Tag Archives: 1930s Political Movements

Robert Dell, Our Man in Geneva

Here in Special Collections we are always telling students that the power of archives comes from the fact that they were generally not produced with any consideration for how they would be seen in the future. Rather, they were working records produced at a given moment in history for contemporary purposes. I came across a letter recently that reminded me of the truth of that.

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, SignatureRobert Dell wrote to Winifred Gordon Fraser in 1935 from Geneva discussing Nazi Germany and the difficulties facing German refugees. The letter is a prime example of how archival sources put us back in the shoes of those living through the historical events we study, and how they can put a human face on world affairs.

Dell was a journalist, then working as a Foreign Correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, but intriguingly his career had already included co-editing The Burlington Magazine and being an art dealer in Paris. He was involved in Dimitrije Mitrinović’s New Europe Group, and even for a time served as its President. Dell had written a book on Nazi Germany, Germany unmasked: on Germany under the National-Socialist regime (Martin Hopkinson, London, 1934).

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, p.1, Excerpt re European Situation

From this letter alone, it is clear that Dell understood the real threat that Hitler posed – unlike many in Britain at the time. He talks of German negotiators effectively stalling for time. Dell also writes about his frustration with the British authorities, particularly when it came to immigration. He complains that it is far easier for members of Nazi Party to come to Britain than German refugees, even when those refugees might be demonstrably capable of supporting themselves once in the UK. Dell himself was doing his best to help one Mrs. Brandt, and part of his reason for writing to Gordon Fraser (and Mitrinović) was to try and obtain some work – even unpaid – with the New Europe Group to bolster her case.

NAF 3-3-1-20-18 Letter from Dell, excerpt re RefugeesI do not know whether or not Mrs. Brandt was successful in her bid to come to England, nor whether or not Winifred Gordon Fraser and the New Europe Group were able to help her. In Robert Dell, however, she at least had an articulate and well-connected advocate. Thanks to his letter, we have an interesting report on what it was like to observe the failure to create a lasting peace in the 1930s at close hand, and a terrible sense of the consequences for people like Mrs. Brandt.


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Funding the Revolution: Money and the New Britain Movement

In 1932 Dimitrije Mitrinović decided that the moment had arrived to “build a New Britain”, and launched the New Britain Movement. The Movement was centred around support for Guild Socialism, monetary reform, and a political system combining principles of devolution and world federation. It adopted the idea of the Threefold State, developed by Rudolf Steiner, in which parliament would be divided into separate houses for culture, economics and politics. A successful publicity campaign kicked off the Movement, which evidently struck a chord with a swathe of the British public. Over 60 local branches were established across the country, and the Movement’s weekly magazine was at times selling up to 32 000 copies. Contributors included Bertrand Russell, Harold Macmillan, Frederick Soddy, Prof. J. Macmurray, Patrick Geddes and S.G. Hobson.

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, p.1, excerpt

Some in Mitrinović’s network realised that to achieve its aims, the New Britain Movement would need a sound financial footing. Bill Duff was one such friend, although his money making schemes may strike some as walking an interesting line between the inspired and the ridiculous. Duff wrote to Mitrinović with a list of suggestions ranging from the prosaic, such as charging subscription fees and for admission to lectures, to the creation of a New Britain Theatrical Review! Duff also suggested creating New Britain ties – leading to possibly my favourite comment in the Collection, “…even Communists love uniforms at heart”!

NAF 1-8-1-211 Letter from Bill Duff, Excerpt re Uniforms

In the end it seems that the Movement was financed by sales of their magazines, The New Britain Quarterly and New Britain Weekly, perhaps subscriptions and membership fees, and donations from sympathetic friends and acquaintances. The situation was always rather precarious. Mitrinović’s biographer Andrew Rigby paints a vivid picture of D.R. Davies and others dashing across the country to solicit donations to keep the presses running and get the magazine produced.

The New Britain Movement collapsed amidst intense disagreement over its direction, and power struggles, in 1934. A remarkable letter from A.R. Hearn records his response to the financial difficulties he suffered when New Britain finally collapsed.  A loan he had given the organisation was left unpaid, causing an “avalanche” in his words that left him in debt. Despite what he termed his “gamble” spectacularly failing to pay off, Hearn remained committed to the cause.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.1, excerpt 'disaster'The New Britain Movement may not have lasted long, but those responsible for its brief existence certainly organised a flurry of activities in that time. The Archive has records relating to lectures, conferences, luncheons, and other events. There are manifestos, constitutions and statements of belief. New Britain produced various journals: New Albion, New Atlantic, The Eleventh Hour Bulletin, New Britain Quarterly  and New Britain Weekly magazines were published between 1933 – 1935. All of this is a testament to the determination, generosity and belief in the cause show by Mitrinović and those he inspired.

NAF 1-10-18-24 Letter from Hearn, p.2, excerpt New Britain's future

P.S. If anyone does ever find a New Britain tie (if they ever were produced), we’d love to know! After all, everyone loves a uniform…


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