History CP early 50s early 60s

It is difficult to convey how strong was the sense that the Communist Party was now to some extent beginning to be treated as part of the mainstream of political life, only a handful of years away from the extreme hostility that had befallen the Party during the 1950s. After their brief foray into public work in the latter part of the decade, fascist groups had largely retreated into futile hostility, none more so that Colin Jordan’s bunch. A Coventry school teacher, he relied on notoriety to bring him out of the woodwork and occasionally to notice. Just such an instance arose in June 1964 in Coventry. A special police watch was announced after Nazi vandals – almost certainly Jordan’s gang – had daubed swastikas with bitumen tar on the walls of Coventry Cathedral, the local Synagogue, and the Queen’s Road offices of both the Coventry City Communist Party and a local newspaper, the Coventry Standard, which were next door to each other.

Opinion in the city, which had been devastated by bombing only a little over two decades previously, was horrified and the attacks received major media coverage. A stonemason was called in to chip away the symbols on the Cathedral, which had been destroyed by Nazi bombers and was now the centre of a local movement for peace; undoubtedly, this was the most despised of hate attacks. Anonymous letters of vitriol, adorned with the swastika and S.S. emblems were even sent to the affected institutions afterwards. A statement issued by the Coventry Communist Party City Committee greatly resonated with local opinion and received front page headlines in the press and considered treatment: “Communists demand `outlaw city’s Nazis’”, the headline ran. The Party statement said: “These Fascist outrages on churches, synagogues, Press offices, and the buildings of democratic organisations in the city are the work of known Fascist elements. It is shameful that our city should be disgraced in this way. “We demand that the Watch Committee acts forthrightly, and that the Tory Govern¬ment ceases to protect this element, by refusing to pass legislation outlawing all racial and Fascist propaganda.”

In a massive endeavour, the Communist Party stood 36 candidates in the 1964 General Election, and these received a total vote of 46,532. The YCL had been particular to the fore, forming `brigades’ to campaign in the constituencies; 20 YCLers gathered in Islington to leaflet the shopping centre. A city centre march of two hundred to the BBC studios and the Granada building in Manchester, led by Tom Cassin (Liverpool Scotland) and Lancashire miner Mick Weaver (Wigan) demanded television time for Communists. This was an issue that the Party began to give considerable attention; it had had only 59 seconds on ITV news in the 1959 general election but had been otherwise completely excluded from all election broadcasts since 1950. Factory gate meetings were held throughout Willesden in the two weeks prior to a massive Communist rally in Hyde Park on Sunday 13th September 1964, which was followed by a march to the BBC to demand air time. In  compensation for being elbowed out of the mainstream, the Party had even bought advertisement space on London bus external `corner coves’ for the rally.

After three weeks of campaigning, Communists made intensive efforts in a last-minute drive for votes, carrying out eve-of-poll mass   canvasses   and   holding   numerous   loudspeaker meetings. In a leaflet distributed at the Camden goods depot, Jock Nicol¬son recalled that Harold Wilson had said a Labour Government would be tougher with the tube workers, “who should have more considera¬tion for the travelling public … Mr. Wilson and the next Labour Government ought to be tough … but tough against Beeching and those responsible for driving the workers out of public transport.” Nicolson was out with a loudspeaker, aiming to speak in every street of his constituency.

In Southwark, Joe Bent addressed a score of street meetings, point¬ing to a recent Soviet three-man space flight as proof that “where the workers get the bosses off their backs they can achieve wonders”. In Dagenham, Kevin Halpin addressed a canteen meeting at the Victor Engineering factory, and asked workers there “to compare official Amalgamated Engineering Union policy with that of the political parties”.  The AEU, he said, was “opposed to tying wage claims to productivity and was for nation¬alisation of the major engineering enterprises. It was the Communist Party, he said, whose programme measured up to these standards, and it was the Communists who could claim to be the trade union candidates.”

In West Willesden, some fifty fac¬tories were toured with a loudspeaker van and hundreds heard the Communist reply to Mr. Wilson’s “get tough with the workers” line. “The workers expect Labour to champion the working people against the bosses,” said Les Burt, the Communist candidate, who also addressed engineers at a large indoor factory meeting. In Islington, John Moss sent a last-minute letter to voters; factory gate meetings had been a prominent part of his campaign and his `youth brigade’ made twelve new members of the YCL.  There had been 15 applications to join the Communist Party.

