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Aitken Ferguson

Born in 1891 in Glasgow – and named after his iron moulder father, Ferguson was a leading Scottish Communist, elected to the Party’s Central Committee at the 6th Congress in May 1924. He was re-elected at the 7th Congress in May 1925 and again at the 8th congress.  

Also in May 1924, Glasgow Labour Party adopted Ferguson as its candidate for a by-election in the Kelvingrove constituency, his second contest there.  In the 1923 contest, though standing as an open Communist, Fergusons backing by Labour locally was strong enough for him to gain 10,021 votes.

Membership of the Communist Party was not then a debarment for standing as a Labour MP – indeed others had been so elected. Although he did well and polled 11,167 votes, more than he had previously, an anti-communist backlash in capitalist newspapers caused Labour’s national leadership to institute an enquiry in the matter. (Kelvingrove was not easy territory for Labour, which did not win the seat until 1945 and then only narrowly, losing it five years later and only retaining it in modern times.)A boilermaker by trade, Ferguson was part of the emergency leadership (which also included Bob Stewart, George Hardy, Andrew Rothstein, and Emile Burns), which took over after the twelve Communist leaders were arrested on a charge of “seditious conspiracy”. This followed only days after the October 1925 Labour Party conference had rejected a resolution calling for Communist affiliation to the Labour Party.

This signal to the Government saw the twelve arrested: Arthur MacManus (Chair); William Gallacher (Vice-Chair); Albert Inkpin (Secretary); Harry Pollitt (Secretary of the National Minority Movement), J. R. Campbell (Acting Editor of the Workers’ Weekly), Tom Bell, William Rust, J. T. Murphy (members of the Political Bureau); Ernest Cant (London Organiser); Walter Hannington (Secretary of the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement); Robin Page Arnot (of the Labour Research Department who had been active in preparing the miners’ case, and Tom Wintringham (Assistant Editor of the Workers’ Weekly).

A powerful campaign for the release of the prisoners was launched, in which 300,000 signatures were collected; but the main activity of the Communist Party was to induce the working class movement to prepare for the next round of the struggle.

At the Comintern Executive’s plenary meeting in February 1926, Aitken Ferguson defined the role of the Minority Movement as being ‘to bring pressure to bear upon the reactionaries and to stiffen up the hesitating and wobbly elements’.

He secured 1,352 votes to Labours 2,172 in a Glasgow by-election for Anderston Ward in 1927. He was also the Communist Party’s candidate at the Aberdeen North by-election in August 1928, polling 2,618 votes compared to 10,646 votes for the winning Labour candidate. Yet this was such an encouraging result for the young party that Party leader Tom Bell (see separate entry) received a congratulatory telegram from the Comintern.

Ferguson stood in Greenock in the 1931 general election, polling a stunning 6,440 votes against Labour’s 10,850. 

He contested the Caldegate ward of Carlisle Council as a workers candidate in November 1932.

The Scottish Party had been certainly been asked to send an organiser to Cumbria to assist in the building of the struggle against unemployment. 

Ferguson’s programme included abolition of the Means Test and Anomalies Act, along with the provision of boots, clothing and meals for all unemploye

d workers children; he also demanded that the relief scales of the Public Assistance Committee be fixed at the same levels plus 10% above the ordinary benefits at the labour exchange, along with extra winter relief. [Daily Worker 31st October 1932]

Assigned duties in Scotland, long-term, Ferguson’s 1938 pamphlet put the conception of a form of devolution, which would have the administration of all Scottish affairs delegated to it by Westminster