Researching CP History

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.

The editor and author of this web-based “Compendium of Communist Biographies” positively welcomes e-mails enquiring about individuals but would welcome as much information as you can first supply when making initial contact; i.e. full name of the subject, dates of birth and death, place of birth, place where most frequently lived, main occupation, family circumstances, known Communist Party and trade union positions and activities, published works if any etc.

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.

If you need to get in touch with us to follow up on a query, to locate more specific information etc. then don't hesitate to contact the Communist Party History Group.


The formation of the Communist Party in July 1920 was considered significant not only by revolutionaries in Britain and internationally. The editorial in the Daily Herald—soon to be taken over by the Trades Union Congress—declared:

"The founding of such a party we can count emphatically a gain to the movement in the country. It is not a new split. It is indeed a fusion. But it is more than that. It is the creation of an organisation for the expression in action of a definite and existent body of revolutionary thought ... They are preparing to face the problem which too many of us are inclined temperamentally to evade—the problem of the 'how' and 'now' of the British revolution ... The strong point of the Communist Party is its steady realism."

The question of the how and now of the British revolution may seem like a more distant prospect today than it did in 1920, yet the experiences of politics in the first decade of this new century demonstrates that it is certainly no less necessary.

Throughout its history the Communist Party has sought to fulfil its role as the vanguard party of the broader working class movement, and in doing so has at various points had the entire capitalist state apparatus brought down upon it. Yet throughout its history, it has combined a propensity for building unified working class militancy in Britain with a steely commitment to internationalism.

This is not intended as a complete official history of the Communist Party. There are already four substantial volumes on the Party’s history from 1920 until 1951, written by James Klugmann and Noreen Branson. A new volume covering the next 13 years is currently being prepared by the Communist Party History Group. Nor do we shirk the responsibility to point out the Party’s weaknesses and failures during the past 90 years, as well as highlighting some of the successes. The lessons to be learnt from our rich history can be used to help shape the tactics and strategies of revolutionaries in the labour and progressive movements today.

Since the attempts to destroy the Communist Party in the 1980s and early 1990s, and against the background of counter-revolution in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, a cottage industry of historians has developed in Britain. They proclaim themselves experts in Communist Party history. But their aim is to misrepresent the record of the Party, especially since the 1950s, as having been one of almost unmitigated wrong-headedness and failure. The crucial flaw in these bourgeois, liquidationist and anti-Communist accounts—apart from them not being written from a Marxist dialectical and historical materialist perspective—has been their fundamental misunderstanding of the role and record of Communists, collectively and individually.

It is not surprising, then, that the narrative they strive to present is one of a party which is the cat's paw of the Kremlin, incapable of asserting independent political thought or activity. While they have to concede that a great many Party members are dedicated, talented and even courageous individuals, ultimately we are portrayed as naive and misguided. This is a refutation of that analysis and an assertion of the Communist Party’s invaluable role as an independent but integral part of the British labour movement. It seeks to prove that, despite difficulties, Communists in Britain have always striven to uphold the highest principles of revolutionaries.

In our view, the experiences, successes and achievements of the Marxist party of the labour movement continue to be a source of inspiration and an example to workers, socialists and revolutionaries. After the deepest capitalist crisis for sixty years, as the ruling class offensive against workers and their families intensifies, and after thirty years of almost unbroken neo-liberalism carried out by successive Tory and New Labour governments, the need to build united working class resistance in Britain is greater than ever.

It is our intention that a new generation of militant activists can draw upon the battles of the 20th century in order to win the struggle for socialism in the 21st.

1920-26: The Party of a New Type

The call from Lenin to the 'international Communists' to break from the 'social traitors' and form Communist parties found an echo across the world, including in Britain. While thousands of people were inspired by the example of the first workers’ state established by the 1917 Bolshevik revolution, the left in Britain was even more divided than it sometimes appears to be today.

Since the highpoint of militant political struggle around the Chartists in the 1830s and '40s, revolutionaries had failed to connect in any significant way to the new working class created by intense industrialisation and the supremacy of British capital. From the late 1880s and early '90s, an upsurge of militancy among the unskilled and semi-skilled workers of the 'New Unionism' had swollen the ranks of the Marxist-oriented Social Democratic Federation. The SDF carried this revolutionary tradition into the British Socialist Party in 1911.
Many workers, especially women, joined trade unions during the huge wave of strikes from 1910-13, although more working class men continued to vote Liberal rather than for the fledgling Labour Party and its more left-wing affiliate, Keir Hardie's Independent Labour Party.

But old loyalties began to shift profoundly during and immediately after the 1914-18 Great War between the main imperialist powers. Millions of workers were slaughtered in the trenches in the name of 'patriotism', empire, the rights of small nations and even 'a war to end all wars'. In reality, they had died needlessly in a predatory struggle between the capitalist ruling classes of each country. It was a case of thieves and exploiters falling out with each other, each group seeking to re-divide the world's colonial territories to their own advantage.
During the war, more and more sections of industrial workers—Yorkshire and Lancashire engineers, Clydeside munitions workers, south Wales coal miners—organised and took action to defend their rights and living standards. Most trade union and Labour Party leaders chose instead to support the war effort. In Britain as elsewhere, the majority of 'socialist' and social-democratic party leaders lined up behind their 'own' ruling class, betraying pre-war pledges by the Socialist International to oppose the warmongering governments.

But the Russian Bolsheviks showed how imperialist war and carnage could be turned into civil war and revolutionary victory. After the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, Soviet Russia withdrew from the bloodbath, only to face White counter-revolutionary terror and, soon afterwards, the intervention of 14 foreign armies including forces from Britain, the USA, Poland and Japan.

Many workers were profoundly inspired by the example of the Bolsheviks. Harry Pollitt, then working in a small workshop in Lancashire and later Communist Party general secretary, said that his first thoughts were: 'The workers have done it at last ... lads like me had whacked the bosses and the landlords, had taken their factories, their lands and their banks'.

In this spirit, socialists formed the great 'Hands Off Russia!' movement which spread through Britain to defend the world's first socialist state when twelve imperialist states invaded to, as Winston Churchill put it, “strangle the socialist baby at birth.” The movement drew together a younger generation of militant workers such as Pollitt, alongside older stalwarts like Tom Mann. The campaign received a massive boost on May 10, 1920, when London Dockers refused to coal the Jolly George, a ship loaded with arms which were bound for the Soviet Republic.

Therefore, the call for the formation of Communist parties across the globe was seized upon by militant workers, socialists and working-class organisations in Britain. After months of difficult negotiations, the first Communist Unity Convention was held in London on July 31 and August 1, 1920, attended by delegates from the British Socialist Party, the Communist Unity Group (expelled members of the Socialist Labour Party), the South Wales Communist Council and other socialist and shop stewards' organisations.

The delegates were united by deep revolutionary feelings, a profound hatred of capitalism and utter disgust at the repeated betrayal of workers' interests by corrupt reformist leaders. Yet they also had different approaches to solving the problems of the working class, reflecting their different backgrounds, experiences and group loyalties. There was complete agreement on the basic aim of establishing working class political power through Workers' Councils, with the dictatorship of the proletariat as 'the necessary means for combating the counter-revolution during the transition period between capitalism and Communism'.

But there was vigorous debate and disagreement on whether the infant Communist Party of Great Britain should participate in bourgeois elections, and on what its attitude should be to the Labour Party and the official trade union movement. The British Socialist Party had been affiliated to the Labour Party, which then more clearly fulfilled its role—proclaimed upon the party's foundation in 1906—as the parliamentary expression of the whole labour movement. Consequently, many Communist Unity Convention delegates favoured affiliation to the Labour Party as a way forward for the new Communist Party.

Other delegates expressed the contrary view, born of their own experiences, that parliamentary politics were a diversion and that the Party should concentrate on rank and file industrial struggle.

The majority of delegates supported the views of Lenin expressed at the Communist International (founded in 1919) and in his letter of greetings to the Unity Convention, where he advocated 'participation in Parliament, and affiliation to the Labour Party on condition of free and independent Communist activity'. In speeches at the Comintern congress and in talks with leading Communists such as Willie Gallacher, Sylvia Pankhurst and William Paul, Lenin rejected fears that Britain's Communists might become infected with careerist and conformist parliamentarianism, arguing that the party had to develop a new type of flexible yet incorruptible approach to parliamentary work.

It was decided by the founding convention of the CP to take part in electoral work and to affiliate to the Communist International. But delegates had not been anywhere near unanimous in their decision to seek Labour Party affiliation, which was only carried by 100 votes to 85 votes. The nature of the Communist Party’s relationship with Labour would continue to be a major issue of debate throughout the Party’s history.

In January 1921, at a conference in Leeds, Communist unity took a second major step forward when the CP merged with the Sylvia Pankhurst's Communist Party (formerly the Women's then the Workers' Socialist Federation) and the Communist Labour Party (recently established in Scotland by sections of the shop stewards movement).

The unified CP set itself the formidable task of offering leadership to the working class in what was then still the world's dominant imperialist power, presided over by the most experienced—and ruthless—ruling class. Moreover, in the world's oldest and most industrialised economy, this was a working class whose labour movement was dominated by the ideology of class collaboration.

Britain's Communists immediately went into action to mobilise workers against another, much bigger military invasion of Soviet Russia, proclaiming the slogan 'Not a Man, Not a Gun, Not a Penny'. In response to the Communist Party's manifesto and a call from the Labour Party—both carried in the Daily Herald—protest meetings were held across England, Scotland and Wales and 350 Councils of Action were set up.

The campaign forced Lloyd George's Tory-Liberal coalition government to retreat on the pretext that war had never been intended. It was a momentous victory, showing what could be achieved by united working class action.

Getting that lesson understood, organising militant struggle and turning the labour movement away from right-wing influence was the vital task taken on by the newly-established Communist Party. The growth of unemployment in the economic crisis of the early 1920s encouraged the bosses in their offensive for wage cuts. The disastrous class collaboration policy that dominated the leadership of the trade unions led to defeat in the miners in 1921, the engineers' lockout in 1922 and in the Dockers' six-week strike in 1923.

In response to the return of mass unemployment, Communists took the lead in forming the National Unemployed Workers' Movement, led by Wal Hannington.

It was the also the Communists who raised the slogan 'Stop the Retreat'. The Labour Party leadership's inability or unwillingness to challenge the capitalists consistently in the class struggle—politically and ideologically—lay behind its rejection of Communist Party affiliation. As Communist influence grew in the trade union movement and among shop stewards, Party militants and their allies initiated the National Minority Movement in 1924 to co-ordinate left-wing sections in the unions.

Despite the rejection of CP affiliation, individual Communists were still able to function as members of the Labour Party, often in their capacity as trade union delegates. Hundreds played an active part in their local constituency Labour parties and some Communist candidates stood with official Labour support. Thus Shapurji Saklatvala became the MP for Battersea North at the 1922 General Election, while J. Walton Newbold won in Motherwell.

The British ruling class and the Labour Party leaders feared the growth of Communist influence, particularly when Ramsay MacDonald headed Britain's first-ever minority Labour government from January 1924. In office but not in power, it quickly collapsed in a frenzy of ruling class anti-Communism. The government's attempt to prosecute JR Campbell, editor of the Communist Party's paper the Workers' Weekly, ended in a fiasco. MacDonald resigned and the election in October was dominated by another 'Red scare'. The Daily Mail and other right-wing newspapers 'leaked' a letter allegedly written by the head of the Communist International, Zinoviev, to the CP in Britain containing instructions for a military seizure of power.

Today, it is beyond dispute that the letter was a forgery, and that the whole affair was concocted and orchestrated by British and French intelligence circles, in league with Russian emigres. But at the time, it signalled the beginning of an intense, unending campaign by agencies of the British state to disrupt the Communist Party through an extensive programme of infiltration, bugging, burglary and harassment. Within the Labour Party, too, left unity on the ground came under heavy fire from the Labour right wing and over the next few years Communists were gradually driven out of the Labour Party, despite fierce resistance.

From the outset, Britain's Communists acted in solidarity with the oppressed and super-exploited peoples of the British Empire. As the first Labour government was suppressing the Iraqi Arabs with mustard gas, the 6th CP congress was insisting that 'the continued enslavement of the colonial peoples makes our own freedom in this country absolutely impossible', sending its comradely greetings to Communists and workers in British imperialism's prisons from Egypt to India.

From the beginning, too, the Party did not waver in its support for the principle of an independent united Ireland, free from British rule.

As the British section of the Communist International, the CP was subject to its principles and direction. This also necessitated the construction of a centralised apparatus to lead the Party, staffed by full-time revolutionaries. 'Bolshevisation' also entailed the formation of factory cells. Like many other Communist organisations in other countries, the CP in Britain began to receive substantial financial assistance from the Comintern—as did the Labour Research Department (LRD) and, briefly, the then left-wing Daily Herald.

The Communist Party's own paper, the Workers' Weekly, sought to unite the streams of left opinion, reaching some 40,000 readers (well beyond the Party’s membership of a little over 2,000). In 1925, with the backing of Comintern funds, the Sunday Worker was launched which, with its broad left outlook and content, reached a high-point in circulation of around 100,000. By this time, and distrustful of the National Council of Labour Colleges, the CP had set up its own 90 Marxist study centres around Britain.

Unlike other Communist parties in Europe, the CP in Britain was slow to react to the call of the Young Communist International to establish a dedicated youth section. This was primarily because there was little or no history on the British left of separating ‘youth’ from ‘adult’ organisations. The few progressive youth organisations that existed in Britain were new, raw, lacked coordination and were primarily concerned with socialist political education. Additionally, many of the leading cadres in the Party were young and there was no appetite to segregate them in a separate organisation. Nevertheless, in 1922 the Young Communist League held its founding congress.

The YCL exercised little influence in its early years, with only a small number of functioning branches in London, Glasgow, Manchester and Yorkshire. Yet it was unique in publicising the anti-colonialist, anti-imperialist struggle among young people in Britain through its propaganda and educational schools.

The Communist Party's strength—its base in the industrial unions—also pointed to a major weakness: its failure to recruit and promote more women. Nevertheless, female emancipation featured in the Party's publications from the beginning. The first national conference for Communist women, in 1924, established a CP central women's department headed by organiser Beth Turner.

Throughout 1925, preparations mounted for the coming class battle with Britain's miners, who were determined to resist the coalowners' attack on their wages and conditions. Demands throughout the labour movement for solidarity resulted in a special TUC conference on July 24 and a renewal of the Triple Alliance between the mining, railway and transport unions.

In response, on July 30, Tory Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin issued a declaration of war on behalf of the capitalist class: 'All the workers of this country have got to take reductions in wages to help put industry on its feet'. The next day, 'Red Friday', his government had to retreat before the unity and determination of the mass movement by giving a subsidy to the coal industry to prevent wage cuts.

This victory would not have been won without the tremendous organisational drive of the Communists and their left allies to put trade union leaders under mass pressure. In the words of the resolution moved by miners' leader Arthur Horner at the Party's 7th congress: 'Only through working-class loyalty and working-class solidarity can the workers hope to improve their conditions, and make a successful fight against the attacks of the employers'.

1926-30: Nine Days in May

In October 1925, the Labour Party conference once again rejected the Communist Party's application for affiliation. It also banned Communists from representing unions and other affiliated organisations, as well as local Labour Party organisations. Communists were now to be excluded from the Labour Party altogether, even those who had become Labour councillors and parliamentary candidates.

This sent a clear signal to the Tory government. A few days later, twelve leading Communists were arrested on charges of 'seditious conspiracy'. These included Tom Bell (editor of the Communist Review), Willie Gallacher, Albert Inkpin (the Party’s general secretary), Harry Pollitt (at that time secretary of the National Minority Movement) and YCL general secretary Bill Rust. The Old Bailey judge described them as members of “an illegal party carrying out illegal work in this country”. Five were sentenced to a year in prison and the others to six months, keeping them out of the battle to come.

