It will come as a great shock to all comrades to hear the tragic news of the premature death of comrade Phil Mitchinson, the deputy editor of the Marxist journal Socialist Appeal and leading member of the International Marxist Tendency.
Regrettably Phil suffered a severe heart attack late last night, was rushed to hospital, but staff were unable to save him. He was 38 years of age.
This tragic news is a blow to the movement which Phil was helping to build. Phil played a key role in the development of the Marxist tendency in Britain and internationally.
Phil Mitchinson was born in the working-class stronghold of Merthyr in South Wales. His father was a miner in the local pit. Phil became political at school at the age of 16 and joined the Labour Party Young Socialists where he came across the ideas of Marxism. He then joined the Militant Tendency during the heroic miners’ strike of 1984. The strike had a profound impact on him and he would often recall all his experiences during the year-long dispute, the hardships and the humour.
Very early on he grasped the main concepts of Marxism and developed a talent of being able to explain these ideas in a clear and simple fashion. After finishing a university education in Swansea he was soon taken on as a full-timer for Militant in the West Wales area.
In the division that emerged within the Militant Tendency in 1991, Phil came out in favour of the minority around Ted Grant, which was to evolve into the Socialist Appeal. Later that year he attended the Militant conference and moved the resolution arguing for the production of a paper for those working in the Labour Party. As expected, the resolution was heavily defeated, as was the opposition to the ultra-left turn proposed by the majority of the leadership.
Phil represented the Opposition at numerous meetings in Britain and internationally. He ended up being expelled from Militant and put all his efforts into the launch of Socialist Appeal. He was taken on as a full-timer by the magazine and concentrated his efforts in South Wales for a period before moving to London.
Nationally Phil threw himself into all the tasks he was given, from youth work to trade union work. He toured the country on a regular basis speaking at meetings, as well as conferences of Socialist Appeal and the International. He had a particular talent for speaking and writing, although he even turned his hand to printing. His speeches were always well prepared, well thought out, and extremely well executed. He had the Welsh "huwl", an ability to rouse his audience. His last public speech was on Monday night. Despite feeling unwell, he gave a brilliant explanation of the "Relevance of Marxism Today", which everyone present commented on as an inspiring speech. Phil had a real thirst for Marxist theory and engaged in all kinds of discussions. He had a deep knowledge of Marxism and often poured scorn on those who portrayed Marxism in a mechanical and one-sided fashion. He got on well with Ted Grant, helping and assisting him where possible.
His writing skills were put to good use in the production of the Socialist Appeal as well as a number of conference documents over the past period. He had no difficulty in knocking out thousands of words – only to be savagely cut down to fit the necessary tight space. Nevertheless, he put a lot of effort, care and time into his articles, to make sure they were up to the mark. More recently, as the person responsible for producing the Socialist Appeal, given Alan Woods’ pressing international workload, he even insisted on personally proof-reading the entire journal before it was printed.
Moreover Phil developed a special relationship with the leading comrades of the Irish IRSP, and worked to clarify with them the tactics and strategy needed to carry through the socialist revolution in Ireland. He also participated fully at an international level, attending the meetings and conferences of the International Marxist Tendency.
He also enjoyed discussing sport and, as a Welshman, had a great love for rugby union. He always made sure the key games were recorded, not to miss any of the highlights. He had a very open and lively personality, enjoying a good drink and, of course a fag, despite his asthma. He had a passion not only for Marxism but also for music, in particular Tom Jones and Frank Sinatra. Again, he had a great sense of humour, a contagious laugh and got on well with comrades on a personal level.
Anyone who knew him closely could also see the great attention he paid to the upbringing of his two boys, Jack and Sam in spite of living a fair distance from them. We would often get the latest story on Sam’s school rugby game or Jack’s debating skills at school.
He was also an extremely well read comrade. He was not only well versed in the classics of Marxism, but also loved literature in general and would often quote from the many works he had read in highlighting a point during a speech. One quote that many who heard him speak will remember was:
"All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act out their dream with open eyes, to make it possible." (from the suppressed introductory chapter to T.E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom).
Phil’s dream was not the kind that belongs to the fantasy world, the kind that cannot become reality. He shared the same ideals and aims that all genuine socialists aspire to, a world where the human race can reach its full potential and put an end to the barbarism of class society.
