The International Marxist Tendency, IMT, faces its biggest crisis since its inception. The CWI would welcome an open and honest debate amongst socialist and Marxist activists about the issues raised by these developments.
The international organisation that you are part of – or were recently members of – the International Marxist Tendency (IMT), led by Alan Woods and the late Ted Grant, faces its biggest crisis since its inception following the split from the Militant in Britain (now the Socialist Party) and internationally from the Committee for a Workers’ International (CWI) in 1992. We know that there is a split, not because the press or website of the IMT has informed us of this fact, but from rumours, hints and considerable comment on the internet. This alone demonstrates the unhealthy character of the internal regime presided over by the IMT leadership. No viable Marxist organisation with roots in the working class and a politically conscious and aware membership could act in a similar fashion to the IMT leadership in seeking to avoid comment on these issues.
Some material has belatedly appeared on the IMT’s website which ‘appears’ to relate to the disputes within the IMT. But it is so obscure, indeed surreal, that it is only with great difficulty that it is possible to deduce that it is linked to a political dispute. For instance, Alan Woods has recently written long screeds on the clash between Marx and the anarchist Bakunin in the First International. He writes: “Anarchism is the communism of the petty bourgeois and the lumpenproletarian.” His sweeping characterisation of anarchism – which is typical of his lazy method – is not historically accurate and is insensitive, to say the least, to some – particularly young people – who are initially attracted to anarchism because of hostility to Stalinism and the right-wing bureaucratic leadership of the labour movement. Not all anarchists have been ‘petty bourgeois’ or part of the ‘lumpen proletariat’. Some workers, even in Russia during the revolution, were attracted to their ideas as were workers in Spain – in the small workplaces in Catalonia – for instance.
His intention is supposed to justify ‘democratic centralism’ against certain unnamed opponents demanding ‘autonomy’. Unfortunately, Woods interprets the correct idea of democratic centralism in a bureaucratic centralist fashion. Autonomy for national sections in a democratic international organisation should be the norm. He seeks to justify not answering criticisms made of his organisation. He purports to show that Marx and Engels were only prepared to answer critics within the First International in the internal framework of that organisation. This is entirely one-sided, as Marx and Engels were compelled to answer Bakunin many times in a public or a semi-public fashion.
This is revealed in the very quote from Marx that Woods uses to justify his position: “Generally speaking, the General Council’s administrative correspondence with national and local committees cannot be published.” Marx underlines here that he is talking “generally” about “administrative correspondence”, not necessarily political issues. It is wrong and doubly absurd for the IMT leadership to invoke Marx to justify its silence when there is already a split of the Spanish and Pakistani sections which is being publically commented on. In fact, after the split in the First International, Engels explained in a letter to Bebel, the German workers’ leader, why he and Marx were against ‘hushing’ it up [Engels to Bebel, 20 June 1873, Volume 44, Marx and Engels Collected Works, page 513). Moreover, the present position of a mass media, the internet, etc., means that it is not possible to maintain such a stand today.
The Bolsheviks certainly did not act in the high-handed, dismissive way in which Alan Woods has approached this question. Yes, there were internal discussions within the Communist (Third) International (CI) but very often these spilled over into the public domain. Take the polemic between the leadership of the Third International and their counterparts at the head of the mass Communist Party of France (PCF) on the issue of the united front. The public discussion on this, new at the time but a crucially important tactical question, took place in the public journals of the PCF – L’Humanité – and the public press of the Communist International itself. Only after a two-year semi-public discussion did the CI insist on the implementation of the united front tactic.
Numerous other examples can be given from the example of the Communist International and of the Trotskyist movement itself – including during Trotsky’s lifetime – with the boundary between internal discussion and the public airing of issues blurred. But the world has changed, and somewhat by the way, since the founding of the First, the Second, the Third and even the Fourth Internationals. We live in the age of the internet, of Twitter, of YouTube, Facebook, etc. It is not possible nor is it desirable to seek to set up a Berlin-type wall, as Alan Woods is arguing, between internal and public discussion on serious issues. Of course, some internal discussions – to allow comrades to express themselves freely and without being committed forever to what they write or say – are sometimes required to be confidential to group discussions, blogs, etc.
