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Hopeful Traveler:
The Itinerary of an Internationalist

Peter Waterman

Introduction: rootless, cosmopolitan, petty-bourgeois - and internationalist
 
 

Like Alain Lipietz (1992), I feel that the 21st century has begun, presaged by Berlin, Baghdad and Rio. As a lifelong socialist I cannot but feel a responsibility for what collapsed in Berlin, even if I left the Communist Party in 1970. And as a lifelong anti-imperialist I feel the same responsibility for not having been at least prepared for Gulf War. I rejoice at the rise of the green `global solidarity' expressed by the ecological movement. And I see a possible and necessary role for a new kind of labour movement amongst this and other new internationalisms (Waterman 1991a, b). But the earthquakes of 1989-92 have certainly given me cause to reflect on my own itinerary as an internationalist.

It has occured to me that the active agents of even `proletarian' internationalism have customarily been people like myself, `rootless petty-bourgeois cosmopolitans': Flora Tristan, Marx and Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Trotsky, Lenin, Emma Goldman, Pablo Neruda. The quoted phrase is, of course, from the vocabulary of Hitler and Stalin, and it customarily referred to Jews, whether the word was spelled JEW (Hitler) or ZIONIST (Stalin). Many of the major and minor agents of socialist internationalism have also, like myself, been Jews. Yet even if those who played these roles over the last one to two hundred years were customarily `petty-bourgeois cosmopolitans', they have not necessarily always been rootless or Jewish. Today they are more likely to be nationally-rooted Liberation Christians than stateless Jewish socialists. Nor, it seems to me, would the relationship of these with the movements of their days be similar. I would, indeed, tentatively suggest a tripartite historical typology, corresponding to succeeding periods of capitalist and statist development: the c19th Agitator, the c20th Agent and the c21st Networker. Having played all these roles (though neither in the 19th nor the 21st century), I feel that some self-reflection may throw light on at least the red internationalists, or provide a trial sketch for a more general study.

This essay therefore represents the first part of an autobiographical sketch which I hope to later put into a work of historical biography, or itself develop into an autobiography. It covers the period up to 1970, at which point I became one of those ivory-tower academics I had always railed against. It thus covers My Life as Internationalist Agitator and Agent. For My Life as International Networker readers will have to wait (but are advised not to hold their baited breath).

The personal: amongst the Jews, atheists and Communists

I was born in London in 1936, the year scheduled for the Popular Olympics in Barcelona, an event cancelled by the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. Some of those who went to this Communist-organised alternative to the state-glorifying Olympic Games (held that year in Berlin) stayed on to join the International Brigades. This act, that war, represented both the zenith and nadir of the 19th century tradition of democratic and socialist nationalism and internationalism. All this is more than coincidental. My parents were Communists, my mother working as a secretary for such bodies as Workers' International Relief and the Relief Committee for the Victims of German Fascism, and my father to become General Manager of the best-known Communist bookshop, Collets. They were not only Communists, they were also Jews, my mother born into a shopkeeper's family in London's East End, my father an illegal immigrant from Poland. To be a Jew, an atheist and a Communist meant to belong to a cosmopolitan and internationalist tradition, including Marx, Luxemburg and countless other `non-Jewish Jews' (Deutscher 1968). It also meant a double exclusion from a then very English Britain. But, as Deutscher and so many others have since recognised, the position of the stranger is one that sensitises as well as isolates (explaining the high proportion of rationalistic Jewish sociologists, seeking to understand society, as well as of possessed Jewish revolutionaries, seeking to save it - or at least blow it up).

We (my elder brother, David, and I) grew up during and after World War II in different and changing circumstances that even my child's mind recognised as such.

There was the East-End Yiddish culture of my mother's parents, known to us as Booba and Zeida, rather than grandma and grandpa. My grandfather was living proof that being a Jew is no guarantee of success at business: he was known in the warehouse as `Mr One-Twelfth' for his caution. Yet this unassuming and incompetent man had two toes amputated in attempt to get out of the British Pioneer Corps in World War I (since this was an imperialist war it was something of which I was inordinately proud). Behind the drapery shop in East London's Stepney Green there was a rich and incomprehensible life, lived at the top of its Yiddish voice, dramatic and exotic, though completely unreligious. There was an Uncle Yankel (the fat one with the bowler hat) and an Esther-Soora (who laughed, cried and sang). People drank tea noisily from saucers. There were kichelech, rather than biscuits, much sighing and schreiing. There was plenty to sigh and schrei about as fears, rumours and then photographic evidence (unsuccessfully concealed from us) arrived from Russia about what Hitler was doing to Jews in occupied Europe. Some of the family had been bombed out, most of them had sons in the army, two returning injured and another mentally scarred. Nobody tried to get out of this war.

