Date: Monday 27th July
Time: 17:30 - 21:00 BST
The International Marxist Tendency traces its roots all the way through the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals. In the postwar period, there was a general retreat by the forces of genuine Marxism, and the left was dominated by the distortions of Stalinism and reformism. While other groups were preparing for a Third World War or denying the existence of the working class, our tendency put up a firm defence of the theories and traditions of Marxism; which at every turn, were proved to be correct. By building on the firm basis of theory, our organisation is today emerging as the strongest revolutionary force amongst workers and youth worldwide. Our speaker, Fred Weston, is a leading activist of the International Marxist Tendency.
- History of British Trotskyism
- Buy at Wellred: History of British Trotskyism
- Programme of the International
- Documents of the Opposition in the “Militant” in 1991-92
- The CWI split of 1991-1992: setting the record straight
- The theoretical origins of the degeneration of the Fourth – Interview with Ted Grant
- How the Militant was Built – and How it was Destroyed
Hubert: Hello everybody. Welcome to the session on the history of the International Marxist Tendency. The International Marxist Tendency traces its roots all the way through the First, Second, Third and Fourth Internationals. In the post-war period there was a general retreat by the forces of genuine Marxism and the left was dominated by the socialists or Stalinism in the workers movement. While other groups were preparing for civil war or denying the existence of the working class our tendency put up a firm defence of the theories and traditions of Marxism which in Britain were proved to be correct. By building on the firm basis of theory our organisation is to be emerging as the strongest revolutionary force amongst workers and youth worldwide. Let me introduce to you Fred Weston, he is a leading activist of the IMT, to introduce this discussion.
Just a point, I have two books to advertise. The first one is from Ted Grant, History of British Trotskyism, and the second one is from Alan Woods on Ted Grant: The Permanent Revolutionary. So, Fred, he is doing the lead off for 90 minutes until the break at 5.35pm British Summer Time and then at 7.30 BST we’ll have a discussion. From 8.30pm to 9pm we will have a sum up.
Fred: I was asked to provide comrades with my notes for the lead off to help translators but I’m too old for that. I have these kinds of notes, as you can see, fully digitalised. (Fred holds up paper notes). And, furthermore, far too much for 90 minutes, so I think I might do what Ted Grant used to do which was to read the first page of his notes and then not look at them for the rest of the talk but, we’ll see, we’ll see.
Now, Ted Grant has a major role, obviously, in the history, because the history of the IMT is firmly connected with the ideas and methods that Ted kept alive. Of course, we are Trotskyists and we go back to the left opposition of the 1930s, of Communist fighters who fought against the bureaucratic degeneration of the Soviet Union and we build on their tradition. It was a difficult period in which to defend the genuine ideas of Marxism and it is an unfortunate fact that many elements on the left who claim the mantel of Trotsky, the mantel of Lenin, in reality have a sectarian approach and they do a disservice to them. You see, I remember with Ted, what distinguished him, was the ability to dialogue with ordinary working class people while at the same time not losing the revolutionary perspective. It’s an ability to work in the wider labour movement with a language that workers can understand, at the same time, without losing the revolutionary program, analysis and perspective.
One of the dangers facing the revolutionary movement is adaptation to the reformist milieu. You see, in periods of relative stability, in periods of economic upswing, most workers want to get on with their lives and they’re not ready to listen to the revolutionaries. What will push the masses to revolutionary ideas are not the Marxists but it’s the crisis of the capitalist system as it unfolds. So, revolutionaries can work for long periods, seemingly against the stream, and there can be a temptation to adapt to a given level of consciousness at a given moment. This could push the revolutionaries towards reformist adaptation at the same time it can also lead to a sectarian approach because this comes from frustration and impatience with the working class and, very often, we see both the opportunist tendencies and the ultraleft tendencies in the same person or in the same organisation. Now, what distinguished, I think, Ted was this ability to maintain a balanced position and this, I think, is what characterised the organisations Ted helped to build. First of all, the Workers International League in 1938, the RCP, the Revolutionary Communist Party, later on during the Second World War, the militant before it degenerated and, subsequently, the IMT.
Now what I referred to early on, this adaptation to opportunism and this tendency towards sectarianism, are things that the Marxists are in a constant battle against. It was present in 1938, in 1945, in the 60s and 70s. As the Militant, towards the end, degenerated its leadership went into an ultraleft direction but there were also elements who went in an opportunist direction and buried themselves in the labour party, in the trade unions, in a bureaucratic manner. We ourselves have had to constantly be alert to these tendencies and on occasion we’ve had to separate from individuals and groups who’ve gone too far in either ultraleftism or opportunism. Now, sometimes I get asked the question, what guarantees do we have that all this won’t happen again? I say it again, and it’s not my invention, I’m only quoting somebody else, if you want a guarantee, buy a washing machine because they come with a guarantee but even they have a guarantee which hass a limit. Now the only thing that comes anywhere near close to a guantee is political education, attention to theory and the building of Marxist cadres, i.e. active members of the organsaiton who have a good grounding in Marxist theory and who can thnk for themselves. Another thing which we mustn’t forget, Ted always used to insist on this, is that revolutionaries must have a sense of proportion and we must maintain that. We mustn’t get carried away. Once you think you’re much stronger and much more powerful and much more important than you really are, you’re on the road to ruin. Another thing which revolutionaries need is a sense of humour which is connected to a sense of proportion. I think I have a sense of humour so at least I have one of the elements.
Now, to move on, why are we discussing the history of the IMT? Well its because capitalism is a global system and working class struggle is a global struggle and socialism can only succeed as a global system. The Russian Revolution, the marvellous revolutionary events of October 1917, unfortunately, were not followed by revolutions, of successful revolutions, in other countries. Therefore, it degenerated into the monstrous Stalinist regime we saw. And that was because of its isolation to one country and a very backward one at that. Stalinists always talk about socialism in one country. They talk about national roads to socialism. I remember in ’73, the British Road to Socialism. In Italy it was the Italian Road to Socialism. The question has to be asked therefore, why did Lenin give so much importance to the building of the Communist International.
Why bother if it’s possible to build socialism in one country? The reason Lenin gave such importance is that Lenin understood that either the revolution spread to other countries or it faced the risk of being overthrown or degenerated. Capitalism is an international system and ever, like today, has it become evident that the problems facing humanity can only be solved on a global scale. The pandemic, climate change, they do not recognise national borders neither does the economic crisis. We have the immense productive forces that have been created. We have the development of science, technology, to unprecedented levels. Recently, very recently, both India and the United Arab Emirates sent probes on their way to Mars and yet millions, billions of people face poverty and hunger. For that we need, what we need is, to remove the system. The working class is the class that will do that. The whole of history shows the working class also needs leadership up to the task. In each country we must build, initially, the nucleus of a Marxist organisation and then work to transform that later on, on the basis of events, into a major force. That is what the IMT stands for. But the question is where do we come from? What is our history? The time I have, I can’t go into detail of every event, every moment, but I will attempt to touch on the main points. Hubert mentioned two books. Those books I recommend to everyone, they should read them, if they haven’t read them, if they want a more detailed account of what I’m going to talk about. And, as Hubert said, we stand on the tradition of the First, Second, Third International, the first four congress of the Communist International, the Left Opposition of Trotsky.
