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

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Great to see a more character-driven approach to break up the “textbook” style (not to say there’s anything wrong with that, mind you), and it’s enlightening to see the effect the censors have had on British media coming out immediately after the revolution. I get the impression that by the 60’s the censors have liberalized a bit and things aren’t as heavy-handed, so the legacy of Mosley-era modernist literature has on the art of the 60’s is definitely an area of interest.

Cool to see Peggy Seeger in the story, although I am a bit embarrassed to admit that my first thought when I saw Ralph was that Ralph Miliband had somehow worked his way into the story. :p
 

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The "problem" with a censored regieme is the sort of, well dismissiveness isn't quite the right word, but it breeds a cynicism.

I would characterise it perhaps as a sort of black humour. Which I guess speaks more broadly of a certain type of alienation. Less than healthy in any case.

Great to see a more character-driven approach to break up the “textbook” style (not to say there’s anything wrong with that, mind you), and it’s enlightening to see the effect the censors have had on British media coming out immediately after the revolution.

Without giving too much away, I like the idea of introducing these characters a bit more intimately as this isn't the last time we'll be seeing them. Just as the early Commonwealth has its colourful cast, I'm keen to use a slightly different style in an attempt to perhaps make the later period a bit more tangible. Glad you enjoyed it. :)

I get the impression that by the 60’s the censors have liberalized a bit and things aren’t as heavy-handed, so the legacy of Mosley-era modernist literature has on the art of the 60’s is definitely an area of interest.

FWIW, my take is that thirty years down the line the "justification" for censorship becomes harder to maintain as people gradually become more suspicious of various institutions. It's something that will come up again, but I see the Commonwealth in the Sixties as having moderated in some ways, but having hardened in others.

Cool to see Peggy Seeger in the story, although I am a bit embarrassed to admit that my first thought when I saw Ralph was that Ralph Miliband had somehow worked his way into the story. :p

Peggy is very cool to have around, and as you'll see in the next update the idea of the underground club as a sort of space of resistance is something I'll be coming back to. Ralph is Raphael "Ralph" Samuel of Communist Party Historians Group fame. So an understandable enough impression – though in my mind Miliband is likely still in Belgium ITTL. Would be fun to work him in somehow...

____________________________________

Thank you both for your comments, as ever. Even if it takes me increasingly long to respond to them, they are always gratefully received. As will be evident, I've not had the time or space this weekend to publish the next update. I'll try and get it out sometime later this week. The chapter concludes this sort of informal trilogy of cultural updates with a look at the music scene in the early Commonwealth (and beyond).

Until then! :)
 
Leaving the Astoria: Memories of Dance Music in the Early Commonwealth

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LEAVING BEHIND THE ASTORIA
MEMORIES OF DANCE MUSIC IN THE EARLY COMMONWEALTH

FRANCIS NEWTON

1956



I have my cousin to thank for my introduction to the existence of a world outside of the mainstream of dance music in the early Commonwealth, and my subsequent twenty-five year love affair with the sounds of the bop scene. When the Commonwealth was first declared, there was no immediate uptake of some new and exciting trend of music, fit for the new and modern world. Indeed, the Modernism in art that was sometimes tolerated, sometimes dealt with at arm’s length by the censors of the Domestic Bureau hardly took hold within the world of popular music. Europe had its avant-garde classical composers, but this was hardly the music of the masses. Thus we subsisted on a staid aural diet of longing, sentimental love ballads set to sultry big band orchestration. The voice of Al Bowlly was omnipresent, heard most nights crooning over the airwaves on the Wireless Service as the Commonwealth’s answer to Sinatra. When “My Woman” came out in 1932 (featuring the backing of the Lew Stone Band) it confirmed what many of us avid listeners had known to be true for some time: the total dominance of this easy music-hall hangover music. With the imposition of restrictions on the importation of foreign records, there was no alternative in earshot.


“My Woman”, Al Bowlly and the Lew Stone Band (1932)


Two things happened in the 1930s that changed the British musical landscape forever. First, the rise to prominence of Jack Hylton brought a rare impetus to the dance music scene. Hylton, of working-class origins, developed his craft playing with his father across the labour clubs of Lancashire before striking out on how own after the Great War. Hylton played with an unusually large band for the period, introducing an unusual vigour to his sound. What’s more, he was connected with the American jazz scene, and after successfully convincing the authorities to let Duke Ellington and his band tour England in 1935 he not only brought jazz to Britain for the first time but soon went on to produce “jazz” of his own. Known as “hot” dance music, Hylton’s move to a more urgent, musically-inventive style in the late Thirties can be taken as the start of a decline in the relevance – this is not to say the popularity – of the “straight” dance music that had outlived the music halls. “Hylton Stomp” (1938) perhaps marks the first time a British band produced a song that could properly rival anything coming out of the United States in its verve.


“Hylton Stomp”, Hot Jack Hylton and His Orchestra (1938)


Second, the arrival from 1932 of immigrants from the West Indies – particularly the islands of Jamaica and Trinidad – brought calypso and mento music to the Commonwealth. Placing great emphasis on improvised lyrics and syncopated rhythms, calypso (from Trinidad) and mento (from Jamaica) gave fresh stimulus for innovation in British dance music. Improvised lyrics often doubled as social commentary, or else humorous songs intended to make an audience laugh. (This latter style was less popular among purists.) In the early Commonwealth, calypso (mento was largely included within the calypso label) usually remained within immigrant West Indian communities, and a number of calypsonians ended up making money by performing with more traditional dance bands, sometimes moonlighting after gigs in underground calypso clubs. These underground clubs were much freer than the dance halls, attended by younger, more diverse crowds from the Forties onwards. It was in these clubs that different music communities came together to form a new style: bop. One of the first proponents of the new style was Snakehips Johnson, an immigrant from Guyana who shot to fame as the first Black star of the dance music world with his band the Emperors of Dance.


