Henry Noel Brailsford

Henry Noel Brailsford

Henry Noel Brailsford was born in Mirfield, a Yorkshire colliery town, on 25th December 1873. Henry's father, Edward John Brailsford (1841–1921), was a Wesleyan Methodist preacher who mainly worked in Edinburgh and Glasgow. His mother was Clara Pooley Brailsford (1843–1944).

Brailsford was educated at George Watson's College (1883-84) and Dundee High School (1885-90). He later recalled: "The playground was our kingdom.... Sometimes we played football, sometimes we rehearsed Bannockhurn or Flodden Fell. Sometimes, in our later years, we argued hotly and eagerly about Atheism or Socialism, and the creation of the world. We were of all classes and origins. Farmers' sons, and sailors' sons, rubbed shoulders with the children of the manse, and the progeny of our dignified Lord Provost. The janitor's boy... I moved among us as happily as the headmaster's son and the heirs of retired Colonels and Anglo-Indian officials. It was a world in which even eccentricity could thrive, and individuality command respect."

In his five years at Dundee High School he began to develop as a classicist. He won the Dux Prize in English and won a scholarship to study at the University of Glasgow. As a student he came under the influence of one of his tutors, Gilbert Murray. The author of The Last Dissenter: H. N. Brailsford and his World (1985) has pointed out: "In 1891... a return to his parents' home proved brief, the daily contact intensifying the friction between father and son. The university had not merely opened horizons to him: it had liberated him from the constraints of his upbringing and brought him into contact with others for whom religion had lost its meaning. While he shared little in undergraduate camaraderie, the stimulation of his classes and Murray's protective influence eased his isolation."

Brailsford received his Master of Arts degree in November 1894. He decided he would pursue an academic career and was employed as an assistant lecturer. While in Newcastle during the 1895 General Election he heard James Keir Hardie address a public meeting. He was so impressed with what he heard that he established a university branch of the Independent Labour Party. One of the first people to join was one of his students, Jane Esdon Malloch. Other members included Norman Leys, Ronald Montague Burrows and Alexander MacCallum Scott. Brailsford also joined the Fabian Society.

At the end of the academic year Robert Adamson decided not to renew Brailsford's contract, claiming that he "had mistaken his vocation". This followed several complaints from students who found his teaching "unintelligible". Gilbert Murray tried to intercede on his behalf, but Adamson convinced him that the decision was irrevocable. However, Adamson did think that Brailsford had an outstanding mind and recommended to his friend, C. P. Scott, the editor of The Manchester Guardian, that he would make a good journalist. "He is an excellent scholar.... with a turn for writing and of the kind that would be useful to you." At the time there were no full-time posts available but would consider him for freelance work.

In April 1897 Brailsford decided to abandon his academic career and became a journalist working on the Scots Pictorial. During this period Brailsford broke off contact with his father. According to his biographer, F. M. Leventhal: "Rebelling against the puritanical regimen of his upbringing, Brailsford became estranged from his father, whose attempt to shield him from immorality by imposing teetotalism and a distinctive outfit had only made him self-conscious."

Brailsford had fallen in love with one of his former students, Jane Esdon Malloch. His friends warned him against her. Alexander MacCallum Scott believed she was a neurotic who would prevent Brailsford from ever accomplishing anything in literature. Another friend said "she had no heart and would never love anyone". In December 1896, just as she was about to leave for a year at Somerville College, he asked her to marry him. Given the way she had been treating him, it was no surprise when she refused him.

In April 1897 he joined the Philhellenic Legion, a volunteer force fighting for the Greeks in their struggle with Turkey. His war experiences gave him the material for his only novel, The Broom of the War God (1898). In the novel he recalled the first time he ever used his rifle: "His hand trembled: he dreaded the recall, though he had already become perfectly familiar with the service rifle at the Athenian ranges. But to fire with the hope and the dread of dealing death was a wholly new experience. When the deafening volley at last rang out, he felt certain that his grip had slackened and his bullet fallen wide of its doubtful target."

As one critic pointed out: "Brailsford lacked narrative gifts, but he was able to provide a vivid depiction of the war. The drama of the battle scenes and the psychological insight shown in the treatment of his hero's growing self-awareness stand out in contrast to the sketchy background populated by wooden characters. As a piece of fictionalized autobiography it makes for compelling reading, but it is flawed as a novel, the work of a novice who had not yet learned his craft."

