Friday, 17 September 2010

Tom Behan 1957 - 2010

Tom Behan the socialist activist and academic who specialised in matters Italian has sadly died far too young. There are full obituaries by Chris Bambery in Socialist Worker [11 September] and, a mark of Tom Behan's stature as an academic in the Times Higher Education Supplement [18 September].

I want to write something briefly here about Tom as a socialist historian.

He spoke on several occasions about research projects and books he was engaged on to meetings of the London Socialist Historians Group at the Institute of Historical Research. But I'll remember Tom not as a dry academic enveloped in his subject - not that there is anything wrong with that - but as a great enthusiast for Italian history and politics.

On more than one occasion he cajoled me into funnelling socialist historians whose interests might well have been a long way from Italy towards events he had energetically organised. He was invariably right that they were not only interesting in themselves but carried wider lessons.

He brought to historical study what in my experience is a rare quality - the eye and mind of the socialist activist on the past struggles of ordinary men and women. In this way he could explain as other academics could not why decisions about protests and demonstrations were made or not made. It was a robust historical view informed by a deep understanding of the choices and dilemmas that crop up again and again for socialist activists.

He will be missed. His work stands as a tribute to one of the finest socialist historians of our generation.

Keith Flett.

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