Spartacus News Online

General Douglas Haig and the Battle of the Somme

Monday, 2nd July, 2016

John Simkin

A hundred years ago, my grandfather, John Edward Simkin, of the Royal East Kent Regiment, was killed when he was involved in tunneling under the German frontline. A mine exploded and he was killed with two other men. My grandfather was buried alive and his body has never been recovered. His name appears on the Thiepval War Memorial, along with the other 72,245 missing British Empire servicemen, who died at the Somme region during the First World War between 1915 and 1918.

My grandfather was 32 years-old when he volunteered to join the British Army. He was married with three young children at the time: Elsie (1912), John (1914) and William (1915). He had a fairly good job at the time in the printing industry and it is not known why he was motivated to join the armed forces. If he wrote letters or kept a diary, they have not survived. All we have of his writings is his signatures on his will and the 1911 census returns.

Private John Edward Simkin was killed while preparations were being made for the Somme Offensive that began in July 1916. The idea originally came from the French Commander-in-Chief, Joseph Joffre but the operation was eventually passed to General Sir Douglas Haig, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) commander, who had developed a strategy that he believed would win the war.

According to the military historian, Llewellyn Woodward: "He (Haig) made up his mind in 1915 that the war could be won on the Western Front, and only on the Western Front. He acted on this view, and, at the last, he was right, though it is open to argument not only that victory could have been won sooner elsewhere but that Haig's method of winning it was clumsy, tragically expensive of life, and based for too long on a misreading of the facts."

Woodward, like many historians, has questioned the morality of his policy of attrition. He described it as the "killing Germans until the German army was worn down and exhausted". Woodward argued that it "was not only wasteful and, intellectually, a confession of impotence; it was also extremely dangerous. The Germans might counter Haig's plan by allowing him to wear down his own army in a series of unsuccessful attacks against a skilful defence."

Haig used 750,000 men (27 divisions) against the German front-line (16 divisions). However, the bombardment failed to destroy either the barbed-wire or the concrete bunkers protecting the German soldiers. This meant that the Germans were able to exploit their good defensive positions on higher ground when the British and French troops attacked at 7.30 on the morning of the 1st July. The BEF suffered 58,000 casualties (a third of them killed), therefore making it the worse day in the history of the British Army.

Sir Douglas Haig
Sir Douglas Haig

Haig was not disheartened by these heavy losses on the first day and ordered General Sir Henry Rawlinson to continue making attacks on the German front-line. A night attack on 13th July did achieve a temporary breakthrough but German reinforcements arrived in time to close the gap. Haig believed that the Germans were close to the point of exhaustion and continued to order further attacks. He expected each one to achieve victory. Although small gains were achieved, for example, the capture of Pozieres on 23rd July, they could not be successfully followed up.

Captain Charles Hudson was one of those officers who took part in the battle. He later wrote: "It is difficult to see how Haig, as Commander-in-Chief living in the atmosphere he did, so divorced from the fighting troops, could fulfil the tremendous task that was laid upon him effectively. I did not believe then, and I do not believe now that the enormous casualties were justified. Throughout the war huge bombardments failed again and again yet we persisted in employing the same hopeless method of attack. Many other methods were possible, some were in fact used but only half-heartedly."

Private James Lovegrove, who also took part in the Somme offensive, was also highly critical of Haig's tactics: "The military commanders had no respect for human life. General Douglas Haig... cared nothing about casualties. Of course, he was carrying out government policy, because after the war he was knighted and given a lump sum and a massive life-pension. I blame the public schools who bred these ego maniacs. They should never have been in charge of men. Never."

Christopher Andrew, the author of Secret Service: The Making of the British Intelligence Community (1985), has argued that Brigadier-General John Charteris, the Chief Intelligence Officer at GHQ. was partly responsible for this disaster: "Charteris's intelligence reports throughout the five-month battle were designed to maintain Haig's morale. Though one of the intelligence officer's duties may be to help maintain his commander's morale, Charteris crossed the frontier between optimism and delusion." As late as September 1916, Charteris was telling General Haig: "It is possible that the Germans may collapse before the end of the year."

With the winter weather deteriorating Haig now brought an end to the Somme offensive. Since the 1st July, the British has suffered 420,000 casualties. The French lost nearly 200,000 and it is estimated that German casualties were in the region of 500,000. Allied forces gained some land but it reached only 12km at its deepest points. Haig wrote at the time: "The results of the Somme fully justify confidence in our ability to master the enemy's power of resistance."

In 1920 my grandmother received a small reward for her husband's sacrifice. It took the form of a memorial plaque, inscribed with the words: "John Edward Simkin. He died for Freedom and Honour". These were issued to the next-of-kin of all British and Empire service personnel who were killed as a result of the war. Made of bronze they became known as the "Dead Man’s Penny".

Adolf Hitler addresses the German people on radio on 31st January, 1933
John Edward Simkin, "He died for Freedom and Honour" (1920)

General Douglas Haig, the man responsible for this military disaster, received a more valuable reward. He was made Earl Haig in 1919 and then Baron Haig of Bemersyde in 1921. He was also granted a a tax-free golden handshake of £100,000 (£4,000,620 in today's money) by the British government. This did not go down well with those soldiers who were finding it difficult to find work during this period. George Coppard wrote: "During this time the government, in the flush of victory, were busily engaged in fixing the enormous sums to be voted as gratuities to the high-ranking officers who had won the war for them."

David Lloyd George, the prime minister at the time, and the man who granted Haig's these rewards, twenty-two years after the battle, made these comments on Haig. "It is not too much to say that when the Great War broke out our Generals had the most important lessons of their art to learn. Before they began they had much to unlearn. Their brains were cluttered with useless lumber, packed in every niche and corner. Some of it was never cleared out to the end of the War. They knew nothing except by hearsay about the actual fighting of a battle under modern conditions. Haig ordered many bloody battles in this War. He only took part in two. He never even saw the ground on which his greatest battles were fought, either before or during the fight. The tale of these battles constitutes a trilogy, illustrating the unquestionable heroism that will never accept defeat and the inexhaustible vanity that will never admit a mistake."

