Showing respect from the commune, by Mark Harrison.
It was with great sadness that we learnt of the death of our comrade Dave Spencer on the night of Tuesday 24, less than a week short of his 72nd birthday. Many shocked friends and comrades have written to us remembering his personal warmth and good humour, even when debating passionate issues, as he did so recently, he did so in a composed and relaxed manner that forced you to think more clearly and raise the level of your own argument. Dave’s life touched many outside traditional left wing circles, as an exponent of radical pedagogy he put his ideas into action in Coventry by running an adult education course, going out in the council estates of Coventry to teach parents in primary schools English, Maths, Psychology, cooking etc.
In Dave’s own words during a recent debate “My way of teaching English was to discuss a controversial topic for an hour or so to get everybody thinking. The women would then go home and write down their thoughts or experiences. Grammar could come later. One of the favourite topics was “All men are bastards. Discuss”. One day the women of my class in Bell Green came in to discuss the proposed closure of their local Primary School. What to do? I seem to remember suggesting in an abstract way occupation and joining the local Labour Party to get rid of their councillors. Three days later, on the front page of the local paper there was an article “Parents occupy Bell Green Primary School” and there in the picture were the smiling faces of my students!”
As Dave would say, truly ‘communism from below’.
In later life Dave became chair of his local residents’ group and managed to secure national lottery funding to build a play area for the children in the park. He told a recent aggregate of the commune that this felt like the biggest achievement he was ever a part of in politics and was very moved by the experience.
Dave was a revolutionary for over 50 years, in which time he was a constant champion of the rank-and-file ‘from below’ through factory bulletins and organising local discos but was also prepared to stand up to petty bureaucrats.
One of the final unity campaigns Dave was involved in was the Campaign for a Marxist Party, where he saw that the CPGB wanted to wreck the initiative after they had gained all they could from it, as the SWP did in the Socialist Alliance.
As one comrade remembers, “At one conference of the campaign the CPGB brought a hand raising mob, some of whom had joined days before and some who were not even members. Jack Conrad of the CPGB ignored the chair (Dave) and signalled that the verbal abuse and nonsense could begin. Dave raised himself to his full height and stature and put courtesy aside as inappropriate and bellowed ‘sit down and shut up you silly boy!’ This caused the self-styled hard Bolshevik to look rather upset and one of his supporters called for the chair to show some respect. In response, Dave, in his best headmasterly voice explained that first he would have to have respect for others….
On another occasion during a national committee meeting, two comrades drank two pints of beer each over four hours. The next issue of the Weekly Worker had a very large pint of Guinness next to an article on the committee, that implied the committee were all drunks. I wrote hundreds of words denouncing the CPGB. But Dave simply said, ‘A cult creates its own reality’. Exactly”
We in the commune hope to republish some of David’s articles in memory of him. Below is a message from David on the failure of the left.
“On the SWP’s “Left Unity” initiative, I don’t see why we can’t afford to ignore it – the electorate certainly will. The main reason for the vacuum on the Left is the behaviour of the SWP and SP. They destroyed both the Socialist Alliance which had over 90 candidates in the 2001 general election and the Scottish Socialist Party which had over 70 candidates in 2001. Neither group can stand any rivals or any form of democracy. The SWP could not keep Respect together and the SP were too frightened to launch the Campaign for a New Workers’ Party as a membership organisation in case they got outnumbered. I can’t believe they have changed their approach unless for tactical reasons.
The only way to beat the BNP is by consistent political work in working class communities – that is by building from below. In the recent County Council elections 3 comrades in Northampton put up as Save Our Public Services candidates. Dave Green got the best result in New Duston with 950 votes, 39.6% of the vote and 61 votes short of the incumbent Tory councillor. Harry Tuttle in Lumbertubs ward got 277 votes, 16.5% of the vote and Norman Adams in Delapre got 219 votes, 10.2% of the total. These are good results compared to the pitiful 0.9% for the NO2EU candidates in the European elections, all of whom must have lost their £5,000 deposits in each region.
The Northampton votes are the result of week by week campaigning to defend council housing, open public spaces and opposing the PFI building of schools.
Because of the economic recession there will be attacks on the living standards of the working class and certainly cuts in public services. There will be a need to build more community campaigns. This is where the Left should be. As I understand it the BNP’s tactics are to be visible and active in working class areas. That’s where we should defeat them not in some last minute unity scheme for the general election which will cost a lot of money and get nowhere.
On democratic practice
CPGB comrades have complained quite rightly about the physical abuse and attack on their comrade at Marxism 2007. Such methods should be declared out of order in the working class movement.
Jack Conrad however thinks that verbal abuse and attacks are well in order and part of the free expression of his human rights.
In the CMP Committee’s opinion — which is widely held by others in society and based on scientific evidence — there is a direct link between verbal and physical, racial, sexual, homophobic and other forms of abuse on the person. It is the inappropriate expression of uncontrolled anger. It is also a form of bullying and intimidation in order to obtain or retain power.
With emails it is easy to dash off a reply to a person on the spur of the moment and write something abusive. What the Committee is saying is that comrades should think before they write and avoid verbal abuse. This recommendation is quite normal on elists. In developing the Campaign it is particularly important. We want to build a democratic and comradely culture where comrades can develop their ideas and their activities in dialogue with others and make a contribution.
Some comrades may not agree with trying to build this culture. They may prefer a series of arm-wrestling contests and hostile macho shouting matches where the development of their own ego is the object. Let them argue for that type of culture.
The Chair of an organisation should represent the principles and aims of that organisation as a whole and balance that against the rights of individual members. This role can of course be abused in a bureaucratic fashion. On the other hand without a chair you can have total anarchy.
In the case of chairing this email list I would see it that a comrade or comrades could complain that so and so’s behaviour was abusive or out of order. I would then put it to the members of the email list to vote on the issue and to propose what should happen. The whole process would be democratic. There is no question of me dictating or policing or throwing ASBOs about as mischieviously suggested by JC. If JC wants to show his Leninist credentials by calling people twerps because Lenin called Trotsky a twerp in 1907, that’s harmless enough as far as I’m concerned. Others may disagree.
The question is comrades of deciding and putting into practice what sort of culture we want to build in the Campaign.
We welcome all those who knew Dave to share their memories and recollections of our comrade.
A funeral and wake will be held in Coventry on May 10.