Sylvia Pankhurst

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Sylvia Pankhurst

(Estelle) Sylvia Pankhurst (May 5, 1882 - September 27, 1960) was a campaigner in the suffragette movement.

She was born in Manchester, England, a daughter of Dr. Richard Pankhurst and Emmeline Pankhurst, members of the Independent Labour Party and much-concerned with women's rights. Her sister, Christabel, would also become an activist.

In 1906 she started to work full-time with the Women's Social and Political Union with her sister Christabel and her mother Emmeline. But in contrast to them she retained her interest in the labour movement.

In 1912 she broke with the WSPU over the group's promotion of arson attacks. Sylvia set up the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELFS), which over the years evolved politically and changed its name accordingly, first to Women's Suffrage Federation and then to the Workers' Socialist Federation. She founded the newspaper of the WSF, Women's Dreadnought, which subsequently became the Workers Dreadnought.

The group continued to move leftwards and briefly adopted the name Communist Party, British Section of the Third International although in fact it was nothing of the sort. The CP(BSTI) was opposed to parliamentarism in contrast to the views of the newly founded Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB. However, such was the importance attached to being within the same movement as the Bolsheviks, the CP(BSTI) dissolved itself into the larger, official Communist Party.

This unity was to be short-lived and when the leadership of the CPGB proposed that Sylvia hand over the Workers Dreadnought to the party rather than retain it as a personal organ she revolted. As a result she was expelled from the CPGB and moved to found the short-lived Communist Workers Party.

Sylvia by this time adhered to left or council communism and was eventually expelled from the organisation. Sylvia was an important figure in the communist movement at the time and attended meetings of the International in Russia and Amsterdam and also meetings of the Italian Socialist Party. She argued with Lenin and was supportive of left communists such as Amadeo Bordiga and Anton Pannekoek.

In the mid-twenties Pankhurst drifted away from communist politics into anti-fascism and anti-colonialism. She responded to the Italian invasion of Ethiopia by renaming the Workers Dreadnought as The New Times and Ethiopia News in 1936, and became a supporter of Haile Selassie. She raised funds for Ethiopia's first teaching hospital, and wrote extensively on Ethiopian art and culture; her research was eventually published as Ethiopia, a Cultural History (London: Lalibela House, 1955). Having moved to Addis Ababa in 1956, with her son, Richard Pankhurst, she founded a monthly journal, Ethiopia Observer, which reported on many aspects of Ethiopian life and development.

She died in 1960, and was buried in front of Trinity Cathedral in Addis Ababa.


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