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Kevin Keating - Trotskyist revolutionary

Chris Patton

24 May 2020

I've been planning for some time to write something about my recently deceased comrade Kevin Keating thinking that I had something novel to say about him; that he was modest to a fault for example, someone beat me to it, that he was a determined fighter, someone also stated the obvious. He was an optimist who came across as pessimistic, again someone was there with that observation. That he was subtle in putting across his opinions, again, beaten to the post.  Kevin was all these things and it seems every example of his character I reach for there is a universal appreciation that these qualities were his in a unique way and are universally accepted by all who knew him, fought alongside him or shared his life in any way.  This collective response in an objective way bears its own tribute.

Kevin could have a political conversation that was direct yet was conducted in such a personable  style that points were got across in the most subtle and non confrontational way.  This again has been pointed out before and the same caveat applies that it does not mean he could not be pointed when the need arose but in individual conversations he listened more than he spoke and always treated his interlocutors with obvious respect.  He made everyone feel that they were valued.  Thesequalities were not a political persona, a tactic or anything calculated. It was simply Kevin's way.

My last conversation with Kevin was by telephone and I searched hopelessly for the words of consolation that I hoped could soften the blow of his diagnosis. He was having none of it, with typical quiet directness he told me; “we are trained for adversity”, again giving collective credit to others for his own fortitude.  He faced his diagnosis with the same strength that he faced his multitude of struggles in the labour movement and he triumphed.

Which brings me to inspiring, again already said, but all of it, obvious to so many, was the true character of this quietly determined man.  As a revolutionary he was completely committed as manyothers have noted and the only thing I have to add to that is that he had the patience of one who knew that revolutionary politics was not about ego, 'I' or 'me' seldom appeared in Kevin's political discourse and that is a precious quality indeed.  What leaps to mind, the things that will be painted in the brightest colours in my memory, is the acute imagery of his observations;  like the suited and polished trade union bureaucrats that would try to fake a working class Dublin accent when addressing the shop floor, fooling few in the process, and definitely not Kevin.  He could slice through pretence and posturing with a smile and aquip.

He was a Dublin proletarian to his very marrow bone but his was no spontaneous inheritance, he was much more than that. He was a Marxist worker, he struggled to combine theory with practice intervening in every struggle with the theories of revolutionary socialism and internationalism.  It was misfortunate that his struggle, determined as it was, coincided with a major decline  in mass class struggle, from a high point in the 1970's.  This never deterred him.  He struggled on.

Kevin was a committed Trotskyist and the most apt tribute that comes to mind is that Trotsky once described people like him. When asked the question: “what type of character do you think makes the best revolutionary?”  Trotsky replied; “someone who is pessimistic about the present and optimistic about the future”.  That was Kevin!  All that remains for me to do is to add my voice to the chorus of all the others, many of whom knew him longer and better than I did.  But I knew him well enough to recognise his qualities and consider myself lucky to have been his comrade.  Kevin will be sadly missed.  My deepest condolences to his beloved  Anne, Kate and Grainne, his wider family and his many friends.

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