“An eagle can fly as low as a barnyard hen but a barnyard hen can never reach the height of an eagle.”
In the current issue of ‘Revolutionary History’ Alan Woods, leader of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) ‘criticises’ Tony Aitman, a longstanding Militant supporter and Socialist Party member for his political obituary of Ted Grant in Volume 9, Number 4 of that journal. He also ‘criticises’ Peter Taaffe, General Secretary of the Socialist Party of England and Wales. ‘Revolutionary History’, due to its printing schedule and space in the current issue, were unable to publish our replies. We therefore carry below our replies to Woods. We also publish here Woods’ original article in full in order that readers can form their own opinions on the issues under dispute. We will be very surprised if the IMT acts in a similar fashion by publishing our replies to Woods but we live in hope! Keith Dickinson has also replied to Woods and his piece will be published soon on marxist.net.
Militant’s Real History – a reply to Alan Woods
On Pierre Broué and Ted Grant
by Alan Woods
If Aesop were alive today, and had just read the latest copy of Revolutionary History, he would have amused himself by writing a little story like this:
In the plains of Africa, when a lion dies, all kinds of creatures gather round the corpse: hyenas, jackals and vultures. They take some time to pluck up the courage to approach the body of an animal they feared to approach when it was alive. But eventually, they begin to take bites out of it, fighting and squabbling among themselves all the time.
Since the dead lion is no longer able to defend himself, the eaters of carrion now feel mighty brave and full of themselves. “Ha!” says the hyena to the jackal. “He’s not so great after all. You know, I was never afraid of him when he was alive.” “Neither was I”, says the jackal. “He was not as big as they all made out”. “Indeed not,” squawks the vulture, picking on a bone. “All those stories about King of the Jungle were just made up. Why, I was twice as good as him!”
Just at that point in this interesting conversation the growl of a lion is heard from a distance of about three miles. Immediately the whole noisy pack scatters squawking into the veldt (or the air) just as fast as their legs (or wings) can carry them.
Now, like every Aesopian fable, this one carries a moral, but before we come to that, and to introduce a more agreeable note into the proceedings, let me congratulate Revolutionary History on a splendid issue dedicated to my old friend and comrade, the late Pierre Broué. It was about time that the British Left paid tribute to this remarkable man, who was a dedicated revolutionary to the end of his days and surely the finest Marxist historian of the 20th century.
Unfortunately, this splendid issue was marred by the inclusion of a so-called obituary of Ted Grant by Tony Aitman. I do not wish to take up much space in your columns on this question. I will just say the following. When Ted Grant died two and a half years ago many obituaries were published in bourgeois papers, including The Guardian, The Times, The Financial Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent.
This fact alone demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that this man, whether you agreed or disagreed with him, made a big mark on British politics. The impact of his ideas and work went far beyond the narrow confines of small left groupings and sects. The Militant Tendency – again, whether you agreed with it or not – made an impact on the Labour Movement in Britain that really has no parallel in history. And Ted Grant was the architect of all this. That is why he was taken seriously by the ruling class, as reflected in the coverage of his death.
Nowadays the Militant is a distant memory. It took many years to build, but surprisingly little time to destroy. The ultra-left trend led by Peter Taaffe took the tendency down a road that led to its complete destruction. People like Taaffe and Aitman argued that, by splitting from the Labour Party, Militant would “grow by leaps and bounds”. Like all the sects they were looking for a short cut. Ted warned them it would be a “short cut over a cliff” and who can deny today that he was right?
I say this, not in order to open a polemic with a group that I would not normally consider worthy of mention, but in order to make clear the real reasons for Tony Aitman’s venomous and completely inaccurate “obituary”. When Ted passed away, bourgeois papers wrote respectful obituaries that paid tribute to a man who had been their declared political enemy all his life. They paid tribute to his achievements. The Socialist Worker represents a tendency Ted had fought against ever since his polemics with Tony Cliff. But even they had the honesty and dignity to write a decent and respectful obituary.
The only discordant note was struck by Peter Taaffe, who wrote a scurrilous article, dripping with spite and malice from every line. So outrageous was this “obituary” that it scandalised members of his own organisation (the Socialist Party) some of whom conveyed their feelings to us. It is therefore sad to see that Revolutionary History, which has done so much to establish the historical truth about Trotsky and Trotskyists against Stalinist falsifications, should have published Aitman’s diatribe, which is on the same level as Taaffe’s wretched piece.
