On this day on 1st May

On this day in 1649 the Levellers publish the Agreement of the People. "We, the free People of England, to whom God hath given hearts, means and opportunity to effect the same, do with submission to his wisdom, in his name, and desiring the equity thereof may be to his praise and glory; Agree to ascertain our Government to abolish all arbitrary Power, and to set bounds and limits - both to our Supreme, and all Subordinate Authority, and remove all known Grievances. And accordingly do declare and publish to all the world, that we are agreed as followeth. That the Supreme Authority of England and the Territories therewith incorporate, shall be and reside henceforth in a Representative of the people consisting of four hundred persons, but no more; in the choice of whom (according to natural right) all men of the age of one and twenty years and upwards (not being servants, or receiving alms, or having served the late King in Arms or voluntary Contributions), shall have their votes."

An Agreement of the People (May, 1649)
An Agreement of the People

On this day in 1820 the Cato Street Conspirators are executed. Thomas Spence was a schoolmaster from Newcastle. Spence was strongly influenced by the writings of Tom Paine. and in December 1792 Spence moved to London and attempted to make a living by selling the works of Paine on street corners. He was arrested but soon after he was released from prison he opened a shop in Chancery Lane where he sold radical books and pamphlets.

In 1793 Spence started a periodical, Pigs' Meat. He said in the first edition: "Awake! Arise! Arm yourselves with truth, justice, reason. Lay siege to corruption. Claim as your inalienable right, universal suffrage and annual parliaments. And whenever you have the gratification to choose a representative, let him be from among the lower orders of men, and he will know how to sympathize with you."

By the early 1800s Thomas Spence had established himself as the unofficial leader of those Radicals who advocated revolution. James Watson, was one of the men who worked very closely with Spence during this period. Spence did not believe in a centralized radical body and instead encouraged the formation of small groups that could meet in local public houses. At the night the men walked the streets and chalked on the walls slogans such as "Spence's Plan and Full Bellies" and "The Land is the People's Farm". In 1800 and 1801 the authorities believed that Spence and his followers were responsible for bread riots in London. However, they did not have enough evidence to arrest them.

Thomas Spence died in September 1814. He was buried by "forty disciples" who pledged that they would keep his ideas alive. They did this by forming the Society of Spencean Philanthropists. The men met in small groups all over London. These meetings mainly took place in public houses and they discussed the best way of achieving an equal society. Places used included the Mulberry Tree in Moorfields, the Carlisle in Shoreditch, the Cock in Soho, the Pineapple in Lambeth, the White Lion in Camden, the Horse and Groom in Marylebone and the Nag's Head in Carnaby Market. The government became very concerned about this group that they employed a spy, John Castle, to join the Spenceans and report on their activities.

The government remained concerned about the Spenceans and John Stafford, who worked at the Home Office, recruited George Edwards, George Ruthven, John Williamson, John Shegoe, James Hanley and Thomas Dwyer to spy on this group. The Peterloo Massacre in Manchester increased the amount of anger the Spenceans felt towards the government. At one meeting a spy reported that Arthur Thistlewood said: "High Treason was committed against the people at Manchester. I resolved that the lives of the instigators of massacre should atone for the souls of murdered innocents."

On 22nd February 1820, George Edwards pointed out to Arthur Thistlewood an item in a newspaper that said several members of the British government were going to have dinner at Lord Harrowby's house at 39 Grosvenor Square the following night. Thistlewood argued that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. It was decided that a group of Spenceans would gain entry to the house and kill all the government ministers. According to the reports of spies the heads of Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth would be placed on poles and taken around the slums of London. Thistlewood was convinced that this would incite an armed uprising that would overthrow the government. This would be followed by the creation of a new government committed to creating a society based on the ideas of Thomas Spence.

Over the next few hours Thistlewood attempted to recruit as many people as possible to take part in the plot. Many people refused and according to the police spy, George Edwards, only twenty-seven people agreed to participate. This included William Davidson, James Ings, Richard Tidd, John Brunt, John Harrison, James Wilson, Richard Bradburn, John Strange, Charles Copper, Robert Adams and John Monument.

William Davidson had worked for Lord Harrowby in the past and knew some of the staff at Grosvenor Square. He was instructed to find out more details about the cabinet meeting. However, when he spoke to one of the servants he was told that the Earl of Harrowby was not in London. When Davidson reported this news back to Arthur Thistlewood, he insisted that the servant was lying and that the assassinations should proceed as planned.

One member of the gang, John Harrison, knew of a small, two-story building in Cato Street that was available for rent. The ground-floor was a stable and above that was a hayloft. As it was only a short distance from Grosvenor Square, it was decided to rent the building as a base for the operation. Edwards told Stafford of the plan and Richard Birnie, a magistrate at Bow Street, was put in charge of the operation. Lord Sidmouth instructed Birnie to use men from the Second Battalion Coldstream Guards as well as police officers from Bow Street to arrest the Cato Street Conspirators.

Birnie decided to send George Ruthven, a police officer and former spy who knew most of the Spenceans, to the Horse and Groom, a public house that overlooked the stable in Cato Street. On 23rd February, Ruthven took up his position at two o'clock in the afternoon. Soon afterwards Thistlewood's gang began arriving at the stable. By seven thirty Richard Birnie and twelve police officers joined Ruthven at Cato Street.

