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I SPEAK to Jean Turner in the fading late Georgian splendour of the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies (SCRSS) premises in Brixton Road, where she works one day a week. Jean is the former general secretary of SCRSS and is now honorary treasurer.
I begin by asking Jean when she first bought the Daily Worker, now the Morning Star.
“It was in 1946 when I was living near Leatherhead. A man used to stand outside Leatherhead Co-op every Saturday and I started to buy the Daily Worker from him once a week. It cost 6d at that time. I felt rather sorry for him because he was out there in all weathers. I was very politicised because of the war.”
At 16 Jean joined the Labour Party, but after a year she realised it was not what she was looking for.
“I wanted to read something much more convincing, something more honest, than the Labour Party was producing.
“The war had convinced me that we had to fight fascism, poverty and oppose the colonial wars that were starting. I sometimes found [the Daily Worker] quite difficult to read.
“I didn’t understand a lot of the campaigns that were going on, but it spoke to me because of its opposition to things like the Korean war. I felt that it was on my side. It was a big paper in those days and looked very impressive and important.”
Jean’s elder brother was also a big influence on her political development. He sent her Left Book Club titles to read.
After she left school, she went on to study architecture at Kingston School of Art.
“It was necessary to rebuild Britain after WWII. That was why I wanted to be an architect. It meant that I would be able to contribute to the social programmes instituted by the Labour government and fully supported by socialists. I worked for 35 years as a local authority architect,” she says.
“The major influence on me politically was the role of the Red Army in defeating fascism. When Churchill made his ‘iron curtain’ speech, leading to the cold war, the Soviet Union suddenly became ‘the enemy’ and I became involved with the Stockholm Peace Appeal.
“It was set up by the World Peace Council and it was taken up by the Communist Party [of Great Britain] and communist parties all over the world to avoid a war with the Soviet Union and the threat of a nuclear war, because they [the United States] had dropped the first atom bomb in 1945. Nuclear weapons were the weapons they intended to use to crush the Soviet Union.”
At 20, Jean moved to Hampstead, where there was a very strong Communist Party. People like Jack Gaster and Abe Lazarus would sell the Daily Worker outside Belsize Park Tube station. Jean became a regular reader, joining the Communist Party and the British Soviet Friendship Society when she was 21.
“My view of the Soviet Union has never changed over 70 years,” Jean says.
“In later years when I became general secretary of the SCRSS, I was able to work in an organisation which represented my views of history.
“So when the SCRSS decided that a memorial to the 27 million citizens who lost their lives in defeating fascism in World War II should be erected in London, I was very happy to be one of the founders of this project, culminating in its erection next to the Imperial War Museum in 1999.
“I maintained my support for the Daily Worker, which became the Morning Star, and my membership of the Communist Party through many difficult times.
“The cold war policies as outlined by Churchill in his Fulton speech had set the tone for the continual attacks on the Soviet Union which coloured politics for nearly 50 years.
“The disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 represented the success of such policies and led to the triumphalism over the defeat of communism.
“However, history has proved that the idea of the Russian Revolution and the creativity of the Soviet Union has never gone away and that communism is still an aspiration for millions of people in the world.
“Throughout this time I relied on the excellent journalists of the Daily Worker and the Morning Star to explain and inform me of developments.”
I ask Jean to reflect on how the paper had changed over the years and what changes had been to the good.
“Thatcher’s attacks on the trade union movement and social welfare programmes have diminished the trade union base and made the fight for socialism far more difficult.
“These changes have been reflected in the Daily Worker and the Morning Star. The size of its circulation does not reflect the value of the leadership it has given to the labour movement in difficult times,” she says.
“In recent years it has captured the support and interest of a very wide group of people beyond the labour movement — peace supporters, environmentalists, anti-imperialists and opponents of globalisation. It has done this in an imaginative and colourful way and now is truly the only consistent voice of all these movements.
“I would like to see the paper with a far larger circulation and a secure financial base. All newspapers are going through financial problems at the moment and I welcome the new approaches by the Morning Star to improve its online services and by these means to reach out via the social media to thousands more readers, particularly young ones, in the UK and elsewhere.
“But the one thing I have learned over 70 years of selling the paper on pitches, at meetings, [on] weekend rounds and distributing it at demonstrations, is that people want the actual newspaper to read and will treasure its contents to use in political discussions and to convince others to read it. That is the way to gain permanent support and develop the struggle for peace and socialism.”
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