Obituary: Jimmy Deane – pioneer of Trotskyism

IT IS with great sadness that we have heard of the death of Jimmy Deane. When I joined in 1958, Jim was general secretary of the organisation that became Militant, Militant Labour and the Socialist Party (CWI section in England and Wales).

He had already been active for over 20 years building the Trotskyist forces. Alongside Jock Haston and Ted Grant, he played a leading role during the war in the Revolutionary Communist Party, the precursor to later Trotskyist organisations, including Militant.

He was an important internationally known leader. His family’s council house in Hurlingham Road, Liverpool was corresponded with and visited by Trotskyists from around the world.

The family came from a rich strand of the workers’ movement. Jim and his brothers Arthur and Brian recruited their mother Gertie. Her father was in the Social Democratic Federation and was one of the first Labour councillors in Liverpool.

Jim made a number of international missions for what remained of the Fourth International; the organisation set up by Trotsky to replace the Stalinised Third International.

These included a period in India trying to unite groups in Calcutta, Bombay and Madras into one all-India organisation.

As an electrical engineer, he courageously volunteered, with another skilled building worker John Smith, to go to Morocco. This was in response to a request from the Algerian FLN, fighting for National Liberation from France, to help them break through the electrified, Moroccan/Algerian border fences.

All other groups claiming to be Trotskyists then opposed the FLN or, like the Socialist Workers’ Party in Britain, didn’t support national liberation struggles.

I first met Jim at a national committee meeting in London. We used to travel to these in the back of an old Post Office van driven by his brother Brian, secretary of the Liverpool branch, accompanied by Pat Wall and others.

Jim’s respect among workers was clear to me when – despite having moved to London many years before I became active – he was greeted by so many delegates to Liverpool trades council and Labour Party, when he made the occasional visit to their joint open meetings.

We maintained a considerable influence in that body, which had attendances of between 100 and 200 even, in that period of late 1950s, early 1960s. We benefited from a long tradition of Trotskyism, which Jim had contributed to with his speeches at dock and factory gates.

Jim was a commanding figure with authority both politically and with practical organisational ideas. He instilled confidence in what was a very small organisation but almost totally made up of industrial workers. When he asked me to move to London to organise the youth work in 1962, I felt proud to accept.

Despite having to hold down his job to help keep a large family, Jim kept the administrative work going in that difficult period and our flag flying nationally and internationally, with polemical correspondence. He made a huge theoretical contribution, writing very clearly.

He was the most enthusiastic in supporting a new journal to replace "Socialist Fight", our spasmodically produced paper. So the Militant monthly was launched in October 1964, with younger comrades holding key responsibilities, including Peter Taaffe in Liverpool as editor.

It was Jim at the executive committee who recommended that Peter Taaffe – who had been playing a key role on Merseyside, and in national and international debates – be brought down to London to replace himself as general secretary, as Jim had to go to India for his job. This was unanimously accepted by the executive and national committees.

Jim’s advice was that the youth should be given their heads and shouldn’t wait for older, tired and more conservative comrades. In a sense he laid the basis for our success.

Jim never really re-entered activity on his return from India, due to his job and ill health, but he still had the thirst for the struggle. He spoke at our 1983 meeting in Wigan, against the Labour leadership’s witch-hunt of Militant supporters.

Tony Mulhearn, a leader of the Liverpool council struggle against Thatcher’s government, reminded us recently how Jim was welcomed and spoke at one of the large public meetings in 1986. He congratulated the comrades on their success and said how the Trotskyist pioneers had always looked forward to the day when they would be able to speak to mass audience of Liverpool workers.

As Peter Taaffe said in his book The Rise of Militant: "Without the struggles of past generations of Marxists, particularly the pioneers of Trotskyism in Britain, the success of Militant would not have been possible. The youthful adherents who joined the ranks of what became Militant in the early 1960s, stood on the shoulders of those who maintained the Trotskyist traditions in the most difficult period."

Jim’s contribution was of major importance and will not be forgotten, and his approachability and kindness will always be remembered. Our condolences and sympathy go to all his family and friends.

Donna Paananen 1938-2002

THE UNTIMELY death of Donna Paananen in a car crash in Holland, Michigan, brings feelings of shock and great sadness to those who knew her. Donna came to many CWI European Schools, and events of the Socialist Party (England and Wales) and of Socialist Alternative in the US. Her enthusiasm, friendliness and sense of fun impressed everyone who met her.

With her husband Victor, she entertained many socialists, both in the US (in East Lansing, Michigan, and recently in Revere, near Boston) and in England, and accommodated comrades ’on the road’ for meetings.

Born Donna Jones in Columbus, Wisconsin, in 1938 she grew up on a farm during the harsh depression period. Her father and brothers gave up farming for factory work. After graduating, she worked as a Presbyterian missionary, first among poor hill people in Puerto Rico and then at a school in Utah, where she directed acclaimed student drama productions.

Donna later gained a master’s degree in speech and theatre at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she met Victor; they married in 1964.

Subsequently, Donna worked as a community college teacher and a writer-editor. She wrote five cookbooks (no surprise to anyone who enjoyed her hospitality) and numerous books and articles on fire prevention for the US Forest Service. She was particularly dedicated to efforts to find support for young people in the arts.

Donna intuitively embraced the ideas of CWI and admired the dedication of the socialists she met and entertained. She deserved many more years of achievement and happiness, and will be greatly missed. We send our heartfelt sympathy to Victor, to their sons, Karl and Neil, and all their family.

Socialist Party, England and Wales

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September 2002