What a galaxy of left-wing talent! And all on the same page. Though not for much longer.
These signatures date, it seems, from 1926 or perhaps the following year. Within a few years, these fellow signatories - all determinedly on the political left at the time - were at each other's throats. As the Communists turned to ultra-left sectarianism, prominent CP-er Harry Pollitt would have had nothing to do with Labour's George Lansbury.
By the mid-1930s, Oswald Mosley had given up on Labour, tried and failed to galvanise the left with his New Party, and donned the black shirt as leader of the British Union of Fascists.
But here at least, the signatures suggests that all these disparate figures are allied in a cause.
But what's the story behind this curious collection of autographs?
Well, they are in a copy of a hugely successful title, The Week-End Book, which described itself as a 'social anthology'.
It proved to be something of a publishing sensation. A mix of poems, brain teasers, songs, excerpts, bon mots, even medical remedies ... Determinedly middle-brow, the title had sold 100,000 copies within its first seven years and remained in print for decades.
The book was first published in June 1924. This copy was part of the sixteenth impression which appeared in October 1926.
Francis Meynell (1891-1975) was a socialist poet and publisher who in 1922 was a founder of the Nonesuch Press. He was one of the editors of The Week-End Book - so this was his book. In 1913, Meynell had been brought in by George Lansbury to be business manager of the left-leaning Daily Herald. In 1921, he was the editor of a weekly, the Communist, which involved him in large debts after he lost a libel action.
Arthur J. Cook (1883-1931) was a left-wing miners' leader and a key figure in the May 1926 General Strike. He was general secretary of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain from 1924 until his death. Cook was a member of the ILP and regarded as close to the Communist Party. In the the latter part of the 1920s, he was seen as an ally of Mosley and others on the left of the Parliamentary Labour Party.
Oswald Mosley (1896-1980) is rightly notorious as a racist and the leader of British Fascism. He was elected to Parliament in 1918 as a Conservative but later joined the Labour Party. In December 1926, he won a Parliamentary by-election in Smethwick. In 1929, he was appointed to a post in the Labour government and the memorandum he drew up advocating high tariffs and public works was seen as a key left-wing initiative. But Labour's leadership weren't interested and Mosley resigned, going on to establish the New Party before advocating fascism.
George Lansbury (1859-1940) was a socialist and pacifist and one of the very few MPs to resign from Parliament (in 1912) in support of demands for women's suffrage. He was re-elected to Parliament in 1922 and ten years later was elected leader of the Labour Party, at a time when disgraced Labourite Ramsay MacDonald was heading a 'national' coalition government. Lansbury was leader of the Labour Party for three years - relinquishing the post without having led the party in a general election campaign.
Harry Pollitt (1890-1960) is the commanding figure in the history of the British Communist Party. In 1925, he was one of twelve communists convicted and jailed on charges of seditious libel and incitement to mutiny. Pollitt became party leader in 1929, a post he retained - apart from a short break in the early part of the Second World War because of his reservations about the Nazi-Soviet pact - until 1956. He is the subject of the noted political ditty 'Harry was a Bolshie'.
Marjorie Pollitt (1902-1991) was born Marjorie Brewer and was a founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920. She was a teacher. She married Harry Pollitt in 1925. This photograph was taken during the Pollitts' honeymoon the following year.
William Arthur Lansbury (1885-1957) was the son of George Lansbury - as a teenager he was arrested while supporting the campaign for women's suffrage. The illustration is from the register of those detained for suffragette-linked action. I haven't been able to find out much more about him.
So how come they all came to sign this book? Was it a memento of a meeting or event - did they for instance all come together during Mosley's by-election campaign at the close of 1926? Or was this a raffle prize? Or did Francis Meynell 'collect' autographs here of his more illustrious comrades?
If I find out more, I'll post the update here.
There's a 'Commie corner' at Golders Green crematorium in north London with a cluster of plaques to prominent British Communists of days past. Harry Pollitt is remembered there, the most renowned of leaders of the Communist Party of Great Britain - a boilermaker from Manchester before he became a party apparatchik.
Below Pollitt's memorial there's one to the legendary Tom Mann (1856-1941), perhaps the most widely respected of British Communists and a link to the heroic era of British socialism and above all to the 1889 London Dock Strike.
Harry Pollitt was famous for resisting the notorious 'about-turn' change of line at the start of the Second World War, when the Soviet Union - having negotiated a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany - declared the conflict an imperialist war. All CPs were expected to fall into line. Harry argued against, but was outvoted in the British party leadership.
Pollitt stood down as party general secretary but returned to the post twenty months later after the line had changed again - to regarding the conflict as a people's war against fascism. That gap in his leadership of the party is papered over in the details on his memorial tablet.
