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'Our only ornament': Tom Mann and British communist 'hagiography'.

Tom Mann was a heroic activist of the labour movement, liked and admired in Britain, in its white dominions, in South Africa, the United States and throughout Europe. So at first glance he was an ideal figure for the Communist International to use as the focus of a genuinely international cult of personality. Born in Coventry in 1856, he straddled the era of early trade unions, the formation of the Labour Party, and other socialist, syndicalist and anarchist groups of the 1880s, through the industrial turmoil before, during and after the First World War. In contrast to others of his generation who stayed with the increasingly mainstream Labour Party, Mann's long-term membership of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) made him more than just a star recruit. According to Rajani Palme Dutt, manoeuvring for Mann to be elected to the top leadership group in 1935, he was: 'Our only ornament'. (1) Increasingly iconic, Mann was ideal for the party's campaigns to refashion its Bolshevik image into that of a genuinely British party. A star attraction at rallies, effectively he handed his immense personal political capital onto a younger leadership, especially Harry Pollitt. Often the two were paired as speakers and frequently they were accorded respect and affection even by the communists' bitter political foes in the labour movement. At set-piece events, the veteran Mann could appear almost as the father of the movement, handing on the revolutionary banner of class struggle to Pollitt, some thirty-four years his junior. At Mann's funeral in 1941, Pollitt echoed Engels's assessment of Mann as the 'finest' militant, describing him as 'one of the greatest men the international Labour Movement has ever produced', and his life as that of 'the history of the British working class at its best'. (2) Precisely because he was not the CPGB's top leader, Mann was ideally suited to being viewed in multiple ways: for example, as the legitimising representative of History incarnate; a surrogate father for Pollitt; or a supreme exemplar of selfless activism and obedience to the party line. If Mann was presented as all these things and more, however, this was at the cost of obscuring many facets of the real figure behind the facade.

In the Stalin era such 'cults' were widely used as a method of propaganda, and yet there were differences too. When a party in power launched a 'cult of personality' it had a high degree of control; though even then, in the theory-obsessed world of the High Stalin era, it needed to use a resolutely orthodox leading figure, or a martyr. Amongst parties with no state power and finances, any cult aping the Soviet leaders was doomed to be a pale imitation. Even worse, it was subject to rival interpretations through lack of coercion and censorship. Mann exemplifies this problem as he was in many ways an idiosyncratic figure; hence many aspects of his life story had to be airbrushed out to produce a suitable image. Pollitt apparently realised these potential problems. Strongly opposing Dutt over his project to raise Mann to the leadership group, he noted that he was a 'big liability already, worse if actual part of the leadership'. Mann, Pollitt afterwards observed, was notable for a 'stubborn individualism' and 'reluctance to have a speech or statement prepared for him', and he revealed to Dutt that there had been 'bitter and heated scenes' between them. (3) Presumably this is why the CPGB, in setting to work on Mann's biography, did not seek to use a ghost writer to revise Mann's earlier Memoirs, published in 1923, but had to commission a new work that could be placed in reliable hands. This was the work of Dona Torr, later critiqued by Eric Hobsbawm as 'hagiography'. (4) Awkwardly, the source of Mann's appeal was not his Bolshevik correctness, but reflected his British roots predating and independent of the CPGB. Furthermore, while his rhetoric was full of loose references to class struggle, his theoretical positions were often vague, incorporated numerous strands, changed repeatedly, and were seldom marked by subtle analysis along marxist-leninist lines. The process whereby such a maverick could be made suitable for such 'hagiography' is one of the main concerns of the present article. (5)

Mann was also inextricably entwined with a slowly developing line on how to present the history of the British labour movement, with the CPGB as its culmination. The shift to such concerns in the mid-1930s paralleled contemporaneous changes in the USSR, where styles of propaganda and historical representation were being radically altered to focus on narrative and heroic deeds. (6) Once the Comintern's Seventh World Congress had enjoined member parties to utilise national traditions in their propaganda, the British party, in fumbling ways, began to assert its own local roots for its revolutionary credentials. Unlike the Soviet emphasis on Stalin, however, Mann could never be the sole 'star', and the popular front saw the increasing presentation of a range of key figures as heroes. Even so, as very much a living figure, Mann was unique: a representative of History itself and direct link to the origins of British socialism in the late nineteenth century. Here the British leadership had a distinct advantage; quite unlike the endless parading of the Trinity of Marx-Engels-Lenin in the attempt to anoint Stalin with a quasi-apostolic line of predecessors. Sooner or later, however, Mann had to give way to a younger generation. By the time of the 'Heirs of the Chartists' celebration of 1939, the CPGB was presenting Pollitt as the great culminating hero, heir not just of the Chartists, but of an absent Mann.

Examination of the cult formed around Pollitt from the mid-1930s suggests some striking parallels in the attitudes, class background and treatment of the two men. Born a generation apart, their cults in fact were to be cleverly complementary, and they were presented as the leadership pair of the National Minority Movement in the 1920s and in wider celebratory contexts from the early 1930s. By close association with the ageing Mann, Pollitt was able to bask in his glory, and that of the forefathers, while his own glory days exemplified the continuity of struggle that the CPGB wanted to claim, along with its link to the Soviet Union. Even after his death in 1941, Mann's hagiography remained important to the party because of the legitimising role it played for a later generation.

