George Brown - Portrait of a Communist leader
by Mick Jenkins
Published by the North West Communist Party History Group, 26 Hathersage Road, Manchester.
Printed by Progress Bookshop (MC) Ltd, Manchester 13.
Update: August 2008 - Additional material added to the Appendix, see the bottom of this section.
Copyright permission has been granted to reprint this article online by Mick Henderson, Communist Party National Admin Secretary, in an email to CC, 2/1/8. Many thanks from CC.
Mick Jenkins Obituary
Born in Cheetham, Manchester, he joined the Young Communist League in 1924. By 1939, he was Manchester District Organiser of the Communist Party and, in that capacity, he played a major part in organising support for the International Brigade’s volunteers and their families, as well as the Aid for Spain campaign.
During the Second World War, he worked with David Ainley at the Fairy Aviation factory in Stockport, where they established a Communist Party branch of over 300 members. The Fairy shop stewards were a key part of the campaign to open up a second front in Europe. After the war, Jenkins moved to the East Midlands to become the Communist Party’s District Secretary there.
In retirement, he wrote `The General Strike of 1842’, a book which dispels the myths about the so-called `Plug Plot Riots’ by illustrating how aspects of the struggle were highly co-ordinated. He also wrote a number of biographical pamphlets, including one on George Browne, a Communist political commissar who was killed in Spain; other subjects included Albert Matthew, a Rochdale activist and Les Ellis of Hucknall, Notts. He wrote many articles on the pre-war activities of the YCL and an unpublished memoir, now deposited in the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. Jenkins died on January 8th 1992.
Morning Star 23rd January 1992
George Brown - Portrait of a Communist leader
The story of George Brown, killed in the Spanish Civil War in 1937 has its beginning deep in the history and saga of the Irish people. The tragic story of the enforced dispersal of successive generations of Ireland's youth is well-known. The human tragedies involved have been told again and again. And yet, time ad again, another of these tragedies comes to light and one is compelled to stop, to listen, to sympathise and inevitably, to admire.
The life of George Brown is such a story. It goes back to the closing years of eh last century. The need to work, the need to live, brought young Mary lackey form the small village of Ballynail, in the County of Kilkenny, in Ireland, to Manchester. Ballynail was a collection of individual houses, doted around in fields, each with a patch of ground to be laboured on from early morning till late at night, in the main, occupied by tenant farmers, paying rent for the land they tilled. All had big families. What prospects were there for the young people of those families?
Young Francis Brown, Mary Leckey's boy friend who had followed her to Manchester, came from the next village of Inistioge. His too was a big family but of brothers. He was lucky insofar as he was born and lived in a more sizeable place and so whilst he did not entirely escape from the land, he was not completely tied to it. He learned the trade of Farrier, and became a shoeing smith. This was in the last quarter of the last century when the motor car was still unknown. It was a quarter of a century of great industrial growth - when the Empire 'grew' so that at the end of the century - 1900 - it covered 13,000,000 square miles and 370,000,000 people.
In the half century from 1851 to 1901 Manchester more than doubled its population from 303,000 to 645, 000; Salford nearly quadrupled its, from 63,000 to 221,000
Tragedy of Ireland
This meant radical, as well as vast changes in the town in of Manchester and its surroundings. The future parents of George Brown were caught up and woven into these changes. Like many of the Irish immigrants, they were attracted to the Collyhurst-Harpurhey area.
Mary and Francis were both tall, Mary slim and elegant, Francis broad and burly. They must have spent their courting, evenings and Sunday, in a mixture of lovely countryside and the turmoil of vast and rapid building of houses and streets that Collyhurst and Harpurhey were undergoing at that time. They must have liked it, for Collyhurst and Harpurhey was where they settled and lived the rest of their lives, and where George spent his all too short life.