Incapable of facing up to effects of collapse of Stalinism
The CWI has internal discussions but in the full knowledge that everything that we write could find its way into the public domain and, moreover, can be publically defended. This, by the way, is a good thing. An organisation that has political confidence in its ideas and methods has nothing to fear from such a development and has everything to gain. Even the internal discussions and clashes, of a written character, within organisations, can serve to clarify crucial questions for workers who are looking for solutions to the many problems confronting them in the battle against capitalism and imperialism. This approach, unfortunately, has never been the method of Alan Woods nor, it must be said, of Ted Grant, both before and particularly after the split in the CWI in 1992.
The IMT, following their split, was incapable of facing up to the new situation following the collapse of Stalinism and the bourgeoisification of former workers’ parties. The CWI concluded that Marxism and the working class faced a dual task. It was necessary to fight for the rehabilitation of socialism, which faced a colossal bourgeois offensive, and to defend a Marxist/Trotskyist position. Flowing from this was the necessity to fight for new mass parties of the working class, an idea that was derided by Woods and Grant. Moreover, we anticipated that new formations of the working class would arise precisely because of the decay of the former bourgeois-workers’ parties.
This perspective was completely confirmed by the development of Die Linke in Germany, PSoL in Brazil, SYRIZA in Greece, the Left Bloc in Portugal, the Nouveau Parti Anticapitaliste in France, etc. The IMT was completely unprepared for these developments, preferring to repeat parrot-fashion the need to continue work in the empty ‘traditional organisations’. Of course, it did not stop them from stumbling in some countries accidentally into these ‘new’ formations. Sightings of them have even been reported in Die Linke and SYRIZA! Needless to say, they are totally ineffective. The crisis in the IMT in the early 1990s arose from their misreading of the situation. Equally, their current crisis is also rooted in their incorrect political method and perspectives.
Reply to accusations
To this day they have not published all the documents on their websites about the split of 1992. With reluctance, we were forced in the early 1990s to reply to their baseless charges against the CWI and its leading members. Incapable of answering the political ideas and perspectives of the CWI, they shifted to dirty accusations that the CWI was ‘neo-Stalinist’ or just plain ‘Stalinist’, and was akin to the notorious thug Gerry Healy who used violence against his opponents. In answer, we wrote: “Hence the references to ‘neo-Stalinism’, ‘commandism’, ‘lack of democracy’ and other alleged ‘crimes’ which are heaped on the heads of the leaders of the majority [of Militant and the CWI at the time].
“There is nothing at all new in this. It is the fate of the Marxist leaders to face vilification, abuse and denunciations for their alleged ‘dictatorial methods’. Lenin remarked that assorted Mensheviks ‘inveigh against my “monstrous” centralism’ (One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, p 50). In the same pamphlet (p 155) Lenin declares: ‘We know very well from the literature of the “minority” that by autocrat they mean me’ (Lenin’s emphasis). He goes on: ‘Comrade Axelrod and Co. were expressing the conviction that Plekhanov and all the members of the Central Committee “governed the party”, not in accordance with their own views of what the interests of the work required, but in accordance with the will of the autocrat, Lenin. This accusation of autocratic government necessarily and inevitably implies pronouncing all members of the governing body except the autocrat to be mere tools in the hands of another, mere pawns and agents of another’s will.’
“Is there not a striking resemblance between the arguments deployed by the Mensheviks (minority) against Lenin and those used against us by [the IMT against the CWI]? Even the same phrases surface. [CWI leaders were] denounced by the minority as a ‘Bonapartist’. Lenin was denounced by Martov, a former close co-worker of his… as a ‘“Bonapartist” of the worst type’.” [Two Trends: The Political Roots of the Breakaway, January 1992.]
The CWI as an organisation or its members have never used violence against its political rivals. Yet the IMT has: in a ‘shoot out’ between their Pakistan group and the expelled group around their former Pakistan Peoples Party MP Manzoor. The attempt of the IMT leadership to demonise and slander opponents and distort their ideas seeks to inoculate their ranks against outside political criticism. In vain!
The CWI has published every document from both sides on Marxist.net. We published Alan Woods’s attack on us in Revolutionary History and Peter Taaffe’s reply. There was no reciprocation by the IMT by publishing all our material on this issue. Moreover, every internal clash that has taken place in the ranks of the Socialist Party in England and Wales, or in the CWI has been made public, not after the polemics have ended but during the disputes themselves. We quite consciously do this in order that our ranks, and those in genuine Marxist and Trotskyist organisations, as well as the wider working class, can learn and gain from these discussions.
