Philip Piratin was born in London on 15th May, 1907. Educated at a London County Council Elementary School he became active in politics.
In 1932 Oswald Mosley established the British Union of Fascists (BUF). By 1934 Mosley was expressing strong anti-Semitic views and provocative marches through Jewish districts. Piratin played a leading role in protecting Jewish people living in these areas. In 1936 a quarter of a million people stopped Mosleys party marching through the East End.
The government now became involved and passed the Public Order Act that made the wearing of political uniforms and private armies illegal, using threatening and abusive words a criminal offence, and gave the Home Secretary the powers to ban marches, completely undermined the activities of the BUF.
Piratin was also a leading figure in the Stepney Tenants Defence League, an organization where the tenants living in bad houses were being involved in a fight to get the repairs done and the rents reduced. Phil Piratin later wrote, "Tens of thousands of working class men and women had organized themselves for common struggle. Committees were formed, and hundreds of people who had never been on a committee and had no experience of organization or politics learned those things, and learned them well. Outstanding were the women. Every feminist claim was proved right. They were more enthusiastic, and hence more reliable. It was the women who did most of the picketing."
As George Matthew has pointed out: "Piratin was the East Ender whose organising abilities brought 100,000 Londoners on to the streets in the Battle of Cable Street in 1936 and stopped Mosley's Fascists from marching through Whitechapel."
Francis Beckett, in his book, Enemy Within (1995), tells the story that during the demonstration Piratin heard a senior police officer shout "Get back to your slums, you Communist bastards." Piratin responded by going back to the East End and joining the Communist Party of Great Britain.
In the Second World War Piratin volunteered for the Royal Navy, but was rejected because of his political views. The Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, took up the case but he was not allowed to join the armed forces. He became an air-raid warden, and during the Blitz led a campaign against the poor standard of air-raid shelters in working class areas of London.
Piratin was elected to represent Stepney in the 1945 General Election. He joined William Gallacher as Britain's second Communist Party MP. Piratin later recalled: "Gallacher was the straightest man in the world, we were like father and son." He was asked how the relationship worked: "It's quite simple: there are two of us and Gallacher is the elder, and therefore I automatically moved and he seconded that he should be the leader. He then appointed me as Chief Whip. Comrade Gallacher decides the policy and I make sure he carries it out."
In the House of Commons Piratin associated with a group of left-wing members that included John Platts-Mills, Konni Zilliacus, Lester Hutchinson, Ian Mikardo, Barbara Castle, Sydney Silverman, Geoffrey Bing, Emrys Hughes, D. N. Pritt, Leslie Solley and William Warbey.
Piratin's opposition to the Cold War and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) made him an unpopular figure in post-war England and he was defeated when he stood at Stepney in the 1950 General Election. After his defeat Piratin became circulation manager of the Daily Worker.
During the 20th Party Congress in February, 1956, Nikita Khrushchev launched an attack on the rule of Joseph Stalin. He condemned the Great Purge and accused Stalin of abusing his power. Khrushchev's de-Stalinzation policy encouraged people living in Eastern Europe to believe that he was willing to give them more independence from the Soviet Union. In Hungary the prime minister Imre Nagy removed state control of the mass media and encouraged public discussion on political and economic reform. Nagy also released anti-communists from prison and talked about holding free elections and withdrawing Hungary from the Warsaw Pact. Khrushchev became increasingly concerned about these developments and on 4th November 1956 he sent the Red Army into Hungary. During the Hungarian Uprisingan estimated 20,000 people were killed. Nagy was arrested and replaced by the Soviet loyalist, Janos Kadar.
Over 7,000 members of the Communist Party of Great Britain resigned over what happened in Hungary. Piratin remained in the Communist Party of Great Britain but resigned from all official posts, including his employment as circulation manager of the Daily Worker.
In 1956 Piratin started his own business. He remained a member of the CPGB until it disbanded in 1991. He later became a supporter of the Democratic Left.
Phil Piratin died on 10th December 1995.