Abroad again, Piatnitsky went to Liepzig, where the German Social Democrats' presses printed the Russians' literature. Once again it was his job to organise the smuggling. In 1912 he helped organise the Bolsheviks' conference in Prague. Lenin and Krupskaya visited him in Liepzig. The following summer he was invited to stay with them near Zakopane, and went hiking with Lenin in the Tatra mountains. The friends had their disagreements. Lenin ribbed Piatnitsky over his respect for the German Social Democrats, Piatnitsky warned Lenin not to trust Malinowski (who was later proven to be a police agent).
In 1914, having trained as an electrical engineer, Piatnitsky returned to Russia and took a job with the Siemens company in Moscow. They sent him to work in Samara, on a tramway project. The socialists there, Menshevik and Bolshevik, had a recreational society as a cover for political lectures. But once again the authorities were on Piatnitsky's trail, armed with a photograph which he guessed an informer called Zhitomirsky had supplied. Osip was arrested and sent to a fortress prison, and then away to a remote valley in Siberia.
He was out in the wilds on March 1917 when he heard that Czar Nicholas II had been overthrown. Somehow he reached Moscow, reported for party duty, and found work with the railway union. A few years after the revolution, party members were asked to write up their stories. Piatnitsky's account was published in 1925 and translated into German and French before it was published in English by Martin Lawrence as Memoirs of a Bolshevik, and in the United States bv International Publishers (1933).
The Marx-Engels-Lenin Institute in Moscow enthused in a preface: 'These Memoirs should serve as an excellent material for training our younger generation of workers who are joining the Communist Party. In this respect Comrade Piatnitsky's book might serve as a sort of textbook, and an excellent text book at that, which would help our comrades abroad, who are carrying on their revolutionary work in capitalist countries, to learn the methods of organising underground work and help them to become model Bolshevik party members.'
With its tales of true adventure, and the author's frankness and humour, Memoirs of a Bolshevik is also an enjoyable read. Yet for three quarters of a century it has been kept out of print. The Bund crops up repeatedly in the book, and not just in Osip's native Lithuania where it was particularly strong. Another thing that strikes the reader is how, despite differences and polemics, factions could work together against the autocratic regime, whether planning prison breaks, smuggling papers, or fighting off attacks.
On the eve of the First World War, Piatnitsky found that Zhitomirsky, whom he suspected was a police agent, had been investigated by a three-person committee, comprising one Bolshevik, one Menshevik and one Bundist. Such procedure might sound like common sense, but those of us who have experienced the 57 varieties of the British Left will know that sense is rarely common, and co-operation less so.
What is remarkable about Piatnitsky's book is its timing and its provenance. In the late 1920s, along with brutal forced collectivisation in the Soviet Union, came a period when revolutionary willpower could supposedly conquer everything -environmental, economic, or political. Soviet railway engineers who warned of limits on how much freight their system could carry were condemned as saboteurs. The 1929 crash was seen as the final crisis of capitalism. Failure to carry out revolution was the result of bad leadership. Any element of truth in this was distorted by Stalin, to imply not theoretical critique, but denunciations of left-wing opponents, even potential allies, as the worst-possible enemy.
'Fascism is the military organisation of the bourgeoisie, which leans upon Social Democracy...,' proclaimed Stalin, but'Social Democracy, objectively speaking is the moderate wing of Fascism!' If anyone thought this crude, over the top, or even contradictory, they knew better than to risk voicing their doubts and being branded a 'Trotskyist'. Social democrats and the unions they still led were dubbed 'social fascist', and left-wingers like the British Independent Labour Party (1LP), were 'left social fascists', a more insidious variety.
In Britain, the Communist Party had been growing since the 1926 General Strike and Ramsay Macdonald's abandonment of Labour. It had limited success with breakaway 'red' unions, and repelled valuable friends by its attack on the Left. In Poland, Communist Party members attacked the Bund and its institutions, as 'social fascist', thereby antagonising the very workers with whom they needed to unite in the fight against fascism.
In Germany, the Communist Party was bigger. Its hostility to the Social Democrats, seen as betraying the November 1918 revolution, was understandable. But in the face of Hitler's rise to power, it was suicidal. The Depression made workers who were still in the factories cling tightly to their jobs and their Social Democratic unions, while the Communists were outside competing with the Nazis for support from the unemployed.
At elections in May 1928 the Social Democrats gained 29% of the vote and the Communist Party 10.6%. The Nazis that year had a mere 2.6%. Two years and a slump later, the Social Democrat vote in September 1930 was down to 24.5%, while the Communists got 13.1%. But the Nazi vote had risen alarmingly to 18.3%. Had the two workers' parties combined their strengths, they could have gained wider support and blocked the Nazis on the streets as well as in the polling booths. The gap between them became the gateway through which Hitler marched, to destroy both.
All this time Osip Piatnitsky, promoted into the secretariat of the Communist International, had loyally transmitted the line to the German party and others. As treasurer, and head of the inner OMS, with a trusted person in each party, he could see they complied.
In 1928 he authored a paper snappily entitled 'The Bolshevisation of the Communist Parties of the Capitalist Countries by Eradication of the Social Democratic Tradition'. It was meant to turn them into efficient disciplined revolutionary organisations with militant workplace cells, modelled on an idealised Bolshevik Party, which Piatnitsky's memoirs show, never existed. In reality. 'Bolshevisation1 was about moulding the Comintern and its parties into tools of the Russian state. Stalin came to despise them as ineffective tools, to be disposed of when he could.
Even after Hitler took power in 1933, Piatnitsky's pamphlet 'The Current Situation in Germany', assured readers that the fascists would not last, that workers were resisting, and the Communist Party growing. Had the Nazis attacked social democracy too? They just wanted to give their own supporters good jobs. Of course the Party line had been right.
When workers experiencing the difference between fascism and democracy said there should he a united front, the Communist Party had offered one 'from below'. If the Social Democrat workers did not accept, that was because the leaders in whom they still had illusions held them back. Piatnitsky did admit mistakes. The party should lave made more of the national burden which workers bore. If they just repeated that Social Democrats were 'social fascists'", the Social Democrat workers felt affronted and concluded the Communist Party was not serious about unity.
This came close to what Trotsky had said, but Piatnitsky would not admit that Trotsky had been right. In his Memoirs, recalling Trotsky's past opposition to Lenin, he branded him a 'Liquidator'. As Comintern treasurer he could withold funding from the Canadian CP whose leaders didn't take up the fight against 'Trotskyism'. His criticism of the German party leaders did not acknowledge that they had faithfully followed the Moscow line.
All the same, Piatnitsky remained too honest to be trusted in his Comintern job. There was worse to ccme. As the Soviet leadership lurched towards 'popular front' diplomacy, with its beautifully democratic 1936 constitution, it also launched the purges and show trials in which lifelong communists 'confessed' to being in league with Hitler, the British or whoever, in plots to assassinate Stalin and destroy the Soviet Union.
Piatnitsky was no oppositionist, but he refused to accept the stories of ever widening conspiracies. He knew some of the accused, and had mentioned them in his Memoirs. At a party plenum he accused the NKVD secret police of fabricating evidence and using illegal methods to obtain confessions. Lazar Kaganovich and other Politburo members surrounded him afterwards, begging him to retract, but Piatnitsky replied that he had expressed his opinion and would not withdraw it.
Yezhov, the chief of the NKVD, alleged that Piatnitsky had been a provocateur in the pay of the Czarist secret police. But Piatnitsky was not arrested. He challenged Yezhov to confront him with evidence. Meanwhile the Gestapo and Russian White Guard officers abroad surreptitiously fed the Soviet authorities with material to be used against Piatnitsky. Piatnitsky underwent 220 hours of harsh interrogation but refused to confess anything, instead writing a letter to the Politburo protesting his innocence and loyalty as a communist.
At a night meeting in the Kremlin in May 1938, on Stalin's initiative, they produced a 'witness' from jail to testify that Piatnitsky had been plotting. 'He's lying! He is a fascist, he is a scoundrel!' exclaimed Lenin's widow Krupskaya. 'You know Piatnitsky well, he is after all the most honest man. Lenin loved and respected him very much.'
On 19th June 1938, Piatnitsky was accused of introuducing Trotskyist formulations' into Marxist literature - not quite putting glass in the butter -and of infiltrating Trotskyists into the Comintern. But without his confession to these dastardly crimes the authorities were frustrated in their plans to follow up their trials and purges of Bolsheviks and Red Army commanders with a Comintern trial. This did not stop them locking up many foreign militants like the Invergordon naval mutineer Len Wincott, or executing others, including British Communist Rose Cohen. But British CP leader Harry Politt, who made discreet inquiries in Moscow in 1938 about Rose Cohen's fate, may have been spared in the wake of it because Osip Piatnitsky, being tortured at the time, refused to 'confess'. Piatnitsky was finally executed on 30th October 1939. Yezhov, who had himself been purged in March that year was executed a few months later.
Piatnitsky was among those officially rehabilitated following Khrushev's 'secret speech' to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, in 1956. But Memoirs of a Bolshevik has still not been republished.