Figurehead and incendiarist 1920-35

In Mann's case, the importation of the 'cult of personality' into British communist propaganda was not just a simple policy decided on by Moscow, and systematically followed through--although there are surprising elements of that. But in several respects the promotions of Mann underwent numerous changes: the figurehead of the 1920s, useful for his repudiation of syndicalism; the incendiarist-cum-political prisoner of the Class Against Class era; and the iconic legitimising figure during the popular front period.

This tale of political 'spin' by the British party had complex roots, initially nurtured by Moscow, but slowly developing local momentum. Once past the age of retirement as a union official in 1921, Mann had been faced with perennially scratching fees from speaking engagements. At risk of wasting away into a poverty-stricken senescence, he was nevertheless one of the world's foremost syndicalists, and his adherence to communism had a tremendous potential value as a counter to be paraded around Europe before anarcho-syndicalist and 'leftist' critics of Bolshevism. His desire in 1922 to cease being 'officially identified' with the party led the Comintern representative in Britain, Mikhail Borodin, to arrange international speaking activities to keep the veteran on side, while the Profintern--against the desire of its British section--undertook to pay him a retainer. (7) Mann's article 'From Syndicalism to Communism' asserted his apostasy in Labour Monthly in 1922. The stance was repeated the following year, when Mann concluded his Memoirs with the all-important anti-anarchist doctrinal statement that 'the dictatorship of the proletariat must be resorted to'. (8) Freed from scratching a miserly living, he was further provided with a platform to continue agitating for the movement. He worked hard for his money, even going all the way to China with a delegation in 1926-27.

Not surprisingly the Russians wanted to trumpet such a catch. As early as 1928, they pressed the British to honour Mann's birthday. However, cables of greeting to Mann from international revolutionary celebrities were viewed as exaggerated by the Sunday Worker's then editor Walter Holmes. (9) Not surprisingly, notice of Mann's birthday in the new Daily Worker of 1930 initially remained perfunctory. However, his seventy-fifth birthday in 1931 may have marked the point where, in view of his advanced age, there seemed precious little time to lose. Hitherto the CPGB had seldom utilised British history. Even the 'National Charter Convention' in April 1931, an event chaired by Mann, merely relied on suggestive inferences of the Chartists. (10) Nevertheless, while lacking details of Chartist struggles, biographies, or local events, the mere fact of this sustained campaign having recourse to a movement resonating with British history itself marked a change. Just a few days later, for his seventy-fifth birthday, the Worker accorded Mann a front-page photograph and politically orientated interview. Although no celebratory activities were advertised, this marked something of a breakthrough in the party's public embrace of the old veteran. (11) For his next birthday in 1932, a front-page report was accompanied by an article, 'Why I am a Communist', distancing Mann from his previous allegiances and stating why their political methods had failed. (12)

Mann was mainly used as a battering ram and incendiarist during the height of the Class Against Class period. Whether deliberately or not, his militant activities led to his frequent arrest, and this meant that he could be 'packaged' as a septuagenarian victim of a repressive regime. This provided the focus for national campaigns for his release and for charges to be dropped, and Mann made triumphant appearances at functions while on bail. (13) A major campaign followed his preventive detention in December 1932. Reporting on his illness in Brixton prison, the Worker provided intensive coverage, building up to 'Tom Mann Sunday' on 8 January 1933. (14) Features included an article by Mann's wife; a reproduction of his famous 1912 'Don't Shoot' leaflet; and an article on his militant 'free speech' work in Melbourne in 1906. This was used to expose the hypocrisy of the current prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, who as a Labour leader twenty-six years earlier had visited the gaoled Mann. Shortly afterwards, a 'Bumper Event' was held for Mann's birthday, and he launched a new journal, Militant Trade Unionist, promising pages on his life. (15) The CPGB also issued a pamphlet by Mann outlining his relationship with the ILP, presumably due to the struggles with its left wing, which wanted to affiliate with the Comintern. (16) The potential use of Mann's life story for political capital was beginning to be exploited.

In 1934 Mann's birthday received less attention than his arrest, along with Pollitt, on charges of sedition. The pairing of the men was dramatically underscored through massive media coverage, and a 'Pollitt-Mann Defence Committee' was set up to organise activity over several months, with 130 branches passing resolutions in March for the charges to be dropped. (17) Here the CPGB sought to galvanise unionists and party activists in a very different form of joint 'cult of personality'; not as all-powerful figures gazing down from a pedestal, but united in peril, and calling on the solidarity of party members to defend them. The bail hearings and trials lasted through to July, providing useful opportunities for mass agitation campaigns attacking the system.