During the war Lloyd George promised "homes fit for heroes". In the General Election that followed the war, Lloyd George, now abandoned by his own Liberal Party, led a Conservative Party coalition to victory. In January 1919 Christopher Addison became president of the Local Government Board, with the responsibility of fulfilling the government's pledges of post-war reform. In 1919, Parliament passed the ambitious Housing and Town Planning Act which launched a massive new programme of house building by the local authorities. This included a government subsidy to cover the difference between the capital costs and the income earned through rents from working-class tenants.

The government promised the construction of 500,000 houses within three years. In fact, they built only 89,000. This was one of the main reasons why the British people elected a Labour Government in 1945. Public opinion polls at the time showed that 41% of the electorate thought that solving the housing crisis was the most important domestic political issue in the 1945 General Election (the second highest was 15% who said it was unemployment).

My father, John Edward Simkin who had served in the Second World War as a soldier, and my mother, Muriel Simkin, who worked in an ammunition factory, both voted for the Labour Party in that election, because of the promises made in their manifesto, Let us Face the Future.

German bombing during the war had destroyed 200,000 houses and damaged another three and a half million. Little new building and few repairs had been carried out for six years. As a result there were 700,000 fewer houses than before the war. A government report published in May 1945 reported that 750,000 new houses were required immediately, plus another 500,000 to complete the replacement of uninhabitable slums.

Clement Attlee, the prime minister, believed that his government would be unable to successfully solve this problem. The pre-war building labour force were either dead, still in the army or had been diverted into war-related industry at home. There was also a severe shortage of building materials. This was made worse by the financial crisis that made it difficult to import supplies.

Attlee decided to give this impossible job to his most vigorous critic in the parliamentary party, Aneurin Bevan. As well as making him Minister of Housing, he also gave him the task as Minister of Health, who would somehow have to obtain the resources to introduce the National Health Service. According to their manifesto this was a national emergency: "By good food and good homes, much avoidable ill-health can be prevented. In addition the best health services should be available free for all. Money must no longer be the passport to the best treatment. In the new National Health Service there should be health centres where the people may get the best that modern science can offer, more and better hospitals, and proper conditions for our doctors and nurses. More research is required into the causes of disease and the ways to prevent and cure it. Labour will work specially for the care of Britain's mothers and their children - children's allowances and school medical and feeding services, better maternity and child welfare services. A healthy family life must be fully ensured and parenthood must not be penalised if the population of Britain is to be prevented from dwindling."

Bevan was the leader of a small group of left-wing Labour MPs that argued that the government should use socialist measures to solve the problems facing the country. Attlee's theory was that when Bevan failed to deliver, it would lead to a demise in his section of the party.

At forty-seven Bevan was by some years the youngest member of a Cabinet whose average age was over sixty. He became an energetic and effective administrator. As well as successfully taking the National Health Service Act through Parliament and by 1950 some two and a half million people had been rehoused. By 1951 he could claim that a million houses had been completed since 1945. Of these 82% had been built by the local authorities.

In a speech he made in May 1947, Bevan said that in the next few years the government would "be judged by the number of houses that we build". However, in "ten years we shall be judged by the kind of houses that we build and where we are building them". The three-bedroomed council houses built between 1945 and 1950 averaged over 1,000 square feet of floor space, compared with 800 square feet before the war. In the 1950s the government reduced the quality of the council houses built. As the historian, John Campbell, has pointed out, Bevan not only built the "biggest but the best-quality council houses" and the "most popular with tenants" in our history.

The introduction of the the NHS and the council house building programme was Bevan's memorial to those who fought and suffered during the Second World War. As you listen to our political leaders making speeches at ceremonies to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, ask yourself, what have they done for those who have fought and died in their wars. (2nd July, 2016)

Should Jeremy Corbyn be removed as leader of the Labour Party?

On 24th June, the veteran Blairite, Margaret Hodge, called for Jeremy Corbyn to resign as leader of the Labour Party. Her main complaint was that he failed to convince enough Labour voters to vote remain in the European union referendum and that he "had failed a test of leadership". This is a strange comment as polls show that over two-thirds of Labour voters wanted to remain in the EU. It was David Cameron who failed to persuade Tory voters to support the EU. If Corbyn is a failure what is Hodge? She seems to have forgotten that she failed dismally to convince the majority of her constituency of Barking and Dagenham to vote to remain. Once again, Hodge, like most New Labour MPs, showed she no longer represents the interests of her working-class constituents.

Corbyn's main crime is that he admitted on BBC's Andrew Marr show, that there can be no upper limit on the number of people coming into the UK while there is free movement of labour in the EU. This is in contrast to other Remain campaigners such as Tom Watson who said that it would be possible to renegotiate EU immigration rules. Corbyn is being punished for telling the truth.

It was working-class supporters of the Labour Party who voted to leave the EU. As Jon Pilger pointed out: "Millions of ordinary people refused to be bullied, intimidated and dismissed with open contempt by their presumed betters in the major parties, the leaders of the business and banking oligarchy and the media.... Immigration was exploited in the campaign with consummate cynicism, not only by populist politicians from the lunar right, but by Labour politicians drawing on their own venerable tradition of promoting and nurturing racism, a symptom of corruption not at the bottom but at the top."

Pilger goes on to argue that New Labour politicians have been the main promoters of the EU: "Its leading members see themselves as liberal, enlightened, cultivated tribunes of the 21st century zeitgeist, even 'cool'. What they really are is a bourgeoisie with insatiable consumerist tastes and ancient instincts of their own superiority. In their house paper, the Guardian, they have gloated, day after day, at those who would even consider the EU profoundly undemocratic, a source of social injustice and a virulent extremism known as neoliberalism."

When the British working class failed to respond to the dire warnings of economic disaster if they voted to leave the EU, George Osborne, threatened to cut £30 billion from public services. Multimillionaires like Osborne thought this blackmail tactic was bound to work. However, as Giles Fraser, correctly suggested: "Who cares if the pound loses 10% or 15% of its value when you can hardly make your weekly grocery shop anyway?"

