For three years, from 1948 to 1950, the communist Daily Worker published an annual cricket handbook - a sort of poor man's Wisden. The Daily Worker (which later metamorphosed into the Morning Star) always prided itself on its sports coverage. Cayton, the paper's racing tipster - named after Cayton Street, which was at one time the Daily Worker's home - was particularly well regarded. But you don't really think of cricket as a sport to interest the comrades.
Perhaps that's not fair. After all the veteran Marxist C.L.R. James had a profound love - and know;ledge - of cricket and wrote about it luminously. And unlikely as it might seem, there is a communist cricket website. But while there were a handful of communist footballers and speedway stars, I can't think of any Bolshevik fast bowlers or opening bats. Can you?
All this has been prompted by a very kind gift - thanks Sam! - of the 1949 Daily Worker Cricket Handbook. It features an article by Harold Larwood - the 'bodyline' bowler - lamenting the decline of the fast bowler. And it includes details of Lancashire and Bradford league-level cricket
I've been able to find out very little about A.A, Thomas, the paper's cricket correspondent - except that he seems to have had a role (with the grander title of 'Sports Editor') in the creation of the Daily Worker Football Handbook in 1946. That kept going for at least seven seasons.
All the other papers were doing sports handbooks, so why not the good old DW!
And is politics evident in the handbook? Not a lot, But there are just glimpses of a class analysis as when, in the editorial, the decline of the 'amateur' in first-class cricket is explained as follows: 'Monopoly, the concentration of wealth, has pushed the medium-scale industrialist out of existence and his sons out of unpaid cricket.'
Howzat?!! I'd say well wide of the off stump!
There's a 'Commie corner' at Golders Green crematorium in north London with a cluster of plaques to prominent British Communists of days past. Harry Pollitt is remembered there, the most renowned of leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain - a boilermaker from Manchester before he became a party apparatchik.
Below Pollitt's memorial there's one to the legendary Tom Mann (1856-1941), perhaps the most widely respected of British Communists and a link to the heroic era of British socialism and above all to the 1889 London Dock Strike.
Harry Pollitt was famous for resisting the notorious 'about-turn' change of line at the start of the Second World War, when the Soviet Union - having negotiated a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany - declared the conflict an imperialist war. All CPs were expected to fall into line. Harry argued against, but was outvoted in the British party leadership.
Pollitt stood down as party general secretary but returned to the post twenty months later after the line had changed again - to regarding the conflict as a people's war against fascism. That gap in his leadership of the party is papered over in the details on his memorial tablet.
Harry Pollitt's funeral in 1960 was one of the last big ceremonial moments of British Communism - caught in this newsreel-style footage.
Of course, it's well known that Comrade Pollitt ended up in hell, or at least that's how 'Harry was a Bolshie' tells the story - a ditty enthusiastically sung by generations of Young Communists:
Harry was a Bolshie, one of Stalin's lads
Till he was foully murdered by counter revolutionary cads
Counter revolutionary, counter revolutionary cads
He was foully murdered by counter revolutionary cads
That's all right said Harry, I'm not afraid to die
I'll carry on my Party work in the land beyond the sky
The land beyond the sky, the land beyond the sky
I'll just carry on my Party work in the land beyond the sky
He got up to the Pearly Gates, met Peter on his knees
'May I speak to Comrade God I'm Harold Pollitt please
Harold Pollitt please, Harold Pollitt please,
May I speak to Comrade God I'm Harold Pollitt please'
Said Peter unto Harry: 'Are you humble and contrite?'
'I'm a friend of Lady Docker's', 'Then OK. you'll be alright
Then OK. you'll be alright, then OK. you'll be alright
If you're a friend of Lady Docker's, then OK. you'll be alright'
They dressed him in a nightie, put a harp into his hand
And he played the Internationale in the hallelujah band
In the hallelujah band, in the hallelujah band
He played the Internationale in the hallelujah band
They put him in the choir, the hymns he did not like
So he organized the angels and he fetched them out on strike
Fetched them out on strike, fetched them out on strike
He organized the angels and he fetched them out on strike
One day as God was walking around the heavenly state
Who should he see but Harry chalking slogans on the gate
Slogans on the gate, slogans on the gate
Who should he see but Harry chalking slogans on the gate
They put him up for trial before the Holy Ghost
Charged with disaffection amongst the heavenly host
Amongst the heavenly host, amongst the heavenly host
Charged with disaffection amongst the heavenly host
The verdict it was guilty, said Harry 'That is swell'
And he tucked his nightie 'round his knees and he floated down to hell
Floated down to hell, floated down to hell
He tucked his nightie 'round his knees and he floated down to hell
A few more years have ended, now Harry's doing swell
He's just been made the people's commissar for Soviet Socialist Hell
And now all the little devils have joined the Y.C.L.
