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The Last English Revolutionary: Tom Wintringham, 1898-1949, by Hugh Purcell & Phyll Smith

Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press/Portland: ISBS, 2012. Pp. xx, 289. Illus., append., notes, index. $39.95 paper. ISBN: 1845194489.

A revised and expanded edition of the standard Tom Wintringham was one of the more interesting minor characters of the Twentieth Century, who might be better known but for the hostility of both left and right, he having by turns managed to offend both.

Originally published in 2004, The Last English Revolutionary tells how Wintringham, a man of comfortable middle class origins, was early attracted to progressive and even radical causes.  He did his bit during World War I, became an early member of the British Communist Party, and lived a complex life as party organizer and propagandist, journalist, military analyst, and inveterate womanizer.  Arguably, Wintringham played an important role in creating the International Brigades during the Spanish Civil War, and he led the British Battalion for a time , doing badly, but about as well as could be expected given the circumstances.  He had an important role in the formation of Britain’s Home Guard during World War II, writing manuals on close combat and guerrilla warfare, and post war, having long broken with the Communists (though he could never bring himself to directly confront their criminal actions), helped found a short-lived leftist party.  In the course of his active life Wintringham hobnobbed with such luminaries as Lenin and Churchill, by some accounts managed to offend Stalin, and churned out a number of books, scores of newspaper and journal articles, and a surprising amount of sometimes excellent poetry. 

The Last English Revolutionary will prove a good read for anyone interested in British radicalism, the Spanish Civil War, leadership in battle, and the improvisation of armies.

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Reviewer: A. A. Nofi   


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