Apotheosis: living icon of history

The early propaganda associated with Mann's birth dates and promotions was not primarily biographical, but a sustained agitation emphasising Mann and Pollitt as activists leading the membership into struggle. The first tentative steps towards a different propaganda approach occurred with the centenary of William Morris's birth, also in 1934. Paradoxically, the CPGB simultaneously adopted a resolutely rejectionist approach to the TUC's centenary celebrations of the Tolpuddle martyrs. (18) Nevertheless, a positive stand was made by the communist writer and research worker R. Page Arnot to rescue Morris from the claims made upon him by the political right. Arnot's pamphlet William Morris attacked attempts to present Morris as a harmless artist, and promoted him instead as an antecedent of the communists, who could be used to support the leninist view of the 'Necessity of an armed rising and bitter civil war'. (19) Arnot also gave several lectures on Morris, and this arguably represented the CPGB's first real effort to make any mileage out of English history. This new interest in making capital out of historical rhetoric was shown at the height of the campaign over the Pollitt-Mann trial, when the Daily Worker employed Mann's 'Recollections of Morris' to draw the centenary into the militant present on a special 'William Morris' page. (20) Such emphasis on Mann's connections with Morris, back to the time of the 1889 Dock Strike, provided a living link to the times when Eleanor Marx and Engels were themselves living British militants.

In January 1935, as already noted, Dutt urged on Pollitt a more official status for Mann in the party, stating that 'history requires that his biography should reach completion as a member' of the CPGB's central committee. (21) Mann's weakened health had led to a revision of the strategy of risking his arrest in the front line. He was re-packaged and heavily promoted for his seventy-ninth birthday in April, three months before the Comintern's Seventh World Congress in July-August 1935 directed member parties to celebrate their national pasts. (22) With the need to promote suitable local heroes, more planning went into preparing the biographical propaganda for Mann's eightieth birthday in 1936, this time going into more detail than ever before to utilise his image to boost the party. Responsibility for a special biographical booklet was given by Pollitt to his friend Dona Torr; and despite Pollitt's misgivings, at the next opportunity, in 1937, Mann was duly raised to the party leadership. The following year, in 1938, he chaired the national party congress.

Bolstering Mann's leadership status lent credibility to the switch away from the Class Against Class era to the popular front policy, as Mann had opposed the pre-1934 sectarianism and sought to keep alive wider labour alliances. He was the subject of a large segment of at least one 'Workers' Newsreel', subsequently released separately as the short film 'Tom Mann at Pioneer's Camp'. (23) In an expensive gesture, a special film was also made of his eightieth birthday celebrations; this was of a high technical quality and was clearly intended to bring Mann before a wider audience than could take part in the celebrations in person. (24) The major celebratory effort included a non-party organising committee with many Labour Party people participating. (25) Among the seven hundred guests at the official celebration were Labour's leader, Clement Attlee, while a souvenir pamphlet carried a striking cover illustration by J. F. Horrabin, presenting Mann as genial and thoroughly British, like a favourite grandfather. (26) For its part, the CPGB issued Torr's laudatory booklet Tom Mann; while the journalist Hutt, educated at Cambridge and the Lenin School, penned a Labour Monthly article emphasising Mann's proletarian working skills as an engineer. For several weeks in April almost every issue of the Daily Worker ran an article on Mann. (27) Mann was also accorded the unparalleled distinction of a four-page Worker 'Supplement', including greetings from Attlee and other top British Labour figures; letters of praise from union and labour groups world-wide; and an article about the 'Great Dock Strike' based on Mann's Memoirs. As part of these effusions, Pollitt's paean began a typical process of exaggerating Mann's direct role in the party by saluting his 'life's work for militant trade unionism and Socialism' as the greatest contribution of any British leader. Mann was also described as a 'Foundation member of the Communist Party', though he had done no more than send a note of greetings to the party's founding congress, and his membership was merely a result of his pre-existing membership in the British Socialist Party. (28) Pollitt also firmly anchored Mann to the Kremlin by describing his meeting with an admiring Lenin. (29) Any political problems with Mann were simply ignored. A further international touch was the frequent pairing of Mann's birthday (15 April) with that the following day of the imprisoned German communist leader Ernst Thalmann. (30) And in a suitable mark of Mann's international status, Arnot completed the coverage in the Communist International. (31)

This was a systematic campaign to utilise Mann's iconic status, and link the CPGB to the 'true' traditions of the British labour movement. Evidence of the esteem in which he was widely held was the formation in mid-1936 of a Tom Mann 'Centuria' to fight in the Spanish Civil War. Apparently a spontaneous initiative of some East London communists and Spaniards, this was taken up and promoted by some in the British party. (32) The year 1936 happened to be full of major revolutionary resonances: the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Paris Commune, the twentieth since the Irish Easter Rising, and the tenth since the British General Strike. As the party abruptly awoke to the potential for celebrating historical heroes and events, all these events were commemorated by the CPGB.

