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Keeping the fire of hope burning

By Bill Roberts | July 23, 2004 | Page 11

PAUL FOOT, one of Britain's finest investigative journalists and a revolutionary socialist whose speeches and books inspired tens of thousands, died of a heart attack on July 19 at the age of 66. Paul was a founding member of the Socialist Workers Party in Britain and was its most optimistic and inspiring voice.

He was born into an upper-class family, and several relatives have been members of parliament. Yet despite this background, he could electrify working-class audiences. His wit and incisive analysis of the stupidity and incompetence of the British ruling class, delivered in an unpretentious way, gave confidence to workers that they could rule themselves.

Paul died at Stansted Airport on his way to a family vacation in Ireland. He had recovered from a thoracic aortic aneurysm in 1999, which left him unconscious and near death for several weeks. But he rallied and returned to political activity as a writer, a speaker and political candidate--running most recently for mayor of the London borough of Hackney as a revolutionary socialist.

Paul was a well-known columnist in Britain. For many years, he had a full page to himself in the mass circulation Daily Mirror. He had a 10-year run as columnist for the Guardian and wrote regularly for many other publications, including the London Review of Books.

Paul was also a cofounder of Private Eye, a muckraking magazine known for sticking its finger in the eye of the British establishment. Paul was best known for his investigative work around cases of injustice, uncovering the truth behind some of the British justice system's most outrageous frame-ups. He was also a passionate reader of the revolutionary poet Shelley and wrote two books about him.

Paul became a socialist in Glasgow while training as a reporter on the Daily Record. There, he joined a small group of revolutionary socialists in the small Socialist Review Group and became active in the rough-and-tumble politics of the "Red Clyde." The Review group went on to found the International Socialists, and later the Socialist Workers Party.

Paul was a writer and columnist for the SWP's Socialist Worker for many years. Paul was honored for his journalism several times. In 1972 and 1989, he was named Journalist of the Year by the What the Papers Say Awards. He won the same title from the British Press Awards in 1980, and was honored as Journalist of the Decade in 2000 by the What the Papers Say Awards.

Paul was ever-optimistic as he sifted through capitalism's injustices, using every ounce of his talents to right some wrong. As Clive Anderson said in presenting Paul with the Journalist of the Decade award in 2000, "Our final award goes to a journalist who has stuck closely to his principles and, to the chagrin of the authorities, has been proven right time and time again."

This optimism could be felt even more keenly when Paul spoke out for socialism. There is no space large enough to say what this often-shy man meant to me and tens of thousands of others who listened to his lectures with awe and inspiration.

Every summer, at the annual Marxism conference in London, his meetings were filled to overflowing. When I attended my first Paul Foot meeting, I found myself on the stage, behind the speaker, because there was no other place to sit. Even with his back to me, Paul's words lifted me up--especially when he concluded with Shelley's words "Rise like lions, we are many, they are few."

Whether he was running for office as a socialist, taking on the British state, championing a strike, or singing the praises of Shelley's poetry, Paul Foot kept the flame of hope--so central to the socialist vision--burning.

He had much more to contribute, and we will miss him dearly. Our thoughts are with his family--especially his partner Clare, their 10-year-old daughter Kate, and his other children Monica, Tom, John and Matt.

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