Tony Gilbert (activist)

Last updated

David Gilbert (1914–1992), known to his contemporaries as "Tony", was a British political activist. He is best remembered as the head of the left-wing political organisation Liberation (formerly the Movement for Colonial Freedom) during the 1980s and 1990s.



Early years

Tony Gilbert was born in Poplar, London to a large Jewish family in 1914. As a young man, Gilbert served as an apprentice in the fur industry, working as a nailer. [1]

In the early 1930s, the diminutive Gilbert was the victim of anti-semitic violence when he was attacked on the streets by members of the British Union of Fascists. [1] Gilbert awoke from his beating in the hospital, more fervent than ever in his opposition to fascism. [1]

During the Spanish Civil War, Gilbert joined the International Brigades and went to Spain, serving as a courier for Loyalist forces fighting in defense of the Second Spanish Republic. [1] During his Spanish activity, he shared responsibility for the capture of his unit by rebel forces when an incorrect decision was made at a fork in the road and the unit was marched into a trap. [1] Gilbert apparently avoided being shot shortly after being captured, when a car full of American journalists arrived at the scene. He was a prisoner of war from March 1938 until the war ended later that year. [1]

At the start of the Second World War, Gilbert worked in Yorkshire as a coal miner before returning to London and joining the army.

After the war Gilbert worked on the railway, where he became active in the National Union of Railwaymen. [1] During the war he had been awakened to the interrelated problems of racism and colonialism and he became politically active in East London as a public speaker on these matters. [1]

In 1953, Gilbert married Shelia Murch, with whom he had two daughters. The couple separated in 1963 due to the tension of family life and the demands of his developing political career and beliefs.

Political career

In 1954 the Movement for Colonial Freedom (MCF) was established, an anti-colonial political group which held consultative status with the United Nations Economic and Social Council, [2] with Gilbert involved as an active member of the leadership of this organisation from its inception.

The MCF was closely associated with the left wing of the Labour Party and attempted to unite small British groups and individuals in a campaign against the political and economic domination of colonial subjects of the British empire. [3] The MCF included a standing committee to address issues relating to racism in Britain as well as a Trade Union Committee aimed to foster the union movement in the colonial countries. [3] The MCF was funded by membership dues, including those of individuals and affiliated organisations, and was sponsored by as many as 100 Members of Parliament. [3]

In October 1970 the Movement for Colonial Freedom changed its name to Liberation at the behest of its president, Fenner Brockway. [4] Gilbert eventually became the General Secretary of the organisation, serving in that capacity throughout the 1980s until his death in 1992.

On 17 June 1974 Gilbert organized a march for the Central Council of liberation. A member of the march, Warwick university student, Kevin Gately, aged 21, fell under the crowd and later died. Gilbert later said that Mr Gately had in effect been murdered by the police.

Gilbert was also an active member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), Stoke Newington Branch, and was also on the Hackey Borough Council Communist Party Committee. During his time with Liberation and the Communist Party he met and then married his second wife, Kay Beauchamp, herself a lifelong CPGB activist. [5]

Death and legacy

Tony Gilbert died in 1992, with his wife, Kay Beauchamp, dying that same year. The couple's papers now reside in the British National Archives. [6]

He is buried at Highgate Cemetery in North London.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 John Bain, "Tony Gilbert," Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  2. Edward H. Lawson and Mary Lou Bertucci, Encyclopedia of Human Rights. London: Taylor and Francis, 1996; pg. 968.
  3. 1 2 3 Rachel Kemsley (archivist), Liberation (Movement for Colonial Freedom) Administrative/Biographical History, School of African and Oriental Studies, University of London, revised July 2002. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
  4. John Percy, "The Liberation Archive," Working Class Movement Library, 2004. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  5. "Kay Beauchamp (1899 - 1992) Papers," Finding Aid, British National Archives. Retrieved 11 October 2010.
  6. The listing is in the name of Kay Beauchamp. See: "Kay Beauchamp (1899-1992) Papers," in Archive of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). Retrieved 11 October 2010.


Related Research Articles

<i>Morning Star</i> (British newspaper) British daily tabloid format newspaper

The Morning Star is a left-wing British daily newspaper with a focus on social, political and trade union issues, and is both the largest and longest-running socialist newspaper in Britain. Originally founded in 1930 as the Daily Worker by the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB), ownership was transferred from the CPGB to an independent readers' co-operative in 1945. The paper was then renamed and reinvented as the Morning Star in 1966. The paper describes its editorial stance as in line with Britain's Road to Socialism, the programme of the Communist Party of Britain.

Communist Party of Great Britain (Provisional Central Committee)

The Communist Party of Great Britain is a political group which publishes the Weekly Worker newspaper. The CPGB (PCC) claims to have "an internationalist duty to uphold the principle, 'One state, one party'. To the extent that the European Union becomes a state then that necessitates EU-wide trade unions and a Communist Party of the EU". In addition, it is in favour of the unification of the entire working class under a new Communist International. It is not to be confused with the former Communist Party of Great Britain, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist), or the current Communist Party of Britain.

Harry Pollitt

Harry Pollitt was a British politician who served as the head of the trade union department of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the General Secretary of the party. Pollitt spent most of his life advocating communism, particularly Stalinism.

