Comintern History Archive.

From The Guardian Thursday November 16, 2000

Ideals that survived communism’s ups and downs

Bill Wainwright, who has died aged 91, was one of the Communist Party of Great Britain’s most effective journalists, pamphleteers, and speakers for nearly 60 years. He was elected to the CPGB’s executive and political committees and became the party’s assistant secretary when John Gollan replaced Harry Pollitt as general secretary in 1956. His final years of full-time party work were spent as, assistant editor of the Daily Worker and the Morning Star, with myself as editor.

Raised in London’s East End, after leaving school he studied chemistry at Chelsea Polytechnic, and became an associate of the Institute of Chemistry of Great Britain. He walked from his home in Stepney to Chelsea during the general strike to avoid using the blackleg trains.

It was the rise of fascism in the early 1930s which was the turning point for him. The Labour Party leadership did virtually nothing to mobilise opposition to Sir Oswald Mosley’s British Union of Fascists, whereas the CPGB was militant and uncompromising in organising resistance.

Bill took all active part in this from his flat, at World’s End, Chelsea, protecting open-air meetings from fascists armed with knuckle-dusters and truncheons. He went to heckle Mosley at the notorious 1934 BUF meeting at the Olympia in West London, where he was recognised, frog-marched out, and beaten up.

He then became editor of the Young Communist League paper Challenge and, the YCL’s national organiser. He also met and married his wife Molly, and began a happy political and personal relationship which lasted until her death in 1991.

During the war he served in the Home Guard and from 1941 worked on publicity for the war effort at the CP’s headquarters in Covent Garden. Soon after the war he became general secretary of the British Soviet Friendship Society. Though he recognised after the 1956 revelations about Stalin that the party had made terrible mistakes in defending actions of the Soviet leader ship which subsequently proved indefensible, he never regretted his opposition to the war propaganda directed against that country, and he continued with his work for the British Peace Committee.

No one could have worked harder or with more dedication at the Morning Star putting in excessively long hours for a pittance. But nothing that was done stemmed the decline in the paper’s circulation, and the party’s loss of membership, especially after its support of the suppression of the 1956 uprising in Hungary. Bill became increasingly critical of the Soviet Union, and, like the majority of the party, opposed its 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia. But by then, the CPGB was becoming more and more divided with hardliners taking over the Morning Star, and sacking Bill, its part-time science editor, and myself, the unpaid opera critic. We were reinstated some months later after widespread protests.

Though sadly disappointed by the party’s failure and its winding-up, he remained committed to the ideals which led him to join it nearly 60 years before.

In 1991 supporting the transformation of the party into the Democratic Left, he wrote, “My hope is that younger generations will not write off our history but learn its valuable lessons, its honourable record as well as its tragedies, and the people who made it. I hope that the ideals and moral values that inspired us to turn to communism will be carried forward in future years.”

He is survived by a son, a daughter, and three grandchildren.

George Matthews