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Well red volumes of class struggle

A new bibliography of the Communist Party of Great Britain demonstrates the significant impact of its publications over seven decades, says JOHN GREEN

Bibliography of the Communist Party of Great Britain, by Dave Cope (Lawrence and Wishart, £45)

THIS is the first attempt to date by anyone to compile a comprehensive catalogue of publications issued by the Communist Party over its lifetime.

Based on meticulous research over many years, Dave Cope’s work is fascinatingly detailed.

There could be few better equipped to write such a book. Formerly the party literature secretary and manager of several of its bookshops, he’s now the owner and director of Left on the Shelf, a company that specialises in left-wing literature and memorabilia.

In an informative and fascinating introduction, he explains how interest in the CPGB has expanded in recent years, making the need for such a bibliography essential.

A communist specialist group of the Political Studies Association has been established, Kevin Morgan at Manchester University leads a unit specialising in communist history, there have been several exhibitions about the party and it has become the subject of study for a whole number of academics.

In the bibliography, Cope confines himself to the years from the party’s founding in 1920 until it dissolved itself in 1991. For various reasons, he has chosen to ignore the emergence of the CPB or the role and demise of Democratic Left, the two organisations that emerged from the old party after its dissolution.

The communist project may have failed in terms of achieving a socialist society in Britain but the communist movement itself has produced a rich heritage which still has resonances today and, as an example of the emphasis placed by the party on literature and learning, he cites the example of the party’s Liverpool bookshop which alone sold some 3,000 paperbacks and 500 hardbacks in the 1970s.

As a political party it published more literature by far, in the form of leaflets, pamphlets and books, than any other in the country.

Cope’s introduction and his section on artists associated with the party is richly supplemented by introductory sections on the communist party in fiction by Andy Croft, which provides a helpful list of novels in which the Communist Party or communists feature. Bert Hogenkamp does the same for film and Kevin Morgan has written a valuable short historiography.

This is not a book to read in one sitting from cover to cover, that is hardly its aim. It is above all a work of reference, to be dipped into as occasion demands, and will undoubtedly remain a yardstick for many years to come.

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