Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History


Paula ‘Kitty’ Watson (1934–1989)

Paula (Kitty) Watson died on 27 April 1989 in St Joseph’s Hospice, Mare Street, in Hackney, after a long and courageous struggle against cancer.

Paula was a revolutionary Socialist, and a great class fighter, as is attested in tributes paid to her in Labour Briefing (10-23 May 1989) and Voice of the Unions (June 1989). In a signed statement by NUPE Shop Stewards, NUS Seamen, TGWU/ACTSS Activists, and leading members of the Labour Party, they wrote:

Your commitment to the cause of Socialism and to the working class will be missed but never forgotten. Ex-Westminster Council workers and NUPE members remember the support you gave us in the struggle against privatisation and to defend our class. We salute the contribution you made on the picket of South African Airways and your support of and for the women’s movement. You represented political integrity that was not easy to replace. You may have gone, but your contribution to the struggle cannot be taken away. The fruits of your labour will benefit future generations.

Here we would like to write a few words about Paula’s politics. Paula was a distinguished Parliamentary historian in her own right and was active in her own Association of University Teachers.

Paula Watson was drawn briefly to the outskirts of the Socialist Workers Party in the late ’seventies, but very quickly found her home in the Bennite struggle inside the Labour Party, becoming a prominent figure in Westminster Briefing and later in the London and National Briefing Group. Paula was one of the first to challenge the trendy left politics of the Livingstone leadership of the GLC, which she predicted would end up in the sell-outs that marked the ignominious end of what could have been a genuine opening to a new type of left politics on the municipal scene. She formed a ‘Left Opposition’ on the Editorial Board challenging the direction of the Briefing comrades at the time, whom she felt were acting as left apologists for the County Hall regime. She began to take a great interest in the writings of Marx, Lenin and Trotsky, and very soon found herself drawn to the general ideas of Marxism, which she found corresponded closely with her own observations and studies of the history of Parliament. Paula took a special interest in the discussions that took place around such events as the celebration of Frank Ridley’s 90th birthday, and the launching of War and the International at Conway Hall. Despite her appalling suffering, she took a taxi to be sure she could attend Nils Dahl’s 80th birthday celebrations at the Calthorpe Arms.

Around her bed in the Middlesex Hospital, and later in St Joseph’s Hospice, a constant stream of friends, comrades and fellow-historians attended upon her. Her principal topic of conversation and interest was the current political scene. Almost legendary debates took place over the nature of the Soviet Union in the world – Paula invariably coming down on the side of the traditional position that Russia was a degenerated workers’ state. Although she joined no group, she deplored what she saw as the excessive factionalism of the ‘principled left’ and looked forward to a time when revolutionary Socialists could find a common programme and strategy to fight the main enemy. Perhaps her greatest sadness was her inability, through her being incapacitated, to take part in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Fourth International held at Conway Hall in late 1988.

Whether Paula was cross-questioning Pablo about his ideas on ‘self management’, or the Briefing comrades about the general direction of an editorial, she could always be relied upon to say the truth and speak the truth as she saw it. Her development was cut short just at the time she was emerging as one of the considerable figures of a new generation on the left of the Labour Party. The last journal she read was Revolutionary History. She is now part of that history.

Ellis Hillman

We apologise to Comrade Hillman for the delay in publishing this obituary.

Updated by ETOL: 10.7.2003