The Founding Members of the Socialist Review Group
I am most grateful to my good friend John Rudge for allowing me to publish this fascinating piece of research he has done into the founding members of the Socialist Review Group. If anyone has additional information on any of the individuals named here, John and I would be most interested to hear from you; please contact us via the website. IHB
The Founding Members of the Socialist Review Group
Most previous attempts to identify the founding members of the Socialist Review Group (SRG) have focused on the minutes of the Founding Conference that took place in London on 30th September – 1st October 1950. These minutes state the membership of the SRG as 33 (including 19 who were also members of the Labour League of Youth). Only the initials of the 21 people actually attending the Conference in person are recorded and hence the identity of some of these plus those founding members who were unable to attend on the weekend in question has caused confusion and consternation.
Having spent a lot of time poring over these conference minutes I am reminded of a very old joke. A man is stopped in the street by the driver of a passing car and asked for directions to a nearby village. The man replies, “well I wouldn’t start from here if I were you”. In some ways this applies to these minutes and their role in identifying the SRG founding members.
The problems are threefold. Firstly, not everyone who attended the Founding Conference (it was called “Inaugural Meeting” on the agenda and “Founding Conference” on the minutes) was necessarily already committed to being a member of the SRG – this particularly applies to the comrades from Sheffield as evidenced by the minutes themselves and as covered in Ken Tarbuck’s unpublished 1995 autobiography (“Ever Hopeful – Never Sure: Reminiscences of a Some-time Trotskyist”). Secondly, the un-named founding members from Manchester were absent en-masse and merely sent a “telegram of apology, but accepting all decisions “. Thirdly, no individual apologies for absence were recorded.
For the purposes of this note I have taken as my starting point the names that have been previously confirmed by research and/or are common knowledge plus the information provided by Stan Newens in his notes to Ian Birchall of 27th February 2014 and 18th January 2015. Stan joined the SRG in late 1951 and remained a member throughout the 1950’s. He is blessed with a prodigious memory and has a substantial archive from which the identity of 24 founding members of the SRG have been identified.
2. Twenty-four Founding Members (1-24)
London members – (1) Geoff Carlsson, (2) Renie Carlsson, (3) Ralph Shaberman, (4) Renee Shaberman, (5) Jean Tait, (6) Danny Tait, (7) C. Dallas/Chanie Rosenberg, (8) Roger Tennant/Tony Cliff
Thames Valley members – (9) Anil Moonesinghe/Anil Kumaran, (10) Jeanne Hoban
Crewe members – (11) Raymond Challinor
Birmingham members – (12) Peter Morgan, (13) Percy Downey, (14) Ken Tarbuck, (15) Rhoda Tarbuck, (16) William Ainsworth, (17) Gwen Ainsworth, (18) Gerry Curran
Sheffield members – (19) Bill Cleminson
Manchester members – (20) Don (Duncan) Hallas, (21) Ted Morris, (22) John Smethurst, (23) Bill Donnelly, (24) Trevor Park
3. Another Five Founding Members (25-29)
The identity of the comrades with the following initials from the Founding Conference that remain unidentified are:
London – RW, RG and S
Thames Valley – NW
Crewe – CQ
Sheffield – T
I believe I can throw some light on three of these sets of initials (RW, RG, CQ) plus two other founding members as follows:
RW = Ray Williams (25) and Phil Joy (26)
My rationale: There is a letter in the Ken Tarbuck correspondence file at Warwick Modern Records Centre at MSS.75/3/7/6 from Bill Ainsworth to Renie Carlsson dated 21st November 1950 i.e. very early in the existence of the SRG. In the letter Bill states “the subs position of comrades Phil Joy and Ray Williams is getting a bit sticky and if they find difficulty in clearing off arrears you might suggest that they make an application to us…”. To be worried about arrears 7 weeks after the Foundation Conference must mean that they were very early members and almost certainly founding ones. To clinch at least one half of the argument there is an unidentified “RW” attending the Founding Conference from London – which must surely be Ray Williams.
