The Papers of the Communist Party of Great Britain

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The archive of the CPGB is extensive. It includes the minutes of the central committees and departments, correspondence, local districts papers, party statements, E.C commissions, national congresses and conferences, speakers notes, subject files, personal files, miscellaneous individuals, youth organisations, Communist International (C.I.) central circular, The People's Press Printing Society (PPPS) (Daily Worker / Morning Star), Young Communist League, non party organisations, material relating to the history of the CPGB, and microfilmed records of CPGB material held in Russia.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was founded in 1920. The Party was based upon the philosophy of Karl Marx (1818-1883) and was inspired by the Russian Revolution of November 1917. The Communists believed that before long revolution would over throw Capitalism and end the exploitation of the working class. The Communist Party supported the Russian Revolution and for many years accepted Russian funds in order to spread its ideas. During the next 70 years hopes of revolution faded as the Communists remained a minority party. However, despite its small size the party maintained its international links and continued to campaign for improvements in the lives of working people.

Initially the CPGB tried to channel its activities through the Labour Party, which at this time operated as a federation of left-wing bodies. However, despite the support of notable figures (such as the Independent Labour Party leader, James Maxton) the Labour Party decided against the inclusion of Communists within their ranks.

Throughout the 1920s and most of the 1930s, instead of building a party based on mass membership, the CPGB decided to follow the Leninist doctrine that communist parties should be run by a small revolutionary elite, excluding all but the ultra-committed. The CPGB also decided that it would follow directives issued from Moscow whether or not they applied to British circumstances. This succeeded in isolating the CPGB from the working classes, who they were supposedly there to represent, and drove away potential recruits, most of whom joined the mainstream Labour Party. It was also largely responsible for the fact that communism in Britain, unlike many other European countries, never became a significant political force. The party loosened its ties to Moscow in the late 1930s, after Stalin signed the non-aggression pact with Hitler.

Culturally the CPGB enjoyed popularity during the 1930s and attracted writers, poets, musicians and playwrights. Communists and their allies formed the Workers' Theatre Movement (1926), the Artists International Association (1934), The Unity Theatre Club (1936) and the Left Book Club (1936). The CPGB was at the forefront of campaigns to help the unemployed and campaigned tirelessly against the Means Test. Wal Hannington led the National Unemployed Workers Movement (NUWM), which organised numerous marches to highlight the plight of the unemployed.

A significant number of British Communists fought in The Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). The CPGB organised volunteers to fight for the Spanish government against fascism. In many respects the War symbolised the idealism of the Communist Party in the 1930s.

The Communist Party won very few parliamentary seats in elections. The Party was most successful when it tuned into popular concerns, such as anti-fascism and unemployment rights. In the 1935 general election William Gallacher was elected as the Communist Party's first MP for West Fife in Scotland. The CPGB reached its peak in the 1940s when at the 1945 general election, the Communist Party received 103,000 votes, and two Communists (including William Gallacher), were elected as Members of Parliament, although both lost their seats at the 1951 general election.

The CPGB attracted a broad membership and its policies were popular in the industrial areas of Glasgow, the poorer areas of East London and the coalmining regions of South Wales. After World War II the Party gradually moved away from simple class-based protests and linked up with feminist and Black rights movements. Communists joined popular campaigns against nuclear weapons and apartheid.

In 1956 the Party was thrown into disarray firstly with news of Stalin's purges, disclosed by Krushchev in his secret speech to the 20th Congress of the CPSU in January 1956. Secondly by the crushing of the Hungarian uprising by Soviet tanks in October 1956. A group of intellectuals formed around the unofficial publication The Reasoner, edited by E P Thompson, demanded a discussion of these events. When the CPGB leadership moved to close The Reasoner, Thompson and his supporters left the Party. Those who left criticised the CPGB's acceptance of Democratic Centralism, which made it impossible for the membership to question or call to account the leadership.

In 1991, when the Soviet Union broke up, the CPGB decided to disband and became the Democratic Left, a left-leaning political think-tank rather than a political party.

Arrangement

The papers have been arranged into the following series:

CP/CENT/CULT National Cultural Committee 1945-1994

CP/CENT/EC Executive Committee Minutes and Papers, 1943-1991

(The CPGB was affiliated to the Communist International (CI), and was therefore obliged to send transcripts of the deliberations of their leading bodies to the CI headquarters in Moscow. In general, copies of these documents before 1943 were not retained at CPGB headquarters in Britain, and are now only available as microfilm copies of the transcripts held in Moscow. The run of minutes listed here dates from after the CPGB's 16th congress in 1943, at which the Central Committee was renamed Executive Committee)

CP/CENT/INT Communist Party International Department, International Affairs Committee and external relations, 1923-1992

CP/CENT/ORG Organisation Department, 1940s-1991

CP/CENT/PC Communist Party Political Bureau and Political Committee Minutes and Papers, 1925-1991

CP/CENT/CIRC Communist Party Central Circulars, 1921-1990

(The Communist Party headquarters, on behalf of the Executive Committee and of its various departments, sub-committees and advisory committees, produced a steady stream of circulars to party members, party organisations, and various other bodies)

