1980s >> 1980 >> no-906-february-1980

Obituary: John Higgins

With the death of Johnny Higgins on the 4 December 1979 there passed into history an important contributor to the socialist movement in Scotland. Johnny founded the Glasgow Branch in 1924 and for many years was an indefatigable lecturer, debater and tutor on Marxism. That apart, he worked hard for the formation of branches and groups in Edinburgh, Hamilton and Bo’ness, and in his job as a commercial traveller—he continued working into his late 70s—made contacts for the party from Dumfries to Wick. He was 81 when he died.

In the summer of 1929, when I had just reached 18 years of age, full of juvenile naivete with a smattering of Tressell, Jack London, Wells, Shaw and Russell, I went to Jail Square in Glasgow Green to listen to all the so-called intellectuals. There was a man with a bowler hat and umbrella who was knocking hell out of all and sundry. His language, logic and erudition entranced and overwhelmed me. That was my first encounter with Johnny Higgins. I bought my first Socialist Standard a week later and, thinking that all members had to be of the calibre of Johnny, delayed my joining the party for six years. In all my early years in the party he was my tutor, guide and exemplar.

Johnny was absolutely fearless. In late 1935 Moses Baritz, in his usual overpowering manner, addressed Collet’s Club (exclusively members and sympathisers of the Communist Party) on Opera and the Materialist Conception of History. A month later John Strachey was speaking at the same venue, peddling the nonsense of a “socialist” Russia. Johnny challenged him to debate, to the manifest fury of the audience. Johnny his back on the platform and informed the hecklers that he was addressing the organ grinder, not his monkeys!

Johnny, like me and many other members was born in one of the worst quarters of Glasgow, Plantation, and he I went to the same Catholic school, full of statues and vermin. For 25 years until my illness and his age prevented it, he traversed from North Glasgow to the south side to see me.

He was cremated in Maryhill. The Internationale and The Red Flag were played by an obliging organist and I gave a valedictory address on behalf of the party. His departure has left a gap in all our lives. Our condolences to his daughter, Mamie, and his son, Jack, who is overseas. For my part I can hardly envisage my few remaining years without him.

T A Mulheron

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