• Nick Howard: Early Days in IS


    I am most grateful to Nick Howard for these memories from the late 1950s and early 1960s, dealing especially with SRG/IS activity in the young Socialists, and with the relationship between Cliff and Kidron.

    Mike Kidron was much more active in the pre-68 Labour Party entrist phase of the IS Group.   He was an active member of North St Pancras Labour Party, was even a delegate from the ward, I can’t remember which but it was a very middle class one around Fitzroy Road where he lived.  Another delegate was Peter Plouviez, General Secretary of Equity with whom Mike was very friendly.  Plouviez was under siege from the SLL who were strong in the union, their faction recruiting two of the Redgrave family.  I don’t think Cliff was all that supportive of our entrism, except in the LPYS, which he did see as a priority.  It might have been through this contact that Cliff was persuaded to try and recruit Vanessa and I was told, (source not remembered) that they did have a meeting and neither was impressed by the other.  Gerry Healy’s charisma may have been greater than Cliff’s.

    The SLL were initially more successful in the LPYS (Labour Party Young Socialists), recruiting large numbers of bopping teenagers during the intervals of the disco dances they organised in Kentish Town.  They would then bus these to various Keep Left schools and conferences, but lost most of them quite early on.

    We did succeed in bringing in teenagers of a more serious bent, being active in the YCND.  I was a member of both, but at 26 became ineligible for the LPYS and through Kidron’s efforts was elected Youth Officer for North.St Pancras.

    I was a member of the West London Branch of the IS, with Kidron as branch secretary.  Our activities were centred on the IS journal, the CND marches, the YS and for those who worked in factories, Geoff Carlsson, whom we rarely saw and Roger Cox.  We relied on these members for reports back of union fights against the early employers’ attacks and how important it was to get the Industrial Worker into the factories.  From the engineering factory ENV where we had a factory branch which gave us good paper sales, we had a few members and contacts. The latter drifted away as they set up small workshop ventures of their own, as self-employed really, to which they gave a socialist gloss, labelling their new enterprises as  workers self-management.  There was no shortage of work for these fitters and welders and so on.

    Cliff I seem  to remember was  keen on getting the paper changed from Industrial Worker to Labour Worker and it was at a meeting at Kidron’s house that I was asked to compose a flyer to announce the switch, which I headed, ‘Get the New Labour Worker!’  It went down quite well, and impressed some of the working class youth who had joined the YCND, recruited I believe by Sophia Taylor, AJP Taylor’s youngest daughter, who later joined us.

    There  came a showdown over North St. Pancras  LPYS.  Roger Protz was the Chairman and with the entry of the YCND members our supporters were beginning to outnumber the SLL’s.   Came the AGM and we decided to take over the branch, by majority vote.  It was clear the AGM was going to be acrimonious and there were early signs that it would be rigged as the KLers began to bus in previously unknown members from other parts of London.  We, Kidron and I, decided to raise the question of eligibilty for voting at the AGM, at the General Management meeting of the adult Labour Party.  We were attacked for collaborating with the right wing.  It was decided that Bob Ballantyne, party President and an aged NUR delegate should attend the LPYS AGM which the SLL opted to hold in the house of one of its members.   I was to oversee the challenge, arguing that the new members Sophia Taylor had recruited, living in Chalk Farm, Gospel Oak and Belsize Park were more eligible to vote for  a new chairman than those brought in from afar by Protz.  Bob Ballantyne was too shocked at what was going on to make a ruling, and one of Sophia’s recruits suddenly threatened condign punishment and ordered Protz out of the chair, which shocked him even more. Roger Protz did step down.  He was outvoted.  I can’t remember who replaced him, but I think the incident must have got back to the parent Labour Party and to Transport House.  I’m almost certain I did not report all the details of how we took over North.St Pancras LPYS to the IS group.  That may have been because Mike who I did tell, warned me against it, as Cliff would probably have blown his top at the stupidity of it.  It did not come up in the parent Labour Party  GMCs.  But it may have been the precursor to the bitter struggles of Keep Left vs. Young Guard that ensued.  I’m sure that the question of support for CND became intertwined with building the LPYS in this period and it was the SLL’s support for the Worker’s Bomb and their cynical rejection of the sit-down tactics of the Committee of 100 that started the decline of Healy’s group.  Cliff was in agreement with Kidron on the slogans, ‘No Bosses No Bombs’, ‘Black the Bomb, Black the Bases’ and the ISG began to grow from these activities. Our recruits from the YCND were few but became durable members.  Mary Phillips was one.

