Following on from the article on Ted Grant that appeared in last month's Socialist Standard, reproduced below are a couple of fascinating letters from this month's Standard from a couple of old timers that caught my eye:
Following on from your obituary of Ted Grant, the Trotskyist founder of the “entryist” Militant Tendency (September Socialist Standard), I agree that he was never a revolutionary; but just another reformer masquerading as a revolutionary.
I first heard Ted Grant speak at a meeting in High Holborn, of the so-called Revolutionary Communist Party, just before its demise probably in 1947. At this meeting, I heard for the first time the claim that the Soviet Union was not socialist, or even a "degenerated workers' state", but in fact a dictatorial form of state capitalism. A member of the audience (of about 100) got up and forcefully, as well as persistently, much to the annoyance of Grant and the other Trotskyist speakers, and argued that the economy of the USSR was state capitalist, and that the workers and peasants there were exploited in much the same way as elsewhere. Shortly after, two of the leaders who were at the meeting, Jock Haston and Tony Cliff, both accepted the claim that Soviet Russia was state capitalist.
And who was the speaker from the audience? I learned later, when I knew the SPGB (from meetings on Clapham Common), that it was a man named Sammy Cash, a well-known and active member of the Socialist Party.
As you noted, Ted Grant was ousted from the Militant Tendency by a man called Peter Taaffe, a thoroughly dishonest individual who claims that his existing group is the “socialist party”, known by the most appropriate acronym of SPEW.
PETER E. NEWELL, Colchester, Essex
The obituary on Ted Grant by DAP rather impressed me with its honesty and, even, generosity. I met Grant and Haston in 1948 at the RCP HQ on the Harrow Road. Haston was a fun fellow; Grant seemed a bit like a frustrated priest.
RICHARD MONTAGUE, Ballymena, Co. Antrim.
A couple of points on the first letter: though the Revolutionary Communist Party actually split in '47 over the issue of entryism into the Labour Party, I don't think it gave up the organisational ghost until '49 or '50. It is perhaps understandable that the RCP fell off the writer's political radar post '47. From my fragmented memory of reading Bornstein and Richardson's two volume history of British Trotskyism a few years back, it definitely appears to be the case that the RCP - the first and last time there has been a unified Trotskyist party in Britain - started tearing each other to factional bits towards the end of its life, leaving that poisoned little monster Gerry Healy the last man standing.
The other interesting point from the letter is the mention of Jock Haston and Tony Cliff coming out as State Caps at a later date. As I understand it, Haston was the first person to raise the issue of state capitalism within the ranks of the RCP but rather than Haston and Cliff coming to that position at the same time, according to the late Al Richardson, "Cliff's remit from [Ernest] Mandel when he first came to Britain was specifically to argue against these incipient `state capitalist' heresies, and what happened was that in the course of the dispute the contestants changed sides." (The quote is from Richardson's review of Alex Callinicos's 'Trotskyism' that appeared in the journal, Revolutionary History.)
The same review makes mention of the fact that whilst Haston was never a member of the SPGB, he was heavily influenced by the Party before becoming a Trotskyist in the mid-1930s. There's a passage in Bornstein and Richardson's 'Against the Stream', where Haston, in an interview conducted many years later, mentions that he had gone along to an SPGB meeting to give them an intellectual kicking only to be put on his arse politically by a well versed SPGB member by the name of Adolph Kohn. Going back that the next night he was put on the canvas again. After that, Haston attended SPGB meetings for nine or ten months, arguing and absorbing the revolutionary socialist case without ever joining the SPGB itself. By all accounts that I've read of that period, he was the outstanding member of the Revolutionary Communist Party. He was its parliamentary candidate in the by-election in Neath, South Wales in 1945, and its General Secretary. And, without wishing to appear too cruel or cheeky to the memory of the dead, you can tell from these pictures that Ted Grant always had a soft spot for him. perhaps he was Ted's rosebud?
The second letter just makes me smile 'cos it captures the humour of the writer, and if I shut my eyes I can hear him saying those words in his strong Belfast accent. He's one of the best.