Duncan Hallas

Less Than Candid

(March 1972)

Duncan Hallas, Less than Candid, IS Internal Bulletin, March 1972, p. 7.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

A recent issue of the organ of the Matgamna group contained a lengthy review, by Ken Tarbuck, of the Pluto booklet On the Origins of the International Socialists.

The facts that the tone of the review is extremely hostile and that its author has a violent dislike for Duncan Hallas – ‘whose only gifts seem to be an ability to falsify and to develop a defective memory when convenient’, ‘one of the clowns who came in from the cold’, and so on – are of very little interest except perhaps to students of small group psychology. What is of some significance is the attempt to discredit politically the arguments of the book.

Had this been done by producing serious counter-arguments, everyone concerned might have gained from the confrontation. Unfortunately the method chosen is that which Tarbuck, quite falsely, attributes to the book – namely, ‘clumsy falsifications’.

He accuses us of falsifying the record. Indeed the Matgamnaite editor has inserted a caption over the picture chosen to illustrate the review which states: “IS today, but behind the shop front democracy, a hardening bureaucratic centre needs to lie and distort its own past, of two years ago as much as 20 years ago.” Naturally, Tarbuck cannot be held responsible for this particular insolence, but it is certainly true that the editor has, in this case at least, faithfully summarised the drift of his contributor’s piece.

What are the facts? The booklet has 104 pages. Of these 13 consist of an introduction written in 1971 and 91 of reproductions of original documents, without alterations of any kind except the correction of some spelling mistakes. Perhaps Tarbuck disputes the authenticity of the documents or suggests that they have been tampered with? Nothing of the kind. Though he repeatedly speaks of ‘falsification’ he is extremely careful not to make any specific charge of alteration or deletion. And for a very good reason: With the exception of the article on Bureaucratic Collectivism the documents are reproduced from photostatic copies taken from originals in the possession of none other than Ken Tarbuck.

Of course it is possible to give a misleading impression by selection even though the originals are faithfully reproduced. ‘The question that has to be asked,’ says our critic, ‘is why these particular documents were reproduced at this time ...?’ A very reasonable question. They were reproduced because the Matgamna organisation, then operating inside IS, had published a platform containing untrue statements about the organisation’s position on Stalinism in the fifties. They were reproduced, without alteration, so that everyone could see exactly what the group’s position had been.

But why those particular documents? What about what Tarbuck calls ‘others left to moulder in the archives’? The answer is very simple: Those were the only documents adopted on the question of Stalinism in the relevant period (1950–51). Tarbuck makes the charming suggestion that the document on the Stalinist Parties was reproduced for the purpose of bolstering its author’s position in IS. The truth is slightly different. The myth has been propagated by the SLL, the IMG and, of course, by Matgamna’s little group, that the founders of our organisation borrowed their politics from the U.S. group led by Shachtman. This group held that Russia was a new form of class society (‘bureaucratic collectivist’) and also that the communist parties in capitalist countries were not workers’ parties but ‘a reactionary, totalitarian, anti-bourgeois and anti-proletarian current in the labour movement but not of the labour movement’ (Shachtman). The article on the Stalinist parties was necessary, as contemporary testimony, to explode the myth that the group had ever adopted the reactionary position of Shachtman on this question. It was, to repeat, the only document available.

As to the article on Korea from Socialist Review, it was the earliest available. Tarbuck complains that we produce nothing; from the first issue. And thereby hangs a tale: Ken Tarbuck was joint secretary of the group in its early days and when he left in the early fifties, he appropriated the archives. In 1969, after much political wandering, he came close to us again – indeed at one stage he applied for membership of the Kilburn branch and was induced to hand over the archives, including early issues of Socialist Review, to the centre. Repenting of this, he demanded their return and, when it was put to him that they might reasonably be regarded as group property, threatened legal actions against IS. Unwilling to wash dirty linen in a bourgeois court, the executive agreed, rightly or wrongly, to return the archives. And that, and not at all the reasons Tarbuck has sucked out of his thumb and spread over seven paragraphs, is the explanation for the absence of a piece from the first issue. We simply had no access to a copy.

