Robin Page Arnot

Robin Page Arnot

Robin Page Arnot, the son of a journalist, was born in 1890 at Greenock. His father was the editor of the Greenock Telegraph and Clyde Shipping Gazette. Arnot studied at Glasgow University where he helped to form the University Socialist Federation in 1912.

In 1914 Arnot became secretary of the Fabian Research Department, an organisation established by Beatrice Webb. He also became involved in the campaign against Britain's involvement in the First World War and took part in the fight against conscription.

Arnot was conscripted in 1916 but he refused to serve and was imprisoned for two years in Wakefield as a conscientious objector. When he was released in 1918 he returned to work in the organisation that was now named the Labour Research Department (LRD).

Arnot had been impressed with the achievements of the Bolsheviks following the Russian Revolution and in April 1920 he joined forces with Tom Bell, Willie Gallacher, Arthur McManus, Harry Pollitt, Helen Crawfurd, A. J. Cook, Rajani Palme Dutt, Albert Inkpin and Willie Paul to establish the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB). McManus was elected as the party's first chairman and Bell and Pollitt became the party's first full-time workers.

On 4th August 1925, Arnot and 11 other activists, Jack Murphy, Wal Hannington, Ernie Cant, Tom Wintringham, Harry Pollitt, Albert Inkpin, Arthur McManus, Tom Bell, William Rust, William Gallacher and John Campbell were arrested for being members of the Communist Party of Great Britain and charged with violation of the Mutiny Act of 1797.

Tom Bell explained: "The indictment against the twelve read as follows: That between 1 January, 1924, and 21 October, 1925, the prisoners had: 1. Conspired to publish a seditious libel. 2. Conspired to incite to commit breaches of the Incitement to Mutiny Act, 1797. 3. Conspired to endeavour to seduce persons serving in His Majesty's forces to whom might come certain published books and pamphlets, to wit, the Workers' Weekly, and certain other publications mentioned in the indictment, and to incite them to mutiny." It was believed that the arrests was an attempt by the government to weaken the labour movement in preparation for the impending General Strike.

(Back Row): Jack Murphy, William Gallacher, Wal Hannington; (Middle Row)Harry Pollitt, Ernie Cant, Tom Wintringham, Albert Inkpin; (Front Row)John R. Campbell, Arthur McManus, William Rust, Robin Page Arnot, Tom Bell.
(Back Row): Jack Murphy, William Gallacher, Wal Hannington; (Middle Row)
Harry Pollitt, Ernie Cant, Tom Wintringham, Albert Inkpin; (Front Row)
John R. Campbell, Arthur McManus, William Rust, Robin Page Arnot, Tom Bell.

The Communist Party of Great Britain decided that William Gallacher, John R. Campbell and Harry Pollitt should defend themselves. Tom Bell added: "their speeches were prepared, and approved by the Political Bureau (of the CPGB). To challenge the legality of the proceedings Sir Henry Slesser was engaged to defend the others. During the trial Judge Swift declared that it was "no crime to be a Communist or hold communist opinions, but it was a crime to belong to this Communist Party."

John Campbell later wrote: "The Government was wise enough not to rest its case on the activity of the accused in organising resistance to wage cuts, but on their dissemination of “seditious” communist literature, (particularly the resolutions of the Communist International), their speeches, and occasional articles... Five of the prisoners who had previous convictions, Gallacher, Hannington, Inkpin, Pollitt and Rust, were sentenced to twelve months’ imprisonment and the others (after rejecting the Judge’s offer that they could go free if they renounced their political activity) were sentenced to six months."

Arnot later helped to form the Northumberland and Durham Joint Strike Committee during the General Strike. He later returned to the LRD as Director of Research and wrote a book on the strike. He also contributed to the Labour Monthly, a journal established by Rajani Palme Dutt.

In 1933 Arnot was appointed as the first Principal of the Marx Memorial Library. He was also the author of a two-volume Short History of the Russian Revolution (1937). In the book he attempted to justify the Great Purge: "The Fascist Powers were able to use a number of Trotskyists, some of whom, like Trotsky, resided abroad, while others were in the Soviet Union. These men proved willing to turn traitor to their country and to the cause of Socialism. In December 1934 one of the groups carried through the assassination of Sergei Mironovich Kirov, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Subsequent investigations revealed that behind the first group of assassins was a second group, an Organisation of Trotskyists headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev."

