Born on 23rd August 1902 in Dumfriesshire, the son of a clergyman, he joined the Communist Party at the age of 18 in October 1920, as he went to Edinburgh University to study science and in particular forestry. In the summer of 1924, he left university for lack of funds. Spending five months on the tramp across the British Isles, he was arrested for vagrancy in Dublin and Aylesbury in the course of this. He eventually emigrated to Australia, where be became heavily involved in the Communist Party of Australia (CPA).
At first a labourer in Victoria, he got a better job surveying the bush. In the winter of `1925, he left this job to assist in party work. This appeared to consist of signing on as a seafarer in Melbourne and Sydney, so as to be able to participate in the overseas seamen’s strike of later that year. A general election that followed was fought on an anti-red basis by the right, which won overwhelmingly and in the subsequent purge of the waterfront, Eaglesham was victimised along with many others. Repressive legislation followed, which would permit the deportation of industrial agitators and he took to travelling around, looking for casual work. He worked as a navvy in a New South Wales rail workshop in early 1926 and a railway loader in Queensland later that year. He tramped all over eastern Australia, looking for work and becoming involved in a number of disputes before moving to New Zealand by the middle of the year, where he worked as a navvy and then a building worker.
The Communist Party of New Zealand had been founded in 1921 but had collapsed after divisions and repression. From 1924, the few CPNZ members left were members of the CPA. During 1926, the ground was prepared by the CPA for a CPNZ congress of representatives of the ten Party groups on both islands, which was held at the end of December in Wellington. Eaglesham was a Wellington delegate and was elected the unpaid General Secretary. He sought work in the coal mines of the isolated town of Blackball on South Island. The CPNZ had already secured organic roots in this highly militant mining town, where no less than a quarter of its membership of 120 was located. (New Zealand had a population of not quite one and a half million.) The General Secretary of the United Mineworkers union was in the Party as were many of its activists. Eaglesham now maximised the young and small CPNZ’s potential, despite the difficult conditions prevailing against the small colonial nation.
In 1927, the CPNZ’s application for affiliation to the NZ Labour Party was turned down; but a Labour candidate in Wellington defected to the CPNZ in the middle of an election campaign and was still able to poll three thousand votes, a victory of sorts for united front activity. In Eaglesham’s `little Moscow’ of Blackball, a Young Comrades League was set up for working class children, as a kind of socialist Sunday School, or young pioneers’ group (complete with a navy-blue uniform). In Blackball, parents were enabled to take their children on a day�s celebratory holiday on the anniversary of the Russian Revolution. The CPNZ, and Eaglesham in particular, was now under intense scrutiny by local security forces and an openly repressive atmosphere dented Party membership considerably; it dropped to 105 members by the end of 1927. Nonetheless, Eaglesham poured out a stream of Party pamphlets, written by himself, during 1928. Nonetheless, the repression intensified; Eaglesham and most other Party members were sacked as miners and he lost his home as a result. Eaglesham became the secretary of an unemployed workers organisation, which organised local demonstrations. In one fell swoop, the CPNZ’s major industrial base was eliminated and Eaglesham and the base of the CPNZ was shifted to Wellington.
Partly due to a developing friction between leading individuals, Eaglesham found himself no longer the General Secretary but still part of the leadership at the end of 1928. Eaglesham had regularly been arrested for distributing Communist propaganda but was summonsed to appear in court in March 1929; it is likely that this prompted him to seek work as a crew member on a ship bound for Britain. The CPNZ found itself severely criticised by the Comintern at the end of 1929 but Eaglesham was singled out for praise. He was however, tramping around England, being arrested near Oxford for vagrancy in the summer. He ended up at his brother’s home in Gretna and in September enrolled at the Glasgow Training College for School Teachers; two of his brothers had already taken this path. He immediately became active in the Scottish Teachers Socialist Teachers Labour League.
A measure of the esteem he was now accorded within British Communism is the fact that he was put in charge of the Control Commission of the Scottish Party. In 1930, he was active in distributing Party literature amongst troops, in particular The Soldier’s Voice. Eaglesham also had a role in the `Workers Defence Force�, a pseudo-militaristic proto-apparatus of the Party. He completed his teacher training course in June 1930 but was now sent to Moscow to attend the Anglo-American E-section of the International Lenin School, travelling there during August, assuming the underground name of William Murphy, a former comrade in New Zealand. Rose Cohen and Gus Hall, of the USA, were both there at the same time.
In February 1931, Eaglesham was accorded the distinction of membership of the CPSU. A period at the Tomsky metal works in the Donetsk region saw his health deteriorate; by the end of the year he was diagnosed with TB and was sent to a sanatorium for a lengthy period. A spell working in the open air on a state farm ensued but in mid-1933 he was again hospitalised. By this stage his studies at the Lenin School were over and he was employed as a researcher in the English-speaking section of the Comintern. For much of the middle of 1934 he was back in a sanatorium and in August 1934 was tragically discharged as terminally ill and returned to Britain. On 4th July 1935, he died of pulmonary tuberculosis at Stobham Hospital in Scotland, just two months short of his 33rd birthday.
Source: Gavin Bowd – Comintern Cadre: the passion of Allan Eaglesham� Socialist History Society, Occasional Paper No 22 (2006)
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