Labour History Review

Forging the Faithful: The British at the International Lenin School

Labour History Review (2003), 68, (1), 99–128.

Abstract

The International Lenin in School in Moscow trained British Communists for leadership positions from 1926 to 1937. This article relates the school and its programmes to their context, the development of Stalinism in Russia and the Russification of the Third International and its affiliates. It explores the organization and regime of the school, its purposes, pedagogy and curriculum. It provides for the first time a detailed listing of British students and explores their background and experience before entering the school. It proceeds to sketch the subsequent careers of a sample of the graduates. The paper pays particular attention to women students. The conclusion is that the training was far from successful in creating Marxist theorists or leaders. But it had a substantial impact in cementing loyalty to the British party and the Russian regime.

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B. Williams, Report on Congress, n.d., 1930, RGASPI, 495/100/596; Wicks, Keeping My Head, p. 93. Google Scholar

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Babitschenko, ‘Kaderschulung’ pp. 49-52; Resolution, Final Production Conference, RGASPI, 531/1/171; Report on Praktika, 23 February 1934, RGASPI, 531/1/172; Party Day, 5 November 1933, RGASPI, 531/2/61. Google Scholar

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On Comrade Alexandrov's Report on Chitska [sic], 23 October 1933, RGASPI, 531/1/169. Google Scholar

Ibid. The 1933 chistka seems to have primarily involved ILS staff and aspirants but students participated, although they by now no longer received party punishments. Google Scholar

Report on Praktika, 23 February 1934, RGASPI, 531/1/172; General characteristics of the whole sector, 22 August 1934, RGASPI, 531/1/172; Party Day, 24 January 1933, RGASPI, 531/2/61. Google Scholar

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Ewan McColl quoted in R. Samuel, (ed.), Theatres of the Left, London, Routledge, 1985, pp. 231-2. Google Scholar

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Bruley, Leninism, p. 219; Report on Central School, RGASPI, 495/100/368. Google Scholar

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H. McShane and J. Smith, No Mean Fighter, London, Pluto Press, p. 212; McCarthy, Generation, p. 160. No Mean Fighter 212 Google Scholar

A. McLeod, The Death of Uncle Joe, Woodbridge, Merlin, 1997, pp. 78, 242; Isabel Brown, WCML, Biographical files. The Death of Uncle Joe 78 Google Scholar

W. Thompson and S. Hobbs, ‘British Communists on the war, 1939-41’, Oral History, 16, 2, 1988, pp. 27-8. Cf ‘… it didn't matter what the Soviet Union or the Red Army did — it was right whether it was right or wrong…’, Cowe, quoted ibid., p. 25. ‘British Communists on the war, 1939-41’ Oral History 16 27 8 Google Scholar

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J. Saville, ‘Ainley, Theodore (Ted), 1903-68’, in J. Bellamy and J. Saville (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol. 10, London, Macmillan, 2000, p. 2. Dictionary of Labour Biography 10 2 Google Scholar

Williamson, Toolmaking, p. 32. Google Scholar

McLeod, Uncle Joe, p. 196; B. McLoughlin, ‘Visitors and victims’, in J. McIlroy, K. Morgan and A. Campbell (eds), Party People, Communist Lives, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 2001, pp. 222-3. Google Scholar

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J. T. Murphy, ‘The first year of the Lenin School’, Communist International, 30 September 1927, p. 267. ‘The first year of the Lenin School’ Communist International 267 Google Scholar

For background see, for example, I. Deutscher, Stalin. A Political Biography, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966; R. Tucker, Stalin in Power. The Revolution from Above, 1928-1941, New York, Norton, 1990; G. Gill, The Origins of the Stalinist Political System, Cambridge University Press, 1990; A. Nove, The Stalin Phenomenon, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1993; J. Channon (ed.), Politics, Society and Stalinism in the USSR, Basingstoke, Macmillan, 1998; J. Barber, ‘Stalin's letter to the editors of Proletarskaya Revolyutsiya', Soviet Studies, 28, 1, 1976, pp. 21-41; S. Fitzpatrick (ed.), Cultural Revolution in Russia, 1928-31, Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1978; B. Herlemann, ‘Der deutschsprachigen Bereich an den Kaderschulen der Kommunistischen Internationale’, Internationale wissenschaftliche Korrespondenz zur Geschichte der deutschen Arbeiterbewegung, 18, 3, 1982; L. G. Babischenko, ‘Die Kaderschulung der Komintern’ in H. Weber (ed.), Jahrbuch für Historische Kommunismusforchung, Berlin, Akademie Verlag, 1993. Google Scholar

Meeting between W. Gallacher, E. Brown and Comintern Agitprop, n.d., 1925, RGASPI, 495/100/253; cf B. McLoughlin, ‘Proletarian academics or party functionaries? Irish Communists at the International Lenin School, Moscow, 1927-1937’, Saothar. Journal of the Irish Labour History Society, 22, 1997. Google Scholar

