Edward Upward was a poetic writer and unrepentant Marxist. He died recently at 105, the last of a group of writers who were radicalised by the fight against fascism and workers’ struggles in the 1930s, and sought to connect their politics and their writing.
Edward did not become as famous as the others in the group – WH Auden, Stephen Spender, and Christopher Isherwood. Partly this was because he was determined to be politically active and in 1932 he joined the Communist Party (CP).
He put his efforts into being a CP activist. Though he published a novel in 1938, he struggled to reconcile his imaginative and dream-like writing with political commitment.
It was only in the 1960s, having broken from the CP, that he published further books. His Spiral Ascent trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels followed his political development.
The first, In The Thirties, gives a feel for what being a CP activist at that time – paper sales at bus garages are nothing new, comrades!
The Rotten Elements follows the struggle against the overt reformism of the CP and his eventual break with it in 1948. The last part of the trilogy, No Home But The Struggle, celebrates his return to political activity in the 1960s with the rise of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), a key mass movement at the time.
Edward was my grandfather. I remember how he and my grandmother Hilda encouraged me to get involved in CND as a school student.
They kept up a keen interest in politics, from the Anti Nazi League to the anti-capitalist movement.
In recent years Edward was very excited by the growth of the radical left in Latin America.
His confidence in revolution was unshakeable. His last book, A Renegade In Springtime, was published for his 100th birthday.
I will remember him as a witty, mischievous, inventive and entertaining grandfather.
Socialist Review published an appreciation of Upward’s work in 2003 » www.socialistreview.org.uk/article.php?articlenumber=8607