The intention was to paralyse the political and organisational leadership of the Party and intimidate the working class into compliance. However, far from being cowed into submission, Communists intensified their activities. Party publications grew in circulation and new members were made. Above all, Britain's Communists tried to prepare the labour movement for the next round of struggle, warning again and again that the government was determined to bring about a showdown with the miners when the 'Red Friday' subsidy expired in May 1926.

The government was well-prepared for the conflict, having conspired with employers and ex-army officers to set up the strike-breaking Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. The TUC general council made no plans. Rank and file pressure forced the decision for a general strike from midnight on May 3, in support of the miners locked out again for refusing a wage cut.

The nine days of the General Strike saw more than three million workers uniting in tremendous class solidarity and initiative. Although too few in number, Communists played an outstanding role in many localities. The TUC cautiously called out only about half of Britain's trade unionists, but more demanded the right to participate as the days went by. Despite the efforts of the OMS, Britain was at a standstill.

Well in advance, the Communist Party had initiated the call for Councils of Action. They were set up in many areas, representing the whole local working class movement, organising pickets, co-ordinating activities, issuing publicity materials and in some cases controlling transport and the local distribution of food.

Throughout the strike, the Party issued a daily news sheet—the Workers Bulletin—reaching a circulation of 200,000 at times. Many local Party groups issued their own bulletins repeating its reports. Nearly half of the 2,500 people arrested by police during the General Strike were Communists.

The YCL also threw itself into the battle, with its newspaper the Young Worker doubling its circulation and coming out weekly. By its fourth congress at the end of 1926, the League had more than trebled its membership to nearly 2,000. Its work in the Councils of Action meant that young miners now comprised more than three-quarters of the YCL membership, giving it a real working class base for the first time.

Likewise, the Communist Party doubled its membership in just four months to more than 10,000. But despite these advances, the Party's influence in the trade unions was not sufficient to prevent the betrayal of the strike by the right-wing leadership of the labour movement.

The TUC called off the strike when it was strongest and closest to victory. Indeed, most workers thought that a victory had been won. The reality was that the General Council had accepted a 'peace' formula which implied wage cuts and longer hours for the miners. When other strikers returned to work, they faced oppressive new terms of employment, no-strike rules and widespread victimisation. The miners were left to battle on alone for a seven more months, until hunger forced defeat.

Communists continued to fight for solidarity with the miners, campaigning for a levy on wages to give them financial support and for an embargo on the transport of coal.

It was a tragic end to a titanic struggle, yet it stimulated the demand for nationalisation of the mines, which finally became irresistible. Arthur Horner wrote later: “If there had been no '26, there would not have been such a tremendous feeling for the nationalisation of coal after the Second World War”.

For the Communist Party, the General Strike confirmed the need to strengthen the militancy of the trade unions, to step up the fight against class collaboration, to work for a new leadership of the labour movement and to build and strengthen the Party itself as an integral part of such developments.

For the right wing of the labour movement, the lesson in the words of one union leader was: “Never Again!” They had not wanted the strike, were pushed into it and called it off as soon as possible. For them, the Communists and the left were “trouble makers” who had to be removed.

The leadership of the labour movement set about a purge of the left, excluding Communists and Minority Movement supporters from union office and redoubling efforts to drive them out of the Labour Party. This would clear the way to diluting Labour's programme and establishing the machinery of class collaboration with the big employers, who were seeking to 'rationalise' industry and eliminate industrial action. The aim was a corporate state, in which employers, the government and 'responsible' trade union leaders would rule together as 'partners'—the economic model, minus any democratic rights, preferred by fascism.

Two views emerged within the Communist Party's central committee about how to respond. The majority favoured continuing the resistance inside the Labour Party, keeping up the demand for CP affiliation, working with Labour allies in the National Left Wing Movement and calling for the return of a Labour government. The minority argued for abandoning or severely modifying this perspective and concentrating on the Communist Party's independent and separate role in the working class movement.

With the Communist International executive committee putting its enormous prestige behind the second view, the majority gave way in February 1928.

Then the Comintern went further at its 6th world congress, attacking social democrats across Europe for propping up a capitalist system which could follow Italy and turn fascist. With capitalism hurtling towards a new and unprecedented crisis, there could be no middle way between siding with the interests of the working class—which in every country meant supporting the Communist Party—or siding with those of the capitalist class, as the social democrats were doing. The left-wing were denounced as the 'most dangerous faction' in the social democratic parties, 'essential for the subtle deception of the workers'. There were, the Comintern warned, 'social fascist tendencies' in social democracy.

This new 'Third Period' line has since been presented by historians as one simply imposed by the Communist International without regard for local conditions or views. Certainly, the Comintern regarded the Party in Britain as one which lacked rigour and ruthlessness in dealing with ideological and political deviations; while its sense of solidarity was admirable, Presidium member Manuilsky told the British delegates in Berlin, it was too much like a 'society of great friends'.

But another part of the truth is that, in Britain, a great many rank and file Communists adopted the 'New Line' with enthusiasm. One of its leading advocates, Harry Pollitt, backed by the Comintern, was elected CP general secretary in 1929 to carry it through. It appeared to provide a political rationale for uncompromising retaliation against the campaign of bans, expulsions and organisational manipulation already underway in the Labour Party and the unions.

But, reinforced by Comintern policy, the Communist Party allowed its responses to take on a sectarian character. The Labour left, notably the ILP, was singled out for especially sharp attack, and Communists raised the question of forming new revolutionary unions. Although this was only seriously attempted in extreme circumstances, in Scotland—under the greatest provocation—Party members and sympathisers actually established a breakaway, militant miners' union mainly comprised of workers who had been blacklisted for their activity during the General Strike. A separate, Communist-led union for clothing workers arose from a strike in north London.

In some cases the Comintern acted as a restraining force, opposing moves to fight for trade union disaffiliations from the Labour Party and to drop the demand for CP affiliation to it.

At the same time, the new turn provided a further pretext for Labour’s national executive committee to expel scores of constituency organisations for refusing to implement anti-Communist bans. In some areas, this resulted for years in the existence of two Trades and Labour Councils in some towns and cities—one affiliated, the other not.

At the 1929 General Election, the Communist Party's manifesto 'Class Against Class' had called for a 'Revolutionary Workers' Government' rather than a general vote for Labour.

The second right-wing, minority Labour government led by Ramsay MacDonald confirmed Communist fears. Clinging to orthodox Treasury policies, it neither anticipated the great financial crash which broke out on Wall Street, nor had any idea how to counteract the economic slump that followed. Instead, at the command of US and British bankers, plans were drawn up to slash public spending including unemployment benefits and public sector wages.

1930-36: The Daily Miracle

The experience of the General Strike and the political degeneration of the Daily Herald had convinced the Communist Party of the need for a daily working class paper, one which would challenge the monopoly of the press barons.

On New Year’s Day, 1930, the Daily Worker appeared for the first time, under the clandestine editorship of Bill Rust. A reporter from the Daily Herald telephoned to ask if a second issue would be coming out tomorrow. Within months, the TUC had sold a majority shareholding in its own paper to a capitalist publishing company.

The Daily Worker was immediately boycotted by advertisers, wholesalers and distributors. The Communist Party had to establish its own distribution apparatus, with daily rotas of volunteers collecting parcels at their local railway stations for delivery to newsagents and other sellers.

This remarkable saga of dedication to the paper continued for the next eleven years. By 1932, the paper's circulation reached 20,000 daily, with 30,000 on Fridays and 46,000 on Saturdays. By 1935, it would sell 30,000 daily and 100,000 on the weekend.

This was no mean feat when you consider the technological and financial constraints that the Party was working under. The success of the Daily Worker showed what could be achieved by even a small number of dedicated and disciplined supporters working in a collective manner. Without massive financial resources, and in complete opposition to the capitalist state and big business, workers in struggle now had a daily voice—soon dubbed the 'Daily Miracle'.

Day in, day out, the paper railed against mass unemployment, wage cuts, the profligacy of the idle rich and the rise of fascism. The state hit back with police raids, censorship, prosecutions, fines and the jailing of managers Kay Beauchamp, Frank Priestley, Bessie White and numerous other staff members.

Party cells in industry produced their own papers as well, such as the Salford Docker and, for railway workers in west London, the Old Oak Star. Party organiser Idris Cox wrote:

“The foundation of the Communist Party must be in the factories. This is where the class struggle is seen most clearly in actual practice. It is therefore in the factories that the workers can best protect their everyday interests, deal the most serious blows against the boss and organise the struggle for the overthrow of Capitalism. Factory cells, therefore, are the basis of Communist organisation”.

In fact, the first issue of the Daily Worker had highlighted a dispute in the Yorkshire woollen industry, where the Communists were seeking to exercise 'independent leadership' outside official union structures as part of the 'Third Period' line.

In the Lancashire cotton industry, the millowners were trying to replace women weavers with men working more looms each. Communists Lilly Web, Margaret McCarthy, Rose Smith and Bessie Dickenson led the resistance in a series of strikes and lockouts, eventually producing their own paper, the Cotton Strike Leader.

But attempts to provide 'independent leadership' to that of the South Wales Miners Federation proved a fiasco, prompting Arthur Horner to challenge the whole 'Third Period' line in industry. The Comintern charged him with 'Hornerism', but stopped short of serious disciplinary action.

In 1931, in the ultimate betrayal, Ramsay McDonald entered secret talks with the Tories and Liberals to emerge at the head of a 'National Government'. In the General Election that followed, the Labour Party was reduced to a rump in Parliament. Twenty-six CP candidates—five of them in prison—won 75,000 votes between them. In West Fife, Willie Gallacher polled 22 per cent of the vote.

In response to this vindication of elements of the ‘Third Period’ line, the Party threw itself into intensifying militant activity, trebling Party membership to 9,000 by January 1932. Communist candidates also scored impressive votes in local elections that year, especially in Wales and Scotland. In March 1933, Arthur Horner won 11,228 votes (38% of the total) in the Rhondda East parliamentary by-election, less than three thousand votes behind the victorious Labour candidate.

But many of the new recruits did not stay in the Party for long, having joined in a flush of militant enthusiasm. Differences within the CP leadership over 'independent leadership' and unofficial strike committees eased, as 'life itself' demonstrated that Communists should fight for influence within the unions rather than apart from them.

When the National Government announced fresh cuts in the pay of Royal Navy ratings, a thousand sailors took industrial action in Cromarty Firth, even raising the red flag above their vessels.

The action was quickly condemned as a mutiny by the national government and prompted panic on the London Stock Exchange. Bankers and speculators deserted sterling, forcing the pound off the Gold Standard. Communists were widely blamed for the 'Invergordon mutiny', although it was at root a spontaneous outbreak of discontent. One of its leaders, Len Wincott, joined the CP and later accepted an invitation to live in the Soviet Union, while another, Fred Copeman, went on to command the British Battalion of the International Brigades in Spain.

On dry land, meanwhile, the National Unemployed Workers Movement led by Wal Hannington was galvanising mass resistance to the hated Means Test, house evictions and a new round of proposed benefit cuts. Despite official hostility from the TUC and Labour Party, it built up a dues-paying membership of 50,000 unemployed workers, organised into more than 300 branches. The NUWM agitated outside the Labour Exchanges, fought welfare cases on behalf of the jobless and marshalled the South Wales miners march of 1927, a Scottish unemployed march in 1928 and the national Hunger Marches of 1929, 1930, 1932 and 1936.

Police violence against NUWM demonstrators prompted left-wing lawyers such as Harry Thompson to establish the National Council for Civil Liberties (known today as Liberty). The London Metropolitan Police planted weapons in a van to secure the imprisonment of Communist organiser Will Paynter, later leader of Britain's miners. YCLer and future Party general secretary John Gollan received a six-month sentence for inciting soldiers to 'disaffection' with His Majesty.

From the outset, Britain's Communist Party had supported national liberation movements against the British Empire. Communists and socialists built the League Against Imperialism and, as the British section of the Comintern, the Party assisted workers and revolutionaries in the resistance of British imperialism in the colonies. Members Ben Bradley and Philip Spratt were among those jailed in the Meerut Conspiracy Trial in 1933, accused of undermining British rule by organising trade unions, strikes and the Communist movement in India.

In January 1933, as the monopoly capitalists helped Hitler and the Nazis into power in Germany, the Communist International dropped the 'Class against Class' line in favour of working class and left unity to counter the fascist menace. In Britain, the response of the TUC was to issue the first of a new series of 'Black Circulars', once more urging unions to ban Communists from all official positions in the movement including election to local Trades Councils.

On a more positive note, Communists and socialists marked the 50th anniversary of the death of Karl Marx by opening the Marx Memorial Library. While the Nazis were burning books—as the prelude to burning people—the library was collecting them for workers to study.

By the end of 1934, the CP in Britain was urging votes for Labour candidates who supported left unity. In January 1935, a huge wave of protests called by the NUWM across Britain forced the government to abandon its vicious new unemployment benefit and Means Test regulations.

There were other, more unorthodox victories too. In 1932, Manchester Communist Benny Rothman had led a mass trespass to the Kinder Scout in the Peak District, defying the closure of large tracts of the countryside by big landowners. They were members of the British Workers Sports Federation, in which many Communists and socialists participated as an alternative to sports clubs organised by Christian, 'patriotic' and militaristic bodies.

Although a jury of the landed establishment jailed Rothman and four other young communists, controversy around the case led to the first legal rights for ramblers everywhere. Communists launched the Country Standard newspaper in 1935 to highlight the battles of farm labourers for decent wages, safety at work, secure housing and trade union rights. Among its earliest contributors was the novelist Sylvia Townsend Walker.

The Party’s 13th congress in February 1935 called for united action to remove the National Government. It also produced a new programme, For Soviet Britain, which advocated the forceful overthrow of capitalism because 'the capitalist class will never allow itself to be gradually expropriated by successive Acts of Parliament'. Parliamentary rule should be replaced by “Workers' Councils, made up of workers elected democratically from every factory, workshop and mine, and from every other grouping of men and women of this country who have to work for their living”.

The new programme also set out the policies that would emancipate women in a socialist society: equal opportunities in the labour market and at work; equal pay; time off with full pay and free medical care during pregnancy; crèches, clinics and school meals for the children of working mothers; and labour-saving appliances in all new houses. Whilst films and books encouraged young women to marry their boss for the ideal happy ending, Britain's Communists urged them to fight for equality and join the Women's Cooperative Guild instead.

At the General Election that November, in the only two Communist contests, Willie Gallacher won West Fife and Harry Pollitt gained 13,655 votes in Rhondda East.

The Party now began to reorganise itself, with factory, ward and street groups to be coordinated by local Branches and a Branch Committee. Party fractions in the trade unions were growing rapidly through their work in rank and file and shop stewards' movements among engineers, coal miners and London bus crews, publishing influential papers such as the New Propeller, the South Wales Miner and the Busman's Punch. General secretary Pollitt described this process as 'a revolution within the party'.

1936-1939: "No Passaran!"

In the 1930s, Communists across Europe rose to the challenge of fascism: 'the open terrorist dictatorship of the most reactionary, most chauvinistic and most imperialist elements of finance capital', as Comintern secretary Georgi Dimitrov defined it.

The leading role of Britain's Communist Party in the fight against fascism was only made possible by its expanding base in the working class, both in workplaces and in local communities. So strong had the Party become in small towns and villages such as the Vale of Leven, Chopwell, Maerdy and Nelson in Lancashire that each had earned the nickname 'Little Moscow'. Leiston in Suffolk became the countryside equivalent.

The British Union of Fascists had emerged in 1933 under the leadership of former Labour Party junior minister Sir Oswald Mosley. Among its most enthusiastic backers was Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail. The real character of Mosley's thugs was shown at his 1934 rally in Olympia, when black-shirted storm troopers savagely beat anti-fascist protestors. Later that year, a BUF rally in Hyde Park was “drowned in a sea of working class activity” by a counter-demonstration of 150,000 people.

