Insults in place of Politics
"By 1991, Militant was in serious decline, and by January 1992 it had split and Grant and Sewell had been expelled. A majority left the Labour Party and went on to set up the Socialist Party and the Scottish Socialist Party. So what went wrong? Sewell’s explanation is superficial and far from satisfactory. Almost seven whole paragraphs are devoted to casting Taaffe as the main villain who organised a faction against Grant. According to Sewell, Taaffe and his group ‘deliberately sabotaged’, were ‘already pursuing their own agenda’. ‘A very ambitious man with a mortal fear of rivals, actual or potential, Taaffe decided that his talents were not sufficiently appreciated… He surrounded himself with a group of yes-men… Resorted to behind the scenes manoeuvres to isolate Ted, spread rumours about his allegedly impossible character, and worse’… etcetera. Sewell seems to allot the real political context to a minor role."
(Ratner’s criticisms are significant in view of the fact that Sewell himself quotes him to justify some of his criticisms of others.)
However, Ratner, if anything, understates the complete avoidance of any attempts to explain the political context of why the split of 1991 took place. He is also wrong to argue that Militant was in "serious decline" at this stage. Yet he at least tries to explain the political and objective basis of the split, something Sewell fails to do. There were objective difficulties which made it harder for us to make the progress that we had made in the previous decade. The post-miners’ strike effects, with the shift towards the right at the top of the Labour Party and the trade unions, the continuation of the 1980s boom, and the collapse of Stalinism, which allowed the capitalists to pursue an ideological campaign against ‘socialism’, complicated the position for us. However, these difficulties were enormously compounded by a failure of the leadership of Militant – above all Grant – to react early enough to the change in the objective situation. Militant had a considerable history behind it and a reputation earned in the successful struggles in Liverpool and against the poll tax.
But the Labour Party had become a barren and futile arena of activity for any serious socialist organisation which sought to actively intervene in the worker’s struggles. The strongholds of Militant within the Labour Party had either been purged or closed down by the right wing. The Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) – the most vibrant and active section of the Labour Party in the 1980s, because of the influence of Militant within it – had been closed down. The Liverpool Labour Party was a shadow of the powerful force for working class action which it had been in the 1980s.
People were being expelled for advocating ‘non-payment’ of the poll tax. Some – a lot earlier than 1991 – were striving to break out of the ideological and organisational prison which the Labour Party meant for us at that stage. In 1987, we had even raised the possibility of launching an independent organisation in Liverpool following the expulsion of the Liverpool Militants just previously. This was vehemently opposed by Ted Grant above all, and even by some of the leading Liverpool comrades themselves. By 1991, however, the situation had become untenable, particularly in key areas of the country where we had led successful mass struggles, such as in Scotland on the poll tax.
For a Marxist, serious divisions within an organisation do not drop from the sky. Personal factors can play a role but where it involves substantial forces these are of a secondary character. Sewell, Grant and Woods elevate the personal and other incidental factors to the main causes of the split of 1991. We on the other hand, from the beginning sought to explain the political roots of the divergent tendencies within Militant.
A widening political gulf developed between an ossified conservative grouping around Grant and those who were prepared to face up to the new political situation which took shape in the run-up to 1991. We have dealt with these differences in our book The Rise of Militant, on issues such as South Africa, Namibia, the Gulf War, the Labour Party and perspectives for the mass organisations, and the perspectives for Stalinism. The reader can acquaint themselves with the in-depth criticisms we make of Grant in this book, which is in contrast to the approach of Sewell. Here, we will give a brief summary.
‘Catastrophist’ perspective of Grant on the world economy
Important political differences occurred over the world financial crisis in 1987. As soon as the 1987 share crash took place, Grant was predicting a world economic slump, "within six months", along the lines of 1929-32. His thinking was unfortunately, reflected in the pages of Militant. In its initial comments on these developments it stated: "A major slump in production and trade is assured, perhaps even before the summer of 1988". His co-thinker, Michael Roberts, stated that the October crash "is a barometer predicting the impending storm that will exceed anything experienced by capitalism in the post-war period, possibly matching the great slump of the 1930s".
This approach was vigorously opposed by me and Lynn Walsh in the British Executive and National Committees, and by me, Tony Saunois and Bob Labi in the International Secretariat of the CWI. As usual, Woods slavishly supported Grant. It was not possible to have a dialogue with Grant on this issue. Instead, there were bitter denunciations of Bob Labi, for instance, for daring to question this analysis, earning Bob the reprimand from Grant that "he did not understand the ABC of Marxism". We argued that the huge reserves of Japan and West Germany could allow the bourgeois, at the cost of storing up difficulties for later, to temporarily bale out the economy and thereby world capitalism. Grant’s approach would completely disorientate our members in Britain and internationally. If his astronomical, not to say astrological, prediction did not come to pass it would set in a mood of disappointment, if not dejection, amongst our members.
It was necessary to approach this issue in a balanced way, something foreign to Grant, Woods and Sewell. World capitalism still possessed huge layers of fat, which it could eat into, in order to stave off an immediate crisis. We argued that short-term measures could be taken, which would only have the effect of piling up problems and aggravating the crisis at a later stage. Contrary to the analysis of Grant, this is exactly what happened. A revival of world capitalism took place in the aftermath of the October 1987 crisis. Indeed, the huge injection of credit fuelled a growth of world capitalism at a greater rate than the period prior to the crash. This ended with the recession of the early 1990s.
But timing in politics and, it should be added, in the art of political economy, is important. Grant had made a habit of criticising Gerry Healy – which he repeats in his book – for continually predicting a new 1929 over a period of decades, but he made the same ‘catastrophist’ error in 1987. No doubt, if a new 1929-type crisis should occur, he will declare he was right all along! Even a permanently stopped clock is right twice a day. This approach allows the capitalist ideologists a field day in picturing the Marxists as incapable of analysing real processes in a balanced fashion.
These theoretical blunders of Grant have to be taken against the background of his assertion that he was "the only one" who was capable of interpreting Marx’s economic ideas and applying them to the modern era. It is a matter of public record that he completely failed the test on this occasion. Of course, he denounced those who were correct on this issue for having an "eclectic" approach because we did not support his one-dimensional approach. We, on the other hand, contrasted his approach to that of Trotsky who, in the Third Period of the Comintern’s Errors written in December 1929, advanced the prognosis that there were at that time four possibilities in the economic sphere: a slow-down in the rate of growth; a recession with a small drop in production; a severe slump; or a combination of these three!
