Roots of the CPGB.
In every other European country and America, the formation of a Communist Party was achieved by a process of splitting an existing Social Democratic political party. In Great Britain, on the other hand, the establishment of a Communist Party was achieved by the uniting of already existing small left-wing groups. The main component in the new organization was the British Socialist Party (BSP), a group which traced its organizational roots back to the Democratic Federation of 1881 and the Social Democratic Federation of 1884. In February 1916, the BSP's left wing had gained organizational consciousness and established a news paper called The Call, the anit-militarist line of which stood in marked contrast to the offical organ of the organization, Justice, whcih was controlled by the pro-war BSP right. At the BSP's Easter 1916 conference, a resolution was passed by a 3-to-1 margin criticizing the social patriotic line of long-time party leader H.M. Hyndman, prompting him to lead the Right Wing in walking out of the organization (this Right Wing splinter established itself as the National Socialist Party, eventually recycling the name of the Socal Democratic Federation, which continued a marginal existence into the 1930s).
[fn. Andrew Thorpe: The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920-43. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 19-20.]
The departure of the BSP Right from the picture removed a major fetter upon the BSP's organizational identity which had severely hampered its ability to conduct political policy on the left. The party had previously kept a close eye on the Zimmerwald movement, although it had been unable to participate in the 1915 Zimmerwald Conference or the April 1916 Kienthal Conference due to the government's refusal to issue passports for travel. Despite government prohibition of travel, BSP's international vision remained.
At the Easter 1917 Conference, the BSP approved a resolution calling for close cooperation with the larger Independent Labour Party (ILP), a left social democratic group with an ideology roughly comparable to that of the Socialist Party of America. These two groups forged organizational ties at a Convention held June 3, 1917 by the "United Socialist Council," a gathering attended by 1300 delegates, including 294 from the ILP, 88 from the BSP, and 16 from other socialist organizations.
[fn. Andrew Thorpe: The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920-43. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, pp. 20-22.]
Although the BSP reaffiliated to the federative Labour Party in 1916, it moved steadily to the left throughout 1916 and 1917, coming to see that it had more in common with the perspective of far left groupings like Sylvia Pankhurst's Workers' Socialist Federation and the Socialist Labour Party. The Bolshevik revolution in November 1917 accelerated this tendency dramatically.
The Bolshevik Revolution and BSP-Labour Relations.
"The Labour Party leadership...was unenthusiastic about the Bolsheviks' coup, and this in turn heldped to exacerbated existing tensions between Labour and the far left. Since before 1900, one of the key issues splitting the British far left had been the attitude towards a trade union-based Labour Party, and such divisions had not been diminished once such an organization had been formed. The Labour leadership's lack of enthusiasm for the Bolshevik revolution, therefore, was the last straw for many BSPers.It was not that they suddenly, under pressure from Russia, turned against Labour, but rather that Labour's attitude here confirmed their worst fears about that party's future direction."
--- Andrew Thorpe, The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920-43, pg. 23.
The Labour Party's failure to protest the deportation of Soviet representative Maxim Litvinov in 1918 won it no friends in the BSP. The murder of Left Socialists Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg in Germany early in 1919 came as a still great shock to the BSP - Labour Party relations, with those murders were blamed squarely on the Right Social Democratic leadership of Germany. In the 1918 general elections there were 3 candidates each from the British Labour Party and the Socialist Labour Party, running in their own name. The process of alienation from the tepid programmatic vision of Labour on the part of the BSP continued unabated.
In March 1918, Sylvia Pankhurst helped to form the People's Russian Information Bureau (PRIB). The organization flourished and from July 1918 a committee was elected to run it which included members of the BSP, SLP, ILP, Labour Party, and the WSF. This organization fostered the joint work of these disparate Left Wing organizations. Joint action expanded still more with the "Hands Off Russia" campaign of January 1919, an attempt by the broad left to halt the active campaign by the British regime against the fledgling Soviet Republic. The "Hands Off Russia" campaign included the active participation of the outstanding leader of the SLP, Arthur MacManus; Secretary of the BSP, Albert Inkpin; charismatic head of the Workers Socialist Federation, Sylvia Pankhurst; and from September 1919 was headed up by Harry Pollitt.
[fn. Andrew Thorpe: The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920-43. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, pg. 24.]
Further unity talks between the BSP and the ILP were fruitless, with the BSP moving steadily leftwards and the bulk of the ILP coming to see the Labour Party as the most likely vehicle for its programmatic desires, and the two organizations went their separate ways. In September of 1919 the branches of the BSP voted 98 to 4 in favor of affiliation with the new Communist International established in Moscow.