Yes all the little devils have joined the Y.C.L.
Now the moral of this story, it isn't hard to tell,
If you want to be a Bolshie, you've got to go to Hell,
Got to go to Hell, Yes, you've got to go to Hell,
If you want to be a Bolshie, you've got to go to Hell!
And his journey started from here in Golders Green!
A marvellous find at my local Oxfam shop this morning - a copy of the Observer with one of its biggest scoops.
This is an issue from June 1956 - more than half of it given over to the full text, all 26,000 words of it, of Khrushchev's 'secret speech' at the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union denouncing Stalin, his 'cult of personality' and the terror he unleashed.
One of the delights of having the issue of the Observer, apart from its historical importance, is seeing the wonderful artwork of 'Abu' - the Indian cartoonist Abu Abraham who had just started working for the paper.
Khrushchev is depicting standing over the body of Stalin delivering not a eulogy but all the greatest insults that a communist could heap on a traitor to the cause.
Harry Pollitt epitomised British Communism. He was a boilermaker from Lancashire, a working class audo-didact, who led the Communist Party of Great Britain through its glory years - from 1929 to May 1956, the year that saw the double blows to its credibility of Khruschev's 'secret speech' denouncing Stalin's cult of personality and a few months later the Soviet-led invasion of Hungary.
There was a break in Pollitt's leadership, which speaks well of the man and his politics. In October 1939 he stood down as general secretary because of his unease at the Communist 'about-turn' following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which obliged Communists to oppose the Second World War as an imperialist war. He returned to the post in June 1941 when Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union led to a reversal of the Communist line on the war.
I've just come across - indeed been given (many thanks to the excellent Black Gull Books in East Finchley - if you are worried about their business model, don't be alarmed, I'd bought quite a bit of other stuff) - a copy of the order of service for Pollitt's funeral ceremony at Golders Green in July 1960. Paul Robeson gave a rendition of 'Joe Hill' and 'England Arise; and those attending were asked to join in the singing of 'The Red Flag' and 'The Internationale'. There's a small plaque to Pollitt's memory in what's colloquially known as the Communist corner at Golders Green crematorium.
There's some mute footage of Pollitt's funeral cortege on YouTube - and you can spot Robeson and also some of Pollitt's fellow leaders of the British CP, including John Gollan. George Matthews and Rajani Palme Dutt.
Harry has to take much of the blame for the British party's abject subservience to Moscow, and the failure to denounce Stalin's purges even when one of his own friends, Rose Cohen, fell victim. But he was popular within the British party - avuncular, unpompous, and a good orator (a recording of a wartime address is available here).
He also prompted the song 'The Ballad of Harry Pollitt' - better known to many as 'Harry was a Bolshie' - which, this blog teasingly suggests, has a tenuous connection to the Grateful Dead.
Of all the tributes, the one that does least service to Harry Pollitt's memory is this stamp issued by the Soviet Union after his death.
I came across this copy in - of all places - Treadwell's, the Bloomsbury bookshop that specialises in magic and mysticism but for some curious reason has the occasional radical title too. I was attracted above all by the inscription ...
'R.R.K. from B.M.T. and D.B.T. with love and wonder. 25.xii.40' - and then in pencil by a different hand, 'given to my by Barbara & Duncan first edition and much treasured all my life', and also in pencil, at the top of the page 'S'.
Who was RRK? Why did he or she treasure this book all their life? Could this be Richard Kisch, an early volunteer to serve in Spain - or Rafa Kenton or Rose Kerrigan, whose communist husbands either fought or worked in Spain during the civil war?
And who were Barbara and Duncan who gave the book as a Christmas present with the very personal inscription and its reference to 'wonder'? I'd love to know. In the meantime, I will endeavour to look after the book in the spirit of its original owner.
UPDATED; I HAVE ADDED AT THE FOOt OF THIS BLOG A SUBSTANTIAL ARTICLE THAT I HAVE WRITTEN ABOUT JONAH JONES AND THE 1945 ELECTION IN HORNSEY PUBLISHED IN 2021 IN THE ANNUAL BULLETIN OF THE HORNSEY HISTORICAL SOCIETY
A Communist who made his mark in London's Conservative-voting suburbs ... George J. Jones, universally known as 'Jonah' Jones, made electoral history in the 1945 general election. He was the only Communist candidate in England to get more than 10,000 votes in that election, which proved to be the high water mark of the CP's electoral fortunes.
