Issue 180 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1994 Copyright © Socialist Review
My favourite books
|Morris Beckman formed the 43 Group after the Second World War, dedicated to fighting Mosley's fascists|
Six wartime years at sea was my university. It instilled in me humility at the forces of nature and a deep gratitude for the last of the old sea dogs who pinned my ears back with their tales and sense of perspective. Ever since I have devoured books about the sea and sailors.
The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monserrat concerns the birth of shipyard job number 2891, which becomes the flower class corvette HMS 'Compass Rose', and the tribulations she and her crew endured until her destruction by torpedo and the loss of many crew. It is a book of non-stop excitement and must be one of the best of the Second World War novels. An added piquancy for me was the fact that it was a flower class corvette, a replica of the 'Compass Rose', which hauled me and ice coated shipmates from a waterlogged open lifeboat when our ship was torpedoed.
Forgive my now cheating a little. I choose not one but a round dozen: the Hornblower series by CS Forester. I followed avidly the progression of this ambitious and courageous sailor which started with Mr Midshipman Hornblower through countless adventures against the French and Spanish fleets. I enjoyed the excitement of rattling good sea adventures. What made them so good for me was the fact that CS Forester had obviously gone deeply into research. The sea chases and battles were meticulously accurate and brought history alive.
Sometime ago I was given a book to read: Out of the Ghetto by Joe Jacobs. Although I was born in the East End, Hackney, another book about the Jewish East End has to be very riveting for me to read it through to the end. This one was. Joe Jacobs was born in 1913 in Whitechapel, the son of Jewish immigrants. He describes the grinding struggle of the large poor families to make ends meet, the humour and cultural richness, the uneasy integration of Jew and gentile, the unemployment, the sweat shops and slave wages which led to his leading so many disputes with employers and his early attraction to the Communist Party. Joe was never mealymouthed. He was an angry young man and an action man who spoke his mind and this led to his expulsion from the CP in 1938. Nevertheless, in 1936 he was secretary of the Stepney CP and played a full part in defeating the fascist march at the battle of Cable Street. He was active in supporting the Republicans during the Spanish Civil War and taking a leading part in righting injustices. He wrote as he felt and thought, and it came through very strongly. He died in 1977 after a very useful life.
I love books that make me laugh out loud. Very few do. The PG Wodehouse books succeed in doing so, especially Blandings Castle with the hopeless caricature of an aristocrat, Lord Emsworth, and the Jeeves series. But the one that made me laugh almost continuously was Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome. He records a trip in a boat along the river Thames with three companions and the dog named Montmorency. It became a classic, rightly so, much to the author's utter astonishment.
As a schoolboy in Hackney in the 1930s I had my fill of rampaging Blackshirts. I learned to hate them then, and the loathing has intensified with time. I am not really political but as far as fascism, Nazism and racism are concerned I have tunnel vision. Postwar I was a founder member of the 43 Group of Jewish ex-servicemen which attacked and destroyed Mosley's postwar Union Movement.
I kept diaries then and always made notes of what I heard. For my books I dutifully ploughed through fascist newspapers and magazines in various libraries and archives and even read Mosley's book.
What I read was an endless unbroken desert of malevolence and ethnic hatred. Sometimes in the Hendon Library I had to break off for a coffee and a smoke before continuing. After a session I would feel dirty, tainted. But, I learned to know the enemy well. The formidable anti-fascist resistance which has been built up against them will contain them from getting into power. But the appalling toll of racist attacks continues, with over 10,000 incidents a year. The neo-Nazi literature deliberately brainwashes its readers, activating the more feeble minded into violence with the lethal knife and firebombs. It is the only work that I have read that should be stopped by any means.