And the founding congress of the Fourth International in 1938. Now, Ted Grant, plays an important role in this. In 1928 he joined the Trotskyist movement when he was a fifteen year old boy. He bought he paper of the American Trotskyists in a bookshop in South Africa. That’s how he began to get involved. He subsequently moved to Britain in 1934 with a few other comrades from South Africa. And, fast forwarding, I can’t go into detail, in 1938, together with Ralph Lee, he and a few others, a small group of comrades, set up what became known as the Workers International League. I want to give a taste of the environment that Ted found when he came to Britain.
There were small Trotskyist groups in Britain in the 1930s and it would be honest to say they suffered from the disease of sectarianism. For instance, Trotsky’s advice, initially, was that they should set up a tendency within the Independent Labour Party. They divided over that, some agreed, some didn’t. When it was clear that the fruitful period of work in the ILP was coming to an end, Trotsky advised them to move their forces to the Labour Party. Again, there were divisions within the small group of Trotskyists. So, as usual, you have sectarians who at first refuse to go in and when they do go in they adapt in an opportunist manner and don’t accept the advice of Trotsky. And, again, some of them did accept Trotsky’s advice and went into the Labour Party but, from my reading, and those of that period, it is not enough to judge whether or not a group is working correctly simply by seeing whether they are in or outside the labour party because you can adapt in an opportunist manner when you are working in the reformist milieu.
So, what we had, when Ted arrived, was different. By 1938 you had several small Trotskyist groups with different positions. Some were outside the Labour Party. Some were inside. I would say they all suffered from a small circle mentality which you had a separate discussion on in this school. Ted’s group started off as basically, an expulsion, actually, from one of these groups in Paddington in London and they decided to launch the Workers International League as a consequence which was orientated, it was working in the Labour Party. There was another group also working in the Labour Party, a Trotskyist group, but I would argue there was a difference between the two groups. Ted’s group was openly defending the ideas of Marxism; no hint of opportunism in the way they presented their ideas. But it wasn’t just that, it was also an outgoing group, they were selling papers on metro stations, they were going to the factories and selling papers, they were generally going out into the working class to build and they were building whereas the others were stagnating and what happened in 1938 is the following. Preparations were being made to organise the founding congress of the Fourth International. James Cannon, the leader of the American section of the Fourth International came to Britain. His aim was to fuse all the Trotskyist groups into one organisation and then go to the Congress in France, which was the founding congress of the Fourth International with a successful fusion behind him, in his pocket. Little problem: there was no principle unity on how to work amongst these groups. The policy of the Fourth International for Britain was actually being carried out by the WIL. They were carrying out the advice of Trotsky. Curiously enough, WIL did not become the official section of the Fourth International in 1938.
Why is that? Well, when Cannon met with the WIL, and curiously the only group that Cannon not only spoke to the leaders but spoke to the whole membership, in a meeting, was the WIL., the WiL comrades accepted that they would participate in the conference which was aimed at fusing the groups together but they explained the conditions for a fusion did not exist and if you look at the final result of the fusion congress you see why. They formed an organisation which had some of its members doing independent work, some of them doing Labour Party work. They had not agreed on how to work, they simply formally accepted to declare themselves members of the same organisation. Ted’s group, and Ralph Lee and the WIL, refused to participate in what they saw as a farce. Cannon never forgave the WIL comrades for that. How could they not carry out the dictates of Cannon? That shows you the methods of Cannon, in stead of basing himself on the politics, on the common policy, it was just, force the groups together. You cannot do that, it will not work. He went so far, he even hid from the delegates present at the founding conference of the Fourth International that the WIL had applied first to be recognised as the official section because they were carrying out the policy of the International. He hid that from the delegates. They said, failing that, if the conference didn’t recognise that, they requested to be recognised as a sympathising group. As you can see, in the figure of Cannon, there was a disease present right from the very early days of the formation of the Fourth International, unfortunately.
There is, in the writings of Leon Trotsky Volume 1938-39, a text which is basically an interview, a dialogue between CLR James and Trotsky and it is interesting what CLR James tells Trotsky. He is describing to Trotsky the various groups that exist in Britain and this is what he says:
“There is also another group. Lee’s group in the Labour Party…” Lee was then the leading figure in the WIL. He says: “… which refused to have anything to do with fusion.” Which is a lie by the way because they said they were prepared to go through the process of discussion, but, then he quotes directly saying, quoting the Lee Group, saying it was bound to fail. A little detail: the next sentence: “The Lee Group is very active.”
And it’s interesting, in the same dialogue with CLR James, what Trotsky had to say about the Trotskyists in Britain. This is Trotsky’s judgement of those who entered the ILP, he says, “Not all of our comrades entered the ILP and those that did it, and they developed an opportunistic policy so far as I can observe and that is why their experience in the ILP was not so good.”
Then, if you go to a note of this text by Leon Trotsky, of course, the note is produced by Pathfinder, which is controlled by the American SWP under Cannon, this is their explanation: “The Lee group came into existence in 1938 as a result of purely personal grievances and had no discernible political program.”
That is the way they present that event. The truth is, the WIL was actually the healthiest of all these groups. So far did the publishers of Pathfinder Press go in this question that they hid one letter from Trotsky to Ted’s group. I won’t go into the details because there is a long explanation by Alan Woods on this question but it is a letter that Trotsky wrote after the WIL had published Trotsky’s Lesson’s of Spain. In another interview Trotsky praises, and it could only be the WIL that he is referring to, he praises them for having acquired a small printing press. They were the only group that did that.
Read Alan’s text to find the details of how we discovered this letter, and how we finally got it recently, because it’s a big, a very important development for us because it shows that what Ted had said for all those years is true. The letter did exist, it was finally produced. Now, within a few weeks, the new group that they formed split apart as the WIL had predicted. And then, precisely because the WIL was the healthiest of these groups, if we look at what happened during the second world war, the WIL begins to grow significantly. I have lots of detailed information here which I can’t quote because of time. The significant workers that they won over, trade union leaders, shop stewards, factory leaders, they won them to the WIL. In 1941 they changed their orientation.
