On the life of Robin Murray, visionary economist

Robin Murray who died late on Sunday exuded vigour and hope. And he inspired those around him with his spirit. Maybe as a resuIt I find myself resisting the sadness which threatens to overwhelm me now that he is gone. The tears well, but they refuse to flow. He was not one for a passive response of any kind. The only respite is to ring common friends for mutual comfort: Stephen Yeo, the historian of the co-operative movement in which Robin had a passionate interest. Carlota Perez, whose far reaching theory of technological change and its connection with financial crisis he hugely admired and with whom he collaborated at the LSE. Mary Kaldor, the radical and original theorist of war and of movements for peace with whom he taught Marxist economics at Sussex university. “We didn’t always agree” she says, “but he loved debate”. My niece Jessi, who joined ‘Murray breakfasts’ after a swim at the London Fields Lido in Hackney for which Robin and his beloved artist wife Frances, campaigned after the nearby Haggerston baths were closed.

People and ideas, the lived and the meaning of life. Their connection was never lost in anything Robin did or said. Even as he lay breathless with the terminal lung disease which led to his death, and under firm medical advice not to talk too much, he could not contain his passion for both people and ideas. The energy of their relationship was his life force. He could not imagine living without talking about both, between sucking the means to do so from his oxygen machine. One evening’s topic were the ideas of Allende’s cybernetics advisor Stafford Beer and, more generally, the idea of the economy as a nervous system. At the same time, Robin’s starting point was always the health of the cell in its environment, the dynamics of the particular. He was forever fascinated by exemplary initiatives and how they worked, the conditions for their success. So, between breaths, the conversation would turn to the burgeoning Japanese consumer co-operative movement. Or to the co-operative shop in his original home county, Cumbria, to which even as his illness advanced, he devoted inordinate effort.

Above all, he was perennially fascinated by people’s personal stories, especially the stories of the young people in his family or helping with his care. The stories from his talented daughter, Beth and her Italian boyfriend Gianluca, of a visit to Gianluca’s olive growing family in northern Italy, and of exactly how his father harvested and sorted the olives. Or of how my niece Jessi proposed to her boyfriend in a tent during a hike across a Himalayan pass. “I asked her to describe the exact moment”. He said afterwards. He lived for the moment as his illness took hold. But his irrepressible curiosity about what moments were important for other people was, throughout his life, one of the qualities that made him so universally loved.

Our most thrilling moments together were when he was appointed to lead a small band of economic guerrillas who were brought into the GLC by Ken Livingstone in 1981; along with John McDonnell and the Chair of the Industry and Employment Committee, Michael Ward. Our brief was to draw up and help implement the London Industrial Strategy. Robin was a wonderful leader. He had the self-confidence to permit creative autonomy for diverse groups of us within the 70 or so strong Industry and Employment Department. At the same time he used the power of hierarchy to move against enemies of change – like the senior official who was determined to sabotage the Industrial Strategy in its early days. I led the Popular Planning Unit and although a few eyebrows were raised at our proposals – for example for the GLC to buy (unsuccessfully as it happened because of Tory government opposition) the Royal Docks in order to implement the People’s Plan for the Royal Docks (a community plan for an alternative to the City Airport) – Robin gave us constant encouragement. The politicians, Mike Ward along with Livingstone and McDonnell, won the space for new thinking. Robin was the ideal person to make full use of it and recruit a team to grasp every opportunity we could – and push them to the limit.

And what a team! Robin was immensely proud of colleagues like Mike Cooley, the brilliant design engineer who was one of the inspirations behind the alternative plan for socially useful production drawn up by the Lucas Aerospace Shop Stewards in the 1970’s. This in turn became one of the beacons guiding our work at the Popular Planning Unit. Sheila Rowbotham was another inspiring member of the team, who worked with women’s groups across London to draw up a London wide plan for child care – part of the innovative ‘Domestic Care’ section of the Industrial Strategy. John Palmer, ex-European Editor of the Guardian became the publicity director and a member of the board of the Greater London Enterprise Board (GLEB). Many more received a transformative, practical education: Geoff Mulgan, Ken Worpole, Marj Mayo, John Hoyland, Bob Colenutt.

With poetic licence, one could say we worked like a combination of a jazz band, integrating structure and improvisation and a guerrilla band, agile but with an unrelenting focus on the enemy: big corporate capital and the Thatcher Government (and sometimes, bureaucratic sabotage within County Hall). The guiding purpose was set out in the London Labour Party’s manifesto, whose radical principles we were employed to implement, and more important still, Robin’s overarching understanding of the transition underway in the capitalist economy in London as elsewhere – as the principles of Fordism faced crisis and challenge. He argued that the features that made for the Fordist goal of ‘economies of scale’ – standardised products, mass, flowline production, fragmented tasks controlled by management with little if any autonomy for workers creativity or discretion – were being abandoned under the pressures of workers revolt, demands for deeper democracy in state organisation and more differentiated, sophisticated consumer demand in favour of what he called ‘the economies of scope’. This meant a shift towards economies coming from an integrated product range from which customers choose their own basket of products. In the process, innovation and design becomes more important, and a flexible workforce becomes desirable. The post-Fordist bargain offered security in return for flexibility – in contrast to the Fordist bargain of high wages in return for obedience to the discipline of the production line.

But post-Fordism did not mean one single inevitable outcome of a skilled, well-paid and willingly flexible workforce. This is where Robin’s creative Marxism and his understanding of struggle and of a political choice came in. He saw it as choice between a Japan-style model, in which security in exchange for flexibility applies only in the small core of the economy and workforce flexibility on a widescale is achieved through mass insecurity. This was to lead on to the precariousness that is now all too prevalent within Thatcher’s post-Fordist world. Or, on the other hand, networks of social industrial institutions, decentralised, innovative and entrepreneurial, supported by a state organisations that plays the role of strategist, innovator, coordinator and supporter of producers, on the model of Northern Italy and parts of Southern Germany. Added to this, argued Robin, should be greater user/ community control and internal democracy in public administration to move away from a mass-produced administration towards a participative, responsive state.

