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CWI: After the split with Grant

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Militant has split. Its long time political leader Ted Grant has left, taking an unknown number of supporters to form a new organisation. Reportedly the majority of Militant’s sympathising groups internationally have sided with Grant Only three years after publishing Grant’s writings as the “unbroken thread” of continuity with Lenin and Trotsky, Militant members now face the task of a thorough re elaboration of Trotskyism.

Dear Comrades,
The split with Ted Grant, while as yet a small event in terms of numbers, is a major event for every Trotskyist. It calls into question the whole history and politics of the Militant. There are only two ways of explaining what has happened. Either Grant was essentially correct in his perspectives, strategy and tactics but veered away from applying them to the recent period. Or the method itself was always wrong and led to Grant’s errors.

In short, has the “unbroken thread’ snapped only recently? Or was it broken long ago?

Clearly the Militant Editorial Statement (24 January 1992) is an attempt at the former explanation. But it will not stick. Unless you now begin an honest re examination of the politics which have guided your organisation for decades further splits and disorientation are guaranteed.

Labour and the workers
The “Scottish turn” is a case in point The whole rationale given by the majority for the need to launch an organisation independent of the Labour Party is the emergence of new, special conditions. These are the deep economic crisis in Scotland, heightened discrediting of Labour, radicalisation of workers outside the workplace through the massive non payment (of the Poll tax) campaign and the need to prevent left talking nationalists from reaping the benefits of this situation.

There are differences between this situation and the class struggle in the rest of Britain. But aren’t the Scottish conditions precisely the conditions in which Grant’s old schema was intended to work? Crisis, the radicalisation of the masses in struggle, the reformist Labour leaders found wanting in the eyes of workers: wasn’t it in this situation that Grant expected the masses to ”turn to their old organisations and transform them”?

According to Grant’s schema we should now be witnessing a mass influx into the Scottish Labour Party and its left transformation. Instead we are witnessing a movement away from Labour towards the SNP. The expected influx and transformation of the Labour Party - the rationale for decades of strategic entry work - has failed to happen.

And why should we expect anything different in the rest of the British labour movement, once the crisis and radicalisation of the workers reaches the same intensity? It is necessary to base our tactics on the actual development of the class struggle, not on barren schemes. The experience of the class struggle in Scotland and indeed Britain as a whole should teach us that Grant’s whole perspective was false from the outset.

The fact that you are now having to orientate to new layers of youth, and new issues, in the rest of Britain proves that we are not just dealing with a Scottish phenomenon.

This is also the case internationally. In Spain, Greece and South Africa new layers have failed to turn en masse to the existing organisations. The blinding need for an independent revolutionary organisation to save radicalised youth from alien class parties is a fact which Militant’s sympathisers are having to confront.

You have yourselves described Grant’s counter position of “the organised workers” to the anti-poll tax struggle as. “based on an abstract rather than a living working class and on a mechanical schema of the way workers will move into mass struggle”. These very words describe Grant’s whole political method. Yet you have advanced no criticisms of that method nor accounted for where and why Grant went wrong.

On the contrary we are told that Militant is only engaged in 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”.

This ignores the question: why have the masses of radicalised workers and youth taken that detour in advance of Militant and in complete contradiction to the schema around which your organisation has been built? And why during a decade of tumultuous struggle has the Labour Party been transformed rightwards?

Events prove that there is nothing inevitable about the masses turning to reformist parties, still less about their transformation into vehicles for socialism.

The remnants of Grant’s method can also be seen in Militant’s impressionism about the level of support for an independent Marxist candidate in Scotland. It was Taaffe’s supporters who told us that Mahmood’s 2,600 votes were “a victory for socialism”. This simply parrots Grant’s old, one sided, perspectival optimism as an antidote to Grant’s old one-sided pessimism. Neither is a useful guide to action.

Militant must deepen its criticism of Grant’s politics and turn to the flexible but principled tactics advanced by Lenin and Trotsky. The indispensable instrument of revolutionary action remains the revolutionary party. In building the party, and broadening its support, entrism as a short term tactic remains valid in particular circumstances, So does consistent fraction work within the reformist parties. But entry work must at all times be carried out around revolutionary politics.

Because he believed it was necessary to remain within the mass parties whatever the cost, Grant’s method brought with it systematic adaptation to their politics.

State and revolution
The most serious adaptation in Britain was to the parliamentarist reformism of the Labour Party. As Peter Taaffe has written in Militant;

"We have proclaimed hundreds, if not thousands of times that we believe that, armed with a clear programme and perspective, the labour movement in Britain could effect a peaceful socialist transformation."