The Labour Party was empty at that stage, it was in a national coalition. The war was on. The comrades of the WIL actively intervened in all the major strikes and you have to understand the Labour party was in a coalition with the Conservatives and the Liberals. The official Communist Party, the Stalinist Communist Party, their position was to support the war effort. They were against strike action. And the situation was one where the WIL was making very important gains, specially on the industrial front among workers. The Stalinists, because of this growing influence of the RCP, the RCP was formed in 1944… I’m jumping ahead here… I’ll explain that. By 1944, the WIL was by far the strongest of all the Trotskyist groups and the Fourth International had to recognise that. And that is how there was fusion with the best of the others, you could say, and that was the basis of the creation of the new organisation, basically under the leadership of the WIL, which became known as the Revolutionary Communist Party. Now, there is an interesting little document that you can actually find on the Marxist Internet Archive. It’s called, “Clear Out Hitler’s Agents”. It was a pamphlet, a leaflet produced by the official Communist Party attacking the RCP and the WIL as agents of Hitler because they supported strikes. The reply of the WIL in 1942 to this slander, which you can also find on the Marxist Internet Archive, it’s called “Factory workers be on your guard, clear out the bosses agents.” And, as I said, Ted Grant always had a sense of humour. They published a leaflet in which they offered a £10 reward to any worker who could find one page in this Stalinist pamphlet which had less than 3 lies in it. The workers had a good laugh because nobody claimed the £10. Now, towards the end of the War, the Comrades, they were involved in the apprentices strikes in the Northeast of England. They had a strong base. They even had soldiers in the 8th army, spreading the ideas of Trotskyism to the soldiers, to the British soldiers. As apart of the RCP’s involvement of the strikes, several of the leading figures of the RCP were arrested, kept in prison and put on trial. But in the army, in Egypt, in the British army, you had what was called the Cairo Soldier’s Parliament. It was a kind of organisation of debate among the soldiers where they would discuss, and they even published bulletins among the soldiers
And, among the soldiers the slogan was raised, “We are fighting the war”, an anti-fascist war as they saw it, “we’re fighting for the right to strike.” That had an effect and, in the end they had to let them out on bail and eventually they had to drop the case. Now, the perspectives of the Fourth International, and the perspectives of Trotsky before he died, were that the Second World War would end with a wave of revolution like the First World War. In a certain sense, that was true. The Greek Civil War, the Partisan movement in Italy, the partisans in France. The Colonial Revolution was given a massive impetus. India, China, but, it’s true to say that things did not work out as they had predicted, particularly in the advanced capitalist countries. The strengthening of the Soviet Union under Stalin, the spread of deformed workers states from the Soviet Union to Eastern Europe enormously strengthened the authority of Stalinism in that particular period. And the defeat of the movements in several countries created the conditions for economic revival in the capitalist countries, in the advanced capitalist countries. The perspectives that the Trotskyists had worked out had to be reappraised and, in spite of the successful work done during the war, the changed conditions immediately after the war had an impact on the RCP. The leadership of the RCP around Ted attempted to reappraise, to draw a balance sheet of the situation. Ted in 1946 in the document called Economic Perspectives, which was a proposed line of amendment to the international conference of the Fourth International, he criticised those who were talking about the spontaneous collapse of capitalism.
He said this, and I quote: “… with the weakness of the parties of the Fourth International, which remain small sects at this stage, the capitalists have been enabled to find a way out of the collapse and decline of economy. This has prepared the way in Wester Europe for a steady and fairly rapid recovery.” And he added, “The Fourth International will only discredit itself if it refuses to recognise the inevitable recovery, and it will disorientate its own cadres as well as the broad masses by predicting a permanent slump and slow rhythm of recovery in Western Europe, when events are taking a different shape.” Of course, Ted had a balanced position. After explaining that a recovery was taking place, he explained, however, “A new recovery can only prepare the way for an even greater slump and economic crisis than in the past.”
Compare what the leaders of the RCP were saying to what the leaders of the Fourth International were saying and you tell me who had the most balanced position and whose ideas have been confirmed by history. Ted did not have a crystal ball, he couldn’t see how long, how big the boom was going to be, but he had eyes to see and he could see what was in front of his eyes, that there was an economic recovery taking place in that particular moment and it was necessary to re-orientate the forces of the Fourth International. But, the leaders of the Fourth International refused to listen, not just on the question of economic perspectives. Their perspective was that the Soviet Union was about to collapse. Read what Ted and the leaders of the RCP were saying, they were explaining that the opposite was the case. Read what they were saying about China. Ted, even before Mao came to power, because there was speculation among some Trotskyists that Mao would not come to power and he would betray, I can’t go into the details here but if you read the text, read for instance Reply to David James which is available on the Marxist Internet Archive, Ted explained that Mao would come to power with an independent base therefore, and, what would come to power would be a bureaucratic caste similar to the Soviet Union. Now, make, lets be clear, we welcomed the Chinese Revolution as the second most important event in history after the Russian Revolution itself, but that it would have a bureaucratic deformation from day one.
And on this basis Ted predicted that the Chinese bureaucracy would come into conflict with the Soviet bureaucracy. History proved Ted to be correct within about 10 or 15 years. What is most incredible about the so-called leaders of the Fourth International, at the time, was their refusal to recognise that the second world war had even ended.
I will read Cannon from November 1945:
“Trotsky predicted that the fate of the Soviet Union would be decided in the war. That remains our firm conviction, only,” listen to this, “only,” make sure your ears are nice and clear and you can hear this because you might not believe it, this is Cannon, “only we disagree with some people who carelessly think the war is over. The war has only past through one stage and is now in the process of regroupment and re-oganisation for the second. The war is not over and the revolution which we said would issue from the war in Europe is not taken off the agenda.”
I will stop the quote there because I think it’s enough. Can you imagine going to the working class at the end of the Second World War and you tell them, “The war is not over. There is no economic recovery and revolution is around the corner.”
They had completely lost their bearings. When it became obvious that he war was over, then they began to predict a Third World War.
I will quote Pierre Frank from December 1951, 6 years after the war. This was at the third congress of the Fourth International:
“The Third World Congress of the Trotskyists has clearly drawn the positions of our movement in the coming war.” This is Pierre Frank. This is all available if you look it up.
With this total lack of understanding of the real world they were in, they destroyed the Fourth International. In Britain, they manoeuvred, they found people to support their position, an individual called Gerry Healy, he was ready to support them. He then spent the next several decades predicting a Third World War and they expelled Ted Grant in a situation, in a situation in which the RCP was basically in a state of collapse. Can you imagine, the objective conditions were difficult and then all these manoeuvres from the top had a demoralising effect on the ranks of the party.
In spite of all this, in 1950, Ted wrote an open letter to what had them become the official section of the fourth international Ted was now outside that organisation. He’s appealing to them to reappraise. This is what he said, analysising the situation:
“This poses new theoretical problems to be worked out by the Marxist movement. Under conditions of isolation and paucity of forces”, that’s of small forces, “new historical factors could not but result in a theoretical crisis of the movement, posing the problem of its very existence and survival.”
Now how many times have we quoted Lenin who said there is no such thing as the final crisis of Capitalism. I have here a bulletin of the third world congress of the Fourth International of 1951. (Holds up a copy of the document with a title “The Final Crisis of World Capitalism”)
As you can see, what it says is “The Final Crisis of World Capitalism”. Now, all the subsequent groups that emerged from the splits and sub-splits and splinters and fragmentation of the Trotskyist movement, all have, unfortunately, a certain amount of this DNA.
Remember in 1938 Ted was kept out of the Fourth by Cannon. In 1950 they expelled Ted and his group, in the 50s, I can’t go into the details here but, because of the splits in the Fourth International, the Fourth ended up with no section in Britain. The people that manoeuvred against Ted then came into conflict with the Fourth International. And, in the mid-fifties, the question was posed as to whether Ted’s group should go back into the Fourth International. They debated that issue. I remember speaking to some of the older comrades who told me that some of them were not too keen but it was a very small group, about 30-50, the membership in the 1950s, isolated in Britain in very difficult conditions and they decided, “we’ll go back in”. They didn’t agree with the policies or perspectives of these people, but they were hoping that, to break out of their isolation, they were hoping that there would be some healthy elements somewhere in the Fourth.
What’s interesting here is this, in 1945-48 Ted was fighting the ultraleft perspectives of the leaders of the Fourth International but by the time we get to the end of the 50s he’s fighting their opportunism. They had become, because the Third World War hadn’t taken place, the economy hadn’t collapsed, the Soviet Union hadn’t collapsed, reality banged them so hard on the head that they swung 180 degrees the other way and they started to see deficit financing, all kinds of ideas that explained that capitalism was facing a long term boom, that crisis was off the agenda. They even claimed the ideas of the bourgeosification of the working class.
