Staying Red

Why I remain a socialist. By Norman Harding

Sad News

As one of Norman Harding’s comrades, I am sorry to inform his readership that he passed away a few hours ago (9 December 2013).

About 6 weeks ago he was admitted to St James’ Hospital in Leeds with a serious chest infection. Norman’s stay there became a nightmare as they were unable to control his pain properly. His underlying condition was pulmonary fibrosis that possibly resulted from his time working as a cutter in the Leeds clothing industry half a century ago. He went home 2 weeks back, but it soon became clear that he and his wife Pauline could not cope, despite some provision of home care and oxygen installed in their house. His admission to a rehabilitation unit still didn’t relieve his pain and lack of rest, so he was taken to St Gemma’s palliative care unit last Thursday. I spoke with him on Friday and he had managed to sleep and was lucid and free of pain, though very frail. Others have told me that he continued to be pain free over the weekend, but sedatives made it increasingly difficult for him to converse. At the end his family was with him.

Anyone who has visited Staying Red and has read any part of his book may soon have felt that they knew him despite never having met him: honest, humorous, generous, kindly and always principled. In life that is exactly how Norman was: someone who truly deserved to be called ‘comrade’

Norman had a wide circle of comrades and contacts, so please pass on the sad news as you see fit. Some may wish to write tributes and reminiscences, and one possibility is that they are collated here as well as being passed on to his family. Contributions could be posted as Comments on this post.

A great loss to our movement, and personally for many individuals.

Steve Drury

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17 thoughts on “Sad News

  1. Nick Peck on said:

    RIP Norman – one of the old guard who were supplanted by Healy

  2. huddsludds on said:

    I had the privilege of meeting Norman last year when he came to a E Leeds History Society talk I did on the Luddites. His clear class conscious contribution to the discussion was inspiring – especially his story of his mother as the lass who stopped the looms in a dispute at her mill. From our discussion afterwards I got the impresson that Norman had moved into a more libertarian Marxist direction and had learned lessons from the messy collapse of the WRP. I hope his website is maintained so that people have access to his work. My condolences to his loved ones.

  3. This tribute came from Phil Sandford via another comrade

    Vale Norman Harding

    Norman Harding was a lifelong socialist and fighter for the working class.

    His book Staying Red is a powerful story of the impact of the Second World War on a young man and how he transformed this into decades of service to the workers’ movement.

    As comfortable talking about rugby league as about Marxism, Norman’s modesty belied his standing as a great representative of the British working class.

    I had the privilege of sharing a flat with Norman in London from 1980-83 and I saw him working incredibly long hours to ensure the distribution of Newsline, giving no thought to the impact this was having on his health.

    A man of enormous dedication, Norman was one of a small group of comrades who played a key role in the breakup of Healyism, one of the highlights of his political life. It was a struggle that would cost him dearly in personal terms.

    Many of us remember his trip to Australia in 1986 as he explained the lessons of the political degeneration of the Workers Revolutionary Party, and his later visit with his wife, Pauline.

    Norman leaves a rich legacy of struggle for principle and for a better world and my thoughts are with his wife and family.

    Phil Sandford
    10 December 2013

  4. Roy Battersby on said:

    The word “comrade” was invented to describe Norman. He was steadfast, enduring, courageous, encouraging, constant, loyal, trustworthy, kind, thoughtful, decent, a lifelong revolutionary socialist. Always warm, sometimes scathingly funny, he made profound sacrifices for many years to serve the Trotskyism many of us thought was the way to that socialism. But if we gave full time years, he gave decades. If we came and went, he did the whole journey. And after giving everything to build it, with others he also waged the principled and difficult fight against the corruption of the WRP. When the implosion finally happened he fought on, then with the support of Pauline, to understand it, to extract everything he could from it, and to go on furthering the historical interests of his class.

    He began as a worker in the harshly exploitative clothing industry, became a leading trade unionist, gave up his personal life to the most significant attempt in Britain in the second half of the twentieth century to build a revolutionary party. And when that failed he never stopped finding other ways to be an active socialist.

    Always a fine friend to me and my family, in good and dark days, he never forgot that the struggle for socialism is for the flowering of mankind. It was an honour to know you Norm.

  5. Steve Drury on said:

    This tribute came from Janos Borovi in France via another posting:

    I had the chance to meet Norman and discuss with him about his wonderful book and his fight among the poor and oppressed.He was one of the very few who was able to give life what was most positive in the balance sheet of Trotskyism.

