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

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    TABLE OF CONTENTS


    Author's Note

    Synopsis: 1914–29

    Synopsis: 1929–45


    * * *


    BOOK ONE
    CLASS AGAINST CLASS
    (1925–1929)

    A Contingent State: Political Agency in the Making of the Commonwealth
    E. P. Thompson, 1961

    Baldwin, the trade unions and the Samuel Report (1926–27)
    Anonymous, 1950

    Herald of the World to Come (Mar–Sep 1927)
    Raymond Williams, 1966

    Voices of the Struggle: The General Strike, 30 Years On
    dir. Marghanita Laski, CBC TV, May 1957

    Remembering "Red Wadham"
    Oxford, 1927

    The Revolutionary Turn: The General Strike after London Docks (1927–28)
    Eric Hobsbawm, 1947

    A False Dawn: Memories of the General Election of 1928
    Gladys Hatherley, 1953


    The Broken Olive Branch: Ramsay MacDonald and the Counter-Revolution (Feb–Jun 1928)
    Joan Wyatt, 1954

    Revolution by Reason: The Origins of Mosleyism (1925–28)
    A. J. P. Taylor, 1969

    My Life
    Oswald Mosley, 1965
    The Labour Years, Part One (1924–28)
    The Labour Years, Part Two (Mar – Oct 1928)
    Building the Alliance (1928–29)


    The In-Between State: Worker control during the General Strike (1928–29)
    E. P. Thompson, 1973

    "The Ugly Death of Labour Britain"

    Talking Point, CBC 1, Feb 1979
    Healey–Jenkins–Benn Discussion, Part One
    "Operation Exodus" (nar. Vanessa Redgrave)
    Healey–Jenkins–Benn Discussion, Part Two

    “Operation Night Flight” (nar. Vanessa Redgrave)


    * * *


    BOOK TWO
    POPULAR FRONT
    (1929–1945)

    Freedom From the Bottom Up: Political organisation under the CPGB (1929–34)
    Marian J. Woods, 1971

    The Mongrel Collective: Britain and the Global Economy, 1929–34
    Robert Skidelsky, 1965

    Millers Dale for Tideswell, pilot episode
    CBC Wireless Service, 1934

    The New World in Motion: Film in the Workers' Commonwealth
    Wolf Mankowitz, 1961

    Book Club at the Partisan
    Will, Cord, et al., 1960

    Leaving the Astoria: Memories of dance music after the Revolution
    Francis Newton, 1956

    Goodwill and No Compromise: Commonwealth diplomacy, 1931–34
    E. H. Carr, 1952

    The Red, The White, The Green: The Anglos in Newfoundland, 1929–44
    Frances Ridsdale, 1950

    For King, Country and Capital: The Counter-Revolution in Britain, 1930–34
    Eric Hobsbawm, 1967
    An Insidious Conspiracy (1930–33)
    Cold Summer, Hot Autumn (1933–34)

    Mosley Ascendant: A Brief History of the PLUA, 1934–36
    A. J. P. Taylor, 1961

    The Return of the Red Adder
    Cook & Moore, CBC 2, 1970

    A New Versailles: European diplomacy before the Spanish War
    E. H. Carr, 1955

    Hills of Red and Gold: Memories of the Spanish War (1936–39)
    W. Parris Marr, Partisan Review, May 1940

    A Popular Front: Anti-fascism at home during the Spanish War, 1936–39
    Raphael Samuel, 1974

    Guilty Men: A Cautionary Tale
    "Cato", 1940

    The Commonwealth of the Credulous: "Guilty Men" reviewed
    George Orwell,
    Partisan Review, Mar 1940

    Looking Over the Shoulder: On the wars in Africa and Asia (1939–44)
    Arthur Koestler, Partisan Review, Oct 1944

    Flying in the Dark: A Counterfactual
    Talking Point, CBC 1, Oct 1973

    From Empire to International: Remarks on the occasion of Ghanaian Autonomy
    C. L. R. James, 1945


    Society Rebel Who Rose to the Presidency: Cynthia Mosley, 1898–1945
    Daily Herald, 16 Aug 1945


    * * *


    BOOK THREE
    REVISION
    (1945–1956)

    Oswald Mosley: A Secret History
    New Partisan Review, 1980

    The Mosleyite Economy: Postwar economic reform, 1945–49
    Robert Skidelsky, 1971

    Selling Out: Industrial Relations in Mosley's Britain
    Bert Ramelson, 1969
    April Showers, May Flowers: Consequences of the 'Coldest Winter', 1946–47

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

    Total Control: Mosley's battles with the Left, 1946–51
    Cordelia Bonner, 1966

    Solidarity, Health and Freedom: Football in the Syndicalist International, 1946–56
    Brian Clough, 1976

    International Relations: A Diplomatic History of the Anti-Fascist Pact
    E. L. Carr, 1970

    The Italian Revolution, 1943–45
    Developments in Europe, 1948–53

    Generation Gap: Harold Laski's Popular Front (1948–54)
    Michael Foot, 1968

    A Shadow Over the Future: Socialist Youth after Orwell (1950–52)
    Bertha Sokoloff, Searchlight, 1977

    So Different, So Appealing: Architecture and Mosleyism in the 1950s
    Jonathan Meades, CBC Radio 4, 1979

    Still lives at Whitechapel
    Will, Cord and John, Sep 1956

    The Boothby Letter
    Talking Point, 1981

    Land Before Nation: Crisis and Autonomy in Kenya, 1950–56
    George Padmore, 1954

    1956: The Rise of the New Left
    Eric Hobsbawm, 1976

    The Road to Bucharest


    * * *


    BOOK FOUR
    NEW LEFT
    (1956–69)

    1956: The Rise of the New Left
    Eric Hobsbawm, 1976

    The January War
    The Secret Speech

    A Common Future: The Birth of the European Syndicate
    Roy Jenkins, 1977

    Windscale: Crisis in Nuclear Britain
    Rev. John Groser, 1966

    The Windscale Crisis (1957–59)
    A Government Diary, Dick Crossman, 1975

    Morning Coffee at the Partisan
    Ralph, Stuart and Cordelia, 1959

    Look Back In Anger: The Birth of the Partisan Movement
    Talking Point, 1974

    Recollections of a Rebel
    Bob Boothby, 1978

    Exit Mosley: Pre-history (1957–59)
    Exit Mosley: The End of an Era (1959–61)

    Red Adder’s Last Hurrah
    Cook & Moore, CBC 2, 1973


    Enter Bevan (1961–63)
    A Government Diary, Dick Crossman, 1975

    Nye Bevan's New Britain: A Retrospective
    Kenneth Tynan, New Partisan Review, 1978

    1964: Annus Mirabilis
    David Widgery, New Partisan Review, 1974

    Monitor: Cold War sci-fi special
    CBC Two 1964

    The French Connection: Interview with Roland Barthes
    CBC Two, 1965

    Battle for the Test Ban
    Bertrand Russell, 1969

    The Transatlantic Missile Crisis
    Bertrand Russell, Sep 24 – Nov 3 1964
    President Kennedy, Nov 30 1964

    The Warsaw Agreement, Dec 9 1964
    "The Cuban Project" Jan 22 – Dec 16 1964
    Tito Intervenes, 12:00 Dec 18 1964
    Boothby Speaks, 18:00 Dec 18 1964
    "Exiles at outskirts of Havana", Dec 24 1964
    "Mr Khrushchev's Christmas Speech", Dec 25 1964

    "Stepping Away From Danger", Dec 25 1964 – Jan 1 1965

    Redadder's Christmas Carol
    CBC 2, 1973

    Commonwealth 1965
    A Trip to the Shops
    Moonraker
    A Day in the Life of John Tennyson
    Louis Balfour's Jazz Club

    Eye of the Storm: A History of the Cold War in the Bevan Years
    Denis Healey, 1976
    The Baltic Tango: Europe after crisis, Spring 1965
    Hearts and Minds: Confrontation in South East Asia, 1964–66
    The Anxiety of Autonomy: Trouble in Guyana, 1965–66
    Transatlantic Blues: The Guyanese Emergency, 1966
    Kith and Kin: Britain after empire, 1966



    * * *



    A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES
    by @99KingHigh


    HARDING, COOLIDGE, MELLON

    A People's History of the United States
    Howard Zinn, 1980
    Self-Help In Small Times (1922–29)


    ROOSEVELT, BYRNES, MacARTHUR

    American Caesar: Douglas MacArthur, 1880–1964
    William Manchester, 1978

    Empire of the Fading Sun (1944–48)
    Sunset Call (1949–52)

    Domestic scenes from the MacArthur presidency
    The New York Times, 1953–56


    KEFAUVER, KENNEDY


    Six Thousand Days: Kefauver, Kennedy and the Frontiersmen in the White House
    Arthur M. Schlesinger, 1971
    Domestic excerpts, 1956–60
    Domestic excerpts, 1960–63
    Ordeal by Fire: The Bay of Pigs (1964)

    Tangle in Indonesia: The Other Asian Crisis (1963–66)

    The Birth of the American Age: U.S. Foreign Policy at Home and Abroad
    Walter LaFeber, 1979
    The Democrats in Europe and Latin America, 1956–60
    Escalations in Indochina, 1961–64

    Cuban Missile Crisis, 1964
    Deterioration in Indochina, 1965–67

    The Nuclear Delusion: Soviet–American Relations in the Atomic Age
    George F. Kennan, 1976

    The American–Soviet Relationship: A Retrospective (1960–63)

    Notes on the Hot Summer (1967)
    Walter Lippmann, 1971
    Appendix: Wallace–Lindbergh campaign poster, 1968


    Mitterrand on France and Indochina
    Firing Line, 1968

    Downward: America Before the Turn
    William F. Buckley, Jr., 1976
    Introduction


    * * *



    TABLES, FIGURES AND DATASHEETS

    List of elections to the People's Assembly of the Commonwealth since 1947

    Map of Europe, 19 January 1956


    Map of Central America and the Caribbean, 1966
     
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    AUTHOR'S NOTE

    Back, and ready for it all over again!


    It’s been almost four years since I last started an AAR. Tellingly, it’s been three and a half years since I last updated one. Since then my time for Paradox games has been scant, and any writing I’ve done has been almost universally academic.

    But the urge to get back on the horse never entirely left. Ignoring all good judgement and past form, I’ve decided – foolishly, perhaps – that this is going to be the summer where I finally start writing for pleasure again. The impetus stems largely from having re-installed Vicky 2 about a month ago and trying out the New Era mod. On my first play through, I gave myself the goal of somehow flipping the UK communist and riding out the revolutionary storm. In the event, the game only lasted about a decade before everything went “full Vicky” and things got a bit too crazy to even try post-rationalising. But the ten years I did manage set off a spark in my brain, and before I knew it I had a whole new world fleshed out. Which, four weeks of drafting and planning later, is how I end up here.

    Echoes of a New Tomorrow draws on one brief session of gameplay, playing as the UK between 1920–1935. I have taken an incalculable number of liberties with plot and history; all I hope is that the result manages to hold itself together with a discernible internal logic of some sort. That said, this is not an academic exercise, nor am I anything beyond an amateur historian of the period: there will be jarring moments, I am sure. I only ask that you indulge me when they occur. Naturally, I invite all discussion about alternative possibilities to those I present – particularly where my own timeline is less fleshed out.

    Reflecting my own need for structural flexibility, updates will likely be relatively short and come in a variety of flavours. I’m not aiming for strict chronology, rather a sort of collection of sources that gradually builds up a picture of the world I imagine to have developed from the initial gameplay. With any luck, this will leave me able to at least make decent progress before external circumstances inevitably catch up with me and I’m forced to take what I will euphemistically call a “break from writing”.

    I am of course indebted to numerous people, both on these boards and off. While I wasn’t there to see it at the time, Meadow’s The People’s Flag remains an obvious point of reference, both in terms of form and content. Four years after I last thanked him for it, @LordTempest ’s counsel is still greatly appreciated. I should also mention my gratitude to @99KingHigh for pretty much single-handedly keeping me around the forums for the last couple of years. Finally, while I have never played it myself, the scenario I’ve set up here will invite inevitable comparisons to Kaiserreich. Although a number of similarities are coincidental, I would be lying if I said that KR lore hadn’t fed into the planning of my own scenario. All the work the KR team put into developing their universe is gratefully acknowledged.

    To those of you kind enough to join me for the ride, my lasting gratitude. Hopefully this will be enjoyable for all of us. :)


    DB
     
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    A Contingent State: Political Agency in the Making of the Commonwealth
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    ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



    A CONTINGENT STATE
    POLITICAL AGENCY IN THE MAKING OF THE COMMONWEALTH

    E. P. THOMPSON

    1961



    It has become popular amongst certain sections of the Communist leadership in recent years to celebrate the arrival of the Commonwealth as an inevitability. Now three decades removed from the extraordinary moment of class consciousness that, in immediate terms, set off the conditions necessary for the transformation of the British polity, it becomes easy – for those so minded – to fall into traps of historicism and dialectical materialism. Stripped of all contingency, the achievement of a government of the working class in Britain is remembered not as the complex realisation of social relations that it necessarily was, but as a final and paradisiacal reward given in recognition of services rendered by the working class after 1927. As the Commonwealth enters its fourth decade, this sort of romanticised thinking not only suffers the ignominy of delusion, but also itself threatens the continued possibility of class consciousness as an agent factor in the government of Britain.


    On terms purely historical, one might first raise objection to the idea of an inevitable revolutionary British state on the grounds that the very revolutionary nature of the British government since 1929 is a muddied matter indeed. Undoubtedly, the re-organisation of government between January and May 1929 was the result of an extraordinary campaign of direct action, motivated primarily by a level of working-class consciousness the likes of which had been unseen in Britain for a century beforehand. Yet the question of the “revolutionary moment” remains vexed. The fantastical nature of the idea of a Commonwealth as inevitable as the tripping of a switch – from bourgeoisie to proletariat, if you like – is easily proven by the lack of consensus on so simple a matter as the date on which the United Kingdom was finally taken by the working class. Romantics may offer February 25th, 1929, pointing to the heroics of the storming of Cliveden – though few would seriously argue that by this stage Britain remained under the government of the bourgeoisie on anything but a formal level. A more pragmatically-minded answer might be the first day of the General Strike on May 23rd, 1927 – yet here, too, one runs into difficulty. Any categorisation of the leadership of the TUC as “revolutionary” before August of that year is suspect, and there can be little genuine suggestion that this commitment to industrial action pre-supposed the toppling of bourgeois rule in the United Kingdom.


    Thus one is instead confronted by the necessity of viewing the transformation in Britain during the last years of the 1920s, from government by the bourgeoisie to government by the working class, as in large part contingent. That is to say, it is only through a complex and murky network of social – indeed, human – relationships that a picture of “revolution” can begin to be built. A great deal of these relationships, including all of those between the millions of men and women who engaged in direct action against the agents of Capitalism, may be rightly said to have been forged within a web of working-class consciousness. The importance of this class consciousness amongst all other agent factors during the “revolutionary turn” is beyond doubt. Yet to suggest that this is all that is needed for revolution presents a dangerously reductive view of history. There is no mathematical equation that governs class relations; to imagine the working class as a “thing” which, somehow, at some point reaches critical mass and simply overwhelms the bourgeoisie is a gross misreading of Marx’s own writing. The relationships between agents of each class must also be considered. Thus revolution is predicated not only on relationships of solidarity, but also on the numerous “counter-relationships” of vanity, malice, cravenness, naïveté, and so on. It does not demand too great a stretch of credulity to imagine a counter-scenario in which, for example, the armed men of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies held their nerve on Black Thursday, and thus subsequently gave little impetus for the middle class to desert the counter-strike effort as they did. In this way, without making light of the situation, it must be conceded that always at play in historical considerations of political change is the considerable rôle of fortune.


    Having thus established the formation of the Commonwealth as contingent, it follows that the fact of the Commonwealth should in some way thus be equally contingent. Put another way, unlike other polities born of revolution – whether proletarian or otherwise – the Commonwealth at its inception lacked any given set of pre-conceived values. Painting the formation of the Commonwealth as a study of ideological revolution is gross revisionism; the arrival of working-class government in Britain came, eventually, after the combined effort of millions of men and women against very immediate material injustices. While often this was a conflict against ownership and expropriation, led in many cases by avowed Communists, the revolution was not inherently Marxist. Therefore neither was the Commonwealth a Marxist polity in the first instance, even if the effects of its inauguration could be said to resemble very closely the results of Marxist praxis. Even in describing the worst excesses of the statist philosophy de rigueur amongst government circles during the Forties and Fifties, one would be hard-pressed to make a serious case for the existence of a particular governing ideology akin to, to take an obvious example, the Stalinism of the Soviet Union. If there is anything approaching a national character of the Commonwealth – and this, I argue, is contentious – something of it may be found in the twin fights against Capitalist ownership and Fascist brutality waged during the 1930s. But this, still, is not a grand philosophy.


    There is, of course, no call for a state to be guided by any grand philosophy. The intellectual flexibility offered by the absence of any such foundational essence is almost always advantageous. Yet at the same time one must be alert to the risk that an opposition to Capitalism that is basically contingent is, inherently, insecure. The Communist Party have been bothering themselves privately for over thirty years with the vexed question of whether Chairman Mosley is a comrade. Now that he is out of office the point is moot, but any serious analysis of his policy brings up little real evidence of an opposition to Capitalism per se, beyond an enduring sense of working-class solidarity. Indeed, it might be reasonably said that “Mosleyism” seeks less the abolition of Capital than its total subjugation to the needs of the working class. To this end, there has been a revolution of a sort in Britain concerning the ownership of Capital – but there has been no revolution against ownership. Examining the speeches and writings of A. J. Cook, George Hardy, and others from amongst the leadership of the first General Strike reveals, naturally, that such a drive against ownership was in the end present in the minds and the aims of the working-class movement. Yet these men, ultimately sidelined during the settlement of a new, working-class state, were denied the opportunity to transform their words into deeds. Thus the Commonwealth is in great part a study in incomplete revolution. If this seems self-evident – no revolution is ever truly “complete” – then consider the peculiar nature of the incompleteness of the revolution that gave birth to the Commonwealth: a new politics, crafted in speech and act by an almost entirely Communist leadership, backed by somewhere in the order of 2 million conscious members of the working class, was instead co-opted by an adjacent strand of the labour movement. During the period 1929–1934, syndicalist management of the economy remained dominant and there was a great shift generally from bourgeois to working-class ownership of the means of production. But those who favoured worker ownership were marginalised during the latter half of the decade, and there was little real argument when, faced by the economic and political challenges of the 1940s, Mosley initiated the restructuring of the British economy along more managerial lines. The programme of nationalisation enacted during the second half of the 1940s all but confirmed the triumph of “management Capitalism” in Britain, paving the way for the emergence of a bureaucratic class in the last decade. It is easy to forget, recent history considered, that the Commonwealth has not belonged to the workers in name for over twenty-five years.


    Therefore one arrives at the present situation, where it is fashionable to talk about the management of the economy not in terms of social relationships, but rather as an abstracted, ahistorical phenomenon. The working class has largely disappeared from political discourse, even if its agents continue to furnish the British economy with virtually all of its impetus. While the appointment of a new chairman of the executive committee offers the glimmer of a possible return to a policy of government more sympathetic to the agency of the working class, it is now three decades since Chairman Bevan played any great part in the direct organisation of class activity. Indeed, he has spent the last two decades defending the rôle of the state in economic management and, while undoubtedly a friend of the working man, retains all of Mosley’s ambivalence towards out and out Marxism. The erstwhile director of the Bureau of Coal comes from a long line of British socialists whose conviction is energised more by moral necessity than intellectual clarity. This is not to say that the Commonwealth requires a newly academic Communist theory – far from it. But a socialist state that forgets its opposition to Capital on the basis of Capital’s violent effect upon social and class relations risks forgetting its opposition to Capital wholesale. Once the mythic belief is allowed to settle, that the Commonwealth has tamed Capital through rigorous management, the door is opened for the return of supposedly neutered market forces. With this uncertain barrier between Capital and the Commonwealth overcome, it would hardly seem a stretch to conceive of a scenario in which the present armistice between the two systems thaws into outright alliance; where price– and wage controls contrive to create a sort of entente between socialist management and market consumerism. Hence the emergence in recent years of the counter-revolutionary “Pop” philosophers, whose principally artistic and aesthetic exercises proclaim that the success of the road to working-class liberation requires only the arrival of an Austin A50 on every driveway. This is of course identical in character to the promise of the market, that every working man be free to buy for himself a better existence, and presumably accompanies a desire to see the Commonwealth far more aligned internationally to the the United States and the German Reich. Thankfully, this market cult remains only an eccentric presence at the fringes of political thought.


    Instead, the Marxist Left in Britain is tasked with far greater urgency than at any point during the last thirty years with the re-energising of the case against ownership and exploitation. The seed of a true working-class state present for a brief period at the start of the 1930s must be uncovered, nurtured, and allowed to germinate. Lessons from Moscow are quite clear, that the road of managerialism is merely the road to worker exploitation by another name. A re-appraisal of the history of the Commonwealth, beyond the level of the abstract, as a history of social and economic relationships will do good work in re-establishing the centrality of working-class agency to the operation of British politics. The vital work of transforming this newly enlivened historical analysis into political praxis at the highest levels of government falls, necessarily, to other activists. Nevertheless, it is in this hope of re-awakening a communising consciousness, dormant for three decades, that I have set out here to construct the beginnings of a foundation on which the intellectual case for the liberation of the working class from the reins of bureaucratic management may be built. In this way, there remains a truly anti-Capitalist future for the Commonwealth.