One of the reasons that Ted wrote “Will there be a slump?”, in 1960, is in polemic against the international leadership and against the reformists, of course, who thought that capitalism was about to solve all its problems. In 1958-60, more or less, there was an opposition group that developed in Ted’s group. They had this idea that we shouldn’t have a paper, an independent paper, that they should form a paper with other lefts. They were adapting opportunistically. What’s interesting is where these people ended up. They ended up becoming the future Mandelites, utterly opportunist and within 10 years they were utterly sectarian and ultra-left.
As you can see, Ted, throughout the whole of his history was fighting both opportunism and ultraleftism in the movement and remember there were other Trotskyist groups working in the labour party at that time. The question is not whether you’re in or out it’s how you work. In the early 60s Ted’s group were coming to the conclusion that we need a clear banner. That’s what lead to the launching of the Militant in 1964.
They also had to come to terms with the so-called Fourth International. In this pamphlet we have a document which was presented to the Congress of the so called Fourth International in 1965. The International refused to circulate the document. Ted Grant said the Second International had become a post office. He said, “You guys are not even good being postal delivery workers.” They basically expelled Ted for the third time.
This is an example of the early Militant. (Holds up a copy of the Militant newspaper with the headline: “All power to French Workers”) This is from June 1968.
In 1970 Ted wrote the document called Programme of the International, which I advise all comrades who haven’t read it, read it, it’s available online, because it draws a balance sheet of all these years I’ve been talking about and it refers to the future International. In fact, it has the subtitle, “How will the International be organised?”
Remember, this is a small group, isolated in one country, but they had something the others didn’t have. Ideas and a Marxist method and a balanced approach, they worked and, by 1970, the Militant as a Tendency gained a majority in the youth of the Labour Party and then began to break out of the national isolation making contacts with left young socialists in Sweden, in Ireland, in Belgium, in Germany, I remember in 1974, which is a key moment for capitalism as well, the first real world recession since the Second World War. Remember the events of the 1970s started with May ‘68, the hot autumn in Italy in 1969, the anti-war movement internationally against the Vietnam war, the events in south America with revolution and counter-revolution in countries like Chile and Argentina, the growing revolutionary movement of the Spanish workers after decades of the Franco dictatorship, the collapse of the Junta in Greece, the Portuguese Revolution, the defeat of Portuguese Imperialism in Angola and Mozambique.
There was a world-wide movement of the workers and the youth and those are the conditions in which, finally, we established a new International, which gave itself the name then of the Committee for a Workers International. I remember at the time we were gathering our forces, we gave key importance to the events of Spain. We concentrated all our energy in finding contact with the youth and workers in the underground in Spain. That’s when we decided to send Alan Woods to Spain under the Franco dictatorship, and, starting with a small nucleus, we built up quite a powerful tendency very quickly in a short amount of time. We made contact with left groups in Greece just after the collapse of the Junta and we won over a group in Greece. I can’t go into the details but the International was growing. We began the work in Italy. We began the work in North America, South America and we won a group of South Africans. This is the first issue of their paper (Fred holds up Inqaba Ya Basebensi) and this is one of their perspectives documents for which they were expelled from the ANC (holds up document). We were growing, becoming a strong force, particularly in Britain where we were becoming a household name. Now I know that rob is going to go into more detail on this part of our history. I’m not going to go into too many details.
But we started getting councillors, MPs. Our MPs are different from all the others. They took the wage of a worker and they gave the rest back to different causes in the labour movement. So popular were our MPs, I have a personal little anecdote. I grew up in Coventry, in the middle of the city. My mother was working in a restaurant that was going to close and they were going to sack the workers. Mum was not particularly political but she said once, “if that MP, Nellist, if he was the manager he wouldn’t treat us like this would he?” My cousin’s husband was another, he’s not very political. Talking about Dave Nellist, he said, “He’s the working man’s MP”. We had a strong base in Liverpool, we intervened massively in the Miner’s strike and we led the Poll Tax movement, millions of people.
Now, unfortunately, that organisation degenerated and I won’t go into the details, Rob will explain more, but in 1991 we began to separate our ways. The myth is that we separated on the Labour Party. That’s only very very partially true. The reality was the whole set up, the whole regime within the Militant had degenerated. We were forced to break with this and we launched, in 1992, what is now known as the International Marxist Tendency. It wasn’t easy and it wasn’t a clear run. We went through a lot of clarification and we had to separate further with elements which, I believe, some had gone in an ultraleft direction. Others had adapted to the reformist milieu.
The IMT is not prepared to make concessions on questions of principle. Marxist theory is the key. We’ve regrouped, we began to rebuild and in the last 20 or so years we’ve built a strong organisation in Canada and the United States. We encountered the comrades in Brazil, the leaders of the occupied factories movement, at the height of the Venezuelan Revolution and discovered we had a lot in common and we united. And we built in several other countries, Nigeria, South Africa, Tunisia, Pakistan, most recently in Russia. We have built what we believe is the nucleus of a future powerful Marxist international based on the traditions of the First, Second Third and Fourth International, on the ideas developed by Ted Grant and the ideas we’ve further developed since then. I don’t want to encroach on the other talk you’re going to get tomorrow on building the organisation, I’ll leave that to another comrade but I’ve tried to outline the basic points of our history and, as you see, it’s not an organisational question. In every turn it’s been a political question, understanding the processes, understanding the post war period, understanding the perspectives for the Stalinist countries, understanding the colonial revolution and maintaining the firm clear perspective that it’s the working class that will change society. I’ll have to leave it there because I’ve gone over my time. I might come back to some points in my summing up but I’ll leave it there for now comrades.
Hubert: Thank you very much Fred. Just before we break, I have a very important announcement. On the 14th of July, Comrade Amin from the Pakistani section of the IMT was abducted from his home by the Rangers, a paramilitary group in Pakistan. In many cases victims of the rangers have been tortured, many have lost their lives. We appeal to all those watching to hold protests against these crimes of the Pakistani state, you can write letters and emails to Pakistani embassies in different countries, in a personal capacity or on behalf of your organisation. A video and article has been published on the Marxist.com website and this can be posted on social media with the hashtags #ReleaseAmin and #StopStateAbductionsInPakistan.
Paolo: Good evening comrades. I will start this contribution with the idea that the history of our international is the history of the defence of our program, of our ideas, against everyone and everything. Against sectarianism, against reformism and also against the big power of the Stalinists. And the principles that Fred quoted are of fundamental importance. Fred explained that there are no guarantees against degeneration but that only political, theoretical education and cadre building can help and I would like to give a few examples of how these were of fundamental importance to the history of our Italian section. All the comrades present in this school had to face difficult times and go against the stream and this was a permanent trait for our section for several decades but we can build cadres also when swimming against the stream. At the beginning of the 80s when we had a paper named Falce Martello, the Hammer and Sickle, because it was founded as a paper published by a branch of the Communist Youth in a small provincial town. A handful of young comrades are very quickly expelled by the Communist Party for that. Maybe, difficult to understand it now, to understand the enormous disproportions between the force of this gigantic apparatus and this small nucleus of Comrades but the fact is that the reformist bureaucracies were in touch with each other at an international level so everyone in the bureaucracy knew what Ted Grant had built in Great Britain in the previous years and they wanted to get rid of us from the start because they feared us.