RG = Ron Grange (27)
My rationale: On the Editorial Board for the SRG youth publication “Young Chartist” Vol. 1 No. 1 (March 1951) there is an “R. Grange” of Marylebone LLOY. He must have had some profile to be put on the Editorial Board so early in the existence of the SRG. Subsequent research reveals that “R. Grange” is Ronald Grange, who was a member of the Kilburn branch of the RCP, the furniture trade union and a close associate of Ellis Hillman – see Revolutionary History Journal Vol. 6 Nos. 2/3 pp. 188-189. The London branch of the SRG expelled Grange at the same time as Ellis Hillman – see “Reply to “A Statement of a Minority Position” by The London Branch, a letter dated 4th October 1951. This letter talks about Ron Grange’s membership during “the past year”. Stan Newens remembers Ron Grange as being an electricians mate.
CQ = C. Quayle (28)
My rationale: As part of my research into “Young Chartist” I asked Warwick MRC for photocopies of some correspondence from the Jimmy Deane archive. One of the letters (Challinor to Deane dated 31st January 1951) gives us the name of the “CQ” who attended the SRG Founding Meeting from Crewe. Challinor says this in his letter to Deane “Due apologies for being unable to get [to you] on Sunday. Unfortunately Qualye and myself (both group members) had to “face the music” at a committee of inquiry set up to look into the affairs of the disbanded Crewe LLOY…..”. From the letter I believe that Challinor is clearly not the greatest typist so I suspect “Qualye” is likely to be a mistype for the much more common surname “Quayle”. On this basis I am sure that the Crewe attendee at the founding meeting with Challinor was someone called C. Quayle.
Marjorie Downey (29)
My rationale: Marjorie Downey, is the wife of definite SRG founding member from Birmingham Percy Downey. She was politically active and a former member of the Birmingham branch of the RCP (see Ken Tarbuck’s autobiography). She is recorded in the minutes as attending Birmingham SRG branch meetings in December 1950.
4. Points to Ponder (Possible numbers 30-34)
a) The second half of 1950 was a period of considerable flux and confusion on the Trotskyist left in Britain. Most of those that had remained politically active following the imploding of the Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) had found themselves, by default, in the “Club” but, in turn, during 1950 this was itself fracturing under the iron heel of Healy’s internal regime.
Expulsions from the “Club” were common during 1950 and new groups were coalescing around both Tony Cliff and Ted Grant/Jimmy Deane – but the process of comings and goings were not always regular or completely organised. The minutes of the SRG National Committee of 9th-10th December 1950 show that the SRG still had members in the “Club” at this time. The minutes state, “T.[Thames] Valley were recommended to become in arrears with the H. Group, and to leave”.
This National Committee held in December 1950 was, in fact, the first national meeting of the SRG given over to defining and clarifying some key political issues for the organisation. Ken Tarbuck actually describes it as “the meeting that could perhaps be considered the true founding conference of the Socialist Review Group”. In terms of giving us a fuller picture of those who founded the SRG in a more rounded sense, I contend that it is necessary to include any comrades attending this meeting that have not been named previously.
On that basis the following attendees at the National Committee of 9th-10th December 1950 should be acknowledged:
Ellis Hillman (30)
Manfred Landau (31) – but see “Pen Picture”
b) In Chapter 7 of his autobiography Tarbuck writes, “so in essence we started the SR Group in Birmingham with the old Majority members of the RCP minus Bert Atkins”.
