Mary Dejevsky: Even cold warriors like me miss the communists

 

Share
Related Topics

The venue was a higgledy-piggledy alternative bookshop of the sort I – and probably you, too – thought had died a death in today's Britain.

There were lines of folding chairs all squashed together, and not a free one in sight. A couple of men, who looked as though they should have grizzled beards even though they didn't, shambled to their feet and offered me a seat. Declining apologetically, I pushed a pile of books (carefully) to one side and perched on a shelf – which seemed more in the spirit of things.

This was the decidedly non-star-studded launch of After the Party, a collection of reminiscences by one-time British communists, who had been cast adrift when their party, with uncharacteristic realism, summarily dissolved itself after the Soviet collapse. The book set out to discover what they had done next.

Most of those there seemed between 60 and 80; generally spry, with a dogged air tinged with stroppiness. Dresswise, many could have passed for those besandalled Lib Dems of yore. Clearly, those of a more materialist bent had lost the faith sometime before it forsook them. But there were other striking features of this gathering. Suddenly party-less after 1992, some had reluctantly joined Labour; others had become local councillors or single-issue activists; yet others left politics altogether. But all retained a sense that, with the passing of the British CP, something had been lost. For many, that something was an intellectual quest that, as they cheerfully acknowledged, entailed hair-splitting squabbles about ideology. They might once have embraced the collective, but many found their new parties too conformist, too managerial for their taste.

They waxed nostalgic, too, about workers' education and internationalism, while arguing that international solidarity fostered an eclectic sense of global geography that gave pride of place to Central America, parts of Africa and everything beyond the Berlin Wall. Today's politics, they complained, was parochial.

With a past that has more of the cold warrior than the commie, I'm still sorry that this home-grown ideological enemy is no longer around. There should be a place in British politics for a party of the far left, that exalts work and refuses to compromise with capitalism. Indeed, with the banks and everything else the way it is, you would have thought the British communists could ride again. One glance around this gathering, though, showed that such a renaissance was clearly not to be.

And a confession. I suspect that the live characters, the mood and the demographic are at least as evocative as the book itself – which I haven't yet read. My reason (excuse) is that the dear ex-commies stashed all the books somewhere behind the speakers, so anyone leaving promptly had first to complete an assault course through the chairs. What a contrast to most launch parties, where shelling out for the book is the point. Then again, that omission might also help to explain why the British Communist Party didn't survive.

Run, Lakshmi, run!

You may not have seen much about this in the national media, but the Olympic torch relay, which is currently wending its way through the Midlands and East Anglia, has been a huge success, attracting large and enthusiastic crowds almost everywhere it has passed.

And for all the criticism that money prevails, and that worthy would-be torchbearers were passed over in favour of those with links to commercial sponsors, there has been room – if not as much as there should have been – for admirable feats by genuine local heroes, including those terribly injured in our wars. Courage in the face of adversity has been at least as prominent a theme as rustling notes and the tinkling of coins.

It also seems to me unjust to condemn all company runners for supposedly hogging the historic experience. When the relay reaches its final stages in London later this month, among those carrying the torch through Kensington will be Britain's richest man, Lakshmi Mittal – who was a steel magnate and job creator long before he sponsored Anish Kapoor's much-maligned Orbit sculpture at the 2012 Olympic Park.

Rather than condemning Mittal for "buying" his run, should we, and the London Olympic authorities, not be flattered that someone with much else to do and so many claims on his time has chosen to spend some of it running with the torch. I think it reflects well upon him that he is willing to leave his mansion in torch-bearer's uniform, and I hope I won't be the only one cheering him from our office window.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Labour's Jeremy Corbyn arrives to take part in a Labour party leadership final debate, at the Sage in Gateshead, England, Thursday, Sept. 3  

Jeremy Corbyn is here to stay and the Labour Party is never going to look the same again

Andrew Grice
Serena Williams  

As Stella Creasy and Serena Williams know, a woman's achievements are still judged on appearance

Holly Baxter
The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

They fled war in Syria...

...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

Kelis interview

The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea