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Jack & Marie Shapiro
The Shapiros began their youthful political activity in the mainstream Communist movement but diverged into supporting other Marxist tendencies for much of the second half of their life.
Born in 1916 into a Jewish family in the East End of London, Jack Shapiro joined the Young Communist League as a teenager. Like many of his contemporaries, his early political life was marked by struggle against anti-semitism and the rise of fascism. This took the form, initially, of membership of the Jewish Workers’ Circle and then, later, of the Communist Party.
Shapiro found the Jewish Workers’ Circle “full of a vast variety of militants fresh out of the revolutionary parties in their own countries [whose] militancy and keenness to keep the struggle alive was an important inspiration to young people such as myself.” [Glynn] Although many members of the Circle would have described themselves as internationalists, they appear not to have discussed opening membership to non-Jewish workers. Shapiro explains that this was because “it was taken for granted that there was a separation between Jews and non-Jews in Stepney. It was taken for granted that you shopped in a Jewish shop…” No doubt, joining the YCL and then the Party enabled Shapiro engage in a much wider struggle.
For he was also active in the rent struggles of that period sometimes erecting barricades to prevent landlords evicting hard pressed tenants. Shapiro assisted with rescuing Jewish children from Europe and, in the war, in the taking over of bomb shelters in London's Savoy Hotel to highlight the poor provision for the less well off.
Marie was born in London on 11 December 1913 but her parents moved back to Poland, where they had originally come from, in 1914. At the age of 15, she joined the Polish Young Communist League and soon after that the Communist Party of Poland.
This nation was then under the fascistic rule of Pilsudski and the Party had to work underground in conditions of total illegality. As a teenager, Marie served a prison sentence of nine months for distributing the Party’s May Day leaflets. After her release, her parents were able to obtain a British passport for her and she was deported from Poland.
Arriving in Britainin 1932, Marie joined the British Communist Party and obtained work as a seamstress in London’s east end. She recruited young women workers to the Tailor and Garment Workers Unionand also to the Party and YCL. One year after her arrival in London, Marie met Jack Shapiro, in a Communist bookshop in London. They were soon married and the long marriage was based on being the closest of comrades and friends.
Like Jack, Marie was active in many of the key struggles of the period. With the founding of the People’s Republic of Poland after the Second World War, she went to work in the Polish Embassy in London, helping to reunite and support families who had been divided by war.
It is said that “from the first”, Jack Shapiro opposed the 1950 British Road to Socialism, “both for its parliamentary cretinism and abandonment of the dictatorship of the proletariat as well as its betrayal of the peoples fighting British imperialism for their complete freedom”.
Like his brother Michael Shapiro, who worked in China from 1949, Jack Shapiro strongly supported the leadership of the Communist Party of China, and Mao Zedong, in what was thought by them to be an international fight against `modern revisionism’. This led him in the early 1960s to join the political trends associated with such approach.
Apart from his directly political work Jack was heavily involved with the Royal National Institute for the Deaf and in promoting the interests of the disabled in China. When the British establishment offered him an Order of the British Empire, he rejected it on the grounds that he spent his life fighting to overthrow the British Empire.
Jack Shapiro supported the foundation of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and was its Honorary President when he died on 29th January 2010 at the age of 93.
On 19 January 2008, Marie Shapiro accepted honorary membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) and she died later that year, just a couple of days before what would have been her 95th birthday.
Sources: Institute of Geography Online Paper Series: GEO-019, “Marxism and Multiculturalism” by Sarah Glynn; CPGB-ML statement 1st February 2010; http://www.lalkar.org/issues/contents/jan2009/obituaries.html
Michael Shapiro was born in East London and won a scholarship, which enabled him to take a B.Sc. (Econ) degree at
As Secretary of the Stepney Tenants Defence League from 1936, he worked closely with Tubby Rosen and Father John Groser of St Michael's Church,
One and one of the twelve Communist councillors elected in Stepney after the war, he was mentioned personally in Piratin’s `Our Flag Stays Red’.
See left for picture of Shapiro shortly after his election as a Communist councillor.
In 1950, at the invitation of the Communist Party of China, Michael went to China to work for the Xinhua News Agency to help with the translation journalistic work. He worked there for many years on the English translations of Mao's works and as Daily Worker correspondent. It is likely, given his association with Alan Winnington, that Shapiro was sent by the British Party to assist the new China.
As a war correspondent on the `wrong’ side in the Korean War, he found himself in circumstances whereby he could not return to Britain and he ended up marrying locally and dying in China in 1986. His wife was Liu Jinghe, a prominent member of the Party in China and a respected psychologist.
Shapiro was strongly in disagreement with the British Party’s position on China in the years of breach between the parties for the rest of his life. Similarly, his brother Jack Shapiro was a noted British Maoist.
Michael Shapiro spent a total of 36 years copy-editing English stories and doing translation for the Department of Home News for Overseas Service of Xinhua. A prize in his memory for journalistic excellence has been established.