18 August 2010


The death last week of Andrew Roth at the age of 91 marks the end of several eras. After Michael Foot died earlier this year, Roth was the last surviving author of the Left Book Club (his Dilemma in Japan came out in 1946, two years before the demise of the club); and he had for several years been the sole survivor of the small band of American leftists who sought refuge in the UK from the red scare of the early post-war years that is now generally known as “McCarthyism”.

In Britain he established himself as a journalist in an unprecedented role, setting himself up freelance (after spells on various newspapers) as compiler and editor of Parliamentary Profiles, a more-or-less-regularly updated précis of his increasingly exhaustive files on every single MP in the country, published in multiple volumes as and when funds permitted, that became a bible for every political journalist in Westminster. Without his efforts, there would be none of the scrutiny of our representatives that we now take for granted.

I worked with Andy on the New Statesman in the 1990s and fed him material for Profiles – and he reciprocated by allowing me to use his archive for free. That would have been a decent deal in itself, but he added value with his conversation. He had been a Communist Party member (or at least a fellow traveller) in the late 1930s at City College in New York, and he retained a sharp eye for minute but telling ideological differences on the left well into his 80s.

He couldn’t really avoid the communist connection: as a US intelligence officer in 1945 he had been arrested for leaking state department material that appeared in an obscure communist-sympathetic magazine, Amerasia, and the case rolled on high-profile for five years before he upped and left America. The red-scare line was that he was a Soviet spook. He said, and I believe it, that he was just a popular-frontist with an area of expertise who worked with fellow free spirits and a few useful idiots. But he could never have been a Trotskyist, he insisted, and the Mensheviks were just irrelevant…

He was very good company and very rude about his enemies. Raise a glass.

  • Ian Aitken has an obituary here.

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