The novel brought Brailsford to the attention of C.P Scott, the editor of the Manchester Guardian, and remembering the earlier recommendation he recruited him to investigate the turmoil in Crete. Brailsford arranged a meeting with Jane Malloch and told her of his assignment and asked her again to marry him. This time she said yes.

His biographer, F. M. Leventhal, has argued: "Her motives for this sudden reversal after rebuffing him for nearly two years are not wholly explicable. Her father had died in July... and the Elderslie house was sold, leaving her essentially homeless... Now that he was gaining recognition as a foreign correspondent, Brailsford must have appeared a more enticing prospect than he had been as an unemployed philosophy lecturer, especially to one so eager to shake the dust of Glasgow from her feet... Given her repugnance for Brailsford, it is likely that their marriage was never consummated or, in any event, that it was virtually sexless." Bertrand Russell claimed that Jane married Brailsford "on the understanding that there should be no sexual intercourse because of her love for Gilbert Murray".

They were married in a civil ceremony in Glasgow on 29th September, 1898, a day before they left for Crete. Jane told him that she would not wear a wedding ring as it was a sign of bondage. The following year he became the Manchester Guardian correspondent in Paris. During this period he interviewed politicians such as Jean Jaurès, Georges Clemenceau, Yves Guyot and Joseph Reinach. He also reported on the case of Alfred Dreyfus.

C.P Scott wanted to give Brailsford a permanent post as a leader writer but the owner of the newspaper, John E. Taylor, disliked his left-wing views: "I am also somewhat influenced by the feeling that Brailsford is not so good a man as we ought to have. I do not think him judicious or sufficiently calm and even minded. I was not altogether satisfied with him in Crete and since, whether in Paris with the Alfred Dreyfus case, I have not much liked his work."

Brailsford now became a leader-writer for The Morning Leader. An opponent of the Boer War, in January 1901, Brailsford joined Emily Hobhouse, Henry Massingham, C.P Scott and John L. Hammond to establish the South Africa Conciliation Committee. In 1902 he started working for The London Echo, a left-wing newspaper that was owned by Frederick Pethick-Lawrence.

Considered to be an expert on the Balkans, Brailsford was selected to head of the British relief mission to Macedonia in 1903. On his return he wrote Macedonia (1906), a cultural and historical survey of the area. Brailsford also was active in the Friends of Russian Freedom, and organisation that raised funds to help those groups in Russia fighting for democracy.

In 1905 C.P Scott employed Brailsford to provide leading articles for the Manchester Guardian. As the author of The Last Dissenter: H. N. Brailsford and his World (1985) pointed out: "The three-paragraph format, consisting of twelve to fifteen hundred words, was a hallowed tradition, and its completion in two hours required quick thinking, logical exposition, and the mastery of the subject... for £50 a month he also supplied articles, reviews and short leaders."

Brailsford had been gradually moving to the left and in 1907 he joined the Labour Party. His wife, Jane Brailsford, was a member of the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU). He shared her views and in 1909 resigned from The Daily News with his friend, Henry Nevinson, when the paper supported the government policy of force-feeding women prisoners. The two men now helped to establish the Men's League for Women's Suffrage.

Brailsford's marriage was extremely unhappy. One source claimed that Jane taunted him with being so unattractive that she was surprised he dared to go out in society. F. M. Leventhal has argued: "Her contempt for her husband derived partly from jealously for his intellectual gifts and literary facility... Jane Brailsford attempted to discover her own creative outlets, first as a novelist and later as an actress, but to no avail. Whether she was impeded because she was a woman or simply because, despite earlier promise, she lacked talent is unclear, but her efforts to build a reputation for herself other than as an adjunct to her husband and as an occasional participant in radical campaigns proved abortive."

Jane Brailsford was a great advocate of women's suffrage. She was a member of the National Union of Suffrage Societies. However, in 1906, frustrated by the NUWSS lack of success, she joined the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU), an organisation established byEmmeline Pankhurst and her three daughters, Christabel Pankhurst, Sylvia Pankhurst and Adela Pankhurst. The main objective was to gain, not universal suffrage, the vote for all women and men over a certain age, but votes for women, “on the same basis as men.”

Henry Nevinson was one of the many men who fell in love with Jane Brailsford. He later recalled that when he first saw her she was wearing a "blue, silky thinnish dress, smocked at neck and waist, pale, thin... I never saw anything so flower-like, so plaintively beautiful and yet so full of spirit and power." He made regular visits to her home where "she was most sweet, with dove's eyes, but full of dangers" but found she sometimes expressed "a mocking spirit".