The Coldstream Guards had not arrived and Birnie decided he had enough men to capture the Cato Street gang. Birnie gave orders for Ruthven to carry out the task while he waited outside. Inside the stable the police found James Ings on guard. He was quickly overcome and George Ruthven led his men up the ladder into the hayloft where the gang were having their meeting. As he entered the loft Ruthven shouted, "We are peace officers. Lay down your arms." Arthur Thistlewood and William Davidson raised their swords while some of the other men attempted to load their pistols. One of the police officers, Richard Smithers, moved forward to make the arrests but Thistlewood stabbed him with his sword. Smithers gasped, "Oh God, I am..." and lost consciousness. Smithers died soon afterwards.

Some of the gang surrendered but others like William Davidson were only taken after a struggle. Four of the conspirators, Thistlewood, John Brunt, Robert Adams and John Harrison escaped out of a back window. However, George Edwards had given the police a detailed list of all those involved and the men were soon arrested.

Eleven men were eventually charged with being involved in the Cato Street Conspiracy. After the experience of the previous trial of the Spenceans, Lord Sidmouth was unwilling to use the evidence of his spies in court. George Edwards, the person with a great deal of information about the conspiracy, was never called. Instead the police offered to drop charges against certain members of the gang if they were willing to give evidence against the rest of the conspirators. Two of these men, Robert Adams and John Monument, agreed and they provided the evidence needed to convict the rest of the gang.

James Ings claimed that George Edwards had worked as an agent provocateur: "The Attorney-General knows Edwards. He knew all the plans for two months before I was acquainted with it. When I was before Lord Sidmouth, a gentleman said Lord Sidmouth knew all about this for two months. I consider myself murdered if Edwards is not brought forward. I am willing to die on the scaffold with him. I conspired to put Lord Castlereagh and Lord Sidmouth out of this world, but I did not intend to commit High Treason. I did not expect to save my own life, but I was determined to die a martyr in my country's cause."

William Davidson said in court: "It is an ancient custom to resist tyranny... And our history goes on further to say, that when another of their Majesties the Kings of England tried to infringe upon those rights, the people armed, and told him that if he did not give them the privileges of Englishmen, they would compel him by the point of the sword... Would you not rather govern a country of spirited men, than cowards? I can die but once in this world, and the only regret left is, that I have a large family of small children, and when I think of that, it unmans me."

On 28th April 1820, Arthur Thistlewood, William Davidson, James Ings, Richard Tidd, and John Brunt were found guilty of high treason and sentenced to death. John Harrison, James Wilson, Richard Bradburn, John Strange and Charles Copper were also found guilty but their original sentence of execution was subsequently commuted to transportation for life.

Arthur Thistlewood, William Davidson, James Ings, Richard Tidd, and John Brunt were taken to Newgate Prison on 1st May, 1820. John Hobhouse attended the execution: "The men died like heroes. Ings, perhaps, was too obstreperous in singing Death or Liberty" and records Thistlewood as saying, "Be quiet, Ings; we can die without all this noise."

According to the author of An Authentic History of the Cato Street Conspiracy (1820). "Thistlewood struggled slightly for a few minutes, but each effort was more faint than that which preceded; and the body soon turned round slowly, as if upon the motion of the hand of death. Tidd, whose size gave cause to suppose that he would 'pass' with little comparative pain, scarcely moved after the fall. The struggles of Ings were great. The assistants of the executioner pulled his legs with all their might; and even then the reluctance of the soul to part from its native seat was to be observed in the vehement efforts of every part of the body. Davidson, after three or four heaves, became motionless; but Brunt suffered extremely, and considerable exertions were made by the executioners and others to shorten his agonies."

Richard Carlile told the wife of William Davidson. "Be assured that the heroic manner in which your husband and his companions met their fate, will in a few years, perhaps in a few months, stamp their names as patriots, and men who had nothing but their country's weal at heart. I flatter myself as your children grow up, they will find that the fate of their father will rather procure them respect and admiration than its reverse."

George Cruikshank, Cato Street Conspiracy (1820)
The education of the Cato Street conspirators (1820)

On this day in 1831 Duke of Wellington warns Harriet Arbuthnot that Britain is on the verge of revolution during the demand for parliamentary reform. "Matters appear to be going as badly as possible. It may be relied upon that we shall have a revolution. I have never doubted the inclination and disposition of the lower orders of the people. I told you years ago that they are rotten to the core. They are not bloodthirsty, but they are desirous of plunder. They will plunder, annihilate all property in the country. The majority of them will starve; and we shall witness scenes such as have never yet occurred in any part of the world."

On this day in 1847 Henry Demarest Lloyd was born in New York City on 1st May, 1847. His father was a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church but in 1860 he left and opened a small bookshop.

After graduating from Columbia College in 1867 Lloyd entered Columbia Law School. He passed his New York bar examination in 1869 and was employed as an assistant secretary to the American Free Trade Association. He also joined the Young Men's Municipal Reform Association, which helped to overthrow William Tweed, the corrupt mayor of New York.

In 1872 Lloyd joined the Chicago Tribune. He worked as literary editor (1872-74). Lloyd married Jessie Bross and in 1875 she gave birth to William Bross Lloyd. In 1874 he became financial editor of the newspaper. During this period he was influenced by the ideas of Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Christian Socialists in Britain. Lloyd became the newspaper's chief editorial writer in 1880.

