Alan Pullin (6 February 1949 – 23 April 2021)
An obituary for an old friend from Bristol who recently passed away.
“I met Alan first while working as a builder in Bristol. I quickly came to recognise a fierce intelligence and a sharp class consciousness. He was also a man of unlimited energy, regularly working all day as a builder and then night shifts as a psychiatric nurse, while also serving as a union rep in the NHS. We regularly had political discussions while we worked on roofs all over Bristol, as well as the odd argument about which town was bigger – Alan’s beloved Bristol or my own hometown of Bradford.
Alan’s father was a painter and decorator (and a member of the communist party) while his mother was a bookkeeper. Alan joined the Young Communist League as many of his generation and background did, the first of many political ‘homes’ he would try out, a quest to find a suitable outlet for his core beliefs. From there, by the time I met Alan, he had been involved with the Socialist Workers Party (SWP), and had been particularly active with the original Anti-Nazi League. Alan had been among those who understood the need for physically confronting fascists – and he was never shy in identifying this as his favourite form of recreational violence. As the leading figure in a crew of particularly enthusiastic anti-fascists, he of course fell foul of the largely middle class SWP leadership and consequently the (SWP dominated) ANL leadership. Alan was not the only activist to find themselves in this position, and the conflict between the middle class and working-class elements saw the militants establishing a new formation – Red Action. Alan retold a story about an SWP meeting where the leadership was criticising Red Action for its violent tactics. At the meeting was the famous Red Clydesider Harry McShane, who spoke up for Red Action much to the embarrassment of the SWP leadership. The legendary figure pointed out that the working-class movement had always included ‘hooligans’.
Like many, Alan became disenchanted with the SWP and drifted away from it. He maintained his comradely association with Red Action members and many other militant comrades but didn’t recommit himself to any organisation. He hadn’t found the ‘right fit’ just yet, but that would soon be changing.
The early 1980’s saw an explosion of anger as working-class communities rioted across the country, with Bristol being one of the first to erupt, to be followed by London, Manchester, Liverpool and many more doing likewise. Our class knew the scale of the threat they were facing. The attempts to analyse and pigeonhole these riots and the tensions brewing within our class by the traditional left were pathetic and something different was needed. That something different was Class War, emerging during this decade to become an uncompromising voice for working class anger, and an unapologetic advocate of working-class militancy, be this in our own areas, on the picket line or even “devastating the avenues where the rich live”. Starting off essentially as a propaganda sheet, Class War spread to see groups developing across the country (and abroad) and eventually establishing a national organisation that became a household name. But more importantly was the promotion of Class War as a political goal – ensuring that a class-based agenda was to the forefront of all struggles and campaigns, replacing the pointless middle-class liberalism, reformism and lifestylist attitudes that were way too prevalent. This aggressive ‘working class and proud’ ethos was timely and necessary, and would serve well in the era of rampant Thatcherism, with key struggles from the Miners’ Strike, through News International (Wapping) to the Poll Tax campaign. Class War and Alan would have a busy decade.
The Bristol anarchist group had started to discuss class politics and this would lead to the formation of the Bristol Class War ‘branch’. Having put the SWP behind him, Alan was intrigued by the direction of the anarchist group, it is fair to say, and started to attend meetings, and soon became a driving force. Through the 80’s and 90’s we were involved with others from Class War in many of the industrial and social disputes of the time. During the miners’ strike Alan’s father donated his caravan to be used by the pickets at the nearby Berkley power station.
Alan, like Harry McShane, understood the role of ‘hooligans’ and never accepted that the State should enjoy a monopoly on political violence – he was a born activist and could mobilise within working class estates many who would never normally be attracted to political activity, and I guess it’s safer just to acknowledge that there are many stories that should still not be shared in print.
An important aspect of Alan’s involvement in Class War was his ability to provide a link from an older generation of class warriors, like Harry McShane, to the younger generation. You can see picture of Alan and Harry leading the 1976 Right to Work March on the cover of the recently reissued biography of Harry McShane “No Mean Fighter”. Alan had acquired a lot of experience in different political groups and knew the importance of being a thoughtful and caring friend and comrade. He always had time to talk to people, and as his son Paul observed at Alan’s funeral, he needed to talk to people all the time about politics, whether they liked it or not! Many of us have memories of all night discussions with Alan.
Alan was a well-read class warrior and knew the importance of ideas in the struggle. One of his favourite phrases was ‘Is it the Singer or the Song?” to describe the tension between charismatic political operators and the ideas that they represent to the working class, drawing on his observation of struggles in Latin America. Alan understood and appreciated the importance of good PR operators in the struggle but also knew without a clear set of ideas and values things would go nowhere. As such he was a key figure in the production of the Class War Book ‘Unfinished Business’. Another phrase he was fond of using, that has always stuck in my mind, was ‘Hate Is Not Enough!’. There is plenty to hate about capitalism and its sick class system, but our class also needs a positive message of how things could be better and how that could happen – now more than ever. Like many activists Alan understood the importance of being part of a community and to have a long-term commitment to protect and support that community in order to be taken seriously and to have a base to operate from. Despite his attachment to his local community and his status as a proud Bristolian, he was not parochial. He was an Internationalist who keenly observed struggles across the globe, and was always happy to educate himself and share experiences with overseas activists, even naming one of his sons after an Irish comrade.
With the increasing strategy of the ruling class and their stooges to atomise our communities and society into helpless and fatalistic individuals, Alan’ legacy to us is the importance of ideas, having a story of hope to tell, caring for each other and being involved in community work – these things are now more important than ever.“
– John Casey