Disputes in the IMT
But if you are not confident you will inevitably seek to cover up your political insecurity by dealing with political opposition in a high-handed, dismissive and undemocratic fashion. This appears to be the case in the disputes which have broken out between the IMT leadership, their Pakistani and Spanish sections, and, unbelievably in view of the efforts of Alan Woods to establish a base there, the Venezuelan section and others. Ironically, Alan Woods has been charged by his opponents with the same ‘crime’ he levelled against the leadership of the CWI in the 1991-92 dispute. Then, it was a “leadership clique” in the British and CWI leadership that he and Ted Grant originally objected to. Now his opponents accuse him of running an undemocratic cabal at the top of his organisation, led by him, his half-brother Rob Sewell – who, we learn from some of the correspondence has been threatened with removal because of his methods on at least three occasions in the last few years – Woods’s partner and others.
His accusations against us in 1991 were false to the core and were rejected by 93% of the British party and the overwhelming majority of the CWI. The charge against him – which we are not in a position to fully assess because of the lack of information – appears to have far more substance. The biggest sections of the IMT, in Spain, the split in Pakistan, etc, have invoked this charge. While allowing for inevitable polemical exaggeration in any dispute of this character, the opponents of Woods – particularly the Manzoor group in Pakistan – do detail some alleged malpractices of Woods and Co. The IMT leadership has not replied to this.
But as with the split with us in 1992, this dispute in the IMT is not primarily ‘organisational’ or concentrated alone on the character of the internal regime. These are by no means unimportant questions. When expulsions become the norm there is something inherently unstable and unhealthy in political organisations. The CWI has never expelled any section on political grounds, unless they transgress the very basic principles of Marxism and Trotskyism. This was the case when we separated from our ranks – after eighteen months of violations of our basic political positions – some in Russia who took a pro-Russian imperialist position in relation to the conflict between Russia and Georgia. Our action met with the general support of our members but also of the left in Russia and of other Trotskyist organisations. In the dispute with our Scottish comrades between 1998 and 2001, despite profound political differences we did not resort to expulsions but sought to convince the comrades over time of their political mistakes. Unfortunately, they decided to leave the ranks of the CWI.
The series of expulsions which have taken place in the IMT are of an entirely different character. They flow from the incorrect policies and methods upon which the IMT was founded. It is impossible for an objective observer – particularly one who has gone through the material, which it must be admitted is voluminous – to conclude that the split between the CWI and the current IMT was not political in character. Do they relate to the travails of the IMT? We say unequivocally that they do. As with the split between the Mensheviks and the Bolsheviks, the organisational issues raised by Grant and Woods in 1991 were merely an anticipation of political divisions on a series of political questions. We have set out clearly in a public fashion our differences with them at that time in our book, The Rise of Militant, as well as the pamphlet, Militant’s Real History – an answer to the slanders of Rob Sewell against the CWI and the Socialist Party of England and Wales.
Woods and Grant sought to prevent any discussion within their ranks about the real ideas of other groupings, tendencies and parties by dismissing them as “sects”. This characterisation, however, applies more to the IMT, and particularly to its leadership, which has sought to hermetically seal off its cadres from any discussion of the real policies of others, particularly of Trotskyist organisations. It has ludicrously tried for years to dismiss the Socialist Party of England and Wales as a “sect”, with Sewell claiming we had no more than 50 or 100 members. We now learn from leaked internal material from Pakistan that their ‘British section’ has no more than 50 and of these there is an opposition ‘tendency’, which includes in its platform “opposition to the leadership” and “democratic centralism”. This has to be compared to the tremendous success of the Socialist Party with almost 2,000 members, the leadership of crucial workers’ struggles such as the Linamar battle, where our comrade Rob Williams beat the bosses’ attempt to sack him as convenor of a car-parts factory – a struggle which resonated throughout the labour movement – the epic Lindsey dispute and many other crucial battles. In the case of Rob Williams, they were forced to admit – through gritted teeth – that he was actually a member of the Socialist Party without any mention, on this occasion, of a ‘sect’. Moreover, we have seen the election of Joe Higgins to the European parliament – beating the ruling party of Ireland, Fianna Fáil, for the first time in Dublin. This has been achieved outside of the ‘traditional organisations’.
Yet we were told by Alan Woods and Ted Grant that by taking an independent stand, abandoning the “workers’ party the Labour Party”, in the words of Ted Grant, we would be taking a “detour over a cliff”. In reality, Ted Grant – and ourselves before 1992 it has to be admitted as well – had a one-sided approach to work in the traditional organisations, an unbending ‘tactic’ over years, when these organisations were being transformed into bourgeois organisations before our eyes. It is this clinging to an outmoded idea whose time has passed that has led to the train wreck of the IMT in Spain and Pakistan. Rigid, unswerving adherence to work in the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and, in the past, the Socialist Party in Spain (PSOE) has meant that the formations of the IMT have lost opportunities to go ahead in a period, while not the most favourable in history, has nevertheless presented big opportunities for Marxists who knew how to work. The CWI has continually made progress.
