DAVID FINCH, 1920 – 2012
When you asked David Finch when his birthday was, he replied “three years after the Russian Revolution”, instead of 1920. That was his point of reference – not just for the beginning of his life but for his politics.
Born in Stoke Newington in north London, his parents were both Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe. His father made fur coats and his mother was a machinist.
When David was about 12, he once recalled, he got himself into an argument with an atheist who planted serious doubts in this young man’s mind. This early experience shaped his secular outlook from that day on.
Like many Jewish working-class households of the time, David’s was full of political arguments. David’s father was heavily influenced by anarchism and political meetings and discussions were a regular feature of home life.
I remember him telling me that his father used to sing them songs about a French anarchist in an attempt to get the children off to sleep! David recalled that his earliest memories of political events was the execution in 1927 in the US of anarchists Sacco and Vanzetti on frame-up murder charges.
This sense of the injustice of the system stayed with David for the rest of his life. In the early 1930s, he began reading the Daily Worker, the paper of the British Communist Party. Visits to the Unity Theatre, which featured left-wing causes, helped shape his broader socialist education.
With the Wall Street crash and the Depression came the growth of fascism in Germany and then the Spanish Civil War. Like many young people at the time, David was attracted to the ideas of communism and became a member of the Young Communist League.
He at first accepted all the arguments about the tremendous developments made in the Soviet Union which were attributed to the leadership of Joseph Stalin. But events in Spain raised serious doubts in his mind. During the Civil War, the crushing of revolutionary forces on Stalin’s orders made Dave question the party line.
Still a teenager, he sought out the left-wing critics of the Communist Party. He rejected the Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party because David did not consider social democracy as a political option.
At the age of 20, he found the answers he was looking for in the arguments of the Left Opposition put forward by Leon Trotsky and became a member of the Workers International League. A year later came his first expulsion!
Then in 1943, David joined the newly-formed Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party, which was the British wing of the Fourth International. Having got his science degree, David was at that time working at Philips in what was considered work of national importance. So he was not called up to the forces.
But he continued his political activity. During the war years, there was a political truce and the main parties, as well as the Communist party, did not contest elections. But the RCP did fight by-elections and also supported the numerous strikes that took place despite the war effort.
At the end of the war, the RCP was divided as to what to do next. The issue was whether to remain independent or enter the Labour Party. David found himself in the minority, which decided to go into the Labour Party as an organised revolutionary faction.
Then the leadership decided that comrades had to get closer to the working class and David and several others were sent off to become miners at Cannock.
Within a couple of months, these young men with their London accents had become the majority on the union pit committee. They actually won support for an overtime ban until the demand of full workers’ control was granted in the state-owned industry.
But after five months in the pit, David was injured by a roof fall and returned to work as an industrial scientist in a power station. But his political group decided he should get out of the laboratory and be directly involved with workers on the shop floor, in particular the apprentices.
David was used to reinventing himself and took a training course to become an electrician. He then became secretary of the Brixton branch of the Electrical Trades Union. As a Trotskyist he was not exactly made welcome by the ETU leadership which was dominated by members of the Communist Party.
After they were ousted by a right-wing coup, the new leadership of the ETU did not put David on the guest list either. Eventually he was framed and removed from all positions within the union – for life.
On another front, Dave had made his debut at the Labour Party annual conference denouncing the Atlee government’s colonial oppression in what was then Malaya. He helped produce and write for the Trotskyist paper within Labour which was called Socialist Outlook. This actually rivalled Tribune in circulation and supporters.
Eventually, Socialist Outlook was banned and David, myself and others were expelled from the Labour Party. He had become a Labour councillor and organised a rent strike which ended in victory for the tenants and defeat for Lambeth council.
And so another change in David’s life took place in the 1960s when he took up teaching and became active in the National Union of Teachers. Through his conduct and personal qualities he was able to win the respect and affection of those who regularly attended meetings, despite the fact that they may have disagreed with him. Of course many did generally agree with him and he inspired them to become union and political activists.
He was a conference delegate for 30 years from the early 70s until 2003. He was a branch officer until 2010. He was elected Croydon NUT President in the year 2000 for the third time. He was a regular attendee at meetings until autumn 2011 of both Croydon NUT and Croydon Trades Union Council.
There were numerous other battles within the left of our movement that David played a major part in. Though they were important at the time, they do not seem so relevant today.
But David did not live in the past. Far from it. While conscious of the history of our movement, he was always looking to move forward and working to build the alliances that were needed to do so.
David remained firm and clear and sustained his principles and politics until the end of his life.
Lifelong friend and comrade
20 February 2012