One hundred years ago on this day, 160 delegates from all across Britain met in London and they formed a party of a new type - the Communist Party of Great Britain.
The Communist Party was the successor to the British Socialist Party, and the Social Democratic Federation/Socialist League before that. It’s part of a political tradition on the left with deep historical roots, going back all the way to the First International.
Robert Griffiths opened his review of the party’s history with the sober remark that it has never been a mass party. And yet, it consistently punches above its weight, even today you can see the party has an effect far beyond its relatively small membership. Pick almost any of the major social movements of the last century and you’ll often find the party was there, working diligently to support a progressive cause.
There’s a funny little anecdote about how one of the groups which joined the Communist Party came out of the temperance movement, and one of their demands was that the new party support the prohibition of alcohol. 1920 was the same year that prohibition came into force in the USA, so it must have been a prominent issue at the time. James Klugmann noted that this question “was referred to the Executive for decision, where it remains to this day” (in 1960). It’s a faint trace of a movement which now exists only as a historical curiosity, I wonder when this unresolved item of discussion was finally closed?