Sometime in the late Sixties, I was invited, along with some senior socialist historians, to meet Bill Craik, a veteran and pioneer, so I was told, of independent working-class education. The intention was to find a practical means of honouring his work. I was taken to a tiny North London council flat, and there sitting in the middle of its cramped living-room, I encountered a very ancient and frail-looking man, striking mainly for the large and antique ear-trumpet which he applied when straining to catch remarks addressed to him. I understood little of what was said and discussion was anyway halting and discontinuous - all the more so given the technical limitations of Craik's hearing device. The Plebs League and the Labour College movement in which he had been involved were no more than names to me. Nor did Craik noticeably react to the ripples of talk which lapped around his chair. The atmosphere rather than the words stuck in my mind: it was strangely tense for a meeting of homage, as if still agitated by the undertow of long past battles - between the Communist Party and the Independent Labour Party, between Moscow and an indigenous 'proletarian' Marxism, between the philosophising of the universities and Philosophy as it had been expounded at pit-heads.
LRB 1 November 1984 | PDF Download