Mary and Francis were married on the 13th day of May, 1897, at St. Edmunds's Church, Monsall Street, Manchester. Not that the break with Ireland was either easy of complete. The decision to get married and settle in England must have been very difficult indeed. The attraction of home and family and Irish culture and life must have been very powerful. The routine before marriage, of work, savings and then a 'holiday at home' became something more than a routine after marriage. 'Where to have the first child?' There seems to have been little hesitation in deciding. It was 'at home' and that was back in Ireland. And so with the second child, and with the third, and also with the fourth, with George Brown who thirty years later was to be killed by a Fascist bullet.
The tragedy of Ireland can be conveyed in political terms - the economic facts, the emigration, the backwardness of industry, can be stated, can be explained but how does one convey the human feelings of a son or daughter if Ireland for the homeland, for their homestead, for the fields and lanes, the green grass, the hills and unpolluted fresh air, the villages, the townships where they were born and lived their childhood and youth?
How can one convey the emotions of a young father and mother who bring their children into surroundings that do not include Grandmas and Grandpas, Aunties and Uncles, Cousins galore and neighbours, who in some vague way treat themselves as members of the family? But life goes on, harder for those who get an emotional bashing than for those who don't, but life goes on!
Collyhurst and Harpurhey
George was the last child to be born in Ireland. The next was born in Manchester. The odds were great. With each child new burdens tended to reduce the physical contact with the 'homeland' and to increase the nostalgia, the 'spiritual' contact; to increase the interest in all that went on at 'home'. Mary would sing to her baby George to sleep with Irish lullabies, with a faraway look in her eyes and memories of her own childhood racing though her mind. Francis would take his young son George for a walk - there were still fields and green grass in Collyhurst and Harpurhey in George's childhood - and tell him stories of Irish folklore, stories of Irish heroism, but also stories of Ireland's struggle fro freedom.
The atmosphere of Irish freedom and Irish culture merged with the industrial life of Manchester, with the working class activity and struggle of the early days of this century.
In 1885 Harpurhey was an independent township, some two miles from Piccadilly. In that year it was incorporated into Manchester, a fate that befell many townships around the city of Manchester. What happened can be conveyed in a sentence or two.
In 1891 the population of Harpurhey was 8,380. Ten years later, in 1901, it had now doubled to 15,486. Harpurhey some time earlier consisted only of the houses and shops on Rochdale road. In a fury of speculation and jerry-building, 3,500 houses were put up in those last years of the century. 85 streets branched off Rochdale Road just as though Aladdin had rubbed his lamp.
So the Browns entered their two up and two down terraced house. The rent was five shillings and sixpence per week; the houses were neat and clean; there was the corner shop on one corner and the chip shop on the other. It's true the toilet was outside at the bottom of the yard, very uncomfortable in winter. There was the zinc bath which hung at eh side of the back door, and had to be used in front of the fire in the kitchen; there was the firegate to black-lead and clean; there were the front stone steps and all the window sills to stone; there was…in a word, there were many disadvantages. But it was home and it was theirs. They could raise a family of their own - build their life anew.
Francis Brown was born at Inistioge, not far from Ballynail, and was trained as a Farrier. In Manchester he worked for the Railway Company, shoeing railway horses, he delighted in displaying his craftsmanship, his speed and ability. Francis was interested in Irish questions, but he was also interested in the situation in England and in the Labour Movement. He was a staunch trade unionist. He was not only a regular reader of the old militant Daily Herald, but gave a hand in its distribution campaigns, and attended Labour meetings.
George was born on the 5th November, 1906, at Ballynail, Thomastown, Kilkenny. On the birth certificate the father's 'rank or profession' is given as 'Blacksmith'. George was the fourth child in the family and in spite of being born in Ireland, with his sister and two brothers also born in Ireland, nevertheless, entered an established family life of a Manchester family. His sister and eldest brother were already at school, learning and playing and becoming integrated with the children and families of Collyhurst.
And so young George grew up in an atmosphere of humour and sparkle of Irish culture and nationalism, but also with a strong influence of the English working class way of life and the flavour of the English Labour Movement.
