This section is devoted to providing materials for the study, research and understanding of the  history.of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) between its foundation in 1920 and its dissolution in 1991 and of the Communist Party of Britain (CPB) from its formation in 1988.The first part begins with the official history of the CPGB and CPB. It will be regularly updated to include relevant articles and books. A second part publishes reviews of books about the Party’s history and a final part features documentary film material relating to the Party’s history.

Official History

Volumes 1 and 2 of the Party’s official history were published in 1968 and 1969 respectively. The content of the first volume is summarised in its title, ‘Foundation and early years 1919-24’. Volume 2 covered the General Strike of 1926 and its prelude as well as anti-imperialist struggles and problems of organisation. They were both written by James Klugmann, a leading Communist, head of Party education and editor of its theoretical and discussion journal, ‘Marxism Today'(1).  He planned a third volume on the TUC’s class collaboration policy after the General Strike (‘Mondism’) and relations between the British Party and the Communist International. James Klugmann passed away in 1977 before he could complete this work.

His History was continued by Noreen Branson, a leading Party member, researcher and author.(2) Volume 3 covered the period 1927-41 (published in 1985) and Volume 4 1931-51 (1997). A subsequent volume was written by a non-Party Professor of Politics, John Callaghan, and entitled ‘Cold War, Crisis and Conflict 1951-68′ (2003). The final volume ,’End Games and New Times. The Final Years of British Communism 1964-91’ (2004) is the most tendentious. It was written by Geoff Andrews who was a Party member between 1985 and 1991 but was strongly involved in a group centred on the journal ‘Marxism Today’ which sought to challenge and undermine the central purpose, beliefs and behaviours of a Marxist-Leninist party ,Their actions led directly to the dissolution of the CPGB in 1991 and the formation of the CPB in 1988 in order to protect and preserve British Communism as a working-class and Marxist-Leninist movement. The ‘Marxism Today’ perspective colours the whole book and the voices of those who opposed this trend are either silenced or misrepresented. It is therefore an unbalanced, partial and self-justifying book.

As part of its centenary celebrations in 2020, the Party published ‘A Centenary For Socialism. Britain’s Communist Party 1920-2020’ (see reviews and articles below). It is not a chronological history but a collection of thematic essays on crucial aspects of the Party’s history. As its editor,Mary Davis, writes : “It is neither celebratory nor downcast. It attempts to be honest. Honesty means recognising that our history is not one of unalloyed success. But by the same token, it is not one of unmitigated failure either. The chapters in this book seek to capture and analyse the peaks and troughs of the past 100 years”. More research and books are planned to follow up on this work.

1. For James Klugmann, see “Tributes to James Klugmann”, ‘Marxism Today’, Nov. 1977 ; G.Andrews, ‘The Shadow Man’ (2015).

2. For Noreen Branson, see S.Meddick, L.Payne, P.Katz (eds.) ‘Red Lives. Communists and The Struggle For Socialism’ (2020) pp.18-21.

MARY DAVIS previews a new history of the CP and its many struggles over the decades
The Communist Party has had an influence on the achievements of the British labour movement far more diverse way than was previously realised.
ROBERT GRIFFITHS previews a new single-volume history, A Centenary for Socialism: Britain’s Communist Party 1920-2020

As part of its centenary celebrations, the Communist Party published a book called ‘Red Lives’,documenting the biographies of individual Communist Party members (see review below). This section aims to continue such work by regularly adding more lives and publishing reviews of the memoirs and biographies of  Party members as they are published. We hope you find these stories illuminating,informative and inspiring.

John Haylett (1950-2018)Max Levitas (1915-2018)Nicola Seyd (1936-2015) Red Lives (Manifesto Press, £9.99)

Remembering John Haylett

Remembering Max Levitas–-jewish-communist-and-last-survivor-battle-cable-street

Remembering Nichola Seyd–-jewish-communist-and-last-survivor-battle-cable-street

Remembering Vic Heath

Remembering Comrade ’Sak’

Remembering Claudia Jones

Remembering Billy Strachan

Remembering Eric Hobsbawm

Remembering James Klugmann

Pam Pink talks about why she joined the Communist Party

Betty Reid talks to Andrew Whitehead

A history of the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party

The Reds 100 years of the Communist Party