From a very young age, Harry was involved in politics. His cousin, Fred, persuaded his parents to send him to the local Socialist Sunday school at the age of 6/7. There he was read stories and sang songs such as ‘England Arise’, ‘The International’ and ‘The Red Flag’.
As mentioned in previous posts, in his late teens Harry worked in a bookshop and supplied a range of anti-war literature to the locals. This feeling was very much apparent in his community and this coupled with his socialist upbringing was what eventually lead him to join the youth division of the communist party. He writes that ‘Communist Party literature proliferated the house’ and his father avidly read each piece of literature and was completely sold by the idea. Clearly he and many others were taken by the idea of a classless society, one in which the laborer had a fair say and was treated as more than the lowest part of society.
Upon reflection of his time in the CP, he sums up his energetic and slightly naive beliefs when he first joined; ‘THIS was to be MY LIFE’S WORK. YES!, my whole existence will be concentrated on knowledge. I will be a revolutionary renouncing all stupid, transitory pleasures for the noble ideal of fighting for the emancipation of my class; THE WORKING CLASS, and thereby leading humanity to SOCIALISM, THE NEW WORLD.’
Harry’s enthusiasm and energy, as well as a talent for public speaking, drove him rapidly up the ranks of the CP ‘in a meteoric rise from Chairman of the Young Communist League, to Secretariate[sic] of the Young Communist International travelling about Europe and Russia speaking’. In ‘Life & Labour’ Harry was constantly requested to speak on behalf of the YCL despite the fact he was not there on official business. He clearly was very passionate about his beliefs and this showed through his speeches and the requests he got to spread the ideology.
Yet Harry eventually left Moscow and returned home. He continued to work in local CP divisions around his hometown but there seemed to be little progress. Much activity within the various socialist/communist parties consisted of ‘standing about “supporting” public street-corner meetings, or in taking part in incessant demonstrations (marching) for a variety of objectives’. and he writes that ‘many members just did not have the ability to do much more than stand around and “demonstrate”.’ He worked for some time translating manifesto’s and at publishing houses for CP literature, however there seems to be a definite lack in motivation as the ideals failed to take hold as well as they did in Russia. However, upon WWII arriving to England, anti-war feeling grew strong again and Harry both attended and spoke at demonstrations; ‘It reached the point, when in Hyde park for instance huge crowds would clap and cheer our burning denunciations of all Capitalist Wars. It was a wonderful enjoyable time of growing enthusiasm for the Socialist cause’.
After many years of thought he writes reflectively of how Leninism failed to work ‘Can you wonder that I, an impressionable youth, like so many others, was fired with enthusiasm. YES! we were emancipating the whole WORLD! So, what went wrong? Where was the mistake?. The answer must surely lie in the fact that the workers simply were not Socialists, were not striking, mutinying, or rioting FOR Socialism, but only AGAINST the unbearable pressures of the aftermath of WAR.’
Politics shaped Harry’s beliefs from a very young age. He was enthusiastic about it and saw a way in which his fellow working-class could escape from their situation. It certainly treated him very well as he escaped his situation and proceeded to have an exciting and enlightened view on life. Yet these politics didn’t take as strong a hold as he would’ve liked in his homeland. Despite this, we see a unified identity and set of beliefs within the working class as they supported both socialism and communism and through this allowed themselves to at least be heard by those in positions of power.
Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography vol. 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. YOUNG, Harry 2-858