Arnot's next book was Fascist Agents Exposed in the Moscow Trials (1938). From 1949-1975 he wrote a 6-volume series: The Miners: A History of the Miners' Federation.

Robin Page Arnot died in 1986 aged 95.

Primary Sources

(1) Robin Page Arnot, The Labour Monthly (November 1927)

This month of November, ten years ago, was the Bolshevik revolution; this month of November, 1927, there still is the Bolshevik revolution, the same, but grown greater. The challenge that rang out in November, 1917, has swollen in volume through the years, and has filled the whole earth till now in every land the capitalists cannot get the sound of it out of their ears. To none is the challenge more compelling than to the leaders of the trade unions and the co-operative societies and the political labour organisations. Their answer is—to deny that any challenge exists. This is the meaning of the flood of anniversary articles in which the revolution is treated as some huge unique catastrophe, as something peculiar to Russia, something that has happened.

This treatment of the revolution, isolating it, gaping at it, is akin to the canonisation of revolutionary leaders (like the turning of Marx into a hackneyed Liberal). Those who would understand the revolution must seek to understand the process of human history. In that search they will find not only that within the historic period man advances by means of class struggle, but that within the period of capitalism class struggle after class struggle culminates in revolution. Within the last hundred and fifty years alone history presents itself not as a record of kings and battles, but (in spite of all the systematic lying of the Whigs and the Radicals, set forth in every school book, in every scholarly tome, in every speech, sermon and editorial) as a process of class striving with class, culminating in the overthrow of one class another, the intervening periods being but the preparation for that overthrow.

The American Revolution reacts on the great French Revolution from which in turn there issue the revolutions of 1930 and 1848 (in England the Luddites of 1812, and the suppressed trade union agitation oft 1800 to 1825, are succeeded by the Chartist movement of the working class which in its widest sense spans the years from the late ’twenties to the early ’fifties). Already in 1848 the working class has learned that it must go forward in its own strength; and though the Paris Commune, the firms attempt to destroy capitalist rule and to build a workers’ society is drowned in blood, the lessons of these few weeks remain unforgotten throughout the epoch of imperialism that followed. Then as the violence, punitive expeditions, wars, and massacres of imperialism bring more and more colonial peoples beneath the yoke, the stage is reached of dividing up the spoil anew through the first imperialist world war; and when this stage is reached the decay of imperialism becomes manifest, and equally manifest the rising of new forces, the re-awakening of the working class, the first rally of the colonial peoples against oppression. The revolution of 1905 in Russia marks the beginning of the decline, 1917 the end of the rotten rule of imperialism over one-sixth part of the earth; and at the same time an intenser conflict begins against capitalist oppression in every country. In the midst of this intenser conflict the British working class now finds itself compelled to fight for a livelihood, and in that struggle to attack the whole system that refuses it the bread of life. This the process of world history, this is the meaning of the stage in that process in which we live, this is the meaning of the Russian Revolution.

How do they see it, the leaders of Labour, the bureaucracy of the trade unions and the co-operative societies, the men elected to parliaments and municipalities? In what shape do they perceive the Russian Revolution? The answer, as shown by thousands of their speeches and articles, is that for them it is something remote, spectacular, inexplicable, and, at close quarters, dangerous. And beneath this surface gaping there lurks a real hostility, only partially restrained by philistine respectfulness towards the might of the Soviet State.

(2) Robin Page Arnot, The Communist International (November 1936)

Lloyd George, the well-known British politician, has come out in support of Hitler following on his journey and his interview with the Fuehrer at the time of the Nuremberg Congress. Though both papers in which his views appeared criticized him editorially and though the remainder of the British press for the most part chose to ignore his utterances it would be a mistake to regard this as having no significance.

Their significance depends on the present position of British imperialism, particularly its foreign policy. The center of gravity of the foreign policy of British imperialism at the present moment lies in Europe, in its European policy.

One section of the ruling classes stands for support for France against Hitler but has misgivings as to the French Popular Front. Another section, of which Lord Londonderry was the spokesman, is out and out pro-Hitler; a third section balances between these. General agreement exists only on the policy of rearmament, in regard to which the National Government is now being offered the support of Bevin, Citrine and other reformist leaders.

