Jack (J T) Murphy
Born on 9th December 1888, John Thomas Murphy came from Wincobank, a village then on the edge of Sheffield. His father was an Irish Catholic and his mother was English. As a youth, he became a metal-worker and an activist in the Amalgamated Society of Engineers.
In 1913 Jack Murphy bought a copy of The Suffragette from Molly Morris, who was selling papers in the street. Once they had struck it off well, chatting as she sold, they began a relationship that led them to become married.
A skilled worker at Vickers Brightside factory in Sheffield, Murphy was a leading figure in the National Shops’ Stewards Movement, which emerged in engineering and shipbuilding factories during the First World War. He was a delegate to the engineering union Sheffield district committee and to the local Trades and Labour Council.
Having been elected to the national council of the Shop Stewards Movement, he was recuited by its chair, Arthur MacManus, to the Socialist Labour Party in August 1917, despite its lack of a real base in Sheffield. In 1918, he wrote his `Equality of sacrifice’, published by the Socialist Labour Press and `The Workers Committee: an outline of the principles and structures’, published by the Sheffield Workers’ Committee.
Murphy stood as a candidate in the 1918 General Election for the Gorton constituency in Manchester. A supporter of the communist unity process he, along with many other SLP members, entered the Communist Party from its formation in 1920.
Jack Murphy was a member of the Central Committee and its Industrial Organiser. He was a leading trade unionist within the Party, especially within the National Minority Movement from its formation in 1924. In 1925, in advance of the general strike the following year, Murphy was one of twelve Party leaders imprisoned for seditious libel and incitement to mutiny.
In 1922, the Red International of Labour Unions had published his `Stop the retreat’ and, for much of the 1920, Murphy was a key figure in the Red International of Labour Unions and the Comintern, where he moved the expulsion of Leon Trotsky in 1927.
Pic: Murphy with son, Gordon, in 1926
In 1928, Murphy had adopted a position all of his own in relationship to the debate raging in the Communist Party over attitudes to the Labour Party.
Murphy stood as a Communist for the Brightside Ward of Sheffield in a by-election in January 1930.
He was expelled from the Party in 1932 but claimed to have left anyway. In a letter of May 8 1932 to the Political Bureau, he said that it had become “perfectly clear to me … that there is no place for me”. After making many procedural points about how to resolve differences, he claimed he had been accused of “manœuvring for a platform against the Political Bureau”
Pic: left and below – Murphy with wife, Molly, and son, Gordon, in Minsk in 1926
He had differed from the estimation of the Political Bureau over the 1931 General Election and claimed correctness in hindsight. Murphy wrote that he would not subordinate himself “to a policy I do not conscientiously accept, to be silent on questions which I conscientiously deem important, and subject myself to an authority”. In the bulletin of the Communist International[Vol. IX, No. 13, July 15 1932], the Party recalled that Murphy had strongly argued that the way out of the crisis then apparent in the world was to wage a “struggle for the granting of Soviet credits from British capitalism”.
In an article published in April, he had written “The more the daily life of the working class of this country becomes integratedwith the industrialisation of the Soviet Union, even through bourgeois channels, the more difficult it will be for the British Government to sever relations . . . This is fighting against the war. This is waging the class war.” In contrast, the Party said that it was by no means against the demand for trading credits to the Soviet Union, but its main aim was “to mobilise the workers for fighting against, not appealing to, the bourgeoisie”.
For a time, Murphy played a role within the Socialist League, a left wing pressure group in the 1930s Labour Party but, disillusioned, he effectively dropped out of politics in his later years. He died on 13th May 1965.
Pic: Murphy pictured in his later years