Like most working class children, George had an ordinary elementary school education. The first school he attended was St. Edmunds, attached to the church where his parents were married. A little later he attended St. Patrick's School in Livesey Street and finished his schooling days at Smedley Road School. He was a bright boy. French and Commerce were part of his lessons in his last years. He left school in the tail end of the boom which followed the First World War, and as the twenties wore on so unemployment and industrial struggles increased. These were the days when employers hired school leavers- those who were lucky - used them very intensively for two years and at the age of 16 sacked them and engaged new 14 year olds. When he left school he got a job with the Vaughan Crane Company, at Gorton, but this only lasted about twelve months. Whilst suffering the usual spells of unemployment characteristic of the period, he did find work at Metropolitan Vickers in Trafford Park. He worked for the Manchester Corporation Highways department and he worked, as a labourer, on a number o building sites.
This experience in industry; the joining of a trade union and attendance at meetings, coupled with his interest in the Irish question, his membership and attendance at a number of Irish clubs - he was a good mixer, liked Irish dance Music and Irish Dancing - helped to develop further his knowledge and association with the Labour Movement.
A local institution gave George quite a lift up on the road of political understanding. That was the Queens Park Parliament, a weekly debating forum. During the speculative building spree in Harpurhey, towards the end of the century, when parcels of land were being sold faster than the legal documents could be finalised, the Manchester Corporation had the foresight to buy Hendham hall with its land. That became Queens Park and the Hall a museum. In 1880 the parliament had been established and eventually Queens Park became its home.
Queens Park Parliament
At the time George started attending, the Parliament would attract up to 400 people, a heterogeneous crowd, with every possible and impossible philosophy represented. Usually the current questions of the day were on the order of the day, though every question under the sun would find its way into the debates. Debates sometimes were hard fought battles between, seemingly, the bitterest enemies, who a few hours later would be having a pint together at the local as though they had been pals since childhood - they probably had been! Well prepared arguments, delivered with oratorical ability, humour, repartee, devastating interjections, poetry, all entered into the afternoon's debate.
For a spirited youngster who was prepared to get to his feet and stand up to some old timer, that is, be prepared to be metaphorically torn to pieces, to be massacred, this type of institution could be very educational. George was such a youngster and he gained experience ad developed speaking ability as a result.
It was the General Strike of 1926 that consolidated his interest in politics and led to his joining the Communist Party. Not that George was solely and overwhelmingly immersed in politics. Alongside his political interest and trade union activity he maintained an interest and a lively activity in sport. He was something of an al-round sportsman. He was a member of the Hugh Oldham Lads Club and the North Manchester Harriers. While working at Metropolitan Vickers, he participated in the Works' Sports Club and won a walking competition during one of the annual works' sports. He boxed and even when he was completely absorbed in political activity, always managed to do a few rounds in the ring pretty regularly; swimming, rowing and fishing were among his delights. It needed only one glance to appreciate his athletic figure. He was more than average height and many a young woman looked around a second time after she passed him.
Not that this was a one side exercise. It was an attractive young woman who acted as his election agent when he was the Communist candidate in the Openshaw ward in Manchester in the Municipal election of 1934. Physical attractiveness was not the only quality that excited George, Evelyn Mary Taylor was an active participant in the day-to-day struggles of the working people. Being frog-marched down the isle of the Free Trade Gall by a gang of Fascist thugs, or being arrested for persisting in taking part in a peaceful youth demonstration for Peace - the laying of a wreath on the Cenotaph in St. Peter's Square- all this and other activities in the fight against the menace of Fascism and for Peace in this world, was not actually taking part in a picnic.
By the time George left for Spain in January ,1937, he had married that young woman.
George became more and more interested in politics and in the work and activity of the [Communist] Party. He more and more got drawn into the daily work from dragging the horseless trolley to the Albert Croft for a Sunday meeting, through leaflet distribution, chalking announcements on the pavements [See the story by Eugene Downing on doing similar things in Dublin at that time.] and attending party meetings, as well as attending party classes, Queens Park Parliament and similar meetings and educational functions George developed into a really popular spokesman for the party. He read Marxist literature and acquired a basic theoretical understanding of the principles of Marxism. He attended National Conferences and Congresses and showed the qualities of a young up and coming political leader. He had a quality which was a tremendous asset to a working class leader - the ability to state, in simple everyday terms, the big issues of the day. He was able to explain Party policy to a street corner or a Trades Council meeting in language workers used and understood, drawing on everyday experience and happenings to illustrate the case he was making.
