Peter Fryer, who has died aged 79, was the journalist for the Communist Party’s Daily Worker (now the Morning Star) paper who reported from Hungary during the revolutionary events of 1956.
Fryer reported events as he found them. He had covered previous Hungarian “show trials” for the paper, and after Khrushchev’s Secret Speech earlier in 1956 he exposed some of the realities of Stalin’s rule. But now he found himself confronted on the streets of Hungary with “anti-Soviet” Soviets, and the bodies of revolutionary workers shot down by authorities that claimed to be “Communist”.
Fryer’s reports of a worker’s uprising did not chime with the official Moscow line that the whole thing was a fascist counter-revolution, and the Daily Worker refused to carry his despatches.
They were collected in an indispensable volume for any socialist called Hungarian Tragedy that remains in print today.
Peter Fryer parted company with the Communist Party in 1956, as did numbers of others, but he was relatively unusual in becoming associated with the then small British Trotskyist movement. He worked with the group known as “The Club”, later the Socialist Labour League (SLL) and later still the Workers Revolutionary Party (WRP) led by Gerry Healy.
Fryer became the editor of The Newsletter a regular socialist paper with some influence in the movement. It sponsored conferences of rank and file trade unionists that were denounced by the bosses, the Labour right and the Communist Party alike.
However Healy was an authoritarian figure and when he moved to centralise control of The Newsletter and make it the official organ of the SLL in 1959, destroying its open nature and relationship with the “new left” from the 1956 events, Fryer quit as editor. He walked out of organised left-wing politics.
Fortunately there was a lot more to come.
He went on to publish a series of books based on a rigorous practice of historical research. Mrs Grundy (1963) was a review of what were known as the British Library’s “case’ books – those who because of their usually “sexual” content could only be read under the watchful eye of a librarian. Here Fryer struck a blow against the stuffy morality of post-1945 Britain just as the “swinging sixties” got into gear.
Later Fryer published the definitive history of black people in Britain, Staying Power (1984), based again on ground breaking historical research.
He was also an accomplished musician and he brought this together with his interest in history in his Rhythms of Resistance (2000).
After the WRP imploded in the wake of the 1984-5 miners strike and Healy disappeared from the political scene, Peter Fryer returned to active revolutionary politics and began to write a regular column in the Workers Press. It was here that the qualities which made him such a fine journalist were clear. He was vigorous in terms of the quality of his writing – he wrote a text book on how to write clearly – but he was also a considerable controversialist. In print he could appear a stern critic but in person he was an enthusiastic encourager of socialist writing.
Fryer had been in poor health for some years but continued to research and was able to make some contribution to events covering the 50th anniversary of 1956. He was able to attend a conference on the subject organised by the London Socialist Historians Group in February this year for example.
Peter Fryer’s politics differed from those of Socialist Worker but he remained throughout a revolutionary socialist and one who made a significant contribution to the cause of the left over the past 50 years.
Peter Fryer b 18 February 1927 d 31 October 2006
Peter Fryer’s books are available from Bookmarks, the socialist bookshop. Phone 020 7819 1848 or go to www.bookmarks.uk.com
Hungarian Tragedy is available online at www.vorhaug.net/politikk/hungarian_tragedy/index.html
Anwar Ditta, a heroic anti-racist campaigner, died last week.