I was in the Communist Party for many years. Yes, a real ‘card-carrying’ communist. What an odd expression that is. I imagine most political parties have membership cards, and the CP card was not particularly large or heavy. Red of course, and very like the old UK driving license; a fact that sometimes disconcerted policemen when they stopped one and asked to see one’s license. ‘Card-carrying’? I am also, as it happens, a ‘Card-carrying’ member of the Victory Services Club. Wake up, MI5.
Like other CP members I used from time to time to get big envelopes in the post from ‘King Street’, as we called party headquarters in Covent Garden. These were prominently labelled ‘Communist Party’ and people’s eyes would widen as they saw me pick up my post from the pigeon holes at the various colleges I attended in those years. I would smile enigmatically and mutter ‘My orders from Moscow’ and I think many people believed me.
We didn’t get ‘Orders from Moscow’ of course; no-one in the party did, not even the people at King Street. Up there they would get advice and suggestions from Moscow, but not orders: no-one got shot if they failed to follow the advice. Actually the pusillanimous General Secretary of the time did in fact slavishly follow the ‘Moscow Line’; one reason I left the party.
The ‘Advice and suggestions’ from Moscow usually showed a total failure to understand British social conditions, and were characterised by a complete lack of humour. Here is an example, quoted by Claud Cockburn in his book ‘Crossing the Line’:
‘The lower organs of the party in Britain must make still greater efforts to penetrate the backward parts of the proletariat.’