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New Series No 5: March 2007

Our History History Group of the Communist Party of Britain – newsletter


Page 11 Appeals for more info… East Berlin, Jack Carney, Opposition in the CP, lost IBers, Communist intellectuals, WH Thompson,

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New CP biogs on the web

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Shavukat Usmani: a 1930s Indian hero in Spen Valley

The Rev. Robert Martin Hilliard (1904 - 1937) John Corcoran Many readers will be familiar with the words of the Christy Moore ballad Viva la Quinca Brigada, where tribute is paid to the memory of those who fought in defence of the democratically elected Spanish Government between 1937 and 1939, a conflict which is popularly known as the “Spanish Civil War”. These lines particularly intrigue Kerry people: Bob Hilliard was Church of Ireland pastor; From Killarney cross the Pyrenees he came. Who was this unlikely recruit to the International Brigades? How did an ordained Church of Ireland minister from Killarney end his days fighting fascism in Spain? Robert Martin Hilliard was very much a product of the political and social climate which pervaded Europe in the 1920’s and 1930’s. He was by nature an exuberant crusader, a man of ardent opinions who, when he adopted a cause, gave himself fully to it. Hilliard was born on 7 April 1904 in Moyeightragh near Killarney; he came from the well-known Hilliard family of South Kerry. One of six children, his father ran a successful leather business in the town of Killarney. He was educated in Cork Grammar School, and Mountjoy School Dublin, before going to Trinity College at the age of 17. 1 Through his studies at Trinity College, he was financially assisted by a Read Sizarship.2 Whilst at Trinity, like many of his generation, he became involved in Republican politics, being an active member of the college Thomas Davis Society. Even before going to university he was known as an unconventional figure, and was certainly swimming against the tide of opinion of his own social milieu when he took up the cause of Irish Republicanism. On at least one occasion, whilst home on 1

holiday from Trinity, he provided meals for local IRA men downstairs in the kitchen of the family home, leaving his nervous parents upstairs with strict instructions not to come downstairs whilst he entertained his “visitors”.3 In the 1922 general election he reputedly voted early and often for the Anti-Treaty party. His involvement in the subsequent Civil War led, however, to him dropping out from Trinity College before taking his degree. As well as being actively involved in Republican politics, Hilliard first became interested in Marxism in this period4, but his interest in political ideology was merely one facet of his larger than life personality. He emerged as a keen athlete and boxer, and whilst at Trinity became a college boxing champion, and played fly half in the Trinity rugby team. This was despite suffering from hypermetropic vision (long-sight) and a squint if not wearing glasses.5 His interest in boxing would culminate in him taking the Irish bantamweight title for two years running, and, according to his daughter Ms Deirdre Davey, whose correspondence with the author has added some extremely valuable insights and details into her father’s life, I always understood that my father boxed bantamweight, and my mother gave the Irish Champion bantamweight silver cup to my younger brother before she died in 1994. He also represented Ireland in the 1924 Paris Olympics where, according to Ms Davey, her mother observed that he was unfortunate in having to fight an eventual medal winner in his first or second fight. His son inherited Robert Hilliard’s team medal and Ms Davey was left his team blazer badge. A further sporting footnote to Robert Hilliard’s sporting activities is the fact that he was a founder member of the Trinity College Hurling Club, Law undergraduate Brian Maginness reacting to the fact that Gaelic games were "anathema in Trinity," suspected that gaelic games were subject to a malicious boycott because they were "purely and individually Irish”, he also felt that the college was shirking "its duty to the country in the present renaissance.” In resposne to this Maginness founded the first Trinity Hurling Club, and considerable athlete that he was Hilliard rallied to Maginness’e appeal for players. The short lived first Trinity Hurling club played its inaugural match against UCD in March 1923, and affiliated eventually to Dublin University Central Athletic Committee (DUCAC). The founding members of the Trinity Hurling Club were, J.P. O'Brien-Twohig (Captain); Brian Maginness, A. Stuart (Secretary); W.E. Godfrey (Treasurer); J.G. McManaway, J. Kennedy, - Kidd, J.L. Chambers, N.D. Emerson, R.M. Hilliard, J.E.R. Keymes, J. Kennedy, T.F. O'Donnell, W.A. Packham, and R.J. Twomey. After his participation as a boxer in the 1924 Paris Olympics, at some point in the winter of 1923 , he met his wife-to-be, Rosemary Robins from Kingswood Hanger in Surrey. They met at a party hosted by the artist Frances Cahill, a relation of the Robin’s family, in Merrion Square, Dublin, where the poet James Stephens introduced the couple.6 Rosemary, was the daughter of Stephen Robins, a British colonial District Commissioner in Nyasaland, who had been brought up by her mother and grandmother after her father’s death from blackwater fever in 1910, when she was just five years of age .


