Jane Rosen

Jane Rosen

Jane Rosen is a librarian and has worked in a number of specialist historical and cultural libraries including the Society for Co-operation in Russian and Soviet Studies and the Marx Memorial Library.

Thou Shalt Teach Revolution
Thursday, 07 March 2019 17:11

Thou Shalt Teach Revolution

Published in Education

Jane Rosen writes about revolutionary children’s literature, based on the recent book she co-edited with Kimberley Reynolds and Michael Rosen, Reading and Rebellion: an Anthology of Radical Writing for Children, 1900-1960

Socialists in Britain, and of course elsewhere, have always looked for ways to provide children of the movement with alternative education to counter the training of a repressive state education system and mainstream publications that glorified capitalism, imperialism and war. One of the means used here was the foundation of the Socialist Sunday School movement in 1896 and its periodical Young Socialist first published in 1901. In this were published writers such as Katharine and John Bruce Glasier and FJ Gould, who with others attempted to deliver articles and stories that looked at the world differently, and encourage children to work for a fairer, more equal and socialist world.

There were criticisms of some of the articles and stories in Young Socialist with arguments over some of the allegorical fables, which had good fairies such as Love, Kindness, Service and Work and evil fairies and giants such as Capitalism and War. Some of the SSS workers and YS contributors felt that the movement was a little too prone to feeling that all including class enemies should be treated with love and kindness. Tom Anderson, revolutionary educator and writer, for example wrote in the May 1908 issue of YS that ‘We can’t save the workers by mending the present system. No, we must have “The Revolution”.’ In the editorial of June 1908, the editor responded: ‘the note which appeared on the song page of our last month’s issue entitled “The Revolution,” is in no sense an expression of the sentiment of our general School movement. Nor does it voice the official opinion of our various Unions. Our National Socialist Sunday School Movement stands for the teaching of Socialism – not Revolution….in no sense does the term revolution express our glorious ideal of Socialism. And to teach revolution is not to teach Socialism.’ The result of this disagreement was that Anderson left the SSS and set up his own school movement that was to become the Proletarian Schools with its own set of maxims of which number 5 states ‘Thou Shalt Teach Revolution.’ And teach revolution he did.

From 1914 he began publishing parables, songs and radical biographies for use in the Proletarian Schools and for the general revolutionary education of children. Anderson also published periodicals – three of them. The first Revolution began in June/July 1917 and lasted a year. During its time it featured a serial story about the experiences of a Russian girl revolutionary at the time of the 1905 Revolution by the Latvian émigré, Tolstoyan, member of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party, and translator of Lenin, Alexander Sirnis. The journal was probably closed because of its last article ‘Don’t Shoot Your Class’. His last periodical Proletcult began in March 1922 and featured stories by Sylvia Pankhurst and Herminiya Zur Mühlen. Sylvia’s work here is fairly pedestrian but Zur Mühlen’s is remarkable, described by Anderson as ‘the kind of lessons which interest the child mind.’

Though there were certainly other radical publications for children, a significant step was the foundation of Martin Lawrence (later Lawrence and Wishart) in 1927 and the appearance of what appears to be their first children’s book in 1931, the annual The Red Corner Book for Children. Contributors included Zur Mühlen again, and the historian TA Jackson, as well as American and Soviet contributions. Perhaps the most important thing that Martin Lawrence did for British children’s literature in general was to start a collaboration with the then unknown Geoffrey Trease. In the period 1934-1937 they published five of his books, including his first book, a Marxist retelling of the Robin Hood legend Bows Against the Barons (1934). Although Trease was to move to another more commercial publisher and to become one of the best well-known writers of children’s historical fiction, he remembered his time with Martin Lawrence with affection.

Martin Lawrence also published a children’s biography of Lenin by Ruth Shaw and Harry Alan Potamkin, with drawings by William Siegel, a Jack Lindsay story set in the Australian goldmines, another annual, two volumes of fairy tales by F and Ida Le Gros Clark, and the wonderful Eddie and the Gypsy by Alex Wedding, which had originally been published in Germany by Wieland Herzfelde’s Malik Verlag and was illustrated with photographs by John Heartfield. It this book, perhaps, in spite of the good story telling and future success of Geoffrey Trease, that was the best of the children’s works published by Martin Lawrence. It is an adventure story set in working-class Berlin in the 1930s during the period of unrest that preceded the success of the National Socialist Party in 1933. It sparkles whilst it teaches revolutionary politics and it champions acceptance of the other through the friendship between Eddie, the main protagonist, and Unku, the Sinti girl who befriends him. Heartfield’s photographs record a Sinti community that was to be decimated in the years that followed. Of the eleven Sinti children mentioned in the book and recorded in the photographs, only one survived the Holocaust.

