Martin Jacques interviewed by Alan Macfarlane 20th September 2011

0:05:07 Born in 1945 in Coventry; father worked at Armstrong Siddeley, an aircraft factory; he was in charge of the research library; mother was a mathematician who worked in the stress department of the same company, and that was how they met; she became a full-time mother to me and my sister who is two years younger; when my father was sacked from Armstrong Siddeley, she became a full-time teacher; my father was a member of the Communist Party and companies in receipt of Marshall Aid were not allowed to employ party members in white-collar jobs; my mother's father was an accountant and became chief accountant at Humbers; her mother's maiden name was Sankey, from a West Midlands commercial family; my paternal grandfather was the manager of a Co-op store in Nuneaton; my grandmother's maiden name was Jones and she came from the South Wales valleys where her father was in the colliery managers' union; I was close to both my parents; my mother was quite unusual for Coventry as she was a maths graduate from the 1930s, from Royal Holloway; she was a kind, thoughtful person, and too selfless; though educated, she wasn't very articulate; my father retrained as a teacher in London for a year when my mother became a Primary School teacher; she later taught at a Grammar School; my memory of her is shaped by her illness; she probably had a heart attack when about thirty-nine, though it wasn't diagnosed until much later; this affected her energy levels and blighted her life; I was very close to her and we had a sort of telepathic communication; both my parents were interested in politics and my father was very interested in history; he never went to university; he was also very interested in the Second World War and read a lot about it; as he had been working in an aircraft factory he was not personally involved in it; both my parents stayed in the Communist Party and that clearly affected me; there was a lot of political discussion at home but they never put pressure on me; however it did affect me as in my teens I got involved with CND and later joined the Communist Party; they were not doctrinaire people for their time; from my mother I got my sense of values, personal morality, what mattered in life, appreciating other people, not putting yourself first, and from both parents, particularly my father, I got a passion for politics; from my mother I got an ability to think laterally, to think for myself

8:54:00 On first memories, I do remember being in the front garden of our little semi-detached 1930s house, lying in my pram; my first really scorching memory was of my mum and dad having a fight; it was the only time I ever saw this and I must have been three or four, probably when my father was retraining in London, which he hated; they had a typical relationship of that time with a powerful division of labour, but they were inseparable; I went to Radford Primary School after a term at a school called Fletchamstead; when my father had to retrain and my mother needed to work, my mother's sister had just been appointed headmistress at Radford and could offer her a job; my sister was too young to go to school and there were no nursery provisions at that time, so she had to hang around the school with my mother; I was at Radford from five until eleven; bringing up my son now, I think I had great expanses of time then that he doesn't have; I wasn't interested in reading and didn't start until I was seven; I did so then because I had become an avid follower of motor racing; I remember writing to Stirling Moss, my hero at the time, and he replied; this started a long correspondence until I gave it up in my early teens; I wanted to read the motor racing magazine so that is how I learnt to read; they took me to the motor racing Grand Prix in 1954 and there met Stirling Moss; I was passionate about it, so it was the biggest thing in my life; I also liked playing football but there wasn't much sport on offer in those days; we did not play cricket in the summer at primary school; I was too young then to be interested in politics then

14:31:03 I did 11+ and there were two direct grant Grammar Schools in Coventry; I went to King Henry VIII at the age of eleven and loved it; my father told my wife, Hari, that as soon as I went to the Grammar School, I would disappear upstairs as soon as I came home to do my homework and would not reappear until it was done; they never had to tell me to work as it was my priority; I loved the school, the work, and was good at lots of different subjects; for a long time my best subject was maths, but also I was good at history and geography, though not at languages apart from Latin; I remember being sorted into streams for subjects in the playground when I first arrived; I was horrified to be put into the fourth stream and thought it was a big mistake, and by the end of that year had become one of the top kids in the school; I remember this having a motivating effect on me; I did double maths and physics at A level; during the course of my teens I changed a lot; I became aware of the world, society, of all those sorts of questions, and began to define myself as left-wing; this began to eat into my interest in maths so after my A levels I didn't want to do it at university; I decided to stay on at school for an extra year to do history and economics; however, there was very little teaching available so I organized myself and the papers I would take; I had a little teaching in economics, but history I taught myself; it was a brilliant year as I loved it far more than maths by then; I got a place at Cambridge but decided I didn't want to go there because I wasn't sure I could cope with Cambridge, though I came for an interview at Corpus; we lived in Coventry which was a very proletarian city, dominated by large factories with the culture that went with it; it was not an interesting city; there was no real middle-class then in Coventry so it was quite a philistine environment; later there was one theatre - The Belgrade; coming to somewhere like Cambridge for the interview made me feel uncomfortable; I had had no exposure to private schools as my direct grant school was nearly all 11+ passers; I went for an interview at Manchester, which I liked as I had never been to one of the great northern cities; I went there to read economics

