The eter­nal com­mu­nist

The Jewish Chronicle - - Arts&entertainment - WILF ALT­MAN

His fa­ther had been a tal­mu­dic scholar. His mother ran a corner shop. So how did Bert Ramel­son come to be de­scribed by Harold Wil­son as “one of the most dan­ger­ous men in Bri­tain”?

Ramel­son, born into a Yid­dish­s­peak­ing fam­ily in pre-1917 Ukraine, be­came one of Bri­tain’s fore­most com­mu­nists dur­ing the tur­bu­lent years of in­dus­trial strife in the 1960s and ’70s. In­ter­est­ingly, in the fore­word to Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Com­mu­nist at Work, a “po­lit­i­cal bi­og­ra­phy” of Ramel­son by

and Tom Si­b­ley (Lawrence and Wishart, £25), the re­spected trade union leader, Rod­ney Bick­er­staffe pays trib­ute to “Bert’s tremen­dous con­tri­bu­tion to the Bri­tish and in­ter­na­tional labour move­ment”.

Ramel­son’s fam­ily em­i­grated to Canada where their for­tunes nose-dived in the de­pres­sion of 1929. Ramel­son him­self tried kib­butz life but came away dis­il­lu­sioned. His views were also doubt­less shaped by his fight­ing in the Span­ish Civil War and as a tank driver with the Bri­tish army in To­bruk.

As the Com­mu­nist Party’s na­tional in­dus­trial or­gan­iser, he en­er­get­i­cally cam­paigned against wage re­straint and per­ceived anti-union laws.

By the time he died in 1994, the party he loved was in dis­ar­ray and the Soviet Union was no longer. But, though he ad­mit­ted that many mis­takes and bru­tal­i­ties were com­mit­ted in the name of so­cial­ism, he con­tin­ued to be­lieve that the Soviet work­ing class would never aban­don it. The au­thors draw a sym­pa­thetic por­trait of the man, but one could have wished for a more rounded ac­count of his times.

Francesca Se­gal: ‘I recog­nised that world’

Roger Seifert

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