DensleyBlair

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Recently I’ve been going back over some of the updates I’ve got prepared for posting in the coming weeks, and it’s got me thinking about the scale and complexity of not only this project on a logistical level, but of the world gradually being built within it. The conclusion of part two, scheduled for 1945, is now visible on the horizon and it made me wonder: would people find some appendices useful as a sort of introduction to the timeline and some of the main characters?

This is as much a question to regular readers and commentators as it is to those of you who may be out there reading casually, or put off entirely by the prospect of reading 90,000 words (seriously!) about revolutionary Britain with no game data to make sense of it all. I’d be interested to hear people’s thoughts.

I’m keen (for obvious reasons) that this AAR remain accessible to as many people as possible as it grows, and I’d be very happy to find creative ways to write a gloss or two to sum things up for those who haven’t been following from the start. Would this be of any interest to people? I’d be particularly interested to hear from anyone who maybe checks out the thread less regularly, or feels they may have fallen behind. All feedback appreciated! :)

Also, I’d just like to take a moment to wish everyone good health at this anxious time. To anyone else spending much more time browsing AARland while social distancing or self isolating, solidarity.

Cheers,
DB
 

stnylan

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I am not the best person to answer this question I imagine, because I will just read the updates as they came along if I am at all able.
 

DensleyBlair

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I am not the best person to answer this question I imagine, because I will just read the updates as they came along if I am at all able.

Yes, very true! Thanks for voicing your opinion nevertheless. :)

Current circumstances being as they are, I'd quite enjoy the task of writing a gloss of the story so far, so I'll go ahead and do it anyway. Always nice to be reminded of how the timeline is shaping up, irrespective of how easily one is able to keep up. :)
 
Preface to 'English History, 1914–1929'

DensleyBlair

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



PREFACE TO ENGLISH HISTORY, 1914–1929
A. J. P. TAYLOR
1965


Until August 1914 a sensible, law-abiding Englishman could pass through life and hardly notice the existence of age state, beyond the post office and the policeman. He could live where he liked and as he liked. He had no official number or identity card. He could travel abroad or leave his country without restriction or limit. He could buy goods from any country in the world on the same terms as he bought goods at home. For that matter, a foreigner could spend his life in this country without permit and without informing the police. Unlike the countries of the European continent, the state did not require its citizens to preform military service. An Englishman could enlist, if he chose, in the regular army, the navy or the territorials. He could also ignore, if he chose, the demands of national defence. Substantial householders were occasionally called on for jury service. Otherwise, only those helped the state who wished to do so. The Englishman paid taxes on a modest scale: nearly £200 million in 1913–14, or rather less than 8 per cent of the national income. The state intervened to prevent the citizen from eating adulterated food or contracting certain infectious diseases. It imposed safety rules in factories, and prevented women, and adult males in some industries, from working excessive hours. The state saw to it that children received education up to the age of 13. Since 1 January 1909, it provided a meagre pension for the needy over the age of 70. Since 1911, it helped to insure certain classes of workers against sickness and unemployment. This tendency towards more state action was increasing. Expenditure on the social services had roughly doubled since the Liberals took office in 1905. Still, broadly speaking, the state acted only to help those who could not help themselves. It left the adult citizen alone.


All of this was changed by the impact of the Great War. The mass of people became, for the first time, active citizens. Their lives were shaped by orders from above; they were required to serve the state instead of pursuing exclusively their own affairs. Five million men entered the armed forces, many of them (though a minority) under compulsion. The Englishman’s food was limited, and its quality changed, by government order. His freedom of movement was restricted; his conditions of work prescribed. Some industries were reduced or closed, others artificially fostered. The publication of news was fettered. Street lights were dimmed. The sacred freedom of drinking was tampered with: licensed hours were cut down, and the beer watered down by order. The very time on the clocks changes. From 1916 onwards, every Englishman got up an hour earlier in summer than he would otherwise have done, thanks to an act of parliament. The state established a hold over its citizens which, though relaxed in peacetime, was never to be removed so long as the United Kingdom endured. The history of the English state and of the English people merged for the first time.


The Great War came as though King George V still possessed the undiminished prerogatives of Henry VIII. At 10.30 p.m. on 4 August 1914 the king held a privy council at Buckingham Palace, which was attended only by one minister and two court officials. This council sanctioned the proclamation of a state of war with Germany from 11 p.m. That was all. The cabinet played no part once it had resolved to defend the neutrality of Belgium. Nor did the cabinet authorise the declaration of war. The parliament of the United Kingdom, though informed of events, did not give formal approval to the government’s acts until it voted a credit fo £100 million, without a division, on 6 August.


Though not consulted, in the coming days the governments and parliaments of the Dominions lined up to express their approval for the war effort. Each governor general issued a proclamation of war on his own authority, as did the viceroy of India. The white populations of the Empire rallied eagerly to the mother country. Some 50 million Africans and 250 million Indians were involved, without consultation, in a war of which they understood nothing against an enemy who was also unknown to them. The use of prerogative went further on the home front. Administrative measures, consequent on the outbreak of war, were invoked almost immediately. Military areas were closed to aliens; trade with the enemy was forbidden; merchant sips were requisitioned (some 250 at once, and later over a thousand) for the transport of the armed forces. Thus was the imperial capitalist machine mobilised for the prosecution of its climactic war. At its gravest hour, the great democracy of Great Britain was overcome by the quaint, convenient survival of ancient constitutional traditions. The war was an act of state, if not of prerogative, with which the ordinary citizen had little to do. It would be fought, or so it was widely assumed, by the forces which Britain possessed at the outset. The British navy would fight a great engagement with the German high seas fleet in the North Sea, while the armies of the continental Allies defeated Germany on land. All would be over in a few months, if not in a few weeks. The ordinary citizen would be little affected. As Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey said in the House of Commons on 3 August: “if we are engaged in war, we shall suffer but little more than we shall suffer if we stand aside.” Such was the complacency with which the United Kingdom began the long march towards its final decline.


Grey lived until 1933, although by this time he had long since lost his sight. He did not witness first hand the extent to which his airy prediction for the survival of the status quo would be disproven. Winston Churchill noted that, during the war, the duty of the civilian was the maintain ‘Business as usual’, the notice stuck up by a shopkeeper after a fire. It is unnecessary to describe here the specific ways in which ordinary life was drastically altered; these will be dealt with later. It suffices to note the 1 million British citizens, 2 per cent of the total population, who died between 1914–18, either in military action or as a consequence of the straitened circumstances of living on the home front. In addition, 1.6 million military personnel were injured. Those affected were almost wholly down from the ranks of the country’s young men. Perhaps the true misfortune of the war was that the older men remained obstinately alive.


The ineptitude with which the war was prosecuted revealed the fundamental complacency of the Liberal government, led by the effete Asquith. The Liberals had hoped to carry into the post-war world all of the pieties they had held to be true in the world as it had been. Chief among these was the issue of free trade, cause for controversy in Westminster for the best part of a century. During the war, British industry had been reorganised along the lines of war production. Capital investment had been funnelled into projects promising short-term advantage, not long-term prosperity. Shipbuilding resources great exceeded normal needs. New steel works were built close to the ports (South Wales, Cumberland, Sheffield), instead of in more economical locations, such as Lincolnshire near the ore fields. The steel industry after the war had too much capital in the wrong places and too little in the right ones. Again, the Cotton Control Board had preserved intact the pattern of an industry which was both over-capitalised and capitalised wrongly—too much equipment for Indian cotton, and not enough for Egyptian. Yet immediately after the war new capital was poured into the old pattern. Most of it was sheer loss. On the other side, the army never went over thoroughly to mechanised transport and so failed to encourage the mass manufacture of automobiles. The war, in short, promoted further expansion in industries of which Great Britain had already too much, and did little to promote industries which would be valuable for the future.


