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He trained a new generation in Marxist ideas

September 27, 2002 | Page 9

DUNCAN HALLAS, the British Marxist and a founding member of the International Socialist Tendency, died last week. Since we formed 25 years ago, Duncan was a major influence on the International Socialist Organization and this newspaper, Socialist Worker. He was also a valued personal friend.

Duncan was the author of several books, numerous pamphlets and countless articles in the British journal International Socialism, which he edited for a time during the 1970s. Taken together, his writings cover an incredible range of subjects with an encyclopedic grasp, yet at the same time have a completely accessible style.

As both a writer and a speaker, Duncan had a unique talent for taking complicated ideas or complex historical events and explaining them in ways that his audience could instantly understand--without ever resorting to oversimplification.

Duncan traveled to the U.S. several times on speaking tours for the ISO--mainly during the 1980s, when our then small group was battling a rightward-moving political climate. Everyone who attended one remembers those meetings as a high point in an otherwise dismal political period.

As someone radicalized by the struggles of the 1930s, Duncan was a bridge back to a time of revolutionary upheaval. But he was always focused on what that history and experience could contribute to the struggles of today and tomorrow--and always, always was determined to pass on the ideas of the Marxist tradition to the next generation, whether he was speaking to a packed public meeting or talking to a few people late into the night.

Duncan was born in the British city of Manchester and dropped out of school as a teenager to become an apprentice in a factory. There, he became a socialist. During the Second World War, he served alongside his class.

Stationed in Egypt after the war, he helped to lead a soldiers' uprising to demand that his unit be demobilized--and not kept on as guardians of Britain's imperialist interests.

Back in Britain, he joined the Trotskyists--the wing of the socialist movement that opposed the rule of the Stalinist bureaucracy in the ex-USSR. In the late 1940s, he and Tony Cliff were among the handful of people to found the Socialist Review group, later known as the International Socialists.

With its slogan "Neither Washington nor Moscow, but international socialism," this current refused to identify socialism with the USSR or any other country that claimed to be socialist--and insisted that, in Karl Marx's words, "the emancipation of the working class must be the act of the working class itself."

Duncan was a leading member of the group, which became the Socialist Workers Party. And he played a crucial role in spreading the politics of international socialism to other countries as part of the development of an organized political tendency.

Duncan began to suffer from severe health problems in the 1990s and played less and less of an active political role. His absence was felt then, and we miss him terribly now that he is gone.

But if the ISO has grown and thrived over the past 25 years, Duncan Hallas is one important reason why. We will remember Duncan in countless ways as we build the struggle for a socialist future.

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