Mosley's most humiliating defeat came on Sunday October 4, 1936. His attempt to stage an anti-Jewish march through east London was crushed in the 'Battle of Cable Street' by a huge throng of workers mobilised by the Communist Party and the Young Communist League, supported by the ILP and other socialists and progressives.
The Metropolitan Police batoned the crowd in desperate efforts to clear the way for the BUF in their paramilitary uniforms. But 300,000 anti-fascists blocked the road, overturning trams and raising barricades. Many of the arrested demonstrators received harsh treatment at the hands of the police and several were sent to prison with hard labour.

One particularly important factor in the Party's ability to mobilise large numbers of people in London, Birmingham and elsewhere was its growing work among tenants. In particular, women such as Jessie Eden and Ella Donovan played a prominent part alongside Bob Graves and 'Tubby' Rosen in ferocious battles against 'decontrolled' tenancies, rack-renting, unsanitary conditions, evictions and the other features of slum landlordism. Stepney Communist councillor (and future MP) Phil Piratin explained how this campaigning undermined the fascists in his classic book, Our Flag Stays Red.

The right wing of the labour movement advocated ignoring the fascists and abstaining from anti-fascist activity. The Communist response—that retreat before fascist aggression merely increased its appetite—proved correct time and again throughout the decade.

In mid-1935, the 7th world congress of the Communist International had elaborated its call for a united working class front of Communists and social democrats at the core of a broad people's front, to rebuff the fascist tide. That fascism led directly to war had already been shown in 1931, when Japan attacked China, and in 1935 when Italy invaded Abyssinia (Ethiopia).

In 1936, German and Italian military forces intervened to assist General Franco's revolt against the democratically elected socialist and republican government of Spain. This struggle became the focal point of a worldwide campaign against fascism. Millions of people in Britain rallied in solidarity with the Spanish Republic, while Tory and right-wing Labour leaders adopted the shameful policy of 'non-intervention'.

For Britain's Communists, the Spanish cause spawned tenacity and sacrifice on the scale of the General Strike. By the end of December 1936, the Young Communist League had filled the first of 29 food ships. Communist women's leader Isabel Brown was one of many outstanding campaigners, stirring the hearts of open-air crowds with her appeals on behalf of Medical Aid for Spain.

The spirit of Spain also helped produce the biggest vote so far, at the 1936 Labour Party conference, for Communist affiliation. More than one-quarter of the votes were cast in favour, including those of the miners, engineers, train drivers and furniture makers.

This, in turn, inspired a Unity Campaign from January 1937, launched after talks between the Communist Party, the Socialist League (in which Labour MPs Stafford Cripps and Aneurin Bevan were prominent) and the Independent Labour Party (headed by Fenner Brockway and James Maxton). Large and enthusiastic meetings took place throughout Britain. The campaign drew in the Left Book Club, established in 1936 and soon boasting a network of 1,500 local discussion groups. Its growth reflected the renewed interest in the international situation and in Marxist ideas.

In promoting a 'Popular Front' of anti-fascist forces in Britain, Harry Pollitt pointed out that—unlike in France—it would be overwhelmingly working class in composition:

'Here the decisive majority of the population are industrial workers, the most class conscious are already organised industrially and politically. Our first job is to bring about unity within our Labour Movement'.

It is a self-serving myth peddled by ultra-left anti-Communists that the CP in Britain, or in France for that matter, abandoned principled positions in order to chase after middle class allies for the People's Front.

But Communists were keen to demonstrate that socialist and Communist ideas stood in the progressive traditions of their own country. AL Morton broke new ground with A People's History of England and the Communist Party history group was founded to counter bourgeois approaches and analyses to history. Led by Communists, the Unity Theatre movement and the Workers' Music Association expressed the class struggle in cultural forms. Eminent scientists such as JD Bernal and JBS Haldane applied Marxism in their specialist fields, popularising science amongst working people in the process.

Thousands of people flocked to Communist-initiated pageants in London, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and—sponsored by the South Wales Miners Federation and the LRD—across south Wales which celebrated working class and progressive history, linking it to the 'Popular Front' and the struggle in Spain. A theatrical spectacle with 3,000 performers, commissioned by the Cooperative movement and devised by Communists composer Alan Bush, film-maker Montagu Slater and director Andre van Gyseghem, filled Wembley Stadium with 78,000 spectators.

But by far the most heroic aspect of the Spanish crusade was the formation of International Brigades to go and fight fascism. Felicia Brown had been the first Communist from Britain to join a militia in defence of the Spanish Republic. She died on the Aragon front in August 1936.

London clothing workers Nat Cohen and Sam Masters set up the Tom Mann Centuria. Beginning with only a dozen British volunteers, it grew rapidly with the direct assistance of Harry Pollitt. In October, Spanish prime minister Caballero agreed that the Communist International could raise International Brigades to come and defend democracy. An international recruiting centre was set up in Paris and a training base at Albacete in Spain.

Around 2,200 volunteers went from England, Scotland and Wales to fight Franco and the fascists. There can be no exact figure because the Tory government threatened to use the 1875 Foreign Enlistment Act against 'illegal' volunteers. Keeping records and lists of names was difficult and dangerous. However, since weekend trips to Paris didn't require a passport, there was a way around the authorities for those whose ultimate destination was Spain. In France, active support from Communists, workers and peasants opened the paths over the Pyrenees.

Volunteers for the British Battalion came from all walks of life, although the great majority were from industrialised areas. They were accustomed to the discipline of work in the factories and pits. From their unions they had learnt the value of organisation, democracy and solidarity. The commissar for English-speaking volunteers in the battalion, Communist Peter Kerrigan, set out the standards expected of volunteers:

'All recruits must understand they are expected to serve. Tell them: this is a war and many will be killed. This should be put brutally, with a close examination of their hatred of fascism'.

Many volunteers already knew how to exercise leadership and take action in working class organisations. They understood the importance of setting an example and leading from the front when necessary. They were united in their aims and prepared to fight for them. The International Brigades provided a shock force while the republican government recruited and trained its own armed forces. The Spanish people knew they were not fighting alone.

In Britain, Communists accounted for about half of the Brigade volunteers and the 533 of them killed in action. Prominent Party members who served in Spain included Bert Ramelson, Christopher Caudwell, Len Crome, Lou Kenton, Bill Alexander, David Marshall, Ralph Fox and John Cornford. Among the many women in medical units were Communists Thora Silverthorne, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Mary Valentine Ackland. Soon after her return, Silverthorne became the founding General Secretary of Britain's first independent trade union for nurses.

In September 1938, Juan Negrin, head of the Republican government, announced that the International Brigades would be unilaterally withdrawn from Spain for diplomatic reasons. However, General Franco failed to reciprocate and German and Italian forces remained, continuing their brutal suppression of those standing by the legitimate, elected government of Spain.

Before leaving for home, Sam Wild, commander of the British Battalion, declared: 'The British Battalion is prepared to carry on the work begun here to see to it that our 500 comrades who sleep for ever beneath Spanish soil shall serve as an example to the entire British people in the struggle against fascism'.

In October, the International Brigades began to depart, the words of Dolores Ibarruri ('La Pasionaria') ringing in their ears: 'You can go proudly. You are history. You are legend'. The Republican government fell to Franco the following year, although Spain's Communists fought to the bitter end.

As fascist aggression was advancing in China, Austria and Spain, Britain's Communists and their allies worked strenuously to build a 'people's front' powerful enough to force the Chamberlain Tory government to adopt a policy of collective security in defence of peace.

But the ruling class traitors would not budge from their determination to appease Hitler, hoping that Nazi Germany would turn its fire eastwards towards the Soviet Union—and away from the British Empire. The Daily Worker and Claud Cockburn's journal The Week exposed the nest of Nazi sympathisers—leading financiers, industrialists, government ministers, military chiefs and newspaper editors—who plotted at the Cliveden mansion of Lord and Lady Astor.

The Party's 15th congress took place in September 1938, as Prime Minister Chamberlain was scuttling back and forth to settle the fate of Czechoslovakia with Hitler. Palme Dutt and Communist MP Willie Gallacher warned the congress that Chamberlain was preparing to betray Czechoslovakia and therefore to betray peace, rather than form an anti-fascist alliance with the Soviet Union. Their assessment was proved right when less than a fortnight later Chamberlain returned with the Munich Agreement.

That same congress also acknowledged that the Communist Party had under-estimated the democratic and progressive content of the national question in Scotland and Wales. This rectification opened the way to full support for the establishment of Welsh and Scottish parliaments.

Britain's labour movement leaders refused to rouse the people into mass action against fascist aggression. Cripps and Bevan were expelled from the Labour Party for joining the Popular Front campaign. Communists continued to be ejected from leading elected positions in the Amalgamated Engineering Union and others, while the TUC General Council voted to prevent Arthur Horner taking a seat on behalf of the Miners Federation of Great Britain.

Undaunted, Communist policy and leadership continued to attract many people who feared that appeasement was making war inevitable. By 1939, Daily Worker circulation had grown to more than 40,000, with a weekend average of nearly 80,000. Communist Party membership reached 15,750 by late 1938 and 17,750 by July 1939.

The Young Communist League was also winning young workers through a series of strikes for the Apprentices Charter. It demanded higher pay, day-release training and trade union representation. Clydeside, Tyneside and Manchester were major centres of militancy.

The show trials of former Soviet and Comintern leaders such as Kamenev, Zinoviev and Bukharin did little to check the growing popularity of the Communist Party and Marxist ideas in Britain.

For much of the 1930s, the Soviet Union had appeared a bastion of peace and stability amid a world of mass unemployment, fascist aggression and colonial exploitation. Communists everywhere helped publicise its enormous economic, scientific, social and cultural achievements.

At the same time, the hostility of the imperialist powers towards the Soviet Union was well known in working class and progressive circles. Within the labour movement, the followers of Trotsky—who had been expelled from Russia—were regarded by many who came across them as anti-Communist, anti-Soviet oppositionists, disrupters and defeatists.

When respected lawyers, politicians and diplomats from the US, Britain and elsewhere attended the Moscow show trials and confirmed that the defendants had indeed confessed to being members of a 'Trotsky-fascist' campaign of espionage and subversion, Britain's Communists were not alone in believing that such plots had indeed existed.

Reports of mass-scale repression, labour camps and executions in the Soviet Union could all too easily be dismissed as another round of capitalist propaganda against socialism.

There is no serious evidence that the British CP leadership knew of the full extent of the purges, or of the degree to which the incarceration of several million Soviet citizens—many of them loyal Communists—lacked any justification.

When they learnt about the arrest and disappearance of British Communist Rose Cohen—who had gone to live in Russia with a Comintern official—Pollitt, Dutt and Gallacher angrily demanded to know the truth from the authorities. But they did not make their protestations public.

1939-45: A People's Peace, The People's War

As late as July 1939, Britain and France had failed to agree to the Soviet Union's requests for an alliance against Germany. On the contrary, the Chamberlain government had pursued a policy of appeasing Hitler and the Nazis, allowing them to annexe Austria and then seize Czechoslovakia. The right-wing Polish government had long rejected Soviet offers of assistance.

Nonetheless, the conclusion of a non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany in August, which included a secret protocol to divide Poland, came as a shock to anti-fascists, Communists and anti-Communists alike. Keeping out of the war seemed to many Communists a necessary if temporary tactic. It avoided embroilment in imperialist intrigues while allowing the Soviet Union time to prepare economically and militarily for the inevitable war with Nazi Germany, when it came.

When Britain declared war on Hitler's Germany in September 1939, following the blitzkrieg on Poland, the CP at first supported the war while demanding that Chamberlain and the men of Munich be replaced by committed anti-fascists. However, within weeks the Party's central committee reversed this 'fight on two fronts' position, accepting the Comintern’s analysis that this was an “imperialist and unjust war for which the bourgeoisie of all the belligerent states bear equal responsibility. In no country can the working class or the Communist Parties support the war”.

The overwhelming majority of the party leadership backed the change of policy, while the minority—notably Harry Pollitt, JR Campbell and Willie Gallacher—maintained that the earlier position had been correct. In view of their differences, Pollitt was replaced by R. Palme Dutt as general secretary and Campbell by Bill Rust as editor of the Daily Worker.

The majority of Party members also expressed their preference for the anti-war position at a series of well-attended and lively meetings across Britain.

Many had been confirmed in their view by the flow of events. Spain and Albania had succumbed to the fascists. In France, the Popular Front government had fallen and the country's 70 Communist deputies placed under arrest. Nowhere did the capitalist and landowning classes look like mounting a serious challenge to the fascist powers.

Nor did the British ruling class appear to be any different. The British Empire belied all the fine phrases about freedom and democracy. The declaration of war on Nazi Germany had fulfilled a diplomatic obligation—but it produced no serious military offensive. The Cabinet refused to bomb German arms factories, because they were 'private property'!

Whereas an ineffective British Expeditionary Force was sent to France to do very little, a 100,000-strong Franco-British army was despatched to assist the right-wing Finnish government in its anti-Soviet endeavours.

Meanwhile, in Britain, bunkers were built for the top bureaucrats, business leaders and politicians, while working class people were left defenceless. Almost alone, the Communist Party campaigned for proper Air Raid Precautions—especially deep underground shelters—for the general public.

The period of 'phoney war' came to end with the blitz on London and other cities from September 1940.

As dockside communities and those closest to the munitions factories sustained devastating damage, Communist councillors and community leaders such as Phil Piratin and Ted Bramley led mass invasions of the Mayfair and Savoy Hotel shelters. They broke into Liverpool Street, Warren Street, Highgate and Goodge Street underground stations, leading thousands of people to safety, and forcing the government to open them every night.

Above ground, the CP and its allies convened a huge People's Convention in January 1941. More than two thousand labour movement delegates demanded a 'people's government' to secure a 'people's peace', an end to profiteering, nationalisation of key industries, democratic and trade union rights, friendship with the Soviet Union and freedom for Britain's colonies.

One week later, the British coalition government headed by Winston Churchill decided not to outlaw the Communist Party. Labour home secretary Herbert Morrison banned the Daily Worker and The Week instead.

Government and employers faced another problem soon after. An unprecedented wave of strikes by engineering apprentices hit Clydeside, Edinburgh, Barrow, Tyneside and east Lancashire. Some Communists and their allies were prosecuted, although a Court of Inquiry subsequently improved wages and conditions for young workers.

But by this time, too, the whole character of the war was changing. With the Nazis occupying much of western and central Europe, Communists emerged at the head of popular resistance movements. Then, in June 1941, the fascist powers attacked the Soviet Union.

Quickly restored to the post of CP general secretary, Harry Pollitt declared that 'this is a People's War. One that only the common people can and will win'. For the Party, only the working class could be the driving force in building the national and international unity needed for victory. It had the most to contribute to the anti-fascist struggle, industrially and politically—and the most to lose from a fascist victory.

Britain's Communists threw themselves into the fight for maximum production. While the Party continued to argue for higher pay, its policy was to settle industrial disputes as quickly as possible and establish joint production committees with shopfloor participation. Sometimes, notably in the coal industry, Party members found themselves representing strikers in heated disputes with their comrades in official full-time positions in the union.

The wartime influx of women workers into the factories prompted the CP to step up the fight for trade unionisation and equal pay. The Daily Worker pointed out that, in the Soviet Union, women were perfectly capable of doing so-called 'men's work'. Communist women blazed a trail in the wartime shop stewards movement, campaigning for welfare and nursery facilities.

Initiated through the People's Convention, a Women's Parliament in 1941 sparked a powerful movement for equal pay. When the House of Commons granted it to women teachers three years later, Prime Minister Churchill stopped it by threatening to resign.