    Janos (Paris)

  6. Steve Drury on said:

    This reminiscence came from Trevor Jarvis in Hull.

    A couple of things came to mind when I heard that Norman Harding had died.

    My first ‘encounter’ with Norman was seeing him on film.
    This was a film made in the early 60’s (?) at about the time of the Clothing Worker’s Strike and the struggles of the Leeds Tenants. Norman was speaking at a rally.

    I’m sorry to say that for me, and possibly others, at that time he was regarded as someone who ‘just got on with things’, he was always around doing the ‘practical tasks’.
    But then his book Staying Red painted the whole picture.

    The other thing coming to mind follows on from what Janos wrote.
    (I can’t remember if this is in the book or something Norman told me later.)
    He was doing a paper sale on a London estate. While on this sale he met some tenants who were faced with problems about rent arrears and lack of repairs to the houses. Being able to call on his experiences with the Leeds Tenants, he sat down with a group of them and showed how they could work to form a tenant’s association and formulate demands on the Local Council etc. He said he would go back to work with them.
    When he got back to the centre after the sale, he was disciplined by Sheila Torrance for being a ‘middle-class reformist’ because he hadn’t recruited them to the party.
    Just one incident that speaks volumes.

    Trevor Jarvis

  7. I was saddened to hear of Norman’s death. He was someone of great humanity and moral integrity who I looked up to.

    20 years after the disintegration of the WRP I reconnected with him and found out more about his role in the Leeds labour movement from his autobiography than I ever found out while a member. It was a history suppressed by his party-dictated role at the Clapham printshop, and then as a driver. He maintained his sense of humour and optimism through many difficult times, which helped sustain others who worked with him. He devoted his life to the ideal of a better society, which didn’t begin and end with the WRP.

    As Roy Battersby eloquently says, he was the personification of comradeship. In some WRP leaders’ mouths, this word became everything from a term of contempt to one of abuse. But he stood head and shoulders above them in honesty and courage.

    He will be greatly missed.

    TomPainesGhost,
    a.k.a. Martin Beveridge

  8. Steve Drury on said:

    An extract from Charlie Pottins’s on-line tribute at http://randompottins.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/true-to-end-norman-harding.html:

    When I came to London in 1976 to work for News Line, I knew a bit of Norman’s past activity and from reading old back issues of the Newsletter that he had written news and articles for it, before the emphasis started being put on “professional” journalists. Norman was kept busy behind the scenes with jobs like despatch and driving, and seemed to work all hours, so even though we lived in the same flat and worked in the same centre (before I was ‘exiled’ to the Midlands) I can’t say I got to know him well.

    But one evening I was able to join Norman and my News Line colleague Paul Jennings for a drink in the Plough, and while we were there a bunch of women came into the pub who were the Friends of Fulham football team that practised on the Common. One of them came over to speak to Norman, and thanked him for some music tapes which she said had “worked like a treat”. It seemed that this couple whom Norman had got to know had a troubled, autistic child. Norman had put together a selection of classical tapes which soothed and relaxed their youngster, making the family’s life much easier. I don’t think he ever put a brass plate on his door as a consultant, but a few years ago when a Facebook friend was asking whether anybody knew anything about music and autism I put her in touch with Norman.

    Trivial as this anecdote may seem (I don’t think Norman even thought to mention it) it remained in my memory because it was so atypical of the ‘hard’ attitude the party seemed to encourage, and it may give a clue to the significant role Norman Harding was to play in the downfall of tyrant Gerry Healy. Working so close to the WRP leadership, yet in the background, Norman saw and heard how people were treated, and he was often the one older comrade to whom young members confided their troubles and got a hearing. What’s more, he remained in touch with his working class roots and did not sever “ordinary” people and human problems from his socialist aspirations. That meant his loyalty and dedication was to the class, and to socialism, and not to dogma or a leader.

    Having learned how far the corruption of the Healy regime went, Norman Harding joined those who drove Healy out, having uncovered, among other things, his systematic abuse over the years of no less than 26. female comrades. If you want to know more, and how such things could happen, you have got to read Norman’s book.

