Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 7 No. 1


Fred Bunby

IT WAS with regret that I learned recently of the death of Fred Bunby, a Trotskyist all of his adult life. Fred was a Liverpudlian, but, as he would say jokingly, born in Birkenhead, for Birkenhead was regarded by its residents as more up-market than Liverpool! Born into a working-class Tory family, he grew up in Liverpool, and became part of the group around Gertie Deane. I first met Fred in 1947 at Ducie Street, Manchester, in a tall house, where several of the comrades lived together in a commune. Ducie Street seemed to be appropriate, for Engels had once lived in the street. I was in Manchester for an Independent Labour Party Special Conference to decide whether that organisation should apply to join the Labour Party. Following the conference I went back to Ducie Street with Sarita (later Ann) Ward, who with other comrades in the RCP was selling the Socialist Appeal on the steps of the meeting hall.

There I was introduced to Fred, Frank Ward, the Dunmore brothers, Alan Christiansen, his wife Hannah and their children, Ann Walker, and maybe one or two others whom I’ve forgotten. Fred beamed upon me, for he was always friendly and welcoming. Ducie Street was an interesting experience for me, for Frank and Alan spent some time in telling me I should give up my London office job, and go into the cotton mills. I was quite impressed until I discovered that they were making a living selling May Marsh dog racing tips! Fred was too honest for this sort of hypocrisy, and no doubt it was he who put me in the picture.

A few months later, Fred came to London to attend classes for stammerers held at Conway Hall (a disability from which he never recovered), and he stayed down south for the rest of his life, living at first in various lodgings, and later being housed in a tower block in the Caledonian Road, Islington, where he stayed until his retirement from the Post Office. Then, under a GLC scheme, he moved to a flat in Worthing.

During the Second World War, Fred had joined the RAF, and was sent out to India. With regard to this, Al Richardson and Sam Bornstein interviewed him, and his experiences are related in their War and the International on pages 85–6. At that time, Fred was a member of the Workers International League, and he acted as a courier between groups in India, especially those who had escaped to India from prison in Ceylon. Direct experience of British imperialism at work confirmed Fred as a revolutionary Socialist.

Fred was always willing to tell a story against himself, and told how whilst on the ship to India, a bucket of rum was placed on a deck. A squaddie, thinking it was a bucket of water, washed his knife, fork and plate in it, the grease settling on top of the rum. The rest of the servicemen fastidiously refused to drink from it, but Fred had no such inhibitions, and claimed that he was blotto for the rest of the journey to India!

When the WIL and the Revolutionary Socialist League combined into the Revolutionary Communist Party, Fred became part of the new organisation. A member of Jock Haston’s majority, he joined also the few comrades whose camaraderie in the pub cut across factional lines – in addition to Fred, there were Jimmy Dix (Healy’s Minority), Bert Atkinson and George Leslie (Shachtmanites), Jimmy Deane (when in London part of the Majority leadership), Charlie Sargent (Majority) and myself who always supported the Majority. This friendship puzzled other comrades, especially the leadership, at a time when faction fights were so bitter.

As we know, the RCP folded in 1949. Fred did not join the Open Party Faction, but I cannot remember him joining Healy, or if he did so, it was for a very short time. In the late 1950s, when Ted Grant set up the Revolutionary Socialist League at an office in Gray’s Inn Road, Fred acted as lessee for the premises, and provided financial support. Later on, he was sent to France as a courier to bring back home donations from the French comrades. Whilst in a hotel, purported to be a safe house, the money was stolen – maybe by an opportunist thief, but Fred always suspected a ‘comrade’. Bitterly disappointed, he returned home with the feeling that his own honesty was in doubt, which to Fred was intolerable. After this, Fred drifted out of active politics. He enjoyed some years on the South Coast, but unhappily ended his life ill and in residential care. Fred was an unsung hero of the movement, a man who gave to revolutionary politics his active adult life, and those of us who were fortunate enough to know him will remember him always with respect.

Sheila Lahr

Updated by ETOL: 30.9.2011