Jane sent Nevinson a note about her "struggle to resist my own desire" but clearly informed him that she was in charge of the situation: "I am not an iceberg. I am a wild animal but with a brain - and because of that I see how degrading it was for both of us... a mere body I will not be to anyone. You might surely find in me something more than a physical excitement. Have once before been regarded like that by a man and I took it as a proof of his inferiority."

Jane Brailsford joined a group of suffragettes, including Constance Lytton, who resolved to undertake acts of violence in order to protest against forcible feeding. On 9th November 1909, she was arrested in Newcastle after attacking a barricade with an axe. She was sent to prison for 30 days. After taking part in another demonstration on 21st November 1911, she was sentenced to seven days in Holloway Prison.

Brailsford disagreed with the militant tactics of the WSPU but did believe women should have the vote and along with Laurence Housman, Charles Corbett, Henry Nevinson, Israel Zangwill, C. E. M. Joad, Hugh Franklin, Charles Mansell-Moullin, was a founder of the Men's League For Women's Suffrage. WSPU member, Evelyn Sharp later argued: "It is impossible to rate too highly the sacrifices that they (Henry Nevinson and Laurence Housman) and H. N. Brailsford, F. W. Pethick Lawrence, Harold Laski, Israel Zangwill, Gerald Gould, George Lansbury, and many others made to keep our movement free from the suggestion of a sex war."

At its annual party conference in January 1912, the Labour Party passed a resolution committing itself to supporting women's suffrage. This was reflected in the fact that all Labour MPs voted for the measure at a debate in the House of Commons on 28th March. Soon afterwards Brailsford and Kathleen Courtney, entered negotiations with the Labour Party as representatives of National Union of Suffrage Societies.

In April 1912, the NUWSS announced that it intended to support Labour Party candidates in parliamentary by-elections. Emily Davies, a member of the Conservative Party, and Margery Corbett-Ashby, an active supporter of the Liberal Party, resigned from the NUWSS over this decision. However, others like Catherine Osler, resigned from the Women's Liberal Federation in protest against the government's attitude to the suffrage question.

The NUWSS established an Election Fighting Fund (EFF) to support these Labour candidates. Anne Cobden Sanderson, who had been a long-time supporter of the Labour Party, contributed generously to the EEF. So also did Henry Harben, a former member of the Liberal Party. The EFF Committee, which administered the fund, included Brailsford, Margaret Ashton, Kathleen Courtney, Muriel de la Warr, Millicent Fawcett, Catherine Marshall, Isabella Ford, Laurence Housman, Margory Lees and Ethel Annakin Snowden.

For the next couple of years Brailsford concentrated on writing books. This included Adventures in Prose (1911), Shelley, Godwin and his Circle (1913), War of Steel and Gold (1914), Origins of the Great War (1914) and Belgium and the Scrap of Paper (1915). Brailsford's book A League of Nations (1917) called for the setting up of an international organisation responsible for trade, overseas investment and the distribution of raw materials and a deep influence on the thinking of the US president, Woodrow Wilson.

On 4th May 1913 the Brailsfords agreed to separate. Jane Brailsford, who moved to a flat in Warwick Crescent, told Henry Nevinson that "there is another woman more beloved" but he was unconvinced by this story. Brailsford visited her regularly and according to Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, he told him: "He has achieved little and enjoyed little and will have nothing that will live after him. His marriage has proved a failure and he has no children."

The couple moved back together in 1914. They disagreed about the First World War as he was a member of Union of Democratic Control whereas she was a patriotic supporter of the war effort. Nevinson met her in April 1915. He recorded in his diary: "Mrs. Brailsford met me at the Green: has grown very stout and rather deliberately rude and unpleasant in manner. Is probably unhappy in every respect, differing from her husband on all points - peace and war etc. She thinks vengeance for supposed atrocities must be exacted from Germany and supports the crushing policy. He is for easy terms so as to avoid future revenge."

Brailsford concentrated on writing books. This included Adventures in Prose (1911), Shelley, Godwin and his Circle (1913), War of Steel and Gold (1914), Origins of the Great War (1914) and Belgium and the Scrap of Paper (1915). Brailsford's book A League of Nations (1917) called for the setting up of an international organisation responsible for trade, overseas investment and the distribution of raw materials and a deep influence on the thinking of the US president, Woodrow Wilson.

