BOB CROW’S shocking early death on 11 March 2014 at the young age of 52 deprives RMT members of the most inspirational and effective leader in the trade union movement at a time when workers across the world face economic attacks and imperialist aggression to an extent not seen since the 1930s.
Marx Memorial Library mourned the loss of a firm friend, long standing member and supporter of the Library at our General Committee meeting in March.
Bob Crow’s family, friends and RMT comrades have been deluged by messages expressing solidarity, condolence and almost inconsolable sadness from workers’ representatives from Cuba to Iraq and all points in-between.
This was no media-concocted, emotional frenzy. Bob’s brilliance as a media performer, whether as a panellist on BBC’s ‘Question Time’ or his mercurial press conferences before each TUC Conference (the only events that hardened Conference hacks wouldn’t miss), was based on an instinctive, razor-sharp intellect and a direct honesty that got straight to the point.
He had no airs and graces. Not a trace of pomposity attached to him, and as anyone who had the privilege of hearing him address large meetings of trade unionists could testify his powers of communication were exceptional. I have not heard any trade union or political leader since Arthur Scargill at the peak of his powers, who could speak to an audience with the power of Bob Crow. On occasions I have seen him reduce audiences to tears of anger and uproarious laughter both at the same time.
Last year in September Bob was honoured to address SIPTU’s biennial conference in the Round Room of Dublin’s Mansion House, on the centenary of the Dublin Lockout, the only British trade union leader to be invited.
Paying tribute to the men and women of the 1913 Lockout, Bob Crow apologised for the failure of British trade union leaders to support them at the time. However he paid tribute to the “rank and file members” of the National Union of Railwaymen who raised funds for Dublin’s workers and organised waves of unofficial sympathy strikes across the north of England and South Wales carrying out the call that Jim Larkin made to them.
Bob Crow had a deep respect for the history of struggle of the Irish working class and his great hero was James Connolly whose collected works had pride of place in his office.
In December last year Bob was pleased to see the publication of MML’s Desmond Greaves archive as ‘James Connolly and the Reconquest of Ireland’ by Dr John Callow, co-sponsored by RMT, GMB and SIPTU, which is a magnificent addition to the literature on Connolly and permits a great insight into the development of his thought following the Lockout.
The vast expression of grief and loss at his early death by class conscious workers and politically progressive people around the world are an acknowledgement that we have lost a true comrade of rare talent and power.
One of Bob’s greatest friends, John Samuelson, President of the Transport Workers’ Union Local 100, which organises New York public transport workers wrote:
“Bob’s death is a crushing blow to Britain’s and the world’s labor movements. He was without question the most important and profound voice for industrial unionism and the working class in the world.” This is a measured assessment.
The RMT he leaves behind is so much stronger than the one he took over in 2002 when we elected him our General Secretary. Although Bob Crow’s legacy will be felt around the world wherever workers organise, it finds its concrete expression in the pride, combativity and solidarity of his RMT members in the transport and offshore energy industries, which will go on from strength to strength.
As Bob told audiences on many occasions when embarking on struggles against job losses or pay cuts: “They say that fear is contagious. But there is something more contagious than fear. And I’ll tell you what that is. It’s courage!”
WELCOME TO this inaugural edition of ‘theory & struggle’. Our new publication continues the Marx Memorial Library and Workers’ School journal formerly published as ‘Praxis’. It is our aim to develop a Yearbook serving both as a contribution to writings on Marx’s ideas and to provide reviews and commentary on contemporary marxist writings and on studies of the development of the working class movement world-wide.
The contents of this edition reflect our determination to uphold the Library’s founding principles for ‘advancement of education, knowledge and learning by the provision of a library of books, periodicals and manuscripts relating to all aspects of the science of Marxism, the history of Socialism and the working class movement’.