21:02:19 I have memories of lots of my teachers  at school but there was no one who really changed my life; I had a great time at Manchester, I enjoyed the city, I was very academically committed and hugely politically committed; I learnt a lot as it was an interesting period to be a student - 1964-66, not so much, but after that was an exceptional period; I was active in the Student Union and joined the Communist Party; one of the conflicts in my mind was whether to stand for President of the Union; I never did because of the pressure of the job; as time went on I became more committed to the politics of the Left, on Vietnam, anti-apartheid, lots of things; in my academic work I started in economics, and then I drifted into economic history; in my third year my specialist area was the inter-war period; I was very active in the student movement and well-known, in national newspapers - there was the formation of the Radical Student Alliance; someone phoned me from the Daily Telegraph suggesting that the stereotype of revolting students doing no work was not true, and that many were good scholars; I agreed with him and when he asked what mark I would get in my finals I told him, a first; this appeared in the paper and I thought that I must therefore get a first; I cut myself adrift from all other activities in March as I knew I had not done enough work, and organised a monastic regime, partly in Manchester, partly in Coventry; I did get my first; in those days there were only four firsts for 250 students in the faculty of economics

26:59:00 In 1956 I was too young to have had doubts about communism; I do remember seeing the news about Hungary, seeing bodies in the streets of Budapest, asking my dad what it was about but I can't remember what he said; subsequent to that I remember the Krushchev speech vaguely; it would have made a huge impact if I had been older; I remember later some kind of speech given by Togliatti who what then the General Secretary of the Italian Communist Party which was asking much bigger questions about what was going on; I remember my dad was very interested in that, and he showed me it; it is an interesting question because by the time I went to university and really began to think, 1956 is a strange blank for me; it is bizarre, because it had been so defining for many intellectuals and many had left the Party, while those that stayed agonised over it; the great defining moment for me was 1968 and the invasion of Czechoslovakia

30:42:16 I was never in any of the university teams, but I played football and lots of tennis; I had become good at tennis in my secondary school and represented the school; we won the Coventry Championship and that sort of thing; I was involved in sport recreationally; I used to go to the theatre and to the Halle Orchestra concerts from time to time; I remember seeing Joan Littlewood's 'Oh! What a Lovely War'; as a teenager I was a bit behind the curve so Elvis Presley passed me by, but not my sister; at that time neither girls nor clothes interested me much, but by the time the Beatles arrived I was interested in pop music; Manchester University was a very big centre for lots of groups; the guy who ran things then was Chris Wright, later behind Chrysalis etc.; that was part of breathing the air really; religion was never an issue; my parents were atheists though I never remember them trying to push us that way; I used to go to school assembly, sing the hymns, say the prayers, but I hardly ever went to church; I regret it, looking back, because religion is not just about belief but about custom, ritual, which are so important; I think that if I had had more exposure to that I would have understood it better; subsequently, because I was never engaged with it I tended to not think about it intellectually, and that was my loss; when Hari, my wife, died and I couldn't cope with the situation at all, I realised that if I had been religious that might have helped me

35:41:02 After my degree I did a Masters on the nature and role of state intervention in Britain between 1900 and 1945; by the end I was fed up with Manchester and knew I had made a mistake by doing the Masters; my then girlfriend's tutor had been at Cambridge for a PhD and he suggested I go to Cambridge, so I did; I can't think of any exceptional lecturers at Manchester; there was a strong economics tradition - Challoner was my tutor in my third year; by then I was aware of the debate - Hobsbawm and the standard of living question in the first half of the nineteenth-century - Challoner defined himself as being very much on the right, but Bill absolutely loved me and we got on well; intellectually he was not very inspiring but he was a very nice man; had been teaching the inter-war period for eighteen years and he said to me that I was the first first he'd had in all those years; I don't think I had any lecturers in that period who inspired me; there were people who I read, like Hobsbawm, but I didn't really know him except as a name