After failing to be elected as the Labour candidate for Montrose Burghs in the 1918 General Election, Brailsford toured Central Europe and his graphic accounts of the suffering being endured by the people in the defeated countries appeared in his books Across the Blockade (1919) and After the Peace (1920). He also warned that unless the Versailles Treaty was renegotiated, this deeply flawed peace settlement would led to an increase of German militarism and a possible war.

Clifford Allen met Jane Brailsford for the first time in 1919: "She is excited, and nervy, anxious to talk much and quickly to avoid pauses for observation; she often sparkles in a quite horribly brilliant way, and then seems almost mad and secretly morose. I could not make out what part sex played in her make up; it might have done so vigorously in the past, but did not do so now. Her relation to Brailsford seemed astonishing and either malicious or totally impersonal... She was like a haunted figure from some foreign novel... I am convinced that there is a good chance of this woman going mad, when the whole tragedy of her life will suddenly flash back on her and then she might well kill Brailsford."

Brailsford left his wife for the last time in 1921. "Her biographer, F. M. Leventhal, has argued that: "She (Jane Brailsford) later suffered severe depression and a physical breakdown, possibly precipitating the uncontrolled drinking that blighted her later years. Regarding marriage as a form of subjugation, she never concealed her repugnance for her husband, whom she treated with contempt. At her insistence they had no children.... In 1921 they separated permanently, although she refused to agree to a divorce. By the late 1920s Jane Brailsford, incapacitated by alcoholism, was living alone in Kew, London."

Brailsford was interested in the Russian Revolution and after visiting the country published two books on the subject, The Russian Workers' Republic (1921) and How the Soviets Work (1927). Although impressed by the economic achievements of the communist regime, he was highly critical of the lack of individual freedom and the suppression of dissent.

In 1922 Clifford Allen, arranged for Brailsford to be appointed as editor The New Leader, the newspaper of the Independent Labour Party. Brailsford employed several talented writers including George Bernard Shaw, H. G. Wells and Bertrand Russell. Allen worked closely with Brailsford to produce a new type of political newspaper where the standard of typography and design was as important as its editorial contents. Each issue contained original woodcuts that illustrated articles about politics and culture. Considered by many as one of the most successful radical newspapers ever published, it unfortunately upset too many powerful people in the labour movement. Ramsay MacDonald and the other leaders of the Labour Party objected to Brailsford's attacks on their moderate, non-socialist policies. However, the left distrusted Brailsford's middle-class background and in 1926 he was ousted as editor. Replaced by his friend, Fenner Brockway, Brailsford continued to contribute articles for the newspaper until he left the Independent Labour Party.

In 1928 Brailsford became romantically involved with Clare Leighton, the sister of Roland Leighton. They had met for the first time when she supplied drawings for The New Leader. Brailsford wanted to marry Clare but Jane Brailsford refused to give him a divorce.

In 1931 G.D.H. Cole created the Society for Socialist Inquiry and Propaganda (SSIP). This was later renamed the Socialist League. Other members included Brailsford, William Mellor, Charles Trevelyan, Stafford Cripps, D. N. Pritt, R. H. Tawney, Frank Wise, David Kirkwood, Clement Attlee, Neil Maclean, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Alfred Salter, Jennie Lee, Gilbert Mitchison, Harold Laski, Frank Horrabin, Ellen Wilkinson, Aneurin Bevan, Ernest Bevin, Arthur Pugh, Michael Foot and Barbara Betts. Margaret Cole admitted that they got some of the members from the Guild Socialism movement: "Douglas and I recruited personally its first list drawing upon comrades from all stages of our political lives." The first pamphlet published by the SSIP was The Crisis (1931) was written by Cole and Bevin.

According to Ben Pimlott, the author of Labour and the Left (1977): "The Socialist League... set up branches, undertook to promote and carry out research, propaganda and discussion, issue pamphlets, reports and books, and organise conferences, meetings, lectures and schools. To this extent it was strongly in the Fabian tradition, and it worked in close conjunction with Cole's other group, the New Fabian Research Bureau." The main objective was to persuade a future Labour government to implement socialist policies. Brailsford continued to write for The Reynolds News and the New Statesman. He also wrote several books including Rebel India (1931) where he called for an end to colonial rule and Property or Peace? (1934) where he explored the connections between war and capitalism.

Brailsford had been one of the major critics of the Versailles Treaty and a supporter of disarmament, but the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War convinced him that an anti-fascist alliance, including the Soviet Union, was vitally important. Although in his sixties, he considered joining the International Brigades. According to his biographer, F. M. Leventhal, "only with difficulty could friends dissuade him from enlisting".

