The history of the International Marxist Tendency (IMT) is mixed up with the history of its founder, Ted Grant, considered by his supporters one of the greatest Marxist theorists and by English Trotskyists who did not share his trajectory as objectivist and politically centrist.
By Marcos Margarido.
Edward “Ted” Grant was born in South Africa but spent most of his militant life in England. He died on July 20, 2006 at the age of 93. He was the founder of the Militant, a tendency in the Labour Party (LP), and of the Socialist Appeal, in 1992. At the international level, he founded the IMT.
The best way to get to know the IMT is to follow Ted Grant’s footsteps and the main party he led, the Militant. He is part of the early generations of English Trotskyists, such as Gerry Healy, Bill Hunter, Dave Finch, Rachel Ryan, Millie Lee, Jock Haston, and others. After a decision by the RCP (Revolutionary Communist Party) to make entryism in the LP in 1949, Grant, who opposed that policy, leaves the party.
After the division of the Fourth International, in 1953, due to Michel Pablo’s and Mandel’s revisionist policy of practicing the so-called sui generis entryism in the Communist parties, the English Trotskyism joins the American SWP in the International Committee. However, Ted Grant and Sam Bornstein founded the Revolutionary Socialist League (RSL) in 1956, which became the British section of the Pabloite Fourth International.
Grant, who in 1949 had been against tactical entryism in the LP to put the party in contact with the working class and build the revolutionary leadership, now agreed with the strategic entryism defended by Pablo, who forecast that irresistible forces would force Stalinism to take power. Because of this, the Trotskyist parties had to enter in Communist parties to follow this evolution, which would make Stalinism turn into a revolutionary current.
According to the document Rise and Decline of Stalinism, approved by the IV Congress of the Fourth International (1953):
“In countries where the CPs are a majority in the working class, they can, under exceptional conditions (advanced disintegration of the possessing classes) and under the pressure of very powerful revolutionary uprisings of the masses, be led to project a revolutionary orientation counter to the Kremlin’s directives, without abandoning the theoretical and political baggage inherited from Stalinism. Under these conditions, the disintegration of Stalinism in these policies must not be understood in the next immediate stage as an organisational disintegration of these parties or as a public break with the Kremlin but as a gradual internal transformation, accompanied by a political differentiation within their midst.”
All that the Trotskyist parties should do was to wait for the moment of this internal transformation and win the whole Stalinist party to Trotskyism.
For Ted Grant, the same reasoning should be applied to the Labour Party, whose membership was mostly from the working class. In the resolution The Situation and Our Tasks, published in 1957, the RSL state that crisis in the industry and the struggle of the working class would influence the LP, opening the possibility of a split if his right wing retained control of the party apparatus. “It is, however, more likely that the left would gain the majority and transform the Labour Party into a mass centrist organisation. In either case, the work of revolutionary Marxists in the period ahead must be largely the preparation and training of a cadre with such a perspective in view.“
As the resolution warned that this crisis was not given yet, the RSL should be limited to make propaganda and wait for the day of transformation of the LP. After 61 years their policy remains the same.
Looking back, it may be said that Ted Grant’s policy is a continuation of Pablo’s sui generis entryism, but transformed into a permanent strategy of construction, valid for all countries and parties and in any political situation. Bill Hunter was right when he says that the creation of the RSL was based on “an agreement on quite important conceptions which formed a decisive part of the framework of Pabloism. There was agreement on the nature of entry in Britain. For us, entry was a tactic, in the whole strategy of breaking out of isolation and building a Trotskyist leadership to take the working class to power. For Pablo [and Grant], it was participation in irresistible forces which were pushing Stalinism and centrism to take power for the working class.“
The development of the Militant
To explain how they maintained this perspective despite the LP trajectory which, contrary to their prediction, turned increasingly to the right and remained a supporter of British imperialist capitalism, the TMI developed an explanation: the day of transformation had arrived, but was wasted by the sectarian policy of most of the Militant’s leadership. Let’s see.
The RSL began their sui generis entryism in the Labour Party Young Socialists (LPYS) in 1960 and they eventually gained the majority of the LPYS leadership in 1972, taking advantage of the discontent of the LP rank and file with the ultraliberal Labour government of Harold Wilson (1964-1970). The years 1968-1969 were fundamental to their growth, when throughout Europe – and particularly in Paris, in May 1968 – the youth rebelled against the capitalist system, which was beginning to show the first signs of the demise of the post-war boom. In that period the RSL launched the Militant newspaper, name by which the party became known throughout the world.
Due to their leading of the Youth branch, the Militant had a seat in the Labour’s National Executive Committee and, for having the right orientation of linking with the working class, they managed to have some influence in the Union movement. At the 1982 Congress of the Public Servants Association (CPSA), one of their members was elected president and others were part of the national executive. They also had members in the National Executive of the Transport and General Workers Union, Fire Brigades Union, and National Local Government Workers Union. They also elected three Members of the Parliament, for the first time in the history of Trotskyism in that country.