An enormous campaign was mounted to lift the ban on the Daily Worker. Just as the TUC was likely to add its support, the paper was restored to legality in August 1942. A new press was bought with £50,000 collected in donations in just three months. Moreover, the wholesalers lifted their boycott so that the Daily Worker could, for the first time, be distributed to retailers alongside the other newspapers.

Orders for the first post-ban issue totalled half a million, but only 100,000 could be produced due to wartime rationing of newsprint. A telegram of greetings was published from the gunners on the George Cross island of Malta, embattled beneath Nazi dive bombers. The paper's front page splashed on the titanic battle of Stalingrad, then approaching its crucial turning point. It also bore the slogan: 'Ten readers for every copy'. A survey later estimated that the Daily Worker had more than half a million daily readers during the Second World War.

As the Soviet people resisted the Nazi invaders with super-human courage, the Communist Party joined Aneurin Bevan and other Labour left-wingers to demand a 'Second Front'. Britain and the USA should launch an offensive through western Europe as the Soviet Red Army took on four-fifths of the German war machine in the east.

Britain's Communists exposed ruling class motives for delaying the Second Front in the hope that the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany would exhaust each other, thereby enabling the imperialist powers to win the war 'on the cheap' and re-establish their predominance after victory.

In June 1944, Churchill at last redeemed his pledges to Soviet leader Stalin as D-Day arrived.

The Communist Party's tireless campaigning in the workplaces, local communities and the labour movement helped convince masses of workers that this war—and thereafter the peace—could be won by the working class. Thrilled by the stunning victories of the Red Army, thousands of people in Britain joined the CP. Membership more than doubled, from 17,756 in September 1939 to 45,435 by March 1945.

At the Labour Party conference in spring 1945, Amalgamated Engineering Union president Jack Tanner proposed a policy of 'progressive political unity' for the working class movement—including Communist affiliation to the Labour Party. The CP could no longer be portrayed as an organisation controlled from Moscow—by agreement of its affiliates, the Communist International had been dissolved in June 1943. Against this background, Herbert Morrison's party machine only managed rejection of left unity on a card vote of 1,314,000 to 1,219,000.

With an eye to industrial demobilisation in peacetime, and to joint work with Labour Party organisations in the localities, the CP had reassigned Party factory branch members to residential branches. It proved a costly mistake, losing workplace influence and activists, although the re-establishment of many of the larger factory branches a few years later recovered some of the lost ground.

On May 12 1945, four days after the defeat of fascism in Europe, 500 delegates representing nearly two million organised workers attended a Daily Worker conference on the way forward. Editor Bill Rust spoke of plans to develop 'a front rank national newspaper with a circulation of 500,000 copies daily'. Ownership of the Daily Worker would be transferred from the Communist Party to a cooperative society, thereby guaranteeing 'readers' ownership and control, which is the distinguishing feature of our press'

1945-51: From Victory to Cold War

As the war drew to a close, the Communist Party called for a Labour-led coalition to win the peace, before switching to support an outright Labour victory in the 1945 General Election.

The working class, especially in the armed forces, voted for a new society based on public ownership of key industries, economic planning, full employment, progressive taxation and a welfare state 'from cradle to grave including a National Health Service.

The people swept Churchill aside, giving Labour a 147-seat majority in the House of Commons.

Twenty-one Communist candidates won a total of 102,780 votes. Phil Piratin was elected in Mile End, east London, to join Willie Gallacher in Parliament. Harry Pollitt narrowly missed victory in Rhondda East by fewer than a thousand votes. In local elections soon after, 215 Communist councillors were elected across Britain.

Young people celebrated the new post-war world, too. In November 1945, in London, the Young Communist League and the National Union of Students participated in the founding congress of the World Federation of Democratic Youth. Within a few years, WFDY and its affiliates representing 30 million young people would hold their first spectacular World Festival of Youth and Students.

But at its 18th congress, also in November 1945, the Communist Party warned that 'unless the labour movement compels the government to change completely its present foreign policy, which is simply the continuation of the imperialist line of the Tory Party and the reactionary monopoly capitalists, there can be no fundamental social progress in Britain, and the whole future of this country is in grave peril'. The progressive alternative was a 'Britain free and independent', freedom for the colonies and drastic cuts in military expenditure.

On the domestic front, the Labour government enacted a substantial programme of reform. Coal, electricity, the railways, road transport and the Bank of England were all taken into public ownership. Communists supported these measures, while pointing out that generous compensation to the previous capitalist owners and the lack of workers' participation in the running of the nationalised industries would store up problems for the future.

With its National Insurance system, Labour's welfare state guaranteed state benefits for the sick, the unemployed, parents and widows; a pension for all retired workers; and free health care at the time of need. But means testing remained for some benefits, while the NHS and pensions system failed to make full or equal provision for women.

The Labour government's plans to build millions of new houses ran into difficulty through shortages of building materials, workers and finance. Yet military camps and apartment blocks stood empty, while returning troops and bombed-out families cried out for decent accommodation.

In July and August 1946, a wave of occupations hit former Army and RAF bases. From Middlesbrough, Doncaster and Scunthorpe to Birmingham and High Wycombe, local Communists led people to take over the huts and press the authorities to provide water, gas and electricity. Backed by some local Labour MPs and councils, the squatters elected camp committees to allocate resources and carry out repairs.

In London, Communist councillor and district secretary Ted Bramley spearheaded the invasion of vacant luxury flats in Tory-controlled boroughs. Stepney councillor Tubby Rosen shepherded a hundred homeless families into Duchess of Bedford House. Lord Ilchester's mansion was next. Another Communist councillor, Joyce Alergant, guided hundreds of people into a vacant block of flats formerly occupied by US soldiers. Councillor Joan McMichael, a member of the Party's executive committee, helped launch a second wave of occupations the following month.

The Labour Cabinet went into action, too, on September 9. It declared that 'this action has been instigated and organised by the Communist Party and must result in hindering rather than helping the arrangements made for the orderly rehousing of those in need of accommodation'.

Writs and eviction orders were issued against squatters and their leaders, four CP councillors were charged with conspiracy to incitement and trespass, and orders sent out to cut off supplies of power and water. Rather than place children at risk in violent confrontations with the police, the Party argued for a peaceful withdrawal from some of the main properties. Under pressure from mass demonstrations, many local authorities began to requisition empty premises and find accommodation for the squatters.

Communists, especially young Jewish ex-servicemen, were readier to use physical force against Britain's re-emerging fascist movement. Many took part in the activities of the '43 Group' which fought ferocious battles to deny Ridley Road and other London streets to Mosley's front organisations and, from 1948, his Union Movement.

Instead of making deeper inroads into the wealth and power of the capitalist class, including through far reaching democratisation of the state apparatus, the Labour government yielded to pressure from the City of London and US imperialism. They wanted the re-imposition of Treasury orthodoxy in place of loans and taxes to fund the welfare state and rebuild basic industries now in public ownership.

Labour renewed war-time credits with the US, but strings were attached. The US monopolists wanted control over the British economy, to promote the dollar as an international currency at the expense of the pound and create more profitable conditions for US capital in Britain.

This was, of course, linked to US foreign policy objectives to turn back the tide of socialism and Communism in Europe and launch an ideological, diplomatic and militarist offensive against the Soviet Union. Borrowing a phrase from chief Nazi propagandist Goebbels, Winston Churchill declared in the US that an 'iron curtain' had descended across Europe, dividing the continent and the world between Western 'freedom' and Soviet 'tyranny'.

From 1947, the Labour government tried to enforce austerity measures against the working class, supported by trade union leaders who agreed to police a regime of wage restraint. The Communist Party went into action as troops were used to break transport and power strikes.

Hard on the heels of socialist revolution in Czechoslovakia, national docks strikes in 1948 and 1949 brought anti-Soviet, anti-Communist hysteria to Britain. Hundreds of Communists were purged in the civil service and the power stations.

The TUC, the Labour Party and their joint National Council of Labour issued a new series of diktats demanding that CP members be banned from elected positions in unions and Trades Councils, and denouncing so-called 'Communist-front' organisations such as the Labour Research Department. In the National Union of Teachers, MI5 orchestrated a dirty tricks campaign against union president GCT Giles, who had pioneered the case for comprehensive education. Nonetheless, unions such as the miners, firefighters, boilermakers and furniture makers continued to elect Communist leaders.

The Daily Worker also retained broad support on the left of the labour movement. In February 1948, a special issue reprinted the Communist Manifesto by Marx and Engels to mark its centenary and sold 230,000 copies. Even more readers bought the May Day special. In July, a big peace conference called by the paper and sponsored by the British Peace Council featured Hewlett Johnson—the 'Red Dean' of Canterbury—as a principal speaker.

When the new-look Daily Worker came off the Goss press in the new building in Farringdon Road, a torchlight procession of 20,000 supporters carried editor Bill Rust shoulder-high to Clerkenwell Green, where he auctioned the first two copies for £45 each. The next day, he received a telegram from George Loveless, a descendant of one of the Tolpuddle Martyrs of 1834: 'Today is a proud day for us all. This is what our ancestors fought for. Long live the people's paper'.

Rust collapsed and died just three months later, still in his prime. His successor Johnny Campbell called him 'the greatest editor in British working class history'.

On the other wing of the labour movement, the TUC and Labour Party leaders were taking their anti-Communism into the international arena. The TUC assisted the American AFL-CIO in splitting the international trade union movement along Cold War lines in 1949.

A cabal headed by Prime Minister Attlee within the Labour Cabinet authorised the production of British atomic bombs, under US control. British troops waged war to defend British business interests against the Communist-led national liberation movement in Malaya. Foreign earnings and cheap imports were the vital products of imperialist super-exploitation.

When Royal Navy gunboats exchanged fire with Chinese Communist forces fighting the Nationalists across the Yangtze, in April 1949, the deaths of 42 British military personnel prompted some Tory papers and politicians to incite violence against the Communist Party at home. Public meetings in Dartmouth and Plymouth—both naval towns—were attacked by mobs and Pollitt sustained a severe back injury.

As China threw off Nationalist and imperialist rule, the Labour government helped found the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO)—six years before the Soviet Union and its allies established the Warsaw Pact. Soon after, US military bases spread across Britain, although for many years they were falsely badged as 'Royal Air Force' stations.

A new round of show trials, this time in the 'People's Democracies' of central and eastern Europe, followed a breach between the Soviet Union and Josef Tito's Communist regime in Yugoslavia. Once again, despite private reservations, most Communists in Britain and around the world believed that erstwhile comrades in Bulgaria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia were in fact saboteurs, imperialist spies and 'Trotskyist agents' in league with Tito.

The Party in Britain paid a price for such blind loyalty, losing some allies on the left while performing somersaults as Tito fell out of favour and then back in. It later became undeniable—especially once state, party and Comintern archives were opened—that these and previous show trials stemmed from the arbitrary abuse of power, involving severe breaches of socialist legality and gross violations of human rights.

Labour narrowly retained its parliamentary majority in February 1950. Gratitude to Labour for nationalising the coal industry helped defeat Willie Gallacher in the mining constituency of West Fife, while extensive boundary changes hit Phil Piratin's share of the poll even harder. The Communist vote slumped everywhere, not least as the consequence of unrelenting Cold War propaganda.

But the Party continued to fight Labour's austerity programme, with Electrical Trades Union general secretary Wally Stephens leading the charge to overturn the TUC general council's wage restraint policy in September 1950.

Two months later, Home Secretary Chuter Ede and the intelligence services tried their utmost to sabotage the congress of the World Peace Council in Sheffield. Eminent scientists, artists and philosophers were refused entry visas to Britain, although Pablo Picasso managed to get through the net and go for a much publicised haircut.

The Labour government decided to boost the armaments budget by two-thirds—in return for a further US loan—and send troops to help the US prop up the tottering dictatorship of Syngman Rhee in South Korea.

Consequently, when charges were imposed on NHS dentures and spectacles, three ministers resigned including Nye Bevan. An Old Bailey jury refused to convict Communist Dockers' leaders, killing off the wartime ban on strikes in essential industries. The Attlee government went down to defeat in the 1951 General Election, although Labour still polled more votes than the Tories.

1951-56: A British Road to Socialism

In January 1951, the Communist Party's executive committee published a new programme, The British Road to Socialism, for discussion. Its main propositions had been extensively discussed and agreed with Stalin and the Soviet leadership, although the most significant features had already emerged in previous British congress resolutions and Party publications.

Militant trade unionists, socialists and progressives welcomed the programme's sharp condemnation of the Tories and right-wing Labour:

'If the people are to advance, both Tories and their allies in the Labour Movement, the right-wing Labour leaders, must be fought and defeated. The lesson of the failure of the Labour Government is not the failure of socialism. It is the failure of Labour reformism and Labour imperialism, which is the servant of the big capitalist interests'.

At the core of the BRS was the need to take state power out of the hands of the capitalist minority and implement a policy of socialist nationalisation: 'The people of Britain can transform capitalist democracy into a real People's Democracy, transforming Parliament, the product of Britain's historic struggle for democracy, into the democratic instrument of the will of the vast majority of the people'.

With Communist victories in eastern Europe and China tilting the world balance of forces against imperialism, the BRS argued that ruling class resistance could be overcome without civil war: 'A people's Parliament and Government which draws its strength from a united movement of the people, with the working class as its core, will be able to mobilise the overwhelming majority of the people for decisive measures to break the economic and political power of the big exploiters'.

Warning that the capitalist class will resist 'by all means in their power, including force', the programme insisted that the people and their government 'should be ready decisively to rebuff such attempts'.

Britain could break free from US domination, dismantle the British Empire and pursue an independent foreign policy for peace and cooperation. The BRS also confirmed the Communist Party's call for British military withdrawal from northern Ireland, for a united Ireland and for full recognition of the national claims of Scotland and Wales.

Within three months, more than 150,000 copies of The British Road to Socialism had been distributed. It stimulated a huge debate throughout the labour movement on the nature of the British state and how people's democratic control could be exerted over the mass media, the civil service, the Foreign Office, the armed forces, the police and the judicial system.

Despite the intense hostility of the British establishment, the 'secret state' and the mass media, the CP carried out political agitation on an extraordinary scale.

With membership down to 35,124, the Party nonetheless held 2,000 indoor and 5,000 outdoor public meetings—many at factory gates—in the course of 1952. Weekend sales of the Daily Worker averaged 49,000 copies.

With the Bevanites vacillating, it fell to the Communist Party to galvanise resistance to US and British imperialism abroad and Tory policies at home.

On April 28, 1952, the Daily Worker carried front-page pictures of British soldiers in Malaya displaying the heads of freedom fighters, cut off by bounty hunters. They made world-wide news. The Tory Cabinet thought about prosecuting the paper for treason, but then had to admit that the photographs were genuine.

Only a few courageous Labour MPs, like SO Davies, joined the CP in condemning US germ warfare and the mass murder of two million civilians in the Korean war. For sending reports from the wrong side of the Korean divide, Daily Worker journalist Alan Winnington was banned from returning home for 14 years. Broader alliances were possible in the battle against plans to rearm West Germany and admit it to the NATO alliance.

Communist women played a major part alongside the Quakers in collecting more than a million signatures for the Stockholm Peace Petition, which urged the major powers to ban all nuclear weapons. They also proposed to the International Women's Day Committee that a National Assembly for Women be convened in March 1953.

Under the Party's international secretary Palme Dutt, assisted by former Daily Worker editor Idris Cox, a network of sub-committees produced regular bulletins on developments in different parts of the world. The Irish Democrat, published by the Connolly Association and guided by the CP in Britain, sold thousands of copies monthly, notably to Irish building workers, Dockers and car workers.

Many thousands of Party members were active trade unionists as required by Party rules, often occupying key positions as shop stewards, convenors, branch and district officers and full-time officials at district and national level. Industrial organiser Peter Kerrigan impressed on them the need to win the respect of workmates by being efficient in their job and conscientious in fulfilling their trade union responsibilities. Such an approach, combined with the re-emergence of economic downturns and oppressive management, helped Communists to combat Cold War prejudices within the trade union movement.

