I FIRST met Frank Rowe some 47 years ago when he was an earnest bespectacled youth. We sold the Socialist Appeal together at Marble Arch, both of us being very young members of the Revolutionary Communist Party. Frank, a former member of the Young Communist League, had become increasingly critical of the policies of Stalinism, and was therefore attracted towards Trotskyism.
Unfortunately, during the period in which he and I joined the RCP, a destructive faction fight was tearing the organisation apart — on the one side Gerry Healy and his minority called for entry into the Labour Party, on the other Jock Haston and the majority called for the open party. Of course, this difference in approach extended the faction fight into many other areas, which was frustrating for young comrades such as Frank and I who were desperate to go out onto the highways and byways and change the world!
Frustrated and disillusioned, Frank left the RCP before the crunch came and the party was handed over to Healy and his ‘Club’. For a short time, Frank joined Ken Hawkes’ Syndicalist Workers Federation, itself a split from the Anarchist Freedom Group, and I lost sight of him. Frank was one of the old RCP comrades who responded to Ted Grant’s call in Tribune in 1950-51 to form an open Trotskyist group, with most of those responding having by now been expelled from or left Healy’s ‘Club’. Breaking away from Grant’s group in 1957, Frank, Sam Levy and Morry Solloff founded Socialist Current, which I regularly read (and which we affectionately referred to as the Current Bun!). Frank’s widow Pauline tells me that Frank wrote regularly for it until it folded in 1988.
During the following years, Frank, living in the East End of London, became active in local left-wing politics, and especially in the fight against racism, which he combined with his work for the Claimants Union. Frank and Pauline were active in the Anti-Poll Tax Campaign and in many other local issues.
In losing Frank at the early age of 66, it can be said that we have lost ‘one of the family’.
Ted Crawford adds
I first met Frank in the early 1960s, and thereafter for some six or seven politically formative years I was associated with the Socialist Current group. It was Frank above all who influenced me with his charm, his commonsensical approach and his shrewd yet robust views and comments about working-class life and politics. His interests were wide and broad ranging, and his judgements were perceptive. It was this and Frank’s free-ranging and inquisitive mind rather than Sam Levy’s more intellectual and conventional Marxist approach which initially attracted me to the Current. For Frank, too, was a natural intellectual, though in his case, a minor tragedy of working-class life, he had in 1938 at the age of 11 won a place at the grammar school, but, because his parents were very poor (his father had just been sacked and blacklisted after a strike that broke the iniquitous living-in system amongst the warehousemen), he was unable to take it up. His parents offered it to him, but as he said, ‘You don’t do that kind of thing.’ Though the place was ‘free’ the costs of the uniform and books would have been unbearable for them at that time.
When I first met Frank he was a house painter, but he had taught himself Spanish and translated some articles from the underground Spanish opposition for Socialist Current. He had a great fund of entertaining anecdotes, one of my favourites that I still repeat was of the pious Catholic lady whose council flat he painted and who, because he was polite and cheerful, brought him cups of tea and cake and confided her troubles to him. Her daughter had married an atheist who refused to use a Catholic Church, but they compromised and got married in an Anglican one instead of a Register office. Frank greatly enjoyed this working-class perception of the theological position of the C of E as halfway between Catholicism and atheism.
I learnt much from Frank, and for a long time counted him amongst my closest friends and my closest comrade. Those long Greek meals washed down with plenty of rough Algerian red wine we had every Saturday night at Peter and Andrew’s cafe in Soho during those years were for me most enjoyable and intensive tutorials in Marxist theory, working-class politics and the world revolutionary movement, to which all kinds of people dropped in. Amongst others Raya Dunayevskaya, Geoff Carlsson, Jim Higgins, Tony Cliff, Jon Silkin the poet, many people in Young Guard like Connie Lever, various members of left-wing organisations which have long been forgotten, and many, many others, all at one time or another came in for a bite and a chat. It is in that happy and stimulating company that I would like to remember Frank. Towards the end of 1967 I wanted us to fuse with the International Socialists, where I felt that the future lay, and, though Frank was initially sympathetic, Sam Levy persuaded him against it. When I left and joined the IS in January 1968, I expressed the hope in my resignation letter that we would all eventually meet again in a new, broader Socialist organisation which would embrace the whole revolutionary left. What optimism! I saw very little of him after I split, but he remained and remains an influence upon me whether he knew it or not. The last time that I saw him was at Sammy Bornstein’s funeral, and I bitterly regret that I did not get in touch with him again and follow things up. Now I never will. All my sympathies go out to Pauline, who has lost a good man.