The whole course of the British revolution was tied to the schema of a left wing Labour government facing undemocratic resistance from the employers. But this in only one potential scenario for a revolutionary crisis. Of course the leaders of Militant have accepted that if such a. government faced the threat of a coup it would necessary to arm the workers. But they always fail to make this clear in advance. They have refused to state that, however the situation unfolds, British workers will in the end need their own militia, workers’ councils and an insurrection led by a revolutionary party.

Leon Trotsky himself once had to deal with exactly the same position that Ted Grant made his hallmark. Trotsky’s reply should be taken on board by every Militant supporter

"...heroic promises to hurl thunderbolts of resistance if the Conservatives should ‘dare’, etc, are not worth a single bed penny.
It is futile to lull the masses to sleep from day to day to day with prattling about peaceful, painless, parliamentary democratic transitions to socialism and then, at the first serious. punch delivered at one’s nose, to call upon the masses for armed resistance … the masses must be prepared for such action mentally, materially and by organisation. They must understand the inevitability of a more and more savage class struggle, and its transformation, at a certain stage, into civil war.”
Trotsky on Britain

Fifty two years after Trotsky’s death Militant comrades should realise that a halt to such “prattling” is long overdue. Even according to the opportunist logic adopted in the past, there is no longer any reason to hide then need for a workers’ council state and the armed insurrection. You can be expelled from Labour now for supporting a strike, let alone the armed seizure of power.

While such positions remain you will be in a contradictory situation: a more and more decisive tactical departure from your past without a break from the method, perspective and programme that underpinned it.

Opportunism: then and now
Yet on certain questions a re-examination has already begun. Militant’s moves to take up questions of social oppression are welcome. Our organisation, as some of you will remember, was a target of vicious gay baiting, which was tolerated for years in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS). We were ridiculed as ultra left because we opposed the call to “democratise the police” and instead advocated black self-defence supported by the labour movement. At the same time we remained staunch opponents of the feminism, black nationalism and petit bourgeois separatism of the other opposition groups in the LPYS. So it comes as a shock when we now see the political concessions you are making to black nationalism and feminism. There is nothing wrong with independent party papers and organisations for work amongst the oppressed. That is not our criticism of Panther. But when Panther decides to sanctify Malcolm X and uncritically praises the original Black Panthers it is making a dangerous concession to the separatist mood of its periphery. This is the same method of adaptation that was applied in the past to the reformist consciousness of militant workers.

Likewise with the debate which has broken out over the question “do men benefit from women’s oppression?” Because of years of failure to take women’s oppression seriously as a question for Marxist theory, a section of Militant comrades has clearly become disarmed in the face of the feminists’ arguments.

We only have to look at the difference between your former statements about Scottish nationalism and your current ones (e.g. Militant, 13 December 1991) to see the danger of a 180 degree flip in the face of new political questions The launching of a separate political organisation in Scotland is a serious adaptation to the developing mood of separatism amongst Scottish workers and youth. The need for an organisation separate from the Labour Party is not in question. But what is the justification for a separate, national organisation for Scottish revolutionaries? As your 1979 British perspectives correctly pointed out: “it would be utterly reactionary to form ‘Scottish Marxism’ or Welsh Marxism’.”
Without a serious accounting of the past, and a complete methodological break with Grant the danger is that Militant’s politics will simply be made up of a series of impressionistic responses to the demands of the new milieu. This will inevitably lead to fragmentation and political disorientation as different comrades come under the influence of the different sections of the working class. Instead Militant comrades must return to the genuine method of Trotsky’s Transitional Programme.

Transitional Programme
In re-elaborating transitional demands under current conditions you must break from the false understanding of the role of the programme which has informed your practise in the pest You have seen transitional as a bridge between the existing consciousness of the workers and the demands that mud be put on a future Labour government.

Trotsky himself insisted that the programme was a bridge between the needs of the current struggles of the workers and the need for revolution. He explained to the American Trotskyists in 1938 that this would mean, for example, advocating a workers’ defence guard against strike breaking and proto fascist gangs, even though the mass of the American workers were miles from this level of consciousness. The consciousness of the masses would often lag behind the objective necessities of the day. The demand was correct because it was necessary in order to defeat the scabs, whether the mass of the workers realised it or not.

Despite the fact that it is no longer exclusively focus on a Labour government, Militant’s programme remains effectively a minimum programme: transitional demands cut off from their strategic purpose.

At present Militant’s leadership has made a half hearted break with Grant It is storing up further splits and disagreements, nationally and internationally. To those Militant comrades still prepared to give their leaders the benefit of the doubt we say work with us in a new atmosphere of collaboration in the unions, amongst women, lesbians and gay men and in anti racist and anti fascist work. Demands full accounting of the past and an orientation to discussions with Workers Power and the LRCI.

For more please read
Militants peaceful parliamentary road to socialism
Militant after Grant - the unbroken thread?