THE 1968 UNITY PROPOSALS AND THE IMG
In chapter seven of the biography (pages 285-88) I discuss the proposals for left unity made by the International Socialists in 1968, and the failure to achieve unification with the International Marxist Group (IMG).
2014 saw the publication of the autobiography of Ernie Tate, who played a key role in London in the 1960s in both the building of the Vietnam Solidarity campaign and the founding of the IMG.
Ernest Tate, Revolutionary Activism in the 1950s & 60s, Resistance Books, London
Volume 1, Canada 1955-1965, 268 pp., £7.50 ; Volume 2, Britain 1965-1970, 395 pp., £13.00.
The whole book is a fascinating and valuable contribution to the history of the far left. See my review at http://www.internationalviewpoint.org/spip.php?article3520 .
But in particular Tate provides some additional information on the IMG response to the unity proposals. On pages 275-278 of Volume II he describes the approach from Cliff and the IS. He discussed this with Pat Jordan, the other main leader of the IMG:
Pat let me know that he thought we simply had too much “on our plate at the moment” to deal with this invitation …. His general demeanour, however, suggested to me he was not happy with the idea.
Jordan and Tate met Cliff and Duncan Hallas for what Tate calls “a very friendly conversation”.
Everything was verbal, but …. they did not see any reason why the IMG could not come into their organization immediately. They hoped that the discussion about the modalities of this could begin as soon as possible. They were anxious, they told us, to bring about this unity within the next few months. It was their haste about the issue that made me hesitate a little.
In response to Tate’s questions Cliff and Hallas were very accommodating:
“Would we have to give up any of our political positions?” I asked. They answered no, because they thought, they said, that the differences were not that major. Would we be able to exist as an organized minority in their group and would we be able to maintain our present relations with the Fourth International? Again, they said yes. I was amazed by their generosity. They were obviously very keen to get us into their organization as soon as possible, a factor I thought would give us a certain amount of leverage in the formal discussions about unity and when it came down to committing our agreement to paper.
Afterwards Tate and Jordan discussed intensively, but were in disagreement:
I tried very hard to get him to see that this could be a very important opportunity for the IMG and that it might put us in close touch with a new radical audience for our ideas and take the left generally to a new stage in its growth. I had no hesitation in thinking we would be able to hold our own in any discussion that might arise in a common organization in the future, but Pat could not see it that way. He said that our group was still in an early stage of its development and was trying to assimilate the new members it had recently recruited and so was not yet ready to confront such a quick turn.
Tate and Jordan came to no agreement. However, Tate had already made it clear that he would be returning to Canada in 1969. So he decided not to fight for his position in the IMG:
… it would not have been very responsible of me, or fair, to have pushed him and the leaders of the group into this new orientation, when I wouldn’t be around to see things through and participate.
As a result Jordan told Cliff that the IMG “did not wish to proceed”. He also records that the Fourth International was sympathetic to his position:
When I reported the matter to the Secretariat in Brussels, it tended to sympathize with my view. Knowing, however, that Jess and I would be returning to Canada after the next World Congress, they also thought it wouldn’t be practical to proceed, especially since Pat had such a hard line against it.
Pat Jordan is now dead, and he might have remembered things from a slightly different angle. But Tate’s account gives a valuable insight into how the proposals were received by the IMG.
Of course what would have happened if a fusion had taken place can only be pure speculation. But Tate’s memoirs make an important contribution to our understanding of this hectic and promising period in the history of the left.