Google+ Followers

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Chilcot Inquiry

There have been some interesting revelations at the Chilcot Inquiry. However, the most noticeable thing about the inquiry is the failure of the committee to ask penetrating questions. On several occasions witnesses have made fascinating comments but committee members have failed to ask follow-up questions. This is not difficult to understand when you look at the membership of the Chilcot Committee.

Sir John Chilcot, a former Whitehall mandarin who spent years at the Northern Ireland office (note the Ireland connection to all the Iraq investigations).

Sir Lawrence Freedman, an establishment historian who was a foreign policy advisor to Tony Blair (wrote most of Blair’s speech on “liberal intervention” in 1999.

Sir Martin Gilbert, Conservative historian who is the unofficial spokesman for Israel’s foreign policy. During the Iraq invasion he wrote that Blair and Bush “may well, with the passage of time and the opening of the archives, join the ranks of Roosevelt and Churchill”.

Sir Roderic Lyne, a former ambassador to Russia.

Lady Prashar, a former first civil service commissioner.

Margaret Aldred, director general of the foreign and defence policy secretariat at the Cabinet Office.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Guy Alfred Aldred

Guy Alfred Aldred is one of my heroes. Several times in his life he made a stand for what at the time was an unpopular cause.

In January 1907, Aldred began work for The Daily Chronicle. He also ran his own small publishing company. In 1910 the courts banned The Indian Sociologist, an Indian nationalist newspaper edited by Shyamji Krishnavarma. Over the issue of free speech he printed the August edition of the journal and as a result he was sentenced to twelve months hard labour.

Aldred was a strong opponent of the First World War and publicized his views in his newspaper The Spur. Due to heavy losses at the Western Front the government decided in 1916 to introduce conscription (compulsory enrollment). The Military Service Act of January 1916 specified that single men between the ages of 18 and 41 were liable to be called-up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of religion. Conscription started on 2nd March 1916.

On 14th April 1916, Aldred was arrested and charged with failing to report for Military Service. When he appeared in court he explained that he refused to fight because he was a conscientious objector. On 4th May he was fined £5 and handed him over to the military authorities. At his Court Martial on 17th May he was sentenced to six month military detention.

Aldred refused to comply with military orders and on 27th June he was sentenced to nine months hard labour. On the 4th July 1916, Aldred was moved to Winchester Prison and the following month he was transferred to the village of Dyce in the north of Scotland where a camp of tents had been erected. Over the next few months a total of sixty nine conscientious objectors died in these work camps.

Aldred escaped from the camp but was arrested in London on 1st November 1916 and sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison. On 28th March 1917, Aldred was released from prison and taken under escort to Exeter Military Camp. He was given another order but he refused and was confined to the guardroom. Two months later he was taken to Deepcot Military Camp and when he refused to parade he was once again remanded for Court Martial.

On 17th May 1917 Aldred was sentenced to 18 months hard labour and sent to Wandsworth Prison. Over the next few months there was considerable unrest and protest by the conscientious objectors. The ringleaders, which included Aldred, were sentenced to 42 days of solitary confinement with 3 days on bread and water and then 3 days off while locked in a bare unheated basement cell.

Aldred continued to refuse military orders and on 20th August 1918 he was transferred to Blackdown Barracks and was once again placed on remand for Court Martial. Throughout his terms of imprisonment Aldred managed to smuggle out several articles to Rose Witcop who published them in their paper The Spur.

The First World War ended on 11th November 1918 but he was not released on licence until 7th January 1919. He travelled to Glasgow where he addressed a large meeting in St Mungo Halls, York Street, where he spoke on "The Present Struggle for Liberty". On 10th March, 1918 Aldred was arrested while speaking on Clapham Common and was taken to Wandsworth Prison. He stated that he would not eat or work until he was released from his illegal and vindictive imprisonment. He was released after four days.

Aldred and his partner, Rose Witcop, joined the campaign for birth-control information that had began by Marie Stopes when she published a concise guide to contraception called Wise Parenthood. Her book upset the leaders of the Church of England who believed it was wrong to advocate the use of birth control. Roman Catholics were especially angry, as the Pope had made it clear that he condemned all forms of contraception. Despite this opposition, Stopes continued her campaign and in 1921 founded the Society for Constructive Birth Control. With financial help from her rich second husband, Humphrey Roe, Marie also opened the first of her birth-control clinics in Holloway on 17th March 1921.

Aldred and Witcop published several pamphlets on birth-control and in 1923 they were both arrested for distributing material written by Margaret Sanger. Although found guilty they were not sent to prison.

Sir Walter Strickland, a long-time supporter of Aldred, died on August 1938. He left Aldred £3,000 and with this money he bought some second-hand printing machinery and established The Strickland Press. Over the next 25 years Aldred published regular issues of the United Socialist Movement organ, The Word and various pamphlets on things he cared about. This included attacks on fascism, capitalism and communism.

Guy Aldred continued to promote social justice until his death on 16th October 1963. As one historian has pointed out: "Guy Alfred Aldred had worked ceaselessly at his propaganda, writing, publishing and public speaking, he took on injustices wherever he saw it. He had spoken at every May Day for 60 years except the years he spent in prison. He never once asked for a fee nor sought personal gain, throughout his 62 years of campaigning his principles never faltered."