Whole sections of the trade union movement were effectively under Communist influence, despite bans on Communists holding office in the Transport & General Workers Union, the steel union and in local Trades Councils. Party members were prominent at national level in the National Union of Mineworkers, the Amalgamated Engineering Union, the Fire Brigades Union, the Electrical Trades Union, the Building Workers Union and several smaller ones. The Scottish and Welsh coalfields and the Yorkshire, Lancashire and Clydeside engineering districts were dominated by Communist officials and rank-and-file activists, as were the London docks and many big car factories in the Midlands and south-east England.

Union offices staffed by the most experienced and durable Party militants, whether in vehicle plants or coal mining communities, were often referred to by workers, bosses and state bureaucrats alike as 'the Kremlin'.

The Party's cutting edge was felt most keenly in the big factories, mines and mills where it had about five hundred workplace branches. Here were the party's 'shock troops', playing a leading role in strikes such as those Rolls Royce, Brigg's and Austin Motors, resisting assembly line speed-ups and demanding more rewards for the workers responsible for higher productivity.

'Every factory a fortress' ran the slogan and Napier's (Acton), Metro-Vickers (Trafford Park), Fairey Aviation (Stockport) and Austin Aero (near Longbridge) boasted CP memberships of two hundred and more, selling at least as many copies of the Daily Worker in every plant every day. Not confining themselves to traditional trade union concerns, they engaged in political education and action including election campaigns.

The Young Communists led a new round of strikes in the shipyards and engineering works, attracting the attention of the Economic League with its spying activities on behalf of the Engineering Employers Federation.

The Communist Party women's department led by Nora Jeffery organised initiatives to defend jobs in the clothing and textile industry and to step up the battle for equal pay, where notable progress was made in the public sector. Many of the Party's two hundred women's sections campaigned against rising prices and for greater nursery, education and housing provision. However, the monthly sales of Woman Today were patchy and its finances always precarious.

In many local communities, when the Tories removed rent controls and security of tenure, the Party's area branches organised tenants in mass campaigns. In October 1955, in Crawley new town for instance, thousands of housing corporation tenants refused to pay rent, while factory workers downed tools to join protest marches.

On the ideological and cultural front, the CP waged the battle of ideas with vigour and imagination. A series of national conferences proclaimed the case for indigenous and working class culture in place of the 'degenerate' products of US monopoly capitalism with their pessimism, cynicism and gratuitous violence.

But a tendency to impose orthodoxy fragmented the Engels Society, where Haldane and other scientists had disputed the theories of Soviet geneticist Lysenko. Professor Bernal, on the other hand, participated prominently in the Science for Peace committee and the World Peace Council before writing his influential work Science in History (1956).

In a series of classic books and articles Dona Torr, Christopher Hill, Rodney Hilton, Dorothy and EP Thompson, Margot Heinemann, Eric Hobsbawm and Noreen Branson reclaimed British history for the working class. They launched the prestigious journal Past and Present and the CP history group published a ground-breaking bulletin, Our History.

The Party writers' group helped produce periodicals such as Our Time and Arena. Literary giants Pablo Neruda and Dylan Thomas were among the contributors.

Celebrated Welsh and Scots poets TE Nicholas and Hugh MacDiarmid were equally well known in their respective countries as members of the Communist Party.

The Unity Theatre movement confused the censorship authorities by its use of agitprop and improvisation. It nurtured actors such as Lionel Bart, Alfie Bass, Michael Redgrave, Bill Owen, Herbert Lom, Bob Hoskins and Warren Mitchell, some of whom joined the Party. Producers Ivor Montagu and Stanley Forman made films for the labour movement.

Communists helped launch an international campaign to restore his US passport to black singer and actor Paul Robeson. He enjoyed a special relationship with the Welsh miners led by Party members such as Will Paynter and Dai Dan Evans.

Folk and jazz was the music of choice for many comrades, reflecting the mixture of traditionalism and avant guardism that characterised their Party. Communist folk singers Ewan McColl and Hamish Henderson provided the imagination—and organiser Martin Milligan the drive—to establish the Edinburgh People's Festival in 1951, alongside the city's international festival of the arts. Its inaugural week of events featured plays, poetry, lectures, Gaelic songs and an address by Communist miners' leader Abe Moffat.

Although administered by a broad labour-movement based committee, the People's Festival was soon proscribed as a 'Communist front' by the Scottish TUC and the Scottish Labour Party. It survived until 1954, later to be reincarnated as the Edinburgh Fringe.

1956-68: Crisis and Recovery

The year that saw the erection of Laurence Bradshaw's powerful monument to Karl Marx in Highgate Cemetery also shook the international Communist movement to its foundations.

In February, at the 20th congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, general secretary Khruschev exposed some of the crimes and abuses of the Stalin period. Many Communists around the world were shocked to learn that violations of socialist democracy and human rights had taken place on such a scale. In fact—as CPSU and state archives were to confirm—millions of Soviet citizens had been incarcerated in the late 1930s for sabotage or subversion, hundreds of thousands executed and whole peoples accused of disloyalty and deported from their homelands.

Anti-Communist propagandists in academia and the mass media quickly inflated the number of deaths to twenty or thirty million and more, adding the real or imagined casualties of war, famine, disease and anything else that could be blamed—rightly or wrongly—on the Soviet system.

In Britain, the Communist Party held its 24th congress in March in a mood of bewilderment and disbelief. Party leaders reported the undoubted economic, social and cultural advances being made in the Soviet Union, which were shifting the world balance of forces towards socialism and colonial liberation. The positive role and legacy of Stalin was emphasised, while criticisms were made of a 'cult of personality' deemed to be safely in the past.

But as details of Khruschev's revelations gained widespread circulation, a growing number of CP members demanded more information and debate. Those involved in producing the monthly Jewish Clarion reacted sharply to reports of anti-Semitic policies in the Soviet Union. Even Palme Dutt was compelled to concede that 'criminal misdeeds' had occurred in the pre-war period. Pollitt fell ill, to be replaced as the Party's general secretary by John Gollan.

In July, the CP executive committee appointed a commission to consider how inner-party democracy might be improved, although pressure to drop democratic-centralism for a more social-democratic type of organisation was resisted. A number of academics including EP Thompson and John Saville published a factional journal of dissent.

Mass protests in Poland and then Hungary indicated significant discontent with economic and social conditions in the 'People's Democracies', which reactionary elements wanted to transform into a challenge to Communist rule and the socialist system itself.

For a short time, the headlines were grabbed by Britain's military escapade—in league with France and Israel—to stop Egyptian president Nasser nationalising the Suez Canal. Communists held hundreds of workplace and public meetings to mobilise mass opposition to the war alongside the Labour left.

Then Soviet armed forces intervened in Hungary to protect the socialist state. Britain's CP and the Daily Worker echoed the Soviet leadership's initial justification and then its self-criticism for being too provocative. But the Red Army's withdrawal at the end of October was followed by brutal killings of Hungarian party and state officials. The new government in Budapest announced an end to the one-party system and then Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact.

When Soviet troops and tanks returned to crush 'counter-revolution' after heavy fighting, their action was supported by the British CP.

Khruschev's revelations together with these events in Hungary prompted thousands of members of all kinds to leave the Party, including the Daily Worker's chief correspondent in Budapest, militant trade unionists and prominent intellectuals. Membership fell from 33,095 in February 1956 to 26,742 in 1957. Although a significant proportion of this 20% drop in membership was actually due to the stricter enforcement of Party rules relating to activity and dues payments.

It was shortly after this crisis in the international Communist movement that the CPSU recommenced financial assistance to the CP in Britain. It continued until 1979, when the latter ended the arrangement. The amounts were small in comparison with the funds raised by the Party's own members. That they did not 'buy' the loyalty of the British CP would be demonstrated by later events. In any case, Communists have always been at least as ready as the capitalists and their states to extend international solidarity.

For many Party members, the class struggle at home provided reason enough to stay put. An economic downturn had begun to bite, prompting the British Motor Corporation to sack 6,000 workers at Longbridge without notice or pay. The shop stewards' committee, led by Communists, responded by calling a six-week strike which secured its objectives.

This was an historic victory because, firstly, workers would henceforth expect consultation and notice over dismissal; and secondly, BMC workers from each plant sent their representatives to a combine committee—an invaluable mechanism for coordination and solidarity.

The dispute also demonstrated that in the bus industry, the docks and now the Midlands car industry, workers at shop-floor level were prepared to defy the TGWU ban on electing Communists to office. It came as little surprise when Britain's biggest union turned left and elected Frank Cousins as its general secretary.

Throughout the 1950s, the CP economic committee insisted that post-war 'Keynesian mixed economy' capitalism had not and could not abolish crises. While right-wing Labour intellectuals proclaimed the end of crisis, mass unemployment and of capitalism itself, the Communist Party warned that the ruling class still wanted a 'reserve army' of the unemployed to moderate wage demands and undermine strong trade unionism.

Professor Maurice Dobb was in the vanguard of theoretical work in areas of Marxist political economy, including problems of planning and distribution in capitalist, 'market socialist' and the centrally planned Soviet economies. John Eaton and Sam Aaronovitch analysed the role of rival state monopoly-capitalisms in the formation and development of the European Common Market, showing that the capitalist monopolies continued to fight to maximise market share and profit in their home economies as well as in the colonies and semi-colonies.

Almost alone on the left, CP economists highlighted the increasingly predominant role of the City of London in shaping British ruling class economic and political policy, especially as British transnational corporations lost ground to US, French and German competition in the developing world. The Party also helped uncover the ongoing trend to monopoly in the British economy, now being driven by US transnationals—not least in the motor industry.

In his political report to the 25th party congress in 1957, John Gollan called for a new, independent foreign policy for Britain—one which 'ends subservience to the United States, insists on the withdrawal of American troops and outlaws nuclear weapons, brings about a European Security system, finishes with the colonial wars, and makes Britain a force for new international understanding'.

Later that year, Aneurin Bevan's rejection of unilateral nuclear disarmament at the Labour Party conference angered many on the left. However, like Bevan and the CPSU, the CP in Britain regarded multilateralism as the key issue because it alone could abolish the world's two biggest stocks of atomic weapons.

Nevertheless, the Party quickly came to see the value of British unilateralism as a lever to push the US into an agreement with the Soviet Union. Communists helped turn the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament into a mass movement after its formation in 1958. Cousins helped win the Labour Party conference for its policy two years later, although the right-wing leadership under Hugh Gaitskell soon reversed the decision.

The Notting Hill riots of 1958 laid bare the ugly racism instilled by empire. Prejudice was mixed with resentment at government-sponsored mass immigration from the Caribbean, as black workers filled low-paid jobs and sub-standard accommodation. White youths went on the rampage.

Back in 1952, the Party's 22nd congress had condemned propaganda about Britain being 'flooded' by foreigners and pointed to the 'flagrant and shameful forms of racial discrimination' suffered by immigrants from the colonies, demanding that 'colour bars' against them in employment, housing, pubs and clubs be made a criminal offence. A couple of years later, the CP published a Charter of Rights and distributed 150,000 leaflets and pamphlets which proclaimed 'No Colour Bar for Britain'.

Now, in 1958, Britain's Communists mobilised to resist racist thuggery and urge working class unity. Trinidad-born Claudia Jones, a member of the Party's international committee and editor of the West Indian Gazette, not only played an outstanding role in that struggle. She inspired the local black community to celebrate their heritage and culture the following year. The Notting Hill carnival was born.

The Communist Party's black and ethnic minority members tended to be either seafarers in port cities such as Liverpool and Cardiff, or overseas Communists domiciled in Britain. For decades, its best-known black member was the famous Manchester boxer Len Johnson, banned from fighting for a British title by his colour and a frequent local council candidate in Moss Side.

Towards the end of 1959, the Party responded to an appeal from the African National Congress to campaign for the boycott of goods from apartheid South Africa. Anger at the Sharpeville massacre transformed the initiative the following year into the Anti-Apartheid Movement. Its headquarters were located in the second Ruskin House, Croydon.

The CP opposed the 1961 Commonwealth Immigration Bill which exempted the white 'Old Commonwealth' from any controls. Working with the Movement for Colonial Freedom, it helped establish the Coordinating Committee against Racial Discrimination, drawing in the Indian Workers Association and similar Pakistani and West Indian bodies.

Attempts by followers of Sir Oswald Mosley and neo-Nazi Colin Jordan to rebuild a fascist movement also met Communist-led opposition. During a confrontation in Manchester in summer 1962, Betty Askins floored Mosley with a handbag full of coins from her market stall. Meanwhile, Communists brought together trades unionists and Jewish community leaders to set up the North and East London Anti-Fascist Coordinating Committee. Maurice Ludmer and Gerry Gable collaborated with left Labour MPs to launch the first run of Searchlight magazine.

By the late 1950s and early '60s, British manufacturing industry was feeling the strain of under-investment and increasingly fierce competition from the US, West Germany and France. British monopoly capitalism concentrated its interests still further in the City of London, financial and property speculation and the export of capital overseas.

As British imperialism's command of colonial markets and cheap imports weakened, it fought desperately to ensure that countries only gained their independence on terms favourite to British capital.

Britain's Communists celebrated heartily when long-time comrade Cheddi Jagan was re-elected chief minister of British Guyana in 1961. He had previously been removed militarily by the British colonial authorities. Despite winning the largest share of the votes in 1964, he was dismissed from office for a second time.

Alan Bush, banned from the BBC during the war, added an opera about the Guyanan freedom struggle ('The Sugar Reapers') to a repertoire which included 'The Men of Blackmoor' (about the Northumberland and Durham miners) and 'Wat Tyler'. They were performed to great acclaim in the German Democratic Republic and other socialist countries, but largely boycotted by the musical establishment at home.

In Britain, meanwhile, a new ruling class offensive had been launched against CP influence in the unions.

Communist leadership in the Electrical Trades Union had gained unprecedented terms, conditions and union facilities for electricians and apprentices. Disgruntled ex-Party members backed by employers, TUC general secretary Vic Feather, the BBC, Catholic Action, the Economic League and other shadowy right-wing outfits, charged ETU officials with ballot-rigging. In 1961, a High Court judge found the union's general secretary Frank Haxell and other CP members guilty of using 'fraudulent and unlawful' means to win an election.

The Party's executive committee condemned such practices, which were more often used by the right wing against Communists and the left. The new leadership of the ETU went on to ban Communists and their allies from office, crushing all dissent and ruthlessly manipulating organisational and electoral arrangements on a scale undreamt of by Haxell and his comrades.

Despite a new wave of anti-Communist frenzy in the mass media, Party membership continued to revive—not least as a result of militant campaigning against high council rents, slum landlords and 'Rachmanism'. Tenants' leader Don Cook was a major target for eviction following a mass rent strike in the London borough of St. Pancras in 1960, where the leader of the council and six of his colleagues had been expelled from the Labour Party and joined the CP. Police laid violent siege to Cook's flat, workers struck in solidarity and 14,000 people marched on the town hall.

In local elections the following year, 450 Communist candidates achieved 100,000 votes and raised the Party's tally of councillors to 28.

Also in 1961, the Tory government imposed a statutory pay pause. This provoked widespread trade union defiance. Workers in the engineering, shipbuilding and motor industries struck for better wages and conditions. In January 1962, the CP executive committee pointed out: 'The ruling class sharpens its weapons for survival in a new and very important stage in the long-drawn-out crisis of British monopoly capitalism'.

During the first-ever national strike in the electricity supply industry, Communist Charlie Doyle at Battersea Power Station was attacked by the Daily Mirror as 'the most hated man in Britain'. He was used to the hatred of the ruling class, having been hounded out of the US during the McCarthyite madness.