There was the international Communist culture of my father, bringing home revolutionary books from the US, Emil and the Detectives from a mysteriously non-Nazi Germany, Soviet calendars showing heroic figures (one male, one female) atop electricity pylons. Dad sang: not only Yiddish but British music-hall, folk and international labour-movement songs. Born and raised in a poverty-stricken orthodox Jewish family in anti-semitic Poland, my father was an early convert from Jewish dogma and messianism to the Communist variety. He never totally mastered English and remained emotionally attached to Yiddish language and culture all his life. He hardly talked to us about his background or family, even before he knew for certain that both family and community had been removed from the face of the Polish earth. So I didn't know what a shtetl (small town) was till I read Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer. My only image of his youth was of a young, emotional and determined revolutionary, escaping from anti-semitic and anti-Communist persecution to England. Active in East End Jewish socialist politics for long after we had moved (like most of the Jewish population) to middle-class North London, my father was traumatised by the revelations of anti-semitism at the 20th Congress of the Soviet Party in 1956. In the remaining years of his life he spent most of his political energy working in defense of East European Jewry, sometimes with former political opponents. I was unable to handle my father's emotionally violent Communism, even before I began to qualify my own attachment to it. It was therefore as a conscious act of personal reconciliation, as well as out of a sense of political responsibility, that I joined him in yet one more unsuccessful campaign to get the British CP to take a clear public stand against Soviet anti-semitism in the early 1960s.

My mother - who looked and looks as Jewish as my father looked like an East-European peasant - was much more English in temperament and culture. She was (until the British CP Congress that followed the Soviet one) a convinced but unfanatical Communist, being deeply marked by English ideas of tolerance and fairness. She could not in any case understand a socialist doctrine separate from kind and humane personal behaviour. She didn't like my father telling us anti-Nazi jokes from the papers that were actually `funny foreigner' ones (especially since he was himself a funny foreigner). Mum was and is a great admirer of a British Communist type whose existence is being forgotten in the rush to write Communism out of British history: the self-educated working-class intellectual. An avid reader and a would-be writer from childhood, she trained as a secretary, doing a series of low-paid or voluntary jobs, many of them for Communist-controlled or inspired international solidarity committees (Spain, Soviet Women, the Rosenbergs). After we had left home, after my father and her parents had died and she had herself retired, she achieved her ambition, publishing two semi-autobiographical novels and a number of short stories. She has also provided interviews and recollections for a fascinated and admiring younger generation of Jews, socialists and feminists - not to forget Jewish socialist feminists (Adler 1989). My mother was neither a doctrine-preaching nor a street-marching feminist, but she grew up in the wake of first-wave feminism, as a socialist, and she fought the good fight against the usual roles assigned to Party wives and mothers by their doctrine-preaching, street-marching husbands and sons. In her youth she acted in street theatre (Waterman 1985). Today she seems to provide a role model for younger feminists on how to become a great-grandmother without losing emotional or intellectual and artistic vitality. My mother's internationalism continued after she broke with the Party, keeping up contact with Lilian Ngoyi, a banned (and pro-Communist) South African women's leader, for 20 years after she disappeared from public eye, and playing a role in rescuing from Communist Poland, Leopold Trepper, the most successful Soviet agent in wartime Europe. I recall, age 20 or so, my mother remarking to me that I was more interested in ideas than people. It was not meant as a criticism, but I certainly considered it no compliment. It was only later that I came to appreciate her combination of Jewish, socialist, English and liberal, personal and political convictions and attitudes.

We grew up during the war chanting `Open the Second Front!', `Free India Now!' and `They Shall Not Pass!'. There was a worldwide struggle between Red Communist Revolution and Black Nazi Reaction. Britain could go either way. On VE (Victory in Europe) Day, 1945, David, our friend Raph Samuel (later a founder of History Workshop) and I went out at night to join the celebrations. Here we were anxiously sought by my father and Raph's uncle, afraid that three Jewish kids, singing the Internationale in the dark, might get beaten up by British fascists. Victory in Europe evidently did not mean Victory in England. Out walking on Hampstead Heath with a dozen other kids from school a couple of years later, we were confronted by a group of working-class boys who lined us up and, with unerring skill, identified us one after the other: `Yid, English, English, English, Yid, English...'. A classmate, whom I had thought of only as a fat Jewish boy with bad breath, began hitting at them, whilst I stood paralysed by. It was a menacing and humiliating experience.

Seeing the dramatic postwar spread of Communism, however, we had no doubt that the Future Was On Our Side. Aged 14 or 15, I told the Labour Party mother of a schoolfriend that there would be a revolution in Britain within five years. Her response to this somewhat optimistic prediction (one of many made by Communism and Communists) was to give me Wolfgang Leonhard's Child of the Revolution (1979), an account of what was done to his German parents and himself as Communist refugees in Stalin's Russia. I instinctively adopted the correct Communist posture, returning it after reading the first disturbing chapter, with the ominous words `I am not going to believe this book'.

As time passed I increasingly felt myself split between a parochial world of schoolbooks, country-dancing and cricket, and the `real world' outside: the squatting of disused barracks, dock strikes, Polish war films, the Chinese Revolution, the Korean War, the trial of Kenyatta. Filled with dread and discomfort, we met Jewish orphans who had survived the holocaust. I wept secretly over the Nazi occupation, the concentration camps and the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto. Why had I not been there to fight - or die - with the heroes and martyrs? At home we received American technical magazines that the Russians were unable to order direct from the USA. This lent Communism a further aura of daring and clandestinity. My father went to Moscow for Collets and came back with stories of streets planted overnight with fully-grown trees, thus adding to the aura elements of magic and power.