Within months of his eightieth birthday, Mann's cult was transformed yet again, and, moving away from the merely biographical, he was presented as the living embodiment of a near millennium of radical 'English History' in a country-wide series of marches and pageants continuing into 1937. (33) Recalling such startling transformations, Douglas Hyde noted that there had 'undeniably been something "alien"' about the CPGB and that these demonstrations aimed at proving that it was really 'the most "British" of all Parties'. (34) Mann was ideal for this; always well-dressed, jovial and quintessentially 'British', he was at the forefront of many of the marches, and his role as historical icon was now brought forward. He was strikingly illustrated as the culmination of a 'red thread of progress', his portrait providing one of the latest in a line of many radical reformers--all of them men--depicted on the standardised cover illustration that was used on the souvenir programmes for many of the historically themed marches. (35)

There were also pictorial banners carried by the marchers, linked, and elaborated upon, by banners of text, much like the captions in silent films. Together they formed a narrative making a non-threatening appeal to national sentiment and 'English' traditions; and these, rather than Soviet or other slogans, provided the main coherence of the parades, through the depiction of local heroes and events, culminating with Mann and the party. Aside from a smattering of medieval and cultural figures, the heaviest emphasis was on modern history, and a significant grouping had a row of three textual banners highlighting Mann, the 1880s-90s and the 'New Unionism' respectively. The militant, Tom Mann, appeared both as a historical figure on hero banners, and then in person as living History, marching and speaking at follow-on rallies. The banners spelled out the link of the present communists to William Morris, Eleanor Marx, and so to the days when Engels was still alive in Britain. Communism was thus British. As Kevin Morgan put it, Mann's 'allegiance to Communism gave some credence to the tendentious socialist version of apostolic succession with which the CP sought to legitimise itself'. (36)

For new recruits, Mann's role could no longer be so easily taken for granted as assumed knowledge. In effect he therefore began to be incorporated into party education. Party classes on the history of the British labour movement were run at Marx House in London by Dona Torr and others, and Torr's booklet on Mann was ideal as a teaching aid for such classes. In the leninist terms in which Torr presented it, the period of Mann's rise to prominence from 1889 was that in which true political class-consciousness was born in the English working class and it therefore marked the origins of political organisations led by the workers. For the Sheffield 'march of English history', banners were borrowed from the one already staged in London and reports emphasised Mann's attendance at the 'Head of [the] Pageant'. (37) In Wales, events culminated in a night-time rally with Mann again among the speakers, as indeed he was in Manchester and Liverpool. (38) In rallies for the Hunger Marchers, for May Day, for the People's Day and Gala in Manchester (where he was accompanied by both Pollitt and Gallacher), even at an elaborate Festival of Music, Mann was a regular star attraction. (39) He was indeed ubiquitous; except, it seems, in Scotland, where his name is noticeable for its absence in the programme and reportage on the multiple 'Pageant(s) of Scottish History' held from May 1938. (40)

The audiences reached in these ways over several years must have amounted to many times the readership of Mann's Memoirs and Torr's small pamphlet on Mann. Nonetheless, from these many and varied public uses of the party's outstanding biographical asset, it is of interest to delve more deeply into Torr's biographical work, as the initiative which had the most longlasting effects. Torr's work must have been a key component in doctoring the past to suit Dutt's present. Apart from the booklet of 1936, she planned a fuller biography of Mann, at first postponed to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the Dock Strike in 1939, and actually reaching the stage of galley proofs before the war killed it off. (41) Continuing to work on the project as far as other responsibilities allowed, the post-war book Torr planned grew ever more all-encompassing, and finally proved beyond her. Only the first volume, reaching 1889, of Tom Mann and His Times, was to appear in 1956, having been completed by her proteges in the Historians' Group as Torr was dying. (42) However, in the context of the mid-1930s glorification of Mann, it is her earlier booklet, reprinted in 1944, that offers the chance to penetrate more deeply into the CPGB's exploitation of biography in the popular front era.

Forging a 'hagiography' and leninist catechism

Why did Pollitt describe Mann as a 'big liability' to Dutt? His doubts about Mann highlight the issue of how Mann's image could best be doctored to suit the needs of party 'hagiography'. Torr's Tom Mann booklet must be seen as part of an overall publishing programme by the CPGB to utilise personality in its propaganda. This occurred at a more sophisticated level than the other uses of British history in the marches and public events just discussed. Aside from Mann, the CPGB in 1936 issued not just one autobiographical volume, but two: that by its sole MP, William Gallacher, Revolt on the Clyde, and Wal Hannington's Unemployed Struggles 1919-36. The latter was appropriately introduced by Mann himself, linking his similar activism of 1886 with the present struggles headed by Hannington. This was followed over the next five years by more published memoirs, including those of Tom Bell and Harry Pollitt.