But Communist efforts in train drivers' union ASLEF failed to secure united action with the NUR against the Beeching Plan to slash Britain's railway network.

Party recruitment received a boost from the revival of Soviet prestige, due not least to the Sputnik space programme and cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's orbit around the Earth. Many Communists were very active in the British-Soviet Friendship Society and similar bodies, building links between workers and their families here and in the socialist countries, organising exchange visits between trade union and cultural bodies, selling Soviet Weekly and promoting mutual understanding where the British ruling class promoted fear and antagonism.

The CIA-backed 'Bay of Pigs' invasion of Cuba and then, in 1962, the so-called 'Soviet missile crisis' could be pointed to as further evidence of US aggression and nuclear recklessness. Although the US ended its military blockade of the island, an economic embargo has continued to the present day—testimony to US determination that the peoples of Latin America should not see Cuba as a socialist alternative to imperialist domination, military dictatorship, debilitating poverty and untreated disease.

By 1963, British CP membership had returned to pre-Hungary levels. They were barely affected by the departure of small groups of 'Maoists'. The Chinese Communist Party's new line denounced Soviet 'social imperialism', rehabilitated Stalin, dismissed the possibility of imposing 'peaceful co-existence' on the imperialist powers and identified 'Third World' peasants and 'first world' students as the revolutionary forces to replace the 'bourgeois' industrial working class. Britain's CP disagreed with these propositions, clearly but in terms which looked forward to the restoration of unity in the world Communist movement.

Although Communists fared well in British municipal elections the following year, the Party's 36 General Election candidates were squeezed between a reinvigorated Labour Party and a boycott by the mass media.

Towards the end of 1964, YCLers in Manchester and Clydeside sparked an all-out strike for the Apprentice Youth Charter. Condemned by envious Trotskyists, the movement won improvements for young workers in their pay and procedures.

Labour prime minister Harold Wilson survived for two years with the slenderest parliamentary majority. But it was long enough to indicate that behind the rhetoric about peace, higher pay and productivity (harnessing the 'white heat of the technological revolution') lurked the usual social-democratic commitment to NATO, nuclear weapons and pay restraint. In September 1965, the government appointed a royal commission into the role of trade unions and a Prices and Incomes Board to impose wage controls.

At the Communist Party's 29th congress, John Gollan urged members to put aside Cold War isolationism. The CP was ready to 'talk to anyone now, and consider any proposal, to reach the aim of a united left movement'. The immediate task was, he insisted, to 'halt the swing to the right and force the Government to the left'.

Within the British labour movement, the scope for unity on the left was expanding rapidly, especially between the Communists and the Labour left. Broad left alliances developed within the trade unions, as Palme Dutt's Labour Monthly carved out a distinctive position as a magazine of left unity.

The growing number of white-collar and women workers reflected changing patterns of industry, work and employment. Trade unionism advanced in these sectors as the decline in coal, steel, shipbuilding and other traditional industries began to accelerate. In 1966, the Daily Worker changed its name to the Morning Star in a bid to broaden its appeal.

That year, too, Labour increased its majority at the General Election to 96. Prime Minister Wilson treated this result as the green light for an assault on trade union strength in the workplace. This was judged essential if company productivity and profits were to turn upwards.

In May, Communist seafarers and their allies in the 'Reform Movement' succeeded in pressing their union's notoriously collaborationist leaders into calling a strike. The main aim was to reduce the standard working week in the industry from 56 hours to 40.

Utilising reports gained from MI5 bugs at CP headquarters in King Street, London, Wilson accused a 'tightly knit group of politically motivated men' of plotting to bring down his government. He named the Party's new industrial organiser Bert Ramelson and Dockers' leader Jack Dash as among the masterminds. The TUC withdrew its support for the dispute two days after Wilson's speech. The strike was settled after six weeks with agreement on a 42-hour week and a substantial wage rise, but not before the government had declared a state of emergency.

Almost immediately, a national wage freeze was announced across the whole economy with TUC support. Prices continued to rise despite the pledge to control them as well, as millions of workers experienced a fall in their living standards. Communists responded by setting up the Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions. Pay controls were later relaxed, but further battles over trade union power and the cost of living became inevitable.

Around the world, imperialism was reacting viciously to the advance of revolutionary and progressive movements. In Indonesia, US-backed General Suharto organised the slaughter of half a million Communists. Massive American military intervention in Vietnam tried to shore up a succession of military dictatorships in the south against the Communist-led National Liberation Front.

Young Communists took to high streets across Britain, collecting for medical aid to Vietnam. The Vietnamese NLF made clear its view that the solidarity movement here should concentrate on breaking the Labour government's political support for US policy, helping to force the imperialists to negotiate for peace and withdrawal. Even so, the far left in Britain preferred to raise the slogan 'Victory to the NLF!'

The US and its allies killed more than two million civilians in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos before the peace talks began and the forces of popular sovereignty triumphed.

Britain's Communist Party unreservedly opposed Israel’s ‘six-day war’ in 1967 against its Arab neighbours. Backed by US and British imperialism, Israel illegally occupied the Palestinian territories of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, together with Egypt's Sinai Peninsula and Syria's Golan Heights. The CP paid a heavy price in terms of lost support among Britain's Jewish communities—but as nothing compared with the cost of the war to the Palestinian people.

1968-79 Communists to the Fore

For some Communists, the 'Prague Spring' in 1968 appeared to be a replay of the Hungarian crisis of 1956. But this time, the Czech Communist Party had initiated the mass demonstrations of support for its 'democratisation' of political and economic life.

The Dubcek government clearly enjoyed public and working class support, and carefully avoided any talk of withdrawing from the Warsaw Pact. The Morning Star and CP in Britain welcomed 'the positive steps taken to tackle the wrongs of the past and strengthen socialist democracy'.

When Soviet and allied forces entered Prague on August 20, they met overwhelming but passive, non-violent resistance. The next day, like other Communists in the developed capitalist countries, the Party in Britain opposed the 'intervention'. While understanding Soviet security concerns, they could not share the Soviet assessment that counter-revolution had been underway in Czechoslovakia.

The YCL went further, characterising the intervention as an 'invasion'. Divisions within Young Communist ranks polarised sharply between 'revisionists' and Marxists-Leninists.

Similar differences had also surfaced during debates around the new edition of The British Road to Socialism published in 1968. It identified 'state-monopoly capitalism' as the obstacle to progress on every front and to socialism, because 'the capitalist state is intertwined with the great banks and monopolies'. The immediate need, therefore, was to construct a 'broad popular alliance around the leadership of the working class, fighting every aspect of the power of the monopolies'.

However, the programme also emphasised the importance of a 'democratic advance to socialism', with a multi-party system including parties hostile to socialism continuing after working class state power had been achieved. Instead of seeking to undermine, weaken or split the Labour Party, the CP wanted to see it reject reformism, fight capitalism and help build a socialist society.

Indeed, such points had featured as a central theme of CP contributions to a 'Christian-Marxist dialogue' conducted in large public meetings and the Party press, led by James Klugmann and Canon Paul Oestreicher.

Other Communists saw the programme as diluting the class basis of the Party's strategy to take and maintain state power, placing too much store by electoral work and capitulating to 'bourgeois' concepts of democracy.

Communist involvement in the struggle against South African apartheid was less contentious. London was becoming an important base for South African CP and African National Congress exiles.

Britain's Communist Party had responded to an appeal from the two organisations to supply white volunteers who, having no connection with South Africa, would not be known to the apartheid regime. Mostly recruited from within the YCL, and with financial and other help from the Soviet Union and other socialist countries, they travelled to South Africa and neighbouring countries to carry out clandestine military and publicity work. The military work, which lasted into the early 1990s, consisted mainly of reconnaissance, transporting weapons and equipment, and helping ANC fighters to enter South Africa. Some comrades received training in the Soviet Union and Cuba.

In Liverpool, the CP recruited Communist seamen for an abortive mission, organised by Joe Slovo, to land ANC fighters on the South African coast in the Aventura.

In every year from 1967 to 1971, YCL and CP members, along with non-communists recruited in Britain, planted specially-designed 'leaflet bombs' or similar devices in South African cities. These distributed thousands of ANC leaflets to startled crowds in up to five cities simultaneously. The volunteers also arranged street broadcasting of amplified recordings of ANC speeches and songs. These activities helped the ANC to re-establish a presence inside South Africa following the Rivonia trial, after which most ANC and SACP members who were not imprisoned had been forced into exile.

YCL member Sean Hosey was captured and jailed for 5 years. Communist Party member Alex Moumbaris, sentenced to 12 years, escaped from Pretoria Prison in 1979. The others kept their activities secret over many years.

In Britain, as access to higher and further education grew in the 1960s and early 1970s, the student movement gained in social weight and political significance. The Communist Party's national student committee, working with the Labour left and the Young Liberals in the Radical Students Alliance, played a central role in breaking the grip of the Labour right wing in the National Union of Students (NUS).

After CIA links with the International Student Conference (set up to undermine the International Union of Students) were exposed in 1967, the CP had become the leading political force in the Broad Left which also included left-wing Labour students. The election of Communist Digby Jacks as its president in 1971 indicated the extent to which the NUS was turning into a mass campaigning organisation on issues such as student finances, student union resources, racism, South African apartheid and peace—although the Communist and Labour left leadership increasingly came under attack from Trotskyist and other far left elements.

Even more significantly, the Party was strengthening its alliances in the labour movement. A further shift to the left in the biggest trade unions had been signalled by the election in the late 1960s of ex-CP member Hugh Scanlon and ex-International Brigader Jack Jones to lead the AEU and the TGWU, respectively. Dockers, engineers, airplane pilots, bus workers and train drivers were among those taking action during the period.

But the most historic strike was that of women machinists at Ford's in Dagenham and then Halewood in June 1968. Their demand was for regrading to reduce pay inequality with their male colleagues. Employment minister Barbara Castle intervened and the action ended after three weeks with a wage rise short of parity. But the episode paved the way for the first Equal Pay Act in 1970. A number of the shop stewards organising the action were Communist or broad left activists.

The Communist Party used its influence among London's Dockers to combat Enoch Powell's racist scaremongering about 'funeral pyres' and rivers 'foaming with much blood'. Communists liaised with their Asian, African and Caribbean comrades in Britain to launch the Campaign Against Racist Laws to oppose further immigration controls against black and Asian Commonwealth citizens. Two of Britain's biggest-ever anti-racist demonstrations followed.

The Labour government's January 1969 White Paper, In Place of Strife, set out to shackle shop-floor trade unionism by imposing strike ballots, delaying industrial action and outlawing so-called unofficial 'wildcat' walk-outs. A labour court would preside over the new system.

The Liaison Committee for the Defence of Trade Unions called a one-day general strike on May 1. Other strikes in the motor, refuse collection and coal mining industries showed the determination of workers to take official and unofficial action in defence of their living standards. Wilson and Castle dropped their anti-union proposals, and a divided Labour Party lost the 1970 General Election.

The Tory government under Edward Heath tried to pick up where Labour had been compelled to leave off. But fresh attempts to assert state authority over collective bargaining through compulsory ballots and a labour court proved catastrophic.

Five states of emergency were declared between 1970 and 1974 (there had been only seven in the preceding fifty years). A work to rule on the railways created chaos—but an enforced ‘cooling off’ ballot turned into a six-to-one vote of confidence in the unions and their action.

The LCDTU took the lead in putting unions and the TUC under pressure to resist Heath’s Industrial Relations Bill. One-day 'Kill the Bill' stoppages called by the Liaison Committee and the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers in December 1970 and then in March 1971—when three million workers came out—forced the TUC to respond. At a special congress, the trade unions decided not to cooperate with the anti-union legislation.

In June 1971, the Tory government announced its intention to withdraw trade credits from the semi-nationalised Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, immediately jeopardising more than 6,000 jobs. Former YCL general secretary and CP Scottish secretary Jimmy Reid, together with fellow Communist shop stewards Sammy Barr and Jimmy Airlie, led a work-in which occupied all four yards in Glasgow and Clydebank. As Reid put it: 'We are taking over the yards. We refuse to accept that faceless men can take these decisions'.

They ran the company for 15 months, assisted by an enormous outpouring of national and international solidarity including two one-day strikes across Scotland, until the government backed down. The yards were saved, although not all the jobs.

The UCS work-in inspired other workers to resist closures as two hundred occupations broke out across Britain over the following twelve months. Further action by the women machinists at Dagenham led to improvements in the equal pay law.

In the last week of July 1972, mass working class action called by the LCDTU secured the release from Pentonville prison of five Dockers' leaders (two of them Communists). They had been imprisoned for organising 'secondary' (i.e. solidarity) action in the course of a dispute involving the TGWU. With the TUC finally threatening a one-day general strike, the government used an obscure legal functionary to free the five. The Industrial Relations Act was now a dead duck.

Communists working with allies in the broad left played a central role in the 1972 miners' strike against government pay controls. The Security Service (MI5) and senior civil servants informed Prime Minister Heath that eight of the 28-strong NUM executive were CP members—and therefore 'wreckers' who opposed the 'existing political system generally' and whose aim was to bring down the Tory government.

Party militants initiated a mass picket of Saltley coke works in Birmingham, winning the support of shop stewards in the city's giant factories. In what became known as the ‘Battle of Saltley Gates’, tens of thousands of engineers and car workers left work to swamp the depot, closing it at the very moment that the government had decided to surrender to the miners.

The Tories took revenge for some of these defeats with the arrest of dozens of local militants six months after a national building workers' strike. Communist Des Warren and Ricky Tomlinson were gaoled on trumped-up conspiracy charges, the former remaining in prison even after the Tories had been turfed out.

In the north of Ireland, the unionist regime and sectarian local security forces tried to suppress resurgent demands from Catholics for equal rights. The British Army imposed curfews and rampaged through nationalist communities. Thousands of nationalists and republicans were interned without trial under special powers legislation.

As a result of Connolly Association lobbying, the British TUC adopted a substantial policy on Ireland in 1971 which included opposition to the unionist veto on progress.

In January 1972, a huge anti-Internment rally was organised in Derry. The march itself passed off peacefully, but British paratroopers opened fire on protestors and killed 14 unarmed people on what became known as ‘Bloody Sunday'. Heath brought the province under direct London rule.

Throughout this period, working closely with their Irish comrades, Britain's Communists raised these issues inside the labour movement and beyond. This became increasingly difficult as the British government and media concentrated on the threat of Irish Republican Army 'terrorism'.

The Communist Party, on the other hand, condemned state terrorism in Ireland, while making clear its opposition to all military actions against civilians. It warned that repressive legislation would be extended to Britain and, arguing that there could be no military solution, called for the reunification of Ireland by peaceful means.

As far as the national question within Britain was concerned, almost alone on the left, Communists had long advocated parliaments for Scotland and Wales. Scottish TUC general secretary Jimmy Milne and NUM vice-president Mick McGahey championed the cause in the labour movement. Arising from the solidarity of the miners' strike and other battles, South Wales NUM secretary Dai Francis played a vital part in establishing the Wales TUC in 1973, against the opposition of right-wing trade union leaders.

The Party's particular appeal in the Celtic countries was demonstrated in that year's local elections, when 608 candidates polled 165,743 votes to win 13 seats in Scotland, six in Wales and four in England.

At the beginning of 1973, the CP launched a women's journal, Link. It marked the culmination of a debate within the Party about its relationship to the women's liberation movement. Communists had played a major part in drafting the demands of the 1970 Women's Liberation Conference in Oxford for abortion and contraception rights, childcare facilities and equal opportunities in employment and education. Florence Keyworth, Gladys Brooks and others had then joined non-Party members Sheila Rowbotham and Audrey Wise to produce a feminist magazine, Red Rag.

In September 1973, the Popular Unity government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a CIA-backed military coup. Communists initiated the Chile Solidarity Campaign, also assisting many Chilean Communists and socialists to find safety in Britain. Refugee members of the Manuel Rodriguez Patriotic Front, the armed wing of the anti-fascist resistance, were secretly transported across Europe and on some occasions rescued from deportation to Chile by trade union action.