“Snakehips Swing”, Snakehips Johnson and the Emperors of Dance (1939)


The authorities were not entirely enamoured with the emergence of hot dance music. While calypso was generally considered an issue endemic to immigrant communities, even after it became more popular in younger white communities from about 1945, hot dance was more widespread. Its faster, livelier rhythms were considered overly riotous by some (how quaint this notion seems a decade on, with the proliferation of late-night hot bop clubs throughout Soho) and in some cases curfews were zealously enforced in order to limit the potential for nuisance. This was a cynical strategy; traditional dance music was performed at dedicated ballrooms in the evenings, with one band usually resident at a particular venue. For example, Lew Stone’s band played each night at the Astoria between 8 o’ clock and midnight. Members of his band who wished to truly exercise their creativity might then hotfoot it to somewhere like the Upbeat in the West End, where they would play until the small hours. The implications of instituting a curfew, often at midnight or 1am, soon become obvious.


“Bebop Calypso”, Mr Kitchener (1950)


Nevertheless, devotees persist. Since the emergence of bop in the Forties, a lovechild of calypso and hot dance influenced by snatches of contemporary jazz gleaned from contact with American forces during the Pacific War, new life has been breathed into the Commonwealth music scene. This underground community of “boppers” haunt the West End in the small hours of the night, dancing and socialising over drinks and music sometimes until the sun comes up the next morning. These lovers of music, mostly young people who remember nothing of life before the Commonwealth, share a camaraderie not dissimilar to that formed among the revolutionary clubs of old. The parallels continue: the music of bop is at once a creative response to social ills and a search for personal and collective freedom. Too young to feel betrayed by the stalled progress of the Mosleyite dream, boppers nevertheless feel instinctively that there must be more to life than the inheritance offered by their parents.


“Marmaduke”, The Dankworth Seven (1950)


This is not to say the music sits uneasily next to the fundamental values of the Commonwealth project. With its emphasis on improvisation and creativity forming one coherent whole, bop embodies the spirit of the liberated collective. At its most extreme – the “hot bop” that rejects almost all conventional vocals in favour of pure musicianship – the music becomes almost devotional, binding together a collective through a shared commitment to the cause of human creative endeavour. It is a profoundly moving thing when experienced firsthand.



At 39, mine is usually one of the older faces present at whatever bop club I frequent of a given evening. I am perhaps unusual among my people my age in that the timings of the bop lifestyle accord with my day job. My working day doesn’t start usually until 6pm, and after finishing I have enough time to make it to the West End in time for the action to start at one o’ clock. Last night, I was at the Torchlight Club on Old Compton Street where I saw pianist George Shearing play until 3am. He was accompanied only by a small band, and people were just as happy sitting at the bar drinking and smoking as they were dancing. Shearing’s style of playing with his hand “locked” in a chordal position is striking, and you are more or less forced just to sit back and feel the bounce of the rhythm. It is, as they say in America, a “cool” style; all of the musical force of hot dance pared back into the bop equivalent of total musical composure.


“Lullaby of Birdland”, George Shearing (1952)


At the other end of the spectrum, three nights ago I caught a set by Johnny Dankworth at the Tailgate on Lisle Street. Dankworth is very much a rising star of the hot bop movement, having first come to notice of connoisseurs with his septet the Dankworth Seven at the start of the decade. Since 1953, he has been performing with a big band, whose talent and intensity demonstrate everything that the old British dance music could have been were it only a little more energised and a little less sentimental. Another of the boppers who owes much of his start on the hot scene to Duke Ellington, his style is not particularly inventive of itself, but Dankworth more than makes up for a lack of virtuosic flair with a solid knack for composition and arrangement. In the last year or so, he has found an audience outside of the underground bop world within the wider sphere of popular music. While the loss of the particular comradeship indigenous to any movement forced underground is perhaps regrettable, I can only see the awakening of the wider music-appreciating public in the Commonwealth to this captivating style as a positive. One must hope, however, that the ferocity and musicianship at the heart of the scene are not compromised by popularity.


“Export Blues”, Johnny Dankworth and His Band (1957)


One intriguing phenomenon related to the spread of this music already visible, particularly among younger crowds, has been the formation of amateur groups attempting to imitate the sound for themselves. The obstacles are no doubt evident: the extensive skill and material necessary to capture the true bop band sound are considerable. Not everyone can be as talented as, say, Ronnie Schott, the supremo saxophonist from Club Eleven, nor indeed can everyone acquire a saxophone. Thus groups use cheap guitars, pianos and improvised percussion in ingenious ways to try and emulate their bop idols, busking on street corners and playing labour clubs around the country. I am unaware of any writing their own compositions, but no doubt this happens and I would be intrigued to find out. This melding of the latent folk tradition with the energy, the musical daring and – in some cases – the social bite of bop could evolve into a compelling phenomenon of its own. This is perhaps the great appeal of bop: that anyone can take from it, and that so many who listen are themselves called towards musical expression. In form, content and style, its is a persistently democratic promise.