The serious damage of the war was financial, not material. During the war Great Britain ran up large short-term debts with foreign and Dominion countries, and the old-style creditor position was never restored. £300 million worth of privately owned investments were lost—equivalent to about two years’ worth of investment on the prewar average. Debts between governments were larger. Great Britain lent about £1,825 million to her allies and borrowed £1,340 million. Much of this was owed to the United States. The British would have done themselves a good day’s work if they had proposed the general writing-off of inter-allied debts, above all while the Americans were still flus with wartime enthusiasm. But it was hard for financiers in London to grasp that most European countries were no longer ‘good’ debtors, and that the central pillar of international finance, sanctity of contract, had fallen. By the time common sense broke in, the great opportunity had been lost. Inter-allied debts haunted international relations for many years. This was only exacerbated later by the loss of old conditions—free exchanges and unimpeded, though not free, trade.


Against this economic backdrop, the general quality of living had seen rough times. The diversion of labour to the army and the munitions during the war had much the same effect as though 3.5 million men had been unemployed throughout the war years. Clothing, shoes, furniture were scarce and often of poor quality; trans were fewer and slower; coal sometimes ran short. Welfare services greatly increased: canteens and sometimes medical attention in the factories; hostels for war workers; care for soldiers’ wives and families. Yet wages had lagged behind the cost of living until the summer of 1917. They almost caught up, though slipped behind once more when prices ran away in the post-war boom. This was aggravated by the matter of the internal debt after the war, which was serviced chiefly by borrowing. More money chasing fewer good drove up prices, with demands for higher wages limping after. Few then understood the significance of this relationship, and the wickedness of the working classes in seeking higher wages was a favourite theme of the years before the revolution. The National Debt stood at fourteen times its size before the war. While this had little economic impact, just as one’s economic situation is not greatly altered by moving money from one account to another, the social consequences were grave. The repayment of holders of War Loans ranked before the claims of the poor or of ex-servicemen, and the Labour argument for the debt to be eliminated by a capital levy was rejected successively by prime ministers Lloyd George and Bonar Law.


Politics in the final years before the revolution became frenzied and fractious. This was the only true period in the history of Britain before the Commonwealth where one could say that more than two parties held influence over the operation of the state. The Liberals, the Conservatives and the Labour Party all vied for control of the state machinery. In the years between war and revolution, men from each party would hold prime ministerial office, although the Conservatives achieved something approaching dominance between 1922–1928. During this time, three different men led the government: Bonar Law (1922–23), Austen Chamberlain (1923-25) and Stanley Baldwin (1925–28). This period of Conservative rule was bookended by Lloyd George’s Liberal coalition government (1916–22), and the sole Labour government in the history of the United Kingdom (1928–9), led by Ramsay MacDonald.


This fragile political system was ill-suited to the demands of the time, which were nothing short of a complete reorganisation of the national economy and the reconstruction of the national infrastructure. Building of private houses stopped before the end of 1914, and the housing shortage became acute. By 1919, 610,000 new houses were needed. The railways had been overworked, and much of their equipment was worn out. In the coal mines, the richest seams had been impatiently exploited. There had been no reorganisation or regrouping, despite government control. Added to this, civil war continued in Ireland. The Liberal and Conservative governments who traded places in dealing with these issues in the years before the revolution proved equally unequal to the task. The main point of contention became the state’s inability to deal effectively with the mining industry, which by 1926 had reached record levels of low productivity. Unwilling to solve the problem through means of nationalisation, the Conservative government pushed for a massive reorganisation of the industry through private means. Following the recommendations of the Samuel Report, published in March 1926, wages were to be cut and hours increased.


The mining question, as we now know, proved fatal to the stability of the United Kingdom. At the time, Arthur Cook, then the leader of the miners’ union, seized upon the opportunity to force the issue through a strike. He was backed up by the railwaymen and the transport workers. The three unions were known collectively as the Triple Alliance, and together they were prepared to declare a general strike in defence of workers’ pay and working hours. This was opposed by the moderate leadership of the Trades Union Congress, who equivocated and preferred to negotiate with the mine owners and the government. A compromise agreement between the TUC and the Conservative government was rejected in September, and the TUC leadership faced a challenge from radical opposition. The moderate survived, but it was clear that the radical movement was growing in momentum. The government began preparations for a fight with the unions, including the creation of the paramilitary Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, set up by Winston Churchill to break the strike and supplement the work of the police and the military. The reaction against the workers movement was visible also in the mining industry itself. Workers were locked out of pits in County Durham following their refusal to accept a pay cut effective from 1 January 1927. A meeting of transport workers in Dundee, who had organised a wildcat strike in sympathy with the locked out miners, was broken up by police that March.


The general strike was precipitated by the coal industry’s acceptance of a government review that suggested reducing miners’ pay and increasing the working day to eight hours. Beginning on 23 May 1927, it was at first limited by moderate TUC leadership to ‘key industries’ only. This was supported by the Labour Party, who were satisfied that the more radical elements of the movement could be kept in check by the union leadership. After two weeks of strike action, the first signs of open conflict began to reveal themselves. In Glasgow, police arrested print workers attempting to organise a wildcat strike in support of the miners. On 9 June, police, acting in concert with special constables from the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, attacked dock workers at Wapping and killed 22. Widely seen as a turning point in Britain’s road to revolution, ‘Black Thursday’ entrenched the mutual animosity between the government and the workers. The radical elements of the trade union movement used the killings as pretext to take control of the organisation of the strike. Simultaneously, prime minister Baldwin moved to dismiss Winston Churchill, whose radical anti-unionism he blamed for the tragedy. Churchill, for his part, blamed the violence on fascist infiltrators.


What had been anticipated as a routine battle between the government and the trade unions, in circumstances recalling the prosecution of the Great War, soon grew into a protracted war between the classes. The inadequacy of the Conservative government’s response, both to the strike in the first instance and secondly to the matter of the Black Thursday scandal, resulted in Baldwin’s downfall. He was finally ejected from office in January 1928, six weeks after troops killed 27 dockers and injured 35 more at the Riverside docks in Liverpool. At the ensuing election, the British people put their faith for the first time in a Labour administration. It came to power against a backdrop of open warfare between workers and the state. New prime minister came to power at a time when over 4 million British people were out on strike, including for the first time vast swathes of the unemployed. These had been organised into a highly militant and effective union by Wal Hannington. MacDonald came to power having promised to repair the broken link between the trade unions and the government. He made a series of conciliatory measures, calling off the troops and releasing a number of unionists imprisoned on strike-related charges. Even with the troops stood down, the workers also faced increasing hostility from far-right organisations within Britain. The British Fascisti, disciples of Mussolini, formed armed divisions intent on breaking the strike themselves in the face of inaction by an effete Labour cabinet. While MacDonald promised a fresh review of the mining industry, working conditions and pay, the streets of Britain’s cities continued to play host to running battles between the workers and the defenders of the state.


In spring 1928, the Labour government saw some success in slowing the momentum of the strike. A series of measures to improve the welfare of the working classes, including new unemployment benefits, saw 1.5 million people return to work by the end of April. This left 2.5 million out on strike as the dispute entered its second year. MacDonald had called for an amnesty for those who returned to work, asking mine owners to take striking workers back on equal rates of pay as before the strike. Nevertheless, the amnesty proved impossible to enforce; thousands of workers were given their jobs back on reduced terms, or else made redundant shortly after returning to work. Having demonstrated no great will to alter drastically the terms within which the mining industry operated, Arthur Cook declared a lack of faith in the government and escalated the terms of the dispute. Now the unions demanded full nationalisation, along with measures to increase pay, job security and working conditions. MacDonald, always with one eye on his political career, rejected these demands outright and pressed ahead in his goal of finding a fresh compromise. He was opposed from within his own party by Oswald Mosley, who began to agitate for a more radical Labour response to the question of industrial organisation. Mosley identified many of the problems with British industry in the aftermath of the Great War, and now provided novel solutions for their correction. Over the summer, Mosley courted the trade unionist leadership and emerged as their representative in parliament. Although out of the cabinet, he commanded a hold over many on the left of the Labour Party. In August, with parliament vacated for its summer recess even during the crisis, some 350 thousand unemployed workers gathered in Hyde Park before moving to occupy Parliament Square. In doing so, they barricaded parliament out of the Palace of Westminster. The House of Commons was forced to relocate to Cliveden, the home of Conservative MP Nancy Astor.


