John McIlroy

New Light on Arthur Reade

Tracking Down Britain’s First Trotskyist

We owe our first example of a revolutionary criticism of nascent Stalinism to John McIlroy, who has already provided our magazine with some of the results of his researches into labour movement history (Volume 6, nos 2-3, Summer 1996, pp105-59, 7, no 1, 1998, pp134-65 and 7, no 2, 1999, pp255-63), and readers should consult the bibliography laid out there. He has elsewhere cast a critical eye over some of our efforts so far (‘Writing Marxist History’, Workers Liberty, no 35, October 1996, pp41-2). We are pleased to place John McIlroy’s narrative before our readers, based as it is upon extensive research among the original documents, and to offer him our thanks.

Many readers of our journal will be familiar with the name of AEE Reade. A full-time party worker and manager of Labour Monthly, Reade was the only British Communist of whom we know who vocally and actively supported the Left Opposition in 1924-25, and the first British revolutionary to call himself a Trotskyist. Like so many before and after him, Reade’s allegiance to revolutionary Socialism was transient. Having joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1921, he was marginalised by the spring of 1925, and he had slipped out of the party by 1928, pursuing thereafter a chequered political career. Nonetheless, his Daniel-like stand in the teeth of fierce condemnation by both the proletarian leadership of the party, Arthur McManus, Tom Bell and Jack Murphy, and the intellectuals, his mentor Rajani Palme Dutt, Robin Page Arnot and Andrew Rothstein, deserves admiration and commemoration. And when the Balham Group came out for Trotskyism early in the following decade, one element of continuity was the enduring impact that Reade had made on the member of the Young Communist League, Harry Wicks.

Most of the little that we know about Reade comes from the recollections of Wicks, recorded by Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson in Against the Stream: A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain 1924-38 (London, 1986), and Socialist Platform, Harry Wicks: A Memorial (London, 1989), and by Logie Barrow in the collaboration which produced Harry Wicks, Keeping My Head: The Memoirs of a British Bolshevik (London, 1992). Following from his pioneering work on early British Communism, Brian Pearce got onto the trail of Reade, but was unable to take matters much further (see B Pearce, ‘Oxford Episode’, The Newsletter, 5 March 1960, and ‘The Last Years of the University Socialist Federation’, Bulletin of the Society for the Study of Labour History, no 4, Spring 1962, pp45-6).

Revolutionary History is now able to fill at least some of the gaps in our knowledge of the events of 1924-25 and the life of Arthur Reade. This article gives the fullest picture yet available of Reade’s career as a Communist, and concludes with a brief resume of Reade’s subsequent political career. It is particularly timely, as next year marks the centenary of Reade’s birth.

To round off the article, we include two documents from the Moscow archives: the Minutes of the Party Council of 30 November 1924 which condemned Trotsky, and the Report of the Control Commission on the case of AEE Reade. We also append an extract from a letter to the Communist International, lamenting the CPGB’s lack of comprehension of the issues involved, brief reports from the party press of the London District Aggregate of 17 January 1925, where Reade defended Trotsky, and a final letter from Reade to Plebs in which he dissociates himself from the non-party supporters of Trotsky grouped around the National Council of Labour Colleges. The author has provided notes for the documents.

H               H               H


RTHUR Reade’s name is relatively well known. His was the solitary voice raised in defence of the positions of the Left Opposition as the struggle within the Soviet Union touched the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1924-25. Yet we know very little at all about the man with a legitimate claim to be considered Britain’s first Trotskyist. In the summer of 1999, Kevin Morgan gave me copies of two documents he had come across in the Moscow archives: the minutes of the Party Council which discussed the Russian situation in November 1924, and the report of the Control Commission which rejected Reade’s appeal against discipline for his outspoken advocacy of Trotsky.[1] It seemed more than time to try to discover more about this elusive figure.

Reade disappeared from Communist history in the summer of 1925. He returned momentarily in 1958 when Brian Pearce, in his article in Labour Review on the early years of British Communism, briefly mentioned Reade’s rôle in the events of 1924-25.[2] A decade later, in his official history of the CPGB, James Klugmann provided a terse account,[3] and, in the early 1970s, Harry Wicks, a participant in those events, referred to Reade in a lecture subsequently published by the International Marxist Group. Wicks provided further information in interviews with Sam Bornstein and Al Richardson, whose Against the Stream provides the fullest account of the reaction of British Marxists to the struggle in Russia, in 1978, and with Martin Upham a year later.[4]

Most of what we know about Reade is scattered through Wicks’ evocative autobiography, Keeping My Head. Wicks recalled Reade as a dedicated, enthusiastic party member whose lectures to the Young Communist League (YCL) in South London made at least some of the CPGB’s youth aware of the controversy in the Russian party. He met Reade at 162 Buckingham Palace Road, which, at the time, accommodated Plebs, the Labour Monthly and the Labour Research Department (LRD). Wicks recalled: ‘At the end of the First World War, he had been sent down from Oxford for publishing a paper called Red or Free Oxford. At the time he was manager of Labour Monthly.’[5] Expelled from the party for championing Trotsky, Reade left for Greece, returning after problems with the authorities. Harry encountered him again in the 1930s, when Reade, now a barrister but no longer a Trotskyist, provided some advice at the time of the Trotsky Defence Committee. He makes a final bow in 1945, when an old YCL friend of Harry’s bumped into a Major Reade in occupied Germany.[6] The only significant addition to this account is a reference by Bornstein and Richardson to Reade’s association with Mosley’s New Party.[7]

Taking these materials as a starting point, we can now provide a fuller, if still incomplete, account of Reade’s life as a Communist.[8]

Arthur Reade and The Free Oxford

Arthur Essex Edgeworth Reade was born into the assured certainties of Edwardian England on 22 January 1902. It was, he was fond of remarking, a year to the day of Queen Victoria’s death. His father, Essex Reade, was an international financier of independent means, his mother, Sheelah Chichester, came from the minor aristocracy, and the family lived at 14 Bolton Street, where Reade was born, and later at 27 Eaton Place in the heart of fashionable Knightsbridge. Reade, whose father died while he was young, entered Eton in January 1915. He was not a particularly distinguished student, although one prize is recorded, and he left in 1919, at the age of 17, with his School Certificate.[9]

The varied impact of the training in leadership and patriotism afforded by Britain’s premier public school can be seen from the fact that Reade’s contemporaries at Eton included both Sir Alec Douglas Home and John Strachey, while George Orwell was in the following ‘election’ of 1916. We can only conjecture as to the impact of Eton on Reade’s development, but the college was unsettled by the war. The Headmaster, Edward Lyttelton, was pressurised to retire in 1916 as being insufficiently anti-German, and the increasing roll of the Eton dead produced among many students feelings of guilt, questioning of authority and rejection of the settled landmarks of the prewar world. Reade always viewed himself as part of the generation which missed the war, and which would atone for it by building a better world.[10]

The college was only relatively insulated from the growth of radicalism in British society at this time, and from the impetus the unrest received from the Russian Revolution. Orwell remembered himself in 1918 as ‘a revolutionary’ opposed to ‘all authority’, and recollected the ‘queer revolutionary feeling of that time’.[11] In the formal Retrospect for 1919, the year Reade left Eton, the captain of the school remarked: ‘When unrest is universal it is only natural that some trace should be found within our walls.’[12] Many of the students listed Lenin among the greatest men alive, although, as one writer remarked, the growth of radical ideas among the students did not mean that they ‘would march out of the classroom and enrol in the Communist Party of Great Britain’.[13]

Precisely when Reade took this step is unclear. In 1919-20, he studied at the University of Strasbourg, newly restored as part of Alsace-Lorraine by Germany to France, and he wrote articles on the situation there for the Daily Mail as well as for the local press. The revolutionary mood gripping the continent, particularly defeated Germany, may have further opened his mind to socialist ideas. Alsace was a centre of revolutionary agitation. The German Bolshevik Republic had been proclaimed in Strasbourg in November 1918. Stimulated by Socialist sailors returning home from mutinous Kiel, soldiers’ and workers’ soviets shared power with the city administration, until forcibly dissolved by Gourad’s advancing French troops at the end of the year.[14] Within weeks of his arrival at Worcester College, Oxford, in October 1920, Reade was playing a rôle in the University Labour Club and the smaller University Socialist Society. Before the month was out, Reade was successfully moving motions condemning ‘the government’s detestable Irish policy’ and the death sentence on Kevin Barry. But at the close of 1920, he was declaring that ‘my sympathies tend to the Independent Labour Party’, advocating the Labour Party’s programme as ‘a stepping stone’, and criticising those who confused Socialism with Bolshevism. Thereafter, his views ‘gradually evoluted’, as he put it at the end of 1921. By the spring of that year, he had finally thrown in his lot with the young Communist Party.[15]

The infant CPGB sought to organise students through the University Socialist Federation (USF) to which the University Socialist Societies affiliated. Established in 1912, by 1920 it was coming under CPGB control through the efforts of its ‘most indefatigable’ secretary, Mary Moorhouse, who had revived it after the war, the orchestrations and appeal of Rajani Palme Dutt, who regularly spoke at the universities and remained in touch with developments there, and the growth of Labour Clubs evolving out of the old Fabian and Socialist Societies and looking to closer links with the Labour Party and their own Labour Federation.[16] In Oxford, the Socialist Society was relatively weak, and the Communists concentrated their efforts on the burgeoning Labour Club. It had become a centre of activism through the support it lent the Oxford bus strike in May 1920 and ensuing attempts to halt the breaking up of left-wing meetings by Conservative students.[17] By January 1921, Reade was reporting that the Club had a healthy 183 members, and he had been appointed Editor of its journal, The New Oxford.[18] He was now becoming deeply alienated from his class, a strident critic of the bourgeoisie, and a fierce advocate of revolution:

I write at the beginning of Eights Week and I write in a bitter mood. Oxford’s lovely city is defiled by the horde of social parasites from Mayfair and paragons of bourgeois smugness from the provinces, vying with each other to display the vile callousness — not to say hideousness — of their shallow souls as they bow down before the altar of the false gods of athleticism and salmon mayonnaise; wretched souls, ignorant in their most foul degradation, of the terrible fate that awaits them when Humanity shall triumph as it assuredly must soon.[19]

Student radicalism and its links with the CPGB is usually depicted by historians as a product of the 1930s. In fact, revolutionary Socialist activities among students at Oxford have a longer pedigree, stretching back to the Marx Club in the 1880s, while the Socialist Society, founded in 1915, numbered among its adherents the future Communists Raymond Postgate, V Gordon Childe and Palme Dutt, who was rusticated in 1917 for addressing a meeting of the Society.[20] Andrew Rothstein, his earlier studies disrupted by war service, returned to Balliol College for the academic year of 1919-20, where he encountered Tom Wintringham, who also completed a shortened course for veterans, and the Australian Marxist, Esmonde ‘Bushranger’ Higgins. All joined the CPGB on its foundation, but by 1920 they had left Oxford without leaving any real mark on University politics.[21] Ralph Fox arrived from Bradford Grammar School in 1919, but there is no evidence of his involvement in student affairs. The same is true of his contemporaries at Magdalen, both CPGB supporters in the 1930s, Charles Montagu Slater and John Strachey, the latter being at this time opposed to the left.[22] That the engagement of the CPGB with student politics can be said to predate the 1930s is largely due to the energetic endeavours of Reade and his comrades, and the support they received from the party through the USF.

Despite the weakness of its affiliated societies, the Federation was able, albeit briefly, to play a significant rôle so long as the political situation remained volatile and the movement remained relatively undifferentiated, with the Communists viewed as its legitimate left. It peaked in 1921. On the eve of the threatened strike by the Triple Alliance which would have brought railwaymen and transport workers into action to support the locked-out miners, the USF held a rally of 2000 students and lecturers in the Kingsway Hall, London, to oppose blacklegging. They heard GDH Cole, Maurice Dobb, George Lansbury, Conrad Noel and RH Tawney attack the coal-owners and the government, and demand that the university students support the coming strikes.[23] In Oxford, too, feelings were running high. Many students from the overwhelmingly conservative majority enrolled for 90 days service in the Defence Force established to break the coming transport strike. Along with more proletarian Communists, Reade was under state scrutiny, and according to police accounts, the Bolsheviks in the Labour Club distributed ‘thousands’ of leaflets opposing scabbing and supporting the miners.[24] At its best-attended meeting since before the war, Malcolm McDonald, son of the Labour leader, moved a motion in the Oxford Union in support of the miners’ case, seconded by RH Tawney. The Daily Herald recorded: ‘AEE Reade (Worcester College) a left-wing member of the Labour Club, said he had little sympathy with the previous speakers on either side. As a fighting Revolutionary Socialist and a believer in the class war he wanted to have an issue — which would have to come sometime, and the sooner the better.’[25]

The growth of revolutionary sentiment in the pages of The New Oxford under Reade’s editorship climaxed in the April issue. It appeared with a line identical to that of the CPGB’s paper, The Communist. Reade stridently condemned the retreat of the Triple Alliance led by the railwaymen’s leader, Jimmy Thomas, under headlines which ran: ‘The Great Betrayal… Constitutionalism has Failed… Communism Alone Remains… Thomas and Co Must Go.’ Reade’s contribution was complemented by pyrotechnics from Harold Laski, who vigorously assailed the Labour Party leadership, and noted Thomas’ unique blend of the qualities of a Welshman and a rattlesnake.[26] The issue appeared at the very moment that the Labour Club leaders, some of whom viewed the club as a pathway to parliament, were preening themselves on their new respectability symbolised by the election of their chair, Kenneth Lindsay, as President of the Oxford Union.

The ensuing explosion on the part of the club’s establishment, whose names decorated the cover of the journal, produced uproar in Oxford’s left-wing circles. Reade had his supporters, but he failed by a narrow majority to carry a motion expressing ‘unstinted condemnation’ of the Triple Alliance leaders’ ‘base desertion and betrayal of the miners’, and demanding that Thomas be removed as a Vice-President of the club. And many who were prepared to support this position were critical of his use of the club’s journal to publish partisan views without consultation. The left tide was turning in Oxford, as well as nationally, and Reade was censured for his behaviour, and evicted as Editor of The New Oxford.[27]

The setback proved temporary. Reade resurfaced that summer as the editor of — as he seldom ceased to point out — a bigger, better, certainly more impressively produced, competitor to the Labour Club journal. The new 38-page magazine, The Free Oxford, probably owed more in terms of its resources to CPGB intellectuals and sympathisers, than to its potential sales. Its original masthead legend — ‘An Independent Socialist Review of Politics and Literature’ — soon gave way to Reade’s bombastic announcement of his own credentials, as journalist manqué: ‘Founded and edited by Arthur EE Reade, formerly editor of The New Oxford, organ of the Oxford University Labour Club.’[28] In the best traditions of radical student journalism, potential contributors were warned not to try the editor’s limited patience: ‘It is useless to submit bad verse or anything savouring of Lib-Labism, pious parliamentarianism or religious propaganda, as the editorial staff have instructions that such matter is to be instantly destroyed.’[29] The Oxford Reds had come out, and although they remained members of the Labour Club, they ran the danger of cutting themselves off from the majority of its members. Nonetheless, the first issue of the new journal had a powerful impact, and it quickly sold out. The attention that he lavished upon it ensured that Reade failed his history examinations, and he was consequently ‘rusticated’ for a term. He repaired to London, where he plunged even more enthusiastically into the affairs of The Free Oxford.[30]

Reade’s associate editor was his close friend and fellow Communist, Charles Gray. Born in the same year as Reade, Gray, who like him was reading history, had been educated at Winchester, and carried on the Communist succession at Balliol, where he followed Rothstein as Brackenbury Scholar. He was Secretary of the Socialist Society, and succeeded Moorhouse as Secretary of the USF. Extremely able, he had already published a critique of class education, The Future and the Public Schools, before coming up to Oxford. Gray seems to have exercised some steadying and strategic influence on the exuberant, tempestuous Reade.[31]

The pair were successful in gaining support for The Free Oxford among important elements in Oxford literary circles of the immediate postwar years. Alan Porter, who had entered Queens College after being demobilised in October 1919, a close friend of Edmund Blunden and becoming well known as a poet in his own right, was the journal’s Literary Editor.[32] Reade’s own questionable poetic gifts were employed in welcoming Louis Golding, also at Queens after war service, to the board of The Free Oxford. Having published his first novel in 1920 and his first volume of verse in 1921, the future million-selling novelist was famous far beyond the confines of the university left.[33]