The political: dazzling international, Communist and sexual vistas

Romantically, I joined the Young Communist League on my fifteenth birthday, January 26, 1951. This was more or less the peak of the Cold War. At an open-air meeting a British fascist screwed his iron heel into my sandalled foot. On a (Communist) Five-Power Peace Pact march, they flung paint at us, whilst the police chatted quietly on the opposite pavement. McCarthyism was creeping into British public life, the trade unions and Labour Party. Our conviction and determination were only hardened. I must have spent the equivalent of two days a week for and with the Party, whether at meetings, demonstrations, socials, classes, selling papers and pamphlets, going to East European movies, or on holiday with the YCL. Within the Party I never heard an anti-semitic or other racist remark, felt protected by the best of the British working class, and even in some way especially respected. If I was accused of anything it would be of `petty-bourgeois liberalism', the accusation frequently coming from a petty-bourgeois Communist who was certainly no liberal. I, in my turn, would adopt the strategy in dealing with others: I desperately wanted to be working class and - and therefore - politically correct. Or was it that by being politically correct one became working class?

The Party and `the movement' became my family, my club, my church, my country, my universe. Joining the YCL we got membership cards printed with words from Ostrovski's Socialist-Realist Soviet novel, variously translated as How the Steel was Tempered or How Heroes are Made ( * ). I memorised the phrase and can recall it, at least in part, even now:

Man's dearest possession is life, and since it is given to him to live but once...He must so live that dying he can say, all my life and all my strength have been given to the greatest cause in the world, the liberation of mankind'. ( * ) Despite the sexism here (as elsewhere in a novel of wooden revolutionary heroism), there was a rough and ready egalitarianism between the boys and the girls in the YCL. I suppose the girls did most of the tea-making. They certainly did the actual crying the day Stalin died, whilst we wondered what we should be feeling, swallowed lumps in our throats and kept our upper lips stiff, manly and English. A Communist girl could easily demonstrate, however, that she was as good as a Communist bloke. When we wanted to discriminate we would accuse them of being petty-bourgeois rather than female. `After the Revolution' we would joke, `the men will have all the babies'. This quip is so rich in ambiguities that it would take time to sort them out even today. The egalitarianism, such as it was, made it difficult for me to start something sexual with a YCL girl. I fell in silent, hopeless and miserable love with several of them instead.

In the summer of 1951 I went to the first of my four World Youth Festivals, this one in East Berlin. It was some adventure for a 15-year-old, just five or six years after the war. It was a unique and confusing experience, though in those days of cast-iron certainties, confusion was something Communists did not discuss and would rarely even admit to themselves. Berlin was a mess of bombsites and swirling sandstorms. I envied my YCL acquaintance, Monty Johnstone, translating for heroic youth-leader Erich Honecker just outside Friedrichstrasse Station. Stalinallee (two years later the site of the first major East-European worker uprising) was under construction in bombastic Soviet weddingcake style. All the adults we saw had been involved in Nazism. How could I possibly tell the (ex-Nazi? ex-SS?) doctor who gently and efficiently treated my infected and swollen ankle that it belonged to a Jew? The young Germans were now in blue uniforms, marching under the blue and gold banners of the Freie Deutches Jugend to the music of brass bands. They sang what we irreverent and undisciplined Brits (who couldn't even agree to wear a uniform of grey trousers and white shirts) called the Bow-Wow song:

Bau Auf! Bau Auf! Bau Auf! Bau Auf!

Freie Deutsches Jugend, Bau Auf! 

(Wir Bauen).

When anti-Communist leaflets fluttered down from West Berlin, FDJ zealots grabbed them out of our hands. As I `helped' them, I stuffed one into my shirt so that I could have it translated and judge it for myself at home. Without telling a friend, or even my brother David, I broke ranks and went by U-Bahn two stops into West Berlin (I forgot to get a return ticket and it was a long, hot and dusty walk back). We hugged the squat, bemedalled and shockingly made-up women singers from the North Korean army, currently locked in war with British working-class soldiers on the other side of the world. I learned and sang Bert Brecht lines or verses in German. This felt good. I was neither English nor Jewish but a member of an international community of nationalities and races. We were joined indivisibly by an unsingable song that began, `One great vision unites us, though remote be the lands of our birth'. Brian, a proletarian South London Jew who knew some German, carried fraternisation further than me. He actually `had sex', pointing a drunken finger to the proof on his trouser front. I was simultaneously amazed, disgusted and deeply envious. Dazzling international, Communist and sexual vistas beckoned from the horizon.