We will comment later on the consequences of their mistaken methods brought about quoting parrot-like the necessity for ‘entrism’, irrespective of changes in circumstances. It is, however, necessary to acquaint some of you – many of you were not present or active within the ranks of the CWI or its national sections at the time of the 1992 split – of the real positions of the IMT at the time of this dispute. On the Labour Party in Britain, they argued that “nothing had changed” despite the witch-hunts against us, the emptying out of the left, the absence of the working class and the reduction of the Labour Party to shells.
This was denied at the time but now reality has poked them in the eye. The IMT writes in their current ‘British Perspectives 2010’ document: “Today, very few youth are involved in the mass organisations given their bureaucratic nature and lack of struggle.” They quote Owen Jones, a leading figure in the Labour Representation Committee: “The Labour Left remains paralysed and demoralised, unable to make progress in the repressive structures of the current Labour Party.” (Labour Briefing, November, 2009). The IMT admits that the Labour Party is a “shell”. And yet this arena remains the most “critical” for them. Marx pointed out that the characterisation of a ‘sect’ is that its raison d’être is a shibboleth. For the IMT in Britain, that shibboleth is work in the Labour Party, which will be ‘inevitably’ filled out in the mists of time! In the meantime, genuine Marxism makes rapid strides through independent work while they stagnate.
Italy, Spain and Brazil
A similar blunder was made by this group over perspectives for Italy in the early 1990s. The debate over tactics towards the ‘traditional organisations’ in Italy at the time of the split in 1991-92, revealed most clearly the political myopia of Woods, his opportunism in switching tactics and the dishonest fashion in which this was done. There was a clear difference between Grant, Woods and their Italian supporters on the one side, and the majority of the International Secretariat (IS) of the CWI on the other towards the formation of Rifondazione Comunista (RC) in Italy in 1991. The IS argued that the split of the RC from the ex-Communist Party Democratic Left (PDS) represented a clear opportunity for our Italian comrades to participate in its ranks. This was initially rejected by Woods and his Italian supporters. They argued that the formation of the RC was a mistake and would melt away. This is clear from the written exchange on the issue.
The IS majority – in a document written by Peter Hadden after a visit to Italy – raised clearly the need for the very small forces, of about 100 members – mostly youth – to concentrate the majority of their forces within the RC. This was completely rejected by the Italian Executive Committee, backed up by Woods and Grant. In a document of theirs, which was a reply to an IS statement, they wrote: “If the RC had attracted thousands of youth, or if it had become an important pole of attraction for a few thousand young workers and shop stewards, which would in itself have created the conditions for debate within it, in other words if the IS majority statements in the RC were not just wishful thinking, then it would have been possible to consider a temporary orientation with all our small forces to recruit the maximum number of comrades. But, comrades [addressing the IS], which RC are you talking about? Which country are you talking about? What historical conditions are you talking about?”
Four years later the leaders of this organisation had seen the futility of remaining within the PDS and were within the RC. When confronted later by some of their ex-members that they had been wrong and that the IS majority had been correct the lame excuse was that “we were young, and we had dust in our eyes”. But the IS majority did not have ‘dust in their eyes’ but spelt out clearly in a statement in January 1992 – The tactics and orientation of the Italian section – the incorrect methods employed in Italy at the time of the split in the RC from the PDS and the subsequent approach towards this important mass formation. It pointed out: “The RC attracted 150,000 members and, with its communist banner and symbols, appeared to stand on the left of the PDS. This situation demands a similar tactical flexibility as in the past. At the very least, a thorough discussion and review of existing tactics involving the entire membership was called for. No such discussion was held.”
In their perspectives document, the leaders of the Italian organisation wrote: “If the split referred to in the pages of the newspapers takes place, he [Cossuta – one of the original leaders of the RC] will not enjoy great support. Of course he may find a few thousand members, but what then? At the end of the day the majority of the current Cossuta supporters will end up either abandoning political activity or in some small group like DP [Democratica Proletaria].”
