On this day on 16th November

On this day in 1811 Quaker reformer, John Bright, was born. In October 1837, Joseph Hume, Francis Place and John Roebuck formed the Anti-Corn Law Association in London. The following year Richard Cobden joined with Archibald Prentice to establish a branch of this organisation in Manchester. In March 1839 Cobden was instrumental in establishing a new centralized Anti-Corn Law League. Cobden was now able to organize a national campaign in favour of reform. Cobden was a friend of Bright and suggested he should join the League. Bright agreed and over the next few years he toured the country giving speeches on the need to reform the Corn Laws. Bright was an outstanding orator and he drew large crowds wherever he appeared.

In his speeches John Bright attacked the privileged position of the landed aristocracy and argued that their selfishness was causing the working class a great deal of suffering. Bright appealed to the working and middle classes to join together in the fight for free trade and cheaper food.

In 1843 Bright was elected to represent Durham in the House of Commons. In Parliament he campaigned for the repeal of the Corn Laws. He also supported those Whigs advocating universal suffrage and the secret ballot. However, unlike most Radicals, Bright was opposed to Parliament regulating the hours of factory workers. Bright feared that factory legislation would lower wages and threaten Britain's export trade and as a result voted against the 1844 Factory Act.

The failure of the Irish potato crop in 1845 and the mass starvation that followed, forced Sir Robert Peel and his Conservative government to reconsider the wisdom of the Corn Laws. Irish nationalists such as Daniel O'Connell also became involved in the campaign. Peel was gradually won over and in January 1846 a new Corn Law was passed that reduced the duty on oats, barley and wheat to the insignificant sum of one shilling per quarter became law.

Bright was now a national hero and he used his high standing to campaign for other progressive causes. As a Quaker Bright was opposed to the aggressive foreign policy of Lord Palmerston. Bright joined with Richard Cobden to campaign against the Crimean War (1854-1856). The two men were much abused by the press and some MPs even accused them of treason.

The British public shared the government's enthusiasm for the war and in the 1857 General Election, both Bright and Richard Cobden lost their seats in the House of Commons. However, five months later, he won a by-election in Birmingham. Bright refused to change his view on Britain's foreign policy. He blamed the Indian Mutiny of British misrule and advocated that the Indian people should be allowed to elect their own government.

Bright was now one of the leading advocates in the House of Commons for universal suffrage. In a speech made in 1858 he pointed out that only one out of six adult males had the vote in Britain and that less than 200,000 voters regularly returned more than 50% of all MPs. Bright called for an end to all rotten boroughs and the introduction of the secret ballot.

Bright was shocked by the outbreak of the American Civil War. As a Quaker he was totally opposed to slavery and was a passionate supporter of Abraham Lincoln. However, his religious views also stopped him for arguing in favour of Britain sending troops to help the Union forces against the Confederacy.

In 1865 Lord John Russell, leader of the Liberals in Parliament, became Prime Minister. Russell and William Gladstone, the government's leader of the House of Commons, were both supporters of parliamentary reform and although many Liberals were still opposed to universal suffrage, they were determined to try.

John Bright toured the country and used his considerable public speaking skills to drum up support for the measure. However Russell's government found it impossible to get the bill passed by the House of Commons. When Russell resigned in 1866 he was replaced by the Earl of Derby and with the support of Benjamin Disraeli the new government managed to pass the 1867 Reform Act.

William Gladstone became Prime Minister in 1868 and as he was a great admirer of Bright he appointed him as his President of the Board of Trade. Bright now had the pleasure of seeing the Liberal government pass several measures that he had been advocating for many years. This included opening the universities to Nonconformists, the secret ballot and government funded education. Unfortunately ill-health forced him to retire from the Cabinet in December 1870.

The Liberals were in opposition between 1874 and 1880 but after William Gladstone became Prime Minister in 1870, Bright returned to government as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. Bright objected to the Liberal government's foreign policy and when the British fleet attacked Egypt in 1882, he resigned from the Cabinet.

John Bright
John Bright

On this day in 1890 investigative journalist George Seldes was born. When he was nineteen he was employed as a cub reporter by the Pittsburgh Leader. In his autobiography, Witness to a Century (1987) he admitted that as a young man he was influenced by investigative journalists such as Lincoln Steffens, Ida Tarbell, Upton Sinclair and Ray Stannard Baker.

Seldes interviewed William Haywood and Joe Hill in 1912: "When Bill Hayward came to the coal and iron capital of America, Ray Springle and I went to his headquarters, not for news stories, which we knew would never be published, but out of interest in the new labor movement, the Industrial Workers of the World. And so, by chance along with its new leaders we met the ballad-maker of the IWW, Joe Hill." Seldes later recalled: "Joe Hill was a man of great enthusiasm and such easy friendship that in the week or ten days in which we knew him the three of us and another of his friends pledged a lifetime of loyalty to one another. But it was only a few months later that the last member of our foursome... sent me a photograph of Joe Hill sitting upright in his coffin with five bullet holes in his left chest."

