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Posts Tagged ‘1930s’

Following revolution in Russia, shockwaves reverberated around the world, and Aberdeen felt that impact as well. Following moves in late 1918 and 1919, the national Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was formally founded at a Unity Conference held in London in late July/early August 1920 (prior to the founding of the national party, in late 1919, there had been moves to form an Aberdeen Communist Group, but those efforts were short lived).

The core of the British Socialist Party merged into the new party as well as smaller groups such as the Socialist Labour Party (SLP). The driving force in Scotland was the SLP in Glasgow and leaders such as Tom Bell, Willie Gallagher, Arthur McManus and Neil McLean. The CPGB tried for many years to affiliate itself to the Labour Party with a view to seeking control of the organisation. This ‘infiltration’ was also the case with trade union branches and also Trades Councils and in 1924 there was a concerted attempt to draw all communist members into trade union activity with the formation of the National Minority Movement. Increasingly the communists were barred from being individual members of the Labour Party and any Trade Councils that affiliated with the National Minority Movement were to be disaffiliated by the British Trades Union Congress. In 1928 communists were finally expelled from the Aberdeen Trades and Labour Council. Yet, despite national policy, there was much cooperation between local Communist branches and Trades Councils on issues such as unemployment and anti-fascism. The Communist Party nationally was always a small party, membership spiking nationally during the General Strike of 1926, after the collapse of the Labour government of 1931 and then during World War Two when there was support for Russia as an allied force. Membership was strongest in London and in Scotland, and these were the only two areas to elect a Communist M.P.

Early members of the Aberdeen Party had been members of the Socialist Labour Party: James Gordon and William Morrison. Notable later members were Party organiser for North-East Scotland, Bob Cooney, and Margaret Rose, local Party Secretary. The group’s first proper room (from May 1921) was at 17 St Nicholas Street. There were also rooms in the 1930s in Loch Street (‘The All Power Hall’) and later in Uquhart Road. The party was very active in the city during specific periods: the General Strike of 1926, anti-fascist activity in the 1930s, the hunger marches in the 1930s, during the Spanish Civil War when members fought with the International Brigades in Spain (including Bob Cooney) and in the 1940s squatting movement.

The national party first took part in parliamentary elections in 1922 but it was not until 1928 that Aberdeen had its first candidate: Aitken Ferguson standing in Aberdeen North, against the Labour Party candidate. He polled a respectable 2,618 votes which was over 12% of the total votes cast (which stood as the highest ever percentage received for a Communist candidate in Aberdeen). There were only to be a further 5 attempts at national elections (all in Aberdeen North): Ferguson again in 1929 (where his vote percentage more than halved), Helen Crawfurd in 1931, Bob Cooney in 1950, Margaret Rose in 1966 and finally AJ Ingram in 1970).

There was also a very active Young Communist League in the city.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Group, Aberdeen University Communist Party Group, British Socialist Party, Dave Campbell, Communist Party of Britain (Aberdeen), Robert (Bob) Cooney, Labour College (Aberdeen), League Against Imperialism, Socialist Labour Party and William Leslie.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, ‘Aberdeen Was More Red Than Glasgow: The Impact of the First World War and the Russian Revolution beyond Red Clydeside’ (William Kenefick, in Scotland and the Slavs: Cultures in Contact: 1500 – 2000 (Mark Cornwall & Murray Frames (eds.), Newtonville, 2001), Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872 – 1932 (William Kenefick, Edinburgh University Press, 2007), The Aberdeen Trades Council and Politics 1900-1939 (C. W. M. Phipps, University of Aberdeen thesis, 1980), Remembering the Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939 (chapter ‘The Story of Aberdeen’s Communists’ by Bob Cooney, in ed. George Scott, Aberdeen Trades Council, 1996) and ‘The Membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain 1920 – 1945’ (by Andrew Thorpe, The Historical Journal, 43, 3 (2000).

Sources: there are some printed items at the University Library (as part of the Aberdeen People’s Press archive and Bob Cooney’s songbooks from the late 1970s/early 1980s are held as part of the Aberdeen Trades Union Council archive). The national party papers are held at the People’s History Museum, Manchester.