[fn. Andrew Thorpe: The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920-43. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, pg. 26.]
Throughout 1919 unity discussions took place between the British Socialist Party -- regarded by Moscow as the strongest and most essential organization of the British Left -- and smaller British radical organizations, including particularly the Socialist Labour Party, the Workers' Socialist Federation, and the South Wales Socialist Society. The SLP elected a new anti-unity executive late in 1919, however, removing itself from the picture for the time being. The BSP proposed formation of a new Communist Party consisting of itself, the WSF, and the SWSS at a meeting in January 1920 -- but its two suitors got cold feet, fearing being organizationally swallowed by the much larger BSP.
In March 1920, pro-unity forces in the Socialist Labour Party -- including Arthur MacManus, Tom Bell, and J.T. Murphy -- broke with their leadership by establishing a "Communist Unity Group" within the SLP. The faction held a conference early in April 1920 which condemned the SLP's new ultra-left line and declared their intention to participate in the formation of a new Communist Party in Great Britain.
[fn. Andrew Thorpe: The British Communist Party and Moscow, 1920-43. (Manchester: Manchester University Press, pg. 26.] Founding of the Organization.
A call to a Communist Unity Convention was issued on July 7, 1920, over the signatures of Arthur MacManus and Albert Inkpin for the "Joint Provisional Committee for the Communist Party." The call was issued to "all organizations, branches of organizations, local communist groups, and independent socialist societies that accept the fundamental bases of communist unity," those being (1) the Dictatorship of the Proletariat; (2) the Soviet System; and (3) the Third International. Representative was to be at the rate of 1 delegate for each 25 members or part thereof, with delegates to pay a "representation fee" of 2/6 for every 25 members or part thereof.
[fn. Communist Unity Convention (London, July 31st & August 1st, 1920): Official Report. (London: CPGB, 1920), pg. 3.] 1. Communist Unity Convention --- London --- July 31-Aug. 1, 1920.
The founding convention of the Communist Party of Great Britain took place at the Cannon Street Hotel in London. It was attended by about 152 delegates bearing 211 mandates, of whom about 60% were from the British Socialist Party, fewer than 20% from the Socialist Labour Party (only a fraction of which chose to participate), and the remainder from an array of local independent Socialist groups, Shop Stewards and workers' committees, and the like. Unlike the situation in all other European countries, the formation of a Communist Party in Britain did not involve the splitting a mass party, but rather the uniting of an already fragmented socialist movement.
The chairman of the Unity Convention was the Irishman Arthur MacManus, formerly of the Socialist Labour Party. Secretary was Albert Inkpin, formerly of the British Socialist Party.
The gathering unanimously approved a resolution delcaring that "the Soviet or Workers' Council system" would be the form "whereby the working class shall achieve power and take control of the forces of production."
[fn. Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party: A Historical Profile. (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1958), pp. 8-9.]
The founding convention named the following as the provisional Executive Committee of the organization: Thomas Bell, George Deer, W.J. Hewlett, J.F. Hodgson, Arthur MacManus, Colonel L'Estrange Malone, D.B. Montefiore, William Paul, Fred Shaw, Robert Stewart, A.A. Watts, and Fred Willis. Party Chairman was Arthur MacManus, Secretary was Albert Inkpin, and the Treasurer was A.A. Watts.
First Plenum of Executive Committee -- London -- Aug. 7-8, 1920.
The Executive Committee of the CPGB met for the first time on Aug. 7-8, 1920, the weekend after the founding confrence. A London-based committee was named to conduct organizational activities between meetings of the full Executive. This local plenum consisted of Thomas Bell, J.F. Hodgson, Colonel L'Estrange Malone, William Mellor, A.A. Watts, and Fred Willis, with Arthur MacManus and Albert Inkpin sitting ex-officio.
The Party established a temporary national office at 21a Maiden Lane, Strand, London, WC2.
On August 10, 1920, the new Communist Party of Great Britain applied for membership in the British Labour Party.
The initial unity gathering left a number of groups outside the framework of the new Communist Party of Great Britain, due largely to an announced decision to enter into parliamentary politics with the forthcoming organization. Beginning on December 11, 1920, a new series of direct unity meetings were had attempting to unite the main remaining factional organizations, with Arthur MacManus and Albert Inkpin representing the CPGB; T.J. Watkins and Richard "Dick" Beech representing the Pankhurst organization -- the "Communist Party (British Section of the Third International)" or CP(BSTI); and Jack Leckie and John McLean representing the Communist Labor Party.
