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UNTIL recently, Steve McGiffen was the Morning Star’s “Commie Chef,” but readers will remember incisive reports from Brussels when he was environmental adviser to the United Left Group of the European parliament.
Steve was also a novelist and playwright, a historian, an educator, a linguist and translator, the author of books and articles on contemporary politics, a gardener, a friend, a comrade, a husband, father, and grandfather, and a devoted supporter of Middlesbrough Football Club.
He gave himself fully to many causes and passions and will be sadly missed by all whose lives he touched.
Steve was born into a working-class family in Middleton, south Lancashire, and went to school in Whitby, a place he loved and to which he returned as an adult.
He wanted to write from a young age and was drawn both to history and literature, while an early exposure to Marxism provided the critical tools that would accompany him for life.
Employed as a library assistant in Chadderton public library in the early 1970s, he met his future wife Marj “in the staff tearoom” as they often recalled of their first encounter.
Their meeting was a transformative experience, and when married Steve became immersed in family life, developing cooking skills and devising stupendous meals for Marj and his stepsons while writing up a PhD in American history.
Steve published research and lectured at Manchester University, the Open University, Trinity and All Saints College, and at Northern College, where he hugely influenced many working-class students, young and old.
While pursuing his passion for American history, Steve wrote three novels, one of which — Tennant’s Rock — was published by St Martin’s Press.
Steve wrote a science fiction novel — The Silent People — which, regrettably, remains unpublished, and several of his plays were produced for the theatre, one for television.
A prolific author of serious political commentary, he was continually animated by the power of drama and narrative fiction. The range of Steve’s interests and writing is remarkable, as indicated in the books he wrote for Pluto Press: The European Union: A Critical Guide; Biotechnology: Corporate Power Versus the Public Interest; and Poison Spring, this last addressing the geopolitics of water.
Steve was fluent in French and Dutch — although insisting in the latter case that he spoke Flemish — and his understanding of the subtleties of radical left politics enabled his fine translation of Enough: A Socialist Bites Back, by Jan Marijnissen, then leader of the Dutch Socialist Party, the beginning of a long association with the SPNL.
A Labour Party activist in the 1980s, Steve met left-wing MEP Tom Megahy, became his research assistant, and eventually relocated to Brussels, where he and Marj job-shared for Tom for several years.
During this period Steve founded and edited Spectre, subsequently named Spectrezine, a radical journal of the European left, and when Tom retired he took the position of environmental adviser to the parliamentary left group.
Steve and Marj eventually “retired” to a village on the Cher, a river in central France, where they aimed to produce most of their own food. But Steve continued working as the SPNL’s English language translator and acquired a position at the American Graduate School in Paris teaching courses in international relations and also acting as a much-valued adviser on student MA and PhD theses.
And Steve never stopped writing. Two years ago he wrote about what might have been the events of this summer.
“In France, the trees are dying. Many are already dead. Two years of drought weakened them, but it wasn’t just drought. The sight of leaves burnt by the intense heat we have suffered is now commonplace.
“‘Our’ river, the Cher, is beautiful even now, but dogs have died in it, poisoned by cyanobacteria which flourish in the unnaturally nitrogen-rich water. In the spring of this year the river was suddenly full of dead fish, killed, it was said, by unseasonal heat and probably by pollutants. Events such as this bring home to you how the climate crisis is everyone’s problem.”
Having one stepson living in Vietnam, another having lived there for several years, and two Vietnamese daughters-in-law, Steve had a close interest in the geopolitics of the South China Sea and its potentially devastating consequences for a region where the main protein source comes from fishing; writing about this was his last, now unfinished, project.
Steve was not unduly sanguine about the future — he often remarked that this would be unfeasible for a Boro supporter — but he held a Gramscian belief in the possibility of building a much better world and an acute unshakeable conviction that real civilisation had not yet begun.
For details about Steve’s funeral, and for tributes and condolences, write to: [email protected].
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