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Review of Ted Grant’s The Case Against Bureaucratic Centralism

Ted Grant and others, The Case Against Bureaucratic Centralism and in Defence of Internal Democracy. Published by E. Grant, PO Box 22, Barking, Essex IG11 7DQ.

Reviewed by Ken Tarbuck

From New Interventions, Vol.3 No.1,1992

THE SPLIT in the Militant Tendency has now been consummated in public, with the minority Grant faction publishing its own account of the grisly saga. This is a long, closely printed document of nearly 40 pages, and makes very heavy going trying to read it through to the end. The comrade who sent me this pamphlet remarked it was a bit like Healyism but without the sex and violence – not quite true but near enough, and I might add without the politics.

Reading this pamphlet is akin to a descent into a nether world of strange initials, hints and allusions, and unless you are clued up as to particular identities one can get lost. However, all is not lost since we all know who P.T. is, as he is mentioned as both General Secretary and Editor of "The Paper". And really that is all you need to know, since if you keep your eye on those initials you can follow the plots, sub-plots and sub-sub-plots through to the bitter end – at least you will if you stay awake. My advice would be to stay awake, and read it as a grim reminder of the fantasy world which many (most?) of us have inhabited ourselves at some point in our political lives. Any time anyone says "what we need is a good democratic-centralist-Bolshevik-Trotskyist party/group/tendency", they should be given some of Healy’s philosophy and this pamphlet to read. (That’ll teach ’em!)

There is however a very serious side to all this. After all, whatever one may think about Militant it cannot be denied that for the last 20 years or so it has been a definite presence within the labour movement, evincing one of the 57 varieties of "true Trotskyism". When everyone else exited the Labour Party they stayed in to reap some small rewards for fidelity to a tactic which was worked out by Healy in the 1950s. And to give E.G. his due he has been consistent in maintaining this entry tactic. Times may change but the tactic remained in place. And it is these changed times which it seems have given rise to the split, since P.T. and his supporters wanted to change with them, and E.G. would have none of it.

There is nothing surprising in these two documents; everything retailed in them could be culled from a dozen (a dozen, I should say a thousand!) such documents circulated by a defeated minority when it has been expelled from any one of the ortho-Trot sects. It has all the accusations – of a clique seizing control of the organisation, lies about the pure hearted opposition, financial finagling, organisational measures to rig votes, kangaroo court expulsions, etc, etc. Even the pained expressions of horror on the part of the victims at their dastardly treatment for wanting to discuss politics, has all been said before. And if in this case there was no actual violence the threat was certainly there – how else can one describe the keeping of people in a building against their will? The outrage of the victims is real, and so it should be, but as is often the case in such circumstances the biter has been bit by their own pet Doberman.

From what is said in these documents it clear that all was not well in Militant for some time before the final blowup. However, the authors continually attempt to distance themselves from a process that they were a part of and went along with for many years. The rigging of conference votes did not start last year, it was happening in the late 1950s and early 1960s, nor did the slandering of opponents begin in recent years, that too goes back into the mists of history. E.G. now wants us to believe he is above such things. Maybe, but P.T. has been his loyal henchman for over 30 years and E.G. either did not notice when such things happened to other people or chose to ignore it. There is a crafty naivety in the complaints about the "homogenous" organisation being turned into a monolithic one in the last few years. What this really means is "it is fine to do such things to other people so long as it keeps me on top". Again, the complaints of the victims are real enough – I am sure that all the nasty things alleged did happen to them. The fact that some of the "whippers out" were getting whipped out themselves doesn’t alter the basic injustice of it all. But the injustices were inbuilt, and to use a well worn cliche "if you cannot stand the the heat don’t go into the kitchen".

There is not one glimmer, not a scintilla of a gleam of recognition that the "Founder of the Tendency" might have had anything to do with the creation of the monster that spewed him out so quickly. Since this is the case, we cannot therefore expect any attempt at a materialist analysis of the conditions which gave rise to these events, apart from a few paragraphs mentioning the decline of working class activity during the Thatcher years and the effects of the post-war boom. Perhaps I am being a little ungenerous, since there is mentioned a document about "The Turn", and presumably this is the ostensibly political one, but the present offering was the one to first see the light in the public domain.

I said in my opening paragraph that "the politics was missing". That is true and untrue. It is true insofar as the vast bulk of the material here is about rather sordid organisational chicanery, but the politics runs through like a subliminal text. The politics are those of an alien and alienated sect, distant descendents of the Bolshevik tradition, the gnomes who fight over the tattered remnants of the mantle of a giant, who live in a time warp. To read this material is rather like pulling back a heavy stone and watching the wild life scurrying around. But do not be too complacent, we could all fall back under the stone if we are not careful.