Echoes of A New Tomorrow: Life after Revolution in the Commonwealth of Britain

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Kienzle

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Congratulations! (Although given your writing style, I had expected you would be studying history or politics!)

Also, apologies if this is jumping the gun a little bit again, but what are relations like between the US and the Syndicalists? Does the US even care about Europe much after its war in the Pacific?
 

DensleyBlair

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We will be here!

Congratulations on completing the degree DB! Do unwind yourself, have a little tipple and take a rest. Well done

Congratulations on finishing your degree and have fun on your decompression! I very much look forward to the next 130,000 words, whenever they come.

Very many congratulations. Decompress away! :)

Congratulations!

Thank you all! I appreciate the well wishes. :)

(Although given your writing style, I had expected you would be studying history or politics!)

I will only ever be an amateur historian, but it's always been something I've loved reading from pretty much as young as I can remember. So if anything it's hard for that not to bleed through. That said, I'd like to do something a little less straight for my next project. Whatever that may be.

Also, apologies if this is jumping the gun a little bit again, but what are relations like between the US and the Syndicalists? Does the US even care about Europe much after its war in the Pacific?

This will be covered quite soon. For now, it suffices to say that since 1929 the US have kept to themselves and their natural 'sphere', but by 1950 there are some pushing to change that. @99KingHigh was in the process of writing some nice US flavour pieces, but he's since been busy with other stuff so `I don't know when (or indeed if) we'll be getting those.

_____________________________________

To anyone who missed it in the middle of my life update, there is an update on the previous page uploaded last Saturday. The next update (also the second part to the last update) will probably follow this weekend. Depending on how restless I start to get, and how much progress I make with writing, I may start updating twice a week. We'll seesaw things go.
 

Le Jones

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So, a little life update: I've officially finished my degree! Three years of strikes, shaky mental health and (not unrelated) some of the best parties of my life – and I'm still not even halfway close to being legally allowed to design buildings. (But that's another story.) In the meantime, catching up with the last three episodes of Killing Eve and talking to friends on Zoom is probably, in the circumstances, as fitting a way as any to celebrate the first day of the rest of my life.

Why is it that I am beset with bloody engineer / architecty types? First @El Pip, now you.

Sorry for the late reply, you should be thrilled, I know that I was. It should feel that you achieved something, you have. Raising a glass of Ramos Pinto ruby port in your honour...
 
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Wraith11B

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God its been forever since I've had a nice glass of port...
 

El Pip

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Why is it that I am beset with bloody engineer / architecty types? First @El Pip, now you.
I cannot imagine two things more different than engineers and architects. It is a chasm of such indescribable size that mere words can never describe it, encompassing everything from the philosophical to the sartorial. From your careless grouping of the two, I take it you are not a regular down the Technology and Construction Courts?

However, congratulations indeed @DensleyBlair. The degree included RIBA Part 1, so now it is off to the real world for a year or so before Part 2 if I remember the system. Definitely time to take a break, not only because you've earned it (you have!) but because I am told you will need to be on top of your game for the next bit. :D

I can only apologise for failing to keep up, it is on my list to read and perhaps your break will be a chance for me to finally get up to speed. :)
 

Le Jones

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DensleyBlair

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Why is it that I am beset with bloody engineer / architecty types? First @El Pip, now you.

Sorry for the late reply, you should be thrilled, I know that I was. It should feel that you achieved something, you have. Raising a glass of Ramos Pinto ruby port in your honour...

I was going to give a mildly wounded reply about architects and engineers being wholly separate creatures, but @El Pip saved me the trouble below. I can assure you, there is no reason to be worried about us unionising or anything. :p

God its been forever since I've had a nice glass of port...

I imagine we can fudge the numbers in Boothby's latest plan enough to ensure a nice glass of port for everyone... :p

I cannot imagine two things more different than engineers and architects. It is a chasm of such indescribable size that mere words can never describe it, encompassing everything from the philosophical to the sartorial. From your careless grouping of the two, I take it you are not a regular down the Technology and Construction Courts?

Studio was overshadowed by the hulking mass of the Engineering faculty, which loomed large in the plot directly behind us and with which we shared a driveway. If the hour was right, you'd see architects and engineers walking down the street at the same time to get to lectures and tutorials and so on. Spotting who was who was never a difficult task. :p

However, congratulations indeed @DensleyBlair. The degree included RIBA Part 1, so now it is off to the real world for a year or so before Part 2 if I remember the system. Definitely time to take a break, not only because you've earned it (you have!) but because I am told you will need to be on top of your game for the next bit. :D

Thank you! :) And yes, that is indeed how it goes in theory. In practice, things being as they are, I will probably end up doing it a bit differently. But we'll see.

I can only apologise for failing to keep up, it is on my list to read and perhaps your break will be a chance for me to finally get up to speed. :)

Not at all! Good of you to even have it one your list, frankly, the beast that it is. Will look forward to seeing you back at some point in the not too distant future, I hope. :)

Oh! The Horror!

