Ted Grant

Open Letter to B.S.F.I.

Written: September/October 1950
Proofread/Markup: Maarten, Emil 2006

[Editor's Note: ‘B.S.F.I.’ means the British section of the Fourth International. This open letter was written by Ted Grant after he was expelled from the section.]

British Trotskyism has reached an impasse on the road which has been travelled by the official Trotskyist organisation; there is no way forward towards the development of a healthy revolutionary tendency rooted in the masses.

For three reasons, as a revolutionary tendency, the Fourth International in Britain has collapsed:

1) Capitulation to Tito-Stalinism internationally.

2) Policy and programme in Britain.

3) Lack of internal democracy.


As a result of the development which followed World War Two an unforeseen relationship of forces has developed on a world scale between Stalinism, reformism and capitalism. The prognosis of the Fourth International before the war that the problem of Stalinism would be solved either during the war or immediately after has been falsified by events.

Owing to the viability of state ownership, the frightful decay and collapse of imperialism and capitalism, the revolutionary wave following World War Two and the weakness of the revolutionary internationalist tendency, Stalinism was enabled to take advantage of all these factors and emerged with the U.S.S.R. as second world power enormously strengthened throughout the globe. Stalinism has become the mass tendency in Europe and Asia.

The collapse of capitalism in Eastern Europe enabled Stalinism as a Bonapartist tendency to manipulate the workers and manoeuvre between the classes - establishing deformed workers’ states of a Bonapartist character with more or less mass support. Stalinism in the present peculiar relationship of class forces, basing itself in the last analysis on the proletariat - in the sense of standing for the defence of the new economic form of society - is Bonapartism of a new type manoeuvring between the classes in order to establish a regime on the pattern of Moscow.

In China and Yugoslavia, the Stalinist parties came to power on the basis of overwhelming mass support and established regimes relatively independent of the Moscow bureaucracy.

The fact that the revolution in China and Yugoslavia could he developed in a distorted and debased character is due to the world factors of:

(a) The crisis of world capitalism.

(b) The existence of a strong, deformed workers’ state adjacent to these countries and powerfully influencing the workers’ movement.

(c) The weakness of the Marxist current of the Fourth International.

These factors have resulted in an unparalleled development, which could not have been foreseen by any of the Marxist teachers: the extension of Stalinism as a social phenomenon over half Europe, over the Chinese sub-continent and with the possibility of spreading over the whole of Asia.

This poses new theoretical problems to be worked out by the Marxist movement. Under conditions of isolation and paucity of forces, new historical factors could not but result in a theoretical crisis of the movement, posing the problem of its very existence and survival.

After a period of extreme vacillation and confusion throughout the International, including all tendencies, three distinct tendencies have emerged:

(a) A movement of despair and revisionism, so-called state capitalism; organisational Menshevism of Haston and the ideological disintegration of Morrow, Goldman, Craipeau, etc.

(b) A tendency in the direction of neo-Stalinism (the I.S. and the British Section).

(c) The Marxist current striving to carry on the best traditions of Trotskyism.

Faced with formidable problems, the I.S. and the British leadership have revealed themselves theoretically bankrupt. Without any adequate theoretical explanation or conscientious analysis of their past position, they have changed 180 degrees in true Zinovievist fashion overnight, from one maintaining that Eastern Europe and China were capitalist regimes to one where Yugoslavia - since the break with Stalin - has mysteriously changed into a healthy workers’ state.

In Britain, echoing the I.S. and without the least attempt at theoretical understanding, the Healy leadership gives its crudest application. Their method of reasoning follows along these lines: (a) the Fourth International has predicted that Stalinism could not make the revolution (b) Stalinism has made the revolution, therefore... (c) it is not Stalinism! The second line of argument of which both the I.S. and the Healy leadership are guilty, is that there can only be one Stalin! Why? There can be more than one Fascist dictator because they have a class basis in the capitalist class, but Stalin, apparently, has no class basis.

