A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Monday, January 01, 2007

Bob Darke

After a rather un-proletarian New Year's Eve lunch at the fantastic Whitstable Oyster Company restaurant I found my second hand book of the year in Oxford Street Books, Whitstable, for 95p.

A Penguin special, published in 1952, "The Communist Technique in Britain" is by Bob Darke, who was one of 2 Communist Party councillors in Hackney in the immediate post-war years and Agent for the CP in Hackney South in the 1945 General Election when it was a target seat for them. I think he was councillor for the equivalent of my ward - he certainly lived in the current Chatham Ward at Nisbet House on Homerton High Street, one of the main council blocks in my ward - his stories of having to deliver leaflets to the 400 flats in the block were uncannily familiar. He also worked in my ward at Bergers Paint Factory in Morning Lane - currently used as council social services offices but soon to become the site of a new City Academy - before becoming a bus conductor out of Dalston Garage so that he could help run the CP line in the TGWU.

The book is fascinating for anyone interested in how the far left operated and still operates - delete the word Stalin and insert Trotsky, and delete CPGB and insert SWP/Respect or Militant/SSP and it will be familiar to most current ultraleftists. He details the crippling levels of activity required, the focus on infiltrating trade unions, the need to sell hundreds of party newspapers, the front groups, the rigid internal discipline.

Darke quit the CP over the Korean War - seeing through the hypocritical way in which the party exploited genuine peaceniks through the "Hands Off Korea" campaign (hmm... sounds familiar).

He was also disillusioned by their treatment of local Methodist Minister Rev Hugh Lister (after whom I think Lister Court Estate in Stoke Newington is named) who recruited 3,000 members to local trade unions but was driven out of political activity because he was not a Communist.

For Hackney residents it details a lost world of mass trade unionism (35 branches affiliated to the Hackney TUC, 28 of them Communist controlled) , local paint, furniture and garment factories, a borough population where the Jewish community were the largest ethnic minority, and a Communist Party with nearly 900 members just in the old, smaller Metropolitan Borough of Hackney.

The politics of the trade union movement it records are strangely topsy turvey: the AEU was the main Communist-controlled union and the TGWU under Bevin and Deakin was so right wing it banned CP members from holding office.

There are extracts from Darke's book online (with an introduction by an anarchist) here:


Do any historians of Hackney or Communist politics out there know what became of Darke after he left the CP? Did he join the Labour Party? Did he stay on the council?


Anonymous Anonymous said...


I agree, it's an excellent book and well worth the 50p I paid for my copy a few years back.

Given Darke's civic role and intellectual rigour, couldn't the council at least provide you with such information from the borough archives? He deserves one of those plaques as well. Given the on-going building in the borough, you could use the road-naming process to honour his memory and contribution too. Though I suspect naming the City Academy after him might be an irony too far for this government!

9:08 pm, January 01, 2007

Anonymous Duncan said...

Don't know a lot about him - I think he wrote another book, which I may have read some time in the distant past (The Cockney Communist, or something like that?) And he was involved in council tenant politics in London in the '60 and '70s - I always assumed from a Labour left perspective (although he was in the more moderate of the rent striking groups, the HTUF, I think). So I don't know if I've ever read that he joined the Labour Party but I assumed he had (and it was the normal thing for resigning Communists to do!) Not being a Londoner, I don't know if he went back on the council - a lot of people involved in the rent strikes, etc. were councillors, so it wouldn't be surprising.

9:50 am, January 03, 2007

Anonymous Dollyhead Books said...

Th Cockney Communist was the title that "The Communist Teqnique..." was issued under when published in the United States.

The blurb of which states: "We have heard from the bourgeois intellectuals of the god that failed, but never before has a working-class comrade, a faithful Party member for eighteen years, a Cadre Leader whose weekly wage was constantly at the disposal of the Party, spoken out against the organization he so faithfully served. Here is a book that shows what a working man's life is like in the Party and explains how it is possible for a few thousand Communists to speak and act on behalf of millions who hate Communism."

Hope this helps.

11:11 am, January 31, 2007


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