This year I had the joys of a (very, very introductory) course on Management, Practice and Law, and I tell you: if ever again I have to work out who is liable when a thatched roof burns down halfway through RIBA Plan of Work Stage 5 it will be a lifetime too soon! :p
 

El Pip

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This year I had the joys of a (very, very introductory) course on Management, Practice and Law, and I tell you: if ever again I have to work out who is liable when a thatched roof burns down halfway through RIBA Plan of Work Stage 5 it will be a lifetime too soon! :p
That's easy - entirely the architect's fault for specifying a thatched roof. No-one else on the project wanted anything to do with thatch because it's a tricky fire hazards, but the architect insisted on it to suit the local vernacular and the 'design vision' - their decision, their fault. ;)

It's not rock solid law I admit, and this approach is part of the reason lawyers tend to gibber a bit around the TCC, but it's all part of the fun of the wonderful world of design and construction. Learn to love it or consider a new career.
Z3wSg01.gif
 
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Wraith11B

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As those of us who bickered between Tulane's Engineering, Business and Architecture schools joked: "Architecture is Engineering without the maths." Or "Engineering validates Architecture, but forgets to add the weight of books." (Because Tulane's main library hadn't accounted for the weight of the books which tends to be a problem in New Orleans and so the building began sinking ). And the classic: "the limit of engineering as GPA -> 0 = Business School."
 
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Another great update Dens, the clash between the trade union movement and Mosley’s centralising state will be very interesting. It could definitely shape Britain for the rest of the century. We know that Mosley will win in the end - but by what means and what will the final settlement look like?
 

DensleyBlair

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That's easy - entirely the architect's fault for specifying a thatched roof. No-one else on the project wanted anything to do with thatch because it's a tricky fire hazards, but the architect insisted on it to suit the local vernacular and the 'design vision' - their decision, their fault. ;)

It's not rock solid law I admit, and this approach is part of the reason lawyers tend to gibber a bit around the TCC, but it's all part of the fun of the wonderful world of design and construction.

Some excellent points made, though unfortunately for all the lawyers milling round the TCC, thousands left still unmade. :p

Learn to love it or consider a new career.
Z3wSg01.gif

You May well be on to something here…

As those of us who bickered between Tulane's Engineering, Business and Architecture schools joked: "Architecture is Engineering without the maths." Or "Engineering validates Architecture, but forgets to add the weight of books." (Because Tulane's main library hadn't accounted for the weight of the books which tends to be a problem in New Orleans and so the building began sinking ). And the classic: "the limit of engineering as GPA -> 0 = Business School."

You know, come to think of it, at my uni the Architecture, Engineering and Business schools were all next to each other. We used to use the Business canteen for lunch if we really couldn’t help it, and true to form they knew how to wring profit out of every last item of food. 75p for a floret of broccoli, anyone? :/

Another great update Dens, the clash between the trade union movement and Mosley’s centralising state will be very interesting. It could definitely shape Britain for the rest of the century. We know that Mosley will win in the end - but by what means and what will the final settlement look like?

Cheers Tommy! You’re absolutely right, this is something of a pivotal clash of its time. Mosley’s victory will shape Britain for the next generation or so. In the eyes of a distinct minority, were drifting further and further away from the spirit of ‘29.
 
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Enemies Within: The 'managerialism' dispute, 1947–50

DensleyBlair

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



SELLING OUT: INDUSTRIAL RELATIONS IN MOSLEY’S BRITAIN

BERT RAMELSON, 1969



Enemies
Within: The 'managerialism' dispute, 1947–50


At the end of May 1947, almost 20 years to the day since the declaration of the General Strike, Arthur Horner led the TUC in voting to oppose any attempts at removing worker control from Commonwealth industry. Ancillary motions were passed declaring strike action would be considered in the event of wage decreases as a result of decreased industrial output. Alarmed at the militancy of the unions’ response, Bob Boothby met with Horner in June to discuss a resolution that would be acceptable to both parties. Horner had little affection for Boothby, whom he viewed as a bourgeois dilettante, and remained unmoved by entreaties for compromise. Measures to select the new managers from within existing workers’ councils were rejected by the unions on the grounds that they would lead to the development of a new managerial class apart from the working classes. Going into summer, no solution to the deadlock had been agreed upon, and Mosley grew increasingly impatient. Before leaving for his summer vacation in early July, Mosley announced that industrial reforms would go ahead “for the good of the Commonwealth” starting in September, when the ‘commanding heights of the economy’ would be taken over by state management. This included the coal, electricity, gas, iron and steel industries, as well as the railways.

Predictably, the coming of autumn saw the eruption of the most heated period of union activity since 1929. At the end of September, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (USDAW) announced 14 days of strike action for the beginning of November unless the government agreed to a pay rise for warehouse workers in light of a rise in the price of basic goods. (At this time I worked as a shop steward at a grocery warehouse in Leeds, and I remember the strike vividly.) Shortly after USDAW had taken action, the Iron and Steel Trades Confederation (ISTC) sent its workers out on strike for ten days in January 1948 over a dispute arising from the imposition of external managers within steelworks in Lincolnshire. Meanwhile, mineworkers across the country resuscitated their absenteeism campaign, taking action short of a strike in many areas of the Commonwealth.