When parliament reconvened at Cliveden in the autumn of 1928, Oswald Mosley used his position among the backbenches to vote down the Labour budget, which almost entirely ignored the question of the strike. Chancellor Philip Snowden, an old Gladstonite, was united with opposition leader Churchill in his preference for ‘business of usual’. Having voted against his own government, Mosley and his allies were expelled from the party. In the coming days, they announced the formation of a new party, the Provisional Labour-Unionist Alliance. By winter they numbered 21 members of parliament. Brokering an unholy marriage of convenience with Churchill, the PLUA worked to bring down the MacDonald government, which finally fell in January 1929. Six weeks later, following the most violent and absurd election campaign in recent history, the people of Britain returned a hung parliament. Churchill’s Conservatives formed the largest party, but were some way off a majority. As they returned to Cliveden to begin the work of government, the PLUA, who had secured more seats than Labour and thus led the opposition, was allowed to take up its seats in the Palace of Westminster. The government of the workers, so elected, set about in the work of disestablishing the old and obsolete institutions of the British state. Meanwhile, unionist paramilitaries captured Cliveden and forced its surrender. The old order, whose improbable and unfortunate survival since the end of the Great War had brought Britain to ruin, was finally done away with. In its place, work could begin on the construction of a new state, fit for the new century and supremely concerned for the welfare of the working classes. What follows is an account of the processes by which this reconstruction was made possible.



Alan John Percivale Taylor
Oxford, 1965




This update quotes heavily from A. J. P. Taylor’s English History, 1914–1945 (1965), in particular chapter 1: ‘The Great War: Old Style, 1914–15’, and chapter 4: ‘Postwar, 1918–22’. The copy I referenced can be found via Google Books here, https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=Sb0RDAAAQBAJ&pg=PA1&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=2#v=onepage&q&f=false
 
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stnylan

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I think the censors made something of an error. If it was an idyll pre-1914 in terms of the relationship between the State and the Subject, as is portrayed - why has the government since not returned to that glorious time. It almost makes the state of the modern-day look like a grasping tyrant.

:D
 

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I think the censors made something of an error. If it was an idyll pre-1914 in terms of the relationship between the State and the Subject, as is portrayed - why has the government since not returned to that glorious time. It almost makes the state of the modern-day look like a grasping tyrant.

:D

By 1965 there has been some relaxation to the censorship – though regardless, I can assure you what Mr Taylor describes is in fact not an idyll, but a callous and uncaring state leaving its citizens without any aid or support. :p

Not to mention, the rhapsodising in part two will blow any idea of an Asquithian idyll right out of the water. :D
 
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DensleyBlair

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Haven’t kept up with this in past weeks, but given recent... events, I can’t wait to dive back in!

Unfortunate though the circumstances may be, very glad to have you back around!

And I know I’m a little bit late, but that Redadder update was *chefs kiss*

Thank you kindly. :)
 
A New Versailles: The Rhineland Crisis and Anti-Fascist Diplomacy Before the Spanish War

DensleyBlair

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A NEW VERSAILLES
THE RHINELAND CRISIS AND ANTI-FASCIST DIPLOMACY BEFORE THE SPANISH WAR

E. H. CARR
1955



Following the Great War, the French general staff was anxious that the country’s security should be the principle motivating factor in settling the peace. To this end, it was considered imperative that the French be allowed to maintain a presence in the Rhineland, an historic site of tension between the French and German states. Under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles (1919), the French government were thus granted the power to keep an occupying army on the left bank of the Rhine. The occupying force was considerable, around 250,000 men by 1920, and the terms of occupation were harsh, with the French authorities instituting martial law and placing heavy restrictions on the native Rhenish population. This was met by fierce resistance from the German government in Berlin, who encouraged a campaign of passive resistance against the occupying armies by Germans in the Rhineland.


The French policy of occupation was contingent upon American assistance in rebuilding France’s domestic strength, necessitated by the precarious economic situation in Europe in the years after the Great War. By 1923, it was evident that Germany would be unable to meet the punitive schedule of reparation payments stipulated at Versailles. Various plans were drafted to accommodate German fiscal instability, some of which became linked to the question of the Rhenish occupation. In 1925, Anglo-French difficulties in sustaining a military presence in the region contributed to the signing of the Locarno Treaties, aimed at guaranteeing the demilitarisation of the Rhineland by voluntary international agreement, as opposed to the diktat of Versailles. Locarno was considered an integral step in re-establishing normalised relations between the European powers in the aftermath of the War. It was also seen as a crucial buffer on future German aggression, leaving it vulnerable in the West and thus unable to pursue expansion in the East.


By the end of the decade, however, it was clear that the occupation was untenable. The Allies were mandated to remain in the Rhineland until 1935, but in 1928 German diplomatic pressure resulted in a commitment to leave by 1930. Ultimately, British troops were withdrawn in Autumn 1928 as the workers’ movement gained strength domestically. French troops followed in 1930, following the decision a year earlier to begin construction of the Maginot Line of defences along the French–German border, seen as a tacit admission by France that it was only a matter of time before the Rhineland was militarised once again.


LOCARNO%201925.jpg

Representatives of Germany, Britain and France at the signing of the Locarno Treaties, December 1925. On the left is German foreign minister Gustav Stresseman, in the centre is Austen Chamberlain, and on the right is French premier Aristide Briand. Chamberlain, until May the British prime minister, had marginally more success in office as Baldwin's foreign secretary.


The delicate situation of international relations in Europe during the 1920s and 1930s was aided little by the numerous changes in regime across the continent during the period, particularly the success of the Workers’ Revolution in Britain in 1929, and the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany in early 1933. Prior to 1929, the British government had generally been amenable towards the German policy of seeking adjustment of the harsh terms laid down at Versailles. In this way, it hoped to appease the injured German nation in the hope of winning its acceptance of the international status quo. This included a broad unwillingness to interfere in German’s pursuit of its territorial claims in the East. After the formation of the Commonwealth in 1929, however, the motivation behind British foreign policy switched from appeasement to a desire to avoid the outbreak of capitalist wars of aggression on the one hand, and a firm opposition to the spread of fascism on the other. In this way, it was thought that the internal security of the Revolution would be best guaranteed.


Meanwhile, the newly-empowered Nazi Party set about an aggressive realignment of Germany’s foreign policy goals. Remilitarisation efforts began covertly from late 1933, and from 1935 German policy shifted towards obtaining Lebensraum (“living space”) in Central and Eastern Europe. This policy, motivated by a racialist agenda that sought the supremacy of the Aryan people within a Greater German Reich, shifted the opinion of numerous European states towards the Nazi regime. The Soviets had previously supported Germany’s refutation of the Versailles system, believing it to be a means of inspiring discord amongst the capitalist states of Europe. After the formal adoption of the doctrine of Lebensraum as foreign policy, Maxim Litvinov altered Soviet foreign policy into one of opposition to German ambitions. This was rooted particularly in a desire to limit the influence of Nazi anti-communism. France and Italy also expressed unease at Germany’s violation of Versailles, and in March 1935 entered into an alliance against German aggression. The split between the fascist leaders of Germany and Italy was especially notable, driven in no small part by earlier disagreements over the place of Austria within the European order. Mussolini opposed Lebensraum insofar as he saw it as a threat to Italy’s own irredentist claims.


At the same time, British foreign minister Stafford Cripps, leader of the avowedly anti-fascist Popular Front movement, began a realignment of Britain’s attitude to Europe. Cripps was alarmed by the emergence of a chauvinistic German foreign policy in Eastern Europe, believing it would lead to war. From 1935 he maintained a strong opposition to Nazi Germany in European affairs. The government of the Commonwealth was not fully united behind Cripps’s policy, however. David Lloyd George, President of the Commonwealth and thus de facto head of state, supported German interests as a bulwark against Soviet communism, which he distrusted. He believed that the Nazi regime had more in common with Mosley’s public-works based socialism than the Soviet system, and held that a strong Germany was the greatest guarantor of European peace. Lloyd George had up to this point held office as a member of Cripps’s PF, but was threatened with expulsion from the party unless he fell into line on the German issue. Lloyd George refused, deepening the rift between him and Cripps, and in mid-February quit the PF. This incidentally made him the only person under Mosley to hold office as an independent, even if only briefly. Mosley for his part distrusted the Soviets and the Nazis equally, though recognised that German expansionism proved a threat to peace in Europe and thus threw his weight behind Cripps.


