Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 9 No. 1
Ernest Rogers (1914–2004): The Last Oehlerite Takes His Final Bow
A FRAIL figure, somewhat stooped to one side, shuffles along the pavement, a woollen cap pulled firmly down over his head to ward off the elements. Presently he enters his favourite café in Museum Street, finds his customary seat and sits. After greeting old friends in a distinct Glaswegian accent, he orders coffee and – a particular liking – carrot cake. He then proffers his copy of the Evening Standard to the author of this obituary for his perusal. That is how we best remember Ernie Rogers, the last living relic of the Glasgow Leninist League of the 1930s. Few would suspect the colourful history of that amiable, wry old man.
Rogers was born in 1914 in Glasgow. His father, part Gypsy on the maternal side, was part Jewish. His mother (born Craig) was pure Scot: her grandfather had been a noted Highland fiddler, in great demand for weddings and festivities. There was an hereditary artistic temperament. To the upset of her father, a small businessman with a contract for painting Fife Castle, she became a music-hall dancer, joining the same troupe as Charlie Chaplin. Her best friend married Sid Chaplin, Charlie’s half brother. Family pressure eventually induced her withdrawal from the halls, it being considered rather low-class. Rogers’ father led a somewhat unsettled existence. Originally a fisherman, he passed through a succession of occupations, finding his vocation as a professional gambler, or, as Ernie put it, a ‘friend of William Hill’. The Rogers family were living in Dublin when the Easter Rebellion erupted. Rogers’ father left their house to get some bread; he eventually got back three days later.
At Glasgow, Rogers obtained a good early education as well as a permanent distaste for a woman teacher who used to slap him expertly in the face. The family removed to Leeds; here the education system failed him completely: he gave up schooling at the age of 15, a fact he was always to resent. His great love of reading, we infer, was derived from his mother. Throughout his life he was to read tirelessly; he was to become an incessant note-taker.
Rogers became politically aware early on (his father was apolitical, his mother being the thinker). At Leeds, when 11 or 12, he would sometimes listen to Lew Davies, who used to harangue audiences of more than a thousand in front of the Town Hall. On one occasion he also heard the miners’ leader, A.J. Cook. And he began buying the Sunday Worker. He recalled amusedly, 60 years later, that when asked, aged 15, how he saw the future, he promptly replied that he didn’t give the system 12 months.
About 1929, the Rogers family moved back to Glasgow. Here the revolutionary in the making encountered Guy Aldred, the rival political groupings of the left, and attended the meetings of Peter Commonbar McIntyre, of the Scottish Socialist Republican Party, who was always appearing in court for non-payment of rent. Rogers was to share a flat with a tramp preacher called Arthur Harrison, who filled him in on the city’s political scene and the progress of the free speech campaign. The council – led by the Roman Catholic faction – was trying to clear out the tramp preachers from Glasgow Green by introducing a permit system. The agitation in opposition escalated wildly. At first, Harry McShane had led a small demonstration of the National Unemployed Workers Movement to the salt market. Shop windows were smashed and fights broke out, the police intervening heavy-handedly. A huge demo involving 100,000 followed a week later. The Moderator of the Church of Scotland wrote to the press calling for the issue of machine guns to the police. Several tramp preachers were arrested and gaoled for defying the new restrictions. Rogers recalled how McShane, under CPGB instruction, broke from the Council of Action for Free Speech.
As the slump arrived and deepened, Rogers drifted around desperate for work. He was one of 200 applying for a five shillings a week job at a printer’s. A handyman’s job in a carpenter’s shop was advertised. Having been short-listed, Rogers was shattered when a small boy, a bowler hat stuck on his head, came in and snatched the position. For long periods Rogers was dependent on the vagaries of public assistance. Not entitled to claim whilst living with his parents, he left home to receive 10 or 12 shillings a week, six of which he invested in a bed in a doss house (this was the lodging allowance). When later seeking 17 shillings a week from the local authority – it took a six weeks’ battle – he appealed to Councillor Tom Taylor, an ILPer, who had been educated in Germany and had known some of the early German Trotskyists.