“Summer Love”, Victor Feldman Trio ft. Ronnie Schott (1956)


Francis Newton is the bop critic for the New Left Review. During the day he works as a teacher in the faculty of adult education at the University of London.
 

stnylan

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Whilst it is not true that all folk suspicios of new populist cultural movements - such as new dance music - is a hallmark of authoritarianism, all authoritarians are suspicious of new populist cultural movements. I guess because it implies a lack of control, and that is anathema to such regiemes.

I get the impression that in certain circles there was talk of a moral lapse in the common folk as a result of these developments - I can just imagine Tony Benn of this timeline offering up some jeremiad against this new music.
 

DensleyBlair

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Whilst it is not true that all folk suspicios of new populist cultural movements - such as new dance music - is a hallmark of authoritarianism, all authoritarians are suspicious of new populist cultural movements. I guess because it implies a lack of control, and that is anathema to such regiemes.

I get the impression that in certain circles there was talk of a moral lapse in the common folk as a result of these developments - I can just imagine Tony Benn of this timeline offering up some jeremiad against this new music.

Aye, very true. There was a great deal of suspicion – and in some cases outright hostility – towards jazz when it arrived in Britain, and the idea of a curfew is basically analogous to our own history. Of course, a lot of the state action around jazz was often at least in part racially motivated.

In our timeline, the emergence of the "trad" scene by the start of the Sixties was contrasted with the boom of skiffle and the eventual dominance of rock 'n' roll. Trad is essentially the heir to the original "hot" dance music, yet by the middle of the century was basically a mainstream tradition. In the Commonwealth of the Sixties, I get the impression that much of the reactionary hostility towards rock 'n' roll would probably be reserved for folk traditions and more adventurous forms of dance music associated with the clubs of the New Left. I think you're right about Benn; a figure like him would cheerfully listen to his Johnny Dankworth while raging against the new, freer tendencies. (I imagine the word "American" would get thrown about a lot.) I have this idea that music becomes one of the principle battlegrounds of political alignment in the Commonwealth by the Sixties, and I plan to write about it more in the future.

_________________________

Thanks to those of you still following along while this AAR steadily plods through the autumn. I'm looking forward to being able (hopefully) to picking up the pace a little come next month when I'll have a bit more time on my hands once more. In the meantime, I've got a piece on foreign relations in the early Commonwealth coming up whenever I can find a spare moment.

Incidentally, the Order of International Solidarity to anyone who knows the true identity of the mysterious Francis Newton (without Googling :p)

Until next time!
 

Wraith11B

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I apologize for not being around for the last few months--apparently I wasn't getting updates from here!

Glad to see this is still going strong!
 

DensleyBlair

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I apologize for not being around for the last few months--apparently I wasn't getting updates from here!

Glad to see this is still going strong!

Glad to see you again, Wraith! This is absolutely still rolling on, even if a little less vigorously as before.

Apologies for not having found time to put up the next update. Life’s been a little hectic recently. I’ll aim to get something published for you all by the end of the weekend. :)
 

Wraith11B

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It's totally understandable! I've had to slow down my pace because I kept closing with my up-to-date game.
 
Goodwill and No Compromise: The Diplomacy of the Commonwealth, 1931–1934

DensleyBlair

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GOODWILL AND NO COMPROMISE
THE DIPLOMACY OF THE COMMONWEALTH, 1931–1934

E. H. CARR

1952



During the first week of February 1931, the diplomats of the Commonwealth convened in rooms at the TUC’s headquarters at Congress House on Great Russell Street to meet representatives from the government of the Soviet Union. The occasion marked the first time that the new British government had received a delegation of foreign dignitaries. Taking place from 2–6 February, the so-called “SovCom Summit” was a landmark event in the diplomatic history of the Commonwealth regime, defining many aspects of the relationship between the capitalist and non-capitalist nations of Europe throughout the coming decade.


While the international reaction to the overthrow of the government of the United Kingdom had been swift, the circumstances facing the combined world powers at the time prevented the immediate emergence of any overriding stance towards the new British government. The major European powers, either dealing with their own various problems or else defaulting to a position of general non-interventionism, had shown little outward concern for the industrial disputes in Britain that led to the revolution. Perhaps the European powers genuinely cared little whether the government of Britain was capitalist or not? Rather more likely, it seems that the destruction of all previous certainties of international relations during the Great War destroyed in turn any idea of the necessity of the survival of traditional government in Britain. Europe at the time was embroiled in numerous crises in the domains of social, political and economic matters. The Great War had finally done away with the old orthodoxy that monarchy led to stability (although it is doubtful that such an orthodoxy remained by that point) and post-War financial troubles had seriously undermined the global faith in market capitalism, a hangover from the previous century. More than a decade removed from the first communist revolution to shake the foundations of the European old order, 1929 was insufficiently novel to inspire immediate panic or condemnation.


Across the Atlantic, with Washington having been increasingly drawn into European affairs after the collapse of the balance of power on the continent, the reaction was admittedly more alarmed. But, facing a grave economic collapse of its own only months after the formation of the Hardy government in London, the United States could not justify material intervention while it scrambled to get its own affairs in order. American intelligences services maintained a close watch on British activity after the fall of capitalist government but, as with the general attitude to Soviet relations during the 1920s, the 1930s would be spent addressing the issues of Commonwealth activity internationally rather than seeking to interfere at a domestic level.