    EP%20THOMPSON.jpg


    Edward Palmer Thompson (b. 1924) is an English historian and activist in the Marxist tradition. His work on revolutionary tendencies in Britain emphasises the importance of personal agency over more dogmatic, abstract interpretations of historical forces. Since 1957 he has edited The Reasoner along with John Saville, in which rôle he has emerged as one of the leading critics of managerialism and bureaucracy in the Commonwealth government.

    The above essay was first published in The Reasoner in Autumn 1961.
     
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    Following the consolidation of working-class control over the organs of state in the period after 1929, an immediate effort was made towards the radical reform of the education system in Britain. Private education was abolished by the executive committee in 1930 and plans were drawn up for the total reorganisation of both the school system and the curriculum. In 1931, the national curriculum was overhauled after the adoption by the Department for Education and Schools of a report chaired by Professor R. H. Tawney, at that time the director of the Institute for Economic and Historical Research at the London School of Economics and later the chairman of the executive committee of the University of London. Under the new system, which replaced the old School Certificate, pupils would sit a broad range of exams for the Certificate of General Education (CGE) at age 16. Those who stayed on until the age of 18 would is it exams for the Certificate of Higher Education (CHE), which allowed for a greater degree of academic specialisation according to a pupil’s strengths.

    Reproduced below is an paper from the CHE course on Contemporary British History, taken by pupils in May 1950. The Contemporary British History course was introduced to cover the history of Britain from the establishment of the Commonwealth. (A separate course dealt with British history up to 1929.)


    CBH1950%20SMALL.jpg


    Q1. Outline the recommendations of the Samuel Report (March 1926), and describe the main objections raised against it by A. J. Cook and the Triple Alliance. Explain briefly the consequences of the report for both the government and the leadership of the TUC.



    Following persistent problems in the coal industry after the end of the Great War, in July 1925 Conservative prime minister Stanley Baldwin announced the formation of a royal commission to investigate the state of the mines. The commission would take nine months in its investigation, and would be headed by Liberal politician Herbert Samuel. While its work was ongoing, Baldwin promised that his government would provide subsidies to the mine owners in order to avoid a cut in miners’ wages. This concession was achieved in part thanks to pressure exerted on the government by the Triple Alliance, a unified bloc made up of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain (MFGB), the National Union of Railwaymen and the National Transport Workers’ Federation.

    When the Samuel Commission’s report was published in March 1926, it was a disappointment to the trade unionist movement. The Samuel Report supported almost all of the Baldwin’s government’s aims with regard to the mining industry, and was welcomed by the Mining Association – a group representing the interests of the mine owners. The industry faced twin problems of productivity and profitability. Productivity was at a record low, with annual output per man down over 100 tonnes since the Great War, when heavy domestic coal consumption and reduced exports had weakened the industry at the expense of countries like Germany, Poland and the United States. In order to remain profitable in the face of this decline, mine owners had embarked upon a sustained campaign of wage reduction: by 1927, wages were down over a third relative to the start of the decade. A previous commission, set up in 1919, had recommended the nationalisation of the coal industry, though this conclusion had been rejected by David Lloyd George, prime minister at the time. The Samuel Report did not repeat this recommendation. Instead, the commission advised large-scale reorganisation of the coal industry on a national scale. For the mineworker, this would entail a reduction in wages of 13 and a half per-cent and an increase in the working day from seven to eight hours. Government subsidies to mine owners would also be stopped.

    Despite being largely in line with the government’s own aims, Baldwin feared widespread disruption to an already-beleaguered coal industry and did not immediately assent to the commissions recommendations. Under the renewed threat of strike action by A. J. Cook and the Triple Alliance, the government announced their intention to strike a compromise agreement with the trade unions. In the meantime, subsidies would be continued for another six months. As general secretary of the MFGB, Cook led objections to the report, summarising his position and the position of his union with the slogan “not a penny off the pay, not a minute on the day!” He expected to be given a place at the negotiating table in order to argue the case for his union members. Instead, he was sidelined by the more moderate leadership of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), who feared that Cook would deliberately try to sabotage talks in order to spark a general strike in an attempt to bring down the government. Thus Baldwin held talks with Walter Citrine, at that point the interim general secretary of the TUC, and Herbert Samuel himself.

    The move to delay a settlement for another six months was also unpopular in parts of the government. Winston Churchill was deeply angered by Baldwin’s willingness to engage with the trade unionist movement and believed that some sort of confrontation was inevitable. Churchill welcomed the possibility of a strike on the basis that it would give the government an opportunity to defeat radical socialism in Britain once and for all. He was confident of the strength of the state to withstand direct action by the trade unions and counted upon the unquestioning support of the bourgeoisie. Although his particular militarism was not widespread, Churchill’s confidence was somewhat justified: in early 1927 there was little apparent appetite for revolution in Britain and the middle classes were generally suspicious of working-class organisation. Churchill acted on this belligerent attitude by drawing up plans for the formation of an Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies (OMS). The OMS was to be a counter-strike force made up of members of the services and volunteers from the bourgeoisie. Its job would be the preservation of order and the infrastructure of the British state in the event of direct strike action, including duties such as manning transport systems and even keeping open the collieries. The extent to which Baldwin knew about Churchill’s plans is unclear, but it is evident that Churchill essentially had free rein in directing the government’s response to a general strike. This split in responsibility would later prove an important factor in the fall of the Baldwin government.

    CHURCHILL%201926.jpg

    Winston Churchill, surrounded by working men with his wife and son in 1926. Just months later, he would have a hard time going near any working men without considerable protection.

    In September, a compromise agreement between the Baldwin government and the TUC was published. The September Compromise repeated many of the recommendations of the Samuel Report, albeit with some added measures to better protect and compensate mineworkers. A national minimum wage would be instituted, to be controlled by an independent Wage Board, and the government would commit to finding alternative employment for miners made redundant during restructuring. In return, government subsidies would finally end at the end of September.

    Mine owners were reluctant to assent to the proposed reforms and strongly opposed any attempt by Baldwin to put restrictions on the mining industry. The compromise was also rejected by A.J. Cook and the Miners’ Federation, who were angered both by the lack of protection against pay decreases and the insistence on an increase to the length of the working day. Cook viewed Citrine and the TUC as having gone behind the miners’ backs, and renewed threats of strike action if wages were reduced and the seven-hour day extended. This proved pivotal to the internal politics of the TUC, and widespread dissatisfaction with Citrine as a result of the Compromise led to his candidacy to be the permanent general secretary of the Congress being challenged at the end of September. Citrine was challenged by Tom Mann, chairman of the National Minority Movement (NMM), a group backed by the Communist Party whose aim was to increase the organisation of radical socialist elements within the existing trade unionist movement. Citrine took 55 per-cent of the vote to defeat Mann, but many people were surprised at the strength of the NMM. Mann hailed his defeat as proof of the increasing desire for radical change within the workers’ movement in Britain. Evidence of a growing split in the leadership of the TUC was clear, and for the first time a picture emerged of the true strength of the radical fraction of the trade unionist movement in Britain.

    The Samuel Report was thus ultimately instrumental in exacerbating existing tensions within the leadership of both the TUC and the Conservative Baldwin government. For the trade unionist movement, the report revealed the divide between those who wanted radical change to the condition of the working class in Britain, and those who favoured a moderate system of entente with the government in exchange for more piecemeal reform. For the government, the report sowed the seeds of division between Baldwin, who wanted to avoid a strike, and Churchill, who wanted to weaken the trade unionist movement through direct action. In both cases, the events surrounding the formation of the Samuel Commission and the publication of its recommendations can be considered pivotal in the history of Britain’s transition from a state ruled by the bourgeoisie to a state controlled by the working class.
     
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    Herald of the World to Come, from The Language of the Revolution (March – September 1927)
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    HERALD OF THE WORLD TO COME

    RAYMOND WILLIAMS

    1966



    If culture must be understood with reference to its underlying system of production, it follows that, during the period of the General Strike of 1927, the culture of Britain experienced a profound shock. As in politics, this shock was only one early articulation of a longer, more lasting revolution in cultural production as the economic base of Britain shifted. It is thus not possible by, say, the end of A. J. Cook’s “fifteen weeks” – the period from the end of May until the start of September, 1927 – to claim the existence of any settled, “new” culture in Britain. This is in many ways an impossibility; culture is never settled, and is in many ways resistant to discrete qualification, although for the purposes of analysis it is not unhelpful to categorise a culture of the Commonwealth as distinct from the culture of the ancien régime achieving dominance from about 1932 onwards. Nevertheless, by the time of the publication of Fifteen Weeks on September 6th, 1927, it is possible to identify the existence in Britain of a strengthened, emergent culture of working-class consciousness. This may be seen, as clearly as through the lens of contemporary political or economic analysis, by recourse to analyses of key texts from the period.


    By “text”, of course, I mean to encompass acts of both the spoken and the written word. The role played by both media in shaping class consciousness on both sides of the revolutionary struggle for the formation of the Commonwealth is hard to overstate. As I will argue, some of the greatest successes of the revolutionary fraction of the trade unionist movement in their goal of increasing militant sentiment across the wider working class were intimately involved with language. The great linguistic and rhetorical abilities demonstrated by numerous activists within the fraction, on many occasions during the period leading up to the the takeover of the TUC by militant figures, was in large part operative in mediating wider opinion of the trade unionist movement in the eyes of the (bourgeois) public.


    In this campaign, two main textual sources may be considered predominant: the Daily Herald, the official newspaper of the TUC later co-opted by the militant tendency, and the numerous speeches given by militant leaders to large crowds of striking workers. As a secondary source, slogans derived from both of these sources proved an immensely powerful tool in engendering solidarity amongst the striking working class, and also in courting the favourable opinion of those elements of society less immediately predisposed towards revolutionary sentiment. The texts generated by the government’s own newspaper, the British Gazette, are of course equally revealing.


    Of course, the counter-revolution also had use of a full arsenal of rhetorical and linguistic tools. Most telling surely are the repeated entreaties made to legal precedent and the opinion of the courts. The hapless attempts of the Baldwin government to define the terms of engagement between the workers’ movement and the British state, usually in blind contradiction of the material situation as it stood, climax memorably in the infamous ruling by Mr Justice Astbury on September 1st, 1927 that “no trade dispute may exist between the Trades Union Congress and the government of the nation.” It is surely no coincidence that A. J. Cook’s profoundly influential Fifteen Weeks, a tour de force of militant authorship, rolled off the presses only five days later. The message of the trade unionists to the government was clear, that the government had lost control of the narrative. (The accompanying logical conclusion that the workers’ movement was therefore above the law was left murkily less explicit.)


    Prior to this pivotal event, the Baldwin government had called upon the service of a raft of less final legal devices to exert its control over the situation. When a meeting of transport workers in Dundee was broken up by police in March 1927, most of those arrested were charged not only with unlawful assembly but also with incitement. The men had met to discuss the possibility of organising a sympathy strike in solidarity with miners locked out of their collieries in County Durham. In this case, it is worth noting that the government’s heavy-handedness backfired in no small part thanks to the successful propagandising efforts of the Herald, which ran an article alleging that Winston Churchill had personally ordered the arrests in retaliation for his treatment by the people of Dundee during his brief spell as Liberal MP for the town at the start of the decade. This marked the start of the Herald’s impassioned campaign of alerting its readers of the existence of a plot, directed by Churchill, against their existence. This remained a consistent background influence on the attitudes of those in the trade unionist movement until the eruption of open conflict between workers and the state on Black Thursday that June. Unquestionably, the heightened class consciousness of large sections of the TUC membership in the months before the National Minority Movement called its National Conference for Action at the start of May contributed in no small part to the unanimous resolution of direct action made by conference delegates.


    TUC%20DISPATCH%20RIDERS%201927.jpg

    Motorcycle dispatch riders stand by outside the TUC headquarters in the first weeks of the general strike, awaiting orders. While the country's transport network was at a standstill, dispatch riders distributed officially-sanctioned news via the Daily Herald, which had a circulation of 500,000 by the second week of industrial action.


    The events that occurred on Black Thursday by this point need little elucidation, thus my own focus will remain as much as possible on the subsequent role played by the texts generated by these events on the battle for control over the feeling of the wider populace towards the industrial dispute. Also worthy of analysis is the fact of Black Thursday’s position as a watershed moment in the transition of action more generally from a dispute over coal into a dispute over the position of the working class in Britain. As I will argue, the importance of Black Thursday within a wider cultural analysis rests not on its immediate role in the intensification of a material and linguistic struggle against the Conservative government – although, naturally, this is not insignificant – but rather in its status as the moment when the presence of an existential threat to the working class posed by the British state was crystallised, and moved beyond the domain of conspiracy theory in the popular imagination.


    At this juncture, it becomes instructive to move inquiry away from the popular domain for a time and towards the parliamentary. The shifting and mostly uneasy relationship between the militant workers movement and the parliamentary Labour Party is a phenomenon whose analysis is made possible in great part by the evolution of Ramsay MacDonald’s public statements surrounding the strike. In particular, it is revealing the extent to which his faith in the possibility of a purely parliamentary solidarity with the working class dictated his near total reliance on parliamentary mechanisms of opposition. MacDonald’s immediate and energetic appeals in the House of Commons for action against the government in the aftermath of the violence are representative of his opinion of the strike overall: enthusiastic so long as he was able to concentrate on the security of the working man and ignore the widespread militancy; at best well-meaning yet ineffectual, at worst deliberately restricted in its scope and swayed by the arguments for counter-revolution.


    A parallel analysis is also afforded of Winston Churchill’s speaking tour of the country during that summer’s parliamentary recess. Particular attention is paid to the relationship between the forcefulness of his rhetoric in favour of “orderly and lasting settlement”, and the fact of his increasingly close relationship with the Q Divisions of the British Fascisti. Four decades after the fact, there exists neither hope nor desire to revise widely-held basic opinions of Churchill or his role in the downfall of the British state. In any event, such a task falls outside of my interest. Far more revealing is an examination of Churchill’s own attempt to control his public image through the use of text, both in the immediate context of 1927 and, later, with a view towards historical opinion. Notable in his case is the extent to which his undeniable powers of rhetoric hardly figure in the historical record; his speech has been almost entirely erased by his acts.


    I will conclude with a study of Fifteen Weeks itself, attempting to unpick the murky disjunct between the apparent evolution of events – from localised industrial dispute to the verge of class struggle – and the picture of the first four months of strike action as described by A. J. Cook: as a series of battles for the very existence of the working class in Britain, only loosely framed in the context of a settlement to the question of the coal industry. In this way, I hope to arrive through the texts at some sort of answer to the question of what character did the revolution take? The answer to this question, needless to say, is complex and occasionally contradictory. While Cook resists giving one name to the character of the revolution – he was, of course, limited by circumstance – inevitably there are glimpses of conclusions present in Fifteen Weeks which evaded even his understanding. From this and other texts analysed below, I will attempt finally to carry over some lessons learnt of the character of the Commonwealth during the moment of its formation and apply them to the political situation as it rests today. Many of the original motivations that compelled working men and women to take up the struggle for their existence almost forty years ago have been obscured by the passage of time. With their fading memory, it becomes all too easy to lose sight of the potentiality offered by the very existence of the Commonwealth, as a site for the radical re-imagining of society against violent forces of ownership and exploitation. Through textual analysis, I argue it remains very possible to extract some of these original motivations – and, more beneficially, to apply them renewed to the critique of our own society.


    Before proceeding any further with such a programme of analysis, it is worth offering as a final prefatory note some words of self-reflection. As in the case of all of the texts I examine in the following work, this book is itself a text born of its economic and political context. Namely, without occupying too much energy in what is, perhaps, an indulgent digression, it is worth stating that this texts exists within a continuing project, undertaken largely by myself over the past decade or so, engaged in the attempted formation of a theory of cultural materialism. The details of this theory-in-formation are still emergent, and in any case visible arguably not from any one work within the project but only, gradually, from inference by reference to the project as a whole. For clarity’s sake, however, it is possible to offer a definition of culture as a set of common meanings, produced via a mass process of personal and social experience, realised through personal agencies operating within a social superstructure itself referent to an economic base. In this case, I cannot help but recognise my own position as the author of this text within a network of writers and activists seeking to elevate the role of the personal within a wider framework of economic and historical understanding. This truth no doubt manifests itself in various ways throughout the following text.


    I am of course indebted to numerous people who have assisted in the production of this book. I am grateful first of all to Professor Richard Hoggart and Dr. Stuart Hall at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies for their generous professional and material support throughout the process of researching this book. My lasting gratitude is due also to the Institute of Continuing Education for the award of a Senior Research Fellowship, without which I would not have been able to complete this work, as well as to my students and colleagues in the Faculty of English at the University of Manchester. Mr. Bert Ramelson at the TUC was an invaluable contact, without whom much of my research into the Daily Herald would have been impossible. I am similarly indebted to Ms. Margaret Cook for her patience and good grace in the face of my questions about her father’s work. There are many others whom, inevitably, I will have neglected to acknowledge. My gratitude to you all. The influence of Mrs. Joy Williams, a writer to whom I am related by the accident of marriage, is identifiable throughout this book. For her counsel and support in all things, academic and otherwise, she has my dedicated thanks and affection.


    RAYMOND%20WILLIAMS.jpg


    Raymond Williams (b. 1921) is a Welsh Marxist theorist whose work deals primarily with the relationships between language, culture and society. He is currently a Professor of Drama at the University of Manchester, where he is also director of the Centre for Adult Education. Reproduced above is the preface from his latest book, The Language of the Revolution: Key Texts in the Formation of the Commonwealth (London, 1966).
     
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    Voices of the Struggle: The General Strike, 30 years on
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    VOICES OF THE STRUGGLE

    MARGHANITA LASKI

    1957

    For the thirtieth anniversary of the start of the General Strike of 1927, writer and broadcaster Marghanita Laski was commissioned by CBC television to create a series of programmes documenting the experiences of some of the men and women who took part in the action. Laski returned to the CBC with three hour-long films, each a record of events for each of the years from 1927 to 1929. Entitled Voices of the Struggle, each programme contained the accounts of people all somehow involved in revolutionary activity. A dozen people were interviewed, and Laski created the series almost exclusively from their testimony, complemented with some pieces of footage and sound recording from the archive. Excerpted below are accounts given by six of the people interviewed for the first programme, with explanatory notes to elaborate on certain references where appropriate.


    CBC%20TV%20IDENT%201957.jpg

    CBC TV was the flagship television channel of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Committee, the successor organisation to the former British Broadcasting Company. At its inception, the channel was predominately a broadcaster of news bulletins, informative programmes and sporting events. By the 1950s, programming encompassed a wider variety of light entertainment and drama.



    Cast



    Rebecca Bloom, 52, an anti-fascist volunteer from Spitalfields who spent a brief period in prison after being convicted of participating in direct action against the OMS in the aftermath of Black Thursday.


    Wilson John, 63, a bus driver from Liverpool who was a shop steward for the TGWU in 1927 and one of the first Black union organisers in Britain.


    Tom McKitterick, 49, a docker from Hull who aged 19 was one of the youngest delegates to attend the National Conference for Action.


    George Reeves, 70, a print-worker for the Daily Herald who was present when the press was raided by police in June 1927.


    Alice Shaw, 50, a factory-worker from Derby who took over as a TUC motorcycle dispatch rider when her brother was injured on the picket.


    Joe Vaughan, 66, a checkweighman from Aberfan who as a met A. J. Cook at the first conference of the Communist Party of South Wales and the West of England in Cardiff, 1920. Worked as an organiser for the South Wales Miners’ Federation during the strike and was a delegate at the National Conference for Action.



    Joe Vaughan

    “It felt like for years we had been kept in the dirt. It was obvious to all of us that the Tories didn’t have one shred of feeling for the miners. I remember Stanley Baldwin coming on the radio after the men had been locked out at Newcastle[1], telling us that we all had to take the pay cut for the good of the industry. What he meant of course was for the good of the people who controlled the industry. There was a radio in the local working men’s institute in Aberfan and a number of us, our wives and our children even, had all come out to hear what the prime minister had to say for himself. We were disgusted.


    “I knew Arthur [A. J. Cook] at the time from my work with the SWMF [South Wales Miners’ Federation] and I remember seeing him maybe a fortnight or so after Baldwin’s gloating over the radio. My God, was he was indignant! He was totally convinced by this point that [Walter] Citrine and his gang at the TUC were in bed with the government and the mine owners. They had never wanted revolution like we had, they’d only ever been in it to make things a little better round the edges really, and that’s as fair as I can put it. But to have it displayed for all to see was a real turning point. I think then a lot of us realised that the only way forward was with the troublemakers, because the government certainly weren’t going to give us anything. That was when we saw the battle ahead– I did, certainly.


