In the run up to the LSHG conference on the Attlee Government of 1945 (on Saturday 28 February), we have been sent this piece by Mike Sheridan for the LSHG blog:
THE LABOUR INDEPENDENT GROUP: a fragment of the 1940s
by Mike Sheridan
The scale of the Labour victory in the 1945 General Election with an overall Parliamentary majority of 183 seats, was a shock to almost everyone, observers and activists alike. But it confirmed that the Labour Party represented the main repository of working-class political trust. This was in every way a remarkable turnaround after the difficult years of the 1930s when the Party split because of the defection of the MacDonald/Snowden/Thomas grouping to form a National Government whose main force was the Conservative Party.
Despite that, there were other poles of attraction for working-class and Socialist voters and, in fact, generally the political landscape was skewed much further to the Left than the miserable vista we are presented with today. Firstly, the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was the largest party claiming an adherence to Marxism with around 40,000 members (1). The CPGB had 2 MPs elected in 1945 – Phil Piratin was the victor in Stepney (Mile End) and Willie Gallagher retained the Fife West seat which he had won in 1935. In other constituencies the CPGB had secured sizeable votes. For instance in Hornsey, the CPGB candidate won 10,058 votes (21.5% of the Poll) and in Rhondda East, the Party General Secretary, Harry Pollitt, secured 15,761 votes (45.5% of the Poll) and only lost to the successful Labour candidate by 972 votes.
However, the CPGB had badly misread the post-War mood of the British working-class as, until late in the day, they were calling for a 'progressive coalition' to rule the country, which was actually to the Right of the wishes of most Labour voters. The left-of Labour Independent Labour Party (ILP) returned 3 MPs in 1945, all for Glasgow constituencies (where the Party's main organisational strength resided) including the redoubtable Jimmy Maxton.
The Labour Party, CPGB and ILP all represented, in varying ways, a reformist approach to political, economic and social reconstruction.
The main players representing a 'revolutionary' approach were the Trotskyist Revolutionary Communist Party (RCP) but they were a marginal, if voluble, force. An RCP candidate had stood in a By-election earlier in 1945. Jock Haston had carried the RCP's hopes in Neath but had been trounced by the Labour candidate receiving only 1781 votes. The RCP did not re-enter the electoral arena (although, interestingly, a General Election candidate who had been in the Trotskyist movement did stand unsuccessfully - Reg Groves for Labour in Aylesbury. Then in a By-election in 1946 in Battersea, Hugo Dewar stood unsuccessfully for the ILP. It is certainly true that both Groves and Dewar still held views which the Labour leadership and the CPGB would have regarded as Trotskyist).
In the post-War settlement, the Allies had carved up Europe into 'spheres of influence' with the western powers lording over western Europe and the Kremlin the hegemonic controllers of the eastern nations. Stalin's government took this to signify that they should export the Russian economic and political culture to those countries. Regimes apparently indistinguishable from the Russian model were established everywhere from Poland in the north to Albania in the south. The 'Cold War' began in which propaganda, rhetoric and suspicion featured as substitutes for military confrontation.
The Labour Party leadership had hitched their wagon securely to the international leadership of Washington and the Pentagon. Not without opposition from some MPs and constituency party members. The Left-wing was in a minority in the Party but a troublesome one to the Attlee/Morrison/Bevin Party leadership. Most of the Left-wing Labour MPs became associated with the Keep Left group, which was, in effect, a precursor of the Bevanites of the 1950s. However, there were a minority of Labour MPs on the Left who were certainly pro-Soviet (and pro-Stalin) and the Labour leadership was much less inclined to tolerate them, partly, no doubt, for fear of offending their American allies. Conflict with this group broke out in 1947/48 over the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and what became known as 'the Nenni telegram'.
