A born teacher
Cameron Richards: May 12 1968 - July 2 2008. Mark Fischer remembers him
Just before starting this final farewell to our comrade Cameron Richards, I read out to people working in the party office a few of the tributes to him we have reprinted in this issue. “Cameron will want a right of reply next week,” one warned.
Unfortunately, comrades, not this time - but the comment captured something true about the man. Throughout a political career that began when, as a history and politics student in Birmingham University in the late 1980s, he joined the Socialist Workers Party, our comrade had a quietly determined approach, a refusal to let what he perceived as ambiguities in the ideas of the organisation he belonged to go unexplored.
At times, this might have seemed like a slightly perverse character tick of Cameron as an individual - a frivolous tendency to disagree just for the sake of it, some presumed. On the contrary, he would attempt to come at every question from new and critical angles precisely because he took politics so seriously, because he understood that the nuances of a political position had to be teased out because they mattered in the real world.
There were plenty of times I strongly disagreed with him in party debates. But I never doubted his motivation. I never believed that he was adopting a pose rather than a position, although there were times in the heat of exchanges that - to my shame - I implied as much.
That refusal to simply ‘go with the flow’, to self-censor for the sake of a quiet life, led comrade Richards to quickly fall foul of the bureaucratic regime in the SWP - concretely over that sect’s mangling of ‘democratic centralism’, but with disagreements over its mushy liberalism on the pivotal question of Ireland looming large in the background. Cameron was a staunch defender of the republican movement.
He jumped before he was pushed and next found an outlet for his political energies in Scargill’s Socialist Labour Party, becoming the campaign manager for Arthur’s 1997 general election electoral challenge in Newport East. It all ended badly for Scargill, with a disappointing vote and some to-the-point observations from Cameron thrown in instead of the soothing words the man’s bruised monster ego demanded. Legend has Scargill storming out of a Newport curry house on a Saturday night calling over his shoulder to Cameron, “I thought you were a friend!”
Circumstantial evidence lends credence to the incident. First, it took place in an Indian restaurant - somewhere you would normally anticipate finding Cam of a Saturday night. Second, the comrade would happily boast to school students at the King Henry VIII school in Abergavenny where he taught that he had seriously “pissed Scargill off when I called him a Stalinist”. In contrast to so many on today’s left, comrade Richards was not waiting - awestruck - for the man on the white horse, whether that saviour took the form of Tony Cliff, Arthur Scargill or George Galloway.
Scargill’s concept of friendship - a relationship in which no-one ever gives you a tongue-lashing when you need it - was never Cameron’s. After he joined the CPGB through the process of converging perspectives in the Socialist Alliance, the comrade was blunt when he felt bluntness was needed, nor did he spare personal feelings in debate when he thought sharpness was called for. Yet he formed many friendships with comrades in and around our ranks and - as the selection of moving tributes we print here graphically shows - was respected and loved by so many people whose lives he touched and changed for the better.
Including myself. I am proud to have counted Cameron Richards as a friend of mine. I will treasure drunken nights in his house, listening to Joy Division turned up to 11 and watching grainy videos of the halcyon days of Welsh rugby. In wonderfully kind and gentle ways, he was very supportive to me when I faced the usual woes in my private life. I, like so many other comrades, pupils and friends, benefited from this man’s profound generosity.
But let’s not be too gushy here. The comrade could be as wicked as the rest of us in left politics and was not above a thoroughly enjoyable bout of Schadenfreude when opposing political trends came a cropper. As an organisation, we will now have to forego his measured and knowledgeable assessment of the SWP-Respect debacle. But I will also miss the fit of giggles he and I would have shared when we contemplated the exquisite indignity of the plight of the SWP’s Lindsey German, John Rees et al. “Fuck ’em,” he would have said - in a comradely way, of course.
His generosity - perhaps the defining feature of this fine man - was most clearly revealed in his everyday work. The man was a born teacher. He made subjects come alive for his students and endeavoured to teach them to think, not simply pass exams. And he clearly succeeded with many. The greatest tribute that can be paid to this difficult, contradictory man is the number of young comrades who today define themselves as Marxists and communists who can be traced back to a room - ominously numbered 101 - in an ordinary school, in a run-of-the-mill Welsh borders town called Abergavenny, where the quite remarkable Mr Cameron Richards once taught.