    “A few months later, of course, police started ramping up their campaign against working men’s organisations. I remember hearing about the arrest of the bus drivers in Dundee, I think it was in March, and thinking, ‘Give the Tories half a yard to move in and that will be us, too.’ We were determined not to give them anything. Because the community had links to Cook and the [National] Minority Movement we knew the fight wasn’t over– or more accurately, I suppose, we knew it hadn’t even started yet! And because we kept faith that action was coming we were able to hold our nerve in those early months. Absolutely nothing, we gave them. You could ask the police today if they’re still around and they’ll tell you, not one person gave them any trouble until we had the union behind us. Everyone knew the importance of discipline.”



    Tom McKitterick

    “After West Stanley, a lot of us could see that the government had plans to go after the miners. Baldwin had always tried to sound respectable, but underneath it all it wasn’t hard to see him for what he was – and he was no friend of the worker, whatever he claimed. Of course, Dundee followed soon after and it was clear that there was something to the rumours of Churchill’s campaign against the trade unions. The transport workers’ union had one of the most collaborationist leaderships at that point, and as dockers we of course were members ourselves. There was little love for [Ernest] Bevin, I tell you. I’d been working on the docks for three years by that time. At the start of the decade, Bevin had done some good work to support the Hands Off Russia movement, but by the time I started that had largely died out. My dad worked on the docks as well, and as a schoolboy I remember him coming home one day – it must have been early in 1920 – with some pamphlets about the Soviets he’d bought from a comrade outside the shipyards– about how we must keep vigilant against the government’s attempts to load up barges and ships with munitions to fight against the Red Army. Dad gave me some stick-back posters and I put one up in the bedroom window. I couldn’t’ve been older than 13.


    “Bevin had given his support to a lot of this action, or I imagine he probably didn’t know about a lot of it. But from memory he had helped with the Jolly George[2]. What I mean to illustrate anyway is that by 1927 he was somehow less receptive to helping his own workers when they found themselves in trouble with the state. I think he was genuinely convinced that reform could work. But as long as he refused to put his backing behind the men on the docks and on the buses, any reforms he might win in the future hardly seemed worth it. There really was a feeling that the TUC had simply let go of the cause– that it was glad after so many months to have an excuse to diffuse any talk of a strike. Of course, in many cases their inaction just made things worse.


    JOLLY%20GEORGE%20STAMP.jpg

    Soviet-issued stamp commemorating the efforts of British dockers in preventing the SS Jolly George from sailing for Poland with a cargo of ammunition for the White Army in 1920.


    “Dad had been a shop steward, and when the Minority Movement called for a conference of action in London he was the natural person to send as a delegate. He took ill a few weeks before and we had to find another person to fill his place. I wanted to go, of course; who wouldn’t want to experience an event like that, especially at that age? But some of the older union men weren’t sure and thought it best to send someone more experienced. In the end, dad put a word in and won them over. I think they probably expected I’d just do as he would’ve done anyway. Which was true!


    “I travelled to London on my own, by train. I say on my own– the minority section of the transport union had sorted things out so a lot of us from the area were able to go down together. I remember a railwayman from Doncaster – older guy – telling me how not in his lifetime had he seen such a wave of urgent feeling spread across the working class. I always thought that was very poetic. Because the union had pulled some strings, we didn’t have to worry about sharing the journey with any bourgeois and the mood was very festive. We sang songs coming off the platform at King’s Cross all the way to the conference hall – ‘We’ll keep the red flag flying here!’ The conference was in a hall in Bloomsbury, and about twelve-hundred men had come from across the country. It was warm, not long after May Day, and I remember the march from the station – a couple of hundred of us with flags and songs and banners. The majority of delegates I think were Northerners, though there was a large Welsh contingent also. The valleys of South Wales had been particularly enthusiastic in their adoption of the Minority Movement programme. A. J. Cook was their man, of course; he was one of them. But it was not just about Cook, and a number of others gave addresses to the delegates about the importance of keeping up the fight. This was in the morning– the atmosphere was like that you’d find at a gala, and in a way that was what it was. I think they claimed that the delegates in London that day represented something like 1.2 million workers, and there was a sense that a real workers’ movement was building momentum. It was not like anything I’d known, though I spoke to one man – a furniture maker, I think, from the East End – who said that he’d felt all of this before, in 1917. ‘This is a conference for action,’ he said. ‘Keep your head until the talking’s done, and then we’ll see where we’re at.’


    “In the afternoon, we voted on various resolutions people wished to bring up, mostly just commitments to continue the work of building a united workers’ front. Harry Pollitt did a lot of that work, I think. Most things were passed by sheer acclamation. The biggest cheer came towards the end, just before the famous resolution in favour of strike action, when we confirmed the aims of the movement. I still remember the wording; it had a profound effect on me, actually hearing it spoken: ‘The Minority Movement exists to organise the working masses of Great Britain for the overthrow of capitalism; to carry on a wide agitation for the principles of the revolutionary class struggle against the present tendency towards social peace and class collaboration; and to pave the way towards the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth.’ Before that, I had not heard anyone actually speak of a Commonwealth before. After that day, I was totally convinced of the need to bring it into existence.”


    Alice Shaw

    “I was working in a clothes factory in Derby when the general strike was called. The TUC leadership had been careful to limit participation in the strike to what they called the key industries: transport and railway workers, dockers, printers, metal workers, and of course the miners. Our union weren’t included, but we had links with the Minority Movement and they were telling us to keep alert to any ways we could help the action.


    “In the first days of the strike, what always sticks out in my mind is the memory of all the flags and marches. That was how it started, like a festival of some kind. Of course, soon the [lack of] coal became an issue, and I remember having to use things from the garden for kindling. The government had a plan in place to keep things running, the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. Mainly they were just bourgeois types who volunteered out of a sense of duty, I think. I remember how angry my brother was when he found out they were keeping the buses running – he worked as a conductor and used to man the picket every day. A lot of people who volunteered I think quite enjoyed playing these new parts in society for a little while, though the novelty wore off eventually of course. After the first few weeks it was only really the hardliners who stayed on, those who really were convinced they were fighting some sort of counter-revolutionary war.


    “At the end of May, my brother started working as a motorcycle dispatch rider for the TUC. He used to go out every morning and deliver copies of the Daily Herald to striking workers to keep them informed of union business. Sometimes he would do a sort of paper round of some of the bourgeois streets, I think because he wanted them to know that the movement wasn’t giving up easily. One day he came off his bike and injured his arm. He always said that he’d been thrown off after swerving to avoid a policeman who refused to get out of his way, but between you and me I’ve always suspected that he just said that so he could feel heroic instead of embarrassed. After that, I used to skive off work to take over from him. Carried on for the whole summer! In September, after Hardy took over the TUC and widened participation in the strike, I stopped biking and started working as a shop steward. I was still doing my bit, of course, but I always did miss those morning rides.”



    George Reeves

    “I had worked in the printing trade for I reckon about twenty-five years, and never had I been aware of so strong a feeling that this really was the time for action. There had been murmurings of discontent for years, of course – ‘Red Clydeside’ and all the rest[3] – but nothing had ever quite captured the moment like May 1927.


    CLYDESIDE%20TANK.jpg

    The British government send tanks into Glasgow's George Square after rioting in 1919.


    “On the fifth of June – I always remember the date because it was my wife’s birthday – I had gone into work as I had done every day since the strike was called. Not because I was blacklegging mind; I was in charge of a printer’s office and had been running off copies of the Daily Herald to support the TUC’s own efforts in Scotland. It was a small operation relative to some others in Glasgow, but we did out bit. At about eleven o’clock, policemen came in with what they claimed was a warrant to stop the presses and seize all copies of the paper that hadn’t yet left the office. I was naturally dubious, but as I say it was a small operation so there weren’t enough of us in the building to really offer any sort of resistance. I say this like I was a young man who would’ve been able to fight back anyway. And frankly, I thought little of it: if the police didn’t have anything better to do than bother middle-aged men like me about a few thousand copies of news-sheet then good: we must’ve been getting somewhere. They weren’t taking the presses, after all; we’d just go again the next day.


    “About five minutes after they left, one of my printers came into the office and asked what had gone on, so I explained. He was not happy at all, and started shouting about the government’s campaign against the freedom of the press. This was only a few months after Dundee, remember, and a lot of people still suspected Winston Churchill of all sorts of things. As legitimate as his concerns were, mind, there was little I could do about them, so I sort of let him down gently, adopted I guess a sort of fatherly tone and told him to find some people who could do something about it. And having got himself in such a state, that’s of course exactly what he did. Next thing I know he’s out in the streets shouting a sort of impromptu speech about workers’ freedom. All very stirring stuff, he had a real way with words. Not that it helped him any; as soon as he drew a big enough crowd the police – same ones who’d raided my printers – the police arrested him and charged him with incitement, that sort of thing. Did a little bit of time for it I think, and all. At least, I didn’t see him for a few weeks after that. For all I knew he could’ve just found another cause to back, but I’m sure he wouldn’t’ve been kept down for long. Christopher Grieve, his name was. Think he became a writer himself in the end. Maybe you know him?”



    Rebecca Bloom

    “In those days I was working as a nurse in the East End, not far from where I grew up. I would’ve been about 21, 22. Still very young, but by no means the youngest of us. I was one of five children, and my three brothers all worked on the docks. One of them still does. All of them were militant back then, especially after the strike was called. My eldest brother, Jacob, had been old enough to realise the significance of the Russian Revolution when it happened, and had been calling for a workers’ revolution ever since. He was influenced a lot by my father, who had been born in Russia but came to Britain as a child. He wasn’t a Bolshevik, but it’s fair to say he had little sympathy for the Romanovs.


    “All three of my brothers were on the picket on the ninth of June. This was the third week of the strike, and by this point the dockers were quite used to the daily presence of OMS special constables patrolling picketing sites. I think by this point a lot of the bourgeois day-trippers had started to filter out of the organisation, and what mostly remained was the hardcore. Or maybe that was just a quirk of geography: it was hard to find volunteers who could carry on the work of the dockers, so in the East End a lot of OMS work tended to be what they called ‘keeping order’. Usually this just meant looking the part, waving truncheons and shouting orders. They were easy enough to ignore. Sometimes one of the Q Division boys would shout abuse and taunt the workers to fight back[4], but the dockers never rose to the threats. That Thursday, however, the OMS turned up armed with rifles. I think it was meant to be a display of power by the state, the government trying to force the dockers to break up the picket themselves. Whether or not whoever it was in government that had authorised the arming of the special constables knew this would happen or not, the commanding officer gave the order to charge the picket in a direct attempt to gain access to the docks, probably thinking the dockers would scatter. But they didn’t, and instead of calling off the charge the forces moved in. I think they were angry they’d had their bluff called. The special constables started attacking, with their batons and rifle butts mainly, and the dockers responded by throwing rocks and half-bricks. 6 workers died on the picket that day. 18 more died in the following days of injuries sustained at the hands of the special constables. Many more were injured and, thank goodness, nursed back to health. I treated some of them.


    “Everyone knows this story, of course: ‘Black Thursday’, the ‘London Docks Massacre’ … whatever name you give to it, the outcome is the same. To this day I am thankful beyond belief that none of my brothers came to any serious harm. My youngest brother sprained his wrist punching one of the constables in the jaw. When he got home that evening, my father looked at him very sternly and said, ‘David, if you are going to fight the fascists then at least have the sense to learn how to punch first!’


    ANTIFASCIST%20ARREST.jpg

    An anti-fascist activist in arrested by officers of the Metropolitan Police in the East End, c. 1928.

    "I don’t think he thought my brother would actually take him seriously, but after that David went to the boxing gym every evening. I’d go with him sometimes. After a while people asked him what he was training for, and he would just tell them the truth, ‘so that I don’t have to worry about hurting my wrist every time I wan’t to beat up the Fascisti.’ I think people were worried he might do himself an injury, because soon after that he ended up meeting some lads from the actual anti-fascist movement. I went along with him to meet some of them after one evening at the gym and they explained that they had found out the address of one of the special constables who had led the charge against the dockers, and that he lived quite close, down by St. George’s in the East. Then one of them – Phil – turned to me and David and asked, ‘Next Monday we’re going to go and put bricks through his windows. Are you in?’ It wasn’t really a question in our minds. This was a man who had played a leading role in the murder of 22 of our friends and comrades. Of course we said yes.


    “There were four of us, including David and me. Around eleven o’clock on Monday night, we took two motorbikes over to the other end of Cable Street, parked them in the next street over from where he lived then walked round the corner to his house. We were each carrying half of a brick, one missile for each of his front windows. I think we might have even written slogans on them: ‘Solidarity forever!’ Then we just threw them at the house and legged it. The adrenaline was fantastic, like nothing I’d ever felt.


    “That summer I got involved with anti-fascist organising for myself. I think I got more out of it than David did; after a while he became more interested in boxing for its own sake. Phil was my age, a bit younger actually, but he quickly established himself as a leading figure in the cause. Later on, of course, he became very prominent, but in those days we operated on quite a small scale. Usually just about half a dozen of us doing various actions against the OMS. In the aftermath of the Docks Massacre the government gradually phased out the OMS and brought in the Metropolitan Police to replace them, figuring that they might be less prone to violence. In July, a policeman caught me slashing the tyres on a special constable’s motorbike. I refused to pay the fine so I ended up spending a month in prison. I don’t think my mother ever quite got used to having a criminal for a daughter, but when I came home my dad took me aside and just said, ‘Next time, try to be a little less careless.’”


    Wilson John

    “I was born in Kingston, Jamaica, in 1894. When I was 21, I came to Europe as a volunteer in the British West Indies Regiment and served in France during the Great War, first as a labourer loading and unloading ships, and then later as a stretcher bearer. I came back to Britain and settled in Toxteth in 1919, where I found work on the docks. In 1924, I injured my back and had to stop working as a docker. Instead, I found a job on the buses.


    BWIR%201916.jpg

    Volunteers of the BWIR performing labour stacking artillery in France, c. 1916.


    “I had always been aware of the injustices that existed for the working man, and in particular for the Black man. In the army, it was no coincidence that the work given to us volunteers from the West Indies was far more arduous and dangerous than the work assigned to the white British soldiers. They were also paid more. On the docks I only rarely experienced racial prejudice, but the streets of Liverpool were a different matter. I lived in what was a relatively mixed part of the city, but it was not immune to racialist attitudes and prejudices. I was drawn to the idea of worker solidarity as a tool for fighting against not just the violences of Capitalist exploitation, but as a means of trying to find some way to advance at the same time the cause of the Black man in Britain.


    “Of course, it was not as simple as saying it and it coming true. I joined the Communist Party, and after a while I found my way into the Minority Movement. By 1927, I was a shop steward in the TGWU [Transport and General Workers’ Union], but my comrades respected me because of my dedication to the struggle against class exploitation. What they could not recognise was my desire also to see the abolition of the oppressive dividing structures of racialism and racialist prejudice.


    “I did not let it stop me in my work. After the attacks against the dockers in London, it became clear to many of us that if we did nothing then the same fate would be awaiting us. In July, some dock workers managed to procure arms – I never asked from where, although I have my suspicions. I hadn’t worked on the docks for years, but I supported by comrades in their efforts to defend themselves. When Ernest Bevin threatened to take the strike pay from any Transport Union member found to have armed himself, I used my voice as a union organiser to argue that it was only natural that the men wanted protection when the British state had made its intentions so clear. Bevin thought he could rely on his allies in the TUC to protect him, but he was unable to protect himself against his own workers. I was very happy the day we voted him out of office.”


    ___________________________

    1. After the implementation of the 10 per-cent pay cut recommended by the National Wage Board from New Year 1927, mineworkers at the West Stanley pit, just outside Gateshead, had launched a wildcat strike against the reduction. In response to their action, the mine owners staged a lock-out, effectively taking away the men’s jobs, and threatened to evict them from their colliery-owned housing if they did not return to work. Under pressure from the TUC leadership nationally after having significantly lengthened the ongoing dispute, the Miners’ Federation was not in a strong enough political position to back the workers outside of a situation of general strike. The MFGB was thus forced to advise the workers to accept the cut while it agitated for strike action in the months ahead. This was a significant propaganda victory for the Conservative government, which soon put out the line nationally that the unions’ claims of direct action were easily overcome by the realities of the situation.


    2. The Jolly George was a ship moored at the East India Dock who in May 1920 was scheduled to be loaded with boxes of cargo bearing the label ‘OHMS Munitions for Poland’. A number of boxes had already been loaded when dockers discovered that the munitions were to be used in the war in Russia against the Red Army. On learning this, coal heavers refused to load the ship with coal, thus preventing it from leaving port, unless the guns were removed. A stand-off ensued with dockside authorities, resolved partly following assurances from Ernest Bevin that the Dockers’ Union would back strike action to prevent the ship sailing. This was an action of the Hands Off Russia movement, a broad coalition of leftists in Britain, many of whom were not naturally disposed to the Soviet Union, but who nevertheless resented the idea of involving Britain in another conflict so soon after the end of the Great War.

    3. A blanket term for a period of political and industrial militancy in Glasgow and the surrounding areas from the 1910s onward.

    4. The Q Divisions were paramilitary groups set up under the auspices of the British Fascisti, led by Rotha Lintorn-Orman. Lintorn-Orman, a young heiress who believed in the existence of a Jewish–Communist plot to destroy the British Empire, was at first optimistic of being able to join the counter-revolutionary movement via the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. When the Conservative government blocked registered fascists from signing up as special constables, a split emerged among the Fascisti. A group of former Fascisti under the leadership of Brigadier-General R. B. D. Blakeney renounced their political affiliation in order to join the state-backed movement. Lintorn-Orman and her followers circumvented the proscription on service in the OMS by forming the Q Divisions. In reality, under the direction of Winston Churchill as the cabinet minister with responsibility for the OMS, the government often turned a blind eye to the extent of its involvement with the fascist movement.
     
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    Remembering "Red Wadham" (October 1927)
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    RED WADHAM

    OXFORD, 1927


    “Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer / We’ll keep the red flag flying here!”



    One of the most bizarre episodes from the first half-year of political and industrial militancy is undoubtedly the stunt remembered – by those who remember it all – as “Red Wadham”. The story starts at the end of September, when a small group of students at the University of Oxford travelled to London and turned up at the Communist Party headquarters in Covent Garden. The front desk was unconvinced by these boys in their varsity outfits and claimed that there was no one around who could see them. Undeterred, the group returned to Oxford and planned a stunt that would both get the attention of the CPGB and prove their sincerity to the workers’ cause.

    Early in the morning on the Tuesday before the start of Michaelmas term, the first term in the Oxford academic year, a group of three boys broke into Wadham College and climbed up to the roof of the gatehouse. They were met in the college by a fourth member, John Lawson, who was the only one of the group to have actually been a student at Wadham. Two of the group, Tom Driberg and Alan Taylor, had left Oxford at the end of the previous year – Taylor with a degree – but returned to assist with the coup. The final member was Cecil Reid; together they called themselves the Oxford University Communist Party.

    Just before dawn, the group lowered the college flag, flying ready for the start of term, and in its place ran the Red Flag up the flagpole. On its own, this would be little more than a standard student prank, hardly worth remembering. The heady mix of boarding-school chauvinism and aristocratic homoeroticism that pervaded Oxford at the time result in countless practical jokes being played, many far more ambitious than simply changing a flag. Six months into arguably the most serious display of working-class consciousness in British history, however, the jape acquired an altogether more serious meaning. Oxford, a centre of counter-revolutionary sentiment and a fertile provider of special constables for the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, had generally little sympathy for the workers’ movement. However much coated in a sense of upper-class levity, the OUCP’s stunt demonstrated the existence, however marginal, of pockets of genuine solidarity in the university town.

    A final twist elevates the tale beyond simple student larks into an altogether wittier political action. Driberg, Lawson, Reid and Taylor, conscious of the fact that raising the Red Flag over an Oxford College, however well intentioned, would always be an inward-looking gesture, planned their coup to coincide with the photographing of Wadham for that year’s postcard, available to buy from the college visitor’s shop. The photographers had been hired from a local firm and, unsurprisingly, were not well versed in the intricacies of college vexillology. In any case, the Wadham College flag was itself predominately red; flapping around at eight in the morning, it was hard for the untrained eye to make out any change at all. The college authorities saw that the flags had been changed almost immediately, of course, and within the hour the college banner had been restored. But it wasn’t until a delivery of postcards arrived ready for sale three weeks later that Wadham realised the OUCP’s true genius. Too embarrassed to admit what had happened, the cards were sold anyway in the hope that, like the photographers, visiting tourists wouldn’t notice the error. On October 27th, a “Red Wadham” postcard arrived on the desk of CPGB general secretary Albert Inkpin. On the back was a short message, signed by all four members of the OUCP:


    Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer, we’ll keep the Red Flag flying here!

    Solidarity from the Communist Party of the University of Oxford.


    RED%20WADHAM.jpg


    In the aftermath of Red Wadham, the embarrassed college faculty made numerous attempts to identify the perpetrators. They were all unsuccessful – sabotaged in all likelihood by then-dean of college Maurice Bowra, a fellow-traveller with a penchant for witty mockeries of authority.


    Albert Inkpin, intrigued by the Oxonians’ obstinacy in getting the attention of the Communist leadership, after a series of enquiries eventually made contact with the OUCP. Driberg and Taylor, having graduated, were offered work as dispatch riders for party magazine the Worker’s Weekly. Lawson and Reid were engaged in various small-scale activities against the OMS in Oxford.

