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The Campbell Case of 1924 involved charges against a British Communist newspaper editor for alleged "incitement to mutiny" caused by his publication of a provocative open letter to members of the military. The later decision of the government of Ramsay MacDonald to suspend prosecution of the case ostensibly due to pressure from backbenchers in his Labour Party proved instrumental in bringing down the short-lived first Labour government.

Prelude to the Campbell Case

On 25 July 1924 there appeared a new issue of Workers Weekly, a newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) under the acting editorship of young activist J.R. Campbell. The paper contained a provocative article for the "Anti-War Week Campaign" being conducted by the CPGB, entitled "An Open Letter to the Fighting Forces." This article read in part:

Withdrawal of first indictment

On 6 August it was announced in the House of Commons that the Attorney General for England and Wales Sir Patrick Hastings had advised the prosecution of Campbell under the Incitement to Mutiny Act 1797; however, under pressure from a number of Labour backbenchers, the government forced the charges to be withdrawn on 13 August. Along with allegations of pro-Soviet activity, this allowed the Liberals and the Conservatives to brand Labour as under the control of radical left wing groups.

Although the actual motion of censure moved by Sir Robert Horne MP in the terms "That the conduct of His Majesty's Government in relation to the institution and subsequent withdrawal of criminal proceedings against the editor of the 'Workers' Weekly' is deserving of the censure of this House" was expressly rejected by 198 votes to 359, an alternative motion proposed by Sir John Simon MP "That a Select Committee be appointed to investigate and report upon the circumstances leading up to the withdrawal of the proceedings recently instituted by the Director of Public Prosecutions against Mr. Campbell" was passed by 364 to 198.[2] The government however, had made clear that they regarded both motions as votes of confidence[3] and thus MacDonald requested and obtained a dissolution on the following day. It would be the heaviest government defeat in the House of Commons until the Brexit vote of 16 January 2019.[4]

Fall of MacDonald government

Following this, the 1924 General Election was called, which Labour lost to a majority Conservative government.

In a pamphlet published after the fall of the MacDonald government, the CPGB published a pamphlet by Campbell defending his decision to publish the aggressively anti-militarist articles that he did in the party press:

Trial and conviction on new charges

A year later, in October 1925, after a number of posters had appeared advocating formation of soldiers' and sailors' committees and denouncing the use of troops against workers and further articles in issues of the Workers' Weekly dated 7 and 14 August 1925, the calls of the party for members of the military to resist orders ("If you must shoot, don't shoot the workers") caused the new Attorney General, Douglas Hogg, with the overt encouragement of the Home Secretary, William Joynson Hicks, to authorise a fresh prosecution under the Incitement to Mutiny Act.

The new round of prosecutions embroiled not only J.R. Campbell but also eleven other members of the Communist Party of Great Britain, including Willie Gallacher, Wal Hannington, Albert Inkpin, Harry Pollitt, William Rust, R. Page Arnot, Tom Bell, Ernest Cant, Arthur MacManus, J. T. Murphy, and Tom Wintringham. These defendants were charged with "conspiring between 1st January 1924 and 21st October 1925 to

After an eight-day trial at the Old Bailey they were all convicted, with Gallacher, Hannington, Inkpin, Pollitt, and Rust being given sentences of twelve months imprisonment, while Campbell and the others received terms of six months. Those receiving the lesser term had all refused an offer by the judge of a non-custodial sentence in return for a declaration that they would not engage in further political activities similar to those which formed the basis of the charges.

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