Obituaries

Might-have-been-man: Cliff Slaughter

Memories of Cliff Slaughter, who has died at the age of 93: 1: A school of the Socialist Labour League (SLL), Manchester, 1961 or 62. Slaughter is a leading writer of the SLL. He has written a couple of articles on the theory of the revolutionary party, which many people (me included) think very highly of. He has been talking about the iniquities of the Stalinist movement, in which he had spent over a decade of his youth. Someone asks him how he could have failed for so long to see through Stalinism. He explains it as his failure to think through his sometimes critical ideas to the necessary...

Rick Sumner, 1933-2021

Sadly, Rick Sumner of the National Justice for Mineworkers Campaign has died. Once a miner at Shuttle Eye Colliery in West Yorkshire, in the aftermath of the 1984-5 strike he, along with his wife, Christine, organised the Justice campaign to help the many miners who were victimised and unable to find work. I met him a few times at various functions such as the Chesterfield May Day Rally and the Durham Miners’ Gala, where he was a regular presence with his stall of miners’ memorabilia and publications. A few years ago he stood down and the work of the campaign is being continued by others...

Vale Peter Simpson, 1963-2020

A tribute to Peter Simpson, lifelong activist with the Electrical Trades Union and Queensland state secretary 2009-2016

Stan Newens, 1930-2021

Former Labour MP and MEP Stan Newens died on 2 March, at the age of 91. Newens got a jaundiced obituary in the Guardian, warmer ones elsewhere, and a tribute from Jeremy Corbyn which airbrushed out Newens' revolutionary Marxist activity in his 20s. In old age Newens wrote an autobiography, which I have not read, but is reviewed here by Ian Birchall. In February 1995 Newens gave an account, in Workers' Liberty magazine, vol.1 no.18, of his earlier political days and what he then made of them, which we republish below. Below that are recollections by me from when we worked with him, including my...

What we owe to Chris Barber

The term “end of an era” is an over-used cliché, but with the death of Chris Barber on 2 March, it is fully justified. Trombonist Barber was the last surviving bandleader of the “trad jazz” movement that for a period in the late 1950s and into the 60s was immensely popular and competed with rock’n’roll for the allegiance of Britain’s music-loving youth. But Barber was more than a “traddie” (as they were known): over the years his highly-polished bands, made up of top-quality musicians, embraced R&B, skiffle, Ellingtonia and more modern styles of jazz. Perhaps most importantly, Barber always...

Karen Lewis lit the spark

Karen Lewis, leader of the 2012 Chicago teachers’ strike, died of cancer on 7 February 2021. An obituary in Labor Notes here describes her role in building a rank-and-file caucus in the Chicago Teachers’ Union and then leading the CTU.

Mick Brooks and expropriating the banks

Longstanding socialist and Labour Party activist Mick Brooks (1948-2021), who died in January as a result of complications from Covid-19, was co-author with Michael Roberts of the Fire Brigades Union’s 2013 pamphlet on public ownership of the banks and high finance, It's time to take over the banks. (The two also ran regular Karl Marx walking tours in London.) In the face of multiple convulsive social crises, the demand for public and democratic control of finance is more relevant and urgent than ever. Mick continued to vocally and actively make the case for it. For those who did not know him...

Leo Panitch, 1945-2020

Leo Panitch, an assiduous and important Marxist writer on political economy and an active socialist, died on 19 December 2020, from Covid-19 contracted after being admitted to hospital with cancer. His biggest book, The Making of Global Capitalism, written with Sam Gindin, is essential reading, and summarised a vigorous programme of research into post-1945 capitalism. I first met Leo Panitch, I think, at an "International Marx Congress" at Nanterre University, near Paris, in 2004. He was off-hand, and I guessed he had the typical attitude of a famous university professor (at York University...

Mike Perkins, 1932-2020

Mike Perkins, a long standing supporter of Solidarity and Workers’ Liberty, died on 9 November aged 88. Mike joined shortly after his retirement from work, some 20 years ago. Through his union, Unison, he was on the trade union education course at Southampton College. Run by a socialist tutor, the course was lively, relevant and political, rooted in the class struggle and related political issues. It was 1997. The Labour Party had won the election, but were led by pink-Tory Blairites who had captured control. These issues were discussed on the course, with a number of members continuing that...

David Graeber's anarchism and the Occupy movement

The news that David Graeber had died so young, at only 59, was shocking and saddening. He had one of those inherently lively, energetic personalities that seems to contradict the concept of death itself. He earned respect as one of the few modern anarchist thinkers who tried to really apply anarchism systematically as a total worldview: anarchist principles informed his anthropological and historical research, his economics, and his interventions into real world politics. Graeber’s anthropological work is fascinating and valuable; his major book, Debt, is thought-provoking, though basically...

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