It is important to acknowledge that the influence of the 1917 Revolution still held enormous kudos and not just on the Left. It was commonly considered that the Stalinist regime in Moscow was Socialist. Tribune, the printed voice of the Labour reformist Left, certainly held this view. In a lead article published on 5 April 1946 they criticised the lack of democracy in the Soviet Union but commented approvingly on the economic gains of 'the Socialist country'. (2) The RCP concluded that the Soviet Union was a 'degenerated workers state' (as had been the formulation of Trotsky himself). They coined the term 'deformed workers states' to describe the other eastern European states in the Soviet Bloc but considered that economic base was Socialist (it was Tony Cliff who was to break with the theory with his notion of state capitalism). The ILP, not ones to immerse themselves in doctrinal schisms in the Trotskyist manner, took a position similar to Tribune but with concerns expressed for the lack of democratic practices in the Kremlin-controlled nations. The CPGB, of course, had no doubt that the whole of the Eastern Bloc represented the Communist future.
In the light of these factors a pro-Stalinist segment of the Parliamentary Labour Party is less than surprising.
In April 1948 a group of Labour MPs sent a telegram of support to Pietro Nenni in Italy, leader of the Socialist Party, expressing their support for the Party in the forthcoming Italian General Election. This immediately provoked the ire of the Labour Party leadership as the Italian Socialists (PSI) had entered into an alliance with the Italian Communist Party (PCI) by establishing a Democratic Popular Front as a joint slate in the Election.
Nenni was a figure of some substance in European Social Democracy. He had been imprisoned by the Mussolini regime. Later he was the Political Commissar of the Garibaldi Brigade in the Spanish Civil War. In 1942 he was living an uncertain day-to-day existence in Vichy France when he was arrested and returned to Italy. There he was again imprisoned. In 1944, at liberty again, he was appointed Secretary-General of the Italian Socialist Party. He held important posts in the first post-War Italian coalition government.
In 1947 the right-wing of the Socialist Party split away and it became clear to Nenni that an alliance with the Communist Party represented the best chance of electoral success.
The PCI was, of course, much stronger than its British counterpart and, in the first Italian post-War elections in 1946, had secured 4,356,686 votes which gave it 104 seats in the Italian Parliament.
In fact the Nenni/Stalinist alliance did not succeed in 1948. The Christian Democrats led by Alcide de Gasperi topped the Poll. The results showed that the Christian Democrats had gained 12,741,299 votes to the 8,137,047 for the Democratic Popular Front. This did not prevent the British Labour leadership, through the bureaucrats at Transport House, launching a hostile inquiry into the behaviour of the signatories to the 'Nenni telegram'. In vain did the signatories protest that the Labour Party had supported Nenni's Socialists in the 1946 elections and that the policy had not changed in the intervening period.
The Labour Party officials charged with spearheading the inquiry were Morgan Phillips, General Secretary of the Party, and Denis Healey (then working in the International Department of the Party). Healey had himself been a CPGB member until the early years of the War and in 1948 still in the future was his shinning up Labour's greasy pole to attain senior Ministries in the Harold Wilson and James Callaghan governments. In any event, Phillips and Healey were hardly well-qualified to be 'honest brokers' in the affair as they had recently returned from a trip to Italy where they had met for a cordial discussion with the politicians who had split from the Socialist Party.
The cause of the signatories was not assisted by the nominally Left-wing Tribune which, with lofty disdain and a distinct lack of solidarity, declared that the MPs who had signed the telegram were 'simpletons who do not know what they are supporting'. (3) [It is an interesting commentary on the tendency of Tribune to significantly mute its independence of expression during periods of Labour Government that it was left to the New Statesman to publish the Keep Left manifesto in 1947]
It was claimed that 40 MPs had supported the telegram. But they began to face pressure, not only from the Labour leadership, but from a hostile press anxious, as always, to cause difficulties for a Labour Government. Some of the signatories began to crack under the pressure. The first to give way was John Baird (MP for Wolverhampton North East and a future supporter of the Algerian Revolution and confidant of the Ted Grant/Peter Taaffe Trotskyist Revolutionary Socialist League). In a splendid example of the philosophy 'it weren't me, sir, it were 'im' he declared that he did not know how his name came to be on the telegram. (4)
Some of the supporters could not be touched by the Labour hierarchy. Piratin and Gallagher were exempt from their inquiry as members of the CPGB. Another MP in support was Denis Nowell (always known as D N) Pritt, who sat in the House of Commons as an Independent Labour MP for the Hammersmith North constituency after having been expelled from the Labour Party in 1940 for his support of the Russian invasion of Finland.
