15 March 2016

A tribute to Doreen Massey

As the current issue of Soundings was going to press, we received the terrible news that Doreen Massey, our great friend and fellow editor had died, on 11 March. It was a devastating shock to us all. We could not have imagined, even for a moment, that Doreen might be leaving us so soon. So much is unfinished - the projects in mid-collaboration, the conversations and advice that will never happen. We were not prepared for this and it will be difficult to let her go.

To meet Doreen was to know, instantly, you were in the company of brilliance. She was special. She had presence. You remember your first encounter with Doreen and, chances are, how it changed what you thought about something important. Doreen didn’t hold back and didn’t waste words. She held opinions on everything: they were intricately thought through and often went against the grain. She was rigorous in her everyday conversations and she wouldn’t permit lazy thinking or easy answers. She would never shy away from a challenge - politically, intellectually, personally. But this critical independence of thought was matched only by her loyalty to her friends and collaborators, and to socialism and the radical left.

And this commitment, and her generosity of spirit, meant that Doreen was always responding to invitations from across the radical left. When Occupy LSX was in full swing, Doreen would be down at St Paul’s far more often than younger members of our board. More recently she would be found working with young working-class Londoners on Take Back the City. She had a commitment to an intellectual politics in the real world, not just theory in universities. In retirement she gave at least one talk a week it seemed, travelling far and wide to teach, motivate and debate with fellow radicals across the UK and indeed the world. She was inspirational. When you heard Doreen speak, it was like looking at cut crystal: precise, clear and often dazzling. She made complex ideas accessible and unknotted the complexities of the age. She made transparent the murk of ideology in our culture and offered us all optimism that things could be different.

And she knew that things could change. She’d been an instrumental part of successful left movements the world over: from Nicaragua to the Greater London Council, from Chavez’s Venezuela to Syriza in Greece; Doreen’s views and advice were sought by people who would use it to transform the real world. Theory was never abstract for Doreen Massey.

Doreen was central to Soundings. She founded it, with Michael Rustin and Stuart Hall, and was an active member of the board for twenty years. Her energy and enthusiasm for the journal’s project has motivated all of us for as long as we have been involved. More than that, though, Doreen was our friend. Not just a brilliant thinker, she was a kind and compassionate person, who would always come out for a drink after board meetings, and give time, thought and energy to her friends as well as her politics. She will be sorely missed.

We have put together a memorial page for Doreen. If you have written a tribute to Doreen and would like us to link to it, please contact sally@lwbooks.co.uk.