Thus, whereas nationally the left response to deindustrialisation and the decline of Fordist manufacturing has been in terms of macro policy: devaluing the pound, controlling wage levels and expanding investment, with industrial strategy taking second place, Robin saw the opportunity of using the GLC’s considerable budget for investment and public purchasing and the land use powers and property ownership to develop exactly the detailed local industrial strategy which might expand the co-operative and social sector of the economy, creating skilled and fulfilling jobs and the local, targeted investment and integrated sectoral strategies which had worked well in regions of Northern Italy and Southern Germany.

It was in this detail that there was improvisation. Robin encouraged the various units of the Industry and Employment Branch to experiment with different kinds of intervention, collaborating as we worked. So, while in Popular Planning we worked with furniture workers developing their plans for the industry, others would be researching the trends in the furniture sector and yet others at GLEB, would be negotiating with furniture employers wanting investment funds; insisting with these employers that such funds were conditional on negotiating with the union over their worker developed alternatives. Had Robin been allowed to build on his strategy, London today would be a world centre not just of furniture design but of its manufacture.

In all this Robin’s understanding of the specific combined with his grasp of the theoretical meant that he could guide the implementation of strategy in a manner that was rooted in the actual relations of production in London in the early 1980’s. His was a rare and a precious practical intelligence and far-sighted mind.

He also thrived on actually having power, albeit the limited power of a large local strategic authority, to carry out the strategies on which previously he had only advised – as an academic at Sussex University’s Institute of Development Studies.

He also enjoyed a distinctive upper class confidence – without any hint of arrogance or presumption. He was the grandson of two members of what could be called ‘the dissenting posh’ Lady Carlisle a radical Quaker member of the Castle Howard aristocratic dynasty and the liberal classicist professor Gilbert Murray. He had been sent to Bedales – a co-educational boarding school for the progressive upper-middle class – with the egalitarian democratic ethos, and became head-boy. Frances was head girl and they formed a lifelong relationship.

At the same time influenced by the ‘spirit of ’68’ and active, again with Frances, in grass roots social movements  he had the social capacity and desire to make good a far-reaching political and strategic challenge. It was a potent combination. Together with Mike Ward he had no hesitation in challenging capital and bureaucracy wherever it blocked radical change, at the same time as opening the space for popular participation. Crucially, there was not an iota of paternalism, or presuming they knew what the populace were presumed to need. He set out on a path of socialism without Labourism and its upper class Fabian elitism. As Norman Tebbit said threateningly on the eve of the GLC’s abolition: “this is modern socialism and we intend to kill it”.

But it lives on. For it is not surprising that Robin’s four years of intense work, halted by Margaret Thatcher’s act of political vandalism in 1986, should have produced a wealth of ideas from which John McDonnell has been able to draw for Labour’s persuasive manifesto that just could on June 8th, finally put an end to neo-liberalism nationally as Robin’s London Industrial Strategy sought to defeat it in London.

This is just one way in which Robin’s legacy of hope will live on with us and through us. In the intervening years, to give just one example, his restless and inventive energy pioneered twin trading and created the Fair Trade network that supports tens of thousands of small farmers in developing countries. He lives on, he cannot but live on, and this is why, in spite of the sadness that this remarkable man with his indominatable spirit and generous enthusiasm is no longer physically part of our lives and no longer welcoming us with Sunday breakfast, tears will continue to well but not easily flow. Instead, his life and ideas continue to live.

  • Michael Edwards

    Thanks Hilary for such a great article. I loved him too, tho from a greater distance, and still refer to the London Economic Strategy as we struggle in JustSpace to challenge the neo-liberal orthodoxy of today’s London. I can add one anecdote which illustrates his sense of humour. When he moved to Notting Hill and was, for a while, unemployed, he signed on at the Labour Exchange. Asked for his qualifications and experience he said the only job he had done was as a shepherd on his family’s Cumberland Farm. In no time he was directed to work in the sheepdog trials in Hyde Park – which he did, commenting “it’s a fair cop”.

  • Geoff Mulgan

    Thanks from me too for a lovely piece. Robin was a fantastic collaborator, mentor and inspiration for me over many years, from working under him at the GLC, to later practical projects (eg on recycling) and then to writing with him (pamphlets on taxation, and in the late 2000s on social innovation). His intellect and care were obvious. But his impact was also partly about presence. He was tall, charismatic, and always had a chuckle on his lips and a twinkle in his eyes. Marxian economics isn’t know for its joyfulness. But he exuded joy in life and in other peoples’ voices and lives. I think that helped him remain open and curious rather than experiencing the intellectual hardening of the arteries which is all too common. All of these make his relatively early death particularly sad. It also makes his legacy complex. I love books but Robin is a rare example of someone with very wide influence who never published a major book, partly because he fed into so many networks of action. Also relevant is that his close involvement in practice – from waste to cocoa production and dozens of other fields – helped him avoid the cynicism of some of his contemporaries who lived their lives out in the academy. I think that’s one of the messages many people of all ages took from him – action and engagement breed hope, and hope in turn fuels action. It’s hard to believe he’s gone. But the myriad things he set in motion are very much still alive.

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  • What a wonderful homage, Hilary, thank you. I agree with Geoff Mulgan’s shrew perception of Robin’s influence. He had a presence you felt at a distance that did not come from his writing but from the way he really made things happen so that they released energy and creativity. The interview he gave to Jeremy Gilbert and Andrew Goffey, shows his mind at work brilliantly. He was the best and most creative exponent of ‘post-fordism’ as Hilary shows, but here he shows that he was not stuck in the past in the slightest, and gives a pioneering explanation of ‘platform capitalism’ as its replacement: post-post-fordism! I think oD should re-publish it for an international readership, https://www.lwbooks.co.uk/sites/default/files/nf8485_11murray_gilbert_goffey.pdf.

