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The Departments of the Communist Party of Great Britain: A Detailed Guide

The Departments of the Communist Party of Great Britain: A Detailed Guide

The singular nature of the CPGB's relationship with the Communist International means that the organisational holdings of the archives in Britain are of a highly asymmetrical character. Discrete groups of documents from the inter-war years, some of considerable historical significance, appear to have been retained by individuals and deposited in the library/archive at a later date. Other materials relating to official party bodies have at some point been abstracted from personal deposits, notably the extensive papers of R. Palme Dutt, whose annotations can be found on documents scattered throughout the archives. With these exceptions, the central records of the Party itself date primarily from the mid-to-late 1940s. In particular, they can be connected with the overhaul of party organisation in 1943, and it is from this point that key classes of documents, like those of the Executive Committee and Organisation Department, can be followed more or less continuously.

Executive Committee and Predecessors

The Central Committee (sometimes Central Executive Committee) took shape over the 1920s as the leading elected committee of the CPGB, usually meeting monthly. According to the party rules adopted in 1943, it was renamed the Executive Committee (EC) and exercised "full responsibility for the direction and control of the Party's work" including control of the party press, publications and other enterprises. Formally, it was the national party congress, as the "supreme authority of the Party", that laid down the "general lines" which the EC was obliged to follow. In practice, executive control over congress procedures, including its own re-election, lent substance to the view that it constituted an essentially self-perpetuating leadership. Its composition was explicitly affected by issues of representativeness: key industries, professions and party districts were all meant to be represented, and regard was also paid to the representation of women and 'young comrades'. Politically, on the other hand, the EC expressed and upheld a monolithic conception of party unity. Indeed, by the strengthening of the party rules in 1952 it was further established that it should "guide and direct the work of all Party organisations" and apply disciplinary measures to any such organisation failing "to carry out Party decisions."

A complete run of EC minutes exists for the period 1943 to 1991. These, designedly, can be as laconic and unrevealing as any conspirator could have wished. Contributions of individuals and the character of discussions are rarely noted and even key decisions are often recorded elliptically. Perhaps in part for this very reason, leading communists frequently made their own notes at these meetings and where these are available they can be found alongside the relevant minutes. Very often these are exceptionally revealing and provide the sorts of information that the formal minutes were designed to conceal. Such issues are not peculiar to communist parties. Rather like the diaries of Labour cabinet ministers, they are often essential to the filling out of a sometimes less than informative formal record.

Political Committee and Predecessors (CP/CENT/PC)

Historians and political scientists have commented on the seemingly inexorable centralisation of effective power within communist parties. Formally, the EC, under the 1943 rules, was merely to "elect such Officers and Committees as it may consider necessary to ensure the most efficient organisation and carrying through of the Party's work." Though technically accountable to the EC, committees like the Industrial Committee and its officers could come to enjoy a wider discretion in day-to-day affairs. More significantly, a 'political committee' was elected which had no formal status in the party rules. Again the origins of such a body can be traced back to the 1920s, when the Political Bureau, initially sharing responsibilities with an organisational bureau, emerged as a de facto party leadership through the CPGB's inability to maintain a full-time executive. Through control of the 'panel' of nominees to the executive itself, it was the Political Committee that in practice functioned as the main directive body within the party, usually meeting at least weekly. There are important survivals from 1924-5 and again from the late 1940s, but comprehensive coverage dates from 1952.

