Page 1

HISTORY

Pamphlet No. 15

New Series

The League Against Imperialism (British Section) - A Hidden History By John Ellison

£1.50


First published by the Communist Party in August 2015; revised edition January 2017 ISBN 1978-1-908315-27-4

Britain’s Road to Socialism The new edition of Britain’s Road to Socialism, the Communist Party’s programme, adopted in July 2011; presents and analysis of capitalism and imperialism in its current form; answers the questions of how a revolutionary transformation might be bought about in 21st Century Britain; and what a socialist and communist society in Britain might look like. The BRS was first published in 1951 after nearly six years of discussion and debate across the CP, labour movement and working class. Over its 8 editions it has sold more than a million copies in Britain and helped to shape and develop the struggle of the working class for more than half a century. Other previous editions of the BRS have been published in 1952, 1958, 1968, 1977, 1989 and 2000 as well as multiple substantially revised versions.

Communist Party London Centre Ruskin House 23 Coombe Rd Croydon London CR0 1BD 020 8686 1659 office@communist-party.org.uk www.communist-party.org.uk Wales PO Box 69 Pontypridd CF37 9AB www.welshcommunists.org Scotland 72 Waterloo St Glasgow G2 7DA 0141 204 1611 www.scottishcommunists.org.uk

Communist Review Theoretical & Discussion Journal of the Communist Party £3 inc p&p. Subscribe from £12 per year

South West & Cornwall www.southwestcommunists.org.uk Midlands www.midlandscommunists.org.uk Northern www.northerncommunists.org.uk Yorkshire PO Box 449 Leeds LS6 9BE Solidarity Network of Communist & Workers’ Parties www.solidnet.org

Communist News & Views

bi monthly print , weekly electronic free to party members and supporters

www.communist-party.org.uk to subscribe electronically

Challenge Bi-monthly magazine of the Young Communist League £2 inc p&p. Subscribe from £11 per year office@ycl.org.uk www.ycl.org.uk


HISTORY 1

Our History No. 15

No. 14

Vol. 2, New Series

£1.50

The League Against Imperialism The Hidden History of the British Section

by John Ellison

CONTENTS 1. Introduction 2 2. An empire to span the globe 3 3. A league to challenge imperialism 3 4. Challenged in the heartland 5 5. Early tests for the league and early recruits 7 6. British section gets going 9 7. The ruling class gets worried 10 8. The Meerut conspiracy 12 9. Elections and new tactics 15 10. Congress in Frankfurt—new forces emerge 17 11. Rift with ILP leadership 18 12. India stirs—international solidarity follows 19 13. In the heart of the British Empire 21 14. The struggle intensifies at home and abroad 23 15. From Manchuria to Cyprus 25 16. League international organisation repressed 26 17. Clouds darken—the call for ‘complete liberation’ 28 18. Loss of a doughty leader and more tragedies abroad 30 19. The League’s legacy— acorns become oak trees 31 20. The A note sources followed by appendices Leagueon Against Imperialism: The Hidden History of the British section33


2

Communist Party History Group

The League Against Imperialism (British Section) - A Hidden History 1. Introduction As late as the early 1940s, Britain’s government ruled over a quarter of the globe’s land surface, while insistently resisting the idea that this state of things must change, enabling subject countries to achieve national independence. Amongst Britain’s colonised peoples, independence movements had their own histories. Early colonised India’s was at an advanced stage. Other European governments (France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands) and Japan on the other side of the world, had their own lesser empires in which independence struggles had also developed. Several decades more were to pass before these formal empires became museum items. Saklatvala, the Communist MP, who played a major role in LAI All this is well- known, though in Britain the received version is inclined to invent generosity on the part of British governments in agreeing to withdraw from direct rule, and to deny or at least minimize the role of independence movements in compelling such “generosity”. It is not surprising in this context that the role of the international League Against Imperialism, and of its British Section, between 1927 and 1937 in supporting and aiding independence movements across the world, is excluded from mainstream inter-war books. It has not yet been the subject of a published book. It is a history which has been hidden, a history which included British government antagonism to the League and to its work, the refusal of empire-wide passports to its leading activists, and condemnation of the League by officialdom as “a The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

3

particularly dangerous and noxious organization”. It is a history of which British socialists and anti-imperialists can today be proud. This pamphlet focuses on the international congress which gave birth to the League, and thereafter on the activities of the League’s British Section and on the role of its leading and long term members, who included Reginald Bridgeman, Shapurji Saklatvala, Conrad Noel, Alex Gossip, Harry Pollitt and Ben Bradley. Of these and others, more later.

2. An empire to span the globe Today the Government of “Great” Britain rules directly very little territory outside its shores. Its enormous empire is almost entirely dismantled, the constituent parts having claimed and achieved self-rule (and in some cases new names) across the decades that followed the Second World War Flip back to the 1920s and 1930s. Within the imperial fold were “Jewel in the Crown” India (then including present-day Pakistan and Burma – now Myanmar), plus Rhodesia (now Zambia and Zimbabwe), Kenya, some Caribbean countries, Guyana and much more. In the inter-war period while the British government tenaciously, selfishly and harshly managed its empire, the French Government aspired to reign over a smaller version, including Vietnam (then Indo-China) and Tunisia, sharing ownership of Morocco with Spain. Italy too was an imperial power, having charge of Libya and greedily eying, and eventually invading, Ethiopia (then usually known as Abyssinia). On the far side of the world was Japan, which had gobbled up Korea before the end of the 19th century, and was to extend its reach into Manchuria in the early 1930s with yet further incursion into China in mind.

3. A league to challenge imperialism The chief organiser of the British Section of the League Against Imperialism was Reginald Bridgeman, a left-wing socialist of great ability and energy. Its most prominent regular platform speaker, tireless and eloquent everywhere, was Shapurji Saklatvala, who until the General Election at the end of May 1929 was Britain’s one Communist Party The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


4

Communist Party History Group

representative in the House of Commons. The League dissolved itself in 1937. Its work was then carried on within the wider working class movement and also through its formal successor, the Colonial Information Bureau.

