Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


Harry Selby

Dear Comrades

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

Firstly, the 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. 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 the 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 republication 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 that there was no reply, Of course there was 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 file 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 lift, 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 LF 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 republication of Once More – The Tactic, was seen is the restatement 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 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”.


Harry Selby again

Dear Comrades

Harry Selby’s History of the Left Fraction (Revolutionary History, no.1) was probably written in 1966 when Selby opened negotiations with Socialist Current, a small group of four members – Sam Levy, Morrie Sollof, Frank Rowe and myself – based in East London. If I remember rightly he showed it to us when we met in West Ham one weekend in the summer of 1966.

After some correspondence we expected to meet a comrade MacPherson, but then found that Selby, MacPherson and Solberg were one and the same. He was probably the only member of the Left Fraction. Negotiations rapidly broke down when we discovered that any journal produced by a unified group could only be sold to known Labour Party members. The meeting broke up with some acrimony as Sam Levy very understandably considered this attitude to entryism to be excessive.

In conclusion, young comrades should not invariably assume that all the founders of the movement were worthy of respect and emulation.

Ted Crawford

Updated by ETOL: 1.7.2003