Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History
Thanks for sending a copy of Revolutionary History containing a review of Come Dungeons Dark. You have given quite a space to the review of Dungeons, and, of course, I hope it causes a few of your readers to buy the book. It has been extensively and, in the main, favourably reviewed. I think the intended significance of the title has passed over most of the reviewers, though not of several of the readers who have written to me.
Come Dungeons Dark is a dedication and a commemoration, proclaimed for all those who have suffered for the cause of human enlightenment, from Socrates to Martin Luther King, and further in each direction. It comes from, of course, The Red Flag. We may now have a generation who think it's a song sung by the rosy cosy Labour Party after a civilised conference, or the erstwhile favourite of Joe Stalin and Willie Gallacher. If it became that, its inspiration was something more.
It was composed in the 1880s, when the Communards had hardly rotted, the Chicago martyrs were still swinging in the public mind, the Narodniki were on the trek to the Siberian mines, and the Special Branch was newly created to combat the Fenians. It was intended as the people’s anthem, not a party tune. Its full reference was with me when I chose it for a biography which would include an account of the persecution of the war resisters of the 1914 War, and the six years’ confinement of Guy Aldred.
I don’t know if Sheila Lahr’s summing up that it is an “easy read' for young comrades, and an escape from the “holy writ21 for the old, is damaging to that concept. I suppose some comrades will comprehend that dimension, and others just won’t.
Sheila belongs to the “be beastly to Aldred” faction, now in its third generation. I don’t know what they’d do without the Duke of Bedford. Guy did without him for 54 of his 60 years as a propagandist, and didn’t need him for the rest. I wonder if Sheila knows that the illiterate metaphor “bedfellow” was first used by a Communist Party heckler at an Independent Labour Party meeting at the Plaza Theatre in Burnbank in 1943, where Aldred and the Duke shared the same platform. They were both accused not only of being “bedfellows”, but worse – “Trotskyites”. The CP issued a pamphlet called Clear Out Hitler’s Agents. This ‘exposed’ the ‘Trotskyite alliance’ with Hitler, and the ILP in general, and John McGovern, Aldred and the Duke in particular, as Nazi agents. Guy had been introduced to the Duke in 1940 by
McGovern of the ILP. In 1943 the Duke was still speaking for the ILP. After the War his sympathies turned to Russia, speaking for the CP, on one occasion with the ‘Red Dean’ of Canterbury. He was not choosy when it came to ‘bedfellows’.
Sheila’s objection that Aldred is portrayed only through his own eyes, is best answered by Nigel Sinnott, who wrote to me saying “you have avoided hagiography and preaching temptations which must have been hard to resist for someone in your position – and have let Aldred’s own words explain his message”. As this was the first biography of Aldred, I felt that he should be portrayed impartially, for the public to make their own judgements.
In any case it would be absurd for me who never wrote a political article, never delivered a political speech, never suffered a minute in prison, to trot at Guy’s elbow, telling the reader what I thought Aldred should have done or said.
Sheila feels aggrieved that the women in Guy’s life never came to life, being regarded as mere appendages of Aldred, having served him politically for years. What a male chauvinist way to look at it! I would not have liked to have been around if she had made that charge in the presence of Rose, Jane or Ethel. What makes her think that a woman serves a man because she is associated with him? Rose was a public figure in her own right. She was politically in line with Aldred until it was her wish to separate.
Come Dungeons Dark is a biography of Guy Aldred, not a composite biography, a history or a novel. Aldred remains in the limelight, except during the period of war resistance, when he is but one of many. To put Jenny or Ethel centre stage along with him just because they were women, would be an insult to them and to all women. Women should be treated as persons, not as sex symbols. Jenny and Ethel were not public figures. They worked in the press, they did not write, speak or show any initiative in directions apart from printing at the press, and attending United Socialist Movement meetings.
But it would be offensive to them to say that they “served him politically”. This smacks of male chauvinism. We did not serve Aldred. We served our political convictions. It was a case of “from each according to his abilities ...” Guy was the editor and speaker: nobody else could or wanted to do that job. Ethel worked the press and did the books. Nobody else ... Jenny handset and imposed the pages, and did the catering. Nobody else ... I printed, guillotined, stitched, humped around the bales of paper, carted to the Post Office. Nobody else ...
Jenny and Guy lived at one address, and Ethel and I at another. I always rose first, went for the morning rolls, made breakfast, and gave Ethel a knock before I left for the press, lit the fires, swept the floor, got the machines ready ... I was the young male. If I had left these tasks to Ethel or Jenny, or to the elderly Guy, I would indeed have been a cad as well as a male chauvinist pig.
Guy and I did not associate as two males, shoulder to shoulder, eye to eye, in conversation and attitude, apart from the women. The public image was Guy Aldred, Jenny Patrick and Ethel MacDonald. I came behind with the case of ‘lit’, inquiring where to display it. The quartet was in fact a trio. This was not a matter of sex, but of personality. I only came alive after the others had died, running the place for another five years at a greatly reduced level.
I cannot finish this letter without thanking you again for publishing the review. Revolutionary History is a journal for active-minded readers. Dungeons could not have been reviewed in a more desirable paper. An abrasive review is not a bad thing if the reviewer nevertheless recommends reading the book. I think Sheila sensed that I had in mind a readership of young people, and she was right.
Guy Aldred’s writings are all out of print. But they have been published on microfilm, and comprise 12 reels of 35mm silver positive roll microfilm. This includes his autobiography No Traitor’s Gait and my three-volume Guy Aldred Trilogy, from which Come Dungeons Dark has been abridged. The collection also includes all Aldred’s journals, from the first issue of The Herald of Revolt in 1910 to the last copy of The Word in 1963. Each reel costs £65, and the complete collection – held by several main libraries – costs £590. Enquiries should be made to World Microfilms, Microworld House, 4 Foscote Mews, London W9 2HH.
John T. Caldwell
Updated by ETOL: 10.7.2003