The Communist Party of Great Britain archive

The Political Committee of the CPGB
Date published: 
July 2008

Series: CP/CENT/PC: The CPGB Political Bureau (PB), which was renamed Political Committee (PC) in 1944, was a subsidiary committee of the Central/Executive Committee. The role and function of the PB/PC was set out in rules 8d and 8e adopted at the 1959 congress, which state: 'At its first meeting after its election the Executive Committee shall elect the officers of the party and a Political Committee. The Political Committee shall have the responsibility for giving prompt and effective leadership in between meetings of the Executive Committee. The work of the Political Committee shall be subject to control by the Executive Committee.'
Historians and political scientists have commented on the seemingly inexorable centralisation of effective power within communist parties. Formally, the EC, under the 1943 rules, was merely to 'elect such Officers and Committees as it may consider necessary to ensure the most efficient organisation and carrying through of the Party's work'. Though technically accountable to the EC, committees like the Industrial Committee and its officers could come to enjoy a wider discretion in day-to-day affairs. More significantly, a 'political committee' was elected which had no formal status in the party rules. Again the origins of such a body can be traced back to the 1920s, when the Political Bureau, initially sharing responsibilities with an organisational bureau, emerged as a de facto party leadership through the CPGB's inability to maintain a full-time executive. Through control of the 'panel' of nominees to the executive itself, it was the Political Committee that in practice functioned as the main directive body within the party, usually meeting at least weekly. There are important survivals from 1924-5 and again from the late 1940s, but comprehensive coverage dates from 1952
[N.B.: In the immediate post-war period the reports on 'the situation' presented at almost every PC meeting were reproduced in the PC's 'Weekly Letter'. Also held as a separate collection, 'the situation' and the PC's Weekly Letter frequently appear accompanying materials with the PC minutes, and should be read alongside them.]
Also included here with the main run of PC files are the Sub-Committee papers, which cover the period 1954-1967, as well as a few Political Bureau and Organisational Bureau files from 1924 to 1929.