Clearly Woods, Grant and their main Italian supporters such as Bellotti who remains the leading figure in their organisation in Italy were wrong in relation to the RC. They did not undertake to correct their mistake openly but fell into the RC and applied later the ‘unreal’ arguments of the IS majority without recognising this or giving credit to those who proposed it in the first place. In the beginning, however, the Italian EC dug in and compounded their mistakes. But given the pressure of the situation and obviously the effects of our arguments within their ranks, they were forced to do an about turn.
Does this not have an uncanny resemblance – with roles reversed – to the clash between Woods and the leaders of the IMT’s Spanish section ‘El Militante’ in this debate? We ‘believe’ that the Spanish are against turning away from PSOE towards work in the Spanish Communist Party or United Left. Yet the IMT leadership argued in a dogmatic fashion against us for advocating precisely such a tactic! Alan Woods wrote in 1989, prior to the split: “PSOE itself is an empty shell [and] support for PSOE is virtually seen as support for the police, torturers and Spanish domination [of the Basques] among wide layers, especially the youth.” He continued: “However, given the rottenness of the existing traditional organisations, if ever there was a case for independent (or semi-independent) work, this is it. While it is necessary to stress and repeat the need to orientate towards the mass organisation, there is in my view a danger of overlooking opportunities which exist for winning workers and youth directly to our organisation under the banner of Marxism.” So Woods was in favour of considering independent work outside of the ‘rotten’ traditional organisations. Yet any later attempt to move in this direction was condemned as pure heresy. The IMT also made a similar blunder in Brazil. An ex-Lambertist grouping was on the way to splitting from the increasingly empty Workers’ Party (PT) and joining P-SoL until they met Alan Woods. Unfortunately, he persuaded them to remain imprisoned within the PT!
Ted Grant was fond of stating in the past that if you make a mistake you should recognise and correct it openly. Our experience generally was that he never heeded his own advice, but stressed that he had been ‘right all along’, even when it had been patently demonstrated that he was not. Is this not the position of Woods and Grant on the Italian RC another case of the completely false method of the IMT leadership?
Marxists must work in a principled fashion
In judging all political formations, it is necessary to heed Trotsky’s advice: ‘It is not so much what is done, but who does it, why they do it, and how they do it.’ Having stumbled belatedly into the RC, without a clear explanation of their past mistakes, this guaranteed that they would make further mistakes. Even when it is necessary to work in important mass formations – as the CWI has recently done successfully in a number of countries – it has to be undertaken in a principled fashion. But this is not the way the IMT works. Take the example of Belgium. One of their members, Erik De Bruyn, occupies a prominent media position as a leader of the left within the “SP.a”, the Flemish socialist party in Belgium. However, he has worked in a grossly opportunist fashion.
In the Dutch language Belgian daily newspaper De Standaard, 28 February 2009, there was a double interview with Erik De Bruyn and Peter Mertens (chairperson of the Maoist PTB), part of which went as follows:
Question: Apart from the crisis. What does a socialist alternative look like today?
De Bruyn: “For us economic democracy is central. Parliamentary democracy is too superficial: the economic decisions are taken elsewhere, in the boardrooms of multinationals, where the voter has no influence. That’s why the economy needs to be democratized. Some of the key sectors must be taken into public hands: energy, credit, healthcare, education, telecommunication, maybe even the car industry.”
Question: “Do we have to restrain the market completely?”
De Bruyn: “Of course not. It would be madness to eliminate the market. Why should a government be engaged in the production of shoes, clothes or bread? But the community should control this economic game: companies should respect the social, economic and ecological rules. This control does exist partially today – I am an environmental functionary myself – but insufficiently.”
Eric De Bruyn is not putting forward a clear Marxist position here. At best, this is a mildly reformist programme. Yet, to our knowledge, neither his Belgian comrades nor the IMT have publicly separated themselves from this non-Marxist approach. In his book: “Redprint for a new socialism” (“Rooddruk voor een nieuw socialisme”) published in March 2009, De Bruyn praises the leaders of Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador who: “have during the last years chosen to take the path of socialism in a democratic way. Others, like Argentina and Brazil, do (as yet) not go that far, but they resolutely have rejected neo-liberalism.” That Lula, the PT president in Brazil, or Kirchner, the president of Argentina, have rejected neo-liberalism will surprise the working class of both countries.
This is just one example of the opportunist methods of the IMT in its work in the ‘traditional organisations’. This is clearly different to the way that Militant (now the Socialist Party) worked in the Labour Party. We did not hesitate to criticise not just the right but also the left social democrats, while arguing for a full socialist and Marxist programme. Since 1992, the IMT has increasingly adopted the approach of the United Secretariat of the Fourth International (USFI) when they worked in the mass organisations with their policy of ‘entrism sui generis’ (deep entrism).