While Mosley remained convinced of the basic necessity (not to say morality) of his plan, Boothby was more readily affected by the strikes. Privately, Mosley believed that the unions had largely fulfilled their purpose in 1929, and thus had made themselves redundant. In the Mosleyite conception, the state could now be trusted to look after the welfare of the workers through organisations such as the new Office for Employment (founded in 1945 with Ellen Wilkinson as secretary, 1945–49). Boothby did not disagree, but was more open to the role of unions within the state machinery, viewing the TUC as a quasi-governmental body that could be trusted to maintain good relations between the workforce and a central group of managerial government bodies. With this in mind, he called a meeting with USDAW general secretary Joseph Hallsworth, ISTC leader Ambrose Callighan and Arthur Horner for February 1948. The USDAW dispute had been resolved in favour of the workers in November, when Boothby agreed to a return to 1946 wages pending a national pay review in March 1948. At February’s meeting, Boothby reiterated his basic commitment to the welfare of the workers and maintained his belief in the place of the unions. He further promised a moratorium on the imposition of state management in all but the “key industries” already designated, and suggested that the government would be open to giving greater influence to the workers in these industries in appointing their own managers. On the matter of wages, the unions considered their action successful and agreed to suspend all strikes until the outcome of the national wage review in March, which ultimately saw pay rise across the Commonwealth slightly above pre-1947 levels.



1948%20STRIKING%20MINERS.jpg

Picketing warehouse workers, 1947.


On the matter of state management, however, the unions would accept nothing short of a complete governmental retreat. Responsibility for the process of ‘managerialisation’ was taken over by the Officer for Employment. Ellen Wilkinson, the Secretary for Employment, was well liked by the union leaders and oversaw a period of good-faith negotiations on both sides for the rest of 1948. Unwilling to accept defeat on the matter, Mosley had entrusted Wilkinson with the drafting of an ‘industrial charter’ that would prove acceptable to all parties, allowing for state management of key industries while leaving workers sufficiently empowered in the direction of their own productive efforts. A draft charter was published by the TUC on 1 June 1948. It called for a number of protections for workers’ security in industries to be given over to state management. These included: the election of managers by workers from within existing workers’ councils; no preferential treatment for the managerial cohort; a seven-hour working day without loss of pay; a guaranteed weekly average wage not to fall below that of any other sector of British industry; two weeks paid holiday; adequate pensions at the age of fifty-five; modernisation of industrial machinery and processes; adequate training for young people; new safety guarantees; proper compensation payments for industrial injury and disease; and the construction of new towns and villages with good housing in industrial areas. Compromise in any of these areas would be met with the threat of strike action.

Wilkinson assented to this charter, eager to maintain the both good faith of the unions and her own personal warm relations with Horner and other leaders. Mosley and Boothby, however, were less enthusiastic about the prospect of having wide ranging industrial reform dictated by the unions, and preferred to leave aside questions of a more auxiliary nature such as the housing stock, worker education and pension reform. Boothby also believed that managers should receive a higher level of compensation for their labours, a response which provoked a ferocious backlash from the unions, who were insulted by the idea that managerial labour was any more valuable than productive labour. Mosley and Boothby directed Wilkinson to issue a counter-offer, and in July the Office for Employment issued a draft charter for the approval of the unions. This altered the original TUC charter by removing the provision for housing and worker education (which Mosley promised would be addressed separately), raising the pensionable age to 60 and doing away completely with the stipulation for equality of pay between productive and managerial classes. At Mosley’s insistence, the revised charter also allowed for a government veto of any appointed worker-managers.

The government charter was, predictably, met with a cool response by the unions, who repeated their threat of renewed strike action should any of their demands be seriously compromised. Mosley had been canny in delivering the charter to coincide with the high summer, thus the TUC’s initial response was delayed owing to the fact that a large proportion of its leadership and membership were on holiday when it was published. Nevertheless, convening an extraordinary conference of the TUC at the end of August, Horner led the unions in committing to their original charter. Further, the conference passed a motion committing to strike action in all of the affected ‘key industries’ upon the implementation of any compromised charter. This was currently scheduled for no later than September 1949, thus the Commonwealth faced the prospect of closing the decade with what effectively amounted to a general strike.



TUC%201949.png

The extraordinary TUC conference of 1949.


In government, Ellen Wilkinson remained adamant that Mosley should accept the initial charter, and even Boothby was coming around to the idea if it meant preserving the good graces of the unions. But Mosley would not be moved, motivated less by his usual cool rationalism than by a sense of not wishing to be beaten by Horner and the unions. Having bested the unions in order to come to power in 1929 (and then again, arguably, in 1934), he viewed the showdown in the terms of a political drama. He had no intention of coming out on the losing side.

