Born to a Russian Jewish immigrant family in London’s east end in 1903, Hymie Fagan left school at 14 years of age to work in a carpet warehouse in Stepney.
One observer on the importance of Robert Tressell’s famous socialist novel has observed that “In the sweatshop Hymie Fagan was pleased to call his university, his factory shop steward introduced him to Jack London’s The Call of the Wild and The Iron Heel, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and Robert Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. There were passionate and sophisticated shop floor debates about Tolstoy, Gorky, Pushkin, Zola, Anatole France religion, Zionism and the recent and much welcomed Russian revolution.”
Little wonder that Hymie joined the Communist Party in 1925, becoming secretary of the Marylebone Council of Action during the 1926 General Strike. After attending the Lenin School in the 1930s he was a director of Central Books Ltd, the Communist Party Bookshop until December 1940.
Hymie took part in the D-Day landings during the Second World War and saw action in various parts of France and Holland. He was granted temporary release from the forces to serve as the Communist Party’s national election agent in 1945 and later headed, for many years, the Party’s parliamentary and local government department as its National Election Agent.
His wife, Marian, was also heavily involved in the Party in this period. In the early 1950s, Hymie was the assistant general secretary of the British-Soviet Friendship Society and the local government and parliamentary affairs correspondent of the Daily Worker.
Despite his lack of formal education, he became a great populariser of English revolutionary history, producing such works as `Nine Days That Shook England’, dealing with the peasants’ revolt of 1381 and the two-volume `Unsheathed Sword, Episodes in English History, as well as many pamphlets and booklets:
1948 Palestine: a background to the conflict
1965 Die dritte Labourregierung in Großbritannien 1945-1952
1962 Krise in der Labour Party?
1938 Nine Days That Shook England (Left Book Club)
1959 The unsheathed sword : episodes in English history; champions of the workers
1958 The Commoners of England
ND (c 1982) An Autobiography (Unpublished)
A German translation of his book on nationalisation was published in 1960 and other works by him were also published in German. His memoirs are one of a large collection of unpublished working class autobiographies which are held in the Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies at Brunel University. His fluent writing in this, for example, about going to the cinema in London as a child before the First World War displays remarkable attention to detail. Extracts of his and other working class autobiographies were published in a collection of reminiscences about early 20th century childhood. Hymie Fagan died in October 1988.
Sources: Morning Star 24th October 1988 and miscellaneous material