18 September 2020

Formation of the CPGB (1920)

A series of articles produced by regular Weekly Worker contributor William Sarsfield on the formation of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920, the events preceding and the immediate challenges it faced in a highly turbulent period that would go on to reshape the entire working class movement in Britain. This is an incredibly valuable resource for anyone interested in the the formation of the CPGB, Each edition includes republished articles from the organisations and leaders as the events unfolded and gives the reader a unique ‘as-it-happened’ viewpoint of these seminal events.

(1) October shakes the British left

Includes 3 articles from The Call (paper of the British Socialist party, who would go on to become a major component of the future CPGB) in November 1917 in response to the unfolding Russian revolution. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1286, 13/02/20.

(2) Fight for unity

Features a 1919 article from The Call as well as The Socialist of the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) from March 1920, the newly formed Comintern proved to be the catalyst needed to turn enthusiasm for the Russian revolution into practice as the process of uniting under one Communist Party banner began. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1287, 23/02/20.

(3) The supreme issue

An intervention from Amsterdam put unity in jeopardy as “the supreme issue of a Communist Party” turned into a wider debate over to affiliation and membership of the Labour Party; in a May 1920 article of The Call, the BSP leadership attack the leftist policy that was a threat to the unity project. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1288, 29/02/20.

(4) Beyond the sects

The battle for a unity convention raged on into Summer 1920 as pro-unity forces within the SLP formed the Communist Unity Group (CUG), we reprint 3 articles of The Call which continued to fight against Sylvia Pankhurst’s leftist WSF and for a united Party with tactical flexibility. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1290, 12/03/20.

(5) Those against unity

Both the SLP and the former WSF – now the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) – reacted to the news of the proposed BSP/CUG unity convention with open letters in The Socialist and The Workers’ Dreadnought respectfully. Whilst the SLP was attempting to prevent total disintegration, the CP (BSTI) remained adamant that rejection of parliament and the Labour Party were a matter of principle. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1291, 20/03/20.

(6) Lenin for unity

These are the last articles we will be republishing from The Call – the BSP and its paper were shortly merged into the newly formed CPGB – but they are of immense importance.  Of the four articles; a report of the BSP delegates from the 2nd Congress of Comintern, a message from Lenin to the BSP in support of a united Communist Party as well as “participation in parliament and of adhesion to the Labour Party on condition of free and independent communist activity”, a piece written by the CUG and a fond farewell from The Call. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1292, 26/03/20.

(7) Unity: a hostile report

We begin our coverage of the crucial Communist Unity Convention with a sceptical and somewhat cynical August 12 1920 article of The Socialist (SLP). Despite the loss of many comrades to the CPGB, the report claimed that “The field for revolutionary unity is now much clearer” – history would prove the SLP wrong. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1293, 02/04/20.

(8) Unity convention

The next nine contributions to this series re-publish the speeches, contributions and debates of the Communist Unity Convention itself, we begin with the Chairman’s address. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1294, 09/04/20.

(9) Inkpin speaks

Albert Inkpin – previously secretary of the British Socialist Party and now holding the same post on the Joint Provisional Committee of the CPGB – delivers the report on the unity negotiations to the Unity Convention/First Congress of the CPGB. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1295, 17/04/20.

(10) Party and parliament

Debate kicked-off at the First Congress with a resolution on Party and Parliament which was delivered by Tom Bell on behalf of the Joint Provisional Committee (JPC). We republish his speech as well as the resolution. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1296, 23/04/20.

(11) Fundamental principles 

We continue with the resolution on Party and Parliament – moved by Tom Bell – with the debate and discussion. Chair Arthur MacManus called  19 speakers during the debate, we reproduce a summation of these speeches – as reported in the official account of the congress. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1297, 30/04/20.

(12) Answerable to the Party

The second resolution of the First Congress that we republish is that of Parliament and accountability, outlining that parliament severed as a means of propaganda rather than a route to socialism itself as well as the key distinction that elected communists “must be considered as holding a mandate from the party, and not from the particular constituency for which they happen to sit”. We publish a summary of the debate as well as the amended resolution. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1299, 15/05/20.

(13) Call for affiliation

The next Phase of the First Congress of the CPGB was devoted to another extremely divisive issue which divided the former members of the BSP And CUG – that of Labour Party affiliation. It took the form of a direct debate between two starkly opposed motions: (a) “That the Communist Party shall be affiliated to the Labour Party” and (b) “that the Communist Party shall not be affiliated to the Labour Party”. We reproduce an edited version of the speech by the mover (JF Hodgson) of motion (a). Originally published in Weekly Worker 1300, 21/05/20.

(14) Labour Party debate

Motion (b) – against affiliation to the Labour Party – was moved by William Paul. We reproduce an edited version of the speech. Originally published in Weekly Worker 1301, 28/05/20.

(15) A Labour Party with a communist mind

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1302, 04/06/20.

(16) Welcome the CPGB

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1303, 11/06/20.

(17) Tragedy of Sylvia Pankhurst

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1304, 18/06/20.

(18) Get to your posts

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1306, 02/07/20.

(19) CPGB and the miners

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1307, 09/07/20.

(20) ‘A damned nuisance’

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1308, 16/07/20.

(21) Mobilising the unemployed

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1309, 23/07/20.

(22) Remained a live issue

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1310, 30/07/20.

(23) Reasons to be bitter

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1312, 13/08/20.

(24) All power for the workers

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1314, 10/09/20.

(25) Supporting the Labour Party

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1315, 17/09/20.

(26) Place for all communists

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1316, 24/09/20.

(27) Up the CPGB Bolshies

Originally published in Weekly Worker 1317, 01/10/20.