‘Truth on the March’: A Pageant of the Press in the Struggle for Peace
Organised by the Communist Party of Great Britain
Place: Harringay Arena (Harringay) (Harringay, Middlesex, England)
Number of performances: 1
18 February 1951
Name of pageant master and other named staff
- Pageant Master: Swingler, Randall
- Conductor: Alan Bush
Names of executive committee or equivalent
Names of script-writer(s) and other credited author(s)
- Swingler, Randall
Names of composers
- Bowman, Aubrey
- Bush, Alan
- Darnton, Christian
- Fenton, Bernard
- Mersey, John
- Stevens, Bernard
- Frankel, Benjamin
Numbers of performers
Object of any funds raised
21st Anniversary of the founding of the Daily Worker newspaper. (The Pageant was one of few during 1951 not connected to the Festival of Britain).
Prices of admission and seats: highest–lowest
The event was a mass rally with speeches by John Gollan and the Rev. Dr Hewlett Johnson
Truth on the March
Mick Wallis has described the pageant thus:
At the same time, the use from the start of two groups at opposing tables—the barons of the Yellow Press and comrades from the Daily Worker ('Truth is whatever you can make people buy' / 'Truth is the reality of the human struggle')—makes this still dramaturgically close to the propaganda sketches that developed out of agit-prop in the mid 'thirties. The narrative focus moves progressively from the Worker itself to the unfolding of history, with the paper as constant guide and support to Communists. Final tableaux celebrate the paper's expansion; a huge portrait of Rust appears in full spotlight against a huge picture of the new building. Voices from the crowd shout out their need for the paper; and after a procession of the staff, editor J. R. Campbell takes the rostrum to make a speech.
(Synopsis taken from Mick Wallis ‘The Popular Front Pageant: Its Emergence and Decline’, New Theatre Quarterly, 11, no. 41 (1995), 17–31).
Key historical figures mentioned
A massed choir and orchestra conducted by Alan Bush
Newspaper coverage of pageant
Book of words
- None known
Other primary published materials
- 21st birthday of the Daily Worker: souvenir programme, 1951: Programme. Watford, 1951.
References in secondary literature
- Craggs, Stewart R. Alan Bush: A Source Book. Aldershot, 2007. At 69.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘Heirs to the Pageant: Mass Spectacle and the Popular Front’. In A Weapon in the Struggle: The Cultural History of the Communist Party of Great Britain, edited by Andy Croft, 48–67. London, 1998.
- Wallis, Mick. ‘Pageantry and the Popular Front: Ideological Production in the 'Thirties’. New Theatre Quarterly 10 no. 38 (1994): 132–156.
Archival holdings connected to pageant
Copy of Programme in the British Library, reference ZD.9.b.1683
Sources used in preparation of pageant
Whilst Popular Front Pageants (largely organised and written by members of the Communist Party of Great Britain) had been significant before the Second World War, with the Wembley Co-operative Pageant (1938), the South Wales Miners’ Pageant (1939), the Chartist Centenary Pageant (1939), and the Music for the People Pageant (1939), the tradition largely died out after the Second World War. After the Communist Manifesto Centenary Meeting and Pageant in 1948, the Communist tradition of pageantry seemed exhausted. A proposal by the Communist Party Historians’ Group (whose members included Christopher Hill, Dorothy Thompson and Eric Hobsbawm) to hold a pageant to commemorate the tercentenary of the English revolution was not taken up.1 After announcing in August 1950 that a pageant would be held the following month to mark the Party’s thirtieth anniversary at Empress Hall on 24 September, Montagu Slater and Randall Swingler staged ‘Thirty Years: a Non-Costume Pageant of Communist Party History’. As per the billing, this was duly performed without costumes, and evidently without much enthusiasm.2
‘Truth on the March’ holds the distinction of being the final Communist Party Pageant, held during the height of the Cold War at a time when the party’s support base was diminishing and in the context of its leadership’s increasing adherence to Stalinist dictums, which rigidly imposed an orthodox line on political, cultural, and historical matters. Whilst the Communist Party’s anti-fascism and non-doctrinaire radicalism had found it many supporters from across the Left during the 1930s, this had quickly dissipated after 1945.
The Pageant, the subject of which makes it barely historical, has left little impression. After 1952, the Communist Party’s adoption of a new cultural line left many writers and artists who had been involved in pageantry, such as Montagu Slater, Randall Swingler, and Alan Bush, out of favour with the Party and retreating into silence. Both Slater and Swingler left the Party in 1956 over its stance on Stalin’s purges and support for the Soviet Union’s invasion of Hungary, becoming members of the New Reasoner group of dissidents which coalesced into the New Left.3
Wallis ‘Popular Front Pageant’, 30; Manchester Guardian, 7 August 1950, 4, 8.
Wallis, ‘Popular Front Pageant’, 30.
Alexander Hutton, ‘Literature, Criticism and Politics in the Early New Left, 1956-62’, Twentieth Century British History, 27 (2016), 51-75.
How to cite this entry
Angela Bartie, Linda Fleming, Mark Freeman, Tom Hulme, Alex Hutton, Paul Readman, ‘‘Truth on the March’: A Pageant of the Press in the Struggle for Peace’, The Redress of the Past, http://www.historicalpageants.ac.uk/pageants/1372/