The project of which The Free Oxford was, in Leninist terms, ‘the sword’, was to inform and bring students to an understanding of the need to support the struggles of the labour movement as a pathway to revolution. The address of ‘cultural’ as well as ‘political’ issues was intended specifically to appeal to young intellectuals, and to bring them to an understanding of the relationship of culture to social and economic organisation. This would foster a Communist nucleus among students who would later staff the professional and intellectual establishments, while others might be of direct help to the movement through party service and working for bodies such as the LRD. From the start, the journal’s ambitions thus transcended Oxford. It was initially intended to blaze the way for a national CPGB-controlled student paper incorporating the USF Bulletin, and it gave some promise of achieving this aim. The Free Oxford was sold in Aberdeen, Bangor, Birmingham, Cardiff, Leeds and the London colleges, as well as Oxford and Cambridge. It reached students in French, German and Finnish universities.[34]

Political and industrial discussion rubbed shoulders with poems, short stories, literary criticism and irreverent coverage of Oxford and Cambridge issues. Among the contributors were the Bolshevik leader, Karl Radek; the Hungarian Communist economist, Eugen Varga; the Soviet trade union expert, Alexander (Solomon) Lozovsky; Gerald Gould of the Daily Herald; Conrad Noel, ‘The Red Vicar of Thaxted’; and Edward Carpenter, who provided an article on nudity that had been turned down by the Manchester Guardian. The literary side of the magazine featured Golding; Porter; Edgell Rickword, poet, critic and future CPGB member; Anthony Bertram, novelist and poet, a CPGB sympathiser in the 1930s; Richard Hughes, destined for immortality as a novelist; and the still popular short-story writer and novelist AE Coppard. Party leaders approved of the orthodox political coverage of The Free Oxford. They were, however, less than happy with the young littérateurs and their excursions into sexuality and free love.[35]

Whatever its infantile excesses, The Free Oxford was an impressive achievement which owed much to Reade’s drive, energy and desire to épater le bourgeoisie. He became an Oxford character whose politics were widely deplored, and whose Bohemian attire produced some puzzlement. The student paper Isis was uniformly hostile to what it saw as the publicity-seeking Bollinger Bolsheviks. Its competitor Cherwell showed greater, if still critical, sympathy for Reade’s charm, sincerity and striking use of language. Reade was lampooned — or what in student magazines passes for lampooning — for his explosive speeches in the decorous Oxford Union — ‘Mr AEE Reade (Worcester) said he was an Extremist Communist and believed in class war, strikes, lockouts and distrust. He liked Conservatives but not Lib Labs.’ The Free Oxford was ridiculed as striving ‘for free speech, free thought and free love’.[36] But Reade was the darling of the tiny university left, one of whom pronounced:

I think far and away the most lively, the most provocative and most left-wing paper which has come out in this country since the war is The Free Oxford. I’m sure it would make the official organs of Moscow look sickly and reactionary. It is edited by a tumultuous young gentleman who, only a year ago, came up from Eton and is related to half the peerage.[37]

Reade was under police surveillance from the start, as the reports to the Cabinet on revolutionary organisations attest. ‘The Oxford Reds’ were reported as being in close contact with party members Maurice Dobb at Cambridge and Mary Moorhouse in London. The police saw the shadowy adventuress Moorhouse as a directive influence, and recorded meetings at her rooms in Grays Inn: ‘Mary Moorhouse is a most revered name among the Bolshevistic young at Oxford. They regard her organising abilities as superhuman.’[38] While Reade suspected his correspondence was being intercepted, he was quickly made aware of problems nearer home. This was the CPGB’s first sustained open initiative among students. Informing the Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon, of the attempts by Rajani and Clemens Palme Dutt to recruit Indian students at Cambridge to Marxism in 1919, the Vice-Chancellor of Cambridge complained that ‘they never appear in public’.[39] The same could not be said of Reade, and his flamboyant frontal assault in faithful mimicry of the Comintern’s First Period prescription for the proletariat could not fail to attract attention from the university authorities at the same time as it closed the student Bolsheviks off from most of the student left.

Reade’s fortunes now became intertwined with the attempts of the Conservative Vice-Chancellor, LR Farnell, to assert the resilience of the ancien regime at Oxford. Protests against Farnell’s partisan and heavy-handed attempts to restrict the public activity of the Labour Club culminated in more logical, if draconian, restrictions on all the political societies. Each was required to register with the proctors, remove the words ‘Oxford University’ from its title, and limit its public activity to one meeting each term, the topic and the speaker to be approved by the Vice-Chancellor himself. George Lansbury and Bertrand Russell were deemed unsuitable by Farnell, and were forced to speak to the Labour Club in the plebeian portals of Ruskin College, which lay beyond the purview of Farnell’s authority.[40] Charles Gray had already had a brush with Farnell when the latter refused to accept the Socialist Society as a legitimate organisation, and his jaundiced eye now fell upon The Free Oxford.[41]

Each issue of the journal, he judged quite fairly:

… had the same character and the same propaganda aim; to preach the extreme theories of Russian Bolshevism, the Red Terror, obscene licentiousness and the bitterest class hatred; gross insults against the authorities were scattered through the pages. There was nothing of boyish foolishness in it… there was evidently money behind it, probably Russian.[42]

For Farnell, Reade was ‘an undesirable undergraduate who had been sent out of residence by his College for idleness’.[43] Farnell was particularly incensed by the attacks on himself and King George, by the explorations of sexuality and atheism, and by Reade’s forensically precise explanations of the fate which awaited the bourgeois after the impending British 1917. The issue was straightforward: Reade had to go. Farnell later reflected: ‘There was nothing else we could do with him, except expel him, which we did promptly and without hesitation.’[44] Reade was sent down in December 1921, when the end of term made any student protest extremely unlikely. Charles Gray, whom Farnell suspected of being ‘not altogether in harmony with the worst savageries of his chief’, was dealt with more leniently, if more humiliatingly, receiving two terms ‘rustication’ in return for a recantation and an apology. The unforgiving Farnell sought to post Gray’s statement on the university notice board only, to his fury, to find that it had been removed by students. Alan Porter, too, escaped with a recantation.[45]

The affair was probably bound to end in tears. Reade’s youthful and naïve belief in the power of the Russian revolutionary word and his incisive but sectarian onslaughts on ‘the Whites’, ‘Pinks’ and ‘Lib Labs’ in the Labour Club took no prisoners, and made few converts. A more sensitive and patient approach, already taking shape, albeit imperfectly, in the united front, may have paid greater dividends. There remained a significant gap between the Communists’ aspirations to establish a strong student nucleus and its realisation. This was not surprising. The postwar radical mood was rapidly dissipating. There was an extreme disproportion between the small group of Bolsheviks and the overwhelming majority of Labour supporters — themselves lost in the sea of non-Socialist students. Charles Gray, perhaps optimistically, estimated the Oxford Communists as no more than a dozen — hardly the forces for the frontal assault which had cut them off from the majority in the Labour Club. They were more of a coterie around Reade and Gray than a disciplined political group. They were heavily marked by ephemeral and literary affiliation to the glamorous legend of 1917 and the passing rebelliousness of student youth. Outside the walls, Oxford provided far from fertile political ground. Despite references in the party press to a CPGB branch being formed in the town in 1920, there is no evidence of any sustained organisation outside the university. Reade and Gray had no effective links with the local labour movement.[46]

But one thing the CPGB was not short of in 1922 was journalists and press contacts. Apart from Reade’s own contacts, Norman Ewer, Francis Meynell, Postgate and William Mellor were all well known in Fleet Street and beyond, while nearer home Golding contributed to the Manchester Guardian. The press was interested in the exotic tale of the Oxford Bolsheviks. It was indicative that sections of undergraduate opinion unsympathetic to Reade’s politics now sided with him, because of ‘the principle of the thing’. Outside the universities, even Conservative opinion was unfavourable to what it saw as Farnell’s attack on free speech and the unfairness of blighting the future career of Reade, who was perceived as ‘a misguided hothead’ or ‘an abominable young puppy’, rather than a threat to the British Empire.[47] The efforts of Reade kept the issue in the public eye into 1922, and the affair received extended national press coverage.

The Daily Herald termed Oxford the ‘home of the inhumanities’, and the Daily News accused Farnell of ‘an academical pogrom’. The Saturday Review charged the Vice-Chancellor with creating ‘a modern inquisition’, and the Daily Express branded him ‘a modern Canute’. Many papers followed the Evening Standard in criticising Farnell’s over-reaction to what they saw as ‘merely youthful exuberance’.[48] Journals as different as the Spectator and the Manchester Guardian devoted editorials to dissecting and condemning Farnell’s violation of civilised values in relation to ‘these child Communists’ who were being treated ‘as if they were in infant school’.[49]

Surprisingly, the Daily Express conducted the most sustained campaign against Farnell, who suspected Reade of writing some of the pieces. He was portrayed as conducting ‘a war on free speech’ which was ‘taking Oxford back to the middle ages’. The paper likened Reade and Gray to medieval martyrs, although they themselves preferred comparison with Shelley and Lenin.[50] A collective letter to the press by officers and ex-officers of the Oxford Union and three out of four of the main student political societies, condemning the expulsion of Reade, and a similar statement by the editors of The New Oxford and Cherwell, received wide publicity.[51] Farnell was unanimously condemned in the Oxford Union, while Reade attracted admiration as a young man, not yet 21, ‘willing to undergo any sacrifice for his principles’.[52]

Reade’s attempt to politicise and extend the affair by suggesting that Farnell was simply a puppet of the Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon’s war against Bolshevism — Curzon was the Chancellor of the university — found little resonance, although some viewed Curzon’s letter to The Times, stating that the decision to expel Reade had been Farnell’s alone, as an important act of dissociation.[53] Moreover, the campaign remained largely within the confines of criticism of the Vice-Chancellor and the issue of free speech — there was no attempt to raise the ideological rôle of the university or its lack of democracy.

The CPGB itself had nothing to say about any of these issues. Perhaps it was the leftist, workerist tenor of the Communist times. Oxford was for revolutionaries no more reformable than the House of Lords and the Monarchy, and its commitment to free speech was viewed as a bourgeois illusion. For most members of the CPGB, it was as foreign to their experience as the House of Lords, and the problems it caused could only be resolved by proletarian revolution. And some undoubtedly disapproved of what they regarded as the self-indulgent antics of middle-class whippersnappers. At one stage, Reade had to quote the position of the International ‘in answer to those comrades who have urged that a university Communist journal is of no use to the movement’.[54] Perhaps it was felt that Reade would fare better if he was depicted as a victimised, errant, bourgeois youth, rather than the scion of international Bolshevism. The party press punctuated what still remains a somewhat puzzling almost complete silence with a single, brief and restrained reference in the Communist Review, which could not even get the name of Reade’s journal right.[55] Perhaps even at this early stage, student operations were run in relative isolation from the mainstream of party affairs.

The Free Oxford lingered on into 1922. Attempts to establish it as the journal of the USF came to nothing. Reade’s abrasiveness and emphasis on maximalist revolutionary propaganda did not go down well in all radical quarters. The LSE Socialist Society refused to sell it, and a subsequent motion by Reade to expel it from the Federation was defeated.[56] The paper was expensive to produce, and, left unsubsidised, certainly beyond the resources of the USF. A new project to transform it into a youth paper, The Rebel, supported by the Young Communist International, also came to nothing.

The USF was not growing, and, as the CPGB Second Period’s united front developed, it was seeking to fuse with the Universities’ Labour Federation. This was not to Reade’s liking: in attracting the CPGB, the ILP and unaffiliated lefts, the USF, he claimed, already constituted a united front. The ULF, in contrast, had no interest in mobilising students: it was simply a machine for careerists. In the end, Reade’s disregard of ascendant Labourism proved unjustified: the ULF absorbed the USF. By early 1923, he was complaining that, despite promises from the Youth International, he was still left with debts from The Free Oxford.[57]

Reade and Trotsky

The CPGB registered few gains from this episode, or from other incidents at Oxford later in the decade. When a significant party presence among students emerged after 1933, the revolutionary élan of The Free Oxford was a fading memory. Linked to Popular Frontism, there was a more sober emphasis on broad work, on attempts to win positions, on students’ future lives, and on the need to study hard and get good degrees. The alternative was non-party Communism and espionage.[58]

Reade himself emerged from the affair with a reputation. CPGB leaders believed he and his comrades were young men who would ‘be of real value to the party’.[59] The CPGB’s chairman, Arthur MacManus, praised Reade: ‘I must congratulate you on your stirring fight.’[60] A rising force in the party, Harry Pollitt, wrote to him: ‘We are very pleased at the bold and unconventional line that your paper takes. We feel sure that you will succeed in waking heaps of people that ordinary propaganda activities never reach.’[61] Even his antagonists recognised his ‘genuine talent’, and acknowledged: ‘Mr Reade is a Communist of blazing sincerity.’[62]

He had been a high society revolutionary enjoying the cachet notoriety brought in social circles, crossing swords at weekend house parties with young Conservatives, the better class of Labour MP, such as Sir Arthur Ponsonby, a refugee from the Liberals, and Cabinet Ministers, such as Kellaway, Lloyd George’s Postmaster General. He frequented Bohemian society in Oxford and London.[63] Yet he now expressed disillusion with the intelligentsia and attempts to win them over to Communism:

… their interests were fundamentally opposed to those of the working class. Though they might not be parasites in the ordinary sense living on interest and profit, the capital invested in their education gives them, in effect, a privileged position and a command of surplus value, for example, was a journalist’s work worth £8 8s a week to the community?[64]

That intellectuals as a group — as distinct from radicalised, committed individuals in that group — have no compulsion to struggle with the workers is, of course, the ABC of Marxism.

Having had his 15 minutes of fame, Reade now oriented himself as such an individual towards the working class and working full time for the party in London. But he would not find it easy to shrug off his background, his lifestyle and his sexual orientation. For in the 1920s, Arthur Reade was, or aspired to be, an active homosexual as well as being a heavy drinker and habitué of the less respectable sections of Oxford and London clubland.[65] Whether party members were aware of his sexuality, and, if so, what attitude they took, remains a matter of conjecture. But there was undoubtedly a gulf between political activity among the jeunesse dorée and the more mundane confines of day-to-day party work. Reade was an impetuous and mercurial apprentice intellectual with little experience of organisational constraints or the working class in a proletarian party that was suspicious of intellectuals. Even working-class members who supported Palme Dutt politically ‘regarded him with some suspicion as an intellectual’, while his political opponents among the leadership did not hesitate to use the point for their own purposes.[66] It was to Dutt and his group, based around the LRD and the Labour Monthly, that Reade naturally gravitated.