However, this political influence – even at the annual LP conferences – had its price. They avoided any direct confrontation with the party leadership so as not to run the risk of being expelled. For example, they accepted that the documents submitted to the Young Socialist conferences were written by the Labour Party Research Department rather than the Youth leadership. The same was true of trade unions in relation to the very strong trade union bureaucracy of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), which was the leading faction in the Labour Party.
In 1982 the Militant claimed to have between 4000 and 5000 members, with a strong presence in Liverpool. It was in this city that their entryism strategy showed its limitation. In the 1983 local elections, the Militant made 15 out of the 51 Labour councillors, gaining national attention. It was an unprecedented electoral victory for a Trotskyist party, but because of their strategy, the Militant went on to take part in the city government as loyal members of the LP, seeking to provide administrative responses and make legal maneuvers to face the Tories attacks. They refused to cut services and to raise rates, but they did not offer a revolutionary alternative, which could only be to resort to the working class in a national struggle against the Conservative government.
A very illustrative example was the policy of dismissing all Council employees before the financial blockade promoted by the central government. The idea was “simple”: the workers would get redundancy money for a few weeks. After this period, they would be re-employed and paid from cash saved in those weeks. Thirty-one thousand redundancy notices were issued, but NALGO members refused to distribute them, and the scheme collapsed. Instead of calling employees and all workers to fight against the national government, they leaned on a legal maneuver that only served to sow confusion in the class and block their mobilisation.
It was clear that governing a city as part of a reformist party, accepting to defend its policy, even if a “left” policy, could only lead to reformism and not to a revolutionary policy.
This policy had a thread, followed by Ted Grant throughout his militant life: to wait for the transformation of the LP and for the expulsion of their pro-capitalist right wing. But the left wing was equally pro-capitalist, as well the British union bureaucracy, in which Militant identified an ally.
In 1968 Grant foresaw that a new economic crisis would lead the unions – that is, the union bureaucracy – and the LP to a left turn and that the party’s parliamentary sector would split, with the right-wing joining the Tories. So, it was necessary to stay in the LP at all costs.
In 1985, shortly after the Labour Party conference that approved the expulsion of eight Militant supporters and opened the “witch hunt” period against the tendency – a measure that received the decisive support of the union bureaucracy – a Militant meeting approved the slogan “After Kinnock, our turn“, stamped as the organisation’s central campaign in their next newspaper edition. Neil Kinnock was the LP leader. The reason was that the same LP conference approved the re-selection of parliamentary candidates. So, the current MPs should be confirmed by their branches meetings, without being able to automatically stand for re-election. According to the Militant, Kinnock’s right-wing dominance of the party was on borrowed time, and it was enough to wait for re-selection that their day would come.
As can be seen, the permanent entryism in a reformist party or – as Lenin put it regarding the LP – in a bourgeois-workers party could only result in a great parliamentary illusion. Even after the frustrated experience in Liverpool this illusion continued. For Grant, all the Trotskyite parties that worked outside the LP were sects alienated from the mass movement. He would write that “the plague of small sects, largely as a result of splits in larger sects, has developed as a consequence of the failure of the larger sects, like the IMG, SWP and WRP … As Marxism becomes an important force in the working class and gains support in the working class generally, the sects can do less damage than they have done in the past.“ The problem with this reasoning is that the only Marxism, for Ted Grant, is his own, and the only Marxist policy is the permanent entryism in reformist and bourgeois nationalist parties.
The Militant split
The Militant suffered a major split in 1992, which resulted in Ted Grant being ousted from the organisation. He disagreed with the decision to end entryism in the Labour Party but was followed by a small minority nationwide, although most of the party members in countries like Spain and Pakistan followed him out.
The split was preceded by one of the fastest growths of a party of Trotskyist tradition in history, during the campaign against the Poll Tax, when the party reached between seven and eight thousand members according to their leaders and, with a correct policy, could have advanced even further.
Margaret Thatcher decided to establish a Community Charge, known as Poll Tax, which established an equal charge for every adult in the country. Evidently, this tax weighed more heavily on the larger and poorer families. The tax would start to be levied in Scotland and, after a year, in all UK.
The Militant launched a campaign for civil disobedience, which reached a mass membership. On the day of the introduction of the Poll Tax in England and Wales, March 31, 1990, the National Federation Against the Poll Tax, led by the Militant, organised a demonstration in London involving 250,000 people and another in Glasgow, with 50,000. By the end of 1990, about 18 million people were boycotting the tax, which was finally cancelled due to the reaction of the mass movement.
But the Militant, trapped in his own trap of associating the crisis of capitalism with the “transformation” of the reformist parties, did not realize that the fight against the Poll Tax was going beyond the walls of bourgeois legality and threatened the ten years of repression of the mass movement by Thatcher. Thus, they played all their chips exclusively in the struggle to end the tax, without offering a strategic perspective for the struggle against the capitalist system, instead of against only one of its evils.