While working for the Chicago Tribune Lloyd published a series of articles exposing corruption in business and politics. This included The Story of a Great Monopoly (1881) and The Political Economy of Seventy-Three Million Dollars (1882) in the Atlantic Monthly and Making Bread Dear (1883) and Lords of Industry (1884) in the North American Review. These articles caused a stir and Lloyd has been described as America's first investigative journalist.

He continued to write for the Chicago Tribune until resigning in 1885 as a result of political differences with its principal owner,Joseph Medill. Over the next few years Lloyd took part in the campaign to bring an end to child labour and to achieve clemency for the men accused of the Haymarket Bombing. He was also a strong supporter of women's suffrage and the trade union movement. A close friend of Jane Addams, Lloyd provided free lectures at the Hull House Settlement in Chicago.

Lloyd became a leading figure in the reform movement and influenced a generation of political activists including John Peter Altgeld, Clarence Darrow, William Dean Howells and John Dewey. When Altgeld was elected governor of Illinois in 1892 he offered Lloyd the post as the state's first chief factory inspector. However, Lloyd declined the offer and suggested his friend Florence Kelley for the post.

Lloyd several books in favour of progressive reform including A Strike of Millionaires Against Miners (1890), Wealth Against Commonwealth (1894), Labor Co-Partnerships (1898) and A Country Without Strikes (1900).

Henry Demarest Lloyd died of pneumonia in Chicago on 28th September, 1903.

Henry Demarest Lloyd
Henry Demarest Lloyd

On this day in 1851 Queen Victoria opens the Great Exhibition in London. The exhibition was originally the idea of Henry Cole. He suggested the holding of an exhibition in London that would demonstrate to the world the industrial supremacy and material prosperity of Britain. Prince Albert, the husband of Queen Victoria took up Cole's idea and provided the necessary support from someone with power and influence.

Opened in May 1851, the Great Exhibition was housed in the Crystal Palace, a vast glass and iron structure designed by Joseph Paxton. In six months the 13,000 exhibits were seen by 6.2 million people. The income generated by the exhibition was used to advance cultural, educational and scientific learning. This included the building of new museums in South Kensington, the Albert Hall, the Royal College of Music and the Imperial College of Science and Technology. Thomas Cook, the travel agent, arranged for over 165,000 people to attend the Great Exhibition.

Great Exhibition
Great Exhibition

On this day in 1895 Nikolai Yezhov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia. Just five foot tall with a crippled leg, Yezhov was nicknamed the "Dwarf". After leaving school he worked as a tailor's assistant. In 1915 he joined the Russian Army and saw action on the Eastern Front during the First World War.

Yezhov joined the Bolsheviks after the February Revolution. He was a member of the Red Army during the Civil War and from 1922 he worked as an administrator in the party. In 1927 he met Joseph Stalin. According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out: "The Boss (Stalin) had first seen Yezhov during his excursion to Siberia to speed up grain deliveries and had subsequently introduced him into the apparatus of the Central Committee. By the beginning of the thirties Yezhov was already head of its Cadres Department. At the Seventeenth Congress he was elected to the Central Committee and to the vice-chairmanship of the Central Control Commission. In 1935 he became chairman of that body, and a secretary of the Central Committee."

Genrikh Yagoda was in charge of the Peoples Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). One of his first tasks was to remove Stalin's main rival for the leadership of the party. Sergy Kirov had been a loyal supporter of Stalin but he grew jealous of his popularity. As Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "In sharp contrast to Stalin, Kirov was a much younger man and an eloquent speaker, who was able to sway his listeners; above all, he possessed a charismatic personality. Unlike Stalin who was a Georgian, Kirov was also an ethnic Russian, which stood in his favour." According to Alexander Orlov, who had been told this by Yagoda, Stalin decided that Kirov had to die.

Yagoda assigned the task to Vania Zaporozhets, one of his trusted lieutenants in the NKVD. He selected a young man, Leonid Nikolayev, as a possible candidate. Nikolayev had recently been expelled from the Communist Party and had vowed his revenge by claiming that he intended to assassinate a leading government figure. Zaporozhets met Nikolayev and when he discovered he was of low intelligence and appeared to be a person who could be easily manipulated, he decided that he was the ideal candidate as assassin.

Zaporozhets provided him with a pistol and gave him instructions to kill Kirov in the Smolny Institute in Leningrad. However, soon after entering the building he was arrested. Zaporozhets had to use his influence to get him released. On 1st December, 1934, Nikolayev, got past the guards and was able to shoot Kirov dead. Nikolayev was immediately arrested and after being tortured by Genrikh Yagoda he signed a statement saying that Gregory Zinoviev, Lev Kamenev and Ivan Smirnov had been the leaders of the conspiracy to assassinate Kirov.

According to Alexander Orlov: "Stalin decided to arrange for the assassination of Kirov and to lay the crime at the door of the former leaders of the opposition and thus with one blow do away with Lenin's former comrades. Stalin came to the conclusion that, if he could prove that Zinoviev and Kamenev and other leaders of the opposition had shed the blood of Kirov". Victor Kravchenko has pointed out: "Hundreds of suspects in Leningrad were rounded up and shot summarily, without trial. Hundreds of others, dragged from prison cells where they had been confined for years, were executed in a gesture of official vengeance against the Party's enemies. The first accounts of Kirov's death said that the assassin had acted as a tool of dastardly foreigners - Estonian, Polish, German and finally British. Then came a series of official reports vaguely linking Nikolayev with present and past followers of Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and other dissident old Bolsheviks."