Since the Franco–Italian pact of March 1935, German foreign minister Konstantin von Neurath had started the spread of rumours that Germany would remilitarise the Rhineland in retaliation to French aggression. In March 1936, the French economy entered a period of renewed slump and Germany finally saw its chance to act: with France distracted by domestic affairs, Hitler sent a small number of troops across the Rhine, the size of the detachment a preemptive insurance policy against the allegation of having “flagrantly violated” Locarno. The move to remilitarise also worked in Hitler’s favour domestically: Germany too had been hit by an economic downturn, and a foreign policy coup was needed to restore faith in the Nazi regime. This was an equivalent move to that made by Mussolini the previous October with the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, which had all but removed domestic opposition to the Fascist regime.


RHINELAND%201936.jpg

Adolf Hitler's occupation of the Rhineland almost brought the European powers to war in March 1936, before being overshadowed by events in Spain that autumn.


The reaction in France to Hitler’s remilitarisation was immediate and furious. The French general staff, acting with reference to inflated accounts of the German troops movements provided by the Deuxième Bureau, feared a German invasion was imminent and pushed for mobilisation, but this was blocked by the coalition government in power at the time. With the economy showing no signs of recovery and the French state approaching functional bankruptcy, mobilisation – which would have cost 30 million francs a day – was a complete impossibility. Further, the election scheduled for later that spring put the dampers on any decisive political action. Hitler’s gambit relying on French incapacity, initially it appeared that Berlin would face no unforeseen obstacles to its programme.


In Britain, the group in favour of German actions were led, vocally, by President Lloyd George, who in front of a meeting of the Executive Committee in the first week of March described Hitler as a “man of peace” and a “German patriot”. Lloyd George was echoed by Fabian intellectual Bernard Shaw, who wrote in his diary that remilitarisation of the Rhineland was no different than if Britain had “reoccupied Portsmouth”. Lloyd George nevertheless clashed once again with Cripps who, briefed by anti-German staff at the Bureau of International Relations, was confirmed in his own fears that Hitler’s ultimate aim was world conquest, and that his negotiations for a readjustment of Versailles were in bad faith. Cripps advocated for a pro-French policy, arguing that a strong France represented the best means of defending the Commonwealth in Western Europe. Meanwhile, he also sought an agreement with the Soviets to contain Germany in the East, where German expansion would render the country immune to the threat of a British blockade. Tied by the fact that there was neither the will nor the pretext for military action against Germany, Mosley gave Cripps a free hand in his diplomatic efforts and the foreign minister left for Moscow on 13 March.


Meanwhile, Franco–Italian relations had cooled following the Italian invasion of Ethiopia, leading to the effective termination of the earlier anti-German pact between the two nations and Mussolini’s drift closer to Hitler. At the height of the Rhineland crisis, it was deemed necessary to isolate Germany in Europe and thus Britain pushed for a non-committal policy over the Italo–Ethiopian War, promising the beleaguered French government economic assistance if it held off on pushing for sanctions against Italy. France, mindful of the need for British support both economically and in its diplomatic efforts against Germany, acquiesced and Mussolini’s African adventuring went unchallenged. Nevertheless, while successful in reassuring Mussolini for the duration of the Rhineland crisis, Anglo–French silence over Ethiopia was ultimately only a stop-gap policy. Following the outbreak of the Spanish War in July, Britain and Italy found themselves opposed and thus the Commonwealth came to reverse its Ethiopian policy, fearing the presence of a fascist state so close to its protectorates in East Africa.


On 19 March, Cripps returned from Moscow having signed the Cripps–Litvinov Pact guaranteeing a joint Soviet–Commonwealth response to any expansion of fascism in Europe. This caveat was a key concession to Mussolini’s ambitions in Ethiopia. Hitler declared the signing of the pact as a demonstration of the hostile intent of other European powers towards Germany, protesting that he had no territorial claims in Europe and calling for a pact of non-aggression between the European powers to last 25 years. (A French enquiry into the exact nature of this non-aggression pact went unanswered.) Cripps and Litvinov addressed a meeting of the League of Nations in London in early April to put forward the case for economic sanctions against Germany, but as a number of states in Eastern Europe, Scandinavia and Latin America were reliant on Germany for economic support this was not widely supported, besides which the isolationist United States remained completely opposed. Without the participation of the United States, which was not a member nation of the League, sanctions would be largely ineffective. The League’s inaction over Ethiopia the previous autumn was seen as a further case against sanctions against Germany, with the German Ambassador to Britain, Joachim von Ribbentrop, protesting the “hypocrisy” of the British position. In response to the cool reception of Soviet–Commonwealth diplomatic efforts against Germany by the League, Mosley became broadly in favour of a policy of Commonwealth influence over Eastern Europe as a counterweight to German dominance in the region. This was in many ways a revival of the earlier French doctrine of maintaining the cordon sanitaire against communism in Europe. Most Eastern European states were wary of Soviet influence, which they saw as merely a precursor to the loss of their independence, thus welcomed Mosley’s demonstrated willingness to fill the void left by France’s effective abandonment of its commitments in the region. Although having no bearing on the outcome of the Rhineland Crisis, this policy would prove significant when Hitler invaded the Sudetenland 18 months later.


LITVINOV%20CRIPPS%201936.jpg

Maxim Litvinov and Stafford Cripps, following the signing of a joint pact committing Britain and the Soviet Union to oppose all expansion of fascism in Europe[1].


By the end of April, the situation had reached an impasse. Western Europe was largely unified against Nazi Germany, though unwilling to risk open war and fast running out of options with successive diplomatic avenues having proved less than fruitful. While domestically Hitler’s Rhineland coup was portrayed as a great victory for the Nazi regime in Europe, the crisis it set off resulted in a definite realignment of the European powers against Germany’s territorial ambitions. The Rhineland Crisis can thus be seen as responsible for setting out the conditions under which, that autumn, the Spanish War would see a more committed, militant anti-fascism take hold in Western Europe. In Britain, Mosley had accompanied his support of Stafford Cripps’s diplomatic ventures against fascism in Europe with a consolidation of the anti-fascist tendency within the Executive Committee, sacking both Lloyd George and Clifford Allen, Secretary for the Provision of Housing, over their support for Germany. Lloyd George was replaced by Arthur Horner, who Mosley had succeeded as Chairman and who was a firm opponent of fascism. It was also following the Rhineland Crisis that Mosley seriously began to overhaul the Commonwealth’s intelligence network, appointing Oliver Stanley to the post of Director-General of the Bureau of Intelligence. Recognising the limitations of conventional methods of diplomacy with the ineffectiveness of collective action directed by the League of Nations, Mosley gave Stanley wide powers outside of the immediate purview of the Domestic Bureau and charged him with supporting efforts against fascism at home and in Europe.


In France, the general anti-German sentiment was partially responsible for the election victory of a Popular Front of anti-fascist parties in June 1936. Led by the socialist Léon Blum, the Popular Front achieved some initial success in combatting the country’s economic problems and won great advances in labour rights, though its momentum stalled in the summer when the cabinet split over French intervention in the Spanish War. French inaction over Spain led to a rift with Britain and the Soviets, who had both announced wide measures of support for the embattled Republican government and from October sent personnel to assist in the fight against Sanjurjo’s Falangists. The threat of a withdrawal of British economic assistance gave Blum the impetus needed to convince the right-wing of his government of the merits of intervention, and the first French troops arrived on Spanish soil in spring 1937. Nevertheless, domestic issues limited the extent of French involvement; instability within the governing coalition and mass industrial action hampered the volunteer effort until the institution of the syndicalist Fourth Republic under Léon Jouhaux’s Force Ouvrière in May 1938[2].


