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A veteran Trotskyist remembers: interviews with Harry Wicks

Portrait of Harry Wicks

Harry Wicks's life and career

Harry Wicks was born in Battersea on 16 August 1905 and started work there on the railways in 1919. In 1926, after suffering victimisation for his active participation in the General Strike, he was elected to the executive of the Young Communist League (YCL). In the following year he was selected, through the YCL, to study in Moscow at the International Lenin School for party activists. This course included visits to other parts of the Soviet Union as well.

After his return to Britain in 1930, he became involved with the British Section of the Left Opposition (supporters of Leon Trotsky against the Stalinist regime of the Soviet Union) and was consequently expelled from the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in 1932. In November and December of that year, he was sent as the delegate of the British Section to meet Trotsky in Copenhagen.

He continued to be involved with the Trotskyist movement for the rest of his life, becoming, at various points, a member of the Communist League, the Marxist League, the Labour Party (between 1934 and 1939), the Socialist Anti-War Front, the Independent Labour Party, and the International Socialists. He died on 26 March 1989.

The interviews

Presented here are short extracts from a substantial series of recorded interviews given by Wicks between 1976 and 1980 to Professor Logie Barrow, the editor of Wicks’s autobiography, published in 1992 by Socialist Platform Ltd as Keeping My Head – the memoirs of a British Bolshevik (the portrait of Wicks is taken from this).

The recordings, which were originally made on twenty-eight tape cassettes, are with Wicks's papers held at the Centre. They can be heard in their entirety from the relevant descriptions in our on-line catalogue. In 2011 they were among the first such recordings in our holdings to be digitised in order to safeguard their preservation and make them more accessible. We would like to thank Harry’s son, Reg, and Professor Barrow for giving us permission to do this. Thanks also to Mike Hirst of DAS-360 for carrying out the digitisation.

A Battersea childhood, c1910-c1918

“Marvellous horses" (2:25)

Harry’s father’s work as a ‘strapper’ for the borough council.

“Your schooling . . . was completely interfered with” (2:19)

Growing up during World War I - queueing for food; pawnbrokers galore.

The General Strike, 1926

“A crucial moment in the class struggle” (1:17)

The evidence in London of the strike's significance.
Names mentioned in this extract: [Shapurji] Saklatvala, Communist MP for Battersea North, who was charged with sedition for urging the army not to fire on the people on the first day of the strike.

“Starved for news” (2:49)

The view from Lavender Hill; scarce papers; radio jamming.

“The thunderclap” (3:06)

Attacks on the strikers’ morale; anger over “surrender”; return to work.
Names mentioned in this extract: Sir John Simon, lawyer and senior Liberal Party politician who opposed the strike; [Jack] Clancy, founder member of the Communist Party of Great Britain and chairman of the Battersea Council of Action during the strike; [Rajani Palme] Dutt, Communist journalist and theorist.

The Russian experience, 1927-1930

“A pair of pants and a toothbrush” (4:19)

Travelling light across the frontier with a Comintern passport.

It “struck me as rather poverty-stricken” (4:01)

Moscow public transport; its boulevards ; the NEP [New Economic Policy] market.

“A deeper understanding of Moscow life” (3:08)

Political cinema and ballet.

“The Chinese Wall” (2:08)

An enormous second-hand book market used by oppositionists.

With Trotsky in Copenhagen, 1932

“Trotsky got up and sort of embraced me” (3:26)

Reporting to the leader on the position of his British followers.
Names mentioned in this extract: Prinkipo, Turkish island to which Trotsky had been exiled in 1929; ROP [Russian Oil Products], the London-based trading agency for which Wicks had worked.

“It was a colossal success” (4:58)

Tension and triumph at Trotsky’s lecture on the Russian Revolution at Copenhagen University [his last speech in public].
Names mentioned in this extract: Natalia [Sedova], Trotsky’s wife; [Raymond] Molinier, French Trotskyist; [Georg] Jungclas, German Trotskyist; [Pierre] Naville, French Trotskyist.