The working-class movement, and especially the people of Vietnam, lost a true champion in Comrade Len Aldis, who passed away following a heart attack in his east London home, on 27 November 2015, at the age of 85. His death was announced by the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society (BVFS), which he had served as Secretary since its establishment in 1992.
David Leonard Aldis, universally known as Len, was born into a large Jewish working class family in East London on 3 October 1930. Evacuated from London to the south west of England during the Blitz, his working life began as an adolescent in factories and munitions plants.
Following his National Service, Len joined the Young Communist League (YCL) and in 1956 he became a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). Reflecting on the fact that the events of that year had led many opportunists and fair weather friends to abandon the communist movement, he was known to observe: “I joined just as everyone else was leaving.”
Len served as election agent for Phil Piratin, who had been elected as the Communist MP for Tower Hamlets in 1945, and was active in the Movement for Colonial Freedom (later Liberation), the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and in the anti-Vietnam war movement, being present at the great Grosvenor Square demonstrations in March and October 1968, and, particularly, working tirelessly in the Medical Aid for Vietnam campaign (which later extended its remit to Laos and Cambodia as well as to scientific aid). From the late 1970s, he managed Collets Russian Bookshop in Charing Cross Road and later worked for the campaigning charity Medical Aid for Palestinians.
Formal retirement only saw him increase his political work. He was active in the pensioners’ movement, his local community, the peace movement, and with the Marx Memorial Library, retiring as its Chair in September 2013.
However, it was above all to Socialist Vietnam and its people that he dedicated the latter part of his life. In a 2007 article for the BVFS, Len described how this had come about:
“I first became aware of Vietnam…and its struggle against the French recolonisation during my National Service in 1949-50. From that time on and with the defeat of the French at Dien Bien Phu in 1954, my support and admiration for the Vietnamese grew. Unfortunately, the victory at Dien Bien Phu was to lead to a yet more brutal war.
“During the French war, the US forces were present as ‘advisers’; these grew in number and influence in South Vietnam. It was in these years that I, along with many thousands in the UK and millions around the world, took part in marches, meetings, and demonstrations calling for an end to the US war on Vietnam.
“From my first visit to Vietnam in 1989 my support and work grew and I became determined to do everything I could to help the country and its people .”
Despite its small size and modest resources, under Len’s leadership, the BVFS has not only publicised Vietnam’s socialist achievements, but also undertaken a large number of practical projects to assist in the rehabilitation and development of what is still a war-ravaged country. Among its first projects were the provision of education scholarships and the establishment of a tree-planting programme that created a “friendship forest”, reforesting one of the many areas that had been decimated by US saturation bombing and the widespread spraying of the chemical weapon, Agent Orange.
Becoming aware that the terrible effects of Agent Orange would continue to afflict Vietnamese children for generations to come, Len, with compassion and determination in equal measure, made the campaign to win justice for Agent Orange victims, and to alleviate their plight, the principal focus of his work. He supported the Hoa Binh Peace Village in Hanoi and the Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City, which cares for children and young people suffering birth defects from the US use of chemical weapons, bringing material aid that he had tirelessly and often single-handedly raised on his almost annual visits.
He campaigned for Monsanto, the US multinational corporation responsible for the production of Agent Orange, to pay compensation to its victims and led a campaign against Dow Chemical’s corporate sponsorship of the 2012 London Olympics. Dow had not only helped produce Agent Orange but also worked on making napalm even more deadly.
During his lifetime, Len received many honours from Vietnam, including a Friendship Order presented by the country’s President.
Following his death, numerous tributes have been paid by Vietnamese comrades. Former Vice President, Comrade Nguyen Thi Binh, who had led the National Liberation Front (NLF) delegation at the Paris peace talks, and is now the President of the Vietnam Peace and Development Foundation, wrote:
“ Len Aldis has devoted his whole life to activities in solidarity with the Vietnamese people, notably in poverty alleviation and hunger elimination, education and training, and especially in support of Vietnamese victims of Agent Orange. We shall always bear in mind his great and heart-warming contributions.”
The President of the Vietnam Union of Friendship Organisations Vu Xuan Hong wrote: “ Len Aldis was our great friend who has spared no effort to support Vietnam during our struggle for national independence and for justice for victims of Agent Orange, as well as to contribute to the friendship and solidarity between the two peoples .”
The Chairman of the Vietnam-UK Friendship Association Hoang Van Dung added: “ He left his footprints on all parts of Vietnam, from the plains to the remote mountainous areas to help the poor children, the disadvantaged and indigenous people .”