I left my middle-class liberal school to finish my education in the more plebeian, bracing and adult atmosphere of Regent Street Polytechnic in Central London. I met socialist Israelis, South Africans, Pakistanis, Nigerians, and Americans. Romantically - again - I had my first sexual experience and relationship with a coffee-coloured girl from what was then called British Guyana. This first relationship was not a very happy one, mutual sexual inexperience and anxieties aside. Adrienne was, for example, interested in modern dance and anarchism - both self-evidently petty-bourgeois activities. And I could not tolerate the fact that she was not a Communist (was she or was she not from a British colony, for chrissake!?), nor even that she was an independent human-being. I was determined to impose my will on her, much as we Communists were going to remake the world in our own image.

In pursuance of the second objective, I got myself arrested. This was on a Save the Rosenbergs demonstration. It was not so easy but I was angry, frustrated and determined. In the same mood, presumably, mum said something loud and unparliamentary from the Public Gallery and got herself ejected from the House of Commons. The legal execution of the Rosenbergs was acutely felt at home. They were, after all, a middle-class, leftwing, Jewish couple with two boys... My grandfather, who had a wry sense of humour, said `and if the secret of the bomb they did give to the Russians, the Nobel Peace Prize they should get!'. It was what we were all feeling, although none of us would admit that the Rosenbergs might have been guilty as charged. Any fullblooded Communist would have been prepared to lie, spy and die for the Soviet Union and the inseparably linked World Revolution. If I did only the first of these, it was, I suppose, because I had total faith in the rationality of our cause and therefore in the possibility of convincing people of the superiority of Communism. My half-truths and repressions were therefore justified as `interpretation' or as `only giving people such information as they can understand'. Our identification with the Soviet Union and with the Rosenbergs was just part of a wider, indeed all-embracing, sense of the world and commitment to international solidarity. For me it was certainly the first or second of the two attractions of the CP. The other was, of course, the identification with the wretched of the earth - the working class and oppressed peoples.

I had no academic inclinations at all, although I loved social history and read voraciously. I didn't even have an image of the university so many of my friends saw themselves destined for, and which my parents so much wanted us to attend. In the end, and in our own time, both David and I got ourselves advanced degrees. But at the age of 17 or 18 I wanted only to get out and make the increasingly-overdue revolution. I did a one-year journalism course at Regent Street Poly, editing and running up a debt on the student paper. There was no real student movement at this time, so our little bunch of cosmopolitan Communists, fellow-travellers and leftist Jews could easily dominate the Student Union. But we couldn't get the students to buy its paper. And when a non-Communist Irish nationalist we had put up for union President turned coat and mobilised the otherwise apolitical Engineering Department, they wiped us out. I began to write occasional items for the YCL weekly, Challenge. These were mostly on foreign issues. There was a piece on intervention against the elected government of British Guyana and another on the US-backed coup in Guatemala. I liked editing and layout and wanted to become the editor of Challenge. Instead, age 19, without a university education, and definitely wet behind the ears, I landed myself a job in the international Communist movement.

The professional: Prague winter, Prague spring, Prague winter

Prague 1955-8: we were the youth

Although the British CP had no influence in the National Union of Students at this time, it was certainly interested to have its people in the Communist-controlled International Union of Students in Prague. And, particularly since its official language was English, the IUS was interested to have English people there, both in political and technical capacities. Indeed, the pioneering Communist spirit was still strong enough at the IUS to allow us - representing no one - to sit and vote in its interminable Secretariat meetings. In London I had to fill in a form for King Street, carefully balancing the spontaneous self-praise and the ritual self-criticism. I was not to tell anybody I had got this job - although I don't suppose the Class Enemy was worried: Britain, as Harold MacMillan was telling Britain in the mid-50s, had `never had it so good'. Around this time my parents decided to change their name from Wasserman (which no one in England could pronounce, and which was in any case an assumed name of my father) to Waterman. Embarrassed at abandoning a Jewish name, I was also relieved to have an English one to take to a Communist world that I knew to be suspicious of Jews. My army call-up papers arrived while I was attending an obligatory CP residential school on imperialism. I was rushed out of the country and spent two or three weeks as dangling man in Paris, where I fell in love with the beautiful Egyptian Mimi (rather than her more socialist, more interested but plainer friend). I spent my time taking `neo-realist' photos of Paris street life with the tiny 35mm camera my mother had given me as a farewell gift.

I was to be English Editor, and therefore Chief Sub-Editor, of the IUS monthly, World Student News, for some two and half years. Given that this organisation was supported from above by the Communist states, that there was no mass European student movement at the time, that WSN was published in Prague, and was sent out free of charge, there was no reason why it should be attractive in form or relevant in content. It was neither. It was, in fact, fairly ghastly in content, style and appearance. My English predecessor (a working-class bloke who had learned his journalism on the Daily Worker) had, moreover, picked up the Soviet journalistic practice of not so much publishing all the news fit to print as rewriting or inventing the news to fit the line. To my horror and anger he did this in my absence to my first report, on the 1955 Warsaw Youth Festival. My idea was that revolutionaries could and should put into practice the ethical preaching of liberal journalism: I thought Our Morality was Better than Theirs. I was also prepared to fight with the Russian editor, Igor, who was some kind of father figure since he had fought as a tank officer all the way to Vienna. Igor was rather Germanic for a Russian, abandoning his heavy caution on but few occasions. One was an anti-semitic slip of the tongue, which he quickly withdrew. Another was an expression of disapproval when I told him that Soviet tanks had reoccupied Budapest in 1956. A third was about the mistake he had made on arrival in Vienna in 1945 in trying to celebrate victory with a bottle smelling slightly alcoholic and labelled Eau de Cologne. A couple of our fights were about coverage of anti-Soviet student demonstrations in London 1956 (I lost), and democratic student demonstrations in Prague around the same time (I won). Victories were disappointing, since they were measured in words or centimetres, were invisible to anyone outside the building, and never established any new principle. WSN certainly improved in appearance during my time there. But my efforts to turn it into something that would be both read and bought by Western students makes tilting at windmills seem mundane.