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P. Huber, ‘The Cadre Department, the OMS and the "Dimitrov" and "Manuilsky" secretariats during the phase of the Terror‘, in M. Narinsky and J. Rojahn (eds), Centre and Periphery. The History of the Comintern in the Light of New Documents, Amsterdam, International Institute of Social History, 1996, p. 122. Centre and Periphery. The History of the Comintern in the Light of New Documents 122 Google Scholar

B. Studer and B. Unfried, ‘At the beginning of a history: visions of the Comintern after the opening of the archives’, International Review of Social History, 42, 3, 1997, p. 434. ‘At the beginning of a history: visions of the Comintern after the opening of the archives’ International Review of Social History 42 434 Google Scholar

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H. Wicks, Keeping My Head. The Memoirs of a British Bolshevik, London, Socialist Platform, 1992. There are very brief references to the ILS in, for example, M. McCarthy, Generation in Revolt, London, Heinemann, 1953; W. Paynter, My Generation, London, Allen and Unwin, 1972; B. Lewis and B. Gledhill, Tommy James. A Lion of a Man, Pontefract, Yorkshire Art Circus, 1985; B. Barker and L. Straker, FREE But Not Easy, Derbyshire County Council, 1989; M. Pollitt, A Rebel Life, Ultimo, Australia, Red Pen Publications, 1989; H. Horne, All the Trees Were Bread And Cheese, Luton, Owen Hardisty, 1998. Home does not mention the School by name — he is simply studying in Russia — and there is no mention of it in, for example, H. Williamson, Toolmaking and Politics. The Life of Ted Smallbone, Birmingham, Linden Books, 1987, or J. Kane, No Wonder We Were Rebels, Doncaster, Armthorpe NUM, n.d., [1994]. This demonstrates fidelity to secrecy pledges made decades earlier. Keeping My Head. The Memoirs of a British Bolshevik Google Scholar

H. Schafranek, ‘Österreichische Kommunisten an der "International Lenin-Schule" 1928-1938’, in B. McLoughlin, H. Schafranek and W. Szevera (eds), Aufbruch, Hoffnung, Endstation. Österricherinnen und Österreicher in der Sowjetunion, 1925-1945, Vienna, Verlag für Gesellschaftkritik, 1997; McLoughlin, ‘Proletarian academics’; J. Krekola, ‘The Finnish sector at the International Lenin School’, unpublished paper, Conference on Comparative Communist Biography, Manchester, 2001. See also J. Halstead and B. McLoughlin, ‘British students at the International Lenin School, Moscow, 1926-37: a biographical approach’, ibid. Aufbruch, Hoffnung, Endstation. Österricherinnen und Österreicher in der Sowjetunion, 1925-1945 Google Scholar

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M. Squires, ‘The CPGB and "Class Against Class’", Socialist History, 3, 1993, p. 11; Proposals to improve the recruitment of members for the C.P. of Great Britain, 9 April 1934, RGASPI, 495/100/935. ‘The CPGB and Class Against Class’ Socialist History 3 11 Google Scholar

McCarthy, Generation, p. 160. Google Scholar

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Barker and Straker, FREE, p. 50. Google Scholar

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Resolution of Standing Commission, ECCI, on Basic Rules of Conspiracy, 30 September 1930, RGASPI, 495/7/15; S. Angaretis to Piatnitsky, 12 December 1931, RGASPI, 495/4/137; Wicks, Keeping My Head, pp. 84-5. Google Scholar

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Bell to CPGB, 3 October 1929, RGASPI, 495/100/585; Resolution on the strengthening of contacts [1932], RGASPI, 495/20/865; Bureau of AAS, 28 February 1935, RGASPI, 495/14/3; Wicks, Keeping My Head, pp. 93, 101-3. Google Scholar

B. Williams, Report on Congress, n.d., 1930, RGASPI, 495/100/596; Wicks, Keeping My Head, p. 93. Google Scholar

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W. J. Chase, Enemies within the Gates? The Comintern and Stalinist Repression, 1934-1939, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2002, p. 439. Enemies within the Gates? The Comintern and Stalinist Repression, 1934-1939 439 Google Scholar

Babitschenko, ‘Kaderschulung’ pp. 49-52; Resolution, Final Production Conference, RGASPI, 531/1/171; Report on Praktika, 23 February 1934, RGASPI, 531/1/172; Party Day, 5 November 1933, RGASPI, 531/2/61. Google Scholar

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Resolution of the Party Committee on Comrade Gordon's Case, 8 March 1935, RGASPI, 531/2/63; Resolution on Paris Reformists, RGASPI, 531/1/171; Krekola, ‘Finnish sector’, p. 3; H. Mendel, Memoirs of a Jewish Revolutionary, London, Pluto Press, 1989; A. Ciliga, ‘How Tito took over the Yugoslav Communist Party’, Revolutionary History, 8, 1, 2001. Google Scholar

