British communism, 1920-1943

An overview of the origins of Britain’s communist movement and its activity between the wars.

Steve Cook

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Comrade Steve Cook gives a concise and inspiring history of the British communist movement between 1920 and 1943 at a party school in January 2011.

He begins with the groups (the British Socialist Party, Independent Labour Party, Socialist Labour Party, Workers’ Socialist Federation, South Wales Socialist Society, Shop stewards and workers’ committees, guild socialists, etc), and some of their great leaders – William Gallagher, Sylvia Pankhurst, James Connolly, Harry Pollitt, Arthur Macmanus, Rajni Palme Dutt, John McClain, et al – who came together on 31 July 1920, to form the original Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

Steve leads us through the process of the communist party’s formation, inspired by the influence, direct and indirect, of VI Lenin and the Bolsheviks, and the Great Socialist October Revolution.

The history of the post-WW1 industrial struggles, and the British General Strike of 1926 are touched upon, as are the struggles of the National Unemployed Workers Movement, the movement for women’s equality, including the suffragette movement and the great antifascist struggle of the British working class against Moseley’s blackshirts, culminating in the Battle of Cable Street in London’s East End, and participation in the International Brigades in Spain.

WW2 before the involvement of the USSR was correctly characterised as an interimperialist war. After the USSR’s involvement, it became an antifascist war and the position of the comintern aligned to an extent with the British government’s immediate policy, reflecting the military alliance between Britain and the Soviet Union.

Steve also touches upon the campaign of the Communist party to open the underground stations to working-class Londoners to shelter from the Blitz. Prior to this movement, no shelter had been provided for them.

The Third International was officially wound up during the war, when it was not possible for it to function effectively. This event marks the end of the period discussed in this presentation.