Reminiscences of Ted Knight (1933-2020)

Submitted by martin on 12 April, 2020 - 10:28 Author: Sean Matgamna
Knight with Russell

Above: Ted Knight (in middle background) with Bertrand Russell (right foreground) and Russell's secretary Ralph Schoenman (bearded, left), from The Newsletter, 25 June 1966

Click here to download as pdf

I am saddened by the death of Ted Knight (30 March 2020). I knew him well long ago in the Orthodox Trotskyist organisation of the late 1950s and early 1960s.

When I first encountered him, Ted was a full-time organiser for the Socialist Labour League (SLL), responsible for the Manchester and Glasgow branches, alternating a week here and a week there. He was on a nominal wage of ÂŁ8 a week and was lucky if he got ÂŁ4.

He recruited me, then an adolescent member of the Young Communist League, to the SLL. I'd come to think of myself as a Trotskyist, but was unconvinced - didn't want to be convinced, I suppose - that a revolution was needed to overthrow the Russian bureaucracy.

Ted lent me his copy of Trotsky's The Revolution Betrayed. I didn't take a lot of persuading, as I recall it.

That Ted Knight would have been very surprised to find his obituary in the Morning Star headlined "A giant of the labour movement" (as if the Morning Star would know about such things!).

The Manchester SLL branch I joined early in 1960 was going through a bad period. Its leading member, Harry Ratner, and two other leaders, Bert and Greta Karpin, had resigned. I remember going with Ted Knight to meet Harry Ratner outside West Salford Labour Club to collect something - maybe branch accounts - from Ratner.

But the SLL branch I first attended, meeting in the Lass O’Gowrie pub, off Oxford Road, is in my mind's eye a sizeable one. I remember the emphasis on the Labour Party, and a question put to the one proposed as a new member: was I willing to work in the Labour Party? That was felt to be the great test for someone from the YCL, and not only by the member who posed the question. That was Val Fairbrother, a good-hearted clothing worker who, within a year or two, would be a Salford councillor and decide to devote himself to doing what immediate good he could do as a councillor.

The branch contained a number of people, trade unionists, who were primarily integrated into the branch by visits from the less-bogged-down organiser and younger comrades. We had a cluster of people at Bradford Colliery, a coal mine (closed later in the 1960s because of subsidence) in the centre of a built-up area of North Manchester – Jim Swan, Johnny Allen, Tommy Byrne, Joe Ryan, and perhaps one or two others; and we had Ted Woolley at Agecroft Colliery. The organiser, Knight, would catch the Bradford Colliery workers as they came off the afternoon shift at 10pm. We had a paper The Miner, started by Jim Allen, who had by then moved on to the building trade.

Knight held the branch together.

This was still the "political" SLL, before the early-1960s influx of youth and the focus on social activities began to transform everything. Before the "political revolution" of the first half of the 1960s, in which Gerry Healy imposed a changed conception of the sort of organisation we were trying to build.

When Stalin’s successor denounced him in 1956, it had changed everything for the Trotskyists, who had been persecuted in a labour movement in which Stalinists and quasi Stalinists were numerous. Ted Knight had been Business Manager of the Orthodox Trotskyist Labour Review when it became a big A4-sized magazine designed for (successful) intervention into the crisis-ridden Communist Party from January 1957. But in 1959-60 there was still a great deal of the old hostility to Trotskyists. You’d still hear talk of Trotsky allying with Fascism. There was still a lot of loyalty to The Great Father of the Peoples. In the Communist Party rooms on Cheetham Hill Rd there was still a picture of Stalin on the wall (when no-one was watching I’d turn it face to the wall, but someone always turned it back). Mild assaults, leaflets, papers being snatched and torn up, still happened sometimes. There was a notable flare-up of hostilities when Khrushchev added a lot of details to his earlier account of Stalin's crimes at the October 1961 22nd Congress in Moscow and we used leaflets and the paper to tell Communist Party members about it. Joyce Cauldwell, a notably sweet-natured woman in her early middle age, was pushed down a flight of stairs at the Manchester Free Trade Hall. Ted Knight was there. (I should have been there, but wasn’t. I felt and was made to feel guilty for that, appropriately.)

