Nationalism beyond Zionism: Lessons from Jewish Communists in Palestine
A new book presents a political and cultural history of Jewish Communism in Palestine-Israel, and a model for a non-ethnocentric national identity.
By Shaul Magid February 20, 2022
Israeli Communist Party MK Moshe Sneh addresses a crowd at an election campaign event in Ramat Gan, October 30, 1959. (Fritz Cohen/GPO)
Israeli Communist Party MK Moshe Sneh addresses a crowd at an election campaign event in Ramat Gan, October 30, 1959. (Fritz Cohen/GPO)
“Holidays of the Revolution: Communist Identity in Israel, 1919-1945,” by Amir Locker-Biletzki, State University of New York Press, 2020.
When the story of Israel is told, certainly by Jews, it is almost always told from a Zionist perspective. For example, Arthur Hertzberg’s “The Zionist Idea” (first published in 1959) collects myriad examples of Zionist ideologues to illustrate the plethora of visions that existed within the Zionist movement. Anita Shapira’s comprehensive “Israel: A History” (2012) is likewise written fully within the Zionism paradigm.
The far left of that story are the Socialist Zionists, in part embodied by the Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim kibbutz movements and thinkers such as Ber Borochov or Nachman Syrkin, both architects of the Zionist labor movement. But there were other Jews in Palestine during those heady years who are often excluded from the story because they were decidedly anti-Zionist.
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That’s right: Jews who lived in Palestine for the purpose of building a collective Jewish existence who were, nevertheless, anti-Zionist. I do not refer to Haredi anti-Zionists who thought Zionism was heresy, or the Canaanites who wanted to found a new Hebrew civilization divorced from Judaism and the Jewish diaspora. Both of these were marginal, more a curiosity than a real threat to the Zionist mainstream. I refer, rather, to Jewish Communists, internationalist revolutionaries with strong ties to Trotsky and the Comintern (the Third International Communist organization) who viewed Palestine as a location for Jews and Arabs to join forces in the global battle against capitalism and imperialism. (By Arabs here I refer only to Muslim and Christian Arabs, not Jews from Arab lands.)
Amir Locker-Biletzki’s excellent new study “Holidays of the Revolution: Communist Identity in Israel, 1919-1945” (SUNY Press, 2020) offers a fresh look at Jewish Communism in Palestine/Israel — not only from a political perspective, but from a cultural one as well. How did Jewish Communists confront, resist, and at times absorb their Socialist Zionist opponents? How did they construct a Jewish national identity against the Zionist one? How did they support Arab-Jewish solidarity while cultivating a Jewish nationalist (albeit anti-Zionist) program? And what can we learn from these Jewish Communists in today’s world where Zionism has arguably congealed into a chauvinist movement and, via the 2018 Jewish Nation-State Law, has codified its rejection of equality in Israel for all its citizens?
The post-Nation State Law, uber-capitalist Start-Up Nation is still mired in the highly ideological conundrum of its inception. An alternative to Zionism can still be gleaned from the (arguably archaic) communist battle against what the Jews who waged it saw as Zionism’s bourgeois and imperialist roots.
From ‘Jewish labor’ to Arab-Jewish solidarity
Locker-Biletzki writes, “At the core of the Jewish-Israeli Communist identity stood anti-Zionism. From its formative stages, Communists in Palestine-Israel preferred Socialism over Zionism.” This antagonism between seemingly adjacent ideological groupings is not unusual. The ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionists viewed the non-Zionist and religious Agudat Israel (founded in 1922), rather than secular Zionism, as their main opponents. They argued that Agudat Israel’s collusion with the Zionists sullied their own religious and ideological commitments. In a similar way, the Jewish Communists viewed the Socialist Zionists as their opponents, “subordinating their Marxism to their Zionism.” The Hashomer Hatzair movement often referred to their position as “Socialist realism,” which amounted to a merging of socialism and nationalism.
Locker-Biletzki shows the story was more complicated still. The Communists themselves “selectively used the cultural means and mechanisms created by the Socialist-Zionists in their own subculture.” The Communists in Palestine/Israel could not avoid the Zionist orbit in which they lived, even as they continued to try to find alternative ways of cultivating a national consciousness that remained wedded to the revolutionary project of class struggle and committed to the Jewish and Palestinian working class.
Kibbutz members march in a 1951 ceremony. (photo: אביבה שני בית חרות/CC BY 2.5)
Kibbutz members march in a 1951 ceremony. (photo: אביבה שני בית חרות/CC BY 2.5)
Hannah Arendt’s 1944 essay “Zionism Reconsidered” makes the point quite well. In her critique of the Socialist Zionists she writes:
Since the days of Borochov… the leftist Zionists never thought of developing their own answer to the national question: they simply added official Zionism to their socialism. The addition hasn’t made for an amalgam, since it claims socialism for domestic and nationalist Zionism for foreign affairs… no attention was paid to the economic conditions of the Arabs, who, through the introduction of Jewish capital and labor and the industrialization of the country, found themselves changed overnight into potential proletarians.
Arendt’s comment requires some nuance, in that “Jewish labor” was an attempt to diversify labor among Jews and create a Jewish proletariat in the land, which it did. Its point may not have been exclusively to reject Palestinian labor but also to create a diverse Jewish workforce and cultivate a sense of agency in building Jewish colonies and farms. In practice, however, it excluded the Arab majority in Palestine from the new Zionist project. Arendt writes: “The social revolutionary Jewish national movement, which started… with ideals so lofty that it overlooked the particular realities of the Near East and the general wickedness of the world, has ended, as do most such movement – with the unequivocal support not only of national but chauvinist claims – not against the foes of the Jewish people but against its possible friends and present neighbors.”
For the Socialists Zionists, as Arendt views them, the international reach of socialism became an internal project of Jewish revival. The Palestinians may have mattered, but they were not really part of the project. “Jewish labor,” the mark of the Second Aliyah, moved the Zionist movement from a regional project to a national one. Ironically, some scholars such as Rashid Khalidi in his book “Palestinian Identity,” argue that “Jewish labor” helped spark the rise of Arab nationalism in Palestine, drawing, for example, on the writings of the Palestinian Christian scholar Khali Sakakini. Edward Said noted in “The Question of Palestine” that “Jewish labor,” far from being only a noble exercise in self-sufficiency, was actually an exercise in exclusion. Socialist Zionists largely forsook solidarity that crossed ethnic lines.
