On Saturday 11 August 2007, Saklatvala Hall in Southall, west London, was the venue for a special meeting organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) to honour Comrade Jack Shapiro, a veteran fighter for communism for more than seven decades, who had just turned 91.
Comrade Shapiro is one of Britain’s staunchest and most respected communists. Beginning in the early 1930s, he fought against poverty and rack-renting landlords, as well as against fascism and anti-Semitism, in the east end of London. He has always supported the socialist countries and the national liberation movements, including, not least, the Palestinian people’s struggle against zionism.
A firm adherent of Lenin’s teachings on imperialism and the consequent split in the working-class movement, he has recognised the centrality of the relationship between imperialist superprofits and the division of the world into oppressed and oppressor nations, and hence the bribery and corruption of the upper stratum of the working-class movement, the labour aristocracy, in the imperialist heartlands.
Armed with this understanding, he has taken a consistent and clear-cut stand against social democracy and against modern revisionism, rejecting the idea that the Labour party can be a vehicle for socialist advance and other rotten theses of the British Road to Socialism and the Trotskyites. Jack stood squarely with the Communist Party of China in the struggle it initiated against Khrushchev’s betrayal of Marxism Leninism. Basing himself on Lenin’s call that a communist must be a “tribune of the oppressed”, Jack has long been one of the leading campaigners for the rights of deaf people and others with disabilities.
Moreover, Comrade Shapiro is a proud member of a revolutionary family. His wife, Comrade Mairie, is also a staunch communist, who joined the party in Poland, when it was operating in conditions of deep illegality and clandestinity, and whose revolutionary work in Britain has embraced such diverse areas as organising young women workers in the textile sweatshops in east London, managing the Communist Party’s London bookshop, and, until she was well into her 80s, teaching English to Chinese comrades living and working in London.
Comrade Jack’s brother, the late Comrade Michael Shapiro, invited by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, lived and worked in China from 1950 until his death in 1986. Attached to the Xinhua News Agency, Michael entered Korea with the Chinese People’s Volunteers, shared weal and woe with the Korean people and their Chinese allies during the difficult days of the US imperialist-led war against the Korean people, and wrote many excellent articles in Xinhua and the British Daily Worker. Michael also worked with the British prisoners of war (POWs) in the camps to persuade them to repent of their crimes and win them to the cause of peace.
Prevented by the British authorities from returning to Britain as a result of his principled proletarian internationalist stand, Michael married Comrade Liu Jinghe, a prominent member of the Communist Party of China, who had also carried out important revolutionary work in the United States of America, and who returned home to help build the new China. A patriotic scientist, Jinghe used the philosophy and standpoint of dialectical materialism to pioneer innovative and socialist methods of child education.
Inspiring the next generation
It was because of the meritorious services rendered by Jack and his family in the cause of the emancipation of the proletariat and the liberation of the oppressed peoples everywhere that the CPGB-ML decided to honour Jack and the Shapiro family in general.
Even more importantly, the meeting, in providing a living link to our revolutionary history and the best traditions of the British and international communist movement, served to educate our younger comrades, in particular, and to remind us all of the high standards that have been set for us.
Party members and their friends were therefore in high spirits when they gathered in Saklatvala Hall, which had been specially decorated for the occasion with the party banner, the portraits of the great leaders of the working class, Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Mao Zedong and Kim Il Sung, and revolutionary posters.
The meeting was honoured to welcome not only Jack, but also his nephew Roger Shapiro (Michael and Jinghe’s son), who travelled all the way from Beijing specially to attend the meeting, as well as official representatives from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) – Comrades Xu Bin and Zha Yanping, First and Third Secretaries of the Embassy of the PRC; Comrade He Dalong, London Bureau Chief of the Xinhua News Agency and his colleagues Comrades Liu Jia and Jessica Sun; and Comrade Jong In Song, Counsellor of the Embassy of the DPRK.
The meeting also received messages of greetings from Comrade Ma Hui, Deputy Director General, International Department of the Central Committee, Communist Party of China, and Comrade Xue Yongxing, Regional Director and Editor-in-Chief, Asia-Pacific Region, Xinhua News Agency.
