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Geoff Jones

Obituary: Ray Apps

(May 2008)

From The Socialist, No. 532, 7 May 2008.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

The death of Ray Apps at the age of 77 is the loss of a great fighter.

Ray was born and brought up in London but moved to Brighton in the 1950s where he met his future wife Joyce. He worked in many jobs – from market porter to bus conductor – and became active in Brighton Labour Party where, in the 1960s, he came into contact with the ‘Militant’ group (now the Socialist Party).

After long and deep discussions, he became a Marxist and joined Militant; from then on discussion and debate in our ranks, to which he made a major input, informed his work.

Ray was an active trade unionist all his life. When working for the Brighton Evening Argus, he led the van drivers’ branch of the print union NATSOPA. Under his leadership, this disregarded part of the workforce gave management an unwelcome lesson – the editing and printing of a newspaper was nothing if it could not be delivered to newsagents!

But Ray’s main arena for 20 years was the Labour Party. From the 1960s Brighton Labour Party had been a left wing beacon, organising campaign after campaign, putting forward resolution after resolution to the Labour Party conference – in those days a genuine forum for debate, unlike today’s corporate beanfeast.

As delegate from Brighton Kemptown, Ray was probably the best-known rank and file delegate. The high point came when after turmoil following attempts by Labour Party members to unseat MP Reg Prentice, who later defected to the Tories, Labour’s NEC was forced to appoint a special committee to consider a constitutional amendment on this issue.

Ray was delegate to this committee, representing rank and file members, and his debating skill and attention to detail won over the committee. He convinced them to ask the conference to approve a rule change so that local constituency Labour parties would have the right to reselect MPs between elections.

As a regional full-time worker for Militant, and part of its national leadership, Ray was an inspiring leader, prepared to make sacrifices and expecting others to do likewise. Although the kindest of individuals he could be scathing, especially to those he referred to as ‘sick hamster comrades’ after a (possibly mythical) comrade who excused his absence from an important meeting by “Sorry Ray, my hamster was sick”.

The 1980s saw a continuing battle between Militant comrades, who fought to keep the socialist flag flying, and those who wanted to turn Labour into an ‘electable’, big business friendly party.

When Labour won control of Brighton council, three Militant members were among the newly elected councillors. With other left-wingers they formed a ‘rebel’ group who opposed the council’s implementation of the Poll Tax and use of bailiffs, as well as defending the interests of council tenants and workers against the right-wing policies of the Labour group led by Steve Bassam (now Lord Bassam of Brighton). Ray insisted on weekly meetings with the Militant councillors to discuss every issue.

On the instruction of Labour leader Neil Kinnock (now Baron Kinnock of Bedwellty), Brighton Labour Party was suspended and ‘investigated’ by party organiser Joyce Gould (now Baroness Gould of Potternewtown). When Ray and six other Militant supporters were subsequently expelled, an editorial in The Times crowed: “Now the Labour Party Conference is an Apps-Free Zone”.

Ray also recognised that when conditions change, Marxists have to change tactics. The collapse of the Labour Party from a workers’ party at bottom into the “grotesque chaos” of Blair and Brown’s openly capitalist New Labour “project” saw Ray on the side of those, like the present Socialist Party, who recognised this and changed course.

Although this meant rupturing relations with long-term acquaintances, like the late Ted Grant, he fully supported the independent tactics of the Socialist Party and the idea of a new, mass workers’ party.

Ray was always a riveting speaker. In 1969, at a student-led squatter group meeting held upstairs in a pub, Ray – the lone Militant supporter – lambasted the speakers as a gang of petty-bourgeois intellectuals, betraying desperate working class people.

Job done, he decided to slip down for a pint. To his horror, as he walked downstairs he heard the tramp of feet behind him – a large proportion of the 100-strong meeting had taken him to be leading a walkout, and followed him!

Ray is honoured as a working-class leader, a Marxist and a Trotskyist until the day he died. His memory will be cherished by those privileged to know him. He was predeceased by his wife Joyce who had supported him and worked with him for 52 years. We send our condolences to his sons John and Chris and all his family.

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Last updated: 3 June 2016