While the Zionists were fortifying their national project, the Jewish Communists were struggling to develop a movement of Arab-Jewish solidarity and workers’ rights to create a socialist society founded on Jewish values that combined a commitment to revolution and equality. As Locker-Biletzki shows, their project was cultural as well as political. They developed rituals and ceremonies that combined the spirit of Communism with Judaism in a secularized form (many Zionists were also engaged in the secularization of Judaism). Politically they remained tied to the international Communist movement and its larger goals of labor rights and equality. As Communists, they were certainly anti-religious but so were the large majority of Zionists in this period.
With the introduction of Socialist Zionist figures such as Moshe Sneh and Shmuel Mikinus into the Communist Party — Mikinus in the 1940s and Sneh in the 1950s — the Communist Party slowly began to adopt quasi-Zionist ideas even as it continued to resist Zionism, renouncing it as an imperialist enterprise guilty of alienating and exploiting Arab workers. Sneh still opposed Zionism and was thus trying to thread the needle between what Locker-Biletzki calls, “the Israelization of parts of the Communist Party, not an account of the Zionization of the Communist Party.”
As I understand this, the Communist Party wanted to create Israeliness without Zionism, a collective identity that included both Jews and Palestinians. (Palestinians could and did live in a Zionist state as citizens but, as the Jewish Nation-State Law makes explicit, it is not their state. It is a “Jewish” state that they live in).
‘A Jewish internationalist class struggle staged from Palestine/Israel’
One of the more salient and useful aspects of Locker-Biletzki’s study is the story of how Jewish Communists were engaged in a project of forging an anti-Zionist Jewish national identity — as part of the larger communist commitment to class struggle that included at its core Arab-Jewish solidarity in Palestine, something they believed the Socialist Zionists had gradually abandoned for chauvinistic nationalism. Locker-Biletzki writes, “The heart of the Jewish Communist’s approach to Jewish nationalism lay not in the conflict between Zionism and Communism, between Jewish identity and Red assimilation, but the harmonization of Jewish and Israeli identities and internationalist and class approaches.”
As Nissim Calderon, a member of Banki, the Communist Party youth movement in 1962-1965 put it, “nationalism was welcome not as a negative phenomenon. We accepted it.” However, Zionism was not its appropriate form because it denied an internationalist component and it excluded non-Jews as part of its concern. The exclusively Jewish character of the Zionist project made it unfit as an ideology for a country with a sizable non-Jewish constituency (until 1947, the majority). It inevitably created Jewish hegemony and, by extension, inequality.
Members of the Communist Party on election day in Nazareth, January 25, 1949. (Hugo Mendelson/GPO)
Members of the Communist Party on election day in Nazareth, January 25, 1949. (Hugo Mendelson/GPO)
But even the Jewish Communists in America did not deny a new national identity in Palestine. Alexander Bittelman, a member of the Communist Party in the US who worked with Jews in the party in the 1940s, wrote that, “Communists can – and must – carry on the fight for national independence of their people, not as bourgeois nationalists but working-class internationalists.” (“Israel and the World Struggle for Peace and Democracy” 1948). The tide of history was too strong, however; national chauvinism won the day.
What was this non- or anti-Zionist Jewish identity the Communists wanted to create? It was not anti-statist per se: many Jewish Communists fought in the 1948 war. The identity, at its core, was “Jewish” but not exclusivist in terms of the state’s structure, and binationalist in principle. The Jewish Communists were committed to a Jewish internationalist class struggle staged from Palestine/Israel. Locker-Biletzki interestingly notes, “not unlike sections of Haredi society, [the communists] professed a limited loyalty to the state, defending its independence from imperialism while negating its Zionist ideological core.”
In both cases, one can be a Jewish collectivist of sorts, and not a Zionist. Thus Meir Vilner, the head of MAKI, the Israeli Communist Party in 1948, was a signatory to Israel’s Declaration of Independence and a long-standing Knesset member. Similarly, the non-Zionist Agudat Israel could agree to become part of the transgressive secular state.
The focus of Locker-Biletzki’s study is on the cultural aspects of the Jewish communist project, to show how Jewish Communists cultivated symbols, holidays, and rituals that merged the Jewish calendar with their internationalist communist agenda: the establishment of May Day parades in Tel Aviv where Jews and Arabs marched as one, the propagation of a communist interpretation of Hanukkah (opposing its hyper-nationalist Zionist formulation), and commemoration of the Holocaust that also includes the role of the Soviet Union in liberating concentration camps, most famously Auschwitz. The party celebrated independence by criticizing Israel’s dependence on western colonial powers, and viewed the new state as part of the global force of post-colonialism, called upon to be an exemplar of internationalism.
A truck carrying images of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin during the May Day Parade in Tel Aviv, May 1, 1949. (Hans Pin/GPO)
A truck carrying images of Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin during the May Day Parade in Tel Aviv, May 1, 1949. (Hans Pin/GPO)
More emphatically, Holidays of the Revolution examines the complex ways Jewish Communists tried to cultivate a new Jewish national identity opposed to Zionism yet in favor of a Jewish national project. At the heart of this project was class struggle and Arab-Jewish solidarity. This may be where the study becomes more relevant for us today. The Jewish communist battle against Zionism’s bourgeois capitalist and imperialist underpinnings no longer resonates in the Start-Up Nation, three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union. But the question of Arab-Jewish solidarity remains.
‘The Jewish Communists became just another version of Zionists’
Echoing Arendt (and later Edward Said in his The Question of Palestine), Locker-Biletzki notes that “Socialist Zionists practiced the exclusion of Palestinians from the labor market and their lands marked out for Jewish settlement, culminating in the ethnic cleansing of the 1948 War and the military government that followed.” One could also recall David Ben-Gurion, a Socialist Zionist leader, who refused to allow Palestinians to return to their homes after the 1948 war at a time when it would not have significantly changed the demographic balance.
For many socialists, even as they began with much more idealistic hopes, socialism became an almost exclusively Jewish project, and some Jewish Communists were swept into that orbit as well, which in part resulted in the Arabization of the Communist Party in Palestine in the 1930s, as documented in Musa Budeiri’s “The Palestine Communist Party 1919-1948” (1979). Budeiri shows the way creeping statism begins to erode the solidarity of Jewish and Arab Communists as the yishuv moved further toward the establishment of a state, when “Yishuvism” morphed into eventual “Jewish” statism that the Communists opposed.