Marie Stopes Rejection Letter in 1917

In 1914 Marie Stopes began writing a book about feminism and marriage. In her book Married Love, Stopes argued that marriage should be an equal relationship between husband and wife. However, she had great difficulty finding a publisher. Walter Blackie of Blackie & Son rejected her manuscript with the words: "The theme does not please me. I think there is far too much talking and writing about these things already… Don't you think you should wait publication until after the war? There will be few enough men for the girls to marry; and a book like this would frighten off the few." Blackie objected to passages such as, "far too often, marriage puts an end to women's intellectual life. Marriage can never reach its full stature until women possess as much intellectual freedom and freedom of opportunity within it as do their partners."

Monday, 7 December 2009

Clem Beckett and David Beckham

In the early 1930s Clem Beckett was one of the best-known sportsman in the UK. As Graham Stevenson has pointed out: "His trade was of a blacksmith but, faced with victimisation and depression after the late 1920s, he started riding the Dome of Death at fairgrounds. So, stunning and confident was his mastery of this feat that, in no short time he had became famous as Dare Devil Beckett, the man who rode the Wall of Death and who broke world records."

He became a speedway rider for Belle Vue, a team based in Manchester. According to John Snowdon: "When speedway was first introduced to this country many greyhound stadium owners jumped on the bandwagon. Young kids were persuaded to race irrespective of their experience and many were killed or seriously injured. Clem Beckett... played a major part in setting up a trades union for riders that stopped this lethal exploitation." George Sinfield later commented: "Beneath his leather jacket beat a heart of gold. It was a heart that throbbed in rhythm with the struggle of the working people."

Stevenson has argued: "The then relatively new sport of speedway motorcycle racing was massively popular amongst young working class people in the 1930s. It is diffcult to imagine quite how much so; but, arguably, Clem Beckett was the David Beckham of his day. Young men aspired to his skill and daring and young women swooned over his dashing appearance!"

There was one way Stevenson was unlike Beckham. He saw himself as a representative of the working-class and was active in the campaign to gain access to open spaces in what is now the Peak District National Park. In 1932 he took part in what became known as the Kinder Trespass. Joseph Norman was one of those activists who worked alongside Beckett: "My first real experience of political activity was the mass trespass on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire which eventually led to the designation of the area as a National Park. Dozens of those that fought the police and landowners on that mass trespass were... men like Clem Beckett."

Clem Beckett also campaigned against the growth of fascism and in 1936 joined the International Brigades. Beckett wrote to his wife from the front-line at Jarama: "I'm sure you'll realise that I should never have been satisfied had I not assisted. Only my hatred of Fascism brought me here."

Clem Beckett and his friend, the poet, Christopher Caudwell, took control of a Charcot light machine-gun at the Battle of Jarma. On 12th February, 1937, at what became known as Suicide Hill, the Republicans suffered heavy casualties. Hugh Thomas, the author of The Spanish Civil War (1961) has commented: "A mere two hundred and twenty-five out of the original six hundred members of the British Battalion were left at the end of the day." Beckett's friend, George Sinfield, later pointed out: "Clem and Chris were posted at a vital point. They faced innumerable odds: artillery, planes, and howling Moors throwing hand-grenades. Their section was ordered to retire. Clem and Chris kept their machine-gun trained on the advancing fascists, as a cover to the retreat. The advance was halted, but Clem and Chris... lost their lives." He was 31 years old.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Ethel MacDonald and Bob Smillie

Ethel MacDonald is one of those important people who rarely is found in history books. One of nine children, she was born in Bellshill on 24th February 1909. She left home at sixteen and did a variety of jobs over the next couple of years. MacDonald joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and in 1931 she met Guy Aldred in Glasgow. Impressed by her revolutionary zeal he appointed her secretary of the Anti-Parliamentary Communist Federation (APCF), an organization formed by Aldred in 1921. The APCF was breakaway group from the Communist Party of Great Britain.

In June 1934 MacDonald and Aldred and were both involved in the formation of the United Socialist Movement (USM), an anarcho-communist political organisation based in Scotland. Several members of the Independent Labour Party who had lost their belief in the parliamentary road to socialism joined the party.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War she travelled with Jenny Patrick, Aldred's wife, to Barcelona as a representative of the USM. Soon afterwards she was employed by the CNT-FAI's foreign language information centre. Later she gave nightly English-language political broadcasts on Radio Barcelona.

On 14th November, 1936 Buenaventura Durruti arrived in Madrid from Aragón with his Anarchist Brigade. Six days later Durruti was killed. Ethel MacDonald claimed that Durruti had been killed by a member of the Communist Party (PCE). MacDonald did what she could do investigate the killing.

MacDonald soon had a strong following for her radio broadcasts. The Glasgow Herald reported: "A prominent news editor in Hollywood says that he has received hundred of letters concerning Ethel MacDonald, stating that the writers, in all parts of the USA and Canada, enjoyed her announcements and talks from Barcelona radio, not because they agreed with what she said, but because they thought she had the finest radio speaking voice they had ever heard."

