Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 5 No. 4


Adam Westoby (1944–1994)

ADAM WESTOBY, writer on politics, philosophy and education, lecturer and political campaigner, died on 27 November after a five year battle against cancer.

From his student days he shared his parents’ passionate commitment to radical causes, but whereas Jack and Flo Westoby had been Communist Party members in their younger days, Adam turned to Trotskyism as a form of Communism not tainted by the repression of the Stalin era.

But Adam was ever a dissenter even among dissenters. Even as he wended a well-beaten path through a series of Trotskyist groups, he remained concerned, above all, with the truth. Unlike his mentor of those days, he never subscribed to the doctrine of ‘my party right or wrong’.

Between 1965 and 1975 he aligned himself in the main with the Socialist Labour League and the Workers Revolutionary Party. He wrote for the Workers Press after it was founded in 1969, contributing many well-informed articles on Italian affairs, having spent his teenage years in Rome. But he did not have a temperament which allowed him to settle into boring party routine, so for a time Healy turned Adam’s dissident tendencies to his own advantage when, towards the end of his WRP career, he had a brief flirtation with the International Marxist Group. Ever a lover of factional intrigue, Adam brought a small group of IMG members into political solidarity with the WRP, and for a time became Healy’s double agent in the IMG. His own cover blown in that organisation, Healy then gave him a similar assignment in the Bulletin (Blick-Jenkins) group. But his efforts there amounted to one transparently motivated and half-hearted telephone call.

In the atmosphere of factional strife that dominated the WRP during 1974–75, it was inevitable that Adam would break with the organisation. Eventually it was as much his human decency as his intellectual independence that led him to reject not only Healy’s absurd policies but his messianic style and brutal regime. In 1975 he was drawn towards the group led by Alan Thornett, which was challenging Healy’s apocalyptic predictions. He lent his considerable political and journalistic talents to the Workers Socialist League, the organisation that emerged from the struggle.

By the end of the decade Adam had begun to tire of Trotskyist group politics, and was undertaking a fundamental reappraisal of their theoretical foundations. The result was the publication of two substantial studies of Communist theory and practice, Communism Since World War II (1981), and The Evolution of Communism (1989), which brilliantly anticipated the disintegration of the Soviet Bloc. He also translated (with an introduction) Bruno Rizzi’s The Bureaucratisation of the World (1985). But these years were not only devoted to writing. Fired with enthusiasm for the Solidarnosc trade union movement in Poland, he co-founded the Polish Solidarity Campaign, a British support group. Unlike many of his former colleagues, he had no reservations about defending the workers of Eastern Europe in their struggle against their ‘own’ states. One of the great joys of Adam’s last years was to witness the overthrow of a system whose oppression he had so ably described and analysed, but which, up until 1989, had seemed impervious to challenges.

From the early 1980s, even before the onset of cancer, Adam was becoming increasingly disabled by syringomyelia, eventually becoming totally confined to a wheelchair. For him this was another political challenge, campaigning with his wife Sabi for improved wheelchair access to public buildings, including the Royal Opera House, and against the bureaucratic inertia, stinginess and incompetence of Brent Social Services.

Up to the end of his life his interest in the Trotskyist groups continued, but his analysis of their functions had become psychological and sociological rather than political. He saw the WRP in particular as a secular cult providing its members with a ‘family’ in the present and millennial future. When I last saw Adam shortly before his death, although physically in a desperate state, he was still grappling with the problem that had preoccupied his life: how to combine the pursuit of individual freedom with social responsibility to one’s fellow human beings. Raging about the way Thatcherism had laid waste to Britain and about the ever-suffering peoples of Eastern Europe, who having escaped Stalinist tyranny were now suffering the privations of the wholesale adoption of the market economy, he talked about the feasibility of resurrecting, in that part of the world, something of the social ideals so cruelly betrayed by the 1917 experiment and its aftermath.

In a more autobiographical vein, he was questioning whether his approach to life had been too cerebral. On the contrary, for my part (and all who knew him well) he will always be remembered as a sensitive and irreplaceable friend.

Karen Blick

Updated by ETOL: 25.9.2011