John Percy, 1946-2015: "more careful, more interested"

Submitted by martin on 15 September, 2015 - 8:40 Author: Martin Thomas

John Percy, one of the founders of the modern Trotskyist movement in Australia, died on 19 August 2015, aged 69, after many years of ill-health.

Bob Gould, an Australian Trotskyist who often polemicised with John, nevertheless described him as "more careful, more interested in basic Marxism" than the new leaders of the group which John had long led (the DSP) who expelled him in 2008. One of my memories of John, from a visit to the Sydney office of the DSP in 2001, tells me why.

The DSP was discussing with other socialist groups to set up a Socialist Alliance in Australia modelled on the one which briefly, in 2000-1, united almost all the revolutionary socialist groups in Britain.

John called me into a meeting room and, with other DSP leaders there, set about questioning me about the British SA and my views on it. I had never found John much of a theorist, but he was inquiring, thoughtful, and, as always in my experience of him, calm and courteous.

After they were expelled from the DSP, John and his co-thinkers formed a Revolutionary Socialist Party. But the RSP never really flew. In 2013 John and the RSP remnant joined Socialist Alternative (a group linked to the ISO-USA and DEA in Greece). He remained active there to his death.

At a memorial meeting for Gould in 2011, John said:

"Bob was... a member of the old Trotskyist 'International' group led by Nick Origlass [which effectively expired at about the same time that the new Trotskyist movement emerged]...

"Bob and Marie and some of the other younger members of the Trotskyist group, and some of the radicalising Sydney Uni students such as myself, and Rod Webb, set up the Vietnam Action Committee...

"From 1965 through his activity in the campaign against the Vietnam War, he recruited me and a number of other young people to Trotskyism. Bob, my brother Jim Percy and I were political associates from 1965-70....

"We parted ways politically in 1970. Jim and I went on to found the Socialist Workers League (becoming the Democratic Socialist Party)..."

Jim Percy, John's younger brother, was the leading figure in the SWL until he died in 1992, at the age of 43.

Comrades now in Workers' Liberty Australia joined the SWL-DSP in the mid-80s on the basis that the SWL-DSP planned to extend its activity in the Australian Labor Party, and wanted to link with other Trotskyists active there.

The SWL-DSP then made a new turn, away from Trotskyism to a sort of Castroism and to dismissal of the ALP as no different from the out-and-out bourgeois parties. We fought over those issues with the Percy brothers and with Doug Lorimer, who was their theorist for that turn but joined John in being expelled from the DSP in 2008 and died in 2013.

John and his associates remained, however, as Bob Gould put it, "more careful, more interested in basic Marxism", and open to discussion. John's dissection of the "broad party strategy" (the issue over which the DSP expelled him in 2008) repays study.

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