National Congresses (CP/CENT/CONG)

According to the rules adopted in 1943, the National Congress was the 'supreme authority' of the party and responsible for laying down the 'general lines' of its work. Delegates' notes on party congresses, like those of its leading committees, can again provide a useful source of supplementary information, although the more open character of these events and their occasional nature meant that it was often feasible and acceptable to provide full stenographic reports. Along with a mass of related documentation, there are full reports of all congresses from the 20th (1948) to the 28th (1963). For all earlier congresses, beginning with the First Unity Convention in 1920, printed materials are variously supplemented by circulated reports and congress materials, delegates' and observers' notes and press cuttings. There are also full proceedings for the CP's 15th and last pre-war congress, held as a symbolic protest in Chamberlain's home city of Birmingham in September 1938. From 1973, proceedings were tape-recorded and the tapes, along with other sound materials formerly in the CPGB archives, are now deposited with the National Sound Archive. Stenograms of earlier congresses will be found in the Moscow archives. In between the more turbulent affairs of the 1920s and the 1980s, one could have wished that party congresses had been less meticulously choreographed. There were, however, moments of tension, as in 1945, 1956-7 and increasingly from 1968 as party unity ebbed. For the values, the rituals, the language and the political culture of British communism, as well as insights into a wide spread of party activities, the congress materials provide an important source.

General Secretaries (CP/CENT/SEC)

Following the example of Stalin in the USSR, the general secretary emerged as the key official of the CPGB and other communist parties. In the case of Harry Pollitt, CPGB general secretary from 1929-39 and 1941-56, this figure was not only described as party 'leader', as if corresponding to the same position in more conventional parties, but was subject to a fitful and sometimes rather embarrassing cult of personality. As the direct oversight of the Comintern became somewhat attenuated from the late 1930s, appreciable powers of patronage and advancement within the party also fell to the general secretary. The study of these developments is of interest, not only to comparative historians of communism, but to students of party institutions more generally.

Personal papers survive both of Pollitt and his successors, notably John Gollan, general secretary from 1956-77. Their official correspondence as general secretaries is also revealing; for example, it can provide a vivid insight into the eddies of communist opinion, particularly at times of crisis such as 1956-7 and virtually the whole of the 1980s, by which time Gollan's fellow Scot Gordon McLennan had replaced him in this position. The concentration of party leaders in King Street meant that they were rarely forced to correspond, unless for the specific purpose of putting their views on record. Discussions of the party secretariat, or of the tight knot of functionaries who effectively directed policy, are thus rarely documented. Conversely, individuals, branches and even districts away from the centre often had no choice but to resort to more durable forms of communication. Paradoxically, the institutional holdings of this highly centralised organisation sometimes reveal more about responses further down the party's ranks than they do about its elite-level discussions.

Speakers' Notes and Party Circulars (CP/CENT/SPN, CP/CENT/CIRC, CP/CENT/STAT, CP/CENT/ED)

In the task of guiding the party and ensuring consistency of policy at all levels, the central executive committee in the 1920s began the circulation of speakers' notes, not just as a source of information of the Fact for Socialists type but as a way of directing party policy as expressed from the platform. Speakers' notes in the CPGB archives include extensive examples from the inter-war years and a more comprehensive coverage from the later war years to the early 1970s, when the practice appears to have been discontinued. Coverage of press and policy statements issued by the party follows a similar pattern but continues into the final years of the party. Education materials and study guides include those issued by the CPGB itself, through its Central Education Department, as well as the Educational Commentary on Current Affairs issued by the Marx Memorial Library and Daily worker between 1942 and 1956. The aspiration to provide a nationally co-ordinated lead on key issues of current politics is nowhere better conveyed than by this plethora of documentation.

International Department and the Comintern (CP/CENT/INT, CP/CENT/CI)

Records of the CPGB's International Department or otherwise relating to its international functions are of particular interest given the unique significance such associations had for a communist party. The miscellaneous files collected in CP/CENT/CI give a flavour of the CPGB's subordinate status as a section of the Communist International until its dissolution in 1943. These include materials collected by students at Moscow's International Lenin School, which between 1926 and the mid-1930s welcomed some 160 British communists to take courses of up to three years.

