Pat Longman, a revolutionary socialist for 44 years and an activist in the AWL tendency for most of 39 years, died on 2 August 2010, at the age of 59, from chronic liver disease.
Revolutionary politics and organisation are, wrote Trotsky in the Transitional Programme, “carried it on the shoulders” of one “generation” of activists to another.
With Pat’s death, we have lost one of the surviving few pairs of shoulders that have carried the programme and the organisation of the AWL tendency through from the 1960s generation to today.
Pat was born on 21 December 1950 into a working-class family in Enfield, north London. Her father was a trade union activist in the print industry, though not particularly active in politics.
Pat joined the then-lively Labour Party youth movement in 1966, and then IS (the forerunner of the SWP). She left school early and first went to a secretarial college, which in those days was training for a lifetime of working in "typing pools", armies of women hammering at typewriters eight hours a day.
She rebelled, quit, and made her way to university. While a student, she joined our tendency, in 1971.
The commitment she made at the age of 15 was for life. On finishing university and moving back to London, Pat took it for granted that she would chose a job on the basis of what was politically useful, and followed her father into the then strongly-unionised print industry, working at the Financial Times and then in typesetting firms. Technological change made her job obsolete, and in later years she had to earn a living by writing abstracts and précis.
She was our tendency's most prominent and consistent activist in the lively feminist movements of the early 1970s.
The term "veteran Trotskyist" calls up an image of a shrill-voiced harridan, finger always poised for strident polemic. That is mostly hostile caricature, but there is a grain of truth in it. To be an effective revolutionary activist, and over a long period, requires a certain brashness and the confidence, the will, and the ability to speak your mind even when in a small minority facing a hostile crowd.
Pat was as far from the hostile caricature as you can imagine: not only slight of figure, but mild-mannered, quiet, and reserved to the point of being cryptic. I worked with her politically, and often closely, over four decades, and loved her dearly, as my best friend, for many years, but never felt I knew her well.
She was a woman of unexpected strengths. Under the diffident manner there was a strip of steel.
She was a good public speaker, even to very large audiences. She was an effective activist in unions and campaigns. In the 1990s, while living in Worksop, she was involved in a workplace occupation to stop the closure of the training centre where she was then working.
It is a great pity that she did not write more, for everything she wrote was lucid and crisp. Pat was a "Marxist intellectual". It was characteristic of her that around 2000, when AWL started a drive to get our people to study Capital, Pat was the first AWL activist outside London to start a Capital study group in her area, Nottingham, and that she carried the effort through successfully despite scepticism from others in the local AWL branch.
Pat was not so good as an organiser (on that, more later), but again, it was characteristic of her that, instead of passively accepting a limitation, in 2008, already suffering from the disease that would kill her, she took on the job of organising her AWL branch, and carried it through until she was forced to withdraw by worsening health.
The way Pat joined our tendency, which was also the way I first met her, tell us a lot about her.
It was early October 1971. Pat was still three months short of her 21st birthday. We were organised as the Trotskyist Tendency inside IS (forerunner of the SWP). The IS/SWP leadership had just launched a campaign to expel us – triggered by our active dissent from their switch to a “keep Britain out” line on the European Union – which would end with us being evicted at a special IS/SWP conference in December.
Our local IS/SWP branch, in Stoke-on-Trent, met to discuss the proposed expulsion. Pat had been at her parents' home in Enfield over the summer, and came back to Stoke for the university term just in time for the meeting. I was also new in the area, so I'd never met her before.
The branch leadership was loyalist. The debate at the meeting was very one-sided: me against a string of speakers vehemently supporting the expulsion.
Pat was silent, but after the end of the meeting she agreed to talk to me. If I'd known some more background, I might have thought it wasted effort even to ask her to talk.
Because of her youth and her diffident manner, Pat had a status in the branch like that of a favoured little sister in a big family. She was not a dissident or malcontent. If she should become discontented, then the obvious place for her to go was not our tendency: her current boyfriend was a prominent and articulate member of the International Marxist Group (forerunner of today's Socialist Resistance: in those days, a lively group with some élan).
The other bits of background I didn't know were decisive. Pat was already an activist of five years' standing, relatively well-read; and she had a lucid brain and a will of steel on important issues.
We talked for two hours. Pat did not dither. She opposed the expulsion and she joined our tendency then and there.
The rest of the branch were shocked, and applied what pressure they could.
There was nothing Stalinist. The worst abuse, probably, consisted in fiddling meeting arrangements to stop a group of workers from the local Michelin factory who had recently joined IS/SWP from ever meeting Pat or me, and then, at the meeting to elect delegates to the IS/SWP conference, announcing that those members, absent from the meeting because (by design) it clashed with their shifts, were "disciplined IS members" and so must be presumed to vote with the majority.
