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‘Touch of genius with words’

This article is over 19 years, 4 months old
‘The thing that surprised me was the way Paul Foot could approach workers. The first time I saw this was when I took him to see some pickets out on strike in the 1970s.
Issue 1912

‘The thing that surprised me was the way Paul Foot could approach workers. The first time I saw this was when I took him to see some pickets out on strike in the 1970s.

I always found I spent half the time trying to establish my own credentials and why I was there. But when I went with Paul, within two minutes he was talking to the pickets and they were talking to him as if they’d known each other all their lives.

They sensed how genuine Paul was and his credibility shone through. I remember so many meetings he spoke at, like at the annual event in Skegness we used to hold. It struck me listening to him speak about Shelley how he not only made the talk fascinating and humorous, it was also full of class consciousness and struggle.

When I read his obituary in the Guardian I thought, they have to acknowledge that Paul Foot was great but they don’t really know why. It was because he was committed to working class struggle.’

Frank Henderson

‘“Boring!” It was an intimidating yell. It was also very annoying. After all, I’d been a “professional revolutionary” for most of the 1970s. I’d been immersed in the Asian youth riots following a racist killing in Southall in the summer of 1976.

I could count several of the engineering shop stewards during the Heathrow airport strike in 1977 as personal friends. I knew all about the class struggle. How could my article for Socialist Worker be boring?

“Oh yes it is,” said Paul Foot. I’d just joined him on the staff at the paper. He will have said something like, “You’re writing to a formula. Don’t. Let the workers tell their own story. Seek out unusual aspects of their experience. Bet there is humour in the situation. Also, let them reflect and generalise.”

Of course, an investigation of bullying and corrupt authority required a different approach. But here also the “Boredom—PF (Richter) scale”, as well as an insistence on accuracy, thoroughness, and if possible originality (as well as humour), would be ruthlessly applied.

How privileged I, and all the others, have been to have worked alongside Paul. There was a touch of genius about his way with words. And how delighted he would be if a bit of it could rub off on others.’

John Rose

‘The untimely death of comrade Paul has left us all diminished and very sad. We, here in South Africa, extend our heartfelt condolences to his partner, family and comrades in the Socialist Workers Party.

Today we are bonded in sadness and solidarity but Paul’s enormous and varied contributions in the fields of politics, literature and journalism will continue to sustain people everywhere who are concerned about the future of humanity.

I first met Paul over two decades ago when, together with the late Ruth First, we shared a platform in Hyde Park protesting the increased investment by multinational corporations in apartheid South Africa.

I remember the impassioned but rational exposure by Paul of the mounting deaths of black miners in the gold fields of South Africa, caused by the search for profit.

This passion led me to find his pamphlet on Why You Should Be a Socialist, which remains on my bookshelf to this day, right next to his book on the life and works of the radical poet Shelley, who he rescued from the mists of bourgeois romanticism. HambaKhahle, comrade Paul, we will miss you, but your contributions will live on.’

Carl T Brecker, on behalf of the Socialist Initiative and AIDC, Cape Town, South Africa

‘His words were weapons in the fight’

‘Paul Foot’s death is a great loss to his family and all his friends. All socialists, those that struggle for justice, will also miss one of the greatest socialists and journalists.

His words were weapons in the struggle. Paul Foot for many years wrote a column for the CWU journal. Like all his columns it was a source of inspiration.

In 1977, at one of the first political meetings I ever attended, I heard Paul Foot speak for an hour in support of firefighters.

At the end of the meeting Paul crushed an SWP membership card into my hand and had me signed up. Such was the power and passion of the man.’

Billy Hayes, general secretary Communication Workers Union

‘It is with deep affection and regret that I heard of Paul’s death on breakfast TV. I joined the International Socialists, the forerunner to the SWP, in 1972.

I was an electrical engineer in the car component industry. I was deputy convenor for maintenance workers at Woodheads in Ossett, West Yorkshire.

Paul spoke to our factory branch many times and down the road at public meetings in Wakefield.

Paul would always want to talk to the guy who had just joined. He always encouraged the man to try to do something for himself like write an article or send a letter to the paper.

When our factory finally closed Paul came from London and spent the day in the factory talking to the workers and giving encouragement.

The management never dared to come out of their offices.

Paul wrote a wonderful article about the militant and anti-racist workers.’

Pete Shaw

‘Paul Foot was a person with the rare ability to give workers not only the words but also the clear, real life examples which lifted the everyday issues happening in our own workplaces and our communities.

He fitted them into context with events across the world affecting the lives of millions of workers.

The message was always the same: we must link everyday struggles to the solidarity of workers across the world.

He could make us understand that the essential democracy, which knitted together his socialist principles, had to be an integral part of our class achieving our greatest liberty and freedom.’

Jimmy Kelly, chair Transport and General Workers Union

‘In the early 1970s many of us on the left became involved in trades councils. In Newcastle there was a real struggle to get rid of the old guard and transform the trades councils into a politically active and interventionist organisation.

We got Paul Foot on the platform of the first May Day rally in many years, after a lot of argument.

He was regarded by some as a warm-up act for Jimmy Reid, who had led the historic struggle at UCS.