Even after the Comintern's formal dissolution, there was no doubting either the significance of communism as an international movement, the critical position that Britain held in its conception of world affairs or the close interrelationship between them. Apart from the brief interlude of the Anglo-Soviet wartime alliance, Britain was more or less consistently depicted as a bulwark of world reaction, hostile to socialism, partial to fascism, beholden to American imperialism and an oppressor of its own colonies. The CPGB thus had a responsibility to link up with and itself promote anti-colonial struggles, a responsibility which critics alleged involved the party itself striking imperial postures in its relationships with colonial communists. Evidence both for this and for a more generous reading of colonial solidarity can be found in the archives. Pre-eminent in the earlier period was the party's interest in India, exemplified by R. Palme Dutt's position both as an authority on the sub-continent's affairs and as a contact with leading Indian nationalists. Of Dutt's reportedly extensive correspondence with Jawaharlal Nehru, nothing survives in the archive. Likewise there is little relating to the League Against Imperialism, an international front organisation based in London from 1933, and interested researchers will have to consult either the relevant Moscow archives or the papers of the league's secretary, Reginald Bridgeman, at the University of Hull. The archive does, however, contain two priceless individual deposits, namely those of Ben Bradley and Glyn Evans (qq.v.).

Even after its independence, with Nehru now premier, India remained a central concern. Key sections of the Indian communist party resisted moderating their opposition to Nehru to conform to Moscow's anti-American priorities. The CPGB, it appears, was called upon to try to straighten them out. These efforts are well documented, but again in personal deposits: both in Dutt's files on his interventions of 1950-1 and Pollitt's papers from his Indian tour of 1953-4. In the same period, the party's wider co-ordinating role was most visibly demonstrated by the conferences of Empire communist parties that it organized in London in 1947 and 1954. The International Department's records include numerous files on such international gatherings as well as an impressive documentation of the party's relations with individual fraternal parties. Among the department's other functions was the development of promising contacts in Britain, particularly among colonial students. These provided a valuable source of possible cadres in countries previously lacking strong indigenous communist movements. Again, however, tensions could arise from a perception of the British party's 'colonialist' attitudes, and these are well attested in the files on West African students. One area in which the British party could not be accused of colonialist arrogance was in its relations with the socialist bloc countries. Nor, however, was the CPGB's position wholly an obeisant one, particularly as the fragmentation of world communism gradually permitted a greater degree of autonomy to its smaller sections. At the time of the Sino-Soviet split of the 1960s, for example, British communist leaders had discussions with both the Soviet and Chinese parties, and a fairly full documentation survives. There are also useful materials relating to the later phenomenon of Eurocommunism.

Industrial Department (CP/CENT/IND, CP/MISC/ETU)

For opponents of the CPGB, one of the most disturbing features of British communism was its alleged manipulation of trade union grievances to promote economic chaos. These were bogeys that went back to the Party's syndicalist origins and were vigorously revived during the years of the Marshall Plan, when an extensive communist industrial presence was mobilised against the dominant western conception of industrial recovery. Though CPGB membership was by this time declining, such anxieties probably reached their peak with the industrial conflict of the 1960s and 1970s, as members and former members of an earlier vintage reached the pinnacle of their trade union careers. If Harold Wilson seemed to see a "tightly knit group of politically motivated men" behind disputes like the seamen's strike of the 1966, which at least confirmed the continuing industrial significance of the party. For those set on exposing or celebrating such machinations, the archives will be found to contain only fragmentary information. For the National Minority Movement of the 1920s, there is a file in the papers of its then general secretary Harry Pollitt, but little from the same period on the industrial activities of the party itself. Nor, in this particular case, is the coverage as extensive as it might be in the post-war period. Doubtless the communists' networking and caucusing in the unions were sometimes more informal than opponents believed. Nevertheless, it is clear that they had also learnt the necessity of discretion in the compiling of written records of discussions of any sensitivity. Bert Ramelson, the CPGB's national industrial organiser from the mid-1960s, was at the heart of these discussions. Famously, he boasted on one occasion that he had only to "float an idea early in the year and it will be official Labour Party policy by the autumn." Again in Ramelson's own deposit of papers, the Needs of the Hour instructions that he circulated to communist delegates before TUC and other trade union conferences may be examined to test the validity of that claim. There is also much that is relevant in the papers of Wal Hannington, whose activities in the Amalgamated Engineering Union included several years as a national organiser in the 1940s. Again, the papers of George Matthews include files relating to the CPGB's industrial policies in the 1950s, and the archive also has transcripts of the ETU ballot-rigging trial (CP/MISC/ETU). Though the Industrial Department files contain materials of interest for the party's final years, in general the record of its very considerable industrial presence needs to be traced through the papers of other key activists, officers and committees.

