Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 4


Gentle Revolutionary

Robert Morrell
The Gentle Revolutionary: The Life and Work of Frank Ridley: Socialist and Secularist
Freethought History Research Group, 2003, pp. 26, £2.00

ROBERT Morrell’s essay follows Francis Ambrose Ridley (known as Frank) from birth on 22 February 1897 to his death on 27 March 1994. Brought up by adoptive parents, the Reverend Charles William Ridley and his wife, Frank Ridley was reared in a religious environment. On leaving school, he was accepted for training for the Anglican priesthood at Salisbury Theological College, and was awarded a Licentiate in Theology by University College, Durham. Therefore, Ridley’s life could have followed a very different course to that which it was to take. It was while he was at Durham that he encountered Thomas Paine’s The Age of Reason, and this made him question his religious beliefs. He was a founder member of the Thomas Paine Society, and he became its Vice-President in 1966.

Ridley claimed also that a serious head injury which he had suffered in 1916, and which left a permanent dent in his skull, had stimulated his brain cells!

Over the years, Ridley developed into a secularist, free thinker, socialist writer, historian, political activist and speaker. On discovering Marxism, he adopted this, though not uncritically, for the rest of his long life. Disagreeing with the premise of ‘Socialism in One Country’, he was drawn towards Trotsky, and in 1929, together with Hugo Dewar, established the Marxian League. He wrote also for the American Trotskyist paper The Militant. Ridley corresponded with Trotsky, and Morrell covers the points on which they disagreed. However, in spite of these disagreements, following Trotsky’s murder by one of Stalin’s agents, Ridley penned a warm appreciation in which he described Trotsky as ‘the leader and prophet of the permanent revolution, that is, of the World Revolution on a universal scale against all ruling classes and against all forms of class rule everywhere’.

Following the outbreak of the Second World War, Ridley drew close to the anarchists, writing for War Commentary and Freedom Press. He labelled himself politically an Anarcho-Marxist to indicate that while he appreciated the freedom to be found in anarchism, he accepted Marxism. Later Ridley found a political home in the Independent Labour Party, but taking a stance that socialism and religion are incompatible, he disagreed with the Christian element within that body.

Morrell covers the differences within the Secular Society of which Ridley was President during 1951–62. When the term Humanism emerged, a conference was held at Conway Hall entitled The Challenge of Humanism, following which a strong protest was made to the BBC, which at that time was a ‘no-go’ area for secularists, for the BBC saw its role as the promotion of Christianity. This, and changing attitudes in society, resulted eventually in the BBC inviting a speaker from the Secular Society.

Frank Ridley had many attributes and talents, for not only was he a prolific writer, but an orator at Hyde Park and Tower Hill, and, of course, at indoor meetings.

Morrell tells Ridley’s story with some humour, for Ridley himself was a great humorist. Morrell writes that ‘his great sense of humour enabled him to enliven his audience … nobody dozed off when he was speaking’. Additionally, Ridley’s great knowledge is indicated by the bibliography at the end of this booklet. For those interested, I would tell you that Frank Ridley’s booklet Socialism and Religion has been reprinted and is available from the Freethought History Research Group for £2.00.

Morrell concludes that Ridley died a pauper, but his 2,500 or so articles, along with his books and booklets, have left the world a valuable and lasting legacy.

This pamphlet is available from the Freethought History Research Group at 83 Sowerby Close, Eltham, London SE9 6EZ.

Sheila Lahr

Updated by ETOL: 28.10.2011