Over the decade of its life the League’s British Section put out its message through public meetings, dissemination of pamphlets, and fund-raising for support of persecuted victims. Its activities were promoted in the socialist press, notably the Sunday Worker, to the end of 1929, and the Daily Worker, from January 1930, and the Independent Labour Party’s weekly The New Leader. The British Section worked hand-in-hand with the international secretariat of the League. This was headed in its earlier years by German Reichstag Communist deputy Willi Münzenberg (also known as the number one propagandist of the Communist International, with headquarters in Moscow), and by an Indian communist Virendranath Chattopadhyaya. Sadly, the League’s support base was to narrow sharply in consequence both of the Communist International’s insistence from 1929 on a narrow socialist base for the League and of decisions by the British Labour Party’s leadership that League membership was incompatible with Labour Party membership because of its Communist connection. The 1927 congress

The League’s international secretariat was housed in Berlin until the Nazi coup at the end of February 1933, when emergency relocation to Paris was forced upon it. Münzenberg, much wanted by the Nazis, survived a hair-raising escape across the German border on the borrowed, implausible passport of a much younger man. The organisational drive which brought the League into being as an The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

5

international organisation is owed to Münzenberg above all others. He had previously led A British League pamphlet from 1926 (and continued to lead) the International Workers’ Relief organisation, and relied heavily on many contact names and addresses acquired from that role when preparing for the founding conference of the League at the Egmont Palace in Brussels in February 1927. Long banned from entry to Britain, Münzenberg liaised as best he could with his British comrades.

4. Challenged in the heartland British involvement in the founding conference of the League was to surge naturally out of the “Hands Off China” agitation, which had caught fire the previous autumn, and out of Reginald Bridgeman’s key role in that campaign. The “Hands Off China” movement had gained momentum as fears grew of war with the Chinese nationalist government. A danger signal was the dispatch of two British ships carrying Indian troops, machine-guns and munitions from Madras to Shanghai. This move had triggered a resolution by communist Arthur Horner (an executive member of the South Wales Miners’ Federation) at the Trades Union Congress in September 1926, protesting against any action of the imperialist governments that might lead to a new war in the East or West. “The British Workers must reply: ‘Hands Off.’” Reginald Bridgeman was an early-retired British Foreign Office official, a minor diplomat and an earl’s grandson, who (unusually for one of his social origins), had turned against Britain’s imperial project when in post and was now devoting his energies to the cause of bringing it to an end. He lived with his family in north-west London at Waxwell Cottage, Pinner, and The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


6

Communist Party History Group

stood as Labour candidate in the Hendon Rural District Council election in early February 1927. He had solid credentials for participation in the Brussels Congress. He was already joint secretary of the British Labour Council for Chinese Freedom. He was simultaneously active on behalf of the Chinese Information Bureau, which had an office at 65 Belgrave Road, SW1, and had produced a leaflet in October 1926. Public meetings followed, including one in the Albert Hall in December. In early January 1927 a Daily Mail journalist, as unsympathetic as can be imagined to the “Hands Off China” cause, visited Bridgeman at Belgrave Road and was given a mild diplomatic brush-off: “We are circulating information for the public.” Against this international background it was not surprising that the Chinese delegation at the Brussels Congress was a large one. At that time, in Britain, the anti-imperialists within the Labour Party and Independent Labour Party had no argument against joint work with members of the Communist Party. So, those crossing the channel, and daring thick fog hovering there in February 1927 to attend the Brussels Congress of Oppressed Nationalities, included Labour Party Vice-President George Lansbury, New Leader editor Fenner Brockway, left wing Labour MP Ellen Wilkinson and Vice-President of the South Wales Miners’ Federation Stephen Owen Davies. Also present were Harry Pollitt (Secretary of the National Minority Movement – militant trade unionists’ group - and from 1929 General Secretary of the Communist Party), and Helen Crawfurd, former Suffragette leader and Scottish communist. Saklatvala was unable to attend as he was touring India at the time, making speeches supportive of Indian national independence. These were to earn him passport prohibition for further travel to India. The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


7

Our History No. 15

As one of the Indian delegates, Bakar Ali Mirza, wrote in Modern Review of the Brussels Congress some months later: “...it was the first time in history that the representatives of the working class and of subject peoples assembled under the same roof to express the message of the enslaved ... delegates came from Africa and Mexico, Indonesia and Indo-China, Egypt and India, Korea and the Philippines, China and Persia, Algeria, Tunis, Morocco and Arabia.” Christian socialist George Lansbury’s speech eloquently seized the mood of the Congress. He said: ‘...Neither British, American, nor Japanese Munzenberg (centre) with left an American and right an African progressive delegate to a LAI congress.

Imperialism have the power to hold the workers in thraldom forever. It is as certain as the sun shines that Imperialism is doomed: it is doomed because, with the rising of working-class intelligence, this Imperialism with all its poison gas and its disciplined armies, cannot overcome the boycott which it is within the power of the workers to enforce....Every war is a capitalist war: we must teach the workers not to enlist in National armies, not to manufacture armaments...’ One Indian delegate present was Jawaharlal Nehru, a prominent member of the Indian National Congress, who was in time to come independent India’s first prime minister.

5. Early tests for the League and early recruits The threat of war against China from western countries (though not from Japan) was to recede, but the anti-imperialist drive of the British delegates at Brussels was not dissipated. On 8 April 1927 a preliminary meeting at The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


8

Communist Party History Group

the House of Commons set about establishing a British Section of the League and Reginald Bridgeman was elected “Provisional Secretary”. An executive committee was to be composed of Lansbury, Brockway, Helen Crawfurd and Bridgeman. Ellen Wilkinson and others were present. On 16 June and 21 July came further meetings at the same venue, aimed at sharpening up the British Section’s arrangements. An ILP founder member and leader of the small trade union NAFTA (National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association) was Alex Gossip, who had also been at Brussels. He now offered his union headquarters base at 58 Theobalds Road, WC1, as a temporary shelter for the League and the offer was taken up. He was to continue work with the League throughout its life. Later that year the socialist vicar of the Essex village of Thaxted, Conrad Noel, accepted an invitation to join the executive committee. On 12 October 1927 a demonstration took place in Trafalgar Square at the end of which Bridgeman was arrested, the next day being bound over for 12 months. In December 1927 the League’s General Council met in Brussels over three days. British delegates included Shapurji Saklatvala, Ellen Wilkinson and also James Maxton, ILP chairman and MP, who had not attended the founding Congress. Maxton, indeed, was elected international Chairman, following short successive occupations of that role by Lansbury and Brockway. Saklatvala’s speech referred to “the British tyrants.” A delegate from what was then called Indo-China was a Vietnamese man, not present in February, whose name was Nguyen Ai Quoc. He was to become better known many years later as Ho Chi Minh, President of North Vietnam. At this General Council meeting he got to know Sukarno, future President of Indonesia. Individual membership of the League carried an annual subscription of one shilling, which doubled later. A significant event was the appointment of communist Joan Beauchamp Thompson in the spring of 1928 as Treasurer. Bearing a record as suffragette and war-time anti-conscription activist, she The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

9

was married to W.H. “Harry” Thompson, a well-known socialist solicitor whose trade-union supporting legal firm continues today. She became an authority on imperialism in her own right and published a book - British Imperialism in India in 1934.