The EU may have been good for the middle-classes but it has been disastrous for those on low-incomes. Jeremy Corbyn is the first leader of the Labour Party for over 20 years who has any real understanding of what it is like to be working-class in modern-day Britain. Do the plotters really believe that Hilary Benn, Chris Bryant or Angela Eagle can defeat Corbyn in a vote of Labour Party activists?

It is possible for the rebels to come up with a candidate to beat Corbyn? However, to do so, they will need to nominate someone on the left of the party that is acceptable to the Corbynistas. A large number of people who voted for Corbyn have been disappointed by his performance so far. It has included far too many compromises that have made him seem weak and indecisive. He also lacks energy and passion. If they put forward someone like Lisa Nandy they could win. However, she would have to remain loyal to the policies first promoted by Corbyn. (28th June, 2016)

Why Switzerland will not be joining the European Union

In the great debate on the European Union there has been little reference to Switzerland. Although I can understand why the Britain Stronger In Europe keep quiet on this issue I am more surprised about the lack of interest in this country by the Vote Leave group.

Switzerland is the only western European country not in the EU. The reason for this is Switzerland is a country whose constitution says that you have to have a referendum before you join such an organization. Rather, than in our case, where the referendum takes place after you have joined. On 2nd May 1992, the Swiss government submitted an application to join the EU. However, in the referendum held on 6th December 1992, the people rejected the idea. As the country has done so well out of being outside the EU, it has not held another referendum on the subject.

In the United Nations "World Happiness Report" that was published in 2015, Switzerland was judged to be the happiest country in the world. As Richard W. Rahn pointed out: "Switzerland is arguably the world’s most successful country - and most improbably so. It is landlocked and without much in the way of natural resources. It has four official languages, many different religious groups, and is surrounded by warring neighbours. Yet, it has remained an island of peace and prosperity. The last armed conflict on Swiss territory occurred in a less-than-one-month-long civil war in 1847, where about 130 were killed. The last time it was invaded was by Napoleon in 1798."

The Swiss have good reason to be happy. It has the lowest unemployment-rate (4.5%) and the highest GDP per capita in Europe (more than double that of the United Kingdom). Despite not being a member of the EU and having to negotiate its own trade deals, it exports a higher percentage of its GDP than any other country in Europe.

Last year Oxfam pointed out that 62 individuals own as much as the poorest 50% of the world’s population. In 2013, the top 50% in Switzerland earned 80% of the revenue, while the bottom 50% brought home the other 20%. The government decided to even things up by shifting some of the income of the top half to the bottom via taxes and social benefits. After redistribution the top 50% were left with 70% and the bottom half with 30%. Redistribution helped the bottom 10% the most, multiplying their income 54 times. The second poorest 10% saw their income increased by around 4 times. On the other side, the top 10% had their incomes reduced by 18%.

At the bottom of the wealth spectrum Switzerland scores quite well. Only 1.7% of Swiss have wealth under US$ 10,000. This compares to UK (10.0%), Italy (12.4%), France (16.9%) and Germany (29.7%).

Switzerland’s middle class is well represented. Credit Suisse Wealth Report defines middle class as having wealth equivalent to at least two years average annual salary. For Switzerland this number is US$ 72,900. In Switzerland 45% of the population fell into this band in 2015, putting it ahead of Germany (42%), Sweden (39%) and Denmark (40%). (11th June, 2016)

History and the European Union Referendum

G. K. Chesterton once commented that "The disadvantage of men not knowing the past is that they do not know the present." Does having this knowledge help us to predict the future? Not according to Lao Tzu, who writing in the 6th century B.C. claimed: "Those who have knowledge, don't predict. Those who predict, don't have knowledge."

However, I disagree with this ancient philosopher and believe that you can predict the future by looking at past events? One of the most important issues that face us at the moment is the European Union referendum. An obvious place to start is the previous referendum on the subject that took place in 1975. We joined the EU (Common Market) in 1973 under the leadership of Edward Heath.

In the 1974 General Election, Harold Wilson, argued that Heath had negotiated a poor deal and that the UK people should have been given a say in whether we joined the Common Market. He promised renegotiations plus a referendum. When the heads of government agreed to a deal in Dublin on 11th March 1975; Wilson declared "I believe that our renegotiation objectives have been substantially though not completely achieved", and that the government would recommend a vote in favour of continued membership. On 9th April, the House of Commons voted 396 to 170 to continue within the Common Market on the new terms. The main opposition came from Wilson's own party with 148 Labour MPs voted against their own government's measure, whereas only 138 supported it and 32 abstained.

The Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, and parties outside Parliament including the National Front and the Communist Party of Great Britain supported the "No" campaign.

The National Executive Committee and the Labour Party Conference both voted against staying in the Common Market. Members of the cabinet, including Barbara Castle, Michael Foot, Tony Benn, Peter Shore, Eric Varley and Eric Heffer campaigned for a "No" vote.

Although early opinion polls saw considerable hostility to the Common Market the "Yes" campaign had an easy victory (67.23% to 32.77%). Political scientists commented at the time that if a referendum had been held before we joined, we would have voted "No". However, it is argued that people are naturally conservative, and are reluctant to leave an organization after we have joined. These arguments are used today and that is why, despite the opinion polls saying it is very close, most political commentators are suggesting a "Yes" victory.

We have to ask ourselves if the conditions are the same as in 1975? For example, during the 1975 campaign, all newspapers with the exception of The Morning Star (the newspaper of the British Communist Party) urged the people to vote "Yes". In fact, the whole of the British establishment wanted us to remain. It was mainly those on the left and right-wing extremist politicians such as Enoch Powell that wanted to leave.

The situation is very different today. The vast majority of our newspapers have been involved in a long campaign for us to leave. The establishment, including the Conservative Party, is deeply divided over this issue. The BBC and The Guardian are clearly in favour of staying but unlike the 1975 referendum, people are receiving a large amount of information from both sides of the argument.

