The Russian Revolution and the early TUC and labour delegations

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In the second of our series based on Dr Ben Phillips’s curation of our new exhibition, he looks at the early TUC and labour delegations to Russia .

Fred Bramley and the 1924 delegation visit

Above panel 7 from our new exhibition The Russian Revolution and its Impact on the Left in Britain, 1917 to 1926.

Several British labour delegations visited Russia and the Soviet Union during the period in question – one in 1917, another in 1920, a third in 1925 and finally the Women’s Delegation of 1925. Their composition and objectives varied considerably, reflecting the labour politics of their time – for instance, the 1917 delegation met with the Provisional Government and urged support for the continuation of the First World War, whereas the 1920 delegation, against the backdrop of Hands Off Russia, was staunchly anti-interventionist. Overall, the 1924 delegation is the best documented – something we owe to the personal papers of Fred Bramley, then the TUC’s General Secretary and a key participant in the delegation. All these photos you see here are from Bramley’s papers, which are held by the TUC Library. They provide us with an extraordinarily vivid – if undoubtedly partial and highly sanitised – insight into life in the early Soviet Union as seen through the eyes of foreign visitors.

The Bramley papers are, of course, personal artefacts. In my opinion, some of the most interesting and touching documents featured in this exhibition are those attesting to the interpersonal friendships and relationships interwoven through the broader solidarities and alliances on display. For various reasons, I particularly like these three below.

letter from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow

The above letter is from the director of the Marx-Engels Institute in Moscow to the TUC, written in 1924, requesting help locating the minutes of the First International in the archives of the Bishopsgate Institute.

declaration of fraternal greetings

The letter above is a declaration of fraternal greetings to the 1924 TUC delegation from trade unionists in Soviet Central Asia, in which they promise to bestow unspecified ‘robes of honour’ on the British visitors.

The one below is probably my favourite. The woman in the photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova, then a Bolshevik and secretary of the Comintern. The photo was addressed to Margaret Bondfield, founder of the Women’s Labour League and subsequently a cabinet minister under Ramsay MacDonald. The two had first met in Switzerland in 1915 at a conference organised by the Women’s International of Socialist & Labour Organisations. When Bondfield took part in the TUC’s 1920 delegation visit to Petrograd and Moscow, they met again. The caption reads:

‘To dear comrade Margaret Bondfield. Bern 1915 – Moscow 1920. Remember how sad things looked then, and how bright and hopeful they are now in our free proletarian Russia, cradle of universal socialism.’

photograph is Anzhelika Balabanova

This optimism didn’t last. Despite having supported the Bolshevik government in 1920, Bondfield later became an anti-communist, while Balabanova emigrated to Italy only two years after this, having fallen out of favour with the Soviet authorities.

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League against Imperialism and anti-colonialism

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The League against Imperialism

Middle row: left to right, James Maxton (2nd left) and Shapurji Saklatvala (3rd), Reginald Bridgeman (6th).

Academic and author Priyamvada Gopal @PriyamvadaGopal has written a very interesting article in The Irish Times about resistance to Britain’s empire

This set me off searching for the League against Imperialism in the TUC Library and I was very excited to find numerous press releases, some publications and a photo from the 1920s and ’30s.

See our Pinterest page https://www.pinterest.co.uk/tuc_library/league-against-imperialism/

The League against Imperialism was an international anti-imperialist organization in the period between the First and Second World Wars.

Anti-Imperialist Review

It was established in Brussels in 1927, in presence of 175 delegates from around the world. It was significant because it brought together representatives and organizations from the communist world and anti-colonial organizations and activists from the colonized world. 107 out of 175 delegates came from 37 countries under colonial rule.

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