Ernie Tate

Les Schaffer schaffer at
Sat May 19 06:56:31 MDT 2001

[Non-member submission from ["Bob Wood" <bobwood at>]]

Tariq Ali, 'Street Fighting Years', 1987

Now that I had decided to throw in my lot with The Week or rather the
group behind it, I did not waste any more time. I told comrades Jordan
and Tate that I would like to join the Fourth International and since
they held the franchise for Britain I would be happy to become one of
their tiny band. The two men looked at each other, seemed slightly
embarrassed as well as pleased and said they would discuss it with
'the others' and inform me of the outcome. I waited a day, two days
and finally a week passed without a response. I wondered whether my
political literacy was in doubt and rapidly read Trotsky's amazing
History of the Russian Revolution. This has remained the most riveting
account of any revolution that I have ever read and what struck me,
apart from the politics, was the sheer beauty of the language.  This
was not simply a historical but also a literary masterpiece. It was
this aspect of Trotsky that had attracted a chunk of the New York
intelligentsia during the thirties. Edmund Wilson, Irving Howe, Mary
McCarthy, Dwight Macdonald and others had all fallen prey to Trotsky's
artistry and skill. The quality of the prose was devastating and I
remember that after I had finished his history I felt extremely sad at
the thought that because this man had been anathematised by Stalinism,
his writings had not been read by millions of people who had been
under the influence of Moscow. What better book to explain 1917 to the
new generations in China and Vietnam than Trotsky's magisterial
account, without precedent in the annals of revolution. The mental
blockage created by Stalinism went very deep and many, many
intellectuals who broke with official communism in 1956 found it very
difficult to read Trotsky, whereas someone like Michael Foot had read
both Trotsky and Deutscher and paid tributes to the genius of both
men. I finished the book in a week, but still no reply from the
comrades.  Eventually I invited Pat Jordan to lunch at the Ganges on
Gerrard Street.  This was a favourite haunt of many a leftist because
the owner, Tassaduque Ahmed, described himself as a Marxist and often
joined in the debates during meals. It soon became clear why my
membership application had taken such a long time to process. Pat
Jordan explained, after a few beers, that since I was so used to
speaking at big meetings and conferences they felt that I might not be
aware of the small size of the group. Since the numerical strength of
Pat Jordan's battalions had not really been my worry I just laughed
and asked what the membership of the group was at the time. 'It's
much, much smaller than IS,' came the reply. I tried again. '1 know
that, Pat, but how many bodies do you have?' A long pause
followed. 'Er, er, about fifty,' he replied, 'and of these thirty are
in Nottingham. You know, of course that we've had a split with Ken
Coates ...' I must confess that I was astonished, since I had assumed
that they had about twenty members.' Are you sure it's really fifty,
Pat?' I enquired. Another long pause. 'Well, I think it might be
nearer forty, but there are lots of contacts and we'll grow fast.' I
told him that I wasn't particularly bothered whether they were ten or
twenty and I still wanted to join. 'In that case consider yourself a
member,' he said and we toasted the future of the International. I did
ask whether the group had a name and, to my relief, it did, as well as
a constitution, which I picked up the very next day. I had joined the
International Marxist Group, affiliated to the Fourth International.

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