Witness to revolution

Morgan Philips Price (1885-1973) grew up in a radical Liberal family. His grandfather, William Philip Price had been the MP in Gloucester 1852-72. The family owned land on the edge of the Forest of Dean. 

When Morgan was six he laid the foundation stone for the Price Memorial Hall in Brunswick Road, a gift to the Gloucester Science and Art Society in the name of his father.

As director of the family timber business he proposed that the firm recognised the Dockers’ Union. When the board opposed the idea he arranged for Ben Tillett to come to Gloucester. Price even put him up in his house and the union began making progress on pay and conditions.

At the age of 27, Price was adopted as the Liberal candidate for Gloucester but didn’t win. He helped found the Union of Democratic Control - a key anti-war organisation. 

He travelled to Russia as part of the business and learned the language. In 1914 the Manchester Guardian’s asked him to cover events in Russia. He became one of very few Western journalists to be present during the 1917 Revolution. He was in Petrograd to hear the stirring speeches of Trotsky. He reported his call to workers: “Join the new revolutionary army forming in Petrograd, Moscow and Kharkov and go forth, not to kill our comrades of central Europe and the allied countries, but to persuade them to join us against the common enemy.”

Price realised how important he was as one of the very few eye-witnesses to the Russian Revolution but he feared for his own health. With the country cut-off and little food available he lost one-and-a-half stone in three weeks. He realised: “How immensely lucky I was to be where I was during this great upheaval. So I decided to set my teeth and carry on.”

He interviewed Lenin and was greatly impressed with him. Price’s reports became a key account of events for people in Britain. He worked hard to be an objective reporter but he couldn’t conceal his sympathies for the Bolshevik cause and he tried to convince the British government not to intervene against the revolution.

When Germany signed the Armistice in 1918, Price rushed to Berlin. He met Rosa Luxemburg who had just been released from prison. She was fighting for a socialist revolution in Germany. A few days later Luxemburg was arrested, clubbed to death and her body thrown into the River Spree.

Price was warned about growing anti-communist hysteria in Britain. He left the Manchester Guardian to become the Berlin correspondent for the Daily Herald. In July 1919 he was arrested for Bolshevik propaganda and held for four days.

On his release he married Lisa Balster who had been secretary to Rosa Luxemburg. They had two children but he was to face hostility in Britain for having a German wife.

When he came home in 1922 to stand in the election he met a wave of prejudice over his support for the Russian Revolution. The Gloucester Tory MP even suggested he should be arrested.

He made plans to build houses on his Gloucestershire land at Tibberton with the National Building Guild, a co-operative of building workers. He sold some land and gave much of the cash to the Daily Herald.

Price fell out with some of his family when he renounced being squire and let the family mansion become a school. He stood to be MP for Gloucester but lost by just fifty-one votes.

He went back to report on the divisions of the German Left. In 1923 Price went to Bavaria and was shocked to hear a Catholic priest blaming all the troubles of Germany to the Jews. He went on to Munich and was the first to warn of the growing threat of Hitler. “Here is a movement which may make trouble in the future. Hitler has built up a force estimated at 30,000 armed men but he is keeping them in the background.” Price left Germany in despair. 

When James Wignall, the Labour MP for the Forest of Dean died the Cinderford Labour Party and the Forest miners asked Price to be the Labour candidate. He declined and supported Alf Purcell instead. He was elected MP for Whitehaven in 1929 but lost the seat in 1931. He was elected MP for the Forest of Dean in 1935 a post he held until his retirement in 1959.

He toured the pits of the Dean in 1945 to celebrate the nationalisation of the coal mines but he felt that taking over old-established industries would not bring about prosperity by itself.

His Russian experience had convinced Price that socialism in one country could not succeed. He objected to Labour’s whole-hearted support for Zionism and made the case for the Palestinians.

He published his memoirs, My Three Revolutions, in 1969, and died in 1973.