Obituary: Wally Preston
We regret to have to announce the death of Wally Preston. Wally first came across the Party in the 1930s joining Manchester Branch after the war before drifting out at the end of 1950s and rejoining in 1979. He was a tool-maker by trade and a stalwart of the engineering union over decades. It was his union activity that led him to become involved in the early 1970s in the International Socialism group, the organisation which was eventually to become the SWP. For a period Wally was a member of its National Committee and was the editor of Advance, the IS paper for rank-and-file workers in the power industry.
It would be fair to say that Wally was something of a “workerist” and one of his typical contributions was captured by Ian Birchall in his history of IS:
“At one IS conference an industrial worker denounced a document being circulated as ‘so bad it must have been written by a sociologist’. He was cheered to the echo by the audience, a fair percentage of whom were sociology students.” ‘The History of the International Socialists’ by Ian Birchall in International Socialism 77 (first series).
The irony of this would certainly not have been lost on Wally. Eventually the ‘rank and file’ trade union militants with which Wally was associated left IS dismayed at its mixture of opportunistic student radicalism and vanguard politics. It was after a few years in the wilderness that he finally returned to the ranks of the SPGB in his native Manchester.
Andy Pitts writes:
I first met Wally some 13 years ago as a new member joining the Eccles Branch. I was immediately taken with his enthusiasm and struck by his passionate pursuit of the socialist cause. It was a time of intense branch activity and it was Wally who encouraged the members to throw themselves into the action and at times we were organising and addressing meetings not only in Eccles but also (with the help of the old Merseyside branch) in Warrington for a good period of time too.
We travelled all round the Greater Manchester area and beyond organising meetings, postering, selling literature on the streets, attending our opponents’ meetings, anywhere we could find an audience to put the case for socialism. Wally would think nothing of nipping up to Barrow or down to London in the evening to address or attend a meeting. Even at that time Wally was considerably older than the rest of us, but he was never one to sit back, and let others do the work. He involved himself energetically in all publicity work, travelling countless miles on public transport with his wife, Blanche, with his paste bucket and bundles of posters. Wally was a knowledgeable man, self-educated with a prodigious ability to recall facts to bamboozle the opposition. If things weren’t proceeding to plan you could always rely on him to set things right and eloquently explain the socialist position on whatever question was on the table.
Wally was also, to his credit, one of the founding members of South-East Manchester Branch, yet another area in which he used his talent and energy. Wally was committed to bringing the case to as wide an audience as he possibly could and was involved in a number of election campaigns using all his passion, experience and boundless energy to try to advance the socialist position. He was a walking encyclopaedia when it came to things historical with a particular area of speciality in things to do with Manchester. His tours on Marx in Manchester were an education. I for one am indebted for the enormous amount of information he imparted and felt the Party was, as he said, “the university of the working class”.
Wally lived life to the full, not one to compromise his deeply-held principles. He had not only a life-long interest in politics, and in Marxist politics especially, but he was a keen exponent of jazz music. It was difficult to go anywhere with him without meeting somebody who knew him.
Wally has no need for an epitaph as the actions of his life in encouraging the working class to see through the mist of lies that obscure the truth say all that needs to be said.