The nominal leader of the signatories was the stylish orator John Platts-Mills, MP for Finsbury, a man totally unnamenable to right-wing Labour bullying. Summoned by Phillips to Transport House to be interrogated, he travelled to the appointment by bicycle, something of a status mode of travel for image-conscious MPs these days, but then considered distinctly odd. Platts-Mills made sure that the press cameras were on hand to take photographs. On emerging from the meeting Platts-Mills gave a statement to the assembled journalists which contained the usual platitudes about 'a friendly and constructive exchange of views'. It is unlikely that the meeting had been either.
On 28 April, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the Labour Party expelled Platts-Mills from the Party and coupled this with a letter to 21 other Labour MPs demanding that they cease acting as an organised group within the Party and repudiate their support for the telegram.
As ever, the Labour leadership were determined to extract as much blood from the stone as possible. On 30 April the MPs responded to the demand by stating that they could not withdraw their support for a telegram which had already been sent and by that they wished to know when the Party's policy towards the PSI had changed as the Party had supported them in the previous Italian General Election. The NEC did not trouble themselves to reply to the legitimate question.
The Finsbury Labour Party Management Committee then expelled Platts-Mills who issued a statement to the effect that he would continue to fight for a free, independent, Socialist Britain and commenting acidly on Ernest Bevin (the Foreign Secretary) that 'Bevin's policy is to surrender Britain and the Commonwealth to America for a handful of dollars' (a reference to the Marshall Aid financial support provided by the US Government). (5)
Other Labour MPs involved in the fracas were more fortunate with their constituency parties. Both Geoffrey Bing in Hornchurch and P G Barstow in Pontefract were given votes of confidence by their local activists. Meanwhile, Sidney Silverman, the MP for Nelson and Colne, a Left libertarian and a serial rebel against the Labour leadership until his death in 1968, commented 'Italian conditions are different from ours'. He wished the Democratic Popular Front well but he was not a Communist (this was quite true and he had opposed CPGB affiliation to the Labour Party).
It was left to Benn Levy, the MP for Eton and Slough, and no rebel to spell out what the core issue involved really was when he expressed the view that there was no third choice for Britain, she must travel the Russian road or the American road. Britain was committed to the Western Union which was the lesser of two evils. A neat formulation which, in simple terms, summed up the Cold War period, although it was doubtful if Ernest Bevin would have been pleased to hear the concept of siding with American Imperialism as evil. (6)
Marshall Aid (so-called because the plan had been drawn up by George Marshall the US Secretary of State) had originated in 1947. It promised significant financial aid for those countries in Europe which agreed with the American plan for the reconstruction of the continent from the devastation inflicted during the War years. In other words the US money would be made available to those governments who agreed with America's preferred strategy. It was no surprise that the offer was accepted by 16 Western European nations but rejected by the Soviet Union and her satellites to the east. After the kerfuffle over the Italian elections this became the next verbal battleground on which the Left in Parliament took on the Government. The Tories and Liberals had been happy to muddy the water over the Italian issue they now, naturally, had no interest in criticising the intentions of the US Government. D N Pritt weighed in with the warning 'There will be pretty formidable strings attached to Marshall Aid'. One of the 2 CPGB MPs, Willie Gallagher, rhetorically challenged Bevin: Can we hear one word from the Foreign Secretary about the evils of capitalism which the socialist movement was brought into existence to destroy? (7)
He probably didn't expect any agreement from Bevin on that sally and was not to get it.
On another occasion, Platts-Mills made reference to the 'banana republics in South America' to which Bevin responded disingenuously that he knew of no such places in South America but of a number in eastern Europe, which, if taken literally, did not suggest that Bevin's knowledge of the fruit crops and exports of the the Soviet satellites was impressive. In July 1948 in the House of Commons, Platts-Mills and Pritt moved an amendment to the Government's proposal for the House to approve the Marshall Aid offer. The amendment was couched in the terms of not ratifying the Marshall Aid agreement but to initiate trade agreements with the Soviet Union and the countries of eastern Europe. The amendment was not called.