    My activity in London ended in late 1964 when I found work in Sheffield.  Cliff became very impatient with me for failing to build a branch there until 1967.  Both the CP and the SLL were at their strongest there and despite working consistently in Heeley Labour Party I failed to pull in more than three members, mostly as a result of my work around the seamen’s strike in 1966.  When I finally got a branch together, Cliff came up to talk to us in my front room and three SLL members turned up.  Cliff was quite ready for them; all three later joined.  Kidron got a job at Hull University and I stayed closer to him than to Cliff, whose drive and ambition to build the party I could not quite match, nor at times cope with until the rent strike movement that started in Sheffield in late 1967, which pushed the membership of IS up considerably.  Previously our main activity had been defending gypsy communities and protesting the commodification of women at Miss World, both of which did attract members. The latter activity did not put us far enough ahead in the women’s movement to save us from quite a drubbing by Socialist Feminists at the famous Beaver Hall meeting of the ISG in 1970.  Some of these had come over from America.

    I think the start-up of Pluto Press in 1969 marked the beginning of the rift between Cliff and Kidron. I am sure Cliff would have disapproved of Mike’s efforts which had some success in Sheffield to recruit contacts and members as salespeople for Pluto Press.

    The role of Nina Kidron in all this remains a mystery.  Her attendance at IS editorials was to show interest, but never to intervene in any way.  On one occasion we held a meeting after she had put me to work, I was their lodger at the time, whitewashing the wall of the big room and she insisted I carried on during the meeting, which says a lot about how low was my level of input to the Editorial Board.   Mike dominated these meetings and Cliff let him.  I think, as you noted,  that he was unwilling to engage at these meetings with MacIntyre and the non-group members.

    Nina was to me a very warm and hospitable person.  She was very creative and energetic and with an impressive network of women friends, mostly from affluent backgrounds like herself, but these were in no way women who flaunted their wealth, acquired from their parental backgrounds but determined to live modest useful and independent lives.  Liz Goldfinger was the daughter of the prominent architect Erno Goldfinger, and a working furniture designer and maker who had a flat at 90 Regent’s Park Road, which was the registered address of IS for the first two issues.  In the basement of 47 Fitzroy Road, the later registered address,  lived Stella Keswick, daughter of Lord Keswick, a governor of the Bank of England.  Nina was on very good terms with both.  I think the Kidrons were tenants of the house which may have belonged to the Keswicks.  Another of Nina’s circle was Naomi Honigsbaum, English wife of an American scholar at the LSE working on the history of the NHS.  It may have been through her that the article by Logan and Paley on People’s Capitalism appeared in the journal, for the authors, from the left of the Democrats, were buddies of Frank Honigsbaum.

    Nina’s parents were orthodox Jewish and had to be appeased, to the amused agreement of both Mike and Nina, when they insisted that they go through the bizarre purification rituals of a Jewish wedding.  My observations come from the period when I was quite close to the family, being their lodger when Beeban Kidron was born and enjoying a holiday as their guest when they lived in the village of Lund, outside of Hull.  Cliff was nowhere near the family man that Mike was, who shared with Nina much of the stress of child-rearing duties.  I don’t think the two families spent a lot of time together as others do, and I think the joint photo in your book when the two sets of parents came together marks a rare event.  It is a pity that Mike is not named in the caption to the photo and it is surprising that Nina is not in it.

    Both Mike and Cliff were far too casual with their health, as you observed in the case of Cliff.  Mike was born with a heart defect that doctors did not discover until he was examined before being conscripted into the Israel Defence Force, or its predecessor.  He had spent a week living unwisely in order to fail the medical only to be told he would have failed it anyway because of the abnormality in his heart.  It seemed to not to impact on his high levels of energetic living when I knew him.  Mike’s time in Palestine must have been spent making contacts with anti-Zionists as he remained close to the ISRACA group after his move to London.  What their subsequent political disagreements were about I never found out.  His hostility to Israel did not impact on the Kidron’s friendship with Liz Goldfinger when she took a job there designing the furniture for the new Knesset, then under construction.

    It wasn’t until the 1967 June war that the ISG paid much political attention to the ‘little Jewish Ulster in the heart of Arab Nationalism,’  in the words of Sir Ronald Storrs, one of the British governors of the Palestinian ‘mandate.’


    Nick Howard

     April 2014