The London demonstration was a milestone in the Militant’s trap of legality, which threatened their maintenance in the Labour. According to their internal documents the Militant envisaged the presence of 20,000 people in London, but there were hundreds of independent youth groups organised in the poor communities of London outskirts that went to the demonstration forming a united front against the Poll Tax that surpassed Militant’s control. These groups faced police repression, that tried to keep 250,000 people in the Trafalgar Square, where only 60,000 could fit. The fightback turned the demonstration into a rebellion, known as the Trafalgar Battle, which resulted in more than 500 arrested and an uncalculated number of wounded, including 77 police officers.
The Militant’s response could not be worse. From the microphone, Tommy Sheridan, the main campaign leader in Scotland, attacked activists fighting the police and the troopers, claiming it was a peaceful act. The next day, Steve Nally, secretary of the National Federation Against the Poll Tax, said on a TV show that he would “do an investigation and give names” of the alleged troublemakers. Both were members of Militant’s leadership.
When a party put their legality above the class struggle, to the point of attacking and threatening to name activists fighting the police – in a self-defensive attitude – because they had made a prior agreement with the authorities to carry out a peaceful demo, only one conclusion is possible. The years of entryism in the Labour Party and the election of MPs and Councillors in Liverpool made the Militant an organisation that was adapted to and that defended the bourgeois democratic regime.
After the Trafalgar Battle, the Militant, already in crisis, lost its leading role in the campaign that was fragmented, resulting in the ebbing of the movement.
Rob Sewell, an ardent Ted Grant supporter and currently an IMT leader, wrote a balance sheet of the Militant’s split, stating that the Poll Tax campaign was a great victory, but “there were serious problems starting to develop within the tendency. Our mass work around the Poll Tax placed colossal pressure on the comrades, especially in the localities, and the burden, which was increasing, was falling on fewer and fewer shoulders. We were beginning to fall victim to the limitations of “single issue” politics and the work was becoming more and more unbalanced. This had very negative consequences.”
That is, the Militant fell victim to an economistic policy whose sole goal was the fight against the Poll Tax. For Sewell, “What was needed was to explain to the comrades the limitations of the Poll Tax campaign and the need for a worked-out perspective of how the Tendency would develop, not only today but also tomorrow and the day after.”
However, Sewell completely fails to look for the causes of this problem. Their only answer was the need for theoretical training of the new leading cadres. But theoretical training cannot be abstract, especially amid the whirlwind of a campaign that dragged the party and demanded political and programmatic answers to face the new challenges. Instead of trying to understand the political mistakes that his party could have made, and the limitations imposed by their strategy of entryism, and then to develop a program that would overcome mistakes and limitations, Sewell preferred to accuse some of the militants of becoming intoxicated by their success. “The problem was that our successes in the Poll Tax campaign went to some comrade’s heads. To use a phrase of Stalin, they were ‘dizzy with success’.”
The main target of his criticism was Peter Taaffe, the general secretary of the organisation and currently the main leader of the Socialist Party (British CWI section). For Sewell, he “had become obsessed with his own importance. He even revealed privately that the fate of the British revolution was on his shoulders alone!” Sentences of this sort are developed in several paragraphs to explain that the Militant’s crisis would be the result of a struggle for power, not of the enormous pressures suffered – and of wrong policies to counterbalance these pressures – due to their entryism in a reformist party, capitulating to their leadership in a moment in which they and the great majority of the PLP were against the Poll Tax campaign.
However, Rob Sewell admits that the only strategy they had in mind was to stick to the Labour by stating:
“This increasingly alienated other sections of the Left and ordinary Labour workers. This was of no concern to the group around Peter Taaffe. They seriously imagined that we could somehow by-pass the Labour Party. We could do it all on our own.”
Before an intense process of mobilizations that could lead to the overthrow of Thatcher by the mass movement and to open the way to a revolutionary situation in the country, the policy of the precursors of the TMI was of not facing the Labour leadership, while they worked to defeat the campaign. The Conservative government had to give way, but nine months later the situation was channeled into the electoral process after Thatcher’s resignation, pushed by his own party, nonetheless an indirect result of the mass struggle, but in a process that was ultimately controlled by the bourgeoisie with the full collaboration of the LP.
The end of the Militant was caused by the defeat of their policy regarding the opportunities opened by the mass movement in the Poll Tax campaign. By denying their mistakes and explaining everything as a personal power struggle in the party, that undoubtedly existed, Ted Grant supporters based their new international organisation, the International Marxist Tendency, on the same conceptions and, therefore, on the same errors that led to the destruction of the Militant.
However, the Militant’s majority decided to leave the Labour Party only for tactical reasons, without changing their political strategy. The Brazilian CWI section, the LSR, for example, for example, have been in PSOL, a neo-reformist party, for several years. In England, the Socialist Party, though out of the Labour Party, claims that the “road to socialism” was open by the election of the reformist Jeremy Corbyn for the Labour leadership. Their strategy is to support Labour candidates in the next 2020 general elections, or in snap elections, to make Jeremy Corbyn the next PM. A future article on the CWI’s trajectory will be published in this series celebrating the 80th anniversary of the Fourth International.
The IMT programme, written by Ted Grant in 2004, poses the following question: “How then will the International be built?“
“We have pointed out many times that in Britain the movement will only be built on the basis of events. This applies with just as much force to the question of the International.”