Another of the Labour rebels on the Italian election question had been Konni Zilliacus, the MP for Gateshead. Zilliacus had been a thorn in the flesh of the Labour leadership since 1945 but did not confine his polemics in their direction. In a Parliamentary debate he roared at the Tories 'they landed us in the last War, now they think they can compensate by landing us in World War 3'. In September 1948 Zilliacus was in Belgrade and was received for lunch by Josip Broz, better known to the watching world as Marshall Tito, Prime Minister of Yugoslavia. Tito's country was considered in the Soviet sphere of influence but Tito had already fallen out with the Soviets over the collectivization of agriculture which he was not prepared to force through at the rate demanded by the Kremlin. This, and other issues, was to lead to a serious split with the Soviets which reverberated though the world Stalinist movement for many years.
In England, the CPGB theoretician, James Klugman, issued in 1951 his notorious book From Trotsky to Tito which reaffirmed the CPGB's low level of tolerance for any members of the family who dared dissent from the line. (It is fascinating to conjecture if Trotsky and Tito would have been amused or insulted by Klugman's lumping them together as like-thinking heretics). The fact that Zilliacus chose to lunch with Tito and publicised the event is clear evidence that he was not quite the Moscow stooge portrayed by the Labour right wing and the Tories.
On 7 February 1949, Platts-Mills rose to his feet in the House of Commons and asked Hector McNeil, an Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign Office (i.e. one of Bevin's junior Ministers) about the proposed North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). No doubt with his tongue firmly planted in his cheek, he asked
'Would the Secretary of State invite the USSR to join the proposed North Atlantic Treaty?'
McNeil responded by reading out the answer prepared for him by the Foreign Office officials that all attempts at collective security under the United Nations had been obstructed by the Soviet Government. Platts-Mills then retorted that, in his view, the proposed Treaty was simply anti-Soviet as it extended to establishing bases in the South Seas. What is absolutely priceless about this exchange is that we now know that one of McNeil's civil servants, Guy Burgess, actually was a Soviet spy!
In the same month the Gateshead Constituency Labour Party resisted the pressure of Labour's NEC and unanimously endorsed Zilliacus as their candidate in the forthcoming General Election.
In May 1949 Ernest Bevin sought the approval of the House of Commons to British participation in NATO. He repeated the by-now well-worn line that the efforts of the USA, Britain and their allies in the United Nations had failed to achieve international agreement and NATO was needed for defensive purposes against a belligerent USSR. In the debate, Zilliacus waded in once again stating that the establishment of NATO would shatter the UN Charter, split the world and start a Third World War (he was to prove correct on the first 2 predictions). Phil Piratin reminded the House that US troops were stationed within 10 miles of where the debate was taking place. He prophesied that the next War would be directed by the USA but the brunt of the suffering would be on British shoulders. Bevin's motion was decisively carried by 333 votes to 6. The rebels were left high-and-dry, the MPs publicly associated with Tribune filing into the lobbies with the Labour right-wing and the Tories (Hansard does not record whether or not the sounds of 'Baa, baa' could be heard from their lips at this pivotal moment).
The Labour leadership were not ones to shirk kicking a man when he is down and, no doubt also with an eye to pleasing their senior partners in Washington, expelled from the Labour Party 6 days later, Zilliacus and Leslie Solley (MP for Thurrock) who had been one of the 6 rebels. The affair rumbled on to the Labour Annual Conference held that year in June in Blackpool. An attempt to have Solley and Zilliacus re-instated was debated. In support of the 2 expellees, Geoffrey Bing said he had been to eastern Europe with Zilliacus and heard him defending the Labour Movement to Stalin and Molotov. Sidney Silverman said that if the expulsions were voted on solely by Constituency Labour Parties then the 2 would be reinstated immediately (which Silverman's acute mind knew was simply another way of saying that the Parliamentary leadership and the NEC were out of touch with the mass membership). Then a constituency delegate, a certain G Healy from east London, said the NEC were simply aping practices more common in Moscow and Prague. Benn Levy spoke of the danger of a heresy hunt. All of this was to no avail. The expulsions were upheld by 3,023,00 votes to 1,993,000.