On the 3rd May 1937, Rodriguez Salas, the Chief of Police, ordered the Civil Guard and the Assault Guard to take over the Telephone Exchange, which had been operated by the CNT since the beginning of the Spanish Civil War. Members of the CNT in the Telephone Exchange were armed and refused to give up the building. Members of the CNT, FAI and POUM became convinced that this was the start of an attack on them by the UGT, PSUC and the PCE and that night barricades were built all over the city.

Fighting broke out on the 4th May. Later that day the anarchist ministers, Federica Montseny and Juan Garcia Oliver, arrived in Barcelona and attempted to negotiate a cease-fire. When this proved to be unsuccessful, Juan Negrin, Vicente Uribe and Jesus Hernández called on Francisco Largo Caballero to use government troops to takeover the city. Largo Caballero also came under pressure from Luis Companys, the leader of the PSUC, not to take this action, fearing that this would breach Catalan autonomy.

On 6th May death squads assassinated a number of prominent anarchists in their homes. The following day over 6,000 Assault Guards arrived from Valencia and gradually took control of Barcelona. It is estimated that about 400 people were killed during what became known as the May Riots. During this crackdown MacDonald assisted the escape of anarchists wanted by the Communist secret police. As a result she became known as the "Scots Scarlet Pimpernel".

On 12th June, 1937, Bob Smillie, a member of the Independent Labour Party, who had been fighting with the POUM forces, died while being held by the Valencia police. He officially died from peritonitis. However, rumours began to circulate that he had died following a beating in his prison cell. MacDonald now began writing newspaper articles and making radio broadcasts claiming that Smillie had been executed by the secret police.

Eventually she herself was arrested by the authorities. She later told the Glasgow Evening Times: "My arrest was typical of the attitude of the Communist Party... Assault Guards and officials of the Public Order entered the house in which I lived late one night. Without any explanation they commenced to go through thoroughly every room and every cupboard in the house. After having discovered that which to them was sufficient to hang me - revolutionary literature etc."

Fenner Brockway of the Independent Labour Party worked behind the scenes to obtain MacDonald's release. He argued "she is an anarchist and has no connection with our party". On 8th July 1937, Ethel MacDonald was released in prison. However, within a few days she was rearrested again and spent another 12 days in captivity. When she was freed she went into hiding in Barcelona. She wrote to Guy Aldred and told him: "I am still here and unable to leave the country legally. I am in hiding... I cannot get a visa. If I apply I shall be arrested."

Ethel MacDonald's mother received a letter from Helen Lennox saying that her daughter's was in danger because of what she knew about the Bob Smillie case: "The Secret Service operating today in Spain comes by night and its victims are never seen again. Bob Smillie they didn't dare to bump off openly, but he may have suffered more because of that. Your Ethel certainly believes his death was intended. She prophesied it before his death took place, and said he would not be allowed out of the country with the knowledge he had. What worries me more than anything is that Ethel has already been ill and would be easy prey for anyone trying to make her death appear natural."

In September 1937 MacDonald managed to escape from Spain. After leaving the country she made speeches on the way the Communist Party (PCE) had been acting in during the Spanish Civil War in Paris and Amsterdam. She returned to Glasgow in November, 1937 and in a speech to 300 people at Central Station she said: "I went to Spain full of hopes and dreams. It promised to be utopia realised. I return full of sadness, dulled by the tragedy I have seen. I have lived through scenes and events that belong to the French revolution."

MacDonald also argued that Bob Smillie had been killed by the officials of the Communist Party (PCE). According to Daniel Gray, the author of Homage to Caledonia (2008): "she did her utmost to convince the public that Bob Smillie had been murdered, alleging that the secret police had assassinated him in cold blood."

David Murray, the Independent Labour Party representative in Spain, denied this and he wrote to John McNair saying: "Ethel MacDonald has been quite a trouble and my tactics are to choke her off. Murray's story was accepted until George Orwell arrived back in London. In his book, Homage to Catalonia (1938), Orwell argued that Smillie had died "an evil and meaningless death".

Alex Smillie, Bob's father, became convinced that his son had been murdered. David Murray wrote to him arguing: "I am convinced, and this I can affirm on oath, that Bob died a natural death. All my observations and impressions lead me to this conclusion. Judgement is a human thing and liable to error, but in spite of every curious and mysterious circumstance, I am convinced that Bob was never ill-treated nor was he done to death."

Georges Kopp, Smillie's commander in Spain, also argued that Smillie had been murdered: "The doctor states that Bob Smillie had the skin and the flesh of his skin perforated by a powerful kick delivered by a foot shod in the nailed boot; the intestines were partly hanging outside. Another blow had severed the left side connection between the jaw and the skull and the former was merely hanging on the right side. Bob died about 30 minutes after reaching the hospital."

It seems that the ILP joined forces with the Communist Party to cover-up the death of Bob Smillie. The argument being that if it became widely known that the communists were killing anarchists and the followers of Trotsky, this would only help Franco and the fascists. It is time the truth was told.

You can find a video about Ethel MacDonald here:

A full discussion of the Bob Smillie death can be found here: