Issue 249 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published February 2001 Copyright © Socialist Review
Headingley Cricket Ground, August 1976. Viv Richards is batting for the West Indies. A large group of men in the crowd are loudly passing racist remarks. Around them, shoulders hunch in embarrassed silence. A small woman, eight months pregnant with her fourth child, rises in her seat and gives the racists hell. Her speech provokes applause. The racists fall silent... Audrey Farrell has died, after a long battle with cancer.
Audrey grew up in Colne, Lancashire, in a family setting that united ILP politics, Methodism and pacifism. She developed two early passions: classical piano and mountain walking. After a social science degree at Keele, she moved to west London to teach music in a comprehensive school for three years, where she and her pupils put on an enthusiastic production of Carmen. From there she moved into what she called the Youth Injustice System, working in an underfunded remand centre where classroom materials were provided through her students' thieving skills.
She worked hard in Willesden Labour Party and might have made a parliamentary career. But her anti-war stance took her into CND, into a sharpening conflict with the pro-bomb Gaitskellites, onto marches and clashes with the police. The view from a selection of police cells gave her first hand experience of the law and order system she would later dissect so brilliantly.
These activities brought contact with the tiny, but theoretically powerful, International Socialism group, which she first joined in 1961. In the same period the New Left Group introduced her to the historian Raphael Samuel. She worked with him for six months on an intensive study of the history of housing policy in Britain. Raphael was a famously exacting teacher from whom she learned many of the research and writing skills she would later deploy in her own work.
Marrying Jim Kincaid in 1961, she moved to Aberdeen. The growth of the student movement and opposition to the Vietnam War brought her back into political life in the Aberdeen IS branch, and also to a new kind of music--as a pub pianist and rock band leader. The white South African rugby team, the Springboks, came to play in Aberdeen. Hundreds of protesters against apartheid invaded the pitch. Audrey, one of 150 people fined £10 each, invited John Lennon to play at a benefit gig. Lennon couldn't come, but sent £1,500 to pay all the fines--and to boost the campaign.
In 1971 she was in Coventry, where an exceptionally lively IS branch included numbers of very able and militant shop stewards in a period when the level of class organisation and struggle was at its postwar peak. Till then, Audrey had entertained doubts about Leninist politics. These vanished as she experienced the driving strength of a revolutionary organisation with organic links to mass workers' movements. The worker members energised those with university training, demanding serious socialist education and theory in the branch's work, and that those responsible take it immensely seriously.
In 1973 the family moved to Leeds. The first marrige ended and a second with Dennis Farrell would last from 1976 to 1987. Audrey lectured at Park Lane College. A militant union member, she always managed to maintain a Socialist Worker sale when others held back. She was a scourge of employers and union bureaucrats, with an unerring nose for bullshit and a capacity to make others laugh at it with her.
In the 1970s work began on a long manuscript which, after many editings and rewrites, would finally appear as Crime, Class and Corruption: The Politics of the Police (1992). The book is notable for the clarity and directness of its argument: the police are astonishingly bad at dealing with the crimes that affect ordinary people. What they really do, unable to solve the crime problem which arises from capitalism itself, is protect the property and power of the ruling class. The whole book is full of penetrating anecdotes, shafts of humour and the sharpest socialist politics.
As was the book, so was Audrey. Speaking at literally hundreds of meetings, she had the rare (and hard won) knack for communicating ideas freshly and accessibly. Her model was Rosa Luxemburg explaining economics to workers. Her politics influenced everything about her life. They were vivid, passionate and intelligent.
Audrey was a tiny person with a huge courage. Her exemplary commitment to working class struggle and to socialism was matched with a famous sense of humour. To share her company was often to ache with laughter. She sparkled with energy and love of life, even in her long final illness. An immensely loyal friend and comrade, she inspired loyalty and love in her friends, and respect often even from her opponents. Many of her friends recalled that 'Audrey made you bigger than you thought you could be.'
Her death diminishes us as her life enlarged us.