6.The British Section gets going The British Section’s first conference was staged on 7 July 1928. This was at Essex Hall, Strand, when 343 delegates arrived, representing 170 different organisations. It was an encouraging beginning. The conference was chaired by Alex Gossip, while Saklatvala and Harry Pollitt were keynote speakers. A resolution on imperialism, reported the Daily Worker, “declared emphatically in favour of full freedom for the colonies and the withdrawal of British troops from India and China”. The miners’ union leader, Arthur Cook, and James Maxton both addressed the conference, which produced the formation of a London committee, and an appeal from Chairman Maxton for funds. This appeal came in the shape of an open letter, inviting donations to be sent to Joan Thompson. In September came a call by the international secretariat to the national sections to prepare for a second World Congress of the League to be held in Paris in July 1929. In the event, the venue was switched to Frankfurt in Germany. The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


10

Communist Party History Group

7.The ruling class gets worried Meanwhile the British government, notably the India Office and Home Office, was fully conscious that the League’s activities would exacerbate anti-Empire agitation in India and elsewhere. The Metropolitan Police’s Special Branch had for some time been taking photostat copies of intercepted items of interest from Bridgeman’s incoming and outgoing post. These included communications between Bridgeman in London and Chattopadhyaya at the League’s Berlin headquarters. If Bridgeman was unaware of this surveillance at the outset, he must have soon realised what was afoot through delays in his receipt of letters. An intercepted letter of 8 October 1928 from Bridgeman indicating that Stephen Davies might be attending the Indian Trades Union Congress the following month produced an immediate reaction from the Secretary of State for India, Viscount Peel. He asked the Foreign Office to withdraw the Empire-wide endorsement on Davies’s passport and the P & O shipping Line was to be asked to inform the Special Branch if Davies had already booked a passage. False alarm - Davies for whatever reason did not embark for India. Later that month a Special Branch sergeant attended a League meeting at Water Lane, Stratford, where Saklatvala addressed an audience of around eighty persons. The sergeant made a most conscientious record from his notes. “We want”, he reported Saklatvala as saying, “all Trade Unionists to become members of the League.” Days later a different Special Branch sergeant attended a League meeting of some four hundred persons, including fifty or sixty Indians, at Limehouse Town Hall. Saklatvala was one of several speakers. On 21 November the British Section’s Executive Committee met in a House of Commons committee room booked by Maxton. Immediately after the meeting the eyes of a Special Branch inspector alighted hungrily upon the waste paper basket in the room. He pieced together, ludicrously enough, for want of anything else, the meeting’s agenda sheet, which would hardly have The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

11

helped the authorities in their aim of thwarting the objectives of the League, but which today adorns the preserved Special Branch file in the National Archives. The same month an unsigned Special Branch summary report described the League as “a particularly dangerous and noxious organisation”. After a meeting of the League’s executive in Cologne the following January, the Belgian authorities detained the home-returning Saklatvala, Maxton and Bridgeman before letting them proceed; while on reaching Dover, a League administrator had documents seized from her by police without production of any authorising warrant. The following month the League offered assistance to a representative of the Kikuyu Central Association of Kenya, Mr. Johnstone Kenyatta, who had come to England with a petition for the release of its chairman, Harry Thuku (exiled to a remote area in Kenya since 1922) and listing Kikuyu grievances. While the League arranged for Kenyatta to address meetings, and gave him financial aid, the Metropolitan Police’s The Daily Worker strongly supported the Meerut prisoners

Special Branch put him under close watch on the urging of Kenya’s British governor. Kenyatta was many years later to become free Kenya’s prime minister. On 24 February 1929 the League held a delegate conference in the Socialist Hall, Royal Arcade, Newcastle, with James Maxton and Harry Pollitt as the main speakers. This was against the background that, in the second week of February, there had been dramatic reports of the suppression The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


12

Communist Party History Group

of the Egyptian Parliament “under the protection of British bayonets” and of the “constant flight” of British military aeroplanes over Afghanistan. The League’s activities, according to a letter of 27 February 1929 on the Special Branch file from the Secretary of State for India to the Home Secretary, were certainly troubling the former. Over to Viscount Peel: “...I am seriously perturbed by the dangerous possibilities of the League’s interference in Indian affairs, particularly in view of the great interest which Moscow is known to be taking in India at the present time...The possible steps that can be taken amount to little more than the proscription and interception of literature from the League, and the refusal by the Government of passports to Indians who are known to be connected with the League, and desire to attend League Conferences in Europe; to these will be added the power – when the Public Safety Bill has been enacted in India – of deporting from India any non-Indian persons working on behalf of the League....” In early March of the same year a meeting under League auspices was held in Finsbury Town Hall. This demanded the withdrawal of all British forces from Egypt and pledged support for the struggle of the Egyptian people for complete independence, while protesting too against British Government interference in Afghanistan. Early in April the Independent Labour Party’s Conference at Carlisle recognised the right of Egypt (and China) to independence, and “of a democratically elected Indian Parliament to decide its relationship to the British Empire”.

8.The Meerut conspiracy The League’s work was granted a huge impetus on 20 March, when in India the sudden arrest (for active support of India’s independence, in effect) of more than thirty trade union and socialist leaders took place, followed by custody and protracted prosecutions at Meerut. This swoop followed a year and more crammed with labour disputes and strikes. The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

13

Those arrested were a mix of communists, non-communist socialists and less political trade unionists. They included British communists, Ben Bradley (a woodworker and trade unionist), and Philip Spratt, a Cambridge graduate. Soon afterwards a journalist, Lester Hutchinson, joined them. [His mother, Mary Knight, was a leading Communist Party and Labour Party member in Rusholme in Manchester (pictured right). Her son became the local Labour MP in 1945 but was expelled at the height of the cold war in July 1949.] The trio had been sent, clandestinely, to India by the British Communist Party to stimulate growth of the tiny Indian Communist Party. A speedy response to these arrests came from the London-based Workers’ Welfare League of India – secretary Shapurji Saklatvala, assistant secretary Clemens Dutt (like Saklatvala, a Communist Party member) – which had an office base in High Holborn. The Welfare League, of some ten years’ standing, and linked to the All-India Trades Union Congress, now invited financial help for the Meerut prisoners. The fund set up became known as the Meerut Prisoners’ Defence Fund. It worked hand-in-glove with the League Against Imperialism. Some of the Meerut prisoners, as they became known, were charged with attempting to establish a branch of the Communist International in India. The central charge was that the prisoners had conspired to “deprive the King-Emperor of Sovereignty over British India”, i.e. had actively promoted national independence for India. The prisoners, including Bradley, Spratt and The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