  • Ian Christie

    Many thanks to Hilary for a lovely tribute to Robin. It is desperately sad that he has gone. When I think of Robin I am unable to recall him looking angry, irritable or ill-at-ease. His eyes twinkled in a warm and kindly way, and he was the essence of gentle courtesy in meetings. I always enjoyed seeing him, because he would radiate enthusiasm and optimism, and was never cynical or defeatist. He was forever alert to – and generating himself – new ideas, enterprises, projects and connections that would help in some way to make the world more ‘sustainable’. In Robin’s conception, that meant kinder, more just, more effective (rather than just ‘efficient’) and more reflective of the complexity and connectedness we find in communities and the more-than-human world. A meeting with Robin was always fruitful: I’d come away infected with his latest enthusiasm, whether for a book or a new co-operative or a Fair Trade product. He was consistently thoughtful and open to new ideas, instinctively collaborative, kindly and modest. I think his work on Fair Trade will be his monument – not that he’d seek one – and I can see him now extolling the many virtues of Divine Fair Trade chocolate to me in my office circa 1998. At that time he wrote a Demos report, Creating Wealth from Waste (1999), on rethinking waste and resource use for a sustainable economy, making impressive connections and recommendations in a very readable text. Like much of what he thought, wrote and did, it was ahead of its time and still is.

  • Ken Worpole

    Could I add my thoughts to those of Hilary and others, on the sad news of Robin’s death, coming so soon after that of Alan Tomkins last Thursday – another GLC stalwart – but particularly in Robin’s case, because I had not seen him or Frances for some years, and the growing interval made it harder to re-establish contact. Robin’s influence – as a person and as a joyous inspiration – came for me less from our joint involvement with the Greater London Enterprise Board than from the subsequent work Robin pioneered with SEEDS (South East Economic Development Strategy), a consortium of mostly Labour councils in the south-east region keen to experiment with new ideas in economic development.

    Robin, in my view, regarded local government as important – actually more important – than national government, it was sheer pleasure to travel with him, Michael Ward and others to Basildon, Crawley, Harlow, Stevenage, Reading, and other towns in the region (I think Robin also managed to recruit Dieppe into South East England), talking to council members and officers, all of whom thought Robin a god come to earth. ‘I could listen to Robin all day,’ was commonly heard afterwards in the members’ tea-rooms.

    The big idea of the time was post-Fordism, or flexible specialization, of which Robin was an internationally renowned exponent. I will always remember a paper Robin wrote on post-Fordism in municipal park operations. As municipal finance tightened, he argued, local authorities had embraced the economics of mass production, in this case of the public landscape: bigger machines, fewer workers. As a result, a rich tradition of ornamental gardens, decorative public parks, carefully managed estate lawns and parkland (especially in the New Towns), as well as municipal nurseries where skilled horticultural workers produced national and local varieties of plants and flowers, was giving way to a one-size-fits-all municipal landscape shaped by the gang mower, and a proliferation of low-maintenance shrubbery. Something must be done he argued. And in time it was. Robin was right then and he was way ahead of his time. I learned so much from him; the world is a better place because of him, and he will be badly missed.

  • Peter MacLeod

    I know my recollections of Robin will mirror others because we all marvelled at his boundless curiosity and his gently Socratic gift for teaching and drawing out the best of others by asking questions. These questions always came with such warmth and delight — like he was solving in his head some larger puzzle that was an endless source of amusement and joy. As a student, I think you dug a little deeper to find something useful to say because you saw how an unexpected idea or connection could bring about such happiness in him.

    He was, in this way, an exemplary learner, and so a great teacher too. As Geoff observed, there are no big books by Robin though he surely could have written them. Instead, there’s this remarkable legacy of organizations, initiatives, standards and networks — which in themselves were modes of production entirely consistent with his research and outlook.

    A lot can and should be said about his intellectual influences and his analytic disposition. But his approach to leadership also merits close study. He started or was at the start of seemingly countless things, though he never took credit, or amassed titles and offices. Instead, he delegated instinctively. The virtues and practice of subsidiarity were, for him, an absolute article of faith. I think this commitment was a source of radical energy but also a lightness because for all his building and success there was such a selfless modesty about it all.

    And of course keeping him honest and forward-moving in every endeavour was his dearest Frances. What a wonder, these two people who had known each other since childhood. I know Frances’ art mattered greatly to Robin, and in turn helped to fill their lives with beauty but also maintain a freedom and independence of mind.

    One memory I’ll forever treasure came some years ago when I visited Robin at his home and he was spending the afternoon with his grandson, Joe. Some innocent speculation about the aerodynamics of paper airplanes quickly turned into a full aeronautical rally that overtook his living room. And there with all the books and lovely posters and paintings, and lamps and light streaming through those big windows, we spent a happy hour making and remaking planes, and firing them across the room. It was Robin to a T — completely delighted to watch his grandson try one thing and then another, to take joy in figuring out on what might work better, to learn from Joe as he began to master the craft of it by trying and then trying again. This was love, learning and mutual endeavour and for me it was the man.

  • Hilary Cottam

    Thank you Hilary for this beautiful tribute. Robin was my teacher at IDS Sussex in the mid 90s. It was a transformative experience: from the Capital reading group conducted with the balletic vigour Robin brought to his conversations, to our class on Public Administration where we de-camped to Harlow and I worked a waste round with my colleagues. For Robin it was all about practice married to the greatest intellectual rigour: any loose thinking was met with gentle questioning and you were inspired to raise your game in the best possible way. Later Robin encouraged me to work at the World Bank arguing that to make change we must know how to run the institutions. Over the decades Robin became my friend and collaborator but always first and foremost my mentor. He lived his ideas: alive and democratically open with absolutely everyone and deeply embedded within his wonderful family who anchored and inspired him. How to live and how to make change: Robin showed us both. It is hard to accept we have lost Robin at such a relatively young age and when he was still producing so much important work. We are now the cells in the systems he described and we take his ideas and his being forward within us.

  • Peter MacLeod

    I know my recollections of Robin will mirror others because we all marvelled at his boundless curiosity and his gently Socratic gift for teaching and drawing out the best of others by asking questions. These questions always came with such warmth and delight — like he was solving in his head some larger puzzle that was an endless source of amusement and joy. As a student, I think you dug a little deeper to find something useful to say because you saw how an unexpected idea or connection could bring about such happiness in him.

    He was, in this way, an exemplary learner, and so a great teacher too. As Geoff observed, there are no big books by Robin though he surely could have written them. Instead, there’s this remarkable legacy of organizations, initiatives, standards and networks — which in themselves were modes of production entirely consistent with his research and outlook.