The meeting began with the showing of a documentary film about the ‘Icebreakers’, a group of progressive businessmen who, from the early 1950s, worked to break the embargo and trade blockades imposed on China and other socialist countries. Jack and Michael had worked closely with and advised them, and the film, while containing some questionable editorial judgements, is a valuable record of an important but little known historical episode and contains archive footage from Britain, China and Korea, as well as interviews with both Jack and Roger.
A man of many talents
Introducing the formal part of the proceedings, Comrade Harpal Brar, Chair of the CPGB-ML, said of Jack:
“In his youth he fought against racism, anti-Semitism and fascism. He waged a vigorous struggle against revisionism as enshrined by the CPGB’s programme The British Road to Socialism. He understood, and fought against, opportunism, recognising that its economic basis lay in the bought-off sections of the working class – the labour aristocracy.
“Jack is a much-loved and admired veteran of the communist movement of Britain. He has been a staunch friend of China, the Communist Party of China and the Chinese revolution. Equally strongly, he has been, and continues to be, a great friend of the DPRK.
“Jack is a man of many talents. He was a prominent figure in the Central British Fund, which brought to Britain Jewish children who had survived the death camps, to be fostered or adopted.”
Speaking of Michael Shapiro’s activities in Korea, in particular with the British POWs, Harpal added:
“This work of Michael stands as a shining beacon to us in the anti-war movement. British imperialism was enraged by Michael’s internationalist work.”
He concluded: “It must be clear to everyone that the Shapiros are an amazing family, who have supported the October revolution, the Chinese and Korean revolutions and socialism everywhere. They have stood by the national struggle of the oppressed peoples against imperialism.
“It is worth adding that they have throughout fought against zionism and given their whole-hearted support to the Palestinian people for national liberation – and this at a time when, being of Jewish origin, it must have been exceptionally difficult for them to take that principled stance in the face of the propaganda barrage of zionism and imperialism.”
Harpal also read to the meeting a poem, ‘The Lark on High’, written by W Hunt-Vincent in honour of comrades like Jack.
Harpal was followed by Comrade Xu Bin of the Chinese Embassy, who said: “Comrade Jack is a life-long communist member who dedicated his life to communist activities. And also his dear brother and our old friend, Comrade Michael Shapiro, who the Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping spoke of as a staunch international soldier and as a sincere friend of the Chinese people.
“I would like to convey warm greetings to Jack Shapiro from my colleagues back in Beijing who have been your friends for many years and are very glad to see your activities and your belief in communism. The Chinese people will always remember all those friends who have spent decades for the Chinese cause of socialist construction and the revolution.”
His sentiments were echoed by Comrade He Dalong from the Xinhua News Agency and by Comrade Jong In Song from the Korean Embassy, who said:
“Comrades Jack Shapiro, Roger Shapiro, Mairie Shapiro and the late Michael Shapiro, I am very proud of your family. I have already informed my government about this meeting and about you all. Because of the Shapiro family we are here. We very much appreciate their contribution to the giant cause of progressive people.”
The Chinese and Korean embassies and the Xinhua News Agency all presented gifts to Jack.
Speaking as a friend of China, Korea and the Shapiro family, Comrade Keith Bennett provided an overview of Jack’s life and its significance, concluding:
“In the mid-1970s, the Communist Party of China published an editorial entitled ‘Proletarians are revolutionary optimists’. It is a good way to describe Jack. Among the many books to be found on the shelves at his home is a well-worn copy of Nikolai Ostrovsky’s great novel, How the Steel Was Tempered. In Jack, we see a truly heroic figure of the kind described there. One who can justly say: ‘All my life and all my strength have been devoted to the finest cause on earth, the liberation of mankind.’”
This set the scene for the highlight of the meeting, a brief but spirited speech by Jack himself, who spoke eloquently without a single note. Comrade Jack said:
“A lot has been said about me and especially about my family. However, the most important member of that family is not here today, she is lying in bed at home but without her support for 73 years I doubt that I could have performed any of the actions that the comrades have been kind enough to remember about me.
“The main thing that Mairie and I think about, as we look at the world today, is that in spite of American imperialism’s plan to swallow all of the world, resistance to that is growing and taking place in places where the Americans themselves could never have believed – in their own backyard.
