On this day on 25th October

On this day in 1400 Geoffrey Chaucer, English poet, died. After working for Elizabeth de Burgh (Edward Ill's daughter-in-law), Chaucer served as a soldier in France. He was captured, but his friends, including the king, raised enough money to buy his freedom. Later he was employed by the king as a diplomat. In 1386 Chaucer was a Member of Parliament for Kent. At about this time he began to write his most important work, The Canterbury Tales. The book is a collection of stories told by a party of pilgrims on a journey from Southwark to Thomas Becket's shrine at Canterbury. As Chaucer chooses characters from a whole range of different backgrounds, the book provides an important insight into the social, religious and economic conditions of the 14th century.

Geoffrey Chaucer
Geoffrey Chaucer

On this day in 1415 Henry V of England, with his lightly armoured infantry and archers, defeats the heavily armoured French cavalry in the Battle of Agincourt.

Battle of Agincourt
Battle of Agincourt

On this day in 1760 King George III succeeds to the British throne on the death of his grandfather George II. In 1793 war broke out with France. Soon afterwards William Pitt brought in a bill suspending Habeas Corpus. Although denounced by Charles Fox and his supporters, the bill was passed by the House of Commons in twenty-four hours. Those advocating parliamentary reform were arrested and charged with sedition. Tom Paine managed to escape but others such as Thomas Hardy, John Thellwall and Thomas Muir were imprisoned.

To pay for the war Pitt was forced to increase taxation and had to raise a loan of £18 million. This problem was made worse by a series of bad harvests. When going to open parliament in October 1795, George III was greeted with cries of 'Bread', 'Peace' and 'no Pitt'. Missiles were also thrown and so Pitt immediately decided to pass a new Sedition Bill that redefined the law of treason.

James Gillray, drew this picture of George III's coach being attacked in 1795.
James Gillray, drew this picture of George III's coach being attacked in 1795.

On this day in 1806 Max Stirner, German philosopher was born. In 1844 Stirner published The Ego and Its Own. The book upset many on the left with its rejection of socialist ideology. Bruno Bauer, Ludwig Feuerbach, Moses Hess and Arnold Ruge, all wrote articles to defend their own views against Stirner's polemic. Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels also devoted a large section of their book, The German Ideology, to Stirner's work. The Ego and Its Own

The most revolutionary aspect of Stirner's book concerned his views on property: "There are some things that only belong to a few, and to which we others will from now on lay claim or siege. Let us take them, for one only comes into property by taking, and the property of which for the present we are still deprived came to the proprietors likewise only by taking. It can be utilized better if it is in the hands of us all than if the few control. Let us therefore associate ourselves for the purpose of this robbery... Liberty belongs to him who takes it... Take hold and take what you require! With this the war of all against all is declared. I alone decide what I will have!"

On this day in 1881 Pablo Picasso, Spanish artist was born The town of Guernica is situated 30 kilometers east of Bilbao, in the Basque province of Vizcaya. Guernica was considered to be the spiritual capital of the Basque people.

On the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War Guernica had a population of about 7,000 people. On 26th April 1937, Guernica was bombed by the German Condor Legion. As it was a market day the town was crowded. The town was first struck by explosive bombs and then by incendiaries. As people fled from their homes they were machine-gunned by fighter planes. The three hour raid completely destroyed the town. It is estimated that 1,685 people were killed and 900 injured in the attack.

Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937)
Pablo Picasso, Guernica (1937)

On this day in 1882 John T. Flynn, American journalist was born. Flynn became concerned about President Franklin D. Roosevelt's foreign policy. In 1936 he described Roosevelt as "a born militarist" and argued that he would "do his best to entangle us" in an European war. Flynn also compared Roosevelt with Benito Mussolini and wrote: "We seem to be a long way off from the kind of Fascism which we behold in Italy today, but we are not so far from the kind of Fascism which Mussolini preached in Italy before he assumed power, and we are slowly approaching the conditions which made Fascism there possible."

In September 1940, Flynn helped establish the America First Committee (AFC). The America First National Committee included Flynn, Robert E. Wood and Charles A. Lindbergh. Supporters of the organization included Burton K. Wheeler, Hugh Johnson, Robert LaFollette Jr., Hamilton Fish and Gerald Nye.