Glasgow Council had a work scheme for the unemployed; if an entrant lasted 30 weeks, he was transferred to National Unemployment Benefit – and his benefit was taken off the rates. Rogers was sent to Parrish Street, 14 miles outside Glasgow. The job was refuse removal, the pay being 22 shillings a week, two shillings of which were deducted for boots at the start. After a time, the pay went up to 30 shillings. But ‘it was like being on Devil’s Island’, Rogers recalled. The men were complaining about the untreated refuse being dumped on the fields. Despite there being no union, a strike committee was formed in Rogers’ sixth week there, and a three-day strike occurred in protest. He resumed work and completed 30 weeks.
At one point during the 1930s, Frank Maitland took Rogers under his wing as an assistant in his Edinburgh bookshop. He received no pay, but got full board and lodging in Maitland’s house. In this milieu he met many of the local ultra-left, including Robert Bridges, who also worked at the shop. Bridges, who was expelled from the CPGB, was later to fight in Spain and ended up being executed by the Francoists. Rogers recalled two French Trotskyists who used to meet in the shop with a British comrade, and who most likely inspired the nomination of Leon Trotsky for the Rectorship of Edinburgh University. Students in general used to flock to the premises. It was at this time that Rogers exposed his naive streak. Maitland went to hear Mosley speak at a meeting. Rogers tagged along, wearing a red shirt, for which Mosley’s thugs threw him out onto the street. Rogers recalled one of Maitland’s quirks. If bored by a conversation, he would burst into Italian song.
Rogers had started reading the American Militant as soon as Guy Aldred began importing it into Scotland in 1931. Hugh Esson, Henry Sara’s friend, took a number of copies monthly from Aldred, which he distributed in turn. The supply suddenly ceased, Aldred presumably lapsing on payment to the publishers. Thereupon Esson became the main supplier of the journal to Scotland, the bulk order eventually rising to 100. It was amid this change of circumstances that the Glasgow Leninist League was born in 1932, Rogers being one of the seven founding members, who included two apprentices. Staunchly critical of Stalinist reneging on world revolution – suspicious of the Comintern line on China, for instance – the League was notable in Britain at this time for being the only Trotskyist group deeply entrenched in trade union activity from the outset. Holding meetings sometimes at the T&G headquarters (Esson was a trade union branch secretary) and sometimes on the ILP premises, the GLL’s membership remained unchanged throughout the 1930s.
When the Red Flag published the Open Letter of the International Left Opposition (October–November 1933), Rogers drafted the Leninist League’s response, which dismissed it as ‘a centrist orientation leading to the entry tactic’. The course of events within American Trotskyism, with the Workers Party, led by Cannon, opting in 1935 to enter the Socialist Party, aroused deep anger in the Leninist League. The opposition to the move by Hugo Oehler and Thomas Stamm, culminating in the expulsion of their group from the Workers Party in the autumn of 1935, struck a favourable chord in Glasgow. The Leninist League henceforth followed the Oehler line, becoming affiliates of the Revolutionary Workers League of the USA. Rogers never lost his allegiance to Oehler and his early political insights. Unbending in matters of Oehlerite principle to an extreme degree, to his last gasp he remained something of the classic sectarian – except that his sect had evaporated long ago.
In March 1937, Rogers was asked by his group to make contact with the 100 apprentices who had suddenly come out on strike at the Fairfield shipyard in Glasgow. Over the years, the Glasgow apprentices had been repeatedly failed by the trade union bureaucracies in their attempts to get management to recognise their right to representation. The Communist Party’s pamphlet on the 1937 strike, by the way, is wrong when it says the strike had official support from the outset. Within 10 days the strike had spread across the Clyde, with all apprentices following the call. Now Rogers had fruitfully studied the tactics involved in the Minneapolis truck drivers’ strike of 1934, which he had read about at the time. He advised the strike leaders, several of his suggestions being taken up. In the event, there was a return to work after six weeks. The strike, however, was crucial in forcing the employers eventually to concede the right of the unions to negotiate for apprentices, boys and youths – although indentured apprentices remained excluded.