14

Communist Party History Group

Hutchinson, remained in custody, and without trial, and were not sentenced until January 1933. In late April 1929, meanwhile, members of an all-British Royal Commission headed by “Liberal” Sir John Simon, appointed a couple of years earlier to consider and report on India’s present and future, returned to London at the time of agitation against the Meerut arrests. The Commission, described caustically as “seven God’s Englishmen”, included future Labour Prime Minister Major Clement Attlee. Extreme government sensitivity about the movement for Indian independence was illustrated by the physical police reaction to a mild and modest protest. The Commission’s train was expected to arrive at Victoria at 3.30 p.m., and “loyal to Britain” Indians were apparently signed up to throw garlands round the necks of the returning Commission members. The League Against Imperialism was less welcoming. Together with the British Branch of the Indian National Congress, it called on Indians in London to demonstrate by marching from Marble Arch after 2 p.m. to Victoria Station with banners. The police answer to all this was forcibly to remove all Indians outside the station, however silent and passive. The New Leader reported on 3 May: “A body of peaceful demonstrators, mostly Indians, carrying small black flags, a symbol of India’s mourning, were roughly handled by a large force of uniformed and plain clothes police. Flags and banners were seized and broken, and one by one the demonstrators were hustled away, so that, as one paper stated with satisfaction, ‘Sir John Simon and his colleagues were unaware that a hostile The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

15

demonstration had taken place...’” The League had, however, responded to the police descent on the Victoria Station protesters by staging a meeting at Limehouse Town Hall, in the heartland of Clement Attlee’s constituency. There a detailed resolution was passed against the reign of terror in India, and against continued membership of the Commission by Mr. Attlee, making reference to the rough treatment of protesters, some of whom were “badly bruised”. The League’s British Section had a presence at the 1st of May demonstration in Trafalgar Square, where, the Sunday Worker reported, there was “an impressively large Indian contingent” and the “international and anti-imperialist note was to the fore...” The Sunday Worker, on 12 May, reported police surveillance of the home “of a leading member” of the Workers’ Welfare League of India and of the League Against Imperialism. “All comers to the house have been scrutinised and the comrade in question has been followed round the streets. The offices of the two leagues have also been watched, and callers followed.” The person followed may well have been Clemens Dutt, about whom a police report dated 15 May 1929 confirmed his movements were being monitored. Dutt belonged already to that select circle of British anti-imperialists, regarded as a menace to the stability of the British Empire and whose passports disentitled them to travel to its constituent countries.

9. Elections and new tactics At the end of May 1929 a General Election took place, with growth in Labour strength in the House of Commons expected after some five years of Conservative government under Stanley Baldwin. Britain’s communists, supported by the League, put forward a symbolic Communist candidate, one of the arrested Indian leaders in custody at Meerut. This was Shaukat Usmani, an experienced political prisoner already, and the author of a memoir – From Peshawar to Moscow. The Sunday Worker announced on 12 The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


16

Communist Party History Group

May that a telegram had been received from Usmani: “Accept nomination Spen Valley election”. A letter was sent to the Secretary of State from Usmani’s agent, requesting the candidate’s release so that he could participate in the election. The request fell on rocky ground. Usmani’s candidature in Spen Valley was linked to the fact that his opponent was Sir John Simon of the Simon Commission. A message from Usmani in Meerut jail to the electorate of Spen Valley, of which few copies had arrived in time to be distributed before election day, had included a passionate appeal: “I am asking you to disregard personal consideration, the claim of traditions and the ties of race and colour, and to prefer the weak to the strong, the poor to the rich, the absent to the present...” Usmani scored 242 votes, Simon over 22,000, but a point had been made. Bridgeman, standing as a Labour candidate for Uxbridge, scored 16,000 votes and narrowly failed to secure a seat. Saklatvala, without the official Labour backing he had previously received, lost his seat, yet gathered up more than 6,500 votes. The League had decamped from its temporary lodgings at the NAFTA office at 58 Theobalds Road, and was now at 30 John Street WC1. It continued to flourish. A grand Garden Party and Fun Fair in Golders Green on 6 July 1929 (tickets 6d) at which Saklatvala was to speak, was announced on 16 June in the Sunday Worker. The League Praesidium This social/political occasion was followed by a conference at Essex Hall on 13 July, attended by 121 League members, with the purpose of selecting delegates from the London group for the Frankfurt Congress of the League due to open on the 27th. The League was stronger in London than elsewhere, though delegates were also chosen at provincial League conferences in Birmingham, Newcastle, Glasgow and Manchester. The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

17

A conference on 28 September 1929 was organised by the National Meerut Prisoners Defence Committee at Friars Hall, Blackfriars Road, attended by more than 200 delegates from 123 organisations: 81 from trade union branches, 44 from ILP branches, 27 from Communist Party branches. The Committee was set up on the League’s initiative the previous month, with Reginald Bridgeman and Joan Thompson repeating their League roles as secretary and treasurer.

10. Congress in Frankfurt – new forces emerge By the time the Frankfurt conference opened in late July 1929, League Sections had been established in Central and South America and elsewhere, though it is said that of the 200 delegates at Frankfurt, only 15 had travelled directly from the colonies. The national sections now numbered sixteen, of which four were in Europe and one was in the United States. At the Frankfurt congress, Saklatvala, Pollitt, Bridgeman, Maxton and Helen Crawfurd were all British delegates. Maxton was re-elected international Chairman. Two hundred delegates from about fifty countries, Britain included, attended, and Maxton received applause for his declaration that the Labour Government had become “the caretaker of Capitalism and continues the policy of British Imperialism”, which he “strongly opposed”. But Maxton and the ILP were quickly under fire from Saklatvala (and from a representative of the Soviet trade unions), for omitting to admit that the Labour government bore responsibility for the continuance of the Meerut prisoner detentions. League support for the Meerut prisoners continued, and Maxton was notionally replaced as international chairman by a Meerut prisoner by definition unable to attend in person. The League, besides dealing with the oppression in India, unequivocally declared against the oppression of the Arab peoples by imperialism “of which”, Reginald Bridgeman wrote in the Sunday Worker at the beginning of September, “Zionism is one of the instruments.” He was referring to the Jewish settler movement in Palestine, encouraged by the British Government since 1917 and increasingly in The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


18

Communist Party History Group

conflict with the Arab community long settled there. The report of the Congress in the Sunday Worker also announced that the “negro delegates” had resolved to call an “international negro congress” the following year. This took place in Hamburg in July 1930, and was another “first”. The League was to be active in helping to establish the London Negro Welfare Association in 1931, of which Bridgeman was made Chairman. The Association played an active role in the campaign to save from execution the Scottsboro boys, young black men in custody in the USA as a result of a flagrantly racist prosecution for alleged rape. (None of them in the event were executed, though one was shot by a prison guard.) The League was active in supporting anti-colonial black militants in Britain, including George Padmore and Frank Macauley.