In 1914 Seldes was appointed night editor of the Pittsburgh Post. As a young man he was influenced by the investigative journalism of Lincoln Steffens. He later wrote: "Lincoln Steffens was the godfather of us all. He was an older man when I first met him. He was the first of the muckrakers.... He often warned me that I was starting to get a bad reputation for myself. I guess I never worried about that."

Seldes spent the next ten years as an international reporter for the Chicago Tribune. In the summer of 1921, Seldes was sent to Russia to report on the new policy of war communism in Russia. Maxim Litvinov was placed in charge of giving permission to the journalists to go into the famine areas. Those who arrived from the United States included Floyd Gibbons and Walter Duranty. Seldes later commented in his autobiography, Witness to a Century (1987): "We had been instructed to proceed to the Hotel Savoy, a small hostelry near the Kremlin, and we were assigned rooms on the second or third floor. But Floyd Gibbons had beaten all of us to Moscow. We heard that he was now in Sumara, the worst-hit city in the famine zone."

In 1922 Seldes managed to get an interview with the Bolshevik leader, Lenin. "He spoke with a thick, throaty, wet voice. He was in very good humour, always smiling, his face never was hard. All his pictures are hard but he was always twinkling with laughter. Eyes bright, crowsfeet, a real, unserious face... Lenin had the greatness and the human, all-too-human sympathy to be a comrade to all, the group of fellow dictators and the peasants who loved him. In battle with his enemies he was uncompromising and without pity. He hated power, knowing its corruption. His political wisdom was great; he understood mob psychology thoroughly but was a little weak in his grasp of individual psychology; he never made a mistake in dealing with the masses but he frequently did in choosing men to share power."

However, the Soviet government did not like Seldes's reports and in 1923 he was expelled from the country. Seldes later reported that the main problem was the role played by Cheka in the Soviet Union: "Freedom, liberty, justice as we know it, democracy, all the fundamental human rights for which the world has been fighting for civilized centuries, have been abolished in Russia in order that the communist experiment might be made. They have been kept suppressed by the Cheka."

In a series of articles in the Chicago Tribune Seldes described the Soviet Union as a police state of unparalled ruthlessness. In one article Seldes commented "believe me, if Bolshevism ever comes to America nothing would please me more than a nice corner position on a roof overlooking two main streets and a nice large machine gun and unlimited belts of ammunition." Duranty responded by defending the country. He argued that: "freedom of speech and the press in America and England are the slow outcome of a centuries long fight for personal freedom. How can you expect Russia, just emerged from blackest tyranny, to share the attitude of Anglo-Saxons who struck the blow against royal tyrants a thousand years ago at Runnymede?"

Seldes went to Italy where he wrote about Benito Mussolini and the rise of fascism. Seldes investigated the murder of Giacomo Matteotti, the head of the Italian Socialist Party. "Everyone had copies of the confessions of the men who killed Giacomo Matteotti (the head of the Italian Socialist Party and Mussolini's chief political rival). The documents clearly implicated Mussolini in the killing, but not one person wanted to write about it. They thought Rome was too nice a posting to give up to risk publishing them. They didn't want to, but I did. The major American newspapers at the time supported fascism as a legitimate political movement. They loved Mussolini because they thought he restored order to Italy and businesses there were doing well. It got more and more difficult to report on what was really happening there." His article implicating Mussolini in the killing, resulted in Seldes being expelled from Italy.

Seldes next assignment was in Mexico in 1927 but his articles criticizing American corporations concerning their use of the country's mineral rights, were not always published by the newspaper. Seldes returned to Europe but found that increasingly his work was being censored to fit the political views of the newspaper's owner, Robert McCormack.

Disillusioned, Seldes left the Chicago Tribune and worked as a freelance writer. In his first two books, You Can't Print That! (1929) and Can These Things Be! (1931), Seldes included material that he had not been allowed to publish in the newspaper. His next book, World Panorama (1933), was a narrative history of the period that followed the First World War.

In 1934 Seldes published a history of the Catholic Church, The Vatican. This was followed by an expose of the world armaments industry, Iron, Blood and Profits (1934), an account of Benito Mussolini, appeared in Sawdust Caesar (1935), and two books on the newspaper industry, Freedom of the Press (1935) and Lords of the Press (1938). During this period he also reported on the Spanish Civil War for the New York Post.

On his return to the United States in 1940 Seldes published Witch Hunt: The Techniques and Profits of Redbaiting, an account of the persecution of people with left-wing political views in America, and The Catholic Crisis, where he attempted to show the close relationship between the Catholic Church and fascist organizations in Europe.