    A lot can and should be said about his intellectual influences and his analytic disposition. But his approach to leadership also merits close study. He started or was at the start of seemingly countless things, though he never took credit, or amassed titles and offices. Instead, he delegated instinctively. The virtues and practice of subsidiarity were, for him, an absolute article of faith. I think this commitment was a source of radical energy but also a lightness because for all his building and success there was such a selfless modesty about it all.

    And of course keeping him honest and forward-moving in every endeavour was his dearest Frances. What a wonder, these two people who had known each other since childhood. I know Frances’ art mattered greatly to Robin, and in turn helped to fill their lives with beauty but also maintain a freedom and independence of mind.

    One memory I’ll forever treasure came some years ago when I visited Robin at his home and he was spending the afternoon with his grandson, Joe. Some innocent speculation about the aerodynamics of paper airplanes quickly turned into a full aeronautical rally that overtook his living room. And there with all the books and lovely posters and paintings, and lamps and light streaming through those big windows, we spent a happy hour making and remaking planes, and firing them across the room. It was Robin to a T — completely delighted to watch his grandson try one thing and then another, to take joy in figuring out on what might work better, to learn from Joe as he began to master the craft of it by trying and then trying again. This was love, learning and mutual endeavour and for me it was the man.

  • Mike Hales

    Just this morning I was wondering whether to attempt once more to meet up with Robin, although I knew from his last email that he was limited in his capacity by illness of some kind. I’m attempting work just now that would benefit so much from Robin’s enthusiasm, inquisitiveness, great scope, penetrating focus. And I just was hoping to see him again, lovely man, after all these years . . .
    I don’t think we’d met since the post-GLC launch event for Hilary Wainright and Maureen McNeil’s Verso book on the GLC work, ‘A taste of power’; in the corner office at County Hall, with Thatcher and her deathly cohort occupying the opposite corner of Westminster Bridge. I was just hoping to be in the flow again for an hour or two, with the man who wrote those exciting, adventurous notes on ‘the labour process’. I remember the first time I saw Robin, at Sussex. He gave an hour’s lecture on monopoly capital, from that day’s edition of the Financial Times.
    However: no more. Robin, thank you. Rest well. Over to us . . .

  • Tim Lang

    To echo you all, thanks for this wonderful tributary of tributes to a great person. Hilary and you all give witness to the extraordinary breadth of his interest, engagement and impact. He was, as you all indicate, formidable and charming, with a brilliant, forensic intellect; all that and a change agent. I’d like to add a small footnote. Although an economist with a heavy interest in international development, from the moment he went to the GLC, he also helped lift the modern food policy agenda. He and the team saw the importance of the restructuring of London’s food economy then well underway – why have two giant baked bean factories (one with expensive London labour and land) when you can have one embedded in a motorway network? Where did this leave food for London, they asked. The food strategy they developed was based on recognizing the connection between changed labour processes (the post-fordist analysis) and food’s impact on health, culture and environment. (He really engaged with this when in Canada, working on food waste.) And in recognizing food’s role as a cultural industry, he was way ahead of much political economy thinking, which was mostly stuck a 1960s ‘food is only a problem in low income countries’ approach. Some still is. By great appointments to GLC and GLEB, notably by employing Robin Jenkins and Sandy Hunt, and by being prepared to take risks, the GLC economics team under Robin was able to pump-prime a strand of policy and change which continues today. Whenever I met and talked with Robin over the subsequent decades, he said how proud of helping spawn this food work he was – the fair trade food exchange (TWIN et al), the food and health work (London Food Commission) – and what they became. Once, with Robin in the audience, I mused with a large fairtrade audience whether we could be satisfied getting fairtrade versions of products with less than desirable nutritional characteristics such as sugar or coffee or chocolate. Their economic success wasn’t the end of the political road, I suggested. Some people in the audience were outraged with me. Not Robin. He talked, wanted to know more, and went off and created Liberation Nuts. He wanted me to join the board, but I did something better, finding a former Director of Public Health whose family had been in the nut trade in the past. He was amused and thrilled. What a man Robin was. As previous comments have all attested, Robin was charismatic. He roped people in, sprinkling them with his stardust. Better than that, he spawned, he encouraged. Last week, I was working hard at bringing order to a decayed kitchen garden on a smallholding in Wales, and while mattocking away, I thought about Robin (as one does), and said out loud: I need to talk with Robin. Now we cannot. I mourn him but above all salute him, and send condolences to Frances and the family. TIM LANG