What happened next? The Socialist Sunday School and Young Socialist survived until the 1970s, Tom Anderson died in 1947, and the last children’s book Lawrence and Wishart published was Carpenter Investigates by Herbert L Peacock, a rather turgid set of short stories that appeared in 1950. Its most revolutionary aspect are the illustrations by Ken Sprague. There were also the translations of Soviet children’s books that were distributed here, material issued by the Daily Worker and the Woodcraft Folk and plays at Unity Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford.

As economic and ideological conditions changed in the 1960s and 1970s there was a move to introduce more working-class protagonists and radical ideas into mainstream publishing for children with writers such as Bob Leeson, Bernard Ashley, Robert Westall, and Alan Garner coming to the fore. This phenomenon deserves a whole article to itself.

Currently material is still being published for children that is radical and worthwhile – Michael Rosen, Alan Gibbons, and Andy Croft, for example. There does, however, seem to be a rejection of more revolutionary works, and works that really celebrate the working-class, let alone working-class radicals. The Little Rebel Award, welcome though it may be, has largely been won by books produced by mainstream publishers. Mainstream publishers may produce radical books if we define radical as concerned or liberal, but it is unlikely that they will produce genuine revolutionary material. So, let us echo Geoffrey Trease writing in International Literature in 1936: ‘Where is our revolutionary literature for the children?’

Many of the authors mentioned in this article who were published before 1960 appear in Reading and Rebellion. In November last year, Kim Reynolds, Michael Rosen and I launched our book ‘Reading and Rebellion’ at the Marx Memorial Library. For many reasons this was the ideal venue, not least because of the Library’s link with Alex Gossip, the author of the first extract in the book, and a former President of the Library, and the fact that they hold many of the titles that appear in our book. Amongst these are pamphlets and periodicals by Tom Anderson and to give an idea of what revolutionary writing for young people can look like, Culture Matters is republishing ‘Don’t Shoot Your Class!’ It may well become obvious why this was the last issue of Revolution, as it was likely to have fallen foul of the Defence of the Realm Act, leading to its demise.

'Don't Shoot Your Class!' is republished here. Where, indeed, can we find revolutionary literature for our children? If you are interested in writing, illustrating or helping to produce some new revolutionary literature for children, please contact us at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.Reading and Rebellion: an Anthology of Radical Writing for Children, 1900-1960, by Jane Rosen, Kimberley Reynolds and Michael Rosen, is published by OUP at £25.

Don't Shoot Your Class!
Thursday, 07 March 2019 15:45

Don't Shoot Your Class!

Published in Education

Jane Rosen introduces ‘Don’t Shoot Your Class!’, by Tom Anderson, first published in The Revolution, June 1918. It is extracted from Reading and Rebellion, an Anthology of Radical Writing for Children, 1900-1960.

Though this piece is unsigned, the bound copy of The Revolution held by the Marx Memorial Library in London is annotated with the message that all unattributed work is by TA. Tom Anderson (1863–1947) was an active trade unionist who was involved in leading a major strike in Glasgow. As a result, he was blacklisted and unable to work at his carpenter’s trade. He was rescued from this plight by a supporter who set him up in a draper’s shop, enabling him to finance his own revolutionary activities. From the 1890s, Anderson dedicated himself to the radical education of working-class children, as part of the Socialist Sunday School (SSS) movement.

The Revolution

It soon became clear that Anderson’s ideas about the kind of socialism to be taught were very different from those of the leadership of the SSS movement, and in 1910 he broke away to found a more radical Socialist School. Inspired by the February 1917 Russian Revolution, he changed the name to the Proletarian Schools and produced for it a set of rules known as the Proletarian Maxims, of which the fifth was ‘Thou Shalt Teach Revolution’. The associated journal, The Revolution, was aimed at the young workers of the country. The first number appeared in June 1917, and from the beginning it mentioned events that were controversial under the wide-ranging Defence of the Realm Act (DORA), which reached into every aspect of social life and curbed the freedom of the press. Controversial subjects covered in The Revolution included references to Karl Liebknecht, imprisoned in Germany for his work against the war, and James Connolly, leader of the Easter Uprising in Ireland the year before.

The article printed here, which appeared in June 1918, the time of the German Spring Offensive, would have been considered particularly seditious as it actively campaigns for soldiers not to kill fellow workers fighting on the other side. This plea to workers was central to the class consciousness of the international working-class movement. The First World War tested this principle and thereby split the movement, causing the collapse of the Socialist International, the anarchist movement, and other working-class institutions. The success of the Russian Revolution in October 1917, and the mutinies and unrest amongst ordinary soldiers during the last year of the war, meant that this call for international working-class solidarity was at the forefront of revolutionary thinking. The article comprises two pages of powerful rhetoric, and it can be assumed it was the reason why this issue was the last produced, as it almost certainly fell foul of the Defence of the Realm Act.