Jewish Communists persisted in Jewish-Arab solidarity, meanwhile, and this persistence resulted in a deep commitment to the Palestinian cause. “In stark contrast to Socialist-Zionist culture, which very quickly abandoned Socialist internationalist claims and developed a worker’s culture and institutions for Jews only, the Jewish Communists remained loyal to proletarian internationalism… In Marxist-Leninist terms, the Jewish Communists perceived Palestinians as the direct victims of Zionist colonization and British imperialism.”
Locker-Biletzki notes in his conclusion: “As the cultural transformation project of the Left Men [those integrating the Communist Party into the Zionist movement] gathered pace, the Communist internationalist and anti-Zionist parts of the Jewish communist identity eroded. At the end of this process, the Jewish Communists became just another version of Zionists, and then they were no more.” And yet, “Zionism is commonly perceived as the hegemonic form of Jewish nationalism in Palestine/Israel. This book has shown that beyond the Zionist hegemony and within Israeli environments a non-Zionist national identity – not based on pre-Zionist Judaism – can be formed… progressive and inclusive, in contrast to the exclusionary framing of Jewish-Israeli Zionist identity in Palestine/Israel ever since the late nineteenth century.”
Demonstrators march during the International Worker's Day protest in the center of Tel Aviv May 1, 2013. (Photo by: Shiraz Grinbaum/ Activestills.org)
Demonstrators march during the International Worker’s Day protest in the center of Tel Aviv May 1, 2013. (Photo by: Shiraz Grinbaum/ Activestills.org)
Is the first part of his assertion correct? That is, has Jewish nationalism indeed become synonymous with Zionist hegemony? In many ways, yes, but we can also recall exceptions. Matzpen (Compass), for example, which was active in the 1960s and 1970s, presented an Israeli iteration of the American New Left. Its members – some of whom were exiles from MAKI and other socialist groups – forged a relationship with the newly-founded Israeli Black Panthers and set their sights on ending the occupation of the territories seized by Israel in 1967 as the most overt iteration of what they determined was Zionism’s chauvinistic underpinnings. The Arab-Jewish political party Hadash, of which MAKI is the most powerful faction and is now part of the Joint List, remains identified as non-Zionist today.
There are remnants of the Jewish Communists of old, a commitment to equality, economic justice and solidarity even if the international communist revolution no longer drives the narrative and even as Zionism, in its highly nationalized form, has become ubiquitous. True, this small remnant has almost no real voice in Israel. And yet they may hold a key to undoing the chauvinistic and hegemonic nature of the present state of Zionism that is illustrated in the Jewish Nation-State Law and the de-facto annexation of Palestinian territories.
Jewish nationality beyond ethnocentrism
What is the main challenge facing Zionism today? Zionism may have had its day and served its quintessential purpose — it certainly generated the founding of a Jewish state. But perhaps something new is required to bring that state into the twenty-first century. Maybe the Jewish Communist’s commitment to Arab-Jewish solidarity that was not heeded in a time when Jews were reeling from persecution and genocide, can once again become the raison d’etre of a new form of Jewish national identity that is not Zionist, but is founded on binationalism and shared sovereignty.
Jewish Communists (and others, like staunchly anti-Marxist Hannah Arendt) held this as well. Many believed by the 1930’s that Zionism could not overcome its chauvinistic and hyper-nationalist foundations. Arendt placed emphasis on the Atlantic City Resolution in 1944 that, in its statement, totally ignored the Palestinians (the 1942 Biltmore Platform does mention Arab minority rights even though Arabs were still the majority). Zionism, certainly its Herzlean variety, was at least in part instigated by antisemitism, but the European enemy eventually became the enemy in Palestine; the enemy where the Jews were the victims now became the enemy where the Jews are the sovereign.
Israel is now a country, albeit one that arguably carries on its back the weaknesses of Zionism that have become endemic to its identity. It remains locked in a nationalism that cannot quite make room for dual sovereignty and true solidarity with its Palestinian population. It has become an ethnocentric state. Arendt held that this was baked into the Zionist project even before statehood, while others like Martin Buber and Judah Magnes feared hyper-nationalism would take over the state’s agenda.
Locker-Biletzki provides us with a serious and well-crafted history of Jewish, and Arab and Jewish Communists in Israel who had another national vision, who were trying to forge a different project for Jewish national identity in Israel in the years before the state’s founding. Part of that project may no longer resonate in our neoliberal world of globalized capitalism. And the totalitarianism of Stalinism revealed in the 1950s alienated many Jewish Communists from the party. But other parts of the communist project in Israel can still resonate today: particularly the commitment to Arab-Jewish solidarity, justice, equality, and the protection of minorities. A vision that sees Jewish nationality outside of an ethnocentric framework in which one group is given privilege over another – otherwise known as a “Jewish state.”
It is easy to scoff and mock the Communist program as naïve and outdated. That may well be partially true. But we do so, in my view, at our own peril. As I see it, liberal and progressive Jews who care deeply about Israel are stuck, because the ideas upon which their liberalism and Zionism are founded are no longer relevant or cannot provide real solutions to the endemic problems of Zionism that the Communists, among others, saw in the 1920s. We can’t seem to think about non-Zionist Jewish national identity, but Zionism is stuck in a chauvinism of which it cannot seem to break free.
Maybe it is time to think of Jewish national identity beyond Zionism. The Jewish Communists, deeply committed to Jewish revival and equally committed to equality and justice, offered an anti-Zionist alternative. They are now almost inaudible. But they may have something crucial to offer after all.
