This new book looks at the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) and the British new left in the late 1950s and early 1960s.
It is based primarily on numerous interviews with participants – Charlton was one himself – and provides a fascinating and detailed picture of these developments in one particular area.
The era of Harold Macmillan’s Tory government and his “You’ve never had it so good” motto was also one of emerging consciousness among many young people.
They were motivated by the threat of nuclear annihilation, and were disillusioned with the Labour and Communist parties.
Their activism took many forms – from “Ban the Bomb” activities to upheavals in the Labour Party youth movement and the left wing clubs like the 59 Society on Tyneside. There was also the growth of various Marxist-influenced organisations.
Charlton places all this in the social, cultural and historical context of the times – and the harsh times experienced by the participants’ working class grandparents and parents.
He explores the developments and dilemmas affecting the politically aware left wing youth, and their activities and debates.
He also looks at the political veterans who influenced or tried to influence them.
These include the atrocious revolutionary Gerry Healy, the engaging revolutionary Tony Cliff and the dynamic but seriously flawed local Labour leader T Dan Smith.
The book is illustrated with photos of the young activists – and in some cases also ones from later years – together with 50 short biographies and several extended comments by some of the participants.
This is a volume to enlighten and inspire – and we can hope that today’s capitalist splintering will produce equivalent political results.
Don’t You Hear The H-bomb’s Thunder? Youth and politics on Tyneside in the late fifties and early sixties by John Charlton is published by North East Labour History in association with Merlin Press, £14.95 » www.bookmarksbookshop.co.uk
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