Educationalist and socialist campaigner
Mike Davis remembers a thoughtful long-time friend
Long time Chartist Editorial Board member and activist Dave Lister has died from cancer after a short illness. Dave was born in 1949 of communist Jewish parents of Eastern European origin. His father fought in the 1930s Battle of Cable Street against the Mosleyite fascists. Dave grew up in Edgeware and went to Hendon Country Grammar school and from there to Cambridge University where he switched from studying law to history. On an anti-Vietnam War demonstration in Grosvenor Square in 1968 he was arrested for allegedly throwing pepper at police horses.
Committed to ending the ravages and inequalities of capitalism Dave was enthused by socialist politics from an early age joining the Labour Party aged 14 and at university the International Socialism group (later Socialist Workers Party).
A critical, non-dogmatic socialist he was attracted by the openness of the organisation and attachment to grass roots trade union work. However, its drift out of the Labour Party, a class reductionism or workerism, a failure to understand “reformism” and the continuing attachment of millions to Labour led him to be ever more sceptical of the IS approach. It was as part of a questioning opposition group that l met him in 1972. We wrote a pamphlet together on the “Lessons of the Building Workers Strike”. Shortly after this various opposition groups were lumped together by the IS leadership and expelled as part of an alleged “Right Opposition”.
We met again a few years later. Dave had joined the Labour Party in Brent. Myself and Don Flynn and others had joined Labour in Hackney and also the fledgling Chartist group. Like us and the majority of Chartist Dave was becoming more critical of orthodox Trotskyism and Leninism. Another of those expelled from IS had been Tony Polan. His ground breaking study “Lenin and the end of Politics” had been influential in Dave’s political evolution. In fact, the last article he wrote in his 40 years of writing for Chartist was a revisiting of Polan’s ideas in his piece on Lenin’s flawed legacy.
After leaving university Dave became a history teacher. He particularly enjoyed his time at Quinton Kynaston secondary school in Camden, where he was pleased to teach Suggs, later the lead singer of Madness and the son of Dave Davis of the Kinks. He also had a lengthy period teaching in Newham. He became active in the National Union of Teachers and a union rep, and in the Socialist Teacher’s Alliance. He wrote regularly for its magazine and for Chartist on the politics of education and schooling. He was passionate about comprehensive education and schools staying part of the local authority family, seeing academies and free schools as undermining these democratic and more cost effective forms of organisation.
Throughout this period he was active in Brent Labour Party becoming chair of the CLP and later also chair of the Local Government Committee. He unsuccessfully sought to become a councillor but was a tireless campaigner in elections door knocking and leafleting. On retirement from teaching he became a school governor clerk, working mainly in Southwark, until a few months before his death.
He had also studied for a Masters history degree at Birkbeck College. Out of this he developed a particular knowledge of the nationalities question in the Soviet Union. Most recently this led him to becoming active in the Ukraine Solidarity Campaign working for a Russian withdrawal. He had seen the writing on the wall with Putin’s involvement in backing the brutal Assad regime in Syria and wrote about the severe limitations of the later Stop the War campaign.
Throughout his political life Dave had been committed to Palestinian rights and statehood and critical of the Israeli state. He was internationalist to the core, but not dogmatic and always willing to listen to alternative views. Many a Friday lunchtime or evening would be spent imbibing a few pints of his favourite bitter and mulling over the state of the world and Labour’s shifting positions. He was enthused by Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader in 2015 but his support was nuanced. As on so many questions Dave saw the shades of grey and with his forensic mind would challenge and interrogate orthodox left positions and views. Dave was a kind, thoughtful and gently spoken man. Latterly he enjoyed time spent with his grandchildren. He remained a committed and active democratic socialist to the end.
Dave was also a life-time season ticket holder at Spurs. Football rivalled politics and often time for meetings had to be planned around the next fixture. One of his grandsons became a junior member. Dave is survived by his wife Gillian whom he met in 1985, his two daughters, Kat and Rachel and four grandchildren.