Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 1


Kenneth John Tarbuck (1930–1995)

WITH THE passing of Ken Tarbuck on 27 August the left in this country lost one of the more attractive of its independent Marxist thinkers. His editions of Luxemburg’s Imperialism and the Accumulation of Capital (1972), Bukharin’s The Politics and Economics of the Transition Period (1979), and his own study Bukharin’s Theory of Equilibrium (1989), established him as Britain’s foremost scholar of Bukharin studies, and his subject’s rehabilitation by the Soviet authorities fortunately came in time to crown his own work.

He also belonged to that rare and diminishing breed of Marxist thinkers who are as anxious to learn as to teach. His political formation was in the most democratic organisation ever produced by British Trotskyism, the Revolutionary Communist Party. This and his subsequent experience as national secretary of four revolutionary organisations – the Socialist Review Group, the Socialist Workers Federation, the International Marxist Group and the British section of the AMR (Revolutionary Marxist Alliance) – immunised him completely against sectarianism of any sort. A strangely similar experience as a university lecturer in Mengistu’s Ethiopia removed any illusions that could be entertained about the democratic pretensions of Third World Stalinism. And wherever he went, he tried to promote free discussion, informed argument and an open-minded attitude in the application of Marxism to the problems of our time. He often received scant thanks for this, such as when he was ejected from the IMG after a two hour screaming session from the then guru, Ernest Tate (where is he now?) simply for asking for a serious discussion about economic perspectives. A group that was about to launch into ‘red bases in the universities’ was obviously the wrong place to be looking for ideas – or at any rate, Marxist ones. As always, he maintained his unshakeable calm, his dignity, and his urbane and civilised attitude, without the slightest trace of personal rancour.

Ken early on realised the crying need for a free forum of discussion, and edited a number of journals over the years, of which the latest is New Interventions. All his contributions to our editorial board were marked by wry humour and a comradely spirit, aiming at the removal of emotional conflict by a serious attention to the points at issue. He will be sorely missed, as a friend as much as a comrade.

Al Richardson

Updated by ETOL: 28.9.2011