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Monday, 6 July 2009

Lewis Jones and Will Paynter: The Story of two Welsh Communists.

Lewis Jones (b.1897) and Will Paynter (b. 1903) were two Welsh miners who were members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Both men suffered from victimization after their involvement in the 1926 General Strike. This resulted in them both playing active roles in the National Unemployed Workers' Movement (NUWM).

Jones eventually became the Welsh organiser of the NUWM. He toured the country making speeches and Douglas Hyde was one of those who was converted to communism after hearing him speak in Bristol. Hywel Francis argues that Jones "was even capable of holding an audience of over a thousand people for two and a half with his lecture" on the "Social Significance of Sin".

Billy Griffiths, a fellow member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, later claimed: "His main quality I think was love of people and compassion, it superseded everything else. I have seen Lewis... sitting down listening to two old people telling him about their troubles, and tears running down his cheeks. That's the kind of man he was, he felt it, it was for him more than logic... You see it was more important than the politics, [it] was the humanism and compassion... it was this that people loved about him."

In 1935 Jones was sent by the CPGB to attend the Seventh World Congress of the Communist International in Moscow. Jones rejected the "cult of personality" and refused to join in the standing ovation when Joseph Stalin entered the hall. Jones was sent home in disgrace and was later disciplined by the CPGB.

Paynter on the other hand was willing to go along with the policy handed-down from Moscow. In July 1936 Paynter was appointed as Communist Party of Great Britain organizer for Wales.

Both Jones and Paynter were involved in the recruitment of men to fight for the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War. In March 1937 he was sent to Spain to look after the interests of the British Battalion. Paynter's main task was to provide political and emotional support for those members of the Communist Party of Great Britain fighting in Spain. As he pointed out in My Generation (1972): "The penalty for desertion is harsh in any army, especially in wartime. Together with representatives of the American battalions, whose problems were similar to ours, we pressed the Brigade command to set up a centre where those whose morale had fallen could be rehabilitated. We emphasized, too, that military weakness in supporting organizations had contributed to the problem. Eventually the command agreed and a camp was created where men in the same plight were brought together from the various battalions in an effort to rehabilitate them."

Lewis Jones was considered the most important recruitment sergeant in the CPGB. It was later reported that there were "170 volunteers from Wales, and 116 of them came from the mining industry, around 25 per cent of them union officials at pit level... The average age was over thirty and 18 per cent of the Welsh volunteers were married." The South Wales miners provided the largest regional occupational group in the British Battalion.

Jones eventually became disillusioned by the waste of life that was taking place. Lewis continued to campaign for funds but he refused to continue to recruit men to fight in the British Battalion. He told his friend Billy Griffiths that he no longer had the right to "get the young boys to go there and die."

Arthur Horner, the President of the South Wales Miners' Federation and fellow member of the Communist Party of Great Britain, suggested that Jones wrote about his experiences in the form of a novel. Cwmardy was published in 1937. It is claimed by Hywel Francis that the main character in the novel is based on Will Paynter.

On 27th January 1939 he addressed 30 meetings supporting the fight against fascism in Spain. That night he died of a heart-attack. Some of his friends later claimed that he died of a broken-heart because he knew that the International Brigades were heading for defeat.

Lewis Jones' second novel, We Live, was unfinished. It is believed that his partner, Mavis Llewellyn, wrote the last two chapters, "A Party Decision" and "A Letter from Spain". The book was published later that year.

In 1938 the Communist Party of Great Britain joined forces with the Independent Labour Party to campaign on a broad programme of action against "fascism, reaction and war".
This unity was destroyed by the decision of Joseph Stalin to sign the Soviet-Nazi Pact with Adolf Hitler. The CPGB loyally supported the actions of Stalin. This resulted in the rest of the left turning against the CPGB. Douglas Hyde recalls in his autobiography, I Believed (1951): "We prepared ourselves for persecution and we got it. Sellers of the Daily Worker, women as well as men, were spat upon and assaulted on the streets; canvassing, they had doors slammed in their faces, even chamber-pots emptied on their heads from upstairs windows."

Harry Pollitt, the General Secretary of the CPGB, remained loyal to Joseph Stalin until September 1939 when he welcomed the British declaration of war on Nazi Germany. Pollitt was supported by John R. Campbell and William Gallacher, but Rajani Palme Dutt and William Rust followed the Soviet line. Pollitt was forced to resign as General Secretary and he was replaced by Dutt and Rust took over Campbell's job as editor of the Daily Worker.

Paynter, who had been elected as the miner's agent for Rhymney Valley in August 1939, did not get involved in this dispute and instead concentrated on union matters. He remained active in the CPGB and in October 1951 Paynter became President of the South Wales Miners' Federation.

During the 20th Party Congress in February, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev launched an attack on the rule of Joseph Stalin. He condemned the Great Purge and accused Joseph Stalin of abusing his power. He announced a change in policy and gave orders for the Soviet Union's political prisoners to be released. Khrushchev's de-Stalinzation policy encouraged people living in Eastern Europe to believe that he was willing to give them more independence from the Soviet Union. In Hungary the prime minister Imre Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary.

During the Hungarian Uprising an estimated 20,000 people were killed. Imre Nagy was arrested and replaced by the Soviet loyalist, Janos Kadar. About a third of the CPGB's members resigned over this issue but Paynter remained in the party. He later recalled: "I was very often the subject of attack from newspapers, the medium through which so many people derive their opinions. The worst experience came during the Hungarian uprising, when it became risky for me to go into my local pub where I had been going for years because this hostility against me threatened to become violent."

Arthur Horner retired as president of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1959. Paynter replaced Horner in the union's top job. Paynter remained a loyal member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and unlike some leading figures in the party, refused to speak out against the Warsaw Pact intervention in Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Will Paynter retired from his post as president of the National Union of Mineworkers in 1969. He left the CPGB soon afterwards. However, this had nothing to do with what had happened during the Prague Spring: "This was not a sudden decision but was in accordance with a family understanding decided on many years before... Attempts to force me to take a decision provoke the opposite reaction in me. Nor could I take such a step either then or now, knowing that it would be used to support unprincipled attacks on the Communist Party. I despise ex-communists who lend themselves to such attacks."

In his autobiography published in 1972 Paynter reflected on the loyal support he gave the CPGB. "It seems obvious now that the party gave too much weight to the assessment of the Russian party leaders, a disposition that unfortunately did not end with that experience. However, this is a judgment based on hindsight."

In reality, all members of the CPGB could see what was happening. However, Paynter decided to turn a blind-eye to what has happening in return for the financial and political advantages that he received for his loyalty.

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUpaynter.htm

http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/TUlewisLM.htm

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