Billam, Gregory (2019) For Country, For Class: Nationalism, Empire and Identity in the Communist Party of Great Britain: 1935-1945. Masters thesis, University of Huddersfield.

The Communist Party of Great Britain is mostly understood as a fringe movement in British politics, both on the left and in wider British society. However, during the ‘Popular Front’, the Party positioned itself as the forerunners of a ‘Popular’ fight against fascism. It was a pivotal moment in the Party’s history, morphing in a matter of years from a fringe leftist group, to an unapologetic, patriotic appendage to the Labour Party. Anti-fascism was a black and white issue, as the Party decried those who had betrayed the British people and its democratic traditions, both at home and abroad. It was during the ‘Popular Front’ that the CPGB regarded democracy and its institutions, not as something to be overthrown and replaced with a socialist alternative, but to be fought for, enhanced, and brought back from the brink, in the fight against fascism. It viewed the nation in disrepair, as it embraced wider culture, in all its forms - regarding themselves as the embodiment of the working-class, and thus the national – as these two concepts became blurred within a highly localised, oppositional form of patriotism. Their patriotism was placed in direct opposition to what they deemed, the proto-fascist sympathies of Neville Chamberlain and the National Government, who were a cabal of morally degenerate politicians beholden to big money interests. It was they who had betrayed the real spirit of the British nation and tarnished its name, as the CPGB became a fundamentally national Party, whose internationalist ties were increasingly compromised. This uncompromising reformist politics saw the imperial colonies relatively ignored, as the CPGB’s previous anti-imperialist credentials were disregarded in favour of mild democratic reform, as well as later, defence of the ‘British national interest’. The Party found it increasingly difficult to balance any practical internationalist politics, alongside the defence of the ‘first workers’ state’, as the defeat of the Soviet Union was simply not an option. It was clear that their internationalism became predicated upon loyalty to one state – the Soviet Union. Eurocentrism took centre stage, as both the Comintern and the Party regarded the defence of British imperialist interests as not solely a strategic ploy, but as fundamental to any peaceful post-war, political order. It was this dilemma that the Party fully supported, as they in the name of internationalism, fully abandoned their anti-imperialist credentials in India and the Far-East, post-1941. It was in this melting pot of war, fascism, and the serious prospect of the defeat of international socialism, that ‘national particularities’ became the raison d'être of the Party post-1935. As crucially, the indigenous national movement in Britain was drawn from the very same well as the Party’s international commitments, whose success depended on, the ‘Popular Front’ policy.

FINAL THESIS - BILLAM.pdf - Accepted Version
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial No Derivatives.

Download (1MB) | Preview


Downloads per month over past year

Add to AnyAdd to TwitterAdd to FacebookAdd to LinkedinAdd to PinterestAdd to Email