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09 October 2015

Presents as propaganda: Lenin at the British Library 2

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Taking into account Lenin’s great admiration for the Library of the British Museum, and the fact that he donated several of his books to other European libraries it is surprising to find only four donations recorded in the British Museum’s ‘Book of Presents’. This lists:

Present 152: (11 Jan. 1908) “12 Years Ago” " by Vl. Il'in, tom 1 (in Russian) Pres'd. by the Author.

Present 537: (14 Mar 1908) “The Agrarian Question”  by V.C. Oulsanov [sic] Pres' the Author, Rue des deux Ponts 17, Geneve.

Present 857: (11 Apr 1908)  “Development of Capitalism in Russia” by V.Ilin, 1908. (In Russian) Pres'd. by Mr. Oulianoff,17 Rue des deux Ponts, Geneve. (i.e. Razvitie kapitalizma v Rossii. Izdanie vtoroe, dopolnennoe (St-Petersburg, 1908). 08226.i.22)

Present 2153: (11 Nov 1911)  “Deux Partis” par G. Kameneff,1911 Pres'd. by Mr. Oulianoff, 4 Rue Marie Rose, Paris. (i.e.: Dvie partii s predisloviem N. Lenina,"((Paris, 1911)  8094.k.43.

Image 1-donationsDve partii s predisloviem N. Lenina

Presents 152 and 537 are the two parts of Za 12 let. Sobranie statei. tom 1,2 chast.1. (St Petersburg, 1908; Cup.403.w.8) marked in the catalogue as “Author’s presentation copy to the British Museum”, while  537 and 857 correspond to the two books mentioned in his letter of 18 May 1908. Many more of Lenin’s books held by the British Library bear the yellow stamp signifying a donated work. However, these are either not listed in the Book of Presents, or are entered as anonymous gifts or as donations from elsewhere. A case in point is Present 582 for 12 April 1902:

 “What's to be done” by N. Lenin  (in Russian) Pres'd. by J.H.W. Dietz, Nachf. Stuttgart. (Chto delat’? Nabolevshie voprosy nashego dvizheniia. (Stuttgart,1902) C.121.c.3.)

Image 2-donationsChto delat’? Nabolevshie voprosy nashego dvizheniia

Unfortunately, it is impossible to say whether Dietz, his German publishers, made this donation on their own account, or whether they were instructed to do so by Lenin. On the other hand, the Library's copy of the first edition of K derevenskoi bednote (‘To the Village Poor’), also bears a yellow stamp, and even though it is not listed in the Book of Presents, one may be inclined to believe that if Lenin had to donate only one of his works this would most certainly have been his choice, since it was based largely on the research work which he carried out during his first visit to the Library.

Image 3-donationsK derevenskoi bednote (Geneva, 1903)  C.121.a.6(8)

R. Henderson, Honorary Research Associate, School of History, Queen Mary University of London

07 October 2015

Distinction or Discrimination: Honouring the female special agents of the Second World War

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The names of 75 courageous women from 13 nations are etched into a beautiful memorial at RAF Tempsford,   home of the Special Duties Squadrons during the Second World War. These are the female special agents who volunteered for active service behind enemy lines as couriers and wireless operators, running escape lines and leading partisan armies. All were brave, and all deeply committed to the Allied cause, but they had little else in common. Although most were British or French, there were also women from the Soviet Union, Belgium, The Netherlands, Ireland, America, Switzerland, India, Australia and Chile, as well as two from Germany, sent in to support the domestic resistance, and two from Poland, including Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, the subject of my last biography. Some were lucky, others not, many were beautiful which had its own pros and cons, some were plain, and one had a prosthetic leg. Most female agents were effective, at least for a short while, and Skarbek survived in active service for six years. The huge contribution of this diverse group of women came at a high price. 29 were arrested and 16 executed. One more chose suicide with her lethal ‘L’ pill.

Female spies Some of the names on the Tempsford Memorial, courtesy of Clare Mulley                                     Some of the names on the Tempsford Memorial, courtesy of Clare Mulley

Today there is increasing interest in these women. Over the last few years there have been many new biographies and anthologies about them and several memorials. Tempsford is important in that it is the only one that pays tribute to all the women by name. Its marble column stands on a granite plinth collectively honouring the two special duties squadrons that flew them into enemy occupied Europe, but there is no reference to the male agents. Perhaps now we need to ask why is it that we still distinguish heroines from heroes. After all, the Special Operations Executive, better known as SOE, was in many ways a great gender leveller. Selected women and men went through the same training, including in the use of guns and explosives, and silent killing, and were armed and sent to work alongside each other in the field.