And he goes on explaining, in his detailed style, the future of the building of the International. Let’s examine a paragraph of his long text:
“Under the hammer blows of events, the development of mass centrist groupings in the Stalinist and Social Democratic Parties is inevitable. Mass splits from these tendencies will be on the order of the day in the coming decade or two. Events in Russia can transform the situation internationally. Similarly, for America and other industrial countries of the west. With the developments of mass centrist groupings with large numbers of workers groping for a revolutionary lead, this will be a favourable milieu or a hot house for the reception of Marxist ideas. We must try and reach these elements internationally with the ideas and methods of Trotsky.“
At the beginning of this article, it was stated that many characterised Ted Grant as objectivist. The paragraph above shows why. It is a repetition of his ideas about the development of the Labour Party, under the hammer blows of events, now raised internationally.
Events, the objective reality, will be responsible for everything, including the building of the revolutionary party. Their hammer blows will generate the masses “developed within these organisations” who will come to the revolutionary party to listen to their Marxist ideas. The task of the revolutionary party is to “fertilise” these masses, as in a hothouse, waiting for them to grow. But to take care of the hothouse, according to Grant, it is necessary to be within the Stalinist and Social-Democratic organisations, developing good relations with these abject traitors and behaving loyally in the face of all the betrayals these parties commit, to avoid the risk of being expelled.
It is true that in revolutionary situations there is always a detachment of the masses from their traditional leadership, for without it no revolution would be possible. It is also true that we must take advantage of the opportunities that the hammer blows of events offer us. The question, however, is with what policy do we approach the masses, for to build the revolutionary party is necessary to expose – combined with demanding – the reformist leadership permanently. In general, only a minority of the masses are organised in the reformist parties. They follow their policy by the influence these organisations have acquired, and they vote for these parties, but they are often outside them. They are in unions, community groups, homeless and landless occupations, etc. It is an obligation of the revolutionary party to work in these mass organisations, to stand by them and to dispute their leadership by presenting our revolutionary policy against the traitorous leaders’ policy. But one cannot confuse these workers and democratic organisations, that have the participation of different political currents, with the reformist parties, controlled by the trade union bureaucracy or the parliamentarians and, in the case of nationalist mass parties, by the bourgeoisie. It is a political crime not to be in united-front mass organisations, but it is a tactical and always short-lived issue, as Lenin and Trotsky taught us, to enter in reformist parties to win over their most active vanguard.
But any entryism tactic can only be victorious if backed by the existence of a consolidated revolutionary party, however small, with complete political independence. Entryism is a conspiracy of the revolutionaries against the reformist parties’ leadership, aiming to bring their most advanced sector to the party and to destroy the reformist leadership. It is not an agreement between gentlemen for peaceful coexistence within the reformist party.
The IMT does the opposite. And to justify their stance, they claim that Lenin advised the British Communists to join the Labour Party. What is not said is that his advice was for a short period during the British general elections in 1920. And, above all, that there was a principled condition of which Lenin would not give up: “We must say frankly that the Party of Communists can join the Labour Party only on condition that it preserves full freedom of criticism and is able to conduct its own policy.”
In this regard, Lenin is emphatic:
“It should, however, be borne in mind that the British Labour Party is in a very special position: it is a highly original type of party, or rather, it is not at all a party in the ordinary sense of the word. It is made up of members of all trade unions, and has a membership of about four million, and allows sufficient freedom to all affiliated political parties. It thus includes a vast number of British workers who follow the lead of the worst bourgeois elements, the social-traitors, who are even worse than Scheidemann, Noske and similar people. At the same time, however, the Labour Party has let the British Socialist Party into its ranks, permitting it to have its own press organs, in which members of the self-same Labour Party can freely and openly declare that the party leaders are social-traitors.”
But the IMT talk only of the advice to enter the Labour, and permanently…
IMT facing events
In Ted Grant’s quote above, he states that “Mass splits from these [Stalinist and social-democratic] tendencies will be on the order of the day in the coming decade or two. Events in Russia can transform the situation internationally.”
Although the date of publication of the text on the Internet is 2004, it is clear that at least this excerpt was written before the revolutionary processes that took place after the capitalist restoration of the former USSR and Eastern Europe, culminating in the overthrow of the communist parties that were at the head of those restorations and at the end of Stalinism as a world counterrevolutionary apparatus centralised by the Kremlin.
Events in Russia have actually transformed the situation internationally. There was a spectacular rupture of the masses with the Stalinist apparatus. European Communist parties have been virtually swept away from the political map. Some have ceased to exist, such as the Italian Communist Party, the largest communist party in Western Europe.
However, “centrist mass groupings” have not developed out of the destruction of communist parties. The working masses fought as never before, but the crisis of revolutionary leadership took its toll. The struggles were uncoordinated, without a leadership that could centralise the millions of workers who broke politically with Stalinism. The lack of an International, of the Fourth International rebuilt as a continuation of the Third International, was fatal from the point of view of the revolutionary reorganisation of the masses. But they no longer had a counterrevolutionary world apparatus that, in the name of peaceful coexistence with imperialism, betrayed and defeated their struggles.