Being Irish he must have had an advantage over others. He had a natural ability to give a sharp turn to a phrase, or could embody a whole philosophy in a sentence such as on one occasion, referring to one of the trade union leaders who betrayed the General Strike he exclaimed "He couldn't do a thing straight if he could do it crooked!" George became a well-known and popular representative of the Party in the Manchester and Lancashire area.
A big test for him came during the struggles of the unemployed. The great demonstration in October, 1931, was one such test, when a peaceful demonstration, supporting a deputation going to the Town Hall to an official meeting with the Lord Mayor, was brutally baton charged and the south-side of the centre of Manchester turned into a battlefield with tenders of police and plains clothes men chasing and batoning groups of unemployed. There were arrests and court cases, many fined and a number sent to prison for up to five months. George mobilised the party membership and the whole of the left behind the unemployed and their leaders. When the leaders were jailed, George was one of the comrades who stepped into their shoes and played an outstanding part in maintaining the agitations and activity of the unemployed. He showed considerable skill in meeting the provocation of the police. Who can forget the scene at All Saints - in front of the Ear hospital, on the Friday following the great demonstration. With the unemployed leaders in Strangeways Jail, George took charge of that demonstration. Two double ranks of police and plains clothes men, with batons drawn barring the way towards Albert Square and thousands and thousands of enraged unemployed demanding and threatening to march on the Town Hall and George on the wall of the Ear Hospital explaining the situation and getting agreement on a line of action.
The struggles of the unemployed was only one field into which George threw his energy. He maintained continuous trade union activity. His trade union branch elected him to the Manchester and Salford Trades Council where he commanded respect and attention form all on the floor of the Council.
Trade Union Activity
In the early thirties lingered a period, historically long past. Many were the scandals of treatment of working men and women by officialdom. The Means Test, the Poor Law Institution, the Public Assistance Committee, poor hospital treatment and many other inequitious impositions on the people. In spite of the mass unemployment of the thirties, this was also a period of bitter strike struggles. George Brown inevitably found himself in the midst of these vital clashes and battles, and inevitably gave a hand. A resolution in the Trades Council calling for support for a particular strike, resolutions of solidarity and collections of money in the local trade union branches, helping strikers to produce leaflets, organising public meetings, putting ideas and suggestions to rank and file strike committees, rallying the party membership and the left to support mass picketing, in these and in many other ways he played a vital part in the industrial struggles of the Manchester and Salford working class.
A long drawn out and virulent strike was that of the workers in the wire factory of Richard Johnson and Nephew, Ltd of Bradford, Manchester, in 1934 against the Bedaux System. It was the period when the British Capitalists were introducing rationalisation and every form of speed-up. The wire workers had tried the system for a period of twelve months; they had lost between seven shillings and sixpence and ten shillings per week. (It is interesting to note that the Union officials claimed that the price of wire had not come down and they put up a determined fight.) George Brown gave a great deal of assistance to the strikers.
He gave hep to unorganised and weakly organised workers. A persistent effort was made in the thirties to organise the badly exploited workers of the GREAT UNIVERSAL STORES. The upholsterers Union was foremost in trying to organise the upholsterers employed by GUS. The rank and file officials and leaders of these worked very closely with George Brown in getting the workers into the Union and then the organising of strike action to win trade union recognition and the demands of the workers. There was a similar relationship in connection with the Asphalters who were striking for an advance of two pence per hour and five shillings lodging allowance when away from home. In spite of the fact that it was the sort of activity that did note receive much publicity, there seemed to be general knowledge and recognition of this activity in the Labour Movement of the area.
