‘A Class Fighter of Vision and Principle’ – Paula Bartley talks about her new Ellen Wilkinson biography in the Morning Star

Last week the Morning Star published an interview with Paula Bartley, author of the new Revolutionary Lives biography of Ellen Wilkinson, From Red Suffragist to Government Minister (Pluto, 2014). She spoke to Bernadette Hyland about Wilkinson’s life and legacy.

You can read the full feature on the Morning Star website, here. We’ve also reproduced a section of it below. To find out more about Paula’s brilliant new book, click on the cover image. You can pre-order it today for just £11.50 (that’s 10% off) including free UK P&P.

Bernadette Hyland

Bartley T02567In 1924, Ellen Wilkinson returned to her home city of Manchester as a newly elected Labour member of Parliament and spoke to several thousand people in a cinema in Moston.

Wilkinson attacked the capitalist system and its responsibility for declining wages since 1900, while the wealth in the hands of the few had grown.

She said that taxes for the rich were being reduced while the poor were the “victims of the profiteer” and finished by saying: “This is not a fight for party but a crusade for the freedom of the human race.”

Paula Bartley’s new book Ellen Wilkinson: From Red Suffragist to Government Minister is a reminder of the amazing life of this working-class woman whose rhetoric in the 1920s is not out of place in the austerity Britain of 2104.

Bartley, a feminist historian, says that “in her day, ‘Red Ellen’ as she became known was arguably the most famous, certainly the most outspoken, British politician.

“She was a fierce left-wing feminist who championed the poor and the vulnerable.”

Wilkinson was born into a working-class family in Ardwick in Manchester on October 18 1891.

It was one of the poorest areas of the city at that time and little has changed in 2014.

She was one of the luckier children born in that area as, after she finished her elementary education, she won a scholarship to Ardwick Higher Grade School – which was later renamed Ellen Wilkinson High School.

Winning a bursary in 1906 she combined studying at Manchester Day Training College for half a week with teaching at Oswald Road School for the rest of the week.

In 1910 she won a scholarship to read history at the University of Manchester, one of the few working-class women to do so at this time. At the age of 16 she joined the Independent Labour Party and began a lifetime of radical activity.

In 1920 she helped set up the Communist Party.

Bartley feels that the role Wilkinson played in the Communist Party has not been recognised. “I knew that Ellen Wilkinson was one of the early members of the Communist Party but had not realised how influential she was in it.

Click here to read more.

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