11 July 2020

At last ... the Charter of the United Nations, 1945

President Woodrow Wilson helped create the League of Nations post-WW1 at the Versailles Conference June 1919. But the US Sen­ate rej­ect­ed membership and the U.S with­drew into isolation.

As Europe moved to WW2 in the 1930s, the League was un­ab­le to respond effectively. Despite failure, the Allies pro­posed establishing a new int­er­nat­ional body to maintain peace post-war, as early as 1941! The concept was first art­iculated in Aug 1941, when Pres. Frank­lin Roose­velt and Prime Minis­ter Winston Ch­ur­ch­ill signed the At­lantic Char­ter, creating inter­nat­ional cooperat­ion. Yet the U.S remained neutral in WW2 until Jan 1942 post-Pearl Harbour.

In WW2, Roosevelt initially imagined a post­war order based around four powers with regional authority i.e U.S, Brit­ain, Soviet Union and China. The Allies, who were fighting the Axis Pow­ers (Ger­many, Italy & Japan), gradually mo­v­ed toward a more in­cl­usive coop­erat­ive body that mounted a long series of inter­nat­ional summits.

Yalta Con­fer­ence in Feb 1945
Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin

The first summit was in Jan 1942, when 26 Allied nat­ions met in Washington DC, wrote a declaration end­orsing the Atlantic Charter and pres­enting the Allies’ shared war aims. Pres Roos­evelt, Prime Minister Church­ill, Russian Maxim Lit­vinov and Chinese TV Soong signed the paper first, then the 22 other nations added their signatures.

These Allied powers met in Moscow in Oct 1943 and issued the Moscow Declaration, which wanted an internat­ional organ­is­ation to replace the League of Nations. That goal was reaff­irm­ed at the next conference when the Allied lead­ers met in Nov 1943 in Tehran. Tehran coor­d­in­at­ed the war response to the Axis Powers, in Europe and the Pacif­ic.

In Aug 1944, the 4 Allies met at the Dum­bar­ton Oaks estate in Washington DC, to finalise the U.N documents. A broad organ­isation would be open to all countries and would concern security, econom­ic and social issues. Whether the Big Four would wield absolute vetoes as permanent mem­b­ers of the body’s security council remained unresolved.

The U.N became an important forum for preserving peace, as well as deb­ating and advancing cultural and political initiat­ives, espec­ial­ly human rights. U.S participat­ion was vital to this project; the United Nations needed to be truly global, and the U.S was now taking a more active role in world affairs.

Over several months in late 1944-early 1945, the delegates desc­ribed the world body concept but often disagreed over mem­bership and voting. Com­promise was reached by Russia, U.S and Britain, at the Yalta Con­fer­ence on the Crimean Peninsular in Feb 1945, and all coun­tries that had ad­her­ed to the 1942 conference were invited to the United Nations founding conference. France had not invited to Yalta, but Stalin agreed to include France in the post-war governing of Germany, if France’s zone of occup­ation was taken from the US and British zones.

In Ap 1945, the United Nations Conference on International Org­an­is­ation convened in San Francisco with 50 nations represented. Pres Roosevelt planned to be there, but he died just be­fore it began. Dr H Evatt, Australian Minister for External Affairs, spoke to the Great Powers on behalf of the other nations, command­ing universal respect. As a result, the Charter bec­ome more humane and larger in scope, gaining provisions for the poor and the opp­res­sed, provisions never envis­ag­ed by the Great Powers.

3 months later, during which time Germany surrendered, the fin­al Charter of the United Nations was adopted by all delegates, and signed. The Charter consisted of a pre­amble and 19 chapters divided into 111 articles; it called for the U.N. to maintain international peace and security, promote soc­ial progress and better standards of life, strengthen international law, and promote the expansion of human rights. The principal org­ans of the U.N, as sp­ecified in the Charter, were the Secretariat, General Assembly, Sec­urity Council, Economic and Social Council, International Court of Justice and the Trusteeship Council.

