Terry Liddle, who died of a stroke on 18 November aged 64, will be best known to readers of Solidarity for his activity in the Socialist Alliance and its successor groups in the early 2000s.
This was however only part of a rich life in revolutionary politics stretching back over 50 years in South East London. He joined the Young Communist League in the early 60s, was briefly in Healy’s Socialist Labour League, and then became a libertarian Marxist, open to and with links to anarchism, remaining active on the left until his death despite a long period of poor health.
From the mid 60s onwards, I don’t think there were any major shifts in Terry’s basic political standpoint, though he certainly was influenced by the rise of green politics and radical environmentalism. His politics found a home in a wide array of political organisations.
When I first met him in 1968, he had been in various anarchist groups and was involved in one of several attempts to take over the rump of the Independent Labour Party, which was rich in assets and short of members — I remember being enlisted to attend an ILP meeting at the Keir Hardie Hall in Plaistow. That fizzled out, and in the 70s Terry was involved in a number of small libertarian and Council Communist groups. He eventually had phases in the Labour Party — writing in 1991, “After a decade as an intransigent ultra-left sectarian, joining the Labour Party wasn’t easy. Staying in it is harder still” — then the Greens, the Socialist Alliance and the small groupings that tried to keep it alive after the SWP and SP had walked out in order to wreck it.
In recent years, he was mainly involved in secularist activities with the South East London Humanists and in founding the Freethought History Research Group (FHRG), for whom he wrote a number of pamphlets.
Despite his self-description, Terry was decidedly non-sectarian, always willing to discuss with those on the left even if he disagreed with them and seeking out opportunities to participate in what he saw as promising realignments. (His judgement in this was not always good, and he once ended up being drawn into an ostensibly anarchist group that was a front for fascists.) He attended a number of AWL summer schools, arguing the libertarian line on Kronstadt at one debate about the Bolsheviks and the early years of the Russian Revolution.
Particularly in the 1968 period when I met him, Terry also launched projects that had better intentions than organisation.
One that particularly sticks in the memory was a demo in Croydon against the National Front where about 30 of us marched outnumbered by the NF in cars. Terry had to be restrained from laying into them with a banner pole, which would have been suicidal in the circumstances. The poor turnout was probably due to the demo coinciding with the famous Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park, an event that must have passed Terry by! I also recall a small demo to the French Embassy in pouring rain in solidarity with the “events” of May-June ’68.
Other obituarists have noted that Terry, with his advocacy of republicanism and secularism (and a liking for beer), would not have been out of place in one of the pre-1914 socialist organisations, most fittingly Morris’ Socialist League with its links to both Marxism and anarchism. Indeed one of his forefathers had been a member of the SDF.
The last time I remember discussing with Terry was at an AWL school where I had given a talk on the pioneer Marxist “proletarian philosopher” Joseph Dietzgen. Terry was keen to talk about Fred Casey, the little known British “Dietzgenite” who had been active in the Labour Colleges movement. He was concerned to rescue the socialist and secularist fighters of the past from the “condescension of posterity” and also to write the history of radicalism and the left as well as poetry.
Terry was a person who was difficult to dislike. He had a great love of life, which was tested by poor health and increasing disability over recent years, and a keen sense of humour. While he never found an organisation for any time that suited his temperament and views, he remained committed to revolutionary socialist politics, making a distinct and individual contribution to the movement.
His view of life shines through in some verses from his own poem “Death Song” (available in a collection from the FHRG via email@example.com):
“Comrades when I’m dead and gone, no more than dust on the breeze
I beg you grant me one last wish, comrades do this for me please
Raise a glass of the blood red wine or a mug of the barley brew
Bid farewell to your comrade one of the foolish few
Who thought we could rearrange the world, dreamed we could make all things new
Kiss goodbye to my lovers, whose bodies I warmed with lust
My body once warm it is no more, naught but a whiff of dust
Remember how we fought the fight, lost and fought again
How we bound our bloody wounds, how we endured the pain
For we knew that like the phoenix our cause would rise again
The banners are tattered and faded, a paler shade of red
The devices writ upon them now can be hardly read
But we know every one of the words of hope, words of struggle and fight
A dream of a new and brighter dawn after the long dark night
A world reborn in liberty, a world we have put to right.”