We’d like to share this selection of tributes which sum up much of what Mike meant to us, the brilliance of his writing, the sadness of his death and the determination to continue our shared struggle, inspired by his example. –Hilary Wainwright
‘I first came across Mike’s work when Saleh Mamon of CAMPACC sent me a copy of Street Music – his last collection of poetry – as an Eid gift in 2013. At that time I was being held in solitary confinement at Northern Correctional Institution in Connecticut, the state’s highest security supermax prison, waiting trial for terrorism-related charges.
I must admit I groaned at receiving a book of poetry. It was too dense a form to read in those conditions. But I read a few pages as a courtesy to the sender, and then a little more and then more until I was restless with excitement. This was fine, carefully crated writing. The part that gave me the greatest lift was “The Book of Liz” – a series of poems dedicated to his partner of many years.
I told all this to Saleh in my thank you letter to him. Months passed by and one morning the trap was unlocked. The counselor wanted me to sign for a book. I rose from my bed tentatively unsure at what to expect. It was The Price of Experience: Writings on Living with Cancer. Mike didn’t believe in supernatural miracles but in this collection he affirmed his belief in the miracle of collective human endeavour.
Over the next months I received more books by Mike and then a letter. We began a correspondence. He nourished my mind with glittering thoughts which I was desperate to share with him.’
‘Radical journalist Mike Marqusee, the greatest professional influence on my life, has died, and I’m wrecked about it. Losing Mike is like losing several pints of blood. I’m left dizzy by the prospect of his absence. On the most basic level, there is my own sense of debt. I’m a sportswriter because Mike Marqusee made me one. I divide my life not “before and after I had kids” or “before and after I moved out of my mom’s house in New York City” but “before and after I read Redemption Song: Muhammad Ali And the Spirit of the Sixties” in 1998.
Not only did Redemption Song rediscover quotes, speeches and dimensions of Ali’s politics and personality that had long been buried, but it revealed to me that sports writing could be something different and even something dangerous. Until this time, I was a young political activist and a die-hard sports fan with those obsessions in decisively separate worlds. The political sports writing I had read was dense and sleep-inducing. The exciting sports writing I consumed was like junk food, leaving me hungry and a little nauseous after gobbling it up. Redemption Song was revelatory. Here was sports writing that would make your adrenalin rush with every Ali jab in the ring as well as every Ali political riff, all brought together with Mike Marqusee’s rambunctious and deftly humorous prose.’
‘Today the British left – and beyond – have lost a deeply wonderful comrade, ally, thinker and writer, a person of rare integrity and decency apart from everything else that made him a great human being.
We are bereft and there is really no consolation, false or otherwise, for this gargantuan loss. Mike Marqusee, all we can do is keep that righteous anger alive, my friend: so proud I can call you that. You were never for yourself alone: rest in justice.’
‘The thing about producing transcendent work in journalism is that it does transcend – time and place – and is bound to survive even as people get old, sick, die or even worse become reactionary bores repeating their old nostrums. Mike’s absolute masterpiece was Redemption Song – a book about Muhammad Ali. And though I cannot see the point of cricket I came closest to doing so by reading his book Anyone But England.
However Mike was more than just a writer: I properly got to know and work with him when the anti-war movement was trying to calibrate its media response during the run up to the Iraq war and the series of mass demos that preceded it. At meetings with Mike I realised this was somebody who’d been left wing all their life but knew how the real world worked; knew how you had to use the power of the powerful against them. I can’t remember who exactly it was who suggested they hit the BBC with a strong legal letter outlining that if the anti-war marches received any less coverage than the Countryside Alliance march there would be a case to take before the Human Rights Commission, or its predecessor, but it was a good idea and Mike warmed to its execution with great enthusiasm.
I loved being in the room with him. New York Jewish leftists of the old school are like the opposite of Orwell in that Italian Soldier poem: they are born knowing stuff everyone else has to learn. Anyway, I am sad that I didn’t run into him much in the past few years. I totally respect the new generation of leftists that’s on my timeline, but what you lose when you lose a veteran of all the struggles Mike lived through is very difficult to replace.
The movement he helped build in the months before the Iraq war had an impact way beyond its raw street power because people like Mike acted like the shaped charge that blows a hole in the side of a tank; the tank here being the establishment. It has never recovered from the moral defeat of the Iraq war and that is an historic achievement for all who engineered that. Against that, the failed struggle to stop Labour falling into the hands of Randian technocrats pales into insignificance. Goodbye my grinning, ironic, warm, poetic fellow writer. Next time Lorca’s moon shines over Hackney…’
‘Even while desperately ill, he seemed unable to stop researching and writing, constantly engaged with the issues of the day, driven on to speak truth to power without let or hindrance. I’m proud to have known him – one of the myriad who counted Mike as a friend, and an inspiration.
Go back to his books and rediscover the potency and the appeal – and, often, the joie d’esprit – of his writings: on cricket, on Muhammad Ali, on his own journey as an anti-Zionist Jew and, of course, on Bob Dylan.’
‘Many people have written beautiful words about Mike and the contribution he made to progressive struggles here in the UK as well as the US. Amongst his many contributions was his love for the Indian subcontinent which made him a passionate and knowledgable about Indian subcontinent politics and in particular the rise of communalism and extremist religious parties such as the BJP, as he was about the cricket fortunes of Pakistan or India.
For the black communities in East London and in particular Newham Monitoring Project he was a real friend to the anti-racist struggle. Always willing to listen, contribute and support the struggles of communities on the front line without trying to impose any rigid dogmas on them, as many others in the left thought it was their right to do.’
‘We all knew Mike was ill. We all knew that he had cancer. He wrote about it in great detail and with great intelligence. We knew that he received incredible treatment through the NHS. Indeed he regaled friends in other parts of the world with the treatment he had received through our national health service. They were astonished to learn, he said, that this extensive treatment was provided entirely free. This was the right of us all, he said – to be cared for in this way. And he wrote a book about living with cancer. His death was expected.
But his death is no less shocking. It stuns us because we somehow recognise the importance of the man and his work particularly when he is no longer there. It hits us at once, that terrible loss…
We were comrades in the Socialist Alliance and although that project came to an end, like all the on the left we never stopped hoping and trying. When Ken Loach issued his appeal for a new party of the left Mike was one of the first to respond – as he was with many other political initiatives. He had that generosity of spirit that allows the movement to continue and sometimes to flourish. He was one of those people who want the movement to succeed and for that success to be for the movement as a whole – not just their particular part of it.’
‘I am gutted, today, to learn of the death of a great socialist, Mike Marqusee. I met Mike many years ago when he was editor of Labour Briefing and though his decision to leave the Labour Party took him along different political paths, the inspiring example which he offered, alongside his impressive body of work as a journalist and political thinker has long influenced me and many others… There are not many people who helped to shape my socialism and I think that Mike Marqusee was one of them.’
Mike Marqusee, 1953–2015.
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