By the summer of 1949 5 MPs were acting publicly as a Labour Independent Group (LIG) -Lester Hutchinson (MP for Manchester, Rusholme), Platts-Mills, Pritt, Solley and Zilliacus. On 5 October they were composing and sending another telegram, this time to the government headed by Mao Zedong in China. It read 'Our country needs the friendship of the Chinese people. We need not imperialist provocations but peaceful trade. We call on our government to sever all relations with the bankrupt cliques in Canton and Formosa and to accord immediate recognition to the Government of the Chinese People's Republic'.
By early 1950, a General Election was not far away. The Labour NEC had 're-organised' the Gateshead Constituency Party. This was a cosmetic way of saying that they had replaced the local leadership with a hand-picked group of loyalists charged with selecting candidates for the 2 seats into which the constituency was being divided. Official Labour candidates were also put in place for the other constituencies for which LIG MPs sat.
The LIG issued its own General Election statement in which they emphasised that their main differences with the Labour Government were in the realms of foreign policy. They pointed out that Britain could not be considered as an independent country as US combatant forces were permanently based in the country. They called for the removal of the American forces from British territory. They urged friendship with the Soviet Union as well as the USA and the development of trade with eastern European countries and with China. (8)
All of this was to be of no avail. Faced with a choice between official Labour Party candidates and Labour Independents, Labour voters opted overwhelmingly for the official candidates. The Independents were routed, as the following election statistics illustrate:
Gateshead East Labour vote 15249 - Zilliacus 5001
Hammersmith North Labour vote 13346 Pritt 8457
Shoreditch and Finsbury Labour vote 22510 Platts-Mills 7602
Thurrock Labour vote 22893 Solley 4250
Lester Hutchinson chose not to re-contest Manchester Rusholme but to make his battle against the outgoing Prime Minister, Clement Attlee, in Walthamstow West. It would have represented an upheaval of monumental proportions with huge political repercussions had he been successful. He wasn't and Attle garnered 21,095 votes to Hutchinson miserly 704.
Thus ended the short but intense life of the Labour Independent Group.
The only one of the expellees to re-enter Parliament was Konni Zilliacus (probably the most independent minded of the Group as illustrated by the support he received from such figures as J B Priestley and George Bernard Shaw in his 1950 Election campaign). He was re-admitted to the Labour Party in 1952 and became Labour MP for Manchester Gorton in 1955.
The immediate post-War years were ones in which the Left needed to be alert to new realities. The Cold War ushered in a period in which the military power of the USA came to be the dominant factor in the 'free West'. Opposed to them were the Soviet Union and her allies. Pritt, the original Labour Independent MP had, in earlier years, been prepared to excuse the Russian Show Trials of the 1930s and the Hitler-Stalin Pact. Pressure from the Labour Right in the 1940s was unlikely to sway him from his convictions. But the others still in the Party also refused to back down during the life of the Parliament. The Cold War put pressure on the Left generally in the western nations. Whether that excused the soft Left around Tribune largely capitulating around such issues as NATO is another matter (but, in any event, their silence on NATO made their later support for CND something of a hypocrisy).
Pro-Stalinism as a set of ideas continued to exercise some influence on some sections of the Labour Movement until 1956 when its presumptions were shattered by the Khrushchev speech and the Soviet invasion of Hungary (and thereafter it continued to flicker amongst the stubborn).
The significance of recalling the saga of the Labour Independent Group is not, of course, to mull over the fate of a few rebellious Labour MPs (their expulsion was much in accord with the Labour hierarchy's custom of showing the door marked 'exit' to Left-wing critics) but as a revealing barometer of the diverse strands involved in the post-War Labour movement and the depressing tendency of the Right-wing to maintain a firm hold on power in the Labour Party.