Shaul Magid is professor of Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College, Kogod Senior Fellow at the Shalom Hartman Institute of North America, and Senior Fellow at the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard University. His latest book is Meir Kahane: The Public Life and Political Thought of an American Jewish Radical, Princeton University Press, 2021. His forthcoming book is The Necessity of Exile: Essays from a Distance with Ayin Press in 2023. He writes regularly for +97
The Hegelian dialectic presupposes the factual basis for the theory of social evolutionary principles, whichcoincidentally backed up Marx. Marx's Darwinian theory of the "social evolution of the species," (even thoughit has been used for a century to create a vast new scientific community, including eugenics and socio-economics), does not adhere to the basis for all good scientific research, and appears to exist mainly toadvance itself, and all its sub-socio-scientific arms, as the more moral human science. To the ACL thismeans the entire basis for the communitarian solution is based on a false premise, because there is noFACTUAL basis that "social evolution of the species" exists, based as it is only on Darwinian and Marxistideology of man's "natural" evolution towards a British version of utopia.The London-Marxist platform in 1847 was "to abolish private property." The American Revolution was basedin private property rights. Marxist societies confiscate wealth and promise to "re-distribute it equally." America promised everyone they could keep and control what was the product of their own labor. ModernMarxist adherents openly claim they will "rebuild the world," and they train activist "change agents" to openlysupport overthrowing the legitimate governments of the world. Since their inception, Marxist agentprovocateurs can be linked to every anarchist assassination and student uprising that caused chaos to theestablished European civilization throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Modern Americans havesuccumbed to the conspiracy theory label and will only listen to what the propaganda machines tell them.Now our people don't believe anyone other than maybe the Arab world "hates our freedom." Most modern Americans will never know what went wrong with their "great experiment in democracy."While the Marxist-communitarian argument has not provided a shred of evidence to prove their utopianvision, and their synthesis does not match their own projected conclusions of world justice, we are convincedtheir argument does in fact substantiate our conclusion, that the entire philosophical dialectical argument isnothing but a brilliant ruse. We used to call it "a cheap parlor trick" until a responder to this page wonderedhow we could call it "cheap" when it's been so successful. And he was right. The dialectical arguments forhuman rights, social equity, and world peace and justice are a perfectly designed diversion in the defeatedBritish Empire's Hegelian-Fabian-Metaphysical-Theosophical Monopoly game. It's the most successful con job in the history of the modern world. (For a well presented Christian overview of the con, see AmericanBabylon: Part Five-the Triumph of the Merchants by Peter Goodgame.)The communitarian synthesis is the final silent move in a well-designed, quietly implemented plot to re-makethe world into colonies. To us it doesn't matter if there is some form of ancient religion that propels theplotters, nor does it really matter if it turns out they're aliens (as some suggest). The bottom line is theHegelian dialectic sets up the scene for state intervention, confiscation, and redistribution in the U.S., andthis is against our ENTIRE constitutional based society. The Hegelian dialectic is not a conspiracy theorybecause the Conspiracy Theory is a fraud. We've all been duped by global elitists who plan to taketotalitarian control of all nation's people, property, and produce. Communitarian Plans exist in every corner ofthe world, and nobody at the local level will explain why there's no national legal avenue to withdraw from theU.N.'s "community" development plans
Historically, Zionism and Communism Closely Linked Zionism and Communism have been closely linked, ....Classroom .... but it is a complicated history. Some of the early Communist leaders, notably Trotsky, were Jews, and that may have contributed to the idea of connections between Zionism and Communism. The early Zionists themselves imagined a socialist Jewish state -- the terms socialism and communism being roughly interchangeable until the early 20th century -- and drew directly on Marxist ideas in planning that state. Many Communists, however, especially in Palestine, were openly hostile to Zionism.
The Zionist movement, which began in the latter part of the 19th century, sought to establish a Jewish state in the historical land of Israel, under the sovereignty of Jews. Zionism, as a political movement, has its roots in Vienna, where Jewish writers and intellectuals, such as Nathan Birnbaum and Theodore Herzl, argued that Jews would always face anti-Semitism and be regarded as aliens and outsiders wherever they lived, and therefore needed their own national identity and state.
Communism was a political and economic theory advocated most famously by Karl Marx. Communism argues for a socialist revolution toward creating a communal, classless state. Marx was Jewish, though his family had converted to Protestantism. One of Marx's early works, "On the Jewish Question," which expresses some anti-Semitic ideas, also addresses an issue important to the Zionists, namely political emancipation. It was a Jew and an early Zionist, Moses Hess, who introduced Marx to socialism in the first place.
Hess was an associate of Marx in Cologne, where he is credited with having contributed to Marx's views of socialism. Hess was also a forerunner of the Zionists, and argued for a socialist Jewish state. Later political Zionists, notably Nahman Syrkin and Herzl, also envisioned the new Jewish state as a socialist utopia, a cooperative society based on the use of science and technology to develop the land. Socialist Zionism, also called Labor Zionism, was the dominant form of Zionism during the period between the world wars, and was the precursor of the modern Labor Party in Israel.
Ironically, as the Labor Zionist movement grew in the 1930s and worked towards the creation of a socialist Israel, the Communist Party of Palestine expressed its concerns about Zionism, arguing that both the Zionists and the British were imperialists, and that their political and economic dominance in Palestine went against the communist movement, because it oppressed the Arab working class. In spite of the many theories in circulation today that regard Bolshevism and Communism as a Jewish political movement, Joseph Stalin and the apparatus of the Soviet state were hostile to Zionism and to Jews generally.
Some critics of Zionism describe it as racist and colonialist, but Zionists contest these descriptions, even indicating that the criticism itself is another form of anti-Semitism. Additionally, some Jews disagree with Zionism. The group Jews Against Zionism argues that the movement has created a pseudo-Judaism, replacing the Torah with nationalism. The group says on its website that the confusion between Judaism and Zionism endangers Jews worldwide, particularly those in Israel.
Communist Party of Great Britain
This article is about the organisation active from 1920 to 1991. For other British communist organisations, see Communist Party of Great Britain (disambiguation).
Communist Party of Great Britain
Albert Inkpin (first)
Nina Temple (last)
Founded 31 July 1920
Dissolved 23 November 1991
British Socialist Party
Communist Labour Party
Communist Party (BSTI)
Communist Unity Group
Socialist Labour Party
South Wales Socialist Society
Communist Party of Britain
Communist Party of Scotland[a]
New Communist Party of Britain
Headquarters Marx House, Covent Garden, London
Student wing Communist Students
Youth wing Young Communist League (YCL)
60,000 (at peak; 1945)
4,742 (at dissolution; 1991)
Political position Far-left
International affiliation Comintern
Politics of United KingdomPolitical partiesElections
The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was the largest communist organisation in Britain and was founded in 1920 through a merger of several smaller Marxist groups. Many miners joined the CPGB in the 1926 general strike. In 1930, the CPGB founded the Daily Worker (renamed the Morning Star in 1966). In 1936, members of the party were present at the Battle of Cable Street, helping organise resistance against the British Union of Fascists. In the Spanish Civil War the CPGB worked with the USSR to create the British Battalion of the International Brigades, which party activist Bill Alexander commanded.
