Mary Docherty, communist; born April 27, 1908, died

February 2, 2000

MARY DOCHERTY, who has died at the age of 91, was a left-wing political activist from her earliest years and became a life-long Communist from the 1920s. She was active in her home town of Cowdenbeath, and throughout Fife an exceptional CP stronghold. Born in 1908, one of three girls, her father, William Docherty, was a miner blacklisted in 1921 and an occasional actor. A foundation member of the Communist Party of Great Britain he influenced Mary greatly and took her to political meetings at an early age, including those addressed by John MacLean. Her mother worked at the Empire Theatre and was often the sole wage earner.

As a child she was raised in the Socialist Sunday School, an independent association that educated its young members in politics, science, geography, and would invite adult speakers to address them. Although a small unique organisation benefiting the Independent Labour Party and later the CP with ready-made socialists, it briefly had a rival. The Proletarian Sunday School was more attractive to Mary and she joined, this was run by Annie Storione who was the daughter of Laurence Storione an anarchist who fled France disguised as a woman and ended up in Fife working in the pits. Experiencing the 1921 miners' lock-out Mary joined the Communist Party in 1926 and witnessed evictions and hunger marches during the General Strike and miners' lock-out that year. She was particularly impressed with Bob Selkirk, a blacklisted miner who later served on Cowdenbeath Town Council as a Communist, whom she

worked with. Recently she edited a book, Old Rob Selkirk: A Man in A Million (1996), in acknowledgement of him.

As a youth Mary avidly attended meetings, dealt with party literature and ran a children's section which produced a school paper detailing which teachers they thought were too fond of the strap. This resulted in a woman teacher trying to take action against Mary but failing, the teacher soon left the school and later became a Labour MP. One of the children's slogans was ''we do not want Boss Class History in school: we want working-class history''.

As a Young Pioneer, Mary organised a strike for a schools May Day holiday which was won in Bowhill, Lochore, Lochgelly, Lumphinnans, and Cowdenbeath. Regular outdoor activities included picnics and marked International Women's Day, the Miners' Gala, and the Russian Revolution. Chosen by the Young Communist League she went to the Soviet Union where she experienced conditions there from 1929-30 and met delegates from all over the world. She attended a children's international meeting at the Lenin Stadium in Moscow where she saw Lenin's wife, Krupskaya. She visited women's meetings, a house of correction, and a motor car and van factory and was impressed by the way the workers ran it..

Having just had an operation for a tubercular gland before she left Fife, Mary was confined to the Lenin sanatorium at Czemese on the Black Sea coast where treatment cured her. While in the Soviet Union, she was made an honorary member of the Moscow Pioneers. One night she went to hear Stalin speak on the anniversary of the Revolution, however, he couldn't attend, and so she heard Budenny, Inspector of the Red Cavalry and one of its founders during the Civil War.

Mary worked for a dairy and as a domestic servant and at Leith Hospital. Back in Cowdenbeath she worked for a dentist and during the war in Crombie Munitions Depot where she sat on the Whitley Council. Later she worked at the offices of the Communist Party and finally in the bakery dispatch of the Co-operative Society (where she retired). All were chronicled in her autobiography, A Miner's Lass (1992).

She was active working for Willie Gallacher, Communist MP for West Fife from 1935-1950, and was deeply saddened when he was defeated at the height of the Cold War. At various times in the CP she was secretary of her branch, leader of the Women's Group, and worked as Fife Party Treasurer. Mary was an unsuccessful council candidate in 1952 yet the CP had a strong presence on the Town and County Council with 13 councillors at the height of its strength. In Cowdenbeath in 1973 Willie Sharpe became the first Communist Provost in Britain.

Mary recognised that television and increasing affluence ended the big meetings of the past, though she remained a branch activist. Like many supporters of the Soviet Union she was shocked by its collapse, yet socialist political activity was her life and remained so up until her death.