Some more on leading figures in the drama
Born into conditions of poverty in Somerset in 1881, Bevin was involved in trades union activity from the beginning of his working life. He became a full-time official of the dockers union and was one of the main architects of bringing together 32 unions to form the Transport and General Workers Union, for whom he served as General Secretary between 1921 and 1940. He then served in Churchill's War time coalition as Minister of Labour and National Service. In 1945 Attlee appointed him as Foreign Secretary, a post he continued to hold until 1951. His reputation during this period was as pro-American, anti-Soviet and he prided himself as being a hammer of the Left in the Labour Movement, particularly if they displayed any sympathy with regimes critical of the Western Alliance. He died in 1951
Born near Belfast in 1909, Bing followed an education at Lincoln College, Oxford, by entering into a legal career as a barrister. His left-wing views were already well-developed in the 1930s and he abandoned his blossoming legal career to act as a journalist with the International Brigades in Spain. During World War 2 he reached the rank of major in the Royal Signals. His election as Labour MP for Hornchurch came in 1945 (he sat until 1955) and, if his initial experience of Parliament, was as a backbencher during a period of majority Labour Government, this did not prevent him from rebelling against the Party line when he thought appropriate. He returned to a full-time legal career after his Parliamentary stint and was particularly associated with cases of miscarriages of justice. Moving to Africa, he built up a legal firm in Ghana where Kwame Nkrumah appointed him as the country's Attorney-General in the first post-colonial government. After Nkrumah's downfall in 1966, Bing was arrested and endured a torrid time in a Ghanaian prison before returning to Britain where he died in 1977.
One of the finest militants ever to emerge in the British Labour Movement. Born into poverty in Paisley in 1881, he became one of the leading figures on 'Red Clydeside'. During World War One he became involved in campaigns and industrial action to limit the hours in the working week which eventually led to 'Bloody Friday', 31 January 1919 when the Government ordered troops supported by tanks into Glasgow to break the strike. Gallagher served a period in prison following these events and was back in confinement in 1925 for agitation against the Incitement to Mutiny Act. Gallagher had joined the CPGB from the outset and in 1935 was elected MP for West Fife, a seat he was to hold until 1950. He wrote several books, including 'Revolt on the Clyde' detailing his version of the events on 'Red Clydeside'. He died in 1965 an unrepentant member of the CPGB.
One of the few senior Government Ministers in this country who had held membership of the CPGB. Born in 1917, he entered Baillol College, Oxford, in 1936 and, whilst a student joined the CPGB in 1937, holding membership until 1940 (his membership thus co-incided with the Show Trials and 'the Great Terror'). He served with distinction in the Royal Engineers in World War 2 seeing combat service in North Africa and Italy. After the War he began his career as an official at Transport House which ended on his election as Labour MP for Leeds South-east in 1955 (a seat he held until his retirement in 1991). A pillar of Labour's right-wing he served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the period 1974-1979. He campaigned for Tony Blair to become leader of the Labour Party, an act which is only partly redeemed by his being one of the few politicians who penned a readable biography – 'The Time of My Life'.
Born in 1904, his stint as the MP for Manchester Rusholme only lasted from 1945-1950 when he lost his seat. He never returned to front-line politics but applied his talents to writing and teaching.
Born in 1900, Levy saw service in both World Wars. Levy was a highly successful playwright until 1939 with several of his plays featuring in long-runs at London's West End theatres. His period as an MP lasted from 1945 to 1950 when he took the decision to retire. He was later prominent in the campaign to abolish theatre censorship during the 1960s.
Welsh born in 1902 from a coal mining tradition. In the 1930s he served as a councillor on Fulham Borough Council, he became a full-time employee at Labour Party headquarters in 1937 and by 1944 had been appointed Secretary of the Party (later re-named General Secretary). He held the post until his retirement in 1961 and died in 1963. His daughter is the former right-wing Labour MP, Gwyneth Dunwoody.
Although he served a 5-year stint as a voluble Member of Parliament from 1945-1950, Piratin (born 1907) is best remembered for his rank-and-file activities. He was a doughty campaigner for tenants rights and in the front-line of opposition to Mosley's Fascists in the 1930s. He also served as a local councillor in Stepney and for some years in the 1950s was Circulation Manager of The Daily Worker (a role which would probably defeat most of us). After the break-up of the CPGB, he became a member of the Democratic Left from 1991. He died in 1995.