In 1940 Seldes began his own political newsletter called In Fact. A journal that eventually reached a circulation of 176,000. One of the first articles published in the newsletter concerned the link between cigarette smoking and cancer. Seldes later explained that at the time, "The tobacco stories were suppressed by every major newspaper. For ten years we pounded on tobacco as being one of the only legal poisons you could buy in America."

As well as writing his newsletter Seldes continued to publish books. This included Facts and Fascism (1943), 1000 Americans (1947), an account of the people who controlled America and The People Don't Know (1949) on the origins of the Cold War.

In the early 1950s Seldes work came under attack from Joseph McCarthy. Despite his long history of being hostile to all forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism, he was accused of being a communist. He later recalled how: "Newspaper columnists would write that a Russian agent stopped by my office each week to pay my salary. I didn't have the money to sue them for libel. My lawyer told me it would take years to reach a settlement and even if I won I would never see a dime."

Seles was blacklisted and now found it difficult to get his journalism published. He continued to write books including Tell the Truth and Run (1953), Never Tire of Protesting (1968), Even the Gods Can't Change History (1976) and Witness to a Century (1987). Seldes died at Windsor, Vermont, on 2nd July, 1995, aged 104.

George Seldes in 1923
George Seldes in 1923

On this day in 1891 Julius Leber, the son of a bricklayer, was born in Germany. After a brief formal education he became a journalist. He developed left-wing political views and joined the Social Democratic Party in 1913. In 1914 he joined the German Army and during the First World War was wounded twice. He was also decorated for bravery and by the end of the war he reached the rank of second lieutenant.

During the German Revolution Leber supported the rebels and helped put down the Kapp Putsch in Berlin in 1920. Leber worked as editor of the SDP newspaper in Luebeck before being elected to the Reichstag in 1924. Over the next few years he became one of Germany's leading opponents of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Soon after Hitler became chancellor in 1933 Leber was arrested and sent to concentration camps at Esterwegen and Oranienburg as a "danger to the State". After being released in 1937 he continued to work with the resistance and joined forces with Adolf Reichwein, Claus von Stauffenberg, Hans Dohnanyi, Hans Oster, and Carl Goerdeler in an attempt to overthrow Hitler.

On 4th July, 1944, Leber was arrested and charged with being involved in what became known as the July Plot. Although tortured for two months by the Gestapo Leber refused to confess to his involvement in the failed attempt to kill Adolf Hitler. Julius Leber was found guilty and executed on 5th January, 1945.

Julius Leber
Julius Leber

On this day in 1896 Oswald Mosley was born. In January 1932, Mosley and Harold Nicolson visited Italy to study fascism at first hand. Mosley met Benito Mussolini who he found "affable but unimpressive". Mussolini advised Mosley to "call himself a fascist, but not to try the military stunt in England". Nicholson claimed in his diary that Mosley was not put off by the way Mussolini had arrested his opponents and the censorship of Italian newspapers. "Mosley... cannot keep his mind off shock troops, the arrest of MacDonald and J. H. Thomas, their internment in the Isle of Wight and the roll of drums around Westminster. He is a romantic. That is a great failing."

On his return to England, Mosley wrote an article in The Daily Mail about the achievements of Mussolini. "A visit to Mussolini... is typical of that new atmosphere. No time is wasted in the polite banalities which have so irked the younger generation in Britain when dealing with our elder statesmen.... Questions on all relevant and practical subjects are fired with the rapidity and precision of bullets from a machine gun; straight, lucid, unaffected exposition follows of his own views on subjects of mutual interest to him and to his visitor.... The great Italian represents the first emergence of the modern man to power; it is an interesting and instructive phenomenon. Englishmen who have long suffered from statesmanship in skirts can pay him no less, and need pay him no more, tribute than to say, Here at least is a man".

Mosley now became convinced that the time was right to establish a fascist party. There had been fascist groups in the past. Miss Rotha Lintorn-Orman established the British Fascisti organization in 1923. She later said: "I saw the need for an organization of disinterested patriots, composed of all classes and all Christian creeds, who would be ready to serve their country in any emergency." Members of the British Fascists had been horrified by the Russian Revolution. However, they had gained inspiration from what Mussolini had done it Italy.

Most members of the British Fascisti came from the right-wing of the Conservative Party. Early recruits included William Joyce, Maxwell Knight and Nesta Webster. Knight's work as Director of Intelligence for the British Fascists brought him to the attention of Vernon Kell, Director of the Home Section of the Secret Service Bureau. This government organization had responsibility of investigating espionage, sabotage and subversion in Britain and was also known as MI5. In 1925 Kell recruited Knight to work for the Secret Service Bureau and played a significant role in helping to defeat the General Strike in 1926.

Arnold Leese, a retired veterinary surgeon, had founded the Imperial Fascist League (IFL) in 1929. He had a private army called the Fascist Legions, who never numbered more than three dozen, wore black shirts and breeches. The IFL defined fascism as the "patriotic revolt against democracy and a return to statesmanship" and planned to "impose a corporate state" on the country. It also believed that Jews should be banned from citizenship. The IFL enemies were Communism, Freemasonry and Jews.