“The great inspiration today must be that north Korea is now working so closely for an affinity with south Korea to reunite the peoples of Korea as they deserve to be. The north Koreans are an inspiration to the world. They have been surrounded, badgered and bullied, browbeaten and pushed around in ways that no other country in the world has and yet they have stood steadfast in their belief, in their ideas, in the belief that Korea will be united as a strong country and an inspiration to all the peoples of the world.
“The strength of our family connection with China manifests itself with the fact that Roger is here today, having come thousands of miles just to be here amongst us and to be able to participate in this gathering.
“The Chinese people have been through enormous difficulties and are now succeeding in developing a country, a socialist country with their own specific characteristics. As Chairman Mao said in 1949, they got off their knees, they are standing up, they are struggling and they will succeed in building a socialist country that this world will see as an example for all the peoples of the world to follow.
“In Britain, we have the oldest bourgeoisie in the world; they are cunning, rapacious and know all the tricks in the book and yet they have never yet managed to persuade everybody to abandon the principles and ideas of going forward to socialism through a communist party that we should be proud of. I have been through four communist parties; I have been expelled from two of them. The pride I have of being here today, through the persuasion of Comrade Harpal Brar, who worked very hard to get me to come. I feel I am just an ordinary sort of fellow.
“I have studied Marxism Leninism and tried to live my life by certain principles which I hold dear. I have had the wonderful support of my wife. I have also had the inspiration and knowledge of my brother and his two young sons.
“You mentioned Jinghe. She was more than what people know about her. She was one of the founders of the study of the psychology of children, of methods of helping children to study in ways that were new, inspirational and definitely of a socialist character. She produced books to show them how to learn English easily and to study mathematics easily. When she came to England, she received praise at Cambridge University for her wonderful work in developing ideas for developing children in China in a way that had never been done before. She was a great woman, an inspiration, and did a marvellous job of bringing up two wonderful sons.
“A lot has been said about me. Harpal will be aware that a lot of it I did not want him to say. I am not a boastful person; in fact I consider myself a fairly modest person. I do not try to emblazon what I am doing, but the struggle that we must pursue – the class struggle – must always be in our minds. The leadership for that struggle must be based on Marxism Leninism.
“To my mind, in this day and age, we have the great good fortune to have a comrade like Harpal Brar who can write those wonderful books, and those wonderful articles in Lalkar that are gathered together into the books. They deserve your study, deserve your readership, deserve that you should take your principles from them and carry on the great struggle that Keith Bennett says I am involved in – the liberation of mankind.
“To enable us to liberate mankind, we must liberate ourselves and we can only do that by pursuing the class struggle and studying Marxism Leninism so that we become what Lenin said were true revolutionaries that will carry forward the revolution until socialism is built even in Great Britain.”
Space does not allow us to carry the speeches made at the meeting in full, but they may be read on the Lalkar website. (www.lalkar.org)
Jack was presented, on behalf of the CPGB-ML and other friends of the Shapiro family, with a silver salver with the inscription “To Comrade Jack Shapiro for lifelong service to the cause of communism”.
The CPGB-ML also conferred on Jack honorary membership of the party, with Comrade Zane Carpenter, the General Secretary, presenting him with his party card.
A floral tribute and message was also presented to Mairie Shapiro by Comrade Ella Rule, Vice Chair and International Secretary of the party, and received by Jack in her absence due to ill health.
The proceedings ended with the singing of the ‘Internationale’, followed by a dinner in honour of Jack. There was plenty of opportunity for members of the audience to exchange views with each other, with Jack and with our Chinese and Korean comrades.
The meeting was surely an inspiration and education to all who attended. As a teenager, one of Jack’s first political tasks on joining the Young Communist League was to collect Shapurji Saklatvala from the station and escort him to a meeting in east London. Now, speaking in Saklatvala Hall, at the age of 91, with his ringing endorsement of the CPGB-ML and of the continued necessity and vitality of Marxism Leninism, we can confidently say that the communist movement in Britain remains alive and, whilst small, is confident, vigorous and determined, and that the chain that links us to the October Revolution remains unbroken.
It is often said that “we stand on the shoulders of giants”. Comrade Jack Shapiro is one of them. The CPGB-ML is determined not to let them, or the working class, down.