Trotsky did not come down for any one of these variants. In the eyes of Grant and Woods he was an "empiricist" and "eclectic"! Marxism is a science, but science is based on the analysis of real processes, not a priori predictions made with the false confidence of an astrologer. Yet it was approached in precisely this fashion by Grant and Woods. Not satisfied with a broad analysis of major trends, they attempted to impose a ridiculous timescale of six months for the coming slump. This was even carried over into the written material of Grant, both in Britain and internationally. When the long-predicted slump failed to materialise, this undoubtedly disorientated a whole layer of comrades in Britain and internationally.
Grant made a similar mistake on Namibia, arguing that the South African forces present in the country would not withdraw, and on South Africa itself where, similarly, Grant argued that it was impossible for an agreement to take place between de Klerk’s National Party and Mandela’s ANC, which would lead to the dismantling of the apartheid regime and the introduction of a form of bourgeois democracy.
At sea on Stalinism
An even worse blunder centred on perspectives for Stalinism in the USSR and the possibility of capitalist restoration. Militant and the CWI had underestimated the possibility of capitalist restoration in the USSR and Eastern Europe. This was partly explained by our lack of a base within the Stalinist states and, thereby, the absence of a gauge with which to measure fully the degeneration of the Stalinist regimes. However, it was those –who subsequently became the majority of Militant – who first raised the possibility of capitalist restoration. This was fervently denied by Grant and Woods, who operated, and still do, with an outmoded perception of the real situation which existed.
Following Thatcher’s visit to Poland in 1988 and the tumultuous support that she received in Gdansk, we began to pose the possibility of bourgeois restoration. In fact, pro-capitalist features were strongly represented in the movement of 1980-81 around Solidarity and, going further back, even in the events in Czechoslovakia in 1968. At that stage, however, the possibility of ‘reform’, of Dubcek’s "Socialism with a human face", was still quite strong. The boom of the 1980s and the further collapse of the Stalinist states contributed, particularly in Poland after the suppression of the movement of 1980-81, to a pronounced pro-capitalist mood, reflected in the support Thatcher and George Bush senior received in visits to Poland. The 1980s boom helped to reinforce this mood in all the Stalinist states.
We therefore posed tentatively, too tentatively as it turned out, at the CWI’s World Congress of 1988, the possibility of capitalist restoration in Poland and the rest of the Stalinist world. This was before the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but it was quite evident that there was growing opposition to the Stalinist regimes then. Such a possibility was vehemently denied by Grant. In a lead-off on Stalinism in 1988, I ‘set a hare running’ by posing the issue of bourgeois restoration. This caused a certain amount of controversy at the congress but Grant as the so-called "leading theoretician", refused to speak. He confided privately that it was because he disagreed with my lead-off but was not prepared to take the floor to answer it.
This was not the case later when an increasing divergence developed between the two trends on the issue of Stalinism. We sent delegations to Eastern Europe – particularly to Poland – who reported back on the mass sentiment for a return to capitalism. Grant refused to recognise this and condemned those who gave the report as "being out of touch". The same thing happened when comrades spent a period in Russia and reported on a growing pro-capitalist mood.
The differences on this issue came to the fore over the August 1991 coup in the Soviet Union. On 19th and 20th August, the old guard ‘conservative’ wing of the bureaucracy organised a coup against Gorbachev. Grant and Co leaned towards "critical support" for the organisers of the coup! They subsequently denied this because of the embarrassment of seeming to side with the pro-Stalinist wing of the bureaucracy. But in a document they put forward as part of the internal discussion within Militant they stated: "If, as was entirely possible, the regime had been compelled to carry out a policy based on recentralisation and the planned economy, accompanied by terror, this would also give a certain impetus to the productive forces for a period of time." [The Truth about the Coup.]
Woods and Grant clung to their outmoded position until the late 1990s. In Ted Grant’s book, Russia – from Revolution to Counter-Revolution, Alan Woods, in his introduction, writes: "It is worth recalling that twenty-five years ago Ted Grant had correctly analysed the reasons for the crisis of Stalinism, and predicted its collapse. Moreover, he was the only one to do so."
This is a breathtaking re-writing of history as all Militant supporters, including the leadership, which included ourselves, had this position, based upon our readings of the works of Trotsky. Moreover, Ted Grant was not the only one to analyse the reasons why we expected the collapse of Stalinism to take place. But then Woods writes: "The only correction that has to be introduced concerns the perspective for a return to capitalism in Russia. For a long time, the author considered that such a development was ruled out. That has been shown to be incorrect."
We in common with Ted Grant also expected that Russia would not return to capitalism, for the reasons that we have explained more fully elsewhere (see The Rise of Militant pp321-414). But when faced with the reality of what was taking place in Poland and elsewhere in the Stalinist world we did alter our perspective, anticipating a return back to capitalism beginning in Poland and, following the collapse of the Berlin Wall, in Eastern Europe and in Russia itself.
Ted Grant, unfortunately, stubbornly resisted drawing this conclusion, refusing to face up to facts and believing that the attempts to return back to capitalism were of purely a temporary character. He persisted with this method right up to 1997 and beyond, as Woods admits: "It is the contention of the author [Grant] that the movement towards capitalism in Russia has not yet been carried to a definitive conclusion, and may yet be reversed."
Now, in their current Prospects for the World Revolution, they confess: "We have to admit that things have not turned out as we expected a few years ago. We did not expect that the crisis of world capitalism would be postponed for as long as it has been. This has given Russian capitalism sufficient time to establish itself. The movement towards capitalism has lasted for ten years. The new productive system and its property relations have had time to penetrate the consciousness of the masses. This process has lasted much longer than we expected. The main responsibility lies with the Stalinists who have capitulated on everything…
"Ten years is sufficient time to judge. We have to say that the Rubicon has now been passed. The movement towards capitalism has been contradictory, with many cross-currents, but after every crisis the process has continued with renewed force."
Compare Grant’s method today as indicated by these lines in relation to the ex-Stalinist states and the position he took in relation to China and Eastern Europe in the 1940s. Along with the rest of the leadership of the Revolutionary Communist Party, he recognised what was taking place, a virtually unstoppable process – given the relationship of world forces –towards the establishment of Stalinist states. Belatedly, the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (ISFI – forerunners of the United Secretariat) recognised this in 1953! Grant was not hesitant in using this to show the false method of the ISFI leadership. Yet now he made the same kind of mistake only in an opposite sense, of this time failing to understand the process of capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Given the national and international background against which these processes were developing, there was no possibility of a short-term ‘reversal’ of the process of capitalist restoration, a social counter-revolution, which was taking place in Russia in the 1990s.
