The Communist Party of Great Britain archive

The Executive Committee of the CPGB
Date published: 
July 2008

Series CP/CENT/EC: The Central Committee (sometimes Central Executive Committee) took shape over the 1920s as the leading elected committee of the CPGB, usually meeting monthly. According to the party rules adopted in 1943, it was renamed the Executive Committee (EC). Its role and functions, summarised in Rule 8 of the CPGB's Aims and Constitution adopted at its 26th congress in 1959, included 'full responsibility for the direction and control of the work of the Party and for the formulation of current policy, in accordance with the decisions of National Congress, [and] the power to decide on new policy, where events make this necessary',including control of the party press, publications and other enterprises. Formally, it was the national party congress, as the 'supreme authority of the Party', that laid down the 'general lines' which the EC was obliged to follow. In practice, executive control over congress procedures, including its own re-election, lent substance to the view that it constituted an essentially self-perpetuating leadership. Its composition was explicitly affected by issues of representativeness: key industries, professions and party districts were all meant to be represented, and regard was also paid to the representation of women and 'young comrades'. Politically, on the other hand, the EC expressed and upheld a monolithic conception of party unity. Indeed, by the strengthening of the party rules in 1952 it was further established that it should 'guide and direct the work of all Party organisations' and apply disciplinary measures to any such organisation failing 'to carry out Party decisions'.
Parties, like the CPGB, which were affiliated to the Communist International (or Comintern), were obliged to send transcripts of the deliberations of their leading bodies to the Comintern headquarters in Moscow. In general, copies of these documents were not retained at CPGB headquarters in Britain, and are now only available as microfilm copies of the transcripts held in Moscow. However, a complete run of EC minutes exists for the period following the CPGB's 16th congress in 1943 to 1991. These, designedly, can be as laconic and unrevealing as any conspirator could have wished. Contributions of individuals and the character of discussions are rarely noted and even key decisions are often recorded elliptically. Perhaps in part for this very reason, leading communists frequently made their own notes at these meetings and where these are available they can be found alongside the relevant minutes. Very often these are exceptionally revealing and provide the sorts of information that the formal minutes were designed to conceal. Such issues are not peculiar to communist parties. Rather like the diaries of Labour cabinet ministers, they are often essential to the filling out of a sometimes less than informative formal record.