It was, however, precisely because they were women, that these female agents were so valuable during the war. Unlike able-bodied men, civilian women travelling around France by train or bicycle attracted relatively little attention. This meant they were better-placed to serve as couriers between different resistance circuits or groups of Maquis hiding in the hills. Women transported messages, micro-film and radio codes, as well as heavy equipment such as weapons and wireless transmitters to arrange the delivery of agents and equipment, etc. Some of them, notably Pearl Witherington and Nancy Wake, went much further, commanding resistance armies of 2,000 men, and, among other achievements, Skarbek persuaded a German garrison on a strategic pass in the Alps to defect.

Skarbek, the first woman to work for Britain as a special agent, was employed in December 1939. Eighteen months would pass, during which time she served both across Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, before SOE was even officially established. The first female covert radio operator to be flown into France, Noor Inayat Khan, left England in June 1943. Even at this point, women in the British military were not officially allowed to carry guns or explosives. To circumvent this, SOE enrolled women into the FANYs, which officially operated outside of the Armed Forces but still theoretically offered some protection under the Geneva Convention in the event of capture, and provided pensions should the women become casualties.

Female spies Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, courtesy of Christine Isabelle Cole, Bill Stanley Moss papers                   Krystyna Skarbek, aka Christine Granville, courtesy of Christine Isabelle Cole, Bill Stanley Moss papers

Churchill had approved the employment of women in SOE, but their role was not made public until some time after the war for fear of a backlash. Meanwhile the women who had survived found their achievements were underplayed and their skills undervalued. While Skarbek’s male colleagues were reassigned to roles overseas, after she turned down a series of secretarial jobs for which she was monumentally unsuited, Skarbek was dismissed as ‘not a very easy person to employ’. Meanwhile the official papers sent to her were accompanied by belittling notes such as ‘Hope you are being a good girl!’ Even the honours the women received were less than their male counterparts, as women did not qualify for British military awards. Many felt bitter about this, but none expressed it as succinctly as Pearl Witherington. After being awarded the MBE (Civil), she famously commented that ‘there was nothing civil’ about the work she had undertaken.

It was only in the 1950s that the women’s stories began to be told. Having signed the official secrets act, many of the women, like the men they served with, refused to talk. Others, such as Odette Hallowes, spoke out, or like both Hallowes and Violette Szabo who had been executed at Ravensbrück, had their stories retold in biographies and films. And so the myth-making began. All too often, female agents and other women in the resistance have been honoured more for their courage and great sacrifice, than for their actual achievements. It has been judged more important that they tried, than that they succeeded. When the women did achieve, they still seem to have been feminised in the retelling, their beauty and sacrifices emphasised and their rough edges smoothed over. In order to be celebrated they have been, in effect, often recast as victims, rather than simply as heroes.

Ironically perhaps, today we need to reconsider the female special agents not only because historically they were marginalised but because, all too often, when given attention they have been judged as women, rather than as individuals doing an extraordinary job. If you have been the business of special operations, it is clearly self-defeating to be elevated as a heroine if at the same time you are diminished as an independent agent.

Female spies Clare Mulley at the Tempsford Memorial, courtesy of Pawel KomorowskiClare Mulley at the Tempsford Memorial (courtesy of Pawel Komorowski)

 CLARE MULLEY is the award-winning author of The Spy Who Loved: the secrets and lives of Christine Granville, Britain’s first female special agent of the Second World War (Macmillan, 2012) [The British Library's shelfmark YC.2013.a.3179]. She is taking part in the panel discussion Churchill’s Heroines: Female Spies in WWII at the British Library on Saturday 10 October, 4-6pm.

05 October 2015

I beg to apply for a ticket: Lenin at the British Library

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The founder of the world’s first socialist state, Vladimir Il'ich Lenin, visited London six times between 1902 and 1911, and on at least five of these occasions found the time to call into the British Museum whose Library collections were in his view unparalleled. At the time of his 1907 visit he said:

It is a remarkable institution, especially that exceptional reference section. Ask them any question, and in the very shortest space of time they'll tell you where to look to find the material that interests you. ... Let me tell you, there is no better library than the British Museum. Here there are fewer gaps in the collections than in any other library.