The other interesting factor is that the older people are, the more likely they are to vote "No". Senior citizens are usually the most conservative of all the age groups. Yet, not this time. Another thing we know is that the old are much more likely to vote than young people (that is why political parties tend to concentrate on getting the vote of senior citizens during general election campaigns). Added to this, the people who want to leave the European Union, feel much more passionate about it than those who want to stay. Therefore, they are much more likely to go out and vote.

As a result of studying the past I predict a victory for the "No" campaign. However, the fear campaign might lead to a late swing and the "Yes" campaign could win. One thing we can predict with certainty is that there will be a serious split in the Conservative Party after the referendum. David Cameron's promise of a referendum was an attempt to win votes from UKIP supporters at the General Election. However, the only reason he did this was based on his own prediction, that he would not win an overall majority. He could then blame the Liberal Democrats for not keeping his promise on a referendum.

After the referendum result, about 50% of Conservative Party members (and MPs) will be very angry with him. He cannot survive this and a new election for party leader will have to take place. Whoever wins, will have the almost impossible task of unifying the party.

The current police investigations into claims that the Conservative Party in 24 constituencies went over the local spending limit in the 2015 General Election are going to cause the government serious problems. Twenty-two of the constituencies were won by the Conservatives at the election and therefore they could face a series of by-elections. As these constituencies were all won with small majorities (that is why they spent the money in these places) they will probably be lost to opposition parties in the by-election. (16th May, 2016)

TTIP, the EU and the dangers to the NHS

In a little reported speech, David Owen, a former health secretary, recently argued that it would be impossible to take the NHS back to its original purpose unless the UK votes to leave in the June referendum on the EU.

Owen's father was a GP who joined the Labour Party because he hated the way poor people had limited access to health provision: “We went through a market, insurance-based health system in the 1920s and 30s. I spent my childhood being told by my father what that was like and why he voted for the NHS in 1948.”

Owen, who himself became a GP before he became a Member of Parliament, was a strong supporter of the EU in his early days in the House of Commons and had several arguments with Barbara Castle about the issue: "We have got no chance whatever of going back (to the original NHS) unless we get out. Barbara Castle and I disagreed in 1975. I thought the common market would leave the NHS alone but she turned out to be more perceptive than me."

Owen was a critic of the introduction of private involvement in the NHS under Tony Blair and David Cameron. He believes that the NHS will be at risk of further privatisation if Britain stays in the EU because of the major trade deal being negotiated with the US.

He argues that the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US could put the NHS in “serious danger” unless there are more special protections to exclude the health service from the terms of the deal.

As the Independent pointed out: "TTIP is a series of trade negotiations being carried out mostly in secret between the EU and US. As a bi-lateral trade agreement, TTIP is about reducing the regulatory barriers to trade for big business, things like food safety law, environmental legislation, banking regulations and the sovereign powers of individual nations.... Public services, especially the NHS, are in the firing line. One of the main aims of TTIP is to open up Europe’s public health, education and water services to US companies. This could essentially mean the privatisation of the NHS."

Under the clause of TTIP that most worries Owen, US companies will be able to sue governments for pursuing policies that harm their business. A legal opinion commissioned by Unite argues the deal would mean privatisation of elements of the NHS could become irreversible for future governments that want to restore services to public ownership.

"The legal opinion is very clear that there are a myriad of dangers if health comes under the current TTIP system," Owen said. He points out that only by leaving the EU was the only way to regain control over the NHS. As John Hilary, Executive Director of campaign group War on Want, has pointed out, "TTIP is an assault on European and US societies by transnational corporations.” (12th April, 2016)

Bernie Sanders, the most popular left-wing candidate since Eugene V. Debs

Following his Super Tuesday defeat, Bernie Sanders commented: "This campaign is not just about electing a President. It is about making a political revolution!"

It has been claimed that Sanders' campaign managers have closely studied the Tea Party's rise in 2009 and 2010, when the far right challenged the Republican Party leadership. Sam Frizell, writing in Time Magazine, has pointed out: "In some ways, Sanders voters are like a fun-house mirror image of the Tea Party. At rally after rally, in Iowa, New Hampshire, Maine and Nevada, Sanders backers were blue collar and struggling, truckers, exterminators, furniture sellers and community-college students. They often said they were angry about Wall Street bailouts, disappointed in President Obama and wary of trusting Clinton."

Although it is clear that Sanders cannot win, is it possible that he is creating an organisation that will grow even stronger if Donald Trump or some other right-wing Republican becomes president.

Joe Klein, a Hillary Clinton loyalist, has suggested that Sanders is the most successful "leftist" candidate since the socialist Eugene V. Debs, when in the 1920 Presidential Election, received 919,799 votes. Klein goes on to argue "but that's still not very successful". Debs won only 3.41% of the vote compared to the 60.32% achieved by the winner, Warren G. Harding.

However, this was not too bad as Debs was in prison at the time. During the First World War he made several speeches explaining why he believed the United States should not join the conflict. After the USA declared war on the Central Powers in 1917, several anti-war protesters were arrested for violating the Espionage Act. After making a speech in Canton, Ohio, on 16th June, 1918, criticizing the legislation, Debs was arrested and sentenced to ten years in Atlanta Penitentiary.

Debs, the son of French immigrants, left school at the age of 14 and found work as a painter in a railroad yards. He became a railroad fireman in 1870 and soon afterwards became active in the trade union movement and ten years later he was elected national secretary of Brotherhood of Locomotive Fireman. In 1893 Debs was elected the first president of the American Railway Union (ARU).

In 1897 Debs joined with Victor Berger and Ella Reeve Bloor to form the Social Democratic Party (SDP). Debs was the SDP's candidate in 1900 Presidential Election but received only 87,945 votes (0.6) compared to William McKinley (7,228,864) and William Jennings Bryan (6,370,932). The following year the SDP merged with Socialist Labor Party to form Socialist Party of America.

In the 1904 Presidential Election Eugene Debs was the Socialist Party of America candidate. His running-mate was Benjamin Hanford. Debs finished third to Theodore Roosevelt with 402,810 votes. This was an impressive performance and in the 1908 Presidential Election he managed to increase his vote to 420,793.