At home, a miners' overtime ban prompted the Tory government to impose a three-day week and power cuts. When ministers threatened harsher measures still, Mick McGahey caused a storm by declaring that he would—if necessary—appeal to soldiers to disobey orders and assist the miners. In the face of an all-out strike in February 1974, Heath called a General Election on the question of 'Who Governs Britain?' The electors gave their answer, twice in one year. Wilson returned to office on the basis of a Labour manifesto which promised 'a fundamental and irreversible shift in the balance of power and wealth in favour of working people and their families'.

Jimmy Reid, one of the leaders of the UCS work-in, trebled the CP vote in Dumbarton Central which included 'Red Clydebank' with its Communist councillors and more than one thousand Party members. His high profile campaign won 5,928 votes, 15 per cent of the poll, in the wake of a vicious anti-Communist and clerical crusade against him. In the fifty or so other seats contested by the Party in the two 1974 elections, its candidates were seen by the mass media and many electors as irrelevant as far as the most important outcome was concerned.

That year, too, Communists and allies on London Trades Council proposed a Working Women's Charter which was taken up enthusiastically by trade union, women's centres and tenants' associations in other towns and cities. Its demands included equal pay and opportunities, a national minimum wage, equal rights in law, free daytime nursery provision, additional maternity rights, free contraception and abortion and a bigger role for women in trade union and political life.

In the 1975 referendum campaign, the CP fought hard as part of the broad alliance for a 'No' vote against Britain's continuing membership of the European Economic Community. The Communist position had been consistent since the 1957 Treaty of Rome: based on the free movement of capital, goods and labour, the Common Market was a 'bosses' club'.

Although Wilson succeeded in keeping Britain in the EEC, the Labour government also replaced Tory laws with new rights for workers and trade unions, repealed punitive council rent legislation and nationalised the aircraft and shipbuilding industries.

Also in 1975, former assistant general secretary and Morning Star editor George Matthews displayed a live MI5 microphone discovered in a wall at the Party's King Street headquarters. For decades, the intelligence servies had conducted an enormous campaign of espionage, burglary and communications interception against many Party activists and sympathisers.

Matthews also made a decisive intervention at that year's Party congress, tipping the balance in favour of a resolution opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians. When this followed by further executive committee statements attacking anti-gay prejudice and calling for full and equal rights in law, the Gay Times congratulated the CP for having the 'fullest and most far-reaching such policy ever adopted by a non-gay organisation'.

Hoping to avoid the conflict over statutory wage controls that had brought down its Tory predecessor, the Labour government concluded a 'Social Contract' with the TUC leadership, including Jones and Scanlon. It promised higher social expenditure and public investment in return for higher productivity and voluntary pay restraint.

The problem was that Labour also hoped to placate the City of London by trying to prop up the value of sterling through high interest rates. This made industrial investment and imports more expensive. Wage rises fell way behind inflation, while company profits and dividends raced ahead. Bert Ramelson renamed Labour's deal 'the Social Con-trick' and the label stuck.

Ken Gill, Communist general secretary of technicians' union TASS, led the counter-attack at successive TUC conferences. He proposed the Alternative Economic Strategy devised by CP and the Labour left economists and trade unionists. It called for limits on the export of capital, selective import controls, public ownership of strategic industries and enterprises, planning agreements, lower interest rates, higher public investment, price controls, free collective bargaining, higher pensions and benefits, a shorter working week and reductions in overtime. In 1975, Gill's motion was defeated by 6.4 million to 3 million on a card vote.

In August 1976, low-paid Asian women went on strike at the Grunwick photo processing plant in London. They struggled on heroically for almost two years, sustained by mass solidarity and Brent Trades Council with its substantial Communist influence.

Locked into a balance of payments crisis, with unemployment climbing towards two million, the Labour government accepted a loan from the International Monetary Fund. The strings included public spending cuts and job losses. A series of strikes, notably by public sector workers in the fire service and local government, engulfed Labour's pay policy.

The 25th anniversary of Elizabeth Windsor's accession to the throne was intended to reinforce patriotic feelings of national unity among the British people. Communists saw it as celebration of social inequality, class privilege and undemocratic rule. An alternative 'People's Jubilee' in June 1977 attracted 11,000 people to Alexandra Palace, London, in what the CP leadership declared was 'a great expression of the internationalism of our party. It demonstrated our closeness to the struggles of the British people, and showed the relationship of these to the battle for socialism in Britain'.

One of the organisers of the People's Jubilee was jazz musician Paul Rutherford, a Communist in the tradition of bandleader Harry Gold and his 'Pieces of Eight', while the Party's presence on the folk and jazz-rock scenes about to be renewed by the likes of Dick Gaughan and Robert Wyatt.

Despite its influence in the trade unions, the Communist Party was not strong enough to force new prime minister Callaghan to change course. Even so, newspapers reported Bert Ramelson as claiming that the CP could decide a policy in the autumn, get it adopted by most major unions by the spring, see it become TUC policy in September and Labour Party policy in October.

But the Labour Party leadership now simply ignored its own conference policies, as did some compliant right-wing trade union leaders. Abandoned even by the TUC at the end, Callaghan and Labour were defeated in the General Election by Margaret Thatcher's Tories.

The Communist Party ended the decade with a membership of 20,599, compared with its high-point of 29,943 in 1973. The decline had accelerated after 1977, when a new draft of the Party's programme The British Road to Socialism was debated and adopted. Once more, deepening political and ideological differences had come into the open, prompting a group around Surrey district secretary Sid French to split and form the New Communist Party.

At the other end of the spectrum, a small faction of 'modernisers' questioned the centrality of the working class to the struggle for socialism. They pointed to the diversity of the working class as evidence that it could no longer be seen as a single force with one over-riding identity or even one fundamental class interest. 'New social forces' based on gender, ethnicity and sexual orientation, or motivated by concerns for the environment and peace, could play the leadership role which the working class and the labour movement had failed to fulfil.

This was their interpretation of the 'broad democratic alliance' which replaced the programme's perspective of a 'broad popular alliance' aimed at the monopolies and their state. Selecting and distorting some concepts developed by the Italian Marxist-Leninist Antonio Gramsci, the latter-day 'Gramscians' labelled Communists who based their political theory and practice on class as 'left sectarians' who were guilty of 'class reductionism'.

Echoing the 'Eurocommunist' outlook expressed by the Communist Party leaders in Italy, Spain and to a lesser extent France, the faction emphasised the need to 'democratise' both capitalism and socialism. The Soviet Union was a model to be shunned or repudiated rather than critically or uncritically supported.

Subsequently, the Eurocommunists took control of the YCL and then the Party's national student committee. Breaking traditional alliances with the Labour left, they disorientated and then demobilised both bodies. This was made possible by the patronage of a CP leadership seeking 'new' ideas.

Like Eric Hobsbawm in his 1978 Marx Memorial Library lecture 'The Forward March of Labour Halted?', the Eurocommunists were raising some interesting questions—but then providing some very wrong answers. Taking control of the Party's theoretical and discussion journal Marxism Today enabled them to spread further confusion and division, not least about the character of the Thatcher government.

1979-88: Reaction on Every Front

Tory strategy reflected the interests of monopoly finance capital in the City of London: to restore corporate profitability through privatisation, cuts in public services, lower wages, higher labour productivity, curbs on trade union rights and massive tax reductions for the rich and big business. An ideological offensive was launched in favour of 'free markets' and 'free' (i.e. monopoly) enterprise, accompanied by rearmament and a renewed ideological Cold War against the Soviet Union.

When the Soviet Red Army intervened in Afghanistan to support one faction of the revolutionary government against another, and to help it resist CIA-backed subversion, the British government supplied military and financial assistance to the reactionary 'mujahedeen'. The decision of the CP executive committee to oppose the Soviet intervention provoked open defiance in the Party and the pages of the Morning Star.

At home, too, the Thatcher regime was quick to declare war on the working class. It brought new management into British Leyland to sack powerful Communist works convenor Derek Robinson at the Longbridge car plant, in November 1979. The security service MI5 also had a hand in the affair, as did the new right-wing leadership of the AUEW.

In response, Longbridge workers struck to defend Robinson. But whereas the TGWU was set to back the unofficial action, his own AUEW leaders opted for a joint inquiry with BL management instead. Three months later, with the momentum lost, under a deluge of anti-Red propaganda and fearful for their jobs, a majority could no longer be won for action to reinstate him.

Robinson's offence, supposedly, was to have published with others an alternative survival plan—including the possibility of mass action—for the publicly owned, mismanaged and under-funded company. His real crime was to be the leader of a huge, well-organised combine of militant shop stewards facing company plans to shed at least 25,000 jobs. The ruling class wanted to send a message to every workers' representative in Britain: “If we can sack ‘Red Robbo’, we can sack you”.

The government and state then took on the steelworkers, achieving mass redundancies in exchange for a wage rise. The teachers were then defeated in industrial action over their terms and conditions.

The Tories abolished important trade union rights, hacked away at public services, privatised the nationalised industries, extended the powers of the police and the courts, hammered local government and awarded enormous tax cuts to the rich. Marxism Today announced the arrival of a new phenomenon—'Thatcherism'—rather than analyse the switch by state-monopoly capitalism to a more aggressive strategy of class confrontation.

As unemployment soared towards three million, the Communist Party drew on its traditional strengths and alliances to initiate two People's Marches for Jobs.

The first, from Liverpool to London in 1981, received support from the Scottish, Welsh and regional TUCs—although a Tory minister attacked it for being politically motivated, quoting from an article by the then left-wing Labour MP Neil Kinnock in the Morning Star. On May 30, more than 100,000 supporters accompanied the marchers into Trafalgar Square. A few weeks later, angered by mass unemployment, racist policing and fascist attacks, young and unemployed people rioted in dozens of English towns and cities.

The British TUC backed the second march, in 1983, from Glasgow to London with five additional feeder marches. It helped make unemployment a major issue at the General Election in June, although the 'Falklands' factor ensured a Thatcher victory.

Despite having sold a battleship and other weapons to the junta in Buenos Aires, while reducing British citizenship rights of the islanders, the Thatcher government had sent a military taskforce to retake the Falklands from Argentina. Labour Party leaders sided with British imperialism and its determination to hold onto mineral rights in the South Atlantic, while the CP and the Morning Star called for withdrawal of the military 'Task Force' in order to pursue a peaceful settlement.

During the subsequent election campaign, the Tories placed full-page adverts in the national press listing key common policies from the Labour and Communist Party manifestos, under the heading 'Like Your Manifesto, Comrade?'

There was one country where the Tories joined their ally US President Reagan and the Pope in supporting strikes, mass demonstrations and free trade unionism ... Poland. In the face of big and popular mobilisations by the 'Solidarity' trade union movement, General Jaruzelski and the military had taken over the government there at the end of 1981.

The CP leadership in Britain opposed martial law, demanding the release of detained trade union leaders and a return to civilian rule. Many other Party members believed that the real aim of Solidarność, with its material and financial support from the US National Endowment for Democracy, was to bring down the socialist system.

Nevertheless, the Communist Party was united in its opposition to the reactionary regimes of Saddam Hussein and the Ayatollah Khomeini. Both dictatorships imprisoned, tortured and executed Communists and progressives, while US and British imperialism armed Iraq for its brutal invasion of Iran. Communists in Britain played a vital role in sustaining organisations of solidarity with the Iraqi and Iranian people, working in unity with Communists from those countries now domiciled here, winning widespread support within the British labour movement.

By now in the grip of a fresh bout of Cold War fever, the Tories were determined to install Cruise and Trident nuclear missile systems. Hundreds of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets and surrounded military bases at Greenham Common and elsewhere. While Defence minister Heseltine denounced Communist Party influence in CND, one of its leaders Bruce Kent hailed the CP as 'partners in peace' at the Party's 38th congress in 1983. He also praised the Morning Star for its 'steady, honest and generous coverage of the whole nuclear disarmament case'.

By then, Eurocommunists, now the dominant force in the Party leadership, had launched a furious attack on the class-based, pro-Soviet politics of the Morning Star and its editor Tony Chater. In a period when the resurgent Labour left headed by Tony Benn would have benefited from Communist support and advice about the importance of extra-parliamentary alliances and mass struggle, the Eurocommunists instead denounced Labour Party socialists as the 'hard left'.

On March 12 1984, the NUM struck against the National Coal Board's pit closure programme. President Arthur Scargill and the union's executive turned a collection of local strikes into a national one, on the authority of previous conference resolutions.

The Tories had spent the second half of the previous decade drawing up plans—contained in the Carrington and Ridley Reports—for such a confrontation, with the intention of breaking the power of the miners and their union. All the powers of the state—the police, the courts, the intelligence services, the BBC, the Central Electricity Generating Board and even the social security system—were deployed against the miners, whom Prime Minister Thatcher branded 'the enemy within'.

Communists across the inner-party divide threw themselves into the struggle with energy and imagination, helping to mobilise solidarity through miners' support groups, Women Against Pit Closures and among lesbians and gays and the black and Asian communities. The Morning Star reported the strike prolifically, handing over the front page to the NUM to put its case.

After the defeat, NUM vice-president Mick McGahey told the Party’s 39th congress that 'the basic weakness of the miners’ strike … was that the Communist Party was not strong enough in industry, was not organised in factory branches'.

The full truth was more severe: despite the efforts of so many CP members, the Party itself had failed to provide the united direction to the struggle that it had in 1972 and 1974. The revisionist leadership spent much of its time sniping at Scargill and militant picketing rather than meeting the NUM leadership to plan solidarity activities. Centrally, more CP resources went into attacking the Morning Star than into putting the case for solidarity action with the miners. Marxism Today's contribution to the struggle was negligible.

Long before the miners—at least those not victimised—returned to work on March 5, 1985, Party members and trade union allies had risen in open revolt against the CP leadership and its Eurocommunist faction. At the AGM in 1984 of the People's Press Printing Society, the cooperative which owned the Morning Star, they had voted for the paper's management committee against candidates proposed by the Party's executive.

That same year, the large North West and London district congresses had also opposed the CP leadership, despite an attempt by General Secretary Gordon Maclennan to close down the latter. In 1985, leading dissidents including Chater and Morning Star deputy editor David Whitfield were expelled from the CP, as the self-styled 'revolutionary democrats' proceeded to carry out one of the biggest purges in the Party's history. Another casualty was PPPS management committee chair Ken Gill, about to become the first-ever Communist president of the TUC.

Thousands of shareholders in the Morning Star's cooperative, including Arthur Scargill, inflicted a heavy defeat on the revisionist leadership at the 1985 AGM, although the Eurocommunists and their allies tightened their grip on the Party's apparatus and congress. By the end of 1985, around 101 Party members had been expelled and another 600 deregistered. Few industrial advisory committees still functioned and the YCL had shrunk to just 44 members.

In these desperate conditions, the Communist Campaign Group (CCG) was formed to unite Marxist-Leninists inside and now also outside the Party, to continue Communist political work and defeat revisionism and liquidationism. It also began to produce a theoretical journal, the Communist Campaign Review.

A leading CCG member, former London district CP chair Mike Hicks, came to the fore in the year-long dispute at Wapping. Media baron Rupert Murdoch provoked a strike in January 1986 in order to replace 6,000 print workers with new technology and a small 'scab' workforce—recruited with the help of the electricians' union, later expelled from the TUC. The plot was revealed first in the Morning Star, based on leaked News International documents.

Hicks, a union lay official, was emblematic of the militant spirit of the printers and their supporters on the picket lines. But during his imprisonment on a trumped-up charge of assaulting a police chief, the union leadership under Brenda (later Baroness) Dean called off the action.

