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John Charlton


Ray Challinor 1929–2011

An appreciation of the life of a veteran socialist and Marxist historian

(February 2011)

From Socialist Worker, No. 2238, 12 February 2011.
Copied with thanks from the Socialist Worker Website.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Ray Challinor, who died last week, was one of the people at the founding meeting of the Socialist Review Group – the forerunner of the SWP – in October 1950.

Ray was born in the Potteries, North Staffordshire. His teacher parents were active in the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and Ray was involved in politics from his earliest years. He developed the “habit of politics”, an addiction which was to stay with him all his life.

When National Service beckoned after the Second World War, he registered as a conscientious objector. He chose to work on the land, where he “created havoc everywhere I went”.

He joined the ILP, aligning with its far left tendency. He attended its 1945 annual conference where he met T. Dan Smith, a young Trotskyist activist from Tyneside. They remained friends and Ray tended towards believing Smith’s claim that he was a victim of an establishment conspiracy when he was convicted of corruption in 1973.

The deviousness of the state was a constant interest of Ray’s. He pursued it in remote historical periods and in contemporary political activity in the Potteries, Wigan and for the last 40 years of his life in the north east of England.

He arrived at the theory of state capitalism independently of Tony Cliff and was a vital member of the first Socialist Review group, editing and contributing to the little monthly paper. Like other members he was active in the Labour Party, which the group used as a propaganda platform for revolutionary politics.

He was briefly a councillor in Newcastle under Lyme and even more briefly, a parliamentary candidate. His nomination was too much for T&G union leaders and for some of the Potteries’ party establishment, such as the right wing Labour MP John Golding. Ray had a physical fight with him in public.

Ray could be verbally belligerent. He was certainly courageous.

A good example of this was his usual visits to the picket line at Courtaulds in Preston in 1965 where he was invited on to the strike committee. The dispute involved racism and the possibility of a black trade union breakaway. Ray and the International Socialists – which the Socialist Review Group had become – were mentioned in the national media. He had an influence in what was possibly the first public demonstration of the group’s hardline stance against racism.

His courage was also highlighted when he played a leading part in a campaign in the 1970s after a Geordie nightclub bouncer, Liddle Towers, died while in police custody. The death was followed by a shameful cover-up. Ray was in the news for attacking the Northumbria chief constable. He received death threats.

The other public part of his busy life was historical research and writing.

He was a founder of the Society for the Study of Labour History and for 30 years a lynchpin in the North East Labour History Society.

He had a great nose for obscure events and figures in labour history such as his biography, John S. Clarke: Parliamentarian, Poet, Lion-Tamer (1977), and often unconventional perspectives. His criticism of Vladimir Lenin’s advice to the infant British Communist Party, in The Origins of British Bolshevism (1977), annoyed some leading SWP members. He certainly made readers think and argue.

Probably his best book was the biography of the Chartist lawyer, W.P. Roberts, in 1990.

He was always a part of the IS-SWP circle of members and supporters. At times he engaged in feuds with the party in which he would fearlessly argue his corner.

When we changed from a group to a party during the bitter class struggles of the 1970s, he gave up his membership, objecting to the manner of its transformation. He continued to subscribe to the party press, and attended many meetings including the annual Marxism event where he regularly spoke.

His revolutionary outlook was never in doubt and on Tyneside he was part of every militant political campaign. He was always very good company, generous with his money, his time and his formidable library accumulated over 60 years.

His friendship with many comrades was shared by his wife of 60 years, Mabel. All who struggled for socialism with him will remember his comradeship with affection.

Our condolences go out to Mabel, his son Russell, his granddaughter Clare and his sister Joan.

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