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I am not, and never have been, a communist but over the years I have worked closely with “the party.”
In Aberdeen, in the 1970s, the local anarchist group and the Young Communist League often found that, unlikely as it might seem, they were natural political allies.
I was particularly impressed that the Communist Party kept important groups like CND alive during its quiet years and ran the tenants’ association in the roughest part of town.
The Aberdeen communist folksinger Bob Cooney really had fought in the Spanish civil war and while that did not endear him to anarchists who took a different view of the conflict, nonetheless...
At its height, the Communist Party of Great Britain had 60,000 members, with over 1,000 in my subsequently adopted hometown of Nottingham.
Even at its dissolution, there were over 6,000 members nationally, several times the number of the Communist Party of Britain, effectively its successor organisation.
Despite its size the CPB provides the muscle that keeps this paper going, John Green being one of the Star’s regular writers.
In his book, rather than analysing the twists and turns of party policy over the decades, the author looks at the influence of party members on British life as well as the body politic.
Inevitably, he concentrates on figures of national importance within the various milieux the party worked in rather than the equally important local activity.
He tells the story thematically, including the struggle against fascism, the peace movement, the women’s movement, internationalism, campaigns among professional workers and — the main focus — within trade unions.
The book comes alive in looking at the party’s influence on literature and culture, books, the stage and film.
I’m not sure whether the arts were over-represented within the CP but certainly it had active members of import ranging from the lyricist Lionel Bart, the playwright Arnold Wesker through to critics such as Raymond Williams and many fine novelists and poets.
Not all stayed with the party of course but in arts, the trade unions and elsewhere the party had influence beyond its numbers, including within the scientific world.
Over the past few years there has been much more attention given to the history of the CP and this book is a readable and worthwhile addition.
It’s also a reminder that party members did not simply attend meetings, take part in demonstrations and fundraise for the Morning Star/Daily Worker but made an impact in the public sphere, without which this country would have been very different.
• John Green’s book is available to buy from the Morning Star for £9 (plus p&p) online or by calling (020) 8510-0815
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