Let me make one thing clear here. I do not for a moment object to honest political criticism and serious debate of ideas. But this piece is neither of these things. It is a collection of anecdotes, allegedly “remembered” by Aitman (incidentally, an insignificant figure in Militant). There is no serious attempt to document any of these allegations, just “Ted said this” and “Ted did that”. In other words, it is mere gossip and tittle-tattle.
On Aitman’s alleged “differences” with Ted Grant, I do not need to say anything. But I will issue the following challenge. Can either Taaffe or Aitman produce a single document, article or resolution from the past thirty years inside the Militant where they ever expressed a single difference, doubt or even reservation about the political line of Ted Grant? No, they cannot. They cannot because such things do not exist.
Let them not come to us now saying: Yes, but in private I disagreed, and I said so to so-and-so. Serious history depends on written evidence, not hearsay; it requires clear statements, not whispering in corners. Which brings me back to Aesop and the African veldt. While Ted was still alive and in the leadership of Militant, they did not have the guts (or the political level) to contradict him. They all supported the ideas, perspectives and methods which they now claim to abhor.
Ted Grant is dead and cannot defend himself against slanders and calumny. As a man, Ted could sometimes be difficult. He was as stubborn as a mule, and this was one of his strong qualities. Some people felt offended by his manner. These were small men and women whose thin skins served to cover up a complete lack of any real substance. The truth is that they did not come up to his knees, but now he is no longer around, they are strutting around like giants. It is a sight that is as edifying as the one in our imaginary episode from Aesop.
But even now Ted has been shown to be right. If anyone doubts this just let them look at the results of the Socialist Party in the recent local elections and compare these with the time when we had three members of parliament and numerous councillors all over Britain. Despite all their efforts to re-write history, the facts speak against them, and facts, as we know, are stubborn things. For our part, we have no hard feelings. We have advanced by leaps and bounds since we parted company with them. And therefore we wish Peter Taaffe health, happiness and a long life. But when the day comes (as it must come to us all) when his obituary is finally written, its title is known in advance: The man who destroyed Militant.
It is a matter of deep regret that my friendship with Pierre began late, when he was already suffering from that illness that eventually ended his life. I was, of course, well acquainted with his works and greatly admired his books. For his part, Pierre followed Marxist.com and the work of our tendency with the keenest interest. We were on the same political wavelength and this political agreement eventually led to his adhering to the International Marxist Tendency.
I remember the first time Pierre contacted me in 2000 to ask for permission to translate my article The Real Story of Red October, which I willingly agreed to. However, indirectly I had been in contact with him long before through the medium of my good friend Esteban Volkov, Trotsky’s grandson. Esteban and Pierre were close friends for many years and he was keen that we should meet. We were both invited to Mexico to participate in a documentary on Trotsky’s life, but for certain reasons we did not coincide, but spoke on the telephone.
From that time on, we developed a friendship that lasted until Pierre’s tragic death. I visited him when he was in hospital in Grenoble, together with Greg Oxley, the editor of La Riposte, and he was delighted to see us. He said: “This is a new beginning for me in many ways."
He expressed his great admiration for Ted Grant and looked forward to meeting him as soon as his health permitted. Unfortunately, that was not to be. But he gave us an interview in which he gave a warm personal message to Ted. The visit had very important results. Pierre Broué agreed enthusiastically to collaborate with our Trotsky Project, which had just started to republish the works of Leon Trotsky.
I remained in phone contact with Pierre on a regular basis and he remained optimistic to the end. His collaboration with the IMT undoubtedly gave him a new lease of life. He frequently told me of his plans to work and write when he recovered. He was particularly enthusiastic about our work in Venezuela and showed his scorn for those sectarians who refused to see that there was a revolution there. He actively supported our Trotsky Project and promised to write for it. He was full of ideas, plans, and suggestions. Unfortunately, his death put an end to these plans.
Finally, it would be fitting to restate what Pierre Broué had to say about Ted Grant and the tendency he helped to create.
Interview by Alan Woods
Pierre Broué is internationally renowned for his tireless work as a historian of the international revolutionary movement. His histories of the Bolshevik Party, the Communist International, the Spanish Revolution, and above all his recent Life of Trotsky have been widely admired. His latest book on the Left Opposition is yet another major contribution by this outstanding Trotskyist writer, who has dedicated his life to the fight for international socialism.
