Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘Communist Party of Great Britain’

Lucy Miller – a woman of many talents

Posted by wcmlibrary on September 4, 2012

We’ve just added to our stock of working class autobiographies a 60-page typescript by a woman called Lucy Miller, a Communist Party and later Labour Party member who was born in Battersea in 1903.  It covers her domestic and working life, which included a spell as a civil servant just after the second world war.  ‘Whilst working in Downing Street the Government decided that no Communist Party member should be employed in the Civil Service.  I was still an active Party member, so decided that instead of waiting to be sacked I would discharge myself.  I therefore told the supervisor that I was a Party member (much to her amazement) and that I would prefer to find other work’.

Lucy was highly musical, playing the piano and writing pieces for piano and orchestra, and taking an interest in the Workers’ Music Association.  Very sadly Lucy chose to entitle her autobiography ‘A wasted talent’, one reason being her ‘feeling that I should never achieve the music I so much wanted to create’.

Her life ended unhappily, but we are honoured that her friend Jean Garriock has given this account of her life to the Library – a place where ‘invisible histories’ of working women and men can be preserved and celebrated.

Lynette Cawthra, Library Manager

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Book review ‘After the party: reflections on life since the CPGB’

Posted by wcmlibrary on August 24, 2012

After the party:  reflections on life since the CPGB , edited by  Andy Croft. Lawrence & Wishart, 2012   ISBN 978-1-907103-47-6

It is twenty years since the demise of the Communist Party, a party which  the editor Andy Croft says  “was unlike any other in British politics. No other party enjoyed so much influence in the trade union movement, or in British intellectual and cultural life. At its peak the party had 60,000 members and during its life-time serveral hundred Communist councillors and 5 Members of Parliament were elected”.

In this book he,  and seven other former communists, reflect on the reasons why they joined the party and how it changed their lives.  It is a fascinating book,  not just because it is interesting to see why some people become politically active and  what it  meant to be in the CP but also, now  that the party is over, to learn where those people then chose to put their energies and commitment.

Mark Perryman, now of Philosophy Football, joined the CP in 1979. Like me he was at Hull University but, unlike me, chose the CP over the Trotskyists. He was particularly inspired by their political education at the annual summer Communist University of London. “One event I will never forget was a debate between Eric Hobsbawn and miners’ leader Mick McGahey…it felt like the arguments and the people taking part really mattered…a recognition that the need to listen to each other was far more important than the issuing of the “line” for others to follow.” Academics like Hobsbawn are now few on the ground and it would be hard to find a trade union leader with the grit and intellectualism of McGahey, much less to get them to engage with the reality of people’s lives today.

Alistair Findley,  who was involved in the Scottish CP,  recalls  one of the distinct features of the CP:  putting the  involvement of working class people  at the heart of its politics. “In 1971-73 to hear Mick McGahey and Jimmy Reid’s brilliant oratory at mass public demos…eloquent, funny, pugnacious, intelligent, unkind to Tory governments. ..the public face of Scottish marxism…just working class auto-dictats, informed, combatative, no prisoners taken.”

Dave Cope echoes the lack of snobbery in the CP  towards working class members. “Membership of the CP, with its encouragement of discussion, reading, debate and attention to cultural affairs was an education of a life-enhancing nature for many working class activists.”

Many of the contributors in the book comment on the internationalism of the party.  When Lorna Reith  joined she was offered the choice of  either the role of Morning Star organiser or of Chile Solidarity campaign representative. After choosing the latter, she  travelled to Chile in 1986. “Being part of an international movement was always part and parcel of being in the CP. Branch discussions would almost always include updates and views on what was happening elsewhere in the world”.

But by 1991 the Party was in decline and its membership had fallen to fewer than 7,000.  Any hopes of a reformed  communism were  too late,  as Mark Perryman explains, “With the Berlin Wall crashing around our Communist ears, the horrors of the Chinese Tiananmen Square massacre in the summer and…the ousting of Rumania’s brutal Ceausescu.”

Dave Cope feels  by that time the party was out of touch with politics on many levels. “The constitution had become unreal, its medium term programme utopian, class was no longer the sole defining function in politics, Lenin was seen as irrelevant and the party did not advocate any existing model of socialism.”

Since 1991 it is as if the CP never existed and their successes are  ignored or deleted from the history of the 20th century. As Andy Croft comments, “The 1936 Jarrow March is remembered but not the six much larger Hunger Marches organised by the CP-led National Union of Unemployed Workers.”

