About this Archive
(Jacob) (1907-2007) lawyer, civil rights campaigner and communist
Jacob (Jack) Gaster was the twelfth of the thirteen children born to Moses Gaster, the Chief Rabbi (Haham) of the Sephardi Community in the UK, and his wife, Leah Lucy (daughter of Michael Friedlander, Principal of Jews’ College). Rumanian by birth, Moses Gaster was a distinguished scholar and linguist. He was also keenly active in early twentieth century Zionist politics.
Never attracted by Zionism, and from 1946 a supporter of a “bi-national state” solution to Israel/Palestine, Gaster never broke with his father, merely with his father’s ideas, becoming acutely aware of working class politics and conditions of life during the General Strike in 1926. While his favourite brother, Francis, actually worked as a blackleg bus driver, Jack Gaster sided with the strikers. It was at this time that he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), then headed by James Maxton. Despite his admiration for Maxton (who remained with the ILP), as a leading member of the Revolutionary Policy Committee (RPC) within the ILP, Jack Gaster led the 1935 “resignation en masse”, taking a substantial group with him to join the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).
In 1946 Jack Gaster was elected (as one of just two Communist councillors) to the London County Council (LCC), and served one term until his seat was abolished in 1949. Representing the working class area of Stepney Mile End, he immersed himself in the bread and butter issues of housing, employment and transport.
In 1952, along with seven other representatives of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, he made a dangerous and illegal journey to North Korea at the height of the Korean War. The prime mission was to find out whether the USA was using biological weapons (germ warfare) against North Korean civilians. On his return to Britain, Jack Gaster published a 38-page dossier, Korea… I Saw the Truth, indicting Washington for their use of germ and other barbaric forms of warfare in North Korea. Jack Gaster was denounced by the establishment press and there were calls for him to be indicted for treason, a crime which then carried the death penalty. Subsequent research essentially confirms that he was right.
A solicitor by profession, for some sixty years Jack Gaster was deeply involved with the legal aspects of political struggle, representing communists, trades unions, civil liberties and peace activists including individuals of the left as different in temperament and ideology as Joe Slovo and Tariq Ali. He was for many years the Communist Party’s principal legal adviser. A member of the CPGB until its dissolution, he had little sympathy with those who left the party over Hungary or Czechoslovakia. Always firm in his commitment to Cuba, China and the Soviet Union, he was opposed to revisionism and the demise of the CPGB, seeing with absolute clarity that the fall of the Soviet Union would result not in a “peace dividend”, but in new and more brutal “imperialistic” wars.
In the 1990’s Jack Gaster joined the Socialist Labour Party (SLP) headed by Arthur Scargill. Though in his final years he was in no political party, he remained a Vice-President of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers and was committed to the training and support of young socialist lawyers. Gaster also remained a lifelong supporter of the Society for Cultural Relations between the Peoples of the British Commonwealth and the USSR (now the Society for Cooperation in Russian and Soviet Studies), and he helped raise the Soviet War Memorial adjacent to the Imperial War Museum in honour of the sacrifices of Soviet citizens and armed forces and their contribution to the defeat of Nazi Germany.
Jack married Maire (Moira) Lynd (2 March 1912 - 27 September 1990) on October 7th 1938. They had three children, Lucy (b.1940), Polly (b.1944) and Nicolas (b.1946)
Scope and Content
- Quarter inch tape reels featuring music recordings by Rufus John and speeches by George Lansbury, Ramsay MacDonald, Willie Gallacher, James Maxton, etc, n.d.
- Papers, press cuttings and notes relating to social issues in London and Gaster’s service on the London County Council, 1946-1961.
- Press cuttings and miscellaneous notes regarding China, Poland, Guiana, communism and international affairs, 1953-1982.
- Metal paper stamp of the British Soviet Friendly Houses Limited, n.d.
- Festschrift for Jack Gaster on his 95th Birthday and order for memorial service, 2002-2007.