Andrew Rothstein (and Theodore Rothstein)
Andrew Rothstein, who was to became a significant figure in British Communism, was born in London on 26th September 1898 to Jewish Russian political emigrants. His subsequent life was always tinged by the identity of his father, Theodore Aaronovich Rothstein (1871–1953). He was compelled to emigrate from Russia for political reasons and, from 1890, settled in Britain for the next 30 years.
Theodore joined the Social Democratic Federation in 1895, being very much part of its left wing; in 1901, he also joined the Russian Social Democratic and Labour Party (RSDLP) as a British based member. The RSDLP would split into two factions, the Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and Rothstein would support the Bolsheviks all the way. Lenin frequently visited Rothstein and his family on his own visits to London, as in 1905.
The SDF leader, H M Hyndman, was acutely disturbed by the election to the SDF executive in 1900 of Theodore Rothstein. For he and Zelda Kahan, who was also of Russian-Jewish origin, led the opposition inside the SDF to Hyndman’s growing support for British militarism arising from his mistrust of German imperial ambitions, which was tinged by more than a whiff of ant-semitism. In a private letter dated 9 May 1905 Hyndman complained that: “… among certain cliques it is as inadmissable to criticise the Germans in Socialism as it is to point out that Jews have their drawbacks”. The struggle with Rothstein was personal and bitter.
During the subsequent 1914-18 war, Hyndman got hold of a list which included Rothstein’s name. For him this `Russian German Jew’ had been working for and on behalf of Germany all along. The simple truth was that Theodore had been working for both the British and German governments, and perhaps many others too, as a translator of innocuous materials.
Theodore supported the unity process that led to the formation in 1911, by a merger between a number of socialist groups and the SDF (which had become the Social Democratic Party in 1907) to create the British Socialist Party. Both the young Andrew and his father were strongly against the 1914-18 war, even though Theodore Rothstein was now working for the Foreign Office and the War Office as a Russian translator.
He was decisive in the move to oust the Hyndman national chauvinist clique in the BSP in 1916 and also took part in founding of the Communist Party. But he partly returned to Russia in 1920 and then increasingly became more involved in the new Russia to the extent that he remained there permanently. From 1921 to 1930 he was engaged in diplomatic work, starting with being the Soviet representative in Iran in 1921. He became Director of the Institute of World Economy and World Politics and, from 1939, was an Academician, receiving the Order of Lenin. Theodore also wrote a number of significant books, he wrote on Egypt, and his `From Chartism to Labourism’ (1929) was a pioneering work on British labour and trade union history.
Pic: Andrew Rothstein as a Lance Corporal in 1917
His son, Andrew Rothstein was highly influenced by his upbringing. In Shoreditch, aged 13, he was out with his father leafleting for the Labour candidate in Shoreditch at the bright age of merely thirteen in the 1911 general elections.
After winning a London County Council scholarship, Andrew studied History at Oxford. When war came, he served in the Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and Hampshire Yeomanry from 1917-19. As an undergraduate, Andrew was allowed to defer his call-up for six months. His mother, fearing that he would be called up, urged him to become a conscientious objector. “It was recognised in those days and not just on religious grounds,” he recalled. “But I was familiar with the idea that a Socialist should not cut himself off from the workers. – Lenin had advised mothers to let their sons join up in order to learn how I to use the weapons.”
A period of general duties came first before Rothstein was posted to a special school of navigation and bomb-dropping. Later, he was assigned to the meteorological section, sending up little balloons and looking through a theodolite to determine air currents. As he recalled: “I blotted my copybook straight away by refusing to turn out for church parade. The next thing I knew I was sent to the cookhouse on jankers and given a bucket of water and a scrubbing brush.” After complaining to a sergeant major, and then a captain, Private Rothstein successfully won the right to agnostic status.
He was a corporal when he discovered that his unit was about to be sent to Archangel, the Russian port where British troops had been sent in August to assist the counter-revolutionary forces resistance to the new Soviet government, led by the Bolsheviks. “I couldn’t understand why, after the armistice, we were doing this training, until that one morning in December 1918, a top staff major was coming down to address the unit on the need to volunteer.
Addressing his unit colleagues in the company mess room, in a camp base near Stonehenge, Andrew Rothstein, now a corporal, made a passionate speech, pointing out that the intervention was illegal and had not been agreed by Parliament. “I said that we had all enlisted for the duration of the war. Well, that war’s over. How would you like it if the Russian army came here and started telling us who we should be governed by?” I declared. “I would hope you will agree with me that we don’t want to go.”