    Under the Commonwealth, all four members of the group maintained various associations with the CPGB machinery: Lawson and Reid as members only, and Taylor in his capacity as an historian as an author of numerous pamphlets. As a journalist, Driberg was a correspondent for the Worker’s Weekly during the Spanish War, and later occupied the magazine’s Washington desk between 1940–1943. He was the only one of the four not to distance himself from the mainstream CPGB after 1956.

    Largely unknown at the time and forgotten in the decades after, nothing more was ever officially said of the matter. The identities of the perpetrators remained unknown until 1959, when Tom Driberg claimed partial responsibility during an appearance at the Oxford Union. He had been invited to the Union as a panellist in a debate on the legacy of the University’s role in the counter-revolutionary effort.
     
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    THE REVOLUTIONARY TURN
    THE GENERAL STRIKE AFTER LONDON DOCKS

    ERIC HOBSBAWM
    1947



    Just after eleven o’clock on the morning of June 9th, 1927, after three weeks of peaceful, if passionate, working-class action, the character of the General Strike was irreversibly turned towards violence. Following an escalation of policing activities by the government’s Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, an attempt to clear the picket line at the London Docks in Wapping led to the deaths of 22 striking workers at the hands of volunteer special constables. In the two decades after this dark moment in the history of the British workers’ movement – known as the ‘London Docks Massacre’, or simply ‘Black Thursday’ – much has been written on its importance with regard to the so-called “revolutionary turn”, the evolution of the General Strike from an industry-specific dispute over the problem of coal into a broader, working-class effort towards the abolition of Capitalist ownership and, eventually, the overthrow of the British state. In this paper, I will give a brief outline of the events of the revolution from Black Thursday until the collapse of the Baldwin government in January 1928. This outline will be divided into two parts, each dealing with the period before and after the Riverside Massacre of November 12th, respectively. I will offer a contrast of the Baldwin government’s response to each tragedy, before attempting to make an argument for the differences between them.


    While in the East End, particularly the Jewish East End centred around Spitalfields and Whitechapel, the reaction to the events of Black Thursday was immediate and angered, up the river in the Palace of Westminster the response was less urgent. The next morning, prime minister Stanley Baldwin expressed his profound regret for the deaths of the dockers but made little firm commitment to action. He equivocated in particular on the question of the arming of the special constables: while those in Wapping had been outfitted with rifles as well as batons, no shots had been fired and the deaths had almost universally been the result of blunt force traumas. A later inquiry vindicated claims made by the government that the OMS had not had access to live ammunition at Wapping. More so than sheer carelessness, London Docks was a display of institutional thuggery – spurred on in no small part by the presence of British Fascisti within the ranks of the special constables. In a signal display of the government’s priorities vis-à-vis the workers’ movement, it was this factor, rather than the deaths themselves, which arguably contributed most to moving Baldwin towards political action. The one immediate concession to the popular mood of outrage was the ritual sacrifice of Winston Churchill, who was dismissed from his cabinet post as chancellor of the exchequer having co-ordinated the bulk of the government’s efforts in setting up a paramilitary force in defence against industrial action.


    Churchill was enraged by Baldwin’s decision to remove him from the cabinet, feeling that he had been unjustly scapegoated. Of course, it was not the deaths of working men that he regretted; he profoundly regretted the apparent death of his own ministerial career. There is little doubt that he played a key rôle in fostering the climate that allowed Black Thursday to take place. His professional indifference towards the loosening of restrictions on who exactly could volunteer to serve in the OMS was undeniable. In particular, as cabinet minister with responsibility for the co-ordination of the government’s response to the strike effort, he was shamefully lax in upholding the proscription of members of the British Fascisti from becoming special constables without first renouncing their political affiliation. Were it not for his later willingness to work publicly with the Fascisti Q Divisions, it might be possible for apologists to claim that this laxity was the inevitable result of a man combining the treasury portfolio with responsibility for the anti-strike effort. In any event, the zeal with which Churchill took to his job as chief strikebreaker is well-documented. Churchill wrote in one government memo in May, shortly before the outbreak of strike action, that “a group of extremists in the trade union movement … see a General Strike as the supreme weapon of labour.” In his mind, under the guise of breaking the strike Churchill had also been given an unprecedented opportunity to break the unions.


    The historical irony of the situation is hard to ignore. Having set the conditions for an over-inflated sterling earlier in the decade, tethering the currency to the gold standard in an effort to peg its value to that of the dollar, Churchill’s time as chancellor had been acutely damaging to the situation of the working class. The over-inflation of sterling played a key rôle in the gradual decrease of miners’ wages between 1920 and 1927. It was this deflation that sparked the anger amongst the working class that fed directly into the appetite for a General Strike. His work in forming the OMS in the lead up to 1927 was, arguably, in many ways an attack on the fruits of his own labour.



    OMS%20VOLUNTEERS%201926.jpg

    The bourgeoisie play at strike-breaking as volunteer special constables within the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. The men are almost uniformly of the upper middle classes, and a significant number came down from varsity for some extracurricular counter-revolutionary action.


    For opposition leader Ramsay MacDonald, London Docks illuminated a clearer path of resistance to the Conservative government. MacDonald’s Labour Party was intensely reformist in its socialism, and its unease at the radical syndicalism of certain union leaders – in particular, the general secretary of the Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, Arthur Cook – was only thinly veiled. MacDonald was keenly exercised by the need for the Labour Party, untested in power, to appear as a credible party of government in the eyes of the electorate. Were Baldwin to fall, he would be a likely candidate as any to succeed him as prime minister. The Labour leader had no intention of sacrificing the possibility of forming a government in the name of class conflict.


    The party position was echoed by mainstream union leadership. Walter Citrine and Ernest Bevin, general secretaries of the Trades Union Congress and the Transport and General Workers’ Union, respectively, joined much of the parliamentary Labour Party in regretting the strike. After Black Thursday, these men felt that their reasons for opposing industrial action had been vindicated: no good would come to the working man by choosing the path of action. MacDonald had been largely hampered in the effectiveness of his parliamentary opposition by this steadfast commitment to reform. Any differences of opinion between him and the government were rendered largely immaterial by the fact of their mutual opposition to the strike. After the deaths at Wapping, space was formed for MacDonald to now make a critique of the government without expressly having to come out in support of the strike. He was unsparing in his denunciations of government recklessness and demanded an inquiry into the extent of the alleged links between the OMS and the Fascisti. Rid of Churchill, Baldwin was more or less able to weather the Labour leader’s attacks and cultivated a demeanour of renewed dutifulness in taking full control of the effort to end the coal dispute. He did little material, however, making promises of an inquiry but no commitment. In the meantime, he assured the country that links between the OMS and the Fascisti were unfounded, and that all precautions were being taken to ensure the independence of the strikebreaking effort from extreme right-wing groups.


    There is some irony in the fact that Baldwin was aided in his defence against the Labour opposition by Churchill himself, who in his capacity of editor of the government’s anti-strike newspaper the British Gazette did incalculable work in stemming the worst of the loss of public confidence. In spite of the government’s efforts to wrest control of the situation, however, they achieved only limited success. Baldwin and his cabinet had anticipated a short period of disruption, estimating that a strike could last no more than a fortnight. Yet by the end of June striking workers celebrated one month of action, and fears of flagging morale amongst those out on the picket were reversed after London Docks. The Daily Herald urged workers to continue the fight, warning that the state violence as displayed on June 9th was an indication of the government’s true indifference to their cause. Here a shift begins to be seen, from the workers’ movement framing its battle in terms of the coal problem, to a conception of a wider fight for the dignity of the working class in Britain. For now, this was confined to a significant minority – but it was a sentiment spreading fast.


    In the ranks of the bourgeois counter-revolutionaries, on the other hand, morale was fading at a comparable rate. After Black Thursday, enthusiasm for the volunteer cause lost significant momentum and a large number of people resigned their commissions as special constables in discomfort at being co-opted into what now appeared to be a paramilitary organisation. While many stayed on in ‘civilian’ strike-breaking rôles – driving buses, delivering food and the like – the government found itself increasingly reliant on hardline counter-revolutionary volunteers to staff the policing department of the OMS. In practice, this meant being forced to quietly forfeit any reluctance towards recruiting Fascisti. As much as it marks a turning point in the working-class conception of the strike as something approaching a struggle against the British state, so too does it mark a turning point in the composition of the effort against the strike movement. Gone was the initial character of the OMS as a brigade of middle-class play-actors taking up a trade for a week or so. The organisation now could be divided quite neatly in two: on the one arm, a skeleton staff of bourgeois volunteers in civilian rôles; on the other, a cadre of special constables increasingly assuming the character of a paramilitary force. Moreover, this was an ill-trained, ill-disciplined force motivated by little more than fear of revolution, and in some cases outright hatred of the working class. In 1910, magistrates in South Wales requested the support of the armed forces in response to rioting by workers in Tonypandy. Churchill, then home secretary in a Liberal cabinet, sent the troops no further than Cardiff and left the violent work of quelling the revolt to the Metropolitan Police. At the time, he was criticised by Conservatives for his restraint, and on the basis that the troops would have conducted themselves with more discipline than the police, who enacted a zealous revenge against the Welsh rioters. The resulting image that crystallised in the popular imagination of the British Left, not entirely congruent with the actual fact, was one of a state declaring war on its working population. Seventeen years after Tonypandy, Churchill was again at the heart of a violent scandal of workers being attacked by their own government. In this case, the Left had a far stronger case for painting him as the villain. Nevertheless, it was only after Churchill’s removal from a position of influence that the truly perilous consequence of Black Thursday became apparent: the transformation of the special constabulary from an ill-disciplined group motivated by a sense of duty, albeit to a misguided cause, to a force motivated increasingly by the base emotions of fear, hatred, and a desire for retribution against the working class.



    Q%20DIVISION%20MEMBERS%201920S.jpg

    Members of a British Fascisti "Q Division", sometime during the General Strike. Those convinced of the Fascisti cause were often 'eccentric' upper-class men and women of leisure, although the party maintained links with groups of thugs in the East End.


    Within the unions, two main trends of reaction emerged: the first, that of the right-wing leadership who saw the deaths of the dockers as reason to renew attempts at negotiating a settlement with the government; the second, a resolution that no settlement could be reached with a government who had demonstrated such fatal indifference to working-class lives. In organisational terms, this could be described as a split between the TUC and the National Minority Movement, a CPGB-attached group within the trade unionist movement for the promotion of radical syndicalist tactics. At the end of June, without making his intentions public, Walter Citrine appointed anti-communist Ernest Bevin, head of the TUC’s Strike Organisation Committee, to re-open talks with the government. Negotiations continue into the next month. Privately, Bevin and Citrine are anxious that, even in the event that they are able to reach an agreement, the decision to end the strike is, in practical terms, no longer in their hands.


    Meanwhile, the Minority Movement set about strengthening their own organisational capabilities, partly in anticipation of an imminent takeover of the wider TUC. General secretary Harry Pollitt entrusted Arthur Cook with the formation of an official ways and means committee, while J. T. Murphy – a functionary of the Comintern-backed Red International of Labour Unions – was covertly dispatched to the Soviet Union, charged with securing financial backing for the NMM strike fund. Herbert Smith, a taciturn Yorkshireman who was president of the Miners’ Federation, was given the task of canvassing other unions to ascertain the extent of favourable attitudes towards a settlement. Smith conducted his campaign against a backdrop of mounting hostility between workers and the anti-strike movement. Dockers in Hull and Liverpool, fearful of being targeted by the OMS, begin to fight back against police on the picket lines. Some manage to arm themselves. The Daily Herald, increasingly independent of the moderate TUC leadership, describes the dockers’ plight as a “spirited defence against a government which has proven itself, once and for all, to be an enemy of the working man.” Bevin, TGWU general secretary, was alarmed by the news of docker militancy and threatened to withdraw strike payments from any man found to have armed himself. His pronouncement calmed governmental fears of a drift amongst the trade union leadership towards “Bolshevism”, but attracted little sympathy from the workers themselves. At the end of July, Minority Movement ally Ben Tillett, a veteran leader within the old docker’s union, announced his intention to challenge Bevin for the general secretaryship of the TGWU at the next conference in August. Outwardly unperturbed, Bevin and Citrine ended the month by securing an agreement from the government for a restoration of miners’ wages to New Year levels, with the retention of an eight-hour day. Pollitt, Cook and the NMM are horrified to discover Bevin and Citrine’s secret negotiations and reaffirm their commitment to oppose any settlement with the Conservative government.


    The previous October, an attempt by the NMM to mount a challenge for the leadership of the TUC had been defeated when Citrine was elected permanent general secretary, winning 55 per-cent of the vote. Since October there had been no official test of the strength of the Minority Movement within the TUC. In the aftermath of the revelation of the existence of the Bevin settlement, Harry Pollitt called for a display of Minority Movement strength and threatened to instruct friendly delegates to withdraw from the extraordinary conference called to resolve the settlement issue. He was ultimately persuaded against a boycott by Cook and Smith, who, optimistic of the strength of the NMM throughout the TUC membership, proposed instead that the movement tested its strength by springing a coup for leadership of the congress. Pollitt agreed and, after the TUC leadership was defeated on the issue of the settlement, he pushed NMM organisational secretary George Hardy to challenge Citrine for the position of general secretary. Hardy took 52 per-cent of the vote. When Ben Tillett defeated Ernest Bevin at the TGWU annual conference a week later, the Minority Movement takeover of the trade unions was all but secured.


    Hardy’s first act as general secretary of a newly-militant TUC was to announce negotiations with the government suspended, until the election of “a ministry not inherently opposed to the very lives of the working people it claims to represent and protect”. He followed this in early September with a renewed call for strike action, without restrictions on the industries affected, not just in response to the coal problem, but “in defence of the lives and the livelihoods of all working people in Britain”. Baldwin, wrong-footed by events within the TUC, denounced the strike and quickly began proceedings for an injunction against the organisation to sequester its assets in an attempt to force the strikers back to work. The injunction was granted by Mr Justice Astbury, who in his infamous ruling gave the opinion that “no industrial dispute may exist between the TUC and the government of the nation”. Arthur Cook leapt at the government’s attacks with the writing and publication of a pamphlet, entitled Fifteen Weeks, which celebrated the achievements of the strike and exhorted workers not to be cowed by the suppression tactics of the state. Its peroration is now famous:



    We, who have endured so much at the hands of this government, are now moments from enacting its final defeat. Not content with having taken our wages, this government took our jobs; not content with having robbed us of our communities, this government robbed us of our livelihoods. Now Mr. Baldwin, his arsenal all but spent, has turned to the courts to take the penny from our pocket and the bread from our table. The day will come when, desperate and with nowhere else to turn, he will come to take our lives. When that day arrives, we will say finally, No! On that day, Mr. Baldwin and his government will be reminded of the true strength of the working class in Britain – and on that day the working men of Britain will rise at last, like the lions of old after their slumber, and take for themselves their rightful place as the masters of their own fate!


    PICKET%201926.jpg

    Mineworkers on the picket, early summer 1927.


    Cook’s reference – rise like lions after slumber – to the poet Shelley’s ode to non-violent resistance, The Masque of Anarchy, was deliberate. The workers’ movement was keen to play up the image of the martyred dockers as essentially peaceful, in contrast with the undisciplined state troops quick to violence. In reality, of course, the dockers had fought back, though inflicted no casualties on the OMS. And while Fifteen Weeks spread throughout the workers’ movement, its proliferation supported by a large, informal network of underground printers, the mood of the strike was slowly turning towards militancy. Dockers in Hull and Liverpool succeeded in their attempts to drive police from the picket lines by the end of the first week of September, and agitation began to seep into the largely conservative south by the end of the month, by which point the number of workers on strike surpassed 2 million for the first time. At the start of October, the Red Flag could even be seen flying over Wadham College, Oxford – though only for about an hour. A group of undergraduates apparently raised it over the college as a joke.


    Violence was also provoked by the British Fascisti, who maintained an increasingly public presence over the summer and into the autumn. Most startling was the retention of one of Rotha Lintorn-Orman’s “Q Divisions” by Winston Churchill during a speaking tour of the country in August. Churchill’s decision to associate publicly with the Fascisti in this way was a source of embarrassment to Baldwin, who had expended considerable effort in giving the appearance of there existing no links between the Conservative Party and the fascist movement. The Fascisti were a young movement of largely middle-class anti-Communists who combined Italian fascism with extreme British patriotism. Members ranged from the eccentric to the ultra-violent, with a larger concentration of the former in the Home Counties and a tendency towards the latter in the East End. They were taken seriously by few amongst the wider bourgeoisie, though waged a violent campaign against the workers’ movement in the name of “crushing sedition”. Baldwin was forced to send in the troops to assist the Metropolitan Police after Fascisti street-fighters began a series of attacks against Jewish trade unionists and anti-fascist fighters in Spitalfields on October 20th. This marked the first time troops had been officially deployed to assist with the strike-breaking effort. Baldwin was adamant that the armed forces had been instructed to act only within stringent rules of engagement, yet the move was greeted with scepticism by the workers. Even those in the middle class began to question the degree to which Baldwin and his government had the situation under control.


    On November 12th, Baldwin sent troops into the Liverpool in order to re-take areas of the docks which had been under worker control since the start of September. Five months after Black Thursday, it was a contentious move. As in Spitalfields, however, Baldwin gave assurances that the troops were tasked only with “restoring order”, and had been given strict terms of engagement. These included a prohibition on firing into crowds of striking workers, and more generally a warning that mortal force could be used only in the face of extreme danger to the policing mission. In the event, tensions flared up immediately following the arrival of troops at the Albert Dock. Dockers began throwing rocks and half-bricks at the armed forces, and operational commander Colonel James Leeson gave the order to begin arresting workers, though did not sanction the use of lethal force. The clash between the arresting troops and the dockers was fierce, the troops beating the dockers with clubs while dockers continued to throw improvised missiles, or else fought hand-to-hand.


    At about ten o’clock, one soldier under the command of Major Frank Rudd-Gore shot into the crowd after being hit in the eye with a rock. Docker John Hegarty was killed, while two more were injured by rifle fire. Colonel Leeson repeated the order not to fire into the crowd and, as some dockers began to flee towards Duke’s Dock, ordered troops not to chase them down, but instead to remain in position at Albert Dock and arrest those who continued to offer resistance. Major Rudd-Gore disobeyed the order, leading his company to Wapping Dock with the aim of cutting off the routes of escape for fleeing dockers. At 10:17am, troops in Major Rudd-Gore’s company fired into a crowd of docks running to safety across Wapping Basin, killing 12 and injuring 16. Hearing gunshots and believing the order to open fire to have been given, troops back at Albert Dock opened fire at 10:19am, killing 14. At 10:23am, Colonel Leeson gave the final order to cease fire and repeated that fleeing dockers were not to be chased down. Of those who were unable to escape that day, 27 were killed and 35 more were seriously injured. Three died of their injuries in the following days, and an unknown number of those arrested – over 500 – were abused in custody. Having navigated his way to safety after Black Thursday, the Riverside Massacre mortally wounded both Baldwin’s reputation and that of his government. In response to public outcry and renewed attacks from MacDonald’s opposition, Baldwin suspended the use of troops to police the strike effort and announced that an inquiry into the events at Riverside would be carried out. For once, MacDonald and the militant trade unionists were united in their message that no settlement could be reached so long as the government represented a credible threat the the lives of the working class in Britain. After Christmas, in a show of solidarity to those killed at both Wapping and Riverside, over 4 million people refused to go back to work. The country was brought to a complete standstill in the week before the New Year, and MacDonald vowed to bring a motion of no confidence in the Conservative government as the first item of business once Parliament reconvened. Aided by a considerable Churchillite backbench rebellion, the motion passed. Baldwin announced a general election on January 13th.


    What separated the government’s responses to London Docks and Riverside? After Black Thursday, Baldwin was content to let Churchill take the blame for the outbreak of violence. Churchill had been in charge of the co-ordination of the anti-strike effort, and thus Baldwin was able to argue that it was the chancellor and not the prime minister who was ultimately accountable for its failure. Five months later, Baldwin had no such shield available: the blame, clearly, fell at his feet. Yet, morally, there is little to separate the two events: irrespective of at precisely whose hands, a total of 57 striking dockers had been killed by forces of the anti-strike movement. In his willingness to accept the security offered by distinctions between “fascisti infiltrators” and the British Army itself, Baldwin exposed the underlying antipathy held by the Conservative party towards the ultimate fate of the British working class. Baldwin massaged a question of simple moral consequence – the accountability of the government for the murders of 57 men – into a matter of parliamentary procedure. Even at the end, Baldwin could not bring himself to admit that he had played a leading rôle in the killings. His government was not defeated by an admission of guilt or even wrongdoing, but by simple parliamentary arithmetic. His earlier gambit of sacking Churchill had only given him an extra seven months, and after the New Year it was Churchill’s votes that doomed him. MacDonald’s own measured fury would have been impotent were it not for the internal struggles of the Conservative Party. Thus it was with no dignity that the politics of the United Kingdom entered a state of terminal decline. It would scarcely redeem itself before the end.