So he is still here with us in that political sense and he always will be. But our brave, eccentric, generous and awkward comrade - he is gone. It will take time until we all fully absorb that terrible reality.
Thus, as I reread this article before passing it on to the editorial team, I noted that I had repeatedly made a subconscious error throughout. It has just been one of the saddest duties of my political life to go through it, paragraph by paragraph, changing all references to Cameron Richards from the present to the past tense.
We send our deepest condolences to Cameron’s family - especially his mother, Diane - to his friends, comrades and to all pupils at King Henry VIII school.
We won’t forget him
Below are some of the tributes sent to the CPGB or posted on various elists
Cameron was a trusted comrade and a person I always found to be generous of spirit. Although he was quick to spot bullshit and wasn’t afraid to point it out, clarity of thought was always his objective rather than the point-scoring one often sees in political debate. He always had time for newer comrades.
Sad news indeed. I enjoyed my chats with him over the years. A genuinely nice guy once you got to know him.
International Bolshevik Tendency
Sorry to hear about Cameron. The comrade was a regular feature on many a list and a blog. My condolences to his family, friends and comrades.
I just saw your post about Cameron. This is terrible news. I knew he was ill, but wasn’t aware of how ill.
Cameron was extremely warm and friendly at the time I joined the CPGB around seven years ago, especially in a time when the organisation was rapidly expanding and stepping up its Socialist Alliance work. I’ll never forget that about him. Others in and around the CPGB at the time could be somewhat brusque (and still can be, I’m sure), but Cameron always had time for newer comrades.
A true loss to our movement.
An interesting guy, who I spoke to on many occasions when a member of the CPGB, always with something of a unique take on things. Even those who may have disagreed with him will have appreciated his ability to develop discussion and understanding. Good taste in music too.
A tragic loss.
Great old fun
I have so many memories of Cameron. Plenty of them are of nights spent in cheerful drunken oblivion, with Cameron puffing delicately on his Marlboro Lights while he sipped his G&T - languishing like a character straight out of a Noel Coward play. We had great old fun.
He was a good and kind person, although he would have you believe he was an insensitive sod. He cared very much about his friends, his students and of course his mam. He was dedicated to the cause of communism, assiduous in fighting for his ideas and not afraid to be in a minority. He was very many things.
It was such a blow to him when he got cancer, but he was determined to overcome it. I remember him coming to the Athens European Social Forum two years ago, deathly pale and thin - looking like he would collapse any minute. He did a couple of times! But he was not going to miss out. He really wanted to live and change the world. I thought Cameron had beaten the disease. I thought he was well again. I am so sad he did not make it.
I knew Cameron when we were both in Leicester SWP some 15 years ago and have memories of long and heated arguments over much beer on Saturday afternoons.
Can’t say we were mates or saw eye to eye politically, but still very sad news. My condolences to his comrades, friends and family.
We would like to send our condolences to Cameron’s family, friends and comrades.
I worked alongside him for many years in the National Union of Teachers in King Henry VIII school and in Monmouthshire. We had our differences, but we always knew that each of us were working for the better good - not just in school and union affairs, but also on a wider arena. I shared with Cameron a common belief in international socialism and I know he inspired many others with the same goals.
He was indeed a special person and I will miss him a great deal, but perhaps we can gain a little comfort in that he has sown seeds in the belief of a better society on earth, if we could organise and work towards that common goal of international socialism.
I will always remember you, Cameron, and ‘The Ballad of Joe Hill’ does have some resonance, even though it might seem corny and you would laugh at the very idea! Your legacy lies in the way you lived life to the full and inspired others to fulfil their potential and thus start to change the world.
The first time Cameron and I ‘spoke’ about politics was when I was about 13, when I was standing in the school’s mock elections as part of Scum (Socialist Communist Union of Marxists!). I was sat in a lesson and Cameron wandered in, in the way he did, and noticed the picture I had taped to the front of my folder which was something from an SWP publication.
“What do think of the SWP then?” he asked. “I think they are a bit authoritarian,” I said, as a young and naive libertarian-influenced radical. Cameron wandered off again. I didn’t know at the time his history as an ex-SWPer.