    Having helped and consolidated that victory, Norman finally did something to improve his own life, by returning to some of his old links in Leeds, and at 58, marrying and acquiring a ready-made family. Before long he was once again leading a tenants movement, and writing about his thoughts and memories. ,

    Incidentally, something else I remember about Norman besides his record collection was the book I found on his shelf, a well-worn out of print .’Memoirs of a Bolshevik’ by Osip Piatnitsky, who like Norman once had the task of organising the despatch of the party paper, Lenin’s clandestine Iskra. Indeed, Piatnitsky had previously worked in the clothing industry, and devised garments into which the papers could be stitched, to be worn by the party’s women couriers.

    Already it depicted a different kind of Bolshevism to the version we were sold, and it is still out of print I believe, its author having been dispatched by Stalin’s murder machine.I don’t know whether it helped inspire Norman, but now his work should help inspire and educate a new generation.

  9. Graeme Atkinson on said:

    I never really got to know Norman and spoke with him on perhaps just two or three times, occasions on which I found him a very comradely and friendly person.

    That said, Norman’s contribution to grasping the history of our movement was truly inestimable. The publication of Staying Red enabled all of us to understand more clearly what we had experienced in the whirlwind – some might say “hell-hole” – of the SLL/WRP and showed plainly how the most promising revolutionary organisation since the early CPGB was wrecked by the Stalinoid practices of its leader.

    Norman’s book demonstrated inspiringly the need to retain the Marxist kernel but reject the Healyite chaff. It can only assist us in a period when a socialist future for humankind is more vital than ever.

    I send my deepest condolences to Norman’s family. I will not be able to attend his funeral but he and his family will be very much in my thoughts.

  10. Jim Cook on said:

    My wife Anna joined me at Cyril Smith’s funeral and while there Norman came up to us said hello and, “Is this your good lady?”. This was the first, and last, time she was addressed as such but Norman went on to talk to her at length and, in a crowd of strangers, made her feel welcome. This was typical of Norman – ever kind, ever friendly and ever the gentleman in the best sense of the word.
    At ‘the centre’ in Clapham and later in Runcorn, when Norman was driving, you could always rely on him for a cheerful greeting and know that, whatever anyone else did, he was not going to jump down your throat for some trivial, and probably unknown, ‘thought crime’.
    Healy used to say, “No friends, only comrades”, but in Norman you knew you had both and he had unstintingly fought, as Roy says, over decades for his fellow human beings.
    A loveable man, much missed – and he wrote a great book too.
    Our condolences to his family.
    Jim and Anna

  11. Steve Drury on said:

    As well as losing a friend and a comrade, who never failed to cheer me up or set me thinking, I am not alone in having lost access to a living encyclopaedia. That is no exaggeration as Norman had an amazing memory; not for bare facts but for people, what they said, when and why, and also for events in which he participated. He made things come alive. I came to realise that his book Staying Red covered only a fraction of his experiences and I learned something new every time we had a conversation. Sadly, my memory is by no means as good as his and I wish that I had kept notes or got Norman to carry a pocket recorder and use it.

    I got to know Norman long after the collapse of the WRP, though I had always wondered who was the man standing quietly with a smile at meetings during the 70’s. What a pity I didn’t ask him then why he was so cheerful!

    I will miss Norman a lot – we made each other laugh and he certainly enriched my life and my outlook as a communist and a human being.

    Staying Red is a legacy that will endure thanks to Simon Pirani’s setting up this website where anyone can get it for free. Not a day goes by without it being visited, at first by people in Britain, Australia and the USA, but over the last two years expanding to individuals from 60 countries on every continent.

    We can all be proud to have known and worked with Norman.

    Steve Drury

  12. John Manix on said:

    I worked with Norman at the centre (print shop) and got to know him a little. I was drafted in to do print finishing and guard duty: he worked there 24/7. He was a very kind, gentle man exceedingly loyal to a group/party that he helped to build from its infancy. He gave everything it was possible to give.

    He was used and abused by the machine created by GH and others. Later on he fought them on a principled stand: what were the leaders of the WRP doing in allowing Healy to abuse scores of people through violent acts, sexual abuse and political fraud?
    Like a few others he stood up and was counted.

    Norman you a great fighter!

  13. Steve Drury on said:

    More tributes to Norman from a variety of sources:

    From Paul and Pam Jennings:

    Sad days in the same week …. Norman and Mandela! I don’t think that sounds pretentious. Each played their roles in their own ways at different levels and with different impacts, but you can’t deny the impact of people who stick to their principles no matter what.