In May of the same year, Rogers attended the conference of the Socialist League in Leicester, which was being wound up by its executive, led by Stafford Cripps, under Labour Party pressure. Rogers took the opportunity to analyse the role of the involved Trotskyist sects in an article published in L’Internationale (no. 30, 10 August 1937). On 10 October, we find him, with Eddie Macpherson, holding a meeting with four members of the executive of the Marxist Group, including C.L.R. James, the object being to see if there was a basis for unity. A report of the discussion indicates that whilst Rogers regarded Russia as a ‘petit-bourgeois Bonapartist regime’, the rest of the Leninist League couldn’t make their minds up on its actual status – whether it was a workers’ state or not. At the end of July 1938, the ‘National Conference of Bolshevik-Leninists’ was held in London, called to unify the various Trotskyist factions. Originally the Leninist League had been approached with a view to participation. Rogers suspected that it was the presence of James Cannon in Britain that aborted this development.
In 1937, Rogers moved to Coventry, and it was there the following year that he met Alan Christianson, fresh from his grounding in Trotskyism in the circle of C.L.R. James, Ajit Roy and others, who gathered in Boundary Road in St Johns Wood in London. Jimmy Allen, the ever-efficient secretary of the GLL, had made arrangements for Rogers to visit the Parisian Trotskyists over Easter 1938, and Christianson – who spoke French – went along with him. The office of Lutte Ouvrière proved a disappointment when they arrived. The post was overflowing from the post-box into the street; the man in the bar next door said he hadn’t seen the editor for several weeks. However, the day spent in discussion with Witte (Demetrious Giotopoulos) was more fruitful. A member of the Greek Archeio Marxists, Witte, who had boarded in Barcelona with Oehler and Negrete among others and represented the POUM on the London Bureau, had been gaoled by the Republican government and was to be beaten to death by the Gestapo. Rogers and Christianson argued against the centrism of the POUM. Rogers recalled: ‘We were impressed by Witte’s quiet confidence.’ The French government had served three expulsion orders on him.
Next a visit was made to the Union Communiste, who published L’Internationale. Courteously received by G. Davoust (Henri Chazé), they had a productive discussion which spilled over into evening dinner with 20 members of the group. Davoust argued the Soviet Union represented state capitalism, whilst Rogers took the line that it was a Bonapartist state. Davoust ‘with an amiable smile assured us that we would come round to his position’. The following day the British visitors were taken by a Union Communiste member to a meeting of the printers’ union. They also met Julian Gorkin of the POUM.
Rogers entered proper employment in 1937 with a six months’ training course, becoming a capstan setter operator. Starting his traineeship at Coventry, he completed it at Leicester. Here CP militants were trying to organise apprentice strikes through the union structure. Rogers was put in touch with the son of the Stalinist Tom Bell. Once back in Coventry, he was sought out by CPers to assist in another apprentice strike. Success was elusive; the situation was unpromising, basically because the apprentices were working the piece-rate system and were already earning ‘high money’.
It was in Coventry that Rogers met Ajit Roy, who reported back to London – so he heard later – that he ‘had met a nut-case called Rogers’, who ‘was getting ready for the revolution in the war’. Roy it was who introduced Rogers to Dennis Levin, who became a life-long friend, as well as Alan Christianson. The latter Rogers helped to get a job making Whitley bombers. There, it is worth noting, worked ‘Mr Mile’, who had been a colleague of George Orwell’s in the POUM and is mentioned in Homage to Catalonia. Mile was resolved on sabotaging the war effort, a line not approved of by the Leninist League, who did not regard sabotage as part of the class struggle. The Coventry days were productive for the League as regards membership. The static Glasgow base now began to expand, and the League at its peak commanded 30 members, most living in Coventry. A certain mystery hangs over the League in its Coventry phase, however. After all the harsh words thrown at Trotskyist groups engaged in manoeuvres vis-à-vis the parties of the Second International, it comes as a shock to find Rogers indulging in faction work within the Labour League of Youth in Coventry. Through this route Harry Finch was recruited. Members were poached from the WIL. Rogers had joined the Labour Party, and, in a taped conversation with Carl Cowl, mentions membership of the ILP.
