Al Richardson 1941-2003

It is with great sadness that we learned of the death of Alec Stuart Richardson. Al was 62 years old when he unexpectedly died as a result of a heart attack at his home in London on the night of November 21-22. His sudden death was a political tragedy for the Marxist movement, not only in Britain but internationally. It was also a personal tragedy for those lucky enough to have known him. The words sound trite, but when applied to Al they were anything but clichés: he was a force and a presence.

Born in Yorkshire, he came from a working class family. He went to Hull University where he studied classics. He taught at Exeter University for a time and later in inner-city schools in London. He was an avid Egyptologist as well as an ardent advocate of working-class politics. As a student, he became a socialist militant and an activist in the anti-Vietnam War movement. For a time he was a member of the International Marxist Group and later the Chartists. He achieved recognition when in collaboration with Sam Bornstein he wrote two very important books on the history of Trotskyism in Britain.

However, as far as we are concerned his really monumental achievement was the co-founding (with Comrade Bornstein) of Revolutionary History magazine in 1988. With Al as its editor, Revolutionary History became indispensable. It has been devoted to excavating the history of the revolutionary communist movement around the world. And in our trips around the world we found that the magazine was not only widely read but was considered to be a vital weapon in the Marxist arsenal. For those of us who thought that we knew a great deal of the history of the revolutionary workers' struggle, each eagerly awaited issue showed us how limited that knowledge was. Far from being a sterile academic journal, Revolutionary History has been passionate, opinionated and argumentative as well as being scrupulously honest and probing -- as befits a publication devoted to the bitter struggle for a humane world. In those ways, the journal reflected the man himself.

Al was a serious scholar, but above all he was a wonderfully pugnacious fighter. His beliefs were deep; he hated capitalism, and he despised those leftists who he believed were debasing the struggle to overthrow it. With caustic wit -- often enhanced by a few pints -- he scornfully tore into the pretend-Bolsheviks who turn the richness of Marxism into the thin, pathetic, bland gruel so common today. He saw what Lenin saw: no revolutionary action without revolutionary theory.

There were fundamental differences between the LRP-COFI on the one hand and Comrade Al Richardson on the other. Neither of us denied them; in fact we enjoyed fighting over them face to face on the all-too-few occasions on which some of us were able to get together with him in a pub or at his home in London. (He was a great cook and a warm host.) We argued over his commitment to work in the Labour Party, his defense of the USSR as a degenerated workers' state and other crucial questions. But both he and we acknowledged how profitable the exchanges were. Our respect for him was enormous. We will miss him so very much. Our condolences go to his companion, Jill, and to his comrades and friends at Revolutionary History.

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