Mendel, Memoirs, p. 259; Evening Despatch, 24 August 1955. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Horne, All the Trees, p. 52. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Griffiths, Statement Concerning Breach of Discipline and Conspiracy, 17 February 1935, RGASPI, 531/1/171; Paynter, Generation, p. 55. Google Scholar

J. Stalin, Problems of Leninism, Moscow, Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1945, p. 97. Problems of Leninism 97 Google Scholar

Evening Despatch, 24 August 1955. Google Scholar

Wicks, Keeping My Head, pp. 91-6. Google Scholar

On Comrade Alexandrov's Report on Chitska [sic], 23 October 1933, RGASPI, 531/1/169. Google Scholar

Ibid. The 1933 chistka seems to have primarily involved ILS staff and aspirants but students participated, although they by now no longer received party punishments. Google Scholar

Report on Praktika, 23 February 1934, RGASPI, 531/1/172; General characteristics of the whole sector, 22 August 1934, RGASPI, 531/1/172; Party Day, 24 January 1933, RGASPI, 531/2/61. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

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See for example, Sector Bureau, 7 February 1933, RGASPI, 531/2/61; On Comrade Alexandrov's Report, RGASPI, 531/1/169; Meeting, 24 August 1935, RGASPI, 531/1/171; Pollitt, Rebel Life, pp. 27-8; Wicks, Keeping My Head, pp. 86-90. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

George Allen Hutt, RGASPI, 495/198/1177; M. Jenkins, ‘Prelude to Better Days’, unpublished autobiography, p. 64, Working Class Movement Library (WCML); Horne, All the Trees, p. 49; Pollitt, Rebel Life, pp. 26-7; Barker, FREE, pp. 50-3; Williamson, Toolmaking, pp. 23ff; Fagan, Memoirs, p. 88. See n. 48. Google Scholar

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 Google Scholar

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1949 Congress, Nominations, NMLH, CP/CENT/CONG/07/02; N. Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1927-1941, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1985, pp. 339-41; N. Branson, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 1997, pp. 253-4. Google Scholar

S. Bruley, Leninism, Stalinism and the Women's Movement in Britain, 1920-1939, New York and London, Garland, 1986, p. 234; A. Thorpe, ‘The membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain, 1920-1945’, Historical Journal, 43, 3, 2000, p. 784. Leninism, Stalinism and the Women's Movement in Britain, 1920-1939 234 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Bruley, Leninism, pp. 122-5. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Ewan McColl quoted in R. Samuel, (ed.), Theatres of the Left, London, Routledge, 1985, pp. 231-2. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

Bruley, Leninism, p. 219; Report on Central School, RGASPI, 495/100/368. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

E. Benson, To Struggle is to Live. A Working Class Autobiography, Volume 2. Starve or Rebel 1927-1971, Newcastle, People's Publications, 1980, pp. 78-9. To Struggle is to Live. A Working Class Autobiography, Volume 2. Starve or Rebel 1927-1971 78 9 Google Scholar

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PB, 17 January 1934, NMLH, CI15; transcript of interview with Harry Wicks, 30 March 1976, Wicks Papers, Modern Records Centre, University of Warwick, MSS102; K. Morgan, Harry Pollitt, Manchester University Press, 1993, p. 27. Google Scholar

H. McShane and J. Smith, No Mean Fighter, London, Pluto Press, p. 212; McCarthy, Generation, p. 160. No Mean Fighter 212 Google Scholar

A. McLeod, The Death of Uncle Joe, Woodbridge, Merlin, 1997, pp. 78, 242; Isabel Brown, WCML, Biographical files. The Death of Uncle Joe 78 Google Scholar

W. Thompson and S. Hobbs, ‘British Communists on the war, 1939-41’, Oral History, 16, 2, 1988, pp. 27-8. Cf ‘… it didn't matter what the Soviet Union or the Red Army did — it was right whether it was right or wrong…’, Cowe, quoted ibid., p. 25. ‘British Communists on the war, 1939-41’ Oral History 16 27 8 Google Scholar

Horne, All the Trees, p. 49. Google Scholar

 Google Scholar

J. Saville, ‘Ainley, Theodore (Ted), 1903-68’, in J. Bellamy and J. Saville (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol. 10, London, Macmillan, 2000, p. 2. Dictionary of Labour Biography 10 2 Google Scholar

Williamson, Toolmaking, p. 32. Google Scholar

McLeod, Uncle Joe, p. 196; B. McLoughlin, ‘Visitors and victims’, in J. McIlroy, K. Morgan and A. Campbell (eds), Party People, Communist Lives, London, Lawrence and Wishart, 2001, pp. 222-3. Google Scholar

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Author details

McIlroy, John

Campbell, Alan

McLoughlin, Barry

Halstead, John