While negotiations continued, workers in the affected ‘key industries’ kept up action short of strike such that productivity recovered much slower than anticipated from its climate-induced 1947 low. This angered Mosley, and also Boothby, who saw it as an act of bad faith by the unions and resented the idea of being held hostage even while no final measures had been agreed upon. In order to break the deadlock, Mosley decided to demote Ellen Wilkinson and replace her with a more compliant secretary at the Office for Employment. As things would turn out, fate conspired to intervene; having suffered from bronchial asthma all her life, a condition only aggravated by heavy smoking, Wilkinson developed pneumonia in winter 1948–49. Her condition failed to improve, and on 3 March 1949 she died at the age of 57. As her successor, Mosley selected his old ally John Strachey, who had been one of the founding members of the Provisional Labour–Unionist Alliance back in 1928. With some irony, it was now his task to ensure the security of this alliance for what Mosley considered “the good of the Commonwealth”.

Immediately, Strachey adopted a firmer line against Horner than Ellen Wilkinson had. Barely a week after the former secretary had been buried with posthumous honours as a Companion of the Order of the Commonwealth, Strachey and Mosley submitted a revised charter for the approval of the TUC. The March 1949 charter relented in some areas (stipulating a pensionable age of 57 and making certain provisions for workers' education and welfare beyond the factories), but in other areas pushed further. Mosley inserted a clause declaring that acceptance of the charter would bind unions representing the ‘key industries’ to a suspension of strike action for five years, in recognition of the concessions made in the charter itself. In the words of Mosley himself: “With such an agreement entered into by the government and the unions, for the common enrichment of all workers of the Commonwealth, what likelihood could there be of an industrial dispute occurring?”

Horner was furious at the inclusion of the no-strike clause, and declared that “so long as the workers maintain control of the pits, the foundries and the factory floors, no truce will be worth the cost of the paper it is printed on!” What the general secretary was not so tacitly admitting was that the workers of Britain no longer felt that their own interests were always in accord with those of the British state. The bond of trust between the workers and those in power, forged in the course of a common struggle fought two decades earlier, had been compromised. So long as Mosley was in power, it would never be repaired.



ARTHUR%20HORNER.png

Arthur Horner, General Secretary of the Trade Unions Congress (1946–59)


For all of Mosley’s militancy, he was increasingly subject to his own optimistic timing. With managerialisation slated for introduction in September of 1949, it was vital in order for Mosley to avoid any delay that the deadlock be broken at the latest before the summer vacation. Realistically, this meant delivering an acceptable charter to the TUC before their AGM in the last week of May. Any complications after this date would seriously jeopardise the economic programme embarked upon by the OEP, which remained Mosley’s overriding concern after the humbling experience of 1947. Horner was well aware of this, and knew that time was on his side. Thus he put what he called his “final offer” to Mosley at the end of April, giving Mosley ten working days to respond. The TUC’s April charter included all of the government’s concessions on extramural worker welfare, and left alone the revised pensionable age of 57. In turn, it demanded the scrapping of the ‘truce clause’, as well as making a fresh demand for the capping of managerial pay in line with factory-floor wages. Unwilling to abandon completely the prospect of a truce with the unions, at this stage the greatest symbolic concession of the his ‘victory’, Mosley responded two days later with what he called his “final counter-offer”. This was an acceptance of the TUC’s April charter, with the inclusion of a revised ‘truce clause’ to last 18 months from the implementation of worker-managers, until March 1951. This was the offer taken to the TUC AGM at the end of May.

Satisfied with having won numerous concessions from the government’s original position, which had been the total subjection of British industry to top-down control from Whitehall, the TUC conference in May was a festive affair. Already coinciding with the vicennial anniversary of the Commonwealth’s foundation, the unions were also celebrating having secured worker-led industrial reform, limited to key industries, and a governmental commitment to the improvement of welfare in a number of areas. The May charter was passed by the TUC, with one alteration, with 62 per-cent of the delegates voting in its favour. The alteration called for an enforced truce of no more than twelve months, until September 1950. This, the Congress explained, would allow for a year’s trial period in which to assess the success of the worker-managerialisation scheme and identify any areas which may need to be improved. An inability to strike would prevent the workers from being able to call for such further reforms. Delivered to the government on 30 May, it was ratified three days later. Election of worker-managers would take place in August, with the reforms to take effect from September. Meanwhile, a review of workers education, healthcare and housing provisions would begin immediately and deliver its recommendations for reform in January 1950.