Already as a young man, Pierre joined the French Resistance in the dark days of the Nazi occupation of France. He later became a militant of the Fourth International and remains a dedicated Trotskyist to this day. Unfortunately, recently he has not been in the best of health, and is convalescing in the picturesque foothills of the French Alps. I found him lively and alert, with a sharp and very Gallic sense of humour. His revolutionary spirit shines through in every sentence.
I first asked him about the forthcoming Trotsky Project, with which he intends to collaborate.
AW: What do you think about our project to republish the works of Leon Trotsky?
PB: The decision taken by In Defence of Marxism to republish the writings of Trotsky is an excellent initiative, to which I give my wholehearted support. The youth must rediscover the extraordinary revolutionary traditions of the past. The publication of My Life would be a good way to start to the project. It explains a great deal about Trotsky himself, about his ideas, and about the great events he lived through.
AW: I understand that you will be writing a Preface to the new edition of My Life.
PB: Of course! I will start work on it just as soon as I get back to my books.
AW: Your latest book is on the Left Opposition. Would you like to say something about that?
PB: This is a very important subject, and I believe that not enough attention is paid to it. It is very important that the young people in particular should know about it.
AW: I am afraid that this book has not been translated into English. In general not many of your books have been made available in English, and that is a great shame. I believe that in future we should publish them.
PB: That would be extraordinary.
AW: Yes, I am thinking particularly of your biography of Trotsky, which is a very good antidote to the rubbish of Deutscher.
Pierre gives an ironic gesture, rather like a man brushing aside a fly. I then asked him how he came into contact with our tendency. He replied:
PB: When I read your material on the In Defence of Marxism website, and on the website of La Riposte, I realised that we should have been in contact and that we should have been working together for a long time. I believe we are on the same wavelength politically. In terms of political analysis and theory, your tendency stands way above all the others. Unfortunately, now that we are finally meeting, I am rather ill, as you can see. I must get well as soon as I can. This is a new beginning for me in many ways.
AW: As you know, Ted Grant has just celebrated his ninetieth birthday. I wonder if you would like to say a few words to him?
PB: Certainly! Ted Grant is known to me for many years, of course. As we say in France, he seems to have been around since the days of Clovis! Unfortunately, I do not believe we have ever met, but we had a mutual friend in Raoul, who was a longstanding militant in the Trotskyist movement in France. He often spoke to me of Ted, and held him in very high esteem. However, for some reason, perhaps for fear of being accused of "factionalism" or whatever – that’s the way things happen in the organisation to which we both belonged at that time – he never showed me any of Ted’s written material.
Regrettably, I didn’t make the effort to get in touch with him at the time. Only in the last few years I have been reading his material, which I found very interesting. Anyway, I am now very much looking forward to working together with your tendency. We must discuss politics, and methods of work, of course, and try to arrive at the fullest agreement. I believe this is quite possible.
To Ted himself, I would like to say:
"Ted, you were always a fighter. You have been struggling for many years. You have always defended revolutionary ideas. This was very important work, and you accomplished a great deal. At ninety years old, you are not a young man any more, but I think I might yet be attending your 100th birthday party!"
Grenoble, October 9, 2003.
Militant’s Real History – a reply to Alan Woods
Peter Taaffe, General Secretary, Socialist Party, England and Wales
To paraphrase a Russian proverb: “An eagle can fly as low as a barnyard hen but a barnyard hen can never reach the height of an eagle.” Unfortunately, we are compelled to follow the “barnyard hen”, Alan Woods, once more into his murky barnyard. His “defence” of Ted Grant says little about Grant but all that needs to be said about the character of Woods himself and the organisation he leads. The International Marxist Tendency (IMT) is a cult which deifies the leadership, in this case one who is dead, and his living reincarnation, Alan Woods. Proof of this is the fact that the Pakistani section of the IMT, led by the notorious Lal Khan, incredibly inscribed on its prominent banners alongside Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky the figure of Ted Grant while he was still alive! After his death, they continued with the practice. Yet even Fidel Castro, conscious of the baleful heritage of Stalinism and its ‘cult of personality’, sensibly prohibits in Cuba today the idolisation of himself on billboards and similar public displays. (Che Guevara’s image, on the other hand, is prominently displayed.)
The cult also personalises all differences, uses arguments which are devoid of politics or ideas, does not answer views different to its own but vilifies anyone who counters its views. This is on full display in relation to the history of Militant. This issue, in a sense, is an ‘exploded shell’. We have answered every one of Woods’ arguments, as well as those of Ted Grant, not after his death as Woods suggests but while Grant was alive. We are replying to them again now only because Woods cannot be allowed to succeed in his attempt to confuse and misinform even one new worker or youth about Militant’s real history as opposed to his fantasies.