    A tearful night in which we will toast our comrades with red wine.

    From Roy and Cecily Drew:

    Vale Norman.

    I briefly knew Norman from a couple’ve trips I made to England in the early 80’s. It was Norman that met us at the airport. And I remember it was Norman who drove us up the M1 on a cold and snowy night to Derbyshire stopping at a Fortes to do something or other with the paper, either passing bails of them over to be delivered or picking them to be taken to London from Runcorn.

    So it was great to meet up with him again when he and Pauline came to Sydney. In fact they stayed with Cecily and I at our place in Manly and Norman was struck by the fact that at night he could hear the ocean.
    We were also pleased to be able to visit them at their home in Micklefield. When we arrived they were watching cricket on TV. It was probably Australia versus England. I like to think it was anyway.

    After showing us the paintings he was doing in his shed Norman took us to lunch at the local. He told us, amongst other things, of how he had got local youth to help in his garden and get a bit’ve ownership rather than chuck litter over his fence as they passed. It seemed to have paid off judging by the look of his garden.

    He told of his involvement in a campaign to improve local services for Seniors, and against wind farms coming to the area. We never did find out why he disapproved of the wind farms .Possibly because they loom so large on the landscape and are imposed without any community consultation.

    I like to think it was also a way to have a go at local Tories.

    Anyway the conversation with him is now quiet. But Norman will be pleased to know the fight goes on with all it’s ebbs and flows just like it did for him all his life.

    Please give Pauline our condolences and we wish her the very best from Manly NSW.

    Norman was a great bloke.
    Roy and Cecily Drew

    From Helen Carney (Voysey):

    So sorry to hear of Norman’s death, he was a wonderful man and will be fondly remembered here in Australia.

    My condolences to Pauline and the family.

    From Derek Mortimer:

    I just want to add some pleasant memories of Norman you might like to pass on to family and friends.

    On his last visit to Australia he stayed with me and my wife Theresa in Sydney. He told me that he would love to visit North Sydney Pool where Doris Story won two gold medals in the 1938 British Empire Games. The pool, one of the city’s oldest, lies in the the shadow of the city’s famous bridge, and just across the Harbour from where I live. I made a few phone calls and the pool manager said, bring him along we’d love to meet him.

    To Norman’s surprise, and mine, when we got there he was greeted by the Mayor of North Sydney, the manager of the swimming complex, the media rep for the council and a number of other people. Norman was provided with a slap-up lunch and treated like a celebrity.

    On another occasion I took him to see a game of rugby league, and Norman, being Norman, was within minutes talking to anyone and everyone around him – including the lovely young women cheer leaders

    I think both Norman and Pauline enjoyed their stay here and Norman’s chance to meet old comrades.

    Derek Mortimer

    From Jim Smith:

    I am also sorry that I will not be able to attend the funeral. I only knew Norman in his later years, but I got to know him well enough to know he was a very genuine and sincere person, and that he remained committed to socialism. His book Staying Red is full of real insight. This is a very sad loss.

  14. Ruth Gale on said:

    It’s hard to believe Norman has gone. He has been a steadfast, cheerful presence all my life. Even when he was being driven into the ground with work, apparently expected to go without sleep, he was calm and friendly to everyone. I still expect him to phone up one evening, to have a 2 hour chat about life.
    It was really good to meet his family and so many old friends at the funeral. Norman had a tough life and I’m so pleased that the last couple of decades were spent with such a lovely bunch of people around him.
    Rest in peace comrade. You have faced the last fight.

  15. Norman did not rest on his laurels in the 90’s
    He became a founder member of the Micklefield Tenants and Residents Association
    Norman and Pauline brought common sense and good humor to our meetings
    An inspiring Chairman

  16. I have been given his book as a birthday present and just found this website.

    I can remember Norman from the 60’s when he was a regular visitor at our house. As Ruth Gale notes he was an incredibly friendly man. I particularly remember him being enormously helpful after the death of my father, John Walls, in 1968.

  17. Steve Drury on said:

    Dear Colin

    I’m sure you will greatly enjoy Staying Red, there’s probably very few autobiographies that come close in honesty. The blog continues to get around 100 hits per week, from all points of the compass. I miss Norman a lot, and so do others who knew him up to the end – he had a way of keeping you going and certainly keeping you cheerful like he was.

    Best regards

    Steve Drury

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