• 2004 : PAUL FOOT


    The following letter was sent to the London Review of Books in response to the obituary of Paul Foot by Mary-Kay Wilmers in the issue of 19 August 2004 – http://www.lrb.co.uk/v26/n16/mary-kay-wilmers/short-cuts  . This otherwise generous piece concluded with the sentence  “He even included a standard Socialist Worker harangue in every piece he sent us, for the sheer pleasure of watching us take it out.”  My letter was not published.

    The Editor,

    London Review of Books,

    Dear Editor,

    What a shame that Mary-Kay Wilmers had to spoil an affectionate and moving obituary to Paul Foot (LRB, 19 August) by a cheap sneer about Socialist Worker  in the final sentence!

    I knew Paul for over forty years, and worked closely with him on Labour Worker (predecessor of Socialist Worker) in the 1960s. Paul was one of the best young journalists of his generation, with many avenues open to him. Yet he chose to devote much time and effort to a scruffy paper that sold less than two thousand copies – entirely without financial reward.

    I don’t doubt the enthusiasm put into his LRB articles but I can say with certainty that if Paul had had to choose between writing for the  LRB or Socialist Worker he would not have hesitated one instant. The LRB has many talented contributors, and some who are very principled and courageous. But Socialist Worker brings together people who, however small their numbers and meagre their resources, are committed not just to criticising the world but to doing something about it.

    Paul’s revolutionary socialist politics were not an optional extra to be excised by a supercilious editor. They were at the core of whatever he wrote. Paul loved books, loved all expressions of culture that showed what humanity at its best was capable of. But he would undoubtedly have agreed with William Morris when he wrote: ‘… popular art has no chance of a healthy life, or, indeed, of a life at all, till we are on the way to fill up this terrible gulf between riches and poverty. Doubtless many things will go to filling it up, and if art must be one of those things, let it go.’

    Yours sincerely,

    Ian Birchall