Brailsford chaired the Labour Spain Committee, a pressure group advocating an active pro-loyalist policy. He also played a role in persuading men to join the British Battalion, that was formed in January 1937. As the author of The Spanish Civil War and the British Labour Movement (1991) has pointed out: "it soon became apparent that the assistance of dependants and wounded would be an expensive task - the estimated weekly cost rose from an initial £70-90 to £700 in November 1937." Brailsford approached Walter Citrine, the general secretary of the TUC, and suggested that the labour movement should take responsibility for the 230 trade unionists and 40 Labour Party members fighting in the battalion. Citrine, who was concerned about the growing influence of the Communist Party of Great Britain in the International Brigades, rejected the idea.

Brailsford visited the International Brigades on the front-line. Fred Copeman later recorded: "Of all the politicians who visited Spain, I was impressed most by Brailsford... I can see him today standing beside the small monument behind the line, marking the place where our dead were buried, with his white hair blowing in the wind and pouring rain - alone. No passing love here, but a deliberate demonstration of personal affection for those who had given all in a cause which he held dear, and for which he had fought over many years. God bless old Brailsford. We need more men like him."

In January 1937 Stafford Cripps and George Strauss decided to launch a radical weekly, The Tribune, to "advocate a vigorous socialism and demand active resistance to Fascism at home and abroad." William Mellor was appointed editor and others such as Brailsford, Aneurin Bevan, Ellen Wilkinson, Barbara Betts, Konni Zilliacus, Harold Laski and Michael Foot agreed to write for the paper. Winifred Batho reviewed films and books for the journal. Mellor wrote in the first issue: "It is capitalism that has caused the world depression. It is capitalism that has created the vast army of the unemployed. It is capitalism that has created the distressed areas... It is capitalism that divides our people into the two nations of rich and poor. Either we must defeat capitalism or we shall be destroyed by it."

The United Front agreement won only narrow majority at a Socialist League delegate conference in January, 1937 - 56 in favour, 38 against, with 23 abstentions. The United Front campaign opened officially with a large meeting at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester on 24th January. Three days later the Executive of the Labour Party decided to disaffiliated the Socialist League. They also began considering expelling members of the League. G.D.H. Cole and George Lansbury responded by urging the party not to start a "heresy hunt".

After the defeat of the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War Brailsford became convinced that only military resistance to Adolf Hitler would stop the growth of fascism. His denunciation of the Munich Agreement signed by Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier was among the strongest indictments to appear in the British press. As F. M. Leventhal has pointed out Brailsford "also spoke out forcefully against the Soviet purge trials, earning the enmity of the Communist Party."

Jane Brailsford died of cirrhosis of the liver on 9th April 1937 at 385 High Road, Chiswick. He was now in a position to marry Clare Leighton, his long-term lover. However, as F. M. Leventhal pointed out: "Her death stirred up all his feelings of guilt towards her, self-recriminations for the tragedy of her life... it seems to have precipitated a kind of emotional breakdown.... For the next eighteen months he set about destroying the relationship he and Clare had built over the previous decade, not intentionally, yet compulsively, as though driven by a kind of obession he could not control."

Brailsford continued to be active in politics and he gave his support to the Left Book Club started by Victor Gollancz, Harold Laski and John Strachey. In August 1938 the club published his book, Why Capitalism Means War. During the Second World War Brailsford wrote for the New Statesman and broadcast for the BBC Overseas Service. In 1942 he met Evamaria Perlmann, a German refugee in her late twenties. After their third meeting he sent her a note saying that he had fallen in love with her. She moved into his flat and nursed him through several months in the spring of 1943 when he was seriously ill.

They married in July 1944. His biographer, F. M. Leventhal, has argued: "Despite forty years difference in age, she ministered to his needs and, by rejuvenating him, brought comfort and happiness to his last years. Outspoken and uninhibited, she was a small, vivacious woman, a playful spite with a fondness for music and slightly exotic clothes. Although his friends found her irrepressible and over-solicitious, he basked in her warmth and cherished her lively company." His friend, Kingsley Martin, said "she made him youthful again".

Brailsford continued to write books during the war, the most important being Subject India (1943), published by the Left Book Club and Our Settlement with Germany (1944). After his retirement from journalism in 1946, Henry Noel Brailsford concentrated on writing an history of the Leveller movement. Unfortunately the book was unfinished when he died of a stroke on 23rd March 1958.

