14b.The Left Fraction and the Internationalist Group

There were a few factual errors in Harry Selby’s account of the Left fraction’s relations with the Internationalist Group and I feel that they should be corrected.

Firstly, the Internationalist Group (IG) was not composed of ex-members of the CPGB who had left that organisation after 1956. There were, so far as I am aware, only two ex-CPers in the organisation. Then there were people like myself who had a previous background in the Trotskyist movement, specifically in the RCP. There were several others of the same background, some of whom came from the old RSL and others from WIL tradition. However, the great majority — if one can use such a term when speaking of an organisation that had 40 to 50 members — were young people who had been recruited from the Young Socialists, student movement (NALSO) and the Labour Party. The nucleus of the IG had been formed in a faction fight in the RSL (1957 vintage). So, not only was Harry Selby incorrect on this point but so was the person who supplied the footnote

Secondly, I found it quite amusing to read Harry’s account of the way the Left Fraction severed its relations with the IG, since I was on the other side of the fence. The first point on this is that he claimed that the document Once More The Tactic was an LF production. Not quite correct. A member of the LF who was resident in Nottingham for several years drafted the document after considerable discussions with other comrades of the IG. When it first appeared in the Internal Bulletin of the IG (1) no one took exception to it because it was seen as a statement of our joint views. I wrote a comment on the document in question and opened with these words

‘The re-publication of ‘Once More — The Tactic’ is a step that is to be welcomed. It can be counted as one of the basic documents of our present tendency, even though it was written some time before the founding conference. The understanding of it by all comrades will greatly enhance our political work…’

However, what was taken exception to were two appendices, which had been cobbled together in Glasgow, and were not part of the original document. And there was also another comment written by another comrade, also taking exception to the appendices. So again Harry was not correct to say there was no reply. Of course there no reply to the main document, since it was accepted as agreed policy! No one saw the document as being a statement by the Glasgow group exclusively, and indeed we were a little puzzled at the time as to why the Glasgow comrades should have gone to the trouble of reproducing it, when there appeared to be more pressing items on the political agenda.

There had been, of course, some friction between the LF and the rest of the IG for some time before the LF walked out. But this rarely took the form of any political disagreement, it expressed itself in the almost total lack of participation of the LF in the life of the IG bringing with it the usual grisly tale of lack of payment of subscriptions, failure to circulate IG documents in the Glasgow group etc. It had become rather apparent to the rest of us that despite the LF’s participation in the founding meeting of the IG, the L.F. were actually doing some sort of ‘raiding tactic’. Talk about big fleas having little fleas!. And to tell the truth the walk out of the LF was hardly noticed by the rest of the group, mainly because of a) their almost total lack of participation and b) there was quite a desperate fight going on at the time with a group of comrades in London who had espoused the idea that Trotskyists should advocate a policy of ‘First Nuclear Strike’ on the part of the Soviet Union as the precursor to world revolution!! (I kid you not.) We were far more concerned that the IG should not be in any way associated with such nuttiness than the quibbles of the LF However, when we did have time to draw breath on that issue, there was an open letter to the members of the LF drafted by myself - in response to their letter of resignation — but as far as I know we never had a reply to that.

I am sure that Harry was being truthful in his own way, but like most such stories there is always another side. Perhaps what we have here is how two different sets of people can view the same events, even when they are all closely involved in them. What was seen by the Glasgow group as some sort of throwing down the gauntlet, i.e. the re-publication of Once More — The Tactic, was seen as the re-statement of common ideas by the rest of the organisation. It was only when their letter of resignation was received that it became clear to the rest of us that much more importance was attached to their one and only intervention into the internal bulletin.

Ken Tarbuck

(1) On the front cover of the The Forum, the internal bulletin of the IG, for January 1963 there is the following statement ‘The supplement, ‘Once More the Tactic’ was produced by Glasgow comrades (for which we express our thanks for taking a burden off our shoulders ) but is an integral part of the Forum.’

‘My aim in writing this letter is to see if by discussion with you or with you and others can lead to [an] amelioration of our relations even if only to a small degree. … This is not ‘a frantic appeal for unity’ but I think a realistic reaction to the situation. I would be dishonest with myself if I didn’t admit that the fact that … ***** sees in aspects of my behaviour suspicious traits is a very serious thing. This leads me to admit that someone like you … can hardly be blamed if they too adopt a critical attitude. … my behaviour and the whole set up must contain elements which give rise to these … suspicions. That is why I have decided that to substantially erase the question mark over my integrity an sincerity I must end the position where I am dependent on G.[Pablo] and C.[Cooper] financially.

‘I must ask again that you treat this letter in the spirit in which it is written. If you respond in the same spirit many of the arguments we have been using against each other will be weakened. This has been a difficult letter to write and doubt you will find it hard to reply. … This past week or so have been one of the worst in my life as you can, no doubt, appreciate. It would be easy to blame everything on slander etc. As I said before this would be dishonest even with myself. (Letter from P. Jordan 14th June 1960)

‘First of all I never did preclude discussing the questions under dispute, but as I found myself in a minority of one at first … I did not attempt to peruse the matters. I would point out though that when I did try to discuss your last letter to me, I met with a very violent response, this despite the fact that I had written to suggesting that you had written under stress. I did this to enable you to withdraw some of the more outrageous items so that O could discuss and clear up some of the political matters.

My break with you was, and still is, of a political nature. I am well aware that this has been hard for the others to grasp, but fortunately they have come to see this…I would also point out that I have never raised the question of your sincerity or otherwise, I think such arguments are largely fruitless, it is how a person acts, and how these acts are viewed by others that matter, to question motives only gets one bogged down in discussing ‘absolute morals’ a subject I never had any wish to discuss.