Idealising and white-washing the Tito leadership because of their break with Moscow, the British leadership has suppressed all fundamental criticism of this tendency, and regards Yugoslavia in this light of a ‘normal’ proletarian dictatorship: i.e. a healthy workers’ state with this or that minor blemish of no real importance. Taking as a platform the fact that, since the break with Moscow, the Tito leadership has been compelled to borrow many of the arguments from the arsenal of Marxism in their criticism of the Moscow oligarchy, they do not see the conflict as a reflection of the national struggle against the oppression and the exploitation of the Moscow bureaucrats, and as one which was reflected throughout Eastern Europe, and even within the boundaries of the Soviet Union itself - the Ukraine, the Crimea Tartars, Volga German Republic, etc. The only important difference being the possibility of a successful resistance owing to the independent character of the state apparatus in Yugoslavia.

Despite zigzags to the left, partly demagogic partly sincere, the fundamental basis of the regime in Yugoslavia remains as before... socialism in one country (and tiny Yugoslavia at that), manoeuvring between world imperialism and the Russian bloc (only thanks to which Yugoslavia can maintain itself). The regime remains totalitarian - workers’ democracy does not exist.

The attempt to apologise for these ideas as a merely secondary hangover from Stalinism is criminal and false. Some correct criticisms of the Moscow regime do not transform Tito’s set­up any more than some of the correct criticisms of the Cominform change the nature of the regime in the countries where the Cominform holds power.

The crisis within Stalinism makes the problem of building the Fourth International more complex than before. The creation of new Stalinist states - independent, or semi-independent from Stalin - has added further confusion in the minds of the world working class. The Fourth International, while taking advantage of the rift within Stalinism in order to expose the real nature of this Bonapartist disease, must not make concessions to neo-Stalinism. While giving full support to the struggle for national self-determination on the part of the Yugoslav nation against the brutal attacks of Great Russian chauvinism, the Fourth International must not thereby underwrite the political position of Tito.

Whilst representing the national aspirations of the Yugoslav masses, the Tito leadership - on a Lilliputian scale - use the methods and fulfil a similar role as the Kremlin clique. It must not be forgotten that the break did not come from the Yugoslav side but was forced on the Yugoslav bureaucracy by the relentless and uncompromising attempt at Moscow domination. Since the break there has been no fundamental change in the principles and methods of the Yugoslavs... How could it be otherwise? Socialism in one country remains the axis around which the ideas of the Yugoslavs revolve. To them the degeneration of the Russian bureaucracy is purely an accidental phenomenon which they do not explain from the Marxist point of view that conditions determine consciousness. Nor could it be otherwise - on a smaller scale the conditions in Yugoslavia are similar to those in the Soviet Union (backward country, small minority proletariat, hostile environment, imperialism and Stalinism). Like causes produce like results. In foreign and in domestic policy the position of the Yugoslavs is not fundamentally different to that of Stalinism in its early phases. In the long run it will have the same consequences.

Instead of taking advantage of the conflict in order to demonstrate the real nature of Stalinism and the vitally necessary attributes which a healthy workers’ state, [they] have converted themselves into a replica of the Friends of the Soviet Union. The organisation has become the exculpatory tourist agency for Yugoslavia.

From the inception of the Socialist Fellowship by Ellis Smith, to the Korean Crisis, the organisation went through a period of collaboration and accommodation to various elements inside the Labour Party. These stretched from the social democratic left reformists such as Ellis Smith and Brockway to Stalinist fellow travellers, such as Tom Braddock and Jack Stanley. In the absence of a genuine left wing the Healy leadership helped to construct a shadow. In order to maintain this shadow they were forced to accommodate themselves to it. Thus when the Socialist Fellowship produced its policy, after the General Election, this leadership took a leading role in drafting a programme which was false and opportunistic.

At the same time, illusions were spread about the so-called working class leaders, Ellis Smith, Mrs. Braddock, etc.

At the first serious crisis when the Korea dispute arose, the inevitable splitting of this organisation took place, with Ellis Smith and Company departing. With the departure of the important left reformists, the group veered more openly in the direction of accommodating itself to the Stalinist fellow traveller wing. They remain in the rump of the Socialist Fellowship on a semi-Stalinist position.

In fact the Trotskyists form the backbone in membership, organisation and activity of the Socialist Fellowship.

The Trotskyists have expended their energy propagating an opportunist policy instead of building a revolutionary nucleus around themselves.

‘Socialist Outlook’

During the period of the development of the Socialist Fellowship, the Socialist Outlook carried out its stated task: “to reflect the confusion of the left wing.” (1949 Conference document). The political role of the Socialist Outlook was determined not by the anaemic editorials, but by the leading articles of those M.P.s, etc., whose policies were transparently one of sweetening the bitter pills of the right wing.

