|V -Z - Y|
Although he never joined the Communist Party, Young took a strongly pro-Soviet line on a number of historic issues and his life was so thoroughly associated with aspects of the Communist Party’s work, he is one of the few non-members who deserves to be included in this Compendium. .
Edgar P Young was born to British parents near
Young began his adult life conventionally enough as a Conservative in the sense that he held views suitable to his class and background. Although, in a lecture on the Royal Navy and the transition to socialism, which dates from the 1930s, he characterised the Naval Officer (and himself by implication) as politically neutral. During the 1930s, in the process of becoming politicised, Young moved progressively leftwards.
The seeds may have been sown in the first few months of 1920, when his ship, the Pegasus, was involved in the Allied intervention in the Russian civil war. Young's diary for 1920 records the chaos which surrounded the White Russian withdrawal from Novorossisk:
After returning from the Mediterranean in autumn 1921, Young embarked upon a naval training course at
He married his first wife Geraldine Leahy at St. Jude's Church, Portsea on 11 December 1926, and travelled with her the following spring to
On becoming Lieutenant Commander, Young rapidly moved from the post of Signal Officer on HMS Ganges to an overseas posting in late 1930 as Fleet Signal and Wireless Operator on the staff of the Commander in Chief,
1933 was something of a turning point in Young's life. After returning to HM Signal School at
Shortly after the 1935 general election, Young joined the British National Committee of the International Peace Campaign (IPC). The IPC sought to co-ordinate the work of existing pacifist organisations and other groups opposed to war and to this end, Young was chosen to undertake an extensive tour of
During 1937 and 1938 Young visited
Young's involvement with the short-lived Unity Campaign, launched in January 1937, brought the first signs of conflict with the Labour leadership. He stood on a unity platform as Labour candidate for St. Marylebone in the 1937 local elections and consciously associated himself with the local Communist Party. In an address to Hull North West District Labour Party, he justified his conduct thus, “I am no doctrinaire and am prepared to collaborate with and to accept the collaboration of anyone who wishes to carry on uncompromisingly the struggle against the present rotten social system . . .”.
When the Campaign dissolved itself and gave way to the Popular Front, Young became Organising Secretary of the Petition Committee set up by Cripps. It was because of these activities that Young was expelled from the Party in March 1939 in the company of Cripps, Aneurin Bevan MP and GR Strauss MP. The Party's refusal to re-admit Young unless he conceded certain terms led him to condemn its “intolerance of constructive criticism and rigid restriction of democratic rights” (letter of 31 October 1939).
By 1939 Young was bankrupt, without permanent employment and disillusioned with the Labour Party. He relied increasingly on freelance journalism to make a living and in July and August acted as tour leader for a party of Left Book Club members visiting the
He continued his political activities after the outbreak of war and campaigned on behalf of the People's Convention which first met in January 1941. He produced two pamphlets during the early 1940s, `A people's peace’ and That Second Front’, and acted as naval correspondent for both the
Young's travels in Eastern Europe began again only a few months after the end of the war with a trip to
He also had a lengthy meeting with the newly elected Communist Prime Minister of
On the basis of research carried out during his visits, Young published a second work entitled
After the suicide of his second wife in March 1949, he married Amicia More Bassadone (see separate entry), whom he first met in 1948 during her period as Assistant Editor of the New Central European Observer. A six-year period as translator of Russian and several other Eastern European languages for the Hydrographic Department of the Admiralty ended in 1950.
In early 1952, he was notified of his removal from the Retired List of the Navy for the reason that “his activities on behalf of the Communist Party were proving a source of such embarrassment and distress to the Royal Navy at home and abroad” (First Lord of The Admiralty, House of Commons, 19 March 1952). He was thereafter denied the right to call himself Lieutenant Commander RN Retired or to wear naval uniform, but the furore which the decision aroused – questions being asked in the house - meant that these restrictions were never enforced.
Young's visits to East Germany to attend the Leipzig trade fair began with regularity in the 1950s and included tours of the Baltic shipyards at Rostock, Stralsund and Wismar, as well as a performance of the play 'Mother Courage and her children' by Bertolt Brecht at the Berliner Ensemble in December 1955. He made a month-long tour of
Young's political activities found a new focus in 1950 with the establishment of the Ex Service Movement for Peace (ESMP), of which he was President. Essentially an anti-fascist organisation, the ESMP campaigned against German rearmament and had links with the Soviet War Veterans' Committee.
Young's support for the
Pic below Young in East Germany in 1969
According to his wife Amicia (who was a Party member from 1945 onwards), widespread condemnation of the Soviet intervention almost propelled him to join the Communist Party. Again, in 1968, Young expressed public support for the
His stance brought him to wider public knowledge and, in 1973, the publication by David Caute of `The fellow-travellers: a postscript to the Enlightenment’ caused Edgar Young, by then in his seventies and a veteran of many radical causes, to engage in major public controversy with the author. Caute had been granted access by Young to his personal papers, which the author mercilessly used, with a total lack of sympathy, to query the motivations and activities of those in the west who had never held a Party card but who could be termed 'fellow-travellers' of the Communist movement.
Until his death in 1975, Young occupied his time with travel and to a lesser extent, with the campaign against the Vietnam War, in which his wife was heavily involved. His most frequent destination was
Young's papers, were acquired by the Brynmor Jones Library in 1983.
Source: extracts from article by Helen Roberts, Brynmor Jones Library, (1998), Paragon Review, Issue 6