Harry Pollitt's funeral in 1960 was one of the last big ceremonial moments of British Communism - caught in this newsreel-style footage.
Of course, it's well known that Comrade Pollitt ended up in hell, or at least that's how 'Harry was a Bolshie' tells the story - a ditty enthusiastically sung by generations of Young Communists:
Harry was a Bolshie, one of Stalin's lads
Till he was foully murdered by counter revolutionary cads
Counter revolutionary, counter revolutionary cads
He was foully murdered by counter revolutionary cads
That's all right said Harry, I'm not afraid to die
I'll carry on my Party work in the land beyond the sky
The land beyond the sky, the land beyond the sky
I'll just carry on my Party work in the land beyond the sky
He got up to the Pearly Gates, met Peter on his knees
'May I speak to Comrade God I'm Harold Pollitt please
Harold Pollitt please, Harold Pollitt please,
May I speak to Comrade God I'm Harold Pollitt please'
Said Peter unto Harry: 'Are you humble and contrite?'
'I'm a friend of Lady Docker's', 'Then OK. you'll be alright
Then OK. you'll be alright, then OK. you'll be alright
If you're a friend of Lady Docker's, then OK. you'll be alright'
They dressed him in a nightie, put a harp into his hand
And he played the Internationale in the hallelujah band
In the hallelujah band, in the hallelujah band
He played the Internationale in the hallelujah band
They put him in the choir, the hymns he did not like
So he organized the angels and he fetched them out on strike
Fetched them out on strike, fetched them out on strike
He organized the angels and he fetched them out on strike
One day as God was walking around the heavenly state
Who should he see but Harry chalking slogans on the gate
Slogans on the gate, slogans on the gate
Who should he see but Harry chalking slogans on the gate
They put him up for trial before the Holy Ghost
Charged with disaffection amongst the heavenly host
Amongst the heavenly host, amongst the heavenly host
Charged with disaffection amongst the heavenly host
The verdict it was guilty, said Harry 'That is swell'
And he tucked his nightie 'round his knees and he floated down to hell
Floated down to hell, floated down to hell
He tucked his nightie 'round his knees and he floated down to hell
A few more years have ended, now Harry's doing swell
He's just been made the people's commissar for Soviet Socialist Hell
And now all the little devils have joined the Y.C.L.
Yes all the little devils have joined the Y.C.L.
Now the moral of this story, it isn't hard to tell,
If you want to be a Bolshie, you've got to go to Hell,
Got to go to Hell, Yes, you've got to go to Hell,
If you want to be a Bolshie, you've got to go to Hell!
And his journey started from here in Golders Green!
'Harry was a Bolshie'
Harry Pollitt epitomised British Communism. He was a boilermaker from Lancashire, a working class audo-didact, who led the Communist Party of Great Britain through its glory years - from 1929 to May 1956, the year that saw the double blows to its credibility of Khruschev's 'secret speech' denouncing Stalin's cult of personality and a few months later the Soviet-led invasion of Hungary.
There was a break in Pollitt's leadership, which speaks well of the man and his politics. In October 1939 he stood down as general secretary because of his unease at the Communist 'about-turn' following the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact which obliged Communists to oppose the Second World War as an imperialist war. He returned to the post in June 1941 when Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union led to a reversal of the Communist line on the war.
I've just come across - indeed been given (many thanks to the excellent Black Gull Books in East Finchley - if you are worried about their business model, don't be alarmed, I'd bought quite a bit of other stuff) - a copy of the order of service for Pollitt's funeral ceremony at Golders Green in July 1960. Paul Robeson gave a rendition of 'Joe Hill' and 'England Arise; and those attending were asked to join in the singing of 'The Red Flag' and 'The Internationale'. There's a small plaque to Pollitt's memory in what's colloquially known as the Communist corner at Golders Green crematorium.
There's some mute footage of Pollitt's funeral cortege on YouTube - and you can spot Robeson and also some of Pollitt's fellow leaders of the British CP, including John Gollan. George Matthews and Rajani Palme Dutt.
Harry has to take much of the blame for the British party's abject subservience to Moscow, and the failure to denounce Stalin's purges even when one of his own friends, Rose Cohen, fell victim. But he was popular within the British party - avuncular, unpompous, and a good orator (a recording of a wartime address is available here).
He also prompted the song 'The Ballad of Harry Pollitt' - better known to many as 'Harry was a Bolshie' - which, this blog teasingly suggests, has a tenuous connection to the Grateful Dead.
Of all the tributes, the one that does least service to Harry Pollitt's memory is this stamp issued by the Soviet Union after his death.
Andrew Whitehead's blog
Welcome - read - comment - throw stones - pick up threads - and tell me how to do this better!