Knight took his orders from "the centre" as imperatives. In 1961 the SLL started a turn to organising big Young Socialist dances, of kids drawn in from the street on a social basis. The theory of it was that a nucleus of political youngsters could be refined in and out of the large catchment.

On the whole I don't think it worked, or not often. A drive was being made to convince comrades to do this work - to "Wiganise", as it was called, after the pioneering work done by the Wigan comrades.

The SLL youth paper Keep Left wanted a picture of the successful big dances being organised in Gorton Young Socialists, and by the paper deadline. But no Gorton dance was scheduled for between the instruction and the deadline.

We had no dance, no youth to photograph, and neither a camera nor anyone expert enough to use one to take appropriate pictures. That didn't stop Ted Knight.

We spent much of a Sunday – we didn’t have a car – rounding up half a dozen or so members of Gorton YS. We persuaded a YCL member I knew, who explicitly favoured Stalin not Trotsky in the historic fight, but was a photographer, to come and take pictures. Memory suggests we had to buy him a camera, or some fixtures.

We got the youngsters to pose dancing in a corner of the Gorton Labour Club dance floor, and he took close-focus group pictures, one of which eventually appeared in Keep Left. Knight's was the right approach: when something is necessary, do it, whatever the difficulties!

Another time, the branch assembled on a Saturday afternoon to be addressed by Gerry Healy. Healy was late. One, two, and in all about five hours late. Ted refused to let us disperse, and kept us waiting until he arrived. Healy might have been wrathful if the Branch wasn't there for him, five hours late.

On yet another occasion, Ted Knight convened a special Branch meeting where I was "tried" on the charge of being an "Irish nationalist".

A comrade, Rod Baker, and I were selling the paper on the street in Moss Side one Saturday afternoon, when we encountered a demonstration in honour of Wolfe Tone, the founder of Irish Republicanism, organised by the Connolly Association, the Communist Party's Irish organisation in Britain. I'd been a member and knew some of the marchers, Joe Deigan, Michael Crowe, Danny Kilcommon, etc. They shouted to me to join them, which I did.

Rod refused to, and made an issue of it in the branch. So there was a special meeting on it. Nobody had heard of Tone, so I explained his connection with the French Revolution, the Bolshevik revolution of his time, confidently concluding: "If Wolfe Tone were alive today, he'd be in the Fourth International"!

Knight summarised that I'd "made a good case for it, anyway", and the matter was dropped. I should stress that there was nothing anti-Irish in it. The comrades had simply never heard of Tone, and knew very little about Irish history.

There was a "cadre" in the Manchester SLL, politically seasoned people recruited in the Labour Party work in the 1950s - Ted Woolley, Joyce and Bill Cauldwell, Geoff Morris, Jimmy Allen (in and out), Joe Ryan, Charlie Pottins, who soon went off to Israel; and younger people, Dave Turgoose, Gordon Driver, Malcolm Povah, me. One of them soon rejoined the Communist party, Gordon Driver. Another, Turgoose, defected to the Communist Party and within six months had joined the Mosley fascist organisation in Manchester...

In the 50s there had been a chronic lack of female comrades, and when a young woman did join, the branch leadership instructed Jim Allen - in his account of it - to start "courting" her. In any case I don't think she stayed.

Around my time there was a woman comrade, Doreen, I think, was her name, who was badly epileptic and inhibited by it. On her own initiative, she did entry work in... the Fabian Society. On a weeks-long CND March - I was there seeking contacts in the YCL, of which I was still a member - she met a Tory CND man, of which there were a few; and, both about thirty, they eloped to Gretna Green, where under-age people wanting to marry without parental consent went. We never saw her again. Gerry Healy's comment when he heard the story: "That's why I'm in this movement, for the experience".

I remember Ted Knight bridling angrily against Dave Turgoose when he made a lewd, unfeeling comment about Doreen.