Mosley originally dismissed the Imperial Fascist League as "one of those crank little societies mad about the Jews". However, on 27th April 1932, Mosley arranged for Leese to speak to New Party members, on the subject of The Blindness of British Politics under Jew Money-Power. However, the two men did not get on well together. Leese refused all co-operation with Mosley, "believing him to be in the pay of the Jews".

The British Union of Fascists (BUF) was formally launched on 1st October, 1932. It originally had only 32 members and included several former members of the New Party: Cynthia Mosley, Robert Forgan, William E. Allen, John Beckett and William Joyce. Mosley told them: "We ask those who join us... to be prepared to sacrifice all, but to do so for no small or unworthy ends. We ask them to dedicate their lives to building in the country a movement of the modern age... In return we can only offer them the deep belief that they are fighting that a great land may live."

Over the next few months a large number of people joined the organisation such as Charles Bentinck Budd, Harold Harmsworth (Lord Rothermere), Major General John Fuller, Wing-Commander Louis Greig, A. K. Chesterton, David Bertram Ogilvy Freeman-Mitford (Lord Redesdale), Unity Mitford, Diana Mitford, Patrick Boyle (8th Earl of Glasgow), Malcolm Campbell and Tommy Moran. Mosley refused to publish the names or numbers of members but the press estimated a maximum number of 35,000.

Mosley decided that members of the BUF should wear a uniform. The black shirt was to be the symbol of fascism. According to Mosley the "black shirt was the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace". The uniform enabled his stewards to recognise each other in a fight against those trying to disrupt BUF meetings. "In addition, the uniform was a symbol of authority, and as such his uniformed squads would not only be a rallying-point, but also a striking-force in any battle that might develop with the communists for the control of the State."

Mary Richardson was one of those who liked the idea of a uniform: "I was first attracted to the Blackshirts because I saw in them the courage, the action, the loyalty, the gift of service, and the ability to serve which I had known in the suffrage movement". Mosley commented: "In the Blackshirt all men are the same, whether millionaire or on the dole. The barriers of class distinction and social differences are broken down by the Blackshirt within a Movement which aims at the creation of a classroom brotherhood marked only by functional differences."

Mosley began to argue for the corporate state: "How can any international system, whether capitalist or Socialist, advance or even maintain the standard of life of our people? None can deny the truism that to sell we must find customers and, as foreign markets progressively close... the home customer becomes ever more the outlet of industry. But the home customer is simply the British people, on whose purchasing power our industry is ever more dependent. For the most part the purchasing power of the British people depends on the wages and salaries they are paid... Yet wages and salaries of the British people are held down far below the level which modern science, and the potential of production, could justify because their labour is subject to... undercutting competition... on both foreign and home markets.... The result is the tragic paradox of poverty and unemployment amid potential plenty.... Internationalism, in fact, robs the British people of the power to buy the goods that the British people produce."

After the 1933 General Election, Chancellor Adolf Hitler proposed an Enabling Bill that would give him dictatorial powers. Such an act needed three-quarters of the members of the Reichstag to vote in its favour. All the active members of the Communist Party, were in prison, in hiding, or had left the country (an estimated 60,000 people left Germany during the first few weeks after the election). This was also true of most of the leaders of the other left-wing party, Social Democrat Party (SDP). However, Hitler still needed the support of the Catholic Centre Party (BVP) to pass this legislation. Hitler therefore offered the BVP a deal: vote for the bill and the Nazi government would guarantee the rights of the Catholic Church. The BVP agreed and when the vote was taken on 24th March, 1933, only 94 members of the SDP voted against the Enabling Bill.

Soon afterwards the Communist Party and the Social Democrat Party became banned organisations. Party activists still in the country were arrested. A month later Hitler announced that the Catholic Centre Party, the Nationalist Party and all other political parties other than the NSDAP were illegal, and by the end of 1933 over 150,000 political prisoners were in concentration camps. Hitler was aware that people have a great fear of the unknown, and if prisoners were released, they were warned that if they told anyone of their experiences they would be sent back to the camp.

Lord Rothermere produced a series of articles in his Daily Mail newspaper acclaiming the new regime. The most famous of these was on the 10th July when he told readers that he "confidently expected" great things of the Nazi regime. He also criticized other newspapers for "its obsession with Nazi violence and racialism", and assured his readers that any such deeds would be "submerged by the immense benefits that the new regime is already bestowing on Germany." He pointed out that those criticizing Hitler were on the left of the political spectrum.

