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.
My first recollection of Pat was as a very young member of the group in the late 70s at a Women’s Voice conference in Birmingham. Pat was the organiser for our tendency.
The conference was an important one. The SWP, having earlier opened up Women’s Voice to include women fromother tendencies and individuals involved in union and community campaigns, were now in the process of closing it down again. In classic SWP fashion the conference was closely managed by the SWP Central Committee and not by its own organisers at all, which had been the situation pretty much throughout the whole experience. The SWP, incidentally, lost a fair few women members over that pretence of openness.
This was my first experience of working in socialist-feminist politics but it was not Pat’s. She had been one of the women involved in the Working Women’s Charter Campaign which began life in 1974, set up by the London Trades Council. The Charter had ten demands around women’s right to work, to equal pay, training opportunities, free contraception and abortion, etc. They were demands which were designed as campaigning tools for trade unions and women’s groups. Local Charter groups were set up around the country which fought nursery closures, supported strikes such as the Trico strike for equal pay in Brentford and marched in defence of abortion rights when they were under attack,
There were two conferences which were large, well-representative of trade unions, women’s groups and the revolutionary left and the debates were heated. Our tendency, in which Pat played a central part along with other women comrades at that time, fought for the charter campaign to be rank and file based, drawing together ordinary working women who were at the forefront of battles against cuts which would have the effect of driving women into the home, and demanding the right of women to a voice in the labour movement which was very male-dominated at that time.
In a method disturbingly similar to that of many left groups today, other tendencies (notably the IMG) wished to court the leaderships of unions and councils which would give a ‘respectability’ to the Charter campaign. The very same arguments can be heard now in, for example, the Tower Hamlets Anti-Cuts Campaign in which the SWP argue that to put pressure on local government is ultra-left posturing and that what we have to do is get the leaders of local government and the Labour Party on board. To criticise them would be to ostracise them.
The Working Women’s Charter campaign welcomed the Sex Discrimination Act which came into being in 1975 but rightly argued that legislation on its own would not be enough to ensure women’s equal rights in the workplace, pointing to the failure of the Equal Pay Act to close loopholes which allowed employers to keep women’s wages down.
Our tendency argued for the need for a mass-based working-class women’s organisation which could link the struggle for women’s liberation with that of the emancipation of the whole of humanity via the working-class defeat of capitalism. Our women comrades, Pat included, fought for that perspective within the WWCC. It was in that setting that they got involved in the Women’s Voice experiment and it was with that basic class position that they set up Women’s Fightback in 1979.
Women’s Fightback was set up when the Tory government got into power. It was very clear to workers and women’s organisations that this government meant to increase the attacks on living standards and on union rights, that it would put the previous Labour government attempts to solve the capitalist crisis at the expense of the working class to shame. It was also clear that working-class women would bear the brunt. The women’s movement at that time was becoming increasingly feminist at the expense of class politics and the labour movement was about to face an onslaught whilst being led largely by bureaucrats and by men.
The idea of Women’s Fightback was to build a bridge between the two so that the justified demands of the women’s movement could become part of the battle to transform the labour movement which would then be equipped to fight the battles ahead.
Unfortunately, the women’s movement continued in its radical feminist trajectory and Thatcher’s class-war government proved too strong for the embattled and ill-led unions culminating in the defeat of the magnificent one-year long strike of the miners in 1984-5. The current situation facing the working class and women workers in particular is similar to that of 1979. The Tory-Lib Dem coalition is hell-bent on making workers pay for the financial crisis through job losses, cuts in pay and privatisation of large parts of the public sector. Working-class women again will bear the brunt of the attacks.
Pat’s steadfast view of the need for a rank and file, working class-based women’s movement and the need to transform the labour movement is just as relevant now as it was then.
“How would it be if salvation were ready to our hand, and could without great labour be found, that it should be by almost all men neglected? But all things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.” (Spinoza)
For her entire adult life, our friend and comrade Pat was a revolutionary socialist. For nearly all of those thirty nine years, she was a member of one particular socialist tendency which is known today as the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.
For Pat and the comrades in the AWL, the “salvation” of which Spinoza wrote is not of the mysterious, ‘granted-from-above’ variety. “Salvation” for us will be the result of human efforts alone. The fight for socialism was and remains a very “great labour” indeed.
Pat became a socialist in the 1960s. Where others of her generation found their own form of salvation in one way or another, Pat remained committed to the idea that our class – the working class – could through its own efforts re-make the world for the better.
Those who commit themselves for even a time to the struggles that in part shaped Pat’s life are rare enough. That Pat remained active and committed for four decades and more makes her very rare indeed. That she remained in the same organisation makes her rarer still.
I first met Pat eight years ago. It was in a pub behind the International Community Centre in Nottingham. Amongst a host of hot-headed, brash, over-confident and beer-fuelled men (me included) sat a short, thin, very quiet woman drinking orange juice or something similar. I had no idea who she was, apart from the fact that she was a member of the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty.
Before we’d descended on the pub, those gathered had been debating what attitude socialists should take to the European Union. I’d spoken on behalf of the Socialist Workers Party — of which I was a member at the time — against a member of the AWL. The discussion got rather heated and became even more heated in the pub.
Little did I know that more than thirty years before this confrontation a twenty year old Pat — already five years in the socialist movement — joined what is now the Alliance for Workers’ Liberty after a similar debate.
If I’d been much less of a hot-head and actually listened to what Pat was saying to me, I’d have spent a good deal of energy doing something much more useful with my time.
For those of us lucky enough to have worked alongside Pat — talking and discussing ideas, planning and learning — it was always clear that in her years in the movement she accumulated a wealth of experience and knowledge. Whether we were discussing the origins and problems of the feminist movement, the occupation of Iraq, why there is no mass working-class party in the United States, the miners’ strike, rank and file organisation or the minutiae of New Labour’s plans to privatise the NHS by stealth, the clarity of Pat’s thinking and the depth of her knowledge never failed.
This knowledge stemmed not just from reading very many books — which Pat did — but from a lifetime of experience in our movement. Pat lived through and participated in the major debates which formed the anti-Stalinist left in the early 1970s. She was active in and played a role in forming a socialist presence in the women’s movement of that same decade. Pat was an elected councillor in Islington — as a member of Socialist Organiser inside the Labour Party — in the local government battles against the Tories and conciliators in the early 1980s and as a trade union militant in the major battles in the print industry later that decade.
Later — as an activist in Unison, the National Union of Journalists, anti-privatisation campaigns and the formation of a working class campaign against the BNP in Nottinghamshire — Pat continued to make an important contribution.
Pat’s style, personality and temperament meant that when discussing people and ideas we disagreed with — whether from the left or right — the most ‘forthright’ condemnation that passed her lips was always “they just don’t seem to get it!” This phrase was always accompanied by a frown and a shake of the head.
Pat “got it”. She understood this world as most people don’t; she fought and struggled to re-make it. Along the way, she displayed an almost super-human ability to make and keep friends.
Pat’s friends will remember her politics, but like me they will remember other things: the half-finished chocolate cake always lurking in the kitchen, her love of cats, the piles of crime fiction, and the Bruce Spingsteen tape in that little red car, her kindness and understanding.
We will remember Pat for things big and small: combined, they made her into the person we loved, cared for and respected. Pat was a socialist from the age of fifteen and a working class revolutionary for over forty years — this is not a small thing. Pat was physically small but her life-long commitment to her class and its liberation was the labour of a huge personality.
We will miss her greatly.