the strength and inspiration to overcome all difficulties.
Marxism and the workers' movement
Ted has always been very approachable. He had the knack of immediately connecting with workers and trade unionists, listening intently to their problems and opinions and then making very concrete suggestions on how to act. He knows the trade union and Labour movement like the back of his hand and this knowledge has always enabled him to give sound advice on the practical problems of day-to-day work. But with Ted the overall perspectives were always the main thing. The general aims of the movement must always be kept firmly in mind.
Jimmy Deane, a wonderful old Trotskyist worker, a veteran of our movement, and a close friend and comrade of Ted's until his death last year used to say: "You cannot shout louder than the strength of your own throat; if you try to do so, you will only lose your voice." The older generation understood very well the need for a sense of proportion, and the need for the small forces of revolutionary Marxism to establish firm links with the working class and to sink roots in the Labour movement.
Unfortunately, for some elements this wisdom is a book sealed with seven seals. Many mistakes have been made by people calling themselves Trotskyists because they think that in order to build the revolutionary party, it is sufficient to proclaim it. If this was really all that was required, then every petty sectarian in history would be as great as Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky put together. In fact the relation between the class, the party and the leadership is far more complex.
Over a long historical period, the working class has built mass organisations. It does not abandon these easily. Before they can do this they will first attempt many times to transform the traditional organisations. Only in the last analysis will this process lead to the formation of new mass parties, which normally arise out of splits in the old organisations. This fact will immediately become evident to anyone who takes the trouble to study the way in which the mass parties of the Communist International were formed out of splits in the old Social Democratic parties after 1917.
The sectarian groups on the fringes of the Labour movement make a lot of noise, but have not the slightest conception either of how to reach the working class or build a mass revolutionary party. This requires patient and systematic work in the mass organisations of the working class, as Lenin explained very well in Left Wing Communism and Trotsky repeated a thousand times in his writings of the 1930s.
The ultra-left sects only know how to repeat like parrots this or that phrase of Lenin and Trotsky, torn out of context and completely misunderstood. But they have no knowledge at all of the dialectical method that Lenin and Trotsky used. As a result they are permanently doomed to sterility. They have discredited the very name of Trotskyism by their antics. As Ted put it, they are all building "mass revolutionary parties, in the clouds, of three men and a dog."
Ted has always had a great sense of humour. He has the capacity to laugh at almost everything. He would roar with laughter at the stupidity of the Bush and Blair, of Reagan and Thatcher, and the foolish antics of the sects, fiddling and fussing on the fringes of the Labour Movement. In all the years I have known him I cannot remember a single moment when he was depressed or pessimistic. Someone who had known him in the 1940s once said to me: "Let's face it: Ted Grant would be optimistic if he was falling off a cliff." The comment was meant to be unkind, but I guess it could be true. Ted has always been utterly irrepressible.
Many years ago, when I was a young student, Ted once asked me what were the most important qualities needed by a revolutionary. I thought to myself: maybe courage, or a high political level? Ted smiled and said: A sense of proportion and a sense of humour. In this reply we have Ted Grant's character expressed in a few words.
As the years have passed I have understood the real meaning of these words. A revolutionary needs to understand what is possible and what is not possible at a given time. One needs to understand how the working class moves and adapt to it, without losing for a moment the general perspectives and principles. It is necessary to learn the rhythm of history and try to keep in step with it. This is an art that cannot be learnt from textbooks. It involves on the one hand a profound knowledge of the dialectical method, and on the other hand the necessary experience that gives one a feeling for the workers' movement.
In the course of his long and active life, Ted Grant often found himself isolated and in an apparently impossible situation. That was the case when the old RCP was destroyed by Healy in 1949. It was the case in the barren years of the 1950s and beginning of the 1960s. It was also the case in 1991 when the Militant Tendency was destroyed by the ultra-left deviation of a part of the leadership. That took place in an objectively difficult situation, but Ted and those of us who followed him, were not at all worried. We knew that the correct ideas, methods and perspectives would triumph in the end. And that has been proven by the march of events.
Faith in the socialist future of humanity
The fall of the Soviet Union led to widespread pessimism and disorientation in the workers movement. But Ted did not draw pessimistic conclusions. His faith in the socialist future has remained as firm as ever. He pointed out that capitalism could offer no future to the Russian people and made the following remarkable prediction: that the fall of Stalinism would only be the first act of a worldwide drama which would be followed by an even more dramatic second act - the global crisis of capitalism.
When Ted made this bold prediction over a decade ago, many people were sceptical. In the midst of the economic boom in the USA in the 1990s, when it became fashionable to state that capitalism had solved its problems and that there would never be another slump (the "new economic paradigm") he predicted that it would end in a new slump that would usher in the most convulsive and turbulent period in world history. Now we are entitled to ask the defenders of capitalism who was right and who was wrong?
It has lately become fashionable to begin to quote Marx again even in bourgeois journals. They ask themselves nervously whether old Karl was not right after all. But we could have told them the answer to that question a long time ago.
At the present time, the political and moral authority of the international Marxist tendency founded by Ted Grant has never been higher. Our website Marxist.com has had an amazing success in a short space of time. With almost 250,000 pages visited a month, we have become a point of reference for all those Socialists and Communists, workers and trade unionists, in practically every country in the world. Books like Reason in Revolt and Russia - from Revolution to Counterrevolution have been widely acclaimed as important and original contributions to Marxist theory.
Ted is now not as active as he would like to be for reasons of health, but his mind is still clear and alert and his conviction in the final victory of socialism undimmed. In this jubilee year we pay homage to the grand old man of international Marxism-Leninism and wish him many more years of successful work for the greatest cause in human history - the struggle for world socialism to which he has contributed so much for so long.
London, July 9, 2003.
Visit the Ted Grant Internet Archive.
See also: Ted Grant - a lifetime dedicated to the cause of socialism (July 2, 2003)
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