By this time, it was clear to many that there appeared to be prospect of returning the CP to its rules, principles and programme was remote. Further fragmentation and the disappearance of the Communist Party was an ever present danger. Extraordinary circumstances called forth extraordinary measures.

1988-97 Re-establishing the Party

In April 1988, a special congress of delegates from CCG and existing Party organisations declared the re-establishment of the Communist Party in Britain on the basis of democratic centralism, Marxism-Leninism and The British Road to Socialism.

The rules were amended to drop the word 'Great' from the Party's name and restore support for the Morning Star, while the programme was updated soon afterwards and renamed Britain's Road to Socialism.

In particular, the Party unambiguously identified the working class, broadly defined, as the leading force for revolutionary change. It proposed a democratic anti-monopoly alliance which could win a 'new type of left government, based on a Labour, socialist and Communist majority in the Westminster parliament, one which comes about through the wide-ranging struggles of a mass movement outside parliament, demanding the kind of policies contained in the Alternative Economic and Political Strategy'. This would require a stronger Communist Party, together with a decisive shift to the left in the trade unions and the Labour Party, making possible future forms of Labour-Communist cooperation including through CP affiliation.

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) executive committee elected Mike Hicks as general secretary and Derek Robinson as chair. The latter position was later filled by leading NALGO lay official Richard Maybin. The Party recommenced publication of a theoretical journal, the Communist Review, and an inner-party paper Communist News.

Whilst a significant number of Communists remained in the old Party to continue the struggle against the revisionist leadership, the fight to recapture it, would prove to be forlorn. At successive congresses, the leadership completely removed the Party’s commitment to Marxism-Leninism and the establishment of a socialist system in Britain. Two months after the collapse of the Soviet Union, at its final Congress, the old Party by this time down to 4,742 members, dissolved itself into the 'Democratic Left', followed by the 'New Times Network', then the 'New Politics Network' and oblivion. The heavily subsidised—and by then misnamed—journal Marxism Today was shut down at the end of 1991; its ideological legacy soon resurfaced, albeit in a distorted form, in the anti-working class politics of New Labour.

From the outset, the re-established Communist Party involved itself heavily in the strike against redundancies, pay cuts and longer hours at the P&O ferry company. Communists were among the rank-and-file leaders of the dispute and Party branches and trade unionists—especially on Trades Councils—helped set up local support committees. The employers used court injunctions and sequestration orders to block solidarity as the 16-month struggle went down to defeat.

Other campaigns included the fight against the Poll Tax—where the Party backed every form of opposition including non-payment—and cuts in Welfare State provision. Communists also played an active role in the 'Time To Go' campaign alongside Clare Short MP and the Labour Committee on Ireland, which linked British military withdrawal from the Six Counties with the need for a comprehensive political settlement between all parties involved.

Another priority was the work of the Committee Against War in the Gulf, as Saddam Hussein refused to withdraw his occupation forces from Kuwait. In January 1991, the aerial bombardment of Iraq began as the prelude to direct intervention, adding more civilian deaths to the hundreds of thousands already killed by the United Nations trade embargo. The committee mounted local and national demonstrations, demanding “No More Bombings! Lift the Sanctions!”

In the midst of this turmoil, the Party’s Youth Section re-established the Young Communist League, which would later re-launch its journal Challenge and became an active affiliate once again of the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

Initially, the re-established Communist Party welcomed 'glasnost' (openness) and 'perestroika' (restructuring) in the Soviet Union under Mikhail Gorbachev. As these twin processes fell prey to forces favouring marketisation, privatisation, national separatism and the restoration of capitalism, the CP organised a series of large public meetings in alliance with former London mayor Ken Livingstone, Socialist Action, Labour Party Campaign Group MPs and others on the left.

The downfall of the Soviet Union and the socialist states of Eastern Europe in the early 1990s compelled Britain's Communists—and serious Marxists everywhere—to analyse the reasons for counter-revolution. The reconvened 41st congress of the CP in November 1992 made its assessment:

“The root cause of the collapse lay in the particular forms of economic and political structure which developed in the Soviet Union. Specifically, the great mass of working people came to be progressively excluded from any direct control over their economic and social destiny. This erosion of the very essence of socialism increasingly affected all aspects of Soviet society”.

The CP and Morning Star had also been involved in the formation of the Anti-Racist Alliance at the end of 1991. Against a background of multiplying racist attacks and police harassment, the ARA united black community leaders, trade unions and sections of the Labour left including the Socialist Action group. A series of conferences, demonstrations and marches on police stations highlighted aspects of institutional racism, including the nature of Britain's immigration, nationality and asylum laws.

The election of the first fascist BNP councillor prompted the TUC to organise a massive 'Unite Against Racism' march through east London in 1994, lifting morale and helping Searchlight and others to mobilise the fight-back in working class communities.

Although the ARA did not succeed in its campaign to make racist violence a specific criminal offence, the law was eventually changed to recognise racism as an aggravating factor that would attract additional punishment. But divisions within the ARA grew over the question of black leadership, not helped by sectarian manoeuvring on the part of some left-wing groups.

However, the Party swam against the tide in the labour movement to oppose notions of 'social partnership' and a 'social Europe'. European Commission president Jacques Delors had wooed the TUC with his progressive-sounding alternative to Tory government policies.

Almost alone on the left in Britain, the CP echoed Lenin in warning against the drive to construct an imperialist 'United States of Europe' aimed at rival imperialisms, peoples in developing countries and at the workers of Europe itself. One by one, trade unions began to be won over beginning with the local government officers in NALGO. The Morning Star worked with left Labour MPs to demand a referendum against the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, while Party activists took the campaign into shopping centres and onto motorway bridges.

The CP was further strengthened by a Communist Unity process in 1995, which completed the process of building a unified Communist Party in Britain by bringing in comrades who had remained in the old Party until dissolution. The CP began to rebuild its influence in the trade union, peace, pensioners and international solidarity movements, its work guided by a range of advisory committees.

For example, with unemployment rising above two million again—almost 10 per cent of the workforce—Communists and their allies were central to the ten-day 'March for Full Employment' from Liverpool to Sheffield in 1995. Much of the drive came through the National Combine of Unemployed Workers Centres, which helped ensure official TUC endorsement.

Unlike many on the left and in the labour movement, the CP insisted throughout the 1990s that Labour could again win a majority at a General Election, and without a coalition with the Liberals. The prospects for doing so improved when new leader John Smith—a social democrat who had replaced ex-left wing failure Neil Kinnock—committed the next Labour government to full employment, public ownership of the railways, reform of the anti-trade union laws and devolution for Scotland and Wales.

Even after the 'New Labour' faction led by Tony Blair dropped the socialist Clause Four from the Labour Party constitution, following Smith's untimely death, Britain's Communists continued to argue against defeatism and breakaways.

The CP therefore welcomed the overwhelming defeat of John Major's Tory government in 1997—while warning that New Labour would not execute a qualitative break from big business policies without mass pressure from below.

1997-2010 New Labour, Same Class Struggle

By the late 1990s, the Party had also rebuilt international links and recommenced electoral work. But the feeling was growing that the Party should be more vigorous in asserting its independent identity and role, alongside its work in broader alliances. Differences over the succession to Tony Chater as Morning Star editor led to violations of democratic-centralism.

 Early in 1998, therefore, the new executive committee elected trade union lecturer Robert Griffiths as general secretary. When Morning Star editor John Haylett was dismissed in retaliation, the paper's journalists struck in solidarity to get him reinstated. Once political relations between the Party and paper were restored, following an overwhelming vote at the PPPS AGM, plans could be laid for expanding the influence of both.

In June 1998, Communists played a major role in organising the 'No to a Big Business Europe—Yes to Jobs, Public Services and Democracy' demonstration during the European Union heads of government summit in Cardiff. A meeting of Communist and Workers’ parties in Europe was held there at the same time.

From spring 1999, NATO forces led by the US and Britain waged a brutal bombing campaign against Yugoslavia to break the Milosevic regime and detach the province of Kosovo. Left Labour MPs Alice Mahon, Tony Benn and Diane Abbott, together with playwright Harold Pinter and journalist John Pilger, worked with the CP and others in the Committee for Peace in the Balkans. A demonstration drew 25,000 people onto the streets of London in May.

On December 30, 2000, the Morning Star revealed the widespread dangers and use of depleted uranium munitions used by US, British and NATO forces in Iraq and Yugoslavia. It quoted ex-soldiers and NATO politicians to illustrate the thousands of deaths of civilian and military personnel from cancer, leukaemia. Despite subsequent attempts to deny and cover up the consequences, a series of medical studies and reports have confirmed the upsurge of cancers and congenital abnormalities in contaminated areas.

At the General Election that year, the CP contested six seats—an advance on previous occasions, although the votes remained few. Yet the Party's growing involvement in elections at every level—European, Scottish, Welsh, Greater London and local—reflected a more general revival in local campaigning, propaganda and agitation.

The Party's 46th congress in 2002 launched the Charter for Women, setting out the policies for equality in the economy, the labour movement and in society generally. It has since been endorsed by more than a dozen trade unions, laying the basis for broad-based campaigning. The incoming Executive Committee elected the first woman chair of the CP, Anita Halpin, who later became one of two women Communists on the TUC general council.

Further initiatives included re-establishing the Party's annual Highgate oration at the grave of Karl Marx; founding the annual Communist University of Britain together with regional and national Communist Universities; establishing an annual trade union and political cadre school; and publishing Unity! bulletins at trade union conferences including a daily edition at the Annual Congress of the TUC.

Following discussions between the CP, Colombian Communists and British trade union representatives, Justice for Colombia was established as an independent body to campaign for peace and social justice in that country. Its work to publicise the assassination of trade union and peasant leaders in Colombia, and to expose the links between local reaction and the British and US governments, has won widespread support in the Westminster parliament and the trade union movement.

Britain's Communists also continued to play a major role in the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, helping to maintain the broad basis of its work in support of Cuba's right to national self-determination, publicise the country's outstanding social achievements, campaign for the release of the 'Miami Five' and change the stance of the Trades Union Congress.

The Party's 46th congress characterised New Labour as an 'openly bourgeois, anti-working class trend' which had hijacked the Labour Party in order to make it a 'wholly reliable instrument governing instrument for capitalism'. It pointed out that this trend represented the interests of British state-monopoly capitalism in an emerging new phase of imperialism (called 'globalisation' by its supporters), as a junior ally of the US. On the pretext of a 'war on terror', the aim was to expand imperialism's political, military and economic presence in energy-rich Central Asia and the Middle East, in line with US geo-political strategy.

With CND, the Muslim Association of Britain and the Socialist Workers Party, the Communist Party helped form the Stop the War Coalition out of the campaign against the invasion of Afghanistan. The CP and the Morning Star played a crucial role in securing significant trade union support for the coalition, with ASLEF (and later TGWU) official Andrew Murray taking the post of chair. At the Trades Union Congress in September 2002, a proposal from Andy Bain, a delegate for the transport staff union TSSA, to oppose any attack on Iraq, even with a second UN resolution, was only narrowly defeated.

This unique alliance of anti-war forces was able to bring more than one million people onto the streets of London and Glasgow in February 2003. When Blair and US President Bush launched their murderous, illegal assault on Iraq a few weeks later, thousands of students walked out of school to take part in mass protests. Young Communists were particularly prominent in leading the walkouts in Birmingham and Glasgow. At the TUC in September, possibly for the first time ever, the British trade union movement condemned an imperialist war whilst British troops were still in action.

The election of Kate Hudson as chair of CND in September prompted anti-Communist outbursts in the Daily Telegraph and elsewhere. Whilst Communists have always played a leading and unifying role in the movement for peace and against nuclear weapons, the war mongers have usually tried to divide the movement with anti-Communism, ultra-leftism or, most recently, Islamophobia.

According to the 48th CP congress in 2004, New Labour represented a 'qualitative break' with classic social democracy. Whereas the Labour Party had traditionally sought to advance—however partially and inadequately—working class interests while also upholding the capitalist system, New Labour brazenly promoted privatisation, monopoly profit and imperialist war.

Britain's Communists proposed a Left Wing Programme of policies to unite and mobilise socialists, social democrats and the labour movement around an alternative to New Labour neo-liberalism. The Party and the Morning Star began to raise the need for the labour movement to fight to reclaim the Labour Party from the Blair-Brown clique.

These perspectives gained currency in some affiliated trade unions. Communists participated in conferences to establish the Labour Representation Committee, which put forward similar positions.

When the European Social Forum was held in London in October 2004, the CP participated fully while also hosting another seminar for Communist and workers parties in Europe. The following year, the Party organised a full programme of meetings at the 'alternative' summit to that of the G8 capitalist powers in Edinburgh, one of them jointly with the Scottish Labour 'Campaign for Socialism'.

At these events, Britain's Communists projected the concept of 'popular sovereignty', which embodies the struggle of the working class and its allies in each country to challenge neo-liberal policies emanating from the European Union, the IMF, the World Trade Organisation or the World Bank, using industrial action, popular mobilisation and representative democracy to enforce the interests of the vast majority of the nation against those of transnational capital.

The Party's international work within Britain took a step forward with the formation of the Coordinating Committee of Communist Parties in Britain, bringing together the CP, YCL and representatives of overseas parties domiciled in Britain (including those from Bangladesh, Chile, Cyprus, Greece, India, Iran, Iraq and Sudan). Since then the CCCPiB has organised a series of rallies and seminars on International Women's Day, the October Socialist Revolution, US strategy for the 'Greater Middle East', religious fundamentalism and Victory over Fascism in Europe.

Some of these domiciled parties have also participated in an electoral front led by the CP, namely, Unity for Peace and Socialism, in London and the Midlands.

A CP and Morning Star delegation to China in 2006 deepened a Marxist understanding of economic, social and political trends and developments there. The delegation's report, China's Line of March, has since proved influential in counteracting pro-capitalist and ultra-leftist misrepresentations back in Britain, particularly in the trade union and peace movements.

In order to lend shape and direction to popular and labour movement opposition to New Labour's neo-liberal policies, the executive committee in July 2008 proposed a People's Charter. The idea was taken up by left trade union leaders and Labour MPs and, after a battle the following year, the People's Charter for Change was endorsed by the Trades Union Congress.

Communists and left-led trade unions such as the Rail, Maritime and Transport workers union have also continued the struggle to win the TUC away from a pro-EU, pro-'social partnership' position.

The strike wave sparked by construction workers at Lindsey power station early in 2009 exposed the super-exploitation behind the European Union's 'free movement of capital and labour' mantra—and showed how united and militant action can overwhelm the anti-trade union laws. Strike leaders joined Communists and socialists in contesting that year's European parliamentary election on a Britain-wide 'No2EU—Yes to Democracy' platform.

By this time, too, the Morning Star had expanded in size and circulation, enjoying unprecedented levels of support in the trade union movement. A growing number of trade union activists and officials were coming to understand the valuable role of a daily paper which supports workers in dispute and acts as an educator and mobiliser across the labour and progressive movements.

The battle of ideas has also been joined by a new publishing house, Manifesto Press, aligned politically with the Communist Party but also producing books in association with trade unions such as the RMT and the National Union of Teachers.

At the annual TUC-sponsored Tolpuddle Martyrs festival in 2010, Communists and allies relaunched the Country Standard as a journal fighting for the interests of workers and their communities in the countryside.

hus the present confirms one lesson from the past. The working class and peoples of Britain need a strong, bold Communist Party and Young Communist League as much as ever, to fight capitalist crisis and imperialist war—and to put us on the road to socialism.

Researching CP History

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.

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VIDEO: New video released of the 2010 launch of popular book 'The London Recruits'

Amateur video (only just released) shows the official launch of the book London Recruits - the secret war against apartheid in a packed committee room of the House of Commons by Peter Hain MP on 11 July 2010.  In the last two years, the authors and those interviewed have criss crossed Britain telling their story of solidarity to packed meetings.

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Short history of the CP
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