By adopting the strategy of following the reformist leadership, the IMT was part of those who, while claiming Trotskyists, contributed (such as the USec) for the lack of a stronger Fourth International and revolutionary parties to intervene in these processes and take advantage of the colossal crisis of Stalinism and Social Democracy.
The global economic crisis that began in 2008 showed this clearly. Revolutionary processes arose in various parts of the world, as well as mass mobilizations against the social war promoted by capitalism against the working class. In this process, the European masses also liberated from social-democratic parties, but not in the form of centrist mass groupings resulting from the transformation of old reformist organisations.
There are more and better conditions today to build the world party of the revolution. But not within the traditional reformist organisations, which are shells empty of content. Nor, as well, within the neo-reformist parties that emerged from the vacuum left by the end of the electoral power of Social Democracy. Neo-reformism did not emerge as a centrist tendency of workers emanating from reformist apparatuses, but as new reformist electoral apparatuses without a working-class base, as defenders of capitalism and the European Union, that quickly lose their prestige for their blatant betrayals after being elected. The most recent example is Syriza, but the whole “Party of the European Left”, this gathering of European neo-reformist apparatuses, follow the same path. It is enough to look at the Left Bloc in Portugal and their support to the Socialist Party “government of the Geringonça” that, according to a member of the Left Bloc, is a “geringonça”, but it works …
Although no centrist currents of working masses have emerged in any of these recent processes, the IMT parties nevertheless maintain the same policy of permanent entryism in reformist and neo-reformist organisations waiting for the hammer blows of events. It should be remembered once again that entryism, as a tactic of short duration, remains entirely valid, but only under the essential condition of the existence of centrist sectors turning to the left in the reformist organisations.
The IMT sections
A brief Internet survey reveals this fact. Out of the 34 organisations declared to be IMT sections, twenty make entryism in a mass party. Among these, attention is drawn in Latin America to the Bolivian MAS, the FMLN of El Salvador, the Venezuelan PSUV. In Brazil, its small section has been in the Workers Party (PT) for years and has recently become part of PSOL, a neo-reformist electoral party.
That is, in Latin America, the IMT sections worked, in the case of Brazil, and continue to work, in other countries, in parties currently in power. The MAS, with Evo Morales, in Bolivia; the FMLN, with Salvador Sánchez Cerén, in El Salvador; the PSUV, with Maduro, in Venezuela. They all apply the neo-liberal plans and anti-workers policies prescribed by imperialism through their agencies, such as the World Bank, the IMF and the UN, to make the workers pay for the economic crisis that hits the world. And the IMT behave as a loyal ally, giving advice on how these bourgeois governments could adopt “socialist” policies, as is the case with Venezuela. In other words, they repeat Milerrand’s treacherous policy in France in 1899, the Social-Democrats policy since World War I and the post-1935 Stalinists under the Popular Front.
The entryism in nationalist or populist bourgeois parties becomes, in some countries, a delusional policy. In Canada, the IMT section work inside the New Democratic Party, a pro-imperialist party that has already supported Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau (the current prime minister’s father). In Pakistan, they were part of the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP), led by the Bhutto family, until they lost most of their section in 2015. But in Pakistan, their policy had much more serious consequences.
In 2007, in Pakistan, the IMT did not support the struggle for the overthrow of the dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf, who had struck a coup in 1999 and intended to remain in power with the consent of the Supreme Court. On March 9, 2007, Musharraf removed Chief Justice Muhammad Chaudhry, on the allegation of corruption, to ensure his continuity. This led to a movement of lawyers, who launched a campaign called Judicial Activism for the maintenance of the Chief Justice. But the movement soon surpassed the initial goal and huge demonstrations against the dictator spread across the country.
However, the IMT, through Alan Woods, argued that the movement had not leadership, as lawyers are part of the intellectual middle class, and criticised the bourgeois opposition parties for stating that if the dictator did not resign, he would be overthrown. According to Woods, these were just words in the wind and the movement would end up in a dead end.
In criticising the leadership of the campaign without seeing the dynamics that the movement was acquiring, Woods capitulated completely to them and, instead of presenting a programme directed to the workers to go beyond that middle-class leadership and to put the movement under the leadership of the working class, he defended generalities like the need for socialism and the nationalization of industry without linking them to the concrete situation. For the IMT, the lawyers’ movement, without the workers, was doomed to failure but did nothing to bring that very progressive movement for the overthrow of the dictatorship to victory. On the contrary, their policy was aimed at its defeat.
The IMT Pakistani section, which had been working for several years in the PPP, said that the outcome of the movement could be the electoral victory of that bourgeois party and characterised it as positive because it would deepen the crisis and lead to revolution. For the IMT, the channelling of a movement for the overthrow of the dictatorship to the dead end of bourgeois democracy was a great victory. Adaptation to bourgeois democracy was not restricted to England, it had already extended to all sections of that tendency. In February 2008 there were general elections that resulted, in fact, in the victory of the PPP, only to become the new executioner of the Pakistani people.