Genrikh Yagoda now had the task of persuading Kamenev and Zinoviev to confess to their role in the death of Kirov as part of the plot to assassinate Stalin and other leaders of government. When they refused to do this Stalin had a new provision enacted into law on 8th April 1935 which would enable him to exert additional leverage over his enemies. The new law decreed that children of the age of twelve and over who were found guilty of crimes would be subjected to the same punishment as adults, up to and including the death penalty. This provision provided NKVD with the means by which they could coerce a confession from a political dissident simply by claiming that false charges would be brought against their children.

Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001), claims that Alexander Orlov later admitted: "In the months preceding the trial, the two men were subjected to every conceivable form of interrogation: subtle pressure, then periods of enormous pressure, starvation, open and veiled threats, promises, as well as physical and mental torture. Neither man would succumb to the ordeal they faced." Stalin was frustrated by Stalin's lack of success and brought in Nikolai Yezhov to carry out the interrogations.

Orlov, who was a leading figure in the NKVD, later admitted what happened. "Towards the end of their ordeal, Zinoviev became sick and exhausted. Yezhov took advantage of the situation in a desperate attempt to get a confession. Yezhov warned that Zinoviev must affirm at a public trial that he had plotted the assassination of Stalin and other members of the Politburo. Zinoviev declined the demand. Yezhov then relayed Stalin's offer; that if he co-operated at an open trial, his life would be spared; if he did not, he would be tried in a closed military court and executed, along with all of the opposition. Zinoviev vehemently rejected Stalin's offer. Yezhov then tried the same tactics on Kamenev and again was rebuffed."

In July 1936 Nikolai Yezhov told Gregory Zinoviev and Lev Kamenev that their children would be charged with being part of the conspiracy and would face execution if found guilty. The two men now agreed to co-operate at the trial if Stalin promised to spare their lives. At a meeting with Stalin, Kamenev told him that they would agree to co-operate on the condition that none of the old-line Bolsheviks who were considered the opposition and charged at the new trial would be executed, that their families would not be persecuted, and that in the future none of the former members of the opposition would be subjected to the death penalty. Stalin replied: "That goes without saying!"

The trial opened on 19th August 1936. Five of the sixteen defendants were actually NKVD plants, whose confessional testimony was expected to solidify the state's case by exposing Zinoviev, Kamenev and the other defendants as their fellow conspirators. The presiding judge was Vasily Ulrikh, a member of the secret police. The prosecutor was Andrei Vyshinsky, who was to become well-known during the Show Trials over the next few years.

At the trial Zinoviev said: "I would like to repeat that I am fully and utterly guilty. I am guilty of having been the organizer, second only to Trotsky, of that block whose chosen task was the killing of Stalin. I was the principal organizer of Kirov's assassination. The party saw where we were going, and warned us; Stalin warned as scores of times; but we did not heed these warnings. We entered into an alliance with Trotsky."

Kamenev's final words in the trial concerned the plight of his children: "I should like to say a few words to my children. I have two children, one is an army pilot, the other a Young Pioneer. Whatever my sentence may be, I consider it just... Together with the people, follow where Stalin leads." This was a reference to the promise that Stalin made about his sons.

On 24th August, 1936, Vasily Ulrikh entered the courtroom and began reading the long and dull summation leading up to the verdict. Ulrikh announced that all sixteen defendants were sentenced to death by shooting. Edward P. Gazur has pointed out: "Those in attendance fully expected the customary addendum which was used in political trials that stipulated that the sentence was commuted by reason of a defendant's contribution to the Revolution. These words never came, and it was apparent that the death sentence was final when Ulrikh placed the summation on his desk and left the court-room."

The following day Soviet newspapers carried the announcement that all sixteen defendants had been put to death. This included the NKVD agents who had provided false confessions. Joseph Stalin could not afford for any witnesses to the conspiracy to remain alive. Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996), has pointed out that Stalin did not even keep his promise to Kamenev's sons and later both men were shot.

Joseph Stalin became angry with Genrikh Yagoda when he failed to obtain enough evidence to convict Nickolai Bukharin. In September, 1936, Yezhov replaced Yagoda as head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Yezhov quickly arranged the arrest of all the leading political figures in the Soviet Union who were critical of Stalin.

Nadezhda Khazina and her husband, Osip Mandelstam, met him after his appointment: "In the period of the Yezhov terror - the mass arrests came in waves of varying intensity - there must sometimes have been no more room in the jails, and to those of us still free it looked as though the highest wave had passed and the terror was abating... We first met Yezhov in the 1930s when Mandelstam and I were staying in a Government villa in Sukhumi. It is hard to credit that we sat at the same table, eating, drinking and exchanging small talk with this man who was to be one of the great killers of our time, and who totally exposed - not in theory but in practice - all the assumptions on which our humanism rested.... Yezhov was a modest and rather agreeable person. He was not yet used to being driven about in an automobile and did not therefore regard it as an exclusive privilege to which no ordinary mortal could lay claim. We sometimes asked him to get him to get a lift into town, and he never refused."