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The Scottish Labour College was founded in Glasgow in 1916 (by Glasgow socialist John Maclean and others) to provide independent working class Marxian education. There were many branches across Scotland and although Aberdeen Trades Union Council was invited to send delegates to the provisional meeting in 1916, it does not appear that happened. In December 1919 though after a visit by John Maclean, a branch was formed. The Chairman was Alfred Balfour (National Union of Railwaymen) and Secretary/Treasurer was William Morrison (Painters, who had been in the Socialist Labour Party and then the Aberdeen Communist Party). The first tutor was Joseph Payne, a Communist who remained until 1922, and then it was Aitken Ferguson, another Communist, who later stood twice in general elections in Aberdeen (in 1928/1929). There were constant concerns about the viability of the scheme and in 1924 Morrison reported that the Aberdeen branch was in trouble financially as it only had the support of 20 out of a 70 possible local trade union branches. The scheme did survive though and later tutors included Communist Bob Cooney. The Aberdeen & District branch remained active it would seem until the late 1940s.

There was also a Central Labour College in England which has been founded earlier in 1909. The College had been founded after a strike at Ruskin College, Oxford, when a group of Marxist students formed The Plebs League. In 1915 the College was officially recognised by the Trades’ Union Congress. In 1921 a National Council of Labour Colleges was created to co-ordinate the college network and the Scottish Labour College was absorbed. In 1964 the National Council merged with the Workers’ Educational Trade Union Committee to form the Trades’ Union Congress Education Department.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party and Robert Cooney.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

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The national Fabian Society was founded in 1884 with the aim of developing political ideas and public policy on the political left. The Society is still active and affiliated to the Labour Party.

There is a vague reference to a local Fabian Society existing in 1892 but it has not been proved. An Aberdeen branch though was established in 1924 and a key member was Robert Raffan (he was a trade unionist and Labour councillor) who was Secretary for 40 years, from the late 1920s. It was reported that in the late 1930s Aberdeen was the largest branch in Scotland. The branch was very active organising meetings, many with visiting speakers.

Related entries: Aberdeen University Fabian Society.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal and Trade Unionism in Aberdeen 1878 1900 (K. D. Buckley, Edinburgh, 1955).

Sources: papers of the national Fabian Society are held at the London School of Economics.

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William Leslie was born in Elgin and his father Alexander was a shoemaker. Prior to World War One, from 1908 – 1913, he was a professional footballer playing for Elgin City and Manchester City. He was a carpenter by trade, later becoming an active trade unionist in the Elgin area.

During World War One he was a conscientious objector appearing before a Military Service Tribunal in July 1916. He left Elgin for Glasgow in September 1916, presumably driven out for his anti-militarist views and for not signing up for non-combatant work. He went to Glasgow in 1917, working in John Brown’s shipyard, and it is possible he was then imprisoned for ignoring the decision of the tribunal.

Leslie was a member of the Independent Labour Party, No-Conscription Fellowship, Socialist Labour Party (from September 1918 until September 1919) and then he was one of the founders of the Aberdeen Communist Group in September 1919. He was also actively involved in the ‘Hands of Russia’ campaign in Aberdeen, co-ordinated by Aberdeen Trades Council.

In July 1920 Leslie set off for Moscow, via Finland and Petrograd, as a stowaway and without a passport, to attend the Third Comintern Congress. He declared himself to be a British delegate of the British Communist Party, along with Sylvia Pankhurst. It is not clear though whether he was in fact an ‘official’ delegate, like Pankhurst.

He left to return to Scotland via Norway but was arrested and imprisoned. After a hunger strike, he made it back to Scotland, and in November 1920 spoke to an audience about his adventures at the Aberdeen Picturedrome.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Group, Aberdeen Communist Party and Socialist Labour Party.

References: Conscientious Objectors Register 1914 – 1918 at Imperial War Museum website, ‘Aberdeen Was More Red Than Glasgow: The Impact of the First World War and the Russian Revolution beyond Red Clydeside’ (William Kenefick, in Scotland and the Slavs: Cultures in Contact: 1500 – 2000 (Mark Cornwall & Murray Frames (eds.), Newtonville, 2001) and Red Scotland: The Rise and Fall of the Radical Left c.1872 – 1932 (William Kenefick, Edinburgh University Press, 2007).

Sources: Letters from Leslie are housed in Moscow in the Russian Centre for the Preservation and Study of Documents of Recent History.

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Henry (or Harry) Hill Duncan was born in 1862, son of Radical shoemaker Alexander (Sandy) Duncan. Henry was also a shoemaker and an active member of the Unitarian church, led by the Rev. Alexander Webster.

Duncan was active in Aberdeen Trades Council as delegate for the Boot and Shoemakers’ Union and he was also part of the Aberdeen Socialist Society with James Leatham et al. In early 1891 he led a group which acrimoniously split from the Society to form the Aberdeen Revolutionary Socialist Federation, changing its name to the Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group in 1893. This group had argued for a more revolutionary than reformist position. Duncan was a very active member of the group and published a pamphlet titled ‘A Plea for Anarchist Communism’ in 1893.