On programme and orientations, the IMT has made fundamental errors. After a visit to Sri Lanka, Woods wrote a letter in April 2000 to Vasudeva Nanayaka, an important figure on the left in the Sri Lankan workers’ movement who participated in the CWI in the past. This letter advocated that all Marxists should work within the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) which in the past was the main workers’ party in Sri Lanka, but has shrunk to a shell because of the opportunist and nationalist degeneration of the leaders of this organisation over a period of time. He wrote: “We have everything to gain by sticking firmly to the LSSP… It is really incredible how the masses stick to these organisations in spite of everything. Just look at the Labour Party in Britain!”
The Bellotti leadership in Italy did not exploit the favourable situation within the RC. Their approach, which is the hallmark of the IMT, was to consistently declare that “we are correct” and therefore it was not necessary to combine with others on the left against, for instance, the Bertinotti leadership of the RC. The result was very meagre gains – if any – from their ‘long-term’ work within the RC. Unlike Militant, which came out of the Labour Party at the end of the 1980s and early 1990s with 8,000 members, the work within the RC has produced extremely limited results. Different Trotskyist organisations worked within the RC – amongst them the USFI and the Woods group. One, the USFI, took an opportunist position and was indistinguishable from the Bertinotti leadership and therefore did not gain substantially. The other, the Woods group, also did not gain and has remained in the RC, even when it has become a rump. They do not have any clear alternative for the creation of a new reference point for the best Italian workers in the struggle to create a new mass alternative.
Mistakes in Pakistan
In Pakistan, the consequences of the one-sided, opportunist approach of the IMT are visible in the correspondence, some of which has been published, between the Manzoor group and the IMT leadership itself. We have recently commented on this exchange:
“Very few class-conscious workers now entertain any illusions that the PPP – led by ‘Mr Fifty Per Cent’ Asif Zardari – remotely represents in practice the working masses and the poor farmers of Pakistan. It is flooded out with the influence of the feudals, both in the towns and the rural areas. It is a party which has opposed strikes, called for and tried to organise strike-breaking, of the telecoms workers, for instance. The position of the PPP from what it was under its founder Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, a ‘populist’ party capable of responding to the demands of the masses, has long gone. Therefore the same task is posed in Pakistan, as in other countries throughout the world, the development of a new mass party of the Pakistani workers and peasants.” [Introduction to new Urdu edition of Permanent Revolution.]
The Pakistani ‘dissidents’ around Manzoor Khan – the former PPP MP – paint a tragic picture of where Ted Grant and Alan Woods’s false position on the dogmatic insistence on undeviating work in the PPP and the ex-workers’ parties can lead. Manzoor justifies his opposition – on behalf of the PPP leadership – to strikes in Pakistan by wanting to remain in the PPP “at all costs”. Woods objected to this and promptly expelled Manzoor and his supporters. But a similar approach to that of Manzoor in Pakistan – which he now criticises – was adopted by Grant and Woods in Britain over our Militant MPs’ stand against the poll tax in 1991. We, the leadership and overwhelming majority of Militant (now the Socialist Party), stated that Terry Fields and Dave Nellist (our two MPs) could not pay the poll tax. This was because they and we had successfully urged millions of workers not to pay it and, faced with a similar situation, we declared they should take a similar principled stand. Grant and Woods argued that the MPs should pay as a means of staying inside the Labour Party!
Socialists were ‘dead’ outside of this ‘traditional organisation’, they argued, much as they had miseducated Manzoor and others in ‘Class Struggle’ in continued work in the PPP. We would have been ‘politically dead’ if the MPs and we had followed their advice. The Labour Party has since degenerated like the PPP into a bourgeois formation. Grant and Co were trapped in a false outmoded perception: that all political life of the working class was restricted to the Labour Party; to go outside meant ‘going over a cliff’. What is the result of this? They are insignificant in Britain while the Socialist Party has grown in numbers and influence in recent years. The same applies on an international scale with the IMT losing influence in many countries with Woods increasingly reduced to the role of a ‘benevolent advisor’ to Hugo Chávez in Venezuela. They reacted to the opportunist and indefensible actions of Manzoor – which was but the logical conclusion of their own ossified position on the ‘traditional organisations – by expelling him!”