Boris Nicolaevsky was one of Stalin's opponents who managed to escape from the Soviet Union. In 1936 he recalled: "In the whole of my long life, I have never met a more repellent personality than Yezhov's. When I look at him I am reminded irresistibly of the wicked urchins of the courts in Rasterayeva Street, whose favorite occupation was to tie a piece of paper dipped in kerosene to a cat's tail, set fire to it, and then watch with delight how the terrified animal would tear down the street, trying desperately but in vain to escape the approaching flames. I do not doubt that in his childhood Yezhov amused himself in just such a manner and that he is now continuing to do so in different forms."

According to Edvard Radzinsky, the author of Stalin (1996): "Yezhov was typical of those who rose from nowhere to high positions in this period: semiliterate, obedient, and hardworking. His dubious past made him particularly eager to shine. Most important of all - he had made his career after the overthrow of the October leaders. Yagoda now served Stalin, but until recently had been the servant of the Party. Yezhov had served no-one but Stalin. He was the man to implement the second half of Stalin's scheme. For him there were no taboos. At the height of the Terror Yezhov would be portrayed on thousands of posters as a giant in whose hands enemies of the people writhed and breathed their last... Yezhov was merely a pseudonym for Stalin himself, a pathetic puppet, there simply to carry out orders. All the thinking was done, all the decisions were made, by the Boss himself."

In December 1936, Nikolai Yezhov established a new section of the NKVD named the Administration of Special Tasks (AST). It contained about 300 of his own trusted men from the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Yezhov's intention was complete control of the NKVD by using men who could be expected to carry out sensitive assignments without any reservations. The new AST operatives would have no allegiance to any members of the old NKVD and would therefore have no reason not to carry out an assignment against any of one of them. The AST was used to remove all those who had knowledge of the conspiracy to destroy Stalin's rivals. One of the first to be arrested was Genrikh Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD.

Within the administration of the ADT, a clandestine unit called the Mobile Groups had been created to deal with the ever increasing problem of possible NKVD defectors, as officers serving abroad were beginning to see that the arrest of people like Yagoda, their former chief, would mean that they might be next in line. By the summer of 1937, an alarming number of intelligence agents serving abroad were summoned back to the Soviet Union. Most of those, including Theodore Mally, were executed.

Ignaz Reiss was an NKVD agent serving in Belgium when he was summoned back to the Soviet Union. Reiss had the advantage of having his wife and daughter with him when he decided to defect to France. In July 1937 he sent a letter to the Soviet Embassy in Paris explaining his decision to break with the Soviet Union because he no longer supported the views of Stalin's counter-revolution and wanted to return to the freedom and teachings of Lenin. Orlov learnt of this letter from a close contact in France.

According to Edward P. Gazur, the author of Alexander Orlov: The FBI's KGB General (2001): "On learning that Reiss had disobeyed the order to return and intended to defect, an enraged Stalin ordered that an example be made of his case so as to warn other KGB officers against taking steps in the same direction. Stalin reasoned that any betrayal by KGB officers would not only expose the entire operation, but would succeed in placing the most dangerous secrets of the KGB's spy networks in the hands of the enemy's intelligence services. Stalin ordered Yezhov to dispatch a Mobile Group to find and assassinate Reiss and his family in a manner that would be sure to send an unmistakable message to any KGB officer considering Reiss's route."

Reiss was found hiding in a village near Lausanne, Switzerland. It was claimed by Alexander Orlov that a trusted Reiss family friend, Gertrude Schildback, lured Reiss to a rendezvous, where the Mobile Group killed Reiss with machine-gun fire on the evening of 4th September 1937. Schildback was arrested by the local police and at the hotel was a box of chocolates containing strychnine. It is believed these were intended for Reiss's wife and daughter.

By the beginning of 1938, most of the intelligence officers serving abroad had been targeted for elimination had already returned to Moscow. Joseph Stalin now decided to remove another witness to his crimes, Abram Slutsky. On 17th February 1938, Slutsky was summoned to the office of Mikhail Frinovsky, one of those who worked closely with Nikolai Yezhov, the head of ADT. According to Mikhail Shpiegelglass he was called to Frinovsky's office and found him dead from a heart attack.

Simon Sebag Montefiore, the author of Stalin: The Count of the Red Tsar (2004): "Yezhov was called upon to kill his own NKVD appointees whom he had protected. In early 1938, Stalin and Yezhov decided to liquidate the veteran Chekist, Abram Slutsky, but since he headed the Foreign Department, they devised a plan so as not to scare their foreign agents. On 17 February, Frinovsky invited Slutsky to his office where another of Yezhov's deputies came up behind him and drew a mask of chloroform over his face. He was then injected with poison and died right there in the office. It was officially announced that he had died of a heart attack." Two months later Slutsky was posthumously stripped of his CPSU membership and declared an enemy of the people.

Alexander Orlov was ordered back to the Soviet Union by Joseph Stalin in July 1938. Aware of the Great Purge that was going on and that several of his friends had been executed, Orlov fled to France with his wife and daughter before making his way to the United States. Orlov sent a letter to Nikolai Yezhov, the head of the NKVD, that he would reveal the organizations secrets if any action was taken against him or his family.

Under Yezhov, the Great Purge increased in intensity. In 1937 Yezhov arranged the arrest of Genrikh Yagoda, the former head of the NKVD. He was charged with Nickolai Bukharin, Alexei Rykov, Nikolai Krestinsky and Christian Rakovsky of being involved with Leon Trotsky in a plot against Joseph Stalin. They were all found guilty and were eventually executed. It is estimated that over the next year it is estimated that 1.3 million were arrested and 681,692 were shot for "crimes against the state". According to the historian, Emil Draitser, "during 1937 and 1938, 681,692 prisoners (353,074 and 328,618, respectively) received death sentences (nearly 1,000 per day)."