The next we hear of Reade is in the summer of 1923, publishing reviews in Labour Monthly, and he pops up early the following year, characteristically briefing reporters on the discovery of police spies concealed beneath the stage at the party’s London District Congress, and contributing short pieces to Labour Monthly and Workers’ Weekly.[67] As we have seen, Wicks described Reade as the ‘manager’, or in his interview with Bornstein and Richardson, the ‘business manager’ of Labour Monthly — there does not appear to be any distinction between the two terms.[68] The official history of the journal published in 1941, however, makes no reference to Reade. Joan Beauchamp, former editor of the conscientious objectors’ journal The Tribunal, who was married to the party’s solicitor, Harry Thompson, is listed as the journal’s first business manager in 1921, and the text continues, ‘some years later (in early 1925) Kay Beauchamp became business manager’.[69]

Reade’s absence turns out to be a small-scale piece of Stalinist suppression. Notes on drafts of the history preserved in Page Arnot’s papers record: ‘Add Joan Beauchamp? AEE Reade?’[70] Letters from Page Arnot to Reade in 1924 refer to ‘your managership of the LM’.[71] It seems that Wicks’ memory did not fail him, and Page Arnot eliminated Reade from history to secure the politically correct Beauchamp succession. Contemporary documents also confirm Wicks’ recollection that Reade was a member of the London District Committee, and ‘in charge of training’.[72] Despite his nomenclature and the reality of ‘Moscow gold’, Reade paid his own way on the Labour Monthly. Like many of the CPGB intellectuals — and unlike its leading proletarians — he seems to have made few demands on the party, living off the £5 a week his mother allowed him while he waited to come into his inheritance.[73]

On Page Arnot’s account, the Labour Monthly was established in 1921 on instructions from the Comintern, mysteriously communicated through the US Communist Party. It was intended to broaden the reach of the party, and initially drew on support from Labour intellectuals such as GDH Cole and trade union leaders such as Robert Williams, as well as party sympathisers such as the landowner, journalist and chronicler of the Russian Revolution, Morgan Phillips Price.[74] Opening its pages to the views of the left in pursuit of the united front, it subjected them, where appropriate and in contrast to many of its successors, to trenchant criticism. Although the journal was financed by the Comintern, formal ownership rested not in the CPGB, but in the Trinity Trust — the commanding presence and Editor Palme Dutt, the diminutive Scottish Secretary of the LRD, Page Arnot, and the Foreign Editor of the Daily Herald, Norman Ewer.[75]

It was in this milieu that Reade’s life in the party developed. If later memories of him at this time as Dutt’s ‘right hand man’ may be exaggerated, Reade took his place as one of Dutt’s protégés and assistants.[76] The ‘nucleus’ around Dutt and his influential partner, Salme Murrik, was with exceptions (notably Pollitt and Percy Glading) made up almost entirely of intellectuals.[77] It included slightly older figures such as Page Arnot, Ewer and Hugo Rathbone, Dutt’s student disciples, Moorhouse and Higgins, and the slightly younger Wintringham and Lydia Packman. Dobb, Allen Hutt — both recently graduated from Cambridge — and Reade constituted the youngest additions.[78]

Dutt’s ambitions did not stop at utilising Labour Monthly to secure intellectual domination of the CPGB and the left. Reade’s early years in the party saw Dutt as the driving force of Bolshevisation, the inspirer of the Dutt-Pollitt report which launched the party on this road, and the architect of an attempt to replace the McManus-Bell-Inkpin leadership with himself and Pollitt. Dutt was over-extended — in January 1923 he also became editor of the new Workers’ Weekly — and as he himself reflected, in this heavily proletarian party the nucleus had too few working-class initiates.[79] By the party congress in 1924, after the Comintern intervened, an accommodation had been reached with the old leadership. Shortly thereafter, Dutt’s illness led to his removal to the continent, although he kept in close contact with the Labour Monthly and with Reade.[80] By that time, the shadow of the struggle in the Russian party was about to fall across Reade’s career in the CPGB.

Reade lived simultaneously in Moscow and Oxford, and he had always been a fervent admirer of Trotsky. The Free Oxford had paid fulsome tribute to the Janus-like duality of revolutionary leadership, to the complementary rôles played in Russia: ‘… by Lenin the statesman and Trotsky the fighter… Trotsky whether as leader of the Red Armies or as the brilliant and biting controversialist gives the revolution its inspiration; Lenin gives the revolution its policy.’[81] He remarked with awe: ‘Perhaps our imagination is dazzled by the grandeur of Trotsky’s attitude.’[82] The front page of the final issue of the journal in 1922 was headed with a quotation from Trotsky: ‘To make the individual sacred we must destroy the social order which crucifies him.’[83] And, in lighter vein, Reade published a revolutionary parody of a current popular tune which reflected the heady atmosphere of the times.


(Tune: K-K-K-Katy)

Trotsky is a Russian Commissar

Trotsky is a proletarian Tsar

He has got an official motor car

Quite a cushy job has Trotsky

Lenin is a statesman so ‘tis said

Zinoviev is indubitably Red

But ask the Mensheviks whom they really dread —

Stammering they cry ‘T-Trotsky’.


T-T-T-Trotsky, beautiful Trotsky

You’re the only Commissar that I adore

When the m-moon shines on the K-Kremlin

I’ll be waiting at the S-S-Soviet door.[84]

If the aristocratic Mr Reade strongly identified with the aristocratic, Jewish kulak, Mr Trotsky, such admiration was common in the CPGB in early 1920s. Reade’s respect for Trotsky, however, seems to have been particularly strong, and, as events would prove, uniquely tenacious.

Macfarlane suggests that the CPGB’s initial reaction to the Russian dispute which flared up in late 1923 was favourable to Trotsky and the Left Opposition.[85] The articles in the party press certainly tried to present a balanced view. They outlined, without criticism, the positions of the Left Opposition, noting that ‘the rigid control of the party has tended to the development of bureaucracy’, that the party apparatus was coming together with the state bureaucracy, and that the issue of democracy and freedom of groups within the party was central and intimately bound up with arguments about economic development. Stalin was described as a ‘defender of the state machine’, and Trotsky praised for his clear statement of the position, his questioning of the prohibition of groups, and his warning that ‘it is criminal to shut one’s eyes to the danger which is presented by the conservative bureaucracy which is itself a fraction’.[86] However, this seems to have been based upon taking as good coin the temporary tactical accommodation to the positions of the Opposition which the Triumvirate of Zinoviev, Kamenev and Stalin deployed, a desire to emphasise the degree of agreement between the two sides, and a lack of detailed up-to-date information. The article published in the March 1924 issue of Labour Monthly has no mention of the condemnation in January of the Opposition by the Russian party majority as propagating ‘a petit-bourgeois deviation from Leninism’.[87]

The death of Lenin in January had pushed forward the development of ersatz Leninism. The Triumvirate were already moving politically to cleanse the French, German and Polish parties. They prepared to impose, via the International, greater direction on its affiliated parties and the model of democratic centralism current in Russia only since 1921, which, in violation of the disputatious history of the Russian party, banned internal groups. For the British party, the crucial change came, not at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern in June 1924, but in the build-up to it. In April, the resolution of the Russian party conference, putting the Opposition beyond the pale, was presented to the CPGB members. They were not to know that the Opposition enjoyed considerable support in Russia, or that some votes had been rigged, but they were not particularly interested in finding out. This problem did not begin with Stalinism, although it was exacerbated by it. The means to greater knowledge of what was happening within Russia were as available in 1924 as in 1934. Only a few miles away, in Paris, Boris Souvarine had already published Trotsky’s The New Course, which contained important statements of the Opposition’s case. Thomas Bell, who was to play a key rôle in the discussion of Trotskyism in the CPGB, attended the French Communist Party’s congress in the spring of 1924, and reported back on the opposition headed by Souvarine, Alfred Rosmer and Pierre Monatte. Max Eastman had left Russia for France with the materials that he was to use in Since Lenin Died. He visited London, where his sister Chrystal was living, in the summer of 1924, and he corresponded with British Communists. It was, as so often, not so much a matter of ‘couldn’t have known’, as ‘didn’t want to know’. The political position, if unclear, was far from as obscure as so many later on made out, although its proper address was worlds beyond the provincial mindset of most British Communists. The natural reaction was to go along with the majority. Had they harboured doubts, on hand to offer advice at the CPGB’s Sixth Congress in May were not only Petrovsky, the Comintern representative in Britain, but a sample of the new international leadership: Ruth Fischer, the beneficiary of the toppling of Heinrich Brandler as leader of the German party, and the hardened French opportunist, Marcel Cachin.[88]

As Macfarlane emphasises, the British leadership had no intention of initiating a debate within the membership prior to the Comintern Congress, and the issues were not discussed at the party gathering. Petrovsky, however, addressed the first meeting of the new Central Committee ‘on two of the principal questions arising before the World Congress, the German retreat and the controversy in the Russian Communist Party’. The Politbureau subsequently held a joint session with the party delegates to the World Congress. The die was cast, and in Moscow the delegation, without any mandate from the members, supported the anathema on the Opposition, stiffened, no doubt, by what had happened to oppositionists in France and Poland, and by Zinoviev’s comments that in Britain the Comintern might have to look for alternatives to the CPGB in constructing a mass party. By the end of 1924, the British party leadership, critically dependent on Comintern finance to maintain their apparatus and to pay for their press, were infuriated by rumours that the Russians were to finance a new left-wing trade union paper in Britain, independent from the CPGB.[89] When the struggle resumed late in 1924 with the publication of Trotsky’s The Lessons of October, there was little possibility of the leadership changing track, although the members now had the belated opportunity to discuss the issue.[90]

The CPGB’s leaders never supported Trotsky in the dispute. The problem is not why they did not support the Opposition — taking all the circumstances into consideration, such an outcome was extremely unlikely — but why there was so little debate and no significant dissent at any level of the party. In their lack of interest in the issues, however, the British Communists were not unusual. Mustering his recollections in the early 1950s, the US party leader and founding figure of Trotskyism in that country, James P Cannon, a man whose memory for these matters was sharp, recalled that before 1928 there was ‘literally no one in the American party who might be considered a “Trotskyite”, or even a sympathiser of Trotsky’s position’. Cannon remembered himself as a true believer in the Russian party, ‘a convinced Cominternist’: ‘I had faith in the wisdom and also in the fairness of the Russian leaders.’[91] It is difficult to disagree with general explanations in terms of the weakness and lack of theoretical sophistication of the CPGB, deference to the Russian leaders, and dependence — particularly financial dependence — upon them.[92] The overarching priority was defence of the threatened workers’ state, and the danger of divisions, which Trotsky was perceived as creating, undermining that defence. Yet in the small, weak, Belgian party there was extended debate, and the majority of the leadership supported the Opposition into 1927.[93] The specific conjunctural condition of the CPGB deserves at least some attention.

Eric Hobsbawm notes that in 1921-22 the Praesidium of the International discussed the CPGB and its situation more than a dozen times, more frequently than any other affiliate bar the French, German, Italian and Hungarian parties. The meeting in Moscow in 1923, which arbitrated between the leadership factions, reaffirmed for all sections and the members who took an interest the Comintern as the final court of appeal. Thereafter its representatives were in regular contact with the CPGB, particularly over the question of the Labour government — criticising, schooling and adjusting their politics.[94] There was little conflict. The CPGB was organically acculturated to accepting the Comintern as the ultimate political authority. And there was constant pressure on the leadership to reflect trends within the Comintern. After her visit in 1924, Ruth Fischer produced a report that was critical of the limited Bolshevisation in Britain which the German delegation at the World Congress was mandated to support. The members were also under intensive pressure. As internal change proceeded and Bolshevisation was stepped up with the move from the geographical branch to the workplace group, critics claimed that the result was an overworked, fragmented, ignorant and passive membership. ‘Ceaseless work’, JT Murphy asserted, meant members had no time for reading or education. In dismissing Pollitt’s complacent response, Tommy Jackson recorded the decline of discussion and the growth of ‘the ignorant member’ expected only to execute orders.[95]

If in these estimations there is an element of breast-beating, zealous self-criticism and thus inflation, there is no reason to doubt the very real problems that the party faced. Until a sudden influx of recruits in the autumn of 1924, the party had fewer than 3500 members; on the account of MacManus himself, morale was low, and progress since 1920 was slight. Ernest Cant, the London Organiser of the CPGB since its foundation, painted an unprepossessing picture of metropolitan members as ‘robots’. Less than half maintained contact with the area groups, many had little understanding of the motions they moved in the labour movement, and ‘hundreds’ were too busy selling Workers’ Weekly to read it.[96] These members were unlikely to pore over the small print at the back of the Labour Monthly to find out more about the situation in Russia, still less raise such issues at area meetings. For as one Londoner, uneasy at the time, later reflected:

Since our reorganisation, any discussion of international questions had become a rarity… Despite the declared desire for monthly aggregate meetings the demands of the group meetings on members meant less and less opportunity for the exchange and clash of opinion. The membership felt the loss of political life that the old style branch meeting gave them.[97]

The changes threw up prominent defectors. These, in turn, produced a desire to close ranks. This was strengthened by the fact that although many workers left, the spotlight was firmly on ‘fickle intellectuals’ unable to accept enhanced party control of their activities. Criticism of the party by ‘renegades’ and ‘professional deserters’, such as Phillips Price, Postgate, Walton Newbold, the Horrabins and Ellen Wilkinson, reinforced the siege mentality and a belief in the inability of individualistic intellectuals to accept discipline.[98] This was stiffened by the continuing shift in the centre of political gravity towards the right, and in the labour movement towards a Labour Party which increasingly drew the line against the CPGB. In one sense, the party had already had its opposition — even if it took an individual, fragmented, form. To the great annoyance of CPGB leaders, Phillips Price, Postgate and JF Horrabin took up the cudgels for Trotsky, and supported his analysis of what was happening in Russia, as they may well have done had they remained in the CPGB. But they never took up the political thrust of his policies. As events were to demonstrate, their support was to prove personalised, shallow and transient.

But finally and materially, there was the crushing and constraining reliance of the CPGB’s leadership on funding from the controllers of the Comintern in the Russian party, and the warning note that the recent reallocation of subsidy — with more cash earmarked for the districts and the paper, and less for the leadership — sounded. In this situation, it is less surprising that no section of the CPGB championed either informed debate, inner-party democracy in Russia and Britain, or the leader of the Red Army. In contrast with Rosmer, Souvarine, Van Overstraeten or, very briefly, the ‘Four Ws’ who led the Polish party, the most that the leaders of the CPGB could produce were a few quickly suppressed qualms at taking sides on the basis of inadequate information. This is clear from the minutes of the Party Council meeting of 30 November 1924 reproduced below (Document 3). It is pertinent that the council was projected as a wide representative body at which members appointed by districts would interact with members of the Central Committee. The minutes suggest that it was dominated by the leadership: the picture presented here is of a leadership determined to execute the Comintern line unobstructed by a relatively docile rank and file.

The Politbureau and Central Committee on 28-29 November had already offered the Russians their own censure of Trotsky for reopening the discussion closed by the Russian party and the Comintern earlier in the year. They did so partly on the initiative of Harry Pollitt: ‘The matter in question was raised in the report from Comrade Pollitt who had just returned from the Comintern and was regarded as of some urgency.’ Earlier that year, Pollitt had joined MacManus as a British representative on the Comintern’s Executive. But the Comintern did not need to wait upon Pollitt’s bringing the urgent message from Moscow. Its representatives were already in London, directly drafting policy statements on Trotsky for the CPGB. In December 1924, Albert Inkpin, the party’s General Secretary, wrote to Petrovsky in Moscow stating that Comrades Schueller, probably Richard Schüller, the Austrian representative on the Comintern Executive, and Ewert, presumably Arthur Ewert, a leading German Communist and later a well-known Comintern agent, had prepared a statement which formed the basis for the motion that was carried at the Politbureau and Party Council (see Document 2).[99]

Tom Bell’s introduction to the motion at the Party Council meeting affirms his lack of information and understanding of the position in Moscow on the part of the British representative to the Comintern. His contributions represent a regression on the statements published earlier in the year. Despite his responsibilities, he has not read what Trotsky wrote. He is dependent on the partisan statements of the Triumvirate. Even now, he states that it is only ‘at a later date that we can get some idea as to what is actually transpiring in the Russian party’. For Bell, lack of knowledge of the facts should not constrain Communists from passing judgement. He is speaking in support of a resolution which declares ‘implicit faith in the Communist Party of Russia and the Executive Committee of the Communist International’ (my emphasis). He is giving expression somewhat prematurely to important ingredients of Stalinism. While Bell asserts that he is only concerned with the issue of discipline, he swiftly proceeds to a crude critique of Trotsky’s political positions. His confusion is clear. In contrast with the earlier statements in the CPGB’s press, including his own, he now claims that Trotsky’s support is based upon the burgeoning bureaucracy and new members, and he identifies the great internationalist with the first sprouts of ‘socialism in one country’. All that can be said in its favour is that this tawdry performance is motivated by a desire for unity and avoidance of dissension which can weaken the Soviet Union and the World Communist Movement.

That there were initially healthy reactions can be seen from Jack Cohen’s view that further evidence is needed, and from Jock Wilson’s hesitations. But the future takes shape in the speeches of Gallacher — echoing the resolution’s ‘implicit faith’, it is the Russian leaders’ view that matters, Murphy — whatever his motives, Trotsky is a liquidationist and a magnet for opportunists — and Stewart — the names of Lenin and Trotsky must be separated. And it is there in Bell’s ignorant, exasperated and dangerous closure: ‘… there is in our ranks yet a large element of the democratic mind who do not like to come to decisions until they have got all the facts before them.’