The pro-Hitler section was formerly the most influential one, and is now more and more supported by the city and the bankers. But this policy is utterly repugnant to the mass of the British people and no one of the pro-Hitler section has been able to make it popular. A vacancy has thus appeared for a new role, namely, that of a pro-Hitlerite, capable by his propaganda, of penetrating among the masses. Here is where Lloyd George steps in.

He announces that there is a “New Germany”. He maintains that in this Germany there is no longer any class struggle nor indeed any struggle of any kind. He asserts that this Germany does not threaten anyone.

Something else however attracted the attention of our traveler in this idyllic Germany.

"I found everywhere (i.e., among the leaders of Hitlerism—R.P.A.), he wrote, “a fierce and uncompromising hostility to Russian Bolshevism, coupled with a genuine admiration for the British people, with a profound desire for a better and friendlier understanding with them.”

He actually defends the ravings at Nuremberg and has the effrontery to explain the Nuremberg speech and the claims of the Nazis to take the Ukraine as having nothing to do with warlike intentions and that it was merely “a taunt”.

Finally, Lloyd George finds the following remarkable explanation of the “recent outbursts against Russia” as being only

“. . . the common form of diplomatic relationship between Communist Russia and the rest of the world on both sides.”

It is nothing more than this, he says, and is not intended as a provocation to war. Again and again he repeats “it does not mean war”.

The title of the article of Lloyd George is “I Talk to Hitler”. It is more apparent that Hitler talked to him. The utterances of Lloyd George sound like a gramophone record of the familiar Nazi propaganda.

So, in fine, Lloyd George has become Hitler’s mouthpiece for Britain. But he can only become this because Lloyd George long ago in Britain has ceased to be the mouthpiece of any section of the people’s opinion.

To those who remember Lloyd George as the radical politician before the war or as the successful War Minister of British imperialism, it may seem strange to learn that Lloyd George has sunk so low in popular esteem, has become so bankrupt that he is now making his last gambler’s throw, staking his all on the Knave of Clubs. Yet the fact is that this one-time leading figure of the Liberal Party, this war-time Prime Minister, this all-powerful head of the Liberal-Tory coalition of 1918 to 1922 has lost his support in every political party. The working class hates him, the Tories distrust him, the Liberal Party is split into two sections, neither of which includes Lloyd George.

In Parliament he sits as the chieftain of the Lloyd George Family Party, consisting of himself, his son, his son-in-law and his daughter. So this ruthless, clever, wily, unscrupulous demagogue has reached the position of a political outcast and like other well-known adventurers of the war period, like Ludendorff or Millerand and others, he has steadily sunk in the general esteem. Recognizing this, he has now decided to stake his all, and to risk a desperate course.

(3) Robin Page Arnot, The Labour Monthly (November 1937)

The anti-Soviet war preparations of Japan, Germany, and their allies, which rendered necessary additional measures of Soviet defence, were not, of course, restricted within the German and Japanese borders. Espionage, wrecking, and terror in the shape of individual assassination, methods familiarly used both by the Japanese militarists and by the German Fascists, began to be employed within the Soviet borders. To some extent Japanese and German spies and secret-service agents were employed for these purposes. But, linked up with these as part of the general wrecking, espionage, and assassination agency, the Fascist Powers were able to use a number of Trotskyists, some of whom, like Trotsky, resided abroad, while others were in the Soviet Union. These men proved willing to turn traitor to their country and to the cause of Socialism.

In December 1934 one of the groups carried through the assassination of Sergei Mironovich Kirov, a member of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Subsequent investigations revealed that behind the first group of assassins was a second group, an Organisation of Trotskyists headed by Zinoviev and Kamenev. Further investigations brought to light definite counter-revolutionary activities of the Rights (Bucharin-Rykov organisations) and their joint working with the Trotskyists. The group of fourteen constituting the Trotskyite-Zinovievite Terrorist Centre were brought to trial in Moscow in August 1936, found guilty, and executed. In Siberia a trial, held in November, revealed that the Kemerovo mine had been deliberately wrecked and a number of miners killed by a subordinate group of wreckers and terrorists. A second Moscow trial, held in January 1937, revealed the wider ramifications of the conspiracy. This was the trial of the Parallel Centre, headed by Pyatakov, Radek, Sokolnikov, Serebriakov. The volume of evidence brought forward at this trial was sufficient to convince the most sceptical that these men, in conjunction with Trotsky and with the Fascist Powers, had carried through a series of abominable crimes involving loss of life and wreckage on a very considerable scale. With the exceptions of Radek, Sokolnikov, and two others, to whom lighter sentences were given, these spies and traitors suffered the death penalty. The same fate was meted out to Tukhachevsky, and seven other general officers who were tried in June on a charge of treason. In the case of Trotsky the trials showed that opposition to the line of Lenin for fifteen years outside the Bolshevik Party, plus opposition to the line of Lenin inside the Bolshevik Party for ten years, had in the last decade reached its finality in the camp of counter-revolution, as ally and tool of Fascism.