Reid didn’t turn up and Paul was left to carry the meeting on his own. He was brilliant and won the enthusiastic applause of a large audience.

That occasion was a turning point for us. The trades council did change dramatically and Paul was invited back many times.’

Bob Murdoch

‘I last spoke with Paul on the Thursday before he died. We had had a longstanding joke that we were going to have a race around the Institute of Education—me with my two artificial legs, he with his two walking sticks.

I loved Paul’s humour—it was warm, yet devastating when directed against the hypocrisy and stupidity of the rich, the rulers and the bosses.

I spoke to my mother the day after he died and told her. She burst into tears. She had only met him once, is no socialist, and had an upbringing so different to his.

He spoke to her about an episode in her life for which she had always (wrongly) felt guilty. Drug companies, high ranking doctors and a disinterested health system were to blame.

Paul was the first and only person to convince her of that. It lifted a huge burden from her shoulders. “He was so posh,” she said to me, “but he seemed to hate posh, important people and be on the side of us ordinary people.”

His ability to fight for people just as he fought for a great cause was all the greater because of his humanity, humility and downright loveliness.

We will miss him, but will never forget him and our finest tribute to him will be to remember we have a world to win, and go out and win it.

I just wish we’d had that race—I’d have been happy to lose!’

Pat Stack

‘His Greek comrades will always remember Paul Foot with affection—for the inspiration he gave to those of us who lived in London during the years of the Greek Junta, and for his brilliant contribution to the ideas that have sustained us ever since.’

SEK, Socialist Worker’s sister organisation in Greece

‘He used his method to change the world’

‘An inspiration to socialists, trade unionists and campaigners for justice everywhere.

Much missed, never forgotten.’

Mark, Ruth, Rhys and Imogen Serwotka

‘Paul didn’t invent this but he put it into practice—a way of working that goes like this: research, listen, analyse, speak, write.

We don’t have to think of these things as having gone on necessarily in that order nor that the process ever stopped, but with every project he ever embarked on—and there were always many—this was the way he did it.

In one sense, it sounds very simple, but when we think about it, there are very few who do all five.

The main news media are full of people who do one or two: there are “researchers” who research; “pundits” who analyse (supposedly!); there are presenters and speech-writers who talk, and there are some who just write whatever comes into their heads.

We should never forget that part of what made Paul great was that he did all five and he did all five with an eagerness, a delight and a fantastic wit.

But then if he was only this, he could just have been some clever bastard who put all his energies into justifying the way things are.

The point about Paul is that he applied his method to the unmasking and demolition of the way the world is run.

This meant that he exposed the lies and corruption of people in authority and in control.

He championed the causes of the people who the rulers exploit and oppress, whether as victims or as resisters or as both. And he never lost sight of how all this had to support an internationalism.

I first met him in 1967. He was a friend of a friend and loved taking the mick out of my friend’s rather serious town-planning mentality.

Since then, I saw him and met him many, many times at meetings and socially, enjoying the way he supported such people as Mordechai Vanunu, how he revelled in the history of Danton or Shelley, and when he exposed the lies and fraud of PFI.

He was inspiring and life-giving and I will carry my memories of him and what he said and wrote into many of the things I do, say and write.’

Michael Rosen

‘I was deeply upset and shocked to hear of Paul Foot’s death.

I first came across Foot around 1989, when I went to work at the Mirror as a casual sub. I was terrified of the huge newsroom and everyone in it.

Paul Foot was at the time one of their most high-profile, and no doubt best paid, journalists.

Yet not only was he an excellent investigative journalist, he was also a truly lovely person.

When I was working on his page, he’d come over and suggest cuts and changes but always asked my opinion.

“I’m not sure that makes sense,” he’d say. “What do you think?” or “What word would be better there?” This was typical of him—a hugely talented and intelligent man with the generosity of spirit to value others’ opinions.

About a year later, the Mirror subs had a stop-work meeting in the newsroom.

We were arguing for a strike and when it looked like we’d won our argument against the right wingers, I realised I had to leave.

It was actually my day off and I’d arranged to meet a friend at the opera (this was before the days of mobile phones).

Comrades told me to go because the vote was “in the bag”.

It later went down to defeat.

For years I was teased about the night we nearly stopped the Mirror being printed for the first time in a century but I’d sabotaged it by swanning off to the opera.

On one occasion Foot overheard the teasing. “Which opera was it?” he asked me. “Don Giovanni,” I said. He laughed and said, “That’s alright then. Excellent opera! We forgive you.”

I still smile to think the best revolutionary socialist there was also the one who most appreciated the finer points of Mozart.

To me that was what Foot was all about. He was the face of a socialism no one ever need fear. He’d fight against injustice, of course, but his world wouldn’t be a grey, monotone place where equality came at an unpalatable price.

His would be a society where everyone could reach their potential, a world of warmth, and colour, and art and humour.’

Maria Hoyle, Auckland

‘I am very sad to hear of Paul Foot’s death. Paul inspired those of us new to politics in 1968 with his principles, humour and non-sectarian politics.

He always stressed socialism from below while fighting all racism and injustice, and mercilessly exposed humbug, corruption and greed.’

Paul Mackney, Natfhe lecturers’ union general secretary

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