Ted Knight was made the SLL's national organiser for the Labour Party youth activity late in 1960 or early in 1961.

We did very disappointingly at the first national Young Socialists conference at Easter 1961. Healy had been going around boasting about how well we'd do. At the Whitsun SLL conference, Healy needed a scapegoat, and chose Ted Knight.

Knight had systematically misinformed Healy! Knight was responsible!

Others took turns to verbally bash Knight. When he tried to say something in his own defence, people piled in to denounce his "subjectivism". Knight had to grovel and apologise.

That was a mild form - or perhaps an early form - of the sado-masochistic rituals that leading members of the organisation would all go through, ceremonies of submission to Gerry Healy.

It was the first I'd seen of it. I thought it vicious scapegoating. I was disgusted with myself for having sat silently through it, as I did.

That led to some discussion of it in Manchester. Afraid of it getting out of control - the details are missing from my memory - Healy invoked the Control Commission. That was a sort of SLL court which investigated such things. They came to Manchester.

I told them what I thought had happened at the 1961 conference and after. Their report - I saw it much later - said that I was "hostile to the leadership" and recommended that my membership be terminated. It was.

The branch committee carried out the "recommendation" in the following way.

I had chronic ear trouble, for which I was operated on, spending a couple of weeks in hospital. I was discharged on the Thursday, went to the branch meeting on Sunday, and was without any warning of what to expect, lapsed from membership, for inactivity.

I date my being a political grown-up from the point when, after a lot of emotional turmoil, I could see see the joke about how ridiculous I was, going to the meeting, still staggering a little from the ear surgery, thinking myself a very disciplined Bolshevik for it, and what then happened at the branch committee. I was twenty. I continued to work for the organisation, and the branch accepted me as a member two or three months later, without consulting Healy.

By then Knight had ceased to be an SLL full-timer, and as we shall see he would move on to different activities in the mid-60s.

Ted Knight had joined the Orthodox Trotskyist group led by Gerry Healy during or just after the 1953 split in the Fourth International.

He had Labour Party political roots, but he had been expelled from the party in 1954. He was one of four, I think, people (the others Bill and Rachel Hunter, and Dave Finch) expelled when their weekly paper, Socialist Outlook was proscribed by the Labour Party in July 1954. I don't know what the then 20 or 21 year old Ted Knight had done to win a place on the list. These things are often arbitrary.

To be proscribed meant that any involvement with the paper was incompatible with membership of the Labour Party. Labour then had a long list of "proscribed organisations", most of them Communist Party front organisations that had ceased to exist. (It would fall into disuse over the 1960s, and be abandoned in 1973).

But in the early 1950s Knight found himself in a south London Labour Party milieu in which the Healy group was a force. Gerry Healy himself would be chair of the Norwood Labour Party. The Banda brothers were there. So was Vivienne Mendelson: in 1957 she would move a famous Labour Party conference resolution advocating unilateral nuclear disarmament: that was the occasion when Nye Bevan broke with the left, opposing Mendelson's Norwood resolution at the conference.

When Socialist Outlook was banned, the Orthodox Trotskyists launched a vigorous campaign in the Labour Party and affiliated unions to have the ban reversed by Labour Party conference in October 1954. In that they had the support of the then very large "Bevanite" left in the Labour Party and its paper Tribune. Michael Foot, editor of Tribune, backed them strongly.

They got a large number of votes for rescinding the ban, but the union block vote upheld it, despite the support of the constituency Labour Parties for rescinding it. The Healy group immediately ceased publishing Socialist Outlook, and then used Tribune and the weekly paper of the Cannon group in the USA, The Militant.

The Militant was an archaic-looking publication - each issue four very big broadsheet-sized pages. But, when the Communist Parties went into ferment after Khrushchev denounced Stalin and then emulated him in his bloody suppression of the 1956 Hungarian revolution, it contributed a great deal to the Healy group's ability to reach and recruit CPers after 1956, by republishing many of Trotsky's out-of-print writings.