Despite all those expulsions we pursued an orientation towards the Communist Party which at that time was the main force in the working class in Italy. But we also orientated all of our forces towards open independent work, in particular amongst the school students. The bureaucracy thought they got rid of us but with this open youth work the first mass movement of the students in 1985 our organisation began to grow quite fast. About a decade later we started work inside the PRC, the Communist Refoundation Party, because also against the stream, we were engaged in this for about twenty years and the most critical point of that work was certainly the first stage when the leadership and the Stalinists still had a big authority. But with a flexible approach and a firmness of principle in time we were able to gain an authority in that milieu and we started to recruit young people and workers and we found the PRC leadership showed more and more opportunism and we began to turn to a point of reference and we built quite a stable base for the organisation.
But we never renounced our open work amongst the students and the workers. It went from the Communist Party, open work and an orientation to the party, inside the PRC but still conducting open work amongst the youth and the workers, through that work inside the PRC we were also able to expand the organisation on a national scale and these different stages, and different kind of work we conducted, was only possible with a permanent discussion with the International. The experience and the theoretical elaboration of the international are a priceless treasure. When we were at the early stages of our trade union work we had quite a lot of students and a few workers in the organisation. We are talking about the early 90s. They were not easy times, the fall of the Soviet Union, the anti-war movement against the first Iraq War and in 1992 the Trade Union bureaucracy signed, a turning point, a very bad agreement for all the working class in Italy. And a new season opened with open contests and questioning against the leaders of the traditional trade unions.
When the trade union leaders called some demonstrations thousands of workers turned out in order to protest and heckle these leaders. In the massive demonstrations there are a group of workers that are so enraged they throwed steel bolts against the trade union leaders which was later named the autumn of the steel bolts and of course all the sects, all the ultralefts, all those small split off trade unions proclaimed the death of the trade unions like they always do. And despite being just at an early stage we dedicated a lot of time discussing the Marxist position in relation to trade union work, the history of the working class movement in Italy and internationally, the history of the trade unions the resolutions of the first four congresses of the Communist International regarding Trade Union work. We regularly go to factory gates for paper sales, we regularly publish interviews with workers and we began to have the first group of shop stewards inside the organisation. At that time it was not easy to explain our positions to conduct the battle inside the main trade unions to a section of trade union activists who were very frustrated with them.
But then, when Berlosconi won his first election in 1994 those same trade unions are kicked out from any negotiating tables and were forced to call mass demonstrations those same unions which were told they were dying. And whilst it was a fundamental present to have already accumulated some forces in order to begin the trade union work on a serious ground. We can give an example which may be the most relevant. Its called the anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist movement in 2001 which was an powerful movement on a world scale, which in Italy saw an important radicalisation of the youth. The movement was lead and dominated by all sorts of petty-bourgeois trends and ideas. All the possible mistakes of petty bourgeois, anarcho-syndicalist, irresponsible, adventurist ideas, were present. The Stalinists remained on the sidelines waiting for the movement to go in to them, the sects were giving lectures on what to do, the Mandellites of course adapted to the bureaucratic and petty-bourgeois leadership.
It was not easy to organise work inside and we also had the danger of losing comrades but with a theoretical deepening of our ideas and trying to link our work with the working class we were able to win a section of this youth. My time is almost over but I want to add just one point. Without the international it would have been impossible to work in a more difficult time and to take advantage of those opportunities we had. That is what makes the IMT a real International and not just an addition of different organisations or a federation, in a single organisation that is in one word the ideas of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky and Ted Grant.
Rob Sewell: First of all I’d like to thank Fred for his very in depth, very good contribution and thank him for volunteering me to speak on Militant for 15 minutes, shows that someone’s got a good sense of humour. Where to start from? Well, let’s start by saying that we were the smallest group on the left by far and then in the space of about 10-15 years we became the most successful Trotskyist organisation since the creation of the Left Opposition. Unfortunately that was thrown away by the majority leadership who were, the success went to their head shall we say. But if you were a betting man, if you were a betting person you surely wouldn’t have bet on Militant to become the biggest force, that’s for sure in 1964.
But what it showed really was the fact that we had correct ideas and the correct perspective. We were at the right place, at the right time, with the right ideas. Of course, in the Labour Party at this time, 1964-65-66, it wasn’t a very good time really. Labour government was in power and it was carrying out counter-reforms. There were two other groups in the Labour Party at that time, the Healyites, the Socialist Labour League and the Cliff group, the International Socialists. The Young Socialists, the youth section of the labour party was wrecked by the Socialist Labour League. They left the party and so did the Cliff group as well, they left the Labour Party and by 1969 it was a very bad atmosphere, even some miner’s branches were threatening to disaffiliate from the Labour Party because of the policies of the government. And our enemies used to joke about us being in the Labour Party, they used to make the sexist comment, “Whose in the Labour Party? Old women of both sexes and young men selling Militant.” It wasn’t far from the truth but what we did do was to concentrate on the youth. That was the key question for the building of the tendency and we did patient work in the Young Socialists rebuilding it from scratch.
I mean, the number of Branches we had at that time was one in London, one in Merseyside and one in Swansea and there was pioneering work done in Sussex University by Alan. But it was using the banner of the Labour Party Young Socialists that we really made headway in the 1970s. There’d been a big change in the objective situation, there’s a radicalisation not only in Britain but in Europe as well, Spain, Portugal, Greece and so on. And the left were building the Labour Party again, under Tony Benn, they were rising, and Militant rose with the general left in the Labour Party and the Trade Unions in Britain. By the mid 1970s we were holding Young Socialist conferences of a thousand or more people. By 1976 we got up to 1000 comrades. By 1980 we were at 2,000 comrades so this is how we built, mainly from the youth but we also built up in the Labour Party.
We had quite big delegations at Labour Party conference and we began to build in the Trade Unions as well. The witch-hunt against Militant began in 1976, that’s when it began but it didn’t dissuade us, on the contrary, we turned it against them and by the early 1980s, we were very well established in the Labour Party, developing in the Unions and as a result the bourgeoisie in Britain were terrified, they were worried that we were putting backbone in the left and there waged a huge witch-hunt to get us out of the Labour Party, to get us expelled. A big campaign in the newspapers every day, on the television, in the radio attacking Militant, “Militant, get them out, infiltrators”. We took advantage of this by holding meetings all around the country, we were drawing a thousand people, one thousand five hundred people attended meetings in big cities all around the country to hear what Militant stood for.
In Liverpool we established a very strong base because of years of work in the Labour Party and we won a number of councillors in Liverpool and in effect began to decide the policy, through the Broad Left of the Labour Party in Liverpool. We led Liverpool City Council in confrontation with the Tory Government. At the same time we won parliamentary positions. Terry Fields in Liverpool Broad Green and Dave Nellist in Coventry Southeast. Pat Wall was to win his seat in 1987 where we had 3 MPs in Parliament by then. At this time also of the Miner’s strike in 1984-85 where we intervened all over the coal fields, we won 500 miners to the organisation. And then in 1988-89 we waged this battle over the Poll Tax which we mobilised something in the order of between 14-18 million people. By 1988 we had 8,000 comrades. We became a household name, everybody knew us, we were on the television, in the newspapers, everywhere, everybody knew Militant. The whole basis of the organisation was Ted’s leadership and his theoretical guidance of the organisation but they were those in the leadership, particularly around Peter Taaffe who had big ideas, who had grand ideas. Of course, it was getting difficult in the Labour party, with the witch-hunt against us, Neil Kinnock attacking us at Labour Party Conference and all that, and expulsions were taking place, but the Majority leadership of the Militant started to draw ultraleft ideas, they lost a sense of proportion that’s the main thing and this was accompanied really by a watering down of the political and theoretical level of the membership to be honest about it.