National Cultural Committee (CP/CENT/CULT)

In 1975 the so-called Gould Report detailed the penetration of Marxists into British universities and drew particular attention to the CPGB's successful annual event, the Communist University of London.35 One is not required to share the author's alarmist premises to accept that the communists' cultural and intellectual influence, in particular periods and particular disciplines, was enormous. Doubtless, communist intellectuals must often have shared the historian E. P. Thompson's impatience with 'Emilism': the bureaucratic interference that Thompson associated with the party's leading cultural functionary, Emile Burns. Indeed, it is suggestive of the intellectuals' high defection rate and less exclusive commitment to the party that the archive contains none of the papers of those, like Thompson or the scientists Haldane or Bernal, who achieved a major intellectual standing outside the party's ranks. Nevertheless, there are major holdings for 'party' intellectuals like R. Palme Dutt and Ivor Montagu. And there are also the files of the National Cultural Committee, set up in 1947 with a view at once to policing and to nurturing the flow of Marxist ideas. These do rather give the view from King Street, and from Burns's office as the committee's secretary. 

They also testify to the range of intellectual endeavours undertaken by the party. Fragmentary survivals include papers of the Sigerist Society, Engels Society (biology) and the psychology and architects' groups, while rather fuller documentation exists for the artists' group and there is a full run of the music group's Music and Life. Unquestionably the most distinguished of these bodies was the Historians' Group, which, at a formative period of their lives, brought together luminaries like Edward Thompson, Eric Hobsbawm, Christopher Hill and John Saville, and thus came to exercise a profound influence on English historical scholarship. Happily there survive fairly extensive records for the group, dating from its heyday in the 1950s to its later, less influential activities as the CPGB History Group. With the records of the Historians' Group one should perhaps add the papers of Dona Torr (q.v.), whom many of its younger figures regarded as the doyenne of British Marxist historians (see below CP/IND/TORR).

Women's Department (CP/CENT/WOM)

When the CPGB established its national women's advisory committee in 1944, it could look back on a quarter of a century of uneven but sometimes energetic campaigning addressed to women members and supporters. Memorably, an early party pamphlet had exhorted its intended readers to Wake up, Mrs Worker!, which doubtless betrays a somewhat restricted view of the topic. Nevertheless, in the context of the period the CPGB's record on women's issues was by no means contemptible. In the early years communists were usually hostile to anything smacking of 'bourgeois feminism' or a separate women's agenda. During the popular front and war years, however, such attitudes were modified; and, as it reflected and often anticipated wider social changes, the CPGB's conception of women's politics was increasingly a fluid and contested one. These developments are well documented in the sequence of Women's Department files dating from about 1950. There are also papers of Marian Ramelson relating to the Conference of Women of Asia, held in Beijing in 1949, and her later history of the women's suffrage movement. Of particular interest is the impact of the women's liberation movement in unsettling as well as energising the party in the 1970s. The magazine Red Rag, published without a King Street licence, reached beyond communist circles on a socialist-feminist platform, but at the same time antagonised some of the older activists entrenched in its Women's Department. The official women's journal Link did, however, come to embrace some of these concerns and records communist inputs into campaigns over abortion law, employment rights and the whole gamut of feminist politics. Though little in comparison survives for an earlier generation of women's activists, the important unpublished biography of Helen Crawfurd can be found at CP/IND/MISC.

