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- Author: Thomas Linehan x
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This chapter looks at representations of the 'vile' bodies of communism's principal political opponents, the 'fascist body' and the 'bourgeois body'. Like all bodies, the proletarian communist body was an expressive sign, a semiotic site. The body would function as an important site of British Communist Party (CPGB) efforts to implant the communist spirit and way of life in its members. During the interwar years the CPGB was keen to ensure the physical well-being and fitness of its activists. For communists, there was a vital connection between sport, physical fitness, and revolutionary labour. The 'young workers forced to perform one humdrum operation, day in and day out, become mere cogs in the machine with grave consequences to their mental and physical development', complained Young Communist League (YCL) Secretary William Rust in 1925.
The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) endeavoured to achieve political advancement through fostering bodily awareness among its membership and encouraging habits of bodily improvement. The CPGB endeavoured to shape members' personal behaviour, attitudes, habits and deportment, as well as define the code by which they were meant to live. The bourgeois 'decadent' lived a life that was, in fact, considered to be the complete inverse of that of the communist. Or at least that ideal-type communist that conformed to the Party's preferred image of its activists as models of sound habits, good behaviour and right ways of living, both in their private as well as their public lives. To Margaret McCarthy, the parent Party's attempts to inculcate habits of self-restraint and discipline in one's private life were particularly hard on a young communist.
During the interwar period, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) worked to create a separate space for its members to enjoy leisure outside the dominant commercial framework which was said to be infused with bourgeois values. Despite being over-burdened with Party tasks and other responsibilities, Britain's interwar communists did find space to play. Communist political values would be affirmed through leisure, while the Party and Young Communist League (YCL) would pursue wider political goals through leisure activities. Through participation in Party, YCL and British Workers' Sports Federation (BWSF)-run leisure, communist allegiance was affirmed and stridently announced. Although activists young and old were encouraged to play at Party or YCL-run social occasions, communist leisure was never free from the imperatives of the political struggle. The communist-led United Mineworkers of Scotland (UMS) sought to build model youth organisations with a robust leisure orientation.
From 1923, responsibility for proletarian education had been prised away from that which the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) derided as the unaffiliated intellectual fringe of the labour movement. Proletarian culture within British capitalism was, therefore, by necessity, bound to be immature and under-developed. Convinced that 'bourgeois' culture aimed to secure the docility, passivity and ultimate compliance of the masses, the CPGB sought to dislodge apparently corrupting bourgeois thoughts from the minds of its activists and replace a bourgeois cultural perspective with a communist one. The communist approach to culture not only marked a departure from the perceived deficiencies of bourgeois culture but also from that of earlier positions on culture taken by the British Left. Maurice Dobb glanced, approvingly, at developments in Soviet Russia in the fields of drama, literature, music and particularly literacy to give him a sense of the new culture.
This chapter considers how communists and the Party interred, mourned, memorialised and remembered their dead. It looks at the communist 'Red Funeral', its meaning, ritual, symbolism and place within the Communist Party of Great Britain's (CPGB) narrative of mourning and remembrance. British communists fell in combat, as well as at the point of production in the struggle with 'rapacious' capitalism, as in the Spanish Civil War in the fight against fascism, capitalism's supposedly darker, murderous alter ego. This life or death struggle against fascism beyond Britain's shores would add many martyred communist deaths to the CPGB's 'Roll of Honour', not all of them proletarian of course. The chapter also considers another feature of the British communist treatment of death. Communist anger against 'monstrous capitalism' was inflamed further by premature deaths believed to have been caused by the security apparatus of the capitalist state.
This book is a study of the communist life and the communist experience of membership. The study will also place itself on the interface between the membership and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) by considering the efforts of the latter to give shape to that experience. 'It is the simplest thing so hard to achieve', goes the final line in Bertolt Brecht's famous poem,' Praise of Communism'. Yet many British communists between the Wars felt the striving to realise their communist vision worthwhile, even though 'the patents of their nobility' lay far into the future as Max Eastman put it.