Thus, the beneficiary of a timely (if not unheralded) shock to the foundations of market capitalism and its associated diplomatic systems, the Commonwealth was afforded to room to breathe as it worked to build up a new doctrine of international relations in the first years of the 1930s. In Europe, the rise of syndicalism in Britain coincided with a period of relative isolation during which the great powers were kept preoccupied by their own affairs. In America, Washington too retreated to an introverted position as the financial systems which had seen it enmeshed in the stability of Europe collapsed in spectacular fashion. There are perhaps only two noteworthy exceptions to the reception afforded to the establishment of the Commonwealth by the international community: first, the initial warmth of the Soviet Union, which through the Comintern had furnished the workers’ movement in Britain with considerable material support; second, the alarm of the Japanese, who feared (rightly, as the Pacific War would prove) that the formation of an alliance between the Commonwealth and the Soviet Union would threaten their imperialist ambitions in South East Asia.


SOVIET%20DELEGATION%20TUC.jpg

Members of the Soviet delegation pose for a photograph outside Congress House, 1931.


The diplomacy of the early Commonwealth was presided over by two men: Harry Pollitt, previously the General Secretary of the National Minority Movement, directed the Bureau of International Relations between 1929–1932; Willie Gallacher, a former delegate to the Comintern, directed the Bureau until Mosley’s re-organisation in June 1934. Both men were strong supporters of the Soviet regime (indeed, the Communist Party line in 1929 advocated for the federation of Britain with the Soviet Union). Naturally this went a long way towards building friendly relations between the two countries, but this is not to say that the friendship was untroubled. Internal politics on both sides worked to frustrate the foundation of a straightforward partnership. For example, while the CPGB under Albert Inkpin was broadly, one might say blindly, enthusiastic about the programme of the Soviet government, the reverse – the enthusiasm of the CPSU for the Commonwealth – could not be said to hold entirely true. By the end of the 1920s, the frustration of revolutionary Soviet diplomacy by suspicious capitalist powers had led to an attempt by Narkomindel – the Soviet Ministry of Foreign Affairs – to distance itself from propaganda and pivot towards the implementation of a more orthodox diplomatic policy. The defeat of the abortive Leftist revolutions throughout Europe in the first half of the decade had convinced many in the Soviet government, particularly CPSU general secretary Stalin, of the impossibility of permanent revolution. Instead, a doctrine of “Socialism in one country” had been established to ensure the survival of the anti-capitalist project in Russia. The organisation of political and economic power within the Soviet Union towards the end of the decade was based on a widespread belief that the Communist International had failed, and that the Soviets alone would have to take up the mantle of revolution.


The final success of the British revolution in 1929 gave occasion for the re-evaluation of this policy, and within the Soviet Union the supporters of Socialism in one country found themselves temporarily discredited as the apparent impossibility of a global socialism no longer seemed certain. Stalin’s decision not to attend the 1931 summit has been subject to continued debate in this context, taken by some as a sign of the CPSU leader’s frustration at having been set back in his policy of internal consolidation, particularly with rivals Trotsky and Zinoviev to a degree having been vindicated. In all likelihood, this is reading too much into events; Stalin was generally uninterested in foreign affairs. In any case, Nikolai Bukharin, the Comintern chair who had helped to develop the one-country doctrine, was a member of the three-man delegation, which also included Soviet premier Alexei Rykov, and Maxim Litvinov, the deputy minister at Narkomindel. Georgy Chicherin, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was fatally ill in a sanatorium on the Riviera, and thus unable to travel to Britain.


For much of the 1920s, the relationship between Britain and the Soviet Union had been broadly one of tolerance, if not enthusiasm. In the years before the revolution, successive Conservative governments in Westminster had allowed Soviet representatives into Britain so long as they gave assurances of refraining from distributing propaganda. Chicherin had pursued a generally anti-British policy, particularly in Asia where the Empire had frustrated Soviet ambitions. His deputy Litvinov, however, was in favour of a policy of collective security which, arguably, ran counter to the “class against class” doctrine of the Third International. Even before the revolution, he had expressed favourable views about forming closer relationships with France and Britain. After becoming minister himself only months after the SovCom Summit, he was instrumental in maintaining close relations between Britain and the Soviet Union. He later gave particular attention to the crafting of a multilateral response to the rise of fascism in Europe, culminating in the signing of the Cripps–Litvinov Pact in the aftermath of the Rhineland Crisis of March 1936.


LITVINOV%201937.jpg

Maxim Litvinov, who as Soviet foreign secretary did much to define foreign relations in Europe during the 1930s.


For the men in Congress House in 1931, however, European fascism was not the main concern. While consideration was given to the fight against internal fascist tendencies in Britain as part of the programme of securing the survival of the revolutionary government, to which end the Soviets pledged a cache of materiel as a gesture of international solidarity, aside from some ill-defined commitments to sundry trade agreements between the two states the predominant topic of discussion was the revival of support for international revolutionary activity. With the transition of Britain from a capitalist to a communalised economy underway, the dominance of the market capitalist system had been dealt a fatal blow. Thus, it was envisaged, international communist revolution was now more likely than ever before. Concrete steps could therefore be taken towards the establishment of a peaceful, anti-capitalist and anti-fascist international of the working class. In recognition of this renewed desire for action, preparations began in earnest for the convocation of the Seventh World Congress of the Comintern, which would be convened in Manchester in late September.