Rogers never stayed at any factory for long. His first Coventry job was with the Coventry Gauge and Tool Company. He then moved to Alfred Herbert, where management caught him distributing leaflets supporting an apprentice strike. Rogers resigned rather than face formal dismissal and thus getting on the black-list. He next joined a non-union, high-paying firm, the Standard Shadow factory, where he recruited three-quarters of the labour force into the AEU, becoming convenor before the management sacked him. When war was declared, Rogers was working in the flight shed of Boulton and Paul at Wolverhampton. In the Humber aero department at Coventry he became a shop steward. Troubled with bad stomach ulcers, he refused to do night work as night conditions worsened markedly due to the blackout arrangements. Management threatened him with the sack in face of his refusal. But the union side at the Dilution Committee put their spoke in, and were prepared to put a block on any more dilutees if the dismissal was proceeded with. Management had no choice but to back down.
In November 1940, the Leninist League started its campaign over air-raid shelters in London. The authorities had so far resisted opening underground stations at night as a refuge for the civilian population, despite the Germans stepping up bombing raids on London. The Leninist League printed off a few dozen leaflets on shelters, which Harry Finch took down to the capital and distributed at various stations on the Northern Line. The campaign found some resonance, and on 15 December a London meeting was held consisting of delegates from 30 Tube Committees, who formed a Central Shelter Committee. This created alarm, and seems to have precipitated police intervention. On 16 December, Special Branch, using a warrant under the 18B (Defence of the Realm) regulations, raided the flat shared by Levin and Rogers. They took away the typewriter, all books, periodicals (including the AEU Journal) and papers. From the comments of Detective Inspector Pendleton, it was obvious that the Leninist League had been under police surveillance for some time. The two men were warned to expect further questioning later in the week.
Fearing the fate of John Mason, the Mexboro’ shop steward who had been interned under 18B, Levin and Rogers decided to decamp and go into hiding. Mason, a Stalinist active in the English Steel Corporation, was considered by the state to have obstructed measures to increase production; and the Leninist League in Coventry and elsewhere had got its teeth firmly into maintaining shop-steward power in the factories and put out a leaflet at Coventry calling for ‘Workers’ control of production through the Shop Committees!’ (Workers Voice, no. 2). The issue of ‘revolutionary defeatism’, inevitably, was the central concern of the Leninist League during the Second World War, but there were tactical differences in approach within the group. Charlie Menzies, at the start of the war, at the AEU Glasgow District Committee, moved: ‘This District Committee does not support the war.’ The Hitler-Stalin pact then flourishing, the Stalinists naturally supported him, the motion being lost by one vote only. After Russia became a combatant, the Stalinists savagely turned against Menzies for his vigorous opposition to their favoured contribution to the war effort, the Production Committees. Rogers, on the other hand, saw no practical alternative but to work within the ethos of these committees.
Levin and Rogers went north to Glasgow to consult their comrades, who agreed they should assume aliases and thus proceed during the war. The group also decided to give the two 30 shillings a week each to tide them over. Events in Glasgow, however, overtook the best-made plans. A strike was in progress on Clydeside, and the Leninist League issued a leaflet in support, foolishly printed with the address of the League’s flat in Coventry. The police had their ready-made excuse and launched raids on every member of the group in Glasgow. Dennis Levin was staying with Hugh Esson at the time, and was actually in the flat when the raid occurred. He produced someone else’s identity card and the police let him slip away. But they soon realised their mistake. Esson was charged with harbouring a person on the run from the law, and he served a month gaol for his pains.
