George Bernard Shaw at an Independant Labour Party Camp
In 1893 Carl K Cullen was born in Gloucester. He would be the key person in the history of Coppice Camp.
In 1914 As the first World War starts Dr CK Cullen is aged 21 By now Cullen was training or employed in social medicine, he would become the Tuberculosis Officer for Shoreditch and then a medical inspector, latterly in Poplar.
In his youth, he was a volunteer Scout Commissioner, responsible for the work of the Scouts in a large area of the country. He was also a member of the Independent Labour Party.
1919 Kindred of the Kibbo Kift founded by ex scout master John Hargreaves.
Hargreaves was expelled from the boy-scout movement. The Kibbo Kift combines pagan traditions and outdoor woodcraft. It has a distinctly leftist flavour but through today’s eyes some of its ideas have a rather proto-fascist feel. People like Emmeline Pethick Lawrence, H G Wells and D H Lawrence are involved (Mellors in Lady Chattersley’s Lover was apparently based on a typical Kibbo Kift Kinsman).
1920 Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) founded.
The CPGB was the largest communist party in Great Britain, Sadly, in the nature of communist politics it wasn’t the only one. Splits and schisms are the nature of the beast. Even today there are at least a handful of Communist Parties in Britain all claiming to be the only true church.
The CPGB, never became a mass party like those in France and Italy. Total membership may have reached forty thousand at its highest. It existed from 1920 to 1991.
The Communist Party of Great Britain was founded in 1920 with the blessing of the Third International. They had decided that greater attempts should be made to establish communist parties across the world.
Arthur Ransome (the author of the series of Swallows and Amazons children’s books) had been sympathetic to the Russian revolution, He was friends with both Lenin and Trotsky and other Bolshevik leaders.
He played chess with Lenin and fell in love with Trotsky’s secretary Evgenia Shelepina (below).
The couple (he and Evgenia not him and Lenin) shared a love of sailing. Evgenia knew well the waters of the Baltic and in later life some of their sailing adventures would inspire parts of his famous Swallows and Amazons series of children’s boating books.
In the square below his St Petersburg office window Ransome watched a group of young female Bolsheviks patrolling and drilling. He discovered they had a nickname. They called themselves the Amazons. Arthur made a note of the name in his notebook – it might come in handy in later life.
His reports printed in English newspapers showed his sympathy with the Bolsheviks and the aims of their revolution. In 1919, back in England, he wrote Six Weeks in Russia, an account of the revolution
The book’s outspoken opinions caused the Foreign Office to try and stop him returning to Russia but a campaign by the editor of the Manchester Guardian regained him his passport and his right to travel.
He hurried back to St Petersburg, to Lenin, Trotsky and his beloved Evgenia.
For the next five years Ransome’s reports from Russia appeared in both the Manchester Guardian and the Observer. A further book The Crisis in Russia was published in 1921.
In 1924 Ransom, now divorced from his first wife, married, Evgenia Shelepina they would live and sail happily together for the rest of their lives.
Lenin had a job for the couple. When they finally left the Soviet Union they had over two million roubles worth of Soviet diamonds and other jewels hidden in their luggage. The diamonds would finance the British Communist Party. The first ‘Russian Gold’ was actually Russian diamonds.
This smuggled treasure was to fund the founding and developing of the young Communist Parties in Europe and Britain. It would also pay for propaganda work by the Communist International.
In 1929, living happily in England with Evgenia, Ransome began writing novels for children. The first was Swallows and Amazons – the rest is literary history.
Each time Ransome came back to England he was interviewed by Military Intelligence officers. They questioned him about his political sympathies.
“Just what exactly are your politics Mr Ransome” one inquisitor demanded.
Ransome calmly and slowly filled and then lit his pipe before giving the single word answer. “Fishing”.
The CPGB was formed by the merger of several smaller Marxist parties, including the British Socialist Party, the Communist Unity Group of the Socialist Labour Party and the South Wales Socialist Society.
The party also attracted the Guild Communists faction of the National Guilds League, assorted shop stewards’ and workers’ committees, socialist clubs and individuals and many former members of the Hands Off Russia campaign. Several branches and many individual members of the Independent Labour Party also affiliated.
In January 1921, the CPGB was strengthened after the majorities of Sylvia Pankhurst’s group the Communist Party (British Section of the Third International), and the Scottish Communist Labour Party agreed to join.
The Party grew during a period of increase of political radicalism in Britain just after the First World War and the Russian Revolution, and was also represented in Britain by the Red Clydeside movement.
At first the CPGB attempted to work within the Labour Party, which at this time operated mainly as a federation of left-wing organisations. Individual membership had only been allowed since 1918. However, despite the support of notable figures such as the Independent Labour Party leader, James Maxton the Labour Party decided against the affiliation of the Communist Party.
Following the refusal of their affiliation, the CPGB encouraged its members to join the Labour Party individually and to seek Labour Party endorsement or help for any candidatures. Several Communists thus became Labour Party candidates, and in the 1922 general election, Shapurji Saklatvala and Walton Newbold were both elected.
1923 Doc Cullen is aged 30. He is still working in scouts and Kibbo Kift. But he has ideas about another kind of youth movement. Cullen starts to promote a Woodcraft folk type organisation to the Co-operative movement.
A Kibbo Kift camp in the 1920’s
1925 Woodcraft folk founded by ex-scout master Leslie Paul. The Woodcraft Folk is still going strong today and is sometimes known as the para-military wing of the Co-op.
An Early Woodcraft Folk Camp