For Mosley, the acceptance of the TUC charter was a not entirely welcome reminder of the power that the workers held in his increasingly directorial Commonwealth. The years 1947–49 demonstrate the fallibility of the Mosley government’s total control over the economy, and remind us that the full suppression of worker power remains incredibly difficult. Naturally, the Chairman reported the settlement of the dispute as a victory for his government, citing the TUC’s concession to a year-long truce and the central fact that managerialisation would be going ahead, albeit in an altered state to that originally intended. Nevertheless, the decision shortly after the end of the ‘truce’ in October 1950 to quietly increase the strike ballot majority requirement in ‘key industries’, from 50 per-cent to two-thirds in favour of action, must be read in context as an attempt by the government to curtail union power in the aftermath of a tactical defeat. Although by 1950 the most obvious disputes had been settled, the settlement continued to be the subject of debate and quiet resistance until well after Arthur Horner’s retirement in 1959. After 1949, twenty years on from the Revolution, the Commonwealth had turned definitively towards managerialism and directorial economic planning. Only today, another twenty years removed from the last major showdown between the workers and the government, have we seen a decisive reversal of the fortunes of the workers’ movement.
 
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stnylan

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I think the unions were right to fear ... but equally they were ultimately in a bind.

Unions, once essential rights are won, turn into essentially conservative organisations. They defend the status quo, and any and all change becomes suspect. Even changes brought about simply through the changing times. Ultimately the logic of the governments position was always going to win out simply because the arrangements from the 1930s were always going to drift more and more out of date. It was always going to be a questoin of just how much it was going to hurt, and when.

By kicking some of the pain into the future I do wonder what legacy the union leaders/works of the late 1940s have left their children.
 

DensleyBlair

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I think the unions were right to fear ... but equally they were ultimately in a bind.

Unions, once essential rights are won, turn into essentially conservative organisations. They defend the status quo, and any and all change becomes suspect. Even changes brought about simply through the changing times. Ultimately the logic of the governments position was always going to win out simply because the arrangements from the 1930s were always going to drift more and more out of date. It was always going to be a questoin of just how much it was going to hurt, and when.

By kicking some of the pain into the future I do wonder what legacy the union leaders/works of the late 1940s have left their children.

Yes, that is a big problem with the major 'business unions'. Historically, the Horner-led NUM was very good at getting the good – but in the decades after there was very much a sense across the board that the union bosses and the government were happy to sort of just work things out amongst themselves, regardless of what the workers actually wanted. You are quite right to suggest that delaying any sort of meaningful resolution has merely left open the possibility of further action down the line. As for how the next generation will respond, I hope to be able to show you before too long. :)
 

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We didn’t see a grand showdown with the unions - but the government seems to have won more of what it wants than the unions might have liked. It looks like they will remain a key part of the Commonwealth establishment for some time yet, even if they remain in a testy relationship with the government.
 

DensleyBlair

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We didn’t see a grand showdown with the unions - but the government seems to have won more of what it wants than the unions might have liked. It looks like they will remain a key part of the Commonwealth establishment for some time yet, even if they remain in a testy relationship with the government.

Aye, a bit more of a Sixties-style backroom stand-off than a return to the picket battles of the Twenties, but in its way a significant clash nonetheless. As with so many industrial disputes, the settlement essentially amounts to kicking the problem a little further down the road. The unions are subdued for now, but Mosley and his government will find they can only keep everyone quiet for so long.
 

Jape

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A compromise and seemingly major crack in the unions' power. However, for someone as autocratic (in media image if not in practice) as the Chairman it must sting. As you say, after such a dust up, the relationship between the Commonwealth's figurehead and its base - the TUC - is permanently damaged. The future of both Mosleyism and traditional syndicalism are in flux as the 1950s begin.
 

DensleyBlair

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A compromise and seemingly major crack in the unions' power. However, for someone as autocratic (in media image if not in practice) as the Chairman it must sting. As you say, after such a dust up, the relationship between the Commonwealth's figurehead and its base - the TUC - is permanently damaged. The future of both Mosleyism and traditional syndicalism are in flux as the 1950s begin.

Yes, Mosley has definitely been stung by this encounter. I've generally tried to portray him as someone who is intensely proud, but also fundamentally talented as far as concerns the work of bureaucratic management (which is pretty much what he does, even in government). To this end, and taking into account his personal history with both the TUC and Horner specifically, I think the dust up wounded his pride enough that he needed to take some sort of retributive action even if, for all intents and purposes, he did win. What has been lost, I think, is any reality of a Butskellite mutual understanding with the unions. Their power may have been hampered going into the 1950s, but by the same score they're now firmly in the opposition. Mosley making more and more enemies is a trend we'll see a lot of in the coming years...

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Total Control: Left Opposition in Mosley's Commonwealth, 1946–51

