Research and study of ideologies of social and national emancipation and their application to conditions within imperialist society

Remembering Ivor Kenna. Speech at an event attended by the family, comrades and friends of Ivor Kenna to commemorate and celebrate his life.  July 2021.



Dearest Flo

Family members

Comrades and Friends

Thank you all for coming here today to remember and to pay our respects and our tribute to our dear friend and comrade, Ivor.

For those of you who don’t know me, my name is Keith Bennett and Flo has asked me to introduce this part of the afternoon and to say a few words.

I will be calling some other people to speak as well. But Ivor was a great believer in working class democracy, so if you want to speak and we’ve not already sorted that out, don’t worry. I will be sure to give an opportunity to anyone who would like to do so.

I must have known Ivor for the best part of 50 years. That’s all my adult life and a bit more. And I will miss him greatly. He was an institution. As someone with a great love of all things Celtic he was almost a legend. Like King Arthur. Over the last half-century comrades have come and gone. Too many have gone. But Ivor was an immovable fixture and a permanent presence. Standing in his place to paraphrase the Internationale. It seems a bit unreal to think that will no longer be the case. But we won’t forget him. Like all fallen comrades he will accompany us on our continuing journey.

With Ivor’s passing, it really does feel like the end of the era. A member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the days before the split in the international communist movement, he would sometimes refer to those days in his journal, the Finsbury Communist. Recalling comrades like Kay Beauchamp and a thriving local party branch. Even in the post-war days local councillors.

But when the old communist party joined the Khruschev leadership in the Soviet Union in attacking the dictatorship of the proletariat and Stalin, and in attacking the Communist Party of China and the Party of Labour of Albania, Ivor was one of the gallant few in this country who stood up and said No.

Ivor, together with Flo, joined the Committee to Defeat Revisionism for Communist Unity, led by Michael McCreery, the first anti-revisionist organisation in this country.

When that organisation sadly disintegrated following Comrade McCreery’s premature death, Ivor formed the Finsbury Communist Association.

For decades, month in month out, this small, simply produced publication provided its succinct take on topics that ranged from purely local matters to the great issues of world politics. With much else in between.

Long ago, it became the longest continually published, extant anti-revisionist publication in Britain. And Ivor and Flo circulated it to as many people in the movement as they could.

Ivor was not afraid to move with the times and to take on new things. And he read widely. I think he read all the left publications in Britain and a good few international ones. He read the national press, including the financial press, and he read the local newspapers. He read trade union journals. He read materials from the Celtic countries. And he read various publications from China.

As I said, he was not afraid to take on new things. But he had his core principles. And on these he was as firm as a rock. Nothing and nobody was going to shift him.

I’ll attempt to summarise them:

  • He stood uncompromisingly for the dictatorship of the proletariat. For rule by the working class. To quote the words of the 1930s upsurge in the Caribbean: Let those who labour hold the reigns.
  • And he was clear on the Marxist definition of the working class. Whilst he certainly believed in united fronts he could not accept that the working class could just mean anybody except a handful of billionaires.
  • But he was not sentimental about the working class. He was resolute in standing with Lenin in appreciating how in an imperialist country like Britain, much of the working class, to a greater or lesser extent, was corrupted or bought over with a portion of the superprofits that the ruling class rakes in from the colonies, semi-colonies and neo-colonies.
  • Indeed Lenin’s theory of imperialism was at the core of his politics and his anti-revisionism. Especially the Leninist thesis that the world was divided into a small handful of oppressor nations on the one hand and a vast mass of oppressed nations on the other.
  • Three other things followed intrinsically from this analysis for Ivor:
  • He strongly asserted and supported the right to self-determination of the Celtic nations: Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Cornwall, the Isle of Mann and Brittany. He considered this to be a matter of principle for communists in England. The fact that this was not necessarily a universally popular position in the movement here was not the kind of thing to bother Ivor one bit.
  • He supported the national liberation movements, especially at this time the struggle of the Palestinian and other Arab people against zionism. I’ll take this opportunity to remind everyone of Flo’s request that any donations in memory of Ivor be made to that excellent charity, Medical Aid for Palestinians.
  • Last but definitely not least, in fact it brings me back to my first point in this summary, Ivor supported the socialist countries. Those countries where the dictatorship of the proletariat existed. Where the working class was organised as the ruling class. For Ivor, for the last 60 years or so, that above all meant resolutely supporting and defending the People’s Republic of China and the Communist Party of China. It also led him to being a founding member and a loyal member of the Stalin Society, founded in the wake of the treacherous destruction of the Soviet Union.

I want to say a little more about Ivor and China. Today we don’t just mourn Ivor, we celebrate him. And for many of us this is also a day of celebration for another reason. It’s the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. It’s a day that I know Ivor would have loved to live to see. But I’m equally sure that he would derive some wry satisfaction and some somewhat uncharacteristic pride from the fact that we celebrate his life and his contribution to the struggle on this rather auspicious occasion.

Ivor, along with Flo, was a founder member of the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (SACU) back in 1965 and they became its longest serving, continuous members. Zoe Reed, the Chair of SACU, will say more about Ivor’s contribution, but I’ll just note that he must have finished the last of his regular, and appropriately named, Sinophile columns for the China Eye magazine just a few days before he died.

Ivor was certainly not a humourless individual. He had a sharp eye and an occasionally sharper pen. He was the master of the one liner, with an ability all too rare on the left to say a lot in a few words. And he had a dry and acerbic wit. A number of us must have been on the receiving end of it at one time or another.

I just want to recall an incident that took place at a SACU AGM, I guess in about 1980 or 1981. It was a time of some debate in SACU and among friends of China generally. And, of course, it was a time of great changes in China.

Anyway, there was a faction in SACU, largely based around its then magazine China Now that wanted to turn the magazine and the organisation into vehicles for extensive criticism of China.

Naturally Ivor was having none of it. He stood up and began his contribution:

“Well, I support the policies of the Chinese government. Every single one.”

To which a voice at the back called out: “Yes, Ivor. And you always have.”

Actually this incident provided a little light relief in what had long since become a rather unpleasant debate and struggle. But, especially with hindsight, it contains something more. Ivor was not one who thought that support for China was something you demonstrated by writing at length about all the things you thought they were doing wrong or how they were apparently failing to live up to your own exacting standards. Rather, Ivor’s standpoint was far more akin to that of the great British communist Harry Pollitt. In his autobiography, Serving my Time, Pollitt situated the October Revolution in Russia in the context of the suffering of his own working class family and he continued – I only knew that people like myself had taken over the state, had taken control of the farms and the factories, and that it was my duty to support those lads and lasses and to stick by them through thick and thin.

Ivor brought those same working class principles to bear and he stuck with China and the Chinese revolution through thick and thin.

Finally, to Flo, I want to say this: I’ve spoken to several people since Ivor’s passing and we were all agreed. Over so many years, we can’t ever remember seeing Ivor without Flo or Flo without Ivor. You have lost the love of your life, your soul mate, your closest comrade and your best friend. I know from personal experience, and I’m sure that many others do, too, that there’s not much I or anyone else can say that can ease the pain of that. But Flo, I ask you to remember this: You are not alone. You have friends and you have comrades. There are people who care about you. Don’t hesitate to call on us. And as I said in one of our recent phone conversations, in some respects our movement is like a family. We have our quarrels. Sometimes, unfortunately, quite bitter ones. But there are also the times we come together. Losing a cherished comrade is one such time. And we are all here today united in our love and care for you, Flo.

Thank you.


Writings of Keith Bennett