(4) Robin Page Arnot, Fascist Agents Exposed in the Moscow Trials (1938)

Systematic efforts have been made by the reactionary capitalist press and elements within the Labour movement to create the opinion that the accused are convicted mainly upon testimony of their own confessions and a subtle attempt is made to create prejudice by printing the word “confession” within quotation marks.

Nothing could be further from the truth. First of all it should be noted that the detailed avowals of guilt are not confessions at all in the ordinary sense of the word, in the sense of “making a clean breast of it.” The prisoners talk about things which are already proved and which they cannot deny. Their statements concern mainly the question of the degree of guilt or their own share, large or small, in specific criminal activities. An interesting illustration of this was provided by the accused Krestinsky in connection with the letter which he claimed to have sent to Trotsky in 1927, severing his connection with the Trotskyist movement. During the first day of the trial, he insisted that the contents of this letter cleared him of all suspicions and demanded to know why it had not been produced. Two days later to his obvious discomfiture the very letter was produced in court by State Prosecutor Vyshinsky. After Rakovsky, who had read the letter in 1927, had identified it, and Krestinsky had agreed that the identification was correct, Vyshinsky read the contents only to disclose the fact that they were entirely different in meaning to that which Krestinsky had endeavoured to give them two days before.

Similarly the police spy Zubarev, confronted with the Tsarist police inspector under whose direction he had worked in Kotelnich during 1908-09 looked for all the world as though he had suddenly seen a ghost from his own past. The confrontation of Bukharin with the “Left” Social-Revolutionaries Karelin and Kamkov with whom he had been in conspiratorial alliance in 1918 to overthrow the Soviet Government, arrest and kill Lenin, Stalin and Sverdlov and form a new government of Bukharinites and “Left” Social-Revolutionaries was as conclusive as it was dramatic, and was backed up by the production of three of the people who had been members of Bukharin’s own group of “Left” Communists at that time and who had participated in the plot.

Expert testimony from authoritative medical men in the Soviet Union in connection with the murder of Gorky, Kuibyshev, Menshinsky and Pashkov-Gorky, documentary evidence and the evidence of facts: train wrecks, slaughter of large numbers of livestock, attempts at bandit insurrections, etc., combined to build a cast-iron case for the prosecution out of which, despite all their wriggling, attempts at evasion and efforts to shift responsibility from their own shoulders to others, not one of the accused could escape. But in the case of no individual or crime did Vyshinsky depend solely upon the testimony of the accused.

In this connection it is interesting to note that if the propaganda of the pro-fascist section of the capitalist press, and the confused Liberal and Socialist journals were based upon fact, the whole assortment of counter-revolutionary traitors united in these blocs would have been arrested and disposed of 20 months before, immediately following the much-vaunted “confessions” (as hostile newspapers print it) of the prisoners convicted during the trial of the Trotskyist-Zinoviev group. It is obvious that the prisoners convicted in the Zinoviev, trial, held back what they certainly knew, and only admitted their guilt in those crimes of which the proof was already so overwhelming that denial was futile. By discussing these proofs of crimes with the prosecutor in court, by questioning witnesses, cross-examinations, and energetic defence, each of the prisoners tried to the best of his ability or the ability of the lawyers defending him, to evade some measure of responsibility and to lighten the punishment to be meted out to him. The actions of the prisoners themselves during the trial, their final speeches and their last minute appeals for clemency, all showed very clearly that from beginning to end their fight was carried on to evade full punishment for crimes of which the State Prosecutor already had such overwhelming proof as to secure conviction from any court.