By Rob Walsh
I am devastated that my friend and comrade Mick Brooks has died. He was taken from us by Covid-19, complicated by an underlying illness, in the early hours of 8th January in West Middlesex Hospital. He had been admitted on 26th December with breathing difficulties.
I first met Mick in the mid-1970s, when I heard him speak at a seminar on Marxist economics. I was immediately impressed with his ability to make economic theory lively, even entertaining. Months later I was delighted to find, when I left home to attend university in Hillingdon, that he lived in west London. We met frequently at meetings and almost every Sunday night at the Rocket pub in Acton, where Mick had instigated an informal socialist discussion group. In that pre-internet era this was a very important initiative, for it was all too easy for socialists to feel isolated.
The festive season would bring the inevitable Socialist Pantomime which, several years running, Mick wrote and staged, satirising current events and well-known political figures. The other actors were local young socialists, including his partner, Barbara, who one year played a character called the Red Prince. I recall Mick playing the part of a maiden condemned by Rumple-duffelcoat to be imprisoned in an ivory tower until she could spin straw promises into a golden election manifesto. How moved we were by her plight! All together: “Oh no we weren’t!”
At that time Mick was working at the Militant centre in Hackney. One of the things he did during this period was to write a theoretical supplement for Inqaba ya Basebenzi, the journal of the Marxists in the African National Congress, which was printed and sold in Britain and also smuggled into South Africa to be used as a weapon in the liberation struggle. Every issue was eagerly awaited: it was brilliant political education – incisive, detailed and accurate.
Whenever Mick wrote, just as when he spoke in meetings, it was to contribute something of value. As you reached the end of each paragraph you felt the time taken to read it was time well spent; you now understood something better than you had before. One example, written when he was editor of Socialist Appeal and published on www.marxist.com, was his in-depth review of Meghnad Desai’s book, Marx’s Revenge. Lord Desai’s arguments, basically that capitalism is benign and Marx’s ideas out of date, are taken apart and refuted, chapter and verse. It is a long review which was published online in eight parts, but well worth reading.
I remember Mick giving a speech in early 2007. Referring to the accumulation of debt in the USA, he said the world’s leading economy had run off a cliff, “like Wily Coyote in the Roadrunner cartoon, when his legs are circling furiously in the air but it is just a matter of time before he realises what has happened and plummets downwards.” The words proved prophetic only a few months later in the financial crash and recession of 2008.
Mick wrote and published his book, Capitalist Crisis: Theory and Practice, as a description and explanation of what happened and why such disasters are inherent to capitalism. The book necessarily contains statistics and some jargon, but it is written for working people and within its pages the author’s empathy for those who lost their homes and livelihoods, for all those who are struggling to survive, is palpable.
More recently he edited and wrote for Labour Briefing, a valuable service to the labour movement which Barbara is continuing.
An expert on Marx’s life and ideas, Mick clearly enjoyed giving his guided tour in central London, the Karl Marx walk, transmitting his enthusiasm to people from all parts of the world. But he was essentially very modest by nature – if he could have read these lines, he would have had to pause to roll his eyes!
Mick, I will always treasure those good times when, together with Barbara and other comrades, we enjoyed jazz, beer, rhythm n’ blues, good food, walks in the countryside and talking about Darwin and Stephen Jay Gould. We were socialist environmentalists long before climate change was mentioned in the mainstream media. You are sorely missed.
Rob Walsh is a member of Ealing Southall Labour Party
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