Praise indeed from a man who was already well acquainted with many of the major libraries of Europe and Russia.

His attachment to the Library dates from 29 April 1902, when he first entered the Round Reading Room to commence his studies. He had arrived in London with his wife, Nadezhda Konstantinovna Krupskaia, earlier that month in order to set up publication of Iskra, the newspaper of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party (RSDLP). The Twentieth Century Press had agreed to carry out the printing at 37a Clerkenwell Green, (now the Marx Memorial Library), and soon accommodation was found for the new arrivals not far from there, at 30 Holford Square, Pentonville.

It was from this address that Lenin first wrote to the Director of the British Museum requesting permission to study in the Library. The documents related to this episode are held in the British Library (Add. MS.54579.)

Lenin 1

The letter (above), dated 21 April 1902, bears the signature “Jacob Richter”, the pseudonym Lenin had adopted to throw the Tsarist police off his track. The reference required  was supplied by the General Secretary of the General Federation of Trade Unions, I. H. Mitchell, but this did not satisfy the Admissions Office as Mitchell’s home address could not be found in the London street directories. Lenin wrote again enclosing another recommendation from Mitchell, who this time used the address of his union’s headquarters. The following day Lenin was informed that a Reader’s Ticket would be granted to him, and four days later he signed the Admissions Register and was issued with ticket number A72453 (below).

Lenin 2

The ticket was valid for three months only, but the period was extended, first by three months, and then by a further six . Finally, on 29 April 1903, exactly one year after entering the Library for the first time, he surrendered his ticket and a few days later left England for France.

In August of the same year he returned for the famous 2nd Party Congress, during which the RSDLP made its historic split into “menshevik” and  “bolshevik”  factions, but there is no evidence to suggest that Lenin found the time to visit the Museum on this occasion, despite the fact that he said he used the Library whenever he was in London.

However, during the 3rd Party Congress, which again took place in London (from 25 April to 10 May 1905), it is known that he paid a visit to Great Russell Street, and there copied out extracts from the works of Marx and Engels. Unfortunately, there is no record of this in the Museum archives.

His next visit to London took place in early summer 1907, and from the reminiscences of his colleagues we know that he spent roughly a week in the Library at the beginning of June. The Temporary Admissions Register does mention that a J. P. Richter was admitted in May 1907 (no.3782), but one cannot be sure whether this was Lenin – Richter was not a particularly uncommon name. However, we can be quite sure about the details of his visit the following year. In mid-May 1908 he arrived in London with the express intention of spending a month in the Museum to work on his book, Materializm i empiriokrititsizm, and fortunately, his correspondence with the Museum authorities survives in the Library archives.

On 18 May 1908 under his real name, Vladimir Oulianoff, he wrote to the Director of the Museum requesting permission to study in the Library and referring to an earlier donation of two of his books. His recommendation came from a certain J. J. Terrett, an English Social Democrat, but history repeated itself, and just as in 1902, he was refused  admission. Two days later he wrote again enclosing a second reference, this time from his old friend, the manager of the Twentieth Century Press, Harry Quelch. This proved sufficient, and as in 1902, he immediately received instructions to call into the Library to collect his Reader's Ticket. On 22 May, he signed the Admissions Book, and was issued with a three-month pass, number A88740.

Lenin made use of the Library's collections only once more, during his lecture-tour of 1911, when he visited several European cities to deliver his paper on “Stolypin and Revolution”. The London reading took place on 11 November in the New King's Hall, Commercial Road, Whitechapel, and on the same day the Museum issued a temporary pass to Mr. Vladimir Oulianoff, making a note of his address, 6 Oakley Square, N.W., in their Card Index.

Although Lenin may indeed have had a favourite seat in the Reading Room, neither he nor anyone else has left any indication of which seat that may have been. Several numbers have been suggested, including: G7, H9, R7, R8, and L13. In fact, the latter is probably the most likely, positioned, as it was then in a row opposite the reference works on British and European history, which he doubtless made use of on several occasions.

R. Henderson, Honorary Research Associate, School of History, Queen Mary University of London