The impact of the Rhineland Crisis is thus hard to analyse in isolation, and must be considered as being only one episode in the general hardening of the stance against fascism in Europe that led to the escalation of the Spanish War in the summer of 1936. While Hitler had achieved his immediate goal of remilitarisation without creating a state of war in Europe, his actions left Germany widely distrusted and diplomatically isolated until rapprochement with Mussolini in the summer. Italo–German intervention on behalf of the Falangists in Spain saw the possibility of fascist domination in Western Europe, but did little to allay fears within Germany that Hitler was leading the country on a path to a hugely damaging war with other European powers. In this sense, the legacy of March 1936 continued to hang over the Nazi regime until the institution of the Fourth Reich in late 1938. Rhineland set the tone for a new era of European diplomacy after Versailles, dominated by the struggle between fascism and anti-fascism that would define the rest of the decade and beyond.




1: Maxim Litvinov is in fact pictured here with Nobel laureate writer Romain Rolland, but he looks enough like Cripps for my purposes.

2: Although they share a name and a leader, the Force Ouvrière of TTL is not the same movement as the trade union in OTL. ITTL the FO is a broader political movement, I guess not dissimilar to La République en Marche (if you forgive the anachronism).
 
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SibCDC

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Fourth Republic and Fourth Reich, some regime changes on the way ? :eek:
 

stnylan

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Britain and Russia allied? What travesty is this!

:D
 

DensleyBlair

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Fourth Republic and Fourth Reich, some regime changes on the way ? :eek:

Absolutely! We're finally getting to the stage where European diplomacy starts to get a bit interesting. :D

Britain and Russia allied? What travesty is this!

:D

The CPGB 1929 manifesto actually advocated for the immediate federation of Britain with the USSR, so frankly an alliance seven years down the line is something of an anticlimax. :p

________________________

Thank you both for your comments. As always, massively appreciated. Now that I'm back in writing mode, I've built up a pretty hefty backlog of updates that need posting. I might look at going back to the two updates per week schedule, though I don't want people to fall behind. We'll see.

In any event, the next chapter will be no later than a week away. A look at the experiences of some of those who went to fight in the long-awaited Spanish War!
 
Hills of Red and Gold: Memories of the Spanish War (1936–39)

DensleyBlair

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HILLS OF RED AND GOLD
MEMORIES OF THE SPANISH WAR

PUBLISHED IN THE PARTISAN REVIEW, MAY 1940
W. PARRIS MARR



I was 18 when General Sanjurjo returned from Portugal to launch his attempted coup against the Republican Spanish government, and by the time Stafford Cripps brought the Workers Brigades into the struggle that autumn I was only a few weeks off starting my degree. Although I had come from a household whose fairly dispassionate politics had been something like a carrying-on, as far as possible, of the old Lloyd Georgian tradition, studying English at Cambridge I soon fell in with a group of students who maintained links with the Socialist Youth movement. My abiding memory of that first year in university is not of lectures or of essays, but of the nights spent with comrades in the rooms about Benet’s café on The Parade discussing new translations of Pannekoek while one of us played bop standards on an old upright piano. Thus I was roused from my Liberal upbringing and began to cultivate a more robust politics.


Often of course our conversations would turn to the Spanish War, and in more general terms the fight against international fascism, which remains so grave even today. Some of the older members of our circle had already made up their minds to intermit their studies at the end of the year and volunteer to fight in Spain. This was at the height of spring, shortly after the recapture of Zarazoga by Republican forces and with the French only weeks away from announcing their own, formal intervention in the war. The ill-fated Popular Front government, then in power in Paris, finally relented and overturned its policy of non-intervention in early May after pressure from London and Moscow alarmed Léon Blum’s Radical coalition partners into action. The first French brigades crossed the Pyrenees days later. While the Falangists, led by the “Lion of the Rif”, wasted no time in taking the opportunity to invade French-held Morocco, French volunteers spearheaded an assault on Pamplona to retake the fascist-controlled region behind the Zaragoza corridor. Fears of an early Republican capitulation had been warded off thanks to the arrival of well-equipped, well-trained international volunteers, and there was a general mood of optimism. It felt to many of us that the balance of things had been tipped out of the favour of the Nationalists, even with German and Italian support. Back in Cambridge, we became increasingly convinced of the necessity of joining the war effort in order to tip the scales decisively in favour of the Republican cause.


With this new conviction in mind, I returned home to Norfolk that summer and informed my parents of my decision: that I too would delay the resumption of my studies in order to volunteer in Spain. My mother was alarmed, of course, as any mother would be upon hearing the news of their son’s departure for war, and tried to persuade me to stay. Why not finish your degree and then volunteer? she asked, although fairly soon she came to realise that even if I did return to my books come the autumn my mind would be hopelessly distracted by the latest dispatches from Spain. My father, a quiet man, worked as an editor for the Left Book Club – as he does still – receiving manuscripts at home and working on them from his desk in a small shed built for the purpose at the bottom of the garden. The LBC was at that time preparing an anthology of texts sent back from the war, to be edited by George Orwell and with profits going to the benevolent fund managed by United Socialists Against Fascism, the group he ran with Fenner Brockway. Through this suitably bookish channel, my father had come to understand the great tragedy of war, yes, but also I think the necessity of its pursuit in this case, in aid of a cause whose basis is fundamentally just. Never a convinced revolutionary of any sort, he was nevertheless moved by a sincere, Nonconformist dedication to justice that ultimately brought him, with little fanfare, into the ranks of those around the world fighting against the spread of fascism. I left Norfolk with his blessing.


At the start of June, I was directed via the Cambridge branch of Socialist Youth to register my details with the enlisting officer at WB Duxford. There were a small group of us who had made the decision to volunteer together, half a dozen or so, and I was reminded briefly of those friends of my parents’ generation who had signed up in their cohorts to fight in the last war – that futile conflict of empire and capital that wrought so much death and destruction upon the working people of the world. I arrived at Duxford with my girlfriend Cordelia on a mild Saturday morning at that time of year when seeing finally gives over to summer. Neither of us came from fighting families: during the last war, my father had found work on a farm near Dunstable run by Primitive Methodists and never left the country; Cordelia’s father was already too old to fight and spent the war keeping the family shop in Finchley, often subject to the most appealing xenophobic abuse of the sort that threatened anyone who in ignorance could be thought German. Cordelia arrived, like me, with the hope of seeing front-line service, though after completing her basic WB training she was transferred to the nursing corps and ended up working in the field hospital at Zaragoza. I left Duxford at the start of September after being transferred to the Signals Corps, which meant moving to Yorkshire for a second phase of training. I finally arrived in Spain at the end of April 1938. After that summer together in Duxford, while we wrote as often as circumstances allowed, Cordelia and I did not see each other again for anytime longer than a few days until the end of the war last September.


SPANISH%20WAR%20EXECISING%20RECRUITS.jpg

Republican volunteers exercising at a training camp in the Basque Country, winter 1936-7.


Holt is a small market town of squat Georgian buildings, pebbled-dashed and gaudily painted according to the North Norfolk vernacular. It had been a happy enough backdrop to my youth, during those last years before the revolution, but even after the intervention of the new regime it could never quite shake its gentility. Much of England is built as if on an aquifer of bourgeois sensibility, and the towns and villages of my childhood were no exception. I doubt if ever the transformative power of the revolution will fully penetrate this deep-set character. The battlegrounds of revolution in these parts of England will remain the village hall meetings and pamphlets in the local shop window.


Bilbao was another world removed from this pastoral socialism. From the tram-track laden streets to the tall, urbane buildings that lined them, draped in banners and bearing all sorts of slogans and totems, here the principles of solidarity were articulated with an altogether more immediate energy. Having withstood the fascist advance in the early stages of the war, the city existed as a festive beacon of resistance, each life lived within its boundaries proof of the possibility of a free Spain. There were signs of bomb damage from raids by German and Italian planes, but no one I met was overly saddened by the loss and the ruin. I remember one woman I encountered in a restaurant a few days before leaving for the front lines, who proudly opined that every budding to rise out of the rubble of the city would stand as a lasting monument to the defeat of fascism in Spain. It was hard not to be moved by her affirmative sense of resistance.


