30 October 2003


I am sad to hear of the death of John Sullivan, whom I remember both as the author of two extraordinarily funny, accurate and inspirational 1980s satirical pamphlets on the idiocies of the far left in Britain, Go Fourth and Multiply and As Soon As This Pub Closes, published pseudonymously, and as a great authority on the Basque country, in which role he wrote for Tribune and the New Statesman. There's a notice on the Weekly Worker site a couple of weeks back (for which click here).

I'm no expert on Basque politics, but Sullivan had an extraordinary nose for the British far left. Here he is, masquerading as Chus Aguirre and Mo Klonsky, on the Militant Tendency, from As Soon As This Pub Closes, published by Full Marks Bookshop in Bristol in (I guess) 1987 or 1988:

"For many people their first contact with Militant has taken the disconcerting form of hearing an audience groan as someone with a fake Liverpool accent and curious hand movements stands up and demands the nationalisation of the country's 253 leading monopolies.

"When the political novice is then told that the strange figure is a Trotskyist, she is understandably confused, all the more so if she is familiar with any of Trotsky's works. How do hand gestures, however elaborate, transform a series of reformist demands into such a fearful revolutionary perspective?"

But there was a serious point to it all: Sullivan wanted a left that worked, though I don't think he ever found it. From Go Fourth and Multiply, published in 1983 under the byline Prunella Kaur:

"Capitalism turns everything into commodities. The sad fate of left groups which set out to overthrow capitalism has a cruel irony. They have ended up selling a commodity and searching for a market, just as other entrepreneurs sell newspapers or plastic buckets.

"Few groups started out with their present miserable commercial ambitions. They didn't want to sell a product, but make a revolution.

"How did they degenerate? The groups adapted to their environment. After 1968 this meant adapting to the concepts and lifestyles of the balding generation of 1968, who were themselves becoming strongly influenced by well-established English middle-class traditions of self-fulfilment, vegetarianism, self-help, rejection of indutrialism and the modern world.

"The left has become parasitic within this milieu."

I'm not going to argue with that.

There is a fuller obituary by the late Al Richardson in the latest What's Left?, for which click here.

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