Communist Party (British Section of the Third International)

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The Communist Party (British Section of the Third International) was a Left Communist organisation established at an emergency conference held on 19–20 June 1920 at the International Socialist Club in London . It comprised about 600 people.

The emergency conference was called in preparation for the Communist Unity Convention scheduled for 1 August 1920 in London. Here binding decisions were to be made by majority vote, and the Left Communists wanted to organise themselves against the right at this conference. The initial call was sent out by the Workers Socialist Federation (WSF) and attracted communist groups from Aberdeen, Croydon and Holt, the Gorton Socialist Society, the Manchester Soviet, the Stepney Communist League and the Labour Abstentionist Party.[1]

E. T. Whitehead, of the Labour Abstentionist Party, became the secretary,[2] and T. J. Watkins was elected as treasurer.[3] Workers' Dreadnought, the WSF newspaper edited by Sylvia Pankhurst, was adopted as the official weekly organ of the party, and a provisional Organising Council of 25 members was elected to manage the affairs of the organisation pending a National Conference scheduled for September 1920.[4] Soon there was a dispute with Guy Aldred and the Glasgow Communist Group, who had suspended their support for the Third International on account of their avowed revolutionary parliamentarianism.

In the end the CP(BSTI) withdrew from the Communist Unity Convention, just as Lenin's pamphlet Left-Wing Communism: An Infantile Disorder came out with extracts being quickly translated. Lenin also wrote to the convention urging participation in parliament, something which was agreed by 189 votes to 19.

Meanwhile, the CP(BSTI) sent delegates to the Second Congress of the Third International, at which they were instructed to unite with the Communist Party of Great Britain as founded at that convention. Upon their return a further conference was held in Manchester 18–19 September. Here they voted to accept the conditions of the Second Congress with reservations about taking parliamentary action. Pankhurst argued that the tactic of revolutionary parliamentarianism would be dropped at the next congress. She had been impressed by the size of the abstentionist faction at the congress, and reported that Lenin has said the issue was not important during an informal discussion.

At the third conference of CP(BSTI), Cardiff, 4 December, the Statutes and Theses of the Third International were accepted, although there was a consensus that they were not bound to parliamentary action. The four Manchester branches saw this as a sell out, and resigned, taking 200 members with them. Whitehead and Pankhurst maintained they still had the freedom to fight for abstentionism within the CPGB, and they formally fused with them at the second Communist Unity Conference in Leeds, January 1921.

In response to this, the Manchester sections of the CP(BSTI) resigned, refusing to join the CPGB.[5] The Glasgow Communist Group inaugurated Red Commune declaring "there is no other party organ in this country ... that stands fearlessly for Communism. They all urge or compromise with, in some shape or form, parliamentarianism". At Easter that year they established the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation.


  1. ^ M. A. S. Shipway, Anti-Parliamentary Communism in Britain 1917-1945, vol.1, p.44
  2. ^ M. A. S. Shipway, Anti-Parliamentary Communism in Britain 1917-1945, vol.1, pp.45-46
  3. ^ Klugmann, James (1968). History of the Communist Party of Great Britain. London: Lawrence and Wishart. p. 66.
  4. ^ 'Communist Party (British Section of the Third International)', Workers' Dreadnought, Vol VII No.14 26 June 1919 p
  5. ^ M. A. S. Shipway, Anti-Parliamentary Communism in Britain 1917-1945, vol.1, p.50
  • Anti-Parliamentary Communism: The Movement for Workers' Councils in Britain, 1917 - 1945 by Mark Shipway, 1988
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