Paul Foot

Inspiring memory

(12 December 1992)

From Socialist Worker, 12 December 1992.
Reprinted in Paul Foot, Articles of Resistance, London 2000), pp. 49–50.
Transcribed by Christian Høgsbjerg.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

I doubt if the Socialist Workers Party will ever put on a better memorial meeting than the one held last Friday in celebration of the restless, bustling and inspiring life of Dave Widgery.

The chief problem for the organisers was the enormous range of Dave’s interests, friends, heroes and admirers.

There was no problem about his commitment to the Socialist Workers Party. I first met Dave in the middle of the 1968 ‘revolution’ on York station. He had come from speaking at the university which he denounced, his eyes shining, as a ‘great middle class fun palace’. He glowered at me. ‘They don’t need you there at all. They need the proletariat.’

Even when he used an old fashioned word like proletariat he had a way of making it sound ultra-modern, like something from the lyrics of a popular rock band. And in his last book (and his best, by the way, in case anyone thinks that revolutionaries get stale as they get older), Some Lives!, he used the word ‘proletarian’ quite naturally again and again.

Knew better

Dave was a party man. He loved and admired Peter Sedgwick, and had a lot in common with him. But when Peter finally dropped out of the International Socialists (forerunner of the SWP) some time in the mid-1970s, Dave would not let him go without a ferocious argument.

Dave knew better than most of his friends and contemporaries that you cannot be a socialist on your own.

Dave was all those things which so many of his 1968 generation ended up denouncing. He was a Leninist and a vanguardist. He was not in the SWP because it was the ‘best of the bunch’ or because he ‘had to be in something’ (two explanations I’ve heard for his commitment). Nor even was his reason for membership his agreement with the basic policies which distinguished the SWP from other left organisations.

The chief reason was that he agreed with the sort of party the SWP was trying to build.

Socialist Worker editor Chris Harman’s speech last Friday ended with a sharp attack on the left paper Tribune for a sectarian assault on an obituary in Socialist Review. ‘He didn’t sell enough papers,’ scoffed Tribune.

In fact there are few people alive today who have sold more copies of Socialist Worker (over 25 years, remember—Dave was at the very first Socialist Worker editorial board meeting in 1967). He knew that if socialist papers are not sold directly, hand to hand, they do not sell at all (Tribune I cite as an example).

The majority of the speakers last Friday were not members of the SWP. Sheila Rowbotham spoke of Dave’s abiding solidarity with the women’s and gay liberation movements. Anna Livingstone, a fellow doctor in the East End, enthused us with her stories of Dave’s battle for the health of the working class.

In particular

After a moving and quite brilliant speech which reminded me of his, my, and Dave’s hero C.L.R. James, Darcus Howe ended by saying he had fathered five children in Britain.

Four, he said, had grown up black and angry, battling all the time against the awful racism around them. The fifth, he said, grew up ‘black at ease’. She had ‘space’ to develop her own personality.

Darcus ascribed this ‘space’ to the work of the Anti Nazi League in general and Rock Against Racism and Dave Widgery in particular. There could not have been a more powerful tribute to this firecracker of a revolutionary whom we have lost far too soon.

Last updated on 30 June 2014