Obituary: Arthur Clegg

George Matthews
Wednesday 16 February 1994 00:02 GMT

Arthur Duckering Clegg, political activist, journalist and lecturer: born 28 April 1914; married 1940 Nel Reidel (died 1966; one son, one daughter), 1967 Joan Kirkpatrick; died Ripon, North Yorkshire 8 February 1994.

ARTHUR CLEGG, national organiser of the China Campaign Committee in the 1930s, epitomised to Victor Gollancz, its chairman, both the campaign and 'the quiet, unpretentious, devoted middle-class section of the left-wing England I know'.

Quiet and unpretentious Clegg was, but also determined, devoted and a first-class organiser, who built up a powerful movement in support of Chinese resistance to Japanese aggression.

Fifty years later he gave his account of it, Aid China (1989), the subtitle 'a memoir of a forgotten campaign'. But the Chinese did not forget. When he was unable to find a British publisher they published it in Peking.

Clegg set out to convince a somewhat Eurocentric anti-Fascist movement of the importance of the Chinese struggle. He succeeded in winning the support of a wide range of public figures, including the Archbishop of York, Bertrand Russell, JB Priestley, Viscount Cecil of Chelwood, Harold Laski, Eric Gill, Herbert Morrison, Ellen Wilkinson, Tom Mann and Ben Tillett.

But for Clegg one of the highspots was the action of dockers at Middlesbrough on 21 January 1938, when they refused to load a cargo of scrap iron and steel on to the Japanese boat Haruna Maru.

The boat was sent on to London, and the cargo by rail. Huge sums were offered to unemployed Chinese dockers to load it there. But Clegg went to see a number of Chinese leaders, ending up with 'one more Chinese behind a table'. He was, said Clegg, 'older and had an air of authority. I repeated my tale. He paused a moment and just gave a nod, saying nothing. But I went down the stairs with the conviction we had won. And we had. No Chinese was found to sign on the Haruna Maru, whatever bribe was offered.'

Ill-health compelled him to give up the post of national organiser of the CCC in 1939, and two years later he became editor of the Communist Party journal World News and Views, going from there to the Daily Worker, where he was successively Far Eastern adviser, diplomatic correspondent and foreign editor. He wrote two other books on China and published several small volumes of poetry. His anti-imperialist activities led to his arrest and imprisonment for two months in 1940 for speaking at an Empire Day meeting in favour of Indian independence.

From 1958 to 1977 Clegg was a lecturer in the history of science and economics at City University, London, and a vigorous campaigner for the extension of non- elitist higher education. Many of his friends disagreed with his often uncritical support of the policy of the Chinese and Kampuchean leaders, but none ever questioned his devotion to the people of those countries and his political commitment.

(Photograph omitted)

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in