I don't know why.
Thursday, 31 March 2011
Abroad again, Piatnitsky went to Liepzig, where the German Social Democrats' presses printed the Russians' literature. Once again it was his job to organise the smuggling. In 1912 he helped organise the Bolsheviks' conference in Prague. Lenin and Krupskaya visited him in Liepzig. The following summer he was invited to stay with them near Zakopane, and went hiking with Lenin in the Tatra mountains. The friends had their disagreements. Lenin ribbed Piatnitsky over his respect for the German Social Democrats, Piatnitsky warned Lenin not to trust Malinowski (who was later proven to be a police agent).
Wednesday, 30 March 2011
Young Osip, from Wilkomir in Lithuania, had escaped a Russian prison, and now he arrived in Germany. In Berlin, the small-town boy was dazzled by the traffic and the bright lights. He rode on trams and gazed in shop windows. At a meeting place, he 'saw the well-dressed gentlemen sitting around small tables drinking their beer, and thought it was a bourgeois gathering, for I had never seen such workers in Russia. It proved to be a Party meeting.'
He was impressed by the German unions, the party bookstores and printing presses. In Berlin he acqired a new name. Perhaps it was the day he arrived. The lady of the house, not wanting visitors to know who was staying, called him Mikhail Davidovich Freitag. The Russian for Friday is Piatnitsa. Somehow it stuck, so comrade Tarshis became better known in the movement as Osip Aaronovich Piatnitsky.
Piatnitsky also came to London, where the Social Democratic Labour Party of Russia was to reconvene its Second Congress. He stayed with Martov, Vera Zasulich and others, and had meals with Lenin and Krupskaya. The winter fogs and grime of the city depressed him. He was surprised to meet people from the old country who had turned from socialism to 'individualist anarchism'. Osip put this down to their exile from home and exclusion from British society and its labour movement.
Iskra was being printed on the presses of the Social Democratic Federation in Clerkenwell. It was Piatnitsky's job to find ways of despatching the paper back to those waiting back home. The Bund's network delivered the first issues of Lenin's Iskra into Russia (later in 1905 the Bolsheviks in St. Petersburg were surprised to receive a consignment of Bund publications. A German worker dispatching the parcels had just assumed the more the merrier, and sent whatever he had).
In Tilsit, Piatnitsky found a group of Lithuanians sending large quantities of religious literature home; this was banned by the Czarist regime because it was in the Lithuanian language. Religious dissenters and Marxists were able to collaborate in adversity, so Marxist pamphlets were smuggled in the same crates as devotional works.
The revolutionaries used suitcases with false bottoms, and devised garments - waistcoats for men and bodices or skirts for women - into which newspapers were sewn. People swore in the Summer heat, but were all right in winter. Some even regretted parting with their garments, asserts Piatnitsky, the ladies' tailor, proudly: 'The women got used to them - they made them look impressive, dignified, with good round figures.'
The 1903 congress saw the Bund's delegates walk out when its status was not recognised as 'representative of the Jewish proletariat'. It ended with the split between the 'Bolshevik' and Menshevik' factions over what constituted party membership. Lenin lost control of Iskra. Piatnitsky was bewildered when the older theoretician Plekhanov turned against Lenin, and was upset to part with comrades he had admired; but he chose to go with the Bolsheviks.
The Battles in Odessa
In 1905 theoretical debate was jostled aside by real revolution. Arriving in Odessa that summer, Piatnitsky found party organisation was built from the top, on the principle of co-option. There were committees of Bolsheviks, Mensheviks, the Bund, the Socialist-Revolutionaries and the Dashnaks (an Armenian party), each working separately. But at the end of August someone began moves for a joint meeting. "I think it was the Bund ... organisationally they stood closer to the Mensheviks, but on many tactical questions of the period the Odessa Bund sided with us."
Not content with having massacred demonstrators on the Odessa steps, the Czarist regime wanted its revenge for the strikes, the Potemkin battleship mutiny, and the revolutionary ferment in Odessa. In October, along with the Czar's manifesto promising reform and national unity, came armed gangs harassing people in Odessa, and an organised pogrom against the Jews. There was a meeting in the university to organise resistance and defence. 'Besides us, the Mensheviks, the Bund group and the Socialist-Revolutionaries (SRs), resentatives of the Dashnaks, the Poale Zion and Serpovists attended the meetings of the committee' (Serpovists were members of the Chaim Zhitlovsky's Jewish Socialist Labour Party, and close to the SRs). Piatnitsky was worried that not enough non-Jewish workers showed up.
The Black Hundred pogromists, officers leading peasants, lumpen and criminals alongside plain-clothes police, were backed by Cossacks and well-armed troops. The workers' defence squads were heavily outgunned. On 19th October a detachment of railway workers routed a right-wing gang in the Dalmitsy district, but had to retreat, with heavy losses, when the army intervened. In some places people broke into gun shops for weapons to defend themselves. The battleship Potemkin and its revolutionary sailors had left Odessa, but a detachment of naval cadets fought bravely against the reactionaries, Piatnitsky records.Still, after three days - the usual time alotted for pogroms by the Czarist authorities -some 800 Jews had been killed in Odessa, hundreds were injured or raped, and thousands were burned out of their homes. The strikes resumed on a bigger scale in December. Under pressure from the rank and file for unity, an Odessa soviet was formed with elected delegates, like that in St Petersburg. The executive met in tearooms run by the Bund and other organisations, but had to keep on the move. In January 1906, Piatnitsky and others were arrested. Released after a hunger strike, but still depressed over the pogrom, and feeling that the movement in Odessa was ebbing, he accepted a call from Moscow to come and help the party press.
On his way, he made a diversion to his home town to visit family and friends. Wilkomir, awakened by the great events elsewhere, was not yet touched by the tide of repression. There were public meetings in the park. The Bund had a children's section - the Little Bund. There was a branch of the Social Democratic Labour Party with Russian, Lithuanian, Polish and Jewish members.
In Moscow, the workers still seemed to be in fighting mood. The party was working with students and producing a paper for soldiers. At holiday times, Moscow workers returning to their villages took political literature for the peasants. Piatnitsky organised printing, obtained paper and arranged distribution. But when police raided the printing works and people's flats he realised they had full details of who they were looking for, including his real name, which he had almost forgotten himself.
Leaving Moscow to shake off spies before going abroad, Osip returned to Wilkomir in May 1908. His home town was now an occupied country. Mounted police were dragging in Lithuanian peasants for interrogation. Even the Bund was lying low. He had been home 10 days when he was arrested. His mother arrived and he feared she would blurt out his name, but she kept quiet as he was taken away.
The prison was crowded with Lithuanians, Poles and Jews. Police officers boasted about flogging and torturing peasants, and showed him a blood-stained cell. Piatnitsky, using another pseudonym, 'Pokenansky', was anxious that they should not find out who he really was or where he had been, and trace his contacts. They hauled him in front of some old Lithuanians and asked if this fellow was really Pokenansky. The old men swore he was, they would recognise him anywhere, he looked just like his father who had gone to America. Osip had never met them before in his life, but their testimony saved him.
Monday, 28 March 2011
Revolution of 1905: (3) A new idea from Ivanovo-Voznesensk. And then Odessa - the dream and the nightmare.
What made strikes in Russia into revolution was not just their extent or the adoption of political demands, still less the violence and destruction (at which the forces of order always excelled), but the way workers progressed from immediate economic concerns to lead society, creating organs which took on functions normally reserved for government.
At Ivanovo-Voznesensk, a textile city north-east of Moscow, a government factory inspector advised discontented workers to form an assembly. In May they came out on strike demanding shorter hours, a higher minimum wage, paid maternity leave, factory nurseries, freedom to meet and the right to read newspapers during breaks. On 20th May they voted to set up a workers' militia to keep order and combat hooligans of the monarchist, antisemitic Black Hundreds.
The strike committee found itself called upon to regulate food prices in the shops and to decide if printers could produce official notices requested by the Governor. With Cossack reinforcements, the authorities tried to stop the workers from meeting. But the strike lasted until July, when employers agreed to pay rises, paid maternity leave and other demands. Meanwhile the workers' committee had adopted a new name: soviet, meaning 'council.
In Lodz, after soldiers shot demonstrators, workers led by the Polish Socialists, Social Democrats and the Bund resisted government troops for three days in June 1905. Some 300 people were killed and 1,000 wounded. Trouble spread across Poland and the troops had to be reinforced from 250,000 to 300,000.
Odessa in the south, a boom city in the late 19th century, had been quiet at the start of 1905. Two Bolsheviks who tried to start a strike in the railway workshops after Bloody Sunday were handed over to police. But that spring political unrest and union activity grew among dockers and doctors, sailors and seamstresses.