“It was my first public speech,” Rothstein later recalled, but it could not have been more serious..” After a brief silence, a fellow corporal sitting at the other side of the hall said: “It’s alright Corporal Rothstein. I think we are all sick of this bloody war and this bloody army and we are not going to have any more.” When the top brass arrived only one solitary soldier volunteered for duty. The boycott action at Stonehenge was the first ripple in a wave of protest that followed.
This was the first of many rebellions and mutinies in the British Army against the intervention in Russia, involving up to 30,000 troops at its height, the history of which was later documented by Andrew Rothstein in his `Soldiers’ Strikes of 1919′. A week after leading the protest, Andrew was alone posted to a special school of navigation and bomb dropping. Later, he was assigned to the meteorological section, sending up little balloons and looking through a theordolite to determine air currents.
Andrew Rothstein was a foundation member of Communist Party in 1920 and was the man who recruited Tom Wintringham (see separate entry) to the Communist cause. Rothstein met Sylvia Pankhurst on several occasions and said that he thought her “energetic and sincere but in a one-sided way … She always had a bunch of devoted women around her but often would think nothing of intercepting propaganda material being brought for my father and printing them as articles in her own paper. She was an unscrupulous woman.” At the suggestion of the Comintern, a second British Unity Congress was held, with Pankhurst’s group participating. Although a merger ensued, Rothstein recalled events as that “she broke away again after about three months”.
When Andrew Rothstein returned to Oxford, he found that he had been deprived of an army grant to assist his return to university and was thus unable to continue in postgraduate research. A stern letter from the Master and Fellows at Balliol announced that he must leave immediately. Twenty years later, when he met a former junior dean from those days, who told him that the Foreign Secretary, Lord Curzon had personally intervened in his case. Rothstein recalled: “He told me a letter was read out from Curzon, which said that I was a very dangerous Communist and must not be allowed to stay.”
On completing his university education in 1921, he became the London correspondent of ROSTA (later TASS), the Soviet news agency. He regularly wrote articles for the Party, the labour movement, and as a correspondent for the Soviet news agency as “C M Roebuck”. At the 8th Congress of the Party, he was elected to the EC and politburo but removed from the latter after six years membership when the 11th Congress in December 1929 took the Party on a left turn.
Rothstein was “utterly against” the new line but found himself appointed as deputy head of the Anglo-American department of the Red International of Labour Unions and served in the post for 18 months, based in Moscow.
From 1920 to 1945, he was press officer to the first Soviet mission in Britain, and then correspondent for the Soviet press agency TASS, in London, Geneva and elsewhere. He became an authority on Soviet history, economy, institutions and foreign relations and began to publish widely: e.g. `The Soviet Constitution’ (1923), `Problems of Peace’ (essays on Soviet foreign policy, 1936-8), `Workers in the Soviet Union’ (1942), `Man and Plan in the Soviet Economy’ (1948).
Andrew Rothstein was President of the Foreign Press Association, from 1943-50 and, after the war, was the London correspondent of Czechoslovakian trade union paper, `Prace’, a post he held until 1970. From 1946, he lectured at London University`s School of Slavonic and East European Studies but was dismissed on spurious grounds in 1950 in an affair that had the feel of a McCarthyite purge about it. In this period, published `A history of the USSR’ (1950) and `Peaceful Coexistence’ (1955). He translated many Marxist texts from the Russian into English; for example, Plekhanov’s `In defence of materialism’ and segments of Lenin’s Collected Works, such as, for the 4th English edition (1963), a report on the meeting of the editorial board of the journal `Proletary’ in 1909.
Rothstein was awarded a Soviet pension in 1970 and, after formal retirement, was chair of the Marx Memorial Library and vice-chair of the British-Soviet Friendship Society. He also wrote and published widely; there was an account of the origins and background of the building that houses the Marx Memorial Library, `A house on Clerkenwell Green’ (1972), and material that he had first hand knowledge of: `When Britain Invaded Soviet Russia: the Consul Who Rebelled’ (1979) and `The Soldier’s Strikes of 1919’ (1980). Andrew Rothstein also wrote under the political pseudonyms of R F Andrews, Quaestor, and, most of all, C M Roebuck.
A member of the Communist Party all his days, he was a critic of the drive to revisionism in the CPGB of the 1980s and wrote, with Robin Page Arnot (see entry), another veteran Communist, a piece entitled “The British Communist Party and Euro-Communism” for the CPUSA’s `Political Affairs’, published in October 1985, which described the manufactured crisis in British Communism. He was proud to be the recipient of card number one of the re-established Communist Party of Britain in 1988. His last published article was for the CPB’s `Communist Review’, on `British Communists and the Comintern 1919-1929’, printed in the summer of 1991 and he died on September 22nd in 1994, aged 95.
Sources include: Morning Star September 29th 1988 and GS personal knowledge.
(picture in old age)