Between 1901 and 1912 membership of the Socialist Party of America grew from 13,000 to 118,000 and its journal Appeal to Reason was selling 500,000 copies a week. This provided a great platform for Debs and his running-mate, Emil Seidel, in the 1912 Presidential Election.

During the campaign Debs explained why people should vote for him: "You must either vote for or against your own material interests as a wealth producer; there is no political purgatory in this nation of ours, despite the desperate efforts of so-called Progressive capitalists politicians to establish one. Socialism alone represents the material heaven of plenty for those who toil and the Socialist Party alone offers the political means for attaining that heaven of economic plenty which the toil of the workers of the world provides in unceasing and measureless flow. Capitalism represents the material hell of want and pinching poverty of degradation and prostitution for those who toil and in which you now exist, and each and every political party, other than the Socialist Party, stands for the perpetuation of the economic hell of capitalism. For the first time in all history you who toil possess the power to peacefully better your own condition. The little slip of paper which you hold in your hand on election day is more potent than all the armies of all the kings of earth." Debs and Seidel won 901,551 votes (6.0%).

Despite the unpopularity of those who opposed the war, the 919,799 votes that he achieved in the 1920 Presidential Election, was an amazing achievement. One would have expected that Debs would have done well in the 1924 Presidential Election. After all, Ramsay MacDonald, the pacifist leader of the Labour Party, had in the 1918 General Election lost his seat in the House of Commons. Yet by the time of the 1923 General Election he had been forgiven for his opposition to the First World War and became the country's new Prime Minister.

Whereas the socialist movement was able to grow in Britain and the rest of Europe in the early 1920s, the same thing had not happened in the United States. The reason was that the government, extremely worried about the possibility that the ideas behind the Russian Revolution would spread to the United States, instigated what became known as the Red Scare.

Eugene V. Debs <empty>

A. Mitchell Palmer, the attorney general, and John Edgar Hoover, his special assistant, launched a campaign against radicals and left-wing organizations. Palmer claimed that Communist agents from Russia were planning to overthrow the American government. Over 10,000 suspected communists and anarchists were arrested. Palmer and Hoover found no evidence of a proposed revolution but large number of these suspects were held without trial for a long time. The vast majority were eventually released but Emma Goldman, Alexander Berkman, Mollie Steimer, and 245 other people, were deported to Russia.

As a result of this Red Scare people became worried about subscribing to left-wing journals and the Appeal to Reason, which was selling 760,000 a week before the First World War, was forced to close in November, 1922. The following year, the socialist newspaper, The Call, ceased publication. By the 1924 Presidential Election the Socialist Party of America did not even bother to put up a candidate.

Eugene V. Debs died in Elmhurst on 20th October, 1926. Heywood Broun wrote in the New York World: "Eugene Debs was a beloved figure and a tragic one. All his life he led lost causes. He captured the intense loyalty of a small section of our people, but I think that he affected the general thought of his time to a slight degree. Very few recognized him for what he was. It became the habit to speak of him as a man molded after the manner of Lenin or Trotsky. And that was a grotesque misconception... Though not a Christian by any precise standard, Debs was the Christian-Socialist type. That, I'm afraid, is outmoded. He did feel that wrongs could be righted by touching the compassion of the world. Perhaps they can. It has not happened yet.... The Debs idea will not die. To be sure, it was not his first at all. He carried on an older tradition. It will come to pass. There can be a brotherhood of man."

Where is the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial?

On 6th March, 1930, a statue of Emmeline Pankhurst was unveiled by the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, at the entrance to Victoria Tower Gardens, close to the Houses of Parliament. In 1958 the statue was moved from its original position in the south of the gardens to a new site further north, and a profile bust of Christabel Pankhurst, was added to the memorial. However, it recently emerged that over the years the House of Lords have repeatedly blocked proposals for a statue of Sylvia Pankhurst to be placed in the gardens.

Why is it that two women who were described as "terrorists" by newspapers in the period leading up to the First World War are honoured in this way, while, Sylvia, who resigned from the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) because she disagreed with its campaign of violence, is missing? The answer is that Emmeline and Christabel sold out their principles while Sylvia retained her commitment to improve the quality of life of her fellow citizens.

Emmeline Goulden was not very interested in politics until she met and married Richard Pankhurst. A committed socialist, Richard was also a strong advocate of women's suffrage. Richard had been responsible for drafting an amendment to the Municipal Franchise Act of 1869 that had resulted in unmarried women householders being allowed to vote in local elections. Richard had served on the Married Women's Property Committee (1868-1870) and was the main person responsible for the drafting of the women's property bill that was passed by Parliament in 1870.

Emmeline had four children in the first six years of marriage: Christabel (1880), Sylvia (1882), Frank (1884) and Adela (1885). In 1886 the family moved to London where their home in Russell Square became a centre for gatherings of socialists and suffragists. They were also both members of the Fabian Society. At a young age, their children were encouraged to attend these meetings. This had a major impact on their political views.

In 1889 Richard and Emmeline helped form the pressure group, the Women's Franchise League. The organisation's main objective was to secure the vote for women in local elections. In 1893 they returned to Manchester where they formed a branch of the new Independent Labour Party (ILP). In the 1895 General Election, Pankhurst stood as the ILP candidate for Gorton, an industrial suburb of the city, but was defeated.

Richard Pankhurst made several unsuccessful attempts to be elected to the House of Commons but his political career came to an end when he died of a perforated ulcer in 1898. Without her husband's income, Emmeline had to sell their home and move to a cheaper residence. She was also forced to accept the post of registrar of births and deaths.

Emmeline had been a member of National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) for many years. It has been claimed that by the beginning of the 20th century it had over 600 societies and an estimated 100,000 members. Emmeline gradually grew disillusioned with the NUWSS and in 1903 she joined forces with her three daughters, to establish the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU).

