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‘Comrades Come Rally’ – Manchester Communists in the 1930s and 1940s

Michael Crowley
Bookmarks, London (2022), pb, pp361, £15. ISBN. 1/914143/53/3

Michael Crowley’s account of the Communist Party (CP) in Manchester is based on a number of interviews of party members that he did in the 1990s. Sadly most of the people he interviewed are no longer with us, but the interviews he conducted form the basis of a fascinating account of communism in Manchester in the key period of the 1930s and 1940s. The story told in this book brings out the strength of the CP in the trade union movement in Manchester, also the importance of certain key factories, especially Metro -Vickers the largest factory both in Trafford Park and Manchester, employing around 25,000 in the 1940s. The role of engineering tends to be neglected in the history of ‘Cottonopolis’, but it is crucial to the growth of Manchester, and became even more significant after the opening of the Ship Canal in the 1890s, and the creation of the world’s first industrial estate, Trafford Park. The book is both a contribution to the history of the CP, as well as to the industrial history of Manchester. It also makes a significant contribution to our understanding of the resistance in Manchester to the Blackshirts, as well as the contribution of those who volunteered to fight in Spain.

This part is followed by the contribution of Manchester to the war effort, especially post 1941 when the CP revised its initial view of the war. The years 1939 to 1941 were a period when the General Secretary of the party, Harry Pollitt, a Manchester skilled worker, fell out of favour with the party and was exiled to Manchester. He returned after the invasion of the Soviet Union to the role of General Secretary, and was its most popular figure in the 1940s, the period of the party’s highest membership. The book describes the swing to the left in the war and the election of the Labour government in 1945 with a dramatic victory that surprised many contemporary observers. A key part of the book is an account of left-wing politics in the Jewish community, especially Cheetham Hill. Many of the key families that were influential in the party came from this district including the Ainley family ( Ben Ainley, who became a teacher, taught me English when I was at Chorlton Grammar School in the 1950s! ) Another significant figure from this community was Benny Rothman, a well-known activist, who led the Kinder Trespassers and was consequently sentenced to six months in prison; this is ironic as the trespass was partly responsible for the founding of our national parks! This is a significant book, not only for the history of the Communist Party in our region, but also for the history of Manchester. The tapes that Mike Crowley made in the 1990s are in the Working Class Movement Library, and include not only people like Eddie Frow, but also his friend Hugh Scanlon, a key figure in British labour in the 1970s. This is a very significant collection which has enabled Mike Crowley to write this important book.

Alan Fowler

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