In Oct 1945, the U.N. Charter came into force on its ratification by the 5 permanent members of the Security Council and a major­ity of other sig­nat­ories. The first U.N General Assembly, with 51 nat­ions represented, opened in London on Jan 1946. In Oct 1949, four years after the United Nations Charter went into effect, the corn­erstone was laid for today’s New York United Nations buildings.

Each representative came out to sign on behalf of his country.
San Francisco

There were 3,500 delegates, advisors, employees and secretariat staff at San Francisco's conference. The attendees stood to honour the Charter
Dr Evatt (left) Australian Foreign Minister and Anthony Eden UK Foreign Secretary, 
examining documents in San Francisco, 1945. 
All photo credits: United Nations photograph.

Disagreements bet­w­een the major powers continued, and small states sought equal status in the General Assembly AND the Security Coun­cil. But the USSR believed an effect­ive veto in the security coun­­cil was neces­s­ary because Russia had lost far more citizens in WW2 than the other nations, and was more desper­ate for peace. The deb­ate nearly scut­t­led the conference, but they event­ually united be­hind an agreement that demanded superpower un­an­imity on all secur­ity votes. The compromise was that noone could block discussions of topics within the security council.

They grandfathered existing statements of hemispheric interest eg the Monroe Doctrine, and allowed for regional self-defence pacts that operated before the UN int­ervened. This latter compromise leg­alised organ­isations like the North Atlantic Treaty Alliance.

The UN pursued human rights; its many institutions were vital in promoting soc­ial and economic development. Yet the San Francisco compromises undermined its primary goal of ensuring peace. The perm­anent member veto constrained the security council as the Cold War started. Nonetheless, the passage of the charter represented a new and promising era of world affairs.

The Charter had 50 original signatories. Italy joined the U.N General Assembly in Dec 1955, Japan in Dec 1956, and both Germanys were admitted in Sept 1973 – very late for a global organisation seeking global peace. Today the UN has grown to include 193 Member States, each having one seat in the General Ass­em­bly.

Note that despite the U.S demanding a central role in global politics, the US withdrew from the U.N's Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation and U.N's Human Rights Council in Oct 2017 and June 2018 respectively. In May 2020, amidst Covid19, Pres Trump sent an ultimatum threatening to withdraw from the UN's World Health Organisation if reforms were not enacted in 30 days. Senior health officials hoped that he was bluffing.

07 July 2020

Wassily Kandinsky - artist and art theorist

Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944) was born in Moscow, and spent his childhood in Odessa, fostered by a relative. In high school he learned to play the piano and cello. Then he enrolled at the Moscow University, studying law and economics, succeeding in teaching law.

Kandinsky’s youthful fun with colour symbolism and psych­ology continued into adulthood so it wasn’t surprising that he wanted more art stud­ies. In 1889 he was part of a research group that trav­elled north of Mos­cow. He wrote that the houses and chur­ches were decorated with such shimm­ering colours that on enter­ing them, he felt that he was moving into a painting.

By 30 Kandinsky had given up his promising career teaching law ..to enrol in the Munich Academy. He was not accepted, so he began learning art on his own. That same year, before leaving Mos­cow, he saw an exhibit of Monet paintings and loved the impress­ionistism of Haystacks 1890.

In 1896 he settled in Mun­ich, studying at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts.

Wassily Kandinsky, Winter Landscape, 1909
Hermitage Museum, St Petersburg.

In 1902, Kandinsky successfully ran a summer painting classes in the Alps near Munich. It was then that he em­erged as an art theor­ist as well as a painter. The number of his paintings in­creased in the early C20th, especially the land­scapes and towns on which he used broad strips of colour. Humans appeared in few of his works eg Sunday, Old Rus­sia 1904. Riding Couple 1907 depicted a man on horseback, tenderly holding a woman as they passed a Russian town with bright walls; the river reflections sparkled with spots. Fauvism and pointillism were appar­ent in these early works.

Perhaps the most important of his paintings then was The Blue Rid­er 1903, showing a small cloaked figure on a speed­ing horse in a rocky meadow. The rid­er's cloak was medium blue, in the fore­ground were blue shadows, and trees in the background. This became an increas­ingly conscious tech­nique used by Kand­in­sky in subsequent years, culminating in the abstract works of the 1911–4 period. 