Woods childishly declares that when Peter Taaffe’s obituary is “finally written, its title is known in advance: The man who destroyed Militant”! The truth is that it was the destructive role that Ted Grant and Alan Woods played, together with their ossified ideas, which undermined Militant. They and their supporters took the initiative for a split as we demonstrated in The Rise of Militant, Militant’s Real History, and all the documents from both sides in the disputes of the early 1990s at marxist.net (on the IMT website, only some selective documents appear). They conducted secret factional activities which they pursued unbeknown to us over a long period of time, the purpose of which was a naked attempt to grab power. Their very first proposal was the removal of Tony Saunois, who was the acting International Secretary of the CWI at the time, and a number of other individuals, who were to be ‘exiled’, in the case of Tony, to Chile! Their accusation of a “clique around Peter Taaffe” was laughed out of court. Only after their ‘organisational’ charges were fully answered and discredited did they shift gear and seek a political justification for their underhand methods.
Nevertheless, contrary to Woods’ highly personalised account, there was a political basis for the split in Militant. In the shallow method of Woods which has become his hallmark, is not an iota of politics; there is an absence of the Marxist materialist method. After all, Stalin and Stalinism’s triumph were explained by Trotskyists not subjectively but by objective phenomena: the isolation of the Russian revolution, the rise of the bureaucracy, etc. But this cult ascribes the ‘demise’ of Militant to one man, me. Was the collapse of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Britain in the post-1945 period down to one individual, Ted Grant or Gerry Healy? No! Did the split in the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party arise from Lenin personally? Was the isolation of revolutionaries in Russia between 1907 and 1911 due to ‘personal’ mistakes? Individuals play a part – sometimes crucially so – but the main cause is to be found in the change in the objective situation and how leaders, trends, etc., face up to them. No matter how correct or perspicacious the leaders may be, it is primarily the objective situation which led to the demise of the forces in the examples given above. The truth is a decline in Militant’s support was inevitable in that situation but we – the majority of Militant – faced up to it with a much clearer perspective than Woods and Grant.
The reality is that the majority of Militant rejected the outmoded method of analysis, pursued by Ted Grant with Woods in the rear, which flew in the face of the realities of the late 1980s and early 1990s. In a number of clashes – which we detail in Rise of Militant and which Grant never refuted when he was alive – Ted Grant was shown by us to be wrong. On Namibia, South Africa and the situation in Poland and other Stalinist states, we opposed Grant and were, moreover, proved to be correct. Along with Alan Woods and the latter’s present economic guru, Bob McKee, Ted Grant made a monumental ‘catastrophist’ blunder in characterising the 1987 financial crisis as leading “inevitably”, within six months, to a 1929-type situation. Lynn Walsh, I and others argued vehemently against him on this issue, as Woods well knows. In fact, Grant himself admitted he was wrong later, something entirely uncharacteristic of him in my experience of almost 30 years of collaboration up to 1991.
Woods asserts – in a quite ‘dazzling’ addition to Aesop’s fables – that we never opposed Grant in writing and have only plucked up courage to do so now after the ‘king’ has departed the scene. We have already replied to this spurious argument, as well as the claim that Grant was the only inheritor of Trotsky’s method. In 2002, when Ted Grant was still alive, we wrote:
“Grant claims justification for his role in the documents he wrote for the WIL and the RCP. We do not want to devalue the contribution that Grant made in the development of these ideas but the final formulations in documents do not tell the whole story of how ideas on perspectives, programme, tactics and strategy evolve within the leadership of a serious revolutionary organisation. In a viable organisation there is a constant process of dialogue and discussion. Who contributes what, where the ideas of one begin, and another end, is sometimes difficult to work out.
