Walter Kendall
Internet Archive

19292003

A Biographical Note on Walter Kendall

Walter Kendall (1929-2003) was an activist in the British shop-workers’ union USDAW, a key member of the Institute of Workers’ Control, and a pioneer of the Voice group of newspapers, being for many years co-editor with Frank Allaun of the Voice of the Unions, and subsequently an historian of the labour movement. He was rare in that whilst being a convinced and sincere Marxist, he never accepted that any of the current varieties of Bolshevism represented a legitimate development of Marx’s viewpoint.

Repelled by what he saw as a manipulative attitude to the working class and its institutions, he was determined to investigate the historical roots of this tradition, and went to Ruskin College on a Labour Party scholarship in 1963, and then on to a B Litt degree at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. The result of his researches was the book for which he became famous, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain, 1900-21 (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London, 1969), which used an incredible mass of material to argue that Marxism in this country was slowly developing to maturity when it was diverted by Russian intrigue, leaving us with the Communist Party of Great Britain and its successor sects, which have ever since failed to come to terms with the particular traditions, structure and functioning of the British labour movement.

A further stint as a Senior Research Fellow at Nuffield College in 1970-73 led to the writing of World Revolution: The Russian Revolution and the Communist International, 1898-1935, which has not yet found a publisher: there is a copy of the manuscript in the Al Richardson collection in the University of London’s Senate House Library, and another copy was passed to the British Library. His last academic appointment was as Fellow of the Centre for Contemporary European Studies at the University of Sussex. His interests in labour history were not restricted to Britain: a stint as Visiting Lecturer at Wayne State University in Detroit in 1967 made him several firm friends among the older generation of socialists in the United States, and the work that went into his book The Labour Movement in Europe (Penguin, London, 1975) brought him an amazing range of friends and acquaintances.

He was not afraid of standing against orthodoxies; his trade-union activities brought down the wrath of the right-wing union leaders, whilst his consistent defence of what may best be described as Kautskyan Marxism led to many heated discussions with other Marxists, which nevertheless did not prevent him from having many friends amongst them.

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The Breakdown of Stalinist ‘Socialism’, 1970

State Ownership, Workers’ Control and Socialism, 1972

Comintern: Sixty Years After: Reflections on the Anniversary, 1979

The Togliatti Line, 1982

Review of Michael Lees, The Rape of Serbia, 1992

Isaac Deutscher as a Prophet, 1992

Review of Frank Girard and Ben Perry, The Socialist Labour Party 1876-1991, 1994

Review of John Graham (ed), Yours For the Revolution, 1994

Review of Irwin Silber, Socialism: What Went Wrong?, 1995

Review of Michael Harrington, Socialism: Past and Future, 2000

Hammer and Sickle, 2000

The Communist Party of Great Britain, 2001

The Communist International and the Turn from ‘Social-Fascism’ to the Popular Front, 2001