Written by John Owen
50 years on from Stone Wall riots, the untimely death of Joe Orton, and the rise of a new politics grounded in self discovery, old ideas replaced rapidly by new ones examining the social relations of men, the psyche of man or himself, was being put under the microscope. In this turbulent admixture of 1968 era revolution, student revolt, fermenting of ideas and passions inflamed ardour tight jeans tight asses and even tighter politics. Emerged Wally.
Whether absent fathers lost in the Second World War, or just “left mother holding the baby”who knows and anyway it was so common, a period without wars was upon us. Generalised want was being tackled, peace reigned welfare not warfare on the way quasi socialist politics of the Attlee Labour government.
Wally told me he started in the furniture business importing for a Jewish firm, an antiques specialist. He was 11-years-old with his curly dark hair. Many thought he was the owner’s son. Already sensing the need to help his mother scrape a living as a divorcée or widow he didn’t say but he was already man of the house.
His entry onto the docks was via a long circuitous route. He wasn’t a hairy handed son of proletarian soil, he in fact worked in a car factory Vauxhalls and did other things too.
His politics were those he suckled and absorbed from his mother a Spanish Romany whose passion for the Spanish civil war or the plight of the republican government, facing a fascist revolt in the army generals under Franco stirred people to action.
He once said that “She grabbed some mealy mouthed official by the throat, at a public meeting jumping onto the platform, it was over the non intervention policy of the British government whose mantra was our hands are tied “do something you Bxxtards. they’re throttling the revolution.”
He himself bit a horses arse during one violent demonstration causing the copper to rear up and fall off.
I ask myself what do we know of a man other than the things he left behind. We never know what goes on in their head. Writers attempt this as well as historians, biographers, novelists, playwrights etc. but do we really know them or only the part they reveal or face to us.
In an era when Gerry Healy was ascendant and the megalomaniac supremo in the SLL*, a god-like figure to some in the Trotskyist movement during a summer socialist boot camp for training the recent cadre and new recruits up to standard.
Wally unilaterally defied Healy, changed the dinner menu and caused uproar. Working in the kitchens he stood his ground to the petty tin pot dictator long before anyone else. Most of whom just left and avoided the confrontation. No not Wally, he got the old buzzard to back down.
People will ask who he was? Why was he what he was? I used to bum cigarettes from people a frippery thought I that only well heeled socialist could afford, but he used to cadge off me.
The answer though will be because he wasn’t anything special or magnificent of the first order.
But underneath that humble exterior the common man lurked a genius, a mountain of know how human warmth, generosity of spirit, boundless energy and enthusiasm for good causes, people rights, prisoners rights. They and others came first for him, never himself. he lived for others.
He himself was a vehicle, a conduit for ideas of the most extreme revolutionary, dangerous from anarchism pure ideas that literally shook the establishment -communistic doctrines that provoked unrest, agitated and stirred deep feeling in men of brotherhood and solidarity.
Binding them together with collective will of iron, to fight against the oppressive employers on the docks. His view however, was no plain communist faith, but a belief in action, in workers themselves changing things and for the rest of mankind.
The world quaked when Wally spoke simple truths, that acted more powerfully, because they literally were the truth. Greater than any dynamite or bombastic politicians wind bagging dirges. His were social bombs you could say, detonating in the minds and brains of his listeners, that eventually cleared paths to a new society that would be made of new men and women. Free of hang ups or distorted relations, hatred, meanness or callous indifference to fellow beings.
All this from a working class intellect, an autodidact **, as they were called when they want to be clever and try and label you. Very condescending about those cheeky monkeys, that have learned to type, speak eloquently, have the ability to recall facts, figures, read and can present logical arguments. Not just rant and bawl like the baying mob, that they’re used to handling. No Wally was a natural born leader who didn’t believe in leadership. Out of his anarchist convictions.
He left no one uncared for, the moment you talked to him your voice was welded to his past, present and future through him spoke several generations of revolutionary experiences but not hate or rueful regret or bitterness. No he was buoyant the Romany Spanish scouser and other strains of people were echoed in his calm wisdom. Always fresh ideas never parroted phrases or dogma.
So what did I learn struggling with the political situation of early 80s Thatcher’s Britain, run down Liverpool bombarded on all sides, drugs poured into the city like Harlem in the 60s, to cut the edge off the civil rights movement, moving towards Malcolm X’s revolutionary ideas.
We had a prick called Derek Hatton with his rolled up Echo sword pretending to fight Thatcher and outdo the miners in his flashy suits. Extremist demagogues to left and pseudo left wing council leaders to the right, ready to man the trenches and put the barricades up. We psychologically were ready for the insurrection, the balloon, all 99 red ones to go up. Mood of upheaval, stirred in our hearts impatiently.
Talking to Wally was like a bucket of cold water lobbed on your face. His ideas struck me forcibly like a thunderbolt. I was knocked off my light feet. His calm patient analysis, took on the parliamentary peacocks of municipal socialism that had had their time in the sun.
They he said were “2 minute heroes”, momentary figures, temporary, only the beginning of the process of working class organisation. The council, although allegedly conquered, was not ours, and no socialism could ever be expected to come through its doors. I violently disagreed. Weeks later, if not months, bore out his prophecy and predictions.
The miners had been driven back to work, not by starvation, as in the General Strike of 1926, but betrayal. The Red councils were all taking their bung to sell out the miners, letting them cut a deal to avoid going to the brink of disaster. Liverpool held out longest due to the pressure of the Labour movement .
There is much more to say but I have opened up a little of the debate.
So Wally let’s drink a toast, raise a glass. A luta continua!
Its goodbye old chum
hello to the future you looked towards
Adios ciao to you I say
Your deeds advice and presence
are carried by us those who soldier on
We will remember not only you
But those great principles ideas dreams and visions
That made the ordinary fantastic the impossible possible
The future is now
lets build those impossible dreams,
with the bricks laying around.
* Socialist Labour League: morphed into Workers Revolutionary Party and active from 50s to the 70s in the trade unions and Labour Party.
** John Lennon Working Class Hero b.1940 sung: hate you if you’re clever despise a fool.