Today in Eastern Europe (and tomorrow in Russia as well) the beginning of an opposition to this is under way. But that does not cancel out the fact that in the early 1990s, faced with the reality of capitalist restoration, Woods and Grant buried their heads in the sand, in the same way as the leadership of the ISFI did in the late 1940s. This is illustrated by what Grant wrote in the latter part of his book: "As a matter of fact, even now the class nature of the Russian state has not been decisively determined… It is a question of what property form will ultimately prevail – nationalisation or private property. This struggle is still unfolding, but the result is not yet decided." [Page 38.] This shows just how out of touch Grant and Woods were, and are, in relation to a serious analysis of processes in the former Stalinist states. At the time that the above was written, 1997, a social counter-revolution was in full swing, a ‘fast track’ route to capitalism.
Re-establishment of Stalinist regime
Their perspective in 1991 was for the re-establishment of a Stalinist regime, resting on the planned economy, if the coup organisers had succeeded. Moreover, they had argued that this was the most likely outcome of the coup. The previous December, Woods had argued in a discussion on Stalinism: "Let us be clear, even if there is a struggle between rival wings of the bureaucracy, one wing openly pro-capitalist and another wing – for their own purposes – trying to defend the basis of the nationalised economy, it would be a fundamental mistake to think that we would be neutral in that situation, even if you had a situation where sections of workers were supporting the other wing." He continued: "Trotsky said that in principle you couldn’t rule out in advance the possibility of a united front, a temporary and partial united front, between the Trotskyists and the Stalinist bureaucracy, if it came to an open civil war and an attempt to restore capitalism in the USSR" [Woods addressing an international meeting of Militant, quoted in The Collapse of Stalinism, part 2]. And as we have seen, they clung to this false perspective for years afterwards.
We, on the other hand, argued that there was a fundamental difference between the situation in the Soviet Union in 1991 and the period when Trotsky had envisaged a position of "critical support" for a section of the bureaucracy. The bureaucracy had completely degenerated, with the great majority abandoning support for central planning and the old system. They had embraced capitalism as the way forward. There was no significant wing of the bureaucracy, in the period leading up to 1991, which still adhered to the planned economy. Grant was so convinced that the coup would succeed that, as the TV reports came through on the collapse of the coup on Wednesday 21 August, he denounced them as "lies" and "bourgeois propaganda".
He and Woods failed to grasp that even if the coup had succeeded this would not have led to a restoration of the Stalinist regimes. The ‘old guard’ regimes would have been re-established but not the planned economy. Jaruselski had tried this in Poland in 1981 but subsequently admitted: "Our greatest mistake was to keep the party’s monopoly on power, defend nationalised industry and the class struggle". He accordingly moved towards an openly pro-capitalist position, paving the way for the coming to power of Solidarity and Walesa. And yet, Woods and Grant, in their document The Truth about the Coup, argued: "What would have happened for example if Yanayaev and Co [the main organisers of the coup] had seized power? Is it a foregone conclusion that they would have carried out their stated aim of moving towards a ‘market economy’ albeit at a more gradual pace? For the majority of the International Secretariat, this is a simple question to answer: in today’s situation, ‘objectively… Yes. ’ But that does not exhaust the question."
They then advanced the idea that the coup organisers would have been compelled to re-establish the elements of the planned economy, completely ignoring the experience of Jaruselski and the evolution of the Chinese Stalinists in the aftermath of Tiananmen Square. They, of course, attempted to cover their tracks by accusing us of tail-ending Yeltsin in the August coup. This was despite the fact that we publicly distanced ourselves from the pro-capitalist Yeltsinites, some of whom flooded towards the defence of their hero at the White House in Moscow.
The mass of the population in the Soviet Union was opposed to the coup. Some had illusions in Yeltsin, the majority were opposed because of a fear that the elementary democratic rights they had gained since 1989 would be snuffed out if the coup succeeded. That is why a series of strikes took place in Moscow, the Ukraine and elsewhere (see pp. 449-451 in The Rise of Militant for a fuller explanation).
Gulf War: "Some of you will be killed"
The position taken by Grant and Woods on the August events in Russia alienated them further from the great majority of our members. Grant’s authority had already been severely undermined – not by the wicked Taaffe and his "clique" – but by his own lamentable performance during the Gulf War. There were serious differences within the Militant leadership over the war which had been simmering behind the scenes, which then broke out into the open, necessitating the calling of a Special Conference to discuss the Gulf War in January 1991 (held at the London School of Economics).
Again, Grant wanted to predict exact time scales, arguing that if a land war was to break out it would last for a minimum of six months and probably for two years. This unqualified statement was repeated in the Spanish organisation of the CWI, clearly due to the influence of Woods. However, in Britain, Militant never once carried such a statement. There was not a single other member of the Executive Committee, including Sewell, who adopted this approach apart from Grant himself.
Yet nothing demonstrated his false approach more clearly than his position on conscription. At a rally at the LSE before the special conference on the Gulf War, he made this statement: "If conscription is introduced, let us be clear, the youth must go into the army. Of course [directly addressing the youth in the audience], some of you will be killed. But for every one killed, ten will take your place."
This statement was greeted with stunned disbelief and anger. It was made despite the fact that a clear majority of the leadership disagreed with Grant’s proposals and had attempted to dissuade him from these ideas publicly. Prominent in expressing this was none other than Sewell himself, who did not hesitate to make disparaging remarks about Grant’s incapacity, usually behind his back. However, his best efforts were of no avail.
After the meeting, Grant was besieged by young people opposing his views. Despite this, at the conference the next day he made exactly the same points in the course of introducing the discussion on the Gulf War. This produced a near revolt from the floor, with the majority clearly opposed to his statement. I intervened in the discussion, attempting to save him, as had been done on previous occasions, from the ire of Militant’s membership. It was pointed out that, in the event of conscription, which we considered so unlikely that it was effectively ruled out, we would call a special conference to determine our attitude.
It was also pointed out that it was wrong to merely repeat Trotsky’s position at the time of the Second World War, as Grant and Woods did. At that time, the outlook of the mass of the working class was determined by the threat of invasion from a foreign fascist power, with all that implied: the destruction of democratic rights and the workers’ organisations. In 1990-91, the Marxists were faced with a colonial war of intervention by imperialism in the Gulf. If Grant’s position of, in effect, adapting to conscription and going into the army had become the public position of Militant, it would have made it virtually impossible for us to participate in the growing antiwar movements. Such movements were initially bound to have pacifist overtones. Marxists are not pacifists. But at all times Marxists distinguish between the false hypocritical ‘pacifism’ of the capitalists and their reformist shadows within the labour movement, which invariably acts as a cover for war and the genuine antiwar mood of the youth.