Primary Sources

(1) Henry Brailsford, The Daily News (18th December, 1907)

We knew nothing of "tone" or "good form", or of that morality of caste and obedience which in England masters and rider boys impose upon the plastic minds of the young.... The playground was our kingdom.... Sometimes we played football, sometimes we rehearsed Bannockhurn or Flodden Fell. Sometimes, in our later years, we argued hotly and eagerly about Atheism or Socialism, and the creation of the world. We were of all classes and origins. Farmers' sons, and sailors' sons, rubbed shoulders with the children of the manse, and the progeny of our dignified Lord Provost. The janitor's boy... I moved among us as happily as the headmaster's son and the heirs of retired Colonels and Anglo-Indian officials. It was a world in which even eccentricity could thrive, and individuality command respect.

(2) F. M. Leventhal, The Last Dissenter: H. N. Brailsford and his World (1985)

Her (Jane Malloch) rebuffs, her aura of mysterious unapproachability, merely inflamed his ardour, blinding him to the calculated cruelty of her behaviour. He overpraised her essays and futilely resorted to various stratagems to ingratiate himself, but his efforts were rewarded with little more than her photograph. So distracted did he become that he could no longer concentrate on his work, which doubtlessly contributed to his ineffectual classroom performance. Although he admitted that Jane humiliated him, Brailsford could not restrain himself from proposing marriage to her in December 1896, just as she was about to leave for a year at Somerville College, Oxford. To no one's surprise, she refused him.

In her absence he tried to win over her family, lending her sister a book and befriending the youngest of the four Malloch sons, Bruce. He wrote to her in Oxford, sent copies of his Magazine articles, and agonized over her curt replies. After more than a year of courtship Jane had become adept at exploiting his vulnerability to gratify her own vanity. Alternately inviting and repelling his overtures, she encouraged him only enough to keep him importunate. His subservience, his readiness to grasp the merest crumb of kindness as an auspicious sign disturbed Scott, who rebuked him for seizing any excuse to write to her. Solicitous about her feelings, he was constantly on guard lest he offend her and cause an irreparable breach. When rumours of their engagement spread around the university, he took steps to refute them, informing Jane's friends that she had in fact rejected his suit.

(3) Fred Copeman, Reason in Revolt (1948)

Of all the politicians who visited Spain, I was impressed most by Brailsford, the leader-writer of Reynolds News. He had years previously taken a personal part in the Garibaldi movement in Italy. I can see him today standing beside the small monument behind the line, marking the place where our dead were buried, with his white hair blowing in the wind and pouring rain - alone. No passing love here, but a deliberate demonstration of personal affection for those who had given all in a cause which he held dear, and for which he had fought over many years. God bless old Brailsford. We need more men like him.

(4) Tom Buchanan, The Spanish Civil War and the British Labour Movement (1991)

The NCL adopted a more intransigent attitude towards the collection of funds for the dependants of members of the International Brigades. With the formation of the British Battalion of the XV Brigade in January 1937 it soon became apparent that the assistance of dependants and wounded would be an expensive task - the estimated weekly cost rose from an initial £70-90 to £700 in November 1937. In February 1937 Citrine had been approached by the socialist journalist H.N. Brailsford who suggested that the labour movement should take responsibility for the 230 trade unionists and 40 Labour Party members currently in the Battalion and Citrine promised to consider the idea. Schevenels, however, was unsympathetic, pointing out that the Brigades were an "unofficial'" communist organisation and "the responsibility for those who joined ... could not be placed on the Trade Unions". On 23 February the proposal was discussed at the NCL where, significantly, it transpired that some unions had already accepted responsibility for their own members in the Brigades and it was agreed to look into the extent of this practice.

Citrine told Brailsford that union funds could not be used for dependants' aid on legal grounds - money already contributed to the NCL Fund had been earmarked for the Spanish workers and their families and could not be diverted for any other use. However, he promised to look into the use of "special union voluntary payments" for this purpose. A report prepared by the TUC Research Department analysed a number of union rule books and concluded that only the T&GWU rules "have a quite certain chance of resisting any action by their members to restrain them from expending money either in support of dependants ... or of granting money to the International Solidarity Fund". Referring to this, Bill Alexander notes that Citrine "in his hostility to doing anything to help the Republic, studied the union donations to check that they were not infringing their own rules". In fact, it is clear that Citrine was unable to find a serviceable legal reason for not supporting the appeal which would not highlight the problematic legal position of many union contributions to his own fund and, ultimately, the NCL had offer a more overtly political rationale for withholding assistance.