Chris Harman: tributes to a great revolutionary
The death of Chris Harman (» Obituary, 14 November) is a loss in so many ways, but especially to the student movement. My school history teacher recommended his book The Fire Last Time – about the student and workers’ struggles around 1968 – after I was involved in a walk-out against the Iraq war.
When I went to study at the London School of Economics (LSE), where Chris had helped to lead the student revolt in 1968, I was surprised at the interest he took in what the Socialist Worker Student Society did – from huge debates to trivial students’ union motions.
Every year Chris spoke at our first meeting. At the start of the recession more than 60 confused and terrified economics students packed into a room to ask questions about what was happening. Chris provided them with exemplary answers.
In 2008 we held a major meeting to celebrate the 40th anniversary of 1968. As opposed to the nostalgic indulgence of some of the other speakers, Chris talked about the events in a way that left students wanting to fight against tuition fees and for a better world today.
When we occupied our college in protest at Israel’s assault on Gaza, Chris spoke again. But rather than talking about the history of the conflict – as he’d been asked – he chose to discuss the best tactics for dealing with the college administration.
We will continue the struggles he started.
Estelle Cooch, Central London
When I heard the news of Chris Harman’s death, I kept thinking this can’t be.
But in 1974 our first meeting had been something of a let down. Harman seemed unfriendly and uncommunicative. I thought, “I guess I’m just not important enough.”
This proved to be way off beam. I quickly learned that Chris was shy, but that when you got beyond the shyness, there was a man with whom you could spend many enjoyable hours. He loved to laugh and seemed happier to be the butt of people’s jokes then anyone I have ever met.
He was the cleverest man I have ever met, yet had no conceit to him. If academia largely ignored him he seemed to not mind in the slightest. He never sought stardom or adulation – unlike those of us who, if we are honest, loved the applause of our speeches, the laughter at our jokes.
His mind was fixed upon a much greater things than personal praise, things like the liberation of humanity.
Pat Stack, North London
News of the untimely death of Chris Harman has shaken many throughout the world socialist movement. Regrettably, at this moment of world capitalist crisis, we needed him most.
His is also a great loss for the Third World movement. Harman contributed much to our understanding of Third World capitalism, and visited us in India a number of times.
Our sympathies are with his family and all socialists in Britain.
Professor Randhir Singh, Delhi
Shri Sixana, Delhi
Kuldip Singh, Friends of Socialism, Punjab
Sumail Sidhu, Jawaharlal Nehru University, Delhi
Comrade Chris Harman was a hugely inspirational figure for comrades in Ghana.
My last conversation with him, at July’s Marxism conference in London, ranged from the relative qualities of Nigerian and Ghanaian food, to the spices of African and Asian cuisine, through a history of trade and imperialism and a final friendly, wry, but serious admonition – “never make the mistake of thinking you are too busy to write, you cannot sustain organisation beyond a certain point without writing.”
We will mourn Chris. Then we will organise and fight – and we will write – to realise the goals to whose service he dedicated his vast talents and rich life.
Gyekye Mani Tanoh, International Socialists, Ghana
Chris came to love classical music. At school, he had been told he was tone-deaf and would never be able to play an instrument.
But in 1997, he began taking piano lessons. At home, he had a piano behind his desk and computer, and in the evening would often swivel round and play for 15 or 20 minutes to relax before retiring for the night.
He was always setting new goals, meeting fresh challenges.
Sabby Sagall, North London
Fighting for justice
My brother Christopher Alder, a black ex-paratrooper, was “unlawfully killed” while in police custody in Hull in 1998. I have been fighting for justice for 12 years.
His death was captured on CCTV, but the system – the police, prosecutors and the Independent Police Complaints Commission – allowed the officers to walk free without ever answering one question.
The system has spent millions of pounds of public money protecting officers who were caught making racist jibes, monkey and chimpanzee noises.
They have never been held to account, even though an inquest jury of 11 ordinary men and women found Christopher was unlawfully killed.
After the family fought hard to get the evidence for a charge of manslaughter, officers were taken to court. But the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) set a botched case, and the officers were acquitted.
