Life and Times – My friend Phil

Recent issues of this journal have contained obituaries for several longstanding members of the Socialist Party who dedicated themselves with passion and understanding to the cause of a classless, leaderless society of voluntary cooperation and free access to all goods and services – the society we call socialism. They did this not because they were convinced that socialism would be established in their lifetime (though of course they fervently hoped that would happen), but because of the benefit they themselves gained from being a socialist, from an understanding, an ability to make sense, of what was happening in the world around them.

On a personal level, however, it made me sad that we should lose such dedicated advocates of the society we are looking for and it also took me back to the loss a good many years ago of a member (I’ll call him Phil) who had been one of the founders of my own local branch of the Party well before I came into contact with socialist ideas. He was outgoing, ebullient and energetic and never tired of questioning and challenging – and always with a terrific sense of humour. He understood that life was not just a random set of happenings over which it was impossible to have any control but that, if – and hopefully when – enough workers espoused the socialist idea, we could transcend capitalism and establish a new world of what he called ‘economic equality’. This understanding gave him an inner serenity enabling him to live a better and more balanced life within the confines of the present society – capitalism. Phil used to say that even before he came into contact with the Socialist Party, his own experience of life and work had led him to the moneyless, wageless, frontierless ‘one world’ idea. And nationalism in particular he saw as a monster that set people against one another when what they needed was to be brought together.

Phil’s funeral was conducted by a Humanist celebrant, who, in her farewell speech, described him as ‘a socialist atheist’ and, among other things, outlined his life and activity in the Socialist Party and how, as far as it was possible, he sought to live out and be the embodiment of his political convictions in his own life. Above all she pointed out how he believed in the potential of human beings to do good and to create a better society, one free from the iniquities surrounding money and the nation state. This world-wide outlook, transcending race and nation, reflected his concern – always optimistic – for the whole of humanity and led the celebrant to mention a favourite book of Phil’s, Arthur C. Clarke’s Profiles of the Future, which he was fond of quoting from. This brought to my own mind some of those passages where that author took daring leaps into what humanity might be capable of and, in the words of the celebrant, ‘imagine the unimaginable’.

Finally mention was made of one of Phil’s favourite forms of activity – writing letters to newspapers and magazines to communicate his views on current matters from a socialist perspective. One of these, published in the Western Mail, was read out as being typical of the way he would encapsulate the socialist case in a few short paragraphs. The letter began by pointing out that our social and economic problems are not caused by governments, either national or otherwise, but, as it said, ‘by our present social and economic system which for want of a better word can be called “capitalism”.’ It went on to say that the state capitalism in Eastern Europe which went under the name of socialism or communism ‘was doomed from the start’, yet that the private capitalism of the West had ‘equally failed to solve the problem of poverty amid potential plenty’.

It then moved on to demolish nationalism stating the following: ‘The identity of the British is made up of a mix of descendants of Celts, Saxons, Picts, Scots, Romans, Vikings, as well as more recently Huguenots, Jews, Irish and arrivals from the old British colonies. Before and since the Industrial Revolution, people have moved all over Britain seeking work. It is effectively impossible to accurately differentiate between them on any kind of “national” basis’. Nationalism, Phil insisted, ‘divides people, while socialism means people coming together’. The letter ended with a plea to people everywhere ‘to organise to introduce a new kind of society where there will be no frontiers and where each will produce or service according to ability and take according to need’. It would be, it concluded, ‘a society where there will be free access to everything and there will be no leaders and no led’.

Which takes me back to something else the humanist celebrant said to those gathered to wish goodbye to Phil. She reminded us of something Phil knew which is relevant to us all – that death is as natural as life, that all that has life has its beginning and end, and that only Nature is permanent. But at the same time, she told us, we were right to be concerned with the death of any individual, since we are all members of one human community, and in that sense no one of us is independent or separate. At the same time – and this is my own conclusion – we all have a personal contribution to make to humanity in the way we spend our own lives, a contribution my friend Phil made in spades. He never saw socialism but his influence lives on in so much that flowed from his life and character, as testified to, for example, by his remaining in my own reflections so many years later and my continuing to be inspired by him, as by those other members of the Socialist Party who have died more recently but whose lives have been so well lived.


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