Gaster, Jacob (Jack) (1907-2007)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Papers of Jack Gaster (1907-2007), including: 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; selection of Communist and peace badges, n.d.; 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.

Administrative / Biographical History

Jacob (Jack) Gaster was the twelfth of the thirteen children born to Moses Gaster, the Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Community of England, and his wife, Leah (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 “one state” solution to Israel/Palestine, Gaster still 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 within the ILP with him to join the Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB).In the immediate post war period, Jack Gaster was elected (as one of just two Communist councillors) to the London County Council (LCC). Representing the working class area of Mile End, Stepney, he immersed himself in the bread and butter issues of housing, employment and transport, while in 1952, (along with seven other representatives of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers) he made an illegal journey at the height of the Korean War to North Korea. The prime mission was to discover if the United Nations was using any biological weapons (germ warfare) against the North Korean civilians. On his return to Britain, Jack Gaster published a 38- page dossier, Korea… I Saw the Truth, indicting Washington not only for their use of germ, but other barbaric forms of warfare in North Korea. Jack Gaster was denounced by the patriotic press and there were serious calls for him to be indicted for treason.A solicitor by profession, for some sixty years Jack Gaster was deeply involved with the legal aspects of political struggle, representing communists, trades union, civil rights and peace activists and also 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 principle legal adviser. A member of the CPGB until its dissolution, he had no sympathy with those who left the party over Hungary or Czechoslovakia, he viewed the Paris events of 1968 and the New Left as “subjectively progressive and objectively reactionary”. He was totally opposed to Revisionism and the destruction 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 very ultimate years he was in no political party, he remained a vice-President of the Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers.

Arrangement

The Jack Gaster Archive is divided into the following five sections:

  • GASTER/1: London County Council Papers
  • GASTER/2: Press cuttings
  • GASTER/3: Miscellaneous
  • GASTER/4: Political Papers
  • GASTER/5: Personal Papers

Conditions Governing Access

OPEN

Acquisition Information

Donated to Bishopsgate Institute by Lucy Gaster, 13 June 2007

Other Finding Aids

Adlib catalogue and handlist available in researcher's area.

Archivist's Note

Entry compiled by Grace Biggins

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopying and digital photography (without flash) is permitted for research purposes on completion of the Library's Copyright Declaration form and with respect to current UK copyright law.