Goodbye Stalin, hello Mammon: Once he was Red Mick, now capitalism calls. Nick Cohen spoke to him

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The Independent Online
'I VERY MUCH hope to be rich,' said the former industrial organiser of the Communist Party of Great Britain. 'When one goes into business the prime end . . . no, the only end, is to make money.'

Mick Costello, one time Stalinist whose enthusiastic and rigorous approach to industrial disputes led a hysterical Sun newspaper to suggest that he was possibly 'the most dangerous man in Britain', and (falsely) a colonel in the KGB, drew on his cigar in his semi-detached Maidstone home and contemplated his new career as an entrepreneur.

This weekend he is in Manchester and Stirling, cultivating commercial contacts to help set up a venture in the former Soviet Union. 'I don't like to boast, but there is a niche in the British market for my consultancy expertise,' he said in the best business- school-speak of the 1980s.

Aged 56, with a second wife and a young child who is only a year older than his grandchild, he is flying to the Ukraine on Tuesday and then on to Russia to look after his interests, which are huge if not yet spectacularly profitable.

Through his firm, the Costello Trading Consultancy, and its Moscow subsidiary, he has shares in Inkom, a new Russian bank, and a food processing company. He is involved either as a director or consultant in plans to export fertilisers, exploit oil and coal reserves, and set up a Russian fast-food industry from a fish factory in Siberia.

Even artificial limbs have not escaped his attention. After arranging for a party of Russians to come to Britain to have hip replacements, it struck him there must be demand for a limb industry in Russia. His guess led directly to a factory being built on the outskirts of Moscow, which should start production soon.

On the wall of his office is a photograph of him meeting Boris Yeltsin, the man who banned the Soviet Communist Party. Considering his life in the Seventies and Eighties as an activist and journalist on the Communist Morning Star, the sight of Costello helping replace the system he spent his life propounding is paradoxical.

He was then the charming and energetic centre of attention in any pub or restaurant. But if there was a strike on, there would often be a moment in the evening when he would slip away into a corner to discuss tactics with comrades from British Leyland, the engineering industry or the docks.

The biggest wrench in his political career was in the mid-Eighties when the Communist Party abandoned unquestioning support for the Soviet Union and adopted 'trendy' Euro-communist values. Costello - who had little time for green, gay rights or any other issues that diverted attention from the revolutionary struggle - quit, criticising the party he joined in 1957 for abandoning class politics and its base in the trade unions.

The curious thing is, he still does, and sees no contradiction between his past and his present. 'You've got to remember that Marx would never have written a word if the capitalist Engels had not supported him,' he said.

'You can say that anyone who gets a job in Britain is somehow working for the system. I still believe Marx gives the most intelligent explanations. What I did not know was just how bad the Soviet Union was. I'm very like old party members who are still in charge in Russia and the Ukraine, the vast majority of whom did not know either. That's probably why I can get on with them: we all know there's a price to pay for the disfigurements of the past.'

It is his ability to deal with Russians and Ukrainians that makes him popular with everyone from the Metropolitan Police, who used him to set up an exchange scheme for Russian and British officers, to large British firms, which want to know how to negotiate the minefield of Soviet and pre-Soviet industrial legislation.

He speaks Russian fluently - his father was a New Zealand diplomat and he was brought up in Moscow - and can find his way through the economic anarchy. 'It works like this,' he said. 'You deal with a bank and find commercial manufacturers behind it, so you meet them. They have raw material suppliers so you get to see them.'

He is accused, occasionally, of hypocrisy, but that does not bother him, any more than he 'gave a bugger about some idiot on the Sun'. Of his new career he said: 'What else am I supposed to do? There aren't many staff jobs on Fleet Street or anywhere else for an ex-industrial correspondent of the Morning Star.'

(Photograph omitted)

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