Biography: The eternal communist

By Wilf Altman, April 27, 2012

His father had been a talmudic scholar. His mother ran a corner shop. So how did Bert Ramelson come to be described by Harold Wilson as "one of the most dangerous men in Britain"?

Ramelson, born into a Yiddish-speaking family in pre-1917 Ukraine, became one of Britain's foremost communists during the turbulent years of industrial strife in the 1960s and '70s. Interestingly, in the foreword to Revolutionary Communist at Work, a "political biography" of Ramelson by Roger Seifert and Tom Sibley (Lawrence and Wishart, £25), the respected trade union leader, Rodney Bickerstaffe pays tribute to "Bert's tremendous contribution to the British and international labour movement".

Ramelson's family emigrated to Canada where their fortunes nose-dived in the depression of 1929. Ramelson himself tried kibbutz life but came away disillusioned. His views were also doubtless shaped by his fighting in the Spanish Civil War and as a tank driver with the British army in Tobruk.

As the Communist Party's national industrial organiser, he energetically campaigned against wage restraint and perceived anti-union laws.

By the time he died in 1994, the party he loved was in disarray and the Soviet Union was no longer. But, though he admitted that many mistakes and brutalities were committed in the name of socialism, he continued to believe that the Soviet working class would never abandon it. The authors draw a sympathetic portrait of the man, but one could have wished for a more rounded account of his times.

Last updated: 3:36pm, April 27 2012