You say that you had come to the conclusion that you would have had to come into conflict with me…I can only say that it was I who raised these matters with you, if you had any criticisms you kept them very much to yourself, and it’s a bit late in the day to say this. If you had criticism then you should have raised them before, on this matter it is well known that I did do just that…

As you say, the charges that have been made against you are far too long to go into in a letter, and I am prepared to discuss these matters with you personally, I know that you think this is a change on my part, but upto now you have never shown any inkling that these things were discussable. With this in mind I shall be in Nottingham next Sunday for the day. If you are available then we can at least get down to the preliminaries…

As you say, this has not been an easy letter for me to write, but I think it is one that is necessary. You no doubt have felt that the rest of us are ganging up on you, but in all fairness I think you brought most of it on yourself, if we can now begin to sort these things out very good, but I must warn you that I shall need some convincing… (Letter to Jordan 15th June 1960)

‘I also came to a compromise with Pat on Monday morning, I stated that I was far from satisfied with the explanations he gave, but I was willing to give him time to prove himself. Also since most of you others had done this and were prepared to work with him, I was prepared to go along with you. I made clear that how he acts in the near future will determine my attitude, and that it is one thing to give assurances, it is another thing to carry them out. (letter to Brian Biggins and Tricia Brough, undated, internal evidence suggests end of June 1960 or early July)

‘Thanks for you letter. Since writing to you originally I have sorted out the question of the Internationalist with the I.S. The position is that we are to have a fortnightly, 4 page issue (like you I think this much better than the monthly). This will cost about £20 per month. All they can afford is £10. Apart from the business in Holland they have to raise some thousands of pounds to pay for the World Congress. This means we must raise £10 per month. You will see from this that you offer would be a considerable contribution towards this.’ (Letter from Jordan 7th September 1960)

‘I went to London yesterday for discussions. I saw F.B.[Fred Bunby] and J.Smith of the EC [of the RSL], also Sam and Doris Bornstein. J.Deane was also there. Firstly, the knew all there was to know about the faction, this they had from John Fairhead, although I’m afraid he had embroidered the story somewhat. I saw no point in hiding the facts, but I did correct the story on some points. …Then there was a general discussion on the question of the RSL and the IS etc. Several points came out of this. The Bornstein’s are very bitter about MP [Pablo] and the IS and there is no question of their returning to the group. JD took the line that although what had taken place was bad and that it was necessary to raise these matters at the IEC or world congress, the main question was to build the group. Both F.B. and J.S. took much the same line, I should point out that Ted was out of London so could not be there. What emerged from this was the fact that Ted has been sent out to work and as far as they are concerned he wont be employed as a full-timer, even when they can afford one. J.S. told me that on many occasions both he and F.B. would have supported us against Ted had it not been for the way the faction was secret etc. Also they admitted that the group was just a shadow of its former self, and J.S. spoke of the need to build from the ground level again… Only J.D. wanted to put the blame for the disintegration of the RSL on to the faction and the IS, I refused to accept that…[saying] the prime cause lay with the leadership and its perspectives. I must point out although we were all on friendly terms, I for my part am still sceptical that anything can be achieved with the present group.’ (Letter to Tricia Brough 12th September 1960)

[1]See ‘Towards Entry’ by C. van Gelderen, RCP Internal Bulletin, August 1946.

‘It is possible to reject completely the economic analysis contained in the minority document (as the writer of these lines emphatically does) and to accept, basically, that of the majority document and yet to arrive at the conclusion that the party must steer a course towards entry into the Labour Party. Indeed, the far more correct analysis of the coming period put forward in the CC document gives a much firmer basis for an orientation towards entry than do the false economics of the minority.’ p.8

van Gelderen changed his mind the following year and supported open party work.

[2] War and the International, Bornstein & Richardson p.227.

[3] Sparks Fly! A Trade Union Life, Frank Chapple, Michael Joseph, London 1984, p.60.

[4] From letter by Sam Bornstein 7th July 1959

[5] Letter to Sam Bornstein 11th July 1959

[6] Letter from Pat Jordan 1st August 1959

[7] Letter to Pat Jordan 10th August 1959

[8] British Economic Perspectives, Ken Tarbuck, mimeographed, 1960, p.1

[9] ibid. p.3

[10] ibid. p.5

[11] Letter from P. Jordan 14th June 1960

[12] Letter from me to Jordan 15th June 1960

[13] Letter from me to Tricia Brough 12th September 1960

[14] Letter from Jordan to me 7th September 1960

[15] Internal Bulletin of the International Group, No.1 April 1962. Unfortunately the pages of this document were not number, so it is not possible to give page references.

[16] ibid. The text within square brackets I have added for clarification.

[17] ibid.

[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] In later years the Kennedy presidency was coated in a sugary glow of nostalgia as being some sort of ‘golden era’. The reality was that Kennedy was the only US president who actually brought the world to the edge of nuclear war.

[21] International Bulletin, Oct. 23rd 1962, p.1

[22] Internal Bulletin of the International Group on Unity, pp.1-2.

[23] ibid. p.5

[24]see letter in Revolutionary History, Vol.1 No.2 Summer 1988

[25] IG 1963 conference resolution on International Problems

[26] IG 1963 conference resolution on Cuba

[27] IG 1963 National conference resolution on Algeria

[28] Resolution on Re-Unification of Fourth Internationalists in Britain, IG Conference 1963

[29] ibid.