Skip to main content

The Tilmanstone miners' Russian visit

The following is a copy of an article from the Dover Express and East Kent News, 4 October 1929, reporting on a meeting called under the auspices of the Dover Labour Party to discuss the report of two Tilmanstone miners about their visit to Russia. It includes coverage of a speech by Henry Sara, who was attending the meeting as a representative of the Friends of Soviet Russia.

THE TILMANSTONE MINERS' RUSSIAN VISIT.

SURPRISES AT TOWN HALL MEETING.

RUSSIAN MINERS' LEADER PRESENT.

Under the auspices of the Dover Labour Party, a meeting was held in the Town Hall on Thursday evening to hear the Tilmanstone miners who went to Russia to see the conditions there, relate their experiences again. Mr. Roome was not present on the platform, and only Mr. Crane spoke. There was not a very large attendance, when Mr. A.T. Goodfellow presided. TheBrooksbank's Glee Party and Messrs. J. Jones and E. Dunn sang at the outset.

The Chairman said that all intelligent citizens were interested in the social experiment going on in Russia. The two men who went to Russia, though common or garden men, they were truth seekers. He was pretty sure that the Press treatment of the reports of those gentlemen conveyed to the general reader a false impression. Whether they conveyed a false impression of fact or not, they certainly did an injustice to the individual giving them his report that night, that the social experiment had failed.

Mr. Crane said that his report was an exact replica of that he gave at Elvington (reported last week) minus a few humorous remarks. It dealt with the sordid life of some people and the advance of the workers. Mr. Crane then went on to read his report. Referring to the statement he made that the miners would not work three hours under the conditions he found in one mine, he said that what forced out that exclamation was that they were not used to working on a vertical seam as it was in that mine. Mr. Crane added further to his previous report that in regard to the mother going to a maternity home and doing no work he made enquiries and he was told only women workers go to these homes. Concluding he said that he could see the stupendous task the workers of Russia had set themselves. But he saw the look of pride in the eyes of the workers when he visited the bye-products works. Where did the money come from? From British and American capitalists? No, from the workers themselves, who, with the few kopecs remaining to each, gave them back to the State for industrialisation purposes. He saw also the vast wealth, not as regards money, but riches in natural resources, and he could see more plainly why the capitalists wished to fasten their tentacles on this unbounded wealth. Russian people were now united in the United Soviet States, but they had had only 6 1/2 years in which to make any progress at all. In his opinion the workers were making a superhuman effort, and if left alone would succeed. They had set themselves a stupendous task, but he was confident that in the end they would win through and the rising generation would enjoy a more fuller life than possible under Czardom.
Questions were invited and some surprise was caused when a person in the front of the hall (apparently from the Miners’ Federation) said that the person who was supposed to have threatened Mr. Crane was now sitting beside him — Comrade Slutsky — and he would ask Mr. Crane if what was actually told him was that he had a chance of being collared by the police because he had not registered?

Mr. Crane said that was what they should have done, but they made that mistake and got right through. They were told they were liable to imprisonment.

Mr Slutsky: Fine?

Mr. Crane: I understood imprisonment, otherwise I should not have put it down.

Mr Sara (on the platform): May I ask Mr. Crane, is this gentleman Mr. Slutsky?

Mr. Crane: Yes, the leader of the Miners' International in Russia. (Applause.)

The first speaker said that in the "Colliery Guardian" last week it said quite definitely that Mr. Slutsky had told Mr. Crane and Mr. Roome there was a chance of them being shot, and as Mr. Slutsky was attending a conference in Scotland and was in London that day they thought it advisable to bring him down so that he could knock that lie on the head. He further wanted to ask Mr. Crane if he were aware that the wages of miners in Great Britain to-day were 20 per cent. lower than in 1913, and whether he was aware that now wages of the Russian miners were a 100 per cent. higher than under Czardom, and their hours had been reduced from 12 to six or eight.

Mr Crane said he said in his report that Russian miners worked 14 days underground without coming to the surface then and now worked six hours a day.

The speaker asked Mr. Crane to say definitely, if whilst the tendency in this country was not a worsening of conditions, would he be prepared to admit the tendency in Russia was in the opposite direction?

Mr Crane: I am prepared to say that whilst under Socialist Russia, wages and conditions are bound to get better; in capitalist countries they are bound to decrease.

Mr. Matty Lewis asked if Mr. Crane had not seen children going to school nearly naked in this country and whether it was not a shame in a Christian country, and whether he was not satisfied with the improvement he saw in Russia?

Mr Crane: Yes, quite satisfied; and that is why I say they must have been terrible conditions previous to the revolution.

