RIP Comrade Jim

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Jim Cronin, who died six days ago, was one of the several generations of workers who joined the International Socialists between 1960 and 1972, enabling that party to make the leap from a small propaganda group to a party of several thousands. I first met him in the mid-1990s. By then, he had been living in Tottenham for some 25 years, and had taken part in the campaigns which built the IS and its successor the SWP: the miners’ strike, Grunwick, the Anti-Nazi League. A delegate of the engineer’s union to Haringey Trades Council, he was a friend of two of the activists, Andy Strouthous and Keith Flett, who helped to set up the London Socialist Historians’ Group.

Jim was a regular attender in early years of the LSHG. He encouraged younger members, hoping always to kindle the spark that had accompanied his own early years on the left. A number of our meetings were by members of the SWP or about the history of the SWP, and he always defended the organisation’s record.  I remember one occasion when my halting remarks had raised a doubt as to the historical necessity of a vanguard party, Jim took me aside afterwards, and fixed me briefly with a look of fury – the only moment of anger in the 20 years I knew him.

He would talk about the group of the early 1960s, and compare it unfavourably to the party of more recent years. But if you asked him to help you change a particular branch, he would smile and say that it was the younger generation’s turn.

A watchmaker from a Catholic working-class working-class family in North London, he would inspect the watches worn by his comrades, and tease anyone caught with an electronic or inferior plastic timepiece.

Jim had come into the IS in the early 1960s when he heard Tony Cliff address a meeting of the Labour Party Young Socialists in Islington. Invited back afterwards to Cliff’s home, and loaned books by the older activist, he made a point of attending several of Cliff’s meetings over the next few weeks and joined the group. Tony Cliff encouraged him but, as Jim told Ian Birchall in an interview in 2008,  Cliff had a levelling humour, and remarked on the beard which Jim kept all his adult life, “you look very like Lenin, but that’s as far as it goes”. Jim’s humour was cut from the same cloth, serving to deflate the occasional egoism of some of his younger comrades. He had a very strong sense of the necessity for the individual to serve a collective and the more important interests of the latter.

He returned to Islington around a decade ago. We would talk sometimes about the party. Jim could be very cynical but disliked cynicism in others. His relationship with the organisation was expressed more and more through the medium of photography. He took vivid images of demonstrations, often in black and white, and shared them with friends but was reluctant to use them more widely.

In the aftermath of the SWP’s closure of first the Socialist Alliance and the Respect, Jim became one of the very large number of SWP members who never attended branch meetings which he found tiresome, and whose relationship to the organisation was expressed in a combination of quiet loyalty, subs-paying and visits to spend time with other veterans at the SWP’s annual Marxism conferences.

In 2012, he began to suffer from dementia and had to give up his job. He spent more time at home and his house became increasingly unfamiliar to him. He was sheltered by his illness from his comrades’ behaviour in the faction fight, and did not attend the fatal North London aggregates.

For the last 10 years of his life he seemed to have only a weak sense of what the SWP had become. In his mind, it seemed to be still the party of his late youth, populated by Tony Cliff and Duncan Hallas, Michael Kidron and Paul Foot, and with Sheila Rowbotham and Dave Widgery somewhere at its edges. He had seen how in previous generations other parties of the left – Labour and the Communists – had become stale and bureaucratised and either the possibility that the SWP had decayed in turn did not occur to him, or, just as likely, he knew the direction in which it was travelling, but would not criticise others when he lacked the strength to assist in turning the party around.

There are others who have given their best years to the cause and are innocent of the sins of the SWP’s leadership.I like to think that we will find a space yet for them at the rendez-vous of the victory that is still to come.

Auden explaining neoliberalism to Byron’s ghost

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I try not to share things on this blog which are widely available already on the internet, but I make an exception for this poem. I first read it in 2008 and, although I have not read it again until today, since I first found it I have always know it was there. I have played back repeatedly in my conscious mind the message of the second, third and fourth stanzas: that there is always a reactionary force in politics, that it constantly finds new ways of expression, and (my addition) that unless we watch ourselves even those of us who think we are immune to it can fall under its spell.

You never were an Isolationist;
Injustice you had always hatred for,
And we can hardly blame you, if you missed
Injustice just outside your lordship’s door:
Nearer than Greece were cotton and the poor.
Today you might have seen them, might indeed
Have walked in the United Front with Gide,

Against the ogre, dragon, what you will;
His many shapes and names all turn us pale,
For he’s immortal, and today he still
Swinges the horror of his scaly tail.
Sometimes he seems to sleep, but will not fail
In every age to rear up to defend
Each dying force of history to the end.

Milton beheld him on the English throne,
And Bunyan sitting in the Papal chair;
The hermits fought him in their caves alone,
At the first Empire he was also there,
Dangling his Pax Romana in the air:
He comes in dreams at puberty to man,
To scare him back to childhood if he can.

Banker or landlord, booking-clerk or Pope,
Whenever he’s lost faith in choice and thought,
When a man sees the future without hope,
Whenever he endorses Hobbes’ report
‘The life of man is nasty, brutish, short,’
The dragon rises from his garden border
And promises to set up law and order.

Every ship needs a helmsman (Sedgwick)

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sedge castle

EVERY SHIP NEEDS A HELMSMAN

Every manic needs a depressive
and
Every depressive needs a manic
and
Every dominant needs a recessive
and
we
agree
People think we’re so aggressive
but
Underneath our front there’s panic
but
Let’s not get depressed or obsessive
or let
peo-
ple see

Every conman needs a sucker
Every sucker needs to be conned
You don’t have to be a stupid mucker

If you don’t count your change don’t squeal if it’s wrong.

We have got a special pedigree
From Karl Marx’s holy family tree
With an Engels-pure heredity
– then we cross:

Four voices:
1, 2 & 3:     Lenin fucked my grandma.
2:                    Trotsky fucked my mam.
1:            Uncle Ho,
3:                And there’s Uncle Jo
1:            Not to speak of Chairman Mo,
4:                And that sexy old Makhno,
1, 2, 3, & 4: All the great bods had a go
(crescendo:)  SEE WHAT A BIG STRONG LAD
I AM!!!

Every junkie needs a mania
Every politician needs Tanzania
Moscow, Castro or Albania:
Make your vow.

Every setback needs a victory
Every doubt must have a mystery
We’re hooked on history now.

Many thanks to John Rudge for sending me a copy of the York IS magazine from 1970. It includes some treats, such as a letter back from Peter Sedgwick in New York, a second piece by Sedgwick warning against a default position of assuming that socialists should vote for Labour, Juliet Ash on the women’s liberation movement, and a sympathetic piece by Dave Gibson on skinheads.

It also includes the above song, which although unattributed (“Anon Trad.”), from its humour and themes of  mental illness and (anti-) Stalinism, strikes me as almost certainly by Sedgwick

 

 

Watch with Caution

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alanmurray

Channel Four’s ‘Confessions of a Copper’, to be shown tonight at 10pm, is being advertised with an image of former Inspector Alan Murray once of the Metropolitan police’s Special Patrol Group, who was identified by Commander Cass in his report 1979 as a suspect for the killing of Blair Peach.

The OED gives several definitions of confession including, “The disclosing of something the knowledge of which by others is considered humiliating or prejudicial to the person confessing; a making known or acknowledging of one’s fault, wrong, crime, weakness, etc”.

Murray has spoken to the press before, and has always maintained his innocence. It will be interesting to see if he does use this occasion to say anything amounting to a confession.