Torr was approached to work on Mann, as she later reminded Pollitt, as a project 'undertaken as a request by you as the leader of the party', and at the expense of her current writing project on Eleanor Marx. (43) She was fresh from working in Moscow at the Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute as a translator on the Adoratsky edition of the Correspondence of Marx and Engels. Now on the board of the party publishers and a key editorial worker, she was a friend of Pollitt's and of proven orthodoxy. It is even possible that she was meant to produce a full biography of Mann to accompany the others published that year, one being slated for late 1936. However, she was often in poor health and may have been snowed under with the wider publishing programme. Her protege Christopher Hill later commented: 'She didn't finish things, she had ideas and then they put her on to other ideas, and she was always busy with other things.' (44) Scaled down to appear as a booklet, her Tom Mann was issued for Mann's eightieth birthday, but she continued working with the living icon after it appeared. It was not, of course, her only responsibility. She continued to work as a highly regarded editor and notably oversaw a facsimile edition of Capital, praised by Dutt in Labour Monthly. (45)

As a trusted marxist scholar, Torr's ambitions went beyond simple propaganda, and she set about crafting a biographical analysis cleverly blending a leninist slant with the positioning of the party in relation to its antecedents. There is evidence that in her writings at this time the leninist touches were quite deliberate, for in 1938 she explained to Dutt that her review of E.H. Carr's Bakunin in Labour Monthly had expressly sought to draw attention to Lenin's early oeuvre. All through her 1936 Mann, subtle parallels can be found to Lenin, as in the later review. Apparently Torr was dissatisfied with her booklet, sending a copy to Salme Dutt, Palme Dutt's wife, in which she described it as her 'mangy little Tom Mann' and wrote that 'I blush for it and wish it buried'. (46) Nonetheless she must have assumed the Dutts would be interested, and was probably aware of Palme Dutt's plans to have Mann promoted. He was certainly enthusiastic, praising her pamphlet as 'a new style in history'. (47) Presumably he was referring to the thoroughness, length and political agenda of the whole work, which not even the best of the CPGB's previous historical pamphlets could match. Indeed, with the exception of Arnot's Morris and Hutt's Tolpuddle pamphlet, other teaching booklets issued by the party were basic summaries.

Dutt's enthusiasm is interesting, for the previous year he had provided Pollitt with a critique of Fox's recent biography Lenin which reveals a lot about Dutt's expectations of a party biography. Dutt had authority in such matters and quite conceivably his strictures influenced Torr's Mann. Though 'as a bourgeois biography' he accepted that Fox's Lenin would 'rank quite highly', politically speaking it seemed to Dutt 'weak and even ... alien from our outlook'. Its approach was 'too narrowly subjective, personal ... [with] highly impressionistic sketching in of political backgrounds. Our hero, his personality, his psychology, his will, fill the picture.' The actions of leading opponents of Lenin were also explained with a 'poetising and literary approach', and overall Fox's treatment showed a lack 'of political perspective ... of sense of the movement, of the party, of marxism as a collective outlook and movement'. The individual subject, Dutt summarised, had to be set carefully into 'the historical movement of which he is part'. The pitfalls of the 'traditional approach of bourgeois biography' were clear. (48)

Torr's achievement, from this perspective, was to avoid them. The Daily Worker's reviewer praised her for omitting the 'witty stories of the "he said to me--but listen to what I said back" type. This is the story of a Movement'. (49) These 'witty stories' were very much Mann's own stock-in-trade, but Torr had peeled away the extraneous 'human interest' items to get to the politically useful core. The booklet's biographical format cleverly sugar-coated an anti-Labour Party message and provided a militant history of the labour movement, leading ineluctably to the idea of revolution.

Dutt did, however, point out that the period from the 1880s to 1914 took up some twenty-seven of the booklet's pages, but the post-1914 period only two. It was 'as if the period since 1914 has no role in the [labour] movement ... the effect is like the wrong end of a telescope'. Dutt approved of the growing interest in the 'eighties and nineties' but not the predilection of historians to start their studies fifty years or more back. (50) Torr agreed but pleaded 'haste, illness, etc', and Mann himself was concerned about her ill-health. More substantially, she defended herself by quoting Pollitt's comments 'when the subject was first mooted': '"Now, Dona, don't go off thinking you're going to write the life of Engels!--old Tom was never anything after his syndicalist period" ... Of course H[arry] didn't mean it literally, I knew, but I was certainly influenced by this remark which mingled with my own recollections of M[inority] M[ovement] days etc.' (51)

Such attitudes and 'recollections' were no doubt reasons why Dutt wanted to promote Mann into the leadership circle, to overwrite such history. Yet Torr knew she could not 'claim him as a political leader after he joined us', and in correspondence she revealed that Mann was not altogether satisfied with his party career, 'feel[ing] deeply' that there was an 'essential difference between the side he has fought on since 1921' and his life before the party. Mann's own feelings, and her recollection of his Minority Movement days, apparently inclined her to avoid that lacklustre period.

