Glasgow Digital LibraryRED CLYDESIDEPEOPLEEVENTSGROUPSLITERATUREINDEX
Red Clydeside: A history of the labour movement in Glasgow 1910-1932

Events

The Establishment of the CPGB 1920-21

image thumbnail

Inspired by the Bolshevik revolution of October 1917 and angered by Anglo-American attempts to smash the fledgling Soviet Russian state, Marxists, socialists and trade unionists came together at the Communist Unity Convention in London on 31 July and 1 August 1920 to establish The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). In attendance were delegates from the British Socialist Party, the Communist Unity Group of the Socialist Labour Party, the South Wales Socialist Society and a host of delegates from small Marxist propaganda groups. The fledgling GPGB had an original membership of only 4,000 but its establishment represented a step of enormous significance in unifying English, Scottish and Welsh Marxists in a single, unified, British organisation.

image thumbnail

The delegates were united by a deep revolutionary feeling, profound hatred of capitalism and disgust with what they seen as the repeated betrayal of workers' interests by reformist leaders. Not surprisingly, given the diverse range backgrounds, experience and group loyalties within this new communist organisation there was initial disagreement on how best the party could advance the cause of British workers. The main arguments centred around participation in Parliamentary politics and whether the new communist party should attempt to affiliate to the 'reformist' Labour Party. Some delegates expressed sectarian attitudes, saying that parliamentary politics were all a fraud and a waste of time and that the party should concentrate solely on industrial action.

The majority within the new party disagreed and supported the view of Lenin, who advocated 'participation in Parliament, and affiliation to the Labour Party on condition of free and independent Communist activity'. The CPGB therefore decided to take part in electoral work, to seek affiliation to the Labour Party and to affiliate to the Communist International which had been created in 1919. In complying with this decision, those leaders of the GBCP who still resisted the 'parliamentary' position framed the party's request for affiliation to the Labour Party in a very provocative fashion and in a way which practically invited rejection. When rejection came the CP issued a terse statement pronouncing "it's their funeral" as regards future relations with the Labour Party.

image thumbnail

For the remainder of the 1920s the CPGB remained locked out of the Labour Party and largely failed in its attempts to utilise the parliamentary system as a campaigning platform. Walton Newbold managed to win Motherwell for the CPGB in the 1922 General Election but they were unable to build on this electoral success and were unable to get a communist MP elected again until Willie Gallachers victory in Fife in 1935.

image thumbnail

However, despite these failures, advances and real successes for the party were to be found at grassroots level in helping to organise workers in the major social and industrial confrontations of the 1920s and 1930s. The party was to the fore in organising striking workers during the General Strike in 1926, and although the party leadership was imprisoned during the General Strike it campaigned solidly throughout the length and breadth of Britain against a reduction in miners wages and for a workers victory in the General Strike. An immediate result of the party's contribution to the strike was a big increase in its membership from 5,000 before the strike to 10,000 by September 1926.

image thumbnail

The CPGB inspired National Unemployed Workers' Movement (NUWM) was also active in defending the rights of the unemployed against government attempts to reduce benefits and impose Means Tests during the 1920's and 30's. As a result of CPGB involvement, the leadership and at times the rank and file membership of the NUWM, were subject to police surveillance and brutality. Police attacks on NUWM marches were commonplace throughout Britain and included attacks on marches in London, Glasgow, Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester.

The CPGB were also amongst the first to take the threat of Fascism seriously and the London branches of the CPGB played a pivotal role in defending Jewish communities against Mosley's Blackshirts. This was seen most notably in the 'Battle of Cable Street' in 1936 when the party was able to mobilise and marshal upwards of 150,000 Jewish and anti-fascist demonstrators to prevent the BUF from marching through a Jewish district of East London.

Previous  image thumbnail  Index  image thumbnail  Next

Glasgow Digital LibraryRED CLYDESIDEPEOPLEEVENTSGROUPSLITERATUREINDEX