5 January 2012
A very happy New Year to all my readers.
For the last 6 months I’ve been researching two international socialists who worked, in a senior position, for the British Control Commission for Germany after the war. I’ve been trying to make sense of what they aimed to achieve, and why, and what was the outcome of their efforts. (See my earlier post on A Collection of Individuals for more details of the method I’ve adopted for my PhD research on British people in occupied Germany after the war).
Austen Albu trained as an engineer at the City and Guilds College (now Imperial College of Science and Technology) and worked before and during the war as manager of the Aladdin Industries factory in West London. In February 1946 he was appointed on a temporary contract as head of the ‘German Political Department’ in the Political Division of the Control Commission. Three months later he was promoted to the very influential position of Deputy Chairman of the newly formed ‘Governmental Sub-Commission’. After leaving Germany in late 1947 he was able to pursue his political ambitions and was elected Member of Parliament for Edmonton in 1948, a seat he held for twenty-six years before retiring in 1974. He was briefly Minister of State at the Department of Economic Affairs from 1965-67, but spent most of his time in Parliament as a ‘Back Bench Technocrat’ and expert on science and technology. He had a long life and died in 1994 at the age of 91.
Allan Flanders succeeded Albu as head of the ‘German Political Department’ from May 1946 to the end of 1947. He could best be described before the war as a professional revolutionary socialist, but in 1943 he applied for and was offered a position as one of three research assistants at the Trades Union Congress (TUC), working on post-war reconstruction. After leaving Germany he went to the United States for a year on a Whitney Foundation fellowship. On his return to Britain he was appointed senior lecturer in Industrial Relations at Oxford University, despite not having a degree or attending any university as an undergraduate. He had a distinguished career as an academic, at Oxford, UMIST and Warwick University, becoming one of the UK’s experts on industrial relations. He died in 1973 at the relatively early age of 63.
As committed international socialists, Austen Albu and Allan Flanders had a very different outlook on life from other senior British soldiers and administrators in occupied Germany (such as those I’ve written about previously on this blog: Field Marshal Montgomery, Generals Brian Robertson, Alec Bishop and Brian Horrocks, Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sholto Douglas, or the former colonial administrator Harold Ingrams). They wanted to change the world for the better, not preserve the established social order and their own privileged position within it. They had no great desire to preserve the power and prestige of the British Empire and did not regard the Empire as a force for good in the world, or the British political, social and economic ‘way of life’ as a model for the rest of the world to follow.
Albu and Flanders were both appointed to their positions by John Hynd, the government minister with responsibility for Germany. Hynd had only recently entered Parliament, winning a by-election in 1944 and it is perhaps surprising that, as a new and inexperienced MP, he had been given such a responsible position. All three had been active in socialist politics before and during the war, in the Fabian Society and various fringe groups that attempted to influence Labour Party policy.
They were also closely associated with German socialist refugees who had fled from Nazi Germany and lived in exile in Britain during the war. Albu had close links with a small but highly influential splinter group known as Neu Beginnen, and Flanders was a founder and leading member of the Socialist Vanguard Group, the British arm of a group founded in Germany with international pretensions, known as the Internationaler Sozialistische Kampfbund, (ISK), usually translated into English as Militant Socialist International.
In my research, I am now trying to work out how these international socialist connections influenced what Austen Albu and Allan Flanders aimed to achieve in Germany and how much power and influence they were able to exert in practice. There were not many committed socialists in senior positions in the British Military Government and Control Commission for Germany, but they had grounds to be hopeful, as a new Labour Government was in power in London, and many former soldiers as well as civilians had voted Labour in the 1945 election, in the hope and belief that everyone, in both Britain and Germany, had to work together to create a new and better world, after the devastation of war.
Austen Albu’s personal papers, including his unpublished memoirs Back Bench Technocrat are held at the Churchill Archives Centre in Cambridge.
Allan Flanders’ papers and those of the Socialist Vanguard Group are held at the Modern Records Centre at Warwick University, though unfortunately there is relatively little material available on his time in Germany.