Torr was an English honours graduate, not a historian, and Mann was her first independent historical work. In Moscow she had been deeply immersed in theoretical works and was able to link the real-life experiences of Mann, the militant activist, with parallels in the life of Lenin as a revolutionary leader, and points made in writings by Engels. Torr presented Mann as a veritable super-cadre: 'the supreme representative' of other activists, a self-sacrificing exemplar of the highest order, a whirlwind, a volcano. Appropriately for birthday celebrations, he was a flawless individual with no hint of the many ambiguities surrounding him, let alone any significant criticism. (52) Tom Quelch reviewed Torr's booklet in Dutt's Labour Monthly and recognised that it provided the necessary 'economic, social and political background' of 'the conditions of the working-class during the past eighty years'; it was 'not merely a biography' but a 'profound social study'. He also chimed in with the party's exaggerated praise of the veteran as 'the dashing cavalry leader of the working-class', with 'just those qualities that make the great military captain'. (53) Even hagiographers, however, did not always see eye to eye; for where Torr simply ignored the positive work by members of Hyndman's SDF in the 1889 strike, Quelch, son of one of the SDF's most prominent leaders, took her to task for this in his review. (54)

Mann had had a mercurial career, containing a good deal that could hardly have been admitted in a party hagiography. His famous flirtation with becoming a clergyman, a notable case in point, was swiftly dismissed by Torr as a cunning ploy to utilise the church 'propaganda machine'. Despite the chapter in Mann's memoirs on the 'labour movement and the churches', Torr insisted that he was free from 'attachment to theological dogmas'. (55) A further difficulty was that Lenin's collected writings on Britain, published in 1934, contain nothing to suggest that Mann was at all significant in Lenin's thinking or his work in London. Anarchism was another problem: Marx and Engels had fought Bakunin tooth and nail; while Mann's lingering syndicalism was a major problem that Torr largely side-stepped. Mann was subsequently to write to her in 1938 outlining how he had met the anarchist theorist Kropotkin; he had talked 'about his hostility to the State, and this influenced me very much'. (56) In Harry Wicks's recollection, Mann's old syndicalist views were still clearly evident as late as the General Strike, when he had recalled the French syndicalist view that the 'war of folded arms' would bring communism without a militant party. (57) Such heterodox attitudes could make Mann a difficult communist to celebrate, but in a small booklet such issues could be deftly side-stepped.

A 'hagiography' had to have positive elements for to it to be of political use, and at a subtle level Torr's booklet could also be utilised as a leninist catechism. Although heavily reliant on Mann's Memoirs, Torr avoided his chatty biographical sketches and excessive quotation of his early and no doubt too heterodox writings. She also provided important marxist-leninist elements to underpin the whole structure of his life. Whereas Mann's references to Engels and Lenin are conspicuous by their absence, and even Marx received fewer references than Hyndman, Torr frequently introduced such references and more theoretical points. (58) Other pointers to readers and party tutors were of a more implicit nature. For example, Torr showed Mann leading workers in struggle, administering the 1889 strike and regulating emergency supplies. In 1911 he virtually headed a workers' government, or soviet, in Liverpool: 'For the first time the workers of a great industrial city controlled the whole of its transport.' Describing Mann as a 'Dictator' suggested possible parallels with the Paris Commune, revealing a nascent 'dictatorship of the proletariat' in action in Britain. (59) Engels's approval of the movement, and attacks on Hyndman's Social Democratic Federation, were also quoted for effect. (60) This showed that avowedly marxist organisations had actually been opposed by the originators of marxism, enabling communists to infer parallels with present rivals such as the Plebs League and the latterday Independent Labour Party. Discussion of the New Unionism of the late 1880s and early 1890s depicted the emergence of a real British working-class movement with Mann at its forefront, urging that they were to 'look to themselves alone' and not seek 'middle-class sympathy'. (61) Lenin had carried this further with the development of the idea of the vanguard party of a 'new type'. This need too was made clear in Mann, and Engels was quoted in support. Labour, however, was 'no new party', and Keir Hardie was cited to show how he was identified with the old-style middle-class Liberal 'Radicals'. (62) Torr's priority was clear. It was to show communism's local ancestry, as a natural growth from New Unionism's roots, and not as the creation of foreign pressure and 'Moscow Gold'.

Handing on

When the CPGB celebrated the centenary of the 1839 peak of the Chartist movement, Mann was significant for his absence. Montagu Slater's pageant, 'Heirs to the Chartists' was written with the aid of a group of historians organised by Torr, and performed before ten thousand people. Its presentation of the Chartist era has an appearance by Marx, but is not followed by any reference to Mann and the 'New Unionism'. From 1848 and the climax of the Chartist movement, 'Heirs' skipped over this entire period, arriving directly at Pollitt's moment of glory, the 'Jolly George' incident of 1920. It was now Pollitt who appeared as both historical actor and present leader. Speaking in person, he was now the sole culminating hero and torch bearer. (63)

For the fiftieth anniversary of the dock strike a few months later, Mann too was remembered through articles in the Labour Monthly and Daily Worker, and a 'Pageant' presented on a lorry and conceivably shown in several places. (64) Nevertheless, it was the end of an era. In November Mann developed a blood clot in the brain and was hospitalised. The message of support he sent Pollitt for the Silvertown by-election in February 1940 was his last such propaganda effort. (65) With his death in March 1941, Pollitt delivered a stirring eulogy which was issued as a pamphlet by the party and subsequently included as the introduction to the re-issue of Torr's Mann in 1944. (66) Mann still counted for something in the CPGB; indeed, that same year a 'Tom Mann Badge' was instituted to reward the best individual recruiting efforts as the CPGB sought the elusive goal of a mass party. The story of Torr's abortive full-length biography therefore continued, dogged by twenty years of delays until its first volume appeared in 1956. This, however, is a topic beyond the scope of the present article.