We argued that, in the unlikely event of conscription being introduced, this would not mean that young people would passively go into a conscripted army. We could have seen the same kind of revolt that took place at the time of the Vietnam War, with mass opposition and a mass refusal to participate in this war. The short duration of the Gulf War, contrary to all the expectations of Grant and Woods, saved us and them from further embarrassment on this issue. This dispute was a skirmish between the growing diverging tendencies within the ranks of Militant, which was to break out into open divisions just a few months later. It did not however, prevent a serious intervention in the antiwar movement, both in Britain and internationally.
The split of 1991
The month of April 1991 was a decisive one in the evolution of Militant. The national leadership unanimously decided to support the setting up of an independent organisation in Scotland to take account of the favourable situation which had developed for us there. Grant subsequently maintained that this was the issue which destroyed "40 years of work" – now repeated by Sewell – and was the pretext for breaking away from Militant. Yet, it is a matter of record that both Grant and Sewell voted in favour of this decision. We give the details in chapter 44 of The Rise of Militant. Indeed, they both enthusiastically spoke in favour of the proposal and voted for it at a National Committee. They did not then complain that this decision was "rushed through". If this was the case how were two experienced and allegedly "wily" operators such as Grant and Sewell rushed into taking such an important decision, which represented such a historic departure?
The truth is that they accepted the decision because of the pressure which had been exerted on the leadership of Militant by the complete collapse and emptying out of the Labour Party. For months and years before this decision, the ranks of our party were discussing the taking of such an initiative. Indeed, Tony Mulhearn maintains that in 1983, at the time of the expulsion of the Militant Editorial Board, Grant in a discussion with him, had raised the possibility of us setting up an independent organisation with the name ‘Socialist Labour Party’. He never, at any time, shared these views with the leadership of Militant.
Rejected on the issue of a "clique" he, Woods and subsequently Sewell then moved on to political issues, which involved dogmatically defending past positions which were no longer relevant in the changed situation of the late 1980s, never mind the 1990s. Even before the setting up of an independent organisation in Scotland we had supported local unofficial Labour candidates in Liverpool against the right-wing group that had hijacked the Labour party there. The truth is, rather than in 1991, it would have been more correct in 1987 to have launched an open, independent organisation, in Liverpool first rather than in Scotland. In fact, I did raise this possibility but was vehemently opposed by Grant and found opposition even from some leading Liverpool comrades. If we had launched an independent organisation in 1987 we would have been better poised to intervene in the battle against the expulsion of the Liverpool Militant leadership and also in the huge mass campaign we conducted against the poll tax.
Nevertheless, belatedly, we did recognise the changed situation, the emptying out of the Labour Party, which Grant, Woods and Sewell refused to accept. They summed up their arguments in a lengthy document submitted for discussion within the ranks of Militant. They argued: "Our work in the mass organisations of the British working class was of a long-term character" and should be continued. They failed to consider the changes that had taken place in the outlook of significant sections of the workers to what we always considered in the past to be the ‘traditional organisations’ of the working class.
The Labour Party
These ‘dialecticians’ refused to recognise changes even when they struck them on the nose. Grant argued that the internal position of the Labour Party had not fundamentally changed: "In the 1950s, the internal regime was marked by witch-hunts against the Bevanite left, bans and proscriptions, the repeated closure of the Labour youth organisation". However, we stressed that the Labour Party of the 1990s was far to the right than that of the 1950s. While attacks had been made on the left in the earlier period, the right had never succeeded in completely destroying the left within the constituencies. Indeed, in the 1950s the Bevanite left dominated the majority of Constituency Labour Party seats on the National Executive Committee.
Through Kinnock, however, then through Smith and now through Blair the Labour Party’s internal democracy, particularly in the local parties, has been well nigh destroyed. That process has been taken much further in the 1990s. Only stick-in-the-mud dogmatists could intone in this period that "nothing had changed". Not only has the Labour Party changed internally but its position in the consciousness of the working class has undergone dramatic changes, since the early 1990s. Even in the 1997 general election, many workers "held their noses" and voted Labour, not through any enthusiasm but as a means of getting rid of the Tories. Now there is a wide perception amongst workers that this party no longer represents them.
This mood is even more pronounced within the trade unions. Active trade unionists have long disengaged from involvement in the Labour Party at local level. The activists of the local Labour parties consist of councillors and other participants in the Labour machine, seasoned, perhaps, with a few disorientated members of ‘revolutionary’ groups and ex-revolutionaries who have adapted to the ex-social democrats.
Our turn to more independent work in the 1990s did not initially mean a change in our analysis of the Labour Party as a bourgeois workers’ party. However, the further move towards the right: the abandonment of Clause IV, the complete dismantling of internal democracy, the pro-bourgeois position of Blair – he is more at ease in the company of Berlusconi and Aznar, and George Bush junior than with the ex-social democratic leaders of France or Germany – all contributed to the change in our analysis. We drew the conclusion that the Labour Party was a bourgeois party and was no longer a viable field of work for genuine socialists, never mind Marxists or revolutionaries. This allowed us to intervene successfully in the struggles of the working class in Britain and Europe which were taking place outside and in opposition to New Labour. We took initiatives such as Youth against Racism in Europe (YRE), which had a profound effect in the early 1990s and organised the biggest-ever Europe-wide demonstration of youth against fascism. We have also successfully intervened in the anti-capitalist movement and continue to expand our influence within the trade unions.
The Socialist Party and the CWI have been in this period a recognised important part of the left and has been successful in attracting some of the best of the new generation of young people and workers to our banner. We have sought to provide an alternative, socialist pole of attraction by standing in elections and in Britain is the most successful organisation to the left of Labour – with councillors – who have rallied opposition to New Labour-dominated local councils which have carried out cuts in services, sackings, etc. The Grant group have been utterly lifeless and moribund, sitting in empty Labour parties – so far as any parties meet – proposing resolutions but not having the slightest effect on the course of events within the workers’ movement.
Perspectives for the Labour Party now
We have also advanced the idea of a new mass workers’ party and predicted the development of a mood amongst workers, particularly trade unionists, to separate themselves from the capitalist New Labour party. Witness the series of resolutions proposed at British union conferences to weaken or break the link between the trade unions and the Labour Party.
