Radiant Illusion: Middle Class Recruits to the CPGB in the 1930s
Book launch and panel discussion
The SCRSS centre is located at the corner of Brixton Road with Wynne Road. Nearest underground stations: Brixton (Victoria line), Oval (Northern line). Buses: 3, 59, 133, 159, 415 (Loughborough Road stop). We recommend booking in advance for all events at the SCRSS.
Lecture: Radiant Illusion? Middle-class recruits to Communism in the 1930s
The book Radiant Illusion? – published in 2015 by Eden Valley Editions – tells the story that has too often been seen through the distorting prism of cold war values. The essays in the book present a more balanced picture of their beliefs and actions, one in which these 1930s recruits emerge as intelligent and sensitive people, well aware of the implications of the decisions that they took in the highly stressful political circumstances of the times. Hindsight shows that some of their judgments were wrong. But their errors should not be allowed to devalue the genuine idealism that motivated them at the time – and subsequently. Radiant Illusion? is a book which draws on archives, family papers and personal memories, including individual case studies, which were presented at public lectures and seminars at Gresham College London in 2013 and 2014 (see www.gresham.ac.uk). Jack Gaster, one-time President of the SCRSS, was one such recruit, and his son-in-law Nicholas Deakin will discuss the book and its contribution to the studies of this period. He is retired Professor of Social Policy and Administration (University of Birmingham), wrote the introductory chapter of the book and co-ordinated/edited the book as a whole. Jean Turner, who retired as SCRSS Hon. Secretary in 2013 after almost 30 years at the helm, will talk about Jack and his connection with the SCRSS. Normal entrance fees apply (SCRSS members £3.00 / non-members £5.00).
Blogs and Reviews: (latest at the end)
1) Read Andrew Whitehead’s interesting blog, with a review of Radiant Illusion?
and mentioned again in this blog: http://www.leftfutures.org/2015/11/autumn-books-for-the-corbyn-effect/
and the Huffington Post: Radiant Illusion? mentioned in the Huffington Post
2) Another good blog, reviewing a wide field of ‘Corbyn effect’ books, among which is listed Radiant Illusion?
Autumn Books for the Corbyn Effect
Mark Perryman from Philosophy Football provides a rundown of new books for the #jezewecan majority
Here is an extract but it’s all worth reading: “No single thinker has done more than the Italian theorist and writer Antonio Gramsci to influence the case for the continuing relevance of at least parts of an early twentieth century revolutionary tradition. A welcome new edition of Roger Simon’s Gramsci’s Political Thought has just been published, without much doubt the best introduction to Gramsci and excellent timing for the Left revival. Of course support for Corbyn cannot be characterised as crypto-communist, though elements of the media lunatic front will do their worst with such labelling. But the scale of his support and the unique nature of his politics as an elected Labour Leader means the idealistic impulse that he represents to all intents and purposes now occupies a space on the Left so definitively no other formation of any significance is likely to get a look in. So musing over the communist tradition in these circumstances does have some merit. Nicholas Deakin has edited a most interesting collection in this regard, Radiant Illusion? traces the history and experience of middle class recruits to the British Communist Party in the 1930s, a period when Communism, just like Corbyn today, had no serious rivals in terms of radical appeal, and as a result enjoyed significant cross-class support. Not quite the same as the Blairist-Brownite futile hunt for the middle ground still peddled today by the likes of Tristram Hunt and Liz Kendall. Geoff Andrews’ magnificent The Shadow Man covers similar ground while focussing on a single individual, James Klugmann, a key figure in the British Communist Party’s political development both in the inter-war years and post-war too. This is political biography at its best, weaving the individual and the movement they were part of together into a single compelling narrative.”
Is the book going viral?
Radiant Illusion is mentioned again in this blog: http://www.leftfutures.org/2015/11/autumn-books-for-the-corbyn-effect/
and also in the Huffington Post: Radiant Illusion? as related to the Corbyn Effect, see the Huffington Post
6) And The Morning Star reviews Radiant Illusion?
Illuminating Insights Into Middle-Class Converts To Communism
Radiant Illusion: Middle-class Recruits to Communism in the 1930s
Edited by Nicholas Deakin
(Eden Valley, £10)
THE 1920s and 30s represented a unique period in European history, with a deep crisis of capitalism and increased working-class agitation coinciding with the creeping rise of fascism.
Privileged and often wealthy students in Oxford and Cambridge were confronted for the first time in their lives with hunger marchers passing through their university towns and at the same time with Mosley’s blackshirts parading and holding rallies.
It was also an era in which the Soviet Union still had the aura of being a vibrant workers’ state ushering in a new more egalitarian and just society.
While some students were drawn to the fascists, many more felt attracted to socialist and communist ideas and, while never a majority, they constituted a significant section.
Although some simply flirted with the idea of rebellion and slumming it with the workers, many went on to devote much of their lives to the communist cause, sacrificing career opportunities and material gain.
The lectures and seminars by this book’s editor Nicholas Deakin at Gresham College in 2013 and 2014 led the way in opening up a new post-cold war perspective on middle-class communists who joined the party in the 1930s.
He argues that in Britain this was as much a generational as a social phenomenon, with a common generational identity bound up with anti-fascism and the civil war in Spain.
As James MacGibbon, scion of a wealthy Scottish family, succinctly put it: “It was the feeling that we were part of a movement that would change the world that kept us going.
“It was for people like us a time of political innocence: we believed that the Soviet Union would lead us to a new, enlightened age and it must be supported.”
This fascinating collection of vignettes of middle-class communist lives provides an inkling of what that period meant for these young men and women on the cusp of adulthood.
They demonstrate that those who joined the Communist Party were not weirdos or “Stalin’s useful idiots” as they have invariably been painted during the cold-war period and since.
These were, in the main, very bright, socially aware and humanistically inclined individuals who wanted to help bring about a more just world.
It would be, of course, very easy with hindsight to condemn them as criminally naïve and blind to Stalin’s excesses.
But such a simplistic viewpoint ignores the context, their vibrant idealism and the ossified mainstream political constellations of the time.
As such, Deakin’s book is an invaluable addition to the history of the Communist Party and of the individuals who were part of that broad movement.
6) More on the Corbyn Effect, from Counterfire.
Nicholas Deakin has edited a most interesting collection in this regard, Radiant Illusion? traces the history and experience of middle class recruits to the British Communist Party in the 1930s, a period when Communism just like Corbyn today, had no serious rivals in terms of radical appeal, and as a result enjoyed significant cross-class support. Not quite the same as the Blairist-Brownite futile hunt for the middle ground still peddled today by the likes of Tristram Hunt and Liz Kendall.
7) Coming soon in e-format: