Mike Kyriazopoulos, a Workers’ Liberty supporter based in New Zealand/Aotearoa and active in Fightback, died on 18 January 2014 after a long battle with Motor Neurone Disease. This is a letter he wrote to comrades in April 2013.
Early this year I was diagnosed with Motor Neurone Disease. It appears as though the “progress” of the disease (oddly Stalinist terminology) is quite rapid. So I wanted to thank all of you who know me for your political guidance, solidarity, friendship and love over the years.
I first came across the AWL at York University Labour Club. But I realised the group was serious when I joined an occupation because Janine Booth was stood on the balcony of the Central Hall with a megaphone, urging students to join the protest against grant cuts.
When I graduated, I got a job on the Post, in line with the group’s policy on “colonisation”, or “inside organising”. Those days were among the most vivid memories of my political life, so forgive me if I reminisce a little. The seven years I spent in the industry taught me heaps of lessons in the sometimes bitter realities of the class struggle. I was thrust in the deep end, finding myself a rep within a few months, because the previous guy had been sacked, and no one else wanted to do the job.
Pretty soon I attracted the attention of management. First they tried to get me to become a governor, then they tried to sack me — twice. Both disciplinaries were related to organising wildcat action. The first time, they stuffed up the process, and I got off scot-free. The next time I copped a final warning and two day’s suspension.
During a week-long wildcat strike involving many London offices, I remember being on a picket line of one. One does not make a virtue or a habit of such a thing, but sometimes it is a necessity. Most of our office scabbed because they were scared of the strike being sold out (which it eventually was). Only a handful of us struck, and one morning I was the only one who turned up for the picket line duty. Some of the strikebreakers implored me to come back to work, because they were convinced I would be sacked, in which case, they assured me, they would go on strike to get me reinstated! I was not sacked.
I was fortunate to be in a left-wing union branch. I joined the branch executive as political officer, where I worked with other socialists to secure the branch’s support for Ken Livingstone and the Socialist Alliance in the London elections of 2000.
The decision was robustly debated at a meeting of rank and file reps. The branch secretary voiced a prophetic word of caution about not knowing how long this alliance would last. Our branch paid a heavy price, having all its funds frozen by an unelected bureaucrat in head office, but they didn’t back down. To me, it highlighted how the Socialist Alliance had begun to build something in the labour movement, only to have that opportunity criminally squandered by the key players within the Alliance.
The greatest success we had at Finsbury Park Delivery Office was winning extra jobs, night duties, following an unofficial overtime ban. Management always intended to claw the duties back eventually, but we managed to hold off the revisions for a good few years.
In retrospect, I was hampered by being isolated in a sub delivery office. I never made much progress towards establishing a rank and file movement. But then, such a movement usually requires a great upsurge in militancy to establish it, so there’s an element of Catch-22.
In 2007, I emigrated to New Zealand, essentially for personal reasons. Comrades, I’m sorry if it felt like I turned my back on you. I never turned my back on the struggle.
I joined the Workers’ Party (now Fightback) because that was the most open and democratic group going. Unfortunately, it was controlled by a clique whose political background was soft Maoist and kitsch Trotskyist. They encouraged a culture of avoiding tricky historical questions. I was remiss in going with the flow, taking the line of least resistance for a while.
Perhaps subconsciously I thought that the insights of Third Camp socialism on the corrosive effects of Stalinism were not so relevant in the 21st century. It was only when the leadership clique abruptly walked out of the party, and retired to the blogosphere, that I did some rethinking.
After some discussions with Martin Thomas I published a number of internal bulletins on Stalinism, the fighting propaganda group, Maori liberation, Third Camp socialism and Maoism. I hope that I have had a positive effect on the trajectory of the group, which now explicitly defines itself as anti-Stalinist.
I do believe the AWL has something precious in its fragmented Third Camp tradition. Not in the sense of a socialist “holy Grail”, or a “historico-philosophical master key”, but as a method of training revolutionaries to think critically.
I don’t need to tell any of you what’s wrong with Michel Pablo. He did, however, have the best motto: “The meaning of life is life itself, to live as fully as you can.”
Comrades, most of you will be blessed with decades of life ahead of you. Live them to the fullest making a better world. Aroha nui (all my love).
From Mike’s comrades
Everyone in and around our organisation who knew Mike respected his dedication and commitment to the struggle for socialism, as well as his warm good humour.
A series of tributes AWL comrades contributed for a tribute meeting for Mike in April 2013 show how well he was regarded by his comrades. Saying it was a “pleasure and privilege to know him”, Janine Booth, who recruited Mike to AWL in York in the early 1990s, wrote that he was “friendly, warm, thoughtful, and funny […] not aggressive or judgemental, and impossible to dislike”.
Paul Hampton wrote: “Many comrades will know that he was a militant postal worker, a member of the CWU when it took regular, often unofficial industrial action against Royal Mail management. Early morning picket duty during these disputes was always an education — but we went armed with our bulletins and papers containing Mike’s insights into what was going on. Mike was able to do this work so successfully because he was serious about socialist ideas. He was not one for grandstanding at conferences, or showing off with rhetorical flourishes. But he listened intensely to discussions in the group and always contributed thoughtfully.”
Mark Sandell recalls “many fond memories of nights out with Mike; our revolution will include dancing.” Other memories of Mike also recall nightclubs, drum ‘n’ bass, hip-hop, late nights, and early mornings!
Maria Exall, former member of the Communication Workers’ Union Executive, praised Mike’s role in that union: “In his active involvement with the CWU, I know Mike argued for and practised principled trade unionism, promoted working-class self organisation and argued for a socialist society.”
And from Martin D: “Lovingly supported by his wife Jo they faced awful circumstances with incredible strength and love. Mike was an exemplary Marxist; thoughtful and principled but also kind and generous of spirit. He lived his politics, and his humour, courage and commitment will be sorely missed by his many comrades and friends as well as by Jo and his family.”
These are just a small selection, but give some indication of how Mike was seen by his comrades as someone of particular dedication and commitment to ideas and struggle, and of immense personal warmth.
A comrade, in the truest sense of the word.