We carry on: our tribute to Bob Smillie (1937)

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Une brochure de l’Independent Labour Party (source: Glasgow Digital Library):

bobsmillie

FOREWORD by James Maxton, M.P.

THIS little booklet is in memorial to young Bob Smillie from the friends and comrades among whom he worked, and among whom he inspired respect and affection to a degree far beyond what is usually evoked by one who has not reached full manhood. He died just before he saw his twenty-first birthday, and a life full of the greatest promise was cut short. Those of us, his elders, who had watched him grow up, were fondly hoping to see him achieve great things in and for the working-class movement of this country and of the world.

We knew the stock from which he came. We saw his father and mother living a strenuous existence on their little farm in Lanarkshire, toiling early and late on the soil, but still with surplus energy to devote to the Socialist Movement, to the unemployed, to the improvement of the conditions of the miners living around them.

We knew his grandfather – that strong leader of the miners, who pioneered their organisation first in Lanarkshire, then in Scotland and Great Britain, finally to become a great International working-class figure. We knew his grandmother, a great woman who to this day in advanced years maintains a spirit of sturdy independence, and staunch adherence to the workers’ cause.

We saw all their qualities combined in young Bob, and a bright good humour and friendliness of spirit which was all his own.

The Independent Labour Party had marked him out for special service which would have brought his powers to full maturity.

All these hopes have been shattered, A blank place appears in his home and in our movement. We have only a memory to fill the blank, but it is a bright and inspiring memory of a man – a man who saw the light and followed it.

Jas. Maxton

WHAT BOB SMILLIE WORKED FOR

By Dan McArthur

(Chairman of the Scottish I.L.P. Guild of Youth)

The full extent of the loss sustained by the I.L.P. and the Guild of Youth can be readily grasped by those members of the Movement who had a long and close association with our young comrade.

Bob’s energies were devoted to spreading the doctrine of Socialism amongst the Youth of his native land. His burning zeal for the hastening of a Socialist Britain was given open expression by his inspiring and enthusiastic activities in the Guild of Youth. Clear mental pictures of Bob’s activities keep occurring to me, clamouring to be set in type, so that the Movement in this country may recognise the worth and character of our late comrade.

The year 1935 saw him in the ranks of the Lanarkshire section of the great Scottish Hunger March. Over 100,000 of the working class assembled in the historic George Square of Glasgow to demonstrate their hatred of the U.A.H. Regulations.

And so it was, year in, year out, on every issue affecting the working class, Bob was in his place, ready.

During all this lime Bob worked hard for the creation of a powerful Guild of Youth. It was one of his main objectives. Guild week-ends were held in Larkhall, Saltcoats, Carluke, and wherever else possible. He threw his heart and soul into these activities. Speaking in l.ondon, Bradford, Glasgow, Leeds, and other big cities, he continually stressed the need for the creation of a strong I.L.P. Youth Section.

July 1936 saw the beginning of the Fascist revolt in Spain. The Fascist butchery of Irun and Badajoz affected Bob as it affected every other sincere young Socialist.

By October Bob was in Barcelona. A few weeks later he became a member of the Executive Committee of the International Revolutionary Youth Bureau, and shortly afterwards he was appointed personal Secretary to John McNair (I.L.P. representative in Spain).

When the I.L.P. contingent of volunteers reached Spain, Bob immediately volunteered to join them. He was not content to remain at his clerical posts, vitally important though they were. As always, he wanted to place himself in the front line of the fight, and so he was accepted as a member of the P.O.U.M. [1] militia.