That was the Orthodox Trotskyist group of Ted Knight's early 20s. He had come into it around the time that the Fourth International split in two, from late 1953, with one side led by James P Cannon and the SWP-USA, and the other by Michel Pablo and Ernest Mandel.

The British group split between partisans of Cannon and of Pablo, and Healy sided with Cannon.

1953 was a contrived and unnecessary split, driven by a factional struggle in the US organisation, but it raised one fundamental question and that was at the heart of all post-Trotsky Trotskyism.

When "defence of the USSR" and siding with the workers and oppressed peoples came, or might come, into conflict, where did the Orthodox Trotskyists stand? With the workers and oppressed peoples, or with the "progressive" Stalinist bureaucracy?

The issue was focused on the East German rising of June 1953. The Russian Army and the East German state shot down demonstrating workers on the streets. Siding with the workers required unequivocal opposition to the Russian Army of occupation.

So demand that the Russian Army withdraw, leaving the insurgents victorious? But that might lead to the Americans, British, and French becoming masters of East Germany? And this was the Russian Army which the Orthodox Trotskyists thought would be the protagonist in the making of a Europe-wide "deformed" revolution, or War-Revolution.

Pablo's grouping called for the withdrawal of all occupying armies from Germany, thus evading the issue. It was only the Russian Army that was shooting German workers in the streets.

The Cannonites called for the withdrawal of the Russian Army from East Germany. They were more emphatic about that after the rising was crushed than during the conflict, but they stood with the German workers against their "progressive" conquerors.

Healy decided to side with Cannon. A group around John Lawrence, editor of Socialist Outlook, backed Pablo. The group included Audrey Wise (then Brown), who would eventually become a Labour MP.

In a very short time, the Lawrence group became satellites of the Communist Party. They sided against the Hungarian workers in 1956, and Lawrence eventually joined the CP.

The paper Socialist Outlook had shareholders, not all of them members of the Trotskyist organisation. There was a big fight for their support, for control of the paper. Healy won. In some part that was because Healy was "in" with the Bevanites.

John Lawrence and the CP took their revenge by publishing two articles in News and Views, their "cadre" paper, with a detailed anatomy of the Healy group - names, activities, histories. That incited the Labour Party to ban Socialist Outlook in 1954.

God knows how Gerry Healy escaped expulsion, while the youngster Knight was expelled. Anyway, in the course of those events Knight joined the Healyites, an alignment which he would never break away from, or not for long.

The Healy group was authoritarian and bureaucratic from the beginning.

The more-or-less united British Trotskyist group of the mid-1940s, the Revolutionary Communist Party, had divided in 1947 into a group led by Healy doing work in the Labour Party and the majority, who did “open work”, led by Jock Haston, Millie Lee and Ted Grant. The RCP collapsed in mid-1949 and the two groups were reunited in the Labour Party.

Healy’s group was still a minority, but the Fourth International leaders insisted that the minority be given the leadership in the organisation, which was carrying out Healy's entryist tactic. The demoralised leaders of the majority agreed to this. Brandishing an organisational hatchet, Healy soon made a majority for himself by expelling members, left, right and centre. The present day SWP, Socialist Party, and Socialist Appeal all originate in groupings expelled at that time.

The Healy group was run as an authoritarian one-faction organisation. But, even so, such traits have a different weight in a grouping with educated and politically-grown-up cadres, as the Healy group was in the 1950s, and in one populated mainly by raw young people, as the SLL would come to be in the early 1960s. The Healy “regime “ could get a lot worse, and, as we'll see, it duly did.

From the early mid 1960s, Ted Knight worked for Healy at a specific job of infiltrating and trying to damage rival organisations, at first in the British section of the newly reunited Fourth International. The SWP-USA and the "Pabloites" led by Ernest Mandel had reunited in 1963, after Pablo himself had been sidelined while serving a jail sentence for helping the Algerians in their war of liberation against France. Healy in Britain had parted ways with the SWP-USA.