These three comrades were among those attending a memorial service held in honour of Len in Hanoi on 3 December 2015.
Under the title, ‘Len Aldis’ love for Vietnam’, Nhan Dan, the central organ of the Communist Party of Vietnam published a moving tribute on 5 December 2012, recalling:
“Secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society (BVFS) Len Aldis has passed away, leaving a deep loss for Vietnam as his name has become so familiar and close to Vietnamese people.
“When asked when he fell in love with Vietnam, Len would merely smile gently and happily instead of answering in words. In his heart, his love for Vietnam is deep and comes to him naturally. It may originate from his love and respect for Uncle Ho since demonstrations against the US war in Vietnam, from charity activities, or from tireless efforts in seeking justice for Agent Orange (AO) victims.
“Len Aldis made a strong impression on listeners when he talked about the time Uncle Ho lived and worked in the UK on his national salvation journey in the wreath laying ceremony at the memorial plate placed at New Zealand House in Haymarket to mark the 123rd birthday of Ho Chi Minh…
“He said that when Uncle Ho was employed to clean-up and wash dishes, he would often collect leftovers to give to the poor and beggars in the street. Being moved by the action, legendary French chef Georges Auguste Escoffier transferred him to the bakery and handed down the baking profession to him. However, it could not keep him on the island as a great ambition to liberate his nation burned within him, Len told.
“That was the way Len often began the story of Uncle Ho and his time in London, recalling the immense hardships Uncle Ho experienced to seek a way to save the nation, and conveying a message about the revolutionary spirit and strong will of the person who gave birth to a new Vietnam…
“On every birthday of Uncle Ho, the Vietnamese community in the UK once again was retold the moving story about the young man Nguyen Tat Thanh [as Ho Chi Minh was then known] whom Len respected deeply. But next year for Uncle Ho’s birthday, there will no longer be the image of an old British man walking slowly with his walking stick on Haymarket’s pavement to attend the celebratory ceremony. However, the moving story of Uncle Ho in London will be a tribute to the close friend of the Vietnamese people forever, inspiring younger Vietnamese generations… His love for Vietnam was pure and his death has left a deep grief among Vietnamese people.”
Len lived simply and was kind, amiable and modest. As he was to many in different parts of the working class movement, he was a good friend to the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML) and to our comrades. In 2010, he was a guest speaker at the Party’s public meeting to celebrate the 120th birthday of Comrade Ho Chi Minh. In its July/August 2010 edition, this newspaper reported his contribution as follows:
“Len Aldis, Secretary of the Britain-Vietnam Friendship Society, had just returned from the 35th anniversary celebrations in Vietnam [of the defeat of US imperialism and the reunification of the country] and reported breathtaking cultural and military displays, with warm applause for the women’s contingents. He particularly recalled a huge changing display of a picture of Ho Chi Minh, then a picture of the Vietnamese tank coming through the Presidential Palace gates on the day that Saigon fell. Len also recalled the millions who gave their lives during these decades of wars and still lie in unknown graves.
“In remembering the heroism, he spelt out the crimes of US imperialism – millions killed and a country despoiled. The crimes also included the non-payment of the $3.5 billion that Nixon agreed to pay in Paris in 1973 for the reconstruction of north Vietnam; the Nixon-led international embargo on Vietnam… remaining until January 1994 with the support of ‘our’ government; the unexploded cluster bombs etc. still in the soil of the country, particularly in Vinh Linh, which could take years to clear; and the chemical weapons, like Agent Orange, which resulted in abnormal births and deformities of the children born in succeeding generations (nearly 4 million cases), and now reaching the fourth generation of Vietnamese. And still not a cent from Monsanto, Dow Chemicals and others that were sued by the Vietnamese and found guilty. The soil, the water and the fish, for example, are still contaminated by the chemicals.”
Len also spoke on Vietnam at a meeting of the Stalin Society, highlighting the treacherous role of the 1945 ‘left’ Labour government in facilitating the return of the French colonialists to Vietnam following the defeat of Japanese militarism.
The funeral of Comrade Len Aldis will take place on Monday 4 January 2016 at 2.15pm at the City of London Cemetery and Crematorium, Aldersbrook Road, Manor Park, London, E12 5DQ. His wake will take place after the service at the same venue. His request was for a simple, non-religious service, followed by cremation. He further requested that there be no flowers, preferring donations to a Vietnamese charity of people’s choosing. Non-family members wishing to attend are asked to RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org .