TAKING place on November 11, 2pm, at the Working Class Movement Library (WCML) in Salford is an event to celebrate the lives of the library’s founders Ruth and Eddie Frow.
It is 30 years since the library, with the support of Salford Council, found a new home in an old nursing home on the busy A6 leading in and out of a once radical city.
Across the road from the WCML is Bexley Square, now a playground for students, where Eddie, alongside his comrades in the National Union of Unemployed Workers, was battered by the police in October 1931.
Eddie was sent down for six months for demonstrating for the rights of the unemployed and this shaped his communist politics for the rest of his life.
He joined the Communist Party (CP) at the age of 18 because “there was a fantastic feeling that, yes, there was going to be a revolution in Britain and it was going to be tomorrow.”
Ruth epitomised her middle-class background in dress and voice. But through the second world war and communism she escaped this stultifying life.
Joining the Women’s RAF she met a different group of people. She said: “It was an inherent rebellion against the ‘bull’ in the Air Force and I never felt comfortable in my middle-class background.” She later joined the CP in 1945 after meeting miners in Kent.
Over nearly 50 years the couple continued their political activity in the CP and the trade union movement, as well as collecting books and creating the WCML.
Over the years they researched and wrote many pamphlets and books together. As Ruth explained in 1988, “we have always done things together. You see Eddie is a detective, he has tremendous knowledge. I do the writing, he does the research and he helped me greatly.”
But Ruth made sure that they were both credited for their work. “I insisted that whatever we did would be jointly signed and we have kept to that ever since.”
Together, they scoured the country to find and collect everything about working-class struggle. And they spent most of their money and their time in the pursuit of radical books, banners, emblems and ephemera, which firstly filled their house in Old Trafford, and then moved to Salford.
But it was not a selfish pursuit of history. The Frows were known for their generosity in sharing it with anyone who crossed the threshold of their library. Ruth summed up the ethos: “We want it to be a focal point of workers’ activity.”
One of the visitors was US archivist Gail Malmgreen, who knew the Frows for 30 years. “They welcomed me with their usual hospitality, and I soon found myself staying with them in Old Trafford, thrilled to be sharing a small bedroom with a Clarion Club bookcase, framed trade-union charters, and about a thousand books. The Frows became my friends, mentors, and guides.”
Generosity is a constant theme of people’s memories of the Frows. Dodie Ritman, long-term communist and friend, remembers the atmosphere the Frows created in the library.
“It was not confined to academics and I can remember it as being a place where you went up to have a discussion with someone active in the union, or a fundraiser for the library or the Morning Star.”
Stephen Kingston, editor of local radical paper the Salford Star, recounts how Ruth helped with the founding of their paper in 2006 by “writing an article in the very first print issue about the Salford general strike and allowing us access to her photos, and the only photos of Engels’s mill in Weaste being flattened for the M602.”
What is the Frows’ legacy and is communism still a relevant philosophy in 2017?
Mike Luft, communist and long-term comrade of the Frows, believes that Marxist theories still have much to offer. “The Communist Party punched well above its weight because it knew how to organise the working class and transfer organisation into action.
“Marx said that if the exploited class liberate themselves they will go on to liberate the whole of humanity.”
He sees the WCML as an important part of that liberation. “For me it is inspiring to read about how past struggles and how ordinary people, like the Frows, changed history.”
And he believes the Frows’ generation of activists, which included his grandparents, have an important message for present generations.
“Over the years people have become depoliticised, particularly after the miners’ strike in 1985, and we are only now coming out of that era of defeat.”
Luft sees the commemoration of the lives of the Frows and the WCML coming to Salford as an important indicator of that recovery.
Eddie died in 1997 and Ruth passed away 11 years later. Written on the wall of the foyer of the WCML is a fitting quote from Marx which sums up their work. It goes: “The philosophers have only interpreted the world, in various ways. The point, however, is to change it.”
You can find more on the Working Class Movement Library on its website: wcml.org.uk. The event in celebration of the Frows has now sold out. But to be placed on the reserve list, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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