[Marxism] Ted Grant obit

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Thu Aug 10 13:34:43 MDT 2006


The Independent (London)
August 9, 2006 Wednesday
Obituaries: TED GRANT;
Founder of the Trotskyite group Militant Tendency who never abandoned his 
revolutionary ideals
by Andy McSmith

If consistency is a politician's greatest virtue, then the veteran 
Trotskyite Ted Grant was one of the most virtuous figures of the 20th 
century. His convictions did not alter from when he was converted to 
revolutionary Marxism as a boy of 14 to when he died at the age of 93.

None of Grant's predictions of the imminent collapse of capitalism came 
true, and in his old age he was thrown out of the organisation he founded, 
the group known as Militant Tendency, to die as he had mostly lived, in 
near total political isolation. It took an obdurate kind of bravery to hold 
on for so long to a belief system that so many others had abandoned. He had 
an impressive number of ex-followers who were inspired by him when they 
were young, some of whom are prominent in public life, like the highly 
colourful Scottish socialist Tommy Sheridan. Grant could also claim to be 
one of the last living links with Leon Trotsky. Though he never met Trotsky 
in person, he knew his son, Leon Sedov, who was murdered by Stalin's agents 
in the late 1930s.

He made a brief appearance on the national stage at Labour's annual 
conference in Brighton in September 1983, as Michael Foot pushed ahead with 
a decision to decapitate the so-called Militant Tendency, a Trotskyite 
organisation suspected of organising a party within the Labour Party. Five 
members of the editorial board of the newspaper Militant, including Grant, 
were allowed to appeal to the conference against a decision taken by the 
National Executive to expel them. As the vote went heavily against the 
five, Grant made his departure saying: "We'll be back." Like so many Ted 
Grant predictions, it was wrong.

He was born in Germiston, near Johannesburg, where his father emigrated to 
escape the anti- Jewish pogroms in Russia. It has been reported that his 
original name was Isaac Blank, but "Blank" may have been an invention. He 
concealed his identity to protect his relatives in South Africa, and 
perhaps out of an innate secretiveness.

His father abandoned the family home when Isaac was young, and his French 
mother took in lodgers, one of whom was Ralph Lee, who introduced the young 
boy to the works of Trotsky, who had just lost the power struggle in the 
Soviet Communist Party. In the early 1930s, Lee was expelled from the 
Communist Party and founded a tiny Trotskyite group, who decided that 
Europe was a more promising field of activity. The story goes that "Isaac 
Blank" and another young Jew made the long voyage on a German passenger 
ship, and to avoid the attention of Nazi sympathisers on board, borrowed 
the names of English crew members. One became Sid Frost, the other Edward 
Grant.

On arrival in Britain, the young Ted Grant followed instructions that came 
from Trotsky himself to join the Independent Labour Party and try to take 
it over from within. So began the tactic of "entryism" which Grant pursued 
for most of his life. However, the tiny band of entryists were soon 
embroiled in one of the rancorous, incomprehensible feuds in which 
Trotskyite groups have always specialised.

On the one side were a group of Bloomsbury intellectuals whose main asset 
was that Trotsky knew who they were' on the other, unknown young men and 
women mostly from working-class backgrounds, led by a Scottish seaman named 
Jock Haston. The South Africans all joined Haston's breakaway Workers 
International League (WIL). There followed a breach of a more personal 
kind, when Haston began an affair with Ralph Lee's wife, Millie, and Lee 
moved back to South Africa. He was expendable, but Millie Lee was not, 
because according to an informant planted in the WIL by Special Branch, her 
family was the little organisation's only source of funds.

 From this unpromising start, the WIL suddenly achieved national notoriety 
after the Soviet Union entered the Second World War, when the Communist 
Party of Great Britain called for an end to all industrial action. When 
Tyneside shipyard apprentices struck, the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, 
was sufficiently alarmed by reports of Trotskyite infiltration to have 
Haston and three others charged with sedition.

WIL influence on Tyneside was a fact, because one of their undercover 
members was the full-time regional or-ganiser of the Independent Labour 
Party (ILP), T. Dan Smith, later famous as the corrupt boss of Newcastle 
City Council. Smith's cover was blown when Ted Grant turned up in Newcastle 
in 1943 to announce breathlessly that Britain was in a "pre-revolutionary 
situation", drawing attention to himself and other Trotskyites, who were 
expeled from the ILP.