Youth Committee (CP/CENT/YOUTH)

Though with possibly diminishing plausibility as the decades passed, the CPGB always addressed itself to Britain's youth, claimed not infrequently to speak in its aim, and devoted considerable energy to youth campaigns as a source of recruitment and party renewal. Although the Young Communist League (q.v.) existed as a technically autonomous vehicle for these activities, a Youth Affairs or Advisory committee was also established to provide oversight of such activities from the 1940s. An extensive documentation survives, particularly for the period from the 1940s to the late 1960s, when the CPGB's appeal to the 'revolutionary youth' was being overshadowed by a plethora of groups and parties emerging to its left. As well as materials of the committee, these files contain exceptionally rich survivals of pamphlets, circulars and ephemera relating to youth and children's activities and deriving from the inter-war years. There is also much material relating to international connections including youth festivals in or delegations to socialist-bloc countries and documentation from the 1980s relating to the World Federation of Democratic Youth.

Economic Committee (CP/CENT/ECON)

Because of the CPGB's presence in the trade union movement, the party's understanding of current economic issues was of considerable strategic importance for the party. This was to be vigorously demonstrated in the 1970s, when the Economic Committee became the forum for fierce debates between industrial activists and functionaries committed to wage militancy, and younger academic economists seeking to look beyond the short-term pursuit of money wages. Though overt conflict was not a feature of the Committee's deliberations when first established in the 1940s, the link between its perspectives and the policies of communists in industry was clearly recognised from the beginning, and may be traced here in files dating from the 1940s to the 1980s.

Organisation Department (CP/CENT/ORG)

From its inception in 1943, the records of the CPGB's national Organisation Department provide an especially revealing perspective on the Party's inner workings. Among its responsibilities were the maintenance of membership and cadre records, internal discipline and liaison with the districts, for all of which an extensive documentation was preserved. Materials of a highly personal, sometimes libellous nature have been excluded from the copying project. Notably this excludes the short party autobiographies to which only restricted access is available on grounds of privacy and data protection. Abundant materials nevertheless survive relating to deviations of a more public or political character. These include files on outbreaks of internal unrest involving 'rotten elements' like the novelist Edward Upward and the future Labour MP Eric Heffer, and the oversight extended by the CPGB to other left-wing groups, which most certainly did not accept its right to maintain such records. The Party's interest in Trotskyism was particularly assiduous in the war years, when members were exhorted to Clear out Hitler's agents for advancing policies not dissimilar to the CPGB's own a year or two earlier.

Along with detailed reports on Trotskyist and ILP activities are copies of internal minutes and documents, particularly of the Workers' International League, which may not be accessible elsewhere. In 1943 the party also started to compile record sheets on prominent leftists, a handful of which survive. This unhealthy obsession led on occasion to actual violence against Trotskyist paper-sellers. Even so, in the post-war years, the same struggle was generally confined to what were described as 'political methods', culminating in the formation of an almost cerebral 'Trotskyism Study Group' in the 1970s. The Organisation Department files also provide an important source for activities at district level. Just as national party records had at one time been sent to higher bodies in Moscow, copies of district minutes and reports in the early post-war decades were sent to the national organiser who, if conscientious enough, filed them with relevant correspondence and supporting papers.

Miscellaneous Central Subject and Committee Files (CP/CENT/SUBJ, CP/CENT/EVTS, CP/CENT/COMM, CP/CENT/CTTE)

Records for various ad hoc sub-committees or departments of the EC notably including the Parliamentary Department (see CP/CENT/CTTE/01/01) which, in the late 1940s, oversaw the activities of the CPGB's two MPs, Willie Gallacher and Phil Piratin. There are also important records of the West Indies Committee; of the National Jewish Committee, notably used by Jason Heppell in his doctoral research; of the Science and Technology Sub-Committee (STSC); and of a range of social or industrial advisory committees. Also established on an ad hoc basis were party commissions like the ones that oversaw the several redraftings of the British Road to Socialism, the CPGB programme whose first version in 1951 famously enjoyed the personal input of Stalin himself. There are also materials relating to the Commission for Inner-Party Democracy, which in the late 1970s addressed questions that had already been dealt with unsatisfactorily in the crisis year of 1956-7; and to the CPGB History Commission, which, as noted elsewhere, was another by-product of the political fallout from the 1956 Khrushchev speech.