Many had come to Odessa in prosperous times, among them Jewish workers who found employment in factories and the waterfront. Bundist militants escaping police crackdowns in Vilna came too. Bolsheviks were gaining influence among the railway workers, and there were Mensheviks and Social Revolutionaries too. At the urging of the workers, and on the initiative of the Bund, the different factions in Odessa began meeting to discuss a common strategy. Odessa city council, which had tried to send money to Bloody Sunday victims, asked Dr Mikhail Bogomolets to report on workers' conditions and health in the Peresyp district. His detailed report called for new sewers, improvements in factory conditions, enforcement of public health laws, workers' participation in safety measures, trade union rights and democratic local government. Dr Bogomolets, a Bolshevik, did more than recommend reforms. He and his colleagues saw to it that workers from the Peresyp came to the meetings.
Politics breathed fresh life into union activity. On 6th May over 10,000 workers walked out of Peresyp's
engineering plants and shipyards, and strikes spread. Demands included canteen facilities, sickness benefits, free medical care, an end to bosses using offensive language and an end to the war.
On 15th June, after clashes between striking workers and the police and Black Hundreds, which left scores dead and many buildings blazing, the Czar placed Odessa under martial law. Into this port sailed the battleship Potemkin, seized by its crew after a row over maggot-ridden food. They brought ashore the body of a comrade killed by the officers.
Konstantin Feldman, a student, went down to the port.
'Where are you going?'
'To the free revolutionary ship,' I answered.
'And who may you be, a Social Democrat?'
'And what proof do you have to show?'
'Social Democrats don't have passports to show, they let us go to rot in Siberia and prison without them.'
'Well get in with us.
He stepped down into the cutter alongside the young sailor who had challenged him, a craggy-faced Ukrainian whom the men introduced as their commander, 25-year old Matyushenko. Two other agitators arrived on board the Potemkin, one of them a Bundist. The sailors gathered for a mass meeting. Feldman told them about the workers' struggles all over Russia, and said workers were dying with the slogan 'Death or Freedom!' It was taken up in thundering chorus. Then the Bundist spoke of brotherhood and equality, of the solidarity of the proletariat, of the Social Democrats marching at their head. 'And hand in hand with the proletariat of all lands, you sailors, their brothers, give a mighty cheer: Hurrah for socialism! Hurrah for freedom!' A mighty hurrah resounded.
But then the bell rang for dinner. The sailors invited us to join them. We were glad to accept their invitations, for we had eaten nothing all the morning. Surrounded by a dense crowd of sailors,
we went below. We were offered a little glass of vodka, then we were seated on long benches besides the sailors. The faces of all were excited. Our hearts too were throbbing joyfully. Can it be it's not a dream? Can the freedom of Russia be so near?
'I longed to shake hands; I could have hugged them all in a burst of holiday feeling. And at that instant I felt someone squeezing my hand. I turned round. It was the Bundist. He too was feeling as I did. We stood in silence, looking into each others eyes, and one of us murmured, "Can it be...?" That simple phrase said it all.'
Onshore, as Odessa citizens gathered to cheer the Potemkin, the powers that be ordered a massacre, troops shooting people down mercilessly on the steps as depicted in Eisenstein's famous film. Over 1,000 were killed. At the urging of Bolsheviks and Bundists, the Potemkin sailors replied by shelling a theatre where the reactionaries were meeting. But one ship could not take on the whole Russian army and navy, though when the Black Sea fleet steamed up, the Potemkin, signalling to them, 'Join us', was able to sail through.
The reactionaries had not finished. In October, even as the Czar proclaimed limited freedoms and a limited parliament, the Duma, they launched a bloody antisemitic pogrom in Odessa lasting three days, and killing 800 people. Neither old people nor babies were spared. 'The Jews want freedom? We'll show them what freedom is!' said Neidhardt, Odessa's City Governor. Such 'spontaneous' pogroms, better organised and better armed than the revolution, spread across Russia, though not where the socialists were stronger, Moscow or St Petersburg, where a young fellow called Bronstein, better known as Trotsky, was chairing the Soviet.
To change the world you not only had to down tools, but take up arms, to know what you were up against. Russia had given the world a glimpse of things to come: the dream of solidarity on Potemkin and the nightmare of the Odessa steps massacre and pogroms.
(first published in Jewish Socialist no.50, Summer 2005)
The entire Russian Empire was shaken by Bloody Sunday in St.Petersburg, all the peoples' discontents bursting forth. "Comrades! On the streets of St.Petersburg the first barricades have been built... the great day has come! The revolution has come ... Arm yourselves!', urged Rafael Abramowitz, a leader of the Jewish Workers' Bund, who had left St Petersburg to report to a Central Committee meeting in Dvinsk.
On 10th January the Bund and its allies called a general strike. Workers were already out in St Petersburg and Moscow, and strikes rolled from Warsaw and Vilna (11th January), Riga and Kiev (12th January), Lodz, Minsk and other cities by the 13th, and, by the end of week as far as Batum and Tbilisi in the Caucasus, Samara and Kazan. Altogether, half a million workers went on strike - Russian and Pole, Jew and Lett, Georgian and Finn - and their unrest was shared by students and professionals.
In Riga, the Latvian capital, a meeting of Lettish, Jewish, Russian and Ukrainian Social Democrats resolved to campaign for a constituent assembly and political freedom. Some 15,000 people, some armed with pistols, marched on 13th January. Police and troops opened fire, killing at least 40 people and wounding 200. Crowds fleeing across the frozen River Dvina were drowned as the ice gave way.
In the latter part of the 19th century, capitalism, having spread unevenly around the whole world, entered a new stage. Great powers emerged. Small firms in national markets were overshadowed by giant combinations of industry and capital, commanding governments, their fleets and armies, to carve world markets and materials into empires. Bestriding continents with railways, telegraphs, soldiers and settlers, the United States and Russia reached the Pacific. US power crossed to 'liberate' Spain's Philippines colony, and eye China. Russian interests, keeping forces in Manchuria after the Boxer Rebellion, coveted neighbouring Korea, where they faced a new upstart rival: Japan.
The Russian Empire, though still feared in Europe, was backward. Its autocratic regime and army rested on the backs of poor peasants barely out of serfdom. Its institutions maintained outdated prejudices, notably the segregation and persecution of Russia's Jews. Russia's educated and business classes had little say in politics; its rapidly growing working class had no rights at all. Huge modern factories established by foreign capital stood surrounded by insanitary slums. Only the means of repression - secret police, prison exile, state-sponsored pogroms - foreshadowed later developments. That repression, and the advanced ideas, which spread among intellectuals and working people despite the efforts of police and priests, even secretly penetrating some army units and ships.
The brutal weight of repression was sometimes lightened by inefficiency, confusion and corruption. A police chief in Ekaterinoslav earned praise and promotion by uncovering and closing illicit printing presses each year, until it emerged that he kept setting them up to make his name with raids. Nowadays we'd say he was meeting targets.
The Japanese government sent a note to the Imperial Russian government about timber concessions that a retired officer turned speculator, Bezobrazov, had obtained along Korea's Yalu river, claimed by Japan. Bezobrazov had friends in the Admiralty and court, and the Russian government took no notice of the Japanese, trusting that its forces in Manchuria and warships at Port Arthur would hold them away.
On 26th January 1904, Japanese torpedo boats attacked Russia's fleet at Port Arthur, sinking or crippling most of it before sailing home. 'Asiatic treachery!' screamed the conservative St Petersburg press, vowing that Russia would soon be avenged. A Moscow University professor, Prince Trubetskoi, said Russia was defending Europe against the 'yellow danger, the new hordes of Mongols'. But the Japanese army was German-trained, and its Navy equipped and trained by Britain. Seeing what havoc its new Whitehead torpedoes had wreaked in Port Arthur, The Times said Japan's 'act of daring' would earn 'a place of honour in naval annals'. Who would foresee Pearl Harbour?
Russian officers called the Japanese 'yellow monkeys'. They assumed Russia's huge army and gold reserve would prevail. A brief mood of patriotism swept through the middle class, dreaming of'destiny in the east . But Russia's army was scattered across a huge empire, larger forces holding rebellious Poland and the Baltic areas than could be moved to the Far East. Economically, while British and American finance bankrolled the Japanese, Russia was devastated by the war. Firms profiting from military contracts were outnumbered by those hit by disruption of Asian trade. Workers were laid off, textiles left standing in the Trans-Siberian Railway's sidings as it struggled to convey military supplies.
Though some Russian units fought bravely, they were badly led and poorly equipped, and morale fell. Foreign observers reported that the only time senior commanders led from the front was fleeing ahead of their men after the Battle of Mukden (March 1905).
With one fleet lying at the bottom of the Yellow Sea and other ships bottled up in the Black Sea by Turkish batteries and international treaty, Russia despatched a fleet from the Baltic to the Pacific war zone. Panickv over rumours of saboteurs and Japanese gunboats, the Russians sank a British trawler in the North Sea, engendering war talk and harassment from shadowing Royal Navy ships, before sailing around Africa. With scarcely a port willing to shelter them for coaling, they endured tropical sickness, hardship and mutiny By the time they reached the Pacific, Port Arthur had fallen, on 20th December 1904, two week-before Bloody Sunday.
Heading for Vladivostok, the doomed fleet entered the Tsushima Strait and the jaws of the Japanese navy. It was destroyed on 14th May 1905 and its admiral was captured. Russia secretly accepted the good offices of US President Theodore Roosevelt to sue for peace.