40:12:20 I came to Cambridge, to King's College because of its left-wing tradition; I made a mistake when I came as I had the option to live-in but I didn't; the first year was not easy because I had never taken a break in my higher education, and I was exhausted as I had been doing both academic and political work; I needed to think of things from a different angle, to be less on a treadmill; another factor which increased this problem was that I married my Manchester girlfriend at the end of my first year, and she was still in Manchester; I didn't really settle in my first term and resented the Cambridge mentality that this was the centre of the world; as the time went by I really enjoyed myself here; this was what I never got at Manchester; I did a good PhD, but what I really got from Cambridge was the stimulation of lots of very bright people, conversations that I had never had before, subjects that I thought I knew that were explored in quite new ways, and this was very good for me; by 1968 the Left had exploded though it had started in 1967, and the new kind of atmosphere was intellectually and politically very stimulating; what I got from Cambridge was not so much my PhD but this tremendous intellectual stimulation; this period from 1967, before I left Manchester, to 1971 when I left Cambridge, was my formation in a way; Leach was Provost then but I didn't encounter him; the Senior Tutor was Ken Pollack and the Graduate Tutor was Bob Young; Geoffrey Lloyd followed Ken Pollack and I got on very well with him; he was one of the people I thought I would miss when I left King's; I became very good friends with Bob Rowthorn in that period, he was probably my closest friend; he was a Fellow by then and a lecturer in economics; Paul Ginsborg, an Italian historian, Brian Pollock was working on Cuba, John Dunn, and Martin Bernal were here; my first academic job was in Bristol after Cambridge, and I did invite Martin Bernal down; he gave two talks, one on Vietnam which I thought was fascinating, but a capsule as it didn't inform what I was interested in

46:59:01 My big political change came in 1967-8; I rose very rapidly to a high position in the Communist Party and became a member of its Executive Committee, probably the youngest member ever at about twenty-two, and I was much too young for that situation; I felt very uncomfortable there and out of place but stayed; it coincided with this huge political change; I rethought lots of things I had thought previously; it was when I came into contact with Gramsci's ideas;  in so far as any Marxist thinker shaped me, it was Gramsci, not Marx; if there was anyone who had shaped Marxism Today it would be, in broad terms, some of his ideas - the notion of hegemony and so on; I watched with great interest from the end of 1967 to beginning of 1968 what was happening in Czechoslovakia; the Action Programme was published in January, I became a very strong advocate of what was happening in Czechoslovakia, I went to Prague in August, and when the Soviet tanks invaded it was for me.....I don't know why I stayed in the Communist Party, except that at that point the British Communist Party opposed the intervention; if it hadn't, that would have been the end for me, but I felt they had opposed it on the weakest grounds, so various factors unleashed me on a very independent-minded trajectory, and I really grew up; I was working out my world view in that period, and Cambridge was a very important crucible for that; Vietnam was easily the most important issue around then, I think it was the biggest single issue that radicalized students apart from much broader cultural contexts which were clearly very much at work; looking back at that period now, the libertarian rather than the left trend was stronger, and that wasn't a function so much of Vietnam; the feeling on Vietnam was so strong; when I was at Manchester in 1967-68 there seemed to be a march every weekend; we organized a big teach-in and were generally very active on the Vietnam issue; I think that what Vietnam did if you were on the left was to make you anti-pathetic to the United States, and fed a certain kind of anti-Americanism; I had not been to the States then, though I wish I had; I have been there many times since, particularly in the last few years, and really enjoy going there now, and to appreciate Americans, which isn't the same as liking America; I think the outlook for America is going to be extremely difficult, and that it is now in decline; Americans by and large, though they are debating it, are just at the beginning of this process; it will be very painful for America and I don't know how it is going to respond to this; Britain found it difficult; my life has been bounded by British decline, and I think we found it very difficult and still, in some ways, can't bear it

56:05:03 Went to teach economic history at Bristol and stayed there for six years; after Cambridge I found Bristol very sleepy and boring; I have always been a pro-active person so I tried to do something about it in my own way; one of my skills had always been as a socially inventive sort of person; for example, the campaign here after the Garden House affair and the formation of the Cambridge Students' Union - I was the guy who masterminded it; the big Peoples' March for Jobs was my thing, I loved doing things like that; I did it with Marxism Today later; I enjoyed thinking about how to do things and got a great deal of stimulation from it; at Bristol I got a Left Staff group going and there was a Critical Seminar for students and staff, but somewhere in my mind I had decided I wasn't going to stay an academic; whether I had actually consciously reached that decision, or at what point I reached it, I was not committed to being an academic; I was not involved with leftish journalism at that stage; in Cambridge one of the things I was not involved in was the Shilling Paper, at Manchester never involved with the student newspaper, I had no interest whatsoever in journalism; I was by now active in the Communist Party with a serious political following which was Euro-Communism; by now I was a sort of power broker, they were rewriting the programme and I became a key figure in that though it was very fractious, then I was asked to edit Marxism Today which had started in 1957; I had never thought of doing something like that and it did not appeal to me; what did appeal was that it was a potentially reformable organization which could have a different path formed by my Gramscian thoughts, so after much agonizing I accepted; part of the agonizing was that people didn't leave academic jobs lightly and I feared I would never be able to get back again, so felt I was burning my boats; also I was taking a colossal drop in salary