Hilliard and his future wife, although both from well-to-do backgrounds, were not of a similar background in terms of the strict delineations of social class prevalent at the time. Her family were from the “professional” classes, most having positions in the Church, law or army, and they may have looked down somewhat on the Hilliard’s family’s roots in “trade”. In political terms however, Hilliard may have had much more in common with his wife. According to Deirdre Davey’s testimony, her …Mother had socialist leanings as a girl, and was always very religious. She was involved in the work of Muriel Lester in Poplar, and carried Muriel's tub when she went to speak at Speaker’s Corner in Hyde Park or on Tower Hill. So they had a concern for the poor and unemployed in common. My mother was a Labour Party member when she was sixteen, though in later years she became a bit of a drawing room pink.7 Robert and Rosemary married in 1926 and went to England, moving into a little house at Hindhead in Surrey. Hilliard’s father had bought it for them as a wedding present, for £400. They had four children. The eldest, Tim, was born in 1927, followed by Deirdre in 1928 and two more children were to follow, Davnet in 1931 and Kit in 1933. In England Robert took up a career in journalism and advertising. Amongst his most successful advertising campaigns was the work he undertook for the brewers of Bass beer; he claimed to have originated the slogan “Great Stuff this Bass!”8 It was in London that he took a new direction when he encountered and was converted to a form of evangelical Christianity known as Buchmanism. This movement was founded by Frank Buchman (1878-1963), a Lutheran pastor from Pennsylvania. Buchman’s followers reassessed their lives and “cleaned house” by making amends to those they had hurt or offended by their actions in the past; they then set about living life according to a code of moral absolutes, such as a commitment to absolute honesty and unconditional love. Buchman’s followers believed that God was an active force in their lives, and inspired its believers to seek out God’s will through a regime of prayer and by subsequently following his “will”, which could take a variety of manifestations. The movement gained a considerable following at Oxford University, and came to be known as the Oxford Group (not to be confused with the 19th-century Oxford Movement in the Church of England). Deirdre Davey recollects that her mother said that Robert justified his embracing of Buchmanite Christianity through his belief that “pure Marxism was Christianity in practice, only without Christ”. Furthermore, Hilliard faced a growing personal crisis through his weakness for alcohol and gambling; this brand of Christian renewal offered a chance for him to rebuild his life anew.9 Buchmanite Christianity later evolved into a movement called Moral Rearmament, which went into a steep decline after World War II. Interestingly, its ideas were influential in the establishment of the Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) worldwide fellowship, whose founders were both adherents of the Buchmanite creed; the highly successful 12-step approach to addiction problems pioneered by AA was 3

profoundly influenced by the Buchmanite approach to personal change through faith. Through his involvement in the Oxford Group, Hilliard came to believe that God was guiding him to return to Dublin to become a clergyman. Obeying this vocational calling, he returned to Trinity College and finished his degree. He also simultaneously completed a course in Divinity. In 1931 he was ordained as a deacon, and took up a position as curate-assistant in Christ Church in Derriaghy parish just outside Belfast. This was a tough workingclass area, and Hilliard appears to have thrived on the challenge. By 1932 he was ordained into the Anglican priesthood, and in 1933 was appointed to work in the Belfast Cathedral mission church, where his preaching and the force of his personality soon doubled the congregation. This was a period of severe economic hardship, and in Britain the government introduced a policy of requiring the unemployed to sell off personal possessions before they were entitled to unemployment benefit, the much-hated “Means Test”. This was bitterly resented by the many unemployed, and Belfast was very severely affected by the worst recession in economic history. The Communist Party was active in Belfast on this issue, and a movement of unemployed workers emerged to challenge the Means Test. This movement of the unemployed was unique in Northern Ireland at the time, since the campaign transcended the sectarian division by organising unemployed workers from both the nationalist and unionist communities. It appears that the Reverend Hilliard became drawn into the campaign around the Means Test, and this marked the beginning of a revival in his interest in radical politics. In 1933 Rosemary became very ill after the birth of their last child. According to her daughter, this meant that a lot of help was needed to look after the four very young children and to nurse a very sick wife over several months of total bed rest.10 Debt was incurred, and the Reverend Hilliard, disillusioned with a lack of financial support from his Dean, resigned from the Cathedral Mission in Belfast in 1934 and left for London. As his daughter observed “His expenses were far too much for his very small pay. He appealed to the Dean to no avail, and felt deserted by the Church in Belfast.”11 Once again settled in London, his radicalism rekindled, he became a member of the Communist Party, and returned to his previous profession of journalism. It does appear, that following this personal crisis, Hilliard embarked upon another relationship with a woman with whom he lived with for a while in London. Despite this, it appears that he maintained close written contact with his wife and family. His daughter noted: I know that my mother never felt that the marriage was over, they never divorced, and I have his last communication to her from Spain which is very loving to her and all his children. I also have the letters from his wallet, forwarded from the hospital where he died, written most lovingly by my mother.12