“Trotsky highlights this when commenting on the role of Plekhanov, ‘the father of Russian Marxism’, Axelrod and Zasulich, in the early Russian Marxist movement. He wrote the following: ‘Plekhanov and Zasulich lived generally in Geneva, Axelrod in Zurich. Axelrod concentrated on questions of tactics. He has not written a single theoretical or historical book, as is well known. He wrote very little, and what he wrote almost always concerned tactical questions of socialism. In this sphere Axelrod showed independence and acuteness. In numerous conversations with him – I was very friendly with him and Zasulich for some time – I had the clear impression that much of what Plekhanov has written on questions of tactics is a fruit of collective work, and that Axelrod’s part in it is considerably more important than one can prove from the printed document alone. Axelrod said more than once to Plekhanov, the undisputed and beloved leader of the ‘group’ (before the break in 1903): “George, you have a long snout, and take from everywhere what you need”.’ [On Lenin, by Leon Trotsky.]…
“Marxism is a science. But scientists, particularly in the modern era, learn from one another and share information in order to advance knowledge. This does not mean that amongst modern scientists there are not outstanding individuals. But the idea of teamwork, of the outstanding scientists building on the work of others, is accepted almost automatically. This kind of approach, however, is foreign to Grant – as evidenced by his book – and by his supporters, Woods and Sewell.” [Militant’s Real History.]
Unbelievably, while claiming theoretical superiority, they – Woods and Grant – displayed gross ignorance. This was evident in their weighty scientific contribution, Reason in Revolt. Peter Mason in his excellent critical review Science, Marxism and the Big Bang shows that they do not understand even basic scientific concepts such as what happens to boiling water. Pete Mason writes:
“Unlike Hegel and Engels, [Woods’] scientific knowledge is lacking. For instance, he states:
‘Until it reaches boiling point, the water keeps its volume. It remains water, because of the attraction of the molecules to one another.’
Reason in Revolt, p49
“But water does not ‘keep its volume’… If a liquid is heated it expands and its volume increases… it does not remain liquid because of the “attraction of the molecules to one another” but because of atmospheric pressure. Lower the atmospheric pressure sufficiently and the water will boil without any addition of heat.
“Woods then states that the volume between the atoms increases in water which is heated which, of course, must mean an increase of the volume of the water as a whole. He then attempts to describe boiling at the molecular level. He writes:
‘However, the steady change in temperature has the effect of increasing the motion of the molecules. The volume between the atoms is gradually increased, to the point where the force of attraction is insufficient to hold the molecules together.’
Reason in Revolt, p49
“But Woods has confused melting with boiling. In Dialectics of Nature, Engels discusses phase changes at the molecular level in great detail, but makes no such scientific errors (relative to his epoch, of course).”
Little wonder that a reviewer of Woods’ book could write in 1998:
“The history of science is a far more fascinating subject than this awful book would indicate. But its study requires integrity and honesty towards the subject matter. It cannot be chopped, tailed and stuffed into someone’s philosophic beanbag, as has been done here.
“To those who feel an urge to write an opus on the dialectics of nature, I would put before them the example of Barré St Venant. As a student at the École Polytechnique, he came under military command, and served as a sergeant of artillery. When called upon to fight for Napoleon in 1814, he stepped forward from the ranks and denounced Napoleon as a usurper. He was dismissed from the school as a deserter, but continued his scientific studies. He never published any books, but in his correspondence with and editorial work for others, he laid the foundations of the theory of elasticity. Today, when engineers design aeroplanes, machines and bridges, they call on the knowledge first given real coherence by this great scientist. Apart from his courage, integrity and mastery of his subject, I would most strenuously recommend his reluctance to write a book.” [Bill Thompson, Revolutionary History, Vol 7, no 1, 1998.]
As to any resentment at the superior ‘theoretician’ Woods, such sentiments could never occur to any of the leaders of Militant at the time or since. I, Lynn Walsh, Keith Dickinson, Clare Doyle and many other leaders of Militant wrote literally dozens, even hundreds, of articles in Militant and the Militant International Review on the theoretical aspects and processes within the trade unions, the General Strike, the Cultural Revolution in China, on Stalinism, the Portuguese Revolution, above all on the strategy and tactics of the mass movements around Liverpool and the poll tax.
These were not just individual contributions but the product of a democratic discussion and debate, and the result of the analysis of the collective leadership and the actions and campaigns that flowed from this. This is how we were able to successfully intervene, for instance, in the poll tax battle and in Liverpool.
“Ah, but this was when Ted Grant was able to correct Peter Taaffe and others.” Ted Grant was not to the fore in either the analysis of the poll tax or the Liverpool battles, or in the implementation of the ideas which flowed from this analysis. Sewell’s (and Woods’) extreme personality cult, as well as his lies and distortions, compel us to tell the truth. Sad to say, Grant never checked a line of many, if not most of these articles; my book on the French Revolution, for instance. Nevertheless, this is a constant theme in Grant’s book (History of British Trotskyism) and is applied not just to me. His first major collaborator, Ralph Lee, was a good bloke but ‘the theory’ was down to Grant himself. The same applied to Jock Haston and the whole leadership of the RCP, not just Healy but also Jimmy Deane, Pat Wall and everybody else except Ted Grant.
