A member of the Labour Party from 1918, he was a defender of the Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin. In 1932, as part of G. D. H. Cole's New Fabian Research Bureau's 'expert commission of enquiry', he visited the Soviet Union, and according to Margaret Cole "the eminent KC swallowed it all". Pritt was expelled from the Labour Party in 1940, following his support of the Soviet invasion of Finland.
Denis Nowell Pritt was born 22 September 1887 in London, the son of a metal merchant.
Pritt was educated at Winchester College, which he left after four years so as to relocate to Geneva in order to learn French, with a view to joining his father's company. Following his time in Switzerland, Pritt moved again to expand his linguistic knowledge, working in a bank in A Coruña, Spain, and mastering his knowledge of Spanish. Pritt also added German to his repertoire of languages in subsequent years.
A Tory in his earliest years, Pritt moved steadily leftward politically, joining the Liberal Party in 1914 and the Labour Party in 1918. Following a failed campaign for Parliament as a Labour candidate in Sunderland, Pritt was elected as a Labour Member of Parliament (MP) for Hammersmith North in 1935. Pritt was made a member of the Labour Party's Executive Committee in 1936, remaining in that role for over a year.
In 1940 he was expelled from the party for defending the Soviet invasion of Finland. His book Must the War Spread? sympathized with the Soviets and led him to be greatly disliked by the Labour Party during the war. After 1940 he sat as an Independent Labour member, and at the 1945 Hammersmith North by-election was re-elected under that label gaining a 63% share of the vote against official Labour and Conservative candidates. In 1949 he formed the Labour Independent Group with several other fellow travelers, including John Platts-Mills and Konni Zilliacus, who had both also been expelled from the Labour Party for pro-Soviet sympathies. At the General Election of 1950, Pritt lost his seat to the Labour Party candidate, Frank Tomney.
Pritt was awarded the 1954 International Stalin Peace Prize and in 1957 became an honorary citizen of Leipzig, which was then in East Germany. He was also awarded the Star of the Völkerfreundschaft (in gold) in October 1965.
As a lawyer, Pritt successfully defended Ho Chi Minh in 1931–32 against a French request for his extradition from Hong Kong. His most high-profile case, which he lost, was defending the Kapenguria Six, a group of Kenyan political figures accused in 1952 of Mau Mau links (Jomo Kenyatta, Bildad Kaggia, Kung’u Karumba, Fred Kubai, Paul Ngei and Achieng Oneko). In this case, Pritt worked with a team of Kenyan and other African, Indian and West Indian lawyers including Achhroo Kapila, Dudley Thompson Q.C. and F. R. S. De Souza. Dennis Pritt Road in Nairobi is named after him.
Death and legacy
- Contemporary letter to G. D. H. Cole cited in Kevin Morgan, The Webbs and Soviet Communism, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2006, pg. 77
- Kevin Morgan, "Pritt, Denis Nowell (1887–1972)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2007.
- Colin Holmes, "Denis Nowell Pritt," in A. Thomas Lane (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of European Labor Leaders: Volume 2: M-Z. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995; pp. 779-780.
- David Caute The Fellow Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism, New Haven, NJ & London: Yale University Press, 1988, p.236
- Bill Jones, The Russia Complex: The British Labour Party and the Soviet Union (Manchester University Press, 1977), p. 42
- "UK General Election results July 1945", pokliticsresource.net
- Light on Moscow. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. 1939. OL 1170715W.
- Must the War Spread?. 1940.
- Federal Illusion (1940)
- Choose your Future (1940)
- The Fall of the French Republic (1940)
- USSR Our Ally (1941)
- India Our Ally? (1946)
- Revolt in Europe (1947)
- A New World Grows (1947)
- Star-Spangled Shadow (1947)
- The State Department and the Cold War (1948)
- Spies and Informers in the Witness-box (1958)
- Liberty in Chains (1962)
- The Labour Government, 1945–1951 (1963)
- Neo-Nazis, the Danger of War (1966)
- From Right to Left (1965)
- Brasshats and Bureaucrats (1966)
- The Defence Accuses (1966)
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Denis Pritt
- Catalogue of the Pritt papers held at LSE Archives
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Hammersmith North
1935 – 1950