11. Rift with ILP leadership In the League Against Imperialism a major expulsion now took place in Hamburg in July. It was influenced by the Communist International’s then opposition to united action by communists with reformist parties, sometimes characterising social democracy as “social fascist”, i.e. as an enemy to be equated with fascism. It was a fact that the Independent Labour Party’s leadership was inclined to be kind-hearted about, as well as critical of, the new Labour Government’s efforts. So the MacDonald Government was complimented in the New Leader (now having an editor well to the right of Brockway), for adjusting a working agreement made with its puppet Egyptian government “allowing for all the circumstances of minority government”. In mid-September, the League expelled from membership the ILP leader James Maxton. The Sunday Worker gave as the reason that Maxton’s connection with the League was “maintained for the purpose of sabotaging its activities”. It was an unfair charge. It would be more accurate to say that Maxton had not sufficiently subscribed to the full socialist anti-imperialist position in the terms required by the League’s leadership. Arthur Cook, Miners’ Federation General The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

19

Secretary, resigned from the League in solidarity with him, and other resignations followed. Bridgeman, an ILP member and a Labour Party expellee, close to the Communist Party but never a member, expressed regret about the loss of Maxton, while noting his non-attendance at meetings when he could have given reassurance as to his position. But in general terms those who were applying the new “Class Against Class” Communist International policy, were moving into the political margins, diminishing their own effectiveness. While Bridgeman remained secretary, Conrad Noel, vicar of Thaxted and author that year of a League-published penny pamphlet “The Meaning of Imperialism”, became Chairman and Gossip became Vice-Chairman.

12. India stirs – international solidarity follows In India meanwhile, the desire for national freedom was evolving into a crisis of great magnitude, and into nation-wide brutal repression. On the last day of 1929 the Indian National Congress had voted for complete independence, and to allow the All-India Congress Committee to launch a movement of civil disobedience. This vote, to declare non-violent war on the government, was disliked by the Congress leadership, who had nevertheless no choice but to acquiesce. “By agreeing to the movement”, wrote Lester Hutchinson later, “the leaders succeeded in maintaining control; Gandhi was appointed dictator with full powers”. On 26 January 1930 came the first Indian Independence Day and it was celebrated by great gatherings all over India “peacefully and solemnly taking the pledge of independence without any speeches or exhortation”. Special Branch records tell us that 28 January 1930 was the date of the inauguration in London of the “Independence of India League” and that Bridgeman addressed the founding meeting as a delegate of the League Against Imperialism. On 2 March 1930 Congress leader Gandhi tossed down a polite but potent challenge in the form of a letter to the British Viceroy, Lord Irwin. Pursuing independence through non-violence, he condemned British rule as The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


20

Communist Party History Group

“a curse that has impoverished the dumb millions by a system of progressive exploitation and by a ruinously expensive military and civil administration...It has reduced us politically to serfdom”. Between 12 March and 6 April 1930, in a symbolic gesture of non-violent defiance, Gandhi led some eighty followers on a march of some 250 miles through Gujerat to the sea shore at Dandi where the salt tax law was to be deliberately contravened. En route he spoke to large crowds and at Dandi salt was ceremonially boiled. Salt was taxed at 4d per head per annum, according to the Simon Commission report. Though Gandhi had fixed on “an easy and not a very dangerous law to break”, and was seeking to channel protests in a safe direction, declining, for example to advocate nonpayment of more important taxes, this match lit the fuse for nation-wide protest. “Strikes Spread Right Through India” headlined the Daily Worker on 9 April. On 23 April in Peshawar, on the north-west frontier of India (now of Pakistan), protesters against the arrest of a Muslim independence leader were attacked by British armoured cars, killing hundreds of people, before the British-led troops were forced to abandon the city. Amongst the troops was a company of Garhwali riflemen who refused to fire on their own countrymen when commanded to do so. The British troops returned in force as an occupying force only on 4 May. The Garhwali riflemen were arrested and were to be given life prison sentences. On 5 May Gandhi was arrested, provoking a general strike. At Sholapur, on 8 May, protesters were fired on: twenty six dead and many more wounded. An uprising in response set fire to Government buildings, and severe repression followed. On 16 May martial law was put into effect in India. Anti-empire demonstrations in Britain, responding to this repression, assumed their strongest character yet. On 10 May the Daily Worker called “All to the Square Today!” and demanded: “Shall British Soldiers Shoot down Indians?” The piece went on to comment: “Little news trickles through from India, but even the iron censorship cannot hide the blaze of revolution the fact that whole towns are rising in revolt...” The meeting The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

21

endorsed a lengthy resolution, after the speakers “drove home the meaning of the great events in India, and the role of the Imperialist Labour Government”. On 12 November 1930 Bridgeman took part in a procession from the British Museum to Hyde Park, where he was on the platform with others demanding freedom for India.

13. In the heart Red Megaphone, an agitprop street theatre performing a sketch at a LAI event in Trafalgar Square.

of the British Empire In late December 1930 Burmese peasants rose and killed a British official. British and Indian troops were rushed to the spot. Carnage followed. Burma had been annexed by Britain following a punitive military expedition in the mid - 1880s and was an integral part of India. A Burmese delegate at February’s national Conference of the League Against Imperialism, moving a resolution pledging Conference support to the struggle of the workers and peasants of India, had “told of the desperate poverty of the rice cultivators, who often could not afford to buy the rice – their main food – (and) could only earn 2d or 3d a day for working on the British-owned oil fields”. Guerrilla warfare in Burma waged by peasants, armed with sticks and stones against British forces, was to persist, and in May the Secretary of State for India admitted in the Commons that over 1,000 “rebels” had been killed. The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


22

Communist Party History Group

The next National Conference of the League Against Imperialism was held at Friars Hall, 236 Blackfriars Road, south-east London, on 14 and 15 February 1931. This was to become the League’s regular conference venue. On 13 December the Daily Worker had announced preparations for this assembly, to be held in London - “the heart of the British Empire”. As many as 210 delegates had attended from 91 organisations, and the Burmese delegate, who had called for support for the struggle of the rice workers in his homeland, was just one of many fraternal delegates from colonial countries. No regret was expressed on 17 February by the Daily Worker for the expulsion of James Maxton, former Chairman – the League was “going forward on a solid working-class basis”. The paper went on to record a resolution on the “Negro question”. This pledged the League to closer co-operation with the “Negro workers and peasants”, and to the fight for the breaking down of the “colour bar”. Reginald Bridgeman moved a further resolution which pledged support to the revolutionary workers and peasants of China. In India the leadership of the independence struggle was faltering, affected by peace negotiations between Congress leader Gandhi and Viceroy Lord Irwin. Gandhi seemed as anxious to avoid civil unrest as he was to achieve independence. On 4 March 1931 the Irwin-Gandhi agreement was signed. Wrote Nehru later: “as the meaning of the terms began to be understood, the realisation dawned that nothing whatever had been gained”. The truce was ratified at the Karachi Congress at the end of March. The British section of the League Against Imperialism by this time had shifted its London office from John Street to 23 Great Ormond Street, WC1, where it shared space with the communist-led National Unemployed Workers’ Movement. April 19, 1931 was declared Meerut Day, when a Trafalgar Square rally incorporated a fund-raising raffle of a badge worn by a Meerut prisoner. In June, 1931 the League got up a petition demanding the release of the The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

