Communist Party of Great Britain

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Communist Party of Great Britain. During the First World War the Social Democratic Federation changed its name to the British Socialist Party, remaining affiliated to the Labour Party. The success of the Bolshevik revolution produced a realignment of the left and the Communist Party was founded in 1920. Its purely tactical request to the Labour Party for affiliation was rejected, but it gained two MPs in 1922, one of them under Labour colours. Such strength as the new party had was largely in south Wales and industrialized Scotland. The Daily Worker was started in 1930 but absorbed much of the energy of the party in trying to keep it going. Modest success came in 1935 when Harry Pollitt polled 38 per cent of the vote in East Rhondda and Willie Gallacher won the West Fife seat. The party pursued a grimly Stalinist line and the outbreak of the Second World War produced vigorous intellectual gymnastics. The anti-fascist conflict to be won at all costs in September 1939 became an ‘unjust and imperialist’ war a month later when Stalin, now in alliance with Hitler, made it clear that his British comrades had made a false diagnosis. The German attack on the Soviet Union in 1941 produced another reappraisal and the Communist Party had some success, by association, in 1942. But no great breakthrough followed, and though the party returned two MPs in 1945, 12 of its 21 candidates lost their deposits. Worse was to follow when the development of the Cold War and the growing evidence of Stalin's tyranny forced it onto the defensive. At the general election of 1950, it put up 100 candidates, lost both its seats, and forfeited 97 deposits. The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989 forced another reappraisal. One group resolved to change its name to the Democratic Left: their opponents retained the old name. But at the general election of 1997 the five Communist candidates polled one-eighth of the collective vote of the Monster Raving Loony Party.

J. A. Cannon

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