My first taste of action came at the start of summer, when my battalion was sent to assist in the ongoing campaign to liberate Extremadura from the Nationalist forces. The Republican army had been steadily advancing towards the Portuguese border since May, with the ultimate aim of cutting a wedge between the Nationalist-controlled regions in the north and their Andulusian stronghold in the south. I spent much of that summer travelling back and forth along the banks of the Guadiana as a dispatch rider. In the heat, next to the water and surrounded on both sides by hills of such intense green, it was an uncanny start to life on the front line, an eerie contrast to an existence marked by the constant threat of bombs and snipers. Finding such peace amidst a country torn by civil war was a jarring discovery. For the miles I rode alone with my Triumph, it felt as if the landscape was free from all malign influence – as if it were completely indifferent to the Nationalist threat, and here the combined fascist arsenal had no dominion. But this fantasy was unstable, and on my return to the world of conflict I would be reminded anew of the urgency of the task in ridding Spain of fascism.


About six months into my time in Spain, I took part in the liberation of Badajoz, the final fascist stronghold in the region. To the north, Republican forces had been successful in their campaign to retake the Salamanca corridor, and by the end of 1938 our army was almost at the point of having split the Nationalist zone into thirds. By this point I had been placed in command of a group of signals volunteers whose job was to lay telephone cables in support of the advancing Republican army. In this work we were exposed constantly to the twin threats of fascist fire and sabotage. On a number of occasions, we would make good progress for some hours only for fascisti guerrillas to cut the wires, sparking a scramble to repair the damage before the break in the communication channel became fatally disruptive. The corporal serving in my section was a man called Tom Bolder, a tall Yorkshireman who has arrived in Spain four months after me. As a boy, he had learnt how to slash tyres and subsequently caused the OMS special constables no end of trouble during the worker occupation of Hull. He had later trained as a civil engineer at Manchester and before volunteering had been part of the team designing the new motorway running between the ports of the Mersey and the Humber. While we laid cables, Tom provided a constant screen of cover, detonating smoke grenades whenever we heard sniper fire. I think he was one of the few among our number who had actually killed a man, although I never asked directly. Later he met a Spanish volunteer called Evita who was serving as a gunner on the Castilian front. After the war she followed him back to Britain, in part to escape the chaos of the Republican settlement. Earlier this spring Cordelia and I attended their wedding in Beverley.


SPANISH%20WAR%20NURSES.jpg

Members of the Republican nursing corps talking to local Spanish volunteers, autumn 1938.


In autumn 1938, following the turmoil that befell the Reich in the aftermath of the storming of the Reichskanzlei on 30 September, the utility of the German support for the Nationalist regime was fatally undermined. By this point the Republican army had hit the Portuguese border, provoking noises of protest from Dr Salazar who remained officially neutral in the conflict. Sanjurjo moved his government to Sevilla, attempting to inspire a renewed assault on the underbelly of Free Spain as the anti-fascist army brought its momentum to bear upon the north. It was, for the most part, a quiet winter. The most persistent threat I faced was aerial bombing, which continued in spite of everything to menace my section’s work laying cables between Badajoz and Salamanca. I was able to get some time away from the front for Christmas and made my way back towards Zaragoza to meet with Cordelia for the first time since the previous summer. She had left the field hospital shortly after the liberation of Aragon and was by this point working as an ambulance driver on the Castilian front. We drove up through La Rioja and spent 25 December, which that year coincided with the last day of Chanukah, as guests of an elderly couple who maintained a vineyard just outside of the village of Daroca de Rioja. They sent us back to the front with wine for the troops.


I arrived back in Salamanca a few days before the New Year to the new that our platoon commander had been injured in a motorbiking accident and sent away from the front. An idealistic man in his early forties, Lieutenant Denis Waters worked as a shop steward for the Miners’ Federation in the Rhondda Valley. I was about half his age, and somehow the highest-ranking NCO on hand. That February, I celebrated my twenty-first birthday as an acting lieutenant in charge of a platoon laying cables on the outskirts of Valladolid. The offensive to recapture the city began at the end of the month. A strong fascist presence remained in the city, and it was an easy target for the air support units based out of Toledo. I remember Valladolid and think of the Falangist air crews who had learnt so much from the German Condor Legion. The bombing was unsparing, and when we finally broke through large parts of the city lay in ruins. The Vallisoletanos, having survived so much, feared that we were fascists when they heard our army marching down the Paseo de Zorrilla. Then, as the columns marched towards the centre of the city, they heard the sound of a song that was becoming more and more familiar with every Republican advance. It was a song of defiance, of international solidarity and comradeship: “The Internationale”, and as we approached the people could hear it not just in English or Spanish or French, but in a multitude of languages all blending over each other. With this great chorus the International Brigades announced their arrival, and with their arrival came the liberation of Castile-Léon. By the summer, the only regions of the mainland to remain under fascist control were Galicia, southern Andalusia and the area around Toledo. The Falangists had been seizing Madrid almost since the start of the war. By the time Valladolid fell, General Emilio Mola saw the writing on the wall: the Nationalist army retreated to Toledo in preparation for a Republican assault on the city. Mola was cruel and vindictive. He had no scruples about using the desperation of the Nationalist situation as pretext for implementing a campaign of terror against all in the city “who do not think as we do”. Thousands were killed, the persecutions carried out with increasing ferocity in the last months before the final surrender of the Nationalist government in September.


Meanwhile, the Republican commanders prepared for an assault on the Nationalist government headquarters in Sevilla. In-fighting among the fascist leadership had weakened organisation at the highest level, but the infamously foolhardy caudillo silenced his rivals and drew up plans for a heroic defence of the city over the summer. Sanjurjo’s rival General Franco, fearing the worst, leveraged himself command of the army in Morocco and fled the mainland before the Republic army arrived to besiege Sevilla. Later, after the final surrender of the Nationalists on the mainland in the last week of September, I wrote to Cordelia and agreed to meet her as soon as possible at Pamplona. From Pamplona we went on to France, and not having our studies to return to until the following October we decided to take our time returning to England travelling up towards Brittany. We first spent a few weeks at Biarritz, where we met a group of French volunteers on leave. While Mosley recalled the Workers’ Brigades after the defeat of the Nationalists, the French carried on the fight in North Africa, where General Franco had refused to surrender. The Fourth Republic’s fight against Franco’s Army of Africa continues even now as the French seek to drive fascism from the portions of Saharan Morocco still under Nationalist control. The French volunteers described to us what they had witnessed of Franco’s brutal reign of terror in Africa. The summary execution of prisoners of war was common, and his troops were feared for their grim reputation. Franco hoped that this reputation would itself be as useful a tool in terrorising the Moroccan tribes into passivity as the exhibition of severed heads of defeated enemies – an apparently common habit of soldiers keen to take trophies from their atrocities. Franco’s blind faith in victory at any cost is entirely sincere, and in many ways it is this which has kept him out of French hands for so long. With Mussolini having turned his sights to conquests of his own in the Middle East, and with the Germans preoccupied by Eastern Europe, the fascist cause in Spain attracts little international sympathy. Even the dependable Salazar has all but given up on Franco. Yet the atrocities committed in Morocco must act as testimony to the urgent need not just to focus on the big fights of the day, but to oppose fascism in all of its manifestations.


Three years since first volunteering, the united forces of the workers of Europe have secured important victories in the fight against fascism. I am glad now to think of those golden hills of Spain, from the Basque Country to the Guadiana, and picture them red not with the blood of fallen comrades, but glowing under the promise of a new dawn for Spain, free from tyranny. Elsewhere, in Palestine and Egypt, the fight continues against a new enemy. Yet the object remains the same: freedom for the workers of the world, and liberation for all oppressed people everywhere. In this struggle, I take comfort in the fact that the people of the Commonwealth remain ever committed to the fight for justice.



