A tribute to Sam Lesser (1915-2010), British Battalion volunteer and former IBMT Chair, provided by IBMT member Chris Birch and published in the letters page of the Morning Star (11 November 2020). Lesser was often known by the nom de plume Sam Russell.
Sam Lesser speaking at the IBMT Annual Commemoration 2009 in Jubilee Gardens, London. (Photo: Peter Marshall)
Sam Russell, (a cantankerous old bastard, but we all loved him, as I described him at his funeral), was this paper’s foreign correspondent in Chile when the Popular Unity government was overthrown in a violent US-backed coup d’etat.
President Salvador Allende was killed and General Pinochet’s military dictatorship was established.
Russell’s life was put in danger when our paper cleverly sent money he needed to the Soviet bank in Santiago.
When I worked as a sub editor on the paper, Russell was a foreign editor. ‘Sam Russell’ was his nom de plume.
He was born Manassa Lesser in 1915 to working-class Polish émigré parents in London’s East End.
He won a scholarship to University College London and joined the Officer Training Corps and learned to shoot, because he had read Lenin’s remark that a working class that doesn’t learn the use of arms deserves to be slaves.
He took part in demonstrations against Oswald Mosley and the British Union of Fascists and joined the Communist Party.
At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936, without telling his parents, he went to Spain, aged 21, joined the International Brigades and was sent to Albacete for training.
Russell took part in the battle for Madrid, was badly injured at Lopera and became the Daily Worker correspondent in Spain. Subsequently he represented the paper in other parts of the world. He was the Worker’s correspondent in Moscow in 1956 at the time of Krushchev’s secret speech denouncing Stalin and later that year when fighting in Budapest (where my wife Betty, our children and I were).
As you can imagine, Russell had a great many stories to tell, and he enjoyed telling them as much as we enjoyed hearing them.
Posted on 11 November 2020.