John Maclean 1917

Trotsky’s demand of the British.
Release of Tchitcherine and Petroff.
Stainless men
A striking contrast

Source: Cotton Factory Times, 30 November 1917, p. 2;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

M. Trotsky the Bolshevik leader and member of the Russian Government has written to the British ambassador at Petrograd demanding the release of George Tchitcherine, Peter Petroff and other Russian citizens who are interned in this country.

M. Trotsky describes Tchitchirine and Petroff as “stainless and self-sacrificing men of high ideals.” He goes on to allege that many Englishmen living in Russia openly engage in political activities with counter revolutionary elements of the Russian bourgeoise class.

The public opinion of revolutionary democracy he declares “he declares cannot accept that worthy heroes of the Russian revolution should languish in concentration camps in England, while counter revolutionary British citizens suffer no hardships in the territory of the Russian revolution.”

The cases of George Tchitcherine and Peter Petroff will be familiar to all readers of the “Cotton Factory Times” which has given full publicity to the facts and published many appeals on their behalf, usually from the pen of Mrs Bridges Adams and Russian Socialists in London.

Tchitchirine was secretary of the Russian socialist group in London and was very active in the movement for maintaining the right of asylum.

After the Russian revolution he began at the request of the Russian Government an investigation into the connections in Britain of the ex-Tsarist secret police. While engaged in this work he was arrested and has since been interned in Brixton Gaol London. The charges against him were of associating with Germans and uttering pro-German sentiments.

Peter Petroff was a social democrat organiser in Russia during the attempted revolution of 1905. On the suppression of the rising he fled to England where he subsequently acted as correspondent for the Russkoe Slovo, a leading Liberal newspaper published at Moscow. In London he joined the British Socialist Party and became an active member. Soon after the outbreak of the war much of his income as a journalist was cut off and largely through the agency of Mr John Maclean, he was invited to Glasgow to assist in the educational work which Mr Maclean is the leading spirit. That was in November 1915. In the following January Petroff was arrested and on the ground of being of “hostile association” was interned in Scotland ever since. About the same time his wife was arrested and interned at Islington, where she is to-day.


Sir, – In the interests of justice and to at least preserve the good name of the workers of Britain in the eyes of their now triumphant comrades of Russia we desire to draw the attention of your readers to the cases of George Tchitcherine, Peter Petroff, Mrs. Irma Petroff, and other Russians unjustly interned in prisons in and around London.

In November, 1915, Petroff and his wife came to Glasgow at the invitation of the Glasgow Council of the British Socialist Party to undertake work of use to the working-class. In January, 1916, he was taken to Edinburgh Castle, the pretext being “hostile associations.”

In Parliament House Lord Dewar heard evidence from Petroff’s Scottish friends to prove that all his activities were regulated by the B.S.P.; but everyone concerned knew that the enquiry was as much of a farce as the Scottish Advisory Committee itself, and that Petroff was sure to be kept as a prisoner. He was transferred to the Islington Internment Prison where he still lies at the mercy of the Government: Shortly afterwards, his wife was put into Calton Gaol, Edinburgh, and thence transferred to Aylesbury.

This autumn, George Tchitcherine was treated similarly. The trumped-up excuse for his removal was association with Germans and pro-Germans at the London Communist Club, and anti-Ally and pro-German sentiments. The only members of the Communist Club since the war started are Russians, so readers can judge for themselves the thinness of the Government’s first pretext. The Government refused Tchitcherine an open trial and that ought to dispose of the second excuse in the eyes of fair-minded people.

Tchitcherine was the most prominent Russian in London, having at one time been in the Russian Foreign Ministry. Since 1903 he has lived in exile in many European countries, always working for International Socialism and for the victims of the brutal Tsarist regime tortured in Russian prisons or exiled in Siberia. In London he was secretary of five Russian committees, all of a working-class composition.

The real reason for his internment was his spotting of Tsarist spies in Britain and tracing their connection with Scotland Yard. This work he was doing at the instigation of M. Svatikoff, Commissioner of the Provisional Government, when he was taken to Brixton Prison.

His English secretary was Mrs Bridges Adams, one of the best known women in this country and one who has done exceptionally fine work on behalf of the wage-earners. She is refused permission to see Tchitcherine and Petroff.

If the Government has real evidence against these persons of international reputation let that evidence be forthcoming.

As we are convinced that no evidence can be forthcoming we appeal to all Britons who have still kept their ideas of fair play to personally protest to Sir Geo. Cave and the Prime Minister, and demand the release of all interned Russian subjects. Once free we feel convinced that these Russians would be only too glad to return to help their distressed country, and prevent the growth of bitterness against the British people.

SHAMMES, Secretary,
Russian Political Refugees Defence Committee.
42 Auldhouse Road, Newlands, Glasgow.


Mrs Bridges Adams writes: –

I sincerely trust the demand of Trotsky and Lenin will be backed up by the rank and file of the organised workers in Britain. As for the “leaders” both in parliament and outside there is little to be hoped for. If we are to judge by their past inaction on the questions of imprisonment without trial of the Russian international socialists in Britain the following incident in the case of Tchitcherine may interest those readers those readers of the “Factory Times” who like myself are looking forward to the rebuilding of the new International:

About a month ago I addressed the Fabian Society a request that from their lending library books bearing on the subject of the British Labour Movement should be lent to Mr George Tchitcherine who wishes to use his enforced leisure by continuing his studies of the British Labour Movement. After 3 weeks delay the executive refused the request. The books are however being sent as the gift of a distinguished educationist who has met Mr Tchitcherine and has a very complete knowledge of his activities in Britain. It must be remembered that the Fabian Society is affiliated to the working class International and its “leaders” will, we may be sure, be well to the front when the International meets again.