Friday, 14 March 2014

Tony Benn

When I was a teenager I read two books that inspired me to be a socialist - Arguments For Socialism and Arguments For Democracy - both by Tony Benn. 

It is not too melodramatic to say that what they inspired has stayed with me ever since. And in every milestone event of my political life (and thousands of other activists) Tony Benn has been there: At  the CND marches in the 1980s, at the miner's strike, at Wapping, at the Poll Tax protests, at the anti-war demos, and countless disputes, rallies and public meetings.

He was at his best when I saw him on his speaking tour. Armed with a thermos of tea and a pipe, he sat alone on a stage and simply answered questions from an audience for two hours. As always he had the genius knack of making radical -  if not revolutionary - socialism sound like nothing more than genial common sense.

Tony Benn  wasn't a Marxist. With a profound sense of history, he saw himself as part of a lineage of English radicalism that took in John Ball, the Levellers, the Chartists and William Morris. But it's a lineage that personally I find far more inspiring,  and far more  real, than that of many so-called Marxist group-lets and their sterile obsessions.

But most of all I feel a personal connection with Tony Benn because he was of the same generation as my parents. And like them, despite everything he has experienced, he maintained  an un-eroded  belief in the fundamental possibility of ordinary people making a fairer world that had been born out of the experience of the second world war and the vision of 1945. His life - and theirs - spans the subsequent betrayal of this vision.

One of his catch phrases was always that it was about politics not personalities. He would be the first to say, in the spirit of Joe Hill, that we shouldn't mourn but organise. 

Looking at the comments on social media, and talking to colleagues in school today, it is just possible that the coverage of his death may actually itself be inspiring a new generation in the way those books inspired me thirty years ago.

1 comment:

Dr Llareggub said...

I was having an argument with a Tory supporter the other day and he said that Benn closed down more mines than Thatcher. I have heard this before but do not know if it is true. Anyhow, I called the Tory a racist and that ended the argument.