The Trades Union Congress (TUC) was formed in 1868 as a national federation of trade unions and forms the largest pressure group in the United Kingdom. It is governed by an annual Congress at which representatives of affiliated trade unions meet to determine policy and to elect the executive body of the organisation. During the First World War, the range of the TUC's functions and interests broadened, reflecting the growing role of organised labour in politics and society. In 1921 the administration of the Trades Union Congress changed to reflect this - its Parliamentary Committee, which had dealt with a relatively narrow range of labour affairs, was replaced by a General Council, headed by a General Secretary and supported by a series of committees and departments. The new General Council campaigned and collected information on a wide range of social, economic and political issues, and members played a prominent role in the International Federation of Trade Unions.
The 1920 delegation
Acting in response to a resolution passed at a special Trades Union Congress on 10 December 1919 for "an independent and impartial inquiry into the industrial, political and economic conditions in Russia", a delegation of representatives from the TUC and Labour Party visited Russia during May and June 1920.
The delegation travelled in Russia with the assistance of the Bolshevik regime and members met with leading Communists, including Lenin and Trotsky. Delegates also had limited access to political opponents of the regime, including Mensheviks, Social Revolutionaries and anarchists.
Delegates: Ben Turner (Chairman), Labour Party; Margaret Bondfield, A.A Purcell and H. Skinner, Trades Union Congress; Ethel Snowden, Tom Shaw and Robert Williams, Labour Party; Charles Roden Buxton and Leslie Haden Guest, Joint Secretaries. The labour delegation was joined for part of the tour by R.C. Wallhead and Clifford Allen of the Independent Labour Party, and by several representatives of the British press, including the philosopher Bertrand Russell.
- Report of the delegation, July 1920Link opens in a new window. The report comments in detail on the conditions that the delegates were shown, and includes appendices which contain a selection of printed official documents, specially prepared statements written on behalf of different persons or groups in Russia, and the observations of individual members of the delegation. A version of the report without the appendicesLink opens in a new window is also available.
- British labour delegates in red Petrograd, 1920Link opens in a new window. Text of speeches and resolutions made at the Plenum (meeting) of the Trade Unions Council of the Province of Petrograd (St Petersburg) on 12 May 1920. Includes an introductory speech by Solomon Lozovsky, the future head of the Red International of Labour Unions (Profintern), and responses by Ben Turner and Clifford Allen.
- The Soviet system at work, 1920Link opens in a new window. Collection of articles by Robert Williams on his impressions of Russia, published as a pamphlet by the newly formed Communist Party of Great Britain after the Daily Mail (which had originally commissioned the articles) refused to print them.
- Notes on the construction and work of the Russian trade unions. Articles written by A.A. Purcell for the monthly journals of the Amalgamated Engineering UnionLink opens in a new window, Amalgamated Society of Carpenters, Cabinetmakers and JoinersLink opens in a new window and Union of Post Office WorkersLink opens in a new window. The first two articles include copies of photographs taken during the delegation's visit.
- Photographs taken during the visit of the British delegationLink opens in a new window, published in The Post, the journal of the Union of Post Office Workers, 23 October 1920.
- Promotional leaflet advertising the report of the delegation, 1920Link opens in a new window.
- The Communist Mistake: Extracts from the diary of a disillusioned revolutionistLink opens in a new window, 1925. Freedom Association pamphlet which contains extracts from the book 'The Bolshevik Myth' by the anarchist Alexander Berkman, including comments on Berkman's experiences as an interpreter for the 1920 Trades Union Congress delegationLink opens in a new window ("deluding British labour representatives").
The 1924 delegation
The 1924 visit was prompted by an invitation from the All Russian Council of Trade Unions for a TUC delegation to "obtain first-hand knowledge of the position in Russia" as "it was alleged that the Trade Unionists in Russia had no freedom, and conditions in the Country were grossly misrepresented". The delegation visited the Soviet Union in November and December 1924. Whilst in Moscow, members of the delegation also examined internal documents of the Communist International in an attempt to collect evidence on the authenticity (or otherwise) of the damaging 'Zinoviev Letter', which had been published by the Daily Mail shortly before the 1924 general election. The TUC published a detailed, illustrated report on the delegation's visit to the Soviet Union in 1925, followed by a separate, shorter report on their investigations into the 'Zinoviev Letter'.
Delegates: A.A. Purcell (Chairman), Fred Bramley (Secretary), Herbert Smith, Ben Tillett, John Turner, John Bromley, Alan A.H. Findley. Advisory delegates (i.e. not members of the TUC): Harold G. Grenfell, A.R. McDonell, George Young.
- Minutes of meeting with the Russian Fraternal Delegates to the Trades Union CongressLink opens in a new window, to discuss the invitation of the All Russian Council of Trade Unions, 5 September 1924.
- Minutes of a delegation planning meetingLink opens in a new window, 30 September 1924.
- Report of the delegationLink opens in a new window, 1925.
- The "Zinoviev" Letter: report of investigationLink opens in a new window, 1925.
- The imbeciles abroadLink opens in a new window. Critical article about the delegation published in The Patriot, 25 December 1924.
- Letters between Fred Bramley and Walter CitrineLink opens in a new window, whilst Bramley was in the Soviet Union, 1924.
- Some Russian ImpressionsLink opens in a new window by Ben Tillett. Pamphlet published by the Labour Research Department, 1925.
- Photographs of the delegation and other Russian subjectsLink opens in a new window collected by Ben Tillett, 1924.
- The Anglo-Russian report: a criticism of the report of the British trades union delegation to Russia, from the point of view of international socialismLink opens in a new window, by Friedrich Adler, Secretary of the Labour and Socialist International, 1925.
- British press cuttings (local and national) on the visit and report of the delegationLink opens in a new window, 1924-1925.
- Statement by exiled Georgian trade union leadersLink opens in a new window, 1925. The authors criticise the TUC delegates for not meeting with their representatives whilst in Georgia and challenge the report's favourable portrayal of the "Occupation regime". Copies of documents relating to the Bolshevik suppression of the 1924 August Uprising, shortly before the arrival of the delegation, are also included.
- Soviet Russia: an investigation by British women trade unionists - April to July, 1925Link opens in a new window. Illustrated report of delegation set up in response to the lack of women on the 1924 Trades Union Congress visit.
- Summary of the expenses of the delegationLink opens in a new window, compiled in 1936.
Additional documents on the Trades Union Congress delegationsLink opens in a new window are available through our digital collection on the Russian Revolution and Britain, 1917-1928.