Don’t Shoot Your Class!

by Tom Anderson

YOUNG WORKER,—You will be asked, or forced, some day to don a hateful dress. With a rifle on your shoulder and a bayonet by your side, you will march under orders to slay and be slain.

Before you go, before your mind becomes a mechanical echo of the drill sergeant’s voice, we ask you TO THINK.

You are a child of the working class. You were born of parents who toiled for a living. You own no land, no country, and no REAL wealth. The land, the country, and the wealth therein are all owned by a few men of another class. You cannot live without the permission of the men of the class who own these things, and because to gain that permission you must labour at the bidding of that class, it is truly a fact that you are a slave and your class a slave class.

Yet you, a slave, a member of a subject class, are ordered to don uniform and march away to slay.

To slay whom? The people who oppress you; the people who live in luxury whilst you toil and starve all your days?

NO! You will march away to shoot your own class your brothers who under another flag and speaking another tongue, will likewise march to war at their masters bidding to meet and fight you.

War! What is war? The capitalist class of all countries exists by and for the extraction of profits from the unpaid labour of the working class. The hunt for profits has speeded up the great wealth producing machines so that to-day we workers produce more than our masters can sell.

New markets are sought by the capitalists of Germany, France, Britain, America, Japan, etc. Their capital has grown so large, so international, that much of that capital cannot find room and means to reap profit for its owners. The owners of capital fall out and quarrel, each wanting to secure plenty of plunder. The owners of capital are grouped in different countries, and alliances are made between these different groups, and these alliances plot and scheme by secret diplomacy to beat their rivals and secure to themselves the sole right to exploit foreign countries.

This is what has occurred in Europe. In Europe two alliances of capital face each other as sworn enemies, each seeking the others’ destruction, for they realise that there is not room for all.

One alliance is Germany, Austria, and Turkey, and the other is Great Britain, France, Italy, and America. German capitalists are seeking territorial aggrandisement, casting envious eyes on England’s world trade. French capitalists want the rich lands of Alsace-Lorraine with its great mineral deposits, now held by Germany; British capitalists wish to maintain their world supremacy and to see their most dangerous competitor, Germany, vanquished. American capitalists want the dollars that are to be made from the sale of munitions to the Allies.

And you, young workers of Britain, France, Germany, Austria, and America are standing face to face maiming, slaying, and murdering each other.

And all for what?

That your masters may settle the ownership of the wealth that is not yours and has never been yours, although you created it.

Brother! wherever you are, no matter your nationality, is it not high time you began to think and act differently? We workers are brothers the wide world over; we share the same labour; we suffer from the same oppression—why should we hack, kill, and massacre each other? We are of the working class; we are international. Victims of the same capitalist system, we cannot afford to let the war drums of our masters stampede us to war, and to allow ignorance to blind ourselves to our own true interests.

Comrades! There is a great big happy world of freedom! Of joyous happiness, of true love, of equal rights for all to live and enjoy the fruits of their labour. There is a world where the crowded slums of the city hell and the weary grind of machine like toil are no more. Where starving children and overfed pet dogs do not exist, and where cringing workmen and overbearing slave-drivers are not met with. There is a world where the cannon stands in the museum along with cruel relics such as the rack and the whipping-post; a world where to slay or to slave shall indicate something lower than manhood.

That world is the future Socialist Commonwealth. It is the shining goal only to be reached by the solidarity of Labour!

Brothers of all lands! Think before you shoot your own class. Think before you go to war. Forget the cunning lies your masters have told you. Stop fighting to keep your chains fettered fast and start right here and now to strike a blow for the emancipation of yourself and your class.

All over the world we workers are one : white, black, brown, or yellow, English, French, German, Turk, or Africander; all are one despite difference of race and tongue. And if we are intelligent enough we will form a REAL International, sworn only to serve our own class, to achieve our emancipation, to achieve Socialism.

SOCIALISM! It is the new world vision of the workers.

Socialism! It is the only hope of the workers! It spells the freeing of the human race from the thrall of greed. It means the breaking of the bloodstained bayonet and the hoisting of the red flag of universal kinship.

This is an end worth striving for, living for, and dying for. And to that end, little comrade of the working class, we implore you NOT TO SHOOT YOUR CLASS.

chad mccail soldiers leave the armed forces

Soldiers leave the armed forces, by Chad McCail