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Oxford: Communist Party


Stanley Mitchell

From: The October 2004 Commemoration

I was once asked who was the most talented member of the branch. I replied without hesitation "Peter". His intellect was voracious, He moved from classics to psychology, from Christianity to Marxism with wonderful ardour. He entered into everything with a kind of light-hearted intensity. He wrote beautifully and passionately. The most moving piece of his that I remember at the time was an article he wrote for Oxford Left, the journal of the Socialist Club which I edited. It dealt with the Rosenbergs, American communists whose conviction for spying for the Russians was a cause célèbre of the Cold War. Even now the phrases of that article come back to me, though I havenít seen it since it was written. But alas, we too were victims of the Cold War, for it turned out that the Rosenbergs had indeed been spying. Peterís entry into the Party was also marked by a strange conversion. Who else would have had the zeal to read through the protocols of the Soviet show trials of 1937 before convincing himself of the need to join the Communist Party?

Peter was also the most likeable member of the branch. He had a great need for friendship; and dialogue, persuasion, dissuasion, always good-humoured, were his favourite ways of forming his ideas. But his friendships ranged beyond his political commitments, as can be seen from the diverse people here today. He retained friendships with people who hated his politics. Peterís physical disabilities Ė his asthma and bowed back Ė made him very vulnerable and attracted the care of his friends. But his deep voice was strangely at odds with his frail body and commanded great respect on political platforms.

Peter was the most eccentric member of the branch. He had a mercurial character which was very difficult to pin down. Whenever he made a point, he would conclude by saying, very emphatically, "og!", as if that was all that was to be said about the subject. Whether this had its origins in the Gog and Magog of the Bible I never discovered.

Peter was also the most political member of the branch. When it dissolved itself in 1956, he alone fought for a new politics for the left, joining the International Socialists and later translating Sergeís Memoirs of a Revolutionary which itself opened up a new intellectual vista after the decay of Soviet Communism. Of our support for the Soviet Union he commented to me: "We were wrong, but for the right reasons", a position I adhere to today.

Meanwhile, he married Edie; and my wife, Hannah and I visited them and their small children, Michèle and Paul. I remember Peter taking pride in the vegetables he had planted in his back garden. plucking a chicken and sporting a motorbike which was much bigger than him. He was, to my surprise, very much a family man, declaring that no relationship was real until there were children. There were many marriages or partnerships made in those days. Three of them were cemented by acronyms: Peter and Edie were known as Edipet, Luke Hodgkin and Anna Davin as Lukanna, and Hannah and I as Stannah. There is a voluminous correspondence somewhere in which we are all addressed in this way. I believe we thought our unions indissoluble. It was a sign of the times. We were young, had young children and marched with them on demonstrations. Post-56 was a hopeful period and perhaps the happiest in Peterís life.