John Crump

This obituary was written by a comrade in the SPGB. It appears on their website. He knew John well.


John Crump, the author of a number of books on socialism and anarchism, died at the beginning of March at the comparatively early age of 60. From 1963 to 1974 he was a very active member of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in London, Manchester and Sheffield where he initially worked as a dentist. He was a member of the editorial committee of the Socialist Standard, contributing articles under the initials J.C. (two, the "Politics of Pop" and "How Close was France to a Socialist Revolution", are included in the SPGB's centenary book "Socialism Or Your Money Back"), but was also one of those responsible for painting "SPGB" in huge letters on a prominent rockface on the main road between Sheffield and Manchester which could still be seen until a few years ago.

He resigned in 1974 when he went to work in Japan, criticising what he regarded as various organisational shortcomings but also the SPGB's views on the use of parliament in the course of the establishment of socialism. In fact he had come to the conclusion that the overthrow of capitalism was more likely to need to be violent. But he remained a Socialist, trying to bridge the gap between views such as the SPGB's and those of the anarcho-communists and other anti-parliamentarists, a doomed project since neither side was prepared to change their views, respectively for and against using elections and parliament. One of the fruits of this project was the book he co-edited with Maximilien Rubel "Non-Market Socialism in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries" (1987) which contained articles on what he always described as "the thin red line of non-market socialism" including one on the SPGB but also on anarcho-communism, council communism and the situationists. He had previously co-authored a study of the Russian economy "State Capitalism: The Wages System under New Management" (1986).

The main reason he had gone to Japan was to test the truth of the view he got from the SPGB that socialist ideas arise out of capitalist conditions rather than out of the mere propaganda of socialists: Japan, being an industrially developed capitalist country, ought in his view to have independently produced socialist ideas amongst the working class there. He was to be rather disappointed, discovering that in Japan "Marxism" meant Leninism (as generally it still does in the rest of Asia too) and that those who had argued for a classless, moneyless, wageless society of common ownership (as a few anarchist writers did) tended to be anti-industrial and to be unconnected to the working class movement, as he explained in his books "The Origins of Socialist Thought in Japan" (1983) and "Hatta Shuzo and Pure Anarchism in Interwar Japan" (1993).

Although this was the last thing he had in mind, the change from dentist to Japanese studies proved to be a good career move since in the 1970s and 80s the institutions of Japan's booming economy were held up as a model for other countries (in the 1987 elections in Britain Neil Kinnock and the Labour Party promised to introduce the same system into Britain). But then in the early 90s the bubble burst and Japan entered a long period of stagnation. Japan was no longer a model and the money for Japanese studies dropped. The University of Stirling, where he was then working, pared down its Japanese section, and John retired early and returned to live in York, where he had spent most of his academic life teaching politics and Japanese studies at the university there. Anecdotally, one of his students was the comedian Harry Enfield who, under his direction, wrote a dissertation on the SPGB. His last book "Nikkeiren and Japanese capitalism", a study of the Japanese employers' association set up after the last world war, was reviewed in last April's Socialist Standard.