Harry Pollitt (1890-1960) was the long-serving General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), holding the post from 1929 until 1956, with an interruption between 1939 and 1941. Pollitt was brought up in an impoverished background in Droylsden, near Manchester in north-west England and his mother was a member of the Independent Labour Party. He became a member of the Workers' Socialist Federation, one of the groups which merged to form the CPGB in 1920.
Although a kindly man in private, and capable of inspiring sincere affection from political friends and adversaries alike, Pollitt was scrupulously loyal to the Moscow-dictated 'party line' in his public pronouncements, defending the Moscow Trials of the 1930s and the Stalinist purges even though these claimed the life of Rosa Cohen, to whom he had proposed marriage (unsuccessfully) several times in the early 1920s.
In September 1939 Pollitt welcomed Britain's declaration of war on Nazi Germany, but was forced to backtrack and recant when Moscow declared that the Second World War was an 'Imperialist conflict'. He was ousted as General Secretary, but was reinstated in 1941 when, following Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union, the Comintern made another U-turn and declared the war a popular war of resistance to Fascism. Thereafter the CPGB took an ultra-loyal line in Britain, urging increases in industrial production and condemning strikes, to such an extent that its Trotskyist enemies in the Revolutionary Communist Party dubbed it 'His Majesty's Communist Party'.
Pollitt led the CPGB during its period of greatest prestige, following victory in the war, but also had to cope with the crisis in the party brought about by the 1956 speech of Nikita Khrushchev denouncing Stalin and by the Soviet repression of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Dispirited, he resigned as General Secretary and was given the post of Party Chairman, which he held until his death.