Ken Coates

Ken CoatesI once wrote this about Ken Coates:

The pacifist tradition that Baker and Kurlansky inherit is not an ignoble tradition. In the UK, its home was, for many decades, the Independent Labour Party. I have a lot of respect for the ILP and its heritage. Ken Coates is the contemporary figure who probably most represents the political tradition of the ILP. Over the years I’ve been influenced considerably by Ken Coates, his humanist socialism, his advocacy for workers’ control, his sense of industrial democracy as an extension of the republican liberties fought for by the likes of Tom Paine. However, in his little magazine, The Spokesman, I have long noted an unpleasant drift towards sloppy conspirationist thought, anti-American hysteria, a “New World Order” mentality. Habibi at Harry’s Place nails this trend, and shows how it spills over into very unpleasant antisemitic territory.

I still hold to that opinion, and was saddened to read about his death on the 27 June. Ken Coates was one of the most thoughtful of British socialists, and one of the most activist of its theorists. His work on workers’ control is indispensable. This came out of his own proletarian experiences, out of an engagement with the experiments in self-management in Tito’s Yugoslavia (the cause of his 1948 break with Stalinism) and then out of Michael Raptis’ development of the Titoist model within the context of Trotskyism.

At the same time, I think that the dark side of Pabloism – its excessive enthusiasm for a Second Campist kind of national self-determination, which led it into supporting some authoritarian “anti-imperialist” regimes – also coloured his thinking. This element came to the fore in his later years, when geopolitics rather than class struggle became his central concern at The Spokesman. (See, for instance, this rabbit’s eye view of his use of Christian antisemitism in his late rhetoric.)

'The dirty war in Mr Wilson. Or how he stopped worrying about Vietnam and learned to love the dollar', 1966Among the groups Coates passed through, after the Communist Party, were the Revolutionary Socialist League, the International Group, forerunner of the International Marxist Group, the the Institute for Workers’ Control, the International Socialists (he was one of the journal editors in the 1960s, its greatest period, although I am not sure if he was ever a member), the Labour Party (several times, including a fair few expulsions), the Independent Labour Network and the  North Derbyshire Socialist Alliance.

Please read Andrew Coates’ eulogy to this great man. Andrew has other links too: Guardian Obituary Here – letters about it here, Independent Here, Blog Three Score Years and Ten Here, Five Leaves Blog Here. Also: Socialist Unity.

Below the fold, some treasures from the archive: (more…)

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