Communist Party of Great Britain


Communist Party of Great Britain
   Founded in 1920 the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was for many years the leading communist organization in the country, and until 1943 the British arm of the Communist International. The CPGB resulted from the merger of the British Socialist Party with the Communist Unity Group and various other small left-wing groups, on the basis of their mutual support for the Russian Bolsheviks.
   Throughout the 1920s the party was active as a minority movement seeking to organize itself within the left of the trade unions and attempting, but being denied, affiliation with the Labour Party in 1921. Efforts to cooperate with the Labour Party were abandoned in 1927 and the CPGB fought against Labour candidates in the 1929 elections. After Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power in Germany in 1932 the CPGB sought to unite all socialist parties against fascism. In 1935 it called for the establishment of a Popular Front of all anti-fascists, including Liberals and Conservatives, to oppose the national government’s appeasement policy. The CPGB only put forward two candidates in the 1938 general election, both of whom were elected, and supported all other Labour candidates. Throughout the Spanish Civil War many members of the CPGB fought in the International Brigade, over 250 being killed. The anti-fascist stance of the party raised its membership to 17,756. A month after the outbreak of World War II the CPGB changed its stance, denouncing the war as imperialist. General Secretary Harry Pollitt was removed from his position as a result of his opposition to the change, although he was reinstated in 1941. The party’s stance on the war and its support of the Nazi–Soviet Pact was extremely unpopular and brought it into conflict with the government which in January 1941 banned its official paper the Daily Worker. After the German invasion of the Soviet Union the CPGB gave its backing to the war effort. The ban on the Daily Worker was lifted in 1942, and the party’s membership soared to 56,000.
   During the Cold War membership and support for the party steadily declined, with, for example, 97 of the 100 candidates put forward in the 1950 election losing their deposits. The party supported the Soviet Union’s suppression of the 1956 Hungarian uprising, which, allied to Nikita Krushchev’s speech denouncing Josef Stalin, resulted in CPGB membership falling from 33,095 in February 1956 to 24,670 two years later. The CPGB opposed both Labour and Conservative government labor policies in the 1960s and 1970s, also moving toward a more Eurocommunist position during this time. In 1979 the CPGB condemned the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and similarly opposed the Soviet-supported imposition of martial law in Poland in 1981. A pro-Soviet minority controlling the party newspaper, the Morning Star, continued to fight against the Eurocommunist wing, and in 1987 the party broke with the Morning Star, whose supporters then founded the Communist Party of Britain. By 1990 CPGB membership had plummeted to 6,000 with funds of only around £4 million. In 1991 the Eurocommunist leadership broke up to form the Democratic Left, a left-wing think tank, while a small minority reforged the party, now known as the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provincial Central Committee).

Historical dictionary of Marxism. . 2014.