Marxists and the British Labour Party
The 'Open Turn' debate
A parting of the ways
Militant editorial, 24 January 1992
OVER THE last ten months there has been a profound debate amongst Militant supporters. The main issue was the new initiative — for more open, independent work — proposed for Scotland. On this, the majority of the Editorial Board, who advocated the Scottish turn, was opposed by Ted Grant.
The debate was a thoroughgoing democratic process involving all Militant supporters, with discussion papers and speakers from both sides. The debate culminated in a special conference in October 1991. The vote was 93% to 7% in favour of our proposals.
Following this overwhelming decision our supporters in Scotland have launched a campaigning socialist organisation, Scottish Militant Labour. They have decided, with our support, to stand Tommy Sheridan, the leader of the Scottish anti-poll tax movement, as candidate for Glasgow Pollok in the approaching general election.
The campaigning activity of Scottish Militant Labour will be an extension of our successful battle to defeat the poll tax.
Despite the overwhelming support for this initiative, Ted. Grant and a small group of supporters, including Alan Woods, were not prepared to accept this step.
Other opponents of the Scottish turn will remain loyal supporters of Militant and the discussion on perspectives, strategy and tactics will, of course, continue. However it has now become clear that immediately after our conference. Ted Grant and his group abandoned any idea of acting as a loyal opposition.
Instead of continuing the debate within our ranks, as they had claimed they would, they took steps to set up their own, rival publication. They have plans to launch a monthly magazine, moving, as soon as possible, to a fortnightly and weekly. They now have their own small premises and their own staff and are raising their own funds.
This is a clear split from Militant. Those supporting a rival publication cannot be regarded as Militant supporters.
We regret Ted Grant has split in this way. He made a vital contribution in upholding the genuine ideas of Marxism and developing the theoretical legacy of Leon Trotsky in the hostile political climate of the post-war period. He played a key role in formulating the ideas and policies on which Militant was built from 1964.
Those especially who worked closely with him for over three decades regret that he has now turned his back on Militant, on our great achievements in struggle and on the powerful following we have built up in Britain and internationally.
It is lamentable that he has allowed his political authority to be used by people whose main concern is not to clarify ideas but to cause the maximum damage, to Militant. One unfortunate feature of political life is the spiteful urge of former activists to justify their defection by hurling allegations of heinous political crimes at their former comrades. They are wasting their time.
This mini-exodus will hot deflect us in the slightest from the course we have, mapped out.
THE QUESTION of the Scottish turn gave rise to a wide-ranging debate, which led to the split. This issue however merely crystallised a deeper difference in approach. We were striving to apply Marxism to new developments, while the minority tried to cling to old formulas.
In Scotland the question was posed: What is the best way to build support for Marxism under current conditions?
The economic crisis is deeper in Scotland than in Britain as a whole. Big sections of the workers and their families face chronic unemployment and dire poverty.
The Labour leaders have swung far to the right, abandoning any semblance of socialism. Activity within the party is at an all-time low because of the authoritarian regime imposed by the leadership.
Militant still recognises Labour as the mass party of the working class. But while millions of workers remain loyal to Labour others have temporarily turned away in disgust. Nevertheless, the mass anti-poll tax movement has demonstrated the workers' radical mood and their willingness to struggle.
The use of radical left phraseology by the leaders of the SNP indicates the potential support for socialist ideas. However, insofar as the SNP gains workers' support, it can only lead them down the blind alley of nationalism.
This situation cries out for the banner of Marxism to be raised high, with a bold programme and an organisation which can attract workers and youth looking for a fundamental alternative.
This is not a turn away from the organised labour movement but a detour through which we can strengthen the forces which in the future will lead the transformation of the Labour Party and the trade unions. The approach of Scottish Militant Labour is based on the realities which face us.
According to those who split however, Marxists must base themselves exclusively on "the organised workers". Until these sections move into action in the trade unions and the Labour Party there is, in their view, little or no scope for mass activity by Marxists. Our role should be educating ourselves and awaiting struggles to come.
Movements like the mass anti-poll tax campaign are dismissed as minor episodes which have no real effect on the course of developments. This false notion is based on an abstract rather than a living working class and on a mechanical schema of the way workers will move into mass struggle.
THEY CLAIM that over the last ten years Militant has relegated theory and moved towards activism. Incredibly, they dismiss as "activism" the outstanding interventions of Militant supporters in the miners' strike and the Liverpool council battle. They dismiss our campaigns on issues concerning youth, women, Black and Asian youth and on lesbian and gay rights. Above all, they airily relegate our successful leadership of the anti-poll tax movement which defeated Thatcher.