The central subject files comprise materials generated by ad hoc committees or of unclear provenance at the time that the archives were catalogued. The CPGB library and archive was not, it should be remembered, arranged according to conventional archival principles; nor were records kept of the provenance of particular groups of documents. Instead, a subject index was compiled, and items of diverse provenance were added to subject files already created. There are extensive materials relating to Labour-communist relations and in particular the CPGB's unsuccessful campaigns for affiliation to the Labour Party in 1943 and 1946. Other materials relate to the anti-fascist activities which again have given rise to a good deal of historical interest. From a later period there are also files relating to the Christian-Marxist dialogue, initiated in the 1960s in the aftermath of destalinisation and Vatican II; and to the Gay Liberation movement of the 1980s, when the CPGB's commitment to a 'broad democratic alliance' began to combine with the embracing of identity politics.

The CP/CENT/EVTS sequence mainly relates to one-off events organised in the same period, including the 'Marx with Sparx' day festival for the Marx centenary in 1983; the Left Unlimited conference organised by Marxism Today in 1986; and the CPGB and Moscow conference organised in the party's very last months in 1991.

Young Communist League (CP/CENT/YCL)

Communist women, in contrast to their Labour Party counterparts, were often resistant to the idea of separate women's groups. Younger adherents, on the other hand, had what was technically a fully autonomous vehicle for their aspirations in the shape of the Young Communist League (YCL). Traditionally the YCL was considered, if at all, merely as a disciplined detachment of the adult movement. Recently, however, Mike Waite has used the League to illuminate the inter-generational tensions to which communism was as prone as any other movement. Waite's own working materials, including questionnaire responses, can be found in the archives at CP/HIST. But there are also extensive YCL files dating mainly from the mid-1930s, including minutes, congress proceedings and vast amounts of printed propaganda. The YCL was always as much a cultural and social organisation as a political movement and, alongside materials from local branches and broader youth campaigns, there are files relating to cultural and sporting activities. An ironical sidelight on generational changes is the existence both of files from the 1930s on the ILP Guild of Youth, inside which communists were then busily disruptive, and of disciplinary files from the 1960s recording the infiltration of the YCL itself by Trotskyists. Though records of the YCL survive into the 1980s, by this time it was a shadow of its former self.

The People's Press Printing Society and Daily Worker/Morning Star (CP/CENT/PUB, CP/PPPS)

The CPGB was nothing if not a massive publishing enterprise. Overshadowed by the Labour Party when it came to votes or members, the communists in many periods maintained a more vigorous or publishing activity, whether directly or through such bodies as the Left Book Club. CP/CENT/PUB contains materials relating to a range of other publishing activities, including materials relating to the monthly Marxism Today through which the party's modernising wing enjoyed a considerable success d'estime under the editorship of Martin Jacques in the 1980s. By this time, the communist newspaper, the Morning Star, was falling out of the Party's control as a result of factional conflicts between the modernising (or 'Eurocommunist') wing associated with Marxism Today, and the traditionalist or 'hard-line' elements sometimes referred to as 'tankies'. Established as the Daily Worker on 1 January 1930, the paper had been transferred to the ownership of the People's Press Printing Society in the 1940s, when the CPGB's division into warring factions could hardly even have been imagined. Other important materials relating to the paper can be found in the personal deposits of Allen Hutt and Ernie Pountney.