His premature death is a tragedy. The work since 1992 in rebuilding the Marxist tendency in Britain has been long and hard. Over these years, Phil put his shoulder to the grind-stone to defend the ideas of genuine Marxism. Today, the prospects for our tendency have never been greater. This is something he fully recognised. More supporters were being won, especially amongst the youth. Our task still remains the training up of a new generation of workers and youth in the fundamental ideas of Marxism. In this work we are preparing for the future.
Phil will be sorely missed by everyone who knew him. It is a great loss. But he would be the first to say "don’t mourn, help us succeed, and get stuck in". He gave his entire adult life to the cause of the working class and the struggle for socialism. He was full of optimism for the future. "We stand on the shoulders of theoretical giants, Marx, Engels, Lenin and Trotsky", he would say. Our aim must be to continue his struggle – this historic struggle – to build the genuine forces of Marxism personified by the Socialist Appeal and fight to change society. In Phil’s words: "The power of the ideas of this movement, once it is united together with millions of young people, of working class people, all over the world, will succeed in overturning this decrepit and decadent system of capitalism and building a new world, a new future, a socialist society around the world."
We would like to extend our condolences to his partner Mandy, his two sons Jack and Sam, his aged parents and the rest of his family for his loss.
Interview with Phil Mitchinson at the 2004 World Conference of the IMT
"My name is Phil Mitchinson. I’ve been a Trotskyist now for 21 years. I first got involved during the 1984 British Miners’ strike, when as a school student I became active in the Labour Party Young socialists, where I found the ideas of Marxism and Trotskyism, which are represented here at this meeting. This meeting represents an historic turning point for the forces of world revolution. The presence here of comrades who, even today as we speak, are participating in the marvellous revolutionary events in Venezuela, defending the revolution in Cuba, fighting for socialist ideas in Ireland, as well as the many many young comrades and workers from countries in Europe, the US, Canada, and elsewhere. It’s truly an inspiration and a turning point because we have the bringing together here of young people with enormous enthusiasm for the struggle in front of us. And we also have an understanding, which you won’t find anywhere other than in this meeting, of the process taking place in the world today, the crisis of capitalism, of imperialism, the process of revolution. In many countries this is still below the surface, but throughout Latin America and elsewhere, it has already begun to break through the surface. And in the next period of years, the forces that have gathered here in this meeting will build an unstoppable force of world revolution. No force on earth can stop this movement. The power of the ideas of this movement, once it is united together with millions of young people, of working class people, all over the world, will succeed in overturning this decrepit and decadent system of capitalism and building a new world, a new future, a socialist society around the world."
Messages of condolences received so far:
Immediately upon hearing of Phil’s death we received a phone call from Comrade Ahmed Manzoor, the Marxist MP in Pakistan. He expressed the grief of all the comrades in Pakistan and remembered the many evenings spent discussing with Phil at International meetings. He asked us to pass on the message to his partner, his boys and the rest of his family.
Gerry Ruddy, leader of the Irish Republican Socialist Party spoke to us on the phone and was absolutely shocked and devastated to hear the news. He asked us to pass on his condolences to his boys, his partner and all his comrades, and will be sending a longer message later on.
We also received a call from the Turkish comrades of Marxist Tutum, who simply said that they felt a tremendous sadness that such a young and able comrade should die so early in his life, that their feelings were too difficult to express in words and said they would be sending a message in the next few days.
The death of comrade Phil Mitchinson came as a terrible shock to myself and other comrades here in Paris. He was too young to die. I can’t really say how long ago I met Phil for the first time. It was probably something like 20 years ago. I was already living in France when he joined the Marxist movement.
Phil was a serious revolutionary. He dedicated his life to the struggle for socialism. His personality, sense of humour, outlook on life – and even his appearance – brought to mind the kind of reliable, steadfast British working class militant that I used to come across on the Ellesmere Port Trades Council and Shop Stewards meetings in the 70’s. But Phil was much more than a labour activist. He was an outstanding Marxist, a very talented writer and speaker, with a keen interest in Marxist theory and in the history of the labour movement. He made an invaluable contribution to the work of Socialist Appeal.