In World War II, the CPGB mirrored the Soviet position, opposing or supporting the war in line with the involvement of the USSR. By the end of World War II, CPGB membership had nearly tripled and the party reached the height of its popularity. Many key CPGB members became leaders of Britain's trade union movement, including most notably Jessie Eden, Abraham Lazarus, Ken Gill, Clem Beckett, GCT Giles, Mike Hicks, and Thora Silverthorne.
The CPGB's position on racial equality and anti-colonialism attracted many black activists to the party, including Trevor Carter, Charlie Hutchison, Dorothy Kuya, Billy Strachan, Peter Blackman, Henry Gunter, Len Johnson, and Claudia Jones, who founded London's Notting Hill Carnival. In 1956, the CPGB experienced a significant loss of members due to its support of the Soviet military intervention in Hungary. In the 1960s, CPGB activists supported Vietnamese communists fighting in the Vietnam War. In 1984, the leader of the CPGB's youth wing, Mark Ashton, founded Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners.
From 1956 until the late 1970s, the party was funded by the Soviet Union. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the party's Eurocommunist leadership disbanded the party, establishing the Democratic Left. The anti-Eurocommunist faction had launched the Communist Party of Britain in 1988.
The Communist Party of Great Britain was founded in 1920 after the Third International decided that greater attempts should be made to establish communist parties across the world. The CPGB was formed by the merger of several smaller Marxist parties, including the British Socialist Party, the Communist Unity Group of the Socialist Labour Party and the South Wales Socialist Society. The party also gained the support of the Guild Communists faction of the National Guilds League, assorted shop stewards' and workers' committees, socialist clubs and individuals and many former members of the Hands Off Russia campaign. Several branches and many individual members of the Independent Labour Party also affiliated. As a member of the British Socialist Party, the Member of Parliament Cecil L'Estrange Malone joined the CPGB. A few days after the founding conference the new party published the first issue of its weekly newspaper, which was called the Communist and edited by Raymond Postgate.
In January 1921, the CPGB was refounded after the majorities of Sylvia Pankhurst's group the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International), and the Scottish Communist Labour Party agreed to unity. The party benefited from a period of increased political radicalism in Britain just after the First World War and the Russian Revolution of October 1917, and was also represented in Britain by the Red Clydeside movement.
During the negotiations leading to the initiation of the party, a number of issues were hotly contested. Among the most contentious were the questions of "parliamentarism" and the attitude of the Communist Party to the Labour Party. "Parliamentarism" referred to a strategy of contesting elections and working through existing parliaments. It was a strategy associated with the parties of the Second International and it was partly for this reason that it was opposed by those who wanted to break with Social Democracy. Critics contended that parliamentarism had caused the old parties to become devoted to reformism because it had encouraged them to place more importance on winning votes than on working for socialism, that it encouraged opportunists and place-seekers into the ranks of the movement and that it constituted an acceptance of the legitimacy of the existing governing institutions of capitalism. Similarly, affiliation to the Labour Party was opposed on the grounds that communists should not work with 'reformist' Social Democratic parties. These Left Communist positions enjoyed considerable support, being supported by Sylvia Pankhurst and Willie Gallacher among others. However, the Russian Communist Party took the opposing view. In 1920, Vladimir Lenin argued in his essay "Left Wing" Communism: An Infantile Disorder that the CPs should work with reformist trade unions and social democratic parties because these were the existing organisations of the working class. Lenin argued that if such organisations gained power, they would demonstrate that they were not really on the side of the working class, thus workers would become disillusioned and come over to supporting the Communist Party. Lenin's opinion prevailed eventually.
Initially, therefore, the CPGB attempted to work within the Labour Party, which at this time operated mainly as a federation of left-wing bodies, only having allowed individual membership since 1918. However, despite the support of James Maxton, the Independent Labour Party leader, the Labour Party decided against the affiliation of the Communist Party. Even while pursuing affiliation and seeking to influence Labour Party members, however, the CPGB promoted candidates of its own at parliamentary elections.
Following the refusal of their affiliation, the CPGB encouraged its members to join the Labour Party individually and to seek Labour Party endorsement or help for any candidatures. Several Communists thus became Labour Party candidates, and in the 1922 general election, Shapurji Saklatvala and Walton Newbold were both elected. As late as 1923 the National Executive Committee of the Labour Party endorsed Communist parliamentary candidates, and 38 Communists attended the 1923 Labour Party Conference.
1920s and 1930s
In 1923, the party renamed its newspaper as the Workers Weekly. In 1923, the Workers' Weekly published a letter by J. R. Campbell urging British Army soldiers not to fire on striking workers. The Labour government of Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald prosecuted him under the Incitement to Disaffection Act but withdrew the charges upon review. This led to the Liberal Party introducing a motion to establish an inquiry into the Labour government, which led to its resignation.
The affair of the forged Zinoviev Letter occurred during the subsequent general election late October 1924. Intended to suggest that the Communist Party in Britain was engaged in subversive activities among the British Armed Forces and elsewhere, the forgery's aim was to promote the electoral chances of the Conservative Party in the general election of 29 October; it was probably the work of SIS (MI6) or White Russian counter-revolutionaries.
After Labour lost to the Conservative Party in the election, it blamed the Zinoviev Letter for its defeat. In the aftermath of the Campbell Case and the Zinoviev letter, Labour expelled Communist Party members and banned them from running as its parliamentary candidates in the future. After the 1926 British general strike, it also disbanded 26 Constituency Labour Parties which resisted the ruling or were otherwise deemed too sympathetic to the Communist Party.
Throughout the 1920s and most of the 1930s, the CPGB decided to maintain the doctrine that a communist party should consist of revolutionary cadres and not be open to all applicants. The CPGB as the British section of the Communist International was committed to implementing the decisions of the higher body to which it was subordinate.
This proved to be a mixed blessing in the General Strike of 1926 immediately prior to which much of the central leadership of the CPGB was imprisoned. Twelve were charged with "seditious conspiracy". Five were jailed for a year and the others for six months. Another major problem for the party was its policy of abnegating its own role and calling upon the General Council of the Trades Union Congress to play a revolutionary role.
