Ceri Evans, 1965-2002
edgeorge at usuarios.retecal.es
Tue Sep 3 00:54:44 MDT 2002
Ceri Evans, 1965-2002: An Obituary
By Ed George, Darren Williams, Leanne Wood and Brendan Young
It is difficult to make an objective assessment of the life of someone
who has only just died, especially when that someone was as close to us
- as a friend and comrade - as was Ceri Evans, who took his own life at
the beginning of August at the age of 36. Nevertheless, it is necessary
to mark his passing.
Ceri was first drawn to revolutionary politics as a teenage activist in
the anti-missiles movement of the early 1980s. He joined the
International Marxist Group, British Section of the Fourth
International, in 1981 - in the same month as his sixteenth birthday.
>From then until the day he died he remained a revolutionary socialist,
an internationalist, a Marxist, and an irreconcilable atheist.
As a revolutionary socialist in Wales for over 20 years Ceri
participated in a range of struggles. He played a prominent role in CND
and Youth CND in the early 1980s. He was arrested on the picket line
during the 1984-5 miners' strike. He worked full time for Cymdeithas yr
Iaith Gymraeg. He acted as secretary of the Cardiff Miners' Support
Group during the fight against pit closures in 1992. He was active in
the struggle against the poll tax and against the Blair clique's rewrite
of Clause Four.
For Ceri revolutionary socialism was nothing without internationalism.
He was a consistent opponent of British imperialism's presence in
Ireland, which led him to oppose the Good Friday Agreement. He was
infuriated by the suffering inflicted on the Palestinian people. He
recently came to the view that Palestine occupied the same place for the
left today that Spain had in the 1930s and suggested the setting up of a
Medical Aid for Palestine campaign in Wales.
But Ceri was not just an 'activist', pursuing one 'good cause' after
another. He wrestled with Marxist theory and came to a deep
understanding of its fundamentals. For Ceri, not only was it true that
'without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary practice'.
But that Marxist theory, divorced and separated from practical living
struggles, would only finish as meaningless dogma. The dialectical unity
of theory and practice - the heart of the Leninist conception of
revolutionary organisation - was at the core of his understanding of
Ceri's foremost political contribution is in relation to the national
question: both in general and specifically with regard to Wales. The IMG
had taken - almost uniquely among the English-dominated revolutionary
left in Wales - a serious and enquiring approach towards Welsh national
identity, its history, and its consequences for revolutionary socialism.
Ceri built upon the work of the IMG and related it to the rise of
national movements both in western Europe and in the former Soviet Union
and East European 'people's democracies'. Aided by other comrades and by
the work of the late Raymond Williams, he developed an understanding of
how the struggle against national oppression lay at the heart of the
struggle for socialist revolution.
Ceri favoured Welsh self government, expressed in the demand for a
Constituent Welsh Assembly: an Assembly which would have full power to
decide on all aspects of its functioning and its international
relations, without being subject to a veto from London. His theoretical
understanding was matched by a commitment to practical work.. Ceri
fought for a serious position on Welsh self-government within the Welsh
Labour Party. He was a key instigator of Welsh Labour Action, a pressure
group within the Labour Party set up to deepen policy on democratic
accountability and representation, and on the powers that the Assembly
would have. Ceri was also a key figure in the Socialists Say Yes
campaign, and he campaigned hard in the 1997 referendum itself. Such was
his role that figures within Welsh Labour Action, Plaid Cymru and the
Welsh Labour Party - including First Minister Rhodri Morgan - have
acknowledged that without Ceri's efforts, it is moot whether Wales would
have an Assembly at all today.
But Ceri vigorously opposed the fake 'regional' politics of the European
Union with its meagre handouts and sham structures of representation.
The united Europe that he fought for would be one in which there would
be real democracy - with self-determination for the peoples of Europe
guaranteed - and in which regional inequalities would be addressed on
the basis of the needs of working people, not capital. To this end he
was one of the central organisers of the demonstration held to counter
the June 1998 EU Summit in Cardiff.
Ceri was not alone among socialists to be disappointed at the aftermath
of the 1997 Assembly referendum - and especially with the way that the
Labour left failed to use the positive result to consolidate a socialist
politics in Wales. He decided that the Welsh Labour Party was no longer
the best place for his energies. Last February he publicly broke with
Labour and joined Plaid Cymru - with the intention of organising with
the left in Plaid to advance working class and national struggles
throughout Wales. (His letter of resignation from the Labour Party can
be read at <http://www.tribancoch.com>.)
The degree to which the left in Plaid will build struggles - and the
correctness of Ceri's decision - remain to be proven. But to
characterise his move as some kind of 'break from socialism' would be a
travesty: a knee-jerk response based on a Greater British chauvinist
economism which can only see in national struggles a diversion from the
'pure' 'class' struggle. Revolutionaries must make tactical decisions
about which mass organisations they participate in, flowing from their
assessment of how best to advance the class struggle in specific social
and political conditions.
Ceri, who was Welsh-English bilingual, was brought up in Ynystawe and
Swansea. He lived his adult life in Pontypridd and Cardiff, and briefly
in the Rhondda. He worked as a researcher and lecturer in electronics at
the University of Glamorgan. He was regarded as an expert in his field -
control systems for gas turbines - and won prizes for his work in
international academic competitions. Although he was no saint - he could
be irascible in argument - he was also sensitive, witty, intelligent and
Ceri had been ill for over four years when he died. In 1998 he was
diagnosed with Repetitive Strain Injury, which developed as an
occupational injury - he couldn't get his department to give him a
proper typing chair until it was too late. This was followed by the
onset of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Over the past two years he suffered
from depression - possibly as a consequence of his other illnesses. From
March to June of this year he suffered a severe manic episode and
although depressed, he appeared to be recovering recently. On 2 August
however, he killed himself. It appears from his last actions that this
was a considered decision. A note he left says that what prompted his
suicide was despair brought on by fear of a future that could be filled
with physical and mental pain.
Such are the facts of his death. But his closest friends believe he was
let down badly by the mental health system, which provided no follow-up
after his breakdown in March. He was particularly let down by the
'specialist' he went to for treatment of chronic fatigue. This man put
him on a combination of anti-depressants, something regarded as
dangerous in clinical psychiatry because of the risk of triggering a
manic attack - including by the so-called 'safe' SSRI's (the Prozac-type
drugs). But he would not take calls from Ceri's partner when he reacted
badly to the doubling of a drug dose in February.
This negligence was exacerbated by the stigma attached to mental
illness, which inhibits discussion of mental ill health, drug treatments
and their associated risks. If we are to avoid similar tragedies in the
future, the left must take up the fight for user-centred mental health
services; and deal with mental illness if it arises in our own lives and
the lives of our friends in an informed and candid way.
The mark of Ceri's contribution, and the deep respect and love with
which he was held by friends and comrades alike, was evident at a
memorial meeting held in Pontypridd just two weeks after his death.
Close to 100 attended. Moving and often inspiring tributes were paid to
his memory; and messages of condolence from all over the world were read
out. A Ceri Evans Memorial Fund was launched, with a view to publishing
a collection of his writings.
Where do we go from here? One of Ceri's closest comrades reminded us at
the memorial of Trotsky's words, written shortly before his
assassination in 1940, with which Ceri, even right at the end, would
have agreed: 'Life is beautiful. Let the future generations cleanse it
of all evil, oppression and violence, and enjoy it to the full.'
Honouring Ceri's memory surely means taking this message to our hearts,
and fighting to realise it.
Thursday, 29 August 2002
Donations can be made to the Ceri Evans Memorial Fund c/o 2 Wellington
Mews, Wellington Street, Cardiff CF11 9BE or by contacting
<edgeorge at usuarios.retecal.es>.
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