Tendance Coatesy

Left Socialist Blog

Terry Liddle, 1948 – 2012, Comrade.

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Terry Liddle 1948 – 2012, Comrade.

Terry Liddle died on November the 16/17 November 2012 aged 64 , after suffering ill health for a long time.

Many people on the left will have memories of Terry. There are those much more familiar with him than myself. A full obituary will be difficult to write. But this is one tribute to his memory.

I first became acquainted with Terry around 1979-1980, when he was involved in setting up an explicitly socialist atheist group. With my house-mate John, a cockney anarchist and shop steward at Warwick University, I joined. But living in Leamington Spa we had only written contact.

This group, according to the secularist anarchist Nicolas Walter, was bound to run into difficulties, as non-belief in religion takes many, often clashing, forms on the left. Indeed the organisation did not last. But Terry continued to place atheism, along with left democratic socialism and republicanism, at the centre of his politics.

Terry was, as they say, involved in many left wing groupings. In the Labour Briefing pamphlet Why Socialists Should Stay in the Labour Party (1991-2) he wrote with self-depreciating humour, “After a decade as an intransigent ultra-left sectarian, joining the Labour Party wasn’t easy. Staying in it is harder still.” But like other contributors (including myself) he placed his hopes in building a Labour left that would “work as a unified coherent force”. This would challenge the Party’s rightward drift, and give body to the “hopes and dreams of our class.”

The “long hard slog” of refounding the left led Terry, like many of us (such as the writer of the pamphlet’s introduction, Mike Marqusee, then Editor of the Briefing) outside the Labour Party.

A full history of these attempts to form a fully socialist party, principally in England, around the Socialist Alliance (SA), has yet to be written. Its derisory votes in the General Election of 2001 counted less towards it dissolution than the bandwagon launched by George Galloway and the Socialist Workers Party (SWP) backed the Respect party.

The type of ‘vanguard’ Leninism offered by groups like the SWP never attracted Terry. Still less would he follow Galloway’s populist ‘anti-imperialism’, support for ‘Muslims’ and self-promotion, into Respect. His hostility, widely shared on the left, looks more than justified when we look at Respect’s present, sorry, state. Terry sought a different future for the left in democratic and robustly socialist groupings and networks.

Terry Liddle was anchored in the activist and intellectual traditions of the British left. His own family background included a grandfather who was a member of Hyndman’s Social Democratic Federation (SDF). He had his forebear’s two volumes of Hyndman’s autobiography (The Record of an Adventurous Life, 1911 Further Reminiscences, 1911). An article on the heritage of  William Morris illustrates the depth not just of his reading, but equally his easy familiarity with the heart of the historic labour movement and the left. As he wrote, “Morris belongs neither to Marxists, Anarchists or Greens. He belongs to all of toiling humanity, for his is a message of hope for their freedom.”

Terry entered left-wing politics early. His experiences in the Young Communist League (YCL) in South London (he told me they felt that us young North London leftists considered ourselves a bit ‘above’ them), left him a committed anti-Stalinist.

Terry was a Marxist. But it was the kind of democratic Marxism, which many of us believe in, which crosses over with other types of socialism, left libertarian thought, and anarchism. As such Terry kept alive two strands from the pre-Great War left, secularism, and republicanism. He was open to new, and different, ideas, from feminism to ecology. He was also an advocate of animal rights, relating this to the writings of 19th century socialist, Henry Salt, on the issue (Extending the Circle of Compassion What Next. No 29.2004).

This openness was illustrated in some of his last writing. This year he reviewed a collection of Colin Ward’s writings, (Autonomy, Solidarity Possibility – a Colin Ward Reader). He stated, after a friendly overview of the Editor of Anarchy’s ideas on “autonomous direct action”, “Anarchists are all too often seen as crusties in ragged black clothing with mangy dogs on strings or mindless nihilistic trouble makers. But anarchism has always been a part of the movement for working class self-emancipation. It has a long history and some important thinkers.” (Chartist July/August 2012).

I feel glad that I was able to tell Terry how much I appreciated this piece.