Some trade union leaders in the past period, it is true, have proposed to ‘reclaim the Labour Party’. We have no fetish for organisational forms of struggle for the working class. History knows all kinds of changes, as Lenin pointed out. There have been occasions when bourgeois parties, or parts of them, have evolved towards the left, ending up as new formations of the working class. This was the case in Greece with Andreas Papandreou taking some workers out of the liberal bourgeois Centre Union led by his father George, as well as winning new, fresh layers to found PASOK, which became a powerful socialist party in Greece. PASOK has also shifted dramatically towards the right and is recognised as hardly any different to the other bourgeois parties. We predicted this in a debate with Grant and Woods in Greece in 1992. Now, ten years later, a section of his Greek supporters who opposed us then have belatedly come to the same conclusion.
It can never be theoretically discounted – nor have we ever said this on any occasion – that an ex-workers’ party which has degenerated into a bourgeois formation could, under the impact of mighty economic and political events, begin to shift once more towards the left and transform itself into a vehicle for workers. It is not theoretically excluded that the same thing could happen to the Labour Party in Britain, with Blairism being rejected, a big shift towards the left taking place and a new arena of struggle opening up for socialists and Marxists. This, however, is definitively not possible through the present feeble attempts by some union leaders to ‘reclaim the Labour Party’. At most, they wish for a little bit more influence, "a cup of tea at 10 Downing Street" with Blair, rather than a root and branch counter-movement against Blair – a programme to clear out these capitalist agents and a return of Labour to its socialist aspirations.
The Grantites completely exaggerate developments in the Labour Party. This was indicated by their role in the Labour Party conference in September/October 2002 in Blackpool. Predictably, the ‘Grant Tendency’, on their website, hails this conference as indicating that "the old traditions of the Labour Party are not dead at all". They accordingly give a false picture of Blair at the conference as close to defeat on the Private Finance Initiative (PFI – privatisation of public services), and on "his plans to wage war on Iraq". In reality, all that Blair conceded on PFI was that a "review" should take place, which the union leaders acceded to. On Iraq, a resolution was accepted that "war" could be waged through the United Nations if "proof" of Iraq’s guilt was obtained. After the conference, the right wing boasted that they won by "four to one" during it. The most that can be said about this conference was that, even in the highly sanitised New Labour party – with most of the delegates from the constituencies supporting the right wing – the pressures outside were reflected in a distorted fashion. The conference was a very pale echo of the anti-war mood amongst young people and more thinking workers.
The expectations of the ‘Grant Tendency’ amount to "more next year and in the future". They write: "On this basis, next year’s TUC congress and Labour Party conference will see even greater opposition". They even go on to prettify what the Labour Party represented in the past by writing: "He [Blair] is paving the way for the struggle between the classes that will see the Labour Party reclaimed, transformed, and restored as a political fighting organisation of the working class" (our emphasis). This is a gross opportunist interpretation of what the Labour Party represented historically. When has the Labour Party ever been a clear "political fighting organisation of the working class"? We always pointed to its dual character, bourgeois at the top but with a working class base and subjected to the pressure and the power of the working class outside. This sometimes compelled the Labour leaders and even Labour governments to undertake radical measures but never was it a "political fighting organisation of the working class" in a clear socialist or Marxist sense.
Reclaim the Labour Party?
This is just one indication of the opportunist adaptation of this organisation. They were shipwrecked by the change in the character of the Labour Party in the late 1980s and 1990s. The effects of the defeat of the miners’ strike were added to in the 1990s by the collapse of Stalinism and, with it, the planned economies of Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union. This gave the possibility for the bourgeois internationally to conduct a colossal ideological offensive against socialism and in favour of the ‘market’. The CWI was the only Trotskyist organisation that analysed this process in a balanced fashion, pointing to the inevitable effects of this in strengthening the bourgeois and weakening the working class but not in the same sense as happened in the interwar period with the triumph of fascism in Italy, Germany and Spain. The potential power of the working class largely remains intact and this will be demonstrated even more clearly under the hammer blows of the economic recession and in a war against Iraq.
Contrast this with the pathetic statements of the ‘Grantites’, which pass as serious analysis. Quite incredibly, in the article on the Labour Party conference, they can write: "The past twenty years or so were years of lull in the movement". In these last two decades we have witnessed in Britain alone, the miners’ strike, the events in Liverpool, the poll tax struggle and the defeat of Thatcher, as well as the rise of a powerful Trotskyist organisation around Militant. These tumultuous events it is clear, bypassed this conservative and largely office-bound tendency.
The union leaders have been pushed into semi-opposition to Blair because of the mounting hatred amongst workers for New Labour and what it represents. There is an increasing demand that no further trade union finance should go to this anti-working class party. In China the unfortunate families of people executed by the state are compelled to pay for the executioner’s bullets. This ‘tendency’ advocates a similar compliance by British trade unionists: continue paying a levy to a party which seeks to ‘mow them down’ through privatisation, attacks on education, welfare, etc. Such advice is rejected by workers and trade unionists as they increasingly move away from New Labour and demand that the precious resources of the unions should no longer be wasted on this capitalist party.
The trade union leaders want to deflect this movement into one ‘last’ effort to ‘reclaim’ the Labour Party. Yet the preferred ‘left’ candidate of the union leaders to Blair is Gordon Brown, whose economic policies, bourgeois to a fault, have served as the backbone to Blairism since it has been in government. The fact that Brown has partially increased public expenditure – to a level that is not yet up to that of the Tory Major government – has increased his ‘left’ credentials, has conjured up the vision of ‘Old Labour’, amongst the right-wing trade union leaders and even some new left leaders. It will prove to be a chimera. So worried are the Blairites at the pressure from below to separate the unions from the Labour Party that they are even considering repealing one part of the Tories’ anti-trade union legislation – compulsory ballots over political funds. This is because of the fear that there will be a mass rejection of the link to Labour by trade unionists in these ballots (see Socialism Today, September 2002).
Can Labour move to the left?
If there was a serious prospect of shifting Labour towards the left, so that it became once more an instrument of struggle for working people, then no serious Marxist would or could stand aside from this. Unlike Woods and Grant we are not dogmatists. We have to follow the march of events, the inevitable shifts and turns in the situation to determine Marxist policy, including strategy and tactics towards mass organisations of the working class. However, it is not a serious Marxist policy to continue with a tactic which is barren and fruitless, which means that all you do is intone the same mantra that ‘nothing has changed’. This will only isolate the Marxists from any real movement which takes place. Even if, in 1991, it could be conceded that some time in the future the Labour Party might change, this was no justification for adopting the sterile position that, therefore, Marxists should just sit on their hands, ‘wait’, not try to actively prepare forces for the current and future battles.