The founding of Marx Memorial Library at a conference in Conway Hall on 11 March 1933 was described by Robin Page-Arnot as ‘a fitting memorial - a centre of working class education - to the greatest thinker and revolutionist of all time in the city where he lived and worked for the greater part of his adult life’. It took place in circumstances as inauspicious as any up until recent times.
1933 saw Hitler’s appointment as chancellor in Germany, first on 30 January in a coalition government, then with plenary powers from 24 March when the Centre Party and Conservatives in the Reichstag voted for an Enabling Act to rule without parliamentary consent or constitutional limitation. Book-burnings and attacks on so-called ‘degenerate’ art, design and culture meant all progressive ideas, especially those of Marx, were under threat.
The response of the socialist and trade union movement in Britain to imperialist crisis and fascist reaction was to reffirm and deepen their committment to educate the working class movement in the ideas of Karl Marx.
The resolution carried unanimously at the founding conference was moved by WE Baldwin of the National Union of Railwaymen declaring ‘the best memorial to Marx in London would be a Marxist Library, workers’ school and educational centre’.
The work of the Library and Workers’ School in its early years concentrated not only on amassing books by and about Marx, Engels and Lenin, then hard to come by in English translation, but also commenced an ambitious series of classes and public lectures aiming to provide high quality education in marxist ideas on history, philosophy, sociology and art that was above all accessible to working people.
Tom Mann, a towering figure of the labour movement and close friend of Eleanor Marx and Friedrich Engels gave the inaugural public lecture, “The Life of Marx” on 5 November 1933.
But, as well as famous speakers, accessibility meant delivering classes that workers could attend after their working day. MML tutors were sent out to evening classes all over Britain, following the pattern established by the Plebs League and National Council of Labour Colleges 20 years earlier.
Today’s Marx Memorial Library and Workers’ School stands fully in the tradition established by our founders.
During 2013-14 we have hosted regular and continuing public classes on the classic works of marxism, political economy for trade unionists, marxism and science as well as piloting online learning, which will be developed as a distance learning course in the coming months.
This inaugural edition of our journal reflects the highly successful public lectures MML hosted over recent months.
John Douglas, President of the Irish Confederation of Trade Unions delivered the annual Marx graveside oration on 16 March, reproduced here. We are very grateful to John for also addressing our public meeting to celebrate publication of ‘James Connolly and the Reconquest of Ireland’ by Dr. John Callow, which utilises previously unpublished papers from MML’s Desmond Greaves archive to show the critical development of Connolly’s thought on imperialism and the national question between the Dublin Lockout and his murder in April 1916.
Costas Lapatvitsas, a prolific teacher, writer and journalist on contemporary capitalist crisis, delivered our annual Marx Memorial Lecture in February this year, reproduced below. Our main hall was full to overflowing with members of the public keen to hear and discuss the implications of Professor Lapatvitsas’ proposition that we are living through a crisis of financialisation, understood as ‘an epochal transformation of capitalism’.
Eric Rahim has contributed a companion piece emphasising the relevance of Marx’s writings to an understanding of capitalist globalisation.
Christine Lindey delivered two stimulating lectures on revolutionary art and the Bolsheviks, demonstrating the broad audience that exists for marxist theories of art criticism and art history. Her exposition of the use of art as a transformative popular technique is also reproduced below.
Andrew Murray writes on the crisis confronting the socialist and trade union movement in Britain in the aftermath of global financial crisis and in the midst of austerity policies dictated by ‘the holy trinity of the world bourgeouisie – the IMF, the World Bank and the European Union’.
Why are such difficult questions important today when many people in Britain are facing real and immediate hardships from government cuts and falling real wages
MML’s founders in the 1930s understood precisely that only the working class held the possibility of transforming their society, defeating fascism and building a socialist society in Britain and internationally. In order for the working class to fight for its interests, workers must first of all perceive those interests clearly and understand the origins and circumstances of their exploitation under capitalism.
We hope that you find ‘theory & struggle’ a useful contribution to the great struggle of the liberation of humanity