My father Barry Amiel and his friend Norman Melburn were two ordinary men. The fact that there is a Trust in their names is a tribute to them and their combined one hundred years of political activity. It also befits the Trust’s prime objective of sharing a Marxian understanding of the world with ordinary men and women everywhere, as a prerequisite for changing it.
Both sons of Jewish shopkeepers in London’s East End, Barry and Norman were – like many thousands of others – brought to Marxism and communism by the extraordinary events of the 1930s and ’40s: the rise of fascism; its thwarting on the streets of London; its triumph in the Spanish Civil War; and its eventual overthrow worldwide in 1945. By the outbreak of the Second World War, both – still in their teens – were active in the anti-fascist movement, and their interest in learning about Marxism and sharing that learning with others continued throughout the war (to the point where Barry, as a ‘known agitator’, was denied promotion).
The two men, nodding acquaintances at school, became comrades and firm friends when they returned from the war and became active in the Communist Party, whilst pursuing their professional careers (Barry as a lawyer, Norman as a chartered surveyor). Their political education continued: on people’s doorsteps and at factory gates; in Communist Party meetings and classes; and through the many publications that poured out from political organisations of the day, the Left Book Club and so on. Although remaining loyal to their core beliefs and political affiliations, both Barry and Norman continued to read widely throughout their adult lives, questioning political orthodoxies and embracing new ideas, engaging enthusiastically with younger people of the left at events like the Communist University.
It was in this spirit that Norman conceived of the Trust in the late 1970s, initially intending with Barry’s legal help to create a bricks and mortar residential college. When Barry died prematurely in 1978, the work to create the Trust, now named for him, continued.
Of course this was before the World Wide Web had been thought of, and Norman himself died before the idea of his college as a virtual web-based one could become a reality. Now that it is, both men would have been thrilled that the ideas that were so important to them can now be shared and developed more widely than they could ever have dreamed.
Stephen Amiel, 2004