Atheism remained, as well, very much part of Terry Liddle’s outlook. he set up the Freethought History Research Group. He was active in the Humanists. He was supported the main thrust of  French laïcité, particularly the ideas of the important left wing of French secularist thought and campaigning.

Terry wrote sympathetically on the ‘New Atheism’. He distinguished it from purists, like the National Secular Society, who are largely concerned with the separation of Church and State. Writers like Dawkins, Hitchens and Frank Harris were ‘science based’ and interested in arguing about the truth of faith. This was valuable, if with limits. While he was critical of Christopher Hitchen’s entrance into the “camp of imperialism” Terry had no time for those who have become “apologists for political Islam” (War on the Heavens. The Rise of ‘New Atheism and its Meaning for Socialists. New Interventions Vol. 13. No 4. 2011).

He commented, “While the New Atheism provides an arsenal of ammunition to hammer religion, to undermine the foundation of its mythology, it falls short in failing to describe or make an analysis of the ideological role played by religion in sustaining the alienated social relations of social relations of bourgeois society.” (Ibid) He cites FA Ridley, “Once a Communist order was fully established, the twin foundations of religion would be torn up by the roots.” (Ibid)

Terry’s contribution to the left was outstanding.

He was a great bloke.

He will be much missed.

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Written by Andrew Coates

November 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm

18 Responses

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  1. Andrew

    Lovely tribute, some time ago I posted a review of Poems To Shake The Walls Of Church and State, which included two of Terry’s poem, one calls on his comrades to raise a glass of wine or ale to his memory when he dies and is no more than a whiff of dust.

    Cheers comrade Terry, thanks for being here, you made a difference.

    Organized Rage

    November 22, 2012 at 12:30 pm

  2. Thanks Mick.

    I can’t always get your excellent Blog from Ipswich Library – they haven’t updated their Browsers and your site is too advanced for Tractor land.

    Andrew Coates

    November 22, 2012 at 12:48 pm

  3. I don’t know if his pamphlet “The right to smoke – a socialist view” is available online anywhere; I hope it is, it’s still a great read, and typical of his fundamental, rooted anti-trendiness. He really was a thinker-activist of value to the whole of the left; you never needed to agree with him to find him valuable.

    Mat.C.

    November 22, 2012 at 1:02 pm

  4. Me, too! I remember him from decades ago, when my life was very different.

    A fine fellow and an unswerving adherent of honest principle.

    Compare and contrast with Labour Party careerists* of the same vintage.

    ———————————————————————————————————————

    “Labour Party backstairs-crawlers” George Orwell

    Bingo Little

    November 22, 2012 at 1:22 pm

  5. very good blergghh Coatsey. thank you

    Monsuer Jelly More Bounce to the Ounce (Much More Bounce)

    November 22, 2012 at 2:25 pm

  6. I’ve cleaned up a few errors, or typos as we tip-top Bloggers call them.

    Mat, I remember seeing Terry at a conference of some kind at Congress House, Great Russell Street where he was running a stall on the right to smoke!

    It was that which made me refer to libertarian ideas.

    We hope that will be further tributes to cover the full extent of Terry’s activism and writing.

    He did say he was writing his memoires, which would be interesting.

    Andrew Coates

    November 22, 2012 at 4:48 pm

  7. I knew Terry in his final decade through the Socialist History Society, and then also the Freethought History Research Group – which is still going, although losing Terry will make things a lot harder for us. Three things about his character stand out. 1. He had a wry and irreverent sense of humour, which made him very entertaining company. 2. He was completely sincere, even though he changed his mind quite radically more than once on certain questions (e.g. whether alcohol should be enjoyed or banned outright). 3. He was happy to kick ideas about, without trying to give you “the line”. He was in every respect a freethinker, and such people are all too rare.

    Andrew – could we please repost your piece on the FHRG site, which we need to get up and running? Cheers.

    Francis

    November 22, 2012 at 9:46 pm

  8. Yes of course Francis.

    I received this E-Mail today,

    “Dear Comrade

    You may have already heard this from another source but I am writing to let you know that Terry Liddle has passed away from a stroke. He was discovered in his flat on Monday morning having apparently died some time on Friday/Saturday. In spite of serious health problems, Terry had remained extremely active and I am sure it has come as a shock to all of us that we lost him so suddenly.