It is impossible to trace Rogers’ movements for much of the war period. We find him in Glasgow from March to May 1941 during the heavy bombing by the Germans. In the later phase of hostilities he appears to have submerged into the vast anonymity of London, where he served for a while as a fire-watcher. Then a calamitous episode occurred which had elements of both farce and tragedy.
Rogers had begun an affair with the girlfriend of a Leninist League member, Alec Tripp. Tripp took bitter exception to this, and in June 1944 went to Special Branch. What his accusations consisted of in total is not clear. But he certainly told the Special Branch that Rogers was living under an assumed name. In the event, Dennis Levin was rounded up as well as Rogers. Both men were charged with identity card offences. Rogers was sentenced to three months, which he served in Wormwood Scrubs.
After his release, the Leninist League pursued the matter of the complicity of the Revolutionary Communist Party in the men’s arrest. On the very day he became a police informant, Tripp told Alan Christianson – an RCP member – what he had done. The police delayed 14 days before arresting the two. No-one in the RCP saw fit to warn the men in the interim. On Rogers’ release, the Leninist League pursued the matter of the RCP’s complicity in the police action, and the ensuing exchange of correspondence has survived. Rogers signed several letters in the capacity of secretary of the London Group of the Leninist League. He began by referring to ‘the statement circulating generally and alleged, in particular, to have been uttered by your comrades J. Haston, V. Sastry and A. Christianson that the Trotskyists were aware that the arrests were going to take place’, and concluded by asking for ‘a full explanation of this matter’.
Jock Haston, the RCP secretary, replied that ‘certain of our comrades were informed’ by Tripp ‘that he had informed the police as to certain alleged criminal activities on your part, that is, the stealing of books, black marketing, etc.’ Haston added that ‘since this was information of a criminal character and not an attack against your political programme, the question of “Solidarity between working-class political groupings”’ did not arise. Haston also denied that either he or Sastry had prior knowledge of the arrests, indicating acceptance that Christianson had had foreknowledge of the arrests.
Rogers replied: ‘We cannot accept your explanation as satisfactory. Our comrades were charged with identity card offences – not criminal charges.’ He called for the setting up of a committee of inquiry drawn from a spectrum of ‘left-wing organisations’. Haston’s response was to assert that Rogers had not made ‘specific charges against members of our party’, but had instead made ‘light-minded, vague and slanderous insinuations that our party as such is involved in an intrigue against you’. He added that ‘we do not feel required to participate in an inquiry such as you suggest’. He also referred to ‘a written document’ which had established that ‘Tripp had informed the police as to certain criminal activities on your part’. Ten days later, Tripp wrote a letter which undermined Haston’s position somewhat, and from which we will quote at some length:
Due to a personal quarrel with E. Rogers some five months ago I informed the police that he was living under an assumed name … I notified the Special Branch at New Scotland Yard. I wish to emphasise this point as it has been said that I gave information regarding ‘black-marketing activities, etc.’ This is not true. A fortnight elapsed before E. Rogers and his colleague D. Levin were arrested, but on the day I gave the information to the police I also informed a member of the RCP, A. Christianson, of what I was doing. He suggested that I should work on behalf of that party and obtain information from the police of their activities within the RCP. To this I agreed. A special bureau was set up in the RCP composed of M. Lee, H. Atkinson and A. Christianson, under whose instructions I worked. I now regret my actions and the harm done …
If Tripp’s letter is to be taken at face value, the role of the RCP in the sordid affair is thoroughly reprehensible. There can be no doubt in this writer’s mind certainly that Rogers was thrown to the wolves, so to speak, to enable the RCP to engineer some presumed advantage regarding the police. The high moral tone adopted by Haston, in any case, fitted rather awkwardly upon his particular shoulders. He was to end up, as is well known, with a good job under a right-wing-controlled ETU and converted to Zionism. The RCP was to last only another five years – the seeds of its disintegration had long been sown.