At the same time, the editorials were coloured by the need not to “offend” the Stalinist fellow travellers on the Editorial Board.

The editorial produced a line of “criticism” which is worthy of the notorious “Friends of the Soviet Union”. “The leadership...would like it to be.” “We are far from suggesting that the Russian Government at all times and under all conditions supports progressive movements.” “There is a distinct flavour of power politics about Moscow’s attempt to secure peace in Korea in return for an extra seat on the Security Council.” These are examples of “serious Trotskyist criticism”! Amongst such statements - which have a very distinct flavour - falls the following: “Russian foreign policy is determined by what the government of that country considers is in the interests of the Soviet Union, but that as India proved does not, by any means, always coincide with what is in the best interest of the international working class. Or even, in the long run, the best interest of the Soviet Union itself.”!

On this basis of political accommodation, the Healy tendency boasts in Britain and internationally of its numerical and organisational successes in the “building of the left wing” within the Labour Party. Claims which were largely without foundation in fact.

Even with their most strenuous efforts it remains an unimportant and semi-fictitious organisation. Without their propping up it would collapse immediately.

The Socialist Outlook is a “forum” with no revolutionary tendency reflected in it. Neither is revolutionary criticism allowed in the paper. For instance, S.L.’s [Sam Levy] attack on the April editorial and M.L.’s [Marion Lunt] attack on the position of Yugoslavia were not published, whilst quantities of out-and-out reformist and Stalinist material was published. In this respect they compare unfavourably even with the centrist Socialist Leader. The important point must be borne in mind that the dominating forces in the Socialist Outlook are the Trotskyists.

The Socialist Outlook being in reality the paper of the group, should be the organiser of the Group, instead it has become a channel for Stalinist influence in the Labour Party.

The whole line of the paper and the policy of this grouping has its crassest expression in the notorious Korea supplement. There was no criticism whatsoever of the role of the Stalinist bureaucracy. There was a white-washing of the role of the Yugoslavs at U.N.O. Whilst correctly supporting the struggle of the North there was not a syllable on the Stalinist set-up.

In the League of Youth [Labour Party youth wing], where there are the most favourable conditions for work, we see not a Trotskyist concept of spreading our ideas and gaining support for them, but the concept of controlling the whole L.O.Y. organisationally. In its struggle in the L.O.Y., while correctly fighting for democratic and organisational demands, it does so at the expense of a political position. The whole approach in the Labour Party is a Stalinist one of controlling machines, a Socialist Fellowship, a Socialist Outlook, an entire League of Youth, at the expense of political ideas and programme. However, it has not the saving grace that side by side with organisational appendages, the Stalinists simultaneously organise their own powerful independent party and press.

This liquidationist policy becomes the mixing of banners, policy and programme.

Lack of Internal Democracy

Without a proper sense of proportion and magnifying the dangers, the conference was held under most disadvantageous conditions. Delegates only, apart from the favoured few, were allowed to attend. Individual members, on the grounds of security, were refused the right to attend or even to know where the conference was being held.

The document of the State Capitalists was refused publication after the General Secretary had accepted it, on the grounds that its author was expelled (ex-poste facto). This constituted a provocation, which, of course, assisted the State Capitalists. They were a tendency represented at the conference and should have had the right to put forward a document to express their ideas even if the author was outside the organisation.

The Liverpool branch document was not published on the grounds that it was presented too late, although some of the ideas were incorporated in the last minute document, without acknowledgement.

The “amended” major document was, in fact, an entirely new document. By adding new ideas in an amalgam with the old, it could only succeed in disorientating and confusing the members. The leadership presented an entirely new document while at the same time claiming that they had only amended the old document. This is Zinovievist trickery.

At the conference the political discussion and voting took place in an atmosphere of disciplinary threats. On the resolution on reformism the delegates were told that anyone voting against its implementation would be expelled, notwithstanding the fact that some delegates disagreed with the document. In all Bolshevik organisations members have the right to vote against documents, although a majority decision determines policy, automatically. The resolution on implementation was put in order to force the minority to vote for a resolution to which they were opposed, on threat of expulsion. This ultimatistic attitude has more in common with Stalinist monolithism than Bolshevism.