Timescale is not unimportant in politics as in warfare. Taking opportunities in situations when the time is ripe is an art which is only acquired and honed in a constant discourse within a healthy Marxist organisation and in a dialogue with the working class. In 1991, we took the decision to embark on a different tactic. This has been successful in consolidating the points of support which Marxism built up in the past in Britain and internationally.
On this issue in the past even Grant was not so dogmatic. As he points out in his book, in 1941 the Workers’ International League (WIL), of which he was part, had concluded: "that there was not much going on in the Labour Party; that the activity, in so far as it took place, on the part of the working class, was industrial activity… we convinced ourselves that nothing much could be gained by maintaining the position of entrism at that stage." In 1941, this was an issue of tactics and not a principle. Why, therefore, had it become a principled question in 1991 and allegedly threatened "40 years of work"?
Later on, in the 1950s, Grant would write about the "problems of tactics as tactics, and not as once and for all fetishes" [Problems of Entrism]. In 1957, he also stated: "The situation demands above all flexible tactics. Entry must not be a fetish, any more than the concept of open work. Our tactic at a given time is dictated by the opportunities open to us and the possibilities of results." The tactically ‘flexible’ Grant of the 1940s and 1950s had become the ossified dogmatist in the 1990s, along with Woods.
Woods on ‘independent work’ in Spain
The latter, however, prior to 1991, was moving in exactly the same direction as the majority of Militant leaders, particularly in relation to the problems of building a base in Spain. Alan Woods had played an important role in developing the CWI organisation in Spain, which had led some important struggles. However, it was confronting the same problems as in Britain in still being tied to the socialist party PSOE. This had led to discussion on the future orientation of the organisation. In March 1989, he reported in a written form on the discussions of tactics within the leading body of the Spanish organisation. He stated that there was "a widespread mood amongst workers and especially the UGT [socialist trade union federation] activists against voting for PSOE [Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party – now the ex-social democracy].
He went on to say that "PSOE itself is an empty shell [and] support for PSOE is virtually seen as support for the police, torturers and Spanish domination [of the Basques] among wide layers, especially the youth." He pointed to a leading Spanish comrade, ‘Rati’, arguing for the Spanish organisation to put up its own candidates against PSOE and commented on the difficulty of convincing members of the Spanish organisation to advocate "a vote for PSOE on the grounds that we would be isolated. Not even the rank and file of the organisation would participate." (In fact, we had this experience in 1987 in Alava, when the Spanish Centre managed to convince the Basque comrades to support PSOE against their wishes.) There was formal acceptance; the rank and file "voted with their feet".
What then was the answer of Woods to the dilemma which confronted the Spanish organisation? He wrote: "However, given the rottenness of the existing traditional organisations, if ever there was a case for independent (or semi-independent) work, this is it. While it is necessary to stress and repeat the need to orientate towards the mass organisation, there is in my view a danger of overlooking opportunities which exist for winning workers and youth directly to our organisation under the banner of Marxism."
So Woods was in favour of considering independent work outside of the ‘rotten’ traditional organisations. Yet any later attempt to move in this direction in Britain or in Scotland was condemned as pure heresy. Conditions had not changed but Woods had because it was necessary for him and Grant to move away from the issue of the ‘clique’ – which had been totally discredited in discussions – to seek some political justification for the continued opposition to the majority. For these ‘principled’, would-be leaders, if that meant repudiating previous positions, so be it.
Double standards on ‘independent organisation’
Grant and Sewell voted in favour of the setting up of an independent organisation, both in the Executive Committee and in a National Committee. Sewell dismissed our tentative proposals for such an organisation in Scotland alone, with loud calls for the setting up of a ‘revolutionary party’ on an all-Britain scale. When he moved over into the camp of Grant and his brother, this ‘baggage’ was unceremoniously dropped. Now any departure from an increasingly empty Labour Party towards independent or semi-independent work was viciously attacked. The proposal to stand – not as a ‘Militant’ candidate (as Sewell wrongly asserts) but as a ‘Real Labour’ candidate in the Walton by-election, as Harry Ratner pointed out – was denounced as ‘suicide’. Our candidate, Leslie Mahmoud, received 2,613 votes, a highly commendable achievement in the circumstances. This was despite the vicious campaign of character assassination conducted against her and Militant in general at that stage.
This was denounced by Sewell, Woods and Grant. Their stand was just another example of their double standards. The vote of the RCP in the Neath by-election was 1,781, which Grant commends as a great success. Yet the 2,613 votes for our candidate in Walton was characterised as a "disaster".
But others more usually prone to criticise Militant praised the campaign. Paul Foot, columnist in The Guardian and then of the Daily Mirror, wrote in the SWP’s journal, Socialist Worker: "I read every word that Leslie Mahmoud was ‘humiliated’ in the Walton by-election, but I can write from long experience of humiliations at by-elections." He gave examples of five candidates of the SWP who stood for parliament in the 1970s and added: "But I can say that the total vote for all candidates was less than the 2,600 which Leslie Mahmoud won at Walton… I think that’s a good vote in the circumstances. It’s a reasonable base on which to continue the fight for jobs in Liverpool."
Can’t reclaim RMT flat
What a contrast to the sneering tone of Woods, Sewell and Grant after the by-election! It cut no ice with the vast majority of Militant supporters. Incredibly, this tiny organisation has intoned year after year that nothing has changed in the character of the Labour Party, that the masses will turn to the Labour Party, the right will be defeated and the new mass left wing will arise in the Labour Party.
Woods himself wrote in 1988 apropos Spain: "No one can say how long it will take before there is the development of a mass leftwing in PSOE. It could take a couple of years or it could be next month." His timescale is out by at least 14 years as no left wing has arisen in PSOE and it is doubtful that it will in the immediate future given the bourgeoisification of this party, as with the other ex-‘traditional organisations’ of the ex-social democracy throughout Western Europe. Like barnacles they cling to the Labour Party – although very few of them are active within it for the very good reason that there is no activity within the Labour Party – while others have never been near the Labour Party since they separated from us. But rather than recognising their errors and engaging in fruitful work outside the Labour Party, they have retreated to the study.
In the early 1990s it was necessary to argue about the class character of the Labour Party. However, since then its degeneration has developed at such a pace and scale that only ossified groupings which cling to outmoded formulae could possibly justify the characterisation of the Labour Party, as we once did, as a ‘bourgeois workers’ party’.