Capt. W. Parris Marr (b. 1918) is a student of English Literature at Erasmus College, Cambridge. Sister Cordelia Bonner (b. 1918) is a student of English Literature at Fawcett College, Cambridge. In March of this year, both Marr and Bonner were among thousands of volunteers from the Commonwealth to be recognised with the Order of International Solidarity by the Republican government in Madrid.
 
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stnylan

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One cannot fault him for his idealism - or for the facility of his pen :)
 

DensleyBlair

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One cannot fault him for his idealism - or for the facility of his pen :)

thanks stnylan! It was a fun one to write, so glad to hear some of that came through. :)
 
A Popular Front: Anti-fascist organisation in the Commonwealth during the Spanish War, 1936–39

DensleyBlair

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



A POPULAR FRONT
ANTI-FASCIST ORGANISATION IN THE COMMONWEALTH DURING THE SPANISH WAR, 1936–1939

RAPHAEL SAMUEL
1974



The circumstances in which Oswald Mosley led the Commonwealth into the Spanish War in September 1936 represented a culmination of a series of domestic and international events across the first half of the 1930s. Canonised as the opening moves in the conflict that would go on to define Britano-centric geopolitics well into the following decade and beyond, the timeline from the Rhineland Crisis of March 1936 until the Peace of Zaragoza in September 1939 is firmly printed upon the memories of all children of the Commonwealth who, like me, took history at school growing up in the 1950s. Yet so rarely are these exercises in fact recitation the real meat of history. Somewhere in the National Archives there is a room of boxes upon boxes, filled with all executive papers relating to the Spanish War, due to be released to the public starting from 1986. At this point, maybe, with the full colour of the thoughts of those who drove war policy visible for the first time to all who are curious, the dates and milestones of the war may prove interesting yet, furnished with a new human significance. But until that point, stuck only with the familiar tropes of geopolitical history, there is little left to write that has not been said already. And even this, by and large, is merely an embellishment of the real point of significance regarding the war: that fascism was driven out of Spain, and by the same stroke Mosley secured his reputation on the international stage as a great statesman of the time. Yet what is truly interesting about the Spanish War is the space it opened up in Britain for a new politics so soon after the suppression of much of the extra-statist organisation of British political life after the beginning of the Mosley era in earnest in 1934. The opening up of a new, international front in the fight against fascism allowed for a resurfacing of many of the modes of living that had come into existence during the Counter-Revolution, but which had been shut down soon after. It is within this territory that my excitement lies.


It is perhaps relevant at this point to provide a brief paramilitary history of Britain from the Revolution onwards. Having more or less successfully overseen the transition of the British Army into the Army of the Commonwealth, Marshal Wintringham maintained the bulk of the Commonwealth’s military force – the Workers’ Brigades – as a reservist force. By the time of the Rhineland Crisis, this numbered around 200,000 strong – though a project of standardisation, begun at the start of 1936 after the transferral of responsibility for WB organisation from the regional to the national level, had barely made an impact. Training levels varied from region to region, a legacy of the irregular origins of the Brigades during the Revolution. After Rhineland, when war of some kind appeared increasingly likely, efforts towards the standardisation of proficiency, equipment and training were redoubled. But this remained, thanks to the implementation of the Wintringham Doctrine in 1929, a voluntary process. The Commonwealth lacked a standing army, as it does still, and training programmes were to be completed as part of the standard reservist timetable – in the evenings, at weekends and on the occasional day off from work. Nevertheless, training schemes devised by Marshal Wintringham were innovative, focusing on guerrilla tactics and irregular warfare. Those who demonstrated a particular aptitude in any area of the training programme could be recommended to more specialist battalions, who organised around the country to teach more unconventional tactics of warfare.


While the ultimate responsibility for overseeing standards amongst the Workers’ Brigades was transferred from the regional councils to Dafacom itself, the organisation hardly changed at ground level. Thus a local column remained deeply rooted in the particular political climate of its area. Officers would be members of the local community, likely also active within local political struggles. In perhaps the most famous example of this phenomenon, Commander Phil Piratin of the celebrated Stepney Column was by day the circulation manager of a left-wing London newspaper, and also took an active involvement in the operation of the local tenants’ union. A CPGB member from before the Revolution, Piratin was motivated in the war by a genuine anti-fascist conviction, and by a corollary interest in the victory of the international working class. Part of his skill as a leader was his ability to pass this motivation on to those who served with him. Each column of the WB had its own de facto political steward, usually a junior officer, whose chief role was the maintenance of morale amongst volunteers, and to act as a liaison between political groups, the unions and the militias. During the Revolution, this role – in many ways one of secular chaplaincy – was predominately fulfilled on an ad hoc basis in committee. In the heat of the fight, it was not hard to motivate volunteers to keep the political aims of the struggle in mind. After the entry of British volunteers into the Spanish War, the role was revived on a more formal basis and organised within a new political commissariat. Commissars maintained their dual roles of managing morale and liaising with outside political groups, ultimately proving a vital part of the organisation of the multiplex Republican forces, whose internal mutual solidarity was maintained across diverse groups of international volunteers and fractions fighting in the name of divergent political philosophies. Drawn from the same communities as their battalions, commissars thus gave a human face to the dual nature of the Workers’ Brigades as being at once localised and internationalist. Volunteers fought for their own livelihoods, and for the livelihoods of workers everywhere.


SPAIN%20SHOP%201936.png

The Spain Shop in Walworth, 1939.


I remember, when I was very small, going into a shop in Walworth whose door gave me my first understanding of this very issue. I was born in 1934, far too young to remember the Spanish War in any serious way, but I do remember being south of the river one day with my mother in the summer of 1939. She worked in the family publishing house on Petticoat Lane but composed classical music in her spare time. She was, I suppose, engaged then in some business or other at one of the theatres along the South Bank, and it being the school holidays I tagged along as a small companion. After we had finished our business in Southwark, we made a small detour south towards the Elephant and Castle where my mother had to drop off some books at a small shop filled with all sorts of things which to my young mind seemed to have little business sitting together on the same sets of shelves. On the door, a white poster with strong black text asked: What does Spain mean to you? My mother dropped off her parcels with the woman behind the counter and, while they stood talking for a few minutes, I had a curious look around the place, taking in all of the colourful tins, boxes and leaflets. The lady behind the counter gave me a bar of dark chocolate and, as my mother paid, put aside a second bar, alongside some pencils and a bar of soap, in a box next to the till. As we were leaving, my mother explained that this was the Southwark Spain Shop: for every item you bought, a second was sent off to local people off volunteering in Spain. I always thought this a magical place, and it lives strong in my memory as a powerful and moving example of what international solidarity means in the context of the everyday.[1]


The Spain Shops were just one of numerous grassroots initiatives organised in support of the war efforts against fascism. Co-ordinated mostly by members of United Socialists Against Fascism, a group set up by George Orwell as the organisational arm of the Continuing Socialist Front, Spain Shops operated along the lines of many of the mutualist enterprises that sprung up ad hoc during the final months of the Revolution. In cooperation with local unions, people donated groceries, household goods, toiletries and so on. These would then be sold as in any other shop, with the difference that in the Spain Shops all money raised went towards sending equivalent items over to volunteers in Spain. Your mother buys you a chocolate bar, and the Spain Shop uses the money to send another bar to an ambulance driver in Valladolid. It was a beautifully simple premise, elegantly enacted without any coordination on the part of the state.


