Posts Tagged ‘1930s’

The British Union of Fascists (B.U.F.) was formed in 1932 and not long after were establishing networks right across Britain, including in Aberdeen. In September 1935 the B.U.F. tried to hold a meeting at the Music Hall but protesters stopped their meeting. The protesters were made up of members of the local Communist Party and so in November 1935 a meeting was called addressed by Party stalwarts Bob Stewart and J.R. Campbell, with the protesters now styling themselves the Aberdeen Anti-Fascist League. What followed was another 3 years of vicious confrontation between the fascists and anti-fascists, resulting in street battles, criminal damage and court cases.

Although there were battles across the UK, Aberdeen became a centre for activity because of the prominent roles in the B.U.F. of activists based in the locality: William Keith Abercrombie Jopp Chambers-Hunter, the Laird of Tillery, near Udny, and his sister-in-law, Agnes Botha.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, Fascism in Aberdeen: Street Politics in the 1930s (Liz Kibblewhite and Andrew Rigby, Aberdeen People’s Press, 1978) and Proud Journey: a Spanish Civil War memoir (Bob Cooney, Marx Memorial Library, 2015).

Sources: unknown.

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The Scottish Universities’ Labour Party existed at the time when there were three Combined Scottish Universities’ Parliamentary seats in the House of Commons (from 1918 – 1950), elected by graduates from the universities of Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and St Andrews. The Party was affiliated to the National Labour Party and the branches played a role in the selection of Parliamentary candidates. There were full ordinary members, who had to be graduates of the universities, and there were also associate members who could be graduates of non-Scottish universities or undergraduates.

The Aberdeen branch as well as their role in selecting the parliamentary candidates, worked alongside the Burgh Labour Party, held joint meeting with the local Fabian Society, staged evening talks with notable speakers such as Lord John Boyd Orr and the nationalist Douglas Young, ran study groups, and undertook many fund raising initiatives such as Aid for Spain. Membership was around the mid-50s, but had declined so rapidly, that by 1956, the branch was discontinued.

References: as below

Sources: Party minutes from 1938 – 1956 are held at University of Aberdeen Library

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This year will hopefully see a revised issue of the booklet which tells the history of the men and women from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire who fought fascism in the Spanish Civil War. The original booklet that was published in 1996 named 19 men from Aberdeen, including 5 who died:

  • David Anderson
  • Walter Bruce
  • Alfred Christie
  • Robert (Bob) Cooney
  • Robert Cooper
  • Thomas Davidson (killed)
  • Archibald Dewar (killed)
  • Charles Downie
  • William Dunbar
  • George Forbes
  • Alec Gibb
  • John Londragan
  • Charles McLeod (killed)
  • Kenneth Morrice (killed)
  • Alexander Reid
  • Ernest Sim (killed)
  • Robert Simpson
  • John Watson
  • Charles Watt (Scots Canadians)

In the intervening years though new research has revised that number and a search of the database of volunteers on International Brigade Memorial Trust website illustrates that.

From Aberdeen:

  • Alexander McLean (also known as John Gavin)
  • William Petrie (Scots Canadians)
  • Albert Smith

From Aberdeenshire:

  • The Murray family were originally from Newton of Tornaveen in Aberdeenshire (Ann, George and Thomas)
  • George Bisset

I find it interesting that the database also notes if the 26 individuals were a member of a political party: (Communist Party (British but also Australian and Canadian) 17, no party 6, not stated 2 and Labour Party 1).


Remembering the Spanish Civil War 1936 – 1939 (George Scott (ed.), Aberdeen Trades Council, 2nd edition, c. 2000)

Database of volunteers on International Brigade Memorial Trust website –


This website below has more information such as photographs but there is little information on where the research has been gleaned from –


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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 Anti-Fascist League, 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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