The AFC soon became the most powerful isolationist group in the United States. The AFC had four main principles: (1) The United States must build an impregnable defense for America; (2) No foreign power, nor group of powers, can successfully attack a prepared America; (3) American democracy can be preserved only by keeping out of the European War; (4) "Aid short of war" weakens national defense at home and threatens to involve America in war abroad.

Meeting of the America First Committee
Meeting of the America First Committee

On this day in 1891 Charles Coughlin was born. After graduating from St. Michael's College in Toronto, he studied for the priesthood at St. Basil's Seminary and was ordained in 1916. During his training Coughlin was deeply influenced by the encyclical On the Condition of the Working Class, published by Pope Leo XIII in 1891. In this document the Pope called for far-reaching reforms to create a more just society in order to counter the growing support for Socialism in the world.

After assisting in several parishes in the Detroit area, Coughlin was assigned to the new Shrine of the Little Flower Church in Royal Oak, Michigan in 1926. At the time the parish only had 25 families, but Coughlin was such a popular preacher he was later able to build a church to hold 600 people.

On 3rd October 1926 he started a weekly broadcast over the local radio station. Initially, the broadcast was intended for children but it gradually changed to adult topics and Coughlin began expressing his views on the need for social reform. The Ku Klux Klan, upset by his views, arranged for a blazing cross planted on the lawn. However, he was very popular with most people and within four years CBS was broadcasting Coughlin's radio programme throughout the nation.

Coughlin warned of the dangers of "socialism, communism, and kindred fallacious social and economic theories". Like Pope Leo XIII, Coughlin believed the best way of combating the appeal of these ideologies was the introduction of reforms that would make America a more equal society. This included industrialists paying their workers a "just and living wage" and "providing old age compensation insurance." He also denounced the greed and corruption of America's industrialists and warned about the dangers of the "concentration of wealth in the hands of the few."

Coughlin developed a reputation for being an expert on the growth of the Communist Party in the United States and in July 1930, Hamilton Fish invited him to appear before the House of Representatives Committee to Investigate Communist Activities. Coughlin took the opportunity to criticize left-wing groups in America but he shocked the Committee by also attacking leading industrialists such as Henry Ford.

At this time Coughlin began to criticize the government of President Herbert Hoover. CBS, concerned by this development, warned him to "tone down" his broadcasts. When Coughlin refused, CBS decided not to renew his contract when it expired in April 1931. Coughlin responded by organizing his own radio network which eventually grew to over 30 stations.

During the 1932 presidential election, Coughlin advocated that his listeners should vote for Franklin D. Roosevelt. After the election Coughlin gave his support to Roosevelt's New Deal. He continued with his radio broadcasts where he advocated the nationalization of gold and the revaluation of the dollar. Coughlin continued to be extremely popular and the first edition of his complete radio discourses, published in 1933, quickly sold over a million copies.

In 1935 Coughlin started a campaign to restructure the Federal Reserve System and urged Roosevelt to take full government control over the nation's banking system and to establish a Central Bank. Coughlin also became involved in trade unions. He established the Automotive Industrial Workers Association (AIWA) in Detroit in direct competition with the more radical United Auto Workers. Coughlin also joined Huey Long in the campaign to persuade President Franklin D. Roosevelt to support the paying of the Bonus Bill, a large sum of money owed to the American veterans of the First World War.

Coughlin gradually grew disillusioned with Roosevelt and on 11th November, 1934, he announced the formation of the National Union of Social Justice. At this time some observers claimed that Father Coughlin was the second most important political figure in the United States. It was estimated that Coughlin's radio broadcasts were getting an audience of 30 million people. He was also having to employ twenty-six secretaries to deal with the 400,000 letters a week he was receiving from his listeners.

According to Wallace Stegner "Father Coughlin had a voice of such mellow richness, such manly, heart-warming, confidential intimacy, such emotional and ingratiating charm, that anyone tuning past it on the radio dial almost automatically returned to hear it again." As well as his radio broadcasts, Coughlin also began publishing Social Justice Weekly, a journal which soon achieved a circulation of over one million copies.

