‘THIS was to be MY LIFE’S WORK. YES!, my whole existence will be concentrated on knowledge. I will be a revolutionary renouncing all stupid, transitory pleasures for the noble ideal of fighting for the emancipation of my class; THE WORKING CLASS, and thereby leading humanity to SOCIALISM, THE NEW WORLD.’
The Word according to the inimitable Harry Young! After being introduced to Socialism by ‘Cousin Fred’, to say Harry immersed himself in the life and work attached to it would be an understatement. I have already touched upon his oratory prowess, and how, as a speaker, he was revered by his peers, but this entry deals with his achievements after his appointment as Comintern Apparatchik, and his travels to Russia in the role.
Harry’s role within the Communist Party was far from menial. He was, in fact ‘a member of the Secretariate of the Praesidium of the Executive Committee’, whose function was to ‘elect the presiding body [of the C.P.], at Congresses and Pleniums,’ as well as strengthen the position of the party through speeches and written propaganda.
In his chapter ‘THE DAILY LIFE OF A COMINTERN OFFICIAL’, Harry reveals how he and his comrades were consumed by the ideologies of the party, living without unnecessary expense or frivolity. He states that ‘We were dedicated revolutionaries, we abhorred any suggestion of ostentation or personal gratification, even the girl Comrades dressed in the simplest practical clothing. “Make-up” was anathema, “bourgeois”, the only ornamentation of any sort a red-kerchief over the hair in the summer.’
His political life consisted of making reports ‘the the Executive on the “situation” in Enlgand, South Africa, or the U.S.A.,’ as well as often being ‘called upon to translate discussions into English, American or Irish delegates.’ When I consider Harry’s own origins, and upbringing, in a poverty-stricken, working-class family, it seems unsurprising that he succeeded in the Socialist movement; the fight for the people, and the denunciation of the bourgeoisie arguably coming naturally to someone of his class-position.
Harry’s ‘fight’ took him across the world, and introduced him to some of the Communist icons that he so idolised. His memoir is full of ‘impressions’ of the various political figures that he met, or watched at various congresses; perhaps the most iconic was Nikolai Lenin.
Young notes that he ‘saw and heard him only once when he came to address the Fourth Congress […] in November 1922.’ He remarks that ‘There could be little doubt of his immense stature and repute’ despite the fact that he was a ‘sick, ailing man’ with an assassin’s bullet still lodged in his neck. Lenin’s address prompted a ‘storm of clapping and cheering, […] followed by a deathly hush as he slowly mounted the rostrum to speak.’ His speech contained ‘no oratory, no fireworks, or rhetoric, […] he quietly and even humorously dealt with one point after another,’ at one point have the ‘Delegates in stitches with his humorous sallies.’
Harry’s admiration for Lenin is so apparent in his memoir, and by his own admission he remembered ‘each word the Great Man spoke clearly to-day, some sixty years later.’
The only other figure that comes close, in Harry’s estimation, to Lenin, is Leon Trotsky. Harry declares that ‘He had everything; a Handsome impressive man, with a thick shock of dark wavy hair, strong mobile features, rich vocabulary and perfect diction in several languages.’
Harry recalls one occasion in Red Square where the ‘latest intake of Red Army recruits’ were assembled – ‘Suddenly, from the high podium, there rang out like a silver bell, “Da dzaz voyet Mitevoy Kommuns” (Long Live the World Commune). […] Hurrah, Hurrah!! from ten thousand young throats, as they waved their rifles in the air. THAT was Leon Trotsky, Soviet Minister for War.’ Harry even goes as far to suggest that Trotsky’s oratorical abilities made ‘Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill and Co. sound like amateurs.’ (I may have been mistaken when I placed Trotsky second on Harry’s scale of admiration!)
These two Communist giants are just the tip of Harry Young’s who’s who iceberg, but to cover them all would turn this into a thesis rather than a blog entry. Just a few of the other names include: the ‘darling’ of the C.P., Nikolai Bukarin, Stalin, Richard “Bonzo Schuler, and Gregory “Apfelbaum” Zinovier – all political giants in the Communist cause.
Harry’s admiration of even one of these figures show just how enamored he was with not only the idea of Socialism, but those who spread its message to the world.
Bevir, Mark. The Making of British Socialism. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2011.
Burnett, John, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography vol. 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987. YOUNG, Harry 2-858