23

Meerut prisoners and of the Garhwali riflemen. The New Leader called on its readers to obtain copies of the petition from the League’s office and to sign them. But although 6,000 petition forms were issued, the petition was, Bridgeman reported to the League’s 1932 annual conference, not “a success”.

14.The struggle intensifies at home and abroad – Meerut sentences A second General Election within two years, the result of the severe impact on Britain of the world economic crisis, and of a government-sponsored attack on living standards, took place in late October 1931. In Uxbridge, Reginald Bridgeman stood as an independent Workers’ Candidate, sponsored by the Southall branch of the League. Five of the Communist Party candidates, were in jail, including Shaukat Usmani, the only one whose jail was in India. Usmani this time received 332 votes. Bridgeman achieved 2,358 and Saklatvala 3,021. On 21 December, the international office of the League in Berlin’s Friedrichstrasse was raided by Berlin police. Of the documents seized, one was in due course passed to British security police. The Irwin-Gandhi agreement did not succeed in holding down the drive amongst the Indian people for independence, and the British authorities reacted with repression on a huge scale from January 1932. Between then and March 1933 some 120,000 people were put behind bars. Palme Dutt, younger brother of Clemens, wrote in his book India Today (published in Britain in 1940 but banned in India) at the end of the decade: “all the principal Congress leaders and organisers were arrested all over the country; the Congress and all its organisations were declared illegal, their Press banned, their premises, funds and property confiscated.....Sir Samuel Hoare informed the House of Commons...that there was to be no ‘drawn battle’ this time....The Congress leadership was taken by surprise....In 1930 the Congress had been on the offensive. Now it was thrown on the The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


24

Communist Party History Group

defensive. They had not realised the price of the Irwin-Gandhi Agreement.” Active campaigning in Britain for the release of the Meerut prisoners was not to fade away. The trial itself ended – bar verdicts and sentences – in August 1932. On 19 November the Daily Worker headlined the issue and highlighted meetings organised by the League Against Imperialism and International Labour Defence on 20 November at six venues, including Latchmere Baths, Battersea. A further meeting was on 9 December at Farringdon Street’s Memorial Hall, with Saklatvala and Pollitt listed as speakers. On 21 January, Bridgeman, interviewed by the Daily Worker, disclosed that about £750 had been laboriously collected in Britain and sent to the Meerut prisoners for defence purposes, since March 1929. (It was a small enough sum enough in comparison with that spent on the prosecution.) Amongst the prisoners sentenced in India in January 1933 for anti-imperial agitation were Philip Spratt, who was condemned to 12 years transportation, and Ben Bradley, whose sentence was ten years. Lester Hutchinson’s sentence was shorter (four years), but all were released early. Of the Indians sentenced, one was given transportation for life, four others for 12 years, two more (one was Shaukat Usmani, former Spen Valley Parliamentary candidate) for 10 years. Almost as soon as the sentences were passed, in January 1933, a new committee for the Meerut prisoners’ release was set up, followed by release of a pamphlet. Contributions to an appeal fund were to be sent to 39 Doughty Street WC1. However, owing to a resignation, the secretaryship of this committee passed to Alex Gossip of NAFTA at familiar 58 Theobalds Road. Special Branch records are the source for this information as it is for the fact that £105 had been raised by the beginning of March, enough to cover the filing of an appeal by the Meerut prisoners. Ben Bradley was back in Britain early in 1934, not long after Hutchinson, and was soon to be British Section secretary in succession to Bridgeman, The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

25

who was already the League’s international secretary. Spratt was released in October 1934. The most lenient sentence was three years but appeal hearings produced drastic reductions in sentences. The fresh campaign had done its work, both for Indians sentenced and the three British prisoners.

15. From Manchuria to Cyprus Three years earlier, on 18 September 1931 Japanese troops had moved into Manchuria, in northern China, where for years past Japan had exercised indirect control. The aggression was the latest phase of Japan’s plans for imperial expansion, an act not well concealed by its trumped up allegation that the Chinese had blown up a stretch of railway over which Japan had secured rights. This was the Mukden incident. The Japanese, not the Chinese, had actually caused the explosion. Mukden itself was now taken by the occupying forces, and it was followed by the seizure of other Manchurian towns, both in the north and the south. Before long Japan was in direct occupation of Manchuria. The Soviet Union, which bordered Manchuria, could justifiably consider itself menaced. The Chinese government appealed on 22 September to the League of Nations for support against this unprovoked attack on its territory. It was then that Sir John Simon (ex-Simon Commission and later Britain’s Foreign Secretary), saw no reason to uphold League of Nations’ statutes and instead weighed in with a speech in support of Japan. William Gallacher, more than four years later, in a Commons speech as a communist MP, identified the reason for Simon’s acquiescence in blatant aggression: “Why? Because he told you that he was trying to get a deal with Japan that would guarantee British railway interests in Manchuria and China.” Japan’s China aggression, given a friendly nod by Britain and other European countries at a League of Nations conference, was an important focus of the British Section’s national conference at Friars Hall on 21 and 22 May 1932. 209 delegates attended, almost exactly the same number as the previous year. Conrad Noel, chairing the first day’s discussions, described The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


26

Communist Party History Group

the League of Nations as “one of the principal agents of world imperialism”. Alex Gossip chaired the Sunday session. That day Harry Pollitt moved a resolution which pledged the conference “to do all in its power to stop the manufacture and transportation of all war materials, to expose the war aims of the imperialists and their agents and to do its utmost to rally the workers of this country in defence of the Chinese Soviets and the USSR”. A succession of public demonstrations, small but eloquent, were to follow during the remainder of 1932. Other resolutions were for the release of all political prisoners in India and for its complete independence, for a united Ireland, and for an independent Cyprus. (A rising in Cyprus the previous year had been crushed, followed by deportations in some cases, and long prison sentences in others.) Yet another resolution pledged the conference to “fight for the abolition of colour restrictions” –i.e. race discrimination – “in Britain and the colonies” and, specifically to “fight against the alien registration scheme which deprives coloured British born seamen of the right of British nationality”. The oppression of black seamen working in Cardiff in particular had in late 1931 given rise to League campaigning. Socialist agitation in Britain on international issues during 1932 was now increasingly targeted at the aggression of Japan against Manchuria, and at the British government support for Japan (vouchsafed in soothing words and soothing arms shipments). All this drove the anti-war movement forward. This development was symbolised by the extension of use of the office of the League Against Imperialism (now quartered at 53 Gray’s Inn Road) to provide an operational headquarters for the “Anti-War Movement” of which Reginald Bridgeman (whose energy seemed limitless) was made a provisional joint secretary. On 28 January 1933 a new phase of Japan’s assault on Chinese territory began with a full-scale aerial bombardment of Shanghai.