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



TOTAL CONTROL
LEFT OPPOSITION IN MOSLEY’S COMMONWEALTH, 1946–51

CORDELIA BONNER
1966



On 23 July 1946, James Maxton, Oswald Mosley’s veteran lieutenant in the legislature, died suddenly at the age of 61. Maxton had been elected Chairman of the People’s Assembly in 1934, following the murder of the previous incumbent Arthur Cook. Near enough the only one of Mosley’s allies after Cook to believe in the necessity of class struggle, Maxton performed a vital role for the government in the Assembly, maintaining good relations with left-opposition groups in the aftermath of Mosley’s centralising reforms of 1934. This was achieved not only by Maxton’s fundamental charisma, but through warm relations with the leaders of minority groups in the Assembly. Particularly important was Maxton’s relationship with Fenner Brockway, the legislative leader of the Continuing Socialist Front (Brockway’s co-leader George Orwell held a seat in the Assembly, but mostly focused on extra-parliamentary organisation). In 1934, it had been the loss of the CSF’s plurality in the Assembly that had prompted Mosley’s ascension to the Chairmanship. Nevertheless, they retained a significant minority status; after the 1935 election the CSF held 137 out of 450 Assembly seats. Aside from Mosley’s numerous reforms aimed at curbing the influence of the Assembly on the government of the Commonwealth, the Maxton–Brockway friendship was a key tool in minimising the efficacy of what survived even of this threadbare opposition. After twelve years of this cosy arrangement, Maxton’s death left Mosley confronted with the prospect of a newly vocal oppositional minority in the legislature. Thus new means were needed in order to keep the PLUA’s hold over public life unchallenged.


Maxton’s successor in the Assembly chair was another long-standing Mosley loyalist, John Strachey. A founding member of the PLUA, Strachey had been an ever-present figure in Mosley’s governments since 1934, occupying the Dafacom chair from 1935 and subsequently becoming the first director of the Bureau of Air upon its foundation in 1943. A dependable ally, he was in many ways the polar opposite of Maxton: bureaucratic, matter of fact and without a hint of revolutionary sympathy since the start of the 1930s. Strachey’s appointment was entirely based on loyalty to Mosley, as opposed to any great feeling that he would perform in the role in the way that Maxton had. He could be expected to maintain cordial relations with other party leaders, but that was it. In many ways, Strachey’s appointment was a sign of the shift in Mosley’s perception of the left opposition more broadly: friendship had had its uses, but now was the time for distance.


Less than a year into his new role, Strachey was faced with the challenge of the 1947 legislative elections. Little more than a formality, elections since Mosley’s 1934 reforms had merely acted as a vote of confidence in the government. Significantly less than half of the eligible population even voted, in part a result of Mosley’s dream of a “non-partisan” state headed by the Party of Action. By the end of the 1940s, however, this non-partisan strategy was beginning to backfire. From a Mosley-era high of just under 47 per-cent in 1935, voter turnout declined consistently in the following years, and by 1947 participation dipped below 40 per-cent for the first time since June 1929. Ordinarily a low turnout might not give cause for alarm as far as the government were concerned, and in many countries has even been encouraged as a strategy for driving down opposition votes. In Mosley’s Commonwealth, however, voter apathy largely affected would-be pro-government voters, who had little reason to doubt the security of the PLUA’s position and thus increasingly stayed away from the polls. Meanwhile, opposition support more or less held, and in May 1947 Mosley was confronted with his lowest share of seats in the Assembly since he took office. 186 members of the Assembly were returned for the Party of Action, the fewest since 1933.


Mosley’s saving grace came in the form of the Popular Front, whose loyalty to the government continued so long as Stafford Cripps retained his power within the Executive Committee. While the Party of Action had been hard hit by decreasing turnout, and also more materially by the discontent stemming from the industrial crisis the previous winter, the Popular Front held onto a steady share of the vote, somewhere between one fifth and one quarter. In 1947, the Popular Front vote increased against the PLUA, and Cripps was left in control of 101 Assembly seats. This buttressed the government against any threat of losing control of the legislature, but it was enough to spook Mosley. Since the end of the Anti-Fascist Wars, as far as Mosley was concerned the immediate need for a broad front against fascism had all but disappeared. Cripps maintained his position as a key member of the regime, even after his departure from the Bureau of International Relations in 1943, when he succeeded Philip Noel-Baker as the Commonwealth’s Secretary to the Syndicalist International. But beyond Cripps, Mosley had little lasting affection for the Popular Front, and he certainly felt no need to keep them in government so long as he had the choice. His great problem was that this was less and less of a choice he had available to him.



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John Strachey photographed at his desk in 1946, shortly after being appointed Chairman of the People's assembly.


In 1948, Stafford Cripps announced his intention to retire. He was replaced by the distinguished academic Harold Laski, the director of the London School of Economics. Far more than Cripps, Laski was a convinced Marxist who during the 1930s had been integral to the spread of Marxism in the new Commonwealth academia. He was not, by any means, a seasoned politician. George Orwell famously described him as “a socialist by allegiance, and a liberal by temperament”. An internationalist, and always maintaining a basic faith in the role of supranational organisations such as the League of Nations in international diplomacy, Laski was alarmed by the emergence of a state of cold war within Europe during the late 1940s and pushed for the encouragement of democratic socialism worldwide. Reasonably sympathetic to the Soviet Union, even after the annexation of the Baltic states in 1940, the new leader of the Popular Front was a singular voice in a rapidly shifting political landscape in Britain. Laski clung to an internationalist, democratic socialism at a time when Europe was coagulating into discrete blocs, increasingly centralised and characterised by an unshakeable mutual mistrust. He was, in many senses, a man of the previous generation promoted far too late in life. His general pattern of politics belonged to a time either just after the Revolution, or even in the decade before. Laski carried the optimism of a generation of socialists who thought that 1917 represented the summation of man’s achievement, not particularly caring to stop and think about the ways in which 1929 was different.


