AGRICULTURAL COMMUNIST BASES IN ENGLAND
But outside of more obvious traditional industry bases, the Party gained significant footholds, an infrequently noted fact in previous accounts of the Party in this period, in many rural localities where significant numbers of waged farm workers lived. Wilf Page, a staunch member of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and later elected to its executive, was also elected as a Labour man in 1946, and subsequently shortly afterwards joining the Communist Party, Page held his seat on the Erpingham RDC, in north Norfolk, in three successive elections as a Communist. He was actually unopposed in 1957 and this was a position he served in until government re-organisation in 1974.
Another rural Communist of distinction was Miss Lois Newman. She was the only Communist in her village in mid-Suffolk, in the smallest borough and constituency in the country, that of Eye, an almost feudal place. Though she met hostility “in the days of Hungary”, she had “stood her ground”. Local people respected her as someone who would stand up to the “big wigs”; they went to her when “a stretch of common land was threatened, when pathways were closed” and both were still safely there when, some years after she had moved slightly out of the boundary area which she served as a Communist parish councilor, she was elected President of the local Women’s Institute! [World News March 17th 1962]
More solidly, perhaps, the Party had also secured an important base in the small rural Essex town of Leiston from the 1930s, which survived well into the 1960s. Its leading light, Paxton Chadwick, was able to win a council seat and even became chair of the Rural District Council. His second wife, Lee, also became a Communist councillor. Max Morton a Communist farmer was also elected as a Communist councillor for nearby Pentlow Parish council, nr Sudbury. The remarkable mass support won locally owed a great deal to the extraordinary talent and dedication of this remarkable couple. They were by no means on their own, yet the Leiston Communist Party’s electoral work was hampered by the small size of its membership, for example in the 1958 council election the Leiston Communist party could rely on just sixteen members of whom five were pensioners. Help had to be secured by the District Secretary, Neville Carey, from Ipswich and there was only one car (one more than the Labour Party) to help get electors to the polls. Incidentally, Paxton Chadwick was a first class artist and produced numerous nature drawings for Penguin books from 1949 until his death. (He died in Whitworth hospital, London on 6th September 1961and his funeral address was given by Communist Party General Secretary, John Gollan.)
This base in Leiston must have rubbed off in nearby Ipswich, which often gave support to the electoral work of Chadwick and his comrades. But Leiston was a hard act to follow in the conditions of a larger town, with a more vicious established anti-communist Labour Party. In the early 1950s Ipswich Communist Party branch activity “slowed down and attendance at meetings began to fall off. The general offensive of the capitalist class against the workers was in full swing. Even trade union branches were prevented from holding meetings in pubs by brewers. The Cold War was having an effect even within the Party, which was to reach its conclusion with the events in Hungary in 1956 when many lukewarm members left the ranks” Even so, public meetings outside the Corn Exchange and Town Hall in Ipswich were very well attended. National speakers included Harry Pollitt, Phil Piratin and Tommy Jackson. “The mass lectures of Tommy Jackson, with his effortless glow of lucid explanation were unforgettable”. Local comrades also often spoke, Bill Peck, Convener at Cranes Ltd, an engineering establishment.
The Ipswich Communist Party locally, as elsewhere, battled on with activities including pressing for concessionary bus fares for pensioners work with the Peace Committee. But, in 1958 the Trades Council split, a not unusual development. Many localities saw the establishment of a “Trades and Labour Council”, where only Labour Party members were allowed and an organic connection with the Labour Party was part of a new constitution. Even so, “the Ipswich & District Trades Council and the Borough Labour Party were of the ‘left’, with four Communists being elected delegates to the unified trades council. [Richard Pipe `History of the Ipswich Branch of the Communist Party’: ISBN: BX00054135]
The Party also maintained a fairly impressive base in other rural villages, wherever a dedicated activist flew the flag. The Party was also pretty active in the National Union of Agricultural Workers and had a defined policy on rural matters, even maintaining a broad front journal, the Country Standard. Communist policy on agriculture favoured workers and consumers. “Britain should produce more and cheaper food. This can be done if we reduce the profits of the big firms supplying agriculture and of the big farmers, cut out unnecessary middlemen and begin a bold policy of land development.” [Communist Party, `A policy for Britain: general election manifesto’, (1955)]
Communist Arthur Jordan had secured the post of Dorset Organiser for the National Union of Agricultural Workers Union in 1945 and proved to be very popular and successful and it was said that he was loved by the membership in Dorset but hated by the right wing union leadership of the union! In 1952 it was reported that the union represented 90% of all agricultural labourers in the County of Dorset. Moreover, Jordan had secured improved pay for Dorset Roadmen and sought to improve their status.