Later, I studied A-level history with Cameron - the rise of fascism in Italy, the Russian Revolution. He was an inspirational teacher. I particularly remember the scorn he would pour on people who said they would have been Mensheviks in 1917! I was still attracted to anarchist ideas and Cameron was a powerful influence in introducing me to the genuine Marxist tradition.
At other times in lessons, he was just amusing (in a good way!). Like the time he arrived at 9am then told us he’d be back “in a minute”. But he returned nearly an hour later, informing us that he had been able to book tickets to see New Order! He was possibly the most excited I’d ever seen him. It was also amusing that Cameron’s class was in ‘room 101’.
Another time Cameron took us to Newport, where a mock UN convention had been organised for students. Being Cameron, he chose Cuba, Zimbabwe and Iran for us to represent! To top things off he crashed the minibus into a car in the car park ... and drove away!
I happened to be in a lesson with Cameron the day the Iraq war started. At the time when it was arranged students would walk out of schools (and in many areas thousands did), I put my hand up and said something like: “Mr Richards, I am informing you that I am walking out of school to protest against the illegal and undemocratic invasion of Iraq by the British government” - the pompous language of an ill-fated attempt to convince other students to follow me. He laughed a bit and said, “Do you think I’m going to stop you?” I walked out, on my own.
As a member of the CPGB I enjoyed and respected Cameron’s political contribution. It seemed as if in every debate Cameron was on the ‘left’, which in my opinion was at many times a useful counterbalance. It certainly livened things up. I think that in particular Cameron, ultimately, had an important role in determining our position on the Respect project.
Cameron’s legacy lives on organically through the Communist Party he worked to build and educate and, in particular, the relatively large number of young people he helped guide into revolutionary politics. Even more impressive when you remember this was in a small, and essentially reactionary, Welsh border town.
He will be remembered and missed.
Please pass my condolences on to Cameron’s friends, family and comrades. I met Cameron when he returned to Wales in the early to mid-1990s, disillusioned with the SWP. Though he never joined Workers Power, we had discussions and worked closely with Cameron during the Socialist Labour Party’s early days. Though I only met him on national demos since then, I enjoyed his company, good humour and thoughtfulness.
I have very fond memories of Cameron from school and was so sad to hear this news today. Cameron was always very quick-witted with an amazingly dry sense of humour and the ability to make us laugh, whatever the occasion.
Louise Smith (nee Silverthorne)
Just like to send my condolences on Cameron’s death.
In my time in the CPGB, I found Cameron acerbic, funny, deeply serious as a revolutionary and obviously proud of his work. I really liked his politics and particularly when, within the group, he committed himself to unfashionable positions. My thoughts are with his family and with yourselves - diminished by his departure.
I’d like to express my profoundest sorrow at the death of Cameron Richards. He was an inspirational teacher to me and possibly the first to impress upon me the great importance of critical and individual thought in learning and life.
He wasn’t a teacher who just followed the syllabus: he forced us to think for ourselves and always encouraged lively debate in the classroom. He defied the prescriptive nature of education today and without his influence I’m sure my current outlook would be drastically different and certainly more mundane.
I knew Cameron for the past 10 years of his life but was lucky enough to work with him on a political basis in south Wales over the past four to five years.
For me, one of the major positive characteristics of Cameron was his ability to make you think and analyse political opinions and ideas at a higher level. Never dogmatic but, often to the annoyance of his political opponents, he relished opportunities to put his beliefs and principles to the test. He loved a challenge.
In the now defunct Welsh Socialist Alliance, often by himself, he took the lead in fighting for principled politics; in Respect (Wales), although he and his Communist Party comrades constituted a small minority, he fought for his ideas with a dogged determination. That determination was echoed during discussions with his CPGB comrades within the area. If he thought ideas were incorrect he’d fight with a passion but also with patience to change them.
Throughout the numerous political meetings I attended with Cameron throughout south Wales over the past few years, he brought relevance and meaning to discussion; he developed debate. His style was pugnacious, but persuasive. He was clever and full of self-belief.
More often than not, whenever Cameron spoke, he said something. And with his words he made people think. It is for this reason in particular I had a great faith in him; for this reason I had respect for him. A principled man and a decent human being.