For all of this slightly old-fashioned character, Laski was a rousing speaker and intensely charismatic. While Mosley’s charisma was quiet and essentially aristocratic, his greatest flares of passion seemingly controlled by a switch, Laski was combative and eccentric. The shift from Cripps, a dedicated and respected statesman, was like night to day. With 101 assembly members under his control, Mosley recognised that Laski could prove problematic if his independent streak was not brought to heel. Needing to have him in the tent, but at the same time wishing to keep him at arm’s length, Mosley offered Laski a job as secretary for the provision of education. The lifelong academic eagerly accepted, and the problem of the government coalition was resolved with little fanfare. The cooperation of the Popular Front was assured until Laski’s own death in office in 1954.


While the government’s position was nominally secure, Mosley’s manoeuvring did little to arrest the problem of the left opposition in the legislature, it remained a vocal minority nationwide. After the Spanish War, George Orwell remained a popular national figure, particularly among the younger generation. The Socialist Front were instrumental in the running of Socialist Youth groups up and down the country, and had a broad base of support at a local level. The Party of Action, which according to Mosley’s wishes operated almost as an invisible machine directing the running of the Commonwealth, had no such base beyond a support for Mosley himself. Thus the government had a problem, with the Party of Action increasingly coming to function as a personality cult for Mosley’s own image. After 1945 the general public came to recognise Bob Boothby alongside Mosley, but for the most part the PLUA was little involved with the realities of daily life outside of regional councils and the pages of the Daily Herald, which it controlled (as it does to this day).



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Harold Laski, leader of the Popular Front (1948–54), photographed in 1945.


After 1947, Mosley therefore decided that his party needed to move into the space of the everyday life of the Commonwealth in a more material way. Central to this plan would be the suppression of Socialist Youth, which by this point had more or less shaped the adolescent experience of a whole generation since 1930. SY were most visible through the running of social clubs for young people across the country. These were primarily places where the youth could socialise, keep active and also receive something of a political education. SY would organise everything from lectures to dance nights and football games. Crucially, this organising remained outside of the bounds of the PLUA party-state, and by the end of the 1940s this autonomy was beginning to show. In the Assembly, the CSF were, unsurprisingly, the main beneficiaries of the ethos of political engagement taught by Socialist Youth. Its 30 per-cent vote share was in large part made up of those aged 21 to 35. Meanwhile, the Party of Action remained the party of the middle-aged population, with the average supporter anywhere from 40 to 60 years old. The generational time bomb alarmed the PLUA no end, and party insiders worried that the Commonwealth would see a Socialist Front majority by the end of the 1950s. Mosley’s attempts to circumvent the vicissitudes of politics by removing it as far as possible from daily life had merely worked to cover up a problem of diminishing enthusiasm for his regime.


From autumn 1947, articles began to appear in the Daily Herald bemoaning the practices of Socialist Youth. One writer denounced the organisation for transforming the youth of the Commonwealth into “effete factionalists, more concerned by the latest trends in dance music than in the creation of a strong economy”. In spring 1948, against a backdrop of the industrial disputes plaguing Mosley and Bob Boothby, the Socialist Front ran a number of counter articles in their newspaper, the Partisan Review. In a piece written while in hospital with tuberculosis, Orwell himself went beyond rebuking the charges put forward in the Daily Herald and attacked the increasing authoritarianism of the Mosley regime, claiming that the Commonwealth had “lost its way on the path to socialism”. The government response was to bring libel charges against the Partisan Review, claiming that the paper had damaged both the government’s reputation and the reputation of Mosley himself in using the term “authoritarian”. The government’s case was soon dismissed, but the costs for the paper were high and the CSF were forced to limit circulation in order to stay solvent. Meanwhile, Orwell’s health continued to worsen. He was in and out of hospital for much of 1948, and by 1949 he was near enough permanently hospitalised. Socialists in France offered to provide him and his family a chalet in the French Alps, where he might recuperate, but the plans came to nothing. As 1949 went on, Orwell became gravely ill and it looked likely he would not survive for much longer.


In October 1949, Fenner Brockway visited Orwell in hospital. The pair discussed the future of the Socialist Front and Orwell’s wishes for the extra-parliamentary movement going forward. He urged Brockway of the vital importance of maintaining Socialist Youth, above and beyond any commitment to the Assembly, which was of little practical use. Brockway agreed, and the two men drew up an agreement that would see Brockway continue to lead the party in the Assembly while the organisational branch of the movement would be consolidated at a regional level and only loosely governed nationally. This, it was hoped, would make it harder for the PLUA to achieve anything like the total annexation of SY or any other movement. A few days later, Orwell was visited by a man a woman claiming to be coordinators of Socialist Front activity in London. They asked about the plan he had agreed with Brockway and asked him to write out of a list of likely candidates for coordinating roles nationwide. Half delirious with illness and medication, Orwell assented and delivered the list. While not entirely coherent, it was detailed enough to give a good overview of the planned organisation of the Socialist Front going into the 1950s. Over the period 1950–51, a significant proportion of the people on Orwell’s list found themselves subject to unwanted government attention.