The socialist rank and file has long gone from the Labour Party. The membership is increasingly middle class and the internal democracy and structures of the Labour Party have been all but destroyed by Blair and Mandelson’s ‘project’. The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party has recently taken the decision that no policy issues will be discussed by this body but by special ‘forums’. Well-known left-wing journalist John Pilger estimated that there were no more than five MPs, out of 412 in the Parliamentary Labour Party, who could be described as consistently ‘left wing’.
The Blair leadership is not even considered now to be ‘radical’, let alone socialist. An Italian MP has described Blair correctly, not as the leader of the ‘centre-left’, but as the key leader of the ‘centre-right’ in Europe at the present time. He is in a bloc with Aznar in Spain and Berlusconi in Italy to push forward the ‘Anglo-Saxon/US’ model of neo-liberalism.
The fact that some workers – an increasingly diminishing number – would still vote Labour in a general election is not of decisive significance in measuring the class character of this party. In the US many workers would vote for the Democrats – seen traditionally as a more ‘worker-friendly’ and radical bourgeois party (although this was severely undermined by Clinton) – than the openly bourgeois Republican Party. With no mass alternative in existence, the bulk of the workers who vote may still do so for the ex-social democratic parties as a means of blocking the road to the right-wing bourgeois parties and, in some cases, to block the far right. But this does not mean that the masses still view these parties as they did in the past, as ‘their party’.
Nor is it likely that the trade unions – whose power and influence has been dramatically reduced and will be reduced even further – will move in and transform these parties. The mechanism for doing this has been obliterated over the last ten years. Some unions, like the Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) and the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) are presently in a halfway house situation. They have withdrawn some funds from right-wing MPs and transferred some of it to left MPs, and have raised the vague notion of moving in to reclaim the Labour Party. However, Bob Crow, RMT leader, has admitted: "Reclaim the Labour Party? We [the RMT] can’t even reclaim our flat!" (John Prescott, New Labour Deputy Prime Minister, presently lives in an RMT-owned apartment.)
But this mood is largely confined to the tops of the unions. At the base there is a growing and determined mood for the unions to stop paying money and separate themselves from the Labour Party, which attacks them while in government and which is now seen as no different, and in some cases worse, than the previous Tory government.
A similar blunder on Italy
The responsibility of Marxists and socialists is not to repeat the outmoded formulas of the past but to understand the changed situation, particularly the consciousness of the mass of the working class, and the direction in which this is likely to move. Our demand for a new mass workers’ party is one that will be embraced by the mass of the working class in the future. Between now and that situation, all kinds of transitional formations are possible, of alliances between groups of workers, socialists and Marxists who are prepared to offer an electoral challenge as a means of rallying workers against the neo-liberal programme of the Blair government and also its involvement in the looming imperialist plans for further attacks on Iraq.
The only solution to be offered by Grant and Woods is to quiescently sit on their haunches and wait for a future illusory move into the Labour Party. Their activity is largely of a literary character, and a vapid, vacuous kind at that. It is painful to read the same old phrases, the warmed-up ideas and stale language which have not changed for decades.
A similar blunder was made by this group over perspectives for Italy in the early 1990s. In the debate over tactics towards the ‘traditional organisations’ in Italy at the time of the split in 1991-92, which reveals most clearly the political myopia of Woods, their opportunism in switching tactics and the dishonest fashion in which this was done. There was a clear difference between Grant, Woods and their Italian supporters, and the majority of the International Secretariat of the CWI. The IS argued that the split of the Rifondazione Comunista (RC) from the ex-Communist Party Democratic Left (PDS) represented a clear opportunity for our Italian comrades to participate in its ranks. This was initially rejected by Woods and his Italian supporters. They argued that the formation of the RC was a mistake and would melt away. This is clear from the written exchange on the issue.
The IS majority – in a document written by Peter Hadden after a visit to Italy - raised clearly the need for the very small forces, of about 100 members – mostly youth – to concentrate the majority of their forces within the RC. This was completely rejected by the Italian Executive Committee, backed up by Woods and Grant. In a document of theirs, which was a reply to an IS statement, they wrote: "If the RC had attracted thousands of youth, or if it had become an important pole of attraction for a few thousand young workers and shop stewards, which would in itself have created the conditions for debate within it, in other words if the IS majority statements in the RC were not just wishful thinking, then it would have been possible to consider a temporary orientation with all our small forces to recruit the maximum number of comrades. But, comrades, which RC are you talking about? Which country are you talking about? What historical conditions are you talking about?"
Wrong perspectives for Rifondazione
Four years later the leaders of this organisation had seen the futility of remaining within the PDS and were within the RC. When recently confronted by some of their ex-members that they had been wrong and that the IS majority had been correct the lame excuse was that "we were young, and we had dust in our eyes". But the IS majority did not have ‘dust in their eyes’ but spelt out clearly in a statement in January 1992 – The tactics and orientation of the Italian section – the incorrect methods employed in Italy at the time of the split in the RC from the PDS and the subsequent approach towards this important mass formation. It pointed out: "The RC attracted 150,000 members and, with its communist banner and symbols, appeared to stand on the left of the PDS. This situation demands a similar tactical flexibility as in the past. At the very least, a thorough discussion and review of existing tactics involving the entire membership was called for. No such discussion was held."
In their perspectives document, the leaders of the Italian organisation wrote: "If the split referred to in the pages of the newspapers takes place, he [Cossuta – one of the original leaders of the RC] will not enjoy great support. Of course he may find a few thousand members, but what then? At the end of the day the majority of the current Cossuta supporters will end up either abandoning political activity or in some small group like DP [Democratica Proletaria]."
The IS commented: "The perspectives held by the comrades were of a small split which would not be long lasting, the majority of Cossuta supporters ending up either out of politics or in a sectarian group like the DP… Events have clearly overtaken and contradicted this analysis. There has not been a period of opportunity in the PDS. Instead, comrades in virtually all areas report that both the PDS and the Left Youth are largely empty and do not provide an arena for fruitful work in the short term. On the other hand, the split has been on a much broader scale than we envisaged… The RC membership not only rose to 150,000 but has remained at this figure. The EC claimed that only 15,000 are active. Even this is a significant figure especially given the lack of activity in the PDS at this stage. In some areas, for example Rome, Turin, the RC has taken on considerable flesh, in others, for example Sicily, the comrades have reported that it is the main force… The 1990 perspectives were clearly wrong on the question of the RC."
We did not just remain at the level of criticising past positions but advocated a definite turn: "When the split took place our best option would have been to take the bulk of our forces, including the paper, into the RC… To take such a step would not have been a new departure for our tendency internationally."