Local Party Records (CP/LOC, including CP/LOC/HD, CP/LOC/LEW, CP/LOC/MISC, CP/LOC/NW, CP/LOC/SCOT, CP/LOC/SMID, CP/LOC/YORK)

The CPGB in 1943 was at almost the high point of its organisation, with an ambitious district structure typically including a number of paid officials and at least one party bookshop. With the major exception of the London district, the archive's local holdings are nevertheless not very extensive. Important materials can be found in CP/CENT/ORG, but the centralisation of the party was not reflected in the systematic collection of such records. Indeed, in June 1979, as thoughts turned again to the more systematic preservation of party records in the aftermath of James Klugmann's death, the advice given district party organisations was to send copies of congress reports, bulletins, election addresses and leaflets to the Marx Memorial Library, possessing as it did "all the facilities of a well-run library". The representation of local records is certainly greater than in the case of other political parties, but comprehensive research will also require the use of other archives, notably the Welsh Political Archive of the National Library of Wales and the Gallacher Memorial Library at Glasgow Caledonian University.

Miscellaneous Non-Party Organisations (CP/ORG/MISC & CP/CENT/PEA) Miscellaneous non-Party organisations (CP/ORG/MISC & CP/CENT/PEA)

From virtually the year of its foundation, the CPGB sought to promote its objects through a variety of 'front' and ancillary organisations. Some were sections or affiliates of international movements, like the British section of the Red International of Labour Unions, later the National Minority Movement. Others were more specific to Britain, like the National Unemployed Workers' Committee Movement, founded in 1921, and dropping the 'committee' from its title at its sixth conference in 1929. In either case, communist control or direction was meant to be ensured by organised fraction work. Communists in particular would take on the crucial and often unalluring role of secretary, while non-communist supporters were usually employed in a more public or honorific capacity. Even in what were by no means 'front' organizations it was very often communists who were readiest to take on such onerous and usually unremunerated positions. It is easy for those familiar with the party's formal organisational precepts to overstate the degree of its control over its members' activities. Certainly, as the decades wore on, if party activists took on leading positions in broader organisations, it was often simply because it was a part of their identity as communists that they should do so. The deposit of an organisation's records in the CPGB archives does not therefore have to imply 'control' by the CPGB, though it does certainly demonstrate the key organisational role played by communist officers.

One result of this is that important collections relating to broader movements and organisations are often to be found in the papers of the individual communists who animated them. Notably these include the important materials relating to the NUWM in the Wal Hannington papers, while Ivor Montagu's papers provide insights into a wide range of movements over several decades, notably including the Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, from its foundation in the 1920s to the 1980s. There are also papers relating to the British Workers' Sports Federation deposited by its secretary, George Sinfield.

Other files relating to non-party organisations appear to have been deposited by individuals who cannot now be identified or to have been separated from their personal papers. Among the organisations and movements covered are the People's Convention; a CPGB-sponsored vehicle for campaigns against the wartime coalition and for a 'people's government' in 1941-2; the British Youth Peace Assembly, a broad youth campaign again set up at the instigation of communists in the late 1930s; the Left Book Club, including some local materials; Artists for Peace, an initiative postdating the break-up of the Artists International Association in 1953; the Paul Robeson Petition Campaign of the 1950s; the CPGB publishers, Lawrence & Wishart; Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, one of support groups set up during the miners' strike of 1984-5. Papers of the Welfare League of India should be read alongside the personal deposit of Glyn Evans's papers, while there is also a minute book of the Openshaw branch of the British Socialist Party, partly in Harry Pollitt's hand.

The commitment to a form of peace politics is one that crops up again and again, and the most substantial of these holdings is that for the British Peace Committee, active from 1949 as an affiliate of the World Peace Council. Catalogued as CP/CENT/PEA, this sequence also includes materials relating to a variety of local peace campaigns, often sponsored or even dominated by communists but rarely promoted under the CPGB's own official auspices.


Authored by Professor Kevin Morgan

Professor Kevin Morgan

Kevin Morgan is the Professor of Politics and Contemporary History at the University of Manchester and recipient of an AHRC Fellowship for the project ‘Communism and the cult of the leader’. Professor Morgan is also the editor of the journal 'Twentieth Century Communism' and a trustee of the Communist Party of Great Britain Archives Trust and the Working Class Movement Library.


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