16. League international organisation repressed A month later, at the end of February 1933, fascism in Europe became a The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

27 A British League pamphlet from 1935

much greater menace as the Hitler Nazis in Germany seized full power with the collusion of generals. Immediately mass arrests of communists and others followed and the Nazi government set about extirpating democracy, and building up military capacities for territorial expansion. Early that month the League’s international address at Friedrichstrasse 24 in Berlin was shifted to Ahrweiler Strasse in the same city, a letter to Bridgeman intercepted by the Special Branch tells us, and following the Nazi coup it moved to Paris. In Berlin, according to a Special Branch report, Clemens Dutt had taken over Chattopadhyaya’s role from August 1931 onwards. Dutt was described in December 1932 in a security memorandum as “an extreme and clever revolutionary whose activities constitute a real menace to Indian interests”. The alternative view is that his work was to be commended as in the cause of a free India. The developments in Germany added urgency to the anti-war congress in early March 1933 which had been planned from the seat of the League Against Imperialism and of the Anti-War Movement at 53 Gray’s Inn Road. It was staged in Bermondsey Town Hall, attracting over 1,500 delegates. More than a quarter of these represented trade union branches, almost 150 were from Labour Parties and the ILP, and well over one hundred were youth delegates. 70 were communist delegates. Further rallies partly organised by the Anti-War Movement took place on 9 April and on 7 May. The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


28

Communist Party History Group

The League’s membership and supporters increasingly involved themselves in the broader anti-war and anti-fascist movement. Scotland Yard’s Special Branch continued its monitoring role during the course of 1933 and onwards. Interceptions of post to and from Bridgeman, who carried on speaking frequently at both League and other gatherings on colonial subjects, also continued. Later in 1933, the League’s international base moved from Paris to London. Bridgeman became international secretary and inherited, not surprisingly in view of the unavoidably chaotic circumstances of the earlier removal from Berlin, few useful records from Paris. He was to report that he received only “a list of addresses which were not up to date and so of little value”. Gradually he and his colleagues put together a working basis for an international office. First they established a list of newspapers in various countries in which League material might be published. Next came construction of a contact list of likely sympathisers abroad. The conditions for effective international work were ever more problematic. The international secretariat’s report for 1934, penned by Bridgeman, pointed to the strengthening of censorship and repression everywhere, making international postal correspondence often impossible, placing the League outside the law in many colonial countries, and placing the League’s publications at high risk of confiscation.

17. Clouds darken – League calls for ‘complete liberation’ The British Section, with Ben Bradley now secretary, freshly released from his Indian jail, continued to trouble the Government. On 10 May 1934 the Home Secretary answered questions about the League in the House of Commons and declared he would keep it “under review”. Bridgeman on 29 May 1934 wrote to him to protest against the continuing monitoring of the League’s incoming and outgoing post, declaring that it was the League’s The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

29

intention to keep the Government’s actions in this regard “under review”. For Empire Day in 1934 (25 May) the British Section produced a two-page pamphlet. It ended with a series of slogans. The last was “Demand the complete liberation of all colonial people!”

In late September League delegates, who included Bridgeman and Saklatvala, attended the inaugural meeting of the Irish Republican Congress in Dublin. This conference has been described as the first truly socialist conference in Ireland since the 1916 Easter rebellion. On 24-25 November 1934 the League’s Annual Conference was again staged at Friars Hall, Blackfriars. This gathering may have involved a rather smaller attendance than the previous one in 1932, as no attendance figures were supplied by the Daily Worker, unless the omission was accidental. Fraternal delegates included Francis Jourdain, Chairman of the French section. Other fraternal delegates were from Ireland and from Africa’s Gold Coast. The British Communist Party’s J.R. Campbell moved a resolution against the British Empire, which he described as squeezing and exploiting one quarter of the globe. In December the British section played a part in the International Students’ Congress Against War and Fascism, which was held, as the founding congress of the League had been, in Brussels. This Students’ Congress was attended by colonial students originating from India, North Africa, Indonesia and Latin America. Bridgeman was present to help the delegates with their statements and with preparing the colonial resolutions. The manifesto adopted declared that the struggle against imperialism was inseparable from the struggle against war and fascism. In 1935, between the beginning of January and the end of October, Special Branch reports show Bridgeman as having delivered speeches at nine meetings, including one at an Irish Republican meeting, one at an antifascist meeting and three at League Against Imperialism meetings (one centred on Abyssinia). In August the League issued a pamphlet on The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


30

Communist Party History Group

Abyssinia. On 3 September Bridgeman attended an international conference in Paris arranged by a Committee for the Defence of the Ethiopian People. On 1 October 1935 a full day session of the League was devoted to consideration of the implications for the anti-colonial movement of the 7th World Congress of the Communist International, which had (in effect overruling its earlier divisive approach) formally endorsed the need for joint work by communists with reformist socialists and others in opposition to fascism. Bridgeman spoke at this meeting. In early October Mussolini’s huge army advanced into Abyssinia, and was to occupy, eventually, the capital of Addis Ababa. The invasion stimulated the growth of black African nationalism across the continent. At an all-British international secretariat meeting on 9 October, Bridgeman reported the start-up of a Friends of the Chinese People society, and a League meeting to “assist the struggle of the Ethiopian people” was to be arranged if practicable. Such a meeting, at which he spoke, took place at the Conway Hall on 20 December 1935. At a reconvened international secretariat meeting on 4 December, a Captain Dumont was present on behalf of the French section.

