Ted Grant had certainly made a significant impact on British politics as the founder and theoretical inspirer of the Militant Tendency. The success of Militant had turned us into a household name. Michael Crick even described the Tendency as the fifth political party in Britain.
This year marks the centenary of Ted Grant’s birth. As a contribution to the celebration of this event, Alan Woods, who had known Ted for nearly 50 years and was his closest collaborator, has written his political biography, highlighting his unique contribution to the Marxist movement in Britain and internationally.
The book is a truly remarkable work which, using recently uncovered archive material, comprehensively covers the development of Ted’s life and ideas, starting from his early family background in Johannesburg right up to his death in London in 2006 at the age of 93.
From his earliest days in South Africa, Ted Grant dedicated his life to the struggle for the emancipation of the working class. Having joined the Trotskyist movement in the late 1920s, he moved to Britain in 1934 to seek new horizons. Within a decade Ted had become the leading theoretician of the Trotskyist movement.
The book deals with the launch of the Fourth International and Ted’s battle to defend the ideas of Trotsky, which brought him into conflict with the leaders of the International after the Second World War. It explains the important theoretical questions and debates of this period and it outlines Ted Grant’s important theoretical contribution to Marxism.
The biography traces the break-up of the Revolutionary Communist Party, which was largely as a result of the intrigues of the so-called leaders of the International around James Cannon, Ernest Mandel, Pierre Frank, Pablo and others, who were assisted in this criminal sabotage by Gerry Healy.
In the 1950s, Ted was left with a small handful of comrades, including the Deane family in Liverpool. This was the most difficult period, when, without resources, they had to piece together an organisation. These were the dark years in the wilderness. Ted provided the theory and ideas, as well as the enthusiasm and optimism to keep things going and served eventually to rearm the movement.
The book reproduces letters from Ted’s brother and sister as well as his close comrades, which give a valuable insight into the difficulties and problems confronting Ted personally and politically.
Despite a number of mistakes and dead ends encountered, Ted and the small group around him managed to pull things together with the launch of the four-page black and white monthly paper Militant. Even then, things did not go smoothly. The Young Socialists had been closed and reorganised after the hooligan activities of Healy and his supporters. However, after a period of patient work, things began to improve and by 1970 the Tendency won a political majority in the Labour Party Young Socialists.
While all the other groups had left the Labour Party, the Militant remained and grew from strength to strength, especially with the shift to the left after the defeat of the Wilson government.
Eventually, the Militant built up a powerful following not only amongst the youth, but also in the trade unions and the Labour Party. It patiently built a key position in the Liverpool Labour movement, which eventually enabled it to control Liverpool City Council in the 1980s. By this time, it had 3 MPs and thousands of supporters. This success unleashed a massive witch-hunt against us, promoted by the strategists of capital who feared an increasing leftward lurch in the Labour Party. They were not bothered about the 57 varieties of “revolutionary” sects outside of the mass organisations. They were considered a joke.
Ted fully understood the importance of the mass organisations. The politicisation of the working class must inevitably reflect itself in these organisations. They are not interested in small groups. The ebb in the class struggle in the 1950s and 1960s, where the right wing were dominant, gave way to a big shift to the left as the class struggle heated up.
Even the most moribund and right wing unions were affected, and so was the Labour Party, the political expression of the trade unions.
For the sects, this is always a closed book. They do not see things dialectically, but simplistically: the right wing leaders betray the workers; therefore we need a new party. Simple! The only problem is the workers take no notice of them. Ted explained repeatedly that when the masses move politically, they will move through their traditional organisations – despite the leadership! They will take the line of least resistance. That is a social law.
Ted said that in developing a Marxist Tendency, apart from the necessity of Marxist theory, one needed a sense of proportion and a sense of humour. This sound advice will hold us in good stead for the future.