After the group dissolved in the mid-1890s Duncan came to the fore on the Aberdeen Trades Council, serving as President in 1903 – 1905 and 1910, and also playing a formative role in organising dock workers in the city. He was also a member of Aberdeen School Board from 1900 -1906 and from 1911 – 1920, later working for the Education Authority.

Related entries: Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group, Aberdeen Socialist Society, James Leatham and Rev. Alexander Webster.

References: obituary of H.H. Duncan in Aberdeen Journal 5th May 1937, web article by Nick Heath ‘Anarchism in Aberdeen, the Granite City’ (2013) (author used sources such as the articles submitted by the group to the journal Commonweal) and ‘A Plea for Anarchist Communism’ (H.H. Duncan, Aberdeen Anarchist Communist Group, James Blair, Aberdeen, 1893).

Sources: as above, articles submitted by the group to the journal Commonweal and H.H. Duncan’s pamphlet. Also Post Office Directories.

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John Paton was born in Aberdeen, his father a master baker and his mother a paper factory worker. In his life he was employed in a bewildering number of occupations: apprentice compositor, warehouseman, apprentice baker, hairdresser, milkman and salesman of false teeth. He became involved in politics as a teenager through membership of the Clarion Club and the Shop Assistants’ Union. He joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) around 1906, often going to the Clarion Club room beside Marischal College to meet other like minded individuals. He was interested in socialist propaganda and often spoke in public around the usual gathering points such as the Castlegate.

He had some troubles in his work because of his vocal socialist viewpoints, and he moved to Glasgow around 1910. He became disillusioned with the ILP and became interested in the writings of Mikhail Bakunin and with others re-formed the Glasgow Anarchist Group. He returned to Aberdeen around 1912 becoming heavily involved again with the ILP. He became ILP representative on Aberdeen Trades Council, often putting forward anti-war resolutions and was the ILP nomination for North Aberdeen in 1918, but his anti-war stance worked against him. In 1920/1921 he was ILP Northern Organiser, and then until 1924 party organiser for all of Scotland. He stood for election in South Aberdeen in 1923, and was near to standing for Parliament again in 1928 but was unable to do so alongside his new role as General Secretary of the ILP. He left the ILP in 1933 over his opposition to what he regarded as its pro-communist policies.

He was also secretary of the International Committee of Independent Revolutionary Socialist Parties, secretary of the National Council for the Abolition of the Death Penalty, editor of The New Leader and also The Penal Reformer. He eventually became a Labour M.P. for Norwich from 1945 to 1964.

He wrote a 2 volume autobiography: volume 1 covers early life until 1919, whilst volume 2 (1919 – 1933) is mainly about his professional work with the ILP, after he leaves Aberdeen. The volumes are very detailed describing his formative years learning about socialism and atheism, the Aberdeen Clarion Club, Aberdeen ILP, his pacifist work in World War One (including a few occasions of conflict, such as when Ramsay MacDonald spoke in the city), the role of the ILP Northern Organiser and also the re-founding of the anarchist group in Glasgow.

Related entries: Aberdeen Clarion Club and Musings: Daily acts of rebellion no:1

References: 2 volumes of autobiography: Proletarian Pilgrimage (John Paton, George Routledge & Sons Ltd., London, 1935) and Left Turn! (John Paton, Martin Secker & Warburg Ltd., London, 1936). Entry in Biographical Dictionary of European Labour Leaders (2 volumes, A Lane, Westport Greenwood Publishing Co., 1995)

Sources: 2 volumes of autobiography noted above. Some items of correspondence are held at the Labour History Archive and Study Centre (People’s History Museum), Manchester.

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Dave Campbell was born in Aberdeen and worked at the Stoneywood Paper Mill in Dyce. He was Chairman of the Donside Paper Workers Union and led the Mugiemoss workers out on strike in the 1930s, with the consequence that he was blacklisted. He was then employed in the construction industry and became union officer in the Constructional Engineering Union. In 1946 he moved with his family to Birmingham and became a full time local organiser for the union.

He was an active member of Aberdeen Trades Council, specifically with the local Trade Union Organising Committee, which was set up by the Scottish Trades Union Congress in the 1930s, to build up union branches. He was also a local leader of hunger marches (to London in 1938) and Council Vice-President in 1938.

A life-long member of the Communist Party, he was a friend of fellow communist Bob Cooney, who stayed with him in Birmingham, and shared an interest in folk music.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party.

References: Aberdeen Trades Union Council annual report 1989 and website of Graham Stevenson which features hundred of biographies of Communist Party members.

Sources: unknown.

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