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Bridgeman Reginald

Reginald Bridgeman

 

While Bridgeman was never actually a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, he was certainly a "fellow traveller", and was especially very close to Harry Pollitt.  In practice, to all intents and purposes, even when a member of the Labour Party, Bridgeman acted like a Communist.

 

He himself once stated: “Communist influence is gaining ground throughout the world. Social Democracy represented by the ILP, LP, TUC in close co-operation with Federation of British Industries is a waning force, while the masses everywhere are revolting against capitalism”

 

He was born Reginald Francis Orlando Bridgeman on 14th October 1884, the eldest son of Colonel the Hon. Francis Bridgeman. His father had been Member of Parliament for Bolton and ended his military career as a Brigadier General.

Reginald was educated at Harrow, but left at the age of 16 to study languages in France and Germany. In 1903 he was appointed honorary attaché to the British Embassy in Madrid. Later, he was posted to Paris, and became Private Secretary to Sir Francis Bertie in 1912. Bridgeman was by now an up-and-coming diplomat and as such attended the Paris Peace Congress. In July 1918 he took up a formal appointment as a Civil Service First Secretary, becoming a member of the Association of Upper Division Civil Servants, the relevant `trade union’.

Bridgeman was posted to Vienna, Austria and would later state he was greatly impressed by working class control of the City, as with the use of the Imperial Palace and Gardens of Schoenbrunn to house the homeless and feed the starving children of the City. This he recalled "opened his eyes to the practicality of socialism".

Bridgeman was posted to Iran in 1920, and it was here he witnessed the Coup of Reza Khan in 1921. Later that year, Bridgeman took a controversial stance by attending the local Soviet embassy's commemoration of the October Revolution. His presence was labelled: “One of the most shocking episodes in modern history”. Bridgeman was recalled to London, but not before he had visited India to study illiteracy and poverty rates). Having reported to Lord Curzon, he was finally pensioned off by the Civil Service in July 1923.

Meanwhile, Bridgeman moved to Pinner in 1922 and within two years had become active in the founding of Pinner Labour Party branch of Hendon Labour Party. In March 1927, he was elected Chair of Hendon Constituency.  Bridgeman's politics were confirmed when in 1923 he married Miss Olwen Elizabeth Jones, of Pinner, West London, the daughter of a chemist and active in labour movement.

Bridgeman demonstrated support for the Communist Party by organising annual Sunday Worker garden parties between 1927 to 1932 at Waxwell Lane, Pinner; Sunday Worker banners would be tied across the street to the alarm of local Tories. There, he had had built 14 houses to be let only at an affordable rent.

 

During the General Strike of 1926, Bridgeman was involved with the Wealdstone Trades Council and its strike bulletin. In 1926 he was appointed along with A M Wall, Secretary of the London Trades Union Council, to be joint Secretary of the British Labour Council for Chinese Freedom and had become active in the formation of the Chinese Information Bureau and “Hands of China” campaigns.

In February 1927 Bridgeman attended the Congress of Oppressed Nationalities in Brussels, organised by Eili Muzenburg, which resulted in the formation of the League Against Imperialism, Bridgeman becoming Honorary Secretary in 1933. It is probably for his work within the League Against Imperialism that Bridgeman is best known. The LAI was a vital part of the anti colonial struggle in many nations by, for example, producing numerous publications, such as the Cypriot News (Kypriaka Nea).

It is therefore hardly surprising that Bridgeman was heavily involved in the Meerut trial 1929-1933 of trade union leaders in India including Shaukat Usmani (see separate entry).

Bridgeman was selected as the popular Labour candidate to fight the Uxbridge constituency at the 1929 general election. He threw himself into constituency, cycling everywhere, speaking everywhere and even fly-posting. Bridgeman recalled that “The people are naturally conservative and opposed to any change, so that progress is more difficult than one might expect”.

Bridgeman stood on a wide-ranging but boldy and assertively left-wing platform of:


 

  • pay rises, shorter working hours and two weeks paid holiday
  • raising the school-leaving age to 16
  • decent pensions for all
  • abolition of overseas bases
  • the outlawing of war
  • self-determination for the colonies
  • full diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union
  • abolition of the House of Lords

Bridgeman was also a member of the Pinner General & Municipal Workers Union branch and Southall Labour Club

At the 1929 general election Bridgeman's vote in Uxbridge rose from 8,459 to 16,422 and the Tory vote slashed to a 1,348 majority. Despite being the official Labour candidate, Bridgeman had been openly helped by the local Southall Communist Party.

When LAI was made a prescribed organisation by the Labour Party, because of its links with the Communist Party, Bridgeman had no choice but to stand as a "Workers Candidate" for Uxbridge. A Southall section of the League Against Imperialism was established to support Bridgeman. One slogan was: “Your vote is one weapon, class might be another”; Bridgeman polled 2,358 votes.

He was readmitted to the Labour Party in 1937 and selected as candidate for Hendon but resigned and was later expelled from the Labour Party for supporting the Communist Party backed "People's Convention" in 1941.

During the war he was involved with the establishment of a Yiewsley Communist Party branch.

 

Tragically his eldest son was killed in service during World War Two.

Between 1949 and 1951 he was national treasurer of the National Council for Civil Liberties, the NCCL.

Bridgeman died on 11th December 1968.

 

Michael Walker