    Eric Hobsbawm (b. 1917) is a British Marxist historian. His works deal predominately with socialism, working-class movements and the rise and fall of industrial capitalism in Britain. He is currently a reader in history at Birkbeck College, University of London.
     
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    A False Dawn: Memories of the General Election of 1928
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    A FALSE DAWN
    MEMORIES OF THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 1928

    GLADYS HATHERLEY
    1953



    When I was five years old, my parents took me to see Jessie Stephens speak at the Portsmouth docks. It is perhaps my first reliable memory. I remember how cold it was, even on the coast, and I was stuffed into my winter coat as protection against the wind coming off the sea. I remember my father putting me on his shoulders so I could better see the small stage over the crowd of dockers. I remember hearing Miss Stephens and thinking that her words sounded magical, like something out of a storybook, though I remember nothing of what she said and would not have been able to understand it anyway. Neither do I remember seeing afterwards any signs of trouble, although I know now that they must have been present. I have no recollection of the group of Q Division thugs who kept watch from over the road, who after the speech was over heckled the members of the crowd as they left to go back to their own business.


    In February 1928, when the voters of Britain went to the polls for the third time since the start of the decade, it was clear that there was little hope of restoring something of the political peace that had been established in Westminster after great effort three years earlier. Stanley Baldwin, the third Conservative prime minister since 1922, had been heralded upon his accession to the leadership of both his party and his country in 1925 as a man of sober, common-sense principles who would do good work in establishing a sense of “business as usual”. When he proved able to lead a united Conservative Party into a general election only months after his elevation to the premiership, hopes seemed to be confirmed that he was, indeed, the man for the job. Needless to say, the new Baldwin’s government’s response to the coal problem, with which it was faced only months into its tenure in office, cast serious doubt over this assessment. By turns shamelessly cynical and hopelessly lethargic, Baldwin’s default mode of operation – that of the sensible patrician – was found wanting in its attempts to answer simultaneously the conflicting demands of unity of the classes and unity of party. An entrenched defender of the bourgeoisie, Baldwin’s often-stated concern for the welfare of the working class abandoned him when it mattered, and in so doing only hastened Britain’s progress along the road from industrial unrest to class warfare. The Conservative Party he led at the start of 1928 had been all but overtaken by events, and envisaging the conditions for its return to power seemed a considerable task of imagination. The only question worth asking seemed to be to what extent the claims that it made, of being the only party equipped to stop the surrender of the British government to the trade unionist movement, would be taken in by the voting public.


    Some in the Conservative Party took the job of demonstrating the apparent truthfulness of this claim more seriously than others. While as a young child I had no awareness of the bitterness that wracked the 1928 election, for the conscious public it was something keenly felt. My parents, both members of the Communist Party, were on occasion actively caught up in the troubles. When my father came home from the picket one evening some hours later than usual, my mother explained to me how he had been delayed by some business with the union. It wasn’t until years later that he told me the full details of this business, that he had been arrested after picketing a speech given by the Conservative candidate, a shipping magnate who had taken on protection from the Q Divisions out of fears that he would be targeted for attack by the dockers. This was not an exceptional precaution for a Conservative candidate to take; across the country, the presence of Fascisti and pseudo-Fascisti “protection details” was not uncommon at Conservative events during the election campaign. Most infamously, Winston Churchill was accompanied at a speech given to constituents in Epping by seven rifle-wielding men and women in Fascisti uniform. These displays came to little in the way of physical violence, but contributed without question to a continued mood of hostility that discredited any idea of the election as offering a pause in the wider class dispute.


    Indeed, the election was in many ways a sideshow for the millions of working men and women across the country participating in direct action. Frustrated for the moment in its attempts to bring the immediate violent forces of the British state to bear against the strike movement, the establishment attempted a change of tack. The election offered a novel way of shoring up the counter-revolutionary effort, co-opting the instruments of bourgeois democracy in an attempt to dent the workers movement. For the working class, the choice offered at the polling booth was of little consequence: the fight would go on regardless of who emerged as victorious in Westminster. But for the bourgeoisie, the election offered the first chance to influence events since the hobbling of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies. The re-election of the Conservative government would be action in favour of the tactics of direct repression employed first, zealously, by Churchill and later, with protestations of reluctance, by Baldwin. The election of the country’s first ever Labour government, on the other hand, would offer some vindication of Ramsay MacDonald’s steadfast commitment to reformist, bourgeois-democratic socialism. Through Labour, Britain would be allowed to experiment with tactics unpalatable to the Conservatives: sentencing the workers’ movement to death by obsolescence. An appeal to the principles of good-hearted, high-minded socialism of the non-conformist sort made by a Labour ministry would, theoretically, reset the legitimacy of the British government in its dealings with the strike movement. Whereas the bourgeoisie were quick to show their unease at the violent (one might say murderous) opposition to the strike of the sort shown by Baldwin and his cabinet, the presence in Whitehall of a government whose opposition to the strike was not expressly violent, but rather purely methodological, would, it was hoped, tip the balance of public sympathy back in favour of the state. The decision of the voting public in Britain to a leftish government would present the workers’ movement with a burden of choice: continue with its action, and thus expose itself as a revolutionary movement to the exclusion of other identities; or settle, and give up on the dream of revolution and accept victory for the workers within a precarious system of parliamentary socialism. The grievances at the heart of George Hardy’s renewed declaration of strife action were usefully vague – “in defence of the lives and livelihoods of the working people of Britain” – and few, honestly, would have begrudged him too greatly for settling were a MacDonald government to show good faith in its dealings with the unions. It could reasonably be taken that, under Labour, the “lives and livelihoods of the working people” would be secure from attack. Were the coal problem solved also, full victory could be declared.



    POLICE%20AID%20FASH.jpg

    Police in the East End clear a barricade erected by anti-fascist volunteers. The reluctance of the state to engage the assistance of the Fascisti in their effort against the strike was not always apparent.


    Yet these sorts of deliberations remained entirely within the realm of conjecture. MacDonald’s preoccupation with success in the public imagination and at the ballot box had let bad faith creep into his dealings with the unions, and he made little effort from the beginning to disguise his disdain for “aggressive” strike action. Even were a settlement to be reached over the coal problem – and it is hard to see how this could work in the favour of the miners without significant government action against the mine-owners – the survival of such a settlement would surely be reliant on the ability of Labour to protect itself and the legacy of its first ministry against future Conservative attacks. Thus any security won for the working class would be temporary from the start, its continued survival forever at the mercy of the survival of the Labour government or the goodwill of a Conservative one. The working class, after ten months of struggle, would have won better conditions of existence; crucially, it would not have won the right to determine for itself the conditions of its existence, which would still be in tow to the designs of the political class. This was in line with the thinking of Comintern, which from the summer of 1928 would begin to agitate explicitly for non-cooperation with bourgeois leftist movements under its doctrine of “social fascism”.


    Polling took place on February 25th. In some areas, workers and Fascisti clashed at polling stations, usually in cases where Q Division thugs had taken it upon themselves to prevent “seditious” workers from exercising their right to vote. These clashes were mostly broken up by police, who maintained a large presence in a heavy-handed attempt by the government ensure the smooth running of proceedings. In the event, polling day was for the most part an anti-climactic affair; there was no grand coup staged against parliamentary democracy. (Working-class organisation was not yet at a level capable of mounting such a challenge.) For all of its scepticism, the workers’ movement still came out almost universally in support of the Labour Party, which for the moment retained the technical backing of the TUC. A large number of workers reasoned that, if there had to be a government, it would be better a government of nominal socialists less likely to call in the troops. Negotiations, not yet ruled out, could at least take place safe from the threat of armed paramilitaries, memories of the deployment of which still haunted the Conservatives. Little of Baldwin’s reputation as a reliable operator survived by polling day, and there was hardly a good record of premiership waiting to be vindicated. The question was how heavy the loss would be.


    Ramsay MacDonald was able to declare victory two days later, his party having won over 5 million votes to take 340 seats in the House of Commons. The first Labour ministry was formed over the following days, and could call on a working majority of 32. The Conservative vote, meanwhile, did not entirely evaporate; Baldwin was hurt more by voters staying away from the polls than by any great defection to other parties, and his party held onto just under 5 million votes to win 233 seats. The Liberal parties, all but irrelevant, took less than 2 million votes between them. Albert Inkpin led the CPGB to victory in seven seats, predominately in the East End, South Wales, Liverpool and Glasgow. The fact of a vocal Communist minority in Westminster was cause for celebration, although Inkpin insisted on a policy of abstentionism so long as the strike persisted. Less eagerly received by the workers’ movement was the news of the election of two new Labour MPs, Ernest Bevin and Walter Citrine. MacDonald had found seats for each of the former union bosses, and their presence in parliament was taken by some within the strike leadership as a demonstration from the start of Labour’s intention to operate in bad faith.


    A quarter of a century on, it becomes hard to recover any sense of the cautious optimism with which a large body of the working class met the formation of the new government. General opinion today is unsparing in its denunciation of MacDonald and his colleagues as Capitalist fellow travellers. This assessment, in large part, is warranted. But it is important to acknowledge also that this hostility towards the Labour victory more widely, and not just to MacDonald, is born of later events, and cannot be applied to the end of February 1928. Despite his hostility to the strike effort and the ultimate futility of his reforms, MacDonald can be credited with the immediate release of most political prisoners, including all of the dockers arrested at Riverside the previous November, and by the end of March had also taken steps to reverse the sequestration of the TUC’s assets, albeit in an attempt to wean the organisation off Soviet money. As a child, much of this passed me by. But I am reminded always of Jessie Stephens and her bold speech of a better life for the working class. At its core, divested of the frustration and the sadness to come, it is important to remember the election of the Labour government not for its own sake, but as a powerful display of the new-found consciousness of the working class, and as a small, imperfect hint of the brighter world to come.




    Gladys Hatherley (b. 1922) is an English historian and academic, whose work deals with the political history of the labour movement from the 19th century until the formation of the Commonwealth. She is currently a research fellow at the Institute for Labour Studies at the University of Southampton.
     
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    THE BROKEN OLIVE BRANCH
    RAMSAY MACDONALD AND THE COUNTER-REVOLUTION

    JOAN WYATT
    1954



    Ramsay MacDonald entered office at the end of February, 1928, as the leader of the first Labour government in the history of the United Kingdom. By extension, his was the first government in Britain that could be described as “Leftist”. Owing to the circumstances in which it took power, in the midst of the most powerful and sustained demonstration of working-class organisation ever witnessed in Britain, the election of this notionally socialist ministry was met with little open enthusiasm by the worker’s movement. Rather, the mood amongst the working class after MacDonald’s assumption of the premiership was one of caution; whereas the trade unions might have been able to expect more sympathetic terms of engagement in entering talks with the government, having opposed the strike from its outset MacDonald could not be guaranteed to affect the inherently counter-revolutionary nature of the British state. His was a committed programme of reformist socialism, and in the first months of his premiership it would be called upon again and again to answer questions about its ultimate utility to the movement for the emancipation of the working class.


    The Labour government started its tenure with a series of positive moves aimed to establish the fact of its operating in good faith. Instructions were given for the blanket release of all workers arrested in the aftermath of the Riverside Massacre, and MacDonald also reversed the sequestration of the TUC’s assets within the first two weeks of March. This was in many ways a token move by the government; funds for the strike movement had long since been transferred to the care of numerous other organisations, in particular those under the aegis of the National Minority Movement, which had taken over the vast proportion of dealings with Comintern, amongst others donors. Rather, MacDonald hoped by releasing the union money to bring the movement back out from under the influence of the Soviets. He feared the possibility of revolution so long as the strike movement was backed by outside agents, writing that “every rouble that makes its way into this country is a hammer blow against the integrity of the British state.” In any event, the extent to which the strike effort was bankrolled by Comintern was largely over-exaggerated by government bodies, wishing perhaps to play up fears of the arrival of international Communism in Britain. Most money was diverted to strike hardship relief funds, contributing to the maintenance of workers’ welfare whilst they remained on the picket.


    More material was MacDonald’s announcement at the end of March of an amnesty for all strikers who returned to work. One of the key fears of the striking working class was the threat of reprisals by bosses against those who made the decision to abandon union action, or in the event that the strike was defeated. The previous Conservative government had adopted a hard-line stance against interfering with employer–employee relations, in other words turning a blind eye to instances of discrimination against workers on the basis of political affiliation. This fear had been a key, though largely unspoken factor in upholding strike discipline, with workers convinced that only total victory would ensure their livelihoods after the end of hostilities. MacDonald hoped that in offering some degree of assurance against this fear, he could begin to erode worker solidarity and tempt a proportion of the strikers back to work.



    LABOUR%20POSTER%201928.jpg

    Election poster, 1928. The formation of the first Labour government after the 1928 election was cause for optimism amongst the petit-bourgeoisie, though soon lost the goodwill of its working-class base.


    Initially, he met with some success. The number of workers on strike had peaked after Christmas 1927 at about 4 million workers, though this was only a temporary display of solidarity and the number quickly resettled to about 2,750,000 by the time of the election. By the middle of April, something like a quarter of a million people had been tempted back to work by MacDonald’s announcement of an amnesty, which the Labour government took as a sign of the success of its counter-revolutionary strategy. “Reports now confirm what employers have been suggesting for the past week”, MacDonald boasted in the House of Commons on April 12th, 1928, “the strike effort is waning and the working men of this country are gradually being drawn back to work by the promise of the protection of a Labour government.” This self-congratulation proved premature, however, and the drift away from the picket stalled in the middle of the month as anecdotal evidence began to emerge that the amnesty was useless; bosses across the country were finding ways to circumvent MacDonald’s assurance, in many cases simply ignoring it outright and claiming that the government had no right to interfere with industry so directly. MacDonald, still convinced above all of the need for the Labour Party to remain “sensible” in government, declined to force the issue and tried to let the amnesty die as quiet a death as possible. The ultimate failure of the tactic was masked at the end of April by the announcement that the state unemployment benefit would be increased slightly, a move met with little more than outright indifference by the unions. Alonzo Swales, the veteran left-wing unionist by then chairman of the TUC’s Special Committee on Industrial Action, denounced the Labour government’s plan to help the workers in memorable terms: “it is not with scraps of paper but through organised struggle that the workers of Britain will win assurances of their dignity.”


    The vital question remained of a negotiated settlement to the problem of the coal industry. Working relations between the government and the trade unions started poorly when MacDonald announced the commissioning of a new report into the state of the mines, for the duration of which he asked TUC general secretary George Hardy to suspend strike action as a show of good faith. Hardy, backed by A. J. Cook, did not assent to MacDonald’s request, informing the Labour cabinet that he would not betray his workers by “sending them back to work one second before victory has been won.” Thus the pickets remained in force. The report commission was chaired by J. H. “Jimmy” Thomas, MacDonald’s Lord Privy Seal and a former railway union boss. It was an inauspicious appointment; Thomas, while a union man by background, had long been considered by the workers he represented to have taken the side of the Capitalist cause. He was assisted by the young Oswald Mosley, then Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.


    Mosley had been concerned for several years by the need for Britain to modernise, and had set out his stall three years earlier when he stood as Labour candidate in Birmingham Duddeston, advocating for a particular form of socialism expressed as “the conscious control and direction of human resources for human needs”. He presented himself as a man primarily concerned with action, and as a backbench MP in opposition had developed a precocious programme of monetary and economic reform, in his own words always inclined more to the guild socialism of G. D. H. Cole and others than the state socialism favoured by the Webbs and the Fabian Society. Through a desire to keep unity within the Labour ranks, although a member of the party’s Left Mosley maintained a good relationship with MacDonald and as such had been given a junior position within the ministry. As Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster he was, in effect, Jimmy Thomas’s deputy, both men having been assigned responsibility for the general problem of employment. Now engaged in the drafting of the Thomas Report, Mosley was able to put into practice economic ideas which he had been developing over the last five years.



    MOSLEY%20DOWNING%20STREET.jpg

    Oswald Mosley watches Ramsay MacDonald leaving 10 Downing Street, spring 1928.


    The report was delivered to the government on May 17th, 1928, just over a week before the first anniversary of the declaration of the General Strike. Thomas and Mosley suffered from a strained working relationship, and as such the younger man’s contribution was generally sidelined in favour of Thomas’s own inclination for a more orthodox settlement. Nevertheless, the report outlined two possible scenarios for the reform of the coal industry: the first, a broad re-stating of that offered by the Samuel Report of 1926, but with a provision for government subsidies to prop up miners’ wages; the second, influenced by Mosley, recommended an innovative programme of worker ownership of the mines largely in line with the syndicalist doctrine held by A. J. Cook and the Miners’ Federation’s left-wing leadership.


    Neither MacDonald nor his Gladstonian chancellor Philip Snowden had any appetite to address the question of ownership in the coal industry, thus Mosley’s recommendation was rejected outright by a vote in cabinet. The government announced that it would push ahead with a programme of subsidies, much to the derision of the opposition. Conservative leader Winston Churchill was damning in his assessment of the government, comparing the strategy to an unscrupulous pub-owner “serving up last week’s unappetising leftovers, only now liberally coated in a pleasant dressing to try and dupe the palates of his helpless patrons.” The TUC was equally unreceptive, opposing the plan as “neither practical nor helpful” and castigating MacDonald’s willingness to accept the Thomas Report as “an insult to the working class”. Emboldened by the more radical elements of the report, those advocating for syndicalist models of ownership, A. J. Cook impressed upon George Hardy the possibility of now setting the terms for a resolution to the strike as full worker ownership of the coal industry. Hardy agreed, framing the point in no uncertain terms at an extraordinary conference of the TUC in late May: “After successive failures by the parliamentary class to confront the problem of the coal industry, the time has come for the mineworkers of Britain to take full charge of the management of their own labour.” MacDonald, enraged, thundered against the declaration in cabinet and likened the TUC to the Bolsheviks.


    Mosley, meanwhile, was emboldened by Hardy’s escalation. At the start of summer, he entered into secret talks with the leaderships of the TUC and the NMM to devise a strategy for increasing the support for his programme within the parliamentary Labour Party. He commanded a large degree of influence amongst the Labour backbenchers, viewed as a figure of extraordinary self-confidence and not inconsiderable talent. Mosley was supported by allies in the Independent Labour Party such as group leader James Maxton, another deeply charismatic figure, and John Wheatley, described approvingly by Mosley as possessing a “Lenin quality”. The pair were soon converted to Mosley’s mission in gaining the wide support of the PLP for his programme.


    By the start of June, Britain had been in the grip of strike action for over a year. Where the formal economy was not propped up by ad-hoc volunteer forces, an informal network of worker control, co-ordinated nationally by the unions to some degree but also improvised, had manifested itself across the country. Yet the issue of employment could not be side-stepped; the amnesty hard singularly failed, lacking the vital support of the mine-owners, and a large bloc of the working class, numbering perhaps 400 thousand, was now left in an unenviable position: unemployed by circumstance, having tried to return to work. Rather than condemn these workers as would-be blacklegs, the union leadership took up their cause. At the behest of the Minority Movement leadership, an effort was made to organise the unemployed – existing and victims of the false amnesty – within the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, a Communist Party–affiliated body led by Wal Hannington. Hannington was a charismatic figure within the revolutionary trade union movement and one of the youngest organisers to achieve national prominence during the general strike. Through him, the unemployed had the support of a powerful advocate. At a time when unemployment remained at about 10 per-cent, nearly 1.5 million people in real terms, Hannington’s NUWM had organised over 700 thousand members of the working class. Their official engagement in strike proceedings from summer 1928 offered a considerable buffer against fears that the workers’ movement could fall apart having been fighting for so long a period.


    In Parliament, Mosley was expanding his efforts to deal with the problem of coal and began to talk more widely of a programme to alleviate the unemployment issue also. To this end, in mid-June he published a memorandum outlining a radical programme of economic re-structuring in order to carry Britain out of depression. Inspired by a trip Mosley had taken around industrial America in the winter of 1925, the “Mosley Memorandum” contained at its heart not only an argument for the scientific management of credit, but outlined a methodology for the implementation of such a system. The goal was significantly increased production and a “buoyant” home market insulated from cheap, foreign competition. It was a radical prescription for a British economy struggling under the burden of chronic problems, and would require an enormous effort of infrastructure, both material and political, in order to achieve its realisation. Presented in cabinet on June 19th, it was immediately vetoed by chancellor Philip Snowden. His efforts to achieve systemic reform all but defeated, Mosley took his memorandum’s cool reception as evidence that he did not hold the confidence of his colleagues in cabinet. He resigned his ministerial post the following morning and returned to the backbenches.


    In pursuing its programme of reformist socialism, Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government showed itself to be too wedded to the idea of improving Capitalism to effectively address the problems against which the workers’ movement was fighting. Too often willing to put the interests of political posturing ahead of the interests of the working class, MacDonald governed at all times with one ahead on the ballot box. His inability to look past the entrenched system of government within which the Labour Party were forced to conduct their business rendered him incapable of bringing true, radical change to the working class. Along with his chancellor Snowden, a man who had once argued so passionately against the unethical system of Capitalist production, in government MacDonald assumed the rôle of liberal fellow-traveller, entirely lacking the resolve needed to put the power of the British state to work in transforming the lives of those who had pinned their hopes on the parliamentary Labour movement. The experiment in Labour Party government demonstrated the ease with which attempts at piecemeal reform were absorbed and countered by the British state. The shortcomings of the reformist strategy having been exposed for all to see, the radical militancy of the workers’ movement had been vindicated; the strikers saw now, clearly, that only they had the power to bring about true change. From here, the fight began in earnest to secure this promised future.