We also then examined what the Italian group actually did: "We chose to remain within the PDS, not even seriously considering the possibility of going with the split. With our perspective of a short-lived formation, our starting point was to oppose the split. The ‘special’ [of the Italian paper] we produced on the RC-PDS in April refers to the split as a ‘mistake and damaging’. This and other material explained that ‘this division favours the bureaucrats, the careerists and the bosses’."
We went on then to comment: "Not surprisingly, we did encounter problems with the [mistaken] approach. Comrades in Bologna reported examples of RC workers who refused to buy the paper because of its unmistakable orientation to the PDS… In Rome [on a demonstration] workers who found out that we intended to stay with the PDS accused us of being opportunist and demanded to know who we would support."
In fact, the Italian organisation adopted a completely sectarian approach towards the RC. The IS majority advocated that the Italian organisation should immediately seek to be part of the RC. What was the reply of the Italian EC? We will quote here only the most prominent of the many incorrect statements about the RC. They said of the RC: "The split off attracted a part of the old PCI (with an average age of about 50) and various sects, the biggest of which is DP (Proletarian Democracy)… Nine months have gone by and in the last few days the RC has held its congress. We can say that the RC has not been, and is even less today, a pole of attraction for the youth, particularly the young workers who have entered the factories in the last five years."
Going on to criticise the deficiencies of the political programme of the RC leadership, the Italian EC declared: "With positions like this and with the clash which developed in its congresses, the RC cannot become a credible force for the mass of workers." It goes on to say that it is "impossible to define the new party as left reformist, never mind centrist. It is a small reformist party, openly opposed to a planned economy, that wishes to preserve, as the PCI did in the past, the communist names and symbols… The RC can recruit old members of the PCI and students already on the left, but is incapable of making headway among the new layers of young workers."
They also wrote: "It is important to remember that the leader of the ‘Asera Sindicato’, the leftwing of the CGIL, is Bertinotti, a leader of the PDS!" Bertinotti, of course, left the PDS to become now the most well known leader of the RC. So much for ‘foresight’ over astonishment!
Forced to change
A couple of lines later the comrades declare: "The more the objective situation turns in our favour the more the RC will enter into crisis." The RC was dismissed as "too small" and, in conclusion, the Italian EC declared: "A temporary turn to the RC could be justified if it were capable of giving good short-term results. A long-term orientation to the RC would be justified only if we drew the conclusion that the RC could become a pole of attraction for the masses once they began to move. But we would exclude both these possibilities. We have dedicated a part of our work to the RC because it seemed to us that this could give us better results where the RC had a certain base. Experience has shown that we could attract some individuals but there had been no possibilities of big growth."
Criticising the IS majority they also declared: "The whole discussion, not just this document [referring to the majority’s proposals for the bulk of our forces to be in the RC], has had a certain aura of unreality, almost as if it were taking place outside the real political world."
This organisation applied later the ‘unreal’ arguments of the IS majority without recognising this or giving credit to those who proposed it in the first place. In the beginning, however, the Italian EC dug in and compounded their mistakes. But given the pressure of the situation and obviously the effects of our arguments within their ranks, they were forced to do an about turn.
Wrong advice on Sri Lanka
Ted Grant was fond of stating in the past that if you make a mistake you should recognise and correct it openly. Our experience generally was that he never heeded his own advice, but stressed that he had been ‘right all along’, even when it had been patently demonstrated that he was not. Is this not another case of the completely false method of the ‘Grant tendency’?
In judging all political formations, even the tiny ones like this, it is necessary to heed Trotsky’s advice: "It is not so much what is done, but who does it, why they do it, and how they do it." Having stumbled belatedly into the RC, without a clear explanation of their past mistakes, this guarantees that they will make further mistakes in the future and will act in an unprincipled fashion.
It is not just in the past that the Grant/Woods duo has made fundamental errors. Their false position on the ‘traditional organisations’ has assumed gross proportions in the recent period as, for instance, in Sri Lanka. After a visit to Sri Lanka, Woods wrote a letter to Vasudeva Nanayaka, an important figure on the left in the Sri Lankan workers’ movement who participated in the CWI in the past. This letter advocated that all Marxists should work within the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) which in the past was the main workers’ party in Sri Lanka, but has shrunk to a shell because of the opportunist and nationalist degeneration of the leaders of this organisation over a period of time. He wrote: "We have everything to gain by sticking firmly to the LSSP… It is really incredible how the masses stick to these organisations in spite of everything. Just look at the Labour Party in Britain!"
Comrade Siritunga, the leader of the United Socialist Party, the Sri Lankan section of the CWI, commented on this letter: "I got this letter written by Alan Woods in April 2000 from a member of the LSSP majority faction a long time ago. I did not think it was all that important because it is clear that they are simply living at least a few decades back. The letter bears little relation to the represent Sri Lankan situation at all. After the [October 2000] general election, Vasu’s group, together with the ‘LSSP majority faction’ (all now outside the LSSP!) met to discuss about their political perspectives and future tactics… In that discussion, one of the Woods/Grant followers proposed that everyone who came out of the LSSP in protest at their disastrous coalition politics should rejoin the LSSP. This was ludicrous, especially when considering the fact that Vasu sacrificed his position as an MP and crossed over to the opposition.
"In the election itself the LSSP was wiped out of parliamentary politics and could not win a single seat in the parliament. In that situation anybody campaigning that Vasu should go back into the LSSP politics clearly must be mad…
"In this situation, no one will take Alan Woods’s letter seriously since he is suggesting Vasu and the others should rejoin the LSSP. This is really a ridiculous perspective; anyone who understands simple politics can see this. In reality the LSSP is no more. If anybody is thinking of doing an entry tactic into the LSSP, he should go to the graveyard (cemetery)! The LSSP does not function as a party any more."
The letter, which was passed around amongst the left in Sri Lanka, made Woods into a laughing stock. The LSSP now has less than 100 members and its only MP is a Buddhist monk. There is more possibility of resurrecting Lazarus than the LSSP.
A change in the situation in Sri Lanka, however, has opened a space for the possibility of developing a new radical formation which could in time lead to a new mass party. All of this is a closed book to Woods and Grant. This is just one further example of how formulas, correct at one stage in history, can turn into their opposite when conditions change and can become a barrier to the Marxist and Trotskyist movement advancing.
A mistake made eleven or twelve years ago in relation to the changed character of the former traditional organisations, or towards perspectives for Stalinism, for instance, may not have been serious if they had been honestly corrected in time. But to stubbornly persist, in the teeth of all the evidence proving the contrary, has condemned this organisation to the sidelines. They have retreated into the study to regurgitate, in a slightly different form, all the old arguments and positions of the past.
Read 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