Denis Pritt

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Denis Nowell Pritt
Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B0708-0014-010, Oberstes Gericht, Globke-Prozess, Pitt.jpg
Pritt acting as a foreign observer at the trial in absentia of Hans Globke, East Germany 1963
Member of Parliament
for Hammersmith North
In office
14 November 1935 – 23 February 1950
Preceded by Fielding Reginald West
Succeeded by Frank Tomney
Personal details
Born (1887-09-22)22 September 1887
Harlesden, Middlesex
Died 23 May 1972(1972-05-23) (aged 84)
Basingstoke, Hampshire
Nationality British
Political party Labour (1918-1940)
Other political
Labour Independent Group
Alma mater University of London
Profession Barrister

Denis Nowell Pritt (22 September 1887 – 23 May 1972) was a British barrister and Labour Party politician. Born in Harlesden, Middlesex, he was educated at Winchester College and London University.

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".[1] Pritt was expelled from the Labour Party in 1940, following his support of the Soviet invasion of Finland.

Pritt was chararcterised by George Orwell as "perhaps the most effective pro-Soviet publicist in this country".[2]

Early life[edit]

Denis Nowell Pritt was born 22 September 1887 in London, the son of a metal merchant.[3]

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.[3] 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.[3] Pritt also added German to his repertoire of languages in subsequent years.[3]

Pritt began to study law in 1909, obtaining a law degree from London University in 1910.[3] He began his legal practice as a specialist in workmen's compensation cases.[3]

He married in July 1914, on the eve of World War I.[3] During the war he joined the postal censorship department in the British War Office.[3]

Following the war, Pritt returned to legal practice as a successful attorney working in the field of commercial law.[3]

Political career[edit]

A Tory in his earliest years, Pritt moved steadily leftward politically, joining the Liberal Party in 1914 and the Labour Party in 1918.[3] 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.[3] Pritt was made a member of the Labour Party's Executive Committee in 1936, remaining in that role for over a year.[3]

In 1940 he was expelled from the party for defending the Soviet invasion of Finland.[4] His book Must the War Spread? sympathized with the Soviets and led him to be greatly disliked by the Labour Party during the war.[5] After 1940 he sat as an Independent Labour member, and at the 1945 General Election was re-elected in Hammersmith North under that label gaining a 63% share of the vote against official Labour and Conservative candidates.[6] In 1949 he formed the Labour Independent Group with four other fellow travelers, including John Platts-Mills and Konni Zilliacus, who had also been expelled from the Labour Party for pro-Soviet sympathies. At the General Election of 1950, all the members of the Labour Independent Group lost their seats.

Legal career[edit]

As a lawyer, Pritt successfully defended Ho Chi Minh in 1931–32 against a French request for his extradition from Hong Kong. In 1942, he defended Gordon Cummins, an member of the Royal Air Force who murdered four women and attempted to murder two others in London, the defense was unsuccessful. A subsequent appeal was dismissed and Cummins was hanged.[7]

Pritt's 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.

Death and legacy[edit]

Pritt died in 1972 in Barn End, Basingstoke, Hampshire. Dennis Pritt Road in Nairobi is named after him. 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.


  1. ^ Contemporary letter to G. D. H. Cole cited in Kevin Morgan, The Webbs and Soviet Communism, London: Lawrence & Wishart, 2006, pg. 77
  2. ^ Kevin Morgan, "Pritt, Denis Nowell (1887–1972)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2007.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l 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.
  4. ^ David Caute The Fellow Travellers: Intellectual Friends of Communism, New Haven, NJ & London: Yale University Press, 1988, p.236
  5. ^ Bill Jones, The Russia Complex: The British Labour Party and the Soviet Union (Manchester University Press, 1977), p. 42
  6. ^ "UK General Election results July 1945",
  7. ^ "Murder Appeal Dismissed". The Times (49258) (London). 10 June 1942. p. 2. Retrieved 17 September 2013. 


  • 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)
  • Autobiography
    • From Right to Left (1965)
    • Brasshats and Bureaucrats (1966)
    • The Defence Accuses (1966)

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Fielding West
Member of Parliament for Hammersmith North
Succeeded by
Frank Tomney