Obituaries

Denis Goldberg (1933—2020)

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George Paizis remembers the South African freedom fighter who spent 22 years in jail for his part in opposing the apartheid regime, and was to become a leading defender of Palestinian rights.

In 1964, Denis Goldberg and other ANC comrades were on trial for their lives at what became known as the Rivonia trial. Against expectations the judge did not impose death but gave them several concurrent life sentences instead. The young man shouted out jubilantly to his mother, “It’s life! Life is wonderful!”

Denis was born of Jewish immigrant parents, both communists. After involvement in local racially unsegregated civil rights movements in the 1950s, he joined the communist party.

John Prine 1946-2020

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The US singer-songwriter John Prine died on 7 April, following complications from Covid-19. Prine had a profound influence on the American folk-country scene with a career that spanned more than 50 years, though he never reached the commercial heights of some of his peers. He weaved stories of working class life with wry songwriting, seeking to record what he termed the “in-between spaces.” Bob Dylan described his contributions as “Midwestern mind-trips to the nth degree.”

Bill Withers 1938-2020

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We’re used to musicians announcing their retirement, quickly followed by their ‘comeback’ tour and album. But when Bill Withers quit in 1985 he was true to his word, performing just one final gig for a prodigious fee. So anyone under 50 is unlikely to have seen him perform and may be familiar only with a few of his hits. It would be a shame not to dig deeper and discover more.

Ursula K Le Guin, 1929–2018

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In 2014 Ursula K Le Guin proclaimed that “We live in capitalism, its power seems inescapable — but then, so did the divine right of kings.”

Le Guin, who died in January, was a giant of 20th century literature. On her shoulders stand not just classics of genre fiction but everything from Salman Rushdie’s postcolonial magical realism to JK Rowling’s Harry Potter mega-franchise.
Le Guin used science fiction and fantasy not as a genre but a “method”. Future societies, distant planets and magical realms provided “a safe, sterile laboratory for trying out ideas”.

The Norman joke

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The death of billionaire landowner and Duke of Westminster George Grosvenor was announced on 10 August. John Newsinger reminds us where the wealth of such parasites came from in the first place.

The sad death of George Cavendish Grosvenor, the 6th Duke of Westminster, has left the nation – or at least Prince Charles – distraught.

He leaves an estimated fortune of £9.35 billion (a billion down since Brexit) upon which the family is expected to pay absolutely minimal death duties. One could almost say that the British tax system seems to have been designed around the principle of rich toffs like Grosvenor having to pay as little as possible whether alive or dead.

David King: The man who rescued the avant-garde

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Graphic designer David King, who died last month, was inspired by the art produced in revolutionary Russia. Roger Huddle looks back on a pathbreaking artist and his contribution to political struggle over five decades.

The news of his death came as a shock. We had come through the same history, but together for only a short period.

As times were changing during the two decades from 1965 young socialists began to discover the cultural upheavals during Russia’s revolution, hidden by Stalinism and ignored in the West. As the new left reconnected with Trotsky, those involved in cultural production discovered Constructivism, Agit-prop, the poetry of Mayakovsky and the photography of Rodchenko.

A gift of sound and vision

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Salvador Dali is alleged to have proclaimed, when asked if he took drugs, “I am drugs!” And so, for some of us in the mid-1970s, David Bowie was music.

Bowie was a glamorous break with a music scene that had become dominated by the ponderous dinosaurs of rock music. The uniform of long hair and double denim had become stale and the music had become overblown, no longer reflecting the life of kids on the street.

Staying human in the belly of the beast

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Grace Lee Boggs, who died last month, was an important figure on the US left. Working with CLR James and others she helped to rescue revolutionary socialism from the dead weight of Stalinism, as well as becoming a notable activist in the Civil Rights movement, writes Christian Høgsbjerg.

That the passing of Grace Lee Boggs, a remarkable Chinese American author, activist and humanist philosopher should merit a statement of condolence from President Barack Obama was quite fitting. Grace had been an inspiring and courageous organiser for the Civil Rights and Black Power movement in the US and had worked alongside Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and Rosa Parks.

In 2008 she championed Obama for “providing the authentic, visionary leadership we need in this period”, even comparing him to Martin Luther King, and so it was only right that Obama returned the compliment.

Assia Djebar (1936 - 2015)

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 Assia Djebar

Assia Djebar, one of Algeria's most gifted writers, died on 6 February. Sheila McGregor celebrates her life and her part in the struggle for independence.

Born as Fatima-Zohra Imalayène in Cherchell in 1936, Assia Djebar took her pen name to save her parents from embarrassment when she wrote her first novel, La Soif (Thirst).

A life in the struggle: Bob Cox (1944-2014)

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Bob Cox

Bob Cox was an organic intellectual who used his technical skills to aid the struggle for a better world. Jeff Jackson collects together the memories of Bob's friends, family and comrades.

“One must require from each one the duty which each one can perform. Accepted authority rests first of all on reason” — The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Bob Cox, who died on 25 November after a protracted fight with cancer, was a longstanding member of the Socialist Workers Party. Along with his many years of consistent activity as a revolutionary socialist in the workplace and community, he was a major contributor to Socialist Review’s web presence in the early days of the internet, creating a website indexing the magazine.

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