Nonetheless, during the strike itself and during the long drawn-out agony of the following Miners' Strike the members of the CPGB were to the fore in defending the strike and in attempting to develop solidarity with the miners. The result was that membership of the party in mining areas increased greatly through 1926 and 1927. Much of these gains would be lost during the Third Period but the influence was developed in certain areas that would continue until the party's demise decades later.
The CPGB did succeed in creating a layer of militants very committed to the party and its policies, although this support was concentrated in particular trades, specifically in heavy engineering, textiles and mining, and in addition, tended to be concentrated regionally too in the coalfields, certain industrial cities such as Glasgow and in Jewish East London. Indeed, Maerdy in the Rhondda Valley along with Chopwell in Tyne and Wear were two of a number of communities known as Little Moscow for their Communist tendencies.
During the 1920s, the CPGB clandestinely worked to train the future leaders of India's first communist party. Some of the key activists charged with this task, Philip Spratt and Ben Bradley, were later arrested and convicted as a part of the Meerut Conspiracy Case. Their trial helped to raise British public awareness of British colonialism in India, and caused massive public outrage over their treatment. At the same time, Asian and African delegates to the Comintern such as Ho Chi Minh, M. N. Roy, and Sen Katayama criticized the GBCP for neglecting colonial issues in India and Ireland.
But this support built during the party's first years was imperilled during the Third Period from 1929 to 1932, the Third Period being the so-called period of renewed revolutionary advance as it was dubbed by the (now Stalinised) leadership of the Comintern. The result of this "class against class" policy was that the Social Democratic and Labourite parties were to be seen as equally as much a threat as the fascist parties and were therefore described as being social-fascist. Any kind of alliance with "social-fascists" was obviously to be prohibited.
The Third Period also meant that the CPGB sought to develop revolutionary trade unions in rivalry to the established Trades Union Congress affiliated unions. They met with an almost total lack of success although a tiny handful of "red" unions were formed, amongst them a miners union in Scotland and tailoring union in East London. Arthur Horner, the Communist leader of the Welsh miners, fought off attempts to found a similar union on his patch.
But even if the Third Period was by all conventional standards a total political failure it was the 'heroic' period of British communism and one of its campaigns did have impact beyond its ranks. This was the National Unemployed Workers' Movement led by Wal Hannington. Increasing unemployment had caused a substantial increase in the number of CP members, especially those drawn from engineering, lacking work. This cadre of which Hannington and Harry MacShane in Scotland were emblematic, found a purpose in building the NUWM which resulted in a number of marches on the unemployment issue during the 1930s. Although born in the Third Period during the Great Depression, the NUWM was a major campaigning body throughout the Popular Front period too, only being dissolved in 1941.
The CPGB's General Secretary, Harry Pollitt, gives a speech to a large crowd outside the British Museum in support for the Aid to Russia Fund, 1941
After the victory of Adolf Hitler in Germany, the Third Period was dropped by all Communist Parties as they switched to the policy of the Popular Front. This policy argued that as fascism was the main danger to the workers' movement, it needed to ally itself with all anti-fascist forces including right-wing democratic parties. In Britain, this policy expressed itself in the efforts of the CPGB to forge an alliance with the Labour Party and even with forces to the right of Labour.
In the 1935 general election Willie Gallacher was elected as the Communist Party's first MP in six years, and their first MP elected against Labour opposition. Gallacher sat for West Fife in Scotland, a coal mining region in which it had considerable support. During the 1930s the CPGB opposed the National Government's European policy of appeasement towards Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. On the streets the party members played a leading role in the struggle against the British Union of Fascists, led by Sir Oswald Mosley whose Blackshirts tried to emulate the Nazis in anti-Semitic actions in London and other major British cities. The Communist Party's Oxford branch under the leadership of Abraham Lazarus managed to successfully contain and defeat the rise of fascism in the city of Oxford, forcing the Blackshirts to retreat from the town and into the relative safety of Oxford University after the Battle of Carfax.
1939 to 1945: Second World War
An example of a CPGB poster supporting the British war effort against Nazi Germany during WWII
With the beginning of the Second World War in 1939, the CPGB initially continued to support the struggle on two fronts (against Chamberlain at home and Nazi fascism abroad). Following the Molotov–Ribbentrop nonaggression pact on 23 August between the Soviet Union and Germany, the Comintern immediately changed its position. The British party immediately fell in line, campaigning for peace, and describing the war as the product of imperialism on both sides, and in which the working class had no side to take. This was opposed within the CPGB by Harry Pollitt and J. R. Campbell, the editor of the Daily Worker, and both were relieved of their duties in October 1939. Pollitt was replaced by Palme Dutt. From 1939 until 1941 the CPGB was very active in supporting strikes and in denouncing the government for its pursuit of the war.
However, when in 1941 the Soviet Union was invaded by Germany, the CPGB reversed its stance immediately and came out in support of the war on the grounds that it had now become a war between fascism and the Soviet Union. Pollitt was restored to his old position as Party Secretary. In fact, the Communists' support for the war was so vociferous that they launched a campaign for a Second Front in order to support the USSR and speed the defeat of the Axis powers. In industry, they now opposed strike action and supported the Joint Production Committees, which aimed to increase productivity, and supported the National Government that was led by Winston Churchill (Conservative) and Clement Attlee (Labour). At the same time, given the influence of Rajani Palme Dutt in the Party, the issue of Indian independence and the independence of colonies was emphasised.
In the 1945 general election, the Communist Party received 103,000 votes, and two Communists were elected as members of parliament: Willie Gallacher was returned, and Phil Piratin was newly elected as the MP for Mile End in London's East End. Harry Pollitt failed by only 972 votes to take the Rhondda East constituency. Both Communist MPs, however, lost their seats at the 1950 general election. The Party was keen to demonstrate its loyalty to Britain's industrial competitiveness as a stepping point towards socialism. At the 19th Congress, Harry Pollitt asked rhetorically, "Why do we need to increase production?" He answered: "To pay for what we are compelled to import. To retain our independence as a nation."
The party's membership peaked during 1943, reaching around 60,000. Despite boasting some leading intellectuals, especially among the Communist Party Historians Group, the party was still tiny compared to its continental European counterparts. The French Communist Party for instance had 800,000 members, and the Italian Communist Party had 1.7 million members, before Benito Mussolini outlawed it in 1926. The Party tried, unsuccessfully, to affiliate to the Labour Party in 1935, 1943 and 1946.