A questioner: Did you see any Russian workers stark naked, the same as in operation in Tilmanstone to-day?

Mr Crane: No. If you took notice of my report, I complimented the officials on their airways; and as regards clothes they wear trousers, jacket and cap, and big sea boots.

Another questioner: Are you willing to work in Russia?

Mr Crane said that he could not for the reason that the workers had gained through the suffering they had gone through, and for the time being he felt he must remain here and continue. (Applause.)

Mr Parker: As a British worker with Mr. Slutsky here, we have a splendid opportunity of getting definite information.

The Chairman: Are you asking a question?

Mr Parker: Yes, and without your dictation. The question I want to put is-

The Chairman: That's better.

Mr. Parker: If you refuse to hear me — (interruption) — can he go on to the platform so that we can have an opportunity of hearing?

The Chairman said that he had his programme to go through, but if there was time he was willing.

A questioner: Do you think the conditions laid down by Mr. Tilden Smith are fair to an ordinary workers’ delegation?

Mr. Crane said that a meeting of those discontented with co-operation at Tilmanstone was called, and he happened to be one of those, and one individual stayed behind. Mr. Smith said: “Where’s that fellow, Crane? That is the fellow who is spreading all this Bolshevik propaganda throughout the pit” — and that was right — “I will send him to Russia to see the conditions, and all I ask is that he brings back a report.” He accepted, subject to the approval of the men. So he went, and this was a true report. He did not know Slutsky was there until he popped in.

A questioner: If you had not brought back a report in favour of Tilden Smith and Co., would not you have got the sack?

Mr. Crane: If that was true, and you had listened to this report, I should have been sacked under 24 hours.

Mr. Henry Sara, of "The Friends of Soviet Russia,” said that he was there as the result of the damaging character of the report which had been given in the Press in such a manner as to be decidedly unfair against Russia. To counteract that, they desired the miners of Tilmanstone Colliery to select a delegate from that Colliery to go to Russia, and form one of the big demonstration of workers from this country, being sent by money, subscribed by the workers, to their comrades to help to commemorate the twelfth anniversary of their revolution next month. (Applause.). It was up to the men of Tilmanstone. Major Astor, the Member for Dover, was connected with the “Times,” and that paper had made very great use of the visit to Russia. It was mentioned in the Press, and they had put Mr. Crane’s name to it, that they could all have been married whilst in Russia, and it could have continued whilst they were in Russia, and then be dissolved. He said, here and now, just as Slutsky had come here to deny the charge — he said to that man it was a lie. (Applause.) He went to Russia in 1921, smuggling away on a ship from Hull, because he wanted to see for himself. He went again in 1925, and again in 1927, and he had seen Russia gradually emerging from the deep pit of misery. If they were horrified with the conditions in Russia, they had to remember it was due to such men as Winston Churchill and Lloyd George. (Interruptions from a man, who jumped up saying: “Why do you not go to Russia!" and "Are you an Englishman?") He was born in London. Some people would never be satisfied. They said, “You have not been to Russia,” and if a person had, they said, “Why don’t you stop there!” (Laughter.) If one could never talk about places they had never been to, many people would lose their Sunday job, because they were always talking about two places they had never been to. Continuing, he said that they did not expect to find Russia a paradise. It was not; but it was a wonderful achievement on the part of a previously illiterate, backward, isolated population that existed under the domination of one of the most brutal autocracies history had ever known. He hoped that the miners of Tilmanstone would realise this and select a delegate and get in touch with “The Friends of Soviet Russia,” so that he could go to Russia under the guidance of his fellow workers. That report, they hoped, would contradict some of the mischief that had already been done.

Mr. Crane said, in answer to the question about marriage, they heard a lot about free love, and when they got there they made enquiries, and were told that a couple could be married before a magistrate, and if it did not turn out very well it could be dissolved, and if there was any issue the man had to pay 30 per cent.

Mr. Sara: Then in the paper it was a lie when it says you were offered a woman?

The Chairman: One of the worst of lies, because it has a suspicion of truth as a basis.

Mr. Slutsky was then invited to go on to the platform, and spoke in English, but was difficult to understand. He said that the great improvement in the miners’ conditions was in wages, which had increased 225 per cent. and in the shortened hours, from ten or twelve hours a day to six and eight. It was a certain fact that wages were growing and hours decreasing.

Mr. Bennett, the Secretary of the Divisional Labour Party, said that those who believed that the workers could operate the world could take a small step by supporting the Labour candidates at the Municipal election.

The Chairman said that there would be three candidates at least, and he hoped that it might be possible to have candidates in other Wards too, but he could not say. He announced the collection amounted to £1 18s. 6d.