Theory was just a little extra now, it wasn’t central to the organisation as it had been. Now it was activism, activism, and activism becoming the dominant theme. And in 1991 we had the Walton By-Election in Liverpool and the Majority Leadership wanted to stand a candidate against the Labour Party and we argued against that and as a result the “Real Labour” candidate got 2,600 votes and there were big posters “This is a victory for socialism! 2,600 votes for socialism!” And some people were bragging, “oh, we’ll do well, the Labour Party itself will wither on the vine” they said. We said at the time, if you go down this road, the ultraleft road, it will be a detour over a cliff. And in the so called debate which took place, it was bureaucratic, degenerate methods used against the opposition to crush us. They couldn’t answer our ideas so they tried to crush us and expel us which they did in the end and it just reflected the degeneration that had taken place in the leadership of the organisation and the MPs were sacrificed because of Walton of course. When we were expelled and they went on to be an independent party they were bragging that tens and thousands would join them and so on and it turned out to be a damp squid. The possibilities they just threw it away completely in an ultra-left fashion. They destroyed Militant. We had to start again from scratch but based on the real genuine traditions of the Tendency and the success that’s in front of us today. My time is now, I think, coming to an end so I’ve tried my best and its an impossible task but as they say, read the book and watch the film.
Alan Woods: You know I joined this organisation in 1960. I was in the school, I was 16 years of age. I’m now a little bit older than that but I can tell you something, I have never for one moment regretted that decision and I have never left this organisation, many people have but I have never left the same organisation I joined in 1960. And I can assure you as one who knows, that the International Marxist Tendency today is the only true inheritor of the genuine principles of the organisation and tendency established by Comrade Ted Grant so long ago. You know, one thing puzzles me about the sects when you read their newspapers, you listen to them speaking, all of them seem to imagine that history starts with them. Well, I’ll tell you something, we know history does not start with us. We’re not impressed with the mad chase after so called new ideas which are not new at all if you look at them, if you analyse them. Oh, no, we stand for the old ideas, yes, the old ideas of the Communist Manifesto, the Bolshevik Party of Lenin and Trotsky. That’s quite good enough for us and those ideas still retain all their vigour and venom.
Now there were three things which attracted me to this organisation, I remember. As Rob said we were the smallest of all, minuscule, I think there were not more than 30 members in Britain and the rest of the world, we had no money, not centre, no fulltimers, Ted Grant was working as a telephone operator in Liverpool and yet there were three things that attracted to me towards this organisation. Firstly, a serious attitude towards theory, secondly a clear orientation towards the organisations of the working class, the Labour Party and the trade unions and there was something else, I could see there was a very clean and democratic organisation, now it was on the basis of these things we were able to build up into a serious force in Britain, as Rob pointed out, but at a certain point, it was on this basis we were able to build up and yet every single one of those principles was destroyed by the criminal activities of a faction, an ultra left faction led by Peter Taaffe and his clique.
This is what destroyed the Militant, destroyed the most successful Trotskyist organisation in the history of Britain, perhaps one of the most successful organisations in the world and I’ll tell you this, Comrades, that was a crime which we can never forget, never ever forgive, I don’t intend to go into any details. The bureaucratic and anti-democratic methods used against the minority in the split, I won’t deal with the details, I’ll just say this, I’ve seen all kinds of vicious brutal internal Stalinist regimes, I’ve seen all kinds of monstrous behaviour but I’ve never in my life, either before or since seen such vicious and criminal Stalinist gangsterism as what was used by the Taaffeites, I say that now, I’ll repeat it and I’ll continue and whoever doesn’t like it, that’s their problem. The consequences of this betrayal, and that’s what it was a colossal betrayal, it was the destruction of the Militant and we had to start virtually from nothing. The Taaffe gang took everything, they had big headquarters, they had to sell it subsequently because of lack of funds, of course, a fool and his money are soon parted as we say in the Britain proverb but they had a big centre, they had printing press, they had newspaper of course, their fulltimes, they have the money, they have everything. What did we have?
We were left with what? I’ll tell you what we were left with, we had one small typewriter and even that didn’t work very well. That was the sum total of the apparatus of the IMT. We said down and discussed, Ted and myself, what is our priorities at this moment in time? It was a very difficult moment by the way. The sharp turn to the right in Britain and Internationally, above all there was the collapse of the Soviet Union which had a very depressing, demoralising effect on large elements of the left and we had the most massive ideological counter offensive against Marxism launched by the Bourgeoisie. Now, Comrades what is the role of a Marxist in the historical conjuncture like that? Surely it is to defend the fundamental principles of Marxism against its ideological onslaught of the bourgeoisie. That’s what we concluded. And therefore we set about producing the first book, it was going to be a series of books, to defend the fundamental principles of Marxism starting with philosophy of course. That was always the solid basis of Marxism, its still the basis today. What was the reaction of Mr Taaffe and his pals? When they discovered the publication of Reason in Revolt? Oh, they had a good laugh, they really laughed their heads off. They thought it was hilarious, they were joking, They said, “look, Ted and Alan have abandoned politics in order to write about philosophy.” Now that statement in and of itself is quite sufficient to define these gentlemen, these ladies and gentlemen I should say, I shouldn’t forget the ladies, to define them as a profoundly anti-Marxist tendency which has dropped all pretence of defending the basic ideas of Marxism.
In favour of what, in favour of mindless so called activism, in favour of mindless agitation. With what result? I think you know the result for those of you who take an interest in these people which I do not. I do not consider them even a footnote in history. But, one thing is clear, they paid the price for their betrayals, they really were a weird combination of extreme opportunism on the one hand and extreme adventurism on the other hand, I’ve never seen a tendency like that. And, adventurism, yes, they, if were like, their nearest comparison, they were like the economist trend, the revisionist economist trend which Lenin slammed in What is to be Done? and other writings. Well they had a good laugh then but they’re not laughing now I can tell you. They’re finished and I won’t say anything more on that subject. Just compare that philistine attitude, philistine anti-Marxist attitude towards theory, just compare that to Lenin writing Materialism and Empirio-Criticism in 1908. When the forces of counter-revolution were raging in Tsarist Russia, oh, and what was Lenin doing, reading about Hegel, writing about Hegel in Zurich in the First World War, could he not find anything better to do with his time?
I think Lenin knew what he was doing, he knew that by studying theory he was preparing the ground for such masterpieces as State and Revolution and preparing the practical ground for the Russian Revolution, oh, yes, oh, yes. You might imagine that Ted and I must have been very upset. You’d be profoundly mistaken. Ted, Ana, Rob Sewell and myself were not a bit bothered by that dispute, not in the slightest degree. It was absolutely clear to us by this time that we had to separate from this degenerate trend, had to separate, it was a matter of life and death. They did us a favour by expelling us, that’s all, that okay. And, Reason in Revolt had a colossal effect, it was one of the fundamental ways In which we began to build the organisation actually. We had the most enthusiastic comments not just from students but workers, oh, yes, many workers and many trade unionists.
There is one thing, I am from a very working class family in South Wales. My grandfather was a communist, there was always books in our house. I’ve still go them now. Anti-Duhring, the origin of the species and so on and if there’s something I cannot stand, something that really makes me mad it’s the rotten, the trendiness, the petty-bourgeois elements, some petty-bourgeois students, not our students of course but some students, some who dare to call themselves Marxists, I don’t know why, who have a contempt for the working class and they think that workers are not interested in theory. Yes, that is what Taaffe thought and all the miserable gang that was with us, they all thought that, don’t bother the workers with theory. Reason in Revolt proved what we knew all the time. At least the advanced workers, the thinking workers, the people that we’re aiming for have a thirst for theory as a matter of fact they have a most serious attitude towards theory than many so called intellectuals. But, Reason in Revolt was also very successful with students, with intellectuals and university professors, it had a big effect.