The abandonment of the defence of the dictatorship of the proletariat
The case of entryism in the Venezuelan PSUV is emblematic, as the IMT, through Alan Woods – now their main leader – has achieved an important political role as Chávez’s “informal adviser” and turned to be one of the greatest defenders of the “Socialism of the 21st Century.”
The last IMT world document states that it cannot “support the policies of the [Maduro] government, which lead directly to disaster and defeat for the Bolivarian revolution.” This statement against Maduro’s policy comes within the framework of maintaining the Bolivarian regime inaugurated by Chávez, that is, of maintaining a bourgeois regime. In addition, although saying it does not agree with Maduro’s policy, it supported the repression against the Venezuelan people under the pretext of fighting the bourgeois opposition. So much so that it then throws its hopes on Eduardo Saman, “a former minister who stood out as champion of workers’ control and an opponent of big business and capitalist multinationals.”
In a few lines, the IMT world document makes a huge number of serious mistakes. Even in the days of Chávez’s “revolutionary government” there was never any workers’ control, but rather the control of the Chavista trade-union bureaucracy over workers who somehow resisted the government impositions. For example, there have been no union elections in the workers’ union of PDVSA for several years, the Venezuela’s state-owned oil company, because the Chavista bureaucracy risks losing. The same happens in the state-owned metallurgical company Sidor. Moreover, there is no workers’ control without the self-organisation of the workers in their councils, constructed by themselves, and not bestowed by the minister of a capitalist state.
Finally, it is necessary to question what the IMT means by revolution, when they speak of the Bolivarian revolution. In a long article, Alan Woods states that “a peaceful transformation of society would be entirely possible if the reformist and trade union leaders were prepared to use their colossal power in their hands to change society … We have never at any time denied the possibility of violence and civil war under certain conditions … We make it absolutely clear that we are in favour of a peaceful transformation of society, that we are prepared to fight for such a transformation, but at the same time we warn that the ruling class will fight to defend its power and privileges.“
Let us agree that this is a rather ambiguous way of defending the necessity of a socialist revolution, or a transformation of society, as he says. In the first place, the reformists and trade union bureaucracy will never use the power they hold to lead a revolution. The opposite is true: they will use this power to divert – or crush, if necessary, as in the 1918 German revolution – any revolutionary action of the working class and their allies. The “reformism of the 21st century” is as counterrevolutionary as it was in the last century. Sowing illusions on reformists and the union bureaucracy using an “if” is not a Marxist attitude. Second, if the bourgeoisie will “fight” – a very gentle way to designate the civil war that the bourgeoisie is able to do – for their power, why put this question on a conditional basis?
Alan Woods quotes Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky to defend his thesis of peaceful revolution. Lenin advanced the possibility, for a very brief period, between February and July 1917 of the transfer of the power from the provisional government to the Soviets. But it was exactly this: transfer of power, not socialist revolution.
The discussion is not about these tactical possibilities that the class struggle has offered and will always offer to revolutionaries, but a theoretical approach to the problem. Thus, the same ones whose texts Woods claims to defend him have always theoretically analysed the revolution as a violent episode, since no social class relinquishes its power without fierce resistance. And in all real revolutions that have taken place – not those imagined by the IMT – violence has always been present, both on the revolutionary and on the counterrevolutionary sides. As Engels said:
“Have these gentlemen ever seen a revolution? A revolution is certainly the most authoritarian thing there is; it is the act whereby one part of the population imposes its will upon the other part by means of rifles, bayonets and cannon — authoritarian means, if such there be at all; and if the victorious party does not want to have fought in vain, it must maintain this rule by means of the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists. Would the Paris Commune have lasted a single day if it had not made use of this authority of the armed people against the bourgeois?”
Returning to Venezuela, we can understand that when Woods states that “… Chavez, in a confused way, groped for and was pushed towards revolutionary change“, he is referring to the peaceful transformation of society towards socialism. How would that be?
This reasoning for a peaceful transformation of society needs to go further, at least to understand what this type of transformation is all about. In his text Where is the Venezuelan Revolution Going Woods states that it is necessary to nationalise large corporations, banks and lands to deepen the revolution, and equate nationalisation with the “workers’ democracy, based on the collective ownership of land, banks and industry.”
It means that the passage of private property from the hands of individual capitalists to the bourgeois state (nationalisations) is economically identified with a socialist system (collective ownership of the means of production). This interpretation is corroborated by the historian Robert J. Alexander in his appraisal of the Militant. According to him, “they expressed confidence that once all means of production and distribution are nationalised, there would be no danger of parties such as the Tories ever being able to convince the workers that capitalism should be reestablished.“
If capitalism cannot be reestablished because of the nationalisation of the means of production and distribution, Britain, in this case, would already be in a socialist system, but in a capitalist state!