Elected Organiser, CP
The then President of the Manchester and Salford Trades Council, who was anything but a Communist sympathiser, stated at the Memorial meeting to George Brown and four others killed in Spain…"and who will never be forgotten by those who benefited from his advice and activity during their industrial disputes." We must bear in mind that this was a period of vicious anti-Communism among the top level of trade union leaders. It was the period of the Black Circular! Mr J R Shanley, the then General secretary of the Amalgamated Union of Upholsterers said in a letter of appreciation "There are hundreds of workers in Manchester who are members of the trade union because of Comrade Brown's activities and example."
This was a period of great campaigns and severe class battles. For work or Full maintenance; Against Fascism; For Peace; for the Unity of the Working Class in addition to the daily industrial and social issues. The Communist Party in Manchester and Salford maintained continuous and all out activity in this period. The Daily Worker had been launched on January 1st, 1930. To strengthen the party organisation and campaigning, George Brown was elected the full time Organiser of the Manchester and Salford Communist Party in the early thirties.
This helped to consolidate around George a group of active members who were playing a foremost part in the campaigns and actions and in the day to day work of the party. The Party gained a great deal form this collective leadership, whilst George benefited from the advice and collaboration of the other comrades. Some time later, in February 1935, at the Thirteenth Congress of the Communist Party of Great Britain, held in Manchester. George was elected to the Executive Committee of the Party.
In this period, as already indicated, there were a number of social issues that roused public anger. One such case was that of a 19 year old wife who died as a result of alleged neglect. Molly Taylor gave birth to her baby in the out-patients department of the Maternity Hospital, thirty minutes after the doctor had told her to go home as there was some time to go before she was due. As there was no bed for her she was taken by ambulance four miles to another hospital. Later that eveing she had a haemorrhage. When her relatives arrived at 4 a.m. she was dead. As the facts became known, so the indignation of the people rose. A public inquiry was demanded, petitions, leaflets, mass meetings in the Free Trade Hall. Such was the depth of feeling that an inquiry was held with the public taking art. George Brown made a most valuable contribution to that campaign.
These campaigns and agitations were for George not unconnected efforts but rather part of the whole strategy of building up the unity and class-consciousness of the working class. On a number of occasions he was one of the Communist candidates at the Municipal elections. In his 1934 election address he took up to cudgels on behalf of both the wireworkers struggle and the Molly Taylor case. "Ratepayers’ money is spent providing police protection for blacklegs at Johnson’s Wire Works, Bradford, where they are on strike, fighting against the speed-up system known as ‘Bedaux’" Again, "The incident of the death of Mrs Molly Taylor after her removal from St Mary’s Hospital, is fundamentally due to inadequate hospital facilities within the City." And a year earlier in his election address as the Communist candidate in the Collyhurst Ward he stated: "Despite the Labour Leaders, the Communist Party will work o develop a united struggle of all workers against the employers’ attack which is driving us down to pauperisation and heading for a new World War." A year or two later George worked on a programme for Manchester. It was finalised and published after he had left for Spain. It was called This is our City Whilst George was a practical sort of person, there was something of an idealist about him. Standing on a chair or box at a street corner, speaking about some current action of the authorities, or against the Means Test, or the danger of war, he would veer round in the course of his speech to describing what life would be like under Socialism in Britain. What could be done to remove al poverty and hardship being suffered and the glorious future Socialism would bring for us and our children. He saw the day-to-day struggles as part of the struggle for Socialism.
One of his ambitions in the early thirties was to visit the Soviet Union. This was made possible immediately following the 1931 General Election. At that election George was the stand-in candidate for Chris Flanagan, who was the Communist Candidate in the Openshaw constituency ward was in Strangeways Jail serving a five month sentence for his part in the October unemployed demonstration. George was in the Soviet Union about twelve months and gained a great deal from his studies and experiences in the Land of Socialism.
As George grew in political maturity, so he grew in popularity.