Harry Pollitt gives a speech to workers in Whitehall, London, 1941
1946 to 1956: Start of the Cold War
In 1951 the party issued a programme, The British Road to Socialism (officially adopted at the 22nd Congress in April 1952), which explicitly advocated the possibility of a peaceful transition to socialism – but only after it had been personally approved by Joseph Stalin himself, according to some historians. The BRS would remain the programme of the CPGB until its dissolution in 1991 albeit in amended form and today is the programme of the breakaway Communist Party of Britain.
From the war years to 1956 the CPGB was at the height of its influence in the labour movement with many union officials who were members. Not only did it have immense influence in the National Union of Mineworkers but it was extremely influential in the Electrical Trade Union and in the Amalgamated Union of Engineering Workers, a key blue-collar union. In addition, much of the Labour Party left was strongly influenced by the party. Dissidents were few, perhaps the most notable being Eric Heffer, the future Labour MP who left the party in the late 1940s.
In 1954 the party solidified its opposition to British racial segregation, with the publication of A Man's a Man: A Study of the Colour Bar in Birmingham. Although the Communists had always opposed both racial segregation and British colonialism, this publication made clearer the party's position, and also had an enduring influence on British anti-racist politics outside the party.
The death of Stalin in 1953, and the uprising in East Germany the same year had little direct influence on the CPGB, but they were harbingers of what was to come. Of more importance was Nikita Khrushchev's "Secret Speech" at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in which he denounced Stalin. According to George Matthews, Khrushchev made a deal with the CPGB to provide a secret annual donation to the party of more than £100,000 in used notes. The Poznań protests of 1956 disrupted not only the CPGB, but many other Communist Parties as well. The CPGB was to experience its greatest ever loss of membership as a result of the Warsaw Pact's crushing of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. "[T]he events of 1956 ... saw the loss of between one-quarter and one-third of Party members, including many leading intellectuals." This event was initially covered in the CPGB-sponsored Daily Worker, by correspondent Peter Fryer, but as events unfolded the stories were spiked. On his return to Britain Fryer resigned from the Daily Worker and was expelled from the party.
1957 to 1970s: Decline of the party
William Alexander, representing to Politburo of the CPGB receives applause from the Presidium of the Fifth Congress of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany, East Berlin, 16 July 1958.
After the calamitous events of 1956, the party increasingly functioned as a pressure group, seeking to use its well-organised base in the trade union movement to push the Labour Party leftwards. Trade unionists in the party in 1968 included John Tocher, George Wake, Dick Etheridge and Cyril Morton (AEU); Mick McGahey, Arthur True and Sammy Moore (NUM); Lou Lewis (UCATT) and Max Morris (NUT). Ken Gill became the party's first elected officer (Deputy General Secretary of DATA, later TASS) in 1968 and former party member Hugh Scanlon was elected president of the AEU with Broad Left support – defeating Reg Birch, the Maoist ex-party candidate. The Broad Left went on to help elect Ray Buckton (ASLEF), Ken Cameron (FBU), Alan Sapper (ACTT) and Jack Jones (TGWU) in 1969. Gerry Pocock, Assistant Industrial Organiser described the industrial department as "a party within a party", and Marxism Today editor James Klugmann would routinely defer to Industrial Organiser Bert Ramelson on matters of policy.
The party's orientation, though, was to the left union officers, not the rank and file. Historian Geoff Andrews explains "it was the role of the shop stewards in organising the Broad Lefts and influencing trade union leaders that were the key rather than organising the rank and file in defiance of leaderships", and so the party withdrew from rank-and-file organisations like the Building Workers' Charter and attacked "Trotskyist" tactics at the Pilkington Glass dispute in 1970.
Still the party's efforts to establish an electoral base repeatedly failed. They retained a handful of seats in local councils scattered around Britain, but the CPGB's only representative in Parliament was in the House of Lords, gained when Wogan Philipps, the son of a ship-owner and a long-standing member of the CPGB inherited the title of Lord Milford when his father died in 1963.
The Daily Worker was renamed the Morning Star in 1966. At the same time, the party became increasingly polarised between those who sought to maintain close relations with the Soviet Union and those who sought to convert the party into a force independent of Moscow.
The international split between Moscow and Beijing in 1961 led to divisions within many Communist Parties but there was little pro-Beijing sympathy in the relatively small British Party. Perhaps the best known of the tiny minority of CPGB members who opposed the Moscow line was Michael McCreery, who formed the Committee to Defeat Revisionism, for Communist Unity. This tiny group left the CPGB by 1963. McCreery himself died in New Zealand in 1965. Later a more significant group formed around Reg Birch, an engineering union official, established the Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist). Initially, this group supported the position of the Communist Party of China.
Divisions in the CPGB concerning the autonomy of the party from Moscow reached a crisis in 1968 when Warsaw Pact forces invaded Czechoslovakia. The CPGB, with memories of 1956 in mind, responded with some very mild criticism of Moscow, refusing to call it an invasion, preferring "intervention". Three days after the invasion, John Gollan said "we completely understand the concern of the Soviet Union about the security of the socialist camp ... we speak as true friends of the Soviet Union".
Even this response provoked a small localised split by the so-called Appeal Group which was in many respects a precursor of the 1977 split which formed the New Communist Party. From this time onwards, the most traditionally-minded elements in the CPGB were referred to as 'Tankies' by their internal opponents, due to their support of the Warsaw Pact forces. Others within the party leaned increasingly towards the position of Eurocommunism, which was the leading tendency within the important Communist parties of Italy and, later, Spain.
In the late-1960s, and probably much earlier, MI5 had hidden surveillance microphones in the CPGB's headquarters, which MI5 regarded as "very productive".
The last strong electoral performance of the CPGB was in the February 1974 General Election in Dunbartonshire Central, where candidate Jimmy Reid won almost 6,000 votes. However, this strong result was primarily a personal vote for Reid, who was a prominent local trade union leader and gained much support because of his prominent role in the Upper Clyde Shipbuilders work-in, which had taken place a few years earlier and was seen as having saved local jobs. Nationally the party's vote continued its decline: according to a contemporary joke, the CPGB at this time pursued the British Road to Lost Deposits.