By December 1936, Robert Hilliard had left for Spain to join the International Brigades, which were being established to defend the Spanish Republic against the forces of General Franco and the most reactionary elements of the Spanish military. The normal route taken by International Brigade volunteers was to travel in small groups or separately from London’s Victoria Station on a day trip ferry ticket to France via a British channel port, for example Dover. Once on French soil volunteers would head for Paris, where the French Communist Party would arrange accommodation and forward travel through France, usually to Perpignan, close to the Spanish border. From there the volunteers would cross the Pyrenees into Spain, taking care to avoid French military patrols charged with preventing the foreign volunteers making it across to the Spanish Republic. Active prevention of volunteers reaching Spain was in keeping with the position of the French and British governments’ position of “non-intervention” in Spain, a policy that was in contrast to the active support offered to Franco’s forces by the fascist regimes in Germany and Italy.13 Robert Hilliard appears to have followed this route, since his wife received a picture postcard dated 21/12/36 from Perpignan, which remains in his daughter’s possession. On this card he wrote: Dear Mummy, This is where I am today. Tomorrow elsewhere and quite safe and well. And see you in a month or two, Love Robert.14 In the face of the troops, tanks and planes being sent to Franco by the fascist regimes of Europe led by Hitler in Germany and Mussolini in Italy, anti-fascists felt that international solidarity against fascism was vital. For anti-fascists throughout the world, the war in Spain was clearly the harbinger of a second world war. Confronting fascism in Spain therefore became the overwhelming political issue of the day for all those on the left. Thousands of young anti-fascists, assisted by the organisational networks created by the constituent Communist Parties of the Third International, travelled through France and over the Pyrenees to participate in what would prove to be an extremely bloody and hard-fought war, with huge numbers of fatalities on both sides. The Spanish Civil War also introduced a new and terrifying aspect to modern warfare, the use of the indiscriminate bombing of towns and cities by the fascist airforce, most notably the bloody bombing of the Basque city of Guernica, immortalised by Picasso in his painting commemorating the massacre. In February 1937, having failed to take Madrid by frontal assault, Franco gave orders for the main road that linked the city to the rest of Republican Spain to be cut. A fascist force of 40,000 men crossed the Jarama River on 11 February 1937. In the Battle of Jarama alone, 7000 Republican soldiers gave their lives. The Rev. Robert M. Hilliard was injured in this battle, an event which led to his death. Less than three weeks before the Battle of Jarama commenced, Robert Hilliard was able to send a letter to his wife via members of a delegation from the Daily Worker


newspaper, who were visiting the British and Irish International Brigade volunteers: 24/1/37 My dear, Five minutes ago I got your letter. There is a D.W.15 delegation here who will take this back. They leave in ten minutes so I have time for no more than a card which will have an English postmark. Teach the kids to stand for democracy. Thanks for the parcels, I expect they have been forwarded to me, but posts are held up very long & especially parcels. Do not worry too much about me, I expect I shall be quite safe. I think I am going to make quite a good soldier. It was good to contribute to the Harry Pollitt fund.16 You'll get news in the Daily Worker from time to time. I still hate fighting but this time it has to be done, unless fascism is beaten in Spain & in the world it means war and hell for our kids. All the time when I am thinking of you & the children I am glad I have come. Give my love to Tim, Deirdre, Davnet & Kit. Write when you can, it will help – love to you, Robert.17 This brief letter was the last communication from Rev. Hilliard to his wife, and was written on a card in very hurried writing. It was delivered to Mrs Hilliard enclosed in an envelope when the delegation returned to Britain. His contemporaries at Trinity, his former comrades in Spain, and his former parishioners in Derriaghy remembered Robert Hilliard, a popular and a complex man, with affection and admiration. In fact in 1972, a former comrade of his from the International Brigade, although himself an agnostic, presented to Christ Church, Derriaghy, Hilliard’s first parish, a communion chalice, paten and cruet in his memory. He retained contacts with his alma mater, and shortly after his death the Trinity College Magazine, TCD: A College Miscellany, in an issued dated 27 March 1937, published a letter from Robert Hilliard from Spain. It is a vivid and revealing account which has lain largely forgotten since then in the Trinity College archives. It does not appear to have been posted to the magazine for publication, but rather it seems to have been an extract from a letter sent to a third party who, possibly hearing of Hilliard’s death, forwarded it to the TCD editor for publication. The editor’s introductory comments refers to Hilliard as a “sometime editor of TCD” which rather suggests that Hilliard had close connections with the magazine whilst a student at Trinity. We came from France in motor lorries. Spirits were high. Speaking one to another we said “Franco has heard we are coming, already he is on the run” In the morning we were in the barracks at Figueras. The commandant arrived and we were given the choice of a day’s rest or of moving on. Unanimously we voted to move. Fours hours sleep and breakfast. Then the train to Barcelona. We marched through Barcelona. What a march! Everywhere the people were out to salute - the clenched fist-anti-fascist salute, but in particular I remember one woman. She was about four feet in height, she wore a brown shawl with a design at the border - a shawl very like what an Irish woman from the country wears in town on market days. She carried a basket on her left arm, but her right arm was raised, and her hand clenched in the anti-fascist salute