As Dutt realised, the CPGB, unlike the British Labour Party, was painfully short of heroic ancestors. To honour Mann was therefore not sentimentalism but served to promote the party's own struggles and history of militancy. Mann could be packaged as living proof that marxism grew from British conditions and was a valid local tradition, not a Bolshevik export. The effort was fraught with contradictions, however; for we have seen how Pollitt also cited Mann's meetings with Lenin, and Torr too stressed how Mann admired Lenin. (67) Trying to walk both sides of the street was not unusual in this series of campaigns. The British labour movement, marxism and the Russian Revolution were thus linked in Mann's person. The Labour Party had Keir Hardie and a pantheon of such figures; the CPGB responded by boosting Mann as its equivalent hero. Torr's works on Mann consequently had at once a celebratory and a teleological tone, demonstrating the party's inevitability as historical outcome while leading indirectly to the theoretical points of Engels and Lenin. Mann showed uncharacteristic staying power by remaining a communist for some twenty years, and as icing on the cake, had already unequivocally stated in his Memoirs of 1923 that he 'gladly accepted the name of communist'. (68) Not for nothing did Dutt call him the CPGB's 'only ornament'.


(1.) Dutt to Pollitt, 4 January 1935, cited Kevin Morgan, Harry Pollitt, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1993, p13.

(2.) Funeral oration reprinted as 'Introduction' to Dona Torr, Tom Mann, London, 1944 edn., p5; also Engels to Sorge, 7 December 1889, in Torr (ed), Correspondence of Marx and Engels, London: Martin Lawrence, 1934, p461.

(3.) Morgan, Pollitt, p13.

(4.) Eric Hobsbawm discussing Torr's 1956 biography on Mann with the author in 1990, see Antony Howe, 'Dona Torr' in Keith Gildart and David Howell (eds), Dictionary of Labour Biography, vol. 12, Basingstoke: Palgrave, 2005, p279.

(5.) The issue is hardly touched upon in the fullest biography; see Chushichi Tsuzuki, Tom Mann, 1856-1941: The Challenges of Labour, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991. For thoughts on the communist construction of Mann as 'the New Proletarian Man', see however Joseph White, Tom Mann, Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1991, ppviii-ix and ch7.

(6.) See John Barber, Soviet Historians in Crisis: 1928-1932, London: Macmillan, 1981; David Brandenberger, National Bolshevism: Stalinist Mass Culture and the Formation of Modern Russian National Identity, 1931-1956, Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2002, esp. chs 2-3.

(7.) See Kevin Morgan, Labour Legends and Russian Gold: Bolshevism & the British Left, part 1, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2006, pp222-3.

(8.) Mann, Tom Mann's Memoirs, London: Labour Publishing Co, 1923, p324.

(9.) Morgan, Labour Legends, p222.

(10.) See Antony Howe, '"The Past is Ours". The political usage of English history by the British Communist Party, and the role of Dona Torr in the creation of its Historians' Group, 1930-56', University of Sydney, PhD, 2004, pp64-6.

(11.) For Daily Worker birthday notices see Howe, '"The Past is Ours"', appendix 5, pp707ff.

(12.) Daily Worker, 15 April 1932.

(13.) See e.g. Joe Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto: My Youth in the East End: Communism and Fascism 1913-1939, London: Janet Simon, 1978, pp957, 102, 125, 227.

(14.) Daily Worker, 17 December 1932 and 2-7 January 1933; also follow-up report Daily Worker, 12 January 1933.

(15.) Daily Worker, 25 March 1933; for this journal, see Tsuzuki, Tom Mann, pp245-6.

(16.) Tom Mann, Tom Mann and the ILP, London: CPGB, 1933.

(17.) Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, pp. 132-3, 138, 141, 146; Daily Worker, 27 March 1934.

(18.) Howe, 'Past is Ours', pp88-90; Daily Worker, 19 March 1934; Allen Hutt, 1834: Class Against Class: Tolpuddle To-day, London: Martin Lawrence, 1934; Hutt, This Final Crisis, London: Gollancz, 1935.

(19.) Arnot, William Morris: A Vindication, London: Martin Lawrence, 1934, pp23-6; Daily Worker, 24 March and 13 April 1934.

(20.) Daily Worker, 24 March 1934.

(21.) Morgan, Harry Pollitt, p13.

(22.) Daily Worker, 15 April 1935.

(23.) See Trevor Ryan, 'Filmography' in Don MacPherson (ed), British Cinema: Traditions of Independence, London: British Film Institute, 1980, pp211, 222, 223.

(24.) 'Tom Mann's 80th Birthday' (1936), 16mm, 10 minutes, b/w, silent, BFI ETV collection.

(25.) Tsuzuki, Tom Mann, pp253-4.

