Fred Carpenter (1952‑2023)

Fred Leplat remembers his friend and comrade Fred Carpenter.


I first met Fred when I was arrested with him and other IMG comrades in 1974. We had occupied the offices of Iberian airlines in protest at Basque nationalists being put to death by garrotting by Franco. I ended up sharing a cell for the night with him at the West End Central nick. That’s when we started being friends as we shared an interest in jazz and followed many of the same musicians. What I remember most about that night was not the awful soggy sandwich and weak tea the cops gave us for breakfast, but that Fred kept me awake all night, not talking about politics but about jazz.

Fred was indeed a great talker, and had an immense knowledge of jazz and other musicians, in particular Bob Dylan, but also Prince, Richard Thompson and the Beatles. His favourite period was the revolution in jazz in the USA from the 1960s onwards with the greats of John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Archie Shepp, Charles Mingus, Art Blakey and many others. He knew every take of every track on every album they produced, and could talk at great length about all of them. But Fred also had a deep knowledge of politics and history.


He was born in Brighton but his family moved to Hemel Hempstead at an early age. He became a radical because of the events of the times he lived through, in particular the huge strike wave at the end of the Heath government in 1973 and the war in the north of Ireland. After attending Highfield School, he went to Dacorum College and became a student activist, attending the NUS conference as a delegate. It is during that period that he came into contact with the International Socialists (the SWP as it was then) and the International Marxist Group of the Fourth International. It was the IMG’s campaigning for Troops Out of Ireland and its more open attitude to united fronts that won him over to becoming a member.

Fred was able to establish a branch of the IMG in Hemel Hempstead through his energy, political knowledge and skills as an organiser, not to mention his gift as a great talker and sharp wit. One of his friends remembers Fred regularly turning up at social occasions with books and pamphlets to sell. After college, Fred got a job in the John Dickinson paper mill and became a SOGAT member. He was active on the Trades Council and convinced the Council to call a half-day strike of the town in 1978 to back the Hemel Hempstead Hospital Action Group call for a new hospital. The strike was a success with thousands streaming out of work onto a demonstration. The campaign still continues and is now called the Dacorum Health Action Group.

“Turn to industry”

In the early 1980s, Fred moved to Newport in South Wales as part of the IMG’s “turn to industry”, taking up jobs in industry to establish an audience for the IMG. That organisational tactic occurred just as Thatcher’s neoliberal de-industrialisation was in full in swing and areas like Newport had high rates of unemployment. Fred along with other comrades were unemployed for more than a year, failing to set a branch in Newport. The “turn to industry” was one of the reasons for the break-up of the IMG in the mid-1980s.

Fred then moved to Brent, dropping out of the Fourth International for a while. He worked for a decade as a postal worker at the Kilburn depot, where he became a rep for the CWU, attending as a delegate the union’s national conferences. After losing his job at the Post Office due to ill health, he became a student at London Metropolitan University and obtained a degree in history.

Fred re-joined the Fourth International in Britain, Socialist Resistance, in 2010, full of energy and ideas despite his poor mental and physical health. He became active again where and when he could. He was an enthusiastic supporter of Left Unity, attending its founding conference in 2013. He believed that being a revolutionary in a non-revolutionary period, meant we also had to build broader radical left political formations which offered an alternative to the social liberalism of the Labour Party.

When Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party, he believed that it was right for revolutionaries to join the party to fight alongside Corbyn’s supporters for a Labour Party that would really fight “for the many – not the few”. Fred joined the broader revolutionary organisation Anti-Capitalist Resistance along with SR members in 2020. He was in full agreement with ACR and SR in opposing the call for a left vote for Brexit, and in solidarity with the people of Ukraine resisting the Russian imperialist intervention.


Fred was hit by the cruel Tory poverty of Universal Credit. He could not afford a smart phone with internet data and struggled to use computers if he was able to get to the library. He was nevertheless keeping up with news by getting the Guardian every day. He was in constant battles with various authorities to get his benefits or his pension, or with service providers. This he had to do by phone which was emotionally and physically draining as he would regularly have to wait endlessly and then get transferred from one call handler to another. On numerous occasions, this led him to lose his temper, thus being unable to resolve the problem or get the payments due to him.

The lockdowns during the Covid pandemic hit Fred badly: he was isolated and became more depressed. He was unable to go to meetings or socialise, and without internet access he could not participate in online meetings. Luckily, I set him up with a television and Fred decided to use it without paying the Licence fee, which he could not afford anyway. During the last couple of years his health and mobility declined further as he had to go into hospital several times and underwent a major operation last year.

Fred died before seeing Brighton football club, which he had supported all his life, get into the Europa League this year, its best ever season.

Fred will be remembered for his lifelong commitment to revolutionary Marxism, his firm ideas and keenness for a political discussion, and his love and deep knowledge of jazz.


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