It is difficult to write of him in the past tense. I learned of his death just a few hours ago. It seems inconceivable that he is not still with us. We will continue the struggle for socialism, for our common cause. Our future victory will also be his.
Greg Oxley, Paris
From Alan Woods in Caracas
The news of the sudden death of comrade Phil Mitchinson was a heavy blow for me and for the whole organisation.
I write these lines with a heavy heart from far away in Caracas, where the ideas that Phil always defended are obtaining an ever growing audience. Phil Mitchinson gave his entire life to these ideas, which he served with absolute devotion and selflessness. He was an extremely talented comrade and a wonderful friend. As a speaker and writer he had few equals. His friendly manner made it possible for him to relate very easily to all kinds of people. He had that very special manner about him.
Phil was from a working class family in Merthyr, in South Wales. He moved to London in order to work full time for Socialist Appeal and the International Marxist Tendency, where he played an absolutely indispensable role. I have no doubt whatever that a great future awaited him in our movement. Now, tragically, his life has been cut short at the early age of 38 years. His death will leave a gap which will not be easily filled. All of us who knew him will miss him terribly. But we must celebrate his memory in the only way he would have wanted: by continuing the struggle for a better world under socialism.
I send my most heartfelt condolences to his partner Mandy, his sons Jack and Sam, and the rest of his family and friends.
Caracas, 17 November 2006
From the Italian Marxists:
We have just received the shocking news of the death of comrade Phil Mitchinson. It is not easy to find words in the face of such a sudden and dramatic loss. We want to remember Phil as one of the comrades who did not hesitate to put himself at the disposal of the tendency in one of the most difficult moments in our history, when the task in Britain was to rebuild after a damaging split and in a period of isolation of our forces internationally. Phil gave to that task his intelligence, his theoretical level, his acumen and his sense of humour. We remember him as he was in our international meetings, with his interventions which always attracted our attention, enriched both by analysis and also some poetry which he never hesitated to quote.
We are certain that all the comrades of the International and of the British section will know how to react to this loss, remembering Phil and his big contribution, and above all by finding within themselves, within our organisation and above all among the younger comrades, the energy and the strength to fill the vacuum left by his passing away.
A fraternal embrace to all the comrades and in particular to Jack.
Goodbye Phil. You will always live on in our struggle!
Claudio, Roberto, Alessandro, Sonia, Paolo, Michele and all the Italian comrades
I have just bee informed of the passing away of comrade Phil, therefore all I can do is to send my deepest condolences to all the British comrades and his family.
member of the Central Committee of the FIOM (Italian Metalworkers’ Union)
From the Spanish Marxists:
A few hours ago we heard the news about the regrettable passing of comrade Phil. The news was a terrible and incomprehensible blow for all of us. Phil was very well known in the Spanish section for his interventions at international congresses and conferences as well as for his writings and articles which were always translated and published in our press. It was evident to all of us that Phil had become a fundamental pillar of the British section and the whole of the International. Both his work and perseverance were decisive in maintaining our section during difficult periods, and helped to create the conditions for our current successes in our work and in important countries such as Ireland.
We wish to express our condolences and profound sorrow at the death of comrade Phil to all the comrades of the British section, to Rob, and especially to Phil’s children and partner. Phil was a genuine representative of the best of international Bolshevism, a comrade who will always be in our hearts. The best tribute we can give Phil is to continue, with the same intensity and conviction he had, the task of building the forces of Marxism.
A big embrace for all of you,
Executive Committee of the Spanish Section
From comrade Hans in Germany:
"I am deeply shocked. I first met Phil (at least consciously) in 1991 when he represented the "opposition" in the old organisation at the conference of the old German section and have always held him in high esteem. I offer my condolences especially to his son whom I had a chat with in Barcelona and other members of the family and all the comrades who worked with him closely and knew him better than I did.
Please keep me informed about the date of the funeral.
After Ted’s death this is another serious blow. All the more we will have to keep on fighting till the end.
It is a shock, a real shock. I have read lots of articles written by him. It is useless to ask how he died. The only thing I can say is we need to keep the pace of Phil’s unfinished work.
Comrade Sangeet, Calcutta
Dear comrade Fred,
We were left really very unhappy by the news of the death of comrade Phil Mitchinson. What an irreparable loss!