They did not take the opportunity to allow the ventilation of the ideas of the State Capitalists by having a full discussion at the conference, despite the fact that growing numbers of the members were becoming sympathetic to state capitalism as a reaction to the semi-Stalinist line of the leadership.

Arbitrarily, and bureaucratically, the leadership dissolved and amalgamated branches, without taking into account the needs of the party, but only the needs of the clique. For example, the General Secretary went down to the Kilburn branch and declared the branch dissolved in order to “separate the branch from ‘malign’ influences”. This was not ratified by the Executive Committee (E.C.) until a week later.

In Liverpool, there was a deliberate attempt to split the branch in two for the purposes of dividing the “Deane family” from the rest of the comrades in Liverpool.

Branches were deliberately isolated from one another in order to facilitate control from the centre. There was no knowledge of what was taking place in the organisation as a whole, correspondence between branches was restricted and the statements which came through the E.C. had the specific purpose of rubber-stamping E.C. actions. Branches and individuals who disagreed were threatened with expulsion or attacked viciously as anti-party comrades.

As a consequence of this regime, political discontent was bound to reflect itself both in the infraction of discipline and dropping away of members.

The only reply to the infraction of discipline was instantaneous expulsion (Percy Downey in Birmingham). The decision to expel was taken to the branches for endorsement. Those who voted against the E.C.’s action on the grounds that a full discussion was necessary and that these violations were a result of the lack of political discussion and the lack of democracy inside the organisation, were themselves instantly expelled (Birmingham, West London). Thus, they insisted upon the monolithic principle of unanimity.

Leading opposition comrades such as J.D. [Jimmy Deane] and S.L. [Sam Levy] who were members of the National Committee were expelled on flimsy pretexts or on technical infractions of discipline.

By restricting the rights of members, by utilising technical points, by the dictatorial attitude of the leadership and the general intimidation of members, the group has shrunk. Due to the number of members resigning or the expulsions, it has been reduced to a shambles. In the provinces it has become a mere skeleton. In London members are losing confidence in such a leadership. These have been large losses.

Only the younger and inexperienced comrades and the hardened elements of the clique remain. The fact of an increasing number of members leaving the group, plus the fact of the expulsion of leading comrades, one a member of the National Committee and the only opposition representative on this important body, shows that it is both impossible and at the same time ceases to have any meaning, to fight for an alternative leadership in such a caricature of a Bolshevik organisation.

An Appeal

Comrades, these issues which we raise are not light ones. They are fundamental questions, which affect the fate of Trotskyism, nationally and internationally. We have not come lightly to the decision to break from this ideologically and organisationally disintegrating tendency. If the precious heritage of ideas left by Trotsky is to be preserved, expanded and developed it is necessary to break with those who trail in the wake of Stalinism. Today, groupings of the Fourth International, owing to various historical factors are small and weak. All the more necessary then, that the fundamental principles of Trotskyism should be retained intact. Today, the main task is one of ideological preparation for the development of a mass organisation at a later stage. On a programme of neo-Stalinism only disaster can be prepared. Only the training of developed revolutionary cadres can prepare the way for the future.

With the world situation and the conditions existing as they are, it is impossible to foresee the development of the mass Trotskyist movement in Britain very quickly. This will require years of patient work.

At this stage, the main activity of the group will have to lie inside the Labour movement and the mass organisations of the working class, as an entrist group. A left wing will inevitably develop in the Labour Party in the coming years. But the foolish endeavour to create a left wing out of nothing and declare that the left wing is already here has only demonstrated the impotence of the Healyites except in their own imaginings. In order to prepare for the left wing it is necessary now for serious and sober criticism of all tendencies in the Labour Party to be conducted in the press and in the Labour Party. At the same time a relentless exposure of Stalinism as well as of imperialism must be consistently carried on, in order to avert the possibility of sections in the Labour Party going over in despair to Stalinism.

For the conduct of the work scrupulous democracy and full freedom of discussion within the organisation must be maintained. Without this it will not be possible for a revolutionary grouping to be created and survive in the difficult period that lies ahead.

For all these reasons we appeal to all sincere comrades in the movement to join us in this task. Only in this way, will a fighting, living movement be created. Patient day to day work inside the Labour movement will achieve results if it is conducted on a correct basis. The years that lie ahead can be fruitful ones. The tasks are difficult, but the opportunities from a long term point of view [are] unbounded. Forward to the building of the revolutionary tendency in Britain.

September/October 1950