New Communist Party of Britain

The New Communist Party of Britain is a communist political party in Britain. The origins of the NCP lie in the Communist Party of Great Britain from which it split in 1977. The organisation takes an anti-revisionist stance on Marxist-Leninism and is opposed to Eurocommunism. After the fall of the Soviet Union the party was one of two original British signatories to the Pyongyang Declaration in 1992. It publishes a newspaper named The New Worker.

The Revolutionary Communist Party, known as the Revolutionary Communist Tendency until 1981, was a Trotskyist political organisation formed in 1978. From 1988 it published the journal Living Marxism.

The Workers' Socialist Federation was a socialist political party in the United Kingdom, led by Sylvia Pankhurst. Under many different names, it gradually broadened its politics from a focus on women's suffrage to eventually become a left communist grouping.

James "Jock" Ritchie Haston (1913–1986) was a Trotskyist politician and General Secretary of the Revolutionary Communist Party in Great Britain.

The Organization of Solidarity with the People of Asia, Africa and Latin America, abbreviated as OSPAAAL, is a Cuban political movement with the stated purpose of fighting globalisation, imperialism, neoliberalism and defending human rights. The OSPAAAL was founded in Havana in January 1966, after the Tricontinental Conference, a meeting of over 500 delegates and 200 observers from over 82 countries. The most comprehensive study to date of the OSPAAAL can be found in From the Tricontinental to the Global South: Race, Radicalism and Transnational Solidarity by scholar Anne Garland Mahler.

Harpal Brar

Harpal Brar is an Indian communist politician, writer and businessman, based in the United Kingdom. He is the founder and former chairman of the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist–Leninist), a role from which he stood down in 2018.

The Red Lion Square disorders were a series of events in 1974.

Albert Inkpin

Albert Samuel Inkpin was a British communist and the first General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). He served several terms in prison for political offences. In 1929 he was replaced as head of the CPGB and made head of the party's Friends of Soviet Russia organisation, a position he retained until his death.

The Movement for Colonial Freedom was a political civil rights advocacy group founded in the United Kingdom in 1954. It had the support of many MPs including Harold Wilson, Barbara Castle and Tony Benn. It also had backing among celebrities such as Benjamin Britten and in the universities. In 1970 the Movement was renamed Liberation.

J. R. Campbell (communist)

John Ross Campbell MM, best known as J. R. Campbell and also as Johnny Campbell, was a British communist activist and newspaper editor. Campbell is best remembered as the principal in the so-called Campbell Case. In 1924, Campbell was charged under the Incitement to Mutiny Act for an article published in the paper Workers' Weekly. Campbell called on British soldiers to "let it be known that, neither in the class war nor in a military war, will you turn your guns on your fellow workers, but instead will line up with your fellow workers in an attack upon the exploiters and capitalists."

Kathleen Mary 'Kay' Beauchamp (1899–1992) was a leading light in the Communist Party of Great Britain in the 1920s. She helped found the Daily Worker and was a local councillor in Finsbury.

Idris Cox was a Welsh communist activist and newspaper editor.

Communist Party of Britain Political party in the United Kingdom, established 1920

The Communist Party of Britain (CPB) is a communist political party in Great Britain committed to Marxist–Leninist theory. The party emerged from a dispute between Eurocommunists and Marxist-Leninists in the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1988.

Communist Party of Great Britain Communist party in Great Britain from 1920 to 1991

The Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) was the largest communist party in Great Britain between 1920 and 1991. Founded in 1920 through a merger of several smaller Marxist parties, the CPGB gained the support of many socialist organisations and trade unions following the political fallout of the First World War and the Russian October Revolution. Ideologically the CPGB was a socialist party organised upon Marxism–Leninist ideology, strongly opposed to British colonialism, sexual discrimination, and racial segregation. These beliefs led many leading anti-colonial revolutionaries, feminists, and anti-fascist figures, to become closely associated with the party. Many prominent CPGB members became leaders of Britain's trade union movements, including Jessie Eden, GCT Giles, and Thora Silverthorne.

Far-left politics in the United Kingdom

Far-left politics in the United Kingdom have existed since at least the 1840s, with the formation of various organisations following ideologies such as Marxism, revolutionary socialism, communism, anarchism and syndicalism.

Benjamin Francis Bradley

Benjamin Francis Bradley, also known as Ben Bradley, was a leading British communist and trade unionist who was accused of attempting to overthrow the British colonial authorities in India, leading to him being sentenced in the Meerut Conspiracy Trial. His imprisonment in 1929 provoked an enormous outcry, and in Britain, according to Stephen Howe, "probably inspired more left-wing pamphlet literature than any other colonial issue between the wars". He was also a key member of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).

Trevor Carter Trinidadian-British community activist

Trevor Carter (1930-2008) was a leading British communist activist, educator, and black civil rights activist, most famous for co-founding the Caribbean Teachers Association and serving as the Head of Equal Opportunities for the Inner London Education Authority. Carter was the stage manager of the first British-Caribbean Carnival, held in St Pancras Town Hall, and later a Trustee of the Notting Hill Carnival Trust. His skills within the field of education led to the first Premier of British Guiana, Cheddi Jagan, personally inviting Carter to Guiana to perform educational work. Several historians of British socialist movements have described Carter as "one of the Communist Party of Great Britain's (CPGB) most important black members" from the mid-1950s until 1991. Carter was the cousin of fellow black civil rights leader and communist activist Claudia Jones, and the husband of EastEnders actress Corinne Skinner-Carter, all of whom played essential roles in establishing the second largest annual carnival in the world, London's Notting Hill Carnival.