Woods now praises Revolutionary History but passes over what the late Al Richardson wrote about his and Grant’s roles: “There is its sectarian refusal to admit that any others since Trotsky can have made a theoretical contribution, and the arrogance with which their claims are dismissed. Isaac Deutscher ‘never understood Trotsky or his great contribution to Marxism’”. Richardson just dismisses Grant and Woods’ assertion that every group but themselves are ‘sects’ (they are, by the way, the smallest in Britain – PT) when he writes that they also originate in one of the “myriad sects on the fringes of the labour movement, as Woods so gracefully puts it.” He also states that the organisation of Grant and Woods “gains no credit by attempting to maintain the myth of his own infallibility.”
We concluded in Militant’s Real History:
“The truth is that Grant’s ideas were, originally, often totally unintelligible, incapable of being grasped unless rewritten for publication by his collaborators who invariably added to, not just the presentation, but the formulation of ideas as well.
The denunciations of others accompanied by the assertions of theoretical supremacy of Grant and Woods cut absolutely no ice in 1991 and even less so now given their theoretical incapacity during the difficult and complex period of history since then. They are now embarrassed to deal with the political issues under dispute in 1991.”
All the issues were debated and discussed openly and democratically in written form (check out both sides at marxist.net) and the minority led by Grant and Woods received 7% of the vote at a national congress of Militant. They were equally unsuccessful on the international plane with most of the sections of the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) supporting the majority. The split of 1991 was between an increasingly ossified conservative faction – Grant and Woods – who, amongst other things, wished to remain within a degenerating and ultimately bourgeoisified Labour Party and those who saw the need to create an independent organisation. If we had accepted their advice, the Socialist Party today would be as sterile and ineffective as Socialist Appeal is in Britain. Nobody takes them seriously – on the left or the right – either inside or outside the moribund Labour Party! They have no influence whatsoever in the trade unions and little amongst the youth. They are so out of touch with the workers’ movement in Britain and the role of the Socialist Party that they reprinted one of our leaflets – in Italian aimed at Italian workers and published by the Socialist Party – during the recent construction workers’ strike as “the authentic voice” of the workers’ movement in this dispute! It was “authentic” but it was written by Socialist Party supporters who played a key role in this dispute. They have also published an interview with Keith Gibson, a very effective leader of the strike, without once acknowledging that he was a member of “the sect” the Socialist Party!
Elsewhere, rather than going from ‘strength to strength’, as Woods asserts, they face splits, as in Pakistan, the USA and Mexico. In Pakistan this ‘democratic’ and ‘principled’ organisation has tried to resolve its differences through thuggery and armed clashes! Shamefully they have now established links with dissident republican groups in Ireland. The IMT website regularly – and always uncritically – publishes the material of these organisations, one of whom is notorious in Northern Ireland for its gangster methods that have included the torture and murder of its own members during splits and subsequent feuds.
Woods bemoans the loss of the three Militant MPs, which he ascribes to our “ultra-leftism”. He played no role in the selection, election or collaboration with these MPs. That was undertaken by others including myself and those on the leading bodies of Militant. Two of these MPs (Dave Nellist and Terry Fields) were removed as Labour MPs because of their principled stand in refusing to pay the poll tax (which Woods, Grant et al opposed them doing). The election of Manzoor Ahmed as an MP in Pakistan through the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP) was supposed to justify ‘entrism’ into this bourgeois formation. This MP, who has since lost his seat, now opposes Woods and his voice in Pakistan Lal Khan, having gone over to the PPP leadership!
There is something of the political flunky in Alan Woods’ attitude towards the ‘great and good’ in contrast to those who he designates are ‘insignificant’. He is in awe of the fact that the Financial Times, the Daily Telegraph, the Independent et al comment on Ted Grant’s death. This is of the same order as his ecstatic reporting on his website that he was invited to share a car with Hugo Chávez on a breathtaking ride in Venezuela! In fact, the position of the IMT towards the Chávez government is the same kowtowing attitude, of ‘benevolent advisers’ rather than independent critics, that we, that is Ted Grant, myself, Woods himself and many others, criticised Ernest Mandel and the USFI for when they adopted the same approach towards Castro, Tito and Mao Ze Dong.