This was a period of high hopes for the young Grant. He really believed 
that when the war was over, capitalism and Stalinism would both collapse in 
a new wave of revolutionary upheaval. Disillusionment followed when, 
instead of taking to the barricades, the workers put their trust in the 
Labour government, and the Trotskyites reverted to the old habits of 
entryism and internal feuding. Grant became locked in a ferocious feud with 
an Irishman named Gerry Healy, which lasted four decades. Healy lost 
because his followers revolted against his practice of continuing the 
indoctrination of young female revolutionaries beyond working hours. It was 
revealed that 76 young women had been introduced to what Brian Behan 
described as "the erect forces of Healyite Labour".

By contrast, Ted Grant is not known to have entered into any sexual 
relationship with anyone. His only known vices were gob-stoppers and 
low-grade cowboy movies. Living alone, he devoured the national newspapers 
and novels by Jack London and John Galsworthy, listened to classical music, 
and dressed rather like a tramp, in a raincoat and cloth cap.

It was Gerry Healy who set up an "entryist" group inside the Labour Party, 
whose members were quickly identified and expelled. Ted Grant and a tiny 
group of followers joined later, their existence going unnoticed for many 
years until the 1970s, when it suddenly became apparent that there had been 
a well-organised takeover of the Labour Party Young Socialists. Tony Benn 
heard Grant tell the LPYS conference in Skegness in 1973 that Britain was 
on the brink of a revolutionary crisis (again). Benn thought that he 
sounded like "a theological leader, a teacher by instinct".

In 1975, Labour's National Agent, Reg Underhill, drew up a report alleging 
that the purportedly pro-Labour weekly newspaper Militant, founded a decade 
earlier by Ted Grant and a collaborator from Liverpool named Peter Taaffe, 
was actually a front for a secret political party with its own full-time 
staff, to which supporters were required to hand over one-tenth of their 
income.

Nothing was done' the leaked report only helped Militant to recruit by 
giving them publicity. In 1981, they took effective control of Liverpool 
Council, through the council's domineering Deputy Leader, Derek Hatton. In 
1983, three of their members were elected Labour MPs. Another, John 
Macreadie, was elected General Secretary of the Civil and Public Services 
Union in 1986. In 1992, Tommy Sheridan was elected to Glasgow council from 
the prison cell where he was serving a sentence for refusing to pay the 
poll tax.

By the late 1980s, the organisation was claiming a membership of 8,000, but 
as it grew, Ted Grant's influence within it proportionately diminished. He 
stayed true to the messianic optimism of the little Trotskyite sects. When 
the stock market crashed in 1987, Grant forecast a repeat of the depression 
of the 1930s. During the Iraq war of 1991, he foresaw a repeat of the 
Vietnam conflict and a return to conscription. When Militant embarked on a 
campaign of civil disobedience against the poll tax, Grant warned against 
activism for its own sake.

Militant also had an implacable enemy in the Labour leader Neil Kin-nock, 
who pursued a policy of identifying its members and expelling them from the 
Labour Party. Derek Hatton and others from Liverpool went down in a blaze 
of publicity in 1986. The MPs Dave Nellist and Terry Fields were expelled 
in 1990.

The expulsions triggered Grant's final quarrel with Peter Taaffe, who had 
supplanted him as Militant's effective leader, and who had decided to drop 
the pretence that it was only a loose group of like-minded newspaper 
readers and bring it into the open as a new political party. Grant 
persisted with the view that they should stay within the political 
mainstream, which was the instruction handed down by Trotsky himself half a 
century earlier. He circulated a letter to Militant supporters solemnly 
accusing Taaffe and his supporters of being a "Zinovievist clique" - a 
reference to one of Trotsky's rivals.

In a parody of what had previously taken place within the Labour Party, 
Militant's leaders equally solemnly pronounced Ted Grant and a few 
supporters "have their own small premises and their own staff, and are 
raising their own funds" and had therefore expelled themselves from 
Militant. When Neil Kinnock had laid precisely these charges against 
Militant, he was loudly accused of running a witchhunt.

Ted Grant spent his last 15 years living alone, co-operating with the tiny 
band of loyalists who had left Militant with him, always looking for signs 
that the revolution had begun. Latterly, he thought that developments in 
Venezuela looked promising.

--

www.marxmail.org





More information about the Marxism mailing list