The main objective of the WSPU was to gain, not universal suffrage, the vote for all women and men over a certain age, but votes for women, "on the same basis as men." This meant winning the vote not for all women but for only the small stratum of women who could meet the property qualification. As one critic claimed, it was "not votes for women", but “votes for ladies.”

The Labour Party refused to support the WSPU as it was policy to campaign for universal suffrage. It was pointed out that in 1903 only a third of men had the vote in parliamentary elections. John Bruce Glasier, a leading figure in the party, recorded in his diary after a meeting with Emmeline and Christabel, that they were guilty of "miserable individualist sexism" and that he was strongly against supporting the organisation.

On the 16th December 1904 The Clarion published a letter from Ada Nield Chew, a leading figure in the Independent Labour Party, attacking WSPU policy: "The entire class of wealthy women would be enfranchised, that the great body of working women, married or single, would be voteless still, and that to give wealthy women a vote would mean that they, voting naturally in their own interests, would help to swamp the vote of the enlightened working man, who is trying to get Labour men into Parliament."

The following month Christabel Pankhurst replied to the points that Ada Nield Chew made: "Some of us are not at all so confident as is Mrs Chew of the average middle class man's anxiety to confer votes upon his female relatives." A week later Ada Nield Chew retorted that she still rejected the policies in favour of "the abolition of all existing anomalies... which would enable a man or woman to vote simply because they are man or woman, not because they are more fortunate financially than their fellow men and women".

Ada Nield's background was very different from that of Emmeline Pankhust. She was the second child in a family of thirteen of William Nield, brickmaker, and his wife, Jane Hammond Nield. Ada was taken from school at the age of eleven to help look after the family, especially her younger sister May, who was an epileptic. As the authors of One Hand Tied Behind Us (1978) have pointed out: "She had to leave school at eleven and take on the heavy responsibility of looking after her seven younger brothers, combining this with various odd jobs."

In 1907 some leading members of the WSPU began to question the leadership of Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst. These women objected to the way that the Pankhursts were making decisions without consulting members. They also felt that a small group of wealthy women were having too much influence over the organisation.

At a conference in September 1907, Emmeline Pankhurst told members that she intended to run the WSPU without interference. As Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence pointed out: "She called upon those who had faith in her leadership to follow her, and to devote themselves to the sole end of winning the vote. This announcement was met with a dignified protest from Mrs. Despard. These two notable women presented a great contrast, the one aflame with a single idea that had taken complete possession of her, the other upheld by a principle that had actuated a long life spent in the service of the people. Mrs. Despard calmly affirmed her belief in democratic equality and was convinced that it must be maintained at all costs. Mrs. Pankhurst claimed that there was only one meaning to democracy, and that was equal citizenship in a State, which could only be attained by inspired leadership. She challenged all who did not accept the leadership of herself and her daughter to resign from the Union that she had founded, and to form an organisation of their own."

As a result of this speech, Charlotte Despard, Teresa Billington-Greig, Elizabeth How-Martyn, Dora Marsden, Helena Normanton, Anne Cobden Sanderson, Margaret Nevinson and seventy other members of the WSPU left to form the Women's Freedom League (WFL). Like the WSPU, the WFL was a militant organisation that was willing the break the law. As a result, over 100 of their members were sent to prison after being arrested on demonstrations or refusing to pay taxes. However, members of the WFL was a completely non-violent organisation and opposed the WSPU campaign of vandalism against private and commercial property. The WFL were especially critical of the WSPU arson campaign. The WFL soon had a membership of 4,000 people, twice the size of the WSPU.

Sylvia Pankhurst became concerned about the increase in the violence used by the WSPU. This view was shared by her younger sister, Adela Pankhurst. She later told fellow member, Helen Fraser: "I knew all too well that after 1910 we were rapidly losing ground. I even tried to tell Christabel this was the case, but unfortunately she took it amiss." Sylvia was unhappy that the WSPU had abandoned its earlier commitment to socialism and disagreed with the WSPU's attempts to gain middle class support by arguing in favour of a limited franchise. After arguing with her mother about this issue she left the WSPU.

In 1913, Sylvia Pankhurst, with the help of Keir Hardie, Julia Scurr, Mary Phillips, Millie Lansbury, Eveline Haverfield, Maud Joachim, Lilian Dove-Wilcox, Jessie Stephen, Nellie Cressall and George Lansbury, established the East London Federation of Suffragettes (ELF). An organisation that combined socialism with a demand for women's suffrage, it worked closely with the Independent Labour Party. Pankhurst also began production of a weekly paper for working-class women called The Women's Dreadnought.

As June Hannam has pointed out: "The ELF was successful in gaining support from working women and also from dock workers. The ELF organized suffrage demonstrations and its members carried out acts of militancy. Between February 1913 and August 1914 Sylvia was arrested eight times. After the passing of the Prisoners' Temporary Discharge for Ill Health Act of 1913 (known as the Cat and Mouse Act) she was frequently released for short periods to recuperate from hunger striking and was carried on a stretcher by supporters in the East End so that she could attend meetings and processions. When the police came to re-arrest her this usually led to fights with members of the community which encouraged Sylvia to organize a people's army to defend suffragettes and dock workers. She also drew on East End traditions by calling for rent strikes to support the demand for the vote."

On 4th August, 1914, England declared war on Germany. Two days later the NUWSS announced that it was suspending all political activity until the war was over. The leadership of the WSPU began negotiating with the British government. On the 10th August the government announced it was releasing all suffragettes from prison. In return, the WSPU agreed to end their militant activities and help the war effort.

Emmeline Pankhurst announced that all militants had to "fight for their country as they fought for the vote." Ethel Smyth pointed out in her autobiography, Female Pipings for Eden (1933): "Mrs Pankhurst declared that it was now a question of Votes for Women, but of having any country left to vote in. The Suffrage ship was put out of commission for the duration of the war, and the militants began to tackle the common task."