An entirely different attitude, however, is adopted towards the “insignificant” Tony Aitman. Woods is fooling nobody when he says: “I do not for a moment object to honest political criticism and serious debate of ideas.” He has made ‘scurrilous’ personal attacks whenever there is an attempt to criticise the ideas of himself and Ted Grant. Alan Woods’ comment on Tony Aitman is typical of his haughty approach of seeking to diminish the work of everyone apart from himself.
Woods was a student in Brighton – Militant was not founded in Brighton, as he tried to assert at the time of Ted Grant’s death – and then left for Bulgaria while we continued to labour building Militant from very small beginnings. Some time after returning, he became a regional organiser for Militant in South Wales – not the ‘first’ as he later tried to assert. He then decided to go to Spain and helped to build a group that did achieve a measure of success there, particularly with the 1986-87 student movement. This, however, followed the example set by the work of Militant in Britain, particularly in the 1985 school students strike. Using this as an example, a similar mass movement of students took place in Spain, out of which came the Spanish school students’ union. At no time did Woods recognise that this had been inspired by the work of comrades in Britain in the strikes of 1985. It was put down to his ‘unique’ role. The organisation created out of the Spanish movements – the school students union – is now a byword for bureaucratic practices and manipulation in Spain.
He did not play any major role in Britain in any of the major struggles which we led: Liverpool or the poll tax. Grant sometimes made blunders in the Liverpool struggle, as we detail in our reply to the slanders from this ‘sect’ in 2002, to which they never replied.
The same methods characterise Woods approach to the late Pierre Broué. Woods says he made contact with Broué in 2000. Yet earlier than this, after Broué had broken with the Lambertists, he contacted Militant. We never knew of this, however, until after Ted Grant and Alan Woods left our organisation in 1992. Only then did Keith Dickinson discover in an old desk of Ted Grant’s a letter from Pierre Broué, addressed to Ted Grant, asking for discussions with us. He never informed us of its existence nor passed it on to any other member of the leading bodies of Militant. Why Grant took this course of action is not clear but is probably connected with his usual fear that anybody – particularly veteran Trotskyists – who came within the orbit of Militant or joined our ranks would in some way act to dim his ‘star’. Woods uses the same uncritical hyperbole towards Broué as he does towards Ted Grant. Broué wrote some important works on history – on the German and Spanish revolutions in particular – but “the finest Marxist historian of the 20th century”? His history of the German revolution is particularly useful, but is not on the same plane as Trotsky’s History of the Russian Revolution. It is more of a narrative, with less generalisation, than Trotsky’s work but is nevertheless important for understanding the German revolution.
But those who know Alan Woods and his work know of his tendency towards flattery matched by absolute disdain of those deigned to be ‘below’ him – particularly if it means he can ingratiate himself to those above. Militant was not “destroyed”. The majority continued with its work, albeit under a different name, the Socialist Party in England and Wales. The Committee for a Workers’ International continued its work internationally, with now 35 national sections and a presence on every continent. The Weekly Worker, no supporter of the Socialist Party, recently commented in passing about “the largest sections of the organised left in Scotland and, indeed, Britain as a whole – the SWP and the CWI”. In this connection nobody would even think about mentioning Woods’ supporters in Britain or worldwide; they are invisible in demonstrations, in the trade unions, amongst students, etc.
Alan Woods’ methods will be exposed to even the small circles he manages to influence in the stormy events that impend worldwide. This attempt to hide behind the authority of Ted Grant will not save him and his organisation from the revenge of history, which his false political perspectives and organisation makes inevitable. We, for our part, have given and will continue to give due honour to the contribution that Ted Grant made but we will also point out his deficiencies and mistakes, not in order to score points or denigrate in the manner of Woods, but to seek to learn from them, thus helping to strengthen the Marxist and Trotskyist movement.
All the documents in the dispute between the CWI and the IMT can be found at marxist.net
Reply to Woods from Tony Aitman
I was shocked to read the “reply” from Alan Woods to my obituary to Ted Grant. Shocked because, whatever political differences existed, I have always had a certain respect for Woods’ capabilities; shocked because I could not believe the depths to which this individual has degenerated. His “reply” goes far beyond the issue of an obituary, but raises the whole question of the Marxist method, the role of the individual and the history of Marxism and Trotskyism in the post war period.