The truth of these last sentiments was confirmed when, on receiving the report of their delegate, the London District Committee refused to place discipline above truth. They registered a protest against the council taking such a decision before the matter had been discussed in the districts — and on inadequate facts. The leadership was also concerned. Bell wrote to the Comintern expressing irritation that the CPGB had still not received the promised translation of Trotsky’s preface. In consequence, he emphasised, some members, largely ‘intellectuals’, were finding it difficult to declare their support. This straight talk contradicted the leadership’s earlier statements that they possessed ‘the fullest possible information’ on the controversy.[100] The Russian leaders, of course, had no interest in providing such a translation, and the CPGB had only a ‘fact sheet’ compiled by the triumvirate and press reports from which to judge the issues. At this stage, the spotlight turned once again onto Arthur Reade: he would now enjoy a second 15 minutes of fame. Still weeks short of his twenty-third birthday, Reade remained a relatively junior member of the party. Despite his interest in journalism, his most extended published work in its press consisted of a discussion of the plays of Shaw and the German revolutionary, Ernst Toller.[101] But his rôle in training classes was leading him towards a more intense study of Marxism, and to greater contact with working-class members of the CPGB:

Tall, with a fine physique and ginger beard, he was admired by us members of the Young Communist League in Battersea for the talks he gave us on Marxism… one of our popular pamphlets, that was published in Moscow by the Young Communist International, was My Flight From Siberia by Trotsky. Arthur Reade to us youngsters fitted into the pattern of the young revolutionary, audacious and committed to the cause.[102]

Unlike the party leadership, unlike almost everybody else in the party, Reade had sought out and studied as much of the documentation as he could. He was helped by his ability to read French and a little German, although he was not the only party member able to do this. He had discussed the dispute in the Russian party in party classes, and he now tried to crystallise these doubts in the London District.[103] At this stage, some members of the committee retreated before what would clearly become a confrontation with the party leadership. But Reade was given permission to enter the firing line himself, and to present a motion to the coming London Aggregate supporting the Russian Opposition (see Document 5).

The fullest accounts we have of this small but intriguing milestone in the history of British Communism are from the report in Workers’ Weekly and Reade’s subsequent correction (see Documents 3 and 4). It is worthy of note that although Reade’s motion received only a handful of votes, the motion to adjourn the debate to allow for more information and reflection was only defeated by 81 votes to 65. This demonstrates anxiety and unease at the manner in which the Murphys and Rothsteins demanded Trotsky be condemned unread, and is surprising in view of the leadership’s authority and the developing campaign against Trotskyism. The Party Council had been followed by the attempts of the leadership to publicise their position, with Bell again asserting that Trotsky’s support rested ‘on bureaucrats and the NEP men’, and William Rust hotly denying that Trotsky was the hero of the youth.[104] In the London debate, we again find Murphy, Rothstein and Page Arnot employing what were to become familiar arguments: Lenin and Trotsky ‘had been in continuous opposition for 25 years’, documents showing the Russian leadership in a bad light were forgeries, and Trotskyism was the province of intellectuals and students, not workers.

Under what can only have been intimidating conditions, Reade stood alone. Not one of his comrades even suggested, at least publicly, the need for more information on what was happening. He did his best to establish the one-sidedness of the information used by the leadership, and to outline the positions of the opposition, but was able to win over only a tiny minority. The performances of Rothstein, who had just returned from Moscow, and Page Arnot, who had just been invited to go by the Comintern, suggest the already sorry plight of the party intellectuals. Overall, the episode incarnated the conformity of the CPGB, its derivative, dogmatic thinking, its lack of interest in ‘theoretical’ issues of immediate importance to the future of world revolution, and the subordination of its intellectuals — characteristics which now won it Zinoviev’s dubious praise for its ‘conscientious’ execution of instructions, and which were to endure for most of its history.[105]

Against this background, Reade’s sense of intellectual and political responsibility stands out, as well as his courage: he tried to find out what was happening, make his own mind up on the issues, and convince his comrades. Reade’s love of the limelight and romanticism about the revolution was undoubtedly there, and the old desire to kick against the pricks played a part. But Page Arnot’s accusation that Reade’s position had no political basis was phrase-mongering by a man who seems uncomfortable in his own skin, wary of his own social background. In his idealised view of the Soviet Union, Page Arnot himself could be accused of romanticism — in later decades a macabre romanticism. The weakness of the support for Trotsky was certainly emphasised by the fact that for a champion he had to rely on the youthful, immature Reade, who possessed no independent base in the party, and whose inexperience comes through. Even to begin to assemble a small group of supporters in such situations usually requires a measured approach, patience and a long-term strategy. Reade was temperamentally unsuited to the tactical silence, the subterranean struggle and the long haul. By contrast, he remained wedded to the frontal assault. He seems to have gone in all guns blazing, a one-man blitzkrieg, assailing the Triumvirate in a fashion not likely to appeal to the vast majority of his audience. Rather than taking up what was at this stage the firmest tactical ground, and concentrating on the need for more information and more debate, he moved on somewhat inconsistently to demand total support for the Opposition, whose positions in a complex and obscure situation were unknown or caricatured, and were condemned for the majority of those to whom he was appealing (see Document 5).

Reade had to pay the bill. At this stage in the CPGB’s development, expulsion was still too harsh a penalty for criticising the Russian leadership. But the position of the CPGB leadership as stated by Rothstein after the debate was unforgiving. The minority who wanted more information about the Opposition had ‘a terrible deal to learn yet before they became real Communists’. The smaller group supporting Trotsky were ‘anti-Communist and anti-party’, imperilling the Soviet Union, and, unless they repented, on their way out of the party.[106] The Politbureau moved swiftly to relieve Reade of his positions in the party on the grounds of his attack on Zinoviev and Kamenev, and apparently also on the grounds that he had violated the Russian party’s decision that Lenin’s Testament should not be referred to in any way (see Document 5).

Reade’s difficulties intensified when he received a carefully worded ‘comradely’ letter from Page Arnot at the end of January 1925. The letter referred to past dissatisfaction with Reade’s conduct of Labour Monthly and his erratic work habits, although it mentioned that he had been affected by illness. Page Arnot invoked Dutt:

… who put it to you in a conversation a year or more ago that you could not go on indefinitely in an irresponsible and non-revolutionary way of working: that if you were to be really useful to the party you would have to build up something more than is afforded by cleverness and quickness and power of rapid assimilation. The fact that you possess both a forceful and likeable personality was simply a snare to yourself. To become a good party member meant for you, severe mental self-discipline which you showed no tendency towards developing.[107]

In Page Arnot’s mind, these problems, to which he also called as witness Hugo Rathbone, leader of Reade’s party group, were inextricably bound up with Reade’s recent defence of Trotsky:

Now, whilst this was urgent before, it has become in the last 10 days something to be decided immediately. Your resolution went right against the decisions printed in the last number of the Communist International. You know what I said about it — that it should be considered as romanticism and that a romantic might become a very good Communist. (That is I treated it as irresponsible.) But just as from the one or two fragmentary talks I have had with you since, I feel that you must begin immediately to grow out of romanticism in a Communist direction, or you will find yourself going straight in a non-Communist direction… Why do I put these two things together, the LM and the resolution? Because they arise from the same cause. You are one of the university youth who have come into a workers’ party. Birth, Eton and Oxford are a hell of a heritage to get rid of. You have felt that I think. But you have tried to get rid of them by becoming a Bohemian not a Bolshevik…[108]

There is no reason to doubt that Reade’s mercurial temperament, his lifestyle and heavy drinking, what Page Arnot termed his ‘Bohemianism’, made him a far from perfect manager. Yet although Page Arnot denied recent events were the primary cause of the letter, Reade’s political stand earlier that month was clearly the igniting factor in what was a carefully worded warning. For Page Arnot, Reade’s resolution was illegitimate simply because it contradicted Comintern decisions. Romanticism and disregard of the realities of power and the harsh necessities of Soviet survival were intimately related to such indiscipline. It was an affliction to which those from Reade’s or Page Arnot’s background were prone, and needed to be guarded against. The letter was partly prompted by Page Arnot’s need to dissociate himself and his fellow intellectuals from Reade politically, and, if Reade persisted, physically. Given the precarious position of intellectuals in the party, it would not have helped their cause to be seen harbouring a heretic.

The political patronage which Dutt had extended to those in the CPGB who supported Trotsky in the mid-1920s and early 1930s is sometimes pondered. Unlike Rothstein, the currier of favour with the Comintern and the intellectual as mouthpiece par excellence, Dutt thought independently, and sometimes dissented. In 1926, of course, he surprisingly championed Trotsky’s writings. But, on the evidence we have, the politics of this most able of the party intellectuals were always bounded by what the Comintern — and later Stalinism — would bear. In 1924, as in 1932, Dutt gave no succour to oppositionists he had earlier nurtured. There were firm limits to his pursuit of the truth. The conception of a revolutionary intellectual cherished by Dutt and Page Arnot already entailed cerebral subservience to the Kremlin. In the light of their future, perhaps Reade had a lucky escape. He certainly showed no sign of taking Page Arnot’s advice. He submitted a long and strongly-worded appeal to the Central Committee against the disciplinary measures taken against him. It demonstrated once again — at least if he seriously wished to prosecute his cause within the CPGB — a lack of political acumen (see Document 5). He continued to defy the party leadership. He received an invitation to state his case to the South-West London local. Admonished by the Executive, the local stood its ground, and its behaviour was branded as ‘tantamount to factionalism within the party’ by the Politbureau. Reade was removed to North London, and loyalists were drafted into South London. He remained isolated within the party as the anti-Trotsky campaign developed, although he had planted some seeds which were to sprout in the future.[109]

In the meantime, the party took to heart the Comintern’s criticism of its lack of public exposure of Trotsky. MacManus secured a vote in the Tottenham local endorsing the leadership’s position, and promptly despatched the news to Moscow as symptomatic of rank-and-file feeling. Bell assured the International’s Executive that in Britain softness on Trotsky was the preserve of intellectuals, and Ewer took the campaign into the Daily Herald as well as the party press.[110] It cannot have been easy for Reade to work in such a politically hostile environment. On 8 April, he was informed by Page Arnot: ‘Ewer and I had a further conversation in which we agreed, especially in view of this month’s incident, that you must cease as soon as practicable your managership of the LM.’[111] Closing the door on any final appeal, he noted that the third trustee, Palme Dutt, had given him the power to take this decision. The incident referred to was a delay in the printing of that month’s issue because Reade had not settled outstanding debts. But Reade’s very presence in the engine room of the CPGB’s intellectuals was an embarrassment, and a parting of the ways was inevitable. On 25 April, the Control Commission rejected his appeal, concluding ominously that ‘his conduct amply justifies his removal from any responsible position in the party if not indeed from the party itself’ (see Document 5). The following day the Central Committee accepted the report.

As the anti-Trotsky campaign gathered momentum with the indictment of Max Eastman’s Since Lenin Died and the publication of the Russian Errors of Trotskyism, with an introduction by Murphy, there was still little interest in understanding what was happening within the CPGB — Maurice Dobb was a prominent exception.[112] The Russians’ invocation of ‘steel-like unity and iron discipline’ over the issue was the order of the day.[113] At the Seventh Party Congress at the end of May 1925, the resolution supporting the Russian party in its ‘estimation of the principles of Trotskyism and the measures taken to combat them’ was passed ‘unanimously without discussion’. Bell observed: ‘The demand for fractions was the most serious of all the crises against which the party had to fight… Groups and fractions are not merely differences of opinion but are tantamount to a struggle for power.’[114] The course was set for both political subordination to Moscow, and a democratic centralism devoid of meaningful democracy, an organisational form and a party culture antagonistic to earlier Marxist traditions.

Bell then pronounced the last rites on both Reade and the disease to which he had succumbed.

Only in one centre of the party did we find any germs of Trotskyism and that was in London. This element was merely a tiny fraction and did not count for very much. The Political Bureau dealt with the matter very energetically and removed from his post the particular comrade who was responsible for raising the matter.[115]

The last sentence pointed to the future.

At the congress and in the branches, there was silence over the issue. There is the tantalising reference to discussion of the Opposition’s case in the proletarian Dundee branch. The London District Committee expressed its doubts over the leadership’s handling of the issue. In St Pancras, whose records uniquely survive in Britain, there were two initiatives in the party local. In February 1925, a resolution was sent from a group to the local committee explicitly requesting Reade’s reinstatement on the District Committee and in the Training Department, if he accepted party decisions. It demanded that ‘the matter be thrashed out in the local’. The response was that as the District Committee had accepted the Politbureau’s disciplining of Reade, the matter could not now be reopened. Three months later, a resolution to a members’ aggregate calling for education about ‘the dangers of Trotskyism’ was somewhat ironically condemned by leadership elements on the committee as a veiled attempt to reopen the discussion held in January. The resolution’s supporters argued that doubts still remained in members’ minds, while the leadership’s attempts to refute Eastman’s arguments had not been successful. The vote was tied, and the resolution was only lost on the chairman’s casting vote. The Moscow archives may eventually yield more. But on the documentation we currently possess, there is little evidence of interest among workers or intellectuals. Indeed one local party committee, where the latter were strongly represented, protested at the amount of coverage the Workers’ Weekly gave to the matter at the expense of the coverage of workers’ struggles.[116] The trahison de clercs, and the emergence of CPGB intellectuals as servants of power, was well underway.

Discussion, as distinct from excoriation, of the Opposition now became the prerogative of the non-party left and journals such as Plebs.[117] Reade, however, drew a firm line between ‘Trotsky Communists’ and those, notably Postgate, whom he saw as utilising the controversy to attack the party rather than change its policy (see Document 6). There is no evidence that Reade was expelled from the CPGB. Almost completely isolated within the party, he had clearly had enough, although Eastman was still hammering away outside. In the summer of 1925, he left for Greece. But he left something behind him. Harry Wicks came to Trotskyism in 1930-31. Half a century on, he relived the London Aggregate of January 1925, branded forever on his memory:

I didn’t speak. I wasn’t knowledgeable enough to speak, but I remember it vividly, JT Murphy and Rothstein speaking so vehemently against Trotsky. That was my first experience of the ideas. Now from that moment onwards, I was politically interested in Trotsky’s ideas. I wasn’t committed because I didn’t know enough about them, but I consider I studied them more than most.[118]

Wicks was the living link between the struggle of Arthur Reade and the later Trotskyist tradition in Britain.

Reflecting on Reade

The CPGB’s first substantial involvement in student politics and its first engagement with Trotskyism have both been neglected by historians. They are linked by the fleeting figure of Arthur Reade, who likewise deserves more attention — although his progress across the Balkans into the Labour Party and thence the New Party, and his final encounter with Farnell, must await another occasion. This is part of the recent neglect of the early years of the CPGB in the wake of the pioneering efforts of historians in the 1960s and 1970s. Yet the period is of immense significance for the history of British Communism. For it was then, as the sense of the immediacy of 1917 and the immanence of revolution faded, that myopia set in regarding Russia; dependence on the organisational methods and politics of the Russian leaders hardened; a one-sided Moscow-dominated internationalism, disabling to the prospects of British Socialism, began to be consolidated; and, despite the turn to the united front, barriers were erected against the mainstream of the labour movement.

Reade was a child of the First Period who experienced these changes, and perhaps if he had had a less exciting and precocious induction into politics, or remained to a lesser extent his own man, he might have embraced them. He might have accepted the discipline demanded by Page Arnot, closed his mind, and quietened his doubts. In consequence, he might have followed Page Arnot and Dutt into enduring Stalinism, or, like Wintringham, he might have peeled off at some convenient stopping point in the tortuous itinerary of the CPGB. Instead, he lived by the spirit of 1917. But his own later isolation from the labour movement affirms that for somebody in this situation there were no easy choices. Reade was never a significant figure in the history of Communism. Like so many others, his engagement with revolutionary politics was an episode in his life. He had little influence in the CPGB, and did not go on to attempt to construct an alternative Communism, although, again, we are still grappling with the questionable nature of the influence of those who did continue on the revolutionary road.

