‘We want real live wires, not gas pipes’: Communism in the inter-war Durham coalfield

Twentieth Century Communism - ISSN 1758-6437
Volume 2022 Number 23

‘We want real live wires, not gas pipes’: Communism in the inter-war Durham coalfield
LEWIS MATES pages 51-95


Durham was the second largest and best unionised interwar British coalfield. With some leading pre-war Durham miner militants sympathetic to communist inspired movements after 1920, there seemed to be considerable potential for the CPGB’s growth. The ‘communist moment’ seemed to arrive in 1926. The Durham miners’ leaders’ inactivity during the general strike and after, contrasted with communists’ apparent dynamism, made for excellent propaganda. Hundreds duly flocked to the CPGB throughout the coalfield in those heady months of late 1926. Yet the factors that aided communism’s growth while the dispute raged had the opposite impact after the miners’ defeat. A successful counter-attack by local Labour and miners’ leaders, coal owner victimisation and the defeatism and demoralisation it engendered, as well as the general depressed state of the industry that brought short time and unemployment, saw Durham communism retreat rapidly in 1927. The district CPGB’s own shortcomings also played a part. Both before 1926 and after 1934, communist influ-ence was most readily exerted through Labour Party miner activists who had never been CPGB members. Their political careers suggest why communism did not gain a stronger independent foothold in the Durham coalfield.

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To cite this article
LEWIS MATES (2022) ‘We want real live wires, not gas pipes’: Communism in the inter-war Durham coalfield, Twentieth Century Communism, 2022(23), 51-95

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