Restoration of capitalism
There are many other political issues which the IMT leadership of Alan Woods have got completely wrong. On the question of Stalinism, they only recognised the return to capitalism in Russia belatedly. Ted Grant stubbornly resisted the conclusion that Stalinism had collapsed and capitalism had taken root for a long time. In their Prospects for World Revolution in 2002, they confessed: “We have to admit that things have not turned out as we expected a few years ago… The movement towards capitalism has lasted for ten years…
“Ten years is sufficient time to judge. We have to say that the Rubicon has now been passed. The movement towards capitalism has been contradictory, with many cross-currents, but after every crisis the process has continued with renewed force.”
Compare Ted Grant’s method then as indicated by these lines in relation to the ex-Stalinist states and the position he took in relation to China and Eastern Europe in the 1940s. Along with the rest of the leadership of the British Trotskyists in the Revolutionary Communist Party, he recognised what was taking place, a virtually unstoppable process – given the relationship of world forces –towards the establishment of Stalinist states. Belatedly, the International Secretariat of the Fourth International (ISFI – forerunners of the USFI) recognised this in 1953! Grant was not hesitant in using this to show the false method of the ISFI leadership. Yet now he made the same kind of mistake only in an opposite sense, of this time failing to understand the process of capitalist restoration in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union. Only in 1997(!) did they recognise that capitalism had been restored in Russia! Given the national and international background against which these processes were developing, there was no possibility of a short-term ‘reversal’ of the process of capitalist restoration, a social counter-revolution, which was taking place in Russia in the 1990s. The CWI, however, recognised this very early at the beginning of the 1990s and drew all the necessary conclusions from this.
The present dispute in the IMT raises the question of the organisation, the leadership and the method of constructing a viable Marxist organisation. Few organisations have adopted such a boastful pose or such a nauseating idealisation of its leading figures as the IMT. Some of the members of the IMT’s Spanish section, it has been reported, have now objected to Alan Woods’s attempt to create a ‘cult’ around the figure of Ted Grant. They have come to the same conclusion as we did earlier.
A dispute broke out in the pages of the British journal, Revolutionary History, between us and Alan Woods, over an obituary of Ted Grant written by a member of the Socialist Party in 2007. We wrote on that occasion about the tasteless idealisation of Grant: “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.”
We also commented in Militant’s Real History: “Lenin was always hesitant to write about himself and his ideas in the first person and used the synonym of ‘Bolshevism’ as an expression of what these ideas represented. Similarly, the term ‘Trotskyism’, was invoked first by the Stalinists. Trotsky initially rejected this, stating that those who used this term wished to give a personal name to a body of ideas which represented the continuation of Bolshevism. He also pointed out that his famous 1938 Transitional Programme, The Death of Agony of Capitalism, was ‘not the product of one man’ but the combined and collective thoughts and experiences of a movement, the International Left Opposition.
“‘Trotskyism’, through usage over decades, is now synonymous with a distinct trend within the workers’ movement. But any hesitation about personalisation, the cult of personality to give it its right name, is foreign to [the IMT]. This [was] underlined by Rob Sewell when he describes ‘Ted Grant’s Militant Tendency’ (‘History of British Trotskyism’ page 211). This term was never used by us before the split of 1992. It has only been used by them since then. They now call themselves officially ‘The Grant Tendency’.”
Their approach to the issue of ‘leadership’ goes to the heart of the very profound differences which exist between them and [the CWI] on the concept of leadership in a revolutionary or would-be revolutionary organisation, which is fighting to become a significant and, ultimately, a mass force. It is axiomatic for Trotskyists that leadership of a party is vital at those turning points in history in which a revolution is possible. Without the presence of Lenin and Trotsky in Russia in October 1917, the Russian Revolution would not have taken place…
Can we therefore deduce from this that, everywhere and on all occasions, it is just one or two outstanding leaders who will make the difference between success and failure in a revolution? It is possible for such a situation to occur but the aim must be to try to ensure that we avoid this situation by trying to widen the numbers and the base of the leadership, by raising the level of all to the tasks of history.
Chavez and Venezuela
There are many other political issues in which the CWI have disagreed with the IMT, and particularly with its current leading figure, Alan Woods. Indeed, the intervention of the IMT in Venezuela has been nothing short of shameful, with Woods consorting uncritically with Hugo Chávez – including detailing how he dined with Chávez, rode in his car, on the back of a motorbike, etc. It seems his latest criticism of his Venezuelan comrades or former members is that they do not concentrate all their efforts within Chávez’s PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela). This is a breathtaking lack of understanding by the IMT leadership of the character of the PSUV. It is a state-run, bureaucratic, top-down organisation, without a real active workers’ base.