Wassily Kandinsky, Blue Mountain, 1909
107 x 98 cm
Guggenheim Museum, New York

Kandinsky travelled across Europe, set­tling in Bavaria. The Blue Mountain 1909 showed his move toward abstraction - a mountain of blue flanked by two broad trees, a yellow and a red. A proc­ess­ion, with 3 riders and others, crossed at the bottom. The Fauv­ist faces, clothing and saddles of the riders were each a single colour, while the walking figures were undetailed. Blue Mountain’s broad use of colour illust­rated how colour was presented independ­ently of form, and which each colour was given equal attention.

Music was important to the birth of abstract art, since music was itself abst­r­act; it did not try to represent the exterior world, but expressed the soul. Kan­d­insky could use musical terms to identify his works; he called his most spontaneous paint­ings im­prov­isations and his more elaborate works as compos­itions. After attending a concert in Jan 1911 in Munich, Kand­in­sky was sympath­etic to Arnold Schoenberg; he was looking to free visual art from formal strictures similar to those that Schoenberg was rebelling against in music. As a result Kand­insky created Impres­sion III Concert.

Art theorist Kandinsky probably infl­uen­ced the history of Western art more from his theoret­ical writ­ings than from his paintings. His analyses on forms and colours resulted not from simple associations but from the painter's inner experience. He spent years creating abs­tract, rich paintings, endlessly observing paintings and noting their effects on his sense of colour.

Kandinsky helped form the Mun­ich New Art­ists' Association, becoming pres­ident in 1909. How­ever the group could not integrate his rad­ic­al approach with normal artistic concepts, so the New Artists’ Ass­ociation dissolved in late 1911. 

The Blue Rider Almanac, 1912
1st edition of book with articles and artwork by the Blue Rider Group of Artists. 

When Kandinsky met Paul Klee, August Macke and Franz Marc in 1911, he had them in­cluded in his avant-garde Munich exhibition in 1912. Kand­insky then form­ed a new group in Munich, Der Blaue Reiter/Blue Rider, with his closest artists eg Macke, Marc, Albert Bloch and Gab­riele Münter. Kandinsky and Marc were the main fig­ur­es in the new Expressionist art group; they influenced the vigorous forms that were the ext­er­nal expressions of their creativity. His books On the Spir­itual In Art 1910 and The Blue Rider Almanac 1912 prom­oted abst­ract art. 

In Britain Kandinsky partic­ipated in the 1910 Allied Artists' Ex­hibition held at London's Royal Albert Hall; his work was well praised in The Art News. By 1912, his essay On the Sp­iritual In Art was re­viewed by Michael Sadler in the London-based Art News and was soon tran­slated into English. And this publicity led to Kandin­s­ky's first works entering a British art collect­ion. Sad­ler bought wood-prints and the abstract painting Fragment for Composition VII dur­ing a 1913 visit by Sadler to Munich. These works were disp­layed in Leeds University and in the Leeds Arts Club, from 1913 on.

Der Blaue Reiter held two exhibits and more were planned, but the outbreak of WWI in 1914 intervened and sent Kandinsky back to Mos­cow. Following the Russian Revolution, Kandinsky helped est­ab­lish the Mus­eum of the Culture of Painting. In 1916 he met a woman (1899-1980), they married in 1917 and had a son that year. But by then his sp­ir­itual outlook was clashing with Soviet society values. He returned to Germany in 1920, just as Walter Gropius, director of Bauhaus, was hiring modernist designers like Marcel Breuer, Klee, Kandinsky and Laszlo Moholy-Nagy.

Macke, Tower of Blue Horses, 1913

Kandinsky’s movement lasted for a short, but important time. While the art com­munity never embraced his radical expressionist ideas, the ideas of Der Blaue Reiter artists helped lay the groundwork for abstract experimentation.

04 July 2020

Guy Burgess and the Cambridge spy ring

At the University of Cambridge in the 1930s, Guy Burgess (1911-63) was in a group of upper middle-class students who believed that capitalism could never be democratic and that Germany, USA and UK were rapidly moving to the right.

