Socialist Equality Party (UK)
The Historical and International Foundations of the Socialist Equality Party (Britain)

The role of the International Marxist Group

143. Defeated politically, the Pabloite USec lashed out wildly against the SLL in the aftermath of the reunification congress. Its efforts to marginalise the British Trotskyists were led by Hansen, who set about recruiting individuals with a record of political hostility to Healy. Hansen’s campaign initially focused on attempts to fuse Grant’s RSL with the “International Group” led by Ken Coates and a smaller faction led by Charlie Van Gelderen and Sam Bornstein. But it soon centred on the Vietnam Solidarity Campaign (VSC), established in 1966.

144. The SLL opposed the Wilson government’s support for the Vietnam War, linking the defence of the Vietnamese masses against imperialism with a political struggle against the right-wing Labour leaders, and the building of an anti-war movement centred on the factories. Against this approach, the VSC was set up as a popular front, with pride of place given to the CPGB’s youth movement, the Young Communist League. Its various protests were aimed at convincing Wilson to change course. Unity with the Stalinists was also supported by Cliff's International Socialists, which abandoned the third camp position it had taken on Korea and declared for a victory for the Viet Cong.

145. The SLL was treated as a pariah because of its opposition to the Soviet Stalinist bureaucracy, which was using the Vietnamese people as a bargaining chip in its manoeuvres with Washington. At the inaugural meeting of the VSC in August 1966, Healy and other SLL members were prevented from speaking. At the Liège demonstration of Socialist Youth on October 15, 1966, following Stalinist objections, the police were called to remove a Young Socialist banner defending the 1956 Hungarian revolution. Ernest Mandel defended the Stalinists, claiming that the SLL had broken the “united front”.

146. By 1967, Hansen’s efforts to unify his supporters with the Grant group had fallen apart. Grant split with the USec, and in 1968 the International Marxist Group (IMG) became its British section. The IMG was to specialise in denunciations of the SLL, and political apologetics for Stalinism and the petty-bourgeois guerrillaism of Castro and Che Guevara. On October 17, 1968, IMG leader Tariq Ali and YCL leader Barney Davis delivered a “Dear Harold” letter to Wilson, appealing to him to support the National Liberation Front in Vietnam. The Stalinists’ chief expert on anti-Trotskyism, Betty Reid, responded with a eulogy to the VSC in which she noted, “the profound contrast in methods of work, arguments and approach between this group [IMG] and the SLL…the character of the leadership and material produced, and the co-operation of the non-socialist forces…was positive, and resulted in a high degree of unity of all forces excluding the small lunatic fringe”.[1]

147. Hansen’s orientation to the VSC provided him with the possibility of recruiting petty-bourgeois elements politically closer to anarchism than socialism, who could be encouraged in various protest stunts and punch-ups. This was connected to his aim of creating a particular type of leadership and an International that was thoroughly steeped in opportunism. As Slaughter explained in his report to the September 1963 International Conference of Trotskyists:

“Such orientation produces a particular type of national section and a particular type of leadership within the Pabloite International. Around the publications of this group there gather numbers of petty-bourgeois intellectuals who very easily accept a standpoint of ‘principled’ but quite abstract avowals of Marxism, divorced from any struggle to construct a leadership against the enemies of Marxism and of the working class. Such groups seek constantly for ‘alliances’ with all kinds of centrist trends, cultivating the most naïve illusions about the ‘leftward’ tendencies of these ‘allies’ in Parliamentary and Trade Union circles, as in Britain and Belgium. The real task of Marxists, to ‘go deeper and deeper into the working class’ to build a power that will smash the bureaucracy, is an anathema to these circles. To such a political way of life, the message that it is most important to encourage the ‘left centrists’ is a gift from heaven. The leaders of this International are, more and more, men of ‘influence’, men with ‘reputations’ in petty-bourgeois circles and not working-class leaders, not leaders familiar with the intimate and detailed problems of the working class and the revolutionary party.… In this environment, all the tendencies towards extreme revisionism which we have indicated are assured of a rapid growth; and are now strangling to death whatever remains of the cadres of the Pabloite International”.[2]


Robert Black, Stalinism in Britain (1970), New Park Publications, p. 279.


Cliff Slaughter, The Future of the Fourth International, Trotskyism Versus Revisionism (1974), New Park Publications, Volume 4, p. 218.