Her face though was what mattered. Her hair was black, her forehead wrinkled and heavy lines marked the sides of her mouth. She stood to attention as we passed, nearly two hundred of us marching in fours, and her mouth was moving rapidly up and down, holding back the tears. She was a brave old lady. Who knows whom she had lost in the fight against fascism? In the train from Barcelona to Albicete, via Valencia, in my carriage was another woman – this time much younger. In her arms was a baby, she showed us her Communist Party card and a document to say that she had certain rights and privileges with regard to transport and food. This was signed by the highest government authorities. With difficulty we could understand what she said. She had been a commandant in the Woman’s Militia in Madrid. She was sent back, because of her baby, still at her breast, but fighting in the capital were her husband and two sons. The older son was 18. Through Albicete to somewhere in Spain we advanced. Somewhere in Spain the Work began - a couple of hundred of us doing manoeuvres, learning the art of guerrilla warfare. Now we are 500 strong, a battalion. We were fortunate. The commander of our battalion had the experience of an imperialist army behind him. He also had advantages unknown to any imperialist army in the world - he knew and knows the worst in men, also the best. He fought for us, he secured English food for us, he determined we should not go into the line untrained. When we go - before this is read in England - we shall be a shock battalion, the best battalion in the international column. First the commander enforced discipline. This was the hardest job that faced him, as far as we could see. Many of us had come out here thinking we were joining a “Red Army” a “Workers’ Army” or a “ People’s Army”. It was thought that the words “Red,” “Workers’,” or “People’s” nullified the word “Army” with the result that not infrequently a volunteer was heard to say “You can’t do that there ’ere this is a ‘so and so’ army. This arose chiefly from the fact that only a few understood the significance of the word Army. It was thought that we could elect our own officers, or alternatively depose them at will. In fact, our officers are appointed by the Government of Spain, and short of proven incompetence remain as such. The practice of electing officers had been tried out in anarchist battalions in the early stages of the war with results that compelled all parties to agree to permanent appointments. Some of us imagined that everybody in the battalion had come to Spain with the same political understanding as an advanced anti-fascist fighter. The fact is that only a percentage – a very high percentage understood the full implications of fascism and although the great majority realise the ultimate significance in world politics played by the International Column, there are definitely some whose anti-fascism is born of instinct rather than of reason. Such obstacles, added to which were the bad elements which will always find their way into any


Democratic army, the Commandant McCartney had to overcome. But the fact that it was a Democratic, though not a “RED” nor a Workers’ army came to his aid. The political organisations did their job. The Communist Party and the Labour Party at work amongst the soldiers worked wonders. Comrade Springhall, political commissar to the battalion, started with a lecture which summed up the nature of our struggle against fascism, to the effect that fascism could not be fought by individuals – that only collective effort of all democrats could ensure victory; that as a democratic army we could command the best brains in the world, brains which as sectarians would be denied us; that in contradistinction to an imperialist army, political thought and activity were encouraged; and finally, and in conclusion, to sum up that the army believed that the greater the political activity the stronger and more effective would be the fight against fascism. Arising out of this talk, political commissars were appointed to each company. To each section, 40 men approx. and to each group 12 men approx. political delegates were elected. In some cases the delegates were communists and in some cases members of the Labour Party. Communist cells, Labour Party and Trade Union Sections met, with the result that political lectures were arranged and the conscious understanding of the anti-fascist war brought new life to the battalion. Voluntary military training was undertaken during our spare time. Machine gun instruction and rifle drill were the most popular. Red Cross lectures were well attended, but most important of all, the battalion, besides volunteering to fight fascism in the abstract, had undertaken to overcome a concrete enemy of the working class, and in order to do so they had volunteered to obey orders from the competent military authorities of the Spanish Army.18 Shortly after this account was written, Robert Hilliard’s battalion took part in an heroic defence of the Spanish Republic’s lines in the battle of Jarama. On 12 February, at what became known as ‘Suicide Hill’, the Republicans suffered heavy casualties. The British and Irish battalion was forced to order a retreat back to the next ridge, that is off the road between San Martin de la Vega and Morata de Tajuna. The Fascists then advanced up ‘Suicide Hill’ and were routed by Republican machine-gun fire; it is believed that Robert Hilliard was later hit alongside three others, whilst attempting to slow the advance of fascist tanks. Hilliard was severely wounded, three others died on the spot, oddly enough, another fatality of the Battle of Jarama, a man who fought directly alongside Hilliard, was Eamon McGrotty a former Christian Brother from Derry. Robert Hilliard’s daughter Deirdre recalls him in most affectionate terms: I remember him as being a very loving father, a shoulder to ride on, a rescuer of small girls from the usual scrapes, smelling of tobacco and tweed, and who read or told grand stories at bedtime. We wanted him back, and were sure until that dreadful day that he would come.19