I have now taken out a civil case against the CPS for race discrimination. I am representing myself as all legal aid has been refused, and I am now being pressurised by the courts and CPS to drop my case.
This is disgusting behaviour. My family and I were brought up in state care and have been abused. Two of my brothers were in psychiatric care from a very young age.
Deaths in custody are hidden from the public. This case shows how they hide things. I ask for socialists and all others that believe in equality and justice to stand by me in this fight.
Janet Alder, Halifax
Stand up to bosses
I am writing to say thanks for your coverage of our dispute with Royal Mail.
We are facing a massive assault from the company. At my office we know all about management’s vision of “modernisation” – and it’s got nothing much to do with technology.
We’ve got machines and trolleys that are falling apart. We desperately need new equipment and there’s not one piece here.
Being on strike means losing money, and that’s hard. I’m just scraping by and it’s hand to mouth now. Like many others, I haven’t got any savings.
But we are fighting, not just for ourselves, but for future generations.
New workers being taken on by Royal Mail are on the new 22-hour contracts. They have no guaranteed overtime and are entitled to less holidays and lower pensions. In fact, their overtime rates are lower than the normal hourly rate.
This means that Royal Mail will pay them less for the same amount of hours worked.
If the bosses gets their way, we’ll all be on these contracts so they can rake it in. That’s why we’ve got to stand up to them.
Post worker, East London
How agencies exploit us
Your article about agency workers (» Flexibility or exploitation?, 14 November) was spot on about the exploitation many face.
A few years ago I was desperate for work and signed up with lots of agencies. A few hours later one called me asking if I could work that night, cleaning the cells underneath the local court.
I’d never worked as a cleaner, but I said yes anyway. I turned up to find a room of mostly migrant workers, many of them apparently on their third or fourth shift of the day, waiting for the work to start.
We did three hours mopping out a pretty unpleasant-smelling nick. Then we waited around again for a boss to sign our time sheets.
I chatted to some other workers, who told me they’d had to buy pricey bus tickets from the other end of the city to get there.
A week later my payslip came. The total earnings for the shift, after tax, NI, and the rest? About £10.
John Davies, Manchester
Drugs can be revolutionary
It seems illegal drug users are caught between repression by the state and Tom Walker’s patronising attitude towards a human tradition going back to the year dot (» Hypocrisy and hysteria on drugs, 7 November).
If altering one’s state of consciousness was merely a self-destructive escape from capitalist exploitation how does Mr Walker explain its role in revolutionary art and philosophy?
Do I really have to provide a list of famous drug users who have revolutionised music, painting, literature and social observation?
As a longstanding radical I find Mr Walker’s attitude little better than that of the government. His is a typical example of the kind of puritanism that would be better served in a Christian mission in 19th century Africa than in the pages of a socialist newspaper.
Not all drug stories are negative and not all drug taking is escapist. I can’t even say who I am for fear of police reprisal or Tom’s misplaced pity.
There are no good nukes
Government plans to force through a new generation of nuclear power stations are not a crisis response to the need for massive reductions in carbon dioxide emissions.
The money diverted into the coffers of the private nuclear industry would be much better spent on renewable, clean energy.
Make no mistake, nuclear power is directly linked with nuclear weapons.
Power plants produce weapons-grade plutonium, and the US is pushing Britain to produce a new generation of nuclear weapons, including the £97 billion Trident replacement.
This new generation of nuclear power stations makes the use of nuclear weapons far more likely.
Red and green must unite in opposition to nuclear power.
Tony Staunton, CND national council
Tell me about NGOs please
I am currently conducting a research book project into the activities of the voluntary/third sector in England and Wales (or NGOs as we prefer to call them).
In particular, I wish to focus on NGOs that provide services to vulnerable adults (mental health, homelessness etc), as well as the experiences of staff who work in these organisations.
However, more important to this project are the experiences people have in relation to NGOs and the attitudes they have towards trade unions and union recognition rights within the workplace.
I can assure you of complete confidence in this matter. I am contactable at [email protected]
Ray Riley, Pontefract