Woods argues that the obituary was “venomous” and “inaccurate”. I can find no venom in the obituary – indeed, I tried to paint Ted Grant as a brilliant, if flawed, human being. As for inaccuracies – where? Woods raises not one issue that it is inaccurate. Woods repeats more than once that differences need to be on paper – time and again, from before the split with Grant and after, in documents and in Peter Taaffe’s History of Militant, the Socialist Party has published the documents, the minutes of meetings that detail the differences and the arguments, such as Woods’ own position on the national question, the issue of the Soviet Union, and so on. Woods argues that myself and others were too frightened to oppose Ted while he was alive. I am certain that others can speak for themselves; however, Woods clearly has not even read the obituary he is claiming to criticise. In it, I write that Ted always called me Thomas, Doubting Thomas, from something I disagreed with him over. But that is a minor issue: where does Woods answer a single issue raised in the obituary, over the Open Party Faction, the Iraq War, Black Monday, the collapse of the Soviet Union? Where does Woods’ defend his group’s craven fawning at the feet of Chavez?
Woods’ superior and condescending tone is a disgrace for someone supposedly calling themselves Marxist. Even in his bitterest attacks on the Stalinists, Trotsky never sank to the level plumbed by Woods, but raised the issues always from a political point of view. Yet here is the great lecturer deigning to come down from his mount to actually speak to the lower orders. I am far from dressing up my role in anything, but to call any one in the movement "insignificant" is outrageous. Any one who has played a part in the revolutionary movement should be applauded for that – but for someone like myself with over 45 years activity to be called "insignificant" is appalling. My history speaks for itself: joining the movement aged 16 in 1965, going to Liverpool, shop steward in one of the largest engineering factories at 19, member of the joint shop stewards committee during the attempted workers’ occupation of the factory, member of the LPYS National Committee for 5 years, actively involved in building the Militant in one of the most important areas of the country for which I was one of the first expelled from the Labour Party after the removal of the Militant Editorial Board; helped develop Militant’s first publishing venture, which included Ted Grant’s selected writings; a key figure in the rebuilding of the Socialist Party in Liverpool after the Merseyside split; in the forefront of the recent campaigns for freedom of speech in Liverpool: this is not an “insignificant” role to play in the building of the revolutionary party. One must presume that, in Woods’ mind, my role was not as “significant” as his, a “significance” which most Socialist Party members who were active in those years would find it hard to pinpoint. Clearly, Woods must believe that, to use his Aesopean analogy, the roar of the great lion in the distance causing all to quake and shiver must be none other than Woods himself.
And the only political issue which Woods can raise is that the Socialist Party is not such an important force today as it was when Ted was in the leadership of the party. I note that Woods is silent on our influence on Trade Union executives; still, facts are stubborn things. Still, he compares the “complete destruction” of Militant to the “leaps and bounds” by which his own group has advanced. I cannot speak for the rest of the country, but “leaps and bounds” on Merseyside? Compare the tiny gathering that commemorated Ted’s passing in Liverpool to the packed hall that came to celebrate the life of Terry Fields, addressed by Peter Taaffe, Dave Nellist and others. All Woods can do is repeat the old canard that Peter Taaffe was responsible for the "collapse" of Militant – nothing to do with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the defeat of the miners, the degeneration of the Labour Party, etc. Objective conditions mean nothing to Woods: it is all down to the thoughts of one man. Trotsky did not even take this line with Stalin, for all his crimes, but pointed to the objective conditions facing Russia after the death of Lenin. Woods, though, has lost the Marxist method.
One final uncomfortable fact for Woods concerning his good friend Broué. One of Ted Grant’s less appealing features was his complete dismissal of anyone who did not agree with him. Thus, Broué’s important works, for example on the history of the German revolutions, were dismissed out of hand by Grant. It is a fact that Broué wrote to Ted Grant, indicating that a meeting to discuss joint work would be welcomed. This letter was kept secret from the rest of Militant, and only found amongst Ted’s papers when he left. Why? One can only presume because Ted could not admit the fact that an old adversary could have something unique to contribute to the movement.
I have no apologies if this is an over-long reply. History is a strange animal; for some, history is an end in itself, and they gain pleasure from its reading and learning. For the Marxist activist, however, it is linked to the present, a guide to activity, a pointer to the future. This demands an analytical questioning of the history of any of us who claim to be leaders of the movement. If, in doing this in order to get the record straight, some uncomfortable facts about Ted Grant were raised, again I make no apologies. I am quite happy to debate the political issues with Woods; unfortunately, he makes none.