Pete Glatter, my friend, activist, Russia specialist and member of the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), died last week with a lot left to give.
Like a number of radicals in the late 1960s, Pete’s university was the world of work.
He joined the International Socialists as a teenager and always remained a committed member when it became the SWP.
For many years he worked as a London bus driver. His first significant piece of writing was on the rank and file movement of London bus workers.
In the 1980s he became an ambulance worker until an injury forced him out.
By this stage he had already begun to develop a fascination with the Soviet Union.
In 1985, on the 80th anniversary of the 1905 Revolution in Russia, he published a small pamphlet which remains one of the best short introductions to that tumultuous year.
In the late 1980s, in his forties, Pete decided to go to university to study Russian.
He put his language talents to use by working on Amnesty International’s former USSR desk (later becoming for a period Amnesty’s South Caucasus researcher).
At the same time he was researching the changes taking place in Russia. His focus became the way in which the old ruling class maintained itself in power.
Pete also worked at the British Library helping to catalogue many of the independent newspapers that were being published in Russia. This gave him an unrivalled knowledge of what was happening there at the time.
His argument was that in the 1990s the links connecting the different elements of the Russian ruling class collapsed, but much of the personnel of the old order or those close to them remained in power.
He likened this to an army where the officers remain in power but the chain of command falls apart.
To consolidate their position they had therefore to merge their political and economic interests.
This was important not only for the 1990s, but also for Vladimir Putin’s regime. While many were tempted to see Putin’s changes as a restoration of the old chain of command, Pete’s analysis led him to argue that it was a much more negotiated process and the centre was less strong than some imagined.
The 2005 anniversary of 1905 led to a major project. Pete became aware that there was a rich collection of primary sources, including autobiographical accounts, that could illuminate the year’s events and their dynamics.
He therefore gained agreement to translate and publish some of these in a book length issue of Revolutionary History, making these sources available in a good quality English. It was a major achievement and this will stand as a monument to his work and the potential that has now been lost.
Pete died from the rarest of diseases – sporadic CJD. Stranger still he had a rare form of this disease which affects about one in 20 million. Pete’s sense of humour was such that he would have appreciated the irony that it took something special to get him. He will be missed by a lot of people.
Pete’s funeral takes place on Wednesday 2 April, 2pm, Golders Green Crematorium, London
P Glatter (ed), The Russian Revolution of 1905: Change Through Struggle, Revolutionary History Vol 9 No 1 Available from » www.bookmarks.uk.com