Today, 15 December 2015, Comrade Isabel Crook, Honorary President of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist) (CPGB-ML) celebrates her 100th birthday.
On this occasion, our entire party, along with Red Youth, extends its warmest best wishes and militant greetings, offering a heartfelt Red Salute to this outstanding communist, veteran proletarian revolutionary and not simply a friend of the Chinese people, but a staunch soldier of the Chinese revolution. Happy birthday to you, our dear Comrade Isabel!
Isabel Brown was born on 15 December 1915 in China’s Sichuan province, the daughter of Canadian missionaries, and grew up in China. In the 1930s, she went to Canada to continue her education, and obtained a master’s degree in 1938.
She returned to Sichuan and went to the village of Xinglong to conduct anthropological research work. There she met David Crook, the man who was to become her lifelong companion until his death in 2000 at the age of 90.
Speaking of Xinglong many decades later, Isabel said: “I love the place, mainly because I met a real communist here (referring to David), who helped me to know the society and the significance of the Chinese revolution.”
Comrade David Crook was a member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) who had fought fascism in Spain in the ranks of the International Brigade. Whilst there, he was able to read Edgar Snow’s classic account of the Chinese revolution, Red Star Over China, and immediately saw the connection between the anti-fascist struggle in Spain and China’s fight against Japanese aggression.
In 1938, David was recruited to work directly for the Communist International and was sent to do important revolutionary work in Shanghai. Returning to London, David and Isabel were married in 1942, and Isabel, too, became a member of the CPGB.
Isabel was active as a party member, organising her fellow workers in the factory where she worked in the Finsbury Park area of north London. After the war, she and David opposed the revisionist trends that were beginning to emerge in the party – for example, the tendency to downplay organising at the place of work in favour of a primarily electoral strategy.
In 1947, the Crooks returned to China. Armed with a letter of introduction from the CPGB to the Communist Party of China (CPC), they evaded the blockade imposed by the reactionary Kuomintang government to reach the communist-led liberated areas of north China.
They settled in the village of Shilidian (Ten Mile Inn), and in one year completed their initial book reporting on the land reform being undertaken by the peasants under the CPC’s leadership. The Crooks not only engaged in research and writing, they shared the lives of the local people and joined fully in revolutionary work and political study together with CPC comrades.
They wrote Ten Mile Inn partly in the hope that it might also help the people of other poor countries such as India to make revolution – and it has, in fact, become a handbook of experience and technique for agricultural workers struggling to bring socialist organisation to their own countries.
David and Isabel had intended to stay in China for one year. However, CPC leaders, pointing out to them that the founding of the People’s Republic of China was not far away, and that the New China would urgently need to train a cadre of English-speaking officials for diplomatic and other work, asked them to stay on. They did so, and China has remained their home for the rest of their lives.
They became teachers at the Nanhaishan Foreign Affairs School in June 1948 and, together with their colleagues and students, entered Beijing with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) when the city was liberated. Once in Beijing, they helped establish what became the Beijing Foreign Studies University, on whose campus Isabel still lives.
In 1960, they planned to return to live in Britain, as David had been offered a professorship at Leeds University. However, at that time, China was going through a difficult economic period, which was then compounded by the actions of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who unilaterally ended Soviet aid to China and withdrew all the USSR’s experts from the country.
When they learned of the treachery of the Khrushchevite revisionists, David and Isabel resolved that they could not possibly leave China at that time. In fact, during the years of hardship, they insisted on their own salaries being cut in order to share weal and woe with their comrades and the Chinese people as a whole.
Likewise, the Crooks’ faith in communism and in the Chinese revolution was not swayed in the slightest when they were subject to false charges during the Cultural Revolution.
At the age of 100, Comrade Isabel Crook continues to have full confidence in humanity’s bright communist future. She follows events in China and in the wider world, not only through books, newspapers and television, but also through internet and email.
She displays the same great sense of responsibility in her work as she has done throughout her life. In 2013, her book Prosperity’s Predicament Identity, Reform, and Resistance in Rural Wartime China, on which she had worked intermittently for decades, was published. Each Chinese New Year, she is one of a select group of foreign experts who are invited to meet the Chinese premier and to offer opinions and advice.
Through her long and rich revolutionary life, Comrade Isabel has learned the truth of the Chinese maxim, “The future is bright, the road is tortuous.” In June 1949, a few months after the Crooks had arrived in Beijing with the liberating communist forces, Comrade Mao Zedong gave a speech at an event celebrating the party’s 28th birthday. Much to the surprise of many, he declared that “the victory is just the first step of a long march of 10,000 miles”, and added, “building socialism will take a long time”.
Looking back on this a few years ago, Isabel commented: “David and I both thought Chairman Mao was too modest in saying that, but now I see he is right. Ninety years have passed since the founding of the party, and the long march is not ended yet. There are still a lot of things that need to be done.”
Having joined the CPGB-ML, Comrade Isabel was unanimously elected as our Honorary President at our 2012 congress.
In the book, David and Isabel Crook in China (published in China in 1995), Hua Guodong, who was taught by David and Isabel after fighting in the ranks of the Chinese People’s Volunteers during the Korean War, wrote as follows:
“David and Isabel have lived and taught in China … sharing the common fate with the Chinese people. They have never showed any regret or made any complaint. They have won our tribute and admiration by setting brilliant examples to us.
“No other words than those written by Mao Zedong in his article In Memory of Norman Bethune can be a better comment on David and Isabel’s devotion to English teaching in China:
“What kind of spirit is this that makes a foreigner selflessly adopt the cause of the Chinese people’s liberation as his own? It is the spirit of internationalism, the spirit of communism, from which every Chinese communist must learn.
“Yes, I have learned from them not only English, but the revolutionary spirit as well.”
Long live Comrade Isabel Crook!
Watch a short interview with Comrade Isabel, filmed for China Daily in 2011.