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Who was Henry Sara?

Portrait of Henry SaraHenry Sara (1886-1953) was attracted early in his life to social ideals, and during his twenties became active within the small British anarcho-syndicalist movement. With the advent of the First World War in 1914 Sara aligned himself with the anti-war movement and, after a campaign of public meetings, was arrested and imprisoned in April 1916 for his refusal to serve in the army. He remained in prison until February 1919, when he was finally released after going on hunger strike.

Henry Sara joined the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) in the early 1920s, shortly after its formation, and became a popular speaker within the Party, travelling widely as a representative of the CPGB and associated organisations. His international trips included a lecture tour of the USA on behalf of the Friends of Soviet Russia in 1922; and visits to Germany and France in 1924, Russia / the Soviet Union in 1921, 1925 and 1927 (in 1921, by his own account, he "smuggl[ed] away on a ship from Hull, because he wanted to see for himself"), and China in 1927, where he attended the 5th Congress of the Communist Party of China in Hankow and witnessed the beginnings of the Chinese civil war. Sara's willingness to criticise Party leaders and association with other Trotskyist "dissidents" resulted in his expulsion from the CPGB in 1932, and he went on to become a leading figure in the British Trotskyist movement of the 1930s.

During the 1930s and 1940s, Henry Sara also worked as a lecturer and district organiser for the National Council of Labour Colleges, an organisation formed to foster working class self-education.

Sara was known for his attractiveness and charm, and his longest standing personal relationship was formed in 1919 with Constance Taylor. After Sara was expelled from the Communist Party, Constance Taylor helped to fund his political activities, and Sara was a formative political influence on her young son Alan (later better known as A.J.P.) Taylor.

A.J.P. Taylor described Henry Sara as "a magnificent open-air speaker with a tremendous voice", who, "to his great exasperation... could not express himself clearly on paper". Sara did, however, write some short articles for the anarchist and Communist press, and a small selection of articles by and about Sara are reproduced below:

  • 'Our policy stated' by Henry Sara (The Herald of Revolt, vol.III, no.4, May 1913; document reference: MSS.15X/1/102/1)
  • 'The two classes' by Henry Sara (The Spur, vol.1, no.9, March 1915; document reference: MSS.15X/1/296/1)
  • 'Sara jailed' (The Spur, vol.2, no.12, May 1916; document reference: MSS.15X/1/296/1)
  • 'Henry Sara: an appreciation' by P.W. Howard (The Spur, vol.2, no.13, June 1916; document reference: MSS.15X/1/296/1)
  • 'They speak for themselves', Henry Sara's response to the British government's publication of a collection of reports on Bolshevism in Russia (The Spur, vol.5, no.11, May 1919; document reference: MSS.15X/1/296/1)
  • 'The Tilmanstone miners' Russian visit', including short report of speech by Henry Sara, representing the Friends of Soviet Russia (The Dover Express and East Kent News, 4 October 1929)