The School Of Bolshevism

The Bystander was a British weekly tabloid magazine that was founded in 1903 by George Holt Thomas (1869 – 1929) and which was published from Fleet Street until 1940.

On Wednesday, 17th September, 1919 the magazine published the following article by R. M. S. Sturgess, which took aim at the anarchist movement in the East End of London, and which, although an obvious propaganda piece, was, nonetheless an intriguing look at how the right-wing press viewed some of the movements in the East End of London:-


“I wonder how many people in London are aware that there is in their midst a school, in which men are being deliberately and scientifically trained as professional Bolsheviks?

It was by the merest chance that I discovered its existence.

I was scouring the corners of London for a job, when I met a long-haired untidy-looking man in an East-end public house.

It was he who told me of this school in a moment of confidence, inspired by several drinks.

I told him that I wanted to become a pupil, and persuaded him to direct me to it, which he did, along innumerable back streets and dark writhing alleys.


He also told me that a man from America was coming that day to look over the school, with a view to starting a branch in the States. This gave me an idea, and when I had found the place I presented myself to the manager as the man from America.

My ruse was successful, and the manager willingly told me all I wanted to know.


He explained that the school was part of a big commercial undertaking – a sort of inverted insurance business.

“The average man,” he said, “is confident of the stability of things in general, and we are trading on that confidence. We undertake to pay premiums to our clients so long as they are unaffected by riots or legal disturbances of any kind. As soon as any one of them sustains any injury to himself or his property, he pays a sum of money to the firm.”

“But surely that will never pay,” I said.

He laughed. “That is why the school of Bolshevism was started to make it pay.”

He then took me to see the school at work, and there were several classes the noise class, the propaganda class, the lecture class, and so on.


The noise class was being held in a large underground room, which was practically sound-proof, and here I saw squads of uncouth-looking men being trained to shout by lusty instructors, and here were also sheets of tin and numbers of empty bottles, which the men were beating and smashing with sticks. Some of them were rather self-conscious at first, like recruits on parade, but under the influence of their instructor they were soon worked up to a pitch of perspiring frenzy, and the volume of noise was terrific.

“Can’t think of any words to shout, guv’nor,” I heard one man say to his instructor.

“Words,” bellowed the instructor, “what’s it matter about the words! Down is a good word to shout. Down with  anything, everything, except wages.”


In the propaganda class men were seated round a table writing.

On a blackboard at the end of the room was written: “Mr. Asquith states that the present Government does not represent the people.”

I looked over the shoulder of the man nearest me and read:-

“The latest recruit to join the glorious cause of freedom is Mr. Asquith. With a clarion call, he urges us to rise and throw down this bloated capitalist Government. The wealth of the country belongs to the people we are the people when are we going to up and take it.”

“Only a beginner,” said the manager, rather contemptuously, but you see the idea.”

A caricature of an anarchist sitting by barrels of gunpowder.
From The Bystander, Wednesday, 17th September, 1919. Copyright, The British Library Board.


After this, I was relieved to find that the lecture class was not sitting that morning.

“The lectures are distinctly fiery,” the manager told me; “it’s a pity you can’t hear them. The men are taught all the catchwords, and then they practise them, on each other.”

I saw several things, the barber’s shop, for instance, where the men’s heads and faces were treated with every kind of hair restorer – anything to make the hair grow; and the regulations, which no one was allowed to obey, on pain of serious punishment.


“How is the business going? ” I asked, as we walked towards the door.

“It’s paying better every day,” said the manager; “the number of riots has gone up fifty per cent since the school was opened. And then Lenin helps considerably.”


“But isn’t there a danger that you are fomenting a revolution, which will one day smash you as well as everyone else? ”

“There is no real danger,” he said, confidentially. “The course is carefully designed so as to deprive the men of any faculty of reasoning. They are trained to act blindly without listening to arguments. They haven’t the patience or the ability to organise properly. It’s wind and noise that we go in for more than anything else.”


Just then the real man from America was announced, and I had to leave rather hastily.

In fact, the manager chased me for a considerable distance, but eventually I shook him off and found my way somehow into the Whitechapel Road.


I have since tried to find my way back to the place, through those tortuous alleyways, but without success. I went to the police with my story, and they laughed at it.

So I consider it my duty to make it public, even though I run a great risk in doing so.

If anyone should hear during the next few days that a fair-haired, clean-shaven man of twenty-six has been found with a knife between his shoulder blades in a back street, he will know that my sense of duty to my fellows has cost me my life.”