New Zealand born (1906) Platts-Mills came to Britain on a Rhodes Scholarship to Bailloil College, Oxford and stayed in the country for the rest of his life. A barrister, he joined the Labour Party in 1936 and in World War 2 joined the Royal Air Force. It seems that MI5 made life difficult for him as a serviceman and in 1944 he volunteered to work as a coal miner and was an underground worker for over a year. The following year he was elected as an MP and served until losing his seat in 1950. Thereafter he returned to the law and became something of a popular celebrity with his defence work for the brothers Ronnie and Reggie Kray, the Great Train Robbers and others. The Labour Party re-admitted him into membership in 1969. He died in 2001.
D N Pritt
Pritt was born in 1887 and joined the Labour Party in 1914. Educated at Winchester College and the University of London. He became a barrister (and was later appointed a King's Counsel). By the 1930s he was representing Labour movement interests in the Courts and Tom Mann and Harry Pollitt were acquitted after he appeared for their defence on charges of sedition. However, he attended the first of the Show Trials in Moscow in 1936 and did not hesitate to conclude that the defendants were guilty as charged. So much so that he wrote a notorious text The Zinoviev trial which gave complete support to Stalin's purges. He had been elected as the Labour MP for Hammersmith North in 1935 and was an outspoken opponent of the National Government. His Labour Party membership ended in 1940 when he was expelled for his support of the Russian invasion of Finland. He continued to sit in the House of Commons as an Independent Labour MP and was returned in 1945 with a majority of over 11,000 over his Conservative and Labour opponents. He lost his seat in 1950. Thereafter he continued his legal career and wrote prolifically including 3 volumes of autobiography His loyalty to the Moscow regime was rewarded when he was awarded the Stalin Peace Prize in 1954. He died in 1972.
A left-wing Labour MP of the rebellious variety of a type rarely seen today. Born in 1894 he became MP for Nelson and Colne in 1935 (Nelson was, of course, where C L R James spent some time and learned much more from working people). The best type of Left reformist who was unafraid of verbal or organisational bullying from the Labour Party's right-wing and bureaucracy, he remained a rebel and an MP until his death in 1968.
Solley was little known in political circles until his election as a Labour MP in 1945 and played no significant part in political life after losing his seat in 1950. Born in 1906 he was a lawyer who was called to the Bar in 1934. He died in 1968
The father of Konni Zilliacus had been a Finnish fighter for independence from Russia and this undoubtedly influenced Konni's thinking during his life. Born in 1894, he lived a cosmopolitan life attending schools in England, Finland, Sweden and the USA. He graduated from Yale University and, served in the First World War as a medical orderly. The experience indelibly informed his outlook and he was devoted to the idea of negotiation rather than confrontation for the rest of his life. Returning to Britain he became involved in the League of Nations and the Labour Party. Seeing Fascism as the great menace in the 1930s, he proposed an alliance between Britain, France and the Soviet Union. He was a supporter of the 1917 Revolution but one who became steadily more critical as the years passed and, unlike some of his colleagues, he did not rush to defend the Show Trials. After being expelled from the Labour Party because of his opposition to NATO and his abiding hostility to US Imperialism, he was re-admitted in 1952 and became MP for Manchester Gorton in 1955, a seat he held until his death in 1967. One of his final acts of rebellion in Parliament was to call on the Prime Minster, Harold Wilson, to condemn US policy in Vietnam. His friend, Ian Mikardo, probably summed up the man best when he said 'He was a man of political ideas, but he wasn't very good at politics'.
(1) Under the Red Flag, a history of Communism in Britain by Keith Laybourn/Dylan Murphy, page 131
(2) Tribune 5 April 1946
(3) Tribune 23 April 1948
(4) The Times 20 April 1948
(5) The Times 28 April 1948
(6) The Times 5 May 1948
(7) House of Commons 4 May 1948
(8) The Times 5 February 1950
Yet Another Strong and Stable U-Turn
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