Writer George still fighting his war at 90

The Black Country’s best known communist is nearly 90. Peter Rhodes chats to George Barnsby.

georgebarnsbyThe Black Country’s best known communist is nearly 90. Peter Rhodes chats to George Barnsby.

He was a skinny little lad kicking a football in a London park. A passer-by suddenly shouted “Arsenal!”

“It must have been because I was wearing a red shirt,” recalls George Barnsby. From that moment eighty-odd years ago he was an Arsenal fan.

When he was 14, he recalls with a chuckle, he was spotted playing by someone who asked if he’d like to be a member of the Arsenal staff.

“Well, who wouldn’t be? I turned up for the job and I was shown through the wonderful marbled halls of Arsenal and out on to that magnificent pitch. Then they gave me these two blocks of wood. My job was to bang them together and scare off the birds.”

The footballing side of George Barnsby tells us much about the thought processes of the writer, academic, campaigner and lifelong communist.

Once George Barnsby does something, whether in sport, politics, moving to the Black Country (“we never intended to stay”) or marrying his beloved Esme (they have been together since 1948), he does it for life.

A chance remark drew him into Arsenal. A growing horror of fascism drew him, in the 1930s, into the Communist Party.

There was nothing unusual in that. Communism was a fashionable cause. But when thousands of others were horrified by Soviet repression and deserted the party in the Cold War 1950s, George Barnsby, by then a veteran of the bloody Burma Campaign and a graduate teacher, clung to the creed of Karl Marx.

It is a faith, he admits in the book-packed study of his comfortable Tettenhall home, which has contradictions. He is passionately anti-war and yet equally passionate that the Spanish Civil War and his own war against Imperial Japan was justified.

On the one hand he despises the Soviet dictator Stalin for destroying true Marxism.

“But I am also able to understand that in some respects Stalin was right. He won the bloody war, didn’t he? You can’t get away from that.”

George Barnsby left London and came to Bilston as a teacher in 1954.

“I’d never heard of Bilston but I discovered the Express & Star was the only paper willing to publish letters from the Communist Party.”

He declined to stand for council or parliament but became a political activist and PhD and was prominent in the fight against the closure of the controversial Bilston Community College. As Dr Barnsby he is a tireless letter writer, pamphleteer and author of 20 books on everything from the social history of the Black Country, to anti-fascism in the armed forces and famine in India.

Despite a stroke, he hammers away at his daily George Barnsby Blog on the internet, cheerfully defaming politicians as racists, fascists and warmongers.

His 90th birthday falls next Thursday. He will mark it with a party at Molineux which he says will be the starting point for “the first electronically convened Conference on Peace and Multiculturalism.”

If he lasts another 10 years to see 100, George Barnsby says he hopes it will bring a world free of war. But he still lives in dread of nuclear weapons and endlessly harangues Gordon Brown for renewing Britain’s Trident submarine system.

He is surprisingly jolly for one in poor health whose political creed has been comprehensively trounced throughout the world. Yet no-one has ever accused George Barnsby of lacking self-confidence.

“I have been right on so many matters,” he says.

And although Marxism is a great love, it never dimmed his adoration for that temple to capitalism and folly we call football.

His favourite birthday present is an Arsenal shirt. It has his age on the front and “Barnsby” on the back. He’s 90 and people still listen to him.

The boy dun well.