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Fenner Brockway, photographed in 1959.


Orwell died on 21 January 1950, aged just 46. Fenner Brockway continued as leader of the Socialist Front until 1956, but the movement was shocked by Orwell’s death and the government’s successful tactics of infiltration. The Party of Action stepped up its efforts at the local level, both to frustrate Socialist Youth activity and to establish alternative social groups. A new PLUA-backed group, Youth Action, sprung up in various locations around the country from 1950. Organised with the backing of the Domestic Bureau, it promoted physical fitness, a communitarian spirit and a faith in the institutions of the Commonwealth. Aimed at children aged 8 to 17, those who enrolled received a scout-like uniform in the colours of the PLUA, black and gold. Socialist Youth (which appealed more to those aged 12 and over) continued to organise dances and lecture series, but soon found its activities increasingly restricted by regional authorities. The organisational wing of the Socialist Front was more or less forced underground, and by 1951 “illegal” dance parties were attracting the attention of the authorities and the state press, which ramped up its moral campaign against an emergent deviant youth culture.


Fenner Brockway remained a strong voice in the Assembly, but became increasingly drawn to anti-imperialist struggles and the fate of socialism globally. He involved himself in the International African Service Bureau and was a supporter of the Mau Mau insurgency against Commonwealth representatives in the Commonwealth of Kenya after its autonomy in 1950. Now in his sixties, worn down by domestic politics and ever more taken with events abroad, Brockway grew tired of the Assembly and by the end of his term as leader in 1956 was far more invested in extra-parliamentary affairs. He became an active member of the Partisan movement.


It would be wrong to give a summary of left-oppositional activity in the years after the wars and not mention the Communist Workers Party, who remained under the singular guidance of Sylvia Pankhurst until 1951. The ideas of the CWP, heavily influenced by Dutch council communist Anton Pannekoek, retained a powerful presence within the workers movement, particularly during the struggle against managerialism between 1947–50. TUC General Secretary Arthur Horner, previously a member of the CPGB, was sympathetic to the CWP and in this respect represented a number of union leaders who were convinced by the merits of worker self-organisation and wary of the party apparatus. With the introduction of managerialism from 1950, however, council communism saw its stature diminished as Mosley and Boothby sought to bring British industry more fully under the control of the state. By 1950, it would not be a misrepresentation to say that the CWP represented the “orthodox syndicalist” position in Commonwealth politics. Its demise is therefore highly instructive. The CWP foundered after Pankhurst moved to Ethiopia at the invitation of Haile Selassie in 1951, though it retained a residual presence in the unions and saw a revival in its fortunes in 1956 after the mass rejection of Soviet communism following events in Bucharest. Phil Piratin found himself at the head of a revived organisation, the Communist Workers Group, in 1957.


In 1945, following the conclusion of the Anti-Fascist Wars, George Orwell had managed to get his anti-authoritarian novel Animal Farm past the censors by arguing that it was an allegory about Russia and had little to say about the Commonwealth. The censors read it as anti-communist and assented to publication. In reality, far from being anti-communist Animal Farm is a nuanced fable warning against the dangers of a corrupted revolutionary state. While certainly an attack on the Soviet Union five years after the Baltic annexations, it is hard not to read into it at the same time a critique of the increasingly directorial Mosley regime. The late 1940s were marked by an increased authoritarian attitude towards the economy by the state, bringing the Commonwealth towards something approaching state capitalism. In 1950, a few weeks after his death, Orwell’s final novel was published by the underground Partisan Press set up following the demise of the Partisan Review. Quickly picked up by disillusioned young socialists up and down the Commonwealth, Nineteen Eighty-Four is a dark novel exploring life in a rigid world where the state is involved in every aspect of a citizen’s existence. Written while terminally ill, and with both his political and social lives increasingly under attack by the state, it is not hard to read Nineteen Eighty-Four as an exaggerated view of Mosley’s Britain. Its publication was a fitting opener to the new decade, which would see an increase in authoritarian practices throughout Europe, and end with the final reckoning of the Mosley regime.
 
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BTW, I have started to read this story (early days yet). I don’t have Vicky (1 or 2) and so don’t usually look into this niche of AARland much, but am making an exception here. I look forward to getting up to the Hobsbawm chapter: once upon a time (about 40 years ago) I wrote a history honours thesis on his theory of ‘social banditry’ as it may (or not) apply to three of the more notable bushranging outbreaks in southern NSW (ie in then colonial Australia for those not familiar with our state acronyms) in the 1860s. Not Ned Kelly (different time and place: Kelly was later and further south). Haven’t read Hobsbawm widely or since, but it will be interesting to see how he approaches things in the AAR! :)