The older one gets, the more one becomes acquainted with the death of former friends and comrades. But nothing prepared me for the shock of learning that Alf Filer had died when his car broke down on the A27 and another car, whose driver I understand has been arrested, went into him.
I first met Alf at the inaugural meeting of the Labour Committee on Palestine in the summer of 1982. It was just after Israel’s blitzkrieg on Lebanon, when over 20,000 Palestinian and Lebanese died as a result of a cruel invasion aimed at securing Israeli and Phalangist hegemony in the country.
Alf had already been involved in battles with Zionists in the consituency of Brent East, when Ken Livingstone was selected in place of the nondescript local MP, the Zionist Reg Freeson. Alf himself stood for Brent Council but was defeated after the local Labour Zionists urged a vote for the SDP. We discussed this as we were driving to Southampton on 13th June, when Alf freely volunteered that being defeated was the best thing that could have happened to him. Alf and being a councillor just wouldn't have gone together!
It was last Monday week, 13th June, that I drove a group of UNISON members in the unemployed centre minibus from Brighton to Southampton, to support a demonstration of council staff who have been under attack from the Tory Council, who are trying to cut their pay. On the way we took a diversion to pick Alf up opposite Worthing Pier which made us late!
Alf and I saw relatively little of each other after the LCP split in November 1982 after Ted Knight, then councillor and leader of Lambeth Council, but also a member of the Workers Revolutionary Party, decided to arrange for the WRP to take over the LCP in order to show how influential they were with their Libyan/Iraqi paymasters. At that point the division between the LCP and what became the Labour Movement Campaign on Palestine forced people on the left to take sides. I can remember heated debates before National Labour Briefing took sides despite threats to walk out by arch hack Valerie Coultas. Unfortunately but understandably, since he was in the same constituency as Ken, Alf followed Socialist Action in staying with Ken Livingstone (who was then allied with Ted Knight), Charlie Pottins of the Jewish Socialists Group and WRP and a few others who had been taken in.
On the bus back from Southampton Alf and I reminisced over what happened, as he had long since recognised the error of his ways and he freely admitted that the WRP had taken over the LCP in order to close it down. Likewise Ken Livingstone at a LMCP fringe meeting at Labour Party conference circa 1985 also admitted he’d got it wrong. Not so Socialist Action, whose only principle was sticking to Livingstone, their future cash cow.
Alf was an utterly principled fighter. He was one of the main organisers of the Harrow countermobilisation against the EDL, whose target was a local mosque. The EDL, those good fascist friends of the Zionists at the Ahava and Israeli embassy pickets, were sent packing when over two thousand people joined the counter mobilisation against some 30 fash.
A few months ago Alf moved from London to Worthing having retired early as a college lecturer. In a small space of time he had become involved in anti-cuts and anti-racist work and was about to get involved in Palestine Solidarity Campaign in Brighton. He was a borne and tireless activist despite having caring responsibilities, having brought up two sons on his own.
Alf was living proof that you can be Jewish without being Zionist. He was someone who had total confidence in himself, extrovert whilst self-deprecating and loud. All, some would say, Jewish traits! He never treaded gingerly around an issue, the proverbial bull in the china shop. That's probably why we got on so well! And he was always just good fun to be with. It was impossible to be angry with him for long, however much he might put his foot in it at times. He was the embodiment of the idea that you can take your Jewish heritage from an anti-racist, class struggle and socialist perspective, not from the narrow nationalism and chauvinism that Zionism represents with its twisted face of hate.
Alf later joined Socialist Resistance, a small Trotskyist group that came out of the IMG and a split in the Alliance for Workers Liberty. But Alf was never an unthinking hack always accepting the party line without pause for thought. Experience had taught him the perils of that. When I wrote an article on this blog criticising a comrade of his in the ISG for having taken a right-wing stance in Unison in support of ‘personalisation’ of disability services, Alf wrote to the leadership to ask what was happening and why this was so. And true to form, he received no reply. Unlike so many in Trotskyist groups, who came later to adopt a Stalinist methodology and outlook, Alf remembered that being a revolutionary also means questioning one’s own leaders too.
To Alf all I can say is Lotta Continua. The best tribute we can pay to you is to keep the flame alight and the struggle for justice undimmed. Below is a letter Alf had in the Guardian on 3rd January 2009 as Gaza was being mercilessly bombed by Israeli war planes. It sums up his politics. We who are Jewish anti-Zionists fight on the side of the Palestinians because we above all know what racism and fascism means.
I have just put another video below. It is of a demonstration against the Gaza War when, with the chutzpa that Alf was so wonderful at, he effectively conned his way into speaking at the rally and by claiming membership of about 3 different groups! whilst Hugh Lanning of PSC looked on whilst Alf denounced the Histradut, Israel's racist 'union', just after PSC had rejected boycotting them.
But he made the vital and telling point that Jews above all, having had experience of racism, should be the first to speak out against it.
I also link to another tribute to Alf from Martin Francis, who knew him in Brent.
I salute you comrade and your memory will live on.
Six days of illegal bombing, preceded by months of blockades. The excuses from the Israelis for the bloodbath of innocent civilians are an insult. These bombings are simply crimes against humanity. The EU, UK and US have all contributed to this situation through their agreements on trade and export licences, and funding of Israel.
The Palestinians who struggle for survival, in spite of the unnecessary divisions, deserve our full recognition. Israel must be reminded that a "nation that oppresses another nation cannot itself be free". As a Jew, I condemn this massacre. It is not being done in my name, nor will it make me feel any safer as a result. There will not be any peace in the Middle East until the issue of Palestinian self-determination is fully resolved.