(26.) W. Arthur Peacock (ed), Tom Mann 80th Birthday Souvenir. London: Tom Mann 80th Birthday Celebration Committee, 1936.

(27.) See Howe, 'The Past Is Ours', appendix 5; also Hutt, 'Tom Mann', Labour Monthly, April 1936, p223.

(28.) See also Torr, Tom Mann, pp45-6. But founding member, Tom Bell, in his Pioneering Days, Lawrence & Wishart, 1941, pp76-77, notes that Mann joined the CPGB a little after its formation; also Tsuzuki, Tom Mann, pp201-3, and 207-8.

(29.) Pollitt, Daily Worker, 15 April 1936; see also Pollitt, Serving My Time, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 1950 edn, pp137, 139.

(30.) Dona Torr, Daily Worker, 15 April 1939.

(31.) R.P. Arnot, Communist International, 23, 4, 1936.

(32.) Jacobs, Out of the Ghetto, pp212, 231ff, 267.

(33.) Howe, 'The Past Is Ours', ch. 2, and appendix 4.

(34.) Douglas Hyde, I Believed, London: Reprint Society edn, 1952, p166.

(35.) See for example 'The March of English History', CPGB London District, 1936, Working Class Movement Library, Salford.

(36.) Morgan, Harry Pollitt, p12.

(37.) March of English History, CPGB North Midlands district, 1936; Daily Worker, 3 October 1936.

(38.) Daily Worker, 20 and 22 March 1937.

(39.) Hunger marchers: Tsuzuki, Mann, p248; historical pageants: Sheffield, Daily Worker, October 3, 1936; Manchester, Daily Worker, 11 June 1938; music: Mick Wallis, 'Pageantry and the Popular Front', New Theatre Quarterly, 38, 1994, p149.

(40.) May Day march in Glasgow, 'Programme of the Pageant of Scottish History', 1938; similar marches were held in other towns.

(41.) CPGB archives, Hutt papers, CP/Ind/Hutt/1/3, Torr to Allen Hutt, 18 April 18 (probably 1945 or 1946) and n.d. but 'Friday'.

(42.) See Howe, 'Dona Torr', p280.

(43.) CPGB archives, Torr papers, CP/Ind/Torr/1/3, Torr to Pollitt, 19 December 1954.

(44.) Hill interviewed by Antony Howe, 7 June 1990.

(45.) Durr, 'The Best Edition of "Capital" in English', Labour Monthly, August, 1938, pp516-18.

(46.) CPGB Archive, Dutt papers, CP/Ind/Dutt/6/3, Torr to Salme Dutt, 22 April 1936.

(47.) CPGB Archive, Dutt papers, CP/Ind/Dutt/6/3, R. Palme Dutt to Torr, 4 June 1936.

(48.) CPGB Archive, Dutt papers, CP/Ind/Dutt/16/4, Dutt to Pollitt, 4 October 1933 (punctuation corrected).

(49.) Reviewed Daily Worker, 22 April 1936.

(50.) CPGB Archive, Dutt papers, CP/Ind/Dutt/6/3, R. Palme Dutt to Torr, 4 June 1936.

(51.) CPGB Archive, Dutt papers, CP/Ind/Dutt/6/3, Torr to R.P. Dutt, 18 June 1936.

(52.) Torr, Tom Mann, 1944 edn, pp19-26, 39.

(53.) Tom Quelch, 'A great revolutionary fighter', Labour Monthly, June 1936, pp379-80.

(54.) Torr, Tom Mann, pp17, 20-21, 26-28; Quelch, 'A great revolutionary fighter'.

(55.) Torr, Tom Mann, p 32; see also Mann, Memoirs, 1967 edn, ch. 8, esp. pp91-2.

(56.) CPGB Archive, Torr papers, Mann to Torr, 11 August 1938.

(57.) Harry Wicks, Keeping my Head: Memoirs of a British Bolshevik, London: Socialist Platform, 1992, p64.

(58.) E.g. Torr, Tom Mann, p. 11 ('imperialism'), p12 ('labour aristocracy'), pp13-14 and 24 (class consciousness), pp26-27, 31 (Engels).

(59.) Torr, Tom Mann, pp22-3, 39-42.

(60.) Torr, Tom Mann, pp17, 20, 26-7, 31.

(61.) Torr, Tom Mann, pp24-25.

(62.) Torr, Tom Mann, p31, citing Hardie.

(63.) 'Heirs to the Charter', London, 1939; Mick Wallis, 'The popular front pageant: its emergence and decline', New Theatre Quarterly, 41, 1995, pp29-30.

(64.) Tom Mann, 'The Dock Strike of 1889 and after', Labour Monthly, September 1938, pp548-551; Daily Worker, 8 and 12 August 1939.

(65.) CPGB Archive, CP/Ind/Poll/10/5, 'A Message to the Workers of Silvertown from Tom Mann', 1940.

(66.) Torr, Tom Mann, p3.

(67.) Torr, Tom Mann, p46.

(68.) Mann, Memoirs, p271.
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