The outpouring of tributes to Harry Leslie Smith demonstrates that he embodied socialism

Harry Leslie Smith in three different photos
Joshua Funnell

Few people have managed to unite in admiration people in and outside politics quite like Harry Leslie Smith. Not only in the UK but around the world too.

The outpouring of solidarity in the wake of his passing is a testament to this and his socialist legacy.

The message we hoped would never come

Thousands of people across the UK and the world have waited with bated breath for news as the veteran political campaigner fought against ill health in a Canadian hospital.

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His son John stayed by his father’s side and provided constant updates on Harry’s changing situation to a watching world. And, for a while, it seemed as though he was on the mend.

But, sadly, this hope was short lived and John warned of what was coming.

Followed later by the final devastating news.

But despite all the sadness it’s heartening to know that until his last moments he was happy.

Sombre solidarity

Harry reached many people, whether through books such as Don’t Let My Past Be Your Future or via his prolific use of social media. The huge outpouring of condolences shows how many lives he touched.

After he dedicated so much of his existence to encouraging social solidarity, it’s hard to think of a better expression of his dream than the coming together of people to celebrate his life.

Moving tributes

The BBC put together a moving tribute video of Harry’s life and politics.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn showed that Harry represented the noblest aspirations of humanity:

And he took Harry’s legacy to parliament:

The general secretary of the Labour Party, Jennie Formby, succinctly described that the best tribute we can pay Harry in death is to continue his work:

And as others added, a practical way to achieve his ambitions is to campaign relentlessly to bring about a government Harry could be proud of:

Harry had the attitude needed to bring about change

As Ed Miliband said, it was Harry’s attitude that makes social change possible:

And as the rapper Lowkey reinforced, using Harry’s own words, social justice is within our grasp but only if we make it a reality:

What fighting in war taught Harry

Others chose to acknowledge Harry’s views on Brexit. After all, he wrote of the lessons he’d learned whilst fighting fascists to liberate Europe during World War two. He warned us that:

the madness that created this war came from social and economic divisions that had beset Europe in the 1930s. It had created a pandemic of populism and nationalism that raced through Germany, Spain, Austria and Italy killing democracy and all its institutions.

And that:

For me the tragedy of Brexit is that it was the blood, sweat and tears of my generation that helped forge a more perfect union between Britain and Europe. Now that appears lost and our country feels shorn of hope because hollow words of rich Tory politicians will never replace the benefits in trade, culture, workers rights, and security we derived from being a member of the EU.

The embodiment of socialism

As Ash Sarkar added, Harry embodied all that socialism aspires to be:

Another Twitter user poignantly posted that if Harry fought for social justice in his twilight years, after already giving so much of his life, then what excuse do we have now?

A symbolic coincidence

As actor Samuel West noted poetically, Harry passed on the birthday of another visionary:

His famous tear-jerking speech

Like so many others, MP Chris Williamson remembered Harry best for his moving speech at the 2014 Labour Party conference.

You can see his speech in full here:

 

The lessons of Harry’s life

Harry was a rare link between a stark political past and present. Few people are still alive who clearly remember an age before the NHS and a welfare state. His harrowing account of that bygone era serves as a poignant warning of the suffering people will face again if they don’t fight for socialist institutions. As he warned, ‘don’t let my past be your future’ and “we must be vigilant. We must be vocal”.

It’s all too easy to forget that the social deprivation experienced by Harry in his youth is only a blink away in the passage of time. And so it’s up to all of us to make sure that political laziness does not allow it to return.

Harry seemed to be a beautiful and pure human to his core. He’s an example to all of what we can be if we so choose.

His death was political, as was his life.

From everyone at The Canary, we wish Harry’s family all the best during this difficult time. And to Harry, wherever you are, keep being a rebel comrade.

Featured images via YouTube

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