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Purcell A A (Alf)

A A (Alf) Purcell

Albert Arthur Purcell, universally known to the labour movement and to history as “A A Purcell” and to his friends as “Alf”, was possibly born in London in 1872. An early `Labour’ councillor in Manchester, he had been a supporter of the Marxist trends within the labour movement from his youngest days. Then, in the years preceding the First World War, he became strongly attracted to syndicalism. He was then swept up for the first couple of years after 1920 in the spirit that had led to the formation of the Communist Party, like a number of his contemporaries in the Guild Socialism and Guild Communism movement.

Indeed, he briefly enjoyed an international reputation as an outspoken champion of the Soviet revolution. This largely came out of his important role at the top of British trades unionism. A leading figure on the TUC General Council, Purcell was a member of the earliest British labour movement delegations to Russia.  He was also President of the `Amsterdam’ International Federation of Trade Unions (IFTU) at the time of the closer co-operation between British and Soviet trade unions that led to the TUC’s support for a policy of enhanced trade between Britain and Russia. As such, he may have been largely responsible for a 1925 TUC report on the Soviets in 1925.

But, as with many of those who were faced with the choice of being in the Labour Party or the Communist Party, as the bans and proscriptions began to bite, he chose the former after only a couple of years. As with others, it was the offer of a parliamentary seat in the general election of late 1922 that saw him leave formal connection with the fledgling Communist Party, although for another four years he maintained a role as the leading spokesman for the left in the broader movement. He became a Labour Member of Parliament from 1922-24 for the Gloucestershire constituency of the Forest of Dean. However, as a leading TUC ‘left’ his credibility was badly damaged by the role of the General Council during the General Strike in 1926.

In 1927, he lost his role as President of IFTU and, from 1925 to 1929, he was MP for Coventry, during which time, in late 1927 and 1928, he visited India. His general falling out of favour in the labour movement saw him end his career in the relative obscurity of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council which he represented the ISTC on. He died, aged 63, in December 1935.