Robert Hilliard, unlike his three comrades, survived long enough, despite his severe wounds, to be evacuated from the battlefield at Jarama. He was moved to a Republican military hospital in the Mediterranean coastal town of Benicasim. The Reverend Hilliard survived until the 22nd of February 1937. Information appeared in 2004 on the Abraham Lincoln Brigade Asssociation (ALBA) website, from a Spanish Newspaper 'El Domingo’ (Levante) dated 14/11/2004, in an article on the Hospitals at Benicasim, that “Robert Martin Hilliard an International Brigader …died of his wounds at Castellon , near Benicasim and had been buried there with full Military Honours.” The International Brigade Archives in Moscow also contains the following memorandum: 27/2/1937 Service de Cuadros(Albacete) to Peter Kerrigan,(XVth International Brigade Chief Commissar).The Comrade Robert M.Hillard,died on the 22nd inst. Admitted to Hospital on the 17/2/1937.Buried at Benicasim. Solemnly buried in the presence of a delegation from Benicasim Hospital.” 20 The Irish national broadcaster RTE 1 commissioned a film documentary in July 2005 on the life of Robert Hilliard, broadcast in March 2006, the documentary entitled “Black Sheep?” involved the author and Hilliard’ s great niece Sara Hilliard in tracing her relatives final resting place in the military section of the municipal cemetery in Castillon. Ms Hilliard placed a commemorative tribute from the family on the communal grave, the definitive identification of this final resting place, and the confirmation that the Rev. RM Hilliard had been buried with full military honours, was received with great relief by Robert Hilliard’s daughter Deirdre Davey. The International Brigade comprised some 45,000 volunteers from 54 countries and included approximately 200 Irishmen, over 60 of whom, including Robert Hilliard from Killarney, made the ultimate sacrifice of their lives on Spanish soil. In 1996 all the surviving members of the International Brigade were issued with formal invitations to return to Spain to be conferred with Spanish citizenship by King Juan Carlos. Hundreds of elderly volunteers made an immense personal effort to return for the ceremony. These elderly returning volunteers reported that they were overwhelmed by the huge warmth of their reception. Hundreds of thousands of the citizens of democratic Spain turned out to salute them. This final tribute, had been promised to them by the famous Spanish Republican political leader, La Pasionara (Dolores Ibarurri), 58 years earlier in a famous valedictory oration to the International Brigades on the occasion of their departure in Barcelona on October 28 1938. You can go proudly. You are History. You are Legend. You are the heroic example of democracy’s solidarity and universality. We shall not forget you, and when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves again, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic’s victory - come back!21


A contingent of elderly Irish Brigadiers, including men who had fought at the battle of Jarama alongside Robert Hilliard, were present for the ceremony and proudly accepted this unique tribute from the people of Spain, not only on their behalf, but most importantly for their many comrades who had fallen as young men sixty years before. _______________

Note about the author: John Corcoran lectures in International Economics at the University of Limerick. He is the co-author with Dr D Watson of “An Inspiring Example- the North East of England and the defence of the Spanish Republic”. He has visited the battlefield at Jarama and photographs he has taken of the British and Irish Brigades positions during the battle can be seen online at Notes and references: 1) Denis Carrol, Unusual Suspects - Twelve Radical Clergy, Columbia Press, London, 1998, p. 249 2) The Sizarship was an award for students from Co. Kerry, and, at the time Hilliard received it, it was given for achieving good examination results. 3) Stephen Hilliard, ‘The Boxing Parson’, Resource, Spring, 1988, pp. 14-15. 4) References to Hilliard’s singular approach to Marxism are made in Connolly Column by M. O’Riordan, New Books, Dublin 1979 (republished by Warren and Pell Publishing, Pontypool, 2005), also in Crusade in Spain by Jason Gurney (Faber and Faber, London, 1974), and in Britons in Spain by William Rust, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1939. 5) The author is indebted to Ms Deirdre Davey, the Rev. R M Hilliard’s daughter, who noted this detail in personal correspondence with the author in December 2004 (hereafter referred to as Correspondence). 6) Student Radicals- From “High Ball”- official magazine of the Gaelic Athletics Association- Feabhra 2002 7) Correspondence. 8) Correspondence. 9) ‘The Boxing Parson’, pp. 15-16. 10) Correspondence. 11) Correspondence. 12) Correspondence. 13) Fuller details of the arrangements for the clandestine entry of International Brigade volunteers into Republican Spain can be found in An Inspiring Example - The North East of England and the Spanish Civil War 1936-39 by D. Watson and JG Corcoran The McGuffin Press, London, 1996 pp. 30-31. Further details on recruitment, transport, and infiltration of volunteers into Spain are to be found throughout British Volunteers for Liberty 1936-39, by Bill Alexander, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1982. 14) Quoted verbatim from personal correspondence between Robert Hilliard and his wife, 1937, a copy of which was given to the author by his daughter, Deirdre. 15) Daily Worker-The daily newspaper of the Communist Party of Great Britain. 16) Mrs Hilliard had donated 5 shillings to the Harry PollittFfund. Harry Pollitt was the General Secretary of the Communist Party of Great Britain and the fund was established to provide humanitarian aid to the people of Republican Spain


17) Correspondence. 18) CD: A College Miscellany, 27/3/1937, Trinity College Magazine, Dublin. 19) Correspondence 20) International Brigades Moscow Archives,.545/6/148.Page 22/28 . Reel No.5/Page No 000007. 21) ‘Connolly Column’-The Story of the Irishmen who Fought for the Spanish Republic – p 136- by Michael O’Riordan, Warren and Pell Publishing, 2005 edition.

`Our History’ continues to receive requests from authors, students and researchers about Party history; readers are asked to assist wherever they can directly but do let us know anything of interest you pass on.

