Cook Dave

Dave Cook

Born the eldest son to his family in Warrington in 1941, Cook’s father was a civil engineer. They settled in Solihull, where he attended grammar school, standing as a Communist in a mock election and, to the shock and horror of the school authorities, actually gaining seven votes!  

He gained a life-long love of rock climbing during this period, at which he was especially skilled; taking some new route to the top of a climb, by convention, enabled him to provide a name for it and he `collected’ many such climbs named after progressive persons or events.  

Cook read history at St Catherine’s college, Cambridge, where he joined the Communist Party. Afterwards, he moved to Leeds to become a teacher. From the mid-1960s, Cook was the leader of the Young Communist League in Leeds, later becoming the Yorkshire District Secretary of the YCL. A leading light of the YCL at national level, some four or five years after he had left its national leadership, he was appointed the Communist Party’s National Students Organiser and moved to London.

Dave Cook then became National Organiser of the Communist Party in 1975, a significant role. As such, he became heavily identified with promoting those who challenged the very basis of the Party’s approach to theory and practice and who would lead a revisionist onslaught against the Party in the coming years. At the 1979 Communist Party Congress, it was Cook himself who led the then defeated charge of the revisionists against the conception of democratic centralism by focusing on the recommended list system for the election of leadership, which prized balance, by not engaging in debate but simply reading a long list of alternative names to vote for.

As an aside, it is worth noting that the recommended list system – often derided by right and left critics as seeking to extinguish opposition presumes that having a minority viewpoint is not in itself a basis to be excluded from positions of leadership. It is the repeated failure to fight for majority decisions, once decided upon, that is such a basis.

Ironically, it had also been Cook who had led the outrage at similar, if not exact and more covert, behaviour to his own adopted by Marxist dogmatists in 1971, during the Young Communist League national congress. An alternative list or slate for leadership elections had been revealed by Dave Cook. This was described as “a violation of rule”, despite the fact that the constitution did not specifically prohibit such a list, nor did the Congress Standing Orders deal with the possibility.

Somewhat damaged by the 1979 revisionist challenge within the Party, and living in Brixton for most of his later life, Cook was preoccupied with work for the Campaign Against Racist Laws for a long period from 1981. He, however, supported the broad thrust of the revisionist takeover and subsequent destruction of the Communist Party of Great Britain throughout this period.

In 1992, he was a founding member of the Green Socialist Network, which came out of Democratic Left, the tiny rump body established by the last CPGB General Secretary, Nina Temple. Before DL itself faded away, some, Cook included as a leading exponent of this approach, founded GSN, which sought to link socialism with environmental sustainability, seeing both aspects as being essential.

An avid traveller, Dave Cook was tragically died at the age of 51 after a traffic accident in Turkey in 1993 led to complications of pneumonia during his intensive care. Jerry Lee Lewis’ `You are my sunshine’ was played at his funeral.

Long after Cook’s death, his GSN merged in 2003 with the Leeds-based Left Alliance of former Labour Party leftists, along with some independent Greens to form the Alliance for Green Socialism (AGS).

A larger than life character, often seen as being an attractive and friendly person to socialise with, Cook was also a life-long devotee of obscure American music, such as blues and rockabilly, and kept up links with Shakin’ Stevens even after his 1980s breakthrough. Their friendship dated from the 1960 when Michael Barrett (the star’s real name) was a YCL member.

Dave Cook is also one of the main characters in Alison Fell’s novel, `Tricks of the Light’, published in 2003 but seemingly largely drafted some years earlier. In the early 1970s, Fell had been involved with various women’s groups, including Red Rag – ostensibly associated intermittently with Communist women’s groups but entirely independent of the Party. Her novel is described by her publisher as “a powerful portrayal of love in middle age”. It may therefore be assumed that, to an extent, the description of a Cook-like character represents an actual relationship.

The basic plot of the book deals with an artist and theatre designer, now in her 50s, who spends Christmas in the Alps working on a commission and trying to resolve her love life. Intercut with this is a description of a man with whom Broom once had an affair, and who now must face his own past.

Cook’s personal life has been described by one friendly obituarist thus: “From early days he had espoused the sexual-liberation ideas of Henry Millar and wrestled with the conundrums thrown up by such a position, through marriage, separation, and a series of subsequent challenging relationships.” Miller, it will be recalled was a famous novelist who had broken barriers in his description of the sex act. Feminist criticism of Miller has focused on his depiction of female characters, portrayed from a male perspective that displays western neuroses, if expressing these honestly.

Sources: `Graham Stevenson, `Anatomy of Decline – a history of the YCL from the late 1960s’ and personal knowledge; Climbers Club Journal 1992; Miscellaneous other sources; 

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