Having disposed of these matters, it must be said that our author does not write merely to attack IS and all its works. He has also a positive purpose. It is to rehabilitate the record of the Fourth International, especially the record of his patron Michael Pablo. For Ken Tarbuck is an ‘independent’, not a Matgamnaite. His latest political oscillation has taken him well to the right into the so-called ‘Revolutionary Marxist Tendency’, and he is the distributor, if not the editor for no editor is named – of Pablo’s English language journal.

In passing it is perhaps worth noting the strangeness of the alliance. Matgamna claims to stand for the building of a democratic-centralist party of the most orthodox hue. Pablo believes that this is neither necessary nor desirable, nor even possible. Matgamna professes a platonic admiration for the ‘Unified Secretariat’ of the FI – although admittedly he refuses to accept its discipline even though he says that its politics are correct. Pablo, on the other hand, regards the USFI as politically and organisationally bankrupt. Never mind, what do such small differences matter between men of principle? There is agreement on the main question, the need to slander IS.

In pursuit of his aim Tarbuck is forced to resort to a less than candid statement of the relevant facts. Without a blush apparently he writes ‘Hallas attempts to distort the developing position of the FI in order to claim that there had been a somersault from regarding the East European states as capitalist, to regarding them as workers’ states,’ With wonderful dexterity he manages to select a lengthy passage from the 2nd World Congress of the FI’s (1948) resolution on the Eastern Europe states which speaks of the possible development of these states but does not actually say that they are capitalist – though it certainly implies it.

He is evidently banking on his readers’ ignorance and the hope that they will not actually read the documents. For, of course, the FI did in fact explicitly and firmly describe the Stalinist states (apart from Russia) as capitalist states. Their 1948 statement to this effect will be found on p. 62 of the Origins booklet. It is also indisputable that, in 1951, the FI decided that these states were “deformed workers’ states”.

Who then is falsifying the record? Was there or was there not a change of line? Tarbuck knows as well as anyone that there was. Why then attempt to mislead people into thinking that Hallas is the distorter of the facts? What has Tarbuck to hide? Alas, the fact that he too once agreed with Ernest Mandel who, in the days when he was a marxist, described the theory of the bureaucratic creation of “workers’ States” without or against the working class as ‘a complete petty-bourgeois revision of the Marxist-Leninist concept both of the state and of the proletarian revolution’ (Origins, p. 61). Ernest and Kenneth have both since adopted this revision, and the unadulterated record of their past statements is painful to then. One can sympathise, but it falls short of the highest standards of honesty to accuse of falsification one who, however tactlessly, states the unadorned truth.

I will not weary the reader with an examination of Tarbuck’s plausible but specious defense of Pablo’s Decline and Fall of Stalinism. Suffice it to say that Tarbuck’s gloss on that work will not bear examination by anyone who has actually read the document. And, thanks to the enterprise of the S.W.P., anyone interested can purchase it for 50p.

It is a fact, a notorious fact, that the adoption of that pro-Stalinist document split the FI. And it is a fact – Matgamnaites please note – that even the USFI no longer defends it. But then of course Tarbuck is Pablo’s man now.

One final point: Our critic has done one service in that he has discovered a real mistake in the Origins. It lies in the attribution of a quotation, Footnote 25, p. 13, should in fact read A Recall to Order, USFI 1959, and not ‘ibid.’ as printed. It would be pleasant to thank Tarbuck for pointing this out and leave it at that.

Unfortunately our friend expands himself over fifteen paragraphs in trying to obscure the plain meaning of the actual quotation, the text of which he is unable to dispute. And that meaning is that the mass communist parties, like the French and Italian, would be pushed in a revolutionary direction and that the Trotskyists should enter them (or where they didn’t exist social democratic parties), not on a raid, but with the long term perspective of reforming them. And enter they did on this basis – with disastrous results.

The USFI people, of course, now reject this aberration, indeed they find it painful to discuss it. But not Pablo. He has moved still further to the right, he is against the attempt to build revolutionary parties, whether the attempt is made by the USFI, IS or anyone else.

Why does his English acolyte, writing in a pro-USFI paper, conceal this important fact? And why does the editor of that paper not mention it? Is Matgamma engaged in yet another essay in unprincipled combinationism, a bloc with Pablo?

Would it be fair to apply to this contribution, Ken Tarbuck’s own remark, “If such antics were not despicable they would be funny”.

Last updated on 15.9.2012