18. Loss of a doughty leader and more tragedies abroad A most serious blow to the League’s British section (and to the antiimperialist movement in Britain generally) was the sudden death of Shapurji Saklatvala, shortly before the League’s annual conference on 25 and 26 January 1936. The loss to the League’s work was enormous, but the attendance at the conference – 236 delegates from 153 organisations – was robust. A large portrait of “Sak” looked out at the delegates and many tributes to him were paid. One resolution was directed at the shelving of oil sanctions against Italy by The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

31

the government in collusion with its partner in Paris. Another, proposed by ex-Meerut convict Lester Hutchinson, exposed the Mandate system created following the 1914 war, when victor Powers Britain and France had shared out the German and Turkish colonies between themselves. On 17 June, a meeting of the “interim executive committee” of the League was held. Those present included Bradley, Bridgeman and Pollitt. So far, they could find no successor for Saklatvala in the League’s executive. Across the Channel, the League was the victim of changing conditions. Anti-imperialist campaigning had lost priority as the Nazi menace grew, and in July 1936 a new phase began with the generals’ revolt in Spain, almost immediately backed militarily by Germany and fascist Italy. Willi Münzenberg, a refugee from the Hitler government, had, after his escape from Germany following the Reichstag Fire, thrown himself into the antifascist movement, especially into the systematic exposure of Nazi crimes. Münzenberg died in France in June 1940, probably murdered, after escape from an internment camp. Virendranath Chattopadyaya, meanwhile, working for the Communist International in Moscow, was executed, tragically and infamously, on 2 September 1937, one of many innocent victims of the Stalin-directed repression, his death like so many others, being unreported until long after. In the League’s early days, when Bridgeman had written to him in Berlin, the letters began: “My dear Chatto...” Chattopadyaya had been an outstanding fighter for Indian independence.

19.The League’s legacy – acorns become oak trees The League’s final conference in Britain, reported by the Daily Worker, took place over two days at the end of February 1937, and once again was opened by Alex Gossip as chairman. A report of the past year’s activity was given by Ben Bradley, who “focused attention on the aggressive war drive of the Fascist Powers”. He spoke too of “the close contact maintained with the Indian National Congress and the West African Youth League and the publicity which the League Against Imperialism had given to the The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


32

Communist Party History Group

struggle of the Chinese people”. This included the publication of “Indian Front”, “China News” as well as publications about the respective situations in Palestine and China. There were fraternal speeches from representatives of the Indian National Congress Socialist Party, from Ceylon’s socialist party, and from representatives of Cyprus, China and Africa. The Daily Worker did not give attendance figures. A letter signed by Ben Bradley, dated 11 May 1937 and dispatched from the League’s final address at 53 Gray’s Inn Road WC1, signalled the League’s departure from the scene. “The time has now come when all our resources must be set the task of carrying on the anti-imperialist work through the broad channels of the Trade Union and Labour movement, and through the rapidly developing Unity campaign…it is essential that we should advance from the position of a small group of people interested in the colonial struggle, seriously restricted in their activities because of their association with a ‘banned organisation’…” So the office and resources of the League, modest as they were, became the property of the Colonial Information Bureau, but it should never be forgotten that over ten years the League, small-scale as were its activities, was far more than symbolic of the anti-imperialist movement in Britain, and that its members and leadership played an honourable part in building the movement that in time, across the world, and in face of much more bloody repression, was to finish off British colonialism. Conrad Noel, vicar of Thaxted, and author of the pamphlet The Meaning of Imperialism, died in 1942. Alex Gossip died in 1952; Ben Bradley in 1957; Harry Pollitt in 1960, Joan Beauchamp Thompson in The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

33

1964 and Reginald Bridgeman in 1968. The League Against Imperialism occupied just a fragment, larger or smaller in each case, of their lives; while its story is just a fragment of our hidden socialist history.

John Ellison January 2017

20. A note on sources I have relied, aside from text disclosures, particularly on the Bridgeman archive (Hull History Centre), and on Special Branch and Security Service files listed at The National Archives and at the British Library (India Office – e.g. Clemens Dutt). Jean Jones’s The League Against Imperialism (Socialist History Society – 1996) was more than useful. I found helpful too the collection of reports of a 60th Brussels Congress anniversary colloquium – Die Liga Gegen Imperialismus und für Nationale Unabhängigkeit (British Library). The reference to Ho Chi Minh’s attendance at the December 1927 General Council meeting came from Ho Chi Minh – William J. Duiker (Hyperion – 2000). The citation from Lester Hutchinson is from his 1937 book ‘The Empire of the Nabobs’ (Allen & Unwin). Some LAI-related document follow as appendices. JE

The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


34

Communist Party History Group

The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Our History No. 15

35

The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


36

Communist Party History Group

The League Against Imperialism:The Hidden History of the British section


Get the complete new series of Our History

ORDER FORM clearly indicate quantity of which editions and return to Communist Party, Ruskin House 23 Coombe

Rd, London CR0 1BD

£

Total payable to CPB (each pamphlet £1.50 + 50p p&p)

Name and address phone 1. 978-1-908315-13-7 2. 978-1-908315-14-4 3. 978-1-908315-15-1 4. 978-1-908315-16-8 5. 978-1-908315-17-5 6. 978-1-908315-18-2 7. 978-1-908315-19-9 8. 978-1-908315-20-5 9. 978-1-908315-21-2 10. 978-1-908315-22-9 11. 978-1-908315-23-6 12. 978-1-908315-24-3 13. 978-1-908315-25-0 14. 978-1-908315-26-7 15. 978-1-908315-27-4

e-mail Handsworth to USSR: the tanks that toppled Hitler Benny Rothman & Kinder Scout 1688 - A Glorious Revolution? Cardiff Cigar Workers and the 'Feminine Strike' of 1911 “Rouse, Ye Women” The Cradley Heath Chain Makers Tolpuddle and the struggle for free trades unionism Pentonville 5: dockers in action solidarity and anti-union laws S. O. Davies, ‘fellow-travelling’ and the Cold War The 1971-72 UCS work-in revisited The Alice Wheeldon affair of 1917 Communists in the Channel Islands: occupation to mass struggle Equal Pay for Equal Work: 1968 Dagenham Ford machinists The First World War: causes, consequences, and the fight against The Crawley Communist Party in the 1950s- a personal memoir The League Against Imperialism - A Hidden History

Order online at

www.communist-party.org.uk


Morning Star

daily paper of the left

incorporating the Daily Worker - for peace and socialism

thinkglobally readrevolutionary ÂŁ1 six days a week from all good newsagents Online at morningstaronline.co.uk

Printed & published by the Communist Party. ISBN 978-1-908315-27-4

Profile for Communist Party

The League Against Imperialism - Our History 15 (Vol. 2 New Series)  

As late as the early 1940s, Britain’s government ruled over a quarter of the globe’s land surface, while insistently resisting the idea that...

The League Against Imperialism - Our History 15 (Vol. 2 New Series)  

As late as the early 1940s, Britain’s government ruled over a quarter of the globe’s land surface, while insistently resisting the idea that...

Advertisement

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded

Recommendations could not be loaded