The NKVD broke prisoners down by intense interrogation. This included the threat to arrest and execute members of the prisoner's family if they did not confess. The interrogation went on for several days and nights and eventually they became so exhausted and disoriented that they signed confessions agreeing that they had been attempting to overthrow the government.

In January 1938 Hede Massing and Paul Massing, Soviet spies based in New York City, were interrogated by Mikhail Shpiegelglass and Vassili Zarubin. The Massings were angry about the murder of Ignaz Reiss, the man who had initially recruited them. They demanded to be allowed to return to the United States. However, Shpiegelglass and Zarubin, feared that they were no longer reliable agents and might provide evidence to the FBI on Soviet espionage in America.

Shpiegelglass arranged for Hede Massing to meet Yezhov. "The meeting took place in the Sloutski apartment, the same one where I had been at our first party. When we arrived, the important man was not yet there. There was an atmosphere of expectation. There was no vodka, as was usual before meetings. We sat and waited. There was not even flippant conversation. Finally he arrived. He, too, was in uniform. Though he had little glitter, still it was obvious that he was of a higher rank than my two companions. He was a man of about thirty-five, a Georgian, and fairly good looking in a foreign kind of way; to me, from the very first second, he was despicable. He took a seat on the other side of the room from me, crossed his legs, pulled out a heavy gold tabatiere, slowly tapped a cigarette on it - scrutinizing me throughout the process. Then he said in Russian what amounted to, Let her talk."

Zarubin told Hede Massing, "Tell your story, and I will interpret." Hede was so angry by Yezhov's attitude that she replied: "There is no story to tell. I'm tired of my story. I understood that I was brought here to ask this gentleman for my exit visa. All I am concerned with at this point is that my husband and I be able to leave for home. I've told my story time and again; I am sure that Mr. X can have access to it. So all I have to say now is - when am I going to leave?" Yezhov laughed out loud. "It infuriated me! I mimicked his laugh and said, 'It is not that funny, is it? I mean what I say!' He got up, said in Russian that the conference was ended, and without a word or a nod toward me, he left."

Joseph Stalin told Yezhov that he needed some help in running the NKVD and asked him to choose someone. Yezhov requested Georgy Malenkov but Stalin wanted to keep him in the Central Committee and sent him Lavrenty Beria instead. Simon Sebag Montefiore commented: "Stalin may have wanted a Caucasian, perhaps convinced that the cut-throat traditions of the mountains - blood feuds, vendettas and secret murders - suited the position. Beria was a natural, the only First Secretary who personally tortured his victims. The blackjack - the zhgtrti - and the truncheon - the dubenka - were his favourite toys. He was hated by many of the Old Bolsheviks and family members around the leader. With the whispering, plotting and vengeful Beria at his side, Stalin felt able to destroy his own polluted, intimate world."

Robert Service, the author of Stalin: A Biography (2004) has argued: "Yezhov understood the danger he was in and his daily routine became hectic; he knew that the slightest mistake could prove fatal. Somehow, though, he had to show himself to Stalin as indispensable. Meanwhile he also had to cope with the appointment of a new NKVD Deputy Commissar, the ambitious Lavrenti Beria, from July 1938. Beria had until then been First Secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia; he was widely feared in the south Caucasus as a devious plotter against any rival - and almost certainly he had poisoned one of them, the Abkhazian communist leader Nestor Lakoba, in December 1936. If Yezhov tripped, Beria was ready to take his place; indeed Beria would be more than happy to trip Yezhov up. Daily collaboration with Beria was like being tied in a sack with a wild beast. The strain on Yezhov became intolerable. He took to drinking heavily and turned for solace to one-night stands with women he came across; and when this failed to satiate his needs, he pushed himself upon men he encountered in the office or at home. In so far as he was able to secure his future position, he started to gather compromising material on Stalin himself.... On 17 November the Politburo decided that enemies of the people had infiltrated the NKVD. Such measures spelled doom for Yezhov. He drank more heavily. He turned to more boyfriends for sexual gratification."

On 23rd November 1938, Lavrenty Beria replaced Yezhov as head of the People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs (NKVD). Yezhov was arrested on 10th April, 1939. It is claimed by the authors of Stalin's Loyal Executioner (2002) that Yezhov quickly confessed under torture to being an "enemy of the people". This included a confession that he was an homosexual. Nikolai Yezhov was executed on 4th February, 1940.

Nikolai Yezhov
Nikolai Yezhov

On this day in 1945 Joseph Goebbels kills his children and then commits suicide. When the Red Army made advances into Nazi Germany, Goebbels and his family by Adolf Hitler to move into his Führerbunker in Berlin. Joseph Goebbels wrote to his stepson, Helmut Quandt, on 28th April, 1945: "We are now confined to the Führer's bunker in the Reich Chancellery and are fighting for our lives and our honour. God alone knows what the outcome of this battle will be. I know, however, that we shall only come out of it, dead or alive, with honour and glory. I hardly think that we shall see each other again. Probably, therefore, these are the last lines you will ever receive from me. I expect from you that, should you survive this war, you will do nothing but honour your mother and me. It is not essential that we remain alive in order to continue to influence our people. You may well be the only one able to continue our family tradition. Always act in such a way that we need not be ashamed of it... Farewell, my dear Harald. Whether we shall ever see each other again is in the lap of the gods. If we do not, may you always be proud of having belonged to a family which, even in misfortune, remained loyal to the very end to the Führer and his pure sacred cause."

