British Communists at the Cenotaph (1921)

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Communist Wal Hannington Addressing the Unemployed – Trafalgar Square (1922)

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was founded in 1920 and was inspired by the Communist Revolution in Russia (led by Vladimir Lenin) in 1917.  Ironically, as oppressed British workers agitated for their rights by unionising and reading the works of Karl Marx – the British government was using the British Army (manned by the working class) in conjunction with many other countries, to invade Russia and destroy its fledgling ‘Revolution’ (a foreign incursion that became known as the ‘Russian Civil War 1918-22’).  Hundreds of thousands of British men had fought and died in WWI – and many in post-war Britain (and their families) faced governmental neglect, unemployment, grinding poverty and starvation. The circumstances were ripe for a revolution in the minds of the British working class.  For instance, on the 11th of November, 1921, a wreath was laid at the monument which read:

‘TO THE DEAD VICTIMS OF CAPITALISM, FROM THE LIVING VICTIMS OF CAPITALISM’

Following complaints from the middle class audience, the police were compelled to remove the wreath because of the ‘offence’ it caused – although, of cause, not to the working class – the mass of people who had actually fought and suffered during the First World War.  This situation was compounded by one highly decorated British soldier who marched down Whitehall wearing not his medals – but instead the paper tickets he had received when he was forced to ‘pawn’ his medals to prevent starvation.  At the Cenotaph, members of the newly minted Communist Party of Great Britain distributed newspapers to the discontented. Later, extraordinary young men would come forward to lead the British working class such as Wal Hannington – who was charged under the 1797 Incitement of Mutiny Act in 1925 and imprisoned for a year – for daring to tell the British establishment that working class people were starving and needed help from a fairer society.

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Source: Portrait of An Era – An Illustrated History of Britain 1900-1945 (Readers Digest), 2011, Vivar Direct Limited, Page 252.

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