I didn’t meet Cameron on a demonstration or at a meeting. I met him in a pub, in our home town of Cwmbran, in the late 80s; arguing politics and playing drinking games (he used to cheat). The drinking games were fantastic fun, but the political arguments were truly inspirational (both could leave you with a nasty headache if you weren’t careful). He was the first revolutionary I had ever met and it wasn’t long before I wanted to be one too. He became one of my best friends and comrades, and despite being in different organisations (I’m an SWP member - that gave him plenty of ammo!) we continued to debate, discuss and laugh together until very recently.
Cam was as passionately committed to the fight for communism as anyone I have ever met. He also possessed both a brilliantly incisive mind and a wicked sense of humour. Cam’s passing leaves a huge hole in my life. I’m going to miss him terribly.
I knew Cameron well. He was a fully active member of our election team in 2000 when I stood as a Welsh Socialist Alliance candidate in Torfaen, south Wales. He was always ready for activity and had an excellent political mind.
Although we didn’t agree on everything, he was an excellent comrade - a Bolshevik through and through. Sad news indeed for someone with so much to give.
Cameron’s death was shocking news. He was an inspirational teacher, a good comrade and a great pub companion, armed with a wicked sense of humour and a love of Welsh rugby. Although I did not know all this when I was taught history by him at the age of 13 - where I found him slightly eccentric - it was obvious that we would get on well.
It was in sixth form in his politics class that I got to know him better. His lessons were always thought-provoking and his passion for education was obvious. Although in no way patronising or demeaning, he certainly did not suffer fools or laziness gladly.
I remember that the first thing I would do after school was to do my reading for politics. In other subjects it was possible to blag it, but neglecting the reading for Cameron’s class could lead to a potential embarrassing grilling in front of the rest of the class!
His teaching style was angular and polemical, as opposed to dry lecturing. I will never forget the great clashes of opinion in class that then ensued. It was where many of us first learnt ‘politics’. Not merely in the narrow sense of the course and getting the grades for university, but actually learning to articulate and defend ideas against others - including his own, which proved to be so influential on me and others against the backdrop of the invasion of Iraq and the politicisation of many of us at that time.
His approach to teaching was to provoke controversy and challenge the petty, conservative morality of a small south Wales market town that so many of us were steeped in. He was nothing short of an inspiration, inculcating me with a passion to stand up and criticise everything - even if it was being fed to me by figures of ‘authority’ both in school and in wider society.
He introduced me, and numerous other students, to a world that had been hidden from us all - the inspirational politics of revolutionary Marxism. Amidst the horror and anarchy of the world that we were growing up in, he encouraged independent, critical thought geared towards our rounded individual development, not towards grades and the production of passive and exploitable office dolts.
It is for this that I will be eternally grateful. He will be sorely missed.
Hey, I am Max - one of Mr Richards pupils in King Henry VIII school.
I owe Mr Richards a lot, as he was the man who introduced me really to the world of politics that I am now deeply interested in. He also put me on the good side of the spectrum - lol!
He taught me history, was my form teacher and also inspired my older brother, so I got to know him very, very well. He was a great inspiration and just a really cool guy.
Best wishes to Cameron’s family and friends.
The members and supporters of Permanent Revolution’s Cardiff branch would like to pass on our sincere condolences on the death of Cameron Richards.
Cameron attended many of our meetings and despite our differences was always eloquent, courteous and honest - qualities all too often lacking in discourse on the left. He also worked alongside us at anti-war and social forum activities, and will be very much missed.
Stoke the fire
I am saddened by the news of Cameron’s recent death. He only taught me for one year in history and politics, but in those school terms I was inspired to take up politics in university.
His excellent skills of stoking the fire of interest in these topics brought to life the subjects that far too often are taught to the syllabus, not the heart. I have fond memories of him coming into a class one day and persuading us of an argument in favour of a particular form of constitution and then coming in the next day and convincing us of entirely the opposite view.
Another memory is of when he took us on a school trip to London when we were all 17 and tried to get us into a pub to get served. It was therefore much to his annoyance when we all got refused and were asked to walk outside. He was, of course, no ordinary rule-abiding teacher!
Although he never really gave his view much in class, every student knew of him as “the communist”. Even thought he was obviously clearly passionate about socialism, he was never in your face about it. I think this subtle way of consciousness-raising was a large factor in explaining why there are so many Marxists and socialists who have sprouted from the small, almost insignificant town that is Abergavenny (we often joke that Aber probably has the largest density of communists in the UK!).