Rochus Misch, Hitler's bodyguard, claims that Goebbels told him: “Well, Misch, we knew how to live. Now we know how to die." Misch added: "Then he and Frau Goebbels processed arm-in-arm up the stairs to the garden... The children were prepared for their deaths in my work room. Their mother combed their hair - they were all dressed in white nightshirts - and then she went up with the children. Dr Nauman told me that Dr Ludwig Stumpfegger would give the kids 'candy water’. I realised what was going to happen immediately. I had seen Dr Stumpfegger successfully test poison on Blondi, the Führer’s dog.”

Heinz Linge, the author of With Hitler to the End (1980), was in the Fuhrer-bunker: "For Dr Joseph Goebbels, the new Reich Chancellor, it was not apparent until now that he and his wife Magda would commit suicide in Berlin this same day. After the experiences of recent days and weeks hardly anything could shock us men any more, but the women, the female secretaries and chambermaids were 'programmed' differently. They were fearful that the six beautiful Goebbels children would be killed beforehand. The parents had decided upon this course of action. Hitler's physician Dr Stumpfegger was to see to it. The imploring pleas of the women and some of the staff, who suggested to Frau Goebbels that they would bring the children - Helga, Holde, Hilde, Heide, Hedda and Helmut - out of the bunker and care for them, went unheard. I was thinking about my own wife and children who were in relative safety when Frau Goebbels came at 1800 hours and asked me in a dry, emotional voice to go up with her to the tormer Fuhrer-hunker where a room had been set up for her children. Once there she sank down in an armchair. She did not enter the children's room, but waited nervously until the door opened and Dr. Stumpfegger came out. Their eyes met, Magda Goebbels stood up, silent and trembling. When the SS doctor nodded emotionally without speaking, she collapsed. It was done. The children lay dead in their beds, poisoned with cyanide. Two men of the SS bodyguard standing near the entrance led Frau Goebbels to her room in the Fuhrer-bunker."

On 1st May, 1945, Joseph Goebbels, his wife, Magda Goebbels and six children, committed suicide. According to Ralf Georg Reuth, the author of Goebbels (1995): "The last details regarding the deaths of Joseph and Magda Goebbels will probably always remain unclear. It is certain that they poisoned themselves with cyanide, but it is not known whether Goebbels also shot himself in the head. Nor do we know whether they died in the bunker or outside at the emergency exit, where the Soviets found their bodies." e people". This included a confession that he was an homosexual. Nikolai Yezhov was executed on 4th February, 1940.

Otto Dietrich
Helga, Hilde, Helmut, Holde and Hedda Goebbels

On this day in 1960 American U-2 spy plane shot over the Soviet Union. In 1954 Frank Wisner of the Central Intelligence Agency placed Richard Bissell in charge of developing and operating the U-2 spy plane. The U-2 was designed by Kelly Johnson, who had previously been responsible for the P-38 and the F-104 fighter planes. It was essentially a glider with a jet engine. It was so light it could fly at an altitude of 70,000 feet and travel over 4,000 miles. It took two years and $19m to develop.

President Dwight Eisenhower gave permission for the U-2 to fly over Moscow and Leningrad for the first time on 4th July, 1956. The U-2 was a great success and within two years Richard Bissell was able to say that 90% of all hard intelligence about the Soviet Union coming into the CIA was "funneled through the lens of the U-2's aerial cameras". This information convinced Eisenhower that Khrushchev was lying about the number of bombers and missiles being built by the Soviet Union. Eisenhower now knew that United States enjoyed a major advantage over the Soviet Union and allowed him to control defence spending.

As the end of his presidency approached, Dwight Eisenhower, decided to take a decisive step towards ending the Cold War by arranging a summit meeting with Nikita Khrushchev, the leader of the Soviet Union. The two sides agreed to meet in Paris on 16th May, 1960.

On 1st May, 1960, a high-altitude American photographic reconnaissance aircraft, a Lockheed U-2, was shot down over the Soviet Union and the pilot, Gary Powers, was taken prisoner. Six days later Khrushchev announced to the world what had happened and demanded a full apology from the United States government. President Eisenhower replied by admitting that the Central Intelligence Agency had carried out these spying missions without his authority. However, he argued that the United States government had the right to protect its security by collecting the maximum of information about Soviet military strength.

On 15th May Nikita Khrushchev made another appeal to Dwight Eisenhower to apologize for carrying out aerial spying on the Soviet Union. When he refused, the Soviet delegation left Paris and the summit meeting never took place.

Gary Powers was returned to the United States in February 1962 in exchange for a high-ranking Soviet spy that had been arrested by the Americans.

Soviet cartoon showing Dwight Eisenhower during the U2 Crisis (May, 1962)
Soviet cartoon showing Dwight Eisenhower during the U2 Crisis (May, 1962)

On this day in 1961 Fidel Castro, proclaims Cuba a socialist nation. Castro took power in February 1959. In its first hundred days in office Castro's government passed several new laws. Rents were cut by up to 50 per cent for low wage earners; property owned by Batista and his ministers was confiscated; the telephone company was nationalized and the rates were reduced by 50 per cent; land was redistributed amongst the peasants (including the land owned by the Castro family); separate facilities for blacks and whites (swimming pools, beaches, hotels, cemeteries etc.) were abolished.