CP/CENT/COMM Communist Party Executive Committee Commissions and related bodies, 1944-1990

CP/CENT/CONG Communist Party National Congresses and similar conferences, 1920-1991

CP/CENT/SPN Duplicated CPGB Speakers' Notes and Information Sheets,1920s-1980s

(This group consists of the information documents produced by the CPGB headquarters for speakers and propagandists. Between 1946 and 1948, they were issued as a weekly series. At other times they were produced on an ad hoc basis. At various times in the 1930s and 1940s speakers' notes were issued in printed form. These were generally serials of relatively short duration)

CP/LON London District Congress Series, 1920s-1991

(London District Congresses of the CPGB were held annually to 1953 and then bi-annually. Each congress was a major two day weekend event with as many as 500 delegates, each congress took months of preparation by the District Committee (DC) and the Secretariat. Each branch sent a number of delegates proportionate to its size e.g. five from a branch of 20. The conference was supposed to be the key-decision forum for the whole district and as such it had a strong relationship with national congresses. Dissension grew over how much the policy was actually democratically made at congress and how much was in fact decided by the leadership)

LDCP/ELEC London District of the Communist Party - electoral materials, 1964-1981

(This series includes organisational and mobilising materials produced by the district committee and local party organisations, assessments of the campaigns and analyses of the results, financial and other appeals, as well as published material, election addresses, leaflets, posters etc.)

LDCP/TRNS London District Communist Party - material on public transport, 1950-1990

CP/LOC/HD Hampshire and Dorset district CPGB, 1943-1988

CP/LOC/LEW London District CPGB - Lewisham borough, 1950s-1980s

CP/LOC/MISC Miscellaneous local and district Communist Party organisations, 1940s-1991

(Devon and Cornwall district CPGB, Surrey district CPGB, Sussex district CPGB, Kent District CPGB, South Essex district CPGB)CP/LOC/NW North West district CPGB, (formerly Lancashire and Cheshire), 1939-1986

CP/LOC/SMID South Midlands district CPGB, 1950-1976

CP/LOC/YOR Yorkshire district CPGB, 1920-1990s

CP/MISC/ETU ETU ballot-rigging trial proceedings, 1961

(High Court case of John Thomas Byrne and Frank Chapple v Frank Foulkes and other Communist Party members re alleged ballot-rigging in ETU elections)

CP/ORG/MISC CP archive miscellaneous non-party organisations, 1912-1990

(This series is made up of material from a wide range of pressure groups and political organisations, which were of interest to Communist Party members. Many of the items listed constitute no more than one or two documents)

Includes material from:

Peoples Front Propaganda Committee, 1936-1937, Women's Parliaments, 1941-1944, People's Convention, 1940-1942, British Youth Peace Assembly, 1936-1940 Campaign for the Limitation of Secret Police Powers, 1956, Hyde Labour Monthly Discussion Group, (formerly Hyde group of the Left Book Club) 1939-1941, Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners, 1984-1985, Independent Labour Party, Poplar branch, 1927, South Kensington Divisional Labour Party, 1926-1928, Artists For Peace, c. 1955, Committee of African Organisations, 1963, Cambridge Exhibition Against War and Fascism, 1930s, Committee Against Malnutrition, 1935, East Lewisham Divisional Labour Party, 1920s, China Campaign Committee, 1930s-1940s, Workers Music Association, 1940s-1974, Society for Cultural Relations with the USSR, 1948-69, Ex-Service Movement for Peace, c1950s-1968, Workers Welfare League of India, 1932, London Industrial Council, 1929, Harcourt Club, 1928, Socialist Party of Great Britain, 1950, Deptford Win-the-War Committee, 1943, Harrow and District Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, 1965-66, National Association of Tenants and Residents, 1950s-1980s, Marx Memorial Library, 1939-1990, British Socialist Party, Openshaw branch & national leaflets, 1912-1920, Hemel Hempstead Miners Support Group, 1984-1985, Radical Alliance, 1966-1967, Left Book Club Theatre Guild, 1939, Authors World Peace Appeal, 1951-1952, Socialist Information and Research Bureau (Scotland), 1920, Huddersfield and District Associated Trades and Labour Council, 1918, British Anti-War Council, 1932-1934, Kino Films (1935) Ltd, Workers Bookshop, London, 1935-1936, National Campaign Against the Police Bill, 1983-1984, Lawrence and Wishart Ltd, publishers, 1946-1979, Communist Party of New Zealand, North Shore branch, 1944-1945, Upton Divisional Labour Party, 1934-1936, British Workers Sports Federation (George Sinfield papers), 1923-1944, Liaison Committee for Women s Peace Groups, 1963, Smith Group, 1970, Workers Welfare League of India (Glyn Evans papers), 1928-1930s, Southampton Committee for Peace in Vietnam, c.1967-1968, Jewish Peoples Council Against Fascism and Anti-Semitism, 1930s-1940s, Campaign Against Racist Laws, 1980s, Women Against War, 1963-1964, Anti-Socialist and Anti-Communist Union, 1932, National Union of Mineworkers, 1982, Left Book Club, 1936-1939, National Committee for Celebration of International Womens Day 1943-1952, National Assembly of Women, 1952-1953, Labour Monthly, 1920s-1970s, Angela Davis Defence Committee, 1972, National Left Wing Committee, 1927-1929, International Class War Prisoners' Aid, 1920s, International Labour Defence, 1930s, National Unemployed Workers' Movement, Bristol Branch, 1932, National Meerut Prisoners' Defence Committee, 1929-1931, League Against Imperialism and For National Independence, 1929-1935, Committee for Trade Union Democracy, 1949, Trade Unions Against the Common Market, 1970s, National Convention of the Left, 1969, Labour Independent Group & DN Pritt, 1941-1950, Workers International Relief, 1923-1934, Air Raid Precautions Co-ordinating Committee, 1934-1951, Proportional Representation Society, 1916, Progressive Tours Ltd, 1960, Committee for Democratic Rights in the USA, 1961-1962.

