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Obituary: Richard Montague

Obituary: Richard Montague

It is with great sadness that we have to announce the recent death of our comrade Richard Montague in Belfast only a few days before his 89th birthday.

Richard was political from a very young age. As a boy he found himself in the Republican Movement, and, at the age of 16, he also found himself in jail – or as he always referred to it, ‘Chokey’ – for a short spell. He soon became disillusioned with nationalism. When he looked at the problems that affected the vast majority of the working class in every country, he realised that nationalism, and concern for artificial borders between people, held no solutions and he quickly turned against it. One of his favourite stories was how, when he left the Republican Movement, he was proud that he’d taken 4 or 5 people out of the IRA with him.

Richard came across the SPGB when he was working in London. He vividly recalled sometime later how, after reading some of the Party’s literature on the big questions of the day, his first thought was ‘where have these people been hiding?’

In finding the Socialist Party, Richard had found his political home for the rest of his life, and the Socialist Party had found one of its most stalwart, most articulate, most enthusiastic, most liked, most respected and most admired members. During the coming decades the sheer ability of the man was revealed: writing, speaking, debating, organising, letters to newspapers, electioneering, answering correspondence – even printing Party literature! Richard bought and trained himself to run an old duplicator, turning out leaflets and makeshift pamphlets in the days when that was no small feat. When he wasn’t physically active, he was talking socialism. With him, the personal was indeed always the political and vice versa.

When he was a young man, Richard kept company with some local Trotskyists – though he was never a member of any of their groups. The question of socialism was bound up at the time with the question of what existed in Russia. Richard knew instinctively that he was opposed to what existed in Russia, for he naturally detested anything based on coercion, or leadership or hero worship. And besides, he knew his Marx well enough not to be taken in by bogus Leninist claims.

Richard didn’t hide his views on religion. At the age of 13 he was able to embarrass his would-be teachers, the Christian Brothers, by explaining back to them the absurdity of their own nonsense. .

Richard soon became a contributor to the Socialist Standard. Writing was in his blood, he loved to write and he was certainly one of the best writers the Socialist Standard ever had in my opinion – and we have had some great writers over the years. His articles on Irish history have been praised by many. A history of the Party published in 1975 by a non-member rightly states that anyone wanting to get an understanding of what was called ‘The Irish Question’ would do well to read Richard’s articles. The Party’s stock pamphlet on Ireland entitled Ireland, Past, Present and Future was written by Richard and his novel, Frank Faces of the Dead, was a story about the troubles. Published at the height of the conflict, nothing sums up Richard’s hatred for violence and division within the working class better than the dedication he wrote for his book. It was dedicated to all the victims of the troubles – including the British soldier, IRA member, protestant paramilitary, RUC member and UDR member.

Not only was Richard a fantastic writer – and he wrote great poetry and short stories just as he wrote articles and pamphlets and books – but he was an avid reader too. His knowledge of literature was extensive and would easily put any professor of the subject to shame. He effortlessly connected numerous writers to politics and his own socialist views. Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, Marx, Shelley, Keats, Fitzgerald’s translation of Omar Khayyam, to name but a few - Richard had them all at hand and could quote them all.

His knowledge of Shelley’s poetry in particular was second to none and he could quote huge swathes of it, for he loved Shelley. The Mask of Anarchy, a poem Shelley wrote in protest against state violence, was a particular favourite and Richard knew it by heart. And he didn’t just recite it. Indeed, he sometimes claimed that Shelley was the true originator of many ideas accredited to Karl Marx.

Socialists don’t follow leaders, and we don’t give much credence to what’s called the great man theory of history. But we do recognise the worth of a person as an individual. Richard was one of the worthiest of individuals.

NIGEL McCULLOUGH