Did Jones win and take his seat as Hornsey's Communist MP? No, he came third - even though he got almost double the tally of Phil Piratin, the victorious CP candidate in Mile End and Stepney. (Of other Communist candidates, Willie Gallacher won, indeed was re-elected, in West Fife; the party leader Harry Pollitt was a close second in Rhondda East).
10,000+ votes for a Communist in Tory Hornsey was quite an achievement - yet Jones's name is little known among even the most socialist-minded of the area's current residents, and he doesn't feature at all in the British Communist Hall (alright, Ante-room) of Fame. So let's try to make amends -
The Borough of Hornsey (I'm not absolutely sure whether the Parliamentary constituency covered the same area) was established in 1903, bringing together the leafy suburbs of Muswell Hill and the eastern part of Highgate, the more proletarian areas of Harringay, Hornsey Vale and Stroud Green and, in between (both socially and geographically), Crouch End and Hornsey. The CP established a presence across the borough - bookish and intellectual in the north and west of the borough, more industrial (and militant) as you come down from the commanding heights.
In 1945, even though the CP was much bigger and more influential than it had been at any previous general election, Communists only contested 21 seats - and just five of those were in London. It decided well ahead of time that Hornsey would be a target seat - even though Hornsey Borough had no CP councillors (Jones, apparently, once came within 200 votes of winning in South Harringay).
In George Jones, the CP believed it had a candidate who could do well. The Jones for Hornsey pamphlet, put out a few months before the 1945 election and written by a fellow Hornsey CP'er, is both a potted biography, and an attempt to assemble a local left alliance to support his candidacy.
Jones was a teacher in a school in Hoxton; he lived with his wife and young daughter on Weston Park, close to the centre of Crouch End. He had been a member of the ILP in Wood Green until that branch defected en masse to the CP. Jonah was clearly a good looking guy, and gained a local standing for his oratory at a protest meeting at Crouch End clocktower as Mosley addressed his followers inside nearby Hornsey Town Hall.
The local CP published a newsletter, Hornsey Forward - there's a single copy in the British Library - and this too was used to promote 'Jonah' Jones and his candidacy.
The local party had its own premises, at 4a Broadway Parade just a few yards from the clocktower, above what is now a newsagents. Michael Prior's parents were members of the Hornsey CP and he recalls this fairly spacious flat-cum-office. Access was from a service road at the rear up outside steps. On the first-floor there were three or four small rooms, used as offices and for small meetings; above was a flat used by a party full-timer and his family.
Jones himself emphasised the need for unity against the Conservatives. He declared: 'Here in Hornsey we need a platform of the whole of the Left - Labour, Liberal, Co-operative, Commonwealth, Trades Council and Trade Unions - to ensure the defeat of Tory domination.' It was Popular Front-style politics ... but it didn't quite come off.
According to the communists, the local Labour party was minded to support Jones, but was over-ruled by party HQ. The Labour candidate, Bill Fiske - later a leader of the Greater London Council - beat Jones to second place, but the sitting Tory MP, Captain Gammans, won very comfortably, taking more than half the total vote.
Jones's tally of 10,058 was by far the biggest ever poll by a Communist candidate in England in a seat also contested by Labour. The only Communist to do better was Shapurji Saklatvala, who contested North Battersea in five consecutive general elections from 1922 to 1931. On two occasions, 1922 and 1924, he won - and in the latter contest he polled more than 15,000 votes. But when in 1929 and 1931 he faced Labour opposition, his vote crumbled.
'Jonah' Jones contested Hornsey as a Communist on three further occasions - in 1950, 1951 and 1959 - but never came close to repeating his 1945 performance. In these later candidacies, he took about 2% of the vote. Hornsey (recast as Hornsey and Wood Green from 1983) remained a Conservative seat until as late as 1992. Labour's hold since then has been insecure - the constituency was captured by the Lib Dems in 2005 and 2010. It's currently one of the safest Labour seats in the country - Catherine West has a majority of more than 30,000.
As for Jones, I believe he may have died not long after his last candidacy - if anyone knows more about his life and political activity, do drop me a line.