EVENTS IN EAST BERLIN June 1953? From: Charles Leeming “I am a modern history undergraduate, at New College, Oxford; I am in the process of writing my thesis…I am concentrating on tensions in the CPGB in the mid-1950s. Obviously, the majority of literature concerns 1956 and its impact on the party. I wanted, however, to investigate the implications of the East Berlin uprising and see if this acted as a forerunner to events in 1956. I am finding it hard to come across material on the reaction of CP members to Berlin (there is no mention of it in the EC minutes at the Labour Party archive). If you had any (off-hand) information that may help me in my research, it would be fantastic. Do you know of any members who may have left the party in 1953, 54 ... and cited Berlin as a possible factor in their decision? Also, if you had any knowledge of sources that may be of use it would be a brilliant aid. kind regards, Charles Leeming @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@


Information on Jack Carney, Irish American? I am seeking information on Jack Carney (1889-1956). I understand he was working in London at the time of his death in 1956. Prior to that he had been in Ireland during the 1930s as well as being there for the Dublin Lock-Out in 1913. He was a close friend of Jim Larkin and James Connolly. Afterwards, during the 1920s, he was the editor of various newspapers associated with the Labor movement in America and was a founding member of the American Communist Party. I am trying to fill in a few gaps in his life story and wondered if anyone knew if was involved with the British Communist Party during his time in London in the 1940s and 1950s.

e-mail: Jean Morris

Opposition trends in the Communist Party I am currently researching a project on revolutionary oppositions inside the CPGB in the post-war period in which I will deal with: [1] Early oppositions: the Upwards, Eric Heffer, Harry McShane; [2] Maoist oppositions of the 1960s: Bill Bland, Michael McCreery, Reg Birch; The Appeal Group; [3] Sid French/Surrey (and allies such as Hants and Dorset); Formation of NCP; NCP splits that re-entered the CPGB: The Leninist, Proletarian. The basic thrust of the research is to tell the story of those comrades who were concerned to oppose the development of the British Road to Socialism and what they saw as the CPGB's growing reformism. It aims to explain why such groups kept appearing and why they failed in their aims. By and large, these groupings have been ignored by academic researchers. Thus far I have had help from ex and current members of the Appeal Group, the NCP, the CPB (M-L) and the Leninist. I have managed to assemble a pretty hefty chunk of primary and secondary written sources but if anyone was involved in any of these groupings or has impressions from the time to share I'd be very grateful for the help. Contact: Lyndon White @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@


Lost Spanish IB volunteers? I am researching people from the north of Scotland who went to Spain in 1936-39 and am hoping to find more information about them. These are all the details I possess, anything more anyone can add would be priceless: Shaw, Andrew. F. W. Inverness. Born: 25/09/1899; Occupation: Joiner/Dispatch Clerk. Lived in Glasgow; a member of the Communist Party. Served in the First World War 1915-1919 was an observer in No 4 Company of the British Battalion. Repatriated from Spain in December 1938. Milton, Robert Date of birth not certain, possibly 28/6/1917; Postal Workers Union, YCL; born Brodick, Arran; repatriated from Spain 1938. Any help is much appreciated! Frank Ward St Barrs, Dornoch, Sutherland Tel 01862 811233 @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

Communist Intellectuals: early Years Terry Irving I am writing a book about Vere Gordon Childe (1892-1957) and Esmonde Higgins (1897-1960). Childe, a Marxist and one of the world’s leading pre-historians, organised the defence of his friend, Rajani Palme Dutt, when Dutt was gaoled for resisting conscription in the First World War. Always close to the CP, Childe in 1951 proposed the toast to the Labour Monthly at its 30th birthday celebrations. Higgins joined the CPGB in 1921. He worked in the Labour Research Department and


on the Workers’ Weekly. Among his close friends were Harry Pollitt, Tom Wintringham, Andrew Rothstein, and Rose Cohen. Returning to Australia, Higgins played a leading role in the Communist Party and the adult education movement. He fell out with the Stalinists leaders of the CPA in the 1940s but remained a socialist and a Marxist. Both Childe and Higgins focused their Marxism on the strategic issues connected to the road to socialism, particularly the relationships between militant unionists, a revolutionary party, and Labour (reformist) governments. The main exhibit on this is Childe’s book, published by the Communist-influenced Labour Publishing Company in 1923, How Labour Governs, which Higgins wrote about at that time and in the 1950s. Deeper questions concerning how the working class’s interests are ‘represented’ were also raised by their writings. Even though the composition of the working class has changed, and new movements seeking to organise its gender, race, and generational cohorts have arisen, those questions are still crucial for Marxists. I am trying to make the book as accessible as possible. To that end I am appealing to readers of Our History who might have information about sources for the everyday lives of Communists in the 1920s. In particular, I would like to track down the letters from Higgins to Rose Cohen in 1923 and 24. Rose was then in Moscow, and I am sure (from her letters to him, which are in a Sydney library) that his letters would be full of insights into party life. Two years ago I wrote to Joyce Rathbone, who I was told had these letters, but she did not reply. Perhaps other members of the Rathbone family might be able to help in this matter. Some of the other names that turn up in Higgins’s correspondence are: Robin Page Arnot, Emile Burns, J.G. Crowther, Maurice Dobb, Clemens Dutt, Henry and Olive Parsons, Willie Paul, Hugo Rathbone, Joss Sanders, Arthur Serner, and Tommy Strudwick (with whom Higgins boarded). Any leads on them would be greatly appreciated. Readers might like to know that as a result of a visit by Higgins and his friends to Moscow in the summer of 1920 there are photos taken by Higgins of the young Rothstein and Wintringham in the Kremlin. These photos are in the Higgins papers in the State Library of New South Wales in Sydney. I was able to identify Rothstein with the help of Phil Dunn of the National Museum of Labour History in Manchester. I would also like to hear from other researchers on the history of 14

revolutionary movements in the first half of the 20th century. I can be contacted by email: Terry Irving Independent Scholar (formerly of the University of Sydney) @@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@@