Hitler acknowledged this help by writing to Rothermere: "I should like to express the appreciation of countless Germans, who regard me as their spokesman, for the wise and beneficial public support which you have given to a policy that we all hope will contribute to the enduring pacification of Europe. Just as we are fanatically determined to defend ourselves against attack, so do we reject the idea of taking the initiative in bringing about a war. I am convinced that no one who fought in the front trenches during the world war, no matter in what European country, desires another conflict." In another article Lord Rothermere called for Hitler to be given back land in Africa that had been taken as a result of the Versailles Treaty.

Lord Rothermere, the press baron, was a great supporter of Adolf Hitler. According to James Pool, the author of Who Financed Hitler: The Secret Funding of Hitler's Rise to Power (1979): "Shortly after the Nazis' sweeping victory in the election of September 14, 1930, Rothermere went to Munich to have a long talk with Hitler, and ten days after the election wrote an article discussing the significance of the National Socialists' triumph. The article drew attention throughout England and the Continent because it urged acceptance of the Nazis as a bulwark against Communism... Rothermere continued to say that if it were not for the Nazis, the Communists might have gained the majority in the Reichstag."

Louis P. Lochner, argues in his book, Tycoons and Tyrant: German Industry from Hitler to Adenauer (1954) that Lord Rothermere provided funds to Hitler via Ernst Hanfstaengel. When Hitler became Chancellor on 30th January 1933, Rothermere produced a series of articles acclaiming the new regime. "I urge all British young men and women to study closely the progress of the Nazi regime in Germany. They must not be misled by the misrepresentations of its opponents. The most spiteful distracters of the Nazis are to be found in precisely the same sections of the British public and press as are most vehement in their praises of the Soviet regime in Russia."

George Ward Price, the Daily Mail's foreign correspondent developed a very close relationship with Adolf Hitler. According to the German historian, Hans-Adolf Jacobsen: "The famous special correspondent of the London Daily Mail, Ward Price, was welcomed to interviews in the Reich Chancellery in a more privileged way than all other foreign journalists, particularly when foreign countries had once more been brusqued by a decision of German foreign policy. His paper supported Hitler more strongly and more constantly than any other newspaper outside Germany."

Franklin Reid Gannon, the author of The British Press and Germany (1971), has claimed that Hitler regarded him as "the only foreign journalist who reported him without prejudice". (142) In his autobiography, Extra-Special Correspondent (1957), Ward Price defended himself against the charge he was a fascist by claiming: "I reported Hitler's statements accurately, leaving British newspaper readers to form their own opinions of their worth."

Lord Rothermere also gave full support to Oswald Mosley and the National Union of Fascists. He wrote an article, Hurrah for the Blackshirts, on 22nd January, 1934, in which he praised Mosley for his "sound, commonsense, Conservative doctrine". Rothermere added: "Timid alarmists all this week have been whimpering that the rapid growth in numbers of the British Blackshirts is preparing the way for a system of rulership by means of steel whips and concentration camps. Very few of these panic-mongers have any personal knowledge of the countries that are already under Blackshirt government. The notion that a permanent reign of terror exists there has been evolved entirely from their own morbid imaginations, fed by sensational propaganda from opponents of the party now in power. As a purely British organization, the Blackshirts will respect those principles of tolerance which are traditional in British politics. They have no prejudice either of class or race. Their recruits are drawn from all social grades and every political party. Young men may join the British Union of Fascists by writing to the Headquarters, King's Road, Chelsea, London, S.W."

Oswald Mosley with members of the British Union of Fascists
Oswald Mosley with members of the British Union of Fascists

On this day in 1917 Dr Mandelbaum, reported on the Bolshevik treatment of the Women's Death Battalion. In May 1917, Maria Bochkareva, persuaded Alexander Kerensky, Russia's new leader, to allow her to form a Women's Battalion. In a speech given in June, she argued: "Come with us in the name of your fallen heroes. Come with us to dry the tears and heal the wounds of Russia. Protect her with yours lives. We women are turning into tigresses to protect our children from a shameful yoke - to protect the freedom of our country."

Bochkareva managed to persuade over 2,000 women to join the Women's Battalion. The American journalist, Bessie Beatty, went to see the women on the Eastern Front: She wrote: "Women can fight. Women have the courage, the endurance and even the strength for fighting. The Russians have demonstrated that and, if necessary, all the other women in the world can demonstrate it."

Florence Farmborough commented on 13th August, 1917: "At dinner we heard more of the Women's Death Battalion. It was true; Bochkareva had brought her small battalion down south of the Austrian Front, and they had manned part of the trenches which had been abandoned by the Russian Infantry. The size of the Battalion had considerably decreased since the first weeks of recruitment, when some 2000 women and girls had rallied to the call of their leader. Many of them, painted and powdered, had joined the Battalion as an exciting and romantic adventure; she loudly condemned their behaviour and demanded iron discipline. Gradually the patriotic enthusiasm had spent itself; the 2000 slowly dwindled to 250. In honour to those women volunteers, it was recorded that they did go into the attack; they did go 'over the top'. But not all of them. Some remained in the trenches, fainting and hysterical; others ran or crawled back to the rear."