Unlike so many others who quietly slipped away from the early CPGB, Reade has left us with a record of his reasons. Looking at the record, it would be wrong to dismiss him as a youthful bourgeois idealist, perhaps prefiguring the connection beloved by later Stalinists between student radicalism, Trotskyism and other forms of leftism. Reade, like other intellectuals, came to Communism through the conviction that 1917 provided the answer to the barbarism of the First World War, rather than through personal experience of exploitation. His politics retained a strong dash of individualism and idealism. But a degree of romanticism remains important to any authentic radical politics, and he also coherently embraced and expounded an alternative path for Socialist development in the Soviet Union. He is worth remembering because, unlike those whose own brand of romanticism led them to support bureaucracy, he alone spoke out for democracy. He refused the alluring incantation, ‘discipline’, when he firmly believed it was discipline for the wrong purposes. He is worth memorialising, not for what he achieved, but because his lack of achievement illuminated the ranks of conformity and suggested, without of course determining, the kind of party the CPGB would become.


I: Minutes of the Party Council, 30 November 1924[119]

T Bell:[120] This resolution is not an ordinary fraternal resolution of greetings or otherwise to the Russian Communist Party or the Communist International. It has a very serious political implication, and carries an obligation on the part of the Communist Party in this country. The resolution was arrived at in no mechanical way, but had been discussed at considerable length at the meeting of the Political Bureau on Friday and also at the Executive Committee meeting yesterday. The resolution is one in which we are indicating, as we are entitled to indicate, our view of the discussion as we see it and understand it. It is to be remembered we are bound to express our opinion as an integral part of the International.

It is understood that we are at considerable disadvantage owing to language difficulties, and also that it is only at a later date that we can get some idea as to what is actually transpiring in the Russian Party. What happens to the Russian Party happens to the whole Communist International, and therefore happens to the Communist Party of Great Britain. In this particular light, we are at a considerable disadvantage to the extent that we have not the actual text of the preface which Trotsky has written to the book on 1917. We did our best to gather together the substance of the discussion as far as we could get it from Inprecorr, the foreign press and from Comrade Pollitt.[121]

Now, in the basis of the whole of this discussion in Russia is a very serious implication, and it is of very great importance to the Communist Party of this country as well as the Communist Parties throughout the whole International. In substance, it has been a struggle of the bureaucracy which has been a necessary growth of the transition period. We have had after the severe dose of civil war, ideas of liquidation — no more strife, etc. Naturally, those elements that grew up with the state apparatus, the bureaucrats, do not like to be troubled by revolutionary convulsions or by international obligations. Some of the strongest forces the Republic has had to combat have been the bureaucrats who simply wanted to fit into a nice comfortable job without the inconvenience of revolutionary activity.

Then the influx of new party members who had not grown up in the spirit of Leninism, and who were simply imbibing the new political ideas which are more or less coloured by the transition period. You had round about the romance of Trotsky the elements who did not want any revolutionary activities, and who are not looking beyond the confines of Soviet Russia for a working-class revolution. And this explains to a certain degree the source of Trotsky’s strength within the confines of the Republic, and at the same time indicates the weakness of allowing any propaganda or political agitation or education along those lines being permitted without being severely combated.

The discussion more or less ranged very severely in the months of December and January, and was finally brought to a conclusion with the death of Lenin. The death of Lenin symbolised a critical situation which may very well make for the ending of the Republic as a whole unless there was put before the imperialists a solid block, and it was agreed at the Thirteenth Congress of the Russian Communist Party that the discussion must close. This attitude was also endorsed by the Communist International at the Fifth Congress, and an opportunity was given to Trotsky in order that he might be able to state his case and have no excuse whatever for suggesting that he was being closed in any peremptory manner. Trotsky declined to take advantage of this opportunity.

It is agreed that Kamenev and Zinoviev made a mistake during the Revolution. It is agreed that many mistakes were made. In particular periods, Lenin stood alone against the whole party and the whole Central Committee. It has been pointed out by Comrade Lenin that the mistakes that were made by Comrades Zinoviev and Kamenev were mistakes that were acknowledged, and posts [were] given to them in very responsible positions.[122] The question of Trotsky, it seems to us, is a question of discipline. We are not arguing or discussing the ideological approach of Trotsky to the question as a whole. Our party is concerned fundamentally with the question of discipline. This is really the question in the light of the growing strength of reaction in the imperialist position. It might be mentioned that members of the Political Bureau are not obliged to submit any particular preface they might write to the Central Committee. This explains how the preface came to be written. It is regarded that this preface is an attempt by Trotsky to reopen the case which it was agreed was closed. So seriously has the party regarded this breach of the decision of the party congress and the Communist Inter­national that it was seriously discussed in the Central Committee whether or not Trotsky should be expelled, but it was considered in all its aspects and agreed that in preference to expulsion, the views of Trotsky should be combated throughout the whole of the party, in discussion, propaganda, by books, pamphlets, and generally speaking to fight Trotsky ideologically rather than by arbitrarily expelling him for breach of discipline.

So far as our party is concerned, we see in Trotsky’s action a continuance of this discussion, and we are concerned especially when we see The Times and other leading organs of the capitalists in this country seriously putting extracts from Trotsky’s ‘Preface’ and taking serious note of the dissensions and discussions that are going on in the party in Russia with a view to trying to make capital out of these dissensions and strengthen their position in this country as well as in Russia. It is quite clear that if the Russian Communist Party, which is the vanguard of the Revolution there can be split into two and divided against itself, that is a direct incitement and encouragement to the petty speculators, to the bureaucrats, to the liquidators, and all the elements within the Republic which are Menshevik in character, and encourage and help to strengthen any elements of capitalism that still obtain there. As we have viewed it in the Political Bureau, the demand of the imperialists in this country is that Zinoviev should go, for Zinoviev is responsible for preventing the necessary lines to be afforded, and generally speaking, Zinoviev is standing in the way of a better understanding between the Russian people and the peoples of other countries.

It simply means that in addition to that, the Second Internationalists, who are the most inveterate enemies of the Communist International and the Russian Revolution, are making capital out of those dissensions for the purpose of trying to combat and fight the growing influence of the Communist Party in all countries throughout the world. It is very necessary that we should take a stand upon this question that we consider the discussion is closed. We consider that if this discussion is allowed to go on, it would strengthen the British imperialists in their attitude with regard to Soviet Russia. We are given to understand that Comrade Trotsky, throughout the whole of his career has always been at variance and stood aloof, but at the present time he stands apart from them to a degree. The same applies to Comrade Radek after the severe criticism that was directed at him at the Fifth Congress. We consider that the spirit of Bolshevism is that no member of the party who disagrees with the main organs of the party should be allowed to stand aloof, but should be rather brought into new activities if necessary, but in any case kept in the closest cooperation with the main body of the International in order to indicate to the main opponents that there is no question of such dissension that is likely to split the party, and whatever differences we may have in tactics this should not be allowed to stand in the way of presenting a united front against imperialism. I am certain if we send a resolution of this character to the Communist Interna­tional it will indicate to them that the British party is alive to its obligations as a section of the International.

During the discussion Comrade Webb[123] stated that it was very pleasing to have evidence brought before the Party Council that our party leadership reacts in this way to both domestic and international affairs. It is very important that the Communist Party should reflect upon the measure of aid to the Leninist organisation in Russia against this very cleverly disguised Menshevism which is at the present moment symbolised in the person of Comrade Trotsky. We have evidence previously of discussions in Russia in last December that on every fundamental question Comrade Trotsky had not become a Leninist at all on very important questions like the peasantry, and he held the opinion in 1905 that because of the attitude of the Bolsheviki towards the peasantry that [sic] would develop into a party of the petit-bourgeoisie instead of a party of the proletariat. The capitalists are seeking for means of finding some means of attacking the Union of Soviet Republics, and it is necessary for them that they should find some spearhead inside Russia, and the activities of Comrade Trotsky are such that they will act as a spearhead for the liquidation of the Russian Communist Party, the Communist International and the Union of Soviet Republics. We Communists here have to take a very definite stand.

Comrade Cohen[124] suggested that the Party Council was not in possession of sufficient evidence to say that the Party Council sees in Trotsky’s preface a reopening of the discussion that had been closed by the World Congress.

Comrade MacManus,[125] as chairman, made it clear that we were not called upon to pass an opinion upon the preface, but as to whether the discussion should be opened despite the decision of the Communist International.

Comrade Wilson[126] did not consider that Trotsky had reopened the discussion, but agreed with the resolution on the grounds that he had no right to write such a preface containing matter that might cause dissension, without reference to the Central Committee, and suggested that the resolution should be altered so that we would be carrying a resolution in the light of actual facts in our possession. The statement that Trotsky is aiming at the liquidation of the RCP is absolutely ridiculous.

Gallacher[127] stated that the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party considered that Trotsky is attempting to reopen this discussion. If there is a split in the Russian Communist Party that means the end of the Communist International. If you take up the stand that Trotsky should have submitted the preface to the Political Bureau, then you are taking the wrong stand, because every member of the Political Bureau has the right to publish books and pamphlets without submitting them to the Central Committee.

Comrade Cohen then moved that the words ‘that it is an attack upon the leaders of the Communist International’ should be deleted.

Comrade Murphy[128] said that this could not be supported. The very fact that Trotsky attacks Zinoviev and Kamenev means that we cannot leave this out. Then again with regard to the information we have. We have sufficient information in our possession to enable us to pass a resolution of this character. Then with regard to Trotsky’s motive. I would not say that Trotsky’s motive is to liquidate the Communist Party. It is not what our motives are, but it is what are the results of our actions? The question is being opened again — the question of Bulgaria and Germany, which was part of the previous discussion. We cannot simply take it up with this is [sic — as?] an issue of discipline. The revolution at this juncture is at stake. He also referred to a book After Lenin which was being circulated in this country, where the arguments of Comrades Trotsky and Radek[129] are brought out to the exclusion of the leaders of the Communist International.[130]

Comrade Brown[131] emphasised the point that at the Fifth Congress, in spite of all the time that was taken discussing the German and Bulgarian defeats, although Comrade Trotsky was invited to state his case — although Radek stated his case and was heavily defeated, and the whole of the congress was asking when Trotsky was going to speak — he did not come forward. Then we get to a point a few months after when he reopens not only the Russian question, but the question of the responsibility for the defeat in Germany. From that particular point of view we are justified in going forward with the vote of censure proposed by the Central Committee.

Comrade Stewart,[132] who was in Moscow during the time when the discussions took place, stated that at one time it looked as if the Opposition was going to sweep the country, but it was very significant that finally the discussion was confined to the bureau­crats, and the great overwhelming host of the working class lined themselves up with the Central Committee. The fight was alleged to be a fight of the new guard against the old. In this particular instance the method is in an alleged treatise on history to get a criticism of the same old guard and attempt to prove from history that nothing else could be expected but mistakes from people who had made a particular mistake, no matter how much that mistake had been atoned for. An attempt to get the new guard in power. The main slogan of the Fifth Congress was the Bolshevisation of the parties. Trotsky says, how can you Bolshevise the parties under the leadership of men who do not stand the Bolshevik test in the actual revolutionary situation. It is a sinister and difficult thing to combat. And in addition we have this difficulty — that outside Russia the names of Lenin and Trotsky were combined as though they were part of a concrete whole. This we have to combat. I want to congratulate the Political Bureau on the swiftness with which it handled the situation and presented this fairly comprehensive memorial to enable this Party Council to make up its mind as to the actualities of the situation.

Comrade Wilson at this juncture stated that in view of Comrade Stewart’s remarks he would withdraw his amendment to alter the resolution.

Comrade Bell, in summing up, said that we can still say quite fairly that there is in our ranks yet a large element of the democratic mind who do not like to come to decisions until they have got all the facts before them, and that is very often made an excuse for our inertia to follow events. We must learn from this that we must take our international politics seriously. It may mean a crisis thrown upon us when we will not have time to send to Pravda for a translation. He hoped the Party Councillors would utilise this thing and get it circulated as widely as possible amongst the members of the whole party. There is no question of the facts of the trouble. The fact that it was necessary for the Central Committee to publish an article in Pravda — the Moscow Committees of the YCL and Party Committees expressing their opinions — shows the seriousness of the situation.

The resolution was then put and carried unanimously.

II: Extract From Letter from Ramsay to Unnamed Comrades, 3 December 1924[133]

The letter, written in German, begins with general observations, and is critical of the CPGB; it is moving in the right direction, but is politically underdeveloped, and does not take international issues seriously enough. It goes on:

The Russian issue came on the agenda. There was obvious, clear confusion on the Party Executive Committee and the Party Council. Many comrades simply could not grasp why Trotsky had reopened the discussion, and noted that the previous debate had been about the development of bureaucracy in Russia, while the new discussion centred on the Communist International. That shows great ignorance about the recent discussion in Russia and about the Comintern Congress resolution. Other comrades did not wish to take a decision without having Trotsky’s ‘Preface’ in front of them. The discussion was very unsatisfactory. Comrades Murphy, Gallacher and Stewart, especially Stewart, took a very good position. Bell, the discussion leader, hung the entire question on the issue of formal discipline. I helped as much as possible, of course, to clarify the question. The Political Bureau requested that both myself and the German delegate should report on the question, and we did so. Our report was given as a statement of the Political Bureau to the Plenum and the Party Council. The statement and the resolution were adopted.

III: From the Workers Weekly, 23 January 1925

A Splendid Rally of London Members

Keen Discussion on Trotsky

THREE hundred members were present at the London Aggregate meeting held on Saturday last, when the business was to receive the report of the Party Council.

Comrade J Baillie presented the first part of the report covering the need for a mass party; the need for a Communist daily; the trade union activities; the YCL; and women’s organisation.

Several comrades took part in the discussion dealing mainly with factory group organisation and work, and the party responsibility to the YCL.

The whole of the decisions of the Party Council in these respects were unanimously endorsed.

Comrade J Murphy then reported on the Party Council decision re the situation created by Trotsky’s preface to his book 1917. Mentioning the general ignorance of International affairs prevailing amongst the membership in Britain, he recalled the fact that few of our party members would have thought of dissociating Lenin from Trotsky — so closely were they allied in their work during the revolution. Yet it was true that these comrades had been in continuous opposition for 25 years, during which they had been on different sides in a very keen controversy. The problem had to be approached as a political question and not on the grounds of personality. To those who criticised the actions of the Political Bureau for their haste in bringing it before the membership, he would say that the mere fact that Trotsky’s action was a challenge to the International leadership was a sufficient justification. They had heard much about bureaucracy in the Russian party. The fact that in the period following the revolution, when they were applying the New Economic Policy, they had been faced with an intensification of proletarian activity, and also a concentration of the petit-bourgeoisie had meant that extraordinary methods had had to be adopted to safeguard the revolution. Trotsky’s policy would have weakened the hold of the party and destroyed the revolution. Why did we have these continued attacks on Zinoviev and the sudden love for Trotsky? Not because he was a Jew, but because he was the chosen leader of the International. As for the question of bureaucracy, after the Russian CP had solved this matter; and after all the essential points had been conceded by the Central Committee, Trotsky still pursued the subject, would not admit he was wrong; and continued to reopen the discussion.

Comrade Murphy thereupon moved the endorsement of the following resolution:

The Party Council of the Communist Party of Great Britain sees in the preface to Comrade Trotsky’s book 1917 an attempt not only to reopen the discussion closed by the decision of the Thirteenth Congress of the RCP and the Fifth Congress of the Communist International. It is also an open attack upon the present leadership of the Communist International, which, in the opinion of the CPGB, will not only definitely encourage the British imperialists, the bitterest enemies of Soviet Russia, but will also encourage their lackeys of the Second International, and those other elements who stand for the liquidation of the CI and the CP in this country.

The Party Council and the Executive Committee of the CPGB records its solidarity with, and implicit faith in, the Communist Party of Russia and the Executive Committee of the Communist International. Especially is this necessary in this most critical period when the world situation demands the closest cooperation of every member of the Communist International in carrying out the accepted policy of the International.