Fernando and Fabiano
From the USA:
I am so sorry to hear about this! My condolences to all the comrades, to Jack and the rest of Phil’s family and everyone else affected by this tragic and untimely death.
John Peterson, USA
I am very moved and sad at hearing of the death of comrade Phil. It is a big blow to the British section and the International. I send my condolences to the British comrades and comrades of the International, who worked with him on a daily basis and shared a large part of their time with him in the last few years and whom this terrible news affects personally and with greater intensity. His example, his modesty, and his active life dedicated to the cause of the world working class will not have been in vain, and they will illuminate us in the struggle to achieve the world socialist revolution. Condolences also to his family for whom this must be a very difficult moment.
Erik just told me over the phone. This is very bad news. In fact it still seems quite unreal, as if I would see him as usual next January in Belgium. Phil was a very intelligent and friendly comrade. In fact, he was one of the first of the leading International comrades that I got to know in Barcelona years ago when I was still a new comrade. It seemed he enjoyed the company of the new comrades as much as the older ones. He even remembered my name the next year, something I really appreciated from one of the leading comrades.
I liked his interventions at the international meetings, sharp and to the point. I have noted down a lot of them. And he was nice to listen too, a good narrator, with jokes.
He is a very big loss for the organisation. For you it must be an even bigger loss, you knew him much better as a friend and comrade. Ted’s death was normal at that age, but Phil was still so young. Actually I do not really know what to say about it, because it sounds all too banal. I will remember him.
We will inform the Belgian comrades and publish an obituary on the website. Our readers do not know him by person, but they have read his articles through our translations.
From Ben Peck in Britain:
Phil Mitchinson was a man I had just come to know and learn from in these past few months. Whenever Phil might have left us, I could not imagine that it would have been untimely and premature. Yet to be reminded of the accidental nature of life at times, in such a tragic manner, is certainly a bitter truth to accept.
I wish I had told Phil about this, that is that his name had become quite a point of controversy in even the farthest-flung corners of the earth. Whilst teaching in China this year and last, passed around the English staff was a document written by Phil in 1994, named Marxism and the State. This brilliant piece serves to ‘sweep away this supernatural fog that surrounds the state’, as Phil put it himself. It works as a great introduction to Marxist theory for younger comrades, as it did for myself, completely dismantling the static concept of society promoted by the ruling class and their stooges, and tracing the state’s origin back to its roots, and its reasons, which still exist today. It’s amazing to think he would have only been a little older than myself when he wrote it.
Thereafter in China, in after-work discussions in the local bar, Phil’s name would automatically be associated with any point of view that was of the slightest left-wing inclination. The common refrain would be ‘that’s Mitchinson speaking’. I’m sure he would have been most pleased with the small notoriety he had earned himself in the Far East.
Most recently I heard for the first, and sadly the last time, Phil speak publicly on Monday night at Kings Cross. The talk was entitled ‘The Relevance of Marxism in the 21st Century’. It was an engaging and lively portrayal of capitalism in its state of senile decline, delivered with trademark enthusiasm. Again it debunked myth and demonstrated with clarity the case for socialism. It stimulated lively debate. I brought friends who would in no way consider themselves left-leaning, let alone Marxists, but who left the meeting without being able to refute one word of what Phil had said. They found him genuinely inspiring.
Of the short time I knew the man, Phil Mitchinson seemed to me an honest class fighter with an infectious humour about him. He always seemed positive and upbeat. He was of great encouragement to younger comrades who will lose out now at not being able to learn more from him, in a personal capacity as well as political.
To use the same quote from Engels he mentions in ‘Marxism and the State’:
"The shabbiest police servant of the civilised state has more ‘authority’ than all the organs of gentile society put together; but the mightiest prince and the greatest statesman or general of civilisation might envy the humblest of the gentile chiefs the unforced and unquestioned respect accorded to him."
I think it’s fair to say that Phil earned that ‘unforced and unquestioned respect’ from all his comrades.
And to quote Phil directly from the same text sums up, of course, what can be the only fitting tribute to him we can offer:
"Before Marxism can conquer the state, however, it must first conquer the labour movement. To grasp the nature of the state, to bring its history, its character, its role to the attention to the workers is the duty of Marxism, the theoretical expression of the workers’ movement, the guide to action."