In Memory Of Ted Grant

Ted Grant
L-R: Arthur Deane, Jimmy Deane and Ted Grant, mid-1950s

Ted Grant died last week, aged 93. Read the Guardian obituary by clicking here.

It’s impossible for me to say how great an impact Grant has had on my life. And, as a good ex-Marxist, I’m very suspicious of any historical analysis which places too much emphasis on the actions or character of one person. History is generally the sum of social and economic changes, rather than the actions of charismatic individuals. By which I mean that, yes, history was changed by people like Lenin or Hitler but only because the social conditions for that change had already coalesced.

With the above paragraph taken as a caveat, let me repeat my favourite ever opening sentence from a non-fictional work:

The world political situation as a whole is chiefly characterized by a historical crisis of the leadership of the proletariat.
(Source: Leon Trotsky, The Transitional Programme)

In that one sentence, you have the key to every vanguardist variant of socialism. Yes, the social pre-conditions for revolution must exist but if there is no leadership, no mass working class party with a clear theoretical analysis, the revolution will fail. Or, more likely, it will be strangled at birth by the invading armies of capitalist countries.

So, leadership is crucial. In Ted Grant, British Trotskyism found its greatest leader. From his arrival here in 1934 until suffering a stroke at the age of 90, Grant was a full-time revolutionary. He wrote and talked and demonstrated. He fought British Nazis in the Battle of Cable Street. He was the theoretical powerhouse behind the strongest British socialist movement of the 20th century. All of this and more you can find detailed in the obit at the start of this piece.

On a more personal level, I don’t know who I’d be today without Ted Grant. I’ve already rambled about some of that here. But it’s hard to pick one’s life apart, to try and work out the exact balance of influences and accidents, serendipity versus cogent planning.

What I do know is that the organisation that Ted Grant lead took me in and taught me how to think critically. It gave me the intellectual tools with which to analyse the world around me, not in the pointless, bourgeois way beloved by philosophers and armchair socialists but as a guide to changing it. The Militant made me ask why people were starving and yet surplus food was being dumped in the sea. Why big business polluted our environment and yet individuals had to pay for their water to be cleaned. Why was manufacturing shoddy goods profitable? And, of course, the first question: where does profit come from?

Although I’m not a Marxist now, in the revolutionary sense at least, the theory that I learned from Grant’s tendency two decades ago still illuminates my life. Whether it’s Israel’s shelling of Lebanon or the rise of reality TV, I don’t find the world around me an opaque mystery, I find it a fascinating puzzle. And I know that I have the tools to at least attempt a solution. I got that fearlessness directly from the Militant, in exactly the same way as most people leave conventional school / Uni confused, apolitical and intellectually stultified. Perfect consumers!

Ted Grant, educator, dreamer and revolutionary, I’ll miss you.

That’s A Photocopier

Mascot Fight

Mascot Fight are extremely on their way to becoming my favourite band from Derby. The why? Well, every year, they seem to release a song that’s made out of pollen and pink bonbons. Last year it was the hieronymous ‘Thinking In French,’ a song as pulchritudinous as it was deliquescent.

I wrote about that song on July 16th, 2005. Now, on July 28th, 2006, I’m writing about another Mascot Fight summer smash. ‘That’s A Photocopier’ works on many levels for me. It’s slightly Housemartins, more Brilliant Corners via ‘Everybody’s Happy Nowadays’ and a lot shiny, shiny C86 indiepop.

Would you like to hear a clip? Okay, have a listen to a slight sliver of summer by clicking here. The full song will be on the Stressed 3 CD.

Well, I’m off to have a lie down now and wait for next summer’s Mascot Fight pop magic. Wake me when the sky’s gone all hurty.

Israelis Murder UN Officials

Israel Murders UN Officials
(No it hasn’t.)

UN peacekeepers in south Lebanon contacted Israeli troops 10 times before an Israeli bomb killed four of them, an initial UN report says.

The post was hit by a precision-guided missile after six hours of shelling, diplomats familiar with the probe say.

The UN report says each time the UN contacted Israeli forces, they were assured the firing would stop.

A senior Irish soldier working for the UN forces had warned the Israelis six times that their bombardment was endangering the lives of UN staff, Ireland’s foreign ministry said.

Had Israel responded to the requests, “rather than deliberately ignoring them”, the observers would still be alive, a diplomat familiar with the report said.
(Source: BBC News)

As Alternet points out, this isn’t the first time this has happened:

It is reminiscent of the trouble his [Kofi Annan] predecessor Boutros Boutros-Ghali got himself into last time the Israelis tried shock and awe on Lebanon back in 1996, when he failed to suppress a report that said pretty much the same thing about the IDF shelling of the U.N. post in Qana, which macerated some 106 Lebanese civilians to death.
(Source: Alternet)

I waited a day before commenting on this story. I wanted to see how it would be handled by the mass media. Surely the deliberate shelling and murder of four UN observers by the IDF would cause an outrage?

Nope.

There’s been a lot of muttering. As if the Israeli Defence Force are delinquent teenagers who accidentally broke a window while scrumping for apples in their neighbour’s orchard. A kind of collective tsk-ing: “Ah well, it was a slight over-reaction. They’re just too eager, that’s all!”

As I always do, I’m going to ask you to perform a thought experiment…

Imagine North Korea had started shelling South Korea last week because two of its soldiers were abducted by South Korean militias. Imagine that in the shelling, 423 South Koreans had been killed and vast swathes of city had been levelled.

What do you think Bush and Blair would be saying then? Would they be defending North Korea’s right to shell a non-aggressor country, based on the actions of a terrorist minority? Would the US wag its fingers and talk about “disproportionate response” while shipping the NKs more weaponry with which to bombard innocent people?

Ten times.

The UN officials asked for the shelling to stop ten times. And then the Israelis murdered them. And then continued to shell the murder site to impede any chance of a rescue / investigation.

The fact that the current Israeli escapade is even being talking about as legitimate in any way whatsoever shows the tremendous double standards of our world. I can imagine no other country acting so barbarously and still being given the protection, friendship and weapons of the US.

Of the attack, Kofi Annan said:

“This coordinated artillery and aerial attack on a long-established and clearly marked U.N. post at Khiyam occurred despite personal assurances given to me by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert that U.N. positions would be spared Israeli fire. Furthermore, Gen. Alain Pellegrino, the U.N. force commander in southern Lebanon, had been in repeated contact with Israeli officers throughout the day on Tuesday, stressing the need to protect that particular U.N. position from attack.”
(Source: Alternet)

There’s a lot of anger behind that precise summary.