Comrade Reade then moved the following amendment:

This aggregate meeting of the London District membership of the CPGB joins with the DPC in regretting the hasty vote of the Party Council in condemning Comrade Trotsky without full information: and this meeting at the same time takes the opportunity to express the London membership’s most emphatic support both of the Left Wing Minority’s fight in the Russian party against bureaucracy, and equally of the Comintern’s struggle against all right-wing divergences from Leninism in the French, German, Bulgarian and other sections of the International.

Comrade Pountney[134] on behalf of the DPC explained that the DPC did not accept any responsibility for Comrade Reade’s amendment. So far as the reference to the DPC was concerned, the DPC had certainly felt that there had been a decision without full information; but did not want to confuse the issue by introducing that point at this meeting.

Comrade Reade then spoke on his amendment. Referring copiously to extracts from international journals, he showed that in his opinion Trotsky was justified in wanting to judge revolutionary standards by the attitude of comrades during the 1917 revolution. He pointed out that Trotsky at that time was fighting for the revolution when others were deprecating the struggle. He also pointed out that wide publicity in Inprecorr and other sources had been given to the official side, but that Trotsky’s side had been suppressed. He also referred to an alleged Diary by Lenin in which Lenin is supposed to have criticised the other leaders and enhanced Trotsky’s judgement — which Diary, said Reade, had been suppressed.

This was followed by a statement from Comrade Rothstein, who said that the talk of suppression was all rot. That on the contrary, although Trotsky had made, at his own request, private arrangements for publishing his book, when the wide issues became evident special arrangements had been made to circulate very cheap editions throughout the party membership. He then characterised a letter which Reade had read as a gross forgery, culled from the Menshevik press in Germany.

Comrade RP Arnot then spoke and said that Trotsky’s supporters were not to be found amongst the working class, but amongst the university students, who had become divorced from actualities. He characterised Reade’s attitude as romantic; it had no political basis, but was purely an excitement engendered by the military status of Trotsky.

Comrades Reade and Murphy then replied to the discussion, and on a vote being put the amendment received only 10 votes; and as a substantive motion was carried with 10 dissentients.

IV: From the Workers Weekly, 30 January 1925

Discussion on Trotsky: A Correction

THE account of Comrade Rothstein’s speech at the London District Party Congress printed last week contains the sentence: ‘He then characterised a letter which Reade had read as a gross forgery, culled from the Menshevik press in Germany.’ Instead of this sentence, the following passage should be inserted:

He said it was characteristic of Reade’s anti-party attitude that he should have recourse to arguments based upon a document not intended for publication, and of which the only version available was the garbled and distorted account published in the Menshevik press in Germany. Comrade Rothstein proceeded to show how during the last 20 years Trotsky had again and again fought Lenin and the Bolshevik party at every critical period.

Comrade Reade writes to say that there were 200, not 300, present, and that the motion for the adjournment, which he seconded at one point in the discussion, was defeated only by 81 to 65. Moreover, the final substantive motion had 15 votes recorded against it, not 10.

V: Report of CPGB Control Commission on the Case of AEE Reade[135]

To the Central Executive Committee


At your meeting held on Sunday, 15 March last, you referred to us for consideration and report the appeal of Arthur EE Reade against the decision of the Political Bureau removing him from his position as a member of the London District Party Committee, and from any departmental offices in connection therewith.

We believe that the following is a correct statement of the main incidents leading up to the decision of the Political Bureau:

At the meeting of the Party Council held at Bethnal Green on Sunday, 30 November last, a resolution was moved by Comrade Bell on behalf of the Political Bureau condemning the preface to Trotsky’s book 1917 as an attempt ‘to reopen the discussion closed by the Thirteenth Congress of the RCP and the Fifth Congress of the CI’, and ‘an open attack upon the present leadership of the CI’ which would ‘encourage British imperialists, the bitterest enemies of Soviet Russia’ and also ‘their lackeys of the Second International and those other elements which stand for the liquidation of the CI and the CP in this country’. The resolution further recorded solidarity with and implicit faith in the CP of Russia and the CI, and the necessity of the closest cooperation of every member in a most critical period in carrying out the accepted policy of the International.

The resolution was supplemented by the circulation of a memorandum summarising the preface of Trotsky’s book and the discussion in the RCP.

After some questions to and further explanation from the Political Bureau and discussion mainly concerned, we believe, with the adequacy of the then available information on the subject, the resolution was carried (we think unanimously) and became undoubtedly the highest authoritative party lead.

The resolution was duly reported to the next meeting of the London DPC by Comrade Baillie, its representative on the Party Council (Comrade Reade not being present at the meeting), whereupon the following resolution was carried: ‘That the London DPC protests against the Party Council discussing such a resolution as that on Trotsky without having it previously discussed in the Districts.’

There seems to have been some feeling on the DPC, shared by its representative (Comrade Baillie) at the Party Council, that the resolution had been rushed through, but it is difficult to discover how far this was due to a genuine desire for more information or how far to a pro-Trotsky attitude on the part of some members. According to Reade, Baillie reported that the resolution of the Party Council had been hurriedly passed late in the evening on the sole evidence of a long typewritten document that no one had time to read; and that he did not know why they had voted unless it was the effect of mass hypnotism on tired delegates.

On the resolution of the DPC being communicated to the Political Bureau, the latter replied upholding the right of the Party Council to take decisions on matters not previously discussed by the Districts, that the matter was one of some urgency, and that the fullest possible information had been put before the council.

It was at this point, according to our information, that Comrade Reade became prominent in the matter, moving a resolution at the DPC meeting on 10 December that the DPC was ‘not convinced that it was a matter of such great urgency’. This resolution was carried, and Reade followed it up moving a resolution at the DPC meeting on 7 January, that the DPC put its previous unanimous protest at the EC’s (?Political Bureau’s) action before the London members aggregate meeting to be held on Saturday, 17 January. This resolution was rejected by the DPC, but permission was given to Reade to move a pro-Trotsky resolution at the aggregate meeting, and the Political Bureau were asked to send a representative to the aggregate meeting, which they accordingly did, Comrade Murphy attending.

At the aggregate meeting, the Party Council resolution was put forward for endorsement, and Comrade Reade thereupon moved an amendment ‘joining with the DPC in regretting the hasty vote of the Party Council in condemning Trotsky without full information’, and expressing ‘most emphatic support’ of ‘the Left Wing Minority’s fight in the Russian party against bureaucracy’. After discussion, the amendment was put and received only 10 votes, the Party Council resolution being carried with 10 dissentients.

In the course of his speech for the amendment, Comrade Reade made the attack upon the Comintern leaders, particularly Comrades Zinoviev and Kamenev, which caused the Political Bureau to take the decision against which Reade is now appealing. In his report to the Political Bureau, Comrade Murphy stated that Reade accused the RCP and the CI of suppressing discussion and data hostile to the leaders of the CI; described Zinoviev as a coward who at the Kronstadt rebellion had taken the first train to South Russia, citing in support of his attack a testamentary document of Lenin’s containing very frank criticism of many of the prominent leaders of the Comintern and Russian party which, on the joint decision of the CC and the Control Commission of the Russian party, had been read to the delegations at the party congress, who decided that it should not be published or further referred to in any way. We see no reason for questioning the accuracy of Comrade Murphy’s report.

At its meeting on 28 January at which Comrade Reade attended, and appealed against the decision of the Political Bureau, the London DPC confirmed that decision.

We have carefully considered the appeal lodged by Comrade Reade (which consists of a closely typewritten document of 15 pages) and we do not find in it, or in the further enquiries which we have made (including a personal interview with Reade) any grounds for recommending you to reverse the decision of the Political Bureau. It appears to have been made clear to the London DPC and to Comrade Reade himself that this decision was based primarily upon the reprehensible character of his attacks upon the Comintern and Russian party leadership, and not simply on his taking a pro-Trotsky attitude. We think that in thus stating its reasons, the Political Bureau erred on the side of moderation. In our opinion, it would have been justified, in view of Reade’s pro-Trotsky propaganda, in removing him from his position as DPC member in charge of training; whilst the irresponsible fashion in which he set out to arouse the London membership against the lead given by the Party Council shows him (quite apart from the incident of the aggregate meeting) as quite unfitted to hold any responsible office in the party.

But even if action had been taken on these extended grounds, it would still remain true that the case is not a question of the merits of pro- or anti-Trotskyism, and that Reade was not dealt with simply for holding pro-Trotsky opinions. We have therefore regarded the greater part of his appeal, which is a defence of Trotskyism, as quite irrelevant to the subject of the appeal, and as something with which we are not called upon to deal.[136] So far as his attacks on the leadership are concerned, he does no more than express regret if, in the heat of answering Comrade Murphy’s attack on Trotsky, he lost control of himself to the extent of attacking Zinoviev and Kamenev. Moreover, he couples with this alleged regret the reiteration of such terms and phrases as ‘deserters, strike-breakers and ex-comrades’ (alleged to be quoted from Lenin) ‘who since the death of our leader have made the most unscrupulous use of bureaucratic fractionism [sic] in order to crush all criticism’; who are not to be considered as ‘exempt from the danger of collective dotage’; who exploit the ignorance of party members by long words; who are guilty of falsification, scandal-mongering, etc, etc.

The resolution of the Party Council he describes as a lying and ignorant resolution ‘calculated to deceive the party membership’ — as worthless as a forged cheque which ‘might be the means of profit but only on the basis of fraud’ — drafted by the Political Bureau ‘in order to satisfy the leaders of the International precisely in the spirit that a scab-worker fears his boss… simply to be on the side that paid best’, thus showing that Executive members ‘can only be divided into the sheep who did not think at all, and the goats who acted as office-seekers and careerists’. In fairness to Reade, it should be mentioned that he explains that the above are his ‘frank’ views of the Political Bureau ‘which, of course, I should never think of putting to any open meeting’.

Reade endeavours to maintain that his attack on personalities is not an attack on the party or the Comintern, and he claims the right to criticise and attack where he conceives the lead to be against the interests of the party. This point might be conceded, with important qualifications, if his attack had been based on political grounds. We cannot find in the appeal, however, any attempt to justify by political reason or argument his line of scurrilous and violent abuse, other than the meaningless quotation of precedents for strong language torn from their context and having, in our opinion, no bearing on the present case.

We regard as shallow in the extreme Reade’s arguments against the procedure on the Party Council resolution, and his plea that he was making a stand for the right of party members to criticise the party leaders. If he had been sincere on these questions and only desired that further information should have been made available before a party lead was given, there were obvious means open to a loyal member and responsible District official to have pressed this view quite frankly within the limits of good party discipline even after the passing of the Party Council resolution. We consider (and Reade has nowhere advanced any arguments to the contrary)[137] that the Party Council had adequate information before it upon which to come to a decision, and that the matter was rightly regarded by the Political Bureau as one of urgency. If there was anything in Reade’s argument that the Party Council was not competent to come to a decision through lack of information, the same would apply with added strength to the aggregate meeting and yet he was quite prepared to persuade that meeting to take a decision involving a direct reversal of the Party Council lead, with the very serious consequences that would have undoubtedly ensued. In any case his attitude, even before the aggregate meeting took place, revealed much more eagerness to attack the party lead than to set it right, and in our view he simply used what genuine feeling of hesitation there was among other members of the DPC to further his ends. We think in this connection that although the DPC showed very considerable weakness at the beginning of the trouble, the experience has been of value in impressing the need of proper responsibility.

In conclusion, we are of the opinion that the appeal furnishes no justification whatever for Reade’s conduct; that it is in fact in many respects an aggravation of his offence and amply justifies his removal from any responsible position in the party if not indeed from the party itself.

26 April 1925

VI: Letter from Arthur Reade in Athens, from Plebs, 8 August 1925

Trotskyism, Etc

Sir — In the July Plebs Postgate says: ‘If I were in Russia I should certainly be in the CP.’ In 1921 I heard Ramsay MacDonald, speaking at the Oxford Union, express a similar sentiment (which, I think, is also printed in his book, A Policy for the Labour Party, though being abroad I cannot look up this reference). It is, of course, possible that the RCP might treat these two willing recruits with a certain lack of hos­pitality, but I do not doubt that both Postgate and MacDonald would be as enthusiastic in supporting the Communist International were it was to their advantage to do so as they now are in attacking it. (Cp Newbold’s franker confession of the same oppor­tunism, when he said, in Forward last year, that he joined the CP when he thought there were prospects of an early revolution and left it when it appeared such prospects were ‘off’ for a long time.)

Nor do I doubt that if the tables were turned and the Communist leaders holding anti‑Trotskyist views were in a minority, Postgate would hasten to ‘support’ them as a stick wherewith to beat the party to which he formerly belonged. As Postgate may remember me telling him personally last January, no Trotskyist Communists can regard a deserter’s support as flattering: Post­gate and his fellows are out to give a kick at the only fighting working-­class party; Trotsky and his fol­lowers have been advocating a policy to strengthen it. Trotskyists scorn and repudiate the ‘encouragement’ of the Postgates who are, perhaps, the most treacherous of all the enemies of a party founded by a Trotskyist, greater than Trotsky himself — Lenin.

I may say that the June Labour Monthly has not reached me abroad, so that I have not seen what Dutt and Ewer are alleged to have written therein; insofar as they may attack (because they misunderstand) Trotskyism. I should probably disagree with them, but this is beside the point, because, however violent the results of discussions in the Communist International may appear to be to outsiders, and whatever ‘splits’ may be discovered by those whose wish is father to the thought, Trotskyists and anti-Trotskyists present one united front against the Baldwins and Rothermeres, the MacDonalds and Postgates, and all the traducers of the working class. This is the discipline of the Communist International at which Horrabin and Postgate sneer for no other reason than they fear (and envy) the strength it gives.

Yours, etc





[1].      I would like to thank Kevin Morgan for making these two documents available to Revolutionary History, and for all the help he has given me in writing this piece. I am also indebted to Julian and Viola Reade for their assistance. Thanks also to Barry Buitekant, Ted Crawford, Paul Flewers, Mike Jones and Al Richardson.

[2].      B Pearce, ‘Early Years of the Communist Party of Great Britain’, Labour Review, Volume 3, no 1, January-February 1958, reprinted in M Woodhouse and B Pearce, Essays on the History of Communism in Britain, London, 1975, see p174; B Pearce, ‘Oxford Episode’, The Newsletter, 5 March 1960.

[3].      J Klugmann, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain: Volume 2, The General Strike 1925-26, London, 1969, p327.

[4].      H Wicks, ‘British Trotskyism in the Thirties’, International, Volume 1, no 4, 1971, pp26-32; ‘An Interview Given by Harry Wicks to Al Richardson on Saturday 11 March and Saturday 1 April 1978’, in Socialist Platform, Harry Wicks: A Memorial, 1989, p2; S Bornstein and A Richardson, Against the Stream: A History of the Trotskyist Movement in Britain 1924-38, London, 1986, Chapter One; M Upham, The History of British Trotskyism to 1949, unpublished PhD thesis, University of Hull, 1980, p7.

[5].      H Wicks, Keeping My Head: The Memoirs of a British Bolshevik, London, 1992, p38.

[6].      Wicks, Keeping My Head, op cit, pp45, 97, 104, 175.

[7].      Bornstein and Richardson, op cit, p42, n59; Upham, op cit, p7 n6. While Wicks attests to the influence Reade had on his future development, the latter receives no mention in R Groves, The Balham Group: How British Trotskyism Began, London, 1974. There is a brief reference to Reade in H Thomas, John Strachey, London, 1973, p22.

[8].      After I had commenced to search for Reade, Barry Buitekant drew my attention to Royden Harrison’s suggestion that this should be done (R Harrison, ‘Communists’, Labour History Review, Volume 59, no 1, 1994, p41).

[9].      S Bailey (Oxford University Archivist) to the author, 10 August 1999; P Hatfield (Eton College Archivist) to the author, 17 August 1999; interview with J Reade, 16 December 1999.

[10].    C Hollis, Eton: A History, London, 1960, pp110-11; Thomas, op cit, p22; P Stansky and W Abrahams, The Unknown Orwell, London, 1972, p104; Telephone conversation with J Reade, 8 August 1999.

[11].    G Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier, Harmondsworth, 1983, pp141-3. However, Orwell’s ‘election’ was considered more radical than its predecessor, see B Crick, George Orwell: A Life, Harmondsworth, 1982, p132.

[12].    Stansky and Abrahams, op cit, p88.

