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Party Animals

Party Animals

My Family and Other Communists
by David Aaronovitch

London: Jonathan Cape, 2016 [ISBN 9780224074711]

Don Milligan

This is a strange book, it’s a biography; it’s political, but not a political biography. Ostensibly, it’s about David Aaronovitch’s parents and growing up in a communist household in the sixties. It briefly sketches the history of the Communist Party of Great Britain from its foundation to its low point following the General Strike of 1926, and on to the highpoint it enjoyed for a year or two after the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union. This was followed, by decline, stagnation, fracture, and finally, by dissolution.

David Aaronovitch’s, father, Sam Aaronovitch was a leading member of the Party, who’d fought his way out of the grim poverty of London’s Jewish East End in the nineteen thirties for a life of penury as a Party full-timer. An autodidact, Sam Aaronovitch was an impressive character, he’d haunted the public libraries as a teenager, and he read and read throughout his life; writing, lecturing, and organising for the Party well into middle age. Eventually, when passed over for promotion to one of the Party’s top jobs, as London District Organiser, he decided to try for a formal education, and astonishingly, in 1967, at the age of 47 without a qualification to his name, he was accepted at Balliol to study for a PhD in economics.

Although David is still plainly proud of his Dad’s achievements, he is reticent on the contribution that Sam and his Mum, Lavender, made towards his own ascent through university, the National Union of Students, to life as an award-winning journalist and litterateur. This is an aspect of the communist life he could perhaps have written more fully about. The Communist Party was overwhelmingly a working class organization, which went to great lengths to train and educate its members. True, its points of cultural reference were narrow, even conservative, but those of us who grew up in the Young Communist League and in the adult party, know full well that we have much to thank this milieu for in giving us a start that was not easily available anywhere else in the late fifties and early sixties.

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“Genuinely thought provoking and provocative. A much-needed takedown of what Orwell once called the ‘smelly little orthodoxies’ of the left, and why they are so distant and alienated from the working class they claim to fight for.” - Ralph Leonard