I began to feel depressed about Czechoslovakia from the time the train bringing me to Prague stopped at Plzen and I saw a myriad grey-faced, olive-coated and silent figures shuffling home from work. I could not really take to the Czechs, having ambiguous feelings about even The Good Soldier Schweik, a character who made a fool out of the Austrian occupiers of Bohemia by himself acting the fool - or was he acting? The Czechs were not and are not heroic. What they are good at is withdrawing, refusing cooperation, and surviving the overlordship of more backward but more powerful states. These were qualities that did not much appeal to me at that time, our historiography and hagiography being dominated by strikers, uprisings, insurrections, revolutionaries and wars of liberation. We were more attracted to Notes from the Gallows by the Communist journalist and resistance martyr, Julius Fucik, patron saint of the Union of Czechoslovak Youth. The Czechs, in any case, only came publicly alive for six months in 1968 and again in 1989. There were one or two women interpreters or other technical staff in or around the IUS of whom it was whispered that their husbands had been involved in the anti-semitic show trials of the early 1950s. The Czechoslovaks at the IUS were already plunged into a post-trials lassitude and depression that would last until 1968. In two and a half years in Prague I was invited to only one or two homes of Czechoslovak staff - tiny havens of private respite from a public world they increasingly feared or disliked.

The foreign community at IUS was, however, highly congenial. It consisted of red-hot young Communists from Guatemala, Iraq, Scandinavia, Japan, Australia, Italy and elsewhere. Largely isolated from the Czechs by our lack of the language, and by the Czechs' fear and apathy, we spent much time together in our dingy little pension. Mostly young men, we exchanged life stories, recipes (an escape from the heavy and monotonous local cuisine), argued politics, got heavily pissed on excellent beer and petrol-like slivovitz, fantasised about each other's foreign wives or Czech girlfriends, complained about the Czechs, Czechoslovak Communism and the IUS bureaucracy.

In Prague I met students of the later-famous Prague Film School, where they liked my photos of Paris and London. I toyed with the idea of going to the school and getting into film-making. I had my second relationship, with Zuzana, an attractive, intelligent, pony-tailed and peasant-skirted student of English, who was certainly more interested in my knowledge of English life and literature than my faith in Communist myth and dogma. When, some years later, she visited the West for the first time as an interpreter, she wrote to me in the UK, expressing her feelings of being in a `normal country' and her anger at my postal propaganda letters from the UK. I hitched with her, an Icelandic girl and a Slovak friend to the mountains of Slovakia. Here, on another occasion, I got stopped in the muddy Danubian plains, by what we called the polizei, for the second or third of several occasions in Czechoslovakia. Within the IUS I also got into trouble, proposing an egalitarian wage and housing policy whilst knowing that most of the East Europeans were being paid and privileged by their embassies. Although he only spoke to me personally once or twice, I knew that IUS President, Jiri Pelikan, admired my brass nerve. I followed from afar the creation of the British New Left, in which my old family, school and YCL friend, Raph, played a leading part. Whilst, on the one hand, the New Left were obviously a bunch of petty-bourgeois intellectuals and, as such, self-condemned, I nonetheless said that we had to see what came of their effort. I felt myself buffeted by conflicting sides in the arguments of Communists and socialist ex-Communists. I settled down as a convinced `revisionist' (i.e. liberal or democratic) Communist. I felt more comfortable being wrong inside the Party than right outside it. But I also began to feel the need for the university education most of my colleagues and friends had. There was so much I didn't know and couldn't understand. But I wasn't qualified for university entrance, and I still wanted to make the revolution.

