Konni Zilliacus

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search

Konni Zilliacus (13 September 1894 – 6 July 1967) was a left-wing Labour Party politician in the United Kingdom. Of Finnish and American parentage, he spoke nine languages fluently; international issues were to absorb much of his energy, both as an official of the League of Nations between the wars, and as a Labour MP in the post-War period. Zilliacus's extensive contacts with figures in Eastern Europe during the Cold War era, together with his frequent support for positions promoted by the Soviet Union, periodically brought him into conflict with the Labour Party leadership and led in 1949 to his temporary expulsion from the party. He was widely regarded as, at least, a fellow traveler. He was, however, a self-proclaimed anti-Communist, who never formally belonged to the Communist Party, and who occasionally adopted positions opposed to Moscow's line, for example during Stalin's conflict with Tito.

Early life[edit]

Zilliacus was born in Kobe, Japan, the son of exiled Finnish-nationalist Konrad Viktor (Konni) Zilliacus (1855–1924) and American-born Lilian McLaurin Grafe (1873–1938). He travelled the world with his parents until settling at Bedales School in Hampshire in 1909, where he became friends with Josiah Clement Wedgwood's sons. He went on to Yale University in the USA, graduating first in his class in 1915.[1]

During World War I, he applied to the British Royal Flying Corps but was denied for physical reasons. Instead, he found work as an orderly for a French medical unit near the front lines. Soon invalided out of the medical corps with diphtheria, Zilliacus returned to Britain and joined the Union of Democratic Control and worked for the Liberal Party MPs Noel Buxton and Norman Angell. He travelled with Wedgwood to Russia, where he developed a sympathy for the October Revolution, and leaked details of Britain's counter-revolutionary activities to the press.[2] In 1919, newly married to Eugenia Nowicka and with his daughter Stella Zilliacus just born, he joined the British Labour Party.

League of Nations Secretariat[edit]

Being multilingual, he found work as the British envoy to the League of Nations alongside Philip Noel-Baker.[3] In 1931 during the Manchurian Crisis he wrote speeches for the League's committee for Cooperation with China along with Alfred Sze, Koo, and Quo Tai-Chi.[4] He was Geneva's official interpreter for visiting Russians. Writing as "C. Howard Ellis", he wrote the text book for the League: Origins, Structure, and Working of the League of Nations.[5]

Zilliacus maintained secret correspondence with C. P. Scott of the Manchester Guardian, which in 1935 helped generate popular support within Britain for sanctions against Italy should it attempt to conquer Ethiopia, an invasion which was in fact launched later that year.[6] He wrote many articles and letters on international affairs on a pro bono basis, usually under pen names such as Vigilantes.[7]

Zilliacus was a firm believer in the power of multinational organizations to prevent war, but he could not lead British foreign policy to work through the League. He worked diligently for the League of Nations until the Nazi invasion of Czechoslovakia, when he resigned from the Secretariat of the League of Nations.[8]

War work and election to Parliament[edit]

In World War II, Zilliacus worked for the Ministry of Information and joined the 1941 Committee. He was elected as MP for Gateshead in 1945 and became known as a left-wing critic of government foreign policy.[9]

International policy[edit]

Zilliacus was frequently accused of being a communist because he was sympathetic to Soviet policies and frequently contributed articles to liberal British publications, but he was not affiliated with the Communist Party of Great Britain. Still, in 1949, he voted against joining NATO and remained an open critic of Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin and his anti-Stalinist policies. In 1949, he was expelled from the party, along with Leslie Solley.[10] To compensate, he helped found the Labour Independent Group, although he would later leave the group when it supported Joseph Stalin over Josip Broz Tito. He sought re-election in the 1950 UK general election, but he lost his seat to Labour Party candidate Arthur Moody. Zilliacus was also sympathetic to Communist Yugoslavia.[11] During the show-trial of Rudolf Slánský in Czechoslovakia in 1952, Slánský claimed he had given information to Zilliacus while "planning the restoration of capitalism in Czechoslovakia"; Zilliacus dismissed the accusation as "quite fantastic".[11][12]


Under the pseudonym Diplomaticus, Konni released The Czechs and their Minorities in 1938.

Gorton MP[edit]

In 1952, he was readmitted to the Labour Party, and he took Manchester Gorton district in the 1955 UK general election. He held the seat until his death, on 6 July 1967.[13] He became a founder member of the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament and in 1961 was suspended from the party for several months for writing an article for a Czech magazine. Zilliacus was a prominent pacifist, pushing for less spending on arms and nuclear testing during the 1950s and opposing the Vietnam War during the 1960s.[14] He died of leukaemia.[15] According to one historian, Zilliacus died "an unrepentant admirer of both Harold Wilson and N. S. Khrushchev".[11]

He wrote Why the League [of Nations] Has Failed (1938) and I Choose Peace (1949).

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Magnay
Member of Parliament for Gateshead
Constituency abolished
Preceded by
William Oldfield
Member of Parliament for Manchester Gorton
Succeeded by
Kenneth Marks


External links[edit]

  1. ^ Pp. 1-7, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  2. ^ Pp. 7-13, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  3. ^ P. 17, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  4. ^ Chapter 4: Manchurian Crisis. Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  5. ^ Chapter 3 Geneva, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  6. ^ P. 43, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  7. ^ P. 16, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  8. ^ P. 57, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002) (August 9, 1938 resignation)
  9. ^ P. 88, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  10. ^ P. 141, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  11. ^ a b c David Widgery, The Left in Britain, 1956-68, Harmondsworth : Penguin, 1976. ISBN 0140550992 (p. 505).
  12. ^ "Czech Trial "Fantastic" says Zilliacus",The Bulletin and Scots Pictorial, November 21, 1952, (pg. 1)
  13. ^ P. 160 (1955), 169 (1959), 182 (1963), 187 (1967)(elections) Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  14. ^ Preface p. ix, Archie Potts 『Zilliacus: A Life for Peace and Socialism』(2002)
  15. ^ Simkin, John. "Konni Zilliacus" at historiasiglo20.org, accessed on 10/27/13.