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Ted Grant: Standard bearer of Trotskyism

POLITICS: The Democratic Left Front recalls with much affection the close relationship many of us have had with Ted at the time when a new left, disillusioned with 1970-77 "Coalition politics", was emerging.

At the time Ted was something of a mentor for the Left (Vama) Tendency within the LSSP and many were the midnight hours he spent discussing a model of action termed 'entryism' which he pioneered and developed.

In simple words 'entryism' was about the methods of work that should be adopted by those who believed that the leadership had taken a mass left and working class party, as the LSSP then was, down the blind alley of opportunism, such as entering Mrs. Bandaranaike's coalition.

There were a few simple principles that Ted held nearly sacred; (i) do not split away from the mass movement, as Bala and Edmund had done, and isolate yourself from the left cadres who had evolved over a long previous period of historical struggle; (ii) continue to fight indefatigably both inside the party and in the open for principled theoretical positions on socialism, against opportunism, against capitulation to petty-bourgeois ideologies on the national question, and so on; (iii) throw yourself into party mass work with commitment; and (iv) develop a separate organisational framework within the mass organisation as a place where you can share experiences.

Ted and the Militant group organised around the eponymous left newspaper had successfully developed this model of work over many years in the British Labour party.

The Vama leaders, Vasu, Bahu, Siritunga, Edwin Kotalawela, Oswin Fernando, Sumanasiri, Anamalai, Kumar and others, were keen to share experiences and learn.

Ted was a generous and dedicated intellectual who patiently spent many hours with us, some 30 and more years his juniors, fulfilling his "historical obligations".

He and the Militant Group had a significant influence on the young Vama movement and on the NSSP during its early years.

Ted was born Isaac Blank in Germiston, South Africa on July 9, 1913 and died on July 20, 2006 in London. His family was Jewish, but Ted, like Marx and Trotsky before him, can be described as a refugee from Judaism.

He founded a small Trotskyite group in 1934 but later that year decided to move to London where there were better prospects for the movement, he changed his name during the journey.

In London he joined the Marxist Group which was working in the Independent Labour Party and took part in the battle of Cable Street against the fascists.

When Trotsky suggested that the group should work inside the Labour Party there were fierce disagreements and in the ensuing split Ted joined the section that favoured entering the Labour Party.

Throughout his life Ted remained committed to the principle of entryism, that is the theory that Marxists must function in an organised manner inside the large social democratic working class parties and radical populist movements.

He is generally regarded as one of the foremost theoreticians of the 'entrist tactic'.

In 1957 after a period of splits and counter splits in the British Troskyite movement, Ted formed a small tendency in the Labour Party, called the Revolutionary Socialist League which in 1957 was recognised as the official British section of the Fourth International and in 1964 founded the paper Militant.

The group at first grew only very slowly, but by the early 1980s, when it was known as the Militant Tendency, it was a significant in the Labour Party. But by this time, the relationship with the Paris based Fourth Interatnional had ended.

Ted retained his belief in entryism even after he himself was expelled from the Labour Party in 1983 because the influence of the Militant Group was spreading fast and the leadership feared a take-over bid.

As more and more leading figures were expelled a debate opened up about whether the group could grow better outside the Labour Party (a view led by Peter Taff) while Ted and his supporters continued to favour entryism.

Eventually a decision was made to leave Labour and Ted was isolated with a small group and expelled from the RSL and the Committee for a Workers International which the RSL had developed as an alternative to the Paris based Fourth International.

Undaunted Ted and his supporter, best known among them was Alan Woods, then formed a Socialist Appeal and the Committee for a Marxist International.

The main influence of this movement is in Latin America, especially Venezuela where Woods is known to be an advisor to Hugo Chavez. This link to radical populism stands well with the thesis of working inside revolutionary mass movements. Since the Leninist model of party building which suited autocratic Russia is no longer relevant.

Ted and his supporters grappled with the vexatious question of blending a commitment to the fundamental tenants of Marxism with late 20th and early 21st Century mass politics. The jury is still out on whether their methods have proved correct.

The experience of entryism in Sri Lanka has been a mixed bag. On the one side certain fundamental positions of Marxism have been salvaged from the inglorious end they would have suffered due to the degeneration of the LSSP and the petty-bourgeois Pol-Potism of the JVP.

But on the other hand the force that started as Vama have splintered into numerous sectarian fragments; others have returned to the fold of the LSSP. One cannot claim that Sri Lanka's former Trotskyites (I say former because in the post-Soviet era old labels are losing their meaning) have solved the problem of interfacing party building with mass political involvement.

This is clear today since the groups that opposed the Mahinda Rajapaksa presidential candidacy as well as those who believed that it would be possible to go forward through his candidacy, are both faced with serious challenges.

Hence the type of problem which Ted made his life's work continues to haunt us to this day as one of the basic issues that socialists have to grapple with. There is an added dimension to the problem in multi-ethnic societies.

The relationship to militant national movements like the LTTE which have captured the leadership of oppressed national minorities has to be addressed in theory and practice. European Marxists have not worked intimately with these problems and therefore their understanding of these issues tends to be formalistic.

For example they have failed to grasp the importance of Radical Islam as an anti-imperialist force and have been insensitive to the differences in dynamic evolution between socially and politically radical Islamic movements and Fundamentalism.

The post-9/11 world came into being after Ted's active theoretical life had slowed down so he has not contributed much to these issues.

However Ted was theoretically active up to his 80s and apart from his main work in Britain he also made several useful contributions to international Marxism and engaged in debates on working class and mass struggles in developing countries.

We salute a principled and indefatigable fighter for internationalism and one of the most important Trotskyite leaders of the 20th century.

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