In the weeks following the SovCom Summit, the Executive Committee of the Comintern thus set about the work of drafting programmatic resolutions for the next convention. The programme arrived at was one of renewed commitment to the class against class doctrine espoused time and again by the Third International. The final defeat of the bourgeoisie was laid out in terms of a struggle both with fascist and reformist tendencies in all countries, with the workers’ defeat of the Labour Party in Britain taken as outstanding proof of the merit of resisting collaboration with non-proletarian parties. This was seen as the most viable path towards the establishment of international communism, following which Litvinov was urgently impressed by the need to work towards multilateral disarmament as a condition of defending against the re-emergence of capitalism. The programme was ratified at the newly-renamed International Hall in Manchester on 30 September, marking the high point of the early Commonwealth’s commitment to uncompromising internationalism. Following Harry Pollitt’s election to the Chairmanship of the Executive Committee in May 1932, he was replaced as Director of the Foreign Bureau by Willie Gallacher. Gallacher, a veteran functionary of the Comintern, was nevertheless more open to compromise with non-proletarian organisations in bringing about the defeat of capitalism. His tenure was characterised by goodwill, and he successfully presided over the efforts to resolve the diplomatic issues surrounding the celebration of the Summer Olympics in London in 1932, which the British government took as an opportunity to show off the prestige of the new society of the Commonwealth on the international stage. By the following year, Gallacher had added to his successes with the official recognition of the Commonwealth by Washington, facilitated partly by the existing friendship between President Roosevelt and Oswald Mosley. (Litvinov secured a similar recognition for the Soviet Union a few weeks later.)


Yet Gallacher’s competent stewardship came, some say necessarily, at the expense of the doctrine of no compromise resolved by the Seventh Congress. By 1933, the growing strength of fascism both domestically and abroad had given some people cause to reconsider the Comintern’s hardline stance in advocating ideological purity in the fight against it. Adolf Hitler acceded to the chancellorship in Germany at the end of January, and from the summer fascists in Britain had begun a renewed, bloody campaign of resistance building up to an attempt at counter-revolution. A measure of latitudinarianism was required in building coalitions against both of these threats, thus there was a growing movement agitating in favour of an updated programme of action in prosecuting the international revolution. The Eighth World Congress of the Comintern was convened in London in February 1934, and resolved to amend its earlier doctrine of no compromise towards the establishment of a popular front against fascism. Faced with an increasingly violent fascist opposition at home, the popular front doctrine saw the end of CPGB control over the Commonwealth government; the Workers’ Assembly elected Oswald Mosley Chairman of the Executive Committee after the PLUA took control of a majority of regional councils in the elections of May 1934. While, coincidentally, the Bureau of Foreign Affairs remained the only government office under CPGB control following Mosley’s accession, this was short-lived. Comintern functionary Arthur MacManus served as director of the Bureau until January 1935, when he was ousted in favour of Stafford Cripps, leader of the new Popular Front.


The period 1931–1934 can thus be characterised as a time of great optimism for the young Commonwealth on the international stage. Under the direction of Harry Pollitt, the Commonwealth embarked on a close alignment with the Soviet Union and reinvigorated the twin push for international revolution and against fascism. Subsequently, Willie Gallacher oversaw a period of détente between the Commonwealth and the capitalist states, marked by the official recognition of the Commonwealth government by the United States in early 1933. Nevertheless, the commitment to a firm ideological position internationally had an adverse effect on the fight against fascism, which used the renewed confidence of the Comintern as a rallying cry throughout the middle of the decade. Thus the shift to an endorsement of the popular front doctrine in 1934 seems, to some degree, an inevitability – although the flourishing of the syndicalist international in western Europe towards the end of the 1930s and into the next decade suggests that any total abandonment of a self-confident internationalism was perhaps premature. Rather, the period after 1934 can be seen as the adaptation of the Commonwealth to the realities of operation during a troubled period of international relations in Europe, during which a temporary deference to the principles of realpolitik was considered an urgent necessity in ensuring the survival of the anti-capitalist, anti-fascist International.
 

stnylan

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The 1930s are just not a good time to be overly idealistic in foreign affairs.
 

avalanches

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FDR (?) recognizing the Commonwealth government is awfully bold of him, interesting little detail there.

Also, I wholeheartedly agree with Stnylan’s point - hot take coming, but the 30’s were a pretty bad decade on the whole.
 

DensleyBlair

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Sorry for going slightly AWOL everyone. Believe it or not I’ve actually been involved in strike action over the past two weeks so distracted in the most topical way possible. :D Anyway, back now and here to reply to comments!

The 1930s are just not a good time to be overly idealistic in foreign affairs.

Aye, idealism never entirely emerges fully formed after an encounter with the rising scourge of fascism.

FDR (?) recognizing the Commonwealth government is awfully bold of him, interesting little detail there.

His recognition of the USSR at this point is historical. I just took the lead from that. Helps that FDR and Mosley are old friends of course. ;)

Also, I wholeheartedly agree with Stnylan’s point - hot take coming, but the 30’s were a pretty bad decade on the whole.

We’ve seen nowt yet. :p

____________________

I’ve finished work until the New Year so with any luck I’ll get a spare moment or two for some extra-curricular writing in the new few weeks. Until then, I do still have the safety net of a few chapters I presciently wrote over summer. I’ll have the next one up in due course.

