AISA is devastated at the news of the death of Steve Mann, AISA commitee member, one-time Mayor of Haringey and long-standing Arsenal supporter. We all offer our sincere and heartfelt condolences to his wife Jennifer, and his family. He will be a great loss.
Here is a review of Steve’s book Sadism, Songs and Lost Liberty. It gives an insight into what the reviewer, Steve Flett, describes as “quite a life.”
Street Fighting Mann: review of Sadism, Songs & Lost Liberty
(Taken from London Socialist Historians Newsletter – summer 2014
Steve Mann’s memoir of his youth in the Royal Navy it that unusual thing, a book about politics that is also a compelling and enjoyable read.
A North Londoner Steve signed up for the Royal Navy in the first half of the 1960s for the minimum term of 12 years.
He quickly came to realise that it was not a pleasant place to be. It might be argued that the petty rules and discipline could be found elsewhere too in the 1960s, but obviously in the armed forces it was taken as a given fact of life.
Steve quite quickly realised that a career in the Royal Navy wasn’t for him, but he was contractually bound to stay. Unlike other jobs you could not just walk out and resign. That would be desertion.
As it turned out he did get what appears to have been a good training as a chef and remains, so his trade union colleagues tell me, an excellent cook to this day. Whether this was quite what he had in mind when he signed up is less clear. Certainly he seems to have seen a lot more of land bound training ships than he did the sea and particularly interesting overseas locations.
The book recounts his political awakening as he contacts the Communist Party in North London [they did not allow members of the services to join] and the old TGWU [likewise]. He reads the Morning Star and Socialist Worker and ends up writing pieces for both papers.
His left-wing leanings clearly aroused the interest of the security services who kept a fairly close watch on both his activities- attending anti-Vietnam war demonstrations for example- and who he spoke to.
Steve eventually decided to try and buy himself out of the Navy and did pioneering work with the National Council for Civil Liberties [now Liberty] to see if the law that bound people into the services for long periods could be challenged and changed.
He had made his opposition to the Vietnam War clear and told the Navy that were Britain to become involved he could not fight, in effect becoming a conscientious objector. His statement was not taken at face value. He had to undergo a lengthy discussion with a Navy padre to prove the point
In due course the Navy did allow him to buy himself out, for far more money than he had. Socialists in Hornsey had a fund raising party to Free Steve Mann, which eventually they actually did.
The book is also a record of North London working class life in the 1960s, the cafes and pubs, the music of the day [there is a list of favourite records at the end] and, the major downside of the book, the support for Arsenal.
If you were around in the 1960s you’ll love the book and even if you weren’t you’ll find it a very engaging piece of working class autobiography. It is an important contribution to our understanding of how people became part of ‘the left’ and what it meant.