John Buckle in Birmingham
Right from the start when I first met Comrade John Buckle in Birmingham, before he became General Secretary, he impressed us all with his warmth and ability to unify everyone into and around the party. Building the Party the Revolutionary Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and its forerunner, CPEML, was his prime aim. John was the epitome of a Communist organiser. Apart from grappling with the principles of organising the basic units of the party in Birmingham, he set about establishing the Regional Committee. John was a recruiter of young activists and candidate members of the party. He brought many of us from the base to the leadership.
John wanted the Birmingham Branch to become an organised political force. So a small group of us developed our “unity in action”. John emphasised the necessity of a professionally organised party, working on the basis of the theory and practice of democratic centralism, where the minority submits to the majority and agreed decisions were carried out, where the basic units organised on the basis of meeting regularly and reporting to the centre, the Regional Committee and the Central Committee. He established other units in the Region such as in Coventry and Nottingham when the time was appropriate.
Part of this meant that I was established as Secretary of the Birmingham Branch very early on, which I recruited to a number of times as other Comrades move into different areas. I took up the post of Regional secretary in the West Midlands apart from my other Central Committee responsibilities and later in South Wales and other areas like the East Midlands. What I appreciate from John is his attitude to me as a worker, a factory worker, whose origins were in the Black Country and a coal mining family and a young electrician at the age of Twenty Three, and, first and foremost, someone who wanted to be a Communist Worker.
In the Birmingham Branch we organised as an organised political force. In such a way, concentrating responsibility, the Party was able to intervene in the politics of Birmingham and the region and influence its direction. Three of us took up responsibility for Coventry and the Indian comrades who organised in their own unit of the Party. We took part in many struggles and activities in this important city. Some of the mass actions allowed our comrades to change the course of history over racist attacks such as the axe attack against Susan Cheema.
In Birmingham, the main City within which we organised, I took up responsibility as industrial organiser, the workers’ movement and Trades Union organiser. Another Comrade, Rix Ferron, was Youth and student organiser, another Comrade was responsible for Ireland and Irish issues, another comrade Handsworth Community organiser and anti-racism, another later on was anti-war organiser.
Another unit entirely was responsible for publishing and another for Workers Weekly distribution. At one time Birmingham was the home of our publishing house. Organised on a professional basis much self sacrifice was made to carry out the work. John himself made much sacrifice, selling his own home and raising funds for the early day technology of that time. Regularising the Party organ, this came out every week, developing continually the line of the Party and its journalism, a great victory of our Party and has stood the test of time.
All units were reporting to the West Midlands Regional Committee which met every three months. John himself initially assisted us all and particularly was responsible for anti-fascism. Later John moved from the Birmingham Branch and took part in the Regional Committee.
Whenever John organised he emphasised professionalism and paying attention to detail. In a very comradely fashion he taught us how to rectify mistakes in our work, always from the standpoint of improving it. On demonstrations he made sure our banners were pristine, we marched properly and worked out slogans together, our propaganda was professionally produced, our public meetings were organised properly, chaired properly, with organised literature and were secure. He worked to provide concise, factual and interesting speeches delivered to motivate, educate and inspire those who attended. He always asked me how the speech went and often asked me to read through printed versions or notes to check them and get second opinions. He did the same with me when learning to speak publically and we learned method together.
At one time or another under John’s leadership, Birmingham hosted many important national Party events such as; important demonstrations on Ireland through Sparkhill; National conferences, Public meetings; also The Second International Sports and Cultural festival in Coventry and a number of important meetings with Comrade Hardial Bains.
John was most interested in Strategy and Tactics. He discussed with us how to work out where to aim the main blow such as where the forces of opportunism were effective in order to expose them and isolate them. Where they tried to divert us or block our work. At that time Social Democracy, Revisionism and Trotskyism were all rife in the workers’ movement preventing us and marginalising us. When the Trotskyites tried to divert the workers from fighting fascism as the Bourgeoisie tried to establish the National Front as an “electable” organised force, John, with the Party, developed the necessary theoretical positions and slogans to defeat the opportunists and then he heroically dealt with them in practice, on the streets, on the shoulders of comrades, carrying a megaphone when necessary, raising the slogans of the time that, “Nazis have no right to speak or organise”, John, there, with us, side by side, at Digbeth and other places in Birmingham and the Black Country, even getting injured and breaking his wrist in the process on one action in the North of England.