  • Maureen Mackintosh

    From Diane Elson, Rhys Jenkins, Maureen Mackintosh, Ruth Pearson, Huge Radice
    Among his many other contributions, Robin was an inspiration to the five of us, then a group of young radical economists at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex in the mid 1970s, as we tried to develop an empirically grounded critique of capitalist development, attentive to the changing international forms of this development. At Sussex, Robin led reading groups on Marx’s Capital – and we found ourselves not only reading and debating all three volumes but also The Grundrisse, as Robin encouraged us to think about their relevance to contemporary capitalist economies, and take from them an understanding of capitalist accumulation as a contradictory process, rife with struggles.
    He brought together the Brighton Labour Process Group – Diane Elson and Hugo Radice were among the members- which not only debated theories but also investigated the materiality of capitalism, going on field trips to visit factories, coalmines, processing plants and markets; and engaged with how to create alternative forms of production and distribution. A key part of the BLPG’s work, organized by Robin, was a study of changes in the labour process at the ITT Creed factory that produced teleprinters in Brighton. BLPG members worked closely with shop stewards at the factory and Robin wrote this up as a case study (unfortunately never published).
    Robin had taught at the London Business School before arriving at IDS, and he was an expert on multinational companies and studied their internal manipulation of prices to move profits around the world. As on so many issues that Robin engaged with, what at the time was regarded as a relatively esoteric issue has become a mainstream concern with many organisations, including the OECD, addressing the issue of corporate profit shifting and tax avoidance He inspired three of us, as a PhD supervisor ( Rhys Jenkins) and as a colleague (Maureen Mackintosh and Ruth Pearson), to carry out research in Africa and Latin America on the behaviour of specific TNCs, and industries which combined theoretical insights with detailed empirical work.
    He was also a stalwart of the Sussex Conference of Socialist Economists group, to which we all belonged. Robin was one of the founding members of the CSE in April 1969 (together with Ernest Mandel, Michael Barratt Brown, Bob Rowthorn, and Hugo Radice). Robin and Hugo and Sam Aaronovitch then went on to organise the first CSE conference which was held at the Marx Memorial Library in London in Jan 1970. CSE is still operating and publishing the journal Capital and Class.
    In 1975 Robin persuaded IDS to host a 6 week study seminar on Socialist Development Strategies, influenced by his work with the socialist government of the Seychelles. This seminar featured a Socialist version of 5- a-side football, the principle of which was that when one team scored a goal, they had to surrender a selected member of their team to the other side.
    Robin was the embodiment of “Think globally , Act Locally”, and was one of the contributors, along with Frances, to the local community newspaper in Brighton Kemptown aptly named QueenSpark, which amongst other things, featured a serialisation of Robin’s notes on Volume 1 of Capital.
    Robin was always alive to the possibilities of transforming economies and his agile, creative approach to economic analysis had a deep and long lasting influence on those of us who enjoyed his energising comradeship when we were young researchers. And for a number of us, this influence continued beyond Sussex and IDS
    Maureen Mackintosh recalls being hired – swept up, was more how it felt – by Robin to work in the Industry and Employment Branch at the Greater London Council in 1983, during the Livingstone administration. Robin was the GLC’s chief economic adviser and he pulled in a group of radical economists to work with him, including Irene Breughel who is unfortunately no longer here to reminisce. Maureen remembers that on her first day Robin stalked into the office carrying a huge mound of paper. “London Transport”, he announced, “is trying to sack 2000 bus conductors. Stop them!”. The mound of papers descended onto her desk – and that was it. For the next three years she was GLC transport economist, working with the trades unions on limiting one-person bus operation, including research demonstrating its impact on bus workers’ health, and on trying to stop the closure of London’s transport engineering works; defending big improvements in bus services and the start of the night busses by demonstrating the economic importance of bus services for women and lower income Londoners and their economic benefits, while the Thatcher government pushed in the opposite direction; justifying the banning of highly polluting lorries from central London, and making the case for integration of inner London rail with the Tube (blocked by Thatcher, now the Overground).
    Robin never ceased to be engaged with all this, his political imagination immediately responding to the arguments – standard now, new then – about the economic, social and political importance of these urban transport struggles as well as other sectors. This is a good example of Robin’s extraordinary ability to engage with concrete economic issues – literally concrete in the case of the anti-road building struggles – while never losing sight of broader political ideas and goals. It’s also a lasting legacy.
    Robin Murray had a deep influence on our academic, professional and political development and we- like others- owe him a good deal. We will miss his highly original thinking, wry humour and boundless enthusiasm in the struggles ahead.

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  • Casimir Knight

    Robin was a happy, kind and warm man. A wonderful active family guy to boot too.

  • Maureen Mackintosh

    From Diane Elson, Rhys Jenkins, Maureen Mackintosh, Ruth Pearson, Hugo Radice
    Among his many other contributions, Robin was an inspiration to the five of us, then a group of young radical economists at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex in the mid 1970s, as we tried to develop an empirically grounded critique of capitalist development, attentive to the changing international forms of this development. At Sussex, Robin led reading groups on Marx’s Capital – and we found ourselves not only reading and debating all three volumes but also The Grundrisse, as Robin encouraged us to think about their relevance to contemporary capitalist economies, and take from them an understanding of capitalist accumulation as a contradictory process, rife with struggles.
    He brought together the Brighton Labour Process Group – Diane Elson and Hugo Radice were among the members- which not only debated theories but also investigated the materiality of capitalism, going on field trips to visit factories, coalmines, processing plants and markets; and engaged with how to create alternative forms of production and distribution. A key part of the BLPG’s work, organized by Robin, was a study of changes in the labour process at the ITT Creed factory that produced teleprinters in Brighton. BLPG members worked closely with shop stewards at the factory and Robin wrote this up as a case study (unfortunately never published).
    Robin had taught at the London Business School before arriving at IDS, and he was an expert on multinational companies and studied their internal manipulation of prices to move profits around the world. As on so many issues that Robin engaged with, what at the time was regarded as a relatively esoteric issue has become a mainstream concern with many organizations, including the OECD, addressing the issue of corporate profit shifting and tax avoidance He inspired three of us, as a PhD supervisor ( Rhys Jenkins) and as a colleague (Maureen Mackintosh and Ruth Pearson), to carry out research in Africa and Latin America on the behaviour of specific TNCs, and industries which combined theoretical insights with detailed empirical work.
    He was also a stalwart of the Sussex Conference of Socialist Economists group, to which we all belonged. Robin was one of the founding members of the CSE in April 1969 (together with Ernest Mandel, Michael Barratt Brown, Bob Rowthorn, and Hugo Radice). Robin and Hugo and Sam Aaronovitch then went on to organise the first CSE conference which was held at the Marx Memorial Library in London in Jan 1970. CSE is still operating and publishing the journal Capital and Class.
    In 1975 Robin persuaded IDS to host a 6 week study seminar on Socialist Development Strategies, influenced by his work with the socialist government of the Seychelles. This seminar featured a Socialist version of 5- a-side football, the principle of which was that when one team scored a goal, they had to surrender a selected member of their team to the other side.
    Robin was the embodiment of “Think globally , Act Locally”, and was one of the contributors, along with Frances, to the local community newspaper in Brighton Kemptown aptly named QueenSpark, which amongst other things, featured a serialisation of Robin’s notes on Volume 1 of Capital.
    Robin was always alive to the possibilities of transforming economies and his agile, creative approach to economic analysis had a deep and long lasting influence on those of us who enjoyed his energising comradeship when we were young researchers. And for a number of us, this influence continued beyond Sussex and IDS
    Maureen Mackintosh recalls being hired – swept up, was more how it felt – by Robin to work in the Industry and Employment Branch at the Greater London Council in 1983, during the Livingstone administration. Robin was the GLC’s chief economic adviser and he pulled in a group of radical economists to work with him, including Irene Breughel who is unfortunately no longer here to reminisce. Maureen remembers that on her first day Robin stalked into the office carrying a huge mound of paper. “London Transport”, he announced, “is trying to sack 2000 bus conductors. Stop them!”. The mound of papers descended onto her desk – and that was it. For the next three years she was GLC transport economist, working with the trades unions on limiting one-person bus operation, including research demonstrating its impact on bus workers’ health, and on trying to stop the closure of London’s transport engineering works; defending big improvements in bus services and the start of the night buses by demonstrating the economic importance of buses for women and lower income Londoners and the economic benefits, while the Thatcher government pushed in the opposite direction; justifying the banning of highly polluting lorries from central London, and making the case for integration of inner London rail with the Tube (blocked by Thatcher, now the Overground).
    Robin never ceased to be engaged with all this, his political imagination immediately responding to the arguments – standard now, new then – about the economic, social and political importance of these urban transport struggles as well as other sectors. This is a good example of Robin’s extraordinary ability to engage with concrete economic issues – literally concrete in the case of the anti-road building struggles – while never losing sight of broader political ideas and goals. It’s also a lasting legacy.
    Robin Murray had a deep influence on our academic, professional and political development and we- like others- owe him a good deal. We will miss his highly original thinking, wry humour and boundless enthusiasm in the struggles ahead.