In the meantime, the AARland year-end awards are up and running and eagerly accepting votes from all comers! Just follow this seductive link, courtesy of friend of the thread @Wraith11B



Expect the next chapter in the coming days. :)
 
The Red, The White, The Green: Anglos in Newfoundland and the Politics of Exile, 1929–1944

DensleyBlair

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ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



THE RED, THE WHITE, THE GREEN
ANGLOS IN NEWFOUNDLAND AND THE POLITICS OF EXILE, 1929–1944

FRANCES RIDSDALE

1950



The red the rose of England shows, the green St. Patrick's emblem bright,
while in between the spotless sheen of Andrew's cross displays the white.

“The Red, the White and the Green”
Anon, circa 1930


The exodus of the (primarily English) aristocracy from Britain to Newfoundland began in late November 1928, three months before the final capitulation of the rump government of the United Kingdom, with the flight of King George V to St John’s. At the time, a story was concocted detailing how the King had left the country on doctor’s orders, relocating to the Avalon Peninsula in the hope that the coastal air might have a restorative effect on his declining health. In reality, as has been widely publicised in the years after, the royal doctor counselled that George only need go as far as Bognor. Fearful that the end was nigh for the monarchy in Britain, the wearied king crossed the Atlantic to escape the danger, leaving behind his reckless son Prince Edward as nominal regent of a rapidly changing state.


George’s flight was a key moment in the final demise of the United Kingdom, perhaps the first visible evidence of the aristocratic ruling class accepting that the writing was on the wall. In the subsequent months, almost 2,000 members of the titled classes made the trip to “take the air” along with their families, representing the flight of virtually all of the old nobility of the United Kingdom. Some stayed, desperately liquidating their assets before the revolutionaries could get their hands on them, often channeling the profits into the underground counter-revolutionary movement. Only a handful found themselves amenable to the new regime – mostly old Liberal and reformist socialist peers, along with some younger figures from the more traditionally conservative aristocracy who developed an attachment to Mosley personally. But for the most part, upon arriving to take the old big houses for the new workers’ state, the revolutionaries almost always found them unoccupied and bare. Thousands of artworks, smaller items of furniture, articles of clothing and pieces of jewellery were taken to Newfoundland as the upper classes scrambled to keep hold of whatever of their wealth was portable.


NEWFIE%20TRICOLOUR.jpg

"The Red, the White, the Green", the national flag of the royalist Dominion of Newfoundland.


The island of Newfoundland in 1929 was home to about 200,000 people (about 70 per-cent of the total population of Newfoundland and Labrador), mostly descended from migrants who left the British Isles in the centuries before. Even at the start of the Twentieth century, the population was heavily polarised. The split between liberal and conservative mapped fairly neatly to the split between Irish farmers, fishermen and tradesmen on the one hand, and English merchants on the other. The majority of the population was centred on the Avalon Peninsula at the south of the island, home to the capital port town of St John’s. St John’s was sustained by a merchant export economy, which since the end of the Great War had been in the grip of an almost permanent slump. For the new émigré class, circumstances were thus markedly different to those which they had left behind before the revolution. In many ways, the move to Newfoundland was akin to jumping back to the middle of the previous century, when questions of trade and religion still had the power to shock the political landscape. For some, it was an ideal return to an agrarian society more hospitable to the survival of a landed gentry class, although this was a blinkered view. The new, globalised century had made its mark on the province, bringing calls for political reform (mostly from the liberal Irish) and economic crises sparked by disastrous attempts at modernisation. The arrival of 2,000 exiled members of the old English aristocracy did little to stem this progress, even if it did alter the direction in which it proceeded.


Prior to 1929, Newfoundland was governed as a Dominion of the British Empire. The governor in post at the time of George’s arrival in St John’s was Sir John Middleton, a veteran of the Colonial Office who had previously administered the Gambia and the Falkland Islands on behalf of the Crown. In spite of the arrival of the King himself, Middleton remained in post until George’s death in 1933, which followed an extended period of declining health. Middleton oversaw a turbulent period in Newfoundlander political history, coinciding with the ruination of the provincial economy during the Great Depression. The collapse of the price of fish almost singlehandedly destroyed the export economy, while a half-hearted attempt at a scheme of public works did little except worsen the considerable public debt. In 1932, premier Sir Richard Squires – an ex-lawyer who headed both the Newfoundland Liberal Party and the American chapter of the Orange Order – was accused of corruption and there was rioting in the streets outside the government building in St John’s. While many of the émigrés feared a repeat of the events of the British revolution, any immediate trouble was quelled by the dismissal of the Squires ministry and his replacement by Frederick Alderdice, a Belfast-born Conservative. Alderdice, however, was no more successful than Squires in orchestrating a revival of the province’s economic fortunes, and soon the dominion government found itself contemplating drastic measures. Confederation with Canada had already been rejected in 1932, and was rejected again the following year – although King George’s most notable contribution to resolving the deadlock, a few months before his death, was exerting pressure on the Canadian government in Ottawa to provide a measure of financial support in 1933.


