J. T. Murphy

Arthur McManus

Source: The Communist International, March 30, 1927
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.

THE death of Arthur McManus has come as a great shock to every member of our Party and to every comrade who has known him in the ranks of the Communist International. He was a lovable comrade and had won his way into the affections, not only of our Party, but also to a large number of workers outside its ranks. That his death is at loss to our Party and to the whole working class is beyond question.

Born of working class parents in Belfast some thirty-eight years ago, from his early days he was nurtured amidst all the appalling conditions attendant upon the slums of the great industrial towns. In his early years his parents moved from Belfast to Glasgow, another city with indescribable conditions in its working class areas. How well I remember visiting his home in the East End of Glasgow! I am acquainted with working class quarters of many of the industrial towns in Britain, but I know of none so appalling in its harshness and grim poverty as the East End of Glasgow. I saw more bootless, rickety children inside twenty-four hours in this region of Glasgow than I have seen anywhere else in this region of Glasgow than I have seen anywhere else in Britain.

The tenement system prevails in housing accommodation, and the overcrowding is terrible. The black smoke of the factories pours through the streets and adds to the abounding misery of the population. It as in the midst of these conditions that comrade McManus grew from boyhood to manhood. He was a child of the working class, he grew with it, shared to the full all its hardships, and died in its service. The working class have thus lost a son, a comrade and a fighter.

He had hardly become a youth ere he shed his religious associations, derived from his Irish Catholic parentage, and had become acquainted with the revolutionary socialist movement through the Marxian Educational Classes by the Socialist Labour Party. He joined this Party and rapidly became known as an agitator, a tutor of Marxian classes and an able exponent of the party policy. He carried this work into the factories with great energy, and in the days when the Socialist Labour Party attempted to build an industrial union known as the “Industrial Workers of Great Britain” no one played more energetic and faithful part in the efforts to swell its ranks as a revolutionary organisation.

It was in this life of Socialist activity that McManus became a friend of James Connolly, to whom he was undoubtedly indebted for much of his training and for his appreciation of the role of the national struggle in the revolution. Being of Irish parentage, he was naturally interested in the Irish struggle for independence and no doubt this played an important part in his long attachment to Connolly and in his repeated efforts to assist in building an Irish Socialist Party along with Connolly. He therefore followed keenly all the phases of the Irish struggle and was one of the few Socialists in Britain who appreciated the role of Connolly in British Socialist history.

His main work however did not lie in Ireland but in Britain. He was best known to the workers as a pioneer of the Shop Steward and Workers’ Committee movement and as the first Chairman of the Communist Party. In his workshop activities he was one of the first men in the Socialist Labour Party to appreciate the limitations of the Party policy in relation to industrial unionism. The necessity for the workers to find a new outlet for the ventilation of their grievances, and a new means of struggle in view of the fettering of the trade union machine to the apparatus of the State for the duration of the war, was the historical explanation of the sudden rise of the Shop Stewards to prominence in the early days of the war. It was this new situation which produced such a dynamic mass movement that convinced McManus and others of the need to depart from the sectarianism which had dominated the Socialist Labour Party. He became a member of its Executive and later, in the growth of the Shop Stewards Movement into a national organisation, he became its first chairman.

After his arrest and deportation, along with a number of others in 1915, he became widely known throughout England as well as Scotland. He participated in many strikes during the war period, and after being arrested again in 1917 during the great engineers’ dispute which served to popularise him amongst the mass of engineering workers, his work during the whole of this period consisted of a fight against the sectarianism in the Socialist Labour Party, of pioneering new ways of fighting the trade union bureaucracy, of applying the principles of industrial unionism to the immediate struggle, and at the same time utilising the apparatus of the old trade unions.

His next important piece of work was his activity on behalf of the creation of a Communist Party. He was profoundly influenced, as many more of us were, by the Russian Revolution. It threw such a great light upon our own experiences that we could not help seeing that our conception of a party was mainly that of a propagandist body, enunciating principles, exposing capitalism and the class war, but not understanding how to lead it.

I remember that it was comrade McManus who first persuaded me to join a political party. We met in the midst of industrial struggles in 1916 and were amazed to find how we had been pioneering similar ideas without contact with each other. But still neither of us appreciated the role of the Party at that time, as we were brought to understand it by the experiences of the Russian Revolution. Nevertheless once we were convinced of this we set to work towards the fusion of the Socialist Parties into a Communist Party.

Comrade McManus, comrade Bell, comrade Paul, comrade Stoker and myself became a Unity Committee of the Socialist Labour Party in 1918. In all the negotiations which took place, in all the internal Party fights for the purpose of getting a united Communist Party, McManus played a leading role. He was exceedingly capable as a negotiator and could be counted upon to eliminate the personal friction in the negotiations and secure a discussion of principle.

Indeed, we can say that from 1918 to 1923, when the Communist Party decided to do without a chairman, comrade McManus played the leading role in bringing together and consolidating the Socialist forces into a Communist Party. He was the first chairman of the Communist Party and his first task in the first two years was to complete what had been begun in the negotiations with the British Socialist Party and the other groups which had come together in the Unity Conference. It was no mean achievement to have succeeded in leading these elements into a united party, and history accords to him the honour therefore of two important achievements—the leading role in a mass movement of workers during the war and the leading of the revolutionary forces which laid the foundations of the Communist Party.

He was not a writer nor an organiser, but he was an able agitator and a good tactician and, although after the Party reorganised in 1923 it ceased to have a chairman, he was a member of the Political Bureau from that time onwards and for a period the representative of the Party on tee Executive Committee of the Communist International. In all the outstanding moments of Party experiences and struggles, he has been well to the front and played his part. His first serious breakdown in health was in 1923. From that time onwards he has never been really a healthy man. His experiences in prison by no means helped him to recover, but immediately he came out he resumed his activity as a leader of the party, plunged into the activities of the General Strike and the miner’s struggle, and upon his shoulders fell a good deal of the responsibility for the conduct of the Party’s agitation in its “Hands Off China” campaign. He attended the Anti-Imperialist Conferenceat Brussels, having come straight from mass agitation at the docks in various ports. Within a few days after the Brussels Conference comes the news of his death. He thus died in harness, a good comrade, an energetic fighter—living, working and fighting under the banner of the Communist International. He will not be forgotten, nor will his work cease, for it was a part of the struggle of the working class for freedom.