Obituary: John Sullivan

Ian Donovan writes about the committed Marxist

Readers of the Weekly Worker will be sad to hear that John Sullivan, a long-time socialist closely associated with the journal Revolutionary History, died last week in Spain, apparently of a heart attack.

Originally from Scotland, John had been active on the left for decades, at various times in the Socialist Labour League, in the libertarian-socialist grouping Solidarity, from which he led a small grouping into the International Socialists in the late 1960s and later its trade-union-centred split, the Workers League. Latterly he was a non-aligned socialist active within the broad milieu of the Labour left. Although he always regarded himself as a serious and committed Marxist and continued to engage with the serious left, he never found an organisation he was able to support wholeheartedly. A few months before his death he attended Communist University Wales, just across the channel in Cardiff from his home in Bristol.

In his later years, he wrote a considerable amount on historical and political questions relating to the Spanish working class movement, where he had personal/family connections. He was the author of a number of studies of key aspects of socialist politics in the Hispanic-dominated section of the world, including Spanish-speaking Latin America, and the national question, particularly regarding the Basque country. He was involved in translating Spanish-language material for Revolutionary History, which has published a considerable amount of previously inaccessible material, especially in relation to the Spanish Civil War.

He was also the pseudonymous author of quite a legendary piece of satire on the British left, published in a variety of formats, including as a pamphlet titled As soon as this pub closes.

This series of humorous sketches of the various tendencies is extremely witty and very sharp - not in the sense of vulgar mockery, but rather in using elements of Marxist insight to highlight the often absurd antics and contradictions that marred leftwing politics in the 1980s, when it was written (and unfortunately still do today).

John’s death is a painful loss for his family, his friends and all his comrades. A memorial meeting will be held in the new year.