Item 178 - Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to Maude Royden

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Carbon copy of a letter from F. W. Pethick-Lawrence to Maude Royden


  • 31 Oct. 1934 (Creation)

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3 sheets

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Gives an account of the foundation and activities of the Relief Committee for the Victims of German Fascism (see 3/174), and refers to measures taken by the Labour Party in response to the dominant influence of the Committee’s Communist members.



31st. October, 1934.

Dear Dr. Royden,

In reply to the letter received from Miss Dobson this morning I will do my best to enable you to come to a decision with regard to the German Relief Committee for the Victims of Fascism by telling you all I know about the organisation.

When the German atrocities began the British Labour Party among others took a considerable interest in the matter and disbursed funds for the assistance of proletarian sufferers in Germany. There were at the same time other bodies of Jews—and others—who raised funds for similar purposes.

But it was felt by a number of people, including those in the left wing of the Labour movement, that not enough was being done and that there was need for a non-party organisation in this country which would pursue a more active policy of assistance including financial relief to those suffering from Hitlerism in Germany. Prominent among these were Ellen Wilkinson and Lord Marley. The G.R.C.V.F. was accordingly promoted and meetings were got up and speakers were secured from all political parties, the idea being that as persons of all classes in Germany were being ill-treated there was a common case for protest and funds here, rather than to create separate organisations within each party to relieve their own particular adherents.

Among others, quite naturally, the Communists took part in considerable numbers because prominent among the sufferers in Germany were members of the Communist party. Now Communists are in many ways very difficult people to work with. In the first place some of them deliberately use every opportunity of combined effort to proselytise their colleagues and to undermine the influence of the parties from which the combined membership is drawn. But in addition the whole Communist party suffers from the kind of mentality which also prevails in high Conservative quarters in this country, namely, a complete inability to believe that their† can be any faith of value except their own; and accordingly without neccessarily† unfair motives they introduce their own shibboleths on every occasion. So that when a Communist speaker speaks on a non-party platform he does not hesitate to preach the whole milk of the word.

Among other activities of the G.R.C.V.F. was propaganda on behalf of the prisoners in the Reichstag Fire Trial and as this particular work grew in importance the Dimitroff Committee was founded as a kind of sub-committee of the original body.

After this had held one or two meetings I was asked to become Chairman, and after consulting with some of the leading spirits of the R.C.V.G.F. I consented to do so on condition that I entirely reformed the Dimitroff Committee. In fact I gave it an entirely new start and you will remember that I made a fresh appeal to create it and that you and Henry Nevinson kindly gave me your names to do so. The result was highly gratifying and we got a really representative body of men and women as Vice-Presidents taken from all walks of life and all parties, and the Communist element in it was reduced to quite small dimensions. I decided however to retain the name of the Dimitroff Committee taking over in this way the kudos of the old sub-committee. After I had formed this I was just in time to prevent the Communist members of the Dimitroff Committee issuing in its name a manifesto of a largely Communist character: and in loyalty to our Vice-Presidents I have continued to act upon strictly non-party lines. The relationship between the Dimitroff Committee and the R.C.V.G.F. is therefore now entirely different from what it was at the beginning. The R.C.V.G.F. has continued to do some quite useful work but there is no doubt that it is at the present time partially dominated by Communist people and I believe that its foreign associations are almost wholly Communist.

Meanwhile the Labour Party which has suffered terribly in the past through the underhand methods of the Communists in trying to seduce Labour members from their allegiance by forming pretended non-party organisations, have found it necessary to impose restrictions upon its members in this direction. This I believe to be quite sound. At the same time in my opinion it should be in every case a question of fact. I do not think that the Labour Party ought to prohibit its members from taking part in bona fide non-party or all party organisations, but it is entitled to prohibit them from taking part in organisations which profess to be as above but are in fact Communist bodies acting in disguise.

So far the Labour Party has expressed no criticism of the Dimitroff Committee: but after hearing what was to be said in favour of the R.C.V.G.F. the Executive came to the conclusion that it was largely permeated by Communist influence and that it should be put on the “index”. There was a debate at Southport this year and after hearing Lord Marley and Herbert Morrison the Conference decided by an overwhelming majority to support the Executive. I personally, voted against this decision, but I confess that I think there was a good deal to be said for the majority case.

The result of this decision will be that all Labour candidates and others prominently associated with the Labour Party will have to withdraw from active association with the R.C.V.G.F. otherwise they would be disqualified from their candidature. The consequence of this will be that the R.C.V.G.F. will become even more Communist than it is at present.

The R.C.V.G.F. undoubtedly contains a number of earnest men and women whose main concern is the alleviation of distress in Germany. On the other hand it is difficult to judge how far in the future with a more distinctly Communist bias they will devote themselves mainly to relief or to promoting the interests of a Communist revolution in Germany.

For my own part, the decision of Southport means that I shall have to draw the Dimitroff Committee still further away from R.C.V.G.F., and unfortunately one cannot rely implicitly on their definite promises. Only recently I was invited to co-operate in a meeting which I was told was to be run by individuals and found on closer investigation that it was definitely a R.C.V.G.F. meeting.

If I were in your place I should be guided in the first instance by my relationship to the Labour Party whatever that may be: and in the second place I should be inclined to get some of their more recent literature and perhaps send someone to one of their next meetings with a view to finding out the trend of their present activities. You will then be in a position perhaps to answer the question which I have postulated two paragraphs back.

There is also the further point as to what other assistance one can give to the unhappy sufferers in Germany, if the R.C.V.G.F. is ruled out. The Labour Party is I believe doing something—I do not know how much—through the Matteotti Fund. The Friends are doing a great deal through their Germany Emergency Committee: there is the organisation for dealing with German refugees which I believe is run by Mrs. Norman Bentwich: there is also the Academic Assistance Council, and finally there is the Dimitroff Committee.

I have just heard this morning from Mr. Pritt that he has been successful in finding an English lawyer to go out to Germany for the Thaelman case and the Dimitroff Committee have promised to find £50 for this purpose.

I think I have now covered all the ground and hope that I have been of some assistance to you in making up your own mind. It is certainly a very difficult decision.

I heard the other day that you are going to India shortly to take part in a Women’s Conference. I am quite sure that it will be a most interesting journey and you have my very best wishes.

Yours sincerely,

P.S. The letter which you signed last week with regard to German prisoners had quite a good Press and appeared at any rate in “The Manchester Guardian”, “The Herald”, “The Scotsman”, “The New Statesman”, and “The Spectator”.

Dr. A. Maude Royden,
24, Rosslyn Hill,
Hampstead, N.W.3.


† Sic.
(Carbon copy of a typed original.)

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