Did British Communists ban beards?

In Uncategorized on November 21, 2020 by kmflett

Founding Conference August 1920

Did British Communists ban beards?

It’s the 100th anniversary of the Communist Party of Great Britain this year. Its founding conference was held in London in August 1920. The Party dissolved itself in 1990 although a successor, the Communist Party of Britain and the daily paper, the Morning Star live on in 2020.

There have been a range of events to mark the anniversary some organised by the CPB, others by the Socialist History Society (the broad successor to the Communist Party Historians Group) and one I attended today under the auspices of the Society for the Study of Labour History.

Prof. Kevin Morgan (Manchester)a noted authority on the CPGB spoke about the symbolism and structure of the early Conferences and Congresses of the Party up until the early 1940s.

There is a fair bit of detail about these events from published official accounts to detailed reports (these are held in the Moscow archives). There are also some photographs of delegates (later representatives)who attended.

One incidental detail was who those attending were. There are break downs by age and gender but as interesting to anyone on the left in 2020 is the dress and appearance of attendees.

I haven’t spotted one beard and Prof. Morgan opined that the emphasis was on respectability with bohemians and eccentrics strongly discouraged by the 1930s. Photos show rows of clean shaven men in suits and ties and (fewer) women wearing dresses and hats.

Raphael Samuel in his social history of the CPGB The Lost World of British Communism notes that while appearance as such was not an issue (rather taking care to produce a particular appearance- hair styles etc was frowned upon) the whole emphasis was on party members as part of the respectable working-class.

While this may have been more of a priority for the CPGB in terms of how it positioned itself in the labour movement there isn’t much evidence that the Labour Party or other left-wing organisations were significantly different.

It was really a question of formally banning beards, its just that the beard wearer was not a Communist type of person.

Things have changed.

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