    Joan Wyatt (b. 1912) is a British writer and historian. She is a member of the PLUA’s National Committee for Action, Policy and Research.
     
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    Revolution by Reason: The Origins of Mosleyism, 1925–1928 (May 1925 – October 1928)
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    REVOLUTION BY REASON
    THE ORIGINS OF MOSLEYISM, 1925–1928

    FROM MOSLEY: A POLITICAL LIFE
    A. J. P. TAYLOR

    1969

    It is hard to qualify the arrival of the ideas of Oswald Mosley into the British political arena in the period surrounding the General Strike without descending into crude panegyric; so remarkable was the programme being espoused by this singular figure within the Labour Party that it is hard to resist the myth, perpetuated by countless articles in periodicals such as Action and the like, that Mosley appeared fully formed, ‘as if with the express intention of having created a man designed in every way to lead the charge against the troubles of that grave moment.’ Assessment of this sort, evidently, tends towards hyperbole. Yet reviewing my own recent work, English History, 1914–1929, one finds echoed a similar sentiment, if dressed up in less extravagant prose:


    ‘Mosley’s proposals were more creative than those of Lloyd George and offered a blueprint for most of the constructive advances in economic policy to the present day. It was impossible to say where he got his ideas from. Perhaps he devised them himself. If so, they were an astonishing achievement … evidence of a superlative talent.’


    Much of this tendency for commentators to reach for the superlative when assessing Mosley may be explained by a lingering sense of that initial shock which did verifiably accompany the original public articulation of his ideas in 1925. Mosley’s programme represented a total break with both the political and economic orthodoxy that had held sway over both mainstream left– and right-wing opinion in this country since the time of Gladstone, and its enthusiastic adoption by the workers’ movement after 1928 – especially that section of the movement under the influence of Arthur Cook – demonstrates as much its own novel ingenuity as it does the wholly uninventive character of the mainstream Labour movement’s own response to the crisis. (This is to say nothing of the Conservatives, stuck hopelessly in 1914.)


    In the last decade, coinciding roughly with the period surrounding Mosley’s exit from power, it has become fashionable to promote revised opinion of the scale of his originality, or indeed the utility of his ideas. This revisionism is not unwelcome, and I offer little resistance to the idea that some sobering up of the discourse that surrounds the Mosleyite political economy would be beneficial to the state of historiography in the Commonwealth as a whole. Yet necessary to bear in mind is the nature of this criticism, which comes most powerfully and with the greatest intellectual backing from the revisionist Marxist tendency, who seek to recast the Mosleyite phenomenon within strictly Marxian terms. A telling example may be found in the work of E. P. Thompson, who soon after Mosley’s resignation in 1961 wrote that:


    ‘any serious analysis of his policy brings up little real evidence of an opposition to Capitalism per se, beyond an enduring sense of working-class solidarity. Indeed, it might be reasonably said that “Mosleyism” seeks less the abolition of Capital than its total subjugation to the needs of the working class.’


    I have no quarrel with Mr. Thompson – quite the opposite, I welcome his commitment towards the cause of a truly popular history: a history of the people. But where we perhaps differ is in our willingness to throw the baby out with the bathwater (or, perhaps more accurately, the chairman out with the chair.) The litany of world history tends in character towards an ever-increasing exposé of the mistakes of “great men”. Mosley, alongside perhaps Lenin and Lloyd George, stands as a rare exception to this assessment. Irrespective of the degree to which his principles or his programme accorded with the fine points of Marxian doctrine – and I shall save a great deal of time and intellectual energy by stating now, bluntly: they do not – it is hard not to recognise the singular talent Mosley demonstrated in power for not only navigating, but navigating with no small measure of success, the numerous trials faced by his various administrations. Mosley was a statesman par excellence, unusual as a representative of the stupefied landed classes in his insight, and in his genuine capacity for action. His programme rescued Britain from ruin in the rocky aftermath of the fall of the United Kingdom, and as a statesman over three decades his direction secured the position of the Commonwealth at the top table of world affairs. However future fashions may change, the substance of his record in power is, on the whole, secure.


    MOSLEY%20SMETHWICK%201926.jpg

    Cynthia and Oswald Mosley campaigning in Duddeston, 1925.


    The story of “Mosleyism” in the public imagination begins in inner-city Birmingham in 1925. Having defected from the Conservative Party to Labour the previous year, Mosley was adopted as the Labour candidate in the Birmingham Duddeston constituency at the general election in May of that year. He had sat for the Conservatives as the MP for Harrow, and had retained this seat when he crossed the floor, but moved to Birmingham out of a quaint desire not to upset the remaining Tory apparatus in the constituency. Privately, he also doubted the likelihood that charisma alone would carry him to victory in the safely Conservative seat. The decision to contest a seat in Birmingham was not, however, the result of a purely rational sequence of thought. The political home of “Chamberlainism” for over sixty years, Birmingham Duddeston was bounded by the constituencies of both Austen and Neville Chamberlain, until months earlier the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mosley calculated that a sortie against the Conservative Party “Establishment” in favour of his new programme for the Labour Party would be highly beneficial in his push for national significance. In the Birmingham Aston constituency to the north of Duddeston, Mosley was bolstered in his own campaign by the candidacy of staunch ally John Strachey, one of the earliest and most enthusiastic adopters of the so-called “Birmingham Programme”. Mosley, who had personally recommended Strachey for adoption by the Aston constituency, described his comrade as “my chief assistant in working out the Birmingham proposals, and … one of the best analytical and critical intelligences I have ever known”.


    Together, assisted also by men such as Allan Young and S. B. Potter (who would later come to hold positions within Mosley’s governments of the 1940s and ‘50s), the programme they worked out called for a radical re-orientation of the British economy, away from an emphasis on trade and foreign exports and towards a system of credit-backed production that necessitated a twin restructuring of monetary policy. It leant on work by Keynes and others in its formulations, but was unquestionably a work of original synthesis – and in some cases original insight – on the part of Mosley himself. Aligned to the Left of the Labour Party, particularly the Independent group that centred around firebrand Clydesiders like James Maxton and John Wheatley, Mosley’s programme was a challenge to the Fabian-inspired “state socialism” of MacDonald and the party leadership. It called instead for a socialism built upon “the conscious control and direction of human resources for human needs”, overseen not by wholesale state apparatus but through a developed system of worker control that harked back to the guild socialism of Morris and the thinkers of the Arts and Crafts movement seventy years before. The intellectual make-up of the programme was supplemented by some Marxian analysis – Strachey’s contribution – and Mosley’s own varied reading during a period of convalescent in an R. A. F. hospital in 1918. As a result, it benefitted from a flexibility that allowed for its practical application to the contemporary problems of the economy, as demonstrated by Mosley himself in a campaign speech in Birmingham:


    ‘Mr. Churchill's effort to base this gold standard upon pre-war parity with the dollar … has involved the policy of drastic deflation which since the war has immensely increased the burden of the National Debt, and has proportionately benefited every idle rentier at the expense of the worker by hand or brain in productive industry. … Faced with the alternative of saying good-bye to the gold standard and therefore to his own employment, or good-bye to other people's employment, Mr. Churchill characteristically selected the latter course. A further dose of deflation followed, and the result is faithfully reflected in the unemployment figures, precisely as we foretold.’


    Thus Mosley established himself as a noteworthy national figure, both for the strength with which he attacked the Conservative Party and the innovative character of his economic ideas.


    Although Strachey had to wait until 1928 to achieve victory in Aston, Mosley succeeded in his coup in Duddeston and entered the House of Commons backed for the first time by a mandate of Labour voters. Having cultivated cordial relations with Ramsay MacDonald, he quickly parlayed his national notoriety into political responsibility and, in spite of his willingness to remain on the backbenches with allies Maxton and Wheatey, soon found himself called upon to wind up frontbench debates on issues like coal and unemployment. In the winter of 1925–6, he travelled to the United States to undertake a tour of the country’s industrial infrastructure, and was hosted at one point by F. D. Roosevelt. He was pre-occupied by the success had by the United States in maintaining a strong economy with limited reliance on overseas trade, and became convinced of the need for an “island economy”, i.e. the economy of Great Britain, to be self-sustaining. This was to be a crucial influence on the development of the Birmingham Programme into the wider-reaching “Mosley Memorandum” in 1928.


    MOSLEY%20FDR%201926.png

    The Mosleys with F. D. Roosevelt, some time during Mosley's tour of the United States in the winter of 1925–26.


    When the problem of the coal industry finally erupted into the General Strike in May 1927, Mosley was one of the few people within the Labour Party who had seen it coming long before the vain attempts of the Conservative Baldwin government to postpone action. He was also in the minority of figures who retained some measure of influence on the Labour leadership for his willingness to support industrial action. Mosley was a good friend of Arthur Cook, the revolutionary leader of the Miners’ Federation who had for some years been pushing for a system of syndicated industry ownership. Later on, this warm rapport would prove invaluable to both men, though for now Mosley remained far from holding any influence on policy and was thus less immediately useful to the trade unionist movement as anything other than a parliamentary agitator. When the Baldwin government fell in the New Year, however, the ensuing election carried Mosley to a new level of influence. He was given a cabinet post in MacDonald’s Labour government as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, with an additional responsibility for managing the mounting crisis of employment held jointly with J. H. Thomas as Lord Privy Seal. This was Mosley’s chance to implement his ideas, and assisted finally by John Strachey as his private secretary he was well-placed to bring Mosleyism into cabinet deliberations.


    The first opportunity for the implementation of a Mosleyite programme was the Thomas Report on the state of the mining industry, delivered to the cabinet in May after the conclusion of a royal commission in which Mosley had been given a leading role. The report offered two programme’s for the amelioration of the state of the coal industry, aimed to put an end to the dispute with the trade unions. The principal set of recommendations did not veer too greatly from those already outlined two years before by Herbert Samuel: a series of economising measures whose parsimony would be countered by an extension of the wage subsidy used as a delaying tactic by Baldwin. In opposition to this programme was a second, the result of Mosley’s influence on the drafting of the report. While by no means a full manifestation of the Birmingham Programme as applied to the problem of coal, Mosley’s advocacy of a system of worker control found itself articulated as a recommendation that the mines be syndicated. Embraced enthusiastically by Arthur Cook, this radical programme was opposed wholesale by Philip Snowden, who led the cabinet as Chancellor in giving its backing to Thomas’s liberal measures of massaged austerity. Mosley’s cabinet allies were in the minority; India Secretary William Benn, Home Secretary J. R. Clynes, First Commissioner of Works George Lansbury, War Secretary Tom Shaw, President of the Board of Education C. P. Trevelyan, and Colonial Secretary Sidney Webb, ironically a founder of the Fabian Movement to which Mosley was generally opposed. Together they rallied a great level of energy in pushing the case for syndication, though could not break down the Gladstonian resolve of Snowden’s defence of austerity. Snowden, who in earlier years had declared Capitalism “unethical” had by this point emerged as a committed defender of the classical liberal economic orthodoxy, acceptance of Capital and all. The situation being as it was and Mosley having been defeated, he offered MacDonald his resignation from the cabinet and returned to Maxton and Wheatley on the backbenches. He was followed almost immediately by Clynes, Lansbury and Trevelyan. Benn, Shaw and Webb followed with their resignations in the days after.


    Out of cabinet, Mosley used the summer to take his programme to the country, speaking on the platform of “Revolution by Reason”. It was a testament to his relationship with the trade unions that he was able to tour the country unhindered at a time when the workers’ movement was beginning to consolidate the control it exercised over parts of the country through practical occupation. In areas of South Wales, the East End, Clydeside and the industrialised North, summer 1928 marks an important moment when working-class organisation manifests itself for the first time as self-government, either alternatively to an existing power structure or as the dominant power structure itself. In South Wales, Mosley was hosted by Nye Bevan, then a young organiser with the Miners’ Federation who had come to the attention of the national leadership as the secretary of the newly-constituted Workers’ Council of Ebbw Vale. Bevan cemented his new-found prominence in early August when he was one of two-dozen signatories of the “Mosley Memorandum”, published in full in the Daily Herald and circulated to a readership of over 2 million. The Memorandum re-stated and developed upon earlier calls for increased production, large-scale campaigns of public works and the adoption of an insulating fiscal policy. It went further than previous declarations, however, in calling for a radical programme of political reform, advocating for the formation of a streamlined emergency cabinet, invested with a greater degree of executive power to combat the problem of unemployment. At a moment when the unemployment rate had just hit 12 per-cent – about 1.8 million people all told – it was a timely declaration of intent. As a show of strength, the TUC had led 100 thousand workers into occupation at Parliament Square at the end of August, a week before parliament was due to reconvene. The Metropolitan Police were unable to disperse the gathering, thus at the invitation of a particularly hysterical Lady Astor parliament was relocated to Cliveden. Mosley arrived in Buckinghamshire in September as the leader of a very small minority of MPs backed by the support of the working class.


    BEVAN%201960.jpg

    Aneurin "Nye" Bevan in 1960 addressing a crowd of miners in his birthplace of Tredegar. By this point President of the Commonwealth and Director of the Bureau of Coal, Bevan was one of Mosley's closest and longest-standing allies.


    MacDonald was less than enamoured of Mosley’s populism and, in a show of defiance, promoted former TUC General Secretary Walter Citrine to replace him as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. This time, in a pointed barb at Mosley, the role would come with an official responsibility for the solution of the unemployment question. As much as he was beset by Mosley on the Left, Churchill was leading his Conservatives in increasingly vocal attacks upon the government’s “feeble-minded” attempts to mitigate the strike action. MacDonald was less worried by Churchill’s indictments, considering them as little more than an annoying distraction, though privately obsessed as he was prone to over the possibility that the attacks might stick in the popular imagination. At this point in the history of the strike, it is hard to imagine the reputation of the MacDonald government as anything other than singularly unfavourable. Nevertheless, it speaks volumes of the Labour leader’s perennial concern for the longue durée of history that, even after having presided over the eviction of parliament from Westminster, he continued to fret about looking capable of government. Philip Snowden was similarly taxed by the question of “moral, responsible government" when preparing his autumn statement, ear-marking £38 million to put partly towards the reduction of duties on food, and partly towards an increase in old-age pensions. His admittedly noble commitment to the Liberal dream of the free breakfast table was one of the few redeeming moments of his custodianship of the exchequer, though by this point the aspiration was 70 years old and hardly radical in the contemporary climate. Meanwhile, his insistence on prioritising pensions over, for example, unemployment subsidies was taken as a deliberate snub by the TUC and the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee. When the budget was put to a vote on October 25th, Mosley mobilised his allies against it; despite the government’s majority of 32, it passed by only four votes. The following morning, MacDonald issued Mosley with an ultimatum: quit the party or face expulsion. The message, in Mosley’s ears, was quite clear: he had gone as far as he could within the Labour Party; the implementation of his programme would require a vehicle more accommodating of the scale of his ambition.


    Between 1925 and 1928, Oswald Mosley emerged as one of the most insightful and imaginative critics of economic orthodoxy in Britain. He was challenged by the mainstream tendencies in both the Labour and Conservative parties, nevertheless crafting a position for himself as a national figure and building a broad, popular front of support for his policies amongst the workers’ movement. If he had wished, it is likely that he would have been able to stage a coup within the Labour Party, backed by his powerful friends in the trade unions who retained a significant influence at the Labour conference. Yet by 1928 he had grown impatient, convinced that the traditional Labour movement was too wedded to old ideas of utopian socialism, and even orthodox liberalism, to function properly as a vehicle for the solution of the problems faced by modern Britain at the dawn of the 1930s. The final word on the matter can be given to Mosley himself, who offered the following assessment in his political memoirs, published in 1965:


    ‘There was an element of farce in the tragedy. Spokesmen of the late Labour Government saw in the crisis [of the coal industry] that collapse of capitalism which they had prophesied with religious fervour. The crisis came in a lucky moment for them. Labour was in office, and had every resource of the State at its command. What happened? The great day dawned, and Labour resigned; cleared out just when they had the realisation of their greatest wish. What must we think of a Salvation Army which takes to its heels on the Day of Judgment?’


    The urgency of Mosleyism had outgrown its nursery. Its next steps would prove pivotal in the shaping of Britain for decades to come.



    Alan John Percivale Taylor (b. 1906) is an English historian, writer and broadcaster. His seminal work of political biography, Mosley: A Political Life, was published in 1969 at a time when public opinion had begun to turn against Mosley’s legacy. Taylor remains one of the former chairman’s staunchest defenders in the public sphere .
     
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    The Labour Years, 1924–1928 (Part One) (March 1924 – February 1928)
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    THE LABOUR YEARS, 1924–1928
    PART ONE

    FROM MY LIFE
    OSWALD MOSLEY[1]

    1965


    My path now led inevitably to the Labour Party. ‘Through and beyond the failure of men and of parties, we of the war generation are marching on,’ and the only hope of implementing any of the pledges now lay in the party which had been thrown up by the mass of the people to right their wrongs. It is true that Lloyd George was my original leader on the Left, until he fell in 1922 and formed his own Liberal Party, but he was then in isolation and in no position to do anything creative. At that time I did not know him personally and it seemed more practical to ally myself with the party that had a mass revolutionary following. A surprise was the remarkably favourable reaction of the Labour Party when I joined them. The more I was attacked by the Conservative press, the greater the enthusiasm of the Left.


    Doctrinaire socialism of the old school made only slight appeal to me, but socialism as I defined it a year later in the Birmingham proposals as ‘the conscious control and direction of human resources for human needs’, I could accept. This definition would still be acceptable to me with a slight change of emphasis: more reliance on general direction of the state rather than detailed control, and the substitution of purposes for needs in order to recognise that all achievement is the result only of intensive effort. The conscious direction of human resources for human purposes I should still regard as a good general principle.


    It may well be an error to use the term socialism because it is an emotive word which repulses many people, and is capable of so many different interpretations that in the end it has come to mean almost nothing except a mild shock to complacent guardians of the status quo. Certainly, for decades my own adoption of the term has caused no small degree of private consternation amongst the ranks of the Communist Party, both those in the old school of Comrade Pollitt and those in the new school of Comrade Ramelson. Perhaps this view is too much the converse of Dr. Dalton's observation to his young admirers in some interval of discussing one of his forthcoming budgets with lobby correspondents: there may not be much in socialism, but a lot of people seem to want it. The just mean is surely to approach economic problems which are the subject of religious emotion with a method more practical and realistic; pragmatic, if the word were not now devalued by contemporary reduction of the language of action to the uses of absurdity.


    My inclination in British politics was always toward the guild socialists – then represented by such thinkers and writers as G. D. H. Cole, J. A. Hobson and A. R. Orage – rather than to state socialism, whose exponents were the Webbs and the Fabians. The tradition of the medieval guilds in England, of the Hanseatic League and the syndicalism of the Latin countries was much nearer to my thinking when I joined the Labour movement, and I returned to it time and again during my stewardship of the Office for Economic Planning, when I oversaw the implementation of a workers' ownership of key industries, as called for by Arthur Cook and many others. In the event of their success, the extension of the principle to other fully developed industries was possible was possible; measures accompanied both by vigorous encouragement of a completely emancipated worker enterprise in all remaining industries and also by a reversion to national ownership in cases where workers' ownership failed; a pragmatic method implementing the test of practical results. When I joined the Labour Party, and later, I was not closely in tune with the mandarin attitude of state-control which reached its summit in the thinking of the Webbs, although it is worth mentioning that the Webbs later came over to my cause.


    It was the dynamism of the Labour Party at that time which really attracted me, and this came mostly from the rank and file. The Clydeside M.P.s represented the drive to reform, and they soon became some of my closest parliamentary associates. Before I joined Labour they had invited me to Glasgow and together we had seen the slums whose abolition had been promised in 1918 but which still existed in 1924. Similar visits to Liverpool with Jack Hayes, the ex-policeman and Labour Whip, and later intimate knowledge of Birmingham gave vivid proof in these execrable housing conditions that all the pledges given to the war generation had been betrayed. This perhaps more than any other single factor was the motive power which took me into the Labour Party. There were many intellectual arguments which I had already myself developed frequently in parliamentary debate, but here was the real impulse of vital feeling.


    Joining Labour in March 1924 at once brought invitations to address mass meetings in Glasgow and throughout the Clydeside area. I was accompanied by Cimmie, who by then had become a very effective speaker, one of the best women I have ever heard on the platform, and the fact that she was Curzon's daughter further inflamed the fury of the Conservative press. Invitations poured in from all over the country to address mass meetings, and very soon I was invited to stand for Parliament by more than seventy local Labour constituency organisations. However, I took no immediate decision where to stand at the next election, although it could not be long delayed, and concentrated on getting my bearings and taking the best advice on that subject and other questions of procedure in my new party.


    WEBBS.jpg

    Beatrice and Sidney Webb, founders of the gradualist Fabian Society whose brand of socialism Mosley opposed. The Webbs came over to Mosley's cause after he broke with the Labour Party, though were never amongst his closest allies.