According to historian Geoff Andrews, "The mid-1970s saw Gramscians" (otherwise known as Euro-Communists) "take leading positions within the party". Dave Cook became National Organiser in 1975 and Sue Slipman was appointed to the executive committee and to the Marxism Today editorial board. Jon Bloomfield, former Student Organiser became the West Midlands District Secretary. Pete Carter prominent in UCATT, had been gaining influence since the late 60s and was appointed National Industrial Organiser in 1982. Beatrix Campbell (a contributor, with Slipman, to Red Rag) and Judith Hunt became active in the National Women's Advisory Committee. Martin Jacques, on the executive committee since 1967, replaced James Klugmann as editor of Marxism Today in 1977. Its turn to Eurocommunism was prefigured by what Andrews describes as Sarah Benton's "radical and heretical" stint as editor of the fortnightly review Comment. Critics from the past, like Eric Hobsbawm and Monty Johnstone, also gained influence.
The Euro-Communists in the party apparatus were starting to challenge the authority of the trade union organisers. At the 1975 Congress, economist Dave Purdy proposed that "the labour movement should declare its willingness to accept voluntary pay restraint as a contribution to the success of the programme and a way of easing the transition to a socialist economy" – a challenge to the Industrial Department's policy of "free collective bargaining". An argument he reiterated in print in The Leveller in 1979.
The growing crisis in the party also affected the credibility of its leadership, as formerly senior and influential members left its ranks. In 1976, three of its top engineering cadres resigned. Jimmy Reid, Cyril Morton and John Tocher had all been members of the Political Committee, playing a crucial role in determining the direction of the party. Like another engineer, Bernard Panter, who left a few months before them, they jumped a sinking ship.
According to the Party's official historian, this period was marked by a growing division between the practitioners of cultural politics – heavily inspired by the writings of Antonio Gramsci and party's powerful industrial department which advocated a policy of militant labourism.
The cultural politics wing had dominated the party's youth wing in the 1960s and was also powerful in the student section. As such many of its members were academics or professional intellectuals (or in the view of their opponents, out of touch and middle class). They were influenced by the environmental and especially the feminist movement.
The other wing was powerful in senior levels of the trade union movement (though few actually reached the very top in the unions) and despite the party's decline in numbers were able to drive the TUC's policy of opposing the Industrial Relations Act. In the view of their opponents on the cultural or Eurocommunist wing, they were out of touch with the real changes in working people's lives and attitudes.
As the seventies progressed and as industrial militancy declined in the face of high unemployment, the tensions in the party rose even as its membership continued to decline.
1977–1991: Breakup of the party
By 1977, debate around the new draft of the British Road to Socialism brought the party to breaking point. Many of the anti-Eurocommunists decided that they needed to form their own anti-revisionist Communist party. Some speculated at the time that they would receive the backing of Moscow, but such support appears not to have materialised. The New Communist Party of Britain was formed under the leadership of Sid French, who was the secretary of the important Surrey District CP, which had a strong base in engineering.
Another grouping, led by Fergus Nicholson, remained in the party and launched the paper Straight Left. This served as an outlet for their views as well as an organising tool in their work within the Labour Party. Nicholson had earlier taken part in establishing a faction known as "Clause Four" within Labour's student movement. Nicholson wrote as "Harry Steel", a combination of the names of Stalin ("man of steel" in Russian) and Harry Pollitt. The group around Straight Left exerted considerable influence in the trade union movement, CND, the Anti-Apartheid Movement and amongst some Labour MPs.
Under the influence of Eric Hobsbawm on the opposing wing of the party Martin Jacques became the editor of the party's theoretical journal Marxism Today and rapidly made it a significant publication for Eurocommunist opinions in the party, and eventually for revisionist tendencies in the wider liberal-left, in particular for the soft left around Neil Kinnock in the Labour Party. Although the circulation of the magazine rose it was still a drain on the finances of the small party.
As early as 1983, Martin Jacques "thought the CP was unreformable ... but stayed in because he needed its subsidy to continue publishing Marxism Today." Jacques' conviction that the party was finished "came as a nasty shock to some of his comrades" like Nina Temple, who "as unhappy as Jacques himself, stayed on only out of loyalty to Jacques."
In 1984, a long-simmering dispute between the majority of the leadership and an anti-Eurocommunist faction (associated with party industrial and trade union activists) flared up when the London District Congress was closed down for insisting on giving full rights to comrades who had been suspended by the executive committee. After the General Secretary closed the Congress a number of members remained in the room (in County Hall in South London) and held what was, in effect, the founding meeting of a breakaway party, although the formal split did not come until four years later. Members of the minority faction set about founding a network of Morning Star readers' groups and similar bodies, calling themselves the Communist Campaign Group. In 1988, these elements formally split from the CPGB to organise a new party known as the Communist Party of Britain. This was considered by many in the anti-Eurocommunist faction, including national executive members like Barry Williams, to be the death of the 'Party'.
In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, the Eurocommunist-dominated leadership of the CPGB, led by Nina Temple, decided to disband the party, and establish the Democratic Left, a left-leaning political think tank rather than a political party. The Democratic Left itself dissolved in 1999 and was replaced by the New Politics Network, which in turn merged with Charter 88 in 2007. This merger formed Unlock Democracy, which was involved in the campaign for a yes vote in the 2011 Alternative Vote referendum.
Some Scottish members formed the Communist Party of Scotland, while others formed Democratic Left Scotland and Democratic Left Wales Chwith Ddemocrataidd. Supporters of The Leninist who had rejoined the CPGB in the early 1980s declared their intention to reforge the Party and held an emergency conference at which they claimed the name of the party. They are now known as the Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee) and they publish the Weekly Worker. But the Communist Party of Britain is the designated 'Communist Party' in the UK by the Electoral Commission. In 2008 members of the Party of the European Left, which contains several former communist parties in Europe, established a non-electoral British section.
Size and electoral information
The party began with 4000 members at its founding congress. It experienced a brief surge around the 1926 general strike, doubling its membership from 5,000 to over 10,000. This surge was short-lived, however, as membership eventually sank down to 2,350 by 1930. The party reached its peak in 1942 at 56,000 members. This reflected the popularity of the party in the active phase of the Second World War. In the post-war period, the membership began declining, culminating in the sudden loss of around 6,000 members in 1957, around the aftermath of the Soviet intervention in Hungary. From that point, the party gradually recovered into the early 1960s; however, it began slowly shrinking again in 1965. The downward trend continued until the leadership pushed for the dissolution of the party in 1991. The final congress recorded an overall figure of 4,742 members.
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