    Terry had already charged me with making his funeral arrangements which I will be doing over the next week or so and I will let you know the details as soon as I know them. You have received this email because you were on a list Terry made of “folk to contact on my death” but if you do not want to receive any further information please let me know.”

    I found that last sentence extremely touching.

    Andrew Coates

    November 23, 2012 at 11:50 am

  9. Reblogged this on Freethought History.

    Francis

    November 23, 2012 at 1:17 pm

  10. Terry will be greatly missed. I knew him for many years, first when he joined the Thomas Paine Society, to the committee of which he was elected and remained a member until last year, when he decided not to stand for re-election on grounds of ill health. He continued to write for the society’s Journal of Radical History, the most recent issue of which carries a book review by him.

    He wanted to move from his flat in Eltham to warden assisted accommodation, but the project fell through as he disliked what was offered – he turned up to inspect it to find many of the residents gathered for a prayer meeting. He had a passion for radical/political poetry, and wrote several articles on the subject, one of which the TPS published in March of this year. He also “flirted” with membership of the SPGB. One of his heroes was F.A.Ridley, and one of first publications of the Freethought History Research Group was a reprint of Ridley’s Socialism and Religion, that had originally been published by the Engels Society. I recall that when him and I met to discuss the proposed formation of the Freethought History Research Group he hoped that it would republish some of Ridley’s essays on religion, He also castigated the National Secular Society for their failure to reprint the marks of many 19th century freethinkers that he thought should be in print. I am happy to say that the FHRG has done just that.

    Terry, it should be said, did neglect his health to some extent. As a diabetic he should not have consumed alcohol but did. He will be missed, but his memory will be kept alive by his published writings, which, I hope, will include his autobiography which he told me was near to completion. He was a good friend.
    Robert Morrell.

    florrycat

    November 24, 2012 at 10:42 pm

  11. I knew Terry slightly during the Socialist Alliance days and he represented a humanist, secularist, socialist belief that is under attack from many on the so-called left. Nice to see the many online tributes.

    sheffielder

    November 25, 2012 at 5:13 pm

  12. Many thanks Andrew for this thoughtful obituary and to everyone for their comments. I know Terry would be very touched.

    Gary Holden

    November 25, 2012 at 5:56 pm

  13. I have just heard of the news of Terry’s passing.
    Terry was a man of the Left who saw the big picture: People, Planet and Animals.
    He did much good work in the cause of making things better and he was an excellent writer.
    I found him interesting and amusing.
    I shall raise a glass to him now, with my supper.

    Jonathan

    November 25, 2012 at 8:32 pm

  14. My partner (Toby Abse) and I are sorry to hear of the death of Terry Liddle, we knew him quite well for years, and admired the breadth of his interests. One of his most endearing quirks was that he always dated his Christmas letters using the French Revolutionary months.

    operacat

    November 26, 2012 at 11:28 pm

  15. [...] of the Spanish anarchist refugees and immigrants in Australia und Tendance Coatesy erinnert an Terry Liddle, 1948–2012, die WerkstattGeschichte 1991-2009 hier online, ansonsten der Hinweis auf die Blogs Hatful of [...]

  16. Terry Liddle’s funeral will take place on Monday December 10 at 3.30pm at Eltham Crematorium, Crown Woods Way, Eltham, London SE9.

    Mark H

    December 6, 2012 at 4:28 pm

  17. A suitably fine tribute to a man who had so many intriguing facets to his character, and to his life. As a former resident of Sowerby Close (for some 20 years), I often came upon Terry sitting on the little wall close to the block of flats where he lived. If time permitted, and I always tried to make it so, we’d engage in conversation. Terry was always so entertaining, witty, and insightful with his comments, and I always looked forward to meeting up with him and talking about our shared interests. People like him are always a one-off, and when they pass this world is always the poorer for their absence. Very sad to hear that he’s left us, and it was far too soon, in my opinion.

    Keith Padden

    January 9, 2013 at 9:35 pm


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