Salute to a communist
Peter Manson recalls the work of comrade Cameron Richards
It was standing room only at the funeral of comrade Cameron Richards on July 11. More than 250 of his comrades, colleagues, fellow union members, friends, family and pupils past and present crammed into Cwmbran crematorium to pay tribute to this inspiring teacher, dedicated communist and generous man.
The fact that Cameron died at the tragically early age of 40 added to the sense of loss amongst mourners. A politician to the end, Cameron wrote his final Weekly Worker article less than two months before his long battle with cancer finally ended in defeat.
Commenting on the left’s dismal results in the May 1 elections, he wrote: “Still isolated and with no prospect of principled Marxist unity, the left in Wales remains in utter disarray. There appears not to be any hope of such unity emerging in the near future. Yet until this happens the main left groups will continue to flounder - and will remain a ragbag of sects peddling reformist politics to the working class” (Weekly Worker May 8).
Cameron did not live to see such unity, but he continued to study and analyse until a week or so before he died on July 2. Without fail he listened to the voice files of CPGB meetings he was no longer able to attend. When he went into hospital for the last time just 10 days before the end, he tried (in vain) to arrange internet connection to his laptop, so he could still keep abreast of political developments.
No wonder there were so many tributes paid at his funeral. CPGB national organiser Mark Fischer noted the moralityCameron shared with his organisation - a movement that aims for nothing short of human emancipation cannot use oppression and cruelty as a means to achieve it. Comrade Fischer also commented on Cameron’s method as a teacher at King Henry VIII school in Abergavenny: it was to encourage a healthy distrust for authority, including his own, amongst his students.
And one of comrade Richards’ former students, Ben Lewis, pointed out how this method contrasts so starkly to the exam-conveyor belt approach that generally passes for education. Ironically, Cameron’s sixth form politics course has now been taken over not by another human teacher in the classroom, but by a once-a-week video conferencing session combined with ‘do it yourself’ (see Letters, this issue).
However, the occasion was not simply one for mourning. It was also for celebrating and saluting Cameron’s contribution to our struggle and remembering with fondness his personal traits and idiosyncrasies, weaknesses as well as strengths. So it was not just the comrade’s political input that was commemorated: we laughed at the stories of his days at the races, his drinking with friends, his adventures on trips abroad.
Despite his sense of fun, Cameron was a very private man. So he confided in no-one, apart from his mother, about the advanced stage of the disease that afflicted him. After his article on the May 1 elections he had agreed (with some enthusiasm) to my request to write a piece on his union, the NUT. But, with his condition rapidly deteriorating, he was simply not up to it. Not that he admitted as much - when I reminded him about the piece I had commissioned a couple of weeks later, he just claimed he had lost interest in the subject.
This should have aroused my suspicions. For Cameron, despite the numerous occasions when he found himself in a minority within our organisation, was a CPGB loyalist - a partyist. Unlike most of his comrades in the short-lived Red Platform, which opposed the majority position on Respect in 2004, Cameron did not abandon the CPGB when he lost the argument. In fact he subsequently succeeded in influencing the majority over this very question, not least over the definition of Respect as a popular front.
For him the party came first. And Cameron Richards, the communist, the democrat, was what was recalled above all at his funeral.
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