However, revolutionary politics was more intense in 1971 than it is in 2010, and the pressure put on Pat was probably greater than anything anyone will experience in an activist-left group today. It had no effect.
In fact, the tables would be turned. Pat and I eventually made contact with the most active of the Michelin workers, Pete Smith. He would later join our tendency and be Pat's partner for some years.
The IS/SWP branch leadership soon went into opposition within IS. They would end up being expelled from IS in 1975 and joining our tendency for a period.
Two blips would follow in Pat's political trajectory. They demonstrate, I guess, that her commitment to our politics was never just a matter of inertia or accumulated routine: she checked out alternatives and then re-convinced herself.
In 1972-3, having split up with her IMG boyfriend, she joined the IMG for a brief time before rejoining us. Again, the tables would be turned: the then-leading IMG member who won her over, Tony Whelan, would within two years quit the IMG with a group of co-thinkers and, for a while, work closely with our tendency.
For a while from the end of the 1980s, Pat stepped back from organised Trotskyist activity. She had moved from London, to Sheffield and then Worksop, and had sole care of her daughter Anna, who is now herself an AWL sympathiser.
In the 1990s, living in an area where there was no AWL presence but an affable local SWP branch, she experimented very briefly with joining the SWP. But, over the long run and in basics, her commitment of 1971, made without fuss or drama, was as steely as her basic commitment of 1966.
A few other episodes tell us about Pat's character. In 1974 she was the organiser of our activity in the then-lively feminist movement. She had been elected organiser because, even at the age of 23, she was by common consent our most experienced, competent, and politically-equipped activist in the movement. But she messed up our intervention in a big conference of the National Abortion Campaign. There was no political error, just a slackness in organisation.
The other women members were angry, and, within days, voted Pat out and replaced her with a different organiser. Most people in Pat's place would have reacted by being defensive, acting aggrieved, or sulking. She remained active, loyal, cooperative, without even blinking.
Two years later our tendency held a summer school in the midst of a faction fight over orientation to the Labour Party. As with most faction fights, it was messy. Most of the speaking was done by relatively few people on either side, others keeping quiet for fear of being blasted for a slip or mis-statement.
Pat was already billed to speak at the school. When her turn came, she covered her planned topic, but also made her speech a crisp polemic for a serious orientation to the Labour Party.
On the basis of her role in that faction fight, as well as her activity in the union and in the feminist movement, Pat was elected to serve for a while on our organisation's Executive Committee, the smaller committee that has to lead the organisation day by day and week by week.
In 1982 Pat was elected as a Labour councillor in Islington. It was part of an "experiment" in seeing if our activists could use the council "platform" to good purpose. We were partly forced into the experiment because we had fused with the Thornett group, which was already committed to having its members get elected as Labour councillors, but all of us thought it worth trying.
In the end, the benefits were less than the costs both of time taken away from other activity and of the malign political effect of the council environment on our people.
People elected as councillors in left-wing Labour administrations faced hard choices and subtle pressures. Our other activist elected alongside Pat to Islington council was Alan Clinton, a Trotskyist of long standing and one of the theorists of the Thornett group. He quickly capitulated.
Our activists elected to more middle-of-the-road Labour councils kept a clear political line; but those on the most left-wing councils tended to "drift" politically, to one degree or another. All the other 50 Labour councillors elected in Islington, almost all of them left-wing activists from unions or community campaigns, "drifted". There was only one exception: Pat.
Being on the council was not a happy experience for Pat. She later thought, and rightly, that it would have been better not to stand. But her character shaped her steadfastness even in that misplaced test.
I found it even more impressive because in the early days of the left-wing Labour council, reflex oppositionism was not enough. For example, the council did a technical manoeuvre about the funding of voluntary groups. It made sense. Suspicious voluntary-group activists raised an outcry. They were influential in Pat's Labour Party ward. Without fuss, without drama, lucidly, she explained why the council should not be attacked on that point, though it should be on so many others.
Pat was very ill for the last seven months of her life, and in hospital, slipping into comas and then recovering but remaining very weak, for the last two months. She remained what she was, in politics and character, to the end.
What little I've learned about cutting to the core of political issues, and not being diverted by quibbles, qualifications, and speculations, I owe in large part to Pat.
We send our condolences to Pat's daughter Anna and to all Pat's very large range of friends. Mostly Pat had met those friends through political or union activity. She had an unusual ability to maintain friendships despite divergent political trajectories yet without blurring or discounting her own political clarity. I would guess her other friends valued her, as I did, for her trustworthiness and her constantly surprising fund of unexpected strengths and insights.
I don't suppose we will ever find anyone to replace Pat in her range of political qualities. All we can do is brace our shoulders for the heavier burden that now falls on each one of us to carry our cause forwards.