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Following revolution in Russia, shockwaves reverberated around the world, and Aberdeen felt that impact as well. In late 1918 there was a meeting in Aberdeen with the aim of forming an ‘Industrial Council or ‘Soviet’ and according to the local newspapers, a telegram was read out from Glasgow socialist John MacLean, which simply read ‘Aberdeen Workers! Unite!’.

The Aberdeen Communist Group was formally established in September 1919. Members of the Aberdeen group included William Greig, William Leslie, J. Leslie, George Scott, James Scroggie, Basil Taylor and Robert Troup. The group was very active and often featured in local newspapers, usually being accused of being dangerous Bolsheviks, intent on revolution. The group held many public meetings, including in November 1919 for example, a talk by Guy Aldred (Aldred was from Glasgow and an anarchist communist, author/publisher and former conscientious objector who was imprisoned at the camp at Dyce).

Events nationally would alter the course though and the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was formally founded at a Unity Conference held in London in late July/early August 1920. The new national committed itself to parliamentary representation and this caused a split in some local Communist groups, including Aberdeen. Many of the key members (such as Basil Taylor) did not join the new party and chose a different path, aligning themselves with the anti-parliamentarian movement led in Scotland by Guy Aldred. The Aldred grouping was a fusion of anarchists and communists and in 1921 the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation was founded.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party and William Leslie.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal, For Communism (Guy Aldred, The Strickland Press, Glasgow, 1943), ‘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) and Anti-Parliamentary Communism: The Movement for Workers’ Councils 1917 – 1945 (Mark Shipway, Palgrave, 1988).

Sources: unknown.

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The Communist Party of Britain was formed after a split in the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1988.

An Aberdeen branch has been active since 2017.

Related entries: Aberdeen Communist Party.

References: website.

Sources: unknown

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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 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 International Marxist Group (British Section of the Fourth International) advertised in Aberdeen People’s Press and The Big Print in the mid-1970s – early 1980s.

The Group was a national Trotskyist organisation and emerged in the mid-1960s. It changed its name in 1982 to the Socialist League.

References: adverts in Aberdeen People’s Press (1975) and The Big Print (June 1978 – early 1980s).

Sources: unknown, but papers of the national body are held at the Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick and also at the London School of Economics.

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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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A group mentioned in a press report about May Day in 1905. There were Marxian clubs in the rest of Britain around this time, often hosting speakers from the Social Democratic Federation.

References: Aberdeen Daily Journal.

Sources: unknown.

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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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