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  • Mike Cushman

    Hilary

    Thank you for this warm tribute to a great comrade. I am proud and grateful to have had Robin a mentor and a friend. Robin always dealt with my enthusiastic but naive youthful contributions with tolerance and kindness and with a succinct response which illuminated the world to me whether at Spokesman meetings or in his kitchen.

    I am privileged to have known him.

    My condolences to Frances

  • Nick Jeffrey

    So sorry to hear about Robin Murray, a comrade from the sixties.

    When James Anderson and I were developing our Political Economy of Cities and Regions course with Irene Brueghel we called on Robin. His enthusiasm with our students and bright eyes and smile captured us. This was late sixties.

    Robin, the late John Harrison (below) and the late Irene Brueghel , who was also employed in the Economic Policy Group, Popular Planning Unit, all taught in our School of Planning at the Architectural Association, the first planning school grounded in trade union and community and based on Marxist political economy, founded in both historical materialism and practice in working class campaigns. As well, Dave Wield and Adrian Atkinson worked with us and with the EPG & PPU. The late Doreen Massey worked with us from the very beginning as well with the GLC in GLEB. Marj Mayo did some teaching for us, and Louise Pankhurst, the first GLC Women’s Officer, had been one of our students. Our students produced plans working with the Peoples Plan for the Royal Docks. Before the GLC and ILEA were closed by Thatcher The AA Planning School was closed when after a right winger gained control of the AA. Robin made a special effort along with Mike Ward and Anthony Fletcher of the ILEA to move our planning school into a GLC/ILEA base as a London School of Planning for the people, but all was lost with the closures.

    All these comrades were part of the Conference of Socialist Economists, and that wonderful organisation had been initiated by Robin Murray and Hugo Radice among others, Hugo another comrade associated with our Planning School. We were part of CSE from early days, active in the Regional and Housing groups along with Michael Edwards and others.

    For the GLC, i was on the team put together by Hilary Wainwright to prepare and deliver educational material on London’s economy for trade union and community groups via the TUC,TGWU,and WEA in the Popular Planning Unit. That venture was led by John Harrison. I wrote the opening sections on the Capitol of Capital. I also wrote the Introduction to Robin Murray’s London Industrial Strategy, perhaps Ken’s most important document. As a delegate on Southwark Trades Council, I had written with Mike Geddes of Lambeth Trades Council, and with Bob Colenutt, the Trade Union Submission to The Coin Street Enquiry, and that document welcomed by Robin became one of the major sources of Ken’s new London policies. I had been a founding delegate for both North Southwark Community Development Group, and Joint Docklands Action Group.

    I last met Robin as we were walking through the Coin Street Community Builders patch along the south bank, the ‘Peoples Republic of South Bank’ he called it, and Robin said that he always got a thrill when walking through there. Those were my comrades who initiated Coin Street, and they thought very highly of Robin and were proud of the role of Ken and the GLC.

    I continue to tell the stories of the people’s campaigns across docklands and south bank in the context of neo-liberalism and its architecture, crisis and space. For decades now I have led LSE students in fieldwork there, and with Mel Evans did such for Doreen’s Open University course. It was on one these early days trips for the CSE that Robin came along and inspired with his questions. Robin’s contributions in political economy and for the GLC remain part of the story.

    onwards, Nick

  • Nick Jeffrey

    So sorry to hear about Robin Murray, a comrade from the sixties.

    When James Anderson and I were developing our Political Economy of Cities and Regions course with Irene Brueghel we called on Robin. His enthusiasm with our students and bright eyes and smile captured us. This was late sixties.

    Robin, the late John Harrison (below) and the late Irene Brueghel , who was also employed in the Economic Policy Group, Popular Planning Unit, all taught in our School of Planning at the Architectural Association, the first planning school grounded in trade union and community and based on Marxist political economy, founded in both historical materialism and practice in working class campaigns. As well, Dave Wield and Adrian Atkinson worked with us and with the EPG & PPU. The late Doreen Massey worked with us from the very beginning as well with the GLC in GLEB. Marj Mayo did some teaching for us, and Louise Pankhurst, the first GLC Women’s Officer, had been one of our students. Our students produced plans working with the Peoples Plan for the Royal Docks. Before the GLC and ILEA were closed by Thatcher The AA Planning School was closed when after a right winger gained control of the AA. Robin made a special effort along with Mike Ward and Anthony Fletcher of the ILEA to move our planning school into a GLC/ILEA base as a London School of Planning for the people, but all was lost with the closures.

    All these comrades were part of the Conference of Socialist Economists, and that wonderful organisation had been initiated by Robin Murray and Hugo Radice among others, Hugo another comrade associated with our Planning School. We were part of CSE from early days, active in the Regional and Housing groups along with Michael Edwards and others.