NEWFOUNDLAND%201930.jpg

The Dominion of Newfoundland


Prince Edward, having not only remained in Britain throughout the revolution but actively collaborated with Churchill and the armed forces in an attempt to defeat the workers’ movement, was finally persuaded of the need to leave the country in late February 1929, days before the surrender of Cliveden. Travelling incognito in a fisherman’s jumper, Edward boarded a ship at Plymouth on 1 March and arrived in St John’s twelve days later. He was perpetually restless in the province and resented having had to leave Europe; he visited Germany at the earliest opportunity following an invitation from the Nazi government in 1933. A main complaint was the low calibre of the social and political leadership, and he reserved a particular animosity for the Commonwealth government after its condemnation of his old friends Winston Churchill and Nancy Astor in 1932. Upon becoming head of the House of Windsor in September 1933, Edward intervened immediately in the political crisis by instituting sweeping reforms of the dominion’s system of government. Middleton was persuaded to retire almost immediately, and Edward effectively did away with the governorship altogether by taking the position for himself. (He never renounced his claim to the United Kingdom title, styling himself “Edward VIII, King in Canada and Governor of the Dominion of Newfoundland”.) In January 1934, he dissolved Alderdice’s ministry and formed a “Commission of Government” to deal with the ongoing economic crisis. In effect, this was an anti-democratic coup; Edward retained extensive influence over the operation of the Commission, appointing a small group of Anglo émigrés who ruled Newfoundland without reference to the provincial parliament until 1943.


For some of the native Newfoundlanders, this usurpation of government by the immigrant British aristocracy was akin to takeover by a foreign power. Amongst the Irish Catholic community there was widespread disaffection, and republican sentiment increased – though, aside from a few demonstrations, nothing ever came of it. The conservative majority, disillusioned by the failure and corruption of successive elected or appointed ministries, were more or less happy to be ruled by commission, deferring to the Windsor monarchy. Caught in the middle, the old Newfoundlander bourgeois classes forced out of government were generally opposed to direct rule. Some collaborated with the Commission, seeing it as the surest way out of economic depression, but a number of the most prominent members of the St John’s establishment remained aloof.


Nevertheless, Edward’s rule did – initially – see some limited revival in Newfoundland’s economic fortunes. The Commission worked to reorganise the agricultural and fishing industries to make them more resilient in the face of global price fluctuations, and by the end of the 1930s the implementation of a programme of basic welfare provision worked to combat the worst of the immiseration suffered by the unemployed. But fundamental reform was not forthcoming, and the underlying problems afflicting Newfoundland’s economy persisted; by the start of the 1940s, the province remained agrarian and reliant on the export of staple goods, chiefly fish. A renewed attempt to build a transinsular railway had been more fruitful than in the 1920s, and by 1943 the island had a reasonably modernised infrastructural network centred around the railway (before 1934 there were few metalled roads). But much of the impetus for this work was reliant on foreign investment, which at a time of global depression few nations – not least the United States – were willing to provide. The Canadian government in Ottawa produced audacious plans to connect the island of Newfoundland to the mainland via a rail bridge spanning over 10 miles across the Gulf of St Lawrence between Flower’s Cove and Forteau, but these plans were quickly abandoned as it became apparent that basic logistic issues could not be overcome even with immense capital investment. Thus Newfoundland’s flirtation with the Keynesianist boom that swept much of the developed world during the late 1930s and early 1940s proved relatively brief. Edward lacked the ability or the patience to shape Newfoundland in any meaningful way, and during his period of direct rule he ultimately achieved little. His commissioners grew increasingly frustrated with his recklessness.


EDWARD%201936.jpg

The "King in Canada", 1936.


Unfortunately, as it became evident that his fortunes in Newfoundland would not be improving any time soon, Edward’s behaviour only became harder to manage. He was an inveterate womaniser and from 1940 spent much of his time partying in the company of his fellow exiles, some of whom he would take with him on lengthy vacations to his ranch at Bedingfield in Alberta, given to him years earlier on a tour of Canada as Prince of Wales. While he arrived in Newfoundland in 1933 with popularity to spare, by the start of the next decade – having seen him up close and personal – his provincial subjects had fallen out of love with their king. It did not help that he maintained a dim view of the Irish Newfoundlanders, rarely stepping out of his aristocratic Anglo circle. On the occasion that he did, it was usually to entertain foreign dignitaries. Herr Hitler visited in 1935 to mark the opening of the new German embassy in St John’s – one of the few foreign missions established in the city while Newfoundland remained independent. Shortly afterwards, Edward began a relationship with Marie Alexandra von Salviati, the wife of the German ambassador. His apparent lack of concern for the potential implications of this affair was staggering. On one occasion, Marie Alexandra accompanied Edward to his Bedingfield ranch, ostensibly on the grounds that it would be a shame for her not to get to see more of the continent while her husband was posted on the island. It is striking how many official engagements subsequently merited the extension of an invitation to the German ambassador.


With an economic recovery programme that was going nowhere fast, and stuck with a king who showed little sustained interest in finding a solution, Newfoundland was thus set firmly on course for crisis. Conscious that another slump could be catastrophic, coming so soon after a tentative period of recovery from the last downturn, drastic options had to be considered in order to avert the total ruin of the dominion. Realising that the Commission had ceased to be useful as a form of government, the governmental class in St John’s began to draw up measures allowing for the reinstitution of democratic rule. Further, as it was now generally held that an independent Newfoundland was economically unsustainable in an increasingly globalised world, the opinion took hold that any democratic government would have to to maintain exceptionally close links with the Canadian government in Ottawa. Thus the Commissioners resolved in early 1943 to renew the petition for confederation with Canada at the earliest possible opportunity. With the economy thus theoretically more stable, parliamentary government could then be restored in the province.