Annie Kenney reported that orders came from Christabel Pankhurst: "The Militants, when the prisoners are released, will fight for their country as they have fought for the Vote." Kenney later wrote: "Mrs. Pankhurst, who was in Paris with Christabel, returned and started a recruiting campaign among the men in the country. This autocratic move was not understood or appreciated by many of our members. They were quite prepared to receive instructions about the Vote, but they were not going to be told what they were to do in a world war."

After receiving a £2,000 grant from the government, the WSPU organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men.

Most members of the suffrage movement rejected the logic of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. Ada Nield Chew pointed out: "The militant section of the movement... would without doubt place itself in the trenches quite cheerfully, if allowed. It is now ... demanding, with all its usual pomp and circumstance of banner and procession, its share in the war. This is an entirely logical attitude and strictly in line with its attitude before the war. It always glorified the power of the primitive knock on the nose in preference to the more humane appeal to reason.... What of the others? The non-militants - so-called - though bitterly repudiating militancy for women, are as ardent in their support of militancy for men as their more consistent and logical militant sisters."

Sylvia Pankhurst was a pacifist and disagreed with the WSPU's strong support for the war. In 1915 she joined with Charlotte Despard, Helena Swanwick, Olive Schreiner, Helen Crawfurd, Alice Wheeldon, Hettie Wheeldon, Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence and Chrystal Macmillan to form the Women's Peace Army, an organisation that demanded a negotiated peace.

In October 1915, the WSPU changed its newspaper's name from The Suffragette to Britannia. Emmeline's patriotic view of the war was reflected in the paper's new slogan: "For King, For Country, for Freedom'. In the newspaper anti-war activists such as Ramsay MacDonald were attacked as being "more German than the Germans". Another article on the Union of Democratic Control and Norman Angell carried the headline: "Norman Angell: Is He Working for Germany?" Mary Macarthur and Margaret Bondfield were described as "Bolshevik women trade union leaders" and Arthur Henderson, who was in favour of a negotiated peace with Germany, was accused of being in the pay of the Central Powers.

On 28th March, 1917, the House of Commons voted 341 to 62 that women over the age of 30 who were householders, the wives of householders, occupiers of property with an annual rent of £5 or graduates of British universities. Soon afterwards Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst established the The Women's Party. Its twelve-point programme included: (1) A fight to the finish with Germany. (2) More vigorous war measures to include drastic food rationing, more communal kitchens to reduce waste, and the closing down of nonessential industries to release labour for work on the land and in the factories. (3) A clean sweep of all officials of enemy blood or connections from Government departments. Stringent peace terms to include the dismemberment of the Hapsburg Empire." The party also supported: "equal pay for equal work, equal marriage and divorce laws, the same rights over children for both parents, equality of rights and opportunities in public service, and a system of maternity benefits." Christabel and Emmeline had now completely abandoned their earlier socialist beliefs and advocated policies such as the abolition of the trade unions.

After the passing of the Qualification of Women Act the first opportunity for women to vote was in the General Election in December, 1918. Seventeen women candidates that stood in the post-war election. Christabel Pankhurst represented the The Women's Party in Smethwick. Despite the fact that the Conservative Party candidate agreed to stand down, she lost a straight fight with the representative of the Labour Party by 775 votes.

On 23rd February, 1918, the WSPU sent out a letter to all members on 23rd February, 1918: "Votes for Women has been won because the WSPU was blessed with marvellous leadership, which drew to itself loyal and enthusiastic followers... Under its new name of the Women's Party, the WSPU has now even greater work to do."

The NUWSS still advocated universal suffrage and therefore continued the fight under the new name, National Union of Societies for Equal Citizenship (NUSEC). Eleanor Rathbone succeeded Millicent Fawcett as president of the new body. Later that year Rathbone persuaded the organization to accept a six point reform programme. (1) Equal pay for equal work, involving an open field for women in industry and the professions. (2) An equal standard of sex morals as between men and women, involving a reform of the existing divorce law which condoned adultery by the husband, as well as reform of the laws dealing with solicitation and prostitution. (3) The introduction of legislation to provide pensions for civilian widows with dependent children. (4) The equalization of the franchise and the return to Parliament of women candidates pledged to the equality programme. (5) The legal recognition of mothers as equal guardians with fathers of their children. (6) The opening of the legal profession and the magistracy to women.

Meanwhile, the former leaders of the WSPU, such as Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst, joined the Conservative Party. Others such as Mary Richardson and Mary Allen became active in the British Union of Fascists. None of these women showed any interest at all in getting the franchise for women still denied the vote.

It is therefore no surprise that the House of Lords were willing to give permission for the statutes of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst to be placed in Victoria Tower Gardens. Although they had been "terrorists" they were now members of the establishment.

Sylvia Pankhurst remained active in left-wing politics. After all women over 21 were given the vote in 1928, Sylvia campaigned on issues such as maternity pay, equal pay and improved childcare facilities. In the 1930s she supported the republicans in Spain, helped Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany and led the campaign against the Italian occupation of Ethiopia.The British secret service had held a file on Sylvia Pankhurst since her early days in the suffrage movement. However as late as 1948 MI5 was considering various strategies for "muzzling the tiresome Miss Sylvia Pankhurst."

After her death in 1960 attempts were made to persuade Parliament to allow her statue to appear alongside that of Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst. This idea has been repeatedly been blocked. The Observer reported on 6th March, 2016, that the TUC and City of London Corporation are to launch a joint campaign to erect a statue of Sylvia on Clerkenwell Green in Islington in time for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918, which first gave the vote to some women.

The City of London Corporation is providing a grant of £10,000 and has set the TUC the challenge of finding £70,000 to get the project off the ground. Megan Dobney, a founder member of the Sylvia Pankhurst Memorial Committee and a TUC official, said the Clerkenwell statue would constitute welcome recognition. “Sylvia would not have liked a memorial, but as a symbol of the unsung heroism of thousands of working-class women who fought for the franchise some kind of recognition is long overdue.” (22nd March, 2016)

Dame Janet Smith and Jimmy Savile

On 11th October 2012, Dame Janet Smith was appointed by the BBC to lead an inquiry into the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse charges.