Mr Richards was indeed a large factor towards cultivating my now Marxist views and I will always remember him as an eccentric, but intelligent and inspiring teacher.
May his and our dream of equality and happiness for all be realised.
Have just learnt from our Cardiff comrades that Cameron has died. This came as a complete shock and I want to send my heartfelt condolences to all of his comrades, friends and family.
I knew Cameron. He attended meetings I addressed in Cardiff. I also saw him on many occasions when he was on demos or at events in London. I chatted with him at some length at various events. I am saddened at this loss. He was a fine comrade. He is a loss to the cause we all fight for, in our different ways. He will be missed.
Communist greetings on this sad occasion.
I wish I could’ve thanked Mr Richards in person for everything he taught me at KHS. He should currently be my politics teacher, but took time off to deal with his illness. It’s hard to cope with the fact that he won’t be returning.
Looking back to the beginning of the year, I realise now how much I learnt from him - most importantly to respect other people’s viewpoints and opinions and to just make the most out of my life and not to take it for granted. He had positive energy and was always dedicated to his teaching. He never complained about his illness, but made school more interesting and was probably the one reason why I decided to stay in sixth form.
So, sir, thank you for everything that you’ve taught me. Wish you could come back to teach us. You’ll be truly missed at KHS! My condolences also go to all his family and friends and to those at King Henry VIII.
Hope you’ll rest peacefully now, sir.
The news of Cameron’s death really shocked me. This is a great loss for the CPGB, but also for his students - many of whom were formed not only as people understanding and loving history, but also as leftists and communists.
I remember walking with him around the streets of Abergavenny, where kids passing by greeted him with shouts of “Mr Richards, Mr Richards!” with enthusiasm which is rarely provoked by a teacher.
Saddened and shocked at this loss.
I remember bumping into Cameron in an Indonesian restaurant in Soho in about 1997. I vaguely recognised him from Socialist Alliance stuff. In Cameron’s cautious, forensic manner he questioned me about the CPGB’s intentions in the SA. He was clearly on a trajectory to join us, but wanted to be convinced. (I was in a hurry to get back to my lamb chops in yummy sauce, so may have been a little short with him on that occasion.)
Once convinced, he remained true to his convictions. Despite differences, he was a true partyist and was committed to the re-establishment of a genuine class party. He was a damned fine man.
Red salute, Cameron.
My condolences to all his comrades, friends and family on the death of comrade Cameron Richards, who I was shocked to read has died of cancer. Cameron was a highly personable and amusing character, as well as an intelligent and dedicated socialist, who should be and will be mourned by all who knew him. I appreciated his qualities even though I disagreed profoundly with him about politics.
In the earlier part of this decade, when I was a member of the CPGB, and indeed of its leadership, Cameron and myself represented almost exactly opposite trends over the question of Respect and the radicalisation of the muslim community. He was in my view profoundly mistaken to dismiss those sections of muslim anti-war activists drawn towards the left as reactionary and bourgeois. Indeed, in that period he was my most consistent opponent, as the CPGB leadership vacillated on questions concerning Respect - supporting it in one election and denying it support in the following when it stood on an identical platform (and the same candidates!) as they originally had advocated votes for. In our different ways, both of us represented consistency, something which I think at the time we both appreciated and were conscious of.
For all our differences, he was a principled and decent comrade.
With deep sadness and comradely greetings
I just read the terrible news about Cameron on your site. Please accept my condolences. He was a great comrade and a very brave man.
It is with some shock and great sadness that we heard about the death of Cameron Richards. We knew of his previous illness and were greatly heartened by his recovery. So it is very sad to suddenly hear this terrible news.
I saw Cameron occasionally over the years at aggregates and summer schools. He was always very comradely, thoughtful and knowledgable. He also struck me as a loyal CPGB member who had the courage of standing out and criticising the party line if he felt it was wrong. That is all too rare in left organisations.
His death is a great loss to his family and friends. But it is also a great loss not only to CPGB comrades, but to communism generally, and to all those, like Cameron himself, who want non-sectarian politics breaking down barriers between socialists.
He will be sadly missed. The RDG would like to offer our condolences to all his family, friends and comrades.
Revolutionary Democratic Group
It was just like Cameron to go quietly, without fuss. A good and l