As for Rogers, the mess of the Tripp imbroglio marked the end of active political involvement. The Leninist League – what was left of it – died overnight. When in mid-1945 Oehlerism revived in the shape of the Revolutionary Workers Association of Great Britain, Rogers refused to be drawn in. He told the International Contact Commission that he was out of contact with other members of the Leninist League. Almost certainly he was burnt out – a common occurrence in the labour movement.
During the war, Rogers managed to maintain a wider perspective than revolutionary activity within trade union constraints. About 1943, he met Ernst Schneider, the German seaman, who had rejected a position in the International Transport Union offered by Ernest Bevin, refusing to compromise with the bourgeois war effort. Rogers attended one London meeting near Swiss Cottage of the German Freedom (Freiheit) Group about this time. In 1942, he heard Harry Wicks speak boringly on Russia. He also remembered a talk given by the Belgian painter E.T.L. Mesens on surrealist art. It was in 1940 that he first met the German émigré Karl Rennert, whose translation of Retzlaw’s memoirs has recently been extracted in Revolutionary History. This was the start of a turbulent life-long friendship. A professional translator and an intellectual fascinated by Heidegger, Rennert, with his enormous head, was a wild character. During the war he worked for the BBC, translating and broadcasting in German to the continent. At one stage he was news reading in a BBC studio in which Pierre Frank, who had been released from internment, was also working. Frank, incidentally, sought out the Oehlerites early in the war before his internment.
Rogers recollected two American Oehlerites who were in Britain during hostilities. One was the seaman Bill Streeter, who had been in gaol at some time. The other was Harry Shapiro, a chemist, on the run from the American army, who lodged with Rogers for several months until his affair with Joe Thomas’ wife (he was a relentless womaniser) made this arrangement impossible to continue.
Women always found Rogers’ personality attractive. After the mess of his affair with Tripp’s girlfriend, he found stability for some years in marriage to Katherine (‘Kath’) Fox. Born in Norfolk to a family of French descent, she was both left-wing and able. At the Ministry of Supply she had a post in charge of six-inch shell production. Later she worked with A.S. Neill at his progressive school. Once wed, the pair set up a small factory; Hugh Esson helped distribute their product. They emigrated to South Africa, where they did not prosper. Returning to England, they opened a restaurant in Hammersmith in 1950 which lasted a year. Rogers proudly remembered that the Oehlerite Sid Lens, on a visit to their establishment, asked for a second helping of apple pie. Success came financially when they began buying up old houses, which they converted into flats and sold on. They began in this mode at Tunbridge Wells, buying a property with a mortgage arranged through the efforts of Dennis Levin. In the 1950s, the Rogers moved to Stroud in Gloucestershire. Here Kath later started an antiques business. Rifts, however, had developed in the marriage. ‘We were two bright people and we wore each other out’, Rogers later said. But, more to the point, he started an affair with a beautiful young woman 30 years his junior, with whom he lived for two years. Her subsequent husband, an anarchist, was later to become mayor of Stroud. Ernie and Kath were to divorce, a fact which he forever regretted: he always retained a soft spot for Kath. They had been childless, she suffering a series of miscarriages. He helped her out when, in her 80s and still running a clothing business at Stroud, she developed Alzheimer’s. Earlier she had remarried – to Alan Christianson. As for Rogers’ later working life, there is little to go on in the way of hard information. About 1970 he was working in a factory in Stroud. He retired when he was 69.
