I am not, and never have been a Communist, but some of my best friends over the years have been. At its height the Communist Party of Great Britain had 60,000 members and even at its dissolution there were over 6000. The continuing organisation – the Communist Party of Britain has around 1000 members and, beyond its good daily paper (the Morning Star) has little influence. John Green, rather than analysing the twists and turns of Party policy, looks at the influence the Party and its members had over the decades.
The author tells the story thematically, including the struggle against fascism, the peace movement, the women’s movement, internationalism, 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, on 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.
Over the past few years there has been much more attention given to the history of the CP. This book is a readable and worthwhile addition.