The leadership of British Communism, 1923–1928: pages from a prosopographical project

McIlroy, John and Campbell, Alan (2021) The leadership of British Communism, 1923–1928: pages from a prosopographical project. Labor History, 62 (3) . pp. 207-253. ISSN 0023-656X [Article] (doi:10.1080/0023656X.2021.1910806)

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Abstract

The importance of leadership in awakening and guiding the working class was emphasised at all levels within the parties which saw themselves as indispensable to socialist revolution. It was fundamental to the philosophy of the Bolsheviks, the Comintern and the early British Communist Party (CPGB). The executive committee (EC) which directed the work of members was broadly representative of the CPGB leadership. The 39 activists who served on the EC between 1923 and 1928 are examined in relation to their origin, age, ethnicity, gender, education, occupation, political antecedents and future destination. Attention is paid to their partners, who were also relevant actors, if frequently marginal to the historiography. The leadership cohort was overwhelmingly British-born, half were English, a third Scottish, male and white. It was predominantly proletarian, 75% of the group were manual workers, although 20% came from middle-class backgrounds and 12.8% were classified as intellectuals compared with 5% of party members. Over 46% of party leaders worked in skilled trades and more than 35% had a background in metalworking. This contrasted with the CPGB as a whole where colliery workers predominated; only a little over 10% of leaders were miners. The mean age was 36.4 years and most had received only an elementary education. More than 90% joined the CPGB in 1920–1921 with former members of the Socialist Labour Party disproportionately represented in the leadership. Turnover was significant: over 40% served on only one or two committees. Conversely almost 50% sat on four or five. Their partners were more ethnically diverse and like other family members benefitted from Soviet and party patronage in employment. This pioneering prosopography concludes with biographical profiles of the 20 leaders who were not part of the ‘core’ of representatives who registered four or five appearances on the executive from 1923 to 1928. More than half of this ‘peripheral’ group subsequently departed not only the EC but the CPGB itself.

Item Type: Article
Research Areas: A. > Business School
Item ID: 33811
Notes on copyright: This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Labor History on 4 May 2021, available online: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/0023656X.2021.1910806
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Depositing User: John Mcilroy
Date Deposited: 10 Sep 2021 17:03
Last Modified: 18 Jan 2022 18:27
URI: https://eprints.mdx.ac.uk/id/eprint/33811

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