“Big crowds” listened to Howard Hill, the Sheffield Brightside candi¬date and his agent Bob Wilkinson, even in the pouring rain at factory gate meetings. Bert Ramelson spoke at four eve-of-poll meetings where the Party’s campaign film was shown in South Leeds. His agent, Bill Moore, described the campaign as “really magni¬ficent”.  In the Scotland division of Liverpool, Tom Cassin held three eve-of-poll meetings on Dock Road capturing an audience of thousands of Mersey dockers. Constituency agent Gerry Cohen said that “the Communist cam¬paign had forced an elusive Labour candidate to explain his policy”. [Daily Worker October 15th 1964]

Results for the Communist candidates in the 1964 general election:

Aberavon J. Tudor Hart 1,260 2.8
Battersea North Gladys Easton 471 2.0
B’ham Small Heath George Jelf 926 3.3
Coventry East Harry Bourne 1,138 1.9
Dagenham Kevin Halpin 1,070 2.1
Dunbartonshire East Jimmy Reid 1,771 3.0
Dundee West Dave Bowman 1,228 2.4
Gorbals Margaret Hunter 1,339 5.6
Govan Gordon McLennan 1,378 4.4
Springburn Neil McLellan 950 3.7
Goole Bill Carr 1,165 2.8
Hayes    Frank Stanley 873 2.6
Hornsey Max Morris 1,258 2.6
Islington SW John Moss 1,377 5.1
Kinross & West Perthshire Hugh McDiarmid 127 0.5
Leeds South Bert Ramelson 928 2.6
Liverpool Scotland    . Tom Cassin 725 2.8
Llanelly Robert Hitchon 1,061 2.1
Luton  Tony Chater 570 1.2
Manchester Openshaw Eddie Marsden 1,947 5.1
Mitcham Sid French 657 1.3
Motherwell James Sneddon 1,565 4.0
Neath   Jim David 2,432 6.0
Newcastle Central Tom Welch 532 1.9
Nottingham North     John Peck 1,579 3.1,
Pontypool Eddie Jones 1,329 3.5
Rhondda East Annie Powell 3,385 11.8
St. Pancras North        Jock Nicolson 1,140 3.4
Sheffield Brightside   Howard Hill 1,356 3.5
Southwark Joe Bent 1,599 4.9
Stepney Solly Kaye 2,454 7.9
Swindon Ike Gradwell 944 2.2
West Fife William Lauchlan 3,273 7.5
West Lothian Irene Swan 610 1.2
Wigan  Mick Weaver 988 2.4
Willesden West  Les Burt 1,130 3.0

With scores such as almost 12%, many between 5% and 7% and most at around the 3% level, these did not seem unsatisfactory results. The Party’s Chair, Frank Stanley, who lived and worked locally, was the Communist Party candidate for Hayes & Harlington in his first attempt in this general election and his 2.6% share did not seem too bad. His campaign had featured a demand for a branch line linking Hayes with the Central or Piccadilly Underground line. Local Communists had canvassed over 16,000 houses in Hayes and John Gollan, Communist Party general secretary, spoke at the adoption meeting on 14th September.

Despite all the fine work done by communist students and their friends in the universities in the 1950s, it had seemed that the work had been hampered by the small size of the student branches. The largest had always seemed to be Manchester and Leeds; outside of that, Party student branches were usually no bigger than a handful of people. Some wondered if the connection with the YCL was at all appropriate.
A key change to the way things were organised with regard to the YCL that came out of the events of 1956-7 was the formal separation of student work from the YCL’s exclusive orbit and the adoption by the Party of a new student organiser, Fergus Nicholson.

He set put his stall early on in an article in `Party Life’ October/November 1963 issue of `Party Life’, a short-lived internal organisationally-focused bulletin. “Our perspective in the British Road to Socialism,” Nicolson wrote, “depends on the rallying round a united working class of the various middle strata, of whom a large and vocal section are what are called professional people, that is the graduates of our colleges and universities. Winning the students to struggle against monopoly capitalism and in some cases for Marxism and Communism is no small part of translating our programme into practice.”

Party membership amongst students has grown significantly; the 1962-3 academic year had seen this figure top 500 for the first time, almost doubling in the course of the year. A series of five public lectures had seen overflowing attendances, in one case 600 people had turned up to a 400 seat hall. Nicolson could record that his first year as the full time organiser had resulted in “branches in almost every university and a number of other colleges”, although tracing and organising members and supporters in the smaller colleges was a problem. Students were being brought into mass struggle, perhaps for the first time and this was quite some time before the much vaunted and rather ultra-leftist hey day of student sit-ins and the like. During the Cuban crisis, many of the demonstrations against war were student-based. Education training college and art college students had lobbied Parliament on their particular problems.

The Party produced a quarterly duplicated magazine, with a print run of 2,000 and had completely sold out of these. The next step was to produce a printed magazine, `Mainstream’, which would have an initial print of 5,000 plus. While this was aimed primarily at the colleges and universities, it was felt that YCL branches might put it in the hands of sixth-formers, an arena of struggle never previously thought of; this would be a harbinger of the mass organisation amongst school students that was less than a mere decade away. Special courses for students were underway, with a fortnight’s school in Wales, a week’s school in Hastings, as well as weekend schools during the year in many universities. In various universities `Communist weeks’ were planned, most ambitiously in Manchester and in Imperial College.

YCL membership at the end of 1964 was 5,101, Challenge circulation was up to 12,200 and the League collected 37,000 signatures on a “Cut the arms bill by half” petition. The stage was now truly set for the `swinging sixites’ and a whole new generation of activists who would mould things in their own special way.

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