Abe Lazarus and the Lost World of British Communism

Andrews, Geoff (2017). Abe Lazarus and the Lost World of British Communism. History Workshop Journal, 83(1) pp. 272–288.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/hwj/dbx003


Researching the life of Abe Lazarus, a leading Communist Party figure in 1930s Britain, raises important wider questions about how to investigate ‘mass leaders’ in the era after the Cold War. With the availability of more archives, including ‘official’ Security Service (MI5) files and ‘unofficial’ personal memoirs, there is now the possibility of exploring past communist lives in greater depth and free from traditional orthodoxies. In the case of Lazarus, while there has been some recognition of the leading role he played in the Pressed Steel and Cutteslowe Walls disputes and anti-fascist politics in interwar Oxford, the later period of his political career has remained something of a mystery. Arthur Exell, former Morris Motors worker and Communist Party comrade of Lazarus, began a biography in the early 1980s under the supervision of Raphael Samuel, who prompted him to consider not only what Lazarus’s political activism achieved in the thirties but also more difficult times later and the ways in which Lazarus’s later life might be said to reflect the wider predicaments of the Communist Party. Exell never completed his work. This article addresses those questions with the aid of new material and, with the purpose of exploring Lazarus’s political life in its widest context, it draws on Samuel’s The Lost World of British Communism.

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