In May 1935 Coughlin began having talks with Huey Long, Francis Townsend, Gerald L. K. Smith, Milo Reno and Floyd B. Olson about a joint campaign to take on President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential elections. Long was expected to the candidate but he was assassinated on 8th September, 1935.

After the death of Long, Joseph Kennedy attempted to reconcile Father Coughlin and Roosevelt. The conference in September 1935 was a failure and the following year Coughlin joined with Francis Townsend, Gerald L. K. Smith and followers of the late Huey Long to take on Roosevelt in the 1936 presidential election. The National Union of Social Justice selected William Lepke from North Dakota, as the party's candidate, but he won only 882,479 votes compared to Franklin D. Roosevelt (27,751,597) and Alfred Landon (16,679,583).

After this defeat Coughlin's replaced the National Union of Social Justice with the Christian Front and concentrated on the dangers of communism. Coughlin also became an isolationist and one of his campaign slogans was: "Less care for internationalism and more concern for national prosperity."

In the late 1930s Coughlin moved sharply to the right and accused Franklin D. Roosevelt of "leaning toward international socialism or sovietism". He also praised the actions of Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in the fight against communism in Europe. On 20th November 1938, Coughlin defended the activities of the Nazi Government as a necessary defence against the Soviet Union.

Arthur Miller wrote: "Father Charles E. Coughlin, who by 1940 was confiding to his ten million Depression-battered listeners that the president was a liar controlled by both the Jewish bankers and, astonishingly enough, the Jewish Communists, the same tribe that twenty years earlier had engineered the Russian Revolution... He was arguing... that Hitlerism was the German nation's innocently defensive response to the threat of Communism, that Hitler was only against 'bad Jews', especially those born outside Germany."

Like Joseph Goebbels, Coughlin claimed that Marxist atheism in Europe was a Jewish plot. Coughlin also attacked the influence of Jews in America and this resulted in him being described as a fascist. In April 1941, Coughlin endorsed the America First Committee. However, his now open Anti-Semitism made this endorsement a mixed blessing for the organization.

In January 1940 the FBI raided the New York branch of the Christian Front and uncovered a cache of weapons. J. Edgar Hoover claimed that his officers had discovered that members of the organization planned to murder Jews, Communists and "a dozen Congressmen." Although Coughlin was not directly involved in this plot, the publicity it generated severely damaged his reputation.

Coughlin's opinions became more extreme. In September 1940 he described President Franklin D. Roosevelt as "the world's chief war-monger". The following year he wrote in Social Justice: "Stalin's idea to create world revolution and Hitler's so- called threat to seek world domination are not half as dangerous combined as is the proposal of the current British and American administrations to seize all raw materials in the world. Many people are beginning to wonder who they should fear most - the Roosevelt-Churchill combination or the Hitler-Mussolini combination."

When the United States entered the Second World War the National Association of Broadcasters arranged for Coughlin radio broadcasts to be brought to an end. The Post Office also banned his weekly newspaper, Social Justice, from the mail. On 1st May 1942, Archbishop Francis Mooney ordered Coughlin to bring an end to his political activities. He was warned that if he refused he would be defrocked.

Charles Edward Coughlin retired from the Shrine of the Little Flower Church in 1966. He continued to write pamphlets denouncing Communism until his death on 27th October, 1979.

Charles Coughlin
Charles Coughlin

On this day in 1917 it was the Old Style date of the October Revolution in Russia. The Red Guards surrounded the Winter Palace. Inside was most of the country's Cabinet, although Alexander Kerensky had managed to escape from the city. The palace was defended by Cossacks, some junior army officers and the Woman's Battalion. At 9 p.m. The Aurora and the Peter and Paul Fortress began to open fire on the palace. Little damage was done but the action persuaded most of those defending the building to surrender. The Red Guards, led by Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko, now entered the Winter Palace.

