The collection covers Harry Pollitt's entire political career, beginning with his early apprentice and educational certificates and ending with obituaries and letters of condolences after his death. The papers reflect Pollitt's duties as the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain and as such cover a wide range of issues from the Spanish Civil War to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of Soviet Union and the Hungarian uprising.
The Papers of Harry Pollitt (1890-1960)
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Scope and Content
Administrative / Biographical History
Harry Pollitt, Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), was born in 1890 in Droylsden, near Manchester, the son of Sam Pollitt, a blacksmith's striker and his wife Mary Louisa, a skilled weaver. In 1894 he started his education at King Street British School, Droylsden. By the age of twelve he was assisting his mother at her power loom. In 1905 he started work at Gorton locomotive works. After serving his apprenticeship there he became a first-class member of The Boilermakers' Society, retaining this membership all his life. In 1909, he attended the Manchester School of Technology where he studied for his City and Guilds examination, despite working a 53 hour week.
Harry Pollitt was greatly influenced by his mother's socialism and they both joined the Independent Labour Party. In 1911, at the age of 21, he became the Secretary of Openshaw Socialist Society (OSS) and wrote a pamphlet championing Marxist doctrine, Socialism or Socialist Reform. The OSS was affiliated to the British Socialist Party (established 1912). Pollitt later became Branch Secretary.
Pollitt welcomed the October Russian Revolution (1917) and the following year moved to London where he became involved with the Shop Stewards Movement. By 1919 Pollitt was the national organiser of the Hands Off Russia campaign. The following year, 1920, Pollitt was involved in the foundation of the CPGB. Two years later he was elected to its Executive Committee.
Pollitt attended the 1922 Labour Party conference as delegate from the Boilermakers' Union. He attempted but failed to get a motion passed to discuss CPGB affiliation to the Labour Party.
In 1925 Pollitt married Marjorie Brewer, a teacher and activist. Four days after his marriage to Marjorie he was jailed for 12 months along with 11 other leaders of the CPGB for seditious libel. He used the trial as an opportunity to expound Communism for 3 hours. Pollitt's endeavours were acknowledged in 1929 when the Party elected him General Secretary. He felt deeply honoured in accepting this post, which he held until 1956 (apart from a brief spell during the Second World War). Under his guidance membership steadily increased from less than 3,000 until by 1939 it totalled nearly 18,000.
In 1939 Pollitt resigned as Secretary of the CPGB over differences with its Executive on his support for the Second World War. Two years later he was restored to the CPGB Secretaryship, when the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union precipitated a change in party policy. By 1942 Pollitt was addressing a mass meeting in Trafalgar Square in support of a second front.
In 1946 Pollitt proposed a second motion to affiliate the Communist Party to the Labour Party. This was heavily defeated at the Labour Party conference. Pollitt was also involved in drafting the 1951 CPGB programme, The British Road to Socialism.
After World War II Harry spent much time overseas at the invitation of the international Communist and progressive movements. Abroad his speeches made him one of the best known Communist party leaders outside Russia and many well-wishers worldwide sent greetings on the occasion of his 60th birthday in November 1950. Though still very active, Harry was now often plagued by illness and exhaustion. In March 1956 he decided to stand down as General Secretary of the CPGB. After which, despite his dwindling health, Pollitt spent a considerable time from home on lecture tours around the world. Harry Pollitt died in 1960 on board the P&O liner, the Orion, after a demanding tour of Australia.
The papers have been arranged into the following series:
Personal items including educational certificates and membership cards, c.1905-1959
Openshaw Socialist Society, 1909-1913
Southampton boilermakers strike, 1915
Russian Revolution, 1918-1920
Boilermakers Society c.1922-1929
Wandsworth Prison, 1925-1926
Dawdon Strike, 1929
Lancashire Textile Strike, 1932
Spanish Civil War, 1937-1938
World War II, 1939
Coal mining, 1944
Correspondence: Rajani Palme Dutt, 1928-1931
Correspondence: William Gallacher, 1950s
Correspondence: John Gollan and George Matthews, 1954-1957
Correspondence: miscellaneous 1915-1959
Trips overseas, 1945-1960
Information gathered for speeches and articles, 1920s-1950s
Conditions Governing Access
Access by appointment.
In January 1994 the CPGB Archive Trust deposited the papers of the Communist Party of Great Britain at the People's History Museum (formerly the National Museum of Labour History) in Manchester. The collection is now held at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, which is based at the head office of the People's History Museum and managed by the John Rylands University Library of Manchester.
Collection level description created by Janette Martin.
Other Finding Aids
The indexes of the Harry Pollitt papers are available online at A2A. A hard copy version of the indexes can be consulted in the search room at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre.
Conditions Governing Use
Photocopies and photographic copies of material in the Archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents. Prior written permission must be obtained from the Archive for publication or reproduction of any material within the Archive. Please contact the Labour History Archive and Study Centre, 103 Princess Street, Manchester, M1 6DD Tel.: +44 (0)161 228 7212.
No further appraisal, destruction or scheduling is expected to take place.
The archive of the CPGB, which included the personal papers of several prominent Communists, was held at the Communist Party Library in Hackney, London, until 1994.
Accruals are not expected.
Serving My Time; An Apprenticeship to Politics, by Harry Pollitt, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1940)
Harry Pollitt a biography, by John Mahon, (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1976)
Harry Pollitt, by Kevin Morgan(Manchester University Press, 1993)