    For the GLC, i was on the team put together by Hilary Wainwright to prepare and deliver educational material on London’s economy for trade union and community groups via the TUC,TGWU,and WEA in the Popular Planning Unit. That venture was led by John Harrison. I wrote the opening sections on the Capitol of Capital. I also wrote the Introduction to Robin Murray’s London Industrial Strategy, perhaps Ken’s most important document. As a delegate on Southwark Trades Council, I had written with Mike Geddes of Lambeth Trades Council, and with Bob Colenutt, the Trade Union Submission to The Coin Street Enquiry, and that document welcomed by Robin became one of the major sources of Ken’s new London policies. I had been a founding delegate for both North Southwark Community Development Group, and Joint Docklands Action Group.

    I last met Robin as we were walking through the Coin Street Community Builders patch along the south bank, the ‘Peoples Republic of South Bank’ he called it, and Robin said that he always got a thrill when walking through there. Those were my comrades who initiated Coin Street, and they thought very highly of Robin and were proud of the role of Ken and the GLC.

    I continue to tell the stories of the people’s campaigns across docklands and south bank in the context of neo-liberalism and its architecture, crisis and space. For decades now I have led LSE students in fieldwork there, and with Mel Evans did such for Doreen’s Open University course. It was on one these early days trips for the CSE that Robin came along and inspired with his questions. Robin’s contributions in political economy and for the GLC remain part of the story.

    onwards, Nick

  • Nick Jeffrey

    So sorry to hear about Robin Murray, a comrade from the sixties.

    When James Anderson and I were developing our Political Economy of Cities and Regions course with Irene Brueghel we called on Robin. His enthusiasm with our students and bright eyes and smile captured us. This was late sixties.

    Robin, the late John Harrison (below) and the late Irene Brueghel , who was also employed in the Economic Policy Group, Popular Planning Unit, all taught in our School of Planning at the Architectural Association, the first planning school grounded in trade union and community and based on Marxist political economy, founded in both historical materialism and practice in working class campaigns. As well, Dave Wield and Adrian Atkinson worked with us and with the EPG & PPU. The late Doreen Massey worked with us from the very beginning as well with the GLC in GLEB. Marj Mayo did some teaching for us, and Louise Pankhurst, the first GLC Women’s Officer, had been one of our students. Our students produced plans working with the Peoples Plan for the Royal Docks. Before the GLC and ILEA were closed by Thatcher The AA Planning School was closed when after a right winger gained control of the AA. Robin made a special effort along with Mike Ward and Anthony Fletcher of the ILEA to move our planning school into a GLC/ILEA base as a London School of Planning for the people, but all was lost with the closures.

    All these comrades were part of the Conference of Socialist Economists, and that wonderful organisation had been initiated by Robin Murray and Hugo Radice among others, Hugo another comrade associated with our Planning School. We were part of CSE from early days, active in the Regional and Housing groups along with Michael Edwards and others.

    For the GLC, i was on the team put together by Hilary Wainwright to prepare and deliver educational material on London’s economy for trade union and community groups via the TUC,TGWU,and WEA in the Popular Planning Unit. That venture was led by John Harrison. I wrote the opening sections on the Capitol of Capital. I also wrote the Introduction to Robin Murray’s London Industrial Strategy, perhaps Ken’s most important document. As a delegate on Southwark Trades Council, I had written with Mike Geddes of Lambeth Trades Council, and with Bob Colenutt, the Trade Union Submission to The Coin Street Enquiry, and that document welcomed by Robin became one of the major sources of Ken’s new London policies. I had been a founding delegate for both North Southwark Community Development Group, and Joint Docklands Action Group.

    I last met Robin as we were walking through the Coin Street Community Builders patch along the south bank, the ‘Peoples Republic of South Bank’ he called it, and Robin said that he always got a thrill when walking through there. Those were my comrades who initiated Coin Street, and they thought very highly of Robin and were proud of the role of Ken and the GLC.

    I continue to tell the stories of the people’s campaigns across docklands and south bank in the context of neo-liberalism and its architecture, crisis and space. For decades now I have led LSE students in fieldwork there, and with Mel Evans did such for Doreen’s Open University course. It was on one these early days trips for the CSE that Robin came along and inspired with his questions. Robin’s contributions in political economy and for the GLC remain part of the story.

  • Pingback: A Tribute to Robin Murray, Founding Chair - Liberation Nuts()

