Hymie Fagan: Biographical Entry

261 FAGAN, Hymie, ‘An Autobiography’, TS, pp.154 (c.68,000 words). Extract published in Childhood Memories, recorded by some Socialist men and women in their later years, edited with an introduction by Margaret Cohen, Marion and Hymie Fagan, duplicated typescript, pp.18-43. Brunel University Library.

Born 1903 in Stepney of Russian Jewish parents.Father, a printer by trade, was forced to find work in the tailoring sweatshops and eventually died of consumption when in his thirties. Mother worked as a daily help following his death and supplemented her income with a small weekly income granted by the Jewish Board of Guardians. One of 3 children. Educated at Commercial Street School; Rochelle Street School; Jews’ Free School; Westborough Road Boys’ School, Westcliffe; Hebrew classes. Married. Lived in London, Romford and Southend during his childhood. Living in North London in 1984. Employed in a carpet warehouse at age 14; apprentice tailor; tailor; articled to a solicitor, the fees paid for by his employer, a friend (one year); full-time for the Communist Party from 1928 to 1968 (except for 1941-5 when he served in the army) as bookshop manager,propagandist, political instructor, election agent,Assistant National Organiser, Secretary to South Midlands District, General Secretary of the British Soviet Friendship Society and correspondent for the World Marxist Review. In childhood was firmly patriotic and a practising, if not entirely believing, Jew; member of the Jewish Lads’ Brigade; joined the Communist party in 1925, having formerly been a member of the Labour Party; Head of the Parliamentary and Local Government Department of the CP; member of the Marylebone Workers’ Theatre Movement; member of the Shop Assistants’ Union;author of many political pamphlets and tracts; secretary of the National ARP Committee; member of the National Jewish Committee; delegate to the Palestine Commission; member of the National Union of Journalists.

An autobiography in three main parts. The first provides a wonderfully evocative portrait of a Jewish childhood,recalling in vivid style the street life of Spitalfields; the constant battles fought between children of different cultures and religions and the formation of ghettoes; Jewish ceremonies and customs, testing live fowls before purchase to see if they were ‘kosher’ by probing their ‘inner depths’ for eggs and then sending them to be ritually slaughtered; his parents’ reluctance to speak their native tongue because it was the language of pogroms and Czarist oppression; domestic destitution and grinding poverty following his father’s death and the strength his mother drew from her religious faith; a brief sojourn in rural Romford; the prevalence of jingoism and patriotism when war was declared; children’s games;shops and retailing; the Jewish Board of Guardians and visiting ‘Ladies’; reading matter and comics; the cinema; policing; anti-Soviet propaganda; model housing estates (‘an oasis in a desert of slums’); divisions between the different Jewish sects; pawnbroking; soup kitchens; street bookmakers and gambling; elections; household bugs; illnesses and the ‘fever cart’; the siege of the Sydney Street anarchists. The second section deals with his work life as a tailor, in factories and sweatshops,where he was introduced to political debate, trade unionism and socialism, gradually breaking down the prejudices instilled in him by school, synagogue, comics and newspapers. The final part provides a full account of his life and activities as a full-time worker for the Communist Party, spanning the years from 1928 to the invasion of Czechoslovakia and covering such areas as Zionism; the General Strike; Trotskyist witch-hunts; Marxist literature; activities of the Special Branch; visits to the Soviet Union; Party divisions, activities and discipline; agents provocateurs; the Invergordon mutiny; the Workers’ Charter Movement; anti-fascism; political activities in the army; the Cold War.

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