[13].    Op cit, p104.

[14].    P Hatfield to the author, 17 August 1999; News Review, 20 May 1937; P Tamerlan, ‘Il y a 80 ans en Alsace, La Révolution’, Rouge, 10 December 1998.

[15].    The New Oxford, no 5, December 1920, pp19-20; Reade to S Reade, nd [November-December 1920]; Evening Standard, 12 December 1921.

[16].    R Page Arnot, Note on Origins of University Socialist Federation, 11 October 1971, DAR 1/6/70, Page Arnot Papers, University of Hull. He refers to ‘Moorshead’. For Moorhouse, who became Palme Dutt’s secretary and married Salme Murrik’s first husband, see K Morgan, Harry Pollitt, Manchester, 1993, pp33, 36, 57-8. Rajani Palme Dutt (1896-1974) was associated from the war years with the USF. He was the International Secretary of the LRD and the CPGB’s leading intellectual, later identified with Labour Monthly, its ‘Notes of the Month’ and organic Stalinism. See MP Ashley and CT Saunders, Red Oxford: A History of the Growth of Socialism in the University of Oxford, Oxford, 1933, p33.

[17].    Ashley and Saunders, op cit, pp30-1.

[18].    The New Oxford, no 6, February 1921.

[19].    AEE Reade, ‘Oxford Letter’, Youth, May 1921, p115.

[20].    Ashley and Saunders, op cit, pp6, 21-3; J and M Postgate, A Stomach for Dissent: The Life of Raymond Postgate, Keele, 1994, pp79-80. Raymond Postgate (1896-1971), the Socialist historian, resigned from the CPGB in 1924 in reaction to Bolshevisation. He is probably best remembered as the founding editor of The Good Food Guide. V Gordon Childe (1892-1957) was a close friend of Palme Dutt, a CPGB sympathiser, and a renowned writer on of archaeology and prehistory.

[21].    Andrew Rothstein (1898-1994), the son of Theodore Rothstein, the émigré who played an important rôle in the formation of the CPGB, was a lifelong Stalinist, and later a founder member of the Communist Party of Britain. Tom Wintringham (1898-1949) was at this time the Deputy Editor of the Workers’ Weekly. He became the CPGB’s military theorist, and fought in Spain. Expelled in 1938, he worked with Common Wealth during the Second World War. Ralph Fox (1900-1936) was a CPGB propagandist, novelist and literary critic who was killed in Spain in 1936. Esmonde Higgins (1897-1960) worked for the party in the LRD and on the Workers’ Weekly before returning to Australia in the mid-1920s (I Elliott (ed), The Balliol College Register Third Edition 1900-1950, Oxford, 1953; E Lemon (ed), The Balliol College Register 1916-1967, Oxford, 1967). Dave Fernbach refers to the ‘Oxford Communist group that merged into the CPGB in 1920’, mentioning Rothstein and Wintringham (‘Wintringham, Tom’, in J Bellamy and J Saville (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, Volume 7, London, 1984). Klugmann states somewhat opaquely that Wintringham and Fox ‘participated locally in the work for Communist unity and joined the Communist Party when it was formed’ (J Klugmann, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain: Volume 1, Formation and Early Years, London, 1969, p25).

[22].    R Darwell-Smith (Magdalen College Archivist) to the author, 27 October 1999. John Strachey (1901-1963), an intimate collaborator of the CPGB in the 1930s, although he never joined, was a Conservative at this time and an opponent of Reade, whom he met again around the New Party. Charles Montagu Slater (1902-1956), a poet, novelist, librettist and editor of the journal Our Time, joined the party between 1927 and 1930 (Thomas, op cit, p22).

[23].    University Socialist Federation, Bulletin, May 1921, p9; R Groves, Conrad Noel and the Thaxted Movement: An Adventure in Christian Socialism, London, 1967, p252.

[24].    Isis, 27 April 1921, 15 May 1921; Public Record Office (PRO) CAB 24/1/76 CPGB 3138, 14 July 1921. I am grateful to Kevin Morgan for the PRO references.

[25].    Daily Herald, 30 April 1921.

[26].    The New Oxford, no 7, April 1921; no 8, May 1921; Cherwell, 3 and 10 May 1921; Isis, 4 May 1921; The Free Oxford, no 1, Midsummer 1921.

[27].    Daily Herald, 2 May 1921.

[28].    The Free Oxford, no 1, Midsummer 1921, p1; no 2, 22 October 1921, p1. The only brief account of The Free Oxford, in Judy Mabro’s excellent pamphlet on Farnell, does not mention Reade and Gray, or detail the paper’s provenance and rôle (J Mabro, ‘I Ban Everything’: Free Speech and Censorship in Oxford Between the Wars, Oxford, 1985, pp17-20).

[29].    The Free Oxford, no 1, Midsummer 1921, p1; no 2, 22 October 1921, p1.

[30].    The Free Oxford, no 1, Midsummer 1921, p1; no 2, 22 October 1921, p1; no 3, 12 November 1921, p1.

[31].    Lemon, op cit.

[32].    For Porter (1899-?), see B Webb, Edmund Blunden: A Biography, New Haven, 1990, pp110-18. Porter was already the Editor of the prestigious Oxford Poetry 1921, and was described as ‘the finest and most exciting of the Oxford poets’ (Isis, 8 June 1921). His early promise went unfulfilled.

[33].    ‘Let Reade bring out The Free Oxford/Coopting Golding to his Board’, The Free Oxford, no 1, Midsummer 1921, p17; JB Simons, Louis Golding: A Memoir, London, nd [1939].

[34].    PRO CAB 24/131/CP3509, 24 November 1921; The Free Oxford, no 1, Midsummer 1921, p2; no 3, 12 November 1921, p12.

[35].    The Communist, 19 November 1921.

[36].    Cherwell, 3 May 1921, p27, 17 June 1921, pp123-31. Isis railed against Reade and his comrades as ‘so-called Bolsheviks’, ‘pseudo-revolutionaries’, ‘a few hotheads and blockheads’, defending the Labour Club against ‘the puerilities of these ranting revolutionaries’. Reade was treated with heavy sarcasm in reports of debates in the Union: ‘Mr AEE Reade… informed us he was the enfant terrible of his party. He seemed to enjoy his speech.’ (Isis, 19 October 1921, 9 November 1921, 4 May 1922)

[37].    L Golding, ‘How the War Changed Oxford’, Co-op News, 28 January 1922. Looking back 65 years later, Charles Gray remarked that much of The Free Oxford would have been denounced by Lenin as ‘infantile Communism’ (C Gray to V Reade, 16 August 1987).

[38].    CAB 24/1/76 CPGB 3138, 14 July 1921.

[39].    National Museum of Labour History, Manchester, CPGB/Ind/Dutt/1/5, Reade to Palme Dutt, 7 December 1921; PRO FO 371/4243: AG Shiplem to Lord Curzon, 21 March 1919.

[40].    Oxford University Archives, PR 1/23/9/4: papers and correspondence; Ashley and Saunders, op cit, pp36-7.

[41].    PR 1/23/9/4: correspondence between C Gray and LR Farnell, November 1920.

[42].    LR Farnell, An Oxonian Looks Back, London, 1934, p297.

[43].    Ibid.

[44].    Ibid.

[45].    Ibid; PR 1/23/9/4, Farnell to Provost of Worcester College, 6 December 1921; Farnell to Gray, 6 December 1921; Farnell to Porter, 6 December 1921.

[46].    Isis, 16 November 1921. There were attempts to establish a CPGB branch in Oxford, see The Communist, 9, 23 and 30 September 1920. But it was stated at a meeting of Oxford Trades Council in December 1921 that ‘there was no Communist Party in Oxford’ (Oxford Chronicle, 9 December 1921). There is no evidence of the branch Sephton reports as established in 1920 operating in these years, although there were some individual members (RS Sephton, Oxford and the General Strike 1926, Oxford, 1993, p6).

[47].    From Plain Speech, quoted in The Free Oxford, February 1922.

[48].    PR 1/23/9/4: Press cuttings.

[49].    Manchester Guardian, 13 December 1921; 12, 16, 18, 21 and 24 January 1924; The Spectator, 7 and 21 January 1922; cf Daily Herald, 12, 15, 22 and 30 December 1921.

[50].    Daily Express, 2, 12 and 23 January 1922.

[51].    Manchester Guardian, 12 January 1922; Daily Express, 12 January 1922; Daily Herald, 12 January 1922.

[52].    Manchester Guardian, 18 and 24 January 1922.

[53].    The Times, 17 and 20 December 1921.

[54].    The Free Oxford, February 1922, p4. The attitude that even thoughtful Communists had towards Oxford is suggested by Tommy Jackson’s rumination: ‘I am undecided whether to put a tight fence around it with turnstiles and preserve it, undergrads, dons and all, for the amusement and instruction of our Communist youth — a sort of super-zoo — or whether to clear it of its present occupants and turn the whole show into a home of rest for tired workers.’ (The Communist, 25 June 1921) Cf the reformist comments of George Lansbury (Daily Herald, 15 May 1921).

[55].    The only reference to the Reade affair is in Communist Review, January 1922, which refers to the expulsion of the editors of The Young Oxford, p181. The only earlier reference is the review by Postgate in The Communist, 19 November 1921, p10.

[56].    The Free Oxford, 10 December 1921, p15; Cherwell, 24 January 1922, p10.

[57].    The Free Oxford, 29 April 1922; CAB 24/158/CPGB 74, 1 February 1923.

[58].    ‘We believe that Communist students must be good students.’ (Philip Toynbee, Isis, 26 May 1937, cited in B Harrison, ‘Oxford and The Labour Movement’, Twentieth Century History, Volume 2, no 3, 1991, p253. See also Oxford University Communist Party, Oxford: A Future for Our University, nd. For student Communism in the 1930s, we are still over-reliant on the spy literature which largely focuses on Cambridge, see, for example, J Costello, Mask of Treachery, London, 1989. But see also P Sloan (ed), John Cornford, A Memoir, London, 1938; E Ashby and M Anderson, The Rise of the Student Estate in Britain, London, 1970; P Stansky and W Abrahams, Journey to the Frontier, London, 1966.

[59].    The Communist, 19 November 1921, p10.

[60].    The Free Oxford, February 1922, p2.

[61].    The Free Oxford, 10 December 1921, p2.

[62].    Manchester Guardian, 18 January 1922.

[63].    Thomas, op cit; Reade to Palme Dutt, 7 December 1921.

[64].    The Free Oxford, 29 April 1922.

[65].    Reade’s homosexuality is attested to by his closest friend, Charles Gray (C Gray to J and N Reade, 28 September 1980).

[66].    AS (Arthur Siffleet) to The Newsletter, unpublished letter, 7 January 1964; JT Murphy, ‘How a Mass Communist Party Will Come to Britain’, Communist International, no 9, 1925.

[67].    Daily News, 14 April 1924; A Reade, ‘A Journalist Tells The Truth’, Labour Monthly, June 1923, pp381-3; ‘Fit to Burn’, Labour Monthly, March 1924, pp190-1; ‘May Day: What It Is and What It Shall Be: I’, Workers’ Weekly, 11 April 1924; ‘May Day: What It Is and What It Shall Be: II’, Workers’ Weekly, 18 April 1924; ‘Punishment and Prosecution’, Labour Monthly, May 1924, pp316-19.

[68].    Wicks, Keeping My Head, op cit, p38; Wicks, ‘Interview’, op cit, p2.

[69].    Forging The Weapon: The Struggle of the Labour Monthly 1921-1941, nd [1941], no pagination, but pp17, 21. Joan Beauchamp (1890-1964) joined the CPGB with the Guild Socialist contingent in the summer of 1920. She later worked for Labour Research. Kay Beauchamp (1899-1992) was Secretary and then Organiser of the St Pancras party local. She was later involved in expelling the Balham Group from the CPGB, see Bornstein and Richardson, op cit, p85.

[70].    DAR 1/6/3, Notes on Labour Monthly, undated.

[71].    DAR 1/1/19, Page Arnot to Reade, 8 April 1925.

[72].    See Document 5 below.

[73].    Reade to Palme Dutt, 7 December 1921. The CPGB’s working-class leaders fought stubbornly for £5 a week as ‘the party wage’, far more than most of their members earned.

[74].    Forging The Weapon, op cit, pp2-3. Robert Williams (1881-1936), the leader of the Transport Workers Federation, was expelled from the CPGB for his rôle on Black Friday. Morgan Phillips Price (1885-1973), although never a member, was an intimate collaborator with the CPGB, rather than a fellow-traveller, during 1920-23, and thereafter a disappointing Labour MP during 1929-31 and 1935-59.

[75].    Page Arnot papers DAR 1/6/3; DAR (2) 23-24. R Page Arnot (1890-1986) was a foundation member of the CPGB, the Secretary of the LRD, an historian of the miners and a lifelong Stalinist. WN Ewer (1885-1977) left the party in 1928, subsequently criticised its religious dogmatism, and became a virulent anti-Communist.

[76].    AS to The Newsletter, 7 January 1964.

[77].    See Morgan, op cit, pp33-45.

[78].    Salme Murrik (1888-1964) was an Estonian Communist, active in Finland, who played an important rôle in the early years of the CPGB as Dutt’s eminence grise and the link with key figures in the Comintern. Percy Glading (1893-1970) was an engineering worker and a founder member of CPGB. He was involved in its colonial affairs in India and Africa, and was imprisoned in 1938 for his rôle in the Woolwich Arsenal spy ring. Hugo Rathbone (1895-1969) worked at the LRD, joined the CPGB in 1920, worked for the Minority Movement, and later specialised in colonial affairs. Maurice Dobb (1900-1976) was an economist and economic historian. After carrying out research at the LSE, he became a Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge. He was on the Executive of the LRD and the Plebs League. Allen Hutt (1901-1972), a close friend of Reade, was a lifelong CPGB member, a journalist and typographer. He was later the President of the NUJ and the Editor of The Journalist. Lydia Packman worked in the Registration Department of the CPGB, and was for a time Secretary of the St Pancras local.

[79].    ‘We have got to proletarianise our group.’ (Dutt to Pollitt, 10 June 1923, Dutt papers, Working Class Movement Library, Salford)

[80].    See LJ Macfarlane, The British Communist Party: Its Origins and Development Until 1927, London, 1966, pp77-89; Page Arnot to Dutt, 6 June 1925, DAR 1/1/19, Page Arnot papers.

[81].    The Free Oxford, 10 December 1921, p5.

[82].    Ibid.

[83].    The Free Oxford, 29 April 1922.

[84].    The Free Oxford, 10 December 1921, p8. It is taken from GDH and M Cole, The Bolo Book, London, 1921, p42. Some of its sentiments, such as Trotsky as ‘proletarian Tsar’, would soon be turned to more serious purposes.

[85].    Macfarlane, op cit, p92.

[86].    ‘Russia: The Discussion in the Communist Party’, Labour Monthly, February 1924, p121; ‘The Discussions in the Russian Communist Party’, Labour Monthly, March 1924, pp179-81; T Bell, ‘The Crisis in the Russian Communist Party’, Communist Review, March 1925, pp432-6.

[87].    For the background, see I Deutscher, The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky 1921-1929, London, 1970, pp113-63.

[88].    F Claudín, The Communist Movement: From Comintern to Cominform, Harmondsworth, 1975, pp103-25; ‘Resolution of the Thirteenth Conference of the Russian Communist Party, 8 January 1924’, Communist Review, April 1924; Deutscher, op cit, pp141-51; P Broué, ‘Trotsky: A Biographer’s Problems’, in T Brotherstone and P Dukes (eds), The Trotsky Reappraisal, Edinburgh, 1992, p20; T Kemp, Stalinism in France: The First Twenty Years of the French Communist Party, London, 1984, pp74-5; WL O’Neil, The Last Romantic: A Life of Max Eastman, Oxford, 1978, pp106-9; R Palme Dutt to S Palme Dutt, 20 May 1924, Working Class Movement Library, Salford. Fischer was ‘the trumpet’ of the Triumvirate, and, ironically, later a supporter of Trotsky. Cachin was later involved in the expulsion of Trotsky from the Comintern’s Executive Committee. Eastman recollected meeting in London the ubiquitous Ivor Montagu, then a close CPGB sympathiser, the Meynells, ex-members of the party, and John Strachey. As Strachey moved in the same social circles as Reade, it is possible that the latter met Eastman, although there is no evidence for this (M Eastman, Love and Revolution: My Journey Through an Epoch, New York, 1964, pp437-40; Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History (RTsKhIDNI), Moscow, 495/100/159, CPGB Political Bureau Minutes, 6 June 1924).

