(1928-1996) Ellis Hillman

ANOTHER IRREPARABLE loss to our magazine has been the death of Ellis Hillman in hospital whilst undergoing treatment for a heart bypass operation on 21 January.

Ellis Simon Hillman was born into a highly political family on 17 November 1928. One of his relatives was Sidney Hillman, President of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers in the USA, and a founder of the CIO; another Chaim Herzog, played an important part in the formation of the state of Israel. His early career in the Trotskyist movement is adequately covered in the account above, which was written for us only a couple of days before he entered hospital. During the events covered here he remained a supporter o the Revolutionary Communist Party, and was particularly hostile to Gerry Healy. When the RCP collapsed he remained active in the Labour League of Youth and gathered a discussion group of young people around him, This group was the founder of Keep Lift, later the paper of the Young Socialists. For some time he was a member of the Socialist Review Group, the predecessor of today's Socialist Workers Party. When a majority of the group were persuaded by Cyril Smith to join Healy's Club, Hillman reluctantly went with them to avoid political isolation. But he never accepted the myth of 'Pabloite Revisionism' by which Healy ought to justify his split with the International Secretariat in 1953, and when the IS rebuilt its section in Britain in 1957 he became a secret sympathizer along with Arthur Cooper, whilst continuing to belong to the leading committees of Healy's group, He not only held that the split between the International Committee and the International Secretariat had taken place on an insufficient basis, but he also regarded the formation of the Socialist Labour League as a Third Period stunt. Many years afterwards we exchanged stories about our adventures in the Trotskyism movement. I thought I was on to a winner when I described how I had been expelled from the International Marxist Group for suggesting that its members should join trade unions or the Labour Party. But he capped my story easily by describing how he had been expelled from an organisation that he had not only never been a member of, but had even opposed its foundation!

Ellis remained wedded to Trotsky's entrist perspective for the building of the revolutionary party, and continued to be active in Labour Party municipal politics as a member of the Revolutionary Socialist League, He was a founder member of the editorial board of Militant, sat on the London County Council and the Greater London Council from 1958 to 1981, and was Mayor of Barnet in 1994-95. He made a splendid contribution as Chairman of the GLC Arts and Recreation Committee, and the Kenwood Concerts stand as a memorial to his concern that the treasures of culture should not remain the personal property of the privileged classes. Not the least of his achievements was the removal of the bust of Baroness Thatcher from Barnet Town Hall, even if he rejected my own suggestion that it could be put to good use for municipal fund raising in a public latrine.

Hillman was a man of liberal education and wide interests, and his book London Under London written along with Richard Trench (1985) proved so popular that despite a certain amount of controversy it provoked, it had to be reprinted almost immediately, Opinion may well be divided on some of the rest of his legacy, such as his advocacy of the Eruv, and his fervent support for the Flat Earth and Lewis Carroll Societies, for one of the delights of knowing him was his sense of whimsy. A final I rony was that just before he went into hospital he persuaded me to write an obituary of Dr Worrall for The Independent. For some mysterious reason known only to thel11selves they failed to publish it, but three days after Ellis' own death they published a highly inaccurate obituary of him by Illtyd Harrington. Ellis would have enjoyed the joke. Whether he would have approved of Mr. Harrington's further contributions to folklore, that the RCP's headquarters were 'fortified' (Guardian), that there were ‘dark rumours' that Ellis 'had flirted with the Trotskyite cell of the ineffable Gerry Healy' (Independent), or that Ellis believed he was a member of Mossad (Tribune), I much doubt.

He will be remembered by the public as a benefactor, by revolutionaries as one of the most fervent and well informed of their kind, and by his friends for his warmth and humanity.

Al Richardson