At its inception, the CSF had been a pacifist organisation. Through USAF, the group set out on a more militant anti-fascist path that nevertheless left open the possibility of pacifist activity. While well represented within the ranks of the political commissars, not to mention the volunteers themselves, on the ‘home front’ USAF was by far the most energetic movement working to support the war effort. Aside from the Spain Shops, other pro-Spain initiatives organised by USAF included the publication of a newsletter, the Partisan Review, which provided reportage written wholly by those in Spain; the arrangement of numerous Spanish fund-raising cultural events; the pressing and distribution of a flamenco record; the translation of poems and essays into English and the compilation of an anthology published by the Left Book Club; and even an exhibition of war photographs in a village hall in Surrey. Members of the group were also active in the movement to support refugees coming to Britain having fled the Nationalist regime. Much of this activity in particular came from the influence of Isabel Oyarzábal Smith, a Spanish-born polymath with a Scottish mother who became the Republican government’s chief spokesperson in Britain. Oyarzábal was good friends with Jennie Lee, by 1936 a junior minister in the Department of Healthcare, and through Lee became friendly with a number of influential figures in Commonwealth political circles. Between 1936–9, Oyarzábal acted as a vital go-between in the coordination of anti-fascist activity in Spain and in Britain. Taking up residence in Hampstead, she lived close to Orwell, who was then supporting himself by working part-time in a second-hand bookshop called Booklovers’ Corner. The two often met at the shop to discuss what new might be done to best support the fight against the Nationalist army. After the war, Oyarzábal stayed in Britain in an official ambassadorial capacity until the collapse of the Republican government a year later at the height of the CMT-led general strike. In January 1941 she became the first Spanish Secretary to the Syndicalist International.


A great number of acts of solidarity performed in the Commonwealth during the Spanish War fell outside even of organisations like USAF. Drawing upon a long history of local solidarity movements from well before the Revolution, groups as diverse as dockers in Tyneside and weavers in the Rhondda Valley formed parts of a country-wide network of support for the anti-fascist cause. On February 3 1937, dock workers in South Shields declared a day-long wildcat strike and took over the port so that they could load up ships bound for the south of France with food and medicine. Once in France, these ships would make the short but dangerous trip on towards the Basque country, which was subject to a blockade and being starved out by the Nationalist forces. One such trip was made by Captain William Roberts of Penarth, who along with his 20-year-old daughter Fifi sailed from Cardiff Bay on his ship the Seven Seas Spray in April 1937. Onboard was a 4,000-ton cargo of olive oil, honey, beans, peas, almonds and cognac to be delivered to the port of Bilbao. Fifi later described the blockade as “all my eye and Betty Martin”, reporting that crossing it was “as easy as falling off a log.”[2] As for the weavers of Rhondda, a group of women in Treorchy hand-wove two-dozen Welsh blankets to give to children in the town of Durango in time for Christmas 1937.


SEVEN%20SEAS%20SPRAY%201937.jpg

The Seven Seas Spray at port in Bilbao, 1937.


At the national level, the Spanish War consumed the public political consciousness throughout the three years over which it was fought. All told, about 300,000 volunteers – an army greater in size than the British Expeditionary Force during the Great War – travelled to Spain to fight alongside Soviet, French and of course Spanish forces on behalf of the Republican cause. Yet compared to the Great War, a capitalist-imperialist war that saw the deaths of millions drawn from the international working classes, the conflict inspired a reaction not of disgust or grim determination, but one of genuine solidarity across large and diverse areas of Britain. A curious fact, considering that this was at its heart a civil war between two sides of Spanish society, each backed by numerous European powers – none of whom declared war on each other, or for that matter on Spain – each using the conflict as a proxy battleground within a wider geopolitical struggle. The Spanish War was the first in a series of conflicts fought over the subsequent decade that involved the Commonwealth across fascist and imperialist forces across the world, of which it is by far the most well remembered. Indeed, while the commonly accepted historiographical span of the Anti-Fascist Wars lasts from 1936–1944, as most schoolchildren for the dates of “the War” and chances are they will tell you 1936–1939 in reply (possibly followed by 1914–1918). Imagined as being neatly contained within Spain itself, the Spanish War simultaneously incorporates and obscures regime changes in both France (1937) and Germany (1938); the beginnings of the undeclared war between Italy and the Commonwealth in the Middle East (1938–1943); and arguably was not fully resolved even on its own terms until the CMT victory over the Popular Front in December 1940. (Even after this, French troops remained in Morocco until Franco’s defeat in the autumn of 1942.) In spite of all of this, it is still celebrated in the popular memory almost to the total exclusion of subsequent conflicts.


One explanation for this privileging of the Spanish War is that, unique amongst the various and often geopolitically complex conflicts of the period 1936–1944, it most resembled the existential struggle of the 1929 Revolution. This is of course a problematic assertion for numerous reasons, chief amongst which is the fact that the Spanish War, at least until September 1939, was essentially a defence of the status quo, even if this was a rejection of fascism. This is also a deeply Eurocentric hypothesis which almost entirely erases the struggles of indigenous Arab and Asian populations in the fights against Italian and Japanese fascism. But, flaws noted, perhaps there is something in this view. The Spanish War remains the only occasion since 1918 on which continental Europe has seen active military hostilities between multiple states, and it is not hard to buy into the conception of 1939 as “the beginning of the end” for fascism in Europe. Equally, had Sanjurjo won, it is not too great a stretch to imagine a situation in which fascism remained a dominant force in European geopolitics well into the 20th century. Thus there is some justification in the people of the Commonwealth viewing 1939 as one point where the course of history was pushed firmly in the direction of justice – pushed, one must add, by a singular effort of organisation amongst the working classes.


The cruel irony of history is that, at least initially, the working classes were credited with this victory, if at all, in platitudes only. In the eyes of the world, the triumph of 1939 belonged to Mosley, whose decision to intervene against the Nationalists in 1936 was imagined, absurdly, to have singlehandedly reversed the fortunes of the embattled Republican army after a string of early defeats. In addition, much of the credit for bringing the French into the war fell to Mosley. Having already overseen the stabilisation of the Commonwealth, Mosley now imagined that he had overseen the defeat of fascism Western Europe. Such was Mosley’s stature that, so confident was he of recognition by the Nobel Committee in 1940, his shock at being passed over for the 1940 Peace Prize in favour of Philip Noel-Baker, the chair of the Congress of Zaragoza, reportedly informed his decision to overlook Noel-Baker for Nye Bevan when it came to appointing a successor to Stafford Cripps at the International Bureau in 1943. Thus the ruling classes squabbled over the partitioning of working-class glory.


Yet the story is not entirely without justice. In Spain, neither the government nor the people ever forgot the contribution of those thousands of Commonwealth volunteers in driving out the Nationalist forces. A special medal, the Order of International Solidarity, was struck to honour those who volunteered to assist the war effort. Many of the cultural links set up by USAF initiatives survived the war and into the 1940s and 1950s. The town of Durango has been twinned with Penarth since 1947, and you can still take a walk along the Calle William Roberts. And on the home front, thousands of Spaniards followed Commonwealth volunteers back to Britain and start families. Thus even if the Mosley project was quick to reap the profits of victory in Spain, the people of the Commonwealth remain all the richer. The hundreds of thousands who were there may look back with pride upon a time when people from all over Britain stood up and said no to fascism.


Raphael Samuel (b. 1934) is an historian associated with the New Left. By night he teaches at the Adult Education Centre in the University of East London. By day he helps to run the Partisan Coffee House in Soho.



1: I invite you to read about the real Southwark Spain Shop here.


2: The story of Captain Roberts, Fifi and the Seven Seas Spray is a true one. Read about it here and see them at dinner in Durango here. (This link seems to have broken in the interim period since I wrote this update, but the image can still be found by searching "Captain W H Roberts". “All my eye and Betty Martin” is apparently an old phrase meaning “nonsense”.
 
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I wonder how the writer will revise his history when this timeline's 1986 comes around (presuming the access to those documents is actually genuine of course).
 

DensleyBlair

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I wonder how the writer will revise his history when this timeline's 1986 comes around (presuming the access to those documents is actually genuine of course).

It's a good question. As I think I've mentioned before, in my mind the timeline pretty much stops in 1970 so even I have little idea what Britain looks like by 1980, let alone 1986. But I am sure one way or another the revelation of how the Spanish War was really directed at the top levels of government would be of interest to many.

Thanks as ever for your comment! :)
 

99KingHigh

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please tell Mr. Marr to keep his CDC recommended distance from fair Christian Spain
 

DensleyBlair

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please tell Mr. Marr to keep his CDC recommended distance from fair Christian Spain

Fair Christian Spain, eh? You’re gunna love what’s round the corner. :p
 
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