The report was published a few days ago. BBC News Online reported "Senior BBC management unaware of Savile's crimes" and that no "members of staff ever reported concerns, and should have done so".

The report stated: "Some members of BBC staff were aware of Savile's inappropriate sexual conduct. Those who were aware of specific complaints about Savile should have reported them to line managers. None did so. A total of 117 witnesses said they had heard rumours about Savile. There is no evidence any senior member of staff was aware of Savile's conduct. There is no evidence the BBC as a corporate body was aware of Savile's conduct."

Not surprisingly, most newspapers claimed that Smith's report was a "whitewash". One of the most critical articles on the report appeared in Private Eye. It argues that the headlines that appeared on the BBC website were extremely misleading and relied on redefining what is meant by "senior managers". As the magazine points out: "Incidents involving Savile were reported by staff to superiors at various points from the 1970s to as late as 2006."

Dame Janet reported that of the senior managers she interviewed "nobody... had known what was going on". That of course says a great deal about the people she selected to interview. For example, Mark Thompson, the former BBC director-general, and Helen Boaden, currently director of BBC Radio, who both admitted in 2012 they had heard about complaints about Savile, were not interviewed. Nor did she talk to those senior managers that dealt with a sexual assault by Savile on an BBC employee in 2006.

The Smith Report did result in one sacking - Tony Blackburn. Of course, Blackburn is not a senior manager but a radio presenter. He lost his job because his memory of a 1971 investigation into an allegation (later withdrawn) was in conflict with the information that appeared in a BBC memo, which Smith assumed must be accurate. It should be pointed out that Blackburn's "memory failing" had no bearing on the accusation against him. Whereas it would be very embarrassing to the BBC if the memo had been inaccurate.

The importance of the sacking of Tony Blackburn (which was leaked to the media the day before the report was published) is that it dominated the headlines and enabled the BBC to protect its senior managers from censure and avoided discussion of the cancellation by senior managers of the Newsnight report into the Jimmy Savile sexual abuse claims.

Immediately after Savile's death, Meirion Jones and Liz Mackean, began to investigate reports that he had sexually abused children. They recruited former police detective Mark Williams-Thomas to help them discover evidence against Savile. Peter Rippon, the editor of Newsnight, blocked the story from being broadcast. The team took their story to ITV and The Other Side of Jimmy Savile, was broadcast on 3rd October 2012.

The decision to cancel the Newsnight investigation became the subject of the Pollard Inquiry, named after its head, the former Sky News executive Nick Pollard. On 19th December 2012, Pollard reported that the "Newsnight investigators were right. They found clear and compelling evidence that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile. The decision by their editor to drop the original investigation was clearly flawed and the way it was taken was wrong." MacKean described the failure to run the story as a "breach in our duty to the women who trusted us to reveal that Jimmy Savile was a paedophile." However, the BBC has asserted that Panorama found no evidence to suggest that Rippon was pressured from above to drop the report ahead of the Christmas tribute to Savile. Rippon, unlike Tony Blackburn and Liz Mackean, still works at the BBC. So do all those senior executives who did not apply any pressure on Rippon.

During the investigation by Nick Pollard into the role of senior managers in the Newsnight cancellation, it was revealed that Helen Boaden changed her evidence through a letter from solicitors, at the last moment, after it was found that earlier evidence was incorrect. Boaden, who is Blackburn's boss, was not interviewed by Smith and still remains in her £352,900 job.

Dame Janet Smith's report identified 72 victims of Savile at the BBC, including 34 assaults on children under the age of 16 and eight rapes overall, the youngest rape victim being aged 10. Yet, as she was unable to find any senior managers who knew anything about these offences, the BBC is not to blame. Is it really surprising that many journalists working for the organisation now call it Pravda rather than "Auntie".

Private Eye rightly concluded: "Many might accept a defence from BBC managers that they had heard reports of some incidents and rumours of others, but lacked the evidence to challenge the notoriously litigious Savile. However, the suggestion that they had never heard anything at all is, frankly, preposterous. One might add that people so incurious and uninformed about popular culture should perhaps not be in charge of a major broadcaster." (8th March, 2016)

Ofsted report for the Academies Enterprise Trust (67 schools)

Britain's largest academies chain, the Academies Enterprise Trust (AET) control 67 schools. It has a turnover of £275m and its chief executive earns £225,000 a year. Nicky Morgan wants these academy chains to replace LEA's. Morgan claimed that these new chains should be spared from Ofsted inspection. However, Ofsted rejected her arguments and last week published its report. It discovered that AET "is failing too many pupils". It added that "children from poor backgrounds do particularly badly in this trust" and its attempt to "tackle weak leadership... has had limited impact." (23rd February, 2016)

Amazon dodgy tax arrangements rewarded by the UK government

Amazon’s UK business paid just £11.9m in tax in 2014, even though its Luxembourg unit took £5.3bn from internet sales in the UK. As in previous years, the UK accounts make clear Amazon claims not to sell to British online shoppers: instead the group’s Luxembourg arm fulfils that role. Limited’s much more modest turnover of £679m comes from providing “fulfillment and corporate support services” to Luxembourg.

The Amazon group’s total UK sales – representing 9.4% of its global sales – were taken through its Luxembourg company Amazon EU Sarl, which has a much smaller number of employees. Amazon EU Sarl also took billions from Germany, France and other major European economies. It was not subject to tax on any resulting profits in those markets.

Amazon’s former head of tax, Bob Comfort, last year gave an interview recalling how in 2003 the then prime minister of Luxembourg, Jean-Claude Juncker, had behaved as “business partner” to the online retailer. Juncker is now the president of the European Union’s executive arm, the European commission.

After the recent Google debacle, the British government does not seem to be willing to take on Amazon, a company that is gradually destroying the owners of shops in the high street who pay their tax. Instead, they are rewarding Amazon executives with government posts. It has been recently reported that that Amazon’s head of Chinese operations, Doug Gurr, is to become a non-executive director of the Department for Work and Pensions. (4th February, 2016)

Spartacus News (January 2015-June 2015)

Spartacus News (2nd July, 2016-February 2016)