By Mik Sabiers in Britain:
Obituary: Lou Kenton (1908-2012)
Tuesday 02 October 2012
Lou Kenton, who has died at the age of 104, lived a life that took in many of the great battles of the left over the last century.
Lou … was born in Stepney, east London, in 1908 – the eldest son of Jewish immigrants who had fled Ukraine as a result of Tsarist pogroms.
He left school aged 14 and started work in a series of local factories. It was there that his political awakening began.
He became a member of the Young Communist League and found himself thrown into the front line of street politics, moving from the factory to Fleet Street where he worked as a printer and convener of the printers’ anti-fascist movement.
It was in the 1930s that his activism came to the fore.
Lou was one of the many protesters who infiltrated Oswald Mosley‘s speech to the mass British Union of Fascists rally at Olympia in June 1934.
As the protesters started to heckle Mosley they were violently attacked by his blackshirted followers. The anti-fascists, Lou among them, fought back in what was to be one of the key turning points in the struggle against fascism in Britain.
In 1936 Lou was instrumental in holding back the fascists once again as Mosley’s blackshirts attempted to march through the east end of London, targeted because of its large Jewish population.
During what became known as the Battle of Cable Street Lou helped co-ordinate demonstrators – speeding on his motorbike across the area as thousands took to the streets – and helping to ensure the fascists’ path was blocked and the planned march abandoned.
Like many of those that turned the tide at Cable Street, as the spectre of fascism started to rise in Spain Lou was one of the many brave men and women who joined the International Brigades to fight for the Spanish republic.
In 1937 Lou, along with his first wife Lilian whom he had married in 1933, made his way to Spain.
Lilian worked as a nurse and Lou – who rode all the way to Spain through France on his motorbike – spent the next two years as an ambulance driver in the brigades’ Attlee Battalion, where he also distributed supplies, evacuated Basque children and did fund-raising back in Britain.
Some 35,000 people volunteered for the International Brigades.
In the words of Lou’s close friend, future T&G general secretary Jack Jones: “We were determined to do anything that seemed possible, even if it meant death.”
Indeed around 10,000 did die and many more were injured.
It was at this time that Lou met his second wife Rafa, whom he married in 1941, and with whom he spent the rest of his long life.
After the defeat in Spain Lou returned to London and when the second world war broke out he worked in a munitions factory in Chiswick, west London.
Lou was badly injured in a bombing raid which hospitalised him for months.
After the war he worked as organiser for the Communist Party in London, helping instigate the Homes for Heroes campaign to house demobbed soldiers and bombed-out families in empty buildings.
One of Lou’s other ideas to drive party recruitment – offering a prize of a trip to Paris for Bastille day – helped lead to the founding of Progressive Tours, which remained for decades the principal travel company for visits behind the Iron Curtain.
That in turn spurred Lou’s interest in eastern Europe and he had a particular interest in Czechoslovakia, running the Anglo-Czech Friendship league.
Lou was shattered by Brezhnev’s invasion of the country in 1968 and he left the Communist Party.
After years of working with and backing the party he found himself jobless in his sixties.
He returned to his printing roots, this time working as a proofreader at the Financial Times until he was well into his seventies.
Lou also joined the Labour Party and would remain a member for the rest of his life – earning the distinction of 40 years’ membership of both the Communist and Labour parties.
In retirement he found a new career as a prolific maker of commemorative pottery for unions and other organisations, many of which ended up on display in his local West London Trade Union Club in Acton.
And it was in that club that Lou celebrated his centenary, joined by his old comrade Jack Jones for one last time.
The following year Lou was one of nine surviving brigaders awarded Spanish citizenship at a special ceremony at the Spanish embassy on the 70th anniversary of the civil war.
The award for his work in fighting for freedom and democracy was a fitting conclusion to an extraordinary life committed to fighting for what’s right.
Lou Kenton died in Ealing, London, on September 17 2012. He is survived by Rafa, their two children Judy and John and a great many friends to whom he was a mentor, exemplar and encourager.
See also here.