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Obituary: Peter Newell

Our comrade Peter Newell died suddenly on 16th February. He was 90 years old.

Like many others of his generation, Peter first came across the Party at Speakers’ Corner in 1946. At the time, he was a member of the Communist Party, although he left that early the following year. After a period of extensive reading – Peter never did anything half-heartedly or without forethought – he joined our Party as a member of Fulham branch in 1952. He wrote many articles for the Standard during the 1950s, under his own name and later as PEN – his entirely apt initials.

Originally a draughtsman, in the early ‘60s he sought a change of career and became an employee of the Post Office, where he was active in the Union of Post Office Workers. Peter felt his union activities conflicted with his membership of the Party and this, together with personal and family problems, led to his resignation in 1964.

Edgar Hardcastle (‘Hardy’), also a member of our Party, was the head of the research department of the UPW. Hardy suggested Peter write for The Post, the union’s journal. Hardy and Norman Stagg, editor of The Post, fed Peter with material for his column ‘Bellman’s Roundabout’. Much of this came from the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions, which, it was later revealed, turned out to be a CIA front group. Peter was approached by the ICFTU and attended several international conferences in the early ‘60s. He clearly knew something was amiss for his association lasted only a few years, however it sparked a lifelong interest in espionage which culminated in his last book America’s Secret Island, which was published last year. 

In the 1970s, Peter moved to Colchester and became a Drainage Technician for Colchester Borough Council, keeping records of sewers. As for many socialists, paid employment was merely an incidental part of his life, however he was a conscientious worker, always willing to do his bit.

At this time, Peter was writing extensively for Freedom and other radical journals.  He was co-author of Freedom Press’s Fighting the Revolution (1972) and sole author of Zapata of Mexico (1979). His chief association was with the short-lived Organisation of Revolutionary Anarchists, whose journal was Libertarian Struggle. This was a Platformist group, inspired by the Ukrainian revolutionary Nestor Makhno. Peter wrote ORA’s Aims and Principles, which drew on our own Declaration of Principles.

Peter rejoined Central branch in 1992, being a founder member of Colchester branch, now the East Anglian Regional branch.

He will be remembered for his informative articles in the Socialist Standard. He specialised in foreign affairs and was particularly knowledgeable on the history of our companion parties, writing a history of the Socialist Party of Canada, The Impossibilists, in 2008. His last article appeared in last month’s issue.

Peter was a quiet and unassuming man. He was profoundly afflicted by tinnitus from an early age, which led to his exemption from military service. He was uncomfortable at meetings, being unable to hear what was going on. Despite his lack of foreign languages, he travelled extensively, particularly enjoying his trips to Mexico, where he bravely visited remote locations associated with Zapata. He enjoyed music and was a well-known member of the local jazz club. Additional interests included philately – he wrote a guide to the stamps of Alderney and had a fine collection of handmade Tibetan stamps – and family history, his Symond Newell and Kett’s Rebellion (2007) dealing with his relative’s connection with the peasant revolt of 1549.

Our commiserations are extended to Dominique, his long term companion.

KAZ