January-May 1937, found the I.L.P. volunteers on duty at the Aragon Front. Bob Smillie, with the fixity of purpose that was his, recognised that although the peaceful village of Larkhall was far from the bloodstained soil of Spain, the forces which he opposed in Britain were no different to those on the Aragon Front, and he fought on that front with distinction. Let the military commander of the sector in which Bob was fighting tell us. In a letter-dispatch, dated April 16, 1937, George Kopp, the commander concerned, wrote the following:

« We have had some very ‘hot’ days, and have made an advance of some thousand yards; the enemy counterattacked, but did not succeed in regaining an inch of the lost ground. In the night of the 13th we made a somewhat audacious raid on the enemy’s positions of the Ermita Salas, in order to relieve pressure on Ascaso Front. . . .We have had a complete success, which is largely due to the courage and discipline of the English comrades who were in charge of assaulting the principal of the enemy’s parapets. Among them I feel it my duty to give a particular mention of the splendid action of Eric Blair, Bob Smillie and Paddy Donovan, who behaved exceptionally well. »

And as the comrade commander speaks of Bob, so do they all speak. Douglas Moyle, a colleague of Bob in the contingent, says: « If any new problem cropped up Bob was the man to investigate it. If we required clean clothes, new clothes, the food question to be looked into, we just naturally left it to Bob. When we wanted a cook at Alcubierre to work under disheartening conditions you know who volunteered. Yes, a cook for twelve hours of the day and then do a guard or patrol at night, if necessary. He never shirked his responsibilities, of which he had more than his fair share. »

No task was too lowly, no task too difficult. As Bob Edwards says in his tribute, Comrade Smillie was « the finest, happiest and most sincere Socialist it has been my privilege to meet.

« On patrol, in attack or in defence he was always the same, » continues Bob Edwards, who was a captain of the I.L.P. contingent, « -efficient, courageous, buoyant- a really fine soldier of the world revolution. For any particularly dangerous task, Bob was the first to volunteer.

« His lilting Scottish melodies could often be heard enlivening many difficult and monotonous hours. I can hear his voice now as he shouted slogans in Spanish from our trenches in the Aragon mountains across to the enemy lines. Was it merely coincidence that at this period 100 Spanish workers deserted from Franco? »

On Saturday, June 12, 1937, Bob Smillie died in hospital in Valencia. A young life full of hope and promise has been rudely blighted and the I.L.P. Guild of Youth has lost a leader and a comrade.

It was while he was on his way home to undertake a national campaign for the Guild of Youth and the Spanish workers that he was detained by the authorities.

The Socialist Movement is poorer with his loss.

Bob Smillie, like many other young Socialists, was possessed of high ideals. Before going to Spain he had spent all his life in the mining area of Lanarkshire, and so had first-hand information of the strenuous life of the working-class in his area. He noticed that his school-companions became miners when they left school because coal was the staple Lanarkshire industry. He had watched his many friends arriving home from the pit, black with coal dust, and often wearing clothes which were soaked with water, owing to them having to lie in pools of water at the coal face during their task of wrenching coal from the mines.

Bob often visited Glasgow and noticed the vile slums that reared their squalid hulks to the sky. He also saw thin and poorly-clad children playing in an ugly atmosphere of dark court-yards and « midden » [2] heaps. He compared the children of the poor with those of the rich, and renewed his agitation for the abolition of this system which permitted poverty amidst plenty. He saw the sons of working-class people being driven to find a refuge in the armed forces, through the operation of the Means Test.

Relentlessly, Bob exposed and attacked the war preparation of British Capitalism, for he contended that Capitalism’s refusal of a free and full life to the working-class Youth of Britain was a strong and sufficient reason for Youth’s refusal to wage war in defence of the forces which keep them in oppression.

Joining the Guild of Youth in his early ‘teens, Bob Smillie demonstrated his complete belief in the need for a Revolutionary Socialist Youth Movement which would be capable of translating into action Youths’ resentment against their conditions. He gave continual expression to his conclusions – conclusions that were reached through thought and experience.

In mighty Demonstrations or at Mass Meetings of the I.L.P., Bob’s voice would be heard urging the need for the organisation of Youth within the ranks of the Socialist Youth Movement.

During the months he spent in Spain he transferred the loyalty and enthusiasm he had for the I.L.P. and the Guild of Youth to the Party of Marxist Unity, which he saw waging the struggle against Capitalism and Fascism in Spain along the same lines as the I.L.P. and the Guild in Britain. He fought in Spain so that the Spanish people could own and control the wealth of their country, as was their right.