John tempered himself and us in the heat of the class struggle, which intensified in the 70’s with the growth of the strike movement amongst the workers. In the anti-fascist struggle where he led the mass march at Digbeth facing the enormous forces of the State. At Sparkhill in the struggle to re-establish the right to march in support of the Irish people against British Imperialism, where the demonstration was attacked, with John and nine of us arrested and some imprisoned.
In particular John discussed very closely with me on organising the workers. He worked to popularise Mayday in Birmingham raising the slogan, “An injury to one is an injury to all”. We tried various methods such as establishing a Trades Union Revolutionary Opposition, The Birmingham Workers’ Movement, a factory committee at the Jaguar Cars plant (formerly British Leyland). John was always keen to organise at the point of production and instigate factory cells.
The Party organised leaflets and we sat together and he showed me how to write them in the early days. Sometimes we would stay up all night to produce for the next morning shift at the factory and I would roll in to work bleary eyed with a comrade distributing at the gate.
Sometimes it was tactically necessary to deal politically with issues in response to managements and provide workers with answers before a strike meeting or important factory announcements. We produced local and factory newspapers such as “Ignition” at British Leyland, which became quite famous and John wrote many articles around strikes, pickets and factory issues, attending picket lines and talking to strikers standing around their braziers and himself turning up, in the early hours of the morning, at the car factory gates to distribute revolutionary literature in all weather conditions. In the leaflets John raised many ideological and political questions against the monopolies and the Government. Apart from this we always had Workers’ Weekly to distribute. With the party paper we established our networks of readers.
The Leninist method, strategy and tactics, being as political as possible are the key lessons I learned as a young Communist Worker from John.
Today it is the same where I am working on the island where I now live. I work using the same lessons I put in operation, with a little more experience and new understanding and it is what I impart to the workers on the Trades Council and the close workers in the organised Workers’ Opposition, which we are in the process of building.
It is these lessons that serve me best today in attempting to organise under the new conditions to build the mass communist party. Working with new slogans for the period and situation, like, “more into the island economy than is taken out”, popularising this slogan and organising programmes to achieve it. Slogans like, “restricting monopoly right”, against the Macquarie bank and other monopolies operating, and also struggling against the abandonment of our island by the Government. For us it has meant learning how to estimate and work with forces and resources and reserves and when to retreat, consolidate and sum up work, without capitulating, but preparing for the next offensives.
The first time I met John was at a meeting in Constitution Hill YMCA, where he spoke at a Public meeting. He delivered a lively talk explaining some aspects of political economy, which impressed me very much. He profusely enjoyed this subject and aspect of Marxism. Afterwards John organised study sessions around Marx’s, “Wages Price and profit” carefully explaining the relevance of the now. John always emphasised the concrete and history serving the present as well as factors about economics. He told us how to incorporate the political economic exposures into our propaganda.
It is capital centred economy versus people’s economy today too. It was the element of education, drawing lessons from practice and active participation that John drew from his internationalist experience, that, as a teacher of Physics, Sciences and Mathematics he would always be imparting and scientifically teaching the comrades and newcomers at every stage.
John was a kind, sensitive, warm and courageous person and these were the Communist qualities I saw and others saw too.
He was a strong advocate of Marxism-Leninism and the Party.
He was a fine anti-fascist and workers’ organiser; he was an exemplary anti- war organiser too, standing in the forefront of the massive anti-war demonstrations against the then Superpower Trident and SS20 missile systems, nuclear warhead production and US bases in Britain. John led the organising of the Party participation with Iranian students and influenced the Party contingent in Birmingham City Centre, on the huge demonstration against intervention against the Iranian people’s revolution raising the slogan, “Hands off Iran” in the movement.
He led the counter arguments against the war in the Malvinas.
To us John Buckle was the finest example of what a modern, contemporary Communist is and his model will probably be shared and held up, for many, in the period and revolutionary struggles to come. John was imbued with the theory and practice of revolution and the science of Party organising. John was a product of the Party and the Party, our Party (RCPBML) is a John Buckle Party.
Long live his memory and long live the Party!
Speech delivered at 35 years of RCPBML.
John Buckle was General Secretary of RCPBML at its inception in 1979 until his untimely death in 1983.