On this day on 4th October

On this day in 1537 the first complete English-language Bible, the "Matthew Bible" is printed, with translations by William Tyndale and Miles Coverdale. It included sixty-seven woodcut illustrations. The title-page of the first printing, included a picture of King Henry VIII distributing bibles. Coverdale explains that he has "with a clear conscience purely and faithfully translated this out of five sundry interpreters". He did not mention that it was largely based on the work of Tyndale. While the Bible was being printed, Tyndale was being tried by seventeen commissioners, led by three chief accusers. At their head was the greatest heresy-hunter in Europe, Jacobus Latomus, from the new Catholic University of Louvain, a long-time opponent of Erasmus as well as of Martin Luther. Tyndale conducted his own defence. He was found guilty but he was not burnt alive, as a mark of his distinction as a scholar, on 6th October, 1536, he was strangled first, and then his body was burnt. John Foxe reports that his last words were "Lord, open the king of England's eyes!"

The death of William Tyndale (1563)
The death of William Tyndale (1563)

On this day in 1809 Spencer Perceval becomes Prime Minister of the United Kingdom after William Cavendish-Bentinck, Duke of Portland retires due to ill health. Perceval's period of power coincided with an economic depression and considerable industrial unrest. This resulted in his government introducing repressive methods against the Luddites. This included the Frame-Breaking Act which made the destruction of machines a capital offence. Perceval held the post until 1812 when he became the only British Prime Minister in history to be assassinated. Spencer Perceval was shot when entering the lobby of the House of Commons by John Bellingham, a failed businessman from Liverpool. Bellingham, who blamed Perceval for his financial difficulties, was later hanged for his crime.

Assassination of Spencer Perceval by John Heaviside Clark (1809)
Assassination of Spencer Perceval by John Heaviside Clark (1809)

On this day in 1897 George Bernard Shaw saw the first production of Devil's Disciple in New York City. Shaw became a socialist after hearing a speech by Henry George on land nationalization. Shaw joined the Social Democratic Federation and its leader, H. H. Hyndman, introduced him to the works of Karl Marx. Shaw was convinced by the economic theories in Das Kapital but was aware that it would have little impact on the working class. He later wrote that although the book had been written for the working man, "Marx never got hold of him for a moment. It was the revolting sons of the bourgeois itself - Lassalle, Marx, Liebknecht, Morris, Hyndman, Bax, all like myself, crossed with squirearchy - that painted the flag red. The middle and upper classes are the revolutionary element in society; the proletariat is the conservative element." In May 1884 Shaw joined the Fabian Society and the following year, the Socialist League, an organisation that had been formed by William Morris and Eleanor Marx after a dispute with Hyndman, the leader of the SDF.

Drawing of George Bernard Shaw by William Rothenstein.
Drawing of George Bernard Shaw by William Rothenstein

On this day in 1914 French and British fleet bombards Turkish forts at Dardanelles (a 41 mile strait between Europe and Asiatic Turkey that were overlooked by high cliffs on the Gallipoli Peninsula). It was a plan devised by Winston Churchill who was concerned about the threat that Turkey posed to the British Empire and feared an attack on Egypt. At first the plan was initially rejected by H. H. Asquith, David Lloyd George, Admiral John Fisher and Lord Kitchener. Admiral Fisher wrote to Admiral John Jellicoe, Commander of the Grand British Fleet, arguing: "I just abominate the Dardanelles operation, unless a great change is made and it is settled to be made a military operation, with 200,000 men in conjunction with the Fleet." Maurice Hankey, secretary of the Imperial War Cabinet, agreed with Fisher and circulated a copy of the Committee of Imperial Defence assessment that was against a purely naval assault on the Dardanelles.

Allied ships bombard Turkish ships (1914)
Allied ships bombard Turkish ships (1914)

On this day in 1938 all members of the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War are asked leave the frontline. This followed a speech made by Juan Negrin where he announced to the United Nations the unconditional withdrawal of the International Brigades from Spain. This was not a great sacrifice as there were fewer than 10,000 foreigners left fighting for the Popular Front government. The International Brigades had suffered heavy casualties - 15 per cent killed and a total casualty rate of 40 per cent. At this time there were about 40,000 Italian troops in Spain. Benito Mussolini refused to follow Negrin's example and in reply promised to send Franco additional aircraft and artillery. The International Brigades left Barcelona on 29th October 1938. Dolores Ibárruri, made a farewell speech. "Comrades of the International Brigades! Political reasons, reasons of state, the good of that same cause for which you offered your blood with limitless generosity, send some of you back to your countries and some to forced exile. You can go with pride. You are history. You are legend. You are the heroic example of the solidarity and the universality of democracy. We will not forget you; and, when the olive tree of peace puts forth its leaves, entwined with the laurels of the Spanish Republic's victory, come back! Come back to us and here you will find a homeland." Approximately 4,900 soldiers died fighting for the Republicans (2,000 Germans, 1,000 French, 900 Americans, 500 British and 500 others).