Whilst ceasing to be politically active within an organization after 1944 – he would not join Dennis Levin’s group in the 1950s because of their anti-united front position regarding the Labour Party – Rogers maintained political contacts to the end of his life, latterly within the orbit of Revolutionary History. He resumed contact with C.L.R. James after James’ permanent return to England. When Raya Dunayevskaya visited England, she stayed with him for a couple of weeks. Raya, incidentally, had first met Hugo Oehler in a Chicago speakeasy, according to Carl Cowl. Rogers found her good company, but with a regrettable tendency to end conversations in a spate of dialectics (he was, after all, from Scotland, the land of the great sceptic David Hume). She told him off once for not being very political. He was taken aback when she confessed that despite her Russian origins she had had to learn Russian in order to become Trotsky’s secretary. In 1959, they were in touch again. Carl Cowl, the American Oehlerite, who had given up college at Minneapolis in 1919 on the grounds that studying was pointless since the revolution was coming, was an old friend at whose flat in Brooklyn Rogers stayed once. Over five hours of their conversation were tape-recorded when Cowl was in London in 1988. Munis (Manuel Fernandez Grandizo, 1912–1989) Rogers knew personally, whom he saw in Paris in 1953; in 1962, again in Paris, they spent two days conversing in company with Dennis Levin and Colin Henry of the Workers League; and they met for the last time in the same city in 1965. Rogers corresponded with George Scheuer’s widow in Vienna. And in 1989 his prompt recourse to a good solicitor got Karl Rennert out of gaol, after he had been falsely accused by his landlady of setting his flat on fire.
About 1990, Rogers began to regularly take tea with Ellis Hillman, Albert Meltzer and others in central London. First at Luigi’s, then at the University of London Students Union, finally at Roberto’s café next to Atlantis Books in Museum Street, he settled into the routine of an old man nostalgically raking up the embers of the past, with a small entourage consisting of Carl Slienger, the present writer and occasional strays from Revolutionary History. Elected onto the Board of the magazine near to its formation, his numerous contributions were meticulously researched and lively reading, always providing much detail unobtainable elsewhere.
Rogers’ love of the arts can be traced a long way back. At Glasgow during the war, he knew the Polish émigré painter, Jankel Adler. In wartime London, he met Josef Hermann, another Polish painter, at E.T.L. Mesen’s London Gallery. Specialising in surrealism, it was a favourite rendezvous of his. At Stroud, he and his wife knew Lynn Chadwick, the eminent sculptor. Dennis Levin’s daughter was to marry the son of Peter Lanyon, one of the foremost St Ives artists. And for many years Rogers virtually placed himself under the artistic tutelage of the painter Joakim Stein. No trip abroad was complete without a visit to a public art gallery, particularly if it had a work by Giorgione or Manet, whom Rogers researched avidly.
He idolised three women in particular. Not a word of criticism would he tolerate against Leni Riefenstahl, whom he’d fallen for when he saw her star in a mountaineering film when he was 15. Any allusion to her Nazi affiliation was likely to spark off a fit of bad temper, followed by denial that she had been a real Nazi. His second love was Juliette Greco, whom he managed to film on his beloved camcorder when she sang at a Lutte Ouvrière concert in Paris. His third obsession was the French ballerina Zizi Jeanmaire.
Blessed with a retentive memory, hugely opinionative and ever happy – perhaps happiest – in taking a minority position, Rogers was to be found only five weeks before his death delving at the British Library into the mistakes of Arthur Scargill during the miners’ strike, who had incurred his deep displeasure. The cancer had for months been taking its toll (the inquest attributed it to asbestos) and his body had shrunk considerably; from time to time he was in some pain. Yet the old drive persisted: the Scargill question had to be resolved. His toughness to the last was incredible. He spent his final fully conscious hours, the afternoon before his death, dictating notes to this writer which he knew were intended for his obituary and the record of the Leninist League.
We shall remember him for his dry Glaswegian wit, which could at times be pungent. ‘Character is fate’ he was fond of saying, an epithet he applied to virtually every member of the Revolutionary History Board at one time or another, not excluding himself. ‘Pooridge heids’ was another favoured expression, invariably aimed at some left faction, but usually reserved for the Socialist Workers Party. He once complimented this writer on not having a heart, but a catalogue instead – knowing full well that the comment would be well received.
Ernest Rogers (7 February 1914–14 October 2004). No known living relatives. His papers are bequeathed to the Ron Heisler Collection in Senate House Library.
Updated by ETOL: 29.10.2011