Recently I travelled to Chopwell, a former mining village in the North East of England only a few miles outside of Newcastle.
Chopwell has a history of left-wing politics, so much so it has gained the name Little Moscow. If you walk its streets you can find the names of different left wing figures including Karl Marx, Vladimir Lenin, E.D. Morel, the Dalton’s, Ramsey Macdonald and many others.
Chopwell’s iconic miner’s banner also bears the face of Lenin, Marx and Hardie which is always present at the Durham Miners Gala and is a source of much self-respect for the area in times of misfortune. During the 1926 Miners Strike the village also replaced their Union Jack outside their council officers with the Soviet Flag as a sign of resistance and solidarity.
Due to the cancellation of the 2020 Gala, they held their own local march in memory of the event with many of its residents being members of their local marching band.
I made this journey to find out if the enthusiasm of its people and history is still alive amongst the residents of the village. It also has several visitor sites and a memorial to those who lost their lives in workplace accidents.
The main pub, the Red House, is the former meeting place of the Chopwell’s branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Inside you will be greeted by a selection of books on the history of the area, the labour movement and socialist leaders including Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez.
After a friendly conversation with the owner, he introduced the Red House and informed me of the unfortunate effects that COVID has had on the village. However, despite the past year’s turmoil, I was also told that locals remain optimistic and that the pub has continued to be a place for talks and educational events as well as meeting place after a day’s work.
He also let me know that if I speak to its patrons, I can find out just how alive the spirit of socialism is amongst its residents.
There was also condemnation over the further monopolisation of the pub industry at the hands of Weatherspoon’s forcing many of the local businesses to become uncompetitive and thus close shop.
Many of its patrons I found out had made up a core of activists who try to keep the working-class traditions and politics alive in the village. Many of them have memories of the miners strike and the terrible effects of the deindustrialisation policy which saw investment in the area drop considerably causing many to lose their way of life.
As well as this there was noticeable disappointment with the Labour Party and the direction of neoliberalism by its leadership which many felt it has neglected the struggle of the working class and supporters in working class communities.
There was a desire not to go back to the Blair years and maintain a commitment to the policy of socialism as the Labour Party failed to bring in nationally owned enterprises to provide locals with a source of professional employment.
There was particular outrage at the suspension of former Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the flushing out of leftists within the Party. This is especially important for their residents having made up a portion of the left of the Labour Party in their local CLP of Blaydon.
In conclusion I found that the spirit was very much alive and that we must not forget the struggle of the working class and try and reach our support out to them.
I would recommend anyone interested in the history of the labour movement to visit and speak to its locals as there is much to learn.
It is important as we can learn from those who live outside the major cities and have to live with the worst effects of the policies pursued by the Tory and the Blair Government.
If we listen to what it is the people need and desire, we can form a mass line between our campaigns and organisations and provide the means to become engaging with what the people want.
Ellis Garvey, is a member of the YCL’s Manchester district