The Revolutionary Socialist League led by Ted Grant (forerunner of today's Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal) and another group of supporters of the new "United Secretariat" (USec), led by Ken Coates and Pat Jordan, were forced by the International to unite, though neither side wanted to.

A small cluster of former SLLers joined the USec group: Bob Pennington, one-time London SLL organiser; Roger Protz, recent editor of the SLL youth paper Keep Left and a future editor of Socialist Worker; one or two others. And Ted Knight. They helped the RSL start a good-looking monthly paper, Militant, edited by Protz (in name by Peter Taaffe).

Knight was working for Healy. (For certain: he tried to recruit me to work for the SLL in the RSL, after I joined the RSL).

The Labour Party had set up a new Labour youth organisation after its 1959 election defeat. It had grown fast, and the SLL had gained influence in it. By 1964 the SLL was breaking the Labour Party youth organisation away from the Labour Party, deliberately provoking expulsions. (The tale that they were simply expelled and had no choice was the "cover story").

In 1964 someone in Wandsworth Young Socialists called the police to remove some expelled Healyites who were being rowdy. The business manager of Militant, S Mani, was involved. The SLL raised a hue and cry about the police having been called.

That was a heinous crime! That was the issue of principle! In fact, distasteful, unnecessary, and politically stupid calling the police was, but politically the big issue was the breaking away of the Young Socialists and the provoking of the expulsions.

The cluster of ex-SLLers who had joined the RSL was goaded to revolt, and the Coates-Jordan group, which had always been reluctant about fusing with the RSL, too, and so the USec section in Britain split. (I was at that time not yet a member of the RSL).

Knight went with the secessionists and took part in their work - the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation and Vietnam.

The SLL was in a united movement against the Vietnam war until mid-1966, but then separated from the mainstream. At a meeting in Conway Hall, Healy, speaking from a joint platform, attacked the Communist Party. Immediately, the chair of the meeting, Bertrand Russell's secretary Ralph Schoenman, stopped Healy speaking. He loomed over the tiny Healy, whose physique testified to his ties to generations of half-starved Galway peasants, took the microphone out of his hand, and wouldn't let him continue to speak. I saw it. It was pretty crass.

Perhaps Schoenman wanted what then happened to happen. Led by Michael Banda, who had been on the platform, the SLLers all stood up and moved out, and the meeting broke up.

Knight was Healy's man within the International group (as it was called) and the Bertrand Russell Peace Foundation. A picture exists of Russell and Schoenman, and behind them Ted Knight, which the SLL reproduced a number of times. It must have given someone a measure of quiet satisfaction.

Knight and Pennington were suspended from the International group. Pennington eventually got back into the International group (renamed IMG), but Knight disappeared from my view, and I don't know what he did for the next decade.

By 1978 he had reappeared as leader of Lambeth council and a Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate. I don't know what his relationship with the SLL (by then renamed WRP), if any, was at that point. His active collaboration with the WRP would resume in about 1979-80.

What was the Orthodox Trotskyism to which Ted Knight was won in the early 1950s? Post-Trotsky Orthodox Trotskyism (meaning those who erected into dogma their basis for siding with Trotsky in the split on whether or not to side with Stalinist Russia in its war with Finland, November 1939 to March 1940) was re-forging itself.

The Trotskyists had been bitter critics of the Stalin regime, seeing Stalinism as counter-revolution in Russia and as a “leprosy” (Trotsky’s word) of the international labour movement. In the 1938 program of the Fourth International Trotsky had written that Stalinism differed from (pre-war) Nazism “only in its more unbridled savagery”.

He thought that it could not survive, that it would be overthrown either by bourgeois counter-revolution or by a new workers' revolution, soon, in a matter of “a few months or years”.

But Stalinism survived the war, and by war’s end had gained control of half of Europe. It created a cluster of satellite states – Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, East Germany, North Korea – and erected in them a Stalinist economic and social system structurally identical to that of Russia.In Yugoslavia and Albania, and soon in China, independent Stalinist organisations based on peasant armies won power and created states on the Stalinist Russian model.