UPDATE: FROM THE 2021 HORNSEY HISTORICAL SOCIETY 'BULLETIN'
What a wonderful piece of political ephemera! Tom Mann was a hero of the British Communist movement - an activist who was a living link from the socialist revival of the 1880s, the 'new unionism' movement which sought to organised the semi-skilled and unskilled and the renowned 1889 Dock Strike through into the Popular Front period fifty years later. He was also a good, brave and decent man, who was loved as well as respected.
I've just been reading the (as yet unpublished) memoirs of the novelist Alexander Baron, who was an influential communist in the late 1930s. He says:
By this time, like my grandfather Levinson, I had shaken hands with Mr. Tom Mann, the old trade union pioneer. [John] Gollan had introduced me to him and told him something about me. True to his Victorian origins - he had taught in a chapel Sunday School when he was young - the old man clasped my hand and told me, in the words of the Christian hymn, to fight the good fight with all my might. ... Mann was small and bent when I met him, but he looked hale, with a leathery, unblemished skin, sprouting moustache and clear, merry eyes. When he cracked a joke he skipped in a little three-step dance to celebrate it. I revered him for the great deeds of his younger days and he still seems to me to have been one of the few early socialists who remained pure souls to the end. He had belonged to the Communist Party since its foundation, seeing it as the home for a revolutionary trade unionist. I believe that he lived insulated by his own goodness from knowledge of the dark side of communism and that to the end of his life in 1941 he cherished the same innocent dreams and illusions that my friends and I had when we were sixteen.
The menu shows how conventional was this 80th birthday testimonial dinner for a comrade: at a Bloomsbury hotel, with roast lamb and roast potatoes, toasts (I wonder if there was alcohol?) and classical-style singers (all male). It is the hallmark of revolutionary conformity.
The menu is signed by Mann, and it's a nice thing to have.
I've been looking for this book for decades and I've finally found a copy!
Philip Spratt was a British communist, a Cambridge graduate, who in the 1920s headed out to India on behalf of the party. He was - along with Ben Bradley and Lester Hutchinson and most of the local leadership of the CPI - a defendant in the notorious Meerut conspiracy trial. After his eventual release from jail in 1936 Spratt made his life in India, marrying an Indian woman.
This political biography was published in Calcutta in 1955, by which time Spratt had broken with the CP and indeed was fiercely critical of communism. But it promises to be a really fascinating read. It's exceptionally rare and I am delighted to have alighted on a copy.
This is the really stirringly designed title page to a book I've just bought - Young Oxford at War, published in 1934 in the wake of the famous Oxford Union motion passed by a clear majority the previous year: That this House will under no circumstances fight for its King and country.
The four student contributors were from different political traditions: Michael Foot then a Liberal, and later of course the leader of the Labour party and the only one of the four to get to Parliament; Frank Hardie from the Labour party; Dick Freeman, a communist and founder of Oxford's October Club; and a Conservative, Keith Steel-Maitland.
No women contributors - not least because at this date they weren't eligible for membership of the Oxford Union.
The illustration above - and I would imagine the jacket as well - was designed by Arthur Wragg, a socialist and pacifist. Remarkably, V.K. Krishna Menon - at this time a CP fellow traveller and later India's high commissioner in London and defence minister - was the editor of the volume. Harold Laski provided a very brief preface.
It's a testament to that decade when student politics mattered, and to the strong political emotions aroused by the slow slide towards war.
It's wonderful how one thing leads to another. My last blog was about Denis Healey and his conversion to communism when a student at Oxford in the 1930s - an embrace which lasted three years.
That in turn prompted Nicholas Deakin to send me a copy of his new book Radiant Illusion?, in which Denis Healey features. The book's focus is on middle-class recruits to the CPGB in the era of its greatest success among students and intellectuals, the 1930s.
It's a mix of accounts by academics - Deakin, Kevin Morgan, Geoff Andrews - and the offspring of those recruited into the party in the (and of course those two groups overlap).
The book dispels any sense that CPers of the thirties - both those who came on board during the sectarian, class-against-class, early '30s, and those attracted to the much more open and collaborative Popular Front period from 1934-5 - were loners, sociopaths, obsessives. They tended to get on well with their parents, have lots of friends and were often among the most conspicuously talented of their generation.
As far as I am aware, there is no published study of student communism in the 1930s and '40s - which would need to embrace the Indian students communists who became so influential within the CPI. I've blogged here before about some of those who were attracted to communism as students, notably Freda Bedi and Ram Nahum. Radiant Illusion? is the wonderful sort of book which both informs and nourishes and raises a whole load of other questions which deserve attention.
As you'll see the book is published by a small press and at a very affordable price.
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