In accepting this line of struggle, Bob showed that the I.L.P. and P.O.U.M. were pursuing the line similar to that pursued by Lenin and the Bolsheviks in 1917.

Bob merged his whole being with the struggle of P.O.U.M. and the P.O.U.M. Youth, because he had complete faith in the ability of the working class to control and direct the destiny of civilisation. Because of the campaign of misrepresentation directed against P.O.U.M., and because of Bob’s unswerving loyalty to his Spanish comrades, it must be stated here that Bob saw the Spanish struggle not as one between Capitalist-Democracy and Fascism, but rather as the struggle of the Spanish working class against the forces of Fascism and International Capitalism; with the hope of ultimate victory for the Spanish people, with the hope of the foundation of a Soviet Spain.

Bob Smillie worked for the solidarity of the working-class youth of the world. His own words can convey his feelings much better than I can. In a long letter which I received from him dated December 22, 1936, he writes:-

« The Juventud Communista Iberica (J.C.I.), the Youth Section of P.O.U.M., is a very live and active force, especially in Catalonia. It has many thousands of young workers and peasants in its ranks and stands for the Social Revolution and not for the Democratic Republic. On Sunday night I took part in a thrilling departure of the column – ‘Juventud Communista’ – which they have raised for the front. Several hundreds of young determined comrades, well equipped, well disciplined, marched through the streets of Barcelona to the station, where they departed to the front to help in the Revolutionary struggle. They were all very young (some could not be more than sixteen), but they all had a smile on their faces and a cheer on their lips when they left the ‘Lenin’ barracks, many of them for the last time. Another battalion will leave on Sunday. »

* * *

Bob Smillie, like many other young people, was a rebel against Capitalist Society. He had seen from past and close experience the utter vileness of modern society. He had seen the wide gulf that separated the two classes – Workers and Capitalists. His high idealism revolted against the dreadful existence of the toiling masses. He knew that mankind must be led to a higher plane; that they must be guided towards Socialism, which presented itself to him as the only sane alternative to the madness and confusion of Capitalism. His whole political life was devoted to exposing the treachery of modern institutions of Capitalism.

Times without number I have listened to Bob at open-air meetings denouncing and exposing the League of Nations as a « Thieves’ Kitchen »; continually stressing that the only alternative to war was the establishment of World Socialism; that the power of the international working-class was the only power that could ensure world peace.

The attempt has been made in this pamphlet to convey the full sense of the loss the Guild of Youth has sustained by the death of our National Chairman, Bob Smillie.

Bob’s activity in Britain and Spain, his mental approach to the problems of working-class Youth, have been placed before the reader.

The Socialist Movement has lost a good comrade. Parents have lost a son. I have lost both a comrade and a friend.

Even in our grief we must remember to complete the task that has been left unfinished. Had Bob lived to reach Great Britain, he would have been engaged in the task of building a strong and virile Guild of Youth. Let the Youth of Britain who share the political convictions of our late comrade pledge themselves to join and strive to build a powerful Guild of Youth.

With our clenched fist raised, we pay our final tribute to Bob Smillie –

SALUD, BOB! THE GUILD OF YOUTH CARRIES ON.

Notes

[1] P.O.U.M. – Brother Party of the I.L.P. in Spain.

[2] A « midden » is an extremely out-of-date sanitary arrangement prevalent in Glasgow.

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2 Réponses to “We carry on: our tribute to Bob Smillie (1937)”

  1. Aubert Says:

    Que sait-on de plus aujourd’hui sur la « disparition » de B. Smilie.

    Rappelons que parmi les « disparus en Espagne, Nin, Landau, Erwin Wolf, Berneri, il y avait un jeune socialiste fils d’un dirigeant menchevik Marc Rein.

    J'aime

  2. Neues aus den Archiven der radikalen Linken - eine Auswahl « Entdinglichung Says:

    […] espagnole: La Révolution espagnole en danger (1937) * Independent Labour Party (ILP)/Dan McArthur: We carry on: our tribute to Bob Smillie (1937) * August Thalheimer: Journal de Catalogne (1936) * Bloque Obrero y Campesino (BOC)/Partido […]

    J'aime

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