Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 6 No. 4
Alec Acheson (1912–1996)
ANOTHER SAD loss to our journal has been the death of Alec Acheson from cancer in hospital on 5 May 1996. Coming from a Marxist background, he gave the movement 65 years of unbroken service with quiet courage as a secularist, a Labour Party activist and a Trotskyist.
His father was a Northern Irish Protestant who came over to England, joined the Social Democratic Federation, and supported the suffragettes. Alec came up to London from Bedford for a job, and soon began to frequent Hyde Park and the ‘bomb shop’ in Charing Cross Road, where he first encountered the Red Flag of the Communist League and Quatrième Internationale. In 1931 he joined the Socialist Propaganda Group, a split-off from the Socialist Party of Great Britain led by Harry Martin, who had seen Engels and worked with William Morris. He left this organisation in 1936 when it supported the line of the Stalinists during the Spanish Civil War.
After hearing C.L.R. James demolish the Stalinists at meetings on the Moscow Trials, Alec joined the Marxist Group, began to sell Fight, and became a delegate to the London Trades Council. He became a member of the Revolutionary Socialist League, the British Section of the Fourth International set up in 1938, but supported the split of the Revolutionary Workers League of Bill Duncan and Hilda Lane in the February of the following year, moving to Leicester two months later. Disgusted at their lack of courage when war came, he left them and rejoined the parent organisation. As he described it:
‘When the war came I disagreed with Hilda Lane and Bill Duncan, because they said it would not be fair to issue an anti-war proclamation and involve members who might be opposed to it, and those like Hilda, who had a family. It would be unfair if they were imprisoned for anti-war activity, and their children suffered. I was so incensed by this, possibly because I didn’t fully appreciate the dangers of anti-war activity, and when I got home I used an old hectograph – the old jelly duplicator – and produced an anti-war leaflet, and the Trotskyist position on the imperialist war was made public. My wife, who was non-political, helped me to produce it. She had the courage that some of my comrades hadn’t.’ (Interview with Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, 12 June 1986)
Alec was largely responsible for organising the successful Leicester anti-war conference of January 1940. It was typical of him that after his call-up he should risk his neck further by revolutionary agitation in the armed forces during the Second World War (S. Bornstein and A. Richardson, War and the International, London 1986, pp. 26, 246–7).
After his discharge from the army in 1945, Alec trained as a teacher. He supported the Healy Minority in the Revolutionary Communist Party, and joined the Leicester City Labour Party. Alienated by Healy’s authoritarianism and manipulation, he sided with John Lawrence and Hilda Lane during the split of 1953, but after they dropped out of the Trotskyist movement Alec rejoined the new section, the Revolutionary Socialist League, in 1957. His loyalty to the idea of a Fourth International led him from there into the International Group in 1964, and via the International Marxist Group into the present International Socialist Group.
Alec was an atypical headmaster, for he had not the slightest trace of authoritarianism, and humanity counted for a great deal with him. He invariably conducted himself with civility and reason in argument, and was always unhappy about expulsions. And he was no conformist, to the extent of standing as a secularist in the local elections against the local Labour Party’s concessions to ‘ethnic’ religious services in schools, a stance that brought him into bad odour with his organisation. He always retained the highest regard of those of us who were privileged to know him.
Updated by ETOL: 30.9.2011