His friends, all examples of class privilege, were Donald Mac­lean (1913–1983), Kim Philby (1912–1988)  & Anthony Blunt (1907–1983). The 4 men were recruited by Soviet intelligence oper­at­ives to be­come secret agents; Bur­gess be­gan supplying inform­ation from his posts as a BBC corresp­ond­ent 1936-8, member of the MI6 intell­ig­ence agency from 1938-41, and a member of the British For­eign Office from 1944. But it was the older Blunt who became the recruiter.

In 1951 Burgess was recalled from his post as 2nd secretary of Washington DC’s British embassy, due to his drunk­ed­ness. Back in South­ampton he learned that a counter­intel­lig­ence investigation by British and US agencies was closing in on his Cambridge mate Maclean. He immediately told Blunt!

To avoid prosecut­ion, Burgess and Maclean left the UK and fled to France. Their location remained unknown unt­il 1956, when they an­nounced they were living in Moscow. A shaky White­hall establish­ment mounted a desperate damage limitation exer­cise, downplaying the signific­ance of the Cambridge spies.

The five Cambridge Spies
Was there a sixth?
photo: Irish Examiner

Philby was forced to leave MI6, but even then his charm fooled those at the top. He was strongly def­ended by Sir Stew­art Menzies, wartime head of MI6, who believed Philby was a patriotic officer and victim of an MI5 witch hunt. 

It was disclosed in 1979 that the Four­th Man in this spy ring was former Cambridge colleague Anthony Blunt, a respected art historian and member of the queen’s household, and that he had contacted Sov­iet agents to arrange for Burgess and Maclean’s flight.

But John Cairncross (1913–1995), British literary scholar and civil serv­ant, was not identified until the 1990s as the Fifth Man in the Cam­bridge Spy Ring. He worked initially in the Foreign Office, then Treas­ury and then Cabinet Office. In 1942-33 he worked in Blet­ch­ley Park and joined MI6 in 1944. When he was at Bletchley Park, Cairn­cross passed secret doc­uments to the Soviet Union. In Sept 1951, he was quest­ioned about his connexion with Maclean. Cairn­cross did not admit to spying until MI5 found papers in Bur­gess' flat with a note from him, after Burgess escaped to Moscow.

Is there anything significant left to say about the Cam­bridge spy ring, Moscow Centre’s Magnificent Five? Yes! People as­s­umed that Guy Burgess did little harm. But in Stalin’s Englishman: The Lives of Guy Burgess (2020), An­d­rew Lownie discussed the culture of a Brit­ish elite in the 1930s, during the war and after. Lownie’s latest revelations ar­gued that, far from being a minor, al­coholic irrit­ant, Burg­ess for years passed on thousands of classif­ied docum­ents to Mos­cow. Many of the documents contained very useful inform­ation, including the west’s position on key issues when the cold war started. Burgess help­ed to get Philby a post in MI6, and pers­uaded the Russians to recr­uit Blunt and Cairncross. Burgess held the group together.

Burgess not only spied for Moscow, but on behalf of competing fac­t­ions within the British government. He spied on Neville Chamberlain for MI6 and the Foreign Office. At one stage, he found himself in MI5 as one of its agents! MI6 sugg­est­ed he should penetrate the Rus­s­ians by arranging to get a Communist party post in Moscow, so he was simultaneously run­ning agents for both Brit­ish and Soviet intel­l­igence. Moscow Centre thought MI6’s sugg­estion was too risky for the animated Burgess and a distraction from the main goal of penet­rat­ing British intelligence.

Lownie discovered a memoir in Oxford’s Bodleian library by Sir Patrick Reilly, in which the ex-chairman of Whitehall’s Joint Intelligence Committee described Wilfrid Mann, an atomic scientist who worked for MI6 in Washington, as a Soviet spy. Lownie claimed Mann confessed and in return agreed to spy for the CIA.

