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Communist Party of Great Britain

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was a political party in the United Kingdom, which existed from 1920 to 1991.

Table of contents
1 Formation
2 The 1920s and 30s
3 The 1940s and 50s
4 Decline


The party was founded in 1920 after the Third International decided that greater attempts should be made to establish communist parties across the world. The CPGB was formed by the merger of three smaller Marxist parties, including the British Socialist Party, the Workers' Socialist Federation and the Communist Unity Group of the Socialist Labour Party. It rode on the brief wave of pollitical radicalism in Britain, which followed the First World War and the Russian Revolution. Amongst the communist party's most important founders were Harry Pollitt and Sylvia Pankhurst.

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.

The 1920s and 30s

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 revolutionary cadre. The CPGB as the british section of the Communist International 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 CPGB however, succeeded in gaining some localised support in a few areas, mostly from parts of industrial Scotland, in poor areas of East London, and in the South Wales valleys. Indeed, Maerdy in the Rhondda Valleys was known for some time as 'Little Moscow' for its Communist tendencies, especially amongst miners.

In the 1935 general election William Gallacher was elected as the communist party's first MP for West Fife in Scotland.

The 1940s and 50s

The CPGB reached its peak in the 1940s when at the 1945 general election, the communist party received 103,000 votes, and two Communists were elected as members of parliament one of whom was the aforementioned Gallacher, the other one was Phil Piratin who won in Mile End east London. Harry Pollitt failed by only 972 votes to take the Rhondda East constituency. Both Communist MP's however, lost their seats at the 1951 general election.

The party's membership peaked during in 1943 reaching around 60,000. However, the British Communist party was still tiny compared to its continental European counterparts. The French Communist Party for instance had 800,000 members, and the Italian Communist Party had 1.7 million members.

The 1950s anti-communist uprisings in Hungary and East Germany caused support for the Communist Party to dwindle. Some members defected to the Independent Labour Party due to this. The last strong electoral performance of the CPGB was in the February 1974 General Election in Clydebank where candidate Jimmy Reid won almost 6,000 votes, but even this was really a personal vote for Reid who was a prominent local trade union leader.


From the late 1960s onwards the party was heavily factionalised between those who wanted to stay loyal to the line of Moscow and those who wanted a policy independent of the Soviet Union, described as eurocommunism. This internal argument resulted in the eventual triumph of the eurocommunists, so much so that the CPGB Central Executive Committee voted to show their disapproval at the Soviet Union's invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

This eurocommunist grip on the CPGB prompted a group of Stalinists to establish the New Communist Party of Britain in 1977 among this groups members were a handful of youth who would later found The Leninist paper. There was a further split in 1988 when members loyal to the Party's programme, "Britain's Road to Socialism", established a network of Morning Star readers groups and similar bodies as factional struggle erupted in the CPGB. Eventually these elements established their own party, based on the British Road to Socialism, which they named the Communist Party of Britain.

In 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up, the eurocommunist-dominated leadership of the CPGB decided to disband, and renamed itself Democratic Left a left-leaning political think tank rather than a political party. Supporters of The Leninist however, who had joined the CPGB in the early 1980s, declared their intention to reforge the Party, reclaimed the name of the party at an emergency conference and are now known as the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee). This organisation publishes the Weekly Worker newspaper. In Scotland some members established the Communist Party of Scotland.

See also: Rajani Palme Dutt