For example I remember we received an email from the University of Rio De Janero, we didn’t have any comrades in Brazil at that time, asking could they use the section on human origins in Reason in Revolt for the basis of a post graduate course in the biological department. Later we received a similar request from the department of Physics in the UNAM, the University of Mexico. Oh, yes, and it was through Reason in Revolt, you may not know this, it was through Reason in Revolt that I established personal contact with the late Hugo Chavez who was deeply impressed with the book. Actually, his brother was telling me, Adam Chavez who is another friend of mine, Adam Chavez, was telling me, he was a physicist, he walked into Chavez’s bedroom and he saw this book, Reason in Revolt, at the side of the bed and he said, “What’s this, a book about science, its not good to you.” And Chavez said, “You bugger, clear off, its my book go get your own copy.” But it was from there that Chavez and I developed a relationship and by the way, Hugo Chavez, you can say a lot about him, you can make criticisms about him all that you like but I used to know the man and I’m firmly convinced that Hugo Chavez, despite all his faults was a sincere and honest revolutionary who wanted to carry out the socialist revolution in Venezuela. He wanted to carry it out. And he looked on our Tendency, myself also but the tendency, the IMT, he knew all about the IMT, with enormous respect with enormous authority, I know that for a fact.
Now I can’t develop that point about Venezuela, it’s a separate discussion but what it does show is the importance of ideas and we have to make it clear, make it clear to everybody, there’s no possible confusion about this, when they ask what is the IMT? I answer, the IMT is a hardline orthodox Marxist-Leninist-Trotskyist organisation. As a matter of fact we’re the only tendency in the world that has consistently fought and continues to fight for the genuine traditions and ideas of Bolshevism-Leninism both in its ideology and theory and also in its organisational methods and tactics. And, therefore, it is necessary, but of course, we must understand the revolutionary party does not exist in a vacuum. We live in this rotten capitalist society and we’re under the constant pressure of alien class ideas. We must be aware of that and therefore it is necessary to wage a constant and relentless struggle against the pernicious influence of bourgeois and petty bourgeois ideas which inevitably end up to expressing themselves either as opportunism or ultra-left sectarianism. Do we have internal crises and battles and splits? Oh, yes, oh, yes. Oh, yes, and I have no doubt when our enemies look at the history of the IMT they will doubtless choose to present it as a history of constant internal battles, crises, splits and so on. No doubt they find this spectacle rather amusing. On the other hand some comrades that I know have found it a bit depressing at times. You know they’re both wrong. They’re both wrong. Trotsky liked to quote the famous phrase by Spinoza, a great philosopher: “Neither weep, nor laugh but understand, understand.”
You see, oh by the way, this one thing, let's nail this once and for all, let's nail this nonsense once and for all. You always get this after every crisis, every split. Some comrades are looking for some recipe some magical solution to avoid crises and splits. Let’s have a look at the statues, see if you can change the rules to legislate against splits and crises. You know Moses tried that a long time ago with his Ten Commandments. Which were intended to prohibit sin by law, by decree, by statutes. I’m afraid that after several thousand years his experiment didn’t have a very happy ending and in attempts to find a cookbook that will find the magic are also condemned to the same result. My dear friends, let me tell you, there is no such cookbook in existence. You won’t find it, you’re wasting your time. If it did exist by the way, Marx and Engels didn’t know it because they had plenty of crises and splits with the Bakuninists and so on. Trotsky didn’t know it, he had the same problem. And, Lenin, the number of splits that the Bolshevik Party had was nobodies business so please don’t waste your time Fred in the end.
I think Rob said it correctly, in so far as there is some kind of, or it might have been Fred, in so far as there is some kind of guarantee against degeneration it is only the development, of raising the theoretical and political level of the cadres. Above all the stability of the party depends on the moral and political authority of the leadership. If you have a morally and intellectually equipped leadership with authority in the eyes of the membership those leaders will never have to resort to expulsions and splits and organisational manoeuvres. Why should they, they can answer the questions? That’s the difference. And, by the way, crises and splits are an inherent part, not just of politics but of life itself. They’re inevitable. Birth is a crisis. A very painful crisis. Adolescence is a crisis. You’ve got the crisis of middle age and so on. People pass through these crises. Weak individuals collapse they’re dragged under by the crisis but a strong man or woman overcomes the crisis and emerges strengthened.
And I can state without fear of contradiction everybody knows this, everyone can see it, the IMT has emerged colossally strengthened by the experience of the last ten or twenty years including the internal battles, yes, strengthened. Now I should say of course, we are a democratic organisation, there’s plenty of debates take place. That’s as it should be. But, you see there is another side of the question, the IMT is not a debating society my friends. You know it is a militant revolutionary organisation. And there is a problem isn’t there, particularly with students and academic people, academics. How I despise academics, oh yes, specially so called academic Marxists, how I despise those creatures. Let me tell you, my friends, you can be an academic or you can be a Marxist. You can’t be both, it’s a contradiction in terms, I’m very sorry, it’s a contradiction in terms. And, these academics they spend all their lives arguing and debating about this and that trivial question. Of course they have all the time in the world because they don’t do anything else, just talk and talk and talk endlessly. Workers are not like that and neither are the Marxists. For us, discussion and debate are functional things. You debate for a reasonable length of time, you listen to all points of view but at the end, my friends, you’ve got to decide, you must decide. Any worker understands that, maybe some students or petty-bourgeois types don’t understand but workers understand it. Before a strike there’s a democratic debate always. Some workers are in favour of the strike, some others speak against the strike but at the end of the day they proceed to a vote and the majority decides and the minority accepts. And they do accept, they do accept willingly and that’s the same with us.
The IMT is a revolutionary army and therefore we must have a disciplined army, of course. The difference with a professional bourgeois army is that their discipline is imposed as something external, something from outside, in our army which is a volunteer army of revolutionaries, our discipline comes from inside. From a firm conviction in the justice of the course in which we are fighting for and the correctness of our methods. You know I will draw my remarks to ta close but Comrades who know me, know that I’m likely to quote from the Bible. You know what the Bible says? “Like unto the man who builded his house upon the sand. And the wind came and the rain and it blew upon that house. And the house fell.” We don’t want to be like that do we? We want to be like the man who built his house on the rock. “And the wind came and the rain and it fell upon that house and the house fell not.” Of course, what Jesus Christ was referring to was the rock of religious faith. I hasten to reassure you I’m speaking as a dedicated and firm atheist and materialist. We have no need for religious faith comrades, none whatsoever, but we do have faith. We must have faith. Faith in the working class as the only force that can change society. Faith in the ideas of Marxism which are the only ideas which can carry the working class to victory. And, why not, faith in ourselves because you know, comrades, if we don’t do the work, nobody else is going to do it for us. So I conclude, this marvellous school is very inspirational to me. I add the final phrase, yes, comrades, faith in the International Marxist Tendency and its in its future victory in the struggle for the world socialist revolution.
