Studies of the Communist Party of Great Britain and its troubled history proliferate. An attraction for some must be that it is now safely dead and buried: there is no live bear to break out of its cage and retaliate. In 1995 Francis Beckett added his Enemy Within to the growing list of works. His researches were thorough; he had gone round meeting veterans of bygone days, nearly all of whom were happy to chew over their recollections with him. The book has now reappeared with an extra chapter covering the sad tale of the CP’s two successor-parties, or fragments, one completely unlike their progenitor, the other resembling it all too closely. Apart from this pair of ghosts, Beckett’s narrative runs from the hopeful founding conference of the CP (we thought of it simply as ‘the Party’) to its 43rd and final Congress in 1991. One of the strong points of Beckett’s book is its wealth of portraits of individuals, among them Harry Pollitt and Johnny Campbell; Willie Gallacher and Phil Piratin, two of the very few who found a way into Parliament; Palme Dutt the Swedish-Indian, more theologian than political thinker; and Bert Ramelson, a Ukrainian-Canadian, who became a very able and effective organiser of British industrial labour. The Party was never lacking in the internationalism that nearly all other English political movements conspicuously lacked. Beckett adds a gallery of photographs; Goethe’s friend Lavater, the pioneer of character-study through physiognomy, would have revelled in them.
LRB 17 September 1998 | PDF Download