It is a sad day when a good comrade like Richard Neville dies. If you had any doubt about Richard’s deep radicalism it is worth watching his video about climate change posted on the Guardian site with the Marsha Rowe and Geoffrey Robertson obits. In it he nails neoliberal economists, the corporations and the rich as the drivers of dangerous climate change – and implicitly anticipates the Sanders and Corbyn phenomenon.
If, nevertheless, you are thinking the use of ‘comrade’ goes too far, it is true that Richard had a deep aversion to violence and militarism (whether of the Left or Right) and this made him very wary of certain aspects the revolutionary surge of the 1960s and 1970s. And who can say he was wrong about that? A radical pacificism was something he shared with another old comrade Tony Harris and I for one am indebted to the wisdom of their warnings.
Because of his acute and angry opposition to American war-making in general and the invasion of Iraq in particular, as well as his environmental concerns, Richard did join the Greens at one stage. He was active in the 2004 federal campaign, supporting Andrew Wilkie when he ran as a Green against John Howard. And while his fatal illness was already creeping over him he came to the launch of my campaign as the Greens candidate for Grayndler in 2013.
I felt very honoured that he travelled down from Blackheath to attend. For a long time I was not specially close to Richard because for him the 60s were about love, sex, drugs and rock’n’roll whereas for me the revolution, feminism and May 68 were the dominant themes. There was in addition a flurry of journalistic rivalry in the 70s (The Digger v Living Daylights). And we had very different social or class backgrounds too. But with the rise of ecological consciousness and Richard’s growing anti-imperialism and the friendship of our partners (they are both great writers and went back a long way, going to the same Steiner school) there was a convergence and for the past 20 years a warm friendship and exchange of ideas. (Anyone interested in his political thinking over the past 15 years can find his contributions on CounterPunch.)
He did have second thoughts about the iconoclastic sixties libertarianism. He believed it paved the way for the unrestrained consumerism and narcissism that he considered dangerous to social life as well as the living environment. Back in the 1990s he laid out this view in his critical review of Peter Greenaway’s film The Thief, the Cook, His Wife & Her Lover. His distaste for the film and his argument for restraint and limits were misconstrued by his critics as a call for censorship by an old fogey regressing towards the attitudes of his father ‘the Colonel’. No way, and as with most things Richard Neville, time has confirmed the rightness of his views.
Having said that, in 2004 Richard was present when Bob Gould spoke at a party at my place … and let Bob take up the story: ‘I said that Hall and most of us present were of the older generation that had — to borrow a thought from the English poet, Wordsworth, talking about the French Revolution — been lucky enough to be alive and politically active in the 1960s. I said it was important that we should celebrate and defend the 1960s in the face of the counter-revolution taking place throughout the world to obliterate and/or roll back the political and social legacy of the 1960s. I said the 1960s, which had moulded so many of those present, was the greatest time in the 20th century to be alive, for all of us. That assertion got very considerable applause.’ Among those applauding most enthusiastically was Richard.
Like all his friends I miss him hugely. He had a warm and jokey manner that made you feel special and he loved to spar intellectually and politically. (Even in the last dark period of his dementia I can recall visiting him in his modern nursing home and saying to him as I surveyed the scene, “It’s pretty good here, I might move in myself”, and as quick as a shot he replied, “I was afraid you might be thinking that”.)
His chief fault was an incorrigible self-deprecation which mars his autobiographical Hippie, Hippie, Shake. Yes, he could be a show-off, but he was a loving and loyal friend, an ever-sparkling talker and deeply concerned about the fate of the world. He was a pretty good table tennis player too.