By this definition the SRG founding members in Birmingham would be Bill Ainsworth, Gwen Ainsworth, Percy Downey, Marjorie Downey, Gerry Curran, Ken Tarbuck, Rhoda Tarbuck, Peter Morgan and George Lane. The last of these names, George Lane (32) would therefore, also be a founding member.
c) From as early as 8th January 1951 there is an “H. O’R” submitting reports to the SRG Secretariat (i.e. Birmingham branch) on behalf of Thames Valley SRG. I note from Warwick MRC documentation that this is Helen O’Reilly (33) – she was obviously a member during 1950.
d) Jeremy Beckett (Northwood LLOY) was elected to the Editorial Board of the SRG youth paper “Young Chartist” at an emergency meeting of the SRG National Committee on 10th March 1951. He is subsequently also named in the paper as its publisher. To be given these positions, one must assume he was a well-known and trusted member by this time. It is well established that Beckett was a very close associate of Ron Grange and Ellis Hillman, both of whom are included in the list above as active members in 1950. It might be safe to assume that the same applied to Jeremy Beckett (34).
5. Areas for Further Research
a) “To the Members of the B.S.F.I.” (Undated – circa July or August 1950)
There is the above titled and well-known document that was “signed in the name of the State Capitalist faction by its delegates in the recent Conference of the B.S.F.I.” i.e. Healy’s “Club”. Those signatures are J.S. (West London branch), J.H. (Thames Valley branch) and T.M. (Manchester branch). The latter two are well known – but who is J.S. from West London? He/she would almost certainly be a founding member.
b) The following sets of initials remain unidentified from the Founding Conference:
London – S
Thames Valley – NW
Sheffield – T
Short biographical information is presented for the named SRG Founding Members. Where available web links are provided to the location of fuller details for the individual in question.
Both Raymond Challinor and Stan Newens (pers. comms.) make the point that a number of the earliest members of the SRG were very young and did not stay with the organisation for long. It is therefore not surprising that, even where names have been identified, little or nothing is known about some individuals.
It would be of immense benefit if anyone with information, or even ideas, regarding biographical details for the unknown/little known founding members of the SRG could make contact.
1. Geoff Carlsson
Former member of the RCP and its “Open Party Faction” which opposed Labour Party entry. Member of Hampstead LLOY and editorial board of the short-lived SRG youth publication “Young Chartist”. Worked at the ENV engineering factory in north London and was the SRG’s leading industrial militant for many years. Stood unsuccessfully for the presidency of the engineers’ union, AEU, in 1959 and 1964.
2. Renie Carlsson
Active in LLOY. From correspondence seen she seems to have played an important organisational role in the early days of the London SRG. Wife of Geoff Carlsson.
3. Ralph Shaberman
Was a member of the Revolutionary Socialist Society at University College London (UCL) when Stan Newens first met him in 1950.
4. Renee Shaberman
Wife of Ralph but not known to Stan Newens.
5. Jean Tait
Former member of the RCP who often wrote using the pseudonym “Peter Mansell”. Remained active in the SRG into the 1960’s.
6. Danny Tait (1927?-2006)
Joined the Revolutionary Communist League, a small Trotskyist organisation in Palestine, in 1944. The Inaugural Meeting of the SRG was held at the home of Jean and Dan Tait in Camden Road, London. Dropped out of activity soon after the founding conference.
7. C. Dallas/Chanie Rosenberg
Arrived with Tony Cliff from Palestine in 1946 and was his constant political partner till his death in 2000. Was very active in rank and file teacher’s politics in the late 1960’s and 1970’s during which time she authored a number of pamphlets. Her autobiography “Fighting Fit: A Memoir” published by Redwords in 2013 is a good source of information.
8. Roger Tennant/Tony Cliff (1917-2000)
A Trotskyist from 1933 in Palestine he came to Britain in 1946 and immediately played a role in the upper echelons of the RCP. Developed the theory of State Capitalism as a way to understand what had happened in Russia under Stalin. This, together with his major works on Deflected Permanent Revolution and the Permanent Arms Economy, became the three theoretical bedrock’s upon which the IS tradition was built. The internet is awash with information on Tony Cliff. The ultimate source of information is, of course, Ian Birchall’s 664-page biography published by Bookmarks in 2011.
