Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


Ted Grant, The Unbroken Thread: The Development of Trotskyism over 40 Years, Fortress Books, London 1989, pp.85, £6.95

A book that sets out to present in handy form the contributions of one of the foremost thinkers of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain can only be welcomed, did it but restrict itself to that aim. Unfortunately, that is not the case with this selection, which in a number of places sets out to tinker with the historical record in the interests of promoting a personality cult.

Readers of our Reviews section will recall (Vol.1, no.4, p.44) that in a previous review of a book from the same publisher I took exception to the remark that in 1938 Ted Grant was already the “Theoretician and principal leader of Trotskyism in Britain”. I made the point that in no way was this the case, and that even in the WIL Ralph Lee considerably overshadowed him, although he did not even deserve a mention in Taaffe and Mulhearn’s account.

This book’s compilers were in considerable difficulties in finding any writings signed by Ted Grant that could justify this statement at all that dated from 1938, let alone earlier, where his name does not appear alone on a single document. The result of a no doubt dedicated search to prove the contrary came up with the preface to the WIL version of Trotsky’s The Lessons of Spain – The Last Warning, which on page 1 is described as “written jointly by Ted Grant and Ralph Lee”, and less modestly in the caption of the illustration on page 59 as “Ted Grant’s introduction”. The truth is, as any comrade in the WIL at the time in London is able to affirm, that it was the work of Lee himself, with next to no input by Grant at all. The initials appended to the text, those of J.R. Strachan, were in fact those of Jock Haston's wife. Devotees of stylistic analysis – which can now be done by computer – will no doubt derive great amusement from the demonstration that the preface bears none of the marks of Ted Grant’s easily recognisable style at all. The attempt to predate Grant’s leadership qualities to his sojourn in South Africa is even more laughable, when on page vii of the preface he is credited along with Lee and Purdy with founding “the Workers International League in South Africa”, the name of the new group that Lee founded when he returned to that country during the Second World War. Even Lee’s rôle in founding the English group of that name is concealed by the statement (p.viii) that he came to Britain in 1938, whereas the minutes of the Conference of the Harber Group show clearly that he was in Britain a year earlier. Grant’s journey, on the other hand, is placed a year earlier than it was in order to lend credence to his alleged leading theoretical role at this early date. This is historically light-fingered, to say the least.

As with the versions of Stalin’s and Lenin’s Selected Works, names have simply dropped out of history. Whereas in Taaffe and Mulhearn’s book the main victim of this treatment was Ralph Lee, in this collection it is Roy Tearse, Jock Haston and Bill Hunter who have slipped out of the record, names to be found in neither text nor index.

Thus on page ix of the preface we are told that “only Ted Grant” was able to come to terms with the development of the new situation in the post-war world, and on page 82 that the RCP did this “under the theoretical guidance of Ted Grant especially”. Nowhere are we informed that the documents pointing out a new situation written by Goldman and Morrow circulated freely inside the WIL and the RCP before Grant recognised what was valid in them, or that as far as the economic forecast was concerned Tearse realised the fallacy of the International Secretariat’s position before Grant did. And as for foreseeing the new situation in Europe before all others, that too is myth, as a simple consultation of the article written by Ted Grant entitled The Coming German Revolution in the October 1944 issue of Workers International News shows all too plainly – an article mysteriously absent from this collection. The contributions of Tony Cliff and Jock Haston to this discussion are not cited in the description given in this book on pp.371-3, and most disgracefully of all the section on Eastern Europe on pp.187-91 does not even hint at the fact that it was Haston who began the discussion about Russia and Eastern Europe, both in Socialist Appeal and in the internal bulletin of the RCP. We are simply told that “it was Ted Grant, as the leading theoretician of the RCP, who worked out a correct position” (p.188).

Even more contemptible is the selection or editing of texts to give a totally false picture or exonerate the author from the results of his mistaken policies. Although we are told that “there are none of the writings or speeches of Ted Grant that the author would not now be prepared to reissue and debate” (p.xiv) the controversy about Chauvinism and Revolutionary Defeatism restricts itself to Grant’s polemic against the RSL in 1943, carefully avoiding the document Grant wrote along with Healy for the WIL’s internal bulletin two years earlier, which showed himself and Healy to be on the right wing of the movement as against the position argued by Jock Haston and Sam Levy. Although we are told that “he main reason why original articles and documents have been cut is an attempt to concentrate as much as possible in a single volume, without vulgarising or simplifying the theoretical constructions” (p.xv), and that the reason that the cuts are not indicated in the text has “no ulterior motive”, this is demonstrably not the case. The version of Preparing for Power that is served up has removed from it the entire polemic against the tactic of entry work into the Labour Party, and in particular the passage with the remark that “such a perspective is farcical and can only serve as a cloak for complete inactivity”. The cuts amount to well over a thousand words, and their significance can easily be gauged.

When in the interview with Collins in 1936 Trotsky advised his British supporters to join the Labour Party, he based himself on the perspective of a rising tide of industrial militancy and its effects upon radicalising the Labour Party and making its supporters receptive to revolutionary ideas. Naturally the coming of war slowed down the process, but 1944 showed the largest number of days lost in strikes of any year back to 1926. The result of this was soon shown by the two most radical Labour Party conferences that have ever met, as a simple consultation of their minutes demonstrates clearly. And in 1945 people who had no previous connection with the party, or even with the working class at all, were able to be adopted as candidates and found themselves almost immediately in parliament. The main responsibility for the British Trotskyists not being there, otherwise engaged in attempting to create a party by linear recruiting, lies squarely on the shoulders of Haston ... and Grant, “especially” (p.82). By these cuts Grant escapes his responsibility for the loss of the historical opportunities of a generation, opportunities prepared and foreseen for the movement by Leon Trotsky himself. The final break-up of the RCP is laid, not at Grant’s door, but “in large measure due to bureaucratic interference and outright manoeuvres by the leadership of the Fourth International” (p.ix), to which is added the ingenuous remark that “at that point [1949] Ted Grant and the British Marxists turned their backs on this international organisation” (p.83).

Add to this catalogue of downright falsification a crop of random stupid errors (e.g. that the authors of the Three Theses had spent most of the war years in exile in Britain, p.84), and we have a very sorry production indeed. This is a shame, because Ted Grant’s theoretical record speaks up as well as anybody’s during the period, even if it has done no more than spin round on the same turntable since 1949. It is, in general, unwise to reproduce documents in extracts, and far better to present fewer key statements intact. But even worse is not to indicate the presence of cuts in the text at all, which makes this collection useless for critical purposes. Anybody reminded of the fate of certain Russian Marxist writings might search for a similar explanation, in the self-censoring activities of a swollen and parasitic bureaucracy of full-time officials.

Al Richardson

Updated by ETOL: 6.7.2003