There is only one plausible conclusion: It is possible to arrive at socialism by peaceful means through the nationalisation of the means of production and distribution without a social revolution that expropriates the bourgeoisie and without destroying the capitalist state. All this in a democratic way and, perhaps, through elections, as in Britain, when the Labour Party is “transformed” and their left wing holds power. For the IMT, by the way, this time is scheduled. After all, the “revolution of Jeremy Corbyn”, the current leader of the LP and regarded as a socialist by them, is in the race for the 2020 general elections in the country…
And, in a country like Venezuela, which was led by a “confused but revolutionary socialist”, it was enough to give him good advice on the nationalisation of industry, banks and land to deepen the revolution and thus reach socialism. Maduro spoiled this utopia, but it is possible to return to the origins of Chavismo by supporting Eduardo Saman.
As we see, this is a total abandonment of the Marxist theory of State, although the IMT never admits this abandonment. However, they are frank about changing the theory.
In the text The Role of the State and Social Democracy, written to preface an edition of Lenin’s State and Revolution, Alan Woods states that:
“In describing the transitional state between capitalism and socialism Marx spoke of the ‘dictatorship of the proletariat.’ This term has led to a serious misunderstanding. Nowadays, the word dictatorship has connotations that were unknown to Marx… For Marx the word dictatorship came from the Roman Republic, where it meant a situation where in time of war, the normal rules were set aside for a temporary period. The idea of a totalitarian dictatorship like Stalin’s Russia, where the state would oppress the working class in the interests of a privileged caste of bureaucrats, would have horrified Marx. In reality Marx’s ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’ is merely another term for the political rule of the working class or a workers’ democracy.”
Alan Woods needs to play a game of words to elegantly deny the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is evident that Marx could not imagine that a workers’ state (a dictatorship of the proletariat), like Russia under Stalin, could degenerate into a totalitarian state and he would have opposed such a monstrosity. But that was not what Marx, when he analysed the Paris Commune; Engels, in several of his writings; and Lenin in the State and Revolution referred to. They defended the establishment of a dictatorship of the proletariat, compared with the Paris Commune (Lenin spoke of a state-commune), against the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie, whose connotation Marx knew very well. Alan Woods’s problem is that the dictatorship of the proletariat can only be established after the destruction of the bourgeois state through a violent revolution.
And they defended workers’ democracy, but without any democracy for the bourgeoisie. The dictatorship of the proletariat is a thousand times more democratic than the most democratic of the bourgeois electoral democracies, because it is the democracy of the vast majority of the working people against the huge minority of the former ruling class. To paraphrase Marx, only who works will eat. The dictatorship of the proletariat is an armed force of the working people to crush the bourgeois reaction. But dictatorship of the proletariat and workers’ democracy are not synonyms, as Alan Woods would have us believe.
If Marx, Engels and Lenin did not live the period of the degeneration of the workers’ state by the Stalinist bureaucracy, Trotsky did. But the conclusion he reached is the opposite of that of the IMT. He did not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Trotsky defended the dictatorship of the proletariat until his – violent – death, even under pressure caused by the assassination of his family and comrades of the Left Opposition by Stalin’s agents. Trotsky, as well as Marx or Engels, were not horrified by violence. Against the degenerated workers’ state, he defended a political revolution to overthrow its bureaucratic superstructure and replace it with a superstructure based on the regenerated soviets after the expulsion of the bureaucracy.
The abandonment of the defence of the dictatorship of the proletariat has a concrete importance for the revolutionary Marxist parties. This is not an academic discussion, but the very nature of such organisations.
The first lesson of historical materialism is that the hammer blows of events – to use Ted Grant’s expression – transform consciousness, not the opposite. The second is that these transformations are historic, that is, they are a function of the concrete activity of the party, or of the individual, in the class struggle.
And since these transformations are objective, that is, independent of the will of the subject involved, it doesn’t matter how big is the Marxist knowledge of that individual or collective subject. This is not to say that Marxist knowledge is useless in confronting reality. On the contrary, it is fundamental to its transformation. But it is not knowledge itself that transforms reality, but its practical application through the objectively revolutionary social class, the proletariat, and its consciously revolutionary sector, the Marxist party.
It is the year after year adaptation to reformist apparatuses and to bourgeois democracy that drives the IMT to the abandonment of the defence of the dictatorship of the proletariat. Knowledge, now dubiously Marxist, serves only to justify this abandonment.
Take, for example, the Unified Secretariat of the Fourth International (Usec), which has always been the subject of overwhelming criticism by Ted Grant.
Both the USec and the IMT have as the conception of party building the Pabloist sui generis entryism. The USec with their deep entryism in the European Stalinist parties. The IMT with the permanent entryism in reformist mass parties, such as the Labour Party. Let’s be fair, the IMT has been much more consistent over the years, while the USec has lived through zigzags, pushed by Mandel’s petty-bourgeois impressionism.
In the late 1970s the USec began its adaptation to bourgeois democracy by capitulating to Eurocommunism, i.e. European Stalinist parties already fully integrated into electoral processes and with a high number of seats in European parliaments. However, they still defended the dictatorship of the proletariat, albeit with a “pacifist” vision, seeing only the virtues of workers’ democracy and forgetting the need to implant “the terror which its arms inspire in the reactionists.”
After the end of Stalinism as a world apparatus of counterrevolution, the USec began to build anti-capitalist parties, this gathering of revolutionaries and “honest” reformists. They began to work and dissolve in these parties, such as the French NPA, the Portuguese Left Bloc, the Spanish Podemos, the German Die Linke. In Greece, although their section refused to enter the Syriza, the USec leadership supported the DEA, that made entryism in the Syriza.