The negotiators agreed to hold a new Unity Convention at the end of January, which would elect a new Executive Committee for the united party. This new EC was to be based on a combination of two principles: a geographic component and an allocation of representatives for each of the participating groups.
[fn. Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party: A Historical Profile. (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1958), pp. 8-9.]
2. Leeds Unity Convention ["2nd Congress"] --- Leeds --- January 29-30, 1921.
The 2nd Unity Conference was held in the Victory Hotel in Leeds, and was attended by 170 delegates representing the CPGB, the CP(BSTI), and the CLP. The unity committee booked the rooms in the name of the National Fruiterers' Association, listing as its address No. 16, King Street, Convent Garden -- the building that would remain headquarters of the CPGB throughout its entire subsequent existence.
There were no sharp debates, with the gathering unanimously accepting the report of the organization committee and the formal motion for the merger.
The Leeds conference elected Arthur MacManus as Chairman (defeating the Scotch-Irish syndicalist Willie Gallacher) and 10 members as a provisional Executive Committee, along with 2 members appointed by the CP(BSTI) , 2 members appointed by the CLP, and 3 by the CPGB. This group consisted of the following: J.W. Leckie and J. MacDonald (CLP), Richard Beech and E.T. Whitehead (CP[BSTI]), J.F. Hadgson, W. Mellor, A.A. Watts (CPGB), J. McLean and W. Kirker (Scotland), W.T. Hewlett and T.J. Watkins (Wales), J.T. Murphy, W. Paul, F.L. Karron, Mrs. Montefiore, J.J.Vaughan, and one vacancy.
[fn. L.J. Macfarlane, The British Communist Party: Its Origins and Development Until 1929. (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1966, pp. 66-67.]
3. Special Delegate Conference ["3rd Congress"] --- Manchester --- April 23-24, 1921.
The 3rd Party Congress was attended by 144 delegates.The main task of this gathering was to adopt a constitution and rules for the organization.
The Manchester Conference elected the following Executive Committee: J. Bird, J. Braddock, W. Brain, A.E. Cook, George Deacon, G.H. Fletcher, O. Ford, J.F. Hodgson, J. MacLean, P. Lavin, W. McKee, J.W. Pratt, G.H. Sillitoe, T.J. Watkins, H. Webb, and G. Wheeler. Arthur MacManus was elected Chairman and Albert Inkpin was elected Secretary.
Between the Manchester Conference in April 1921 and the 4th Congress in London in March 1922, A. McGeachan, F. Silvester, J. Cameron, and Mrs. Thomas replaced J. MacLean (resigned), O. Ford (appointed as organizer), G. Wheeler, and T.J. Watkins.
[fn. L.J. Macfarlane, The British Communist Party: Its Origins and Development Until 1929. (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1966, pg. 74.]
The Special Conference named a 3 person committee to adapt the decisions of the 3rd World Congress of the Comintern into the organizational practice of the CPGB. This committee included Harry Inkpin, brother of the national secretary, Harry Pollitt of the Boilermakers' Union, and R. Palme Dutt, editor of Labour Monthly. They worked together with the Comintern Rep to Britain, Mikhail Borodin.
[fn. Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party: A Historical Profile. (London: Adam and Charles Black, 1958), pg. 21.]
Social Composition of the early CPGB.
If we look at the early industrial strength of the party, the 'Celtic fringe' influence in general becomes clear. The Shop Stewards and Workers' Committees began to weaken rapidly after the end of the war, with the restoration of free action to the trade unions and the growth of widespread unemployment in the engineering industry.... Only the Clyde Workers' Committee retained a semblance of its earlier importance... Even more strikingly sectional was the Communist support among the miners, for it was only in the South Wales and the Fifeshire coalfields that the seed of the party's gospel at once struck fertile soil....
It is on sectional lines, therefore, rather than on class lines, that we can best differentiate the Communists at the time of the formation of their party. A number of people joined, of course, for no other reason than that tthey admired the succfdess fo the Russian Bolsheviks in accomplishing their revolution. These were for the most part young 'intellectuals,' who were keenly interested in foreign affairs and who were at an impressionable age.... But even in this group the English element was small and transient. William Mellor, Ellen Wilkinson, Raymond Postgate, Walton Newpold had all left the party within 4 or 5 years; it was Rajani Palme Dutt, half Indian and half Scandinavian, and Robin Page Arnot, of Greenock, who were left to carry on, amid a working-class group of predominantly Celtic origin.
-- Henry Pelling, The British Communist Party, pp. 16-17. 4. 4th Congress --- St. Pancras, London --- March 18-19, 1922.
The 4th Party Congress was attended by 159 delegates.