CP/CENT/STAT Communist Party Statements, 1920-1991

(This series includes press and policy statements, declarations, manifestos and evidence to Royal Commissions issued by the Central/Executive Committee and the Political Bureau/Committee of the CPGB)

CP/HIST Communist Party Archive history material 1950s-1990s

CP/PPPS (Daily Worker/Morning Star and PPPS, 1944-1990

The Daily Worker was established on 1 January 1930 as the organ of the Central Committee of the CPGB. It continued in this capacity until 1945, when a co-operative society, the People's Press Printing Society, was created in order to raise capital for the Daily Worker from beyond the CPGB. Ownership of the Daily Worker was transferred from the CPGB to the PPPS, although the CPGB retained editorial and political control of the paper. A further organisation, the Daily Worker (after 1966 - Morning Star) Co-operative Society, was established in 1951 to act as the nominal publishers of the paper. The mechanisms of party political control over the politics and management of the paper began to break down in the early 1980s, when the editor of the Morning Star was able to use the legal position of the PPPS in order to move the paper away from CPGB control. This resulted in a lengthy struggle between the leadership of the CPGB and the Management Committee of the PPPS for political control of the paper between 1982 and 1986. The struggle for control of the Morning Star mirrored the factional struggles that were taking place within the CPGB. After 1986 the CPGB effectively abandoned its attempts to regain control of the Morning Star)

CP/LOC/SCOT Scottish District CPGB, 1922-1980s

CP/CENT/PL material from the CPGB's Picture Library (Pamphlets, newsletters and ephemera) 1920s-1990s

CP/YCL/ Young Communist League, 1926- 1990s

The final part of the collection comprises microfilm copies of material held in Russia including pre 1943 Congress reports, Central Committee meetings and other material relevant to the early history of the CPGB.

Conditions Governing Access

Access by appointment.

Acquisition Information

In January 1994 the CPGB Archive Trust deposited the papers of the Communist Party of Great Britain at the People's History Museum (formerly National Museum of Labour History) in Manchester. The collection is now held at the Labour History Archives 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.

Note

Language of material:English, occasional documents are in Russian.

Collection level description created by Janette Martin, December 2003.

Other Finding Aids

The indexes of the CPGB archive are available online at A2A http://www.a2a.pro.gov.uk/.

The indexes can also be consulted at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre. Since the CPGB catalogue was completed in 1994 a significant amount of unlisted material has come to light, it is advisable to contact the LHASC Archivists for more details.

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.

Appraisal Information

Additional CPGB material is awaiting appraisal and listing.

Custodial History

The archives of the CPGB were held at the Communist Party Library in Hackney, London, until 1994.

Accruals

Accruals are not expected.

Related Material

The Labour History Archive and Study Centre (LHASC) holds the personal papers of prominent Communists including Harry Pollitt, Willie Gallacher and Rajani Palme Dutt. Separate collection level descriptions have been created for these individuals. The papers of Alison Macleod offer an interesting account of the events of 1956.

The LHASC, also holds large amounts of CPGB publications (pamphlets, leaflet and election material) as well as Communist newspapers.

The People's History Museum holds the Communist Party picture collection and CPGB artefacts and ephemera including a bug planted by MI5 at the CPGB's headquarters.

The Labour Party Archive, also held at the LHASC, includes material, which will be of interest to Communist Party historians. LHASC also holds a small collection of Unity Theatre material and a collection of material on the Spanish Civil War.

The Working Class Movement Library in Salford, which was established by two Communist bibliophiles, Ruth and Eddie Frow, holds a vast amount of printed material relevant to British Communism, as does the Marx Memorial Library in London.

The records of some local branches of the Communist Party of Great Britain are held in local repositories or university collections. For more information check the National Register of Archives at www.nra.nationalarchives.gov.uk/nra.

Additional Information

From the CPGB's foundation in 1920 until 1943 the Party was required to deposit its records in Russia. They are now held at Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History (RGASPI).