So many family history researchers, biographers, programme makers, journalists and historians make contact with the Communist Party to ask about our history and specific individuals who were members of the Party in the past that we have produced this page to assist enquirers.
It is not normally the practice of the Communist Party to advise others of the membership details of individual members of the Party. However, we recognise that, in the case of deceased former members who maintained an openly acknowledged membership of the Party and who may have an exemplary record of achievement in a range of spheres of activity that an account of their lives is of value.
The convenor of the Party’s own History Group maintains his own personal website, a big part of which is devoted to short biographies of deceased Party members. Currently, more than 1,000 individual biographies are available.
Enquirers can browse this alphabetised site for themselves, using the search facility, to determine whether there is any information on an individual of interest. Exceptionally, it may be that assistance can be given regarding an individual for whom a biography has not yet been published here.
However, the Communist Party did not historically ever maintain a central database of members’ details and those lists which were maintained at a regional level were usually destroyed locally in the adjacent contemporary years to their being complied, as the annual card renewal system proceeded. We know of no publicly available source that lists members of the Party for any specific year prior to the current period and our own contemporary database is naturally confidential.
It follows from this that we do not have information regarding individual members from our Party’s history. It is not generally appreciated just how difficult such a task would have been prior to the modern era of technology. It is estimated that a minimum of some 400,000 individuals during the entire course of the history of the Party were members at some point in time.
There is, however, a great deal of interest in the history of the Communist Party and the many talented individuals who have been associated with it over the period of the 20th century. In consequence, a great many publicly available archives can be accessed and some of this material may even be found on the Internet.
Much of the Communist Party’s own archives can be found in the Peoples’ History Museum; this is known as the Communist Party of Great Britain [CPGB] Collection, the name for the Communist Party from 1920 to 1988. Papers available for public scrutiny include:
- The personal papers of many leading individuals, including Palme Dutt, Harry Pollitt, Wal Hannington, Willie Gallacher and Tom Mann
- Political Bureau minutes (1924-1925)
- Political Committee minutes (1946-1991)
- Executive Committee minutes and papers (1943-1991)
- National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM)
- London District Congress
- Journals and pamphlets
- Microfilms from Moscow (1920s-1930s)
The Museum will probably not be able to answer individual queries, other than regarding its sources, but researchers might find a visit to check the individual files for references to persons you are interested in really helpful; but be warned – it will be a very time consuming business. More information about the sort of material in the collection is available on the web:
A lot of the materials contained within the archive have now been put online by Microform Academic publishers. Although this is primarily for academic use and it is being built on an ongoing basis it may prove to be useful in your search.
The Working Class Movement Library is a major source of information on trade unions, the Communist Party and other progressive organisations. It does however, have a very strong bias towards the north-west of England. Of particular interest to family historians is the fact that there is a web-accessible archive of biographical information.
The list covers activists mostly from NW England, for whom WCML have some information. The amount varies from a tiny mention to several boxes of personal papers but most names are covered by a single line of reference to the Party committees served on, or offices held. WMCL is, however, particularly prepared to do their best to find time to answer queries. Again, a personal visit to the library will be worth considering.
WMCL also provide on their site an extensive list of useful links to archives and labour movement related sites, for example the Modern Records Centre, based at Warwick University, which possesses large archives of minutes and documents of labour movement organisations, and the William Gallacher Memorial Library, founded as a tribute to the life and work of a Communist MP. The library has an extensive collection of books and pamphlets.
Additionally the Marx Memorial library hosts the archives for both the Daily Worker/Morning Star and the British battalion of the International Brigades that fought in the Spanish civil war. If you are looking for information about British and Irish volunteers in the International Brigades it would be worthwhile contacting the International Brigades Memorial Trust for more information.
If you’re looking for copies of party pamphlets, publications and other materials then the British Library has a pretty comprehensive selection. We also have an ever expanding historic archive of Party publications stored at Party Centre which we are in the process of digitising in order to make them freely available on the web.