Some of the contributors  who seem the most distressed by the end of the Party are now in the Labour Party  which, rebranded as  New Labour,  became  the antithesis of what the CP stood for. Ironically  Lorna Reith’s chaper is titled We will rebuild our country ten times more beautiful. She is now the Deputy Leader of  Haringey borough in London and is in the process of making Haringey a much uglier place by making millions of pounds of cuts.

I was never a member of the CP  but through my friendship with Ruth and Eddie Frow from 1981 I saw the uniqueness of its political culture and  the value put upon its working class and international roots, while  the genuine humanity of many of its comrades was impressive.

After the Party reflects the good and the bad in the CP and is an important contribution to the debate as to why its existence and history has been ignored or forgotten.  It also asks important questions about why working class people are now so disengaged with the political  process, and what we, as socialist  activists, are  going to do about it.

Bernadette Hyland, WCML volunteer

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Railway Review in 1941

Posted by wcmlibrary on May 10, 2011

The Library has a long run of this National Union of Railwaymen (NUR) journal – from 1880 to 1969.  Browsing the volume for 1941 in search of some family history information, Alain was interested in the huge range of the topics it was covering at that time.

Included are:

Articles by leading Indian independence activists including Mahatma Gandhi, and debate in the correspondence columns on the same issue

Debate on the Popular Front, especially given the recent entry of the Soviet Union into the War

Debate on the Labour Party, Communist Party of Great Britain and trade unions.  (The leadership of the NUR were hostile to the CP after their volte face at the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact).

A campaign for a minimum wage of £3000

Reports on women in ‘men’s jobs’

Reports on victims of the Blitz including railwaymen at work, and articles on rationing and food shortages

Also articles on reconstruction, evidence of thought about after the war eg nationalising the railways

Regular columns on gardening, health and sport.

Whenever you open a volume round here there’s always a surprise or two inside!

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Poster collection

Posted by wcmlibrary on August 27, 2010

The first batch of posters from the Communist Party have now been added to the online catalogue. Poster from the Communist Party

We hold a collection of hundreds of posters from all over the world of political parties such as the Communist Party and Labour Party, trade unions, Spanish Civil War, peace and nuclear disarmament, Ireland, Apartheid, unemployment and the Miners Strike 1984-1985 to name a few.

This collection has not often been used as we did not know what was there. Since December 2009 the posters have been individually catalogued and are in the process of being re-packaged in acid free card folders. They are also currently being added to the Adlib online catalogue starting with the Communist Party and eventually there will be an image of every poster.

The design of the posters are very interesting, some use very bright colours to draw your attention, some use striking statements or images and bold letters and some use unusual shapes like the National Union of Tailors and Garment Workers’ poster that is shaped like a t-shirt.

Poster created by miners during the Miners' Strike 1984-1985

One of the volunteers who has been working on re-packaging the posters said “When looking through the poster collection, there are a number which make a great impression on you and stick in the mind. The first of these posters which stuck in my mind was from the Miners’ Strike of 1984 – 5. There are around fifteen handwritten posters from the Parkside and Agecroft pickets, despite not necessarily being the most aesthetically pleasing examples of the poster collection, I feel are some of the most striking. It really gives a sense of how tough it was for the miners and their families involved in the industrial dispute.

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Communist Party of Great Britain pamphlets

Posted by wcmlibrary on March 31, 2010

Well, that didn’t take quite as long as I though it would!

I have just about finished adding detailed information to the catalogue for the Communist Party of Great Britain pamphlets.  The bulk of the collection is done – all 23 boxes of it and I am now just mopping up the pamphlets scattered around the many rooms we have here at the library.

One of the gems of the collection is the report of the very first conference of the party in 1920 – when it wasn’t even the Communist Party of Great Britain yet.

I was also struck by how forward looking the party seemed to be with regard to women, advocating equality long before it was fashionable.  Mind you, you never know if they practised what they preached!!

If you want to check out the collection just go to our library catalogue.

Project Librarian

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Communist Party collection

Posted by wcmlibrary on January 12, 2010

Finally – I have started to fine-tune the catalogue of the Communist Party of Great Britain pamphlet collection – which may take some time as there are over 20 boxes (or 1927 individual items)!

Hopefully I will find some gems among the collection and if (when?) I do, I’ll highlight them here.  In the meantime you can check out what we have in the collection by searching the catalogue for Communist Party of Great Britain under publisher.

Project Librarian

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