Members of the Tom Mann Centuri unit in Barcelona in September 1936. Left to right: Sid Avner, Nat Cohen, Ramona, Tom Winteringham, George Tioli, Jack Barry and David Marshall.
Members of the Tom Mann Centuri unit in Barcelona in September
1936. Left to right: Sid Avner, Nat Cohen, Ramona, Tom Winteringham,
George Tioli, Jack Barry and David Marshall.

On this day in 1942 General Friedrich Paulus, who had lost 40,000 soldiers since entering Stalingrad, was running out of fighting men and made a desperate plea to Hitler for reinforcements. Aware that the 6th Army was in danger of being starved into surrender, Adolf Hitler ordered Field Marshal Erich von Manstein and the 4th Panzer Army to launch a rescue attempt. Manstein managed to get within thirty miles of Stalingrad but was then brought to a halt by the Red Army. On 27th December, 1942, Manstein decided to withdraw as he was also in danger of being encircled by Soviet troops. In Stalingrad over 28,000 German soldiers had died in just over a month. With little food left General Friedrich Paulus gave the order that the 12,000 wounded men could no longer be fed. Only those who could fight would be given their rations. Erich von Manstein now gave the order for Paulus to make a mass breakout. Paulus rejected the order arguing that his men were too weak to make such a move. On 30th January, 1943, Adolf Hitler promoted to Paulus to field marshal and sent him a message reminding him that no German field marshal had ever been captured. Hitler was clearly suggesting to Paulus to commit suicide but he declined and the following day surrendered to the Red Army. The last of the Germans surrendered on 2nd February. The battle for Stalingrad was over. Over 91,000 men were captured and a further 150,000 had died during the siege. The German prisoners were forced marched to Siberia. About 45,000 died during the march to the prisoner of war camps and only about 7,000 survived the war.

Georgi Zelma, Stalingrad (1942)
Georgi Zelma, Stalingrad (1942)

On this day in 1943 Heinrich Himmler made a speech to Schutzstaffel (SS) officers at Poznan. It included the following words: "I also want to talk to you, quite frankly, on a very grave matter. Among ourselves it should be mentioned quite frankly, and we will never speak of it publicly. Just as we did not hesitate on 30 June 1934 to do the duty we were bidden and stand comrades who had lapsed up against the wall and shoot them, so we have never spoken about it and will never speak of it. It was that tact which is a matter of course and which I am glad to say, inherent in us, that made us never discuss it among ourselves, nor speak of it. It appalled everyone, and yet everyone was certain that he would do it the next time if such orders are issued and if it is necessary. I mean the evacuation of the Jews, the extermination of the Jewish race.... Most of you must know what it means when one hundred corpses are lying side by side, or five hundred, or one thousand. To have stuck it out and at the same time - apart from exceptions caused by human weakness - to have remained decent fellows, that is what has made us hard. This is a page of glory in our history which has never been written and is never to be written, for we know how difficult we should have made it for ourselves, if with the bombing raids, the burdens and the deprivations of war we still had Jews today in every town as secret saboteurs, agitators, and troublemakers. We would now probably have reached the 1916-1917 stage when the Jews were still in the German national body."

Waffen SS in Nazi Germany
David Low, In Occupied Territory (10th July, 1942)

On this day in 1957 Milovan Djilas is imprisoned in Yugoslavia for spreading hostile propaganda. During the Second World War Djilas joined with his friend Josip Tito to help establish the partisan resistance fighters. Djilas was commander of the resistance forces in Montenegro and Bosnia during the war. In 1944 Tito sent Djilas to the Soviet Union where he had meetings with Joseph Stalin. In March 1945 Tito became premier of Yugoslavia. Over the next few years he created a federation of socialist republics (Serbia, Croatia, Slovenia, Montenegro, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Macedonia). Djilas was vice president in Tito's government.

Tito had several disagreements with Joseph Stalin and in 1948 he sent Djilas as head of a Yugoslav delegation to meet Stalin in Moscow. Negotiations failed and later that year Tito took Yugoslavia out of the Comintern and pursued a policy of "positive neutralism". Influenced by the ideas of Djilas, Tito attempted to create a unique form of socialism that included profit sharing workers' councils that managed industrial enterprises.

Despite these reforms Djilas remained critical of how communism was developing in Yugoslavia and wrote about these issues in Belgrade newspapers. In 1954 he was expelled from the party and lost all his government posts. In 1955 Djilas published The New Class: An Analysis of the Communist System. In his book Djilas argued that communism in Eastern Europe was not an egalitarian society that it claimed to be. Instead, he argued, the party had established privileges enjoyed by a small group of party members (the New Class). Djilas was arrested in November 1956 and charged with "slandering and writing opinions hostile to the people and the state of Yugoslavia." Djilas was sentenced in October 1957 to nine years in prison.

Milovan Djilas and Josip Tito during the Second World War
Milovan Djilas and Josip Tito during the Second World War