Talk of Japanese agents in Europe was not entirely groundless. Colonel Akashi, former military attache in St Petersburg, had travelled to Sweden to meet Finnish, Polish and Russian revolutionaries. Finnish radical Konni Zilliacus saw the war as an opportunity. He urged a united manifesto to the Czar, propaganda among the troops, and arms for the revolution. He thought Japanese forces could free political prisoners from Siberia. Polish Socialist Party leader Jozef Pilsudski sought support in Japan to raise a Polish Legion.
More advanced than Russia in some respects, its western subject peoples smarted under social and national oppression. Poland's 11.3 million people, less than 8% of the Russian Empire's population, contributed 25% of its industrial output and 150 million roubles a year to the imperial treasury. But Poles were denied even local councils and were excluded from government jobs. The schools were forbidden to teach Catholicism or the Polish language. Some 60% of Polish army recruits could neither read nor write.
Wealthy Polish manufacturers and landlords tempered national resentment with appreciation of Russian order and markets, hoping to share in the spoils of empire. Dmowski's National Democrats (Endeks) opposed Pilsudski's adventurism, focusing their nationalism against Germans, or safer still, Poland's Jews, even though many Jews were serving at the front in Manchuria.
Besides those sent to war, some 100,000 workers in Poland were laid off when Asian markets closed and those still working faced wage cuts.
Following Bloody Sunday, the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), the more marxist Social Democratic Party of Poland and Lithuania, and the Bund called strikes. School students went on strike, demanding teaching in their own language. During a three-day general strike in Lodz, barricades went up and the Governor was captured until troops rescued him. With their leader's nationalist, military outlook, and hopes on Japan, PPS armed squads ambushed troops and police on Warsaw streets. This led to nervous, trigger-happy soldiers shooting people indiscriminately but did not provide workers with means to take power or defend themselves. Warsaw was placed under siege on 17th January; 64 people were killed and 69 wounded by government troops.
At the Socialist International Congress in Amsterdam in 1904, the veteran Russian Marxist Georgi Plekhanov embraced Japanese socialist Sen Katayama, to rapturous applause from delegates. If the Czarist government defeated Japan, Plekhanov declared, the losers would be the Russian people and the subject nations. As internationalists the social democrats could neither go along with liberal patriotism nor tie their hopes to Japanese victory. As it turned out, Russia's defeat could be entrusted to the rulers who had taken the country to war in the first place. But if the workers' struggle hastened an end to the war, so much the better. In that sense, socialists were 'defeatists'.
Sunday, 27 March 2011
FATHER GEORGY GAPON suggested petition to the Czar.
On Sunday 9th January 1905, columns of working men and women with their children set off to the Winter Palace in St Petersburg to present a petition to His Imperial Majesty Czar Nicholas II asking for better conditions and political reforms. Like the weavers who had assembled for their rights in St Peters Fields, Manchester, almost a century before, they came as if they were going on a holiday procession, whole families wearing their cleanest clothes.
They started the morning kneeling in prayer, amid lightly drifting snow. Forming up to march in orderly manner, they carried holy icons, national flags, and portraits of the Czar and Czarina, and sang not revolutionary songs but .favourite hymns. They were led by a priest, Father George Gapon, whom they trusted would receive a hearing from those in power.
A year before, Gapon, a former prison chaplain, had persuaded Interior Minister Plehve to let him to set up something which Moscow secret police chief Zubatov had introduced: a legal organisation
where workers could meet socially, organise mutual funds, even seek improvements in conditions, while remaining loyal to the Czar and safe from revolutionary influences. This Assembly of St. Petersburg Factory Workers excluded anyone who wasn't Russian and Christian. Numerous police agents ensured its assembly halls excluded troublemaking Jews, students and 'politics'. But, like the Zubatov unions before them, they could not exclude class struggle.
At the end of 1904, workers at St Petersburg's Putilov ironworks approached the management to negotiate over conditions and pay. On 2nd January, believing their representatives were being victimised, and finding that the bosses would not listen, the Putilov's entire 13,000 workforce swept out of the works, past the police who were trying to restrain them. With Gapon's help, workers drew up a list of demands, including an eight-hour day, increased minimum pay, better sanitary facilities and free medical aid. They wanted a recognised bargaining committee and no arbitrary dismissals. Groups of Putilov workers toured nearby shipyards and factories, persuading other workers to join them. By the end of the week, almost all St. Petersburg's manufacturing, from steel and textiles, furniture and chocolates, had stopped.
Father Gapon proposed that they should assemble at their halls and march to the Winter Palace with a petition. They would ask the Czar to grant popular representation, release of political and religious prisoners, freedom to form unions and co-operatives, state education at primary level, and
separation of church from state. They also called for an end to the unpopular war with Japan which had dragged Russia to ruin. 'Thy name will be engraved in our hearts and in those of posterity forever,' promised the petition, signed by 'George Gapon, priest,. Ivan Vasimov, worker', and thousands who could barely write their names. Otherwise, 'we will die here in this square.... Let our lives be a sacrifice
for suffering Russia.' This was to be the only wish the Czar would grant that day.
The authorities didn't rely on priests or prayers. As the working people marched peacefully, thousands of police and troops from elite guard regiments were in position and reinforcements arriving. Near the Narva Arch, the workers were ordered to halt; but they carried on, perhaps believing that their moral will would prevail. A cavalry squadron galloped in to disperse them but they regrouped. Riflemen fired eight volleys into the crowd before they fled, Father Gapon with them, leaving a dozen dead and more wounded. Across the capital, columns from the Vyborg and St Petersburg quarters converging on the Troitsky Bridge, had the same reception. Shocked and terrified, people ran for their lives, leaving comrades bleeding in the snow.
As people struggled home, some workers went to Palace Square where they were joined by students, supporters, and people who came to see what was happening. Troops were ordered to clear the area. People jeered that they should be fighting the Japanese or called on them to come over to the people. The Preobrazhensky Guards opened fire on the crowd and kept firing until everyone had either fallen or fled. People tried to help their wounded friends escape. The officers took their men to St Petersburg's main street, the Nevsky Prospect, concentrating their fire at the crossroads where the crowds were thickest. On Vasilevsky Island that afternoon some students threw up makeshift barricades and fought running battles with police. By evening, order was restored. The imperial capital was quiet except for the weeping of those who had lost dear ones. Officials estimated 96 dead and more than 330 wounded, one tenth of whom died later from their wounds. 'There is no God, and no Czar!' cried Father Gapon. A week of illusion was over. A century of wars and revolutions had begun.
Tuesday, 15 March 2011
IN 1934, the Scottish writer Lewis Grassic Gibbon completed 'Grey Granite', the third in a trilogy of novels tracing the life of Chris Tavendale and her family from Highland crofting ('Sunset Song'), and a small town just after World War I ('Cloud Howe'), to a shipbuilding city during the Great Depression ('Grey Granite').
Tragically, Gibbon — whose real name was Leslie Mitchell.— died the following year, aged only 34.
The trilogy was published in 1946 as 'A Scots Quair'. There have been later editions, as well as a TV series, and it was published again last year.
Born on an Aberdeenshire croft himself ('I think of myself as of peasant stock', he remarked), Gibbon knew the countryside as a place of hard lives and toil, not just scenery. His novels were remarkable, for the bold way they brought history to life in the struggles, ideas and passions of working people, and the skill with which he turned spoken Scots into a modern literary language; a rare unity of form and content.
Also in 1934, 'Scottish Scene- or the Intelligent Man's Guide to Albyn' (Hutchinson), teamed Gibbon with the poet Hugh MacDiarmid, though each wrote their own sections, and a 'Curtain raiser' warned: 'The standpoint of one ... is not necessarily that of the other.' Indeed they were opposites. MacDiarmid, a Scottish nationalist who joined the British Communist Party when Soviet tanks were crushing the Hungarian workers, devoted an admiring chapter in 'Scottish Scene' to Major C.H. Douglas, whose reactionary 'social-credit' ideas were ridiculed by Gibbon.
Gibbon's communism was older, deeper, more critical. Writing on Aberdeen on a Sunday he remarks 'Union Street has as much warmth on its face as a dowager duchess asked to contribute to the Red International Relief'.
But he also remembers :
'The founding of the Aberdeen Soviet when the news of the Bolshevik Revolution came through from Russia, and how I and a cub reporter from another paper attended the foundation meeting; and were elected to the Soviet council, forgetting we were pressmen ..."
On religion, deriding elderly gentlemen with white whiskers and rosy cheeks who, at church gatherings debating war, upheld 'the Sword of Righteousness', Gibbon points out they are out of touch with modern warfare and weaponry. 'Why not the saw-toothed Bayonet of Salvation? Why not the Gas of God?' he asks.
Writing with feeling on the slum tenements of Glasgow, and those condemned to live in them, Gibbon takes us for a stroll on Glasgow Green to hear the various speakers, the socialist and other 'doctors' offering their cures. 'Orthodox socialism', Labour, was the 'feeed physician, plump with the proceeds of the latest Glasgow corporation swindle'. What he would make of 'New Labour' we can guess.