Burgess was indiscreet, gay when it was illegal, promiscuous, drunk and a man who drove badly, so he survived bril­liant­ly in the bohemian circles of the British establishment (eg Harold Nic­olson, Victor Roth­schild). But how did he thrive among senior MI5 and MI6 officers and diplomats at the centre of Whitehall, with its powerful decision-making.

Andrew Lownie's book, 2020

Lownie said Burgess was very open about his communism and homo­sex­uality but people didn’t necessarily believe most things Guy said. He was a very amusing talker and a natural liar… a natural cover for a spy. He seemed to charm anyone he sought, had a close personal relationship with Churchill and att­racted an array of contacts as he flitted between MI5, MI6, BBC and the Foreign Office. His open def­iance of security proced­ures was indulged because the For­eign Off­ice trusted their family.

Given the sheer quantity of information the Camb­ridge spy ring members passed on to their Russian handlers, it was not surprising that paranoid Stalin suspected them of being agents prov­ocateurs planted by British intelligence. Basing his claims on a wide range of sources, Lownie believed Burgess revealed to Moscow important secrets:

1.prewar arguments over appeasement,
2.details of the planned Sicily landings (1943)
3.decision to postpone an invasion of France (1944),
4.British and American position on Berlin’s postwar status,
5.early negotiations re setting up Nato, and
6.advance notice of US military plans in the Korean war.

In 1963 the British ex-pats were joined in Russia by their old col­l­eague Philby. Alas Burg­ess died of a heart attack that year! Blunt and Cairn­cross were offered immunity from pros­ec­ut­ion before being outed many years later.

From the day he emigrated, Burgess attracted biograp­h­ers. But Lownie wrote the first biography that captured the decad­ent, drunk­ard sex bandit, and was the first book to reveal the full extent of Burgess's treason. Even so, Lownie showed that the story of the Cambridge spy ring continues to shock. A million For­eign Office files are still being kept secret, and many more books are yet to be written.

30 June 2020

Prince Edward and his first mistress, Marguerite Alibert

Marguerite Alibert (1890-1971) was born in Paris to working class parents. Young Marguerite was blamed for not having watched her baby brother properly so as a punishment, her parents sent her to the Sisters of Mary. The nuns reminded her daily that her brot­her’s death had been caused by her sins. She feared the nuns, but they did give her some education and taught her to sing well.

Marguerite left the nuns as quickly as she could and was placed with a family as a domestic serv­ant. But the job did not last long. By mid 1906, at 15, she’d become pregnant. The birth of daughter Raymonde put an abrupt end to her stay with the family. Marguerite returned home but her parents could not care for her baby daughter who was sent away to be looked after on a farm in central France.

The homeless Alibert turned to sex work instead and quickly be­came an upper-class prostitute-courtesan. The brothel owner liked her work, espec­ially since all the best clients, gentleman of wealth in France and Britain, asked for her.

 By 17, Alibert was in a relationship with 40-year-old Andre Meller, a married wealthy Parisian, who bought her a flat to conduct their affair in privacy. He owned many horses and since Marguerite loved horses, that may very well have encour­ag­­ed their romance. The couple broke up in 1913 yet Alibert often used his surname as her own.

The Prince of Wales disembarked in France from the Pas de Calais, 1917

Alibert met 22-year-old Edward Prince of Wales (1894–1972) in 1917, one year before WW1 ended. Colonel Edward partied in Paris while on leave from his regiment on the Western Front... and it was there he met his first mistress. Alibert helped transform him from an inn­oc­ent lad to the darling of society and later a much-loved King.

Thank you to the book The Prince, the Princess and the Perfect Murder, by historian Andrew Rose. It took Rose several years to research Alibert’s affair with Prince Edward, discovering documents in her grandson’s collection. Best of all, Rose read Alibert’s journal outlining her affairs and the fact that she’d been married and divorced five times.

The Prince was infatuated with Alibert at first sight and they became lovers for at least a year. Alibert was a few years older and was far more sexually skilled than the Prince. Alibert was said to have a dominating streak, and she’d often sleep with a gun under her pillow. But she was also intel­ligent and art­iculate, as well as being skilled in the bedroom, making her highly sought after. Their affair was intense, so the Prince made multiple trips to Paris until mid 1918. Then the affair petered out.