Moreover, any who tend to argue against the line of the Chavista leadership are met with vicious bureaucratic denunciations. Both Ted Grant and the present leadership of the CWI were critical of the USFI – particularly of Ernest Mandel, its former leader, and Michel Pablo – in seeking short cuts to create a mass base for Trotskyism. This took the form of politically adapting to Tito – when young cadres of the Fourth International were encouraged to pick up shovels and dig for Tito during his clash with Stalin – to Fidel Castro, to Ben Bella in Algeria, etc. During the Vietnam War, while we supported the Vietnamese revolution, we never gave uncritical support to the National Liberation Front as, unfortunately, did the Mandelites, or the Cliff group in Britain, the International Socialists, etc. Alan Woods has adopted precisely this role of a benevolent adviser to Chávez. His earlier interventions in Venezuela were uncritical of Chávez himself, merely restricting himself to criticisms of those around Chávez, of ‘bureaucracy’ in general. As Chávez zigzagged, without posing the need for a revolutionary break, then mild anti-bureaucratic criticisms of the Venezuelan regime were made. There was nothing to stop Alan Woods or the IMT adopting a similar position to the CWI of supporting all steps forward in the Venezuelan revolution but calling for workers’ democracy and criticising the regime of Chávez himself when, as he has done, he resorted to bureaucratic measures against those on the left. The consequence of their opportunist adaptation is that the IMT has been increasingly discredited in the eyes of genuine lefts in Latin America, compromising, as others have done in the past, the reputation of Trotskyism.
It is not the only occasion when Woods has opportunistically linked up with people far removed from Trotskyism in order to enhance his own group and thereby his own personal prestige. This was on full display at a public meeting addressed by Peter Taaffe, organised by the CWI, in Moscow in May 1998. The CWI had a large functioning organisation compared to a small rump led by a character called Sergei Bietz, who is no longer with them. Our report of this meeting ran as follows: “The CWI at the time was heavily involved in an anti-fascist campaign whose main target was the so-called National Bolshevik Party led by Limonov – a right-wing nationalist organization which attracted a lot of youth by using radical, apparently left symbols such as Che Guevara but whose main ideologues were fascist. They use for example Nazi armbands, the only difference being they have replaced the swastika with the hammer and sickle. When some of this group turned up at the meeting the Chair announced they would not be allowed to speak. Halfway through the meeting they started heckling, accusing us of being Jews. Imagine our surprise to see Bietz urging them on and Woods quietly smiling.”
Denigration of opponents
One of the worst features of the IMT – which, hopefully, those who separated themselves from their ranks will abandon, even if they do not agree with the criticisms of the CWI – is the vicious denigration of others. In the 1930s Trotsky remarked that the Bolsheviks had their disputes but they never conducted themselves in the venomous manner of some of the Trotskyist organisations which he was forced to work with then. This arose from the isolation of these forces and the pressure of Stalinism on the Trotskyist movement itself. But those 1930s disputes were a mere spat compared to the highly personalised, spiteful character assassination, which has become the hallmark of many small groups in Britain and internationally in the last 50 years. This is a product of the pressure of Stalinism.
Successes of CWI
For reasons of space it is impossible to list here the successes of the CWI which has a presence in over 40 countries and on all continents. But the CWI has grown substantially in a number of key areas such as Greece – where we have completely outstripped the IMT – in Nigeria, in South Africa, Australia, Germany, Sweden, etc. In England and Wales the Socialist Party has a significant membership and considerable and growing influence. We publish a 12-page weekly paper, a monthly theoretical journal, and produce books and pamphlets on our own press. A balance sheet of the Grant group’s ‘influence’ and ours shows that they are totally absent from the trade union movement, from mass demonstrations in significant numbers, from the struggle against the racists and fascists, battles at local level in councils, and so on.
The only reason why the IMT has managed to maintain any kind of presence is because of the work of their members in Pakistan – in which Khalid Bhatti, now in the ranks of the CWI, played a decisive role in the earlier period – and in Spain, which was a product of the combined work of the CWI in the past. They have lost these bases and further splits and divisions are inevitable given the ossified character of this ‘International’. Unfortunately many, including good young people, can be put off by a split – which, moreover is conducted in ‘secret’ – without any real political explanation of the motives on either side. It is to be hoped that the best members of the IMT – who still remain in their ranks – as well as those who have separated themselves will re-examine their current and past policies, and open up a dialogue as a means of building the combined forces of Trotskyism on a world scale.
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