I had not been brought up in a political home, but my generation, born during or just after the Second World War, could not escape the shadow of the wars, nor the Cold War, nor the urgency for peace. My parents had been children in the First World War, had watched their siblings go off to the front, all of them under age. My father’s oldest brother, killed when he was seventeen years old, was awarded the Military Medal, a decoration that rankled with my father who saw that the higher ranking Military Cross was reserved for officers, while those who in his view made the most sacrifices received only the lesser award. It was an early lesson in the injustices of class, to which my father’s personal story bore witness in this and other areas. He had fought in the Second World War, had returned home full of its horrors and committed to the maintenance of peace through dialogue. He was a quiet, mild-mannered man, never politically active, but instilling in me, nevertheless, a visceral loathing of injustice, violence and bullying. My mother, a bigoted and autocratic Roman Catholic, let the Vatican guide her politics. My teenage rebellion, which has lasted all my life, was to abandon Mother Church, and embrace socialism.
I came of age in 1968. Paris erupted in May, Ireland in October. The anti-Vietnam protests were at their height. The LSE was occupied in October, Essex University earlier. Sit-ins were everywhere. I was a third-year undergraduate, reading Politics at Edinburgh University. We boycotted Spain, held teach-ins over Rhodesia, signed up to anti-apartheid, rooted for Bernadette Devlin. We were part of a transnational movement for change, exciting and empowering, lived in the shadow of the Cold War and nuclear annihilation. We were a generation of internationalists. In 1969, I went to the LSE, although I was not one of Ronnie’s student recruits. In 1971 I met Carey. We joined the Communist Party, on my part because, despite the Soviet invasions of Hungary and Czechoslovakia, it offered the best hope and the purest doctrine for international solidarity, collaboration and peace.