Bessie Beatty, an American journalist, entered the Winter Palace with the Red Guards: "At the head of the winding staircase groups of frightened women were gathered, searching the marble lobby below with troubled eyes. Nobody seemed to know what had happened. The Battalion of Death had walked out in the night, without firing so much as a single shot. Each floor was crowded with soldiers and Red Guards, who went from room to room, searching for arms, and arresting officers suspected of anti-Bolshevik sympathies. The landings were guarded by sentries, and the lobby was swarming with men in faded uniforms. Two husky, bearded peasant soldiers were stationed behind the counter, and one in the cashier's office kept watch over the safe. Two machine-guns poked their ominous muzzles through the entryway."

Louise Bryant, another journalist commented that there were about 200 women soldiers in the palace and they were "disarmed and told to go home and put on female attire". She added: "Every one leaving the palace was searched, no matter on what side he was. There were priceless treasures all about and it was a great temptation to pick up souvenirs. I have always been glad that I was present that night because so many stories have come out about the looting. It was so natural that there should have been looting and so commendable that there was none."

On 26th October, 1917, the All-Russian Congress of Soviets met and handed over power to the Soviet Council of People's Commissars. Lenin was elected chairman and other appointments included Leon Trotsky (Foreign Affairs) Alexei Rykov (Internal Affairs), Anatoli Lunacharsky (Education), Alexandra Kollontai (Social Welfare), Victor Nogin (Trade and Industry), Joseph Stalin (Nationalities), Peter Stuchka (Justice), Vladimir Antonov-Ovseenko (War), Nikolai Krylenko (War Affairs), Pavlo Dybenko (Navy Affairs), Ivan Skvortsov-Stepanov (Finance), Vladimir Milyutin (Agriculture), Ivan Teodorovich (Food), Georgy Oppokov (Justice) and Nikolai Glebov-Avilov (Posts & Telegraphs).

As chairman of the Council of People's Commissars, Lenin made his first announcement of the changes that were about to take place. Banks were nationalized and workers control of factory production was introduced. The most important reform concerned the land: "All private ownership of land is abolished immediately without compensation... Any damage whatever done to the confiscated property which from now on belongs to the whole People, is regarded as a serious crime, punishable by the revolutionary tribunals."

Bolshevik Poster (1917)
Bolshevik Poster (1917)

On this day in 1924 the Zinoviev Letter, is published in The Daily Mail. It was just four days before the 1924 General Election. Under the headline "Civil War Plot by Socialists Masters" it argued: "Moscow issues orders to the British Communists... the British Communists in turn give orders to the Socialist Government, which it tamely and humbly obeys... Now we can see why Mr MacDonald has done obeisance throughout the campaign to the Red Flag with its associations of murder and crime. He is a stalking horse for the Reds as Kerensky was... Everything is to be made ready for a great outbreak of the abominable class war which is civil war of the most savage kind."

Dora Russell, whose husband, Bertrand Russell, was standing for the Labour Party in Chelsea, commented: "The Daily Mail carried the story of the Zinoviev letter. The whole thing was neatly timed to catch the Sunday papers and with polling day following hard on the weekend there was no chance of an effective rebuttal, unless some word came from MacDonald himself, and he was down in his constituency in Wales. Without hesitation I went on the platform and denounced the whole thing as a forgery, deliberately planted on, or by, the Foreign Office to discredit the Prime Minister."

Ramsay MacDonald suggested he was a victim of a political conspiracy: "I am also informed that the Conservative Headquarters had been spreading abroad for some days that... a mine was going to be sprung under our feet, and that the name of Zinoviev was to be associated with mine. Another Guy Fawkes - a new Gunpowder Plot... The letter might have originated anywhere. The staff of the Foreign Office up to the end of the week thought it was authentic... I have not seen the evidence yet. All I say is this, that it is a most suspicious circumstance that a certain newspaper and the headquarters of the Conservative Association seem to have had copies of it at the same time as the Foreign Office, and if that is true how can I avoid the suspicion - I will not say the conclusion - that the whole thing is a political plot?"

Bob Stewart claimed that the letter included several mistakes that made it clear it was a forgery. This included saying that Grigory Zinoviev was not the President of the Presidium of the Communist International. It also described the organisation as the "Third Communist International" whereas it was always called "Third International". Stewart argued that these "were such infantile mistakes that even a cursory examination would have shown the document to be a blatant forgery."

