Fergus George H M Nicolson was born in 1935 in Dumfries. He was a Glorney Cup chess competition champion as a Hyndland Senior Secondary School, Glasgow, school pupil at the age of only 15 years. He and Alec MacLennan hitch-hiked from Glasgow part of the way to Dublin to take part in the fortnight’s event. Fergus was already described as an “active Communist” in the October 1950 issue of CHESS [page 5].
Nicholson was the Communist Party’s full-time student organiser from around 1963 to 1974. (An article by him in the Party press from the beginning of that period follows this piece at the end.) As student organiser of the Communist Party, he linked up with some Young Liberals and a Trotskyist group which controlled the National Association of Labour Student Organisations to form the Radical Student Alliance at the end of 1966. This `broad left’ went on to claim significant success in winning official positions in the National Union of Students in the late 60s and early 70s.
Nicholson married at Merton in Surrey in 1972.
Having left full-time Party work, he became a central figure in Straight Left, which emerged in the late 1970s mainly out of the pro-Soviet wing of the Communist Party and YCL. After the 1977 departure of the Surrey District led New Communist Party, Nicholson’s group was seen as the main opposition group. Contrary to the propaganda of some in the increasingly right-wing leadership, Straight Left was quite distinct from the slightly dominant alliance of trade union orientated centrists and bureaucratic leadership trends that gathered around the Morning Star in the 1980s.
SL – and its predecessors tendencies – operated in secret, although significant monthly donations helped fund educational gatherings, often referred to as campinq weekends. Although, in some areas of strength private meetings were held, which were definitely not publicly announced.
Writers in the newspaper, Straight Left, were not openly named. Nicholson’s pen-name is thought to have been “Harry Steel”, a nod toward Harry Pollitt and Joseph Stalin, although this was long denied.
Though a faction within the CPGB it had supporters within the Labour Party and this aided the appearance in March 1979 of the Straight Left monthly newspaper, edited by Mike Toumazou with the Business Manager being Seumas Milne.
Frank Swift was responsible for fund-raising and the editorial advisory panel consisted of Ray Buckton, Bill Keys, James Lamond MP, Jim Layzell, Alf Lomas MEP, Joan Maynard MP, Alan Sapper, Gordon Schaffer and William Wilson MP.
A theoretical magazine, `Communist’, also emerged,
Fergus Nicholson and his wife Gina were lecturers at Hammersmith Polytechnic during this period.
SL did not support the re-establishment process that led to the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) in 1988.
Some leading members of SL formed a group called “Communist Liaison” after the dissolution of the CPGB, with a newsletter called “Diamat“. This later dissolved with many adherents joining the CPB. Others in SL refused to move in this direction and Fergus Nicholson and some of his closest supporters did not subsequently join any party.
The previously mentioned article follows:
CP Student Work 1963-64
From `Party Life’ October/November 1963
By FERGUS NICHOLSON
OUR perspective in the BRITISH ROAD TO SOCIALISM depends on the rallying round a united working class of the various middle strata, of whom a large and vocal section are what are called professional people, that is the graduates of our colleges and universities. Winning the students to struggle against monopoly capitalism and in some cases for Marxism and Communism is no small part of translating our programme into practice.
OUR MEMBERSHIP HAS GROWN
Last session brought some advances in this field. Party membership among students topped 500 for the first time, almost doubling in the course of the year. The willingness of students to be interested was shown during a series of five public lectures. All overflowed. Six hundred people wanted the 400 seats available to hear Professor Thomson and 150 had to be turned away. There are now branches in almost every university and a number of other colleges. But tracing and organising our members and supporters in the smaller colleges is an unsolved problem.
STUDENTS HAVE JOINED IN STRUGGLE
Given the occasion and the lead, students can be militant. During the Cuban crisis, about half the demonstrations were student based, especially the early ones. Both training college and, more recently, art college students have lobbied Parliament on their particular problems.
A NEW STUDENT PUBLICATION
We produced a duplicated magazine four times last session in editions of 2,000 which were sold out. Now we are producing a printed magazine, MAINSTREAM, which will come out once a term for the first year, with an initial print of 5,000 plus. While this is aimed primarily at the colleges and universities, it will also be useful for party and Y.C.L. branches to put it in the hands of sixth-formers.
Naturally students are in particular need of education, especially those whose studies are directly ideological. We have just completed a successful fortnight’s school in Wales and at Christmas will have a one-week school in Hastings, as well as weekend schools during the year in many universities. In various universities this year we will have Communist weeks or Marxist weeks, most ambitiously in Manchester and in Imperial College.
BETTER CONDITIONS OF STUDY
All the evidence suggests that this year we will be reaching with our meetings and publications, more students than ever before. But speaking to students is only half the battle; speaking for them is the other half. This we have still to achieve, and in this our student branches can learn from the experience of factory branches. It is good that students are interested to learn about Marxism and Communism; but it will only affect the political situation in Britain when they are led by, and using, these ideas into struggle for better conditions of study and therefore for a better society in which to study and apply their studies.
WE HAVE AN ALTERNATIVE POLICY
The Tories base themselves largely on the “middle classes” and make a special appeal to students with their meritocracy argument. But the majority of students have few illusions about the Tories. The problem is to offer them an alternative. In the absence of public communist work, they fall into cynicism; neither the Labour Party nor the CND is proving an adequate alternative.
A political breakthrough among students can be made if we can contact and organise the many communists who have this month become students, and draw them into inspiring their fellow students with the materials now available.