On 25th October, Bochkareva and the few remaining members of the Women's Battalion attempted to defend the Winter Palace against Bolshevik forces. John Reed, an American journalist in Petrograd during the revolution reported that "all sorts of sensational stories were published in the anti-Bolshevik press, and told in the City Duma, about the fate of the Women's Battalion defending the Palace. It was said that some of the girl-soldiers had been thrown from the windows into the street, most of the rest had been violated, and many had committed suicide as a result of the horrors they had gone through."

Alfred Knox, the British Military Attaché in Petrograd, intervened in order to help free members of the Women's Battalion who had been captured during the attack on the Winter Palace. This involved him negotiating with Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko: "I borrowed the Ambassador's car and drove to the Bolshevik headquarters at the Smolny Institute. This big building, formerly a school for the daughters of the nobility, is now thick with the dirt of revolution. Sentries and others tried to put me off, but I at length penetrated to the third floor, where I saw the Secretary of the Military-Revolutionary Committee (Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko) and demanded that the women should be set free at once. He tried to procrastinate, but I told him that if they were not liberated at once I would set the opinion of the civilized world against the Bolsheviks."

The Duma appointed a commission to investigate the claims of ill-treatment and on 16th November, Dr Mandelbaum, reported that three had been violated, and that one had committed suicide. However, he claimed that none had been "thrown out of the windows of the Winter Palace." On 21 November, 1917, the Bolshevik Military Revolutionary Committee officially dissolved the Women's Battalion.

Members of the Women's Death Battalion
Members of the Women's Death Battalion

On this day in 1927 Adolph Joffe committed suicide.Joffe was born in Simferopol, Russia, on 10th October, 1883. The son of a wealthy merchant, he became involved in revolutionary activity while a student in the late 1890s. Joffe joined the Social Democratic Party in 1903 and the following year became involved in smuggling political propaganda to Baku. As he later explained: "In 1904 I was instructed by the Central Committee to convey literature to Baku and to conduct propaganda there. I joined the Baku SD organization, but I had to leave Transcaucasia in the same year to avoid arrest, and I was sent to Moscow for the same sort of work. I was soon exposed there, too, so I took refuge abroad. ",

Joffe moved to Moscow during the 1905 Russian Revolution. The following year he was forced into exile. He lived in Berlin before being expelled from Germany in May, 1906. Joffe now moved to Vienna where he edited Pravda with Leon Trotsky. He often visited Russia and in 1912 he was arrested and after spending ten months in solitary confinement before being exiled to Siberia.

In 1917 Joffe escaped from Siberia and made his way to Petrograd. He was elected to the Petrograd Soviet and the Bolshevik Central Committee. During the October Revolution Joffe was the chairman of the Military Revolutionary Committee. Trotsky claimed that "Joffe was a man of great intellectual ardour, very genial in all his personal relations, and unswervingly loyal to the cause".

In December, 1917, Joffe went with Leon Trotsky as a member of the Russian delegation at Brest-Litovsk that was negotiating with representatives from Germany and Austria. They had the difficult task of trying to end Russian participation in the First World War without having to grant territory to the Central Powers. By employing delaying tactics Joffe and Trotsky hoped that socialist revolutions would spread from Russia to Germany and Austria-Hungary before they had to sign the treaty.

After nine weeks of discussions without agreement, the German Army was ordered to resume its advance into Russia. On 3rd March 1918, with German troops moving towards Petrograd, Vladimir Lenin ordered Joffe and Trotsky to accept the terms of the Central Powers. The Brest-Litovsk Treaty resulted in the Russians surrendering the Ukraine, Finland, the Baltic provinces, the Caucasus and Poland.

When Leon Trotsky took control of the Red Army during the Civil War, Joffe replaced him as Commissar for Foreign Affairs and carried out negotiations with Turkey and Germany. While in Berlin he was accused of planning a communist revolution and was expelled from the country.

Joffe was a loyal supporter of Leon Trotsky and after Joseph Stalin gained power was sent him abroad as a diplomatic. In 1927 Joffe was one of the few leading Bolsheviks who was willing to defend Trotsky. After the expulsion of Trotsky from the Central Committee, Joffe decided to commit suicide and sent Trotsky a letter: "One does not lie before his death, and now I repeat this again to you. But you have often abandoned your rightness for the sake of an overvalued agreement or compromise. This is a mistake. I repeat: politically you have always been right, and now more right than ever. Some day the party will realize it, and history will not fail to accord recognition. Then don't lose your courage if someone leaves you know, or if not as many come to you, and not as soon, as we all would like. You are right, but the guarantee of the victory of your rightness lies in nothing but the extreme unwillingness to yield, the strictest straightforwardness, the absolute rejection of all compromise; in this very thing lay the secret of Lenin's victories. Many a time I have wanted to tell you this, but only now have I brought myself to do so, as a last farewell."

