Socialist Worker

A day to celebrate the life of black socialist John La Rose

by Hassan Mahamdallie
Issue No. 2036

John La Rose

John La Rose

The poet Linton Kwesi Johnson wrote of John La Rose, 'He was the most remarkable human being I have ever known.'

John La Rose, who died in March last year, was a Marxist, poet, activist, educationalist, organiser, social theorist, book publisher, filmmaker and trade unionist.

Yet La Rose, and his work and life, are not well known outside of the black radical movement in this country and the Caribbean.

This is a tragedy because La Rose, when he died at the age of 78, was one of the last representatives of an impressive generation of socialist intellectuals and activists who grew up in colonial West Indies and then brought their fighting class politics to Britain. His politics had a profound effect on the black struggle here.

Fortunately there is a whole day celebration of his life and work at London's South Bank Centre this Saturday 3 February.

La Rose grew up in colonial Trinidad, a small Caribbean island that had already nurtured two revolutionary firebrands – CLR James and George Padmore.

La Rose plunged into Trinidadian left politics via a Marxist study circle. In his 20s he helped found the island's Workers Freedom Movement and then the West Indian Independence Party.

He left to be a teacher in Venezuela before coming to Britain in 1961. La Rose brought his socialist politics with him.

He founded New Beacon Books – Britain's first Caribbean publishing house, bookshop and international book service.

The bookshop still exists in Stroud Green Road, north London, and is the place to visit if you want to get hard to find books on black literature and politics.

New Beacon published Bernard Coard's groundbreaking 1971 pamphlet on the way black children were being failed by a racist education system – How the West Indian Child is Made Educationally Subnormal in the British School System.

La Rose was involved in the Black Education Movement and the founding of supplementary schools.

After 13 young blacks died as a result of a suspected racist firebombing of a party in New Cross, south London, in 1981, La Rose was central to the march that followed.

At the end of his life he was enthusing about Hugo Chavez's rise to power in Venezuela.

The celebration of John La Rose's life is this Saturday 3 February. For more go to

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Article information

Sat 3 Feb 2007, 00:00 GMT
Issue No. 2036
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