Castro had strong views on morality. He considered that alcohol, drugs, gambling, homosexuality and prostitution were major evils. He saw the casinos and night-clubs as sources of temptation and corruption and he passed laws closing them down. Members of the Mafia, who had been heavily involved in running these places, were forced to leave the country.

Castro believed passionately in education. Before the revolution 23.6 per cent of the Cuban population were illiterate. In rural areas over half the population could not read or write and 61 per cent of the children did not go to school. Castro asked young students in the cities to travel to the countryside and teach the people to read and write. Cuba adopted the slogan: "If you don't know, learn. If you know, teach." Eventually free education was made available to all citizens and illiteracy in Cuba became a thing of the past.

The new Cuban government also set about the problem of health care. Before the revolution Cuba had 6,000 doctors. Of these, 64 per cent worked in Havana where most of the rich people lived. When Castro ordered that doctors had to be redistributed throughout the country, over half decided to leave Cuba. To replace them Cuba built three new training schools for doctors.

The death of young children from disease was a major problem in Cuba. Infant mortality was 60 per 1,000 live births in 1959. To help deal with this Cuba introduced a free health-service and started a massive inoculation program. By 1980 infant mortality had fallen to 15 per 1,000. This figure is now the best in the developing world and is in fact better than many areas of the United States.

Fidel Castro enters Havana on 9th January, 1959
Fidel Castro enters Havana on 9th January, 1959

On this day in 1998 civil rights activist Eldridge Cleaver died. Cleaver, the son of a nightclub piano player, was born in Wabbaseka, Arkansas, in 1935. The family later moved to Los Angeles. As a teenager he was sent to reform school for stealing a bicycle and selling marijuana.

Soon after his release he was arrested for possession of marijuana. Found guilty he was sentenced to 30 months in Soledad Prison. While in prison Cleaver became interested in politics and read the works of Karl Marx, Tom Paine, William Du Bois and Lenin.

Cleaver was released in 1957 but the following year he was arrested and charged with attempted murder. Found guilty, he was sentenced to a term of two to fourteen years in prison. While in San Quentin he began reading books on black civil rights and was particularly influenced by the writings of Malcolm X.

After leaving prison in 1966 Cleaver joined the Black Panther Party (BPP). Soon afterwards he was appointed the organization's minister of information. Cleaver was now a committed revolutionary and called for an armed insurrection and the establishment of a black socialist government.

Cleaver married Kathleen Neal on 27th December, 1967. The following year he published his memoirs, Soul on Ice (1968), established him as one of African American's the most important political figures.

The activities of the Black Panthers came to the attention of J. Edgar Hoover and the FBI. Hoover described the Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the country" and ordered the FBI to employ "hard-hitting counter-intelligence measures to cripple the Black Panthers".

On 6th April, 1968 eight BPP members, including Cleaver, Bobby Hutton and David Hilliard, were travelling in two cars when they were ambushed by the Oakland police. Cleaver and Hutton ran for cover and found themselves in a basement surrounded by police. The building was fired upon for over an hour. When a tear-gas canister was thrown into the basement the two men decided to surrender. Cleaver was wounded in the leg and so Hutton said he would go first. When he left the building with his hands in the air he was shot twelve times by the police and was killed instantly.

Cleaver was arrested and charged with attempted murder. He was given bail and in November, 1968, he fled to Mexico. Later he moved to Cuba. He also spent time in Algeria.

While in exile Cleaver had disagreements with Huey Newton and in 1971 he expelled him from the Black Panther Party. Soon afterwards Cleaver formed the Revolutionary Peole's Communication Network and Kathleen Cleaver returned to the United States to establish the party in New York.

Soon afterwards Cleaver underwent a mystical conversion to Christianity. He now rejected his former political beliefs describing the system in Cuba as "voodoosocialism". He also wrote an article for the New York Times where he argued "With all its faults, the American political system is the freest and most democratic in the world."

Cleaver returned to the United States in 1975. Tried for his role in the 1968 shoot-out, Cleaver was found guilty of assault. The court was lenient and Cleaver, now a born-again Christian, received only five year's probation and directed to perform 2,000 hours of community service. David Hilliard, on the other hand, charged with the same offence, had received a one to ten year prison term.

After his trial he ran the Cleaver Crusade for Christ. Later, he came up with a plan for "Christlam," a plan to combine Christianity and Islam. He published Soul on Ice (1978) and for a time he advocated the religious ideas of Sun Myung Moon and became involved with Mormonism. During the 1980s he became a supporter of Ronald Reagan.

Cleaver, who for a time worked as a tree surgeon, divorced his wife, Kathleen Cleaver, in 1985. He continued to struggle with drug problems and in 1994 was seriously injured when he was knocked unconscious while buying cocaine from a drug dealer.

On his release from hospital he worked for the Black Chamber of Commerce in San Francisco . He also taught at a Bible college in Miami. However, in 1998 he was placed on probation in 1998 after convictions for burglary and cocaine possession.

Eldridge Cleaver died at Pomona Valley Medical Center on 1st May, 1998. His family requested that the hospital did not reveal the cause of his death.

Eldridge Cleaver
Eldridge Cleaver