Contrasting the slum conditions he had seen with the endless talk of 'Scottish culture' he encountered in middle class literary circles, Gibbon confesses humorously to being tempted himself by nationalist dreams, such as restoring the stone of Scone, or installing saffron-kilted border guards. 'But I cannot play with those fantasies when I think of the hundred and forty thousand (slum dwellers -CP) in Glasgow .They are something that stills the parlour chatter,' he .says.
Gibbon gives a biting portrait of Labour leader James Ramsay MacDonald and his gradualist 'evolutionary socialism', saying: 'That philosophy of socialism which Mr MacDonald was wont to exfoliate in the days before, glancing down-wards and backwards, he caught sight of the seemly shape his calves occupied inside the silk stockings of court dress.'
And on MacDonald's first Labour government, in 1924, Gibbon says:
'Dazed Conservatives realised that here was the most Conservative government since Lord Salisbury's. Obstreperous Mesopotamians were bombed with great thoroughness by order of the Under-Secretary for Air, the personal friend of the premier, the pacifistic Mr Leach.'
Writing to friends in July 1929 Gibbon remarked:
'What do you think of those snivelling Labourists? Safety first! Keep out M Trotsky a dangerous revolutionist, and whatever would the "Morning Post" say? Keep down the school-leaving age — the dear industrialists will still require cheap labour. Persecute the unemployed like criminals — good for them . . . Swine!'
William K. Malcolm, in 'A Blasphemer and Reformer' (Aberdeen University Press, 1984), says Gibbon's philosophy had much in common with dialectical materialism. Certainly In 'A Scots Quair' Gibbon puts thoughts in Chris Tavendale's mind which suggest the author had read Engels.
Hugh MacDiarmid, interviewed in the l960s, thought Gibbon hud been expelled from the Communist Party us a 'Trotskylst' . Hetty Held, according to Malcolm, had a firm impression that Gibbon had been a CP member 'and that there were some problems which I have now forgotten which caused him to leave the Party'
In 'Stained Radiance', a character called Storman resigns from the party, saying: 'In Russia, a Communist state, I saw the same purposeless disorder as rules in capitalist England: I saw the same aimless enslavement to an archaic economic machine; I saw a ruling class— the Communist Party — in power.'
The final part of 'A Scots Quair' leaves much to argue about. 'Och, this Communism stuff's not canny . . .', says Ma Cleghorn, 'it's just a religion though the Reds say it's not.'
And the hero Ewan Tavendale gives this impression after visiting a Communist Party member's home.
'Neither friends nor scruples nor honour nor hope for the folk who took the workers' road'.
Though contemptuous of Ewan's human approach to fellow-workers, Communist Party members offer their support in his fight against victimisation and police brutality. "The Communists would exploit the case to the full for their own ends first, not for Ewan's, ' says Gibbon.
Driven hy his experiences of capitalist violence and Labour betrayal, Ewan takes the 'workers' road' with the Communist Party. His mother Chris who has already rejected religion, tells him 'Yours is just another dark cloud to me'. She goes back to the country.
In 1935, Gibbon was interested in forming a group of revolutionary writers, but in a letter to Left Review he severely criticised the official 'line' with which the Stalinists were attempting to appeal to writers. 'Because I'm a revolutionist I see no reason for gainsaying my own critical judgement,' Gibbon told them
(first published in Workers Press, 26 November 1994)
For further reading:
A Scots Quair
A Scots Hairst (collection of essays and stories) 1969
Monday, 7 March 2011
William Jones and Zephaniah Williams,
who were sentenced to be hung, drawn and
quartered for part in Newport rising.
This was commuted to transportation,
to Van Diemen's Land.
They left from spot on right.
Did authorities fail to get a "Fourth Man"?
A look at the Life and times of Major Bartolomiej Beniowski, who called himself 'The Cosmopolitan Chartist'.
In November 1839, the colliers and iron workers of South Wales marched on Newport to free political prisoners and sieze the town. They were defeated, and three of their leaders were transported to Van Diemens Land. (Tasmania). For a time the authorities sought a mysterious Pole behind the rising. Major Bartolomiej Beniowski.. David Urquhart, a Tory ex-diplomat who had suborned some radicals, and whose diplomatic writings later impressed Marx, claimed Beniowski was a Russian agent. Beniowski nearly. throttled him outside the Carlton Club.
A Jew, and a Polish revolutionary, Bartlomiej Beniowski would have been a most unlikely agent for the Tsar. He was born near Grodno in 1800 and studied at the University of Wilno, where he met followers of the Polish patriot Adam Mickiewicz. He joined the Russian Army's Lithuanian Corps as a medical officer.
In 1830, the July Revolution in Paris spread to Belgium.
In November, hearing that Tsar Nicholas I intended to send Polish troops to suppress the Belgians, cadets at the Warsaw infantry school mutinied and the Polish insurrection began. At the battle of Kuflow on 25 April 1831, Beniowski rode over to the Polish side. He became a captain, then a major in the Polish lancers.
Polish landowners feared the revolt might awaken the peasantry. Polish capitalists, linked bv business to the nobility and by the 1822 customs agreement to Russia, were against it. A modest: agrarian reform bill was blocked in the Sejm (parliament). Impoverished Polish peasants saw no reason to die for their landlords, and some attacked the manors instead.
Jews made up one tenth of Poland's popula:tion:. " Orthodox rabbis said Jews should not be soldiers. Others feared that a distinct Jewish unit might perpetuate segregation. But in December 1830, Sinai Hernisz, student at the Warsaw rabbinical college. appealed to the Polish commander General Chlopicki, for permission to form a Jewush regiment. Chlopicki replied that Jews had no civil rights, and could not be in the army. He had already sent an emissary to St Petersburg to offer a negotiated surrender.
Kosciuszko, leader of Polish patriots in 1794, recorded: 'When Warsaw fought a bloody battle, the Jewish inhabitants rushed to arms, came bravely to grips with the enemy and proved to the world that whenever the cause of humanity can be advanced they do not know how to spare their lives...' Jozef Berkowitz, whose father Berek Yoselowitz had led Jewish troops with Kosciuszko urged Jews to enlist again.
"We cannot allow Jewish blood to mingle with the noble blood of Poles,' insisted General
Franciscjek Morawski . 'What will Europe say when she learns that in fighting for our liberty we have not been able to get along without Jewish help?"
"The national army must be animated by a single emotion, by a single enthusiasm and, if possible , it must confess the same religion...in the present life-or-death struggle what we need is a people of the same blood, of the same breed."
The Sejm decided Jews should not be called up but could pay four times more tax. However thousands of Jews did enlist. There were two battalions in the Warsaw city guard, at first confined to craftsmen and property-owners. In September, with the Russians at the gate, the poor, including Jews, were armed with pikes and sent to the trenches.
'Wherever there is oppression..'
After their defeat, Polish patriots regrouped abroad. Aristocrats remained preoccupied with 'breeding' and estates.. But Adam Mickiewicz declared "Our homeland is whenever there is suffering, for wherever in Europe there is oppression of freedom and people are fighting to become free, they are fighting for our homeland, we must all join in the battle.'
Beniowski went to Paris, and studied military science. He persuaded Joachim Lelewel's Polish committee to adopt Jewish emancipation. On 3 November, 1832, appealing 'to the Israelitish people' to support Poland's freedom struggle, it promised full equality, adding: 'Should they insist on their right to return to Palestine, Poles will help them to realise their desire.'
In 1836 Beniowski came to Britain. A Literary Association of the Friends of Poland had been founded by the poet Thomas Campbell and Lord Dudley Stuart. There was also a Polish Democratic Society. Stanislaw Worcell had launched Lud Polski, Polish People, among exiled Polish soldiers at Portsmouth, advocating a socialism of rural communes.
The 1832 Reform Act, passed after huge agitation, had enfranchised the middle class but given nothing to the workers. The London Working Men's Association (LWMA), formed in 1836, called for universal suffrage, secret ballot, abolition of property qualifications, equal constituencies and annual parliaments - what became known as the People's Charter. It advocated peaceful,legal petitioning.
Like Worcell, Beniowski joined the LVVMA. But he was soon attracted to the more radical London Democratic Association (LDA). Its membership card pledged: 'Our rights - peaceably if we may, forcibly if we must', adding: 'He that hath no sword let him sell his garment and buy one.' To the six points of the People's Charter, the LDA added a free press, repeal of the Poor Law, an eight-hour day, public education, support for workers in struggle against capitalists; social equality and 'general happiness'.
'No man is too poor to unite with us,' the Democrats declared, 'on the contrary, the poorer, the more oppressed, the more welcome.'
Their allies were the 'physical force' Chartists of the industrial north and Wales. LDA branches spread from the East End around London. Elizabeth Neesom formed a Female Democratic Association. A police report named two Poles who had joined the LDA, Martha Schellvietinghoff and Major Beniowski, described as 'tall, well-looking, slim.'