Soon he became a well-known public figure in the Manchester Labour Movement. George, one was or another, had to be allowed to take part in all the main events of the Labour Movement. In 1931 the Communist Party and the National Minority Movement launched a big national campaign around a programme of demands for mobilising the working class in defence of their standards, the programme was called “The Workers’ Charter”. This campaign received widespread support in the Labour Movement, so much so that the Right Wing took steps to counter it.
The Manchester and Salford Trades Council, under pressure form the Right, organised “A People’s Congress” at the Free Trade Hall in May, 1931, with the aim of diverting attention from “The Workers’ Charter” Campaign. They certainly roused the interest of the Labour Movement, 2,167 delegates were elected by the Trade Union, Labour and Co-operative organisations in the area. There must have been another 1,000 present as visitors. But the mood was militant and in spite of the Right Wing fighting hard to control the Conference, the mass of the delegates wanted action and were against the capitalist policies of the Labour Government. When the platform proposed a tea break, the audience turned them down flat, and this happened again then they proposed an interval to hear the Clarion Choir sing. And outside the Hall, 16 people were arrested for ‘obstruction’ – they were selling the Daily Worker and left literature. Inside, George Brown, representing his branch of the Altogether Union of Building Trade Workers(1), made the first opposition speech.
It was a militant speech. He said the Congress was based on hypocrisy and denounced the main speakers on the platform as ‘avowed wage cutters’. The Labour Government he said, had redeemed none of its pledges and the Congress was designed to sidetrack the workers from the real working class issues raised by “The Workers’ Charter” which he read out. In the years that followed, up to the operation of the Black Circular(2), many were the occasions that George was either one of the official Trades Council speakers, or represented the Communist and Left point of view on a trades Council platform without an official announcement that that was so.
In 1934 the Trades Council, in co-operation with the Manchester and Salford Parties, organised three big mass meetings of protest against the ‘Incitement to Disaffection Bill’. At the Queens Park Meeting, George was one of the speakers. In his speech supporting the resolution, he appealed for more class unity and made an attack on Fascism. ‘Our National Government and even our local Council’, he said, ‘are all the time by legislative means, attempting to place obstacles in the way of the working class and at the same time trying to develop Fascism.’
In July, 1936, the Spanish Generals revolted against their democratically elected Government. For over three years a bitter and bloody struggle raged between a dying feudalism that had embraced the philosophy and practices of Fascism, and the advancing democracy heading for Socialism. The reactionary forces of the world, ked by Hitler’s Nazis and Mussolini’s Fascists and supported by Neville Chamberlain, gave succour and political support to Franco and his rebellious Generals.
The heroic stand of the Government of Spain at the head of all democratic and progressive forces in Spain, captured the imagination of progressive people everywhere. Whilst the Fascist counties of Germany and Italy were pouring arms, munitions and men into Spain in support of Franco, the so-called democratic countries of the Western world, led by the Chamberlain Government in Britain, operated a policy of ‘Non Intervention’ which effectively blocked supplies to the democratic Government and forces in Spain. The Soviet Union, to its undying credit, maintained a continuous flow of materials, food and medical supplies to the government and people of Spain.
Before the end of 1936 the idea of an International Brigade to help beat back the forces of reaction took shape and form.
The militant Left in the Labour Movement welcomed the proposal. For a number of years there had been an unrelenting battle against Fascist ideas and the activity and actions of the Mosley Fascist thugs. In the Manchester and Lancashire area, the Mosleyites had desperately tried but had failed to gain foothold. In September, 1934, they had suffered a most ignominious debacle at the hands of anti-Fascists at Belle Vue.(3) It was not surprising, therefore, that in January 1937 George volunteered for the International Brigade, went to Spain and was made a Political Commissar.
By the end of December, 1936, over 500 British Volunteers were in Spain (See Britons in Spain by William rust). A goodly number from Manchester and Lancashire. The story of the contribution of Manchester and District to the International Brigade has yet to be written.
