Sam Aaronovitch, political activist; born December 26, 1919, died May 30, 1998

Sam Aaronovitch was a person of phenomenal talent and energy, a leading communist activist who went on to achieve academic distinction (having left school at 14) at an age when most of us would be thinking seriously about our retirement.

Growing up in inter-war East London, and of Lithuanian Jewish extraction (he was born in Cable Street) at a time when Mosley's fascists were on the march, it was not too surprising that he joined the Young Communist League and the Communist Party.

By the late 1940s he was in charge of its cultural committee, a body with a remit which covered people who were then or later to be leading lights in British literary and historical output. It was, however, the era during which the Cold War was closing in, and his responsibilities included the enforcement upon reluctant poets and writers of the rigid Cominform line regarding the ''battle of ideas'' - an experience which he strongly reacted against in the direction of an open-minded and questioning outlook.

However, he continued as a party organiser in various roles until the late 1960s, including a spell in the west of Scotland. During that time his voracious appetite for self-education turned him into one of the party's leading intellectuals, and produced books such as Crisis in Kenya, Economics for Trade Unionists, and The Ruling Class.

Approaching 50, he concluded that both he and the party had little further to gain from his continuation in his organisational work, and decided to enter higher education. Applying for entry to Oxford University, it was suggested to him that with his record of published work there would be little point beginning with an undergraduate degree, and that he should proceed straight to a doctorate. This he was to do, although he later said that the requirements cost him both exceptional efforts and his marriage.

Subsequently he became professor of economics at South Bank Polytechnic, where his published output, both technical and popular, continued. Instead of retiring at 65, he remained to establish, and to concentrate his efforts on, a new project, the Local Economy Policy Unit, which provided substantial service and advice, especially to local government. In the internal conflicts which began to tear apart the Communist Party from the 1970s onwards he was at all times an energetic partisan of the liberalising wing, the ''Eurocommunists''.

In his late sixties cancer was diagnosed, which resulted in the removal of a substantial part of his bowel. But he recoverd and his energy, if anything, increased still further. He used to say that every day felt like being born afresh. Having suffered rheumatic fever in his teens he had always been led to believe he had a weak heart. On learning late in life that this was untrue, he took up hill-walking in his seventies.

The cancer, however, had not been eliminated, and late last year it became clear that it had spread to his liver and that he could not expect to live much longer. His reaction to the news was very typical of Sam Aaronovitch. Under the initial pretext of a birthday party, he organised in March what was announced on the occasion to be a wake in celebration of his life, with himself in attendance - a splendid piece of chutzpah.

Sam Aaronovich represented all that was best and most admirable in that troubled and contradictory organisation, the Communist Party of Great Britain.

n Janey Buchan writes: It is inevitable that his years as a writer, economist, and academic will be at the forefront of the memories of this remarkable man. Long before he got to that part of his life, Sam lived and worked in Glasgow, and I am astonished to find he was not the older man, the sage, the guru, that I had always thought of him. He was only some eight years older than me.

As a full-time organiser for the CP in Glasgow he was a superb lecturer, agitator, thinker. He organised, and frequently lectured at, the public lectures held almost every Sunday night in the MacLellan Galleries and, on a few occasions, in the Institute of Engineers at Elmbank Crescent. My own first faltering steps as a chairman were under Sam's direction.

He was a good open-air speaker, and factory and shipyard-gate meetings were our training ground. I cannot remember why, but I was often given the job of accompanying Sam and I always had to carry the platform for him. I would lift it to my shoulder and he would walk beside me towards the yards, most often with his hands in his pockets.

I never gave a thought to the physical unfairness and the man/woman aspect would not occur to me or to any other comrade.

I now marvel at where his command of languages came from since he, like me, left school at 14. We were told by other people that Sam had really learned most of it from dictionaries. Whether this was true or not it could have been - because that kind of total dedication was a major part of him.

Despite the horror that eclipsed us all after 1956 and Hungary, I think we were part of a generation which was lucky to have had an internationalism which Sam typified, coming from Cable Street in Stepney to militant working class in Scotland, allied to committed academics.