The most foolish thing the Prince did during the affair was write 20+ very indiscreet letters to his mistress, detailing his sex needs, mil­itary matters and intimate information about his diffic­ult father, King George V. There were numerous mistresses after Al­ib­ert, but Edward’s French former lover remained a constant worry to the Prince's minders due to his surv­iving letters.

To the relief of the court, Edward shifted his int­er­est in 1918 to a mar­ried British woman, Freda Dudley Ward. Marguerite knew she was no longer his mistress, but she wasn’t going to be simply cast aside. So she aimed to benefit financially from the future king, via blackmail. In Nov 1918 Edward received a letter reminding him of their mail!

Marguerite Alibert, 1918

Fortunately for Edward, Marguerite quickly moved on from her rel­ationship with the Prince to Charles Laurent, a young, rich and handsome Air­force officer. Laurent's family owned a famous hotel and shops in the Grand Magasins du Louvre. They mar­ried in 1919 but the marriage failed and was soon dissolved. Fortunately for Marguerite, she received a large divorce settlement, paying for her flat, a stable of 10 horses, two cars and servants.

This Catholic French woman met the extremely rich Egyptian playboy Ali Fahmy Bey of Egypt, 10 years her junior. The Bey proposed marriage, and she accepted, but with cond­it­ions. A contract was drawn up that permit­ted her western-style clothing and to divorce the Bey at any time. In return, she would convert to the Muslim faith, thereby ensuring Ali’s in­her­itance. They married in Dec 1922 in Egypt, by a civil cere­mony and then in a Muslim wedding in Jan 1923. 

But just before the rel­ig­ious ceremony, Fahmy ord­ered the divorce clause remov­ed. Marguerite hated the abusive man; he frequently beat her and got a houseboy to follow her all day. So the marriage was a dis­aster and when it finally failed, it did so in the most explosive, dramatic way.

The couple trav­elled to London in July 1923, and registered at the elegant Savoy Hotel. The couple attended the theatre, then returned to their hotel, had a violent fight and the Bey left. In full even­ing dress he took a taxi towards Piccadilly, visiting either a nightclub or a prostitute.

At midnight, in a violent thun­d­er storm,  Savoy’s nightporter heard 3 gunsh­ots. Rushing upstairs, he found Marguerite holding her pistol. Her husband Ali Fahmy Bey lay dead with 2 bullets in the back and one bullet in the head. As police arrived to take Marg­uer­ite away, they apparently realised she’d been the first lover of the heir to the British throne.

Marguerite appeared at the Old Bailey for the murder of her husband, dressed by Chanel, with jewellery by Cartier and accessories by Van Cleef & Arpels and Louis Vuitton.

Ali Fahmy Bey of Egypt, 1923
Photo credits: news.com.au

The royal family never breached family secrets! So at Old Bailey, Prince Edward’s advisors had to make a secret deal with his ex-lover. If she returned all of Edward’s letters from Cairo, her sexual past would never be mentioned in court and her freedom was guar­an­teed. Instead the trial would focus on Ali Fahmy’s violence. Meanwhile Prince Edward was whisked away to Canada on a royal visit and his secret past remained buried. His notorious womanising was probably not quite suited to his future role as King.

Alibert was acquitted of both murder and manslaughter, and lived lavishly in Paris. She played small parts in movies, and charmed wealthy men until she left the public spotlight. She died at 80, in 1971.

Alibert and Prince Edward had had a serious affair that event­ually exploded, full of royal passion, blackmail, sex and intimate letters. Edward got lucky, at least until he ab­dic­ated the throne for Wallis Simpson 20 years later. But he was far from the first royal with a secret eg Queen Victoria and John Brown, Princess Louisa's baby, Bertie's (Prince Albert) court cases etc. So how did this royal deal with Marguerite remain secret from the public for c100 years?

Talking of secrets, Tweedland has the fascinating story of  the British state plot to assassinate King Edward VIII. How did we not know about it?