In the few months he was there he wrote many letters – some lengthy-. He kept us in touch with what was happening in Spain and, in turn, he wanted to know about everything ‘at home’; the great Unity Demonstration; the position in some of the factories; what was happening in the Labour Party. These letters were cheerful, optimistic and near to home. Yet his very first letter showed his developing deep interest for Spain and its people. From the day he arrived in Spain his main concern was the welfare of the lads from England and primarily from Manchester and Lancashire. He was concerned about letters and parcels and Woodbines for the lads; he was concerned about their relatives. H was full of praise for the conduct of the Mancunians, You can sense the pain and anguish he must have felt when he wrote about comrades killed or wounded – “We have paid a big price. Yet there is not a life lost, the responsibility for which I wouldn’t place at the door of the National Government and without whose aid these atavistic bastards would have been swept into history long ago by the Spanish people themselves.”
One of the big battles that took place in 1937 was for Madrid. As the fighting rose in intensity, so the British Battalion was thrown in, in its defence. George went into that fight as a solider. It was in the battle for Brunete, which cost the British nearly three hundred men, that George Brown was killed. William Rust in his Britons in Spain says “George Brown, a leading Communist from Manchester, was also dead, shot by the Fascists as he lay wounded by the roadside.”
Idealism and Heroism
His death brought a sense of loss to the whole Manchester community. A sense of loss that lasted for a long time after his death. Within days of the news a Communist Party demonstration and rally at Debdale Park paid its respects to George. A fortnight later a commemoration meeting was held at the Downing Street Co-operative Hall. Again less than a year later a demonstration at the Manchester Athletic Club grounds paid tribute to him. In September, 938, a National Memorial meeting was held in the Free Trade Hall. Soon after the war in July, 1946, the International Brigade Association held a commemoration meeting to George Brown.
At the same time a sense of pride in the idealism and heroism of George Brown and his comrades expressed itself. His mother said: “I am proud of my son and the only thing that is keeping me up is that he died in the cause of freedom and anti-Fascism, in which he believed till his last breath.” Ellis Smith MP, wrote: “I knew him well. He was an example of real comradeship and sincerity.” Councillor Harry Frankland wrote: “Who can ever forget the able and courageous fights that George made in the Manchester and Salford Trades Council…thought many bitterly fought against him, everybody admired and respected him because of his principles and great sincerity.” Harry Pollitt stated: “We have lost in Comrade George Brown, one of the most devoted members and leaders of the Communist Party.” Frank Bright, the then District Secretary of the Lancashire and Chesire District of the Communist Party said: “He was another example of a worker, with just an elementary education and leaving school to start work at an early age, can grasp the essence of scientific socialism and apply in the everyday struggles of he class from which he sprang. He was able to impart the knowledge to other workers and to help them in the study of the science of Socialism.”
The Manchester Evening News in a short editorial on the news of his death, wrote:
The name of George Brown, Manchester Communist leader, has been added to the growing number of young Englishmen who have lost their lives fighting in Spain for what they earnestly believed to be the cause of freedom. Whether they are right or wrong, it must be agreed that there is heroism in the way in which they are giving their lives in a struggle that is not theirs for the sake of an ideal. Let us salute their memory.
The Manchester Borough Labour Party, the Manchester and Salford Trades Council and numerous trade union branches paid tribute to this fine personality. Tributes came from many quarters and many countries. Delegates to the International Writers’ Congress in Spain marched in the funeral procession of George Brown in Madrid. The Manchester and Salford Communist Party expressed its appreciation of George Brown.
Our Comrade was absolutely unstinting and ungrudging in his self-sacrifice for the Party and the working class. By his personal work and example he built a prestige and authority the party had not enjoyed previously. Comrade Brown was a Communist in every sense of the word; he was a true son of the working class. In the death of our comrade the great traditions of the Manchester people from Peterloo onwards are maintained.
(1) This was more likely a reference to the Amalgamated UBTU.
(2) "In 1934, the General Council followed up this manifesto with what came to be described by the communists as the "Black Circular". This recommended all trade unions to exclude communists and fascists from responsible posts; and it laid down that any trades council that wished to retain the formal recognition of Congress must exclude communist and fascist delegates.”