Fred Weston: Well, I have a lot more to say than I can say in twenty minutes but I ill try to keep it breid. If you look at the points that I refereed to in the beginning and if you go further back, to the First, Second and Third Internationals, you will find that there were objective reasons why certain things happened to those organisations. The Second International there was a period of upswing which lead to the adaptation to capitalist society on the part of that organisation. The Third International degenerated on the basis of the isolation of the Russian Revolution. The Fourth International, I explained the impact of the post war boom. Those are objective factors. But there’s also subjective elements involved. I’ll touch on that in a minute. There was always a minority that did not succumb to those pressures. Lenin was in the Second International. Trotsky was in the Second International. The followers of the Left Opposition in the 30s did not succumb to the degeneration of the Soviet Union whereas Mandel, Cannon and all of the others, they did feel the impact of the post-war boom and they zig zagged from one mistake to another.
You see, how Ted maintained a balanced position and preserved the ideas. There were objective factors involved in the Militant as well. The 1980s in one country after another saw some important defeats of the working class. The miners strike in Britain was a defeat. The defeat of the Fiat workers in Italy in 1980. There was a bourgeois offensive against the working class in the 1980s after the struggles of the 70s. The Militant and the old International rose on the back of the big movement of the 70s but then important events had an impact on the organisation, and again it was the inability of the majority of the leadership to come to terms with the new situation that led to the collapse of that organisation. I remember there was a refusal to recognise that the situation had changed. The refusal went as far as refusing even to recognise that the organisation was becoming weaker.
You know, in 1991, I looked in the details of the internal bulletins of the Militant and I was very surprised of what I found. A large number of inactive members, not going to meetings, not paying subs, not selling the paper. What shocked me even more, when I went to Britain to participate in the conference of the Militant, I was in Italy at the time, I was shocked by the level and this was the consequence of methods which had been adopted at the top of the organisation. By looking and basically, it was a seeking for short cuts. The theoretical level of the organisation had gone down as a consequence. Now, that is fatal for a revolutionary organisation. When the situation becomes more difficult, you need to pay particular attention to raising the theoretical understanding of the membership otherwise the most powerful organisation can be destroyed. Part of that seeking shortcuts was connected to prestige politics.
Comrades, Prestige politics is a poison which undermines the revolutionary movement. Prestige politics, particularly of the leadership, can destroy the organisation. What does it mean? If you made a mistake you are not prepared to correct it because it means admitting that you, the leadership, made that mistake. You go down that road and you end up destroying the organisation because, unless you are capable of re-appraising the situation when it is necessary and honestly admitting when things have changed and also when you’ve made mistakes you will be destroyed. And, part of this, its, this was particularly, I saw it in the Militant in the last period, with the promotion of certain types. I would call them the sort of going action men and women. And anybody that’s interested in genuinely interested in theory is put to one side. When the objective situation becomes difficult those people are incapable of re-orientating but they were promoted within the Militant towards the end. I had personal experience of it. The arrogant type, the bullying type I would actually say, they think they’re the boys, “we’ve made it, we’re this big organisation, who can tell us?” There’s one thing I’ve learnt from that experience do not promote to positions of responsibility any Comrade that reveals a tendency to personal ambition. Do not put anybody in the position of advising others on how to build who have not shown the ability to build themselves. When we get back to having physical meetings, physically together we’ll have a few drinks and I can explain some of the experiences I had because of that. Now, Alan said it, the only kind of authority that a leadership of a revolutionary Marxist organisation can have is a moral and a political authority. That’s the way you behave, the way you lead, and your ability to develop the ideas and provide perspectives. That’s why Ted Grant had the authority, I quoted what he wrote in the forties and earlier and that’s what gave him authority in the long run. I remember when they accused Alan and Ted of being mere theoreticians, “mere theoreticians” forgetting what Lenin said, “without revolutionary theory, there is not revolutionary action.” Look at the attention that Lenin gave theory. His writings on imperialism, the national question, the state, philosophy, empirio-criticism a classical work of Marxism, we base ourselves on that approach. And we base ourselves on a healthy democratic internal regime. That’s the only way of making sure we get the correct ideas Comrades.
And we also have a flexible approach to the way we work in the labour movement. When you have an unhealthy regime of prestige politics it usually expresses itself in a crude interpretation of Marxism. With no real theoretical understanding and then you become like a ship without a compass. Now, we need to build a healthy Marxist organisation but we also must be ever vigilant against the tendencies which we’ve seen develop in the past. Marx suffered this problem. I haven’t got time here but there’s a letter, its to Fredrich Bolt in New York in 1871. He explains the problems they had in the First International. Now, the IMT when it decided to launch a new but at the same time an old organisation we decided that we would base ourselves first and foremost on the defence of Marxist Theory, Alan has explained that, and turn to the fresh layers of the youth. It’s amazing that people in the movement that see the IMT they can’t understand how can we have so much youth. “They just discuss theory.” That’s the reason why we’re growing.
We started with smaller forces back in ‘91/’92. After you have a split you always have problems. Why did it happen? What did we do wrong? We had our problems but I tell you we have fully recovered now. Look, in these countries that I’m going to list now we had nothing. Canada, United States, Venezuela, Brazil, Nigeria, South Africa, Russia, Central American, Eastern Europe, apart from Pakistan nothing else in Asia. You’ll get a much more thorough report later on but we have built many, many sections since then, Holland, Norway, Switzerland. How can this be possible . Its because we maintained a firm defence of the basic ideas of Marxism and its with ideas that you build an organisation. What’s the essence of the IMT. Preserve the genuine ideas of Marxism, a revolutionary position at the same time a non-sectarian position, we take these ideas to the youth and the working class and we build a healthy democratic revolutionary Marxist international. We must constantly pay attention to education, we mustn’t forget the experiences that we’ve been through because mistakes an be repeated and the reason we study this kind of experience is also to learn the lessons and not let repeat or attempt not to repeat those mistakes.
There are a million left groups out there and unfortunately with their sectarian antics and their opportunist adaptation they’ve done a disservice to the tradition of Leon Trotsky. The Left Opposition in the 1930s had a clean banner so we’re not just struggling against the Stalinists and the reformists who dominate the Labour movement, we’re struggling to re-establish that clean banner of the International Left Opposition. That’s what the IMT is, we’ve given you an outline of what we stand for, where we come from, we’ve been working hard against the stream for periods, the stream has now changed in our favour. This school is the proof of the correctness of our methods and the ideas. We also have added to the heritage, the book by Alan and Ted on Marxism and Science, our analysis of the national question, of the European Union, China, Imperialism, the books we have produced on Germany, on Russian, on Spain and others and we’ve established Marxist.com, the In Defence of Marxism website, as a pint of reference for revolutionary workers and youth around the world who are looking for answers. We have built the strong foundations upon which the building will stand. Now the world is in crisis, an unprecedented crisis, the world is sinking into barbarism but there is a class that can stop that, the working class, it requires leadership. The crisis of humanity now is the crisis of the leadership of the working class. We must solve that crisis, we must put an end to it by building a powerful Marxist Tendency embedded in the labour movement of all countries. That’s what the IMT is about and I would invite all of those listening who haven’t joined yet, to join us. Join us and help us to build the IMT. We have a big job to do after this school, the work continues beyond the four days. That’s my.. its late. I’m sure you’re tired.
Hubert Prevaud: Thank you very much Fred. Thank you everybody who has followed the school today. I invite you, tomorrow, to the last day of the school. At 1pm BST for three session running in parallel. Marxism and Religion, Marxism vs. Queer Theory, Marxism vs. Pacifism and then the closing online rally at 5.30pm on Building the Revolutionary Party. Thank you very much.