At the Second Congress of the Fourth International, in April 1948, it was decided that the new Stalinist states were police-state capitalist entities – fascistic states – but that the socially identical Russia was a degenerated workers' state. It was nonsense, and a lot of them knew it.

Either they were all, Russia too, capitalist police states - fascistic states - or they were all like Russia, some species of workers' state. Over the next 18 months they would slowly and reluctantly decide that the satellites were workers' states, “deformed" workers' states.

Inescapably Stalinism was now to be seen as a progressive anti-capitalist “working-class” movement. In June 1950 war broke out in Korea. The Russian-controlled North invaded the South, and the USA, Britain and other states moved in to back the South. Soon, Chinese troops fought on the side of North Korea.

The Orthodox Trotskyists had to decide where they stood. They stood with the Stalinist “anti-imperialists”. Soon they elaborated a perspective in which a Third World War was seen as imminent, and it would be a "War-Revolution".

Russia, backed by the local Communist parties would sweep across Europe to the Atlantic. This was now the Revolution “of our time".

It stood the old Trotskyism on its head. Stalinism was now leading the – unfortunately deformed – world revolution.

Worse than that, the Orthodox Trotskyists became evangelists for this War-Revolution perspective. The Stalinists didn’t really understand what was happening: they did. They understood the “historic process”.

The “Heterodox” Trotskyist Hal Draper at the time described this as “borderline crackpot”. From it flowed the idea that the French Trotskyists should liquidate their organisation and go underground in the totalitarian world of the French Communist Party.

The adolescent Ted Knight first encountered the Healyites when they were preaching this War-Revolution evangel. A pamphlet on it, written by Michel Pablo, was published in Gerry Healy’s name.

At first Ted Knight, so he told me back in 1959-60, thought the Orthodox Trotskyists were lunatics – with their imminent Third World War that would also be a great anti-capitalist revolution. Knight joined them as they began to move away from the war-revolution craze.

The SLL in the mid-60s was destructively sectarian. It made a fetish of its own organisation. It made bizarre political judgements, many of them, on all the most important political issues, influenced more by Gerry Healy’s glands and his fluctuating paranoia than by objective reality. Its behaviour, in some of its aspects, was akin to Third Period Stalinism. For instance, in late 1964, to assert the right of its Young Socialists to lead an engineering apprentices' strike, it engaged in sectarian strikebreaking. (That was the point at which I broke with the SLL).

Nevertheless, the SLL remained broadly within a world of rational politics, more or less. By the beginning of the 1970s (it was renamed WRP in 1973), it belonged to the world of political lunacy.

In 1981 the WRP (via Vanessa Redgrave, no less) sued me for libel for writing that they for comparing them to the Moonie sect and the Scientologists, and for reporting that they used systematic emotional, political and physical violence against vulnerable young people. That was already true a decade earlier.

In 1973-4 they counted down the days before a military coup - in fact, they did the countdown twice, before the February and October 1974 general elections. They had retreated from the labour movement into an onanistic world of their own rallies and projects.

In 1976 they forged links of all-defining financial dependency with Libya, Iraq, and the PLO. It has been established that they got more than ÂŁ1 million from Libya.

It wasn’t just the sources of its money. The WRP was a strange sadomasochistic, quasi religious cult. The core group in the WRP was bound together by sado masochistic rituals, in which all in the leading group would at one time or another be publicly humiliated by Healy, go through public rituals of self-abasement and surrender to the man with the figurative whip, grovelling and asking for forgiveness, some of them sometime in tears. Cliff Slaughter, Cyril Smith, Bob Shaw, Tom Kemp, Geoff Pilling and others played that role. It was a ritual at the organisation’s summer camp, at central committee and branch meetings. The audience too was part of these ceremonies. By being made to witness the spectacle, they were made complicit in it.

