Alan Hardman in his studio
Alan Hardman in his studio

We first met Alan Hardman in the late 1960s through some comrades living in Maidenhead. He was already a confirmed socialist, and always ready for lively discussions on politics and art. But it was 1971, when the Militant Editorial Board decided it was necessary to go to a fortnightly paper and to buy our own press, that became a real landmark in Alan’s contribution.

We moved into new premises bought from the Independent Labour Party in Cambridge Heath Road, London. To become habitable, the building had to be completely renovated from top to bottom: drains had to be laid, joists put in, floors completely rebuilt, walls plastered. This was made possible only by the devoted and strenuous efforts of our supporters in carrying out massive improvements and repairs to the building.

Many comrades helped, including myself (Peter) doing the digging, with Ted Mooney from Liverpool, and others, adding their knowledge of construction work. Into the back shed was packed Militant’s first precious printing press, acquired through the diligence of Militant’s first printer, Alan. Also cramped in the shed was an archaic folding machine. Eventually the first fortnightly Militant was produced and sold with no more than 217 committed supporters throughout the country. Alan played a crucial role in this early development.

He was not only an extremely talented comrade, practical in every way, skilful, and curious to learn how to mend machines and create useful components; he was also an artist. He often talked about the need to unify the arts and engineering, rather than separate them, as he had observed was happening to the curriculum in schools.

He was fascinated by the work of George Grosz, a German artist in the 1930s who was able to depict in his drawings the power of the working class and the despicable greed of the boss class. The influence of Grosz could be detected in many of Alan’s own drawings, and his cartoons began to be featured regularly in Militant.

As an ardent socialist committed to Militant, he enjoyed discussing whatever the current political situation presented us. The 1970s and 1980s, when a Labour government was followed by the vicious Thatcher government’s attacks on the unions, were particularly full of all kinds of events like strikes, anti-redundancy campaigns, unemployment, wars and more – providing the basic stuff for satire and political comment.

Especially when we moved our premises to a bigger building in Hackney Wick, Alan had the opportunity to discuss with a whole variety of comrades; but Alan and I would get together weekly – sometimes daily – to exchange ideas about what he might focus his cartoon on that week. He recognised that a clear class analysis was a vital ingredient for an impressive cartoon. He needed to assure himself he was getting the message right.

Sometimes a visual cartoon can encapsulate written political points in a more dynamic way. Other times he could pick up an action or a phrase and develop a whole point. I once mentioned to him a quote that Linda had shown me. It was a comment by a Roman historian about the crimes of imperialism. Alan turned this into one of his most popular cartoons in a condemnation of the USA’s Nixon government waging ruthless devastation on the Vietnamese peasants.

Comrades looked forward eagerly to his cartoons. Some people even bought the paper just for the cartoon! When Alan moved back to Yorkshire with his family, and as he got older, his cartoons were sorely missed.

In a world today, where visual tech images are ten-a-penny, Alan’s cartoons stand the test of time. For us they are outstanding because they speak for our class. They speak about the power the working class possesses to change society by getting rid of the cruel, greedy, corrupt, ruthless capitalists and imperialists. His memory will live on in his cartoons, but his younger comrades will continue to fight on for the socialist change to which he was so committed.

Farewell Alan, friend, and comrade. We salute you.

Peter and Linda Taaffe