John Hepple: a life of working-class struggle

A true son of the working class, one of so many who have given their lives to the fight for a better world.

Lalkar writers

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Comrade John Hepple with Blanch Carpenter on May Day 2006 in London.

Lalkar writers

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It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our beloved comrade John Hepple, a founding member of the CPGB-ML who passed away last October after a long illness.

John was born on 2 October 1946 to a mining family in Gateshead. When John was only seven, his father died in a tragic pit accident, leaving his mother to look after him alone.

He spent his formative years growing up in Tyneside amongst the hustle and bustle of industrial England, and began an apprenticeship as a steel erector. In adulthood, John left the building trade and moved to factory life, starting work at the famous Baltic flour mill on the Tyne, where he was to work for the remainder of his working life until it shut in the early 1980s.

The mill is today known as the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, and John, like many working-class men and women of his generation, was pained to see a thriving workplace reinvented as an outpost for every crackpot artist to indulge their fantasy.

Where John and his workmates once produced flour and animal feed, there is currently an exhibition ‘Animalesque’ asking puzzled Geordies “to rethink the human position in the world”.

If that doesn’t take your fancy Hanna Tuulikki will lecture you on the “mimesis of deer dancing” (the process whereby one dresses up as a deer, dances with the conviction that one truly is the spirit of the deer, and then develops the spectacle in such a way as to demonstrate the transformation from being a timid fawn to a virile adult).

Back in the real world, John Hepple like thousands of other working men and women, found themselves unemployed for much of the eighties and nineties. And adding to John’s particular hardships were the lingering effects of a serious stroke.

Around 1996, John met local working-class activist and committed communist Blanch Carpenter, who was working in the Newcastle Unemployed Centre. Both Blanch and John threw themselves into the work of building the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) when it was established on 1 May 1996 by the legendary miners’ leader Arthur Scargill. The best part of the next decade of John’s life was given to this work as the SLP grew in the north-east of England and fought a number of local, parliamentary and European elections.

As a principled Marxist-Leninist, John found himself without a political home when the SLP purged itself of communists in 2004, taking the kamikaze path of political struggle – from which tailspin the SLP never recovered.

John, Blanch and others, notably our deceased comrade William Hunt-Vincent, were unwilling to join any of the revisionist communist organisations whose politics differed little from those responsible for liquidating Britain’s original communist movement (the CPGB), and so John joined with others in establishing the CPGB-ML in 2004.

From 2004 until the final days of his life, John Hepple gave his time, strength and talents to the CPGB-ML and our work to re-establish a real communist party in Britain, serving, for a period, on our central committee.

John was proud of our modest successes in building a revolutionary communist party, defending the legacy of Josef Stalin and the CPSU(B), not least our unflinching defence and popularisation of the heroic achievements of the Soviet people and Red Army.

As a true internationalist, John supported the revolutionary struggles of many other peoples, and his work in defence of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was appreciated by many who served at the Korean embassy in London.

John lived the life of a communist and died a staunch Marxist-Leninist, a proletarian internationalist, a son of the working class of Gateshead. John was a link in the great chain of human progress, of proletarian struggle. He died on 31 October 2019, with his partner and comrade Blanch at his side.

His hands, which until recently shook so readily the hands of communist youth, had shaken as an apprentice the overworked hands of our long-dead forefathers, our abused progenitors whose world we inherit and with whom we are united through John and through our struggle as proletarians against capitalism.

When we or our children finally build the socialist system in Britain, it will be a fitting monument to John and all those comrades who have struggled before us.