Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


From a friend of
George Edwards

Dear Comrades,

I write in response to Al Richardson’s so-called review of Ted Grant’s The Unbroken Thread. In the opening paragraph Richardson writes: “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”. The remainder of the fully one page ‘review’ is an attack on the accuracy of the assertions and detail. It is in short an accusation of distortion and dishonesty. In the final paragraph we read “Ted Grant’s theoretical record speaks up as well as anybody’s during the period”. Nowhere in the ‘review’ does Richardson discuss, appraise or criticise anything theoretical in the 585 pages of Grant’s book.

This is indeed strange given that in Al Richardson’s War and the International, a book co-written with Sam Bornstein, many references are made to the theoretical contribution of Ted Grant in the WIL and RCP.

Indeed chapter 6 of War and the International, dealing with the new situation in the post-war world, has the complete opposite appraisal of Grant’s role to that in Richardson's ‘review’. We read on pages 175-6, by way of quotation from Roy Tearse, and in the authors’ own text, that the WIL and later the RCP “had been groping towards a new outlook” prior to the American SWP minority position developed by Felix Morrow and others. Quoted is Grant’s dismissal of some aspects of the SWP majority’s mistakes from 1942 – Preparing for Power.

This is followed up by Grant’s further development in the following year, with a quotation from The Italian Revolution and the Tasks of British Workers, quoted page 176-7. Then we are told that Grant “generalised this outlook to a European scale’ in 1943, The World Revolution and the Tasks of the British Working Class, quoted pages 176-7. Then we are told that in 1945 Grant deepend [sic] the insight he had gained in The Character of the European Revolution, quoted on page 177.

The whole of this section of Richardson and Bornstein’s book emphasises the correctness of the RCP’s position in relation to the SWP majority position, and outlines clearly as shown above the leading role of Ted Grant in developing this position. This is of course not what Al Richardson’s review article says, he flatly refutes everything he jointly wrote in War and the International only three short years ago. Has Al just discovered The Coming German Revolution mentioned in his review, and not in the relevant chapter in his book? Possible but very, very unlikely.

The next chapter in War and the International deals with the discussions in the Trotskyist movement around the questions of Stalinism and the colonial revolution. These discussions occurred as the cadre force of world and British Trotskyism was in the process of disintegration, a disintegration based on disorientation in face of changed circumstances and a changing world. This led to many incorrect theoretical positions being thrown up.

On every question Ted Grant is shown to be the leading figure in replying to various interpretations. Whether it be on the nature of the Soviet Union, replying to Cliff’s state capitalist view, which we are told was a development of Haston’s etatism, or responding to the American SWP's mistaken position on China, where we read on page 222 “Grant however, was able to describe the exact processes even before it [sic] began”, followed by an appropriate quotation from The World Situation and the Crisis of Stalinism.

We also have Grant’s Reply to David James, quoted to fully a half of page 224, which outlines a Marxist position on Tito, Gomulka, Mao, suggest [sic] by James to be unconscious Trotskyists carrying out the revolution. So we have in Richardson and Bornstein’s book War and the International Ted Grant presented as the major figure in the vital debates. Yet in Richardson’s ‘review6 of The Unbroken Thread, Grant is an ‘also ran’ with false claims and pretences. Which is what, Al?

In Revolutionary History (Volume 1, no.4) a review of War and the International and Against the Stream (by the same authors) appears from the Bulletin of Marxist Studies (Winter 1986-87). This includes the following lines: “A mass of secondary details obscure the fundamental lines of thought. The result is a lightweight [sic] of dates, personalities, a superficial sketch.” Many people associated with Revolutionary History but not with the Bulletin of Marxist Studies have similar criticisms of the mentioned books.

Where War and the International includes one or two paragraph excerpts from the various documents, The Unbroken Thread includes edited versions of whole articles and documents. Al Richardson in his ‘review’ advises “it is in general unwise to produce documents in extracts, and far better to produce fewer key statements intact”.

I would tend to agree. War and the International serves as a taster, The Unbroken Thread as a meal. What we need is a feast of unedited originals intact and for appraisal, but remember, Al, people in glasshouses are not supposed to throw stones.