    Membership of the main Labour Party and the Independent Labour Party was then permitted at the same time, so I joined them both. I was rapidly elected to the National Administrative Council of the Independent Labour Party, and at a later date was also elected to the National Executive of the Labour Party. MacDonald and Snowden by this time had fallen out badly with the I. L. P., which they had originally planned as a combined factory of ideas and of revolutionary spirit for the mass of the Labour Party with its dominant Trade Union influence. When MacDonald succeeded to the Labour leadership and developed an appropriately bourgeois outlook the effective leadership of the I. L. P. soon reverted to James Maxton and the Clydeside group.


    The colourful personality of Maxton has been described too often to require repetition. He was a most genuine person in all things, except in his French revolutionary make-up; I am always inclined to distrust men who require make-up in politics, whether it be the sansculotte self-consciously posturing in the shadow of a papier-mache guillotine on the Left, or the bucolic pig fancier, too honest to be true stuff, of the Baldwin school on the Right. John Wheatley, the most remarkable man among the Clydesiders is not so well known to a later generation; he was then Minister of Health and the only member of that group to hold Cabinet office.


    Wheatley was the only man of Lenin quality the English Left ever produced. He had made a small fortune in business and sat for a Glasgow constituency. His method in debate was cold, incisive, steely, and contrasted completely with the emotionalism of his colleagues, particularly with Maxton, who was an orator of the John Bright school. Wheatley was a master of fact and figure, and far more than any other member of the Labour Party impressed me as a man who might get things done; it followed naturally that MacDonald detested him. Wheatley and I had an esteem for each other, and he remained a solid ally well throughout the first period of politics in the Commonwealth, but he did not survive the troubles of 1934, and with him the last memory of effective action from the original Labour Party probably went to its grave.


    Much of my early period in the Labour Party was spent in acting as intermediary between MacDonald and the Left wing, then represented chiefly by the I. L. P.; I must have been almost the only man on speaking terms with both except for the shadowy and sickly figure of Clifford Allen, who succeeded Wheatley in my Second Executive Council, but had to go in March 1936 along with Lloyd George after it became apparent that their estimations of Herr Hitler were sincere. Later legend attached to me the reputation of being a difficult colleague, presumably because I found it difficult to condone the betrayal of every pledge given to the electorate. In fact, I am a loyal colleague as a member of a team, and when I find it impossible to be loyal I do not stay in the team to intrigue against colleagues, but leave it and challenge them openly. It is a simple principle, which in these days especially may be regarded as simpliste, but it seems to me the only honourable course. Before you leave, you should put up with much, and I certainly did in the Labour Party, with everything except the complete betrayal of the mass of the people who had trusted us.


    It seemed to be my duty in the Labour Party to do what I could to keep the party together, as the only hope at that time of getting anything done in Britain, and to that end I associated with MacDonald while remaining an active member of the I. L. P. executive. However, my position in the party was in no way dependent on MacDonald. I had four sources of independent strength. The first was my election to the National Executive of the Labour Party in September 1927 by vote both of the constituency parties and of the trade unions. The second was my simultaneous membership of the National Administrative Council of the I. L. P. by election of its members; I believe I was the only member of both governing bodies. The third was my territorial strength in Birmingham, which I found a Conservative stronghold and which in four years under my leadership was turned into a Labour fortress throughout the central area. The fourth was my capacity as a parliamentary debater, combined with my ability to draw the largest platform audiences in the country. These four attributes in conjunction made me a power in the party independent of MacDonald or anyone else.


    I was still too young to play a leading role myself, and was therefore constrained to work through established personalities and institutions. This was the only effective way of implementing the ideas which moved me, and to this end it was certainly necessary in some degree to accept the philosopher's advice: ‘Harness to your chariot a conspicuous donkey, a most conspicuous donkey’. Yet the primary reason for my close association with MacDonald was party unity rather than any considerable hope that he personally would act as an executive instrument. He was an agreeable person but, as I found later in government, quite incapable of decision and action.


    ZINOVIEV.jpg

    The Zinoviev Letter was a fraudulent document published in the Daily Mail in October 1924, purporting to be from the head of Comintern Grigory Zinoviev, that implicated the Labour Party in an alleged plot to engage the CPGB in activity against the British state. Although denounced at the time by both Zinoviev (publicly) and MI5 (privately), it was taken as genuine by the Chamberlain government and thus is considered to have contributed to Labour's defeat in 1925.


    Striking evidence of this weakness in MacDonald was already provided in a conversation I had with him in the summer of 1924, which I well remember. He had recently had a considerable success in defeating Austen Chamberlain on a matter of government policy, and the Labour Party was on the crest of a little wave which might have carried it to a majority. I urged him to call for a vote of no-confidence in the ministry and an immediate election. ‘No, my boy,’ he replied, ‘that is what Lloyd George would do, much too opportunist. I know a trick worth two of that; we will carry on and show them what we can do with a long spell of steady work.’ He carried on, and six months later the steady old moke in his proudly worn official uniform of blue and gold harness, pulling his little cart of minor meddling in administrative muddles, without a thought even of a larger opportunism, and certainly without even a smoke dream of creative action, caught the harsh lash of a fate contemptuous of easy complacency, right in his tenderest part, from the Zinoviev letter which the Tories were much too innocent to know anything about. At that moment I was reminded of one of the most tedious of his seemingly terminable anecdotes. It was an account of riding donkeys up the Himalayas, which wandered to some kind of conclusion with the words: ‘So on they went, on and on and up and up, indefatigable beasts’. It is not always the most patient donkey which wins the race, though admittedly, as we in Britain sometimes know to our cost, it can happen.


    Six weeks before the election in May 1925 I entered the fight in Birmingham. It seemed to me unfair to some of my old associates to fight in Harrow, though with my firm roots in that constituency I might have had a better chance of winning than in Birmingham. Also, I wanted to give some striking service to the party which had so well received me. The Chamberlains and their machine had ruled Birmingham for sixty years, first as Liberal–Radicals and then as Conservative–Unionists. Their party machine was at that time probably the strongest in the country. We had six weeks in which to smash it. I chose to fight the Conservative–Unionist M. P. John Burman in the constituency of Duddeston. Neville Chamberlain, who sat for the working-class constituency of Ladywood in the centre of the city, was my neighbour; his brother Austen was the M.P. one constituency over again, and their names and abilities made them a formidable combination. Our own organisation had a paying membership of some two hundred, but when we started the canvass only three elderly women and two young men would accompany us. They were fine people, typical of the English workers, and closely resembling the other pioneers later attached to our new Movement. They were all manual workers, and against them were the serried ranks of some of the ablest businessmen in the country who with the aid of the massed middle class and of many Conservative working men constituted the powerful machine of our opponents.


    My colleagues among the candidates we found on the spot were a rather simple lot. A grand old pioneer of religious bent called Frank Smith was fighting the neighbouring constituency against Austen Chamberlain. We held a meeting together with Frank Smith in the chair, packed with our working-class constituents, but with the front row occupied by prominent businessmen who had come to see the new freak. The chairman began with what seemed an interminable oration about his own peculiar brand of metaphysics, and just as I was entertaining some transient hope of its conclusion, pulled out a football referee's whistle, blew it and shouted ‘Half-time’. He then called for prayers, flopped down on his knees and said them. Soon he got up, blew his whistle again, said ‘Half-time is over’ and continued his speech. After another thirty minutes of the best, he called on me. It was an inauspicious start. I had more luck to my north in the constituency of Aston, where my neighbour was John Strachey, a firm supporter and ally once he finally got in in 1928. Later he would serve with great skill and ability as the leader of our Movement in Parliament.


    In spite of these unlikely beginnings, my raging speaking campaign, both indoor and outdoor, and the superb work done by Cimmie in leading the canvassing team, eventually turned the scales. It was a joyous day when in the courtyards running back from the streets in the Birmingham slums we saw the blue window cards coming down and the red going up. The court leaders of some hundred people were usually dominant old women, and when mother turned they all turned. Mrs. Burman worked magnificently on the other side in street canvass, but when it came to demagogy John was not in the ring. This was true of most of the followers of the Chamberlain dynasty in that city, and even if Balfour’s damning summation of Austen’s lack of character is perhaps exceedingly harsh, it captures something of the lack of vigour in the Conservative–Unionist leadership. Neville too was an able enough administrator – despite F. E. Smith’s jibe that he was an adequate Mayor of Birmingham in a lean year – yet he had no great appeal to the masses. During the count Burman sat huddled in a corner, either exercising an iron self-control or in a state of near collapse; his agents did everything and he never moved.


    The count was a drama: there were two re-counts. First I was in by seven, then Burman was in by two, and finally I was in by seventy-seven. It was alleged by some of their people that votes had disappeared, and uproar broke out with men fighting in the crowded public gallery and people pointing to the floor as they bellowed—‘That one's got 'em in his pocket’. It appeared from all enquiry that their allegations could not be sustained. I was declared the winner, and we left the Town Hall at six o'clock in the morning to find an enormous crowd in the square outside which had waited up all night to hear the result; they were singing the Red Flag. They seized me and carried me around with an enthusiasm which deeply moved me. I decided to remain in Birmingham, and soon after the election turned down an invitation to stand in a by-election for a safe Labour seat at Forest of Dean. A splendid team of young men joined me in Birmingham as candidates and we built our organisation with the aid of a new organiser from the Clyde, Allan Young. Three years later Neville Chamberlain had deserted Ladywood for the safety of a middle-class stronghold in outlying Edgbaston, as the advance we had achieved in face of the wave of Conservative victory in the 1925 election made his position precarious. At the election of 1928 we took half the city from the Conservatives, and the tradition of sixty years was at an end. Labour had its chance.



    1: Author's Note – This update incorporates text, either edited or in original form, from Oswald Mosley's My Life (London: Nelson, 1968), accessed via Archive.org, July 2019.
     
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    The Labour Years, 1924–1928 (Part Two) (March 1928 – October 1928)
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    THE LABOUR YEARS, 1924–1928
    PART TWO

    FROM MY LIFE[1]
    OSWALD MOSLEY

    1965


    There had been fears that my decision to resign from cabinet would prove a hindrance to the ambitions of our movement, but I had banked correctly on both the firm support of my friends in Parliament in the I. L. P., and the popular backing I had galvanised amongst the public that summer on my tour of the country. MacDonald, in reacting to my departure, made a rash judgement that demonstrated the depths of his willingness to present a churlish front to the trade unionists. In my place as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, the prime minister appointed the old T. U. C. general secretary Walter Citrine, a figure popular within the conservative tendency for his promotion of the idea of collaboration between the unions and the apparatus of the State, a principle sound in theory but lacklustre in practice.


    I never met Mr. Citrine, but he had a reputation as a highly effective administrator, who harboured a deep resentment against the radical Left after he was ousted from the T. U. C., but who nevertheless retained a great sympathy for Lenin and the Soviet Union. His downfall was his belief that division amongst the ranks of the communists would pave the way for a brutal suppression of the trade unions, as later happened in Germany, and in this regard he was well-matched by MacDonald. But he was never able to overcome this paranoia, even after the Commonwealth proved itself to be a stable polity, and his perception of it was always coloured by his ultimate faith in the possibility of a market capitalism whose effect on the working class was mitigated by the unions and the State. He retained a romantic belief that good relations between private ownership and its workers was possible, and this held him back. Were he more imaginative, I have little doubt that he would have proven a political organiser of great tact and ability. Alas, he left Britain for Australia in late 1930 and his talents eluded the Commonwealth project.


    With the Labour leadership thus entrenched, I turned back to the backbenches. Our movement found great sympathy, not only amongst my old allies in the I. L. P., but now more broadly within elements of the Labour Party previously happy to pay lip service to the conservatism promoted by MacDonald and Snowden. Our first test as a group was the upcoming autumn statement, which was to be delivered to Parliament by the chancellor at the end of October. Snowden had been animated throughout his career by various orthodoxies of the Gladstonian Liberal tradition. His chief concern was the idea of the ‘free breakfast table’, a noble goal but one belonging wholly to the previous century. Snowden’s outlook was on the whole parsimonious, and his methods were Victorian; as he had demonstrated in opposing our movement in cabinet, he had little time for economic thinking that did not comply with his own strict morality.


    CITRINE%20DOWNING%20ST%201926.jpg

    Walter Citrine, right, leaving 10 Downing Street in May 1926 after meeting with Stanley Baldwin in negotiations over the future of the coal industry.


    A truly gritty Yorkshireman, he lived completely in the economics of the previous century, not of Marx or even Owen, but of Adam Smith and Marshall. He said to me quite simply when we were struggling with the haunting problem of unemployment: ‘One day Chinamen will wear their shirts an inch or two longer, and then there will be no unemployment in Lancashire’. Events moved faster than changes of fashion in China, and our government is still finding difficulty in persuading Chairman Mao to wear his shirt longer for the benefit of Lancashire. Despite having in earlier years declared capitalism to have been unethical, his answer to this problem was not to overthrow the market system, but rather to ensure that it had as little a toll on the public purse as possible. Moscow had been damning of the Labour leadership since the start of the decade, and I believe that the Comintern had got it right in 1920 in a letter to the I. L. P. where they wrote that ‘it seemed to them that because the capitalists treated [Labour] as equals, as partners in their transactions, the working class had secured equal rights with capital. Their own social standing secure and material position improved, they looked upon the world through the rose-coloured spectacles of a peaceful middle-class life.’ Snowden was typical of this characterisation.


    At the dispatch box, Snowden carried himself much as an heir to the old Liberal tradition. In this sense even his appearance was interesting, because he had an impressive, splendid face, much cleaner cut and more determined than that of MacDonald. He had an intellectual contempt for MacDonald, since within his Gladstonian limits he had a lucid intellect and was a powerful debater. In politics he was completely imprisoned in the dichotomy of his type: there is heaven where we want to go, but this is the earth and this is what we have to do; heaven being a vague dream called socialism and the earth being the Treasury view of capitalism in the narrowest sense. It remains a common phenomenon within the Labour Party; the complete division of mind and spirit between some ideal world and the practical thing which has to be done tomorrow. Yet by reason of the precision and clarity of his mind, Snowden in practical affairs was always separated from MacDonald, who by then had become hopelessly woolly.


    Snowden before my arrival had nothing more serious to knock over than the living wage policy of the I. L. P. He did not find this difficult because a minimum wage considerably in excess of prevailing wages in industries competing for world markets could easily be shown to cost us out of those markets, and to produce an instantaneous economic crash. The dilemma of attempting to move towards socialism in one small island entirely dependent on world markets was quickly exposed. My arrival confronted him with a completely new animal in the Labour Party, the pragmatic man. I was interested neither in the I. L. P.'s dreamy vision of a socialist world nor in nineteenth-century capitalism which was breaking down before our eyes.


    SNOWDEN%20DOWNING%20ST%201930.jpg

    Philip and Ethel Snowden on the steps of 11 Downing Street, the official residence of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, photographed shortly before the autumn statement of 1928.


    The Birmingham proposals for all their complexities said in effect: let us meet the unemployment problem, which is the crux of the whole matter, here and now; nothing matters immediately except that. We can meet it by a series of measures some of which are socialist while others are not, but which all mean the active, dynamic intervention of the State under government leadership. To Snowden and his advisers in the Treasury this view became anathema. In the living-wage policy he had a dummy to knock down, a pushover for any dialectician, but now he found a serious argument in a sphere of which he was entirely ignorant. He was familiar with Montagu Norman and the Treasury thinking of that time, but the thinking of Keynes, or the comparable thinking of the Federal Reserve Board economists, was a closed book to him. When I won the argument within the I. L. P. for the Birmingham policy he had a serious case to answer, and he did not like the author of his trouble. I was not just the young man in a hurry, as they tried to pretend, or the advocate of ‘wild-cat finance’, in the phrase of Snowden. My plans were based on the new orthodoxy, of which they understood nothing, and had the backing not only of the dynamic genius of the older generation, Lloyd George – with all the immense authority of his peacetime achievement in office and of his wartime administration – but of the master of the new economic thinking himself, J. Maynard Keynes.


    On the day of the budget presentation, I was sat with Maxton and Wheatley towards the back of the government benches packed in with the rest of the I. L. P. lot. Cimmie was with Robert Forgan, a physician from Renfrewshire whose socialism was moulded almost entirely by the Kirk, and who later would become a close friend to us both and godfather to our son Michael. There was a buzz about the Commons, as was usual on budget day, though heightened by the fact of some rumours of the statement having leaked already. It was understood that Snowden was going to present a typically miserly fare, hardly touching the welfare of the workers, save for piecemeal alterations of certain duties here and there. In the event, we were proven right; Snowden spoke for some time, hardly the four and three-quarter hours of Gladstone’s infamous effort, but somehow extending his meagre programme over two and a half hours. He spoke as ever with intellectual lucidity but little charisma, and protected the consulate image of the dutiful accountant protecting the Treasury pot.


    Once Snowden had drawn his speech to a close, Churchill rose to make some remarks stating some opposition or other to the government’s policy – I need not reproduce the specifics of the argument here – yet he was of course hindered in his course by the fact that by this point he and Snowden were in many ways at one over the issue of the economy. The two men held to what was often called the Treasury view, that any money loans raised by the Government must be taken from other industrial activities and will put out of employment as many men as are put in employment. Hence Snowden’s provisions not for a radical fund to address the matter of unemployment, but merely token measures to support the pensioners – worthy no doubt, yet not the cause under whose banner millions had taken to the pickets for the previous seventeen months.


    When the time came, I was called upon to make some comment on my own. I stood on behalf of those of us in the I. L. P. ranks and put my questions to the Chancellor, making it perfectly clear what I thought of the Treasury view and denouncing in no uncertain terms the apparent lack of will to address the twin problems of unemployment, all but absent from the statement, and of the coal industry, which MacDonald undoubtedly thought a closed matter after the Thomas Report affair and was now merely waiting for the unions to fall into line.


    MOSLEY%20RESIGNATION%20CARTOON.jpg

    A cartoon from summer 1928 showing Mosley, having newly resigned, joining the ranks of the unemployed. MacDonald looks out aghast from a window in 10 Downing Street ("Heartbreak House").


    ‘I admit that there is some force in that view in a period of acute deflation. If you are pursuing a deflationary policy, restricting the whole basis of credit, it is difficult to raise large loans for such purposes as this. … Given, however, a financial policy of stabilisation, that Treasury point of view cannot hold water. It would mean that every single new enterprise is going to put as many men out of employment as it will employ. That is a complete absurdity if you pursue that argument to its logical conclusion. If it is true, it means that nothing can ever be done by the Government or by Parliament. It means that no Government has any function or any purpose; it is a policy of complete surrender. It has been said rather curiously, in view of the modesty of my programme, that it is the policy of the “red flag”. I might reply that what is known as the Treasury view is the policy of the “white flag”. It is a policy of surrender, of negation, by which any policy can be frustrated and blocked in this country.’


    The argument I advanced would now be almost universally accepted, but it was then rejected by both front benches and opposed by the whole weight of the party machines. The time-lag between the acceptance of new thinking, or even of new facts, is indeed disturbing in an age when facts continue to move so much faster than the minds of men.


    I clinched this argument with a reference to the Government's faulty method of seeking conversion which included a quotation from the President of the Board of Trade speaking a few days earlier – ‘During the past fortnight alone £16,000,000 of new capital has been authorised or raised for overseas investment, and so I trust the process will continue’ – and commented ‘Why? Why is it so right and proper and desirable that capital should go overseas to equip factories to compete against us, to build roads and railways in the Argentine or in Timbuctoo, to provide employment for people in those countries, while it is supposed to shake the whole basis of our financial strength if anyone dares to suggest the raising of money by the Government of this country to provide employment?’


    PLUA%20(FORGAN%20CIMMIE%20MOSLEY%20STRACHEY)%201928.jpg

    Mosley's allies in the Independent Labour Party, photographed at Mosley's house in late 1928. From left to right: John Wheatley[2], Robert Forgan, Cimmie and Oswald Mosley, and John Strachey.


    The front bench were of course furious and voiced their various protestations. Churchill too found the whole affair quite entertaining and was unsparing in his exploitation of so public a display of revolt against MacDonald and his allies. Nonetheless, it was clear to all in our movement that the Labour government had ceased to be useful in the drive to solve the problem of unemployment, therefore it would have been a failing on our part to have gone along for sentimentality’s sake with sustaining the whole affair. MacDonald had a majority of 32; our ranks numbered perhaps two dozen. In the event, the budget passed by a margin of only four, and the calls on MacDonald to quit office grew louder from across the aisle.


    Having made our point in voting against the budget, we felt it unnecessary to go through the charade of denouncing MacDonald and his allies any further in public, thus we did not join with Churchill in his attacks. MacDonald, however, was moved to a rare temper by our rebellion, and later on he delivered an ultimatum to those who supported our cause: fall in line or get out. He singled me out for particular condemnation, I think as a result of having counted upon me as an old ally, and even after my resignation from the cabinet supposing that he had no reason to believe our cordial public relationship had soured. Still he called me a ‘Bolshevist fellow-traveller’, being uncharacteristically direct in his speech, and accusing me and my friends in the trade unions of all sorts of underhand intentions.


