Ghost of a Chance: British Revolutionaries in 1919

The leader of the British Communist party, in reminiscence, described 1919 as ‘a period of golden opportunities’ that were lost by left-wing disarray. By David Mitchell.

At the end of The Peace That Passeth All Understanding, John Reed’s skit on the Paris Peace Conference published in March 1919, President Wilson is rudely interrupted while dictating a pompous press communique - ‘harmony reigns supreme among the delegates’ - by messengers with telegrams announcing that Soviet rule has been established in Italy, that Wilson has been impeached for invading Russia without declaring war, that the Japanese people, starved of rice, have eaten the Mikado, and that Sylvia Pankhurst has been made Prime Minister.

This was a satirical exaggeration of the radical hopes and illusions of the time that were then shared by Zinoviev, Trotsky and even Lenin. With Europe in chaos and left-wing revolts, inspired by the success of the Russian revolution, challenging shaky governments in Germany, Austria and Hungary, it was natural for the Big Four to spend longer on the Bolshevik Question than on any other single item on their agenda.

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