Adolph Joffe
Adolph Joffe

On this day in 1939 it is revealed that Lord Rothermere, the owner of the Daily Mail, had been secretly negotiating with Adolf Hitler. In February 1939, Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe, Rothermere's former mistress, announced she was to sue the press baron for what she alleged was breach of contract. She hired one of the most fashionable law firms in London, Theodore Goddard & Partners; the solicitors who, in 1936, had handled the divorce case of her friend, Wallis Simpson. MI5 began to take a close interest in the case. One report said: "Princess Hohenlohe has given us a great deal of work owing to the fact that she is frequently the subject of denunciation to the effect that she is, or has been, a trusted political agent and personal friend of Herr Hitler; that she is a German political spy of a very high order; and that she was given the Scloss Leopoldskron by Herr Hitler for signal services rendered for him."

In March 1939 the MI6 passport control officer at Victoria Station arrested Princess Stephanie's Hungarian lawyer, Erno Wittman. The arresting officer reported what he discovered that Wittman was carrying: "This was astonishing; it appeared to be copies of documents and letters which passed between Lord Rothermere, Lady Snowden, Princess Stephanie, Herr Hitler and others. In the main, the letters referred to the possible restoration of the throne in Hungary and shed a good deal of light on the character and activities of the princess." It was decided to pass on this information to MI5. Amongst the documents were several letters from Lord Rothermere to Adolf Hitler. This included a "a very indiscreet letter to the Führer congratulating him on his walk into Prague". The letter urged Hitler to follow up his coup with the invasion of Romania.

It seems that Adolf Hitler had given Princess Stephanie photocopies of the letters Lord Rothermere had been sending him. As Jim Wilson, the author of Nazi Princess: Hitler, Lord Rothermere and Princess Stephanie Von Hohenlohe (2011) has pointed out: "These letters were secretly circulated within the intelligence services and senior civil servants in key government ministries... Nothing could be more revealing of the press baron's continued support of the Nazi Führer as the inevitable conflict drew closer, but it appears MI5 shied away from actually taking action against the press baron. Certainly there is nothing in the derestricted files to indicate whether Rothermere was warned to cease his correspondence with Berlin, though some information in the files still remains undisclosed.... The MI5 makes it clear that the secret service had warned the government that copies of this correspondence would be produced in open court, which would embarrass not only Rothermere but also a number of other notable members of the British aristocracy, and that these disclosures would shock the British public."

On 4th September, 1939, the morning after the outbreak of the Second World War, Rothermere's Daily Mail had a powerful patriotic leader: "No statesman, no man with any decency could think of sitting at the same table with Hitler or his henchman the trickster von Ribbentrop, or any other of the gang. We fight against the blackest tyranny that has ever held men in bondage. We fight to defend and to restore freedom and justice on earth."

Behind the scenes, Rothermere was expressing different views. On 24th September 1939 Lord Rothermere had his close colleague and "ghost", Collin Brooks, draft a letter to Neville Chamberlain urging the futility of trying to save Poland and warning that "whether victorious or not, Britain will emerge from such a conflict with her social and economic fabric destroyed", which could mean "a revolution of the Left in these islands, which might be more deadly than the war itself". According to Rothermere's biographer, David George Boyce: "But the letter was never sent (despite Rothermere's fear that Britain was ‘finished’), because of the ‘national mood and temper’, a nice example of the would-be opinion leader and press baron being led by the public itself."

Three weeks after the outbreak of war Rothermere's lawyers attempted to have the legal action stopped that involved . A member of his law firm went to the Home Office and denounced Princess Stephanie as a German agent and suggested that she should be deported. If the case reached open court it would receive huge publicity and would undermine public morale. This was supported by information from MI5 who had evidence from her Austrian maid, Anna Stoffl, that she was a Nazi spy.

However, the Home Office came to the conclusion that it would be improper to intervene. The case reached the High Court on 8th November, 1939. Princess Stephanie's case was that in 1932, when Rothermere had promised to engage her as his European political representative on an annual salary of £5,000, she had understood the engagement was ongoing. She made it clear to the judge that if she lost the case she would not hesitate to publish her memoirs in America. This story would reveal Lord Rothermere's relationship with Hitler and his "numerous, often indiscreet, liaisons with women".

Sir William Jowitt asked Princess Stephanie if she had used the services of Fritz Wiedemann to put pressure on Lord Rothermere. She replied: "I have not." Then a letter from Wiedemann to Lord Rothermere was read out in court. It included the following passage: "You know that the Führer greatly appreciates the work the princess did to straighten relations between our countries... it was her groundwork which made the Munich agreement possible." However, the judge would not allow Princess Stephanie to read out the letters exchanged by Lord Rothermere and Hitler.