We do not accept for a moment that we have in anyway relegated Marxist theory. Theory is an indispensable guide to action. We have applied Marxism to new developments.
We recognised that since the end of the long post-war upswing in 1974, the relatively stable relationships or the post-war world have begun to break down. The distorted boom in the advanced capitalist countries in the 1980s and the earth-shaking disintegration of Stalinism have given rise to new relationships, which are more complex and unstable.
Through clinging to old formulas and increasingly turning them into ossified dogmas, Ted Grant proved incapable of correctly analysing this new situation. The majority of the Board, on the other hand, through debate and a dialogue with workers involved in struggle internationally, has proved far more successful in analysing recent developments.
TWO EXAMPLES from among many illustrate our different approaches.
In October 1987 there was a world financial crash. Ted Grant immediately pronounced that this would be followed within six months by a deep economic slump, possibly on the scale of 1929.
To other members of the Editorial Board it was clear that the major capitalist states, especially Germany and Japan, were stepping in to finance a stabilisation of the world financial system. This, we argued, would allow the boom to continue for a time, postponing a recession and other problems into the future. This was what happened.
Nevertheless Ted Grant continued to argue that there would be a slump. Only much later did he admit he had made a mistake, even then without analysing what had actually happened.
In August 1990 the Iraqi regime occupied Kuwait. From the start intervention by US imperialism was very probable. There was no disagreement about opposing a US invasion. However Ted Grant immediately asserted that the war would last from six months to (more likely) two years.
The majority of the Editorial Board argued that it would probably be a short war. The collapse of Stalinism had given US imperialism virtually a free hand. The military balance was heavily in the US's favour.
Moreover the brutal, dictatorial character of Saddam's regime was not favourable to the development of mass popular resistance to US intervention within Iraq. Ted Grant's idea of a long-drawn-out Vietnam-type war gave a completely misleading perspective on which to build an anti-war movement.
At the same time, Ted raised a completely doctrinaire slogan: If there is conscription, we have to go with the workers into the forces and fight. When there was no possibility of the British government using conscription and the priority was to mobilise against the Anglo-US-imperialist intervention, this inappropriate slogan would have crippled our anti-war activity.
EVERY MARXIST is entitled to argue their point of view. A conflict arose not because of different views but because Ted Grant tried to use his political authority to impose his line on Militant,
Unfortunately he was never prepared to enter into a dialogue. Ted effectively claimed a right of political veto over the Editorial Board. Marxism cannot be developed in this way, either in theory or in practice.
In the last few years this unresolved conflict, in which Ted Grant publicly asserted his views against the majority of the Editorial Board on crucial issues, threatened to have a disorientating effect on some of our supporters.
The collapse of Stalinism, which marks the end of a historical epoch, has called for skilful analysis and a radical reformulation of perspectives, which inevitably have to be more conditional than in the past. Unfortunately, the group that has split away rejected this approach.
The debate on the Scottish turn brought many of these issues out into the open. The overwhelming majority of Militant supporters, notwithstanding their deep respect for Ted Grant's personal dedication and contribution to the Marxist movement, did not accept his outmoded position on strategy or tactics in Britain or on the other questions which were raised.
The majority of our supporters especially reject the small handful who, under the guise of defending him, have promoted their own personal aims and pursued petty grievances.
THE SPLITTING AWAY of this group represents a parting of the ways. This was inevitable given the irreconcilable divergence of method between the two trends.
They have retreated to a dogmatic, discussion-circle caricature of Marxism. It is based on pessimism.
From the lop-sided boom of the 1980s and the collapse of Stalinism, they have falsely drawn the conclusion that the working class has shifted to the right and the prospect of mass movements for change has been postponed into the distant future.
Militant, on the other hand, considers that we are entering a new period of crisis and explosive political movements. Far from being confined to discussion circles, Marxism will be presented with even greater opportunities among wider and wider layers in the next few years.
Our success will depend on our ability to apply the Marxist method in a flexible and creative way, free from dogmatism.
We have to formulate perspectives, programme and policies which correspond to living reality. We have to work out correct strategy and tactics, which cannot be deduced from frozen fundamentals but require a dialogue with workers who are engaged in struggle.
We are confident that after our successes, in the 1980s we will accomplish even more in the 1990s. With the banner of Marxism held high we will attract to our ranks the best fighters of a. new generation to fight for the socialist transformation of society in Britain and throughout the world.