The rest of the Tory owned newspapers ran the story of what became known as the Zinoviev Letter over the next few days and it was no surprise when the election was a disaster for the Labour Party. The Conservatives won 412 seats and formed the next government. Lord Beaverbrook, the owner of the Daily Express and Evening Standard, told Lord Rothermere, the owner of The Daily Mail and The Times, that the "Red Letter" campaign had won the election for the Conservatives. Rothermere replied that it was probably worth a hundred seats.

David Low was a Labour Party supporter who was appalled by the tactics used by the Tory press in the 1924 General Election: "Elections have never been completely free from chicanery, of course, but this one was exceptional. There were issues - unemployment, for instance, and trade. There were legitimate secondary issues - whether or not Russia should be afforded an export loan to stimulate trade. In the event these issues were distorted, pulped, and attached as appendix to a mysterious document subsequently held by many creditable persons to be a forgery, and the election was fought on 'red panic' (The Zinoviev Letter)".

After the election it was claimed that two of MI5's agents, Sidney Reilly and Arthur Maundy Gregory, had forged the letter. It later became clear that Major George Joseph Ball, a MI5 officer, played an important role in leaking it to the press. In 1927 Ball went to work for the Conservative Central Office where he pioneered the idea of spin-doctoring. Christopher Andrew, MI5's official historian, points out: "Ball's subsequent lack of scruples in using intelligence for party political advantage while at Central Office in the late 1920s strongly suggests... that he was willing to do so during the election campaign of October 1924."

The Daily Mail (25th October, 1924)
The Daily Mail (25th October, 1924)

On this day in 1945 Robert Ley committed suicide. In 1933 Adolf Hitler gave Robert Ley the task of forming the German Labour Front (DAF). Ley, in his first proclamation, stated: "Workers! Your institutions are sacred to us National Socialists. I myself am a poor peasant's son and understand poverty... I know the exploitation of anonymous capitalism. Workers! I swear to you, we will not only keep everything that exists, we will build up the protection and the rights of the workers still further."

During the Second World War Ley was considered an important figure in Hitler's government. W argued on radio on 9th January, 1940, that Ley was "one of the most important members of the Nazi regime". He quoted Ley as saying: "We know that this war is an ideological struggle against world Jewry. England is allied with the Jews against Germany. How low must the English people have fallen to have had as war minister a parasitical and profiteering Jew of the worst kind... England is spiritually, politically and economically at one with the Jews. For us, England and the Jews remain the common foe."

Ley was heavily involved in propaganda. He was quoted in a speech on 24th March, 1940, as saying: "Every German is absolutely certain that Germany will win the war. The British and French are nervous. They've become hysterical, like old women. The Maginot Line is just a piece of junk."

Robert Ley remained in Berlin and according to James P. O'Donnell, the author of The Berlin Bunker (1979) he held regular meetings Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and Martin Bormann. "Only by sticking around in Berlin, and appealing to Hitler's sympathies, did Ley manage to achieve this late prominence. Hitler knew he was a buffoon, but now he somehow enjoyed Ley's company, especially listening to his ideas for new wonder-weapons."

On 20th October, 1945, Ley with twenty-one others, was indicted by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. He asked Gustave M. Gilbert, the prison psychologist. "How can I prepare a defense? Am I supposed to defend myself against all these crimes which I knew nothing about? Stand us up against the wall and shoot us - you are the victors." On 24th October, he was found dead in his cell. "He had made a noose from the edges of a towel and fastened it to the toilet pipe."

Robert Ley left a suicide note that said: "We have forsaken God, and therefore we were forsaken by God. We put human volition in the place of His godly grace. In anti-Semitism we violated a basic commandment of His creation. Anti-Semitism distorted our outlook, and we made grave errors. It is hard to admit mistakes, but the whole existence of our people is in question; we Nazis must have the courage to rid ourselves of anti-Semitism. We have to declare to the youth that it was a mistake.”

Robert Ley
Robert Ley