W.H. (Harry) Thompson I am currently researching a history of Harry Thompson [1885-1947]. Thompson was a civil liberties and labour lawyer, conscientious objector in World War 1, founder member of the National Council for Civil Liberties (since renamed Liberty), and solicitor to James Ramsay MacDonald. He acted for George Lansbury and Poplar Borough Council and, although he was a member of the Communist Party for a short period only, he acted for and represented many of the accused in the great sedition trials in the 1930s. The research is now well advanced, but I am particularly keen to find details of cases, anecdotes and any other information relating to Harry Thompson or touching upon his life. If you have any details or information you think may help, please forward this to me preferably by e mail at:

Compendium of Communist Biographies: new names from February 2007 29 new entries on Graham Stevenson’s website, taking the total to nearly 500, from February 27th 2007 include: Alf Adler, Sid Atkin, Bert Baker, Ted Baker, Gerry Bradley, George Brown, Mary Brooksbank, Louie Davies, Tommy Degnan, Harold Dickenson,


Arthur Dooley, John Douglas, Marion Ramelson [more information sought], Cliff Rowe, Laurie Sapper, Cash Scorer, Jock Shanley, George Short, Betty Sinclair (thanks to CPI), Hugh Sloane, Ted Smallbone, Hilton Stewart, Doris Tuchfield, Shaukat Usmani [see special feature in this edition], Tom Vaughan, Chris Vowles, Iris Walker, Wally Ward, Joe Whelan, Syd Wilkins, David Arnold Wilson. Around 100 completed entries remain to be posted, and several score existing posted biographies to be added to, when time permits. Comrades are invited to ask about any they may be able to assist with or write themselves. Contact: All such contributors are always acknowledged unless a request not to do so is made. One of the most unusual of the new biographies follows‌.


Shaukat Usmani Born in 1901, Shaukat Usmani was an Indian Communist organiser who was sentenced to a total of 16 years in jail after being tried in the Kanpur (Cawnpore) Case of 1923 and later the Meerut Conspiracy Case of 1929. During the latter case, he stood unsuccessfully as a candidate in a British general election for the British Communist Party from his prison cell in India in the May 30th 1929 general election for the Yorkshire constituency of Spen Valley. Usmani is believed to be the only candidate ever to stand in a British General Election whilst resident in India. He stood twice as a Communist candidate in Britain once in Spen Valley, the area south of Leeds and Bradford and north west of Dewsbury and north east of Halifax that was then a major textile workers’ centre and again in South East St Pancras. The Spen Valley seat was significant since it was the focus of an attempt by the leader of a group of unambiguously right-leaning Liberals, Sir John Simon, to get back into Parliament and lead those Liberals who saw themselves as closer to the Tories and who would, in 1931, declare themselves Liberal Nationals and support the Ramsay MacDonald


government that spilt with Labour. Simon led the Liberal trend that wanted to abandon free trade and declare support for the immediate introduction of protection as a means to avert the economic crisis. He had been the man who declared in 1926 that the General Strike was illegal, and who in 1930 headed the Commission to report on the situation in India, which became known as the Simon Commission. Usmani’s selection arose from his prominence in the Meerut trial, which involved 33 trades unionists (three of them Englishmen), mostly wellknown figures in India. Because Usmani was a prisoner thousands of miles away, he was unable to conduct the campaign himself, so a deputy to represent him was chosen - one Billy Brain. “All available comrades in the West Riding branches together with Party leaders from London and Scotland led a hectic campaign which focussed attention on the conditions in India and showed that the crime of the Meerut prisoners was that they had sought to organise the Indian workers in Trade Unions in order to fight against the appalling conditions forced upon them by the management of British-owned companies. I went into the area as often as I could to lend a hand. If the people of the Spen Valley didn't know much about Meerut and British rule in India before the election they certainly knew before it finished, and from that point of view the campaign was extremely successful. [Ernie Benson “Starve or rebel” (1980)] It was common knowledge that Simon secured his Spen Valley seat in 1929, and a resultant cabinet post, as a result of a Tory abstention and many of the Liberal MPs who followed him into the Liberal National group were in a similar position. The formation of the breakaway group had a devastating impact on the future of the Liberal Party by dividing the Liberal vote and emphasising the organisation’s disunity. Meerut was also distinguished by the fact that it was a Labour government that had given the go-ahead to a political trial of the left. The Meerut prisoners had been arrested on or about March 20th, 1929, amidst wholesale raids and house searches. These arrests and raids were made the occasion of imposing military demonstrations in various places throughout British India. Attempts were made to justify the case by denouncing them as Communists, as many were but many of them had no connection with the Communist movement. For example, Lester Hutchinson, later released as innocent after spending four years in prison, was arrested as an afterthought when he took up the task of carrying on some of the trade union and agitational work after the arrest of the others, was a merely journalist on the Indian Daily Mail and unconnected with the Labour movement. The trial was long and controversial, enabling the Communist Party to again run Usmani in the 1931 general election for South East St Pancras against a Tory South African mining millionaire who was associated with the Cliveden set. It helped keep the case in the public eye to some extent.