Britain 1960-65: a stranger in working-class Britain

Back in the UK I had to do my two years' military service, thus at last living with the working class I had so much wanted to merge into. This was my first extensive visit to the foreign country of working-class Britain. As 23559089, Private Waterman, of the Royal Army Service Corps, I discovered the young British worker of 1960 to be not particular about washing his feet, incapable of darning a sock, politically apathetic but amazingly tolerant. I was, after all, the only Jewish squaddy, the only one who had been to grammar school, the only one to be a Communist, the only one to have ever travelled abroad, the only one to say `fucking hell' instead of `fuckinell', and the only one who read both Hank Jansen's lurid and sadistic crime novels and Tommy Jackson's Historical Materialism. I sabotaged our collectively-purchased radio, which was endlessly pumping out the 1960 Top of the Pops - words and tunes that are still buried somewhere in my memory. I got my jaw broken by failing to either sit down or put up at the right point in an argument, thus demonstrating the profundity of cross-class cultural differences. Although the army kept me out of its officer corps and educational staff, it mysteriously permitted me to spend a year in pretty Hameln (the Pied Piper town) in West Germany. Here I learned a useful smattering of German and sneaked out of the barracks to photograph a rally of drunken former SS soldiers, some wearing uniform. More than anything else, the army was a fat two-year bore. The major topics of conversation were fucking, football and fags, though not necessarily in that order. The blokes were amazed that I had actually slept in bed with women, rather than doing it standing up in an alley, and were profoundly shocked that one of the beds had been at home and been used with parental knowledge and approval. They couldn't understand that I didn't smoke, repeatedly asking me to `crash the ash'. I had a new and pathetic dream, of standing there puffing out a cloud of nicotine fumes with the best of them.

Back in Civvy Street I found my Prague experience an obstacle to a decent job, or even an indecent one with the YCL or Party (the editorship of Challenge went to a reliable and unimaginative YCL official with no journalistic qualifications). I got boring sub-editing jobs with two trade magazines, where I had to wear my godawful grey suit. I recruited for the National Union of Journalists. And I slipped out lunchtimes and worked evenings as co-editor of Youth Against the Bomb. I was one of many premature Communist supporters of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, a point I later made at a `London Party Aggregate' on the Peace Question, at which it switched its old correct line into a new correct line without so much as a hiccup. (I will be eternally grateful to whoever it was who said that a `question' for Marxists is something for which they don't have an answer). I got myself out of my dead-end jobs by entering the union-linked Ruskin College and then the University of Oxford, where I eventually earned a respectable degree in Politics, Philosophy and Economics. I found Ruskin petty-minded and conservative, and the University intolerably bookish, arid and elitist. The pressure of study was enormous even for me, with a good grammar-school education, and some of my working-class Ruskin friends broke down under it. For many years after Oxford I had a recurrent nightmare of having to take an exam in mathematics (I am almost innumerate) in its famous Examination Schools. I struggled to hold on to and develop my Marxism in the face of unrelenting intellectual pressure. A few years before 1968 I produced what I called something like `An Anti-PPE Reading List'. This included references to a philosopher called Marcuse, at that time almost unknown - at least in Oxford.

Between Ruskin and the University I had a year driving a truck for Coca Cola. This was bad for the truck and for my teeth (we got a free crate every month and could fiddle more). But it again required me to come to terms with workers, as distinguished from `the working class'. Recruiting for the Transport and General Workers' Union meant - to my combined shame and relief - that the T&G also paid a fine for an almost deadly accident I had caused.

By now I had a wife. This was Ruthie, an attractive, impulsive and creative nursery-school teacher, Dutch, Jewish and Communist, met on a Ban the Bomb March, 1960. Where I was introverted, slow and uncertain Ruthie was extrovert, fast and self-confident: she took the emotional decisions for both of us. Ruthie was and is a spontaneous and enthusiastic internationalist. In the 1980s - having turned herself into a sculptress - she built a monument to the victims of the Union Carbide disaster in Bhopal, India. By 1965 we also had two kids. I needed a job, and the choice was between the Workers Educational Association in Birmingham and the World Federation of Trade Unions in Prague. Ruthie knew several languages, had lived on a kibbutz in Israel, had travelled widely and was not attracted to the idea of Birmingham (where, as we later found out, they are really nice but only speak Brumagem).

Prague 1966-9: Stalin never sleeps

So, in 1966 I returned to Prague for some more well-paid disillusionment with Communism, national and international. I could not yet abandon the dream that had taken me into the movement, nor the community (now actually a sub-community of dissidents) I found there. Disillusioned church members must have the same difficulty of separating from something which is not simply a community of belief but also charged with ethical meaning and aesthetic appeal. What I also experienced was the difficulty of taking total personal responsibility for my own judgments and behaviour. No doubt this had to do with an underlying lack of self-confidence. But I had also grown up within the British CP at a time of deep moral dependency on the `revolutionary states' that already existed, or social and national revolutions occurring elsewhere. This was a case not so much of export of revolution as of revolutionary aspiration. It was also, therefore, a period of maximum dependency among Communists. Authority and initiative resided eventually in the Kremlin, where, as Soviet children (and grown-ups) were told, `Stalin Never Sleeps'. Inside the CP, one could always await the next issue of Labour Monthly, fall back on the Party or, as a critic, blame it. Inspired by the optimistic evolutionary rationalism of 19th-century socialism, moreover, I could not but assume that the 20th Congress of the Soviet Party in 1956 had marked a turning point for Communism and that Things Were Inevitably Getting Better. That they appeared, or even were, worse could be explained by the dialectic (the Communist word for God).

I had to do a three-month trial period before they would confirm my employment at WFTU. This turned out to be for political rather than professional reasons. I had not been either recommended or decommended by the Party. Maybe word had come through from the IUS. The British CP was increasingly involved with Little Britain and had lost interest in most of these international Communist organisations, although it didn't mind hearing from me on occasion.