<3> 'BYE 'BYE BLACKSHIRT: MOSLEY DEFEATED AT BELLE VUE
by Michael Wolf, Searchlight - the anti-fascist magazine.
http://www.mucjs.org/mwolf.htm Accessed, 28th Dec. 2007
After the notorious brutality of the fascist meeting earlier in 1934 Mosley thought he would have a repeat performance in Manchester. To combat this threat an anti-fascist co-ordinating committee was created to counter the fascist thugs. A dynamic campaign of leafleting, fly-posting and public meetings were organised to mobilise the opposition. Deputations were organised representing the broadest possible democratic coalition to demand the banning of the fascist meeting. In the face of all the protests the meeting was allowed, and to add insult to injury the Chief Constable banned all marches, a decision clearly taken to make anti-fascist mobilisation more difficult.
However, the anti-fascists were determined that there would be no repeat of fascist violence and intimidation. Saturday 29th September the opposition mobilised. Three marches from Openshaw, Miles Platting, and Cheetham marched to meet the hundreds already waiting to meet them at Ardwick Green to form a united demonstration of over 3,000 who would march along Hyde road to join the protest meeting outside Belle Vue. The contingent from Cheetah comprised in the main young working class Jewish activists from the Challenge Club, the Youth Front Against War & Fascism and the Young Communist League formed the backbone of the group that was to rout the fascists later in the day. When the marchers arrived at Belle Vue they were greeted by the hundreds already assembled for the protest meeting. The marchers however had not come to listen to speeches. They had come to stop Mosley.
At the agreed time they left the meeting, crossed the road and in orderly fashion queued up to pay their entrance fee for Belle Vie. Once inside the amusement park scouting parties tried to find the fascists. They had no success, as these examples of the "master race" were hiding in the halls hired for them.
Mosley was to speak from The Gallery which was protected by the lake, his supporters were to assemble on the open air dance floor which was in front of the lake. Even so the fascist leader did not feel safe and in addition to the gang of thugs he called his bodyguard, there were wooden barriers and the police. In case this was not enough searchlights were available to be directed against the anti-fascists and fire engines with water cannon at the ready. The scene was set.
500 blackshirts marched from a hall under The Gallery and formed up military style. Mosley, aping Mussolini stepped forward to the microphone to speak. He was greeted by a wall of sound that completely drowned his speech. "Down with fascism", "Down with the blackshirt thugs!", "The rats the rats clear out the rats!", "One two three four five we want Mosley, dead or alive!". Anti fascist songs, the Red Flag, and the Internationale. The sound never stopped for over an hour. In spite of the powerful amplifiers turned up to maximum Mosley could not be heard.
To quote The Manchester Guardian, "Sitting in the midst of Sir Oswald’s personal bodyguard within three yards of where he was speaking one barely able to catch two consecutive sentences."
Mosley tried all the theatrical tricks he knew to try and make an impression but without any effective sound he appeared like a demented marionette. Defeat stared him in the face and he knew it, as did his audience which slunk away as soon as the police bodyguard was removed. The humiliation of the fascists was complete. The only sound they could now here was the singing of ‘bye bye blackshirt’ to the tune ‘bye ’bye blackbird’, a popular song of the time.
With the fascists defeated and demoralised, the protesters raised their banners and posters high and proudly rejoined the meeting outside Belle Vue.
Mosley’s humiliation was complete, what was supposed to have been his most important meeting since Olympia was in fact the first of a series of defeats he was to suffer in Manchester.
Other relevant pages from this site
Letters to and from George Brown - they had been Appendixes to this pamphlet.
Updated August 2008
After the Commemoration in Inistioge it became apparent that the Memorial Committee members had uncovered some additional material not included in Jenkins original pamphlet. I've added 2 exra letters, and made a number of inserts into the original pamphlet. This extra material shows George operating as a CPGB activist, and reveals some interesting aspects of life in Spain. Thanks to the GB Memorial Committee for their help, CC, August 2008.
A poem about George.