But the election of a National Government was not good news for the Meerut prisoners and the case trundled on. The charge against the prisoners is of particular interest. “That in the year 1921 the … Communist International determined to establish a branch organisation in British India, and the accused … Shaukat Usmani and (others) entered into a conspiracy with certain other persons to establish such branch organisations with a view to deprive the King Emperor of his sovereignty of British India, and … carried out such plan of campaign with the assistance of … the Communist International... the accused formed a Workers and Peasants' Party at Meerut and there held a Conference thereof.” The complaint was essentially that of "incitement of antagonism between capital and labour", a phrase harkening back to the anti-combination laws in Britain of one hundred years before. The judgement contained the following admission from Mr. Justice Yorke: "As to the progress made in this conspiracy its main achievements have been the establishment of Workers and Peasant Parties in Bengal, Bombay and Punjab and the United Provinces, but perhaps of deeper gravity was the hold that the members of the Bombay Party acquired over the workers in the textile industry in Bombay as shown by the extent of the control which they exercised during the strike of 1928 and the success they were achieving in pushing forward a thoroughly revolutionary policy in the Girni Kamgar Union after the strike carne to an end." Usmani along with two others was sentenced to transportation for a period of 10 years. On appeal, in July 1933, the sentences were reduced and Usmani received 3 years `Rigorous Imprisonment’. Usmani had been a very early leading activist of the Communist Party of India (CPI), formed in October 1920 in the Soviet city of Tashkent by a small group of revolutionaries and becoming a section of the Comintern in 1921. The émigré party did not have more than 10 members at the time of formation but efforts were undertaken to build the party in India. The British government hit back with a series of legal assaults against CPI – in Peshawar (1922), Kanpur (1924) and Meerut (1929). The accused in the cases included, among others, important Communist organisers who worked in India, such as Muzaffar Ahmad, Nalini Gupta and S.V. Ghate, and members of the émigré party, such as Rafiq Ahmad and Shaukat Usmani. In the 1924 Conspiracy Case M.N. Roy, (who absconded), S.A. Dange, Muzaffar Ahmed, Nalini Gupta, Shaukat Usmani, Singaravelu Chettiar, Ghulam Hussain and others were charged on March 17, 1924 as Communists seeking "to deprive the king emperor of his sovereignty of British India, by complete separation of India from imperialistic Britain by a violent revolution." In May 1924, four of them, Dange, Muzaffar Ahmed, Gupta and Usmani were sentenced to four years' imprisonment each. By this stage, Usmani was operating underground under the nom de guerre of Sikander Sur. His Comintern code name was D A Naoroji (sometimes


wrongly rendered as Naoradji) and he is known to have attended the Sixth Congress of the Comintern. After Kanpur, Britain had triumphantly declared that the case had “finished off the communists". But a year after, the Communist Party of India was again formally set up at Kanpur itself, in the form of a Workers and Peasants Party. After Meerut and the publicity generated by Usmani’s honorary candidatures in Yorkshire and Yorkshire, the CPI and its descendents would go on to be a major mass electoral force in modern day India in the form of the CPI (Marxist) and the CPI. Much later in life, Usmani published several books. One was “Historic Trips of a Revolutionary - Sojourn in the Soviet Union”, New Delhi: Sterling Publishers - privately published limited edition, 1977). In this account, written in the mid-seventies, Shaukat Usmani describes three treks across the Soviet Union which he made in the 1920s, soon after the October Revolution. One begins in Peshawar, the second in Karachi, and the third in Delhi. These countries were at the time a part of India, but are now located in modern-day Pakistan. All of these treks ended in Moscow and at one point he describes his meeting with Stalin himself, which takes place during his first journey. During this meeting he negotiates his passage out of the Soviet Union and back to India, since once one established oneself for a stay in Moscow at that time; it was very difficult to leave the city. He gives an account of his part in the émigré Communist Party of India, and other examples of progress in his homeland like the Indian Military School. He gives colourful descriptions of his stays in Moscow, during which he lodges at the Hotel Delovoi Dvor (which has a meaning something akin to the “Business Courtyard”), and boards at the Hotel De Lux, once a gathering place for Communist leaders from all over the world. He also describes a trip from Tashkent through the Ukraine to Crimea. This book is focused mainly on the Middle Eastern states of the Soviet Union. Usmani also published “Four Travellers” [Karachi, Usta Publications Corp. 1950; First English Edition (originally published in 1939 as "Char Yatri" in Hindi and "Char Musafir" in Urdu)] An account of a journey through Jagdalak, Kabul, Mazar-i-Sharif, Tirmiz, Comsomol, Bukhara and Samarkand, this was a fact based novel about the trip of four Indian revolutionaries to the Turkestan republics, the central Asian part of the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Usmani died in 1978.

Graham Stevenson Thanks to Michael Walker for initiating this research.



Our History Bulletin 5  

East Berlin Robert Hilliard

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