I worked in the WFTU Education Department, ostensibly responsible for the English-speaking developing countries. In almost three years I produced one or two sets of educational brochures and ran not more than three courses, though one was a substantial one in Nigeria. This was not considered a low level of productivity by the WFTU, since the concept was unknown there. The organisation was much bigger, more bureaucratic and more moribund than the IUS - where at least the foreigners had still been inspired by Communism. Unlike its predecessor, the Red International of Labour Unions, the WFTU never produced even a leaflet on how to organise a strike. There was, moreover, no library or documentation on Africa, even in the African Department. I ordered some, privately, from the US. So the basic WFTU documentation on African unions in the 1960s was provided to it - free - by the US State Department. My Czech boss, Chleboun, was an old Communist union bureaucrat who did not speak French, the working language of the organisation. My Czech colleague and office-mate, Jarda - totally disillusioned with the Party he had spent his adult life in - used most of his time gossiping about his political experience. This was also unproductive but it was highly educative.

We lived in Prague from 1966 to 1969, before, during and after the famous Prague Spring. Again our circle of friends was a cosmopolitan one, including a Jewish Communist family from Chile, a few of the younger and more open WFTU staff, and a handful of Czechoslovak friends and neighbours. We did not witness the Prague Spring and Soviet invasion, we lived it, viscerally, with these friends and neighbours, and with a dozen or so foreign friends who had come to see Socialism with a Human Face. We saw the dour Czechs slowly come to life, gaining expression, smiling at one another in trams, appearing on TV without ties. Together with the foreign friends, scattered in flats over our housing estate, we saw this face pushed into the mud by olive-green Soviet tanks, these being driven by catatonic pink-faced 18-year-olds from rural Russia. Their reasons for being in Prague were much the same as those of their German opposite numbers thirty years earlier: they had orders from their leaders; they believed their leaders; they obeyed their leaders. When Czechs painted tanks with swastikas, or put SS flashes in the middle of USSR, we at last got the message.

The day after the invasion and after a sleepless night, I opened the front door to find Robin Blackburn (now Editor of New Left Review) and his beautiful Chinese wife (who later died, tragically young). She had her hair en bouffant and wore a chic green minisuit. He carried a big red Samsonite suitcase. Who was living in the real world? We were living in the khaki and iron socialist world of the 1940s where politics was a matter of who had the most tanks and the least scruples. In our world they painted on the walls, `A Nation That Oppresses Others Cannot Itself Be Free (Karl Marx)'. They came from a brightly-coloured capitalist world, with news of other 1968s, where students shouted `Demand the Impossible Now'. As Robin and I watched the nervous Soviet tank crews and anguished crowds in the debris-covered Wenceslas Square, he asked me whether it was not time to break with Communism. Of course it was, but at that moment I was more concerned with getting enough oil and petrol to escape it if necessary. I also started having a new recurrent dream: of five minutes on Soviet TV, during which I poured out scorn, ridicule and righteous anger on Brezhnev, in front of an audience of 200 million.

What of the international Communist trade-union organisation, confronted by mass popular and proletarian mobilisation against a foreign invasion? Well when, after eight increasingly exciting months in 1968, the Russians invaded, the most unpredictable thing happened. With but one exception (the Soviet) the members of the WFTU Secretariat condemned it. They also, it seemed, had not forgotten the dream, nor abandoned the hope. They had witnessed Czechoslovak society coming gradually to life again. They had begun to think a Communist regime could again be popular. Within six months of the invasion, discipline and routine were re-established, and even the Italians agreed not to raise the issue at a Council Meeting in East Berlin. We, who with our Czechoslovak and foreign friends had been totally identified with the Prague Spring, watched with dismay as the Czechoslovaks accepted - even collaborated with - the re-establishment of order. I now began wondering what sort of life existed on the other side of international Communism. And whether I was at all qualified to earn a living in it.

The Third World came to my rescue. I never had the illusion that I would develop it, but I also had not imagined how much it would develop me. I had spent one month in Nigeria in early 1968, running a trade-union course for the Communist-controlled Nigerian Trade Union Congress. Apart from a trip to Cuba in 1963, as a prize in a photo contest, this was my first visit to the Third World. I was fascinated by union life in Lagos, but shocked and alarmed at the nature of Nigerian Communism, which was definitely more Nigerian than Communist. I had brought with me $1,000 from WFTU for the course, got no receipt for it, and calculated that the event could only have cost a fraction of what had been sent. It was obvious from the reactions of both the Nigerians and Chleboun, when I raised this matter with them, that this was how they understood proletarian internationalism. I spoke to many of the unionists in the NTUC, made longtime friends of some of them, and collected piles of newspapers and documents. A young, rather dumb, Soviet-educated economics lecturer at Lagos University asked me - as a houseboy served whisky in his luxurious campus bungalow - why I didn't apply for a lecturer's job in economics there. Since I can't count and never felt at home with even CP-type political economy, I burst out laughing. But in the Party's Executive De Inn, I also met a redhaired ex-South African, Robin Cohen, another Jewish socialist, who was doing academic research on Nigerian labour. He was later to become a teacher, friend and comrade. And I was to become a university lecturer - first of all in Nigeria.

