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).