It was a religion in the most direct sense. Gerry Healy in his last period was a high priest and philosopher, gabbling about “dialectics” and “Marxist philosophy” to audiences of which 99% would have no idea what he was talking about, but would take it on trust as part of the political package. The group was religious too in having an official prohibition against everyday awareness of reality. Empiricism was the dirtiest word in the WRP's lexicon. There was fake reality as you, Little Comrade, steeped in empiricism as you are, might perceive it, and there was real reality, perceptible only to those who had mastered dialectical thought – that for all practical purposes, was Gerry Healy. Healy’s “philosophy” was prime gobbledygook. And that was predominant by the beginning of the 1970s.

By 1971 the organisation and its leaders were public political lunatics. And from 1976 the organisation was in the pay of different Arab governments and the PLO, publishing laudatory pamphlets about Gadaffi of Libya and Saddam Hussein of Iraq. They were against the election of the Labour government in 1979 because, they said, there would be an immediate military coup if Labour won.

The organisation was haemorrhaging members, but it was very rich in Arab petro-dollars, with bookshops in a number of cities… It was no longer a bona fide labour movement organisation as it had been in the 50s and 60s, but a pensionary and agent of Arab governments for which it made propaganda and spied on dissident Arabs and prominent Jews in British life, providing reports, for instance, to Libya and Iraq. In its paper it publicly justified, the killing of members of the Iraqi Communist Party by the Ba’thist military regime. It conducted hysterical anti-Zionist campaigns, helping poison the Labour left with scarcely disguised antisemitism.

It was this organisation, which even a political novice would know for what it was, that Ted Knight, as leader of Lambeth Council from 1978, linked up with again. He helped it rehabilitate itself in the labour movement from which it had largely turned away in the previous period.

The WRP provided the Labour local government left with a weekly paper, Labour Herald, printed at special rates, nominally edited by Knight, Ken Livingstone, and another Lambeth councillor, actually edited by a WRP Central Committee member, Steven Miller. That paper carried the WRP line on international affairs, with an especially nasty line in antisemitic “anti-Zionism”. Labour Herald collapsed when the WRP imploded late in 1985. Knight knew as well as anyone did what the WRP now was. Knowing, he lent himself to its purposes and pretences.

In the early 1980s the WRP also provided Ted Knight with rationalisations for local government policy. In July 1979, very soon after Thatcher was elected, Knight made cuts. He was forced to u-turn by the local Labour Parties (Socialist Organiser, September 1979), but went instead for very large rate (local tax) rises. The WRP and Labour Herald argued that the Tories could only be fought by a general strike of the industrial “big battalions”, and councils must do the best they could until then.

In 1982, after rate rises, the Tories won Lambeth council. Within a few months a councillor switched sides, and Knight became leader again. In 1985 Lambeth joined a group of Labour councils who thought to fight the Tories by delaying the setting of their rates (local taxes). Lambeth became the last hold-out of those councils, along with Liverpool (then led by Militant). It organised local demonstrations. Liverpool and Lambeth Labour councillors then got surcharged and disqualified, not for refusing cuts and rate-rises, but for deciding their rate-rises too late.

After the WRP’s collapse and the Lambeth surcharges, Knight stepped back from political life for a while. He had reappeared in local anti-cuts and then Labour Party activity in the last decade or so. We don’t know what relations he kept with the fragments of the WRP. But that his fulsome obituary (written by one of Healy’s last few unconditional devotees, Paul Feldman) was featured in the Morning Star would have been considered by the Ted Knight of the 50s and 60s as condemnation.

The story of the Labour local government left between 1979 and 1985 is told in the Socialist Organiser pamphlet Illusions of Power: see here.

The adolescent Ted Knight fell among Healyites - and he would never manage to extricate himself.

As I said at the start, I was saddened to hear of Ted Knight's death. In terms of revolutionary socialist politics, Ted Knight died decades ago. His life and political death were part of the tragedy of post-Trotsky Trotskyism.

This cartoon of Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin as a Nazi appeared in Labour Herald in 1982. Labour Herald was something of a pioneer in the "Israel = Nazi" agitation.

Add new comment

This website uses cookies, you can find out more and set your preferences here.
By continuing to use this website, you agree to our Privacy Policy and Terms & Conditions.