History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951

By Spellman, Martin | Capital & Class, Autumn 1998 | Go to article overview

History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951


Spellman, Martin, Capital & Class


Noreen Branson

History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1941-1951 Lawrence & Wishart, 1997, pp.262. ISBN 0-85315-862-2 (pbk) 14.99

This is the fourth volume in the 'official' history of the CPGB that has famously taken longer to write than the actual events took to occur. The CPGB departed from political life in November 1991, aged 70 years and, if past volumes are anything to go by, there might be another three or four to come before the saga is completed. John Mahon published an extensive and well indexed biography of Harry Pollitt, its most renowned General Secretary, in 1976, covering the period to 1960. Two years ago, former Labour Press Officer, Francis Beckett published an anti-communist treatment-The Enemy Within, also in one volume. Branson says that `those on the left who want to move forward to a socialist society' need `to look at the record of communist movements in capitalist countries, examine the beliefs and aims of its members; their achievements as well as their failures'. But this is too pedestrian, with too many reminiscences of old comrades and not enough of the political framework and critical analysis required to `move forward'. The intense and vigorous internal life of the CPGB often exaggerated the real significance of what its members were doing. Very often the experience seems to be that `the political line was never wrong but the situation was never right.' It also tends toward 'resolutionism'-as if all that mattered in history was a succession of TUC and Labour Party card votes.

Given the status of the book and the access to CPGB archives it is a pity there is no list of the titles and sales of pamphlets and other literature, which should give a good idea of the party campaigns at that time. Neither is there any indication of the educational programme. During the 40s and 50s the CPGB, and all other Communist Parties, studied the `History of the CPSU (Short Course)' by Stalin of which tens of thousands of copies were sold. The effect of this kind of understanding on the estimates of the trials in Hungary, Bulgaria and Czechoslovakia in the late 40s and early 50s is not made. It was believed that the class struggle was growing more acute, even under socialism; that the foreign enemy was working with the domestic enemy and that the terror was justified and necessary.

This period was the heyday for the CPGB -membership peaked at 56,000 in 1942; Daily Worker sales reached 120,000 in 1948 with the weekend edition touching 200,000. By the end of the war half a million people were voting for the Communist Party-it had two MPs and 215 councillors. When it published its programme `The British Road to Socialism' in February 1951 it sold 150,000 copies in six weeks. Communist Parties grew more influential everywhere and came to power in Europe and Asia. The Soviet Union survived, despite enormous losses, and became the second super-power. The United States had become the most important capitalist country, with a monopoly of nuclear weapons, whilst the European colonial empires began to disintegrate. …

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