THIS year marks the centenary of the birth of the Communist Party, when factory and transport workers, miners, dockers, tenants’ leaders and the unemployed met as foundation delegates in the Cannon Street Hotel in London.
The subsequent history of the party will be remembered, debated and celebrated in meetings, events and campaigns across Britain.
It will also be honoured abroad, where CP members conducted solidarity activity and made major sacrifices for the freedom of the peoples of India, Spain, South Africa, China, Chile and elsewhere.
Today, the Communist Party of Britain is growing, non-sectarian in its alliances with other left and progressive forces, reliable and consistent on the major questions of today and united around its programme Britain’s Road to Socialism.
Our immediate priority is to challenge reactionary Tory policies; our strategic priorities are to help build the labour, peace and anti-racist movements, fight for popular sovereignty, oppose the EU and Nato and campaign for a federal republic.
These priorities characterise today’s Communist Party in Britain. They are needed as never before, if the labour movement is to hold its ground and advance.
The CP is proud of its history. We seek to learn lessons from past victories, setbacks and mistakes. We have 100 years of rich experience on almost every front of the political class struggle.
Naturally, this has drawn not only much support and some legitimate criticism from our many friends and allies on the left.
It has also drawn hostility and aggression from those whose wealth and power would be threatened by the advance of the Communist Party.
Anti-communism is an essential component of ruling-class ideology in one of the world’s longest-running capitalist and imperialist societies.
Agencies of the British state and the capitalist mass media have gone to great lengths to portray communists as extremists, wreckers and traitors who would snuff out all the democratic freedoms for which the working class and the people generally have struggled to achieve – they were never granted by the ruling class with enthusiasm.
When they could not convince, they simply made it up, as in 1924 with the Zinoviev letter forgery.
A cursory spin through Christopher Andrews’ thick volume, The Defence of the Realm: The authorised History of MI5, features more than 300 pages of allegations and investigations aimed at Britain’s Communist Party.
This, despite the fact that the CP is legal as well as comprising an essential part of working-class democracy.
In 1948, the Foreign Office even formed the Information Research Department to combat the Communist Party, working with the media, employers and other government departments to discredit and victimise communists and their allies.
Yet the direct experience of many working-class and oppressed people over the past 100 years is that the communists are solid, dependable and principled allies and representatives in battles for trade unionism, better pay and conditions, higher pensions and benefits, sexual and racial equality, decent housing, a cleaner environment, democratic rights and peace.
Whether as shop stewards, trade-union leaders, campaign organisers, local councillors or MPs, communists have usually won a reputation among those who know them as champions of working-class interests and social justice.
Over the decades, thousands of party members have been excluded from work, arrested and stripped of their democratic freedoms, from the 1926 General Strike and the 1936 Battle of Cable Street to the great miners’ strike and the Wapping dispute of the 1980s.
Communists from Britain have been jailed from India to South Africa for their part in struggles for national liberation and freedom. Hundreds died with the International Brigades in Spain, fighting Franco’s fascists.
Within Britain, party members and their allies have pioneered or played a leading role in a host of working-class, progressive and internationalist institutions and movements, including the Labour Research Department, the Daily Worker – now the Morning Star – the Marx Memorial Library, Liberty – formerly the National Council for Civil Liberties – the Ramblers Association, the Workers’ Music Association, Education TV, the Edinburgh People’s Festival –forerunner of the Fringe – the South Wales Miners’ Eisteddfod, the Notting Hill Carnival, the Campaign Against Racist Laws, Searchlight, the National Assembly of Women, the British Peace Assembly, CND, the Stop the War Coalition, the People’s Charter and the People’s Assembly, the Institute of Employment Rights and many more.
Throughout all these activities, the Communist Party has held high the red banner of socialism, communism and Marxism.
In this centenary year, therefore, communists will be celebrating this history of dedication, solidarity and sacrifice.
It is an integral and heroic part of the history of the labour and progressive movements in England, Scotland and Wales. That is why we are warmly inviting friends, allies, ex-members and supporters from across those movements to support and participate in our centenary activities.
These will be a combination of centrally organised and locally initiated events. Some will mark the anniversary of Cable Street, the life of Anglo-Indian Communist-Labour MP Shapurji Saklatvala and the contributions of black communists such as boxer Len Johnson — robbed of a British title by the “colour bar” — and RAF war hero Billy Strachan.
Wherever possible, we will seek to link the struggles of the past with those of today and tomorrow.
Over the coming months, there will be education courses and a host of new publications about the achievements, trials and tribulations of the Communist Party in Britain. A new single-volume history of the CP will bring the story alive for young people, workers and students.
The heroism of 100 Red Lives will recount the contributions of less well-known but equally dedicated and courageous communists who championed the cause of trade unionists, tenants, the unemployed, women, anti-fascists, immigrants, gays, lesbians and other sections of the exploited and oppressed.
A ground-breaking biography of the legendary trade-union leader and communist Tom Mann will also be published this year.
We also hope to publish an edition of Marx and Engels’ Communist Manifesto in four Celtic languages and English. The English, Welsh, Irish and Cornish translations are done — but we urgently need volunteers to assist with the Scots Gaelic edition.
The smash-hit film Pride featured the leading role of Young Communist League general secretary Mark Ashton in the Gays and Lesbians Support the Miners movement in the 1984-5 strike.
His communist affiliation was left unmentioned in the film for fear of offending US commercial distributors.
There should be less reticence in two movies now in production about those communists and socialists — the London Recruits — who assisted the ANC in the war against apartheid, some of whom later broke out of Pretoria prison.
To these films will be added a new short history of the CP in Britain. A mobile exhibition will also be available to travel around libraries, civic and trade union offices and community centres telling the same story in words and pictures — with a virtual edition available online as well.
A day school will highlight the achievements of female communists such as Welsh miners’ daughter Thora Silverthorne, who returned from the Aragon front in Spain to form the first independent nurses’ union, and those like Muriel Rayment and Muriel Coult who fought long and hard for equal pay.
Nor will we forget Betty Askins, who floored fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley in Manchester with a handbag full of coins from her market stall.
The Jessie Eden/Kevin Halpin residential school will help equip a growing number of young communists with the skills and knowledge needed for their future work as trade union and community organisers.
Likewise looking to the future, a conference is being organised on work, artificial intelligence, technology and Marxism.
The highpoint of the year will be the weekend of the 100th anniversary itself. On Friday July 31, the Communist Party will host a culture and club night at the Rich Mix, Bethnal Green, in the heart of London’s historic East End.
On Saturday August 1, communists and socialists from around the world will gather at the fantastic Light venue in Euston, to celebrate a century of pride, struggle and solidarity since those first delegates founded the CP in 1920.
Don’t miss this special weekend. Tickets are available at 100yearsrally.eventbrite.com.
The Communist Party’s history is also that of the labour and progressive movements in Britain. Our centenary is for all who fight exploitation and oppression for a better, socialist world. Join the celebrations!
The central centenary programme, as well as merchandise which will help fund further events, is available at shop.communistparty.org.uk. To keep up to date with national and local events, visit facebook.com/CPBritain.
Liz Payne is chair of the Communist Party and Phil Katz is a member of the Centenary Organising Committee.