On 13 April 1839, the London Democrat published the first of three articles bv Beniowski, analysing the Polish revolution. He wrote:
Sixteen millions of labourers of this fertile .and once free and democratic land have been, for centuries. deprived of the most undoubted rights on account of their constituting the 'unattachable bone and flesh property of a few thousand swindling or military aristocrats, called nobles.
Another portion of the Polish people, numbering four millions of highly intelligent, industrious and peaceable human beings have been continually despised, insulted, and trampled upon for the specious reason either of their adhering to the religion of their forefathers, or of their being foreigners of ten centuries 'only' standing in Poland.
I mean the unhappy sons of Jacob...
In the next issue Beniowski continued:
Polish 'representatives' may pronounce it shameful and disgusting to accept millions of Israelite brains, arms and pockets, even as a material against Muscovite aggression, but surely one need not be a Marat or a Robespierre to understand that four million people exasperated by all kinds of extortion and oppression, and brought up to the highest pitch of despair by a Nicolaien press-recruiting, is as fine a revolutionisable material as ever existed.
(London Democrat, 20 April 1839)
And in the issue after that:
The peasantry did not join them ... Some of the peasants and soldiers joined Muravief because the word liberty was pronounced, but the bulk of the people did not take any part in the proceeding, because he did not employ the means calculated not to be misunderstood by slaves. Liberal speeches, republican catechisms, and Bible performances may create an excitement, and even stir up a few men to join you in the hope there will be something more substantial. But as long as you do not convince slaves, to the touch, that you really mean their liberty, in this life, you will carry with you but small numbers.
(London Democrat 27 April 1839)
Beniowski also wrote a series On Military Science:
The military science is simply that which teaches you how to maim and kill as many of your enemies as possible, and also how to protect yourselves against a similar propensity of your opponents. If those who first reduced this 'glorious' wholesale murder to rules had no end in view but to gratify the beastly passions of the few, they were abominable monsters, whom it would have been the duty of every honest man to smother.
But if their intention was the defence of the enslaved, oppressed and starving millions, is oppose the claims of incomprehensible rights, mankind ought to erect altars to their memory. In this last case the science of killing and destruction is the most useful and necessary of all the sciences, one which, if universally known to the people at large , would prevent homicide at all. Unhappily this terribly sublime knowledge is not to be attained without difficulty...
(London Democrat, 27 April, 1839.
The Friends of Poland were friends of the aristocracy led by Prince Adam Czartoryski (sic). Lord Dudley Stuart advised Poles 'not to look to the establishment at once of that sort of government which they most wish, but to set about the establishment of that sort of government which appears most practicable, and...will enlist the support of the other governments of Europe. Let them not care at first if the government should be less liberal than they could desire'.
The British government consulted the Friends of Poland on which exiles to deny relief fund payments. In June 1839 Home Secretary Lord Russel stopped Beniowski's £40 allowance.
The Spirit of Revolution
The Chartists 'monster' petition, with a million signatures, was reiected bv Parliament "The spirit of revolution is strong and increasing," General Sir Charles Napier warned Russell on 16 July, 1839.
Chartists in the Newcastle area clashed with police and troops. There was incendiarism in Birmingham. On 12 August miners from the north-east began what they hoped would become a general strike. There were three days of fighting in Bolton. But the movement around the country was neither uniform nor united. Order was restored after 10 days.
On 14 September the Chartists' national convention broke up after reversing its support for a 'national holiday' (i.e general strike). The Chartist left was torn between disillusion and determination on insurrection. A police spy reported a conspiracy headed by three LDA members: "Joseph Goulding, the Brick Lane baker Joseph Williams, and the Pole, Major Beniowski.
According to Mark Hovell, Beniowski was sent to South Wales to drill men and survey the terrain. On 3 November 1839, goaded bv the imprisonment of Henry Vincent, 1,000 Chartists marched overnight on Newport. Arriving late. tired and wet, they confronted well-armed government troops who killed 24 and wounded 40, driving them out of the town. Chartists who had gathered in Newcastle dispersed, when they heard the news.
In Wales, more troops were drafted in to hunt down Chartist leaders. The London Chartist William Cardo, who was under Urquhart's influence, was captured on 15 November. He claimed there was a Russian plot, and that a Polish emigrant would 'have the command in the mountains in Wales'.
An anonymous letter claimed Beniowski had been sent with 138 Ib of ball cartridge from London
via Bristol. The Newport magistrates appealed to the government to send someone who could recognise the Pole. Meanwhile the Home Office received information about 'a deep and dangerous conspiracy' being hatched in London.
On 16 January 1840, the Welsh Chartists John Frost, William Jones and Zephaniah Williams were sentenced to be hung, drawn and quartered. That night, acting on information, police raided a meeting at Bethnal Green Trades Hall seizing several armed Chartists. Some LDA leaders were arrested, but Beniowski was among those who escaped.
Risings broke out in Bradford and Sheffield. Extra troops were alerted in London, and fireboats were made ready on the Thames after rumours that shipping would be fired. Chartists themselves spread rumours to tie up troops before the risings in the north. On 27 January the sentences on the Welsh leaders were commuted to transportation. Nothing came of talk about rescuing them. Rumours had Beniowski at various places in the north. Bv March, most of the Chartist leaders were in prison.
Unshaken fidelity to the cause
As the economy improved, working-class energies shifted into trade unionism, and the Chartists learned patience and organisation. In 1842, industrial and political militancy merged in a general strike and 'Plug Riots' in the north-west. (So called because bands of strikers pulled out the plugs from mill boilers to make sure they remained closed) Trades union delegates meeting in Manchester adopted the People's Charter.
In Septemer 1844, George Julian Harney, the Deptford-born 'physical force' Chartist who had become editor of the Northern Star, brought Polish, German and English radicals together in the Society of Fraternal Democrats.
"National prejudices have been , in all ages, taken advantage of by the people's oppressors to set them tearing the throats of each other, when they should have been working together for their common good. This society repudiates the term 'foreigner', no matter by, or to whom, applied."
At a public meeting in August 1845, Harney introduced "a man who had been
infamously calumniated" and "suffered terrible persecution even from some of the Chartists themselves," but who had shown "unshaken fidelity to the good cause". Bartolomiej Beniowski said he had been 'cruelly slandered' but his accusers had "never offered to prove their accusations."
Beniowski taught languages at his home in Bow Street. using new methods, studied phrenology, and published two books on phonetics which advocated spelling reform. His tempestuous life thus entered a quiet chapter. He died on 29 March 1867, That year, industrial working men were given the vote under the Second Reform Act, introduced by Disraeli.
Peter Brock found it 'fitting that the name of a Polish democrat be coupled with the military side of the only English (sic) armed insurrection of the nineteenth century'. Reuben Ainsztein observed-. 'It is typical of Jewish historiography that one searches in vain for his name in the standard Jewish encyclopedias.'
Our rights did not come with the Magna Carta. but from the struggles of past generations of working people and of heroes like Frost, Harney, and Beniowski. the 'Cosmopolitan Chartist'. We owe it to future generations to remember them. And now, we are entering a period of struggle when we shall need their inspiration.
(first published in Jewish Socialist No.33, Spring 1995)
Saturday, 5 March 2011
LORD BROOKE OF CUMNOR
was MP for Hampstead and Home Secretary (1961-3).
Had earlier been deputy director of Tory Research Dept. and chairman of 'Truth' publishing company.
(Right) Grave at Denham of Robert, Baron VANSITTART. Ousted from Chamberlain government for leaking information to opponents of Appeasement. Sponsored investigation of 'Truth'. But became chiefly known for his strongly anti-German views.
Cabinet Conspiracy 3
The truth about Truth
The Jewish community was concerned about Truth. "For a considerable number of years part it has been easily the most venomous antisemitic paper in this country, all the more dangerous as its antisemitism has been of an insidious and subtle nature," Sydney Salomon told the Board of Deputies' Jewish Defence Committee.
"Efforts have been made both in public and private to combat this policy. There are forces behind [it] which are obviously of a powerful nature, but they keep carefully in the background. We have not yet, however, abandoned hope of forcing them out into the open."8
During the war, with Truth maintaining its antisemitic line, the Board was told: "There is still a very strong feeling that the [Conservative] Central Office is interested in this paper."9
On 13 October 1941, Labour MP Josiah Wedgwood raised a Commons adjournment debate on Truth:
"It is widely read, not so widely as the Daily Worker," he conceded (an allusion to the government's ban on that paper), "but very widely in the clubs and messes, by that large class of people who are referred to as the governing class in this country." Describing it as "pro-fascist" and "antisemitic", Wedgwood mentioned Truth's attacks on Jews, including Belisha, Labour MP GeorgeStrauss,Neville Laski and VictorGollancz, and "numerous libel actions" it had faced.
"As in the case of all newspapers, there is somebody at the back of this newspaper. It must be owned by somebody. There are 1,920 shares of which 1,800 are in the name of Lloyds Bank, probably held for other people as nominees." The shares were £10, Wedgwood said, but he did not believe Truth could have paid its way with a capital of £18,000, "seeing the damages they have had to pay in these libel actions". He judged that the money behind the magazine had come from the National Publicity Bureau initially, and then from Tory Party funds.