In 2006, their main leader, Daniel Bensaïd wrote:
“The question of the workers’ government has inevitably brought us back to the question of the dictatorship of the proletariat. An LCR conference decided by a majority of more than two thirds to remove mention of it from its statutes. That was fair enough. Today the term dictatorship more readily invokes the military or bureaucratic dictatorships of the 20th century than the venerable Roman institution of temporary emergency powers duly mandated by the Senate. Since Marx saw the Paris Commune as ‘the political form at last discovered’ of this dictatorship of the proletariat, we would be better off understood as invoking the Commune, the Soviets, councils or self-management, rather than hanging on to a verbal fetish which history has rendered a source of confusion.”
The resemblance to Alan Woods’s justification is complete. Bensaïd also resorts to a play on words to get of the dictatorship of the proletariat. It is not a question of how we will call it in our texts. We can use the term Soviets, workers’ government, popular councils in our public texts, but to explain the content of the concept of dictatorship of the proletariat, not to remove it from our statutes and programmes.
As we see, the trajectory of the USec of adaptation to bourgeois democracy led to the construction of neo-reformists parties and to the abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat. The IMT sections work in these same parties. In Podemos, in Die Linke, in Syriza (until Tsipras’s betrayal, that caused the split of their section), in Melenchón’s La France Insoumise, where an USec sector that split with the NPA also works, etc.
It is not surprising, therefore, that these two tendencies, with such different political conceptions, but with similar practices, abandon the defence of the dictatorship of the proletariat. And, as we said at the beginning, this has concrete consequences. Like the USec, the IMT is a tendency fully adapted to bourgeois democracy and reformist practices.
As Trotsky put it, “abandoning the idea of a revolutionary dictatorship, Kautsky transforms the question of the conquest of power by the proletariat into a question of the conquest of a majority of votes by the Social-Democratic Party in one of the electoral campaigns of the future.“ This is precisely the IMT conception of conquest of power today, as we could see in the case of Britain with Corbyn and Venezuela with Chávez.
The IWL-FI, on the contrary, continues to believe that “the man who repudiates the dictatorship of the proletariat repudiates the Socialist revolution, and digs the grave of Socialism.”
 According to Bill Hunter, in Lifelong Apprenticeship, he was expelled by his branch for inactivity. The RCP leadership voted down the expulsion, but he would never come back.
 For further information, José Welmowicki, The Fight For Rebuilding the Fourth International and the Role of USec
 Bill Hunter, Lifelong Apprenticeship, Porcupine Press, p. 322
 Idem, p. 321
 A split occurred in the RSL in that period, that would be the predecessor of the Usec British section, the IMG.
 Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985, Duke University Press, p. 489
 According to Jon Nordheimer, a New York Times reporter.
 Bill Hunter, 1985: The Chickens Came Home to Roost, The Workers Press, 6 September 1986, p. 5.
 According to John Callaghan, British Trotskyism; Theory and Practice, Basil Blackwell, London, 1984, page 185.
 Rob Sewell, How The militant Was Built – And How It Was Destroyed, accessed in 27/06/2018.
 Interview with Martin Ralph, ISL member.
 Rob Sewell, How The militant Was Built – And How It Was Destroyed, accessed in 27/06/2018. All quotes regarding the Militant balance sheet by Rob Sewell belong to this document.
 Ted Grant, Program of the International, accessed in 28/06/2018
 A Brief History of the International Marxist Tendency, accessed in 28/06/2018
 Lenin, Speech On The Role Of The Communist Party, II Congress of the Communist International.
 Geringonça can be translated by contraption.
 Wikipedia, International Marxist Tendency, accessed in 29/06/2018.
 World Perspectives: 2018 – A Year of Capitalist Crisis, accessed in 30/06/2018.
 Alan Woods, Marxism and the State, accessed in 30/06/2018
 We’re not considering the exceptional possibility raised by Trotsky in the Transitional Programme, because this is not the case handled by Woods.
 Engels, On Authority, accessed in 02/07/2018.
 World Perspectives: 2018 – A Year of Capitalist Crisis, accessed in 30/06/2018.
 Alan Woods, Where Is the Venezuelan Revolution Going?, accessed in 30/06/2018.
 Robert J. Alexander, International Trotskyism, 1929-1985, Duke University Press, p. 491
 Alan Woods, The Role of The State and Social Democracy, accessed in 30/06/2018.
 For Marxists, the concept of violent revolution means the revolutionary seizure of power against the power of the exploiting ruling class by use of force and against its will, even facing it in a civil war if necessary. The IMT paints revolutionary violence as a caricature of “gushing blood” and “civil war” to justify its capitulation.
 For further information, José Welmowicki, The Fight For Rebuilding the Fourth International and the Role of USec – Part II
 Daniel Bensaïd, On the return of the politic-strategic question, accessed in 30/06/2018
 Trotsky, Terrorism and Communism, Chapter 2