His tireless efforts ensured the remarkable achievement of 100% union membership in the villages of Sutton Waldron, Fontmell Magna and Tarrant Hinton. A contemporary article in `Land & Labour’ stated that only in counties of Norfolk, Lincolnshire and Dorset could win comparably high membership of the union and even then it went no higher than 80-90%. He also was Secretary of Blandford Trades Council, where he lived and worked; even his NUAW office was in Blandford. Jordan was also the Tolpuddle Martyrs rally organiser and therefore also a regular speaker at the event, galvanising it into a memorable and permanent feature of the labour movement’s calendar. This was no mean feat. In 1952, there were only some 500 (some newspapers said 200) turning up for the annual Tolpuddle rally. The Labour Party also threatened to boycott it due to the heavy Communist involvement.
He organised visits to the South Wales mines and their NUM for NUAW members to Deep Duffryn mine, Mountain Ash, then a Communist stronghold. He reprised the trick for a visit to the Standard Motor Company, whose convenor was the Communist, Bill Warman, in order that town could understand countryside and visa versa. Jordan even arranged a day trip of 800 union members to the Forest of Dean. A delegation was mobilised for a national agricultural workers’ demonstration for better pay on October 28th 1954. Perhaps this prompted the ordering of a new county NUAW banner, unveiled in November 1955; this was based on a solar design set against two labouring workers. His Dorset County Chairman was Jess Waterman, the NUAW Branch Secretary at Spettisbury from World War 1, who was also a Communist Party member. This support enabled, for example, the April 1960 organised mass boycott of South African goods in the Dorset area by NUAW activists.
Jordan was a capable organiser also for the Communist Party as well, serving for a period of 12 years on the Party’s Executive Committee. In 1956 the CP had finally established monthly meetings in Dorset, A branch of 13 at Blandford (where he lived) had been established in 1950, Jordan reporting in the Communist Party’s `World News & Views’ in April 1958: “Over the years we have had successes and failures but whilst we cannot claim to have increased the size of the party in Dorset or to have established the Party as a political force we do feel prod that these comrades isolated as they are should have remained steadfast during the recent difficult period” (Dorset lost 4 members over the Hungary invasion.) The local Party women also organised a market stall at Christmas time in Blandford to sell food, toys, and clothes.
Another, more surprising NUAW activist was Wogan Phillips, a former Communist councillor in Cirencester, who very nearly came back again in electoral politics in October 1959 when, in a local rural council by-election, he only lost election by 15 votes on a 83% turnout. In the early 1960s, he was famously the only Communist in the House of Lords. Despite the ridicule sometimes bestowed on this role by the mainstream media, it had not been Phillips’ choice to take his seat. Harry Pollitt had urged him to go to the Lords, as was his right under inheritance laws, to speak against the very existence of the chamber and his presence there. In 1963 on the death of his father, he became Lord Milford. In possibly the most original of maiden speeches in that august chamber, published as a pamphlet by the Communist Party, he called for the abolition of the un-elected Lords the only such case ever made!
In a similar vein, Jean Feldmar was elected as a Communist councillor for Sevenoaks, possibly first in 1958, but she was certainly re-elected in 1961. Feldmar was also a Communist councillor for Darent Hulme Parish Council, Shoreham, Kent.