Although shares had been shuffled around, "through these kaleidoscopic changes there appear the figures of Mr Crocker and Sir Joseph Ball, not as directors but as connected with Truth. I understand these people are also in the Swinton Committee [the government's Security Executive]... I am more anxious to get the attitude of the Swinton Committee towards the fascists and towards the Jews, changed than even to get a change in the editorship of Truth".
It was certainly ironic, if not something more, that while Ball had become deputy chair of the Swinton Committee and brought along his friend, Charles Crocker, a director of Truth, that magazine was attacking the 18B internment law over which the C ommittee presided as "Jewish revenge", and stoutly defending interned Nazi sympathisers like Admiral Sir Barry Domville! (The Swinton Committee also directed the internment and deportation of Jewish refugees and other "enemy aliens").
During the debate, Aneurin Bevan remarked: "I understand that until recently the Hon. Member for West Lewisham was an official of the Conservative Central Office and at the same time chairman of Truth." The "honourable" Member for West Lewisham, until he lost his seat in 1945, was Henry Brooke, later returned for Hampstead; Housing Minister (1957-60); Home Secretary 1961-63). Between 1936 and 1939, Brooke was deputy director of the Conservative Research Department and chairman of the Truth Publishing Company. This was mentioned by Horace B Samuel in a letter to Time and Tide, published on 22 November 1941.
Sir Robert Vansittart, whom Chamberlain had sacked from the Foreign Office, engaged Samuel to conduct a confidential private enquiry into Truth. He found that in June 1936, after Labouchere had died, the bulk of shares in Truth had been acquired, via Lloyds Bank, by Lord Luke of Pavenham, a close associate of Sir Joseph Ball and chairman of the National Publicity Bureau's business committee. To conceal the link with the Bureau, whose funds had been used, shares were handed out in small bundles to associates of Luke and Ball. Henry Brooke took 10. When he became an MP, he passed them over to Crocker.
Samuel's report to Vansittart was that Chamberlain and Ball were behind Truth's attack on Hore-Belisha: "a deliberate effort to kill Belisha once and for all as a political force".10
Chamberlain died in November 1940. Truth carried on. A fortnight after its ownership had been raised in the Commons in 1941, a block of 1,800 shares was quietly shifted to editor Colin Brooks. W C Crocker resigned his directorship. The following year Ball left the Swinton Committee. He remained at the Conservative Research Department until after the war. In 1942, Conservative Party chairman Sir Thomas Dugdale, complaining that the Party had no press to call its own(!), told Truth's editor that his was "the nearest to a dependable organ' . 11
RA Butler, who took over the CRD in 1946, said he found "no funds or even records". Chris Cooke's Sources in British Political History, noting that certain CRD records remain confidential, adds that most old files were destroyed anyway, "partly the result of a wartime fire, and partly of a conscious policy". The entry for Henry Brooke says: "Lord Brooke states that he has not discovered any papers which would be of interest."
In 1952-53, Truth passed into new hands. Editor A.K .Chesterton was dismissed. (Ex-Mosleyite Chesterton started a paper called Candour and the League of Empire Loyalists. He later became a founder of the National Front.)
In 1954 Truth printed an apology to Leslie Hore-Belisha for having made "unfair and baseless attacks upon him motivated by racial prejudice". Better late than never! The paper ceased publication two years later.
In 1956, Sir Guy Kindersley wanted to publish his account of how he had brought the Zinoviev Letter to Tory Central Office. He was invited to a City office where Sir Joseph Ball persuaded him that certain things should remain concealed. Lord Davidson said Ball "is undoubtedly tough and has looked after his own interests... On the other hand, he is steeped in the Service tradition and has as much experience as anyone I know of the seamier side of life and the handling of crooks."
When Henry Brooke became a minister in the 1960s, people were too polite to mention his past (Brian Pearce, in The Newsletter, 19 March 1960, was an exception), even when he was being petitioned, as Home Secretary (and author of the Immigration Act) to do something about racists and fascists. (He strengthened the Public Order Act instead.) This is a matter of Tory Party, not individual, history; but until recently even some historians have seemed unwilling to look into it.
Leslie Hore-Belisha was one of theirs, if not quite one of them. As a Jew he was disposable and they didn't mind how they did it. Neville Chamberlain was, according to James Margach, "the first Prime Minister to employ news management on a large scale". Nowadays, of course, the techniques of media manipulation and "dirty tricks" are much more advanced and sophisticated, and those who wield them at least as ruthless.
1. The Diaries of Sir Alexander Cadogan, 1938-45, edited by David Dilkes (Cassell).
2. Doctor in the Whips' Room, by H Morris-Jones, cited in Tony Kushner, Persistence of Prejudice (see Further reading).
3. The Private Papers of Hore-Belisha by RJ Minney (Collins 1960).
4. "Coy Connection" by Brian Pearce, The Newsletter (Socialist Labour League, 19 March 1960).
5. Anthony Eden by Robert Rhodes-James.
6. TJ Hollins (see Further reading).
7. Arnold Beichman (see Further reading).
8. Antisemitism in British Society by Colin Holmes (Edward Arnold 1979).
9. Quoted by Tony Kushner (see Further reading).
10. Richard Cockett (see Further reading).
11. Tony Kushner (see Further reading).
The Zinoviev Letter by Chester, Fay and Young
Twilight of Truth by Richard Cockett (Weidenfeld 1989).
Examines Chamberlain's press manipulation. Has gone
into Vansittart papers and boldly exposes Ball's link
Collar the Lot by Peter and Lenni Gillman (Quartet 1980).
Wartime internment and deportation of refugees, with
interesting sidelight on Ball and 18B, etc.
The Persistence of Prejudice by Tony Kushner (Manchester
University Press 1989). A thorough survey of British
antisemitism during the "war against fascism"; also
raises questions about attitudes on the Left.
The Abuse of Power by James Margach (WH Alien 1978).
The Private Papers of Hore-Belisha by RJ Minney (Collins
A Class Divided by Robert Shepherd (Macmillan 1988).
Anthony Adamthwaite: "The British Government and the
Media, 1937-1938", Journal of Contemporary History, vol
18, April 1983.
Arnold Beichman: "Hugger-Mugger in Old Queen Street"
Journal of Contemporary History, vol 13,1978.
TJ Hollins: "The Conservative Parry and Film Propaganda
Between the Wars", English Historical Review, vol XCVI,
no 379, April 1981.
Thanks are due to the late Brian Pearce for first arousing my curiosity about the connection between the Tory party and Truth magazine, when he pointed out that then Home Secretary Henry Brooke had omitted this involvement from his entry in Who's Who.
Thanks also to historian John Hope, who was able to give me details of archives he had seen which supplied some missing links in this story. If I did not take the time and trouble to follow his leads to primary sources, I nevertheless drew confidence from his confirmation that I was more or less on the right track.
Thanks to the editors of Jewish Socialist magazine for giving this article its first airing, in issue No.19, Spring 1990.
ANTHONY EDEN Foreign Secretary, but Chamberlain had contacts behind his back with MUSSOLINI, via Sir Joseph Ball and Count Grandi.
Department of Dirty Tricks
It was during the notorious "Zinoviev Letter" affair (when the Daily Mail ran a faked letter to create a "red scare", hitting Labour and scaring Ramsay Macdonald out of his wits) that JC Davidson, liaising between Conservative Central Office and the security services, met Major Joseph Ball, then with MI5. By 1927, he was at Central Office as director of publicity.
In 1929, responding ostensibly to those Conservatives who had been saying they needed a department to develop social policy, the Party set up the Conservative Research Department. With Joseph Ball in charge, the approach to social and political problems was a distinctly secret service one.
"With Joseph Ball I ran a little intelligence service of our own, quite separate from the Party organisation. We had agents in certain key centres and we also had agents actually in the Labour Party headquarters, with the result that we got their reports on political feeling in the country as well as our own. We also got advance 'pulls' of their literature. This we arranged with Odhams Press who did most of the Labour Party printing, with the result that we frequently received copies of their first leaflets and pamphlets before they
reached Transport House. This was of enormous value to us because we were able to study Labour
Party policy in advance, and in the case of the leaflets we could produce a reply to appear simultaneously with their production." (Davidson, in Memoirs of a Conservative)
From 1929 until his death in late 1940, Neville Chamberlain was chairman of the Conservative Research Department. In February 1938, Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden returned from holiday to find that, in his absence, Prime Minister Chamberlain had rejected overtures from President Roosevelt for international security efforts, preferring the "wonderful chance" of an agreement with Mussolini. He was further upset to find that Italian ambassador Grandi appeared to know more than he did about British intentions. Chamberlain and the Italian almost seemed to have an understanding already.
Behind Eden's back, the Prime Minister had been in regular contact with fascist Italy, through irregular channels. One of them was Sir Joseph Ball, "the confidential agent of Chamberlain, who since the month of October last year has been functioning as a direct 'secret link' between myself and Chamberlain", as Grandi boasted to Count Ciano, Italy's Foreign Minister, on 19 February 1938. Eden resigned on 20 February.