    The day after the budget statement, I took my seat in Parliament as an independent member for the second time in my career. After four years, my association with the Labour Party had come to an end. I was joined first by Cimmie and Robert Forgan, then with a great deal of sadness on their parts by Strachey, Maxton and Wheatley, who had privately worried about their attachment to the Labour Party when called upon to sever the tie. I reminded them only that it was the Labour Party that had failed us, and that if we were serious about the implementation of our programme then no amount of political romanticism should be allowed to cloud our actions. After this, much of the I. L. P. hard-core came over to my side en bloc. I was heartened also by the defections of a number of former cabinet colleagues, who had defended my part of the Thomas Report and who were now sufficiently put out by MacDonald’s course to switch their allegiances. Amongst this number were Clynes, Lansbury and Trevelyan; later we were joined by the young William Benn, veteran Tom Shaw, and the idiosyncratic figure of Sidney Webb, whose Fabianism had little in common with my own ideas but who I suspect was moved in his turn against Labour by his fierce loyalty to the Soviet Union, and carried along on his raft of intellectual security from which he was hardly able to notice intrigues of party. This was the unlikely core of the group intent on re-forming the apparatus of the British state into an organ fit for the modern world.



    1: Author's Note – This update incorporates text, either edited or in original form, from Oswald Mosley's My Life (London: Nelson, 1968), accessed via Archive.org, July 2019.

    2: Rather than John Wheatley, that is in fact Conservative MP W. E. Allen, who joined Mosley's New Party in our timeline. For reasons which will become apparent, I have taken the liberty of switching Allen out for Wheatley.
     
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    BUILDING THE ALLIANCE, 1928–1929

    FROM MY LIFE[1]
    OSWALD MOSLEY

    1965

    At the time of my resignation I believed that the reconstruction of industry and the solution of the problem of unemployment could only be done by a national consensus of the most vital elements in the country. In the hope of building a coalition which might bring about immediate action, I sought to forge links with friends in addition to my allies in the Labour Party, and so I entered into close relations with Lloyd George and a number of the younger and abler men of all parties.


    I was confident of the success of our movement for two reasons: the first, we led a national consensus to secure action; the second, we were backed by a grass-roots movement of the people. It is right always to try with the utmost patience to secure action by the gentle, English method of national agreement. More drastic action which bitterly divides the nation should only be undertaken if without it the nation may die. This became necessary in my view in the late twenties because the danger was immediate, and were it not for the ingenuity of the trade unions and the workers in organising themselves in spite of such a gross lack of initiative as exhibited by the government might at any time have become very grave indeed. At a certain point it became inevitable that some new political force was required to fill this vacuum of leadership.


    My attempt to secure a national consensus after my resignation from cabinet in 1928 was successful in no small part thanks to the close friendship I enjoyed with A. J. Cook and the miners. It was not generally known that Cook was born the son of an English private soldier in a barracks in York, because he rose to fame through the Miners' Federation in Wales, by the simple process, as he so often told me, of turning up at miners' meetings and denouncing the existing and highly popular leader ‘old Mabon’ as a crook; his proudest exhibits were the scars on his head caused by the windows through which over a considerable period the miners used to throw him. Will, endurance and at least the partial justice of his complaints triumphed in the end; he was a living symbol of the peculiar process by which alone a reality achieves the final acceptance of the British people.


    Arthur Cook was regarded as the most dangerous revolutionary in the country. In reality, he had one of the coolest and best heads among the Labour leaders. His methods, however, suggested the contrary. I got to know him well when we were elected to speak together by the miners at their immense meetings like the Durham Gala, he from the trade union side and I from the political side. On such occasions he appeared as the acme of demagogy. After the long march past of the miners with bands blaring and banners flaunting – which may have first suggested to an errant young man that colourful methods were not so inappropriate to British politics as some supposed – we repaired to a large field below the castle where A. J. put up his classic performances. Sometimes stripped to the waist on a hot August afternoon, he dealt in rhythmic slogans rather than in normal speech. Once, after a little recent trouble between unemployed miners and the police, a few of the familiar helmets appeared on the edge of the orderly crowd of some 100,000. A. J. started a chant of furious monotony like the beating of tom-toms – ‘Bloody Bluebottles, Bloody Bluebottles’ – and it echoed back from the vast audience like the roar of the sea. No one was any the worse, and two hours later we were sitting calmly with other miners’ leaders in the local pub with A. J. Cook discussing economics, of which he had a remarkable grasp. We became firm friends, and it was his patronage that protected our movement in the early days from the suspicions of the Communists, who did not presume me a ‘fellow-traveller’ and thus could never fully accept my pre-eminence among the leaders of the action against the government. Cook enjoyed an all too brief career during which he was both Chairman and President but ended up a victim of the putsch in 1934, ambushed by some cowardly louts who attacked him on a railway station platform soon after I had been elected to the chairmanship. I had in mind a central role for him in my government and felt his loss very keenly; in his maturity he might have combined mind and will and acquired an equilibrium which would have made his dynamism truly effective.


    AJ%20COOK%201928.jpg

    Arthur Cook arrives at a conference of the Miners' Federation in London at the height of the general strike, summer 1928. Cook was perhaps the principle leader of the strike movement, and the only major leader to go over explicitly to Mosley's cause. He helped to shape the Commonwealth in its infancy before falling victim to counter-revolutionary violence in 1934.


    Initially my efforts at building a coalition did not intrude into the Houses of Parliament beyond the benches of the I. L. P. Out of the Labour Party, secure in the knowledge that I was backed by the working class, I launched into a new offensive in the Commons. From that House it would have been possible to form not only an adequate but a brilliant administration. There were some absurd and many ineffectual characters in Parliament during the twenties and thirties, but there was also a considerable number of serious and able men drawn from all parties, who sensed the national danger and were in sufficient agreement, at least on the immediate emergency, to work effectively together. We were fortunate in that the gravity of the economic crisis was sufficient to break the power of the ruling politicians who commanded the party machines.


    The natural instinct is to seek the easy way out in a combination of well-known figures who control the prevailing parties, and only to turn to more drastic measures and dynamic personalities when this fails to work, and it is seen that zero multiplied by zero is zero. In any really serious crisis a still vital and determined people turns to new men and new forms, and once the necessity is plain, no people is more capable of decisive action than the British. Both the main parties had already proved themselves impotent to deal with the unemployment question, and indeed equally unconscious of the fundamental situation. Labour was then moved by the warmer human feelings, by a true compassion, but was even more fuddled and ineffective in method, and was betrayed by a cynical, arriviste leadership. Conservatism was on the whole equally incompetent, but more coldly selfish in its service of particular rather than of national interests; more indifferent to mass suffering, more stubbornly unimaginative in resistance to new ideas, more dully resentful of dynamic measures and men, more inveterate in the search for mediocrity in leadership. Conservatives could only awake in a situation as desperate as revolution, which even induced them to accept Churchill, whom they had so long excluded, and whose recklessness in leadership sealed their downfall. It seemed to them in the final months of the United Kingdom that the situation could still be tamed by traditional means, and office was beckoning them across the ruins of the Labour Party. ‘Danger gleams like sunshine to a brave man's eyes,’ said Euripides, and office glitters like a neon light to the Tory eye in opposition, when Labour government fails.


    Yet in a real crisis no serious person could for a moment believe that a Tory government under Churchill, or some sort of coalition, could do much better than Labour, who had after all done little better than the Tories under Baldwin. The basic errors and the end results are both the same. Tories believed in doing nothing – nothing real – and Labour in office was soon scared into the same position. Neither of the old parties could meet such a situation, although their rank and files were patriotic people who according to their beliefs give generous and disinterested service. Some national consensus not only of parties but of the whole people was necessary to meet the grave crisis, thus I endeavoured to forge the alliance.


    Nearly all the ablest men in British public life had in varying degree foreseen the coming crisis and the leading figures in all generations had come together. In broad outline they were in two groups, the old and the young. I found myself to some extent the link between two communities. After my resignation speech, most of the young men in the House of Commons who counted for anything expressed to me a large measure of agreement with it. From the Opposition ranks, Harold Macmillan was the boldest in that he wrote a letter to The Times which much assisted me, and was rebuked for his unorthodoxy by a subsequent letter signed by R. A. Butler and two other young Conservative M.P.s. I did not know Butler at all and he was inconspicuous at that time. Oliver Stanley was closer to me than any other Conservative M.P. and led the discussions with me. Macmillan, if I remember rightly, did not take part in the regular discussions, but met me from time to time, as he recounts in his memoirs.


    MACMILLAN%201930.jpg

    Harold Macmillan was one of the few young Conservative MPs to split with Churchill and join Mosley's new party. A Keynesian who represented an industrial constituency in County Durham, he had been an unusual fit in the Conservative Party. Under Mosley he would go on to enjoy a long career in government.


    Walter Elliot, on the Conservative side, took part frequently in our discussions. He added to an exceptionally good war record and social experience as a doctor a wide erudition and a fascinating capacity for conversation. His power of exposition did not extend so successfully to debate, where he was too diffuse with an argument insufficiently concentrated, often a fault in those who delight others and themselves delight in conversation. Walter Elliot, too, wrote a letter to The Times which was helpful to me. Churchill was seriously annoyed. He administered what Walter called a ‘lambasting’, and a horrified Walter made his peace. The incident showed just what we were up against in face of the still unshaken power of the party machines, and Macmillan in his memoirs records that similar pressure was put on other Conservative M.P.s not to join in my effort to meet the unemployment problem. Elliot did not follow through with his support, as was his right having made no commitments, and after the Revolution he held no political office. His talents were put to work instead as a lecturer in medicine at the University of Glasgow.


    Bob Boothby, too, was much in our company. He combined a brilliant capacity for debate with the rare quality at that time of a real understanding of monetary theory and a grip of the Keynesian techniques. It appeared he was never entirely successful in imparting knowledge of these mysteries to his chief during his sojourn at the Treasury as Parliamentary Private Secretary to Chancellor Churchill – not even with the aid of the Treasury official, R. G. Hawtrey, who alone in the sphere of pure theory could encounter Keynes on equal terms – but in these discussions at a later date Boothby was of much assistance to us. Bob Boothby always was and still is the best of company, immense fun but capable also of great seriousness when required, and in his maturity I trusted him alone with the management of economic affairs.


    Aneurin Bevan, not then in Parliament, was at that time a new friend of mine and I invited him to take part in the discussions leading to the formation of the new party. He was a gifted speaker, and his warm emotional appeal contrasted strikingly with the cool calculation of the Civil Service trade union leaders of previous years; Bevan was almost exactly my age, but had not yet developed his full debating prowess. A considerable number of M.P.s of all parties participated in these loose and non-committal discussions, which took place mostly in my house at Smith Square. When the talks began, I asked them at once to suggest any points of disagreement they had with my resignation speech. I was glad to accept their amendments, which were insubstantial and in my view were an improvement. We arrived in policy at a virtually complete agreement.


    My tendency always is to drive things too hard, and when agreement was reached on policy, I began to ask for a date to be fixed for action, which is a very different thing. However, my usual insistence that action must follow a clear view of what should be done was not responsible for a break this time. Several things occurred which drastically altered the situation. Decisive was the fact that the crisis was developing quickly, and the sense of danger was always in the background, together with the call of duty to take risks in the national interest. Churchill, as we have seen in Walter Elliot's case, was exercising enormous pressure, which was strengthened by the improved prospects of the party, and the party machine was able to threaten young Conservative members, not only with exclusion from the now probable Tory Government but also with the loss of their seats. In some cases these factors in combination were sufficient to deter men from further action, and I make no complaint of what then happened; they went out quite fairly and honourably, for they were committed to nothing. But a handful remained, and in the end Boothby, Macmillan and Stanley all came over to our cause.


    In only one case did I discourage a man from coming over to our ranks. W. E. D. Allen, the Tory member for West Belfast, made overtures towards us at seem point late in 1928. He was a scholarly man obsessed in no small part by the lands of the Caucasus, and approached politics from an altogether bizarre standpoint. I was dissuaded from his adoption by friends within the Conservative Party who impressed upon me Allen’s reputation as an eccentric, given at times to fascistic inclinations.


    As for the old guard, it was during this period that I grew to know Lloyd George well and to appreciate gifts unique in his generation, which at this conjunction of events at home and abroad I judged would again be of immeasurable benefit to our country. This was not to be allowed in any situation short of the catastrophic, and as we have seen many continued to believe as late as winter 1928 that there was no catastrophe in Britain. All the dull people combined to get Lloyd George down. They succeeded insofar as he did not join our movement outright, but later on once he had been vindicated he came to support it, and it was with profound regret that I had to break with him over our policy towards Germany in spring 1936. We remained on good terms personally, but he played no further role in government.


    LLOYD%20GEORGE%20HITLER%201936.jpg

    Lloyd George was unique amongst the political old guard in enjoying prominence even after the establishment of the Commonwealth, though never formally came over to Mosley's movement. As a member of Stafford Cripps's Popular Front he served as President of the Commonwealth after Arthur Cook's death, but left government (and public life) after the Rhineland Crisis of March 1936.


    On November 8, 1928, a document with twenty-six signatures was printed in the Daily Herald under the title of the ‘Alliance Manifesto’, and also in the other papers whose presses had not then been appropriated by the workers. It was signed by two dozen Members of Parliament, including myself, and by Arthur Cook and Nye Bevan from the Miners’ Federation. The great coup as concerned winning publicity among the bourgeois papers was the inclusion of Oliver Baldwin’s signature, the son of the former Tory Prime Minister who as a Labour M.P. was an enthusiastic adopter of our cause. The Manifesto followed closely the general line of my resignation speech, and today it is startling in its sharp departures from traditional Labour thinking. It affirmed that ‘an immediate policy is required, more drastic and determined than any policy yet formulated by any government in the House of Commons’, and suggested similar reforms in the machinery of government and in the parliamentary machine. The Manifesto also accepted the insulated economy: ‘The home market must be the future basis of British trade, and that home market depends on the high purchasing power of the people, which in turn depends on high wages. Purchasing power can only be maintained and increased if the wages and conditions of the workers are sheltered from the present crisis in world conditions, such as price fluctuations, organised dumping, and the competition of sweated labour.’ Import control boards and commodity boards were to be adopted for this purpose, with the additional use of tariffs accompanied by various safeguards. It was argued that ‘centralised’ purchase of our foodstuffs should give us powerful leverage to secure acceptance of our exports in return.


    The concept of the insulated economy resting on the mutual development of Britain and the Dominions was accepted in full. To this complete departure from normal Labour Party policy was added a bulldozer to drive through their cherished, traditional network of local authority procedure: ‘We believe that only the will and the power to cut through the intolerable network of governmental and municipal procedure are needed to make possible the early provision of work on schemes of urgent and immediate importance. In addition to constructive works already detailed in parliamentary debate, we suggest an attack by direct action on the great problems of slum clearance and rehousing. … Nothing should be allowed to stand in the way of using a very large number of our unemployed men on this vital task.’ Snowden, Churchill and the Treasury view suffered short shrift in the phrase: ‘In finance we should pursue a producers’ policy. The producer, whether manufacturer or worker, has been penalised for ten years by a financial policy which benefits the bond-holder and handicaps production. The first concern of financial policy must be the maintenance of industry, and this demands a stable price level.’


    The Manifesto concluded with a clear definition of the difference between the immediate necessity for action and long-term principle: ‘In the advancement of this immediate policy we surrender nothing of our socialist faith. The immediate question is not a question of the ownership, but of the survival of British industry. Let us put through an emergency programme to meet the national danger; afterwards political debate on fundamental principle can be resumed.’


    Publication was met by acclamation from the ranks of the trade unions, but the T. U. C. remained wedded to the Minority Movement, which was in turn a vehicle of the Communist Party, thus the leadership remained friendly but could not provide considerable material support without first divorcing itself from the C. P. G. B. In the end, it was agreed that no longer would the T. U. C. furnish only one party with support, but instead work to promote men of the Left who stood for genuine action. As the money assigned to political projects had been largely co-opted into the wider strike fund by this point, it was in many ways moot, and I continued to provide much of the funding for our movement myself.


    We organised as the Provisional Labour–Unionist Alliance and held only four seats fewer than Lloyd George’s Liberals; we had cut MacDonald’s majority down to fifteen and robbed Churchill of his brightest young men. Our position was recognised as one of strength, and we soon attracted much notice from all quarters of the public, many of whom already knew me as a national figure. The Fascisti noted immediately the power we held and feeling themselves threatened made great noise about our movement, with Lintorn-Orman denouncing me as an ‘enemy of the people’ and all sorts besides. During the subsequent election campaign, which came in the New Year after MacDonald was outmanoeuvred by Churchill on a question of troop deployment, we fielded nearly three-hundred candidates and were met in many areas by Fascisti violence. I took both facts as indicators of our influence. I entered the campaign entirely ready for the fight ahead, convinced that the success of our movement was now imminent.




    1: Author's Note – This update incorporates text, either edited or in original form, from Oswald Mosley's My Life (London: Nelson, 1968), accessed via Archive.org, July 2019.
     
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    THE UGLY DEATH OF LABOUR BRITAIN
    PART ONE

    1979

    As part of its schedule of programming to mark the half-centenary of the Commonwealth in 1979, a special edition of the CBC 1 discussion programme Talking Point was aired at the start of February. The point of discussion concerned the degree to which the Labour government of 1928–9 was accountable for the fall of the United Kingdom. On the panel were Colonel Denis Healey (b. 1917), a civil servant who had assisted in writing the official history of British counter-fascist action in the Middle East, and Professor Roy Jenkins (b. 1920), an academic at the University of Cardiff who had written a biography of Ramsay MacDonald. In the chair was Tony Benn (b. 1925), the son of Alliance Manifesto signatory William Benn who, as a broadcaster, had since 1972 presented The Politics Programme on CBC Radio 1 (known affectionately as “Comrade One”).


    CBC1%201979.jpg

    Still from the CBC 1 ident, 1979. Formed in 1959 as the successor to the original CBC TV channel, CBC 1 (known affectionately as "Com One") was the flagship television channel of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Committee. It inherited CBC TV's news and current affairs output, also major showing sporting events.


    Talking Point was a long-running current affairs programme which dealt predominately with topical political and cultural issues of the day. Two or more expert commentators would be invited on to discuss an issue, usually selected with a view towards generating lively debate. It aired after the ten o’ clock news and continued until the end of programming at midnight. It was chaired from its inception in 1971 by Jeremy Isaacs, until he left in 1977 to become the inaugural controller of programming at CBC 4. After this point the chair was filled by a different figure each week.


    The Healey–Jenkins–Benn debate is remembered as a particularly noteworthy episode of Talking Point, referred to sometimes as the “Guilty Men Special” after an infamous remark made by Roy Jenkins. Historiographically, the debate sits largely within the tradition of “history from below” shaped twenty years before by the Marxist Historians’ Group. It is remembered for the fierceness of the debate between the commentators, Benn’s interventions from the chair, and as the start of a subsequent career in media for Healey.


    ***


    Tony Benn: “Good evening and welcome to Talking Point. Tonight our two commentators will be discussing the election, conduct, split and fall of the Labour government of 1928–29, and the subsequent impact its time in office had on the formation of the social and political systems of the Commonwealth. On my right is Professor Roy Jenkins, an historian of economics at the University of Cardiff whose books include biographies of Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden;”

    Roy Jenkins: “Good evening.”

    Benn: “and on my left is Colonel Denis Healey, a senior civil servant at the Foreign Office, who served as an officer in the Palestinian Campaign and later worked as a contributing author to the official history of counter-fascist action in the Middle East.”

    Denis Healey: “Good evening.”

    Benn: “—and I’m Tony Benn. I’d like to start by asking each of you your general thoughts on the conduct of the Labour government in office, with reference particularly towards its actions towards the workers’ movement. Roy Jenkins, as a biographer of both MacDonald and Snowden perhaps I should come to you first?”


    TALKING%20POINT%201979.jpg

    Jenkins (left), Benn (centre) and Healey (right) seen at the start of the Talking Point special, February 15 1979.


    Jenkins: “Thank you, Tony. This will come as little surprise to anyone who has read my books, I am sure, but I would like to start by saying that I cannot endorse any assessment of MacDonald and his government that paints them as ideological counter-revolutionaries who were out to get the working class from the moment they were elected. We may hear this view this evening, I’m not entirely sure. But I would like to offer an alternative conception: that MacDonald and his ministers were ultimately well-meaning, but nevertheless failed when called upon to act decisively in favour of social justice. I do not believe that there is anything in the historical record, seriously, to suggest that the crimes of the Labour government were any more grave than those of indecisiveness and naïveté. It was not the fault of Ramsay MacDonald, nor indeed of Philip Snowden, nor of anyone else in the government at that time, that the political structures of the United Kingdom fell when they did, and I believe one must be careful of falling too easily for the particular view of history, coloured by ideological or partisan affiliation, which makes things altogether more simple by stating that bad people cause bad things to happen. In fact, things are much more nuanced.”

    Benn: “Denis Healey, how do you respond to this view?”

    Healey: “It is a curious thing, isn’t it, to set out to uncover who is in a sense at fault for the creation of the Commonwealth? I find it telling that Professor Jenkins has introduced these terms; they speak almost of a sense of regret for the Commonwealth having come about at all. The idea perhaps that it is a great shame that MacDonald and Snowden were not allowed time to continue their project of simply being nice to the workers in the hope that, gradually, they might dither long enough and accidentally solