Friday, May 30, 2008

Ron Cook

A couple of weeks back I read, via the Party's email discussion list, the sad news of the death of long time SPGB member, Ron Cook.

I only met Ron three or four times down the years but on those occasions when our paths did cross, he always struck me as a warm and well rounded individual. Very much the antithesis of what the stereotypical socialist is supposed to be like.

Reprinted below is the obituary for Ron that appears in the forthcoming June issue of the Socialist Standard and, for someone like myself, helps fill in the gaps of our knowledge of Ron.

I'd long admired the articles and short stories in Ron's name that appeared in the pages of the Socialist Standard but I didn't realise until now that he sometimes used the pseudonym of 'S. Stafford' when writing for the Party press. I wish I'd known that before now because I always liked the articles penned by 'S. Stafford', and it would have been nice to be able to communicate that sentiment to him.

As the obituary further mentions, about six or seven years ago, Ron published a book entitled 'Yes - Utopia! we have the technology' and it's a measure of the man that even after being an active socialist for over fifty years he was still intent on looking forward politically rather than sitting back and reflecting on the past. I especially liked this passage from the book's introduction that I found on the net:

"This irony runs right through our lives, individually and collectively. We have produced all the ingredients for providing a comfortable, fulfilling life for every man, woman and child on earth. Instead, one half of the world starves while the other half stockpiles or destroys food or takes more and more land out of food production.

"One section of the world's population works so hard that their lives are shortened and made wretched by long hours of drudgery, stress and insecurity while the rest live in varying degrees of poverty and destitution because they are unable to find paid work or get money in any other way. If this is "the real world", as our streetwise friends tell us, then something must be seriously wrong with the engine management system because it is not providing what we need and want."

I know. It's been said or written a million times before, but it still needs to said, written or cut and pasted again and again. I nearly wrote 'especially in these current times' but such a sentiment was equally applicable two years ago when most of us thought we'd beat the system with the fistful of credit cards and the new 'fuck off' plasma screen staring back at us in the living room. Nothing like a gold chain to keep you chained to class society.

I hope he doesn't mind but I'd like to finish the post with a link to a post that Birmingham Branch member, Andy Davies, wrote about Ron. He knew Ron better than most of us, and Andy's thoughts are a nice complement to the obituary published in the Standard.

As an addition, the photo below is from an SPGB Annual Conference and dates from the late 1940s. I scanned it from the June 2004 Centenary issue of the Socialist Standard especially for the post, as it includes a very young Ron in attendance. He's the young bloke in the back row (near the centre but just to the right) wearing the light jacket, dark shirt and the white tie. From where I'm sitting, what with his light coloured hair and that hairstyle, he looks like Conan O'Brien, but maybe I've been living in the States for too long.

Whatever the case, this socialist wants to say a belated thanks to Ron for the part he played in both keeping the real idea of socialism alive, but also insisting in rooting our politics in the future rather than the past.

Ron Cook 1927-2008

Members were saddened to hear of the death of Ron Cook, of Birmingham branch, at the beginning of May. He was born in 1927 and joined the Party in 1948 while he was a student at Ruskin College from where he won entry to Cambridge University. At the end of the war he had been a teenage sailor on the battleship HMS Illustrious. He worked as a teacher and later as a tutor for the Open University.

He was an active member both at local and national level, a regular delegate to Conference until recent years. He had his own viewpoint on a number of issues. A keen student of Marxian economics - and the writings of Paul Mattick in particular -, he argued that crises under capitalism tended to get worse and worse. He was also impressed by Herbert Marcuse’s 1955 work Eros and Civilization and was inclined to be take on board more of Freud’s theories than most members. In 2001 he published a book Yes Utopia! We have the Technology in which he presented the case against capitalism and for the sort of society he would like to see established (including his own personal preferences, such as that people in socialism would live in something akin to hotels).

Besides being a speaker and debater for the Party, he wrote for the Socialist Standard (sometimes under the pseudonym of S. Stafford) and drafted pamphlets including the latest edition of Socialist Principles Explained. In 1994 he represented the Party in the elections to the European Parliament, standing in the Birmingham East constituency. Until last year he organised the annual Party summer school at Fircroft College in Birmingham. Members were expecting to meet him there this year but his friendly and encouraging presence is going to be missed from now on. A party representative spoke at his non-religious, humanist funeral where John Lennon’s song Imagine was played.

Our condolences go to his wife and family.

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