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The Liberty League—a campaign against Bolshevism

This interesting cutting from the Haining archive tells some of the story of the short-lived Liberty League. Less than three years after the Russian Revolution had erupted, leading figures in public life, alarmed by the progress of its ideas in the West, got together to initiate a counter campaign that would challenge Bolshevism in the UK and throughout the empire. The new force for good was ‘The Liberty League’ and on 3rd March 1920 an open letter declaring its objectives and signed by H. Rider Haggard, Rudyard Kipling, Lord Sydenham, H. Bax-Ironside, John Hanbury Williams, Algernon Maudslay and  Lt –Col G Maitland- Edwards, was published in the Times. The signatories began by defining Bolshevism and its aims.

Bolshevism is the reverse of what mankind has built up of good by nearly two thousand years of effort. It is the Sermon of the Mount writ backward. It has led to bloodshed and torture, rapine and destruction. It repudiated God and would build its own throne upon the basest passions of mankind. There are some misguided people of righteous instincts in this country who believe in Bolshevism; there are others who have been influenced by secret funds. There are many who hope to fish in its bloodstained waters.

We, the undersigned, and those we represent, being assured that if it is allowed to conquer it will mean in the end the destruction  of individual rights, the family, the nation, and the whole British Commonwealth, together wit the handing over of all we hold sacred into the power of those who stand behind and perhaps have fashioned this monstrous organization...

If this evil is to be beaten, the signatories argued, it would require 'counter organisation' and funding:

The first we hope to be able to supply; the second we ask you to help us obtain. We desire in a clean and open fashion to fight what we believe to be a great and terrible evil, by means of letting light into its dark places. We believe in the old adage---that the Truth is great and will prevail; but we believe also that this light should not be hid under a bushel. We are certain that at bottom the British workman is sound and upright and that he does not desire to see in England, that ancient home of liberties, such conditions as prevail in Russia.

The letter ended by asking all ‘right-minded men and women throughout the Empire ‘ to help the Liberty League oppose the threat by creating ‘counter-Bolshevism propaganda’.

Today, if we substitute ISIS for Bolshevism, we get some idea as to the depth of feeling back then towards what seemed to be a nihilistic movement. However, if we look closely at the background of the signatories, anti-semitism may also have been an influence. The novelist Rider Haggard, the man responsible for drafting this letter was, like his fellow signatory Lord Sydenham, a known anti-semite. Both men, and perhaps others signatories, were convinced that most of the Bolsheviks were Jews; Sydenham asserted that 90% of them were. Some signatories had also had personal experience of the atrocities of the Russian Revolution. Algernon Maudslay was in charge of the Red Cross in Russia while John Hanbury Williams had been close enough to the murdered Tsar to later write a book on him. One should also recall that The Aliens Act of 1905, which Sydenham supported, together perhaps with other signatories, was an attempt to control the flow of Jews from eastern Europe. In 1920 all signatories would have had memories of anarchist activities in London, which culminated in the Siege of Sydney Street just nine years earlier. Two of the criminals involved were thought to be Jewish anarchists. So again, the fear of dangerous immigrants has some parallels with the situation today.

The Liberty League was very short-lived. As with many similar organizations that ask for funds and perhaps received more than they expected, it was accused of financial irregularities. By May 1920 the League had been dissolved and in its place rose the British Legion, which of course is still flourishing.

[R.M.Healey]

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