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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.

Written by Andrew Coates

November 22, 2012 at 12:17 pm