Lord Rothermere, who had engaged a legal team of seventeen to mount his defence, told the judge, it was preposterous that he had agreed to support Princess Stephanie "for the rest of her life". He admitted that between 1932 and 1938 he had paid her considerably more than £51,000 (almost £2 million in today's money). He added that she was always "pestering and badgering me" for money. That is why he sent her away to Berlin to be with Hitler.

Jowitt told the court that Princess Stephanie had his client's letters photocopied behind his back by the Special Photographic Bureau of the Department of the German Chancellor. He also defended Rothermere's right to enter into negotiations with Hitler in an effort to prevent a war between the two countries. "Who can say whether if Lord Rothermere had succeeded in the endeavours which he made, we might not be in the position in which we are today?"

After six days of legal argument Justice Tucker ruled against Princess Stephanie. Soon after the trial finished, Lord Rothermere used Lady Ethel Snowden as an intermediary and sent Stephanie a message to say he would meet all her legal costs if she undertook to get out of the country. This she agreed to do but he thought she was going back to Europe instead of going to the United States to publish her account of her relationship with Rothermere. However, he was able to use his considerable power to make sure her memoirs were never published. A MI5 officer recorded that Lord Rothermere had probably "offered her a considerable sum to leave the country".

The court case revealed that Lord Rothermere had been involved in secret negotiations with Adolf Hitler. One newspaper, The Yorkshire Post, raised serious questions about this issue: "The danger of these negotiations was two-fold. There was first the danger that Lord Rothermere might unwittingly give the Nazis a misleading impression of the state of opinion in this country; and there was also the danger that Lord Rothermere might - again unwittingly - allow himself to be used as a vehicle for the extremely subtle manoeuvres of Nazi propaganda.... discussions with heads of foreign governments are best left of persons whose status is on both sides clearly understood. A newspaper owner has great responsibilities towards the public of his own country; he should be particularly chary of placing himself in situations liable to misinterpretation, or abuse abroad."

On 14th November, 1939, Margot Asquith (Lady Oxford) wrote to Princess Stephanie von Hohenlohe: "Dearest Stephanie, We are all with you. I have always told you Rothermere is no good. I respect you for having challenged him. Never mind the outcome. He is finished here. I know what I am saying. The most important things in life are: (i) To love and to be loved. (ii). To be trusted. Rothermere has neither."

In the House of Commons the Liberal Party MP, Geoffrey Le Mesurier Mander, asked the Home Secretary, Herbert Morrison, why Princess Stephanie, a "notorious member of the Hitler spy organisation" was being allowed to leave the country. Morrison replied that he needed notice of the question but in any case she had been granted only a "no return" permit and there were no circumstances in which she would be allowed to return to Britain.

Lord Rothermere was now aware that MI5 had copies of his letters to Adolf Hitler. Fearing that he might be arrested for treason and decided to go and live in Bermuda. On his arrival he was admitted to King Edward VII Memorial Hospital. Suffering from serious heart trouble he died on 26th November 1940.

Lord Rothermere with Adolf Hitler
Letter sent by Lord Rothermere to Adolf Hitler (1st January, 1939)

On this day in 2007 civil rights campaigner, Victor Rabinowitz died. Rabinowitz was born in Brooklyn, New York, on 2nd July 1911. His father was a Jewish immigrant who had devised machinery to sew fasteners on women's foundation garments.

Rabinowitz graduated with a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1934. He joined a New York law firm where he specialized in trade union cases. He also became a member of the American Labor Party. Later he joined the American Communist Party.

In 1944 Rabinowitz established his own law firm. Later he took on a partner, Leonard Boudin. Both men were committed radicals and they represented union leaders prosecuted under the Taft-Hartley Act.

In 1949 Rabinowitz and Boudin successfully represented Judith Coplon who had been charged with espionage. They also represented several artists persecuted as a result of McCarthyism. This included challenging government efforts to prohibit Rockwell Kent and Paul Robeson from travelling.

Rabinowitz also helped administer the Rabinowitz Foundation which gave away more than $3m to research and scholarship. Rabinowitz was a strong supporter of the Civil Rights movement and provided funds for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). He also travelled to the Deep South to take part in Freedom Summer. It was during this work that he met and married the African-American historian Joanne Grant, the author of Black Protest: History, Documents, And Analysis 1619 To The Present (1968) and Ella Baker: Freedom Bound (1998).

In 1960 Victor Rabinowitz became the legal representative of the Fidel Castro government in Cuba. This included defending Cuba against corporations' attempts to seize Cuban property in the United States. Rabinowitz later served in the same role for the Salvador Allende government in Chile.

Rabinowitz was also involved in the protest movement against the Vietnam War. This included defending Daniel Berrigan, Daniel Ellsberg and Benjamin Spock. Rabinowitz was a founding member of the National Lawyers Guild and served as its president for three years.

Julius Leber
Julius Leber