Bolshevization, Stalinization, and Party Ritual: The Congresses of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920-1943

Author: Kevin Morgan
This is the abstract of an article published in Labour History Review (2022), 87, (2), 141-182. Read more.

This paper examines the national congresses of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the period of the Communist International (1919-43). Both in Britain and internationally, communist party congresses in this period lost any independent decision-making role and became a mechanism activated and controlled from above. Not surprisingly, they have attracted little serious scholarly notice in their own right, but this paper identifies three themes deserving consideration: first, that of the congress as a field of tension between inherited notions of delegatory democracy and the Comintern’s top-down version of democratic centralism; second, that of its growing importance as a site of symbolic demonstration and ritualized group action; and third, that of bolshevization and Stalinization as processes that can be traced through these changing conceptions of the congress’s role. Each theme is considered here in a separate section. These employ a three-party periodization that supports an argument of the CPGB’s early but protracted bolshevization. Further watershed moments in the late 1920s and the mid-1930s can both in different ways be identified with Stalinization. These, however, did not so much resolve as displace the tensions with wider labour movement practices.

Video: Kevin Morgan delivers the 2020 Society for the Study of Labour History annual lecture The Communist Party Congress as a Syndrome of Political Ideals.