“The only true prophets are those who carve out the future they announce.”
Ted Grant, the last survivor from the leading figures of the Trotskyist movement of the 1940s died last July.
Ted Grant defined Marxism, in my hearing, as the “science of prediction”. Grant made many “Marxist” predictions, about the Stalinist states, the, so-to-speak, predetermined evolution of the Labour Party and many other things.
He got almost everything spectacularly wrong.The only prediction of his that came true was his often-repeated assertion that he would outlive all his contemporaries, all his one-time comrades, all his once-upon-a-time political rivals. He did. He was 93 when he died on July 20 2006.
He worked at it. He dieted, religiously shunned alcohol and did special exercise all his adult life. I have spent an evening in a pub with Grant, a stage-prop half of bitter on the table in front of him, and Grant delivering a little lecture every time I went to the bar about how many of my brain cells I was destroying with each trip!
Prediction was central to Grant’s politics. That was his function; he was the shaman. For a long time Grant’s predictions, used as a guide by the organisation he founded and for most of its existence led — it was known variously as the Revolutionary Socialist League and Militant — seemed to serve him and the organisation well. In the 1970s and the first half of the 80s it seemed that Grant and his comrades had created what was, perhaps, the biggest post-Trotsky “Trotskyist” organisation in the world, and moreover an organisation well-entrenched inside the mass labour movement, in both the trade unions and the Labour Party.
Then it quickly crumpled. So, with the collapse of his predictions about the USSR and the Labour Party, did Grant’s vulgar-evolutionist caricature of Marxism.
The USSR, far from evolving ever closer to socialism and the replacement of what Grant named post-capitalist “proletarian Bonapartism” — the dictatorship of the Stalinist bureaucracy — by working-class democracy, collapsed, in 1991. In some respects, the ex-USSR of the early 1990s regressed to something more resembling pre-capitalism than "post-capitalism".
After the great battles of the early 80s, the Labour Party lurched, first, into control by a coalition of the Kinnockite soft-left and the right, which began to mimic Thatcherism, and then, into the coup by the Blairites, who aimed to outdo the Thatcherites at their own game.
These two great historical events smashed Ted Grant’s political system. But it had already, in the mid-80s, received two shattering blows.
The first was in Liverpool where Grant’s organisation had won the leadership of the Labour Party and of the broader labour movement. The Grantites came face to face with their own spectacularly bizarre political incompetence. They made the stark discovery that their organisation was “unfit for purpose”, for functioning in sharp class struggle. But that is the reason for which Marxist organisations exist.
The second blow was the working class of the defeat of the 1984-5 miners’ strike, which, of course, adversely affected the whole labour movement. It was more than that for Militant. Here too the organisation showed that it was unfit for purpose - for functioning in the class struggle.
Militant played an important part in determining that the miners would be defeated (just as their main successor organisation, the Socialist Party, played the key role in the public sector union’s recent shameful capitulation on pensions).
Faced with the necessity, in accordance with the development of the logic of the class struggle, of bringing the Liverpool labour movement into the fight which the miners were already waging, the leaders of the RSL-Militant funked it. They chose instead to make a short-term deal with the Tory government. They left the miners to fight alone! It was a piece of spectacularly narrow-minded “sectionalism”. How did "Marxists" come to behave like that?
Militant was primarly concerned to protect its own position and its own organisation in Liverpool, and that is what they chose to do. They did it with the shortsightedness of the crassest old-style reformists. They decided to sit out the miners' strike! The fact that Militant in Liverpool was led by the strange figure of Derek Hatton, who turned the whole affair into a joke-shop burlesque of politics, put the cap and bells on it.
By their nature, Grant’s great big predictions, for example, about the USSR, could only be “platonic” assessments and projections. In Liverpool in 1984-5, Grant and his comrades, by deciding to “sit out” the miners’ strike, the most important working-class battle since before the Second World War, made a major contribution to determining what would happen in the main front of the class struggle then. Their deal with the Tory Government freed Thatcher to concentrate on crushing the miners. And that shaped events in the Labour Party too. The depression that followed the miners’ defeat helped the Kinnockites crush the Labour left, and Militant too.
It has not been given to many Trotskyist organisations to shape major events like the outcome of the 1984-5 Miners' strike. The working class has paid a terrible price for that defeat, which Militant, by keeping the Liverpool Labour Movement out of the fight in 1984, helped inflict on the working class.
Like the working class, the labour movement and Marxist organisations like Socialist Organiser (the predecessor of the Alliance for Worker's Liberty), Militant too played a terrible price. By ratting on the miners it helped create in Liverpool the conditions for its own destruction.
The Liverpool experience was the “high point”, and the lowest point, in the history of the organisation Ted Grant built.
Some readings on the Grant tendency:
Militant in the 1960s, by John O'Mahony
Liverpool 1984-5, by Martin Thomas - the fiasco of Liverpool City Council under 'Militant' leadership
Liverpool: what went wrong, by Sean Matgamna
What We Are And What We Must Become, a critique of Militant written in 1966.