RESULTS FOR COMMUNIST CANDIDATES – 1955 GENERAL ELECTION
Fife West Bill Lauchlan 5,389 12.57%
Glasgow Gorbals Peter Kerrigan 2,491 6.75%
Glasgow Springburn Finlay Hart 1,532 5.47%
Birmingham Perry Barr Bert Pearce 928 2.53%
Dunbartonshire East A Henderson 2,448 4.92%
Dundee West Dave Bowman 1,335 2.59%
Hackney Central J Betteridge 1,530 3.50%
Hayes & Harlington Frank Foster 886 2.61%
Hornsey GJ Jones 1,442 2.61%
Nottingham North John Peck 916 1.91%
Rhondda East Annie Powell 4,544 15.09%
St Pancras North Jock Nicolson 1,303 2.99%
Sheffield Brightside Howard Hill 1,461 3.53%
Southwark Joe Bent 959 2.39%
Stepney Solly Kaye 2,888 7.62%
Stoke Newington/Hackney Nth A Morris 1,525 3.44%
Wigan T Rowlandson 1,567 3.39%
Behind what could seem, to modern eyes at least, a modestly successful performance for a minority party lay a great deal of work. Massive efforts to combat defeatism and demoralisation arising from the intense anti-communism of the Cold War propagandists had taken place.
The Communist Party vote in the county council elections of April 1952 had seen 10,859 votes cast for Communists in wards in the 15 constituencies which were contested. This came to approximately 17% of the Labour vote and 12% of the total vote; modestly acceptable but unassuming. Now the Party began to wonder if it had to be like that. Perhaps captialism’s weaknesses were greater than the confidence they exuded over the Cold War suggested?
Giving a report to an extended EC on February 14th and 15th 1953, Harry Pollitt noted that the Party’s level of activity “represents a volume of mass and personal financial sacrifices unequalled by any other political party in Britain”. Although the Daily Worker did not any longer face a wholesaler boycott, Party members engaged in massive door-to-door and street sales of the paper. Weekend sales of Daily Worker averaged 49,000 additional copies sold in such a way compared to the Party’s membership of 35,671. (Although, it should be noted that, of this membership some half was concentrated in London, Wales and Scotland alone.)
Pollitt’s report was nothing if not self-critical throughout. Only a ninth of membership was organised at the place of work and the Party had paid a “terrible price” for its tendency to liquidate factory branches in the immediate period after the war. He proposed that the Party now see factory branches as the key, “since 1949 we have recognised the error made after the war in regard to factory branches; but progress has been slow. We need to establish factory organisation in hundreds more factories. Where our Factory and Area Branches work in a correct Communist fashion they systematically grow in size and influence”. Greater efforts were needed to win more women members in the workplace, in particular.
There were, Pollitt argued many good reasons “why it is considered difficult to win new members to the Communist Party” and he enumerated them:
“1. The difficult character of the situation … (meaning, of course, the Cold War).
2. Lack of attractive branch life.
3. Fear of victimisation.
4. Fear of being asked to give too much time to the Party
5. Party comrades work for years without ever trying to win a single
6. The conception that “our area is different to all others and we have more difficult problems to tackle”.
7. Wrong treatment of new members.”
Yet the balance sheet of the Party’s strength was not so terrible. The Party had 140 “women’s sections”, with a membership of 1,551; thus, perhaps some one quarter of its women’s membership was active in a specific women’s group. YCL membership was now 3,335 in 261 branches. There were 1,239 Party members in teaching, 1,676 in mining, 2,000 in transport, 2,500 members in the building industry, and 5, 500 in engineering. The broad issue political and information magazine `World News and Views’ sold 13,000 copies weekly, the theoretical Communist Review some 4,000 monthly, whilst Palme Dutt’s semi-official organ, `Labour Monthly’ sold 14,000 monthly.
Summarising the EC’s decisions in a 27th February letter to districts, the National Organiser, Mick Bennett reported what he saw as the “first fruits (being) gathered In from the extended EC, “for example the magnificent Glasgow demonstration, at which 130 new recruits were won to the Party. At this meeting once the number, of recruits had passed the 50 mark a great speed-up took place in the enrolments”. The level to which Pollitt’s assessment that the Party was capable of an enormously high degree of activity is revealed by its response to ensuring its views on the 1952 government budget was conveyed en masse.
The Party’s response was co-ordinated through district offices and leaflets duplicated locally; some 4,000 members distributed across the country some 500,000 at some 1,500 factory gates – a Herculean task but one that was undoubtedly accomplished! Whilst in 1952 alone the Party had held 2,000 public indoor meetings attended by 250,000 people; in addition there had been 5,000 outdoor public meetings attended by some 500,000 people, many being factory gate meetings.