➻ John Saville [1916-2009]
por Teoría de la historia
John Saville, the socialist economic and social historian who has died aged 93, was an academic at Hull University for nearly 40 years, but will be remembered above all for the great, open-ended Dictionary of Labour Biography (partly co-edited with Joyce Bellamy), of which he was able to complete the first 10 volumes (1972-2000), and the three volumes of Essays in Labour History (1960, 1971, 1977) co-edited with Asa Briggs (Lord Briggs). He was born John Stamatopoulos, in a Lincolnshire village near Gainsborough, to Edith Vessey, from a local working-class family, and Orestes Stamatopoulos, a Greek engineer who disappeared from the lives of both soon after. His mother’s remarriage in London some years after the first world war to a widowed tailor, freemason and reader of the Daily Mail, to whom she had acted as housekeeper, gave her son a comfortable lower-middle-class childhood and the name he later adopted. He won a scholarship to Royal Liberty school in east London, but in the conventional and, until the sixth form, not particularly intellectual, schoolboy sportsman there was little to suggest a future in political radicalism. But something must have been germinating for, “almost the day I arrived” at the London School of Economics in 1934, once again on a scholarship, he began to go to leftwing meetings and within two months had joined the Communist party, in which he was to remain for the next 22 years. Saville left the LSE, then (with Oxford and Cambridge) the major centre of student communism, with a first, with the confident and incisive manner that became his trademark, in lifelong partnership with Constance (Saunders), whom he married in 1943, and with his passion for research postponed. He did not return to academic life until 1947, when he began to teach economic history at the (then) University College of Hull, where he was to remain until retirement from the chair of economic and social history in 1982. He continued to live in Hull until a month before his death. Called up in 1940 after a spell of employment, he had the leftwing equivalent of a good war: “I had several large-scale quarrels with authority, although I was a good and efficient soldier.” Against the party line, he refused to take a commission, but advanced rapidly from anti-aircraft gunner to gunnery sergeant major instructor and regimental sergeant major, engaged in political work wherever he went – especially, from 1943 to 1946, in India. India – where he met Nehru and leaders of the Muslim League and his friendship with Indian communist students in Britain, all from establishment families, opened most anti-imperial doors – reinforced his own firm, but no longer uncritical, convictions. (Unlike him, Constance had never accepted the Moscow-imposed party line of 1939-41, which followed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact). The cold war, particularly frozen during the years of Korea and McCarthyism, made it easier to maintain them. He soon became a pillar of that remarkable assembly of talents, the Communist Party Historians’ Group (“intellectually my lifeline”), and also of the Hull Communist party and its associated organisations, while building a double expertise in 19th-century British economic history and labour history. Khrushchev’s denunciation of Stalin in 1956, or, more exactly, the failure of the British CP leadership to recognise its significance, transformed the Historians’ Group from loyalists into vocal critics. Saville’s was the first voice raised at its meetings. Soon, in partnership with another Yorkshire Communist historian, EP Thompson, he launched an opposition journal, the New Reasoner. Both were suspended by the CP and soon resigned from it with their supporters under the impact of the Hungarian rising of that year. Saville remained a Marxist and, like most of the ex-Communist historians, firmly on the left; indeed, decidedly “old left” rather than “new left”, let alone New Labour. The Society for the Study of Labour History, which he helped to found in 1958, inspired his most influential work: Essays in Labour History and the Dictionary of Labour Biography. This latter, remarkable, work, the best of its kind anywhere in the world, will almost certainly remain as his most lasting monument. He was also a force in the new Oral History Society, of which he became the first chairman in 1973, and in the library and publications department of Hull University, not to mention the economic and social history committee of what was then the Social Science Research Council. From 1964, most of his political writing was to be published in the Socialist Register, an annual volume he co-edited for some decades with Ralph Miliband. In the early 1970s he co-founded, later chaired, and, as usual, did most of the work for, the Council for Academic Freedom, in defence of the civil liberties of (British) academics. To the end, he remained proud of the speakers’ classes he ran for six to eight weeks every summer for many years in Hull for trade unionists. He published a book of memoirs, Memoirs from the Left, in 2003. Lucid, fiercely loyal to friends and causes, and a formidable enemy of bullshit, Saville made his contribution to history and to scholarship outside the limelight. “There are not many entries in the Dictionary of Labour Biography,” Miliband wrote in the introduction for the Festschrift (Ideology and the Labour Movement, 1979) presented to him by friends and pupils, “which record lives of greater dedication and integrity.” Constance died in 2007. He is survived by their three sons and a daughter.
[Eric HOBSBAWM. “John Saville (1916-2009)”, in The Guardian, martes 16 de junio de 2009]