In October 1937, Ciano had signed a secret treaty in Berlin, pledging war on "communism" and the Spanish Republic; the beginning of the Axis. In February 1938, while sweetening the British with promises to respect their interests in Spain, Mussolini gave the green light to Hitler for the Anschluss, the invasion of Austria.
March 1938, on the streets of Vienna, grinning Nazi thugs assault and humiliate elderly Jews, making them kneel and scrub pavements with caustic lye, or perform press-ups for the amusement of the mob. April 1938, in Rome, to mark the signing of an Anglo-Italian agreement, an English Jew comes to grovel on behalf of His Majesty's government. Leslie Hore-Belisha says it gives him "great joy" to meet Signer Mussolini and see his achievements.
Having helped see through the agreement with Italy, Chamberlain's "confidential agent" Ball had more to do. 'The mood of the House was one of confidence in Chamberlain rather than Eden, and Joseph Ball of the Conservative Research Department set to work to ensure that the Party in the country would take the same view," says JA Ramsden in his History of the Conservative Party: the age of Balfour and Baldwin 1902-1940. The Beaverbrook and Rothermere press were both pro-appeasement (the latter, for example the Daily Mail, had backed Mosley and still admired Mussolini) and both were "well briefed by Downing Street", so it was not too hard. (Chamberlain's Downing Street press officer, George Seward, also served for confidential contact with the German embassy.)
Besides press control and manipulation, the government was alive to the importance of other media. In March 1935, Isador Ostrer of Gaumont British agreed to help the National Publicity Bureau organise itself for propaganda. At British Movietone, Sir Gordon Craig and Sir Malcolm Campbell were ardent Tories. Editor Gerald Sanger advised the Tory Party on film propaganda.
"I have cultivated some close personal contacts with the leaders of the British film industry," Ball reported confidentially to Chamberlain in June 1938, "and I am satisfied that I can count upon most of them for their full support to any reasonable degree." Stressing the importance of exploiting the screens of the ordinary cinemas, seen by 20 million people each week, Ball said: "I have already prepared the way for this with all the big circuits among exhibitors ... with Korda among the producers, and with the chairmen of the five big newsreel companies."
An interview with Labour leader Attlee on Eden's resignation was cut from Paramount news within hours of filming. During the Munich crisis, MPs opposed to Chamberlain were censored. Newsreel coverage of the Spanish Civil War had a pro-Franco bias that was remarked upon Government control might also help explain the bland treatment of Nazi Germany in pre-war newsreels.
Ball used other techniques too. A group of rebel Tory MPs had begun meeting at the Queen Anne's Gate home of Ronald Tree. He noticed odd clicks on his telephone. An American journalist friend told him it was being tapped. He said: "Some time later, during the war, I came across Sir Joseph Ball at the Ministry of Information, a dislikeable man with an unenviable reputation for doing some of Chamberlain's 'behind-the-scenes' work. . He had the gall to tell me that he himself had been responsible for having my telephone tapped."
According to one-time Central Office worker Percy Cohen, interviewed by Arnold Beichman, Ball "meddled in all kinds of affairs, some secret, some open. He was a man who was always intriguing and who new how to make contacts. If Chamberlain wanted a job done, it was always through Ball."
Did they do a job on Leslie Hore-Belisha, using the antisemitic Truth magazine? How closely was this foul little weekly connected with high-ranking members of the Conservative Party?
LESLIE HORE-BELISHA, War Minister, and right, CAPT. MAULE-RAMSAY. who made sure MPs got the magazine attacking him.
part 1 Getting Rid of a Minister
There was an expectant air in the House of Commons on the morning of 16 January 1940. Leslie Hore-Belisha, forced to resign as Secretary of State for War because of what Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain would only call "a strong prejudice" against him, was due to make a statement to the House.
Interest stretched far beyond Westminster. "The British people have a right to be told frankly and fully the reasons for the replacement in wartime of a virile and apparently successful War Minister," declared the Melbourne Argus on 8 January. Even The Times acknowledged public concern but said much would depend on what Hore-Belisha had to say.
In the event Hore-Belisha spoke of his efforts to reform and modernise the army, making it a career open to talent, so as to "bind all members of the nation more closely". He commented wryly: "It did not occur to me to consider that we were making the army too democratic to fight for democracy." This brought some cheers from Labour. But anyone hoping for a challenge to Chamberlain's government was disappointed.
"When Belisha made his resignation speech it fell far short of the challenging dramatic tone which the Mirror had hoped for," says Maurice Edelman in The Mirror: A Political History. "Belisha, despite his blandness in the face of antisemitism, was acutely sensitive to the danger that his Jewish origin might embarrass the government."
Misplaced loyalty to those less than loyal to him; misguided patriotism, with a war on? Nazi propagandists were delighted anyway, treating his departure as encouraging and as a faltering, ineffective, British attempt to remove "Jewish control". As for the British public, it had to accept being kept in the dark. Hore-Belisha faded eventually from view, his name to be remembered only by the traffic beacons he'd introduced when he was Minister of Transport.
The exact reasons Chamberlain got rid of his War Minister "have never been fully explained", said Dingle Foot in British Political Crises (William Kimber, 1976).
Late in 1939 the commanders of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France had told King George VI of their resentment against Hore-Belisha. The King discussed this with Chamberlain. On 8 January 1940 Chamberlain reported to the palace that he had dismissed Hore-Belisha, adding: "I said that as I had told him repeatedly before, there existed a strong prejudice against him for which I could not hold him altogether blameless."
"What was the prejudice?" asks Edelman. "It was the kind of prejudice that no one wanted to make explicit. It was, in fact, the prejudice of the established social and military order against a Jew of middle class and foreign descent, who sought publicity for his work, rejected the caste atitudes of his day and who, for short, was referred to by his critics as a 'cad'."
Perhaps Hore-Belisha's flair for publicity, so upsetting to the officers and gentlemen of the BEF with whom he dared to differ, gave Chamberlain the idea of making him Minister of Information. The Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander Cadogan, confided to his diary on New Year's Day 1940: "H told me He --.-Belisha must be got out of the WO and will be offered Ministry of Information. This blinding - and exquisitely funny. I hadn't time to get my breath, but on thinking it over, came to the conclusion that Jew control of our propaganda would be a major disaster."1
"H" (Lord Halifax) and the Foreign Office blocked this appointment. Instead, Hore-Belisha was offered the Board of Trade. He polite declined, "because I could not feel the assurance that the consideration which had persuaded the Prime Minister to make the change would allow my energetic discharge in the national interest of the other office".
By this time, apparently, several junior ministers were clamouring for Hore-Belisha to go. But why did he go so quietly? What happened between Hore-Belisha's removal from office on 6 January and the speech which disappointed friends ten days later?
On 12 January 1940, the weekly magazine Truth appeared with the headline "Belisha no loss". It raked up the financial affairs of some companies in which he had been involved, back in 1928, which had collapsed with losses all round the following slump year. Although there was no evidence of wrongdoing by Hore-Belisha, he had lent his name, as an MP, to these flops. Truth made it sound far worse; and Tory MP and antisemite Captain Archibald Maule-Ramsay made sure every MT and peer received a copy.2
Hore-Belisha consulted such bigwigs asSirJohn Simon and Sir William Jowitt, with a view to taking action against Truth. These eminence-advised him that it would not be in the nations interest to take it to court. Later, Hore-Belisha was to say: "I must confess that in the light of subsequent events, had I been guided alone by my own personal feeling, I would have taken action."3
Founded by the radical, Henry Labouchere 1877, to expose corruption "without fear or favour", during the 1930s Truth had fallen into far from liberal hands. It acquired "the reputation of specialsing in a rather significant way in those scandals with which persons with Jewish names happened to be connected".4
An article in Truth in August 1938 spoke highly of Hitler as a "sensitive" artist, while the 24 September 1939 issue had Major JFC Fuller's column defending the Nazi concentration camps(mentioned in a Commons debate in 1941). Fuller, a well-known military historian, was also a keen Mosleyite.
How could a man in Hore-Belisha's position, twice a Minister of the Crown, a respected public figure, be thrown off balance by an attack in a little right-wing rag, allowing it to undermine his confidence and help finish his career? It was because he believed that there were some much more powerful forces behind the well-timed blow from Truth.
Cecil King, Hore-Belisha's supporter and confidante, said: "Finally, through the Conservative Central Office, they engineered a very bitter article in Truth which attacked his financial records as a director of companies in the 1928-9 boom, and inddentally described the Daily Mirror, for supporting him, as the 'Jew-infested sink of Fleet Street. As part of this campaign, Belisha said, Lady Astor was going around saying he had feathered his nest on army contracts. This campaign filled in the gap between Belisha's dismissal and the meeting of parliament."
Incidentally, as War Minister, Belisha did not d eal with army contracts, which came through the
Ministry of Supply, but who cared? Leslie Hore-Belisha had come against what would nowadays be called a Tory "dirty tricks" campaign.