Remembering Dave Spencer

Submitted by Matthew on 9 May, 2012 - 9:22

Dave Spencer died on 24 April 2012, at the age of 71.

Dave was one of the very first people to join the Workers’ Fight group, forerunner of the AWL, when it “went public” in the British labour movement in October 1967.

Below some of Dave's comrades share their memories of him.


Dave and I were comrades together in the proto-AWL prior to a split in 1984, when Dave left with a group of people around Alan Thornett who he didn’t agree with politically.

He spent a lot of his time after that complaining in various left publications about the “bureaucratism” of the “Matgamna sect.” He also did the rounds of various left groups looking for a political home he never found.

I liked Dave and despite this later political trajectory, I choose to remember his early days and the positive contribution he made to the struggle.

Jim Denham

I got to know Dave Spencer in the 1970s when he recruited me to what was then, I think, Workers’ Action.

He almost blew it when he told me, a keen if naive anti-Vietnam-war activist, that the Vietcong was a Stalinist outfit. After this stuttering start, we had many thoroughly enjoyable as well as politically rich meetings in Dave’s front room with some wonderful comrades he brought together.

Dave was funny and engaging and had lots of curiosity into human foibles — including, alas, my own. I never quite understood why Dave got so hot under the collar about the split in the mid-1980s but in the early days he was a fine comrade for the proto-AWL.

I want to register my sorrow at Dave’s death and send my condolences to his family.

Robert Fine

I met Dave in the late 70s in Coventry. I was a very young Trotskyite and he led lots of discussion groups on the finer points of the proletarian struggle and such.

I do remember him with deep affection. He was a lovely man with some deeply personal struggles and big intellect and understanding that needed satiating.

I left Coventry in 1980 — I was 19 — when it really was a ghost town. By which time I had had political dialogue and involvement with Dave in a range of struggles — the call for democracy within the Labour Party, meeting reps form the political wing of the IRA, Zanu and Zapu and Cosatu.

And of course we had been deeply involved in the anti-fascist activity and local issues, especially housing, and CND. I often think about Dave.

Judith Bonner

Dave recruited me to Workers’ Action in the late 70s.

Dave was always ready to discuss any ideas that a new comrade wanted to sound off about and never made you feel unable to speak out. A rare gift on the left as we know it now.

He was a very open, unassuming, friendly giant, until the split. Then he became quite bitter.

Despite that, when he met me one day he could see that I was in a bad way. I was being bullied at work by an extremely sexist man. Dave’s response was immediate. He wanted to wait for the sexist at the works gate and have a go at him.

This wasn’t macho bravado, it was support for a comrade in trouble. A good bloke.

Jean Lane

I got to know Dave when we were both in the process of being expelled from the International Socialism group (IS) in 1971. I was a sympathiser of the Trotskyist Tendency (TT), later Workers Fight.

I met Dave briefly before he was required to speak on behalf of the TT at the Birmingham IS meeting. I was the only TT person there, 19 years old in a large branch of 80 people with some serious IS heavies, Dave Hughes, later leader of Workers Power but leading Cliff loyalist then, Roger Rosewall, IS Industrial Organiser (later trade union witch-hunter for the right-wing Economic League).

The image I have of Dave in that meeting is, in a very typical pose, his shoulders raised, his arms outstretched appealing to reason. And as he saw the machine responses, the slurs and half-truths, Dave’s eyebrows raised and a look of disbelief appeared on his face. We lost the argument, we were expelled.

Dave in Coventry Workers’ Fight always attracted some very decent and experienced working class activists. They were very much working class sages. And I always think they were attracted to the group by Dave’s personality.

Later, when I did meet him he was always friendly although I think he had me down as a Matgamna hack. He didn’t approve, nor did he really understand the political “street-fighting” that a small Marxist group has to do. I think it was all too reminiscent of his early days in the Socialist Labour League which determined his overwhelming desire to be against the “sectarians”.

I think he always wanted a too simple solution to that but there is no denying that he was sincere and genuine in that desire. And he continued to fight.

Pete Radcliff

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