During the second half of 1968 the WFTU was more or less paralysed, so I used my time to write up a 50-page report on the NTUC, attempting to do so independently and critically (although not so independently as to mention the financial funny business). This unique effort drew some impressed mumbles from the Education and African Departments, which then put it in their respective drawers and forgot about it. But the study helped me to get into the Master's Course in West African Studies in Birmingham, where Robin was now a teacher. This was the first such course I actually enjoyed, pouring into it all the practical and book knowledge I had picked up whilst at WFTU. I had never thought much of my own academic capacities but, then, I began to think not so much of those of many of the academics I came into contact with. Could it be that becoming an academic required not so much intellectual brilliance as desire, effort, ingenuity and luck?

Conclusion: an international of the imagination

I did not drop out of the Party yet. Indeed, I re-joined it on return to the UK (to my later shame, putting down Ruthie's name without asking her first). In the District Office in Birmingham I was confronted with District Secretary Frank and his memories of historical struggles and strikes. Frank was a Scottish worker who still wore his proletarian hobnailed boots. At this time Birmingham proletarians were wearing suede Hush Puppies, driving secondhand versions of the cars they themselves produced, and were - despite effective solidarity action by some of them at Saltley Gates during the 1972 miners' strike - increasingly impervious to proletarian romanticism. Leaving the UK in 1970 I finally cut (well, quietly dropped) the umbilical cord. 

From now on I would have to create my own international solidarity, community, movement. Although I continued to travel widely - and hopefully - for my work after 1972, my internationalist itinerary would represent something less of a search for the crucial geographical place and a privileged political base, something more of the creation of a new international social space. In the coming period what would be required, firstly, was an `international of the imagination', secondly an understanding that communication was more crucial to a new internationalism than organisation, thirdly the discovery that the new crucial role of the internationalist was less that of the Agitator or the Agent than that of the Networker.

Endnote

Bibliography

NB. This is an extremely limited selection from a large and growing electronic database, kept on CDS-Isis. It covers internationalisation and internationalism, and communication in relation to internationalism. I would be happy to receive further contributions to this, as well as to collaborate with others in its development. PW.

Adler, Ruth. 1989. `Ruth Adler: Woman of the Eighties', in Jewish Women in London Group, Generations of Memories: Voices of Jewish Women. London: The Women's Press: pp. 25-47.

Deutscher, Isaac. 1968. `The Non-Jewish Jew', in The Non-Jewish Jew and Other Essays. ????: ????. pp. ??-??.

Dijkstra, Sandra. 1992. Flora Tristan: Feminism in the Age of George Sand. London: Pluto. 217 pp.

Freeman, Joseph. 1938. An American Testament: A Narrative of Rebels and Romantics. London: Gollancz. 576 pp.

Goldman, Emma. 1977 (1931). Living My Life. New York: Meridian. 

Hobsbawm, Eric. 1988. `Opening Address: Working-Class Internationalism', in F. v. Holthoon and M. v. d. Linden (eds), Internationalism in the Labour Movement 1830-1940 (2 Vols.). Leiden: Brill. pp. 1-18

Lane, Tony. 1981. `Local History: A Merseysider in Detroit', History Workshop, No. 11, pp. 138-153. 

Leonhard, Wolfgang. 1979. Child of the Revolution. London: Ink Links. 447 pp.

Lipietz, Alain. 1992. Berlin, Bagdad, Rio: La XXe Siecle est Commence. Paris: Quai Voltaire. 158 pp.

Neruda, Pablo. 1977. Memoirs. London: Souvenir. 370 pp.

Ostrovski, Nikolai. ????. How the Steel was Tempered or How Heroes are Made. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House or New York: International Publishers. ??? pp.

Perrault, Gilles. 1967. L'Orchestre Rouge. Paris: Fayard. 

Perrault, Gilles. 1984. Un Homme Apart. Paris: Editions Bernard Barrault. 

Perrault, Gilles. 1987. A Man Apart: The Life of Henri Curiel (Part I). London: Zed Press. 210 pp.

Thompson, Edward. 1978. The Poverty of Theory and Other Essays. London: Merlin. 406 pp.

Torr, Dona. 1956. Tom Mann and his Times. Vol.I: 1856-1890. London: Lawrence and Wishart 356 pp.

Trepper, Leopold. 1977. The Great Game: Memoirs of a Master Spy. London: Joseph.

Waterman, Peter. 1991a. `Understanding Socialist and Proletarian Internationalism: The Impossible Past and Possible Future of Emancipation on a World Scale', Working Paper, No. 97. The Hague: Institute of Social Studies. 66 pp.

Waterman, Peter. 1991b. `Social Movement Unionism: A New Model for a New World', Working Paper, No. 110. The Hague: Institute of Social Studies. 26 pp.

Waterman, Ray. 1985. `Memories of Proltet', in Samuel, Raphael, Ewan MacColl and Stuart Cosgrove (eds), Theatres of the Left 1880-1935: Workers' Theatre Movements in Britain and America. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. pp. 149-55.

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