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Bill North

Dudley Edwards

(July 1988)

From Militant, No. 906, 22 July 1988, p. 11.
Transcribed by Iain Dalton.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

DUDLEY EDWARDS, who was active in the Labour movement for more than 60 years died peacefully on his birthday, 8 July.

He was born in Reading, but spent most of his early life in Southall and Ealing. In his early teens he joined the Independent Labour Party Guild of Youth Cycling Club, which brought together two passions that were to stay with him for the rest of his life – the labour movement and the countryside.

As he was later to admit, in those early years he did not understand the class nature of society. The General Strike of 1926 changed that. Dudley was in Southampton, looking for work: “I saw Oxford and Cambridge students driving down to scab on dockers. I saw armoured cars and soldiers protecting them.”

After the slump of 1929, Dudley became involved in the battles of the unemployed, organising branches of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement in London, Brighton and Oxford.

He joined the Communist Party in 1932, after Ramsay Macdonald had deserted Labour to lead a Tory-dominated National Government.

In Brighton he also became involved in the fight against the Mosley’s fascist blackshirts.

He particularly remembers when in 1934, William Joyce (who later became notorious as ‘Lord Haw Haw’) was booked to speak at the Dome. Several days before the fascist rally, anti-fascists got into the building and an electrician carried out a few changes to the public address system.

When Joyce arrived to speak, the International blared out of the loudspeakers and the fascists were blockaded inside by protesting workers!

Dudley saw the meaning of fascism for himself on a visit to Germany shortly after Hitler came to power. There were still stirrings of opposition among the working class and Dudley later concluded that if a correct lead had been given by the Communist Party, Hitler could still have been defeated.

Just before and during the second world war, he was Secretary of Oxford Communist Party and a a member of the AEU district committee. He worked for the Pressed Steel firm attached to the Nuffield car works at Cowley, but was sacked for union activity and became a full-time air-raid warden.

In the 1950s and 60s, Dudley was convenor at an engineering factory in Park Royal, West London, where he led a strike for union rights.

He had become increasingly disillusioned with the Communist Party, but delayed his final break with Stalinism because there seemed to be no alternative.

“I didn’t finally leave the Communist Party until 1958,” he said: “It was a long process-Hungary, the 20th Congress and Krushchev’s secret speech showed me the true nature of Stalin’s regime.”

He joined the Labour Party “to avoid being cut off from developments”, but it was not until after he had moved back to Brighton in 1964 that Dudley found the full-blooded socialism he had been looking for.

He met a group based around the new Militant newspaper which had discussion meetings in The Eagle pub. He was still taken in by what he often called “the Stalinist falsification of history” and had still to be convinced of Trotsky’s ideas – “I was hostile at first and argued, so I was invited to speak at the next discussion group, where my arguments were completely knocked down.”

From then until his death, Dudley was an active supporter of Militant. He particularly saw the need to share his experiences with younger comrades, in Britain and internationally.

During the last decade of his life, he went on many speaking tours in Europe, particularly Sweden and Germany, where he became almost as well known as in Brighton.

Dudley’s special interest was in the history of the working class. He wrote pamphlets on the Levellers and the Oxford militia mutiny. But he regarded history not as something to learn, but to learn from.

For a long time he refused to write his political memoirs, saying: “That’s a way of saying that you’ve reached the end of your political life and I intend on doing a lot more.”

In a way Dudley proved himself right on both counts. He did write his memoirs when he realised his health was failing, but he never became the type of ‘veteran socialist’ who only appeared from time to time to speak at a meeting.

He remained actively involved in the Trades Council, which made him a life member in 1982 and in the struggle of a new generation of unemployed in the 1980s.

On the day of his death, Dudley had been invited to the opening of a room at Brighton Unemployed Workers’ Centre which was to be named ‘The Dudley Edwards Room’. The opening ceremony took place sadly without the guest of honour.

There is no doubt that Dudley’s biggest regret would have been not living long enough to see socialism in Britain and throughout the world. But as he said once at a meeting in Brighton:

“Even if I knew that socialism would not come in my lifetime I’d still be a Marxist. That’s because the work that we do now and the work that’s been done by every generation of Marxists will make it easier for the working class to transform society in the future.”

Bill North was Vice President of Brighton Trades Council.

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