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This review is taken from PN Review 157, Volume 30 Number 5, May - June 2004.

RECLAIMING SWINGLER ANDY CROFT, Comrade Heart: A Life of Randall Swingler (Manchester) £45

Tucked away in an end-note (p.261) is the keynote, the heart of Comrade Heart, leading to a poem never quoted in the text: Croft's own `Letter to Randall Swingler', written while the biography was still doing the rounds for a publisher. This verse letter reveals - more sharply than the biography itself directly allows - Croft's deep sense of fellow-feeling for Swingler: both poets, Communists, and often in conflict with the dominant cultural politics. With the dominant political culture, too. The poem brings out the sense of continuity that Croft feels with Swingler, one that he has to negotiate across the crises in Communism since Swingler's death in 1967. Although the biography adopts a more objectively analytical stance, and its thoroughness is one you'd expect from Croft, already established as a leading historian of the British Communist Party's cultural history, there's an engaging personal undercurrent here as Croft chronicles Swingler and his place in that history.

Any biography of a writer like this - where `like' includes Edgell Rickword, John Cornford, Ralph Fox, T.A. Jackson - sooner or later picks up four issues: whether the writer's `creativity' was shaped, diverted or diminished by his political commitment; the extent to which his Marxism and a broader `humanism' feed each other; his position among the shifts in the Party line as the CPGB responds to Moscow imperatives; and how far the first of these questions is answerable in terms of the other two. Croft doesn't reduce Swingler's periods of ...

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