While the sensational details of the failed Hanover Plot of 1943 are not immediately relevant to the end of direct Anglo rule in Newfoundland, the subsequent accession of King Albert is doubtless an important factor in achieving confederation. The Windsor monarchy having been thoroughly discredited during Edward’s time in office, Albert’s sharply contrasting personality saw the institution recede as the Canadian bourgeoisie retook control of their nation’s economic and political power structures. He ended direct rule in 1944 and oversaw the confederation of Newfoundland with Canada soon after.


The Confederate Kingdom of Canada and Newfoundland survives as a second-tier capitalist power, its own continent dominated by the chauvinistic United States. After a failed attempt to revive its own fortunes through the institution of quasi-absolutist government in Newfoundland, the Windsor monarchy has once again faded into irrelevance. Today, of the former nations of the British Empire to have remained outside of the UCCS, even the racialist governments of both Australia and the South African Union want little to do with the former British Crown. Perhaps against all expectations, the Windsor monarchy has survived two decades after the British revolution. It does not seem unreasonable to suggest that it will not be here in two more.


Frances Ridsdale (b. 1910) lectures at the University of Birmingham in the School for Imperialist Studies within the faculty of History and Politics.
 

stnylan

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It is very hard to erase monarchy unless you remove it root and stem in one fell swoop.
 

Anuerin

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I liked this update a lot, felt a damn sight more realistic than Kaiserreich's sudden superpower Canada.
 

avalanches

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The descent into authoritarianism by the royals in exile is just *chefs kiss*

I do like the ambiguity of the in-universe sources - leaves it up to the reader to decide whether Newfoundland is as bad as the author is making it out to be. And I like the anti-racist angle at the end there, even if Australia has gone off the deep end.
 

DensleyBlair

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It is very hard to erase monarchy unless you remove it root and stem in one fell swoop.

As a certain twitter account I follow once said, you can't guillotine a social relationship. :D

Thanks for your continued support. :)

I liked this update a lot, felt a damn sight more realistic than Kaiserreich's sudden superpower Canada.

Thanks Aneurin. Most of the Canada KR lore I'm familiar with comes from AARs I've read in the past (not least the Crown Atomic) so while these were definitely in mind, I tried quite consciously to strike a balance between them and what to me felt plausible. Which, given the situation Newfoundland found itself in by 1930, was a hell of a way away from second American superpower.

The descent into authoritarianism by the royals in exile is just *chefs kiss*

Thanks avalanches – I'm glad you enjoyed it! In my mind, George had probably given up hope of ever returning owing to his worsening health if nothing else, but for Edward the idea of being kicked out of Britain for good was a fair bit harder to take – thus giving in to all of his worst personality traits as a tinpot tyrant in Newfoundland. My suspicion is that once you're bored in power it is fairly easy to descend into authoritarianism. Added to the fact that Edward was stuck in an agrarian backwater of the former empire, with pretty much all of the old dominions abandoning the Windsors as a lost cause, I think it's fair to imagine that he wouldn't take it too well...

I do like the ambiguity of the in-universe sources - leaves it up to the reader to decide whether Newfoundland is as bad as the author is making it out to be. And I like the anti-racist angle at the end there, even if Australia has gone off the deep end.

One of the things I like about KR, which I remember reading someone else point out over the summer, is that it's incredibly hard to unpick who exactly is the "good guy". To my mind, this is less because of the fact that in the alternate-historical universe everyone is just empirically worse somehow, but more likely because once you do away with the flattering veneer of post-war liberal democracy it becomes much easier to recognise the darker aspects of government and statecraft. As I've always said, a lot of stuff in this alt-history is drawn root and branch from real life events – I think maybe it just gets read in a whole different way when there's no baseline expectation of political Liberalism.

_________________________________

Thank you everyone for your continued support here. Even if I'm precluded from working on this as much as I would like at the moment (or at all, really) it is always heartening to know that you're all still interested in what life is like in the Commonwealth. I'm currently trying to use the winter break to work on my dissertation, which naturally takes up pretty much all of my time and energy, but with any luck I may find a spare day or two in the new year to get some more written up for this project. In the meantime, I do have a handful of updates left over from summer, which I'm excited to share in the coming weeks. The next instalment I hope to have up towards the end of the month.

Until then, a peaceful holiday period to you all!
 

stnylan

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I hope you have a fortunate and wholesome New Year.
 

Ab Ovo

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reading this AAR is like watching someone painstakingly draw a breathtaking, magnificent vision of a garbage pile. Your talents are wasted on such a nauseating premise.









*weeps bitter monarchist tears*
 

DensleyBlair

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I hope you have a fortunate and wholesome New Year.

Thank you! A happy New Year to you also – and indeed to all readers. :)

reading this AAR is like watching someone painstakingly draw a breathtaking, magnificent vision of a garbage pile. Your talents are wasted on such a nauseating premise.









*weeps bitter monarchist tears*

Ab! Good to see you around again. Your comment made my day. :p There'll be more garbage for you to weep over very shortly. :D

__________________________

New year naturally means new update, so stay tuned for that very shortly. In other news, work on my dissertation is going well (I think) so I'm hoping to have a bit of time next week to devote to AAR writing. I'm picking up where I left things at the end of summer, slowly eking into the 1940s. It's an interesting time for the Commonwealth (as always...) and I'll be keen to hear what people think of the world that's developing as it is revealed. :)

Until then!