The neglect of the meat and concentration on the dressing, the chucking out off [sic] the baby and the saving of the bathwater, involved in Richardson’s review of The Unbroken Thread and also of Taafe [sic] and Mulhearn’s Liverpool: A City That Dared to Fight, show that Al is unable or unwilling to make a theoretical attack on the ideas of these Militant authors, so instead nits are picked and deciet [sic] alleged.

It is absolutely necessary to deal with facts openly and honestly, warts and all. Every Marxist worthy of the name would recognise that. But to dismiss a 497 page book detailing the influence and impact of Trotskyist ideas in one of Britain’s major cities (Liverpool; A City That Dared to Fight) with the only interesting detail being that Charles Martinson, who later stood for the RCP as a council candidate, left the CP whilst in the International Brigade over the attacks on the POUM, as does Al Richardson, is absolutely ridiculous. To write a page-long review of 595 pages of theory retreived [sic] from old documents and to fail to mention any of Grant's theoretical contributions, is obtuse if not absurd. Particularly when given the prominence with which Grant emerges out of the reviewer’s earlier work.

Richard Whyte


Al Richardson replies:

First as to the facts. I had (and have) no intention of denying or denigrating Ted Grant’s role as a theoretician, both in the WIL after the return of Ralph Lee to South Africa, or subsequently in the RCP, as both the book written by Sam Bornstein and myself, and the review as quoted by you, indicate clearly. What I did say is that you cannot assess the development of his thought in this book, made up as it is of tendentious introductions, purposeful omissions, and doctored and misattributed documents. By ascribing all the theoretical achievements of the WIL and the RCP to Grant alone it denies the contribution of other talented thinkers in Haston’s team, which functioned as such. By using the words “groping towards” and “generalised” in War and the International myself and Sam show that Grant’s thought does develop, and does not, after the manner of Athena, spring fully armed from the head of Zeus. We also show that he is capable of mistakes. If what has been said already does not convince you, how about this one?

Despite the possibility of a temporary post-war ‘boom’, lasting for one or two years, and as a direct result of the changeover from war to ‘peace’ production, we are now standing on the threshold of the greatest crisis yet witnessed in the history of British capitalism.

Those who imagine that they will return to pre-1939 standards live in a fool’s paradise. Indeed, the period of the world economic crisis from 1929 onwards, with its unemployment queues of over 3 million, will appear a very rosy picture in comparison with what the working class faces in the next period.' (Revolutionary Communist Policy: RCP Conference Decisions, special issue of Workers International News, September 1945, p.28)

As for dismissing the book on Liverpool, I thought I had made it clear in my review (Revolutionary History, Volume 1, no.4, Winter 1988-89, p.44) that the history of “the last half dozen years” lay “outside the scope” of this magazine – we have a cut-off point in the mid-sixties – and that I was extracting the points that deal with Trotskyist history before that period. I also talk about “several interesting details” – not “the only interesting detail”.

Which of the books is a ‘taster’ and which is a ‘meal’ is best left to the discretion of the reader, but since one is a narrative history and the other a collection of documents (or rather, parts of documents) they are not strictly comparable. I, for one, do not have a great deal of regard for a gourmet who thinks that you can compare the soup with the cheese and biscuits.

Finally, a word on method. First, the Tendency to which you belong rubbishes War and the International in secret, accusing it of “errors, misunderstandings and even falsehoods”, hoping that the book’s authors never see what you have written, and in any case denying them the opportunity to reply. Then, when this is reproduced in public (Revolutionary History Volume I , no.4, Winter 1988-89, p.45) and your tendency is challenged to substantiate it, you keep a cowardly silence. When two of your own books appear, and you are caught out tampering with facts and documents, you now appeal to the book (War and the International) which you had accused of dishonesty in the first place. Finally, you try to associate “many” other, unnamed persons but “associated” with our magazine, with your original slander. Whose integrity is in question here – ours or yours?

One thing I do agree on in this letter. Let everyone have the opportunity of examining the original documents, unedited, and reproduced in full. Will Fortress Books produce them and scrap this worthless publication?

Updated by ETOL: 10.7.2003