[89].    Macfarlane, op cit, p93; Workers’ Weekly, 6 June 1924; Deutscher, op cit, pp146-7; Pearce, op cit, p139; RTsKhIDNI 495/100/171, Albert Inkpin to Zinoviev, 9 October 1924. On the basis of Inkpin’s correspondence with Moscow, it appears clear that that the CPGB could not have maintained the apparatus it did without the annual Comintern subsidy (RTsKhIDNI 495/100/171, Inkpin to Comintern Secretariat, 6 March 1924). The tightening of control over allocations and their redirection in 1924 was resented by the CPGB’s leadership as the correspondence affirms, and was a worry to them throughout this period.

[90].    Trotsky caused a stir with his preface to his writings from 1917, entitled ‘The Lessons of October’, which were published in Russian in the autumn of 1924 in a volume entitled 1917, as it subjected many members of the Bolshevik leadership to heavy criticism for their unimpressive record during 1917. It first appeared in an English translation in Inprecorr, 26 February 1925.

[91].    JP Cannon, The First Ten Years of American Communism, New York, 1962, pp136, 181. Cannon showed no recollection of the publication of Since Lenin Died in 1925, or the publication of Lenin’s Testament in the New York Times in October 1926. If inactive against ‘Trotskyism’, Cannon voted for all the denunciations and, as late as 1927, for the disciplining of the pioneer US Trotskyist Annette Konikow (see Cannon, op cit, pp53-4). See also Max Shachtman’s comments that in 1924-25 he remained ignorant of the real issues, and when he heard the Trotskyist case, he ‘made sure not to be convinced’. The most supportive of the Left Opposition among the later Trotskyists in America seems to have been the Canadian leader Maurice Spector (P Drucker, Max Shachtman and His Left, New York, 1994, pp36-7).

[92].    From a long list of similar verdicts, see Macfarlane, op cit, pp92-3; J Callaghan, Rajani Palme Dutt: A Study in British Stalinism, London, 1993, p67. The better political judges would have registered that the balance of forces was firmly skewed in favour of the Triumvirate, see M Reiman, ‘Trotsky and the Struggle for Lenin’s Heritage’, in T Brotherstone and P Dukes, op cit, p49. For financial dependence, see note 89.

[93].    C Legien, ‘A Contribution to the History of the Belgian Trotskyists 1928-1935’, Revolutionary History, Volume 7, no 1, 1998, pp7-9.

[94].    E Hobsbawm, Revolutionaries, London, 1973, p11; AS to The Newsletter, 7 January 1964; Macfarlane, op cit, pp103-4.

[95].    JT Murphy, ‘The Party Conference’, Communist Review, January 1924, pp41-2; TA Jackson, ‘The Party Conference’, Communist Review, April 1924, pp537, 539. TA Jackson (1879-1955) was Assistant Editor of the Communist and later Editor of the Sunday Worker. He was the CPGB’s pedagogue, philosopher and court jester.

[96].    RTsKhIDNI 495/100/171, MacManus to Bob Stewart, 5 February 1924; E Cant, ‘The Party Conference’, Communist Review, March 1924, p502; see also Pearce, op cit, p158. Ernest Cant (1890-?) was an experienced BSP and CPGB organiser who was sacked from his party job, together with Inkpin, at the height of the Third Period.

[97].    H Wicks, Keeping My Head, op cit, p43; H Wicks, ‘Introduction to the Organisation and Construction of Communist Parties’, in Socialist Platform, Harry Wicks: A Memorial, op cit, pp24-5.

[98].    J Klugmann, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain: Volume 1, Formation and Early Years, op cit, p333. See, for example, K Radek, ‘Two Deserters’, Labour Monthly, March 1925; M Phillips Price, ‘The Great Retreat’, Labour Monthly, June 1925; M Phillips Price, ‘A Lion at Bay’, Plebs, June 1925; WN Ewer, ‘Trotsky and his “Friends”’, Labour Monthly, June 1925; R Postgate, JF Horrabin, ‘Trotsky’s “Comrades”’, Plebs, July 1925. JT Walton Newbold (1888-1953) was elected as a Communist MP for Motherwell 1922, but lost his seat in the subsequent election. He left the CPGB in 1924, and subsequently joined McDonald’s National Labour. JF Horrabin (1884-1962) was Editor of Plebs and Labour MP for Peterborough during 1929-31. He was subsequently on the Executive Committee of the Socialist League. Winifred Horrabin (1887-1971) was Secretary of the Plebs League. She left the CPGB shortly after her husband in 1925. Ellen Wilkinson (1891-1947) was elected as an MP for Middlesborough shortly after leaving the CPGB. She was subsequently the MP for Jarrow, and Minister of Education in Attlee’s government.

[99].    RTsKhIDNI 495/100/173, A Inkpin to Bennett (Petrovsky), 3 December 1924. Richard Schüller (1901-1957) was an Austrian Communist who played a leading rôle in the Young Communist International, and was on the Comintern’s Executive from 1923. He was a leading member of the Austrian Communist Party after the Second World War. Arthur Ewert (1890-1959) joined the German Communist Party in 1919, and soon became an important Comintern operative. He presided over the Comintern’s British Commission in the latter half of the 1920s, and was later active in the USA, China and Brazil. Arrested after the abortive uprising in Brazil in 1935, he was seriously affected by the brutal treatment he received, and was returned to East Germany in 1947, where he lived in institutions until his death.

[100].  RTsKhIDNI 495/100/233, Politbureau minutes, 14 January 1925. Bell wrote: ‘The unfortunate thing is that up to the moment we have not yet received from you a translation of Trotsky’s preface. We understand that this was to be sent to us long ago… I suggest for future guidance of your department that in controversies of such a serious character as this it is important to ussye [sic — issue] simultaneously materials on both sides of the argument. In this case quite a number of our comrades (though I should say mostly of the intellectual type) are unable to make up their minds until they have read all Trotsky’s argument. It makes it difficult for the Central Committee to give a definite lead and to prevent the growth of tendencies…’ (RTsKhIDNI 495/100/249, Bell to Béla Kun, 17 January 1925)

[101].  AEE Reade, ‘Idealism and History’, Labour Monthly, June 1924.

[102].  Wicks, Keeping My Head, op cit, p43.

[103].  Op cit, pp43-5; Telephone conversation with J Reade, 8 August 1999.

[104].  T Bell, ‘The Truth About Trotsky’, Workers’ Weekly, 5 December 1924; W Rust, ‘The Truth About Trotsky’, Workers’ Weekly, 12 December 1924.

[105].  Quoted from Izvestia, Macfarlane, op cit, p141; RTsKhIDNI 495/100/138, Pepper, Information Department of the Comintern, to CPGB Agitprop, 19 December 1924; 495/100/231, CPGB Executive Committee minutes, 10 January 1925.

[106].  CM Roebuck (Rothstein), ‘Trotskyism — A Danger to the Party’, Workers’ Weekly, 23 January 1925. For Wicks’ recollections of the meeting, see Keeping My Head, op cit, pp43-4.

[107].  DAR 1/1/19, Page Arnot to Reade, 27 January 1925.

[108].  Ibid.

[109].  Harrison, op cit, p41; Callaghan, op cit, pp128-9, 132; Wicks, Keeping My Head, op cit, p45; RTsKhIDNI 495/100/233, Political Bureau minutes, 17 February 1925. For Reade’s discussion of Trotsky with a young leader of the Scottish miners, see I McDougall (ed), Militant Miners, Edinburgh, 1981, pp210-2.

[110]Inprecorr, 9 April 1925, p386; 23 April 1925, pp485-6; WNE, ‘Trotsky on Lenin’, Daily Herald, 15 April 1925; Bornstein and Richardson, op cit, pp7-8; RTsKhIDNI 495/100/233, Political Bureau minutes, 29 March 1925.

[111].  Page Arnot to Reade, 8 April 1925; RTsKhIDNI 495/100/233, Political Bureau minutes, 14 April 1925.

[112].  ‘Since Lenin Died’, Workers’ Weekly, 1 May 1925; The Errors of Trotskyism: A Symposium, London, 1925; M Dobb, ‘Lenin and Trotsky’, Plebs, May 1925.

[113].  ‘Trotsky and the Party’, Communist Review, March 1925, p448.

[114].  CPGB, Report of the Seventh National Congress: 30 May-1 June 1925, p117. Note that Bell confuses ‘fractions’ with ‘factions’.

[115].  Ibid.

[116].  Bornstein and Richardson, op cit, pp1, 40 n6; Bodleian Library, Pollard Papers, Box 12, A Colyer to I Clark, 4 February 1925, Clark to Colyer, 13 February 1925; Box 4, Aggregate Meeting, 24 May 1925; K Morgan, ‘Harry Pollitt, the British Communist Party and International Communism’, in T Saarela and K Rentola (eds), Communism National and International, Helsinki, 1998, p203.

[117].  See Bornstein and Richardson, op cit, pp34-5.

[118].  Wicks, ‘Interview’, op cit.

[119].  The members of the Party Council were appointed at this time by the District Party Committees. This appears to have been the only meeting of the council convened between the CPGB’s Sixth Party Congress in May 1924 and the Seventh Congress in May 1925.

[120].  Tom Bell (1882-1944) was active in the Associated Ironmoulders of Scotland, and was successively a member of the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation, the British Socialist Party and the CPGB, where he remained in the leadership until 1929. He was the British representative in Moscow in 1926.

[121].  Harry Pollitt (1890-1960) was the General Secretary of the CPGB during 1929-39 and 1941-56. He was elected to the Executive Committee of the Comintern in June 1924, and had returned to London from Moscow to report on the position in Russia days before the council meeting.

[122].  Grigori Zinoviev (1883-1936) and Lev Kamenev (1883-1936) were especial targets of Trotsky’s criticism in The Lessons of October. At this juncture, they were allied with Stalin, and the CPGB leaders’ defence of them here stands in contrast with what they said about them a decade later when they were defendants in the first Moscow Trial.

[123].  Harry Webb was a member of the Socialist Labour Party, and was a foundation member of the CPGB. He was the Sheffield Organiser in 1925, the Liverpool Organiser in 1928, and on the Executive Committee in 1929.

[124].  Jack Cohen (1905-1982) was a member of the Executive Committee of the Young Communist League, the CPGB’s first National Student Organiser in the 1930s, Secretary of the party’s Coventry branch in the 1940s and 1950s, and later the party’s Midlands Organiser.

[125].  Arthur MacManus (1889-1927) was a leader of the Shop Stewards Movement, the SLP and the CPGB until his early death. He led the British delegation to the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, and spent long periods in Moscow in the early 1920s as the British representative on the Comintern’s Executive and on the Praesidium.

[126].  Jock Wilson (1884-1976) was a former trade union organiser who joined the CPGB with the ILP left, of which he was a leader. In 1924, he was the CPGB’s South Wales Organiser and a member of the Central Committee. He attended the Fifth Congress of the Comintern. He emigrated to Australia in the 1930s.

[127].  Willie Gallacher (1881-1965) was a long-time member of the SDF and the BSP, and was on the CPGB’s Executive Committee through the 1920s and 1930s. He was the MP for West Fife during 1935-50.

[128].  JT Murphy (1888-1965) was the theorist of the Shop Stewards Movement. He joined the SLP after 1917, then the CPGB. He was a delegate to the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, and was the British representative in Moscow in 1926-27. He was expelled from the CPGB in 1932.

[129].  Karl Radek (1885-1939) was an important member of the Russian Communist Party, and was a supporter of Trotsky. He was the conductor of the failed German revolution in 1923, and was denounced along with Heinrich Brandler and Trotsky at the Fifth Congress of the Comintern. He succumbed to Stalinism, and ended his life in the Gulag.

[130].  Michael Farbman’s After Lenin (London, 1924) was briefly a bête noire of the CPGB (see JT Murphy’s review in Workers’ Weekly, 19 December 1924), before being replaced by Max Eastman’s Since Lenin Died (London, 1925). Farbman was a US journalist and Moscow correspondent for the New Statesman and the Economist. Farbman’s book is interesting not least because it considered that the Soviet Union had lost its revolutionary fervour, and emphasised that Stalin, who was ‘very narrow-minded’ and had ‘frank contempt’ for calls for democracy, was playing an increasingly important rôle.

[131].  Ernie Brown (1900-1967) was the National Secretary of the ILP left. The husband of Isabel Brown, he was the party’s North-East Organiser in 1921, and subsequently the Yorkshire Organiser. During 1925, he was the British representative to the Comintern in Moscow. He was in the party’s leadership until 1930, attended the Fifth Congress of the Comintern, and was a party member until his death.


[132].  Bob Stewart (1877-1972) was a temperance campaigner and leader of the Prohibition and Reform Party. He was the CPGB’s representative to the Comintern during 1923-24.

[133].  We are grateful to Richard Croucher for this translation. The only CPGB activist of whom we are aware with this name was Dave Ramsay (1883-1948), one of the wartime Shop Stewards Movement leaders. He had attended the Second Comintern Congress in 1920, but was not, as far as we know, in the party leadership at this time. It is very unlikely, although not totally impossible, that he wrote the letter, and extremely unlikely that he drafted the resolution. ‘Ramsay’ was a Comintern code name. The problem now seems to have been solved by my discovery in the Moscow archives of a letter from Inkpin, the CPGB’s General Secretary, to Petrovsky in Moscow in December 1924. Part of the letter reads: ‘Discussions in the RCP — We had already taken the matter up before Pollitt’s return. In this connection, apart from our knowledge of the discussions as reported in L’Humanité and Inprecorr, we were fortunate in having the assistance of Comrades Schueller and Ewert who prepared a statement for the Politbureau. On the basis of this statement, a resolution was prepared for the meeting of the Central Executive Committee on Saturday and submitted to the Party Council on Sunday. I have already sent you the terms of this resolution and have also conveyed it to the RCP. Comrade Bell is dealing with the subject in this week’s issue of the paper and the materials since received from the Comintern will be treated in the Communist Review.’ (RTsKhIDNI 495/100/173, A Inkpin to Bennett (Petrovsky), 3 December 1924, my emphasis)

[134].  Ernie Pountney (1881-?) was at this time an organiser for the Shop Assistants Union, and was later drafted in by the CPGB to the breakaway United Clothing Workers Union, and replaced Sam Elsbury as General Secretary. He later worked for the Red International of Labour Unions and the Daily Worker.

[135].  The Control Commission elected at the Sixth Congress consisted of Harry Webb, Ted Lismer, Harry Inkpin and Thomas Irving. Webb resigned on his appointment as Sheffield Organiser in February 1925. Reade’s appeal would, therefore, have been heard by the remaining three members. Harry Inkpin, brother of the more famous Albert, was involved in the opposition to HM Hyndman in the BSP. He was a founder member of the CPGB, and was on its Central Committee in 1923-24. He is best known as a member with Rajani Palme Dutt and Harry Pollitt of the Commission on Organisation in 1922 whose report set the first phase of Bolshevisation in train. He was involved in the Shop Assistants Union in London, and in the CPGB-controlled Dorritt Press before coming under a cloud in the Third Period. Ted Lismer (1883-1947) was a member of the BSP and was prominent in the Shop Stewards Movement in Sheffield. He was the Secretary of the British Bureau of the Red International of Labour Unions in 1920-23. Thomas Irving was a longstanding member of the CPGB’s London District Committee, and was for a time its Education Officer. He was involved in the Dorritt Press, whose activities came under investigation by the party in 1929-30.

[136].  We have informed Comrade Reade of our view in this connection, and he protests that his arguments in support of his pro-Trotsky views have a direct bearing on his appeal, and should be considered by the Executive. His contention is that the importance of the political case justified his attack on the leadership at a closed party meeting. [Control Commission’s note]

[137].  He admits that he did not endeavour to procure, and has in fact never seen, the document circulated to the Party Council. [Control Commission’s note]