Dave Packer, 4 August 1945 to 3 July 2012

Submitted by martin on 21 July, 2012 - 12:09

Dave Packer died on 3 July, suddenly and unexpectedly though after a long period of poor health.

He was one of the last of a political species: the cadres of the 1970s "Mandelite" International Marxist Group. Dave was always devising theoretical schemes, always argumentative, always keen to talk.

Those cadres included many talented people. Unlike many of them, Dave remained loyal to the last to what he considered Trotskyism and to the obligation to be active in building what he considered a revolutionary organisation.

The IMG, successor to a lacklustre group which had ticked over through the late 50s and the 60s, grew rapidly in the early 1970s. It peaked at maybe 700 members around 1977, and was active and highly visible.

Some of the personal virtues of members such as Dave became transmuted into collective vices. The IMG had exuberance; but it was chronically torn by faction-fighting in which many members became disoriented, and it made a habit of frequently half-baked and usually exaggerated "turns".

Dave was one of a group of 18 dissatisfied members of Militant (forerunner of the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal) who joined the IMG in January 1974. (The best-known member at the time was Ted Coxhead. Another was Gregor Benton).

Oscar Gregan, a leading IMG member at the time, has reported that when Dave and the others first approached the IMG - "As the IMG had zero writings on that tendency [Militant], I recommended [Sean] Matgamna's pamphlet from the 1960s which they obtained from Workers' Fight [forerunner of AWL] and found very useful in that it echoed many of their own criticisms".

Dave and the others, resigning from Militant and joining the IMG, wrote: "When Labour discusses nationalising 25 companies, Militant demands that the figure should be 350. It is of course necessary to do this. But the question... is how to nationalise even 25 companies which the bourgeoisie wishes to retain... The workers must create new organisations able to smash [the] resistance". (Thanks to "Red Mole Rising" blog.)

It is a pity that they did not join us. But the élan and high profile of the IMG at the time makes it no mystery.

The IMG eventually blew up in 1985. It had changed its name and begun to fray before then, but 1985 was the turning point. It divided into three groups.

Socialist Action, led by John Ross, became, and continues as, a semi-clandestine group, sometimes a factor in the affairs of the left because of its ability to burrow into such corners as Ken Livingstone's office. The Communist League, originally led by Brian Grogan and Celia Pugh, can sometimes be seen on demonstrations with its literature table displaying the US paper The Militant.

Both those groups are quasi-Stalinist in world view.

Dave was one of the leaders of the third group (called the "International Group", and later the "International Socialist Group"), the group which resisted that quasi-Stalinism and took a stand for what they reckoned to be Trotskyism. By 2012, he was maybe the last of those leaders still centrally active in revolutionary politics.

The International Group and the ISG were never dynamic, and today have dwindled into the almost-invisible Socialist Resistance group. In the early 1990s, however, we were able to work usefully with them in some areas, for example in campaigning against the USA's and Britain's war in the Gulf over Kuwait.

After having a few public debates with us, over what the USSR had been, over Europe, etc., and an angry exchange over policy in the RMT on London Underground, the ISG distanced itself and refused further debate or dialogue.

I doubt that Dave disagreed with that "official" refusal of dialogue. He understood well that socialist ideas are empty without a hard-headed commitment to building a revolutionary organisation which endures in adversity as well in triumph. Once persuaded that it was to ISG's advantage to refuse dialogue, his loyalty would make him resolute about it.

Personally and individually, though, Dave was always open, always willing to give and argue his opinion with good humour.

In recent years Dave's activity was limited by his own poor health and by his obligations as carer for his partner Jane Kelly, also an old IMG cadre, disabled in an accident. But active he remained.

The hall was crowded for his funeral; but it is a sad comment - not on Dave, but on the condition of the left - that few of the revolutionary-left organisations with which Dave had worked and argued over the years chose to be represented there. (As far I could see, the only organisation represented, apart from Socialist Resistance, was AWL).

Comments

Submitted by Clive on Sat, 21/07/2012 - 06:25

I knew Dave Packer briefly in 1978-79. When I first went to university in Manchester I was a member of what was then the Militant tendency (now the Socialist Party and Socialist Appeal), but I was very unhappy with its politics. Dave was the Manchester organiser for the IMG, and I guess partly because he had also previously been in Militant he spent many hours discussing with me.

He had a big effect on me, convincing me to leave Militant and join the IMG. He explained quite a lot of what I have since taken as basic revolutionary Marxism. I remember in particular his explanation of why Militant's 'socialist programme' had nothing to do with transitional demands, and it was for me a bit of an epiphany. Many things suddenly fell into place.

I also remember how cultured he was generally, which at the time was also surprising to me - coming from Militant it was surprising that a political organiser (who was obviously a serious revolutionary and not just a dilettante) could unashamedly like opera. Now this seems so absurd that I slightly doubt my memory, but memory it is.

I wasn't, in the end, convinced of much about the IMG in particular, though, and after a few months left them and joined the forerunner of the AWL.

I didn't speak to Dave much after that. But I liked him very much and remember that period very clearly. I was sad - more sad than you might expect after nearly 35 years of properly knowing someone - to hear he'd died.

Submitted by Harry Ward on Fri, 03/08/2012 - 22:50

I first met Dave when I was a member of the Young Socialists in Portsmouth in the early 1960s, and “around” (though not a member of) Militant. Dave was in Southampton Young Socialists, and was then in Militant. I found Dave very supportive of what I was then trying to build in Portsmouth, and at the time I found him very much on my wavelength politically.

I met him again years later (1973?) when I was in the IMG, and he was in the process of leaving Militant to join the IMG. I was by then in Stoke-on-Trent, and he was, I think, in Manchester. He immediately remembered me from the old days in Portsmouth/Southampton, and, again, we had some interesting political discussions.

I found Dave to be a good comrade and friend. However, my own political evolution led me to leave the IMG in 1975, and, sadly, our paths never really crossed again.

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