The 4th Congress elected the following 15 member Executive Committee: J. Bird, J. Braddock, W. Brain, J. Cameron, A.E. Cook, George Deacon, G.H. Fletcher, J.F. Hodgson, P. Lavin, A. McGreachan, W. McKee, J.W. Pratt, G.H. Stilltoe, A. Thomas, and H. Webb. Party Officials included T.A. Jackson (editor of The Communist), J.T. Murphy and N. Watkins (RILU), H. Young (YCL), Thomas Bell (National Organizer), Arthur MacManus (Chairman), Willie Gallacher (Deputy Chairman), Albert Inkpin (Secretary), and Fred Peet (Assistant Secretary).
5. 5th Congress --- Battersea, London --- October 7-9, 1922.
The 5th Party Congress unanimously approved a new set of statutes and rules, which provided for a smaller Executive Committee elected from a single list of candidates nominated by the Congress.
Tom Bell was elected unanimously as Political Secretary, Albert Inkpin as Organizing Secretary. The 7 member Executive Committee consisted of R. Palme Dutt, Harry Pollitt, Arthur MacManus, Willie Gallacher, J.T. Murphy, Robert "Bob" Stewart, and George Deacon.
The new Executive Committee named Political and Organizational Bureaus. The Political Bureau consisted of Tom Bell (Secretary), R. Palme Dutt, Arthur MacManus, J.T. Murphy, and Bob Stewart. The Organization Bureau consisted of Albert Inkpin (Secretary), George Deacon, Willie Gallacher, and Harry Pollitt.
[fn. L.J. Macfarlane, The British Communist Party: Its Origins and Development Until 1929. (London: MacGibbon & Kee, 1966, pg. 82.]
6. 6th Congress --- Manchester --- May 17-19, 1924. 1st Conference of the National Minority Movement --- city??? --- Aug. 23-24, 1924.
The 1st Annual Conference of the National Minority Movement was attended by 270 delegates, claiming to represent a membership of 200,000 workers.
The Communist Party's draft program was presented to the gathering in the form of a series of resolutions, which were passed unanimously.
Minority Movement Conference on INternatinal Trade Union Unity --- city??? --- Jan. 26, 1925. 7. 7th Congress --- Glasgow, Scotland --- May 30-June 1, 1925. 2nd Conference of the National Minority Movement --- city??? --- Aug. 29-30, 1925.
The 2nd Annual Conference of the National Minority Movement was attended by 683 delegates, claiming to represent a membership of 750,000 workers.
Arrest of the 12 Communist Leaders --- October 1925.
In October 1925, a raid was conducted which resulted in the arrest of the top leadership of the CPGB.
Special Minority Movement Conference --- city??? --- March 21, 1926. The General Strike --- May 3-12, 1926.
One of the seminal events in the history of the British labor movement was the General Strike of 1926.
3rd Conference of the National Minority Movement --- city??? --- Aug. 28-29, 1926. 8. 8th Congress --- Battersea, London --- October 16-17, 1926.
The 8th Party Congres was attended by 271 delegates, representing a membership of 10,730.
The Arcos Raid --- May 12, 1927.
The Arcos Raid of May 12, 1927 directly lead to the severing of diplomatic relations with the USSR on May 26, 1927. This set off a war panic in Soviet Russia.
Arthur MacManus, the Chairman of the CPGB from the time of its foundation, died in 1927. His ashes were placed at the wall of the Kremlin in Red Square.
4th Conference of the National Minority Movement --- city??? --- Aug. 27-28, 1927. 9. 9th Congress --- Salford --- October 8-10, 1927. 5th Conference of the National Minority Movement --- city??? --- Aug. 25-26, 1928. 10. 10th Congress --- Bermondsey, London --- January 19-22, 1929. 6th Conference of the National Minority Movement --- city??? --- Aug. 24-25, 1929. 11. Special 11th Congress --- Leeds --- Nov. 30-Dec. 3, 1929.
The 11th Party Congres was attended by 160 delegates. The report was delivered by Harry Pollitt, who spoke for 2 1/2 hours.
12. 12th Congress --- Battersea, London --- Nov. XX-XX, 1932. 13. 13th Congress --- Manchester --- Feb. XX-XX, 1935. 14. 14th Congress --- Battersea, London --- May XX-XX, 1937. 15. 15th Congress --- Birmingham --- Sept. XX-XX, 1938. 16. 16th Congress --- London --- July XX-XX, 1943. 17. 17th Congress --- Birmingham --- Oct. XX-XX, 1944. 18. 18th Congress --- Marylebone, London --- Nov. XX-XX, 1945.