frontline vol. 2 issue 2.

Obituary: Ted Grant (July 9, 1913 – July 20, 2006)

In July we heard the sad news about the death of comrade Ted Grant at the age of 93. Ted had been a central figure in the Trotskyist left in Britain and many members of the SSP have drawn inspiration from his speeches and writings at different times in their political lives.

Ted Grant was best known as one of the founding members of the Militant Tendency. In fact he was one of the standard bearers of the ideas of Leon Trotsky in the harsh and difficult years following Trotsky’s exile and eventual murder by a Stalinist agent.

Ted had been won to Trotskyism as a youth in South Africa. In 1934 he moved to London and became involved with the small groups of British Trotskyists, helping found the Workers International League which fused with other groups to create the Revolutionary Communist Party. The RCP made a number of important steps forward at the time, organising strikes and fighting elections, whilst the Labour and Communist Parties were engaged in a wartime truce.

Ted Grant wrote some of his most insightful work during this period, looking at how socialists should engage with the mass of the working class and the question of how to work during a period of wartime ‘patriotism’. These writings can still be found in his book ‘The Unbroken Thread’ which contains valuable lessons even today.

The 1950’s saw the break-up of the RCP over the issue of the Labour Party. It was a difficult decade for the revolutionary left and Ted formed a new group in the LP. He also wrote important analyses of Stalinism. In 1964 the group began producing a newspaper ‘Militant’ which gave rise to the name ‘Militant Tendency’. The orientation of the new group towards the Labour Party became central and was seen as a way of reaching the broad layers of the working class, particularly trade unionists and young people. It was this orientation which marked Militant out from other groups on the left who were routinely described as ‘sects on the fringes of the Labour movement’. Militant supporters were very proud to describe themselves as belonging to a ‘tendency’ unlike the one man and a dog ‘parties’ and ‘internationals’ of other groups.

This approach had positive and negative features. On the one hand Militant were probably the most succesful group at reaching working class audiences and their membership was more proletarian than most other groups on the Trotskyist left. On the other hand it had an overly rigid view of the question of the Labour Party which was to become problematic in later years. Additionally its hostility towards other groups was typical of the sectarianism which continues to dog the left.

Militant enjoyed a slow but steady growth over the next twenty years. By the 1980’s they had won control of the Labour Party Young Socialists, an important source of recruits. They built up strong support in a few areas, notably Merseyside and were able to keep the loyalty of a periphery in the Labour Party. There were three Westminster MP’s who were members of Militant and they had influence in several trade-unions, notably the civil servants union, the CPSA.

It was in this heyday of Militant that many of those currently in the SSP first became active in politics through joining the tendency. Although age was taking a toll even then, Ted Grant was still an inspiring speaker and a formidable intellect who many especially looked forward to hearing at rallies and meetings.

Struggles, such as those of Liverpool City Council, and the mass campaign of non-payment of the poll-tax brought many more working class activists into contact with Ted’s ideas and writings. Ted was expelled from Labour in 1983, but this like later witch-hunts, actually gave Militant a further boost of publicity and recruits.

The 1990’s saw a changing scene internationally. The collapse of Stalinism and the rightwards shift of the Labour Party meant that socialists had to re-assess their theory, tactics and orientation. Ted and a minority of Militant took the position that the fundamental nature of the Labour Party had not changed, whilst a majority proposed leaving the LP and setting up a new ‘Socialist Party’, following the example of the Scottish section which had already formed Scottish Militant Labour (which went on to help found the SSA and SSP). This led to a split in Militant. Ted Grant remained in the Labour Party around a new paper ‘Socialist Appeal’.

In his last years Ted was not able to be politically active due to his great age but his friends and supporters say he never lost his passion for politics.

There is no disguising the political differences that Ted and his political allies had with the course chosen by the SSP. But despite these differences few in the SSP who had worked with Ted would deny the value of his contribution to socialist politics.

Those wanting to read some of Ted’s writings can find more online at