  • Maureen Mackintosh

    From Diane Elson, Rhys Jenkins, Maureen Mackintosh, Ruth Pearson, Hugo Radice
    Among his many other contributions, Robin was an inspiration to the five of us, then a group of young radical economists at the Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex in the mid 1970s, as we tried to develop an empirically grounded critique of capitalist development, attentive to the changing international forms of this development. At Sussex, Robin led reading groups on Marx’s Capital – and we found ourselves not only reading and debating all three volumes but also The Grundrisse, as Robin encouraged us to think about their relevance to contemporary capitalist economies, and take from them an understanding of capitalist accumulation as a contradictory process, rife with struggles.
    He brought together the Brighton Labour Process Group – Diane Elson and Hugo Radice were among the members- which not only debated theories but also investigated the materiality of capitalism, going on field trips to visit factories, coalmines, processing plants and markets; and engaged with how to create alternative forms of production and distribution. A key part of the BLPG’s work, organized by Robin, was a study of changes in the labour process at the ITT Creed factory that produced teleprinters in Brighton. BLPG members worked closely with shop stewards at the factory and Robin wrote this up as a case study (unfortunately never published).
    Robin had taught at the London Business School before arriving at IDS, and he was an expert on multinational companies and studied their internal manipulation of prices to move profits around the world. As on so many issues that Robin engaged with, what at the time was regarded as a relatively esoteric issue has become a mainstream concern with many organizations, including the OECD, addressing the issue of corporate profit shifting and tax avoidance He inspired three of us, as a PhD supervisor ( Rhys Jenkins) and as a colleague (Maureen Mackintosh and Ruth Pearson), to carry out research in Africa and Latin America on the behaviour of specific TNCs, and industries which combined theoretical insights with detailed empirical work.
    He was also a stalwart of the Sussex Conference of Socialist Economists group, to which we all belonged. Robin was one of the founding members of the CSE in April 1969 (together with Ernest Mandel, Michael Barratt Brown, Bob Rowthorn, and Hugo Radice). Robin and Hugo and Sam Aaronovitch then went on to organise the first CSE conference which was held at the Marx Memorial Library in London in Jan 1970. CSE is still operating and publishing the journal Capital and Class.
    In 1975 Robin persuaded IDS to host a 6 week study seminar on Socialist Development Strategies, influenced by his work with the socialist government of the Seychelles. This seminar featured a Socialist version of 5- a-side football, the principle of which was that when one team scored a goal, they had to surrender a selected member of their team to the other side.
    Robin was the embodiment of “Think globally , Act Locally”, and was one of the contributors, along with Frances, to the local community newspaper in Brighton Kemptown aptly named QueenSpark, which amongst other things, featured a serialisation of Robin’s notes on Volume 1 of Capital.
    Robin was always alive to the possibilities of transforming economies and his agile, creative approach to economic analysis had a deep and long lasting influence on those of us who enjoyed his energising comradeship when we were young researchers. And for a number of us, this influence continued beyond Sussex and IDS
    Maureen Mackintosh recalls being hired – swept up, was more how it felt – by Robin to work in the Industry and Employment Branch at the Greater London Council in 1983, during the Livingstone administration. Robin was the GLC’s chief economic adviser and he pulled in a group of radical economists to work with him, including Irene Breughel who is unfortunately no longer here to reminisce. Maureen remembers that on her first day Robin stalked into the office carrying a huge mound of paper. “London Transport”, he announced, “is trying to sack 2000 bus conductors. Stop them!”. The mound of papers descended onto her desk – and that was it. For the next three years she was GLC transport economist, working with the trades unions on limiting one-person bus operation, including research demonstrating its impact on bus workers’ health, and on trying to stop the closure of London’s transport engineering works; defending big improvements in bus services and the start of the night buses by demonstrating the economic importance of buses for women and lower income Londoners and the economic benefits, while the Thatcher government pushed in the opposite direction; justifying the banning of highly polluting lorries from central London, and making the case for integration of inner London rail with the Tube (blocked by Thatcher, now the Overground).
    Robin never ceased to be engaged with all this, his political imagination immediately responding to the arguments – standard now, new then – about the economic, social and political importance of these urban transport struggles as well as other sectors. This is a good example of Robin’s extraordinary ability to engage with concrete economic issues – literally concrete in the case of the anti-road building struggles – while never losing sight of broader political ideas and goals. It’s also a lasting legacy.
    Robin Murray had a deep influence on our academic, professional and political development and we- like others- owe him a good deal. We will miss his highly original thinking, wry humour and boundless enthusiasm in the struggles ahead.

  • Julie Simon

    Posted on behalf of Stuart Holland

    Like so many of us, I have been grieving over our loss of Robin. I came to know both him and Frances very well, with never a fractious rather than joyous moment, when we were at Oxford and then, in London. And again, when we were at Sussex. As for so many others, he influenced how I thought and how I acted. Such as in 1960 and we both were at Balliol, and I was more into music than politics, asking me to sign a petition against hanging on which I did not need much persuading, but on which I had never thought of protesting, whereas he had. In his mild but firm manner, and by example, he was part of my own radicalisation.

    But he also had a major early influence on my intellectual life. It was he who first drew my attention to the work of Stephen Hymer, and to his own on multinational companies. He had been invited to publish material on these in a Fabian paper and had misgivings about this but both suggested I do so and insisted that I use his work for it. Which I did, with a requisite credit to him. But the credit proved deeper and wider in the degree to which I thereafter pursued this, as in the case for Planning Agreements to render multinationals accountable, and on the degree to which state holding companies such as The National Enterprise Board could countervail them.

    In the 70s, when Harold Wilson had near gelded Labour’s Economic Programme by making both Planning Agreements and NEB intervention in firms voluntary, Mike Ward approached me and asked whether the GLC could not implement them at a London level. To which I responded that it could, and of which an outcome was to be the GLC’s Industrial Strategy including the Greater London Enterprise Board. At which point I was asked who should direct it, and immediately suggested Robin. Who, of course, as well represented in several of the tributes to him, did so brilliantly. As not only in the case cited by Hilary of insisting that if furniture and other companies wanted public money they needed to plan – one of the principles of Planning Agreements – but also in engaging Mike Cooley and the whole philosophy of workers’ alternative plans on the Lucas model.

    When I went into parliament I saw less of either Robin or Frances and less again when I resigned on seeing New Labour coming and having the alternative of working with Delors on policies seeking to realise economic and social cohesion in the EU. Several of these nonetheless echoed Robin’s and Mike’s concerns to empower local governments and local people. Such as the RECITE cities and regions initiative and a programme called ADAPT seeking to adapt the tacit knowledge and latent abilities of workers in traditional sectors into innovative products in health and environmental safeguards. Antonio Guterres, with whom I worked when he was head of government in Portugal from the mid 90’s also managed to persuade the European Council to adopt the principle of Innovation Agreements, i.e.- innovation-by-consent and based on recognising workers’ skills, which had been part of the GLEB strategy under Robin.

    I cite these cases not to stress a first person role, but rather because they represent Robin’s ongoing influence in a manner which recollection of his work at the GLC alone does not. We can all recognise the degree to which a hegemonic neoliberalism in the EU under, especially, the influence of Merkel and Schäuble has been defeating feasible alternatives for Europe. But there also is the degree to which the lessons learned from the GLC and GLEB still are highly relevant to this. As well as for a future Labour government in which Jeremy Corbin and John McDonnell, strong supporters of both the London Industrial Strategy, and of Robin, when at the GLC, can well draw in an economic strategy which could be both national and regional as well as also people and social value based. None of which, however, can overshadow his personality, his generosity of spirit and deep sense of commitment to the wellbeing of others which, rightly, will remain with us not only as a memory but also as an ongoing inspiration.

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