9. Anil Moonesinghe/Anil Kumaran (1927-2002)
Former member of the RCP. A student from Ceylon (Sri Lanka) studying at UCL. Active in the LLOY. Returned to Ceylon in 1952 and was elected an MP for the Trotskyist Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) in 1956. Apparently he was a fine public speaker. A speech he made in Parliament in 1956 during the debate on the “Sinhala Only Bill” is reproduced in full in the 2005 book “Two Languages One Nation – One Language Two Nations”. In 1964 he became Minister of Communications when the LSSP entered the government of Mrs. Bandaranaike. “Kumaran” was his political pseudonym in Britain.
10. Jeanne Hoban (1924-1997)
Former member of the CPGB and then the RCP. A member of the National Consultative Committee of the LLOY in 1950. Bill Hunter, writing in his 1998 autobiography “Lifelong Apprenticeship”, recollects that Moonesinghe and Hoban were both members of the national committee of Healy’s “Club” in 1950. Married Anil Moonesinghe and moved with him to Ceylon in 1952 where she was active in the LSSP and trade unions. There is a moving section on Jeanne’s life, written by her son Vinod that appears in the 2006 book “Socialist Women of Sri Lanka”. It includes gems such as the fact that Jeanne and Anil lived on a self-built houseboat moored on the River Thames that was called “Red October”. The book also contains a full-page photograph of Jeanne.
11. Raymond Challinor (1929-2011)
An ILP member before joining the RCP in 1947. In June 1948 he wrote an article “State Capitalism-A New Order” to describe the Soviet Union and on the back of his beliefs it was natural that he would later join with Cliff and his State Capitalist faction. He was a lynchpin of the early “Socialist Review” newspaper and stayed politically close to the SWP throughout his life. An outstanding Marxist historian of the working class movement he left behind an impressive body of written work.
12. Peter Morgan
Former member of the RCP. Worked for Birmingham City Council. One-time editor of the Birmingham Trades Council journal. Expelled from the Labour Party in 1953 for producing the SRG pamphlet “Twenty Questions” and was re-admitted two years later. Activist in NALGO over many years, including in senior lay positions.
13. Percy Downey
An ILP member before joining the RCP. Active in the shop workers union UDSAW and delegate to Birmingham Trades Council. He and his wife Marjorie ran a hairdressing business.
14. Ken Tarbuck (1930-1995)
Former RCP member. Active in LLOY and a delegate to Birmingham Trades Council. Appointed Joint General Secretary of the SRG on 8th July 1951. Remained active in revolutionary politics in a variety of organisations throughout his life.
15. Rhoda Tarbuck
Former RCP member. Active in LLOY and a delegate to Birmingham Trades Council. Appointed Joint General Secretary of the SRG on 8th July 1951.
16. William Ainsworth
Originally in the CP before joining the RCP. Shop Steward at the Rover Car Company plant. Delegate to Birmingham Trades Council. Played an important role in the early days of the “Socialist Review” publication.
17. Gwen Ainsworth
Member of the CP before joining the RCP.
18. Gerry Curran
Former RCP member. Delegate to Birmingham Trades Council.
19. Bill Cleminson
An engineering worker and leading member of the RCP who had been critical of Labour Party entry. He was expelled by Healy from the “Club” in 1950. It can be seen that Cleminson was influential as he and the other Sheffield comrades from the RCP were also being courted by the Grant-Deane tendency – Jimmy Deane wrote to Cleminson on 8th October 1950 seeking to arrange a visit to him by Ted Grant on 16th October.
20. Don (Duncan) Hallas (1925-2002)
Former RCP member. Whilst conscripted to the army he took part in a mutiny in Egypt just after the end of the war. Described by Cliff “as a very impressive worker intellectual” he dropped out of SRG activity in the mid-1950’s, returning to the IS in 1968. He remained in the leadership from 1968 until ill health caught up with him in the mid 1990’s.
21. Ted Morris
Member of Wythenshawe LLOY and of the editorial board of the SRG youth paper “Young Chartist”. Had dropped out of SRG activity by the mid-1950’s.
22. John Smethurst (1934-2010)
Joined the Labour Party League of Youth (LLOY) in 1947. He attended LLOY rallies at Butlin’s, Filey, in 1949 and 1951 and was a delegate to the Berlin Youth Festival, 1951. He was Chair, Manchester Federation LLOY, 1950-1955, being a member in both Eccles and Swinton & Pendlebury. Stan Newens says (pers. comms.), “He was very active in the Labour Movement all his life and helped Ruth and Eddie Frow to set up their collection of book as the Working Class Movement Library. He produced A Bibliography of Co-operative Societies, published by the Co-operative Union. He was closely associated with the Society for the Study of Labour History, The North-West Labour History Group and the Eccles & District Local History Society. He took over from Arthur Marsh, who died in 1992, the production of the Historical Directory of Trade Unions.”
23. Bill Donnelly
Active in LLOY in the Manchester area. Nothing else known.
24. Trevor Park (1927-1995)
He was a member of Bury LLOY in 1949 and records show that he worked alongside Manchester founding SRG members Ted Morris and Duncan Hallas in the Manchester National Status Committee. Park was a left-wing Labour MP in the Wilson government from 1964-1970 and Stan Newens knew him well. There is a book review by a Trevor Park in Vol. 3 No. 3 (May-June 1958) issue of the Healyite “Labour Review” journal but Stan is unaware of when he left the SRG.
25. Ray Williams
26. Phil Joy
27. Ron Grange
Former RCP member. Active in LLOY and the SRG’s youth fraction. Expelled from the SRG with Ellis Hillman in September 1950 for reasons that are not completely clear even when you have read the correspondence. I believe he found his way back to the Healyites via the Marxist Group in the Labour Party – he has letters published in Volume 1 No. 7 (June 15th 1957) and No. 9 (July 6th 1957) issues of “The Newsletter” on the need for a Marxist revolutionary party.
28. C. Quayle
Member of Crewe LLOY. Nothing else known.
29. Marjorie Downey
Former RCP member. Active in USDAW and delegate to Birmingham Trades Council.
30. Ellis Hillman (1928-1996)
Former RCP member who, after its collapse, gathered a small group of young activists together. These included Ron Grange, Simon Joffe and Jeremy Beckett. Ron Grange and Jeremy Beckett were expelled from the SRG with Ellis Hillman in September 1951. He remained politically active all of his life.
31. Manfred Landau
Ken Tarbuck in his unpublished autobiography describes Landau (and Simon Joffe) as two South African Trotskyists, who were actually followers of Shachtman, who Birmingham SRG had continuous contact with for quite a time. Tarbuck does state that he does not think they actually joined the SRG. Stan Newens did know Simon Joffe for a period and also does not think he was a member (pers. comms). Landau was, of course, at the December 1950 National Committee meeting and is recorded in the minutes “as reading German literature” (presumably for “Socialist Review” purposes).
32. George Lane
Writing about RCP days George Lane is described by Ken Tarbuck in his autobiography as follows, “George was undoubtedly mentally handicapped. How he had joined the RCP I never did find out. However, despite his obvious limitations George was treated like any other member of the group, he was an assiduous attendee of branch meetings and would always have an opinion on anything up for discussion. He was always listened to attentively and no one ever, by word or gesture, suggested that he was anything other than an ordinary comrade. George was always drifting from one menial job to another, sweeping up, portering, etc. and seemed to have little life apart from the RCP. He was out in all weathers in the centre of the city selling Socialist Appeal.”
33. Helen O’Reilly
34. Jeremy Beckett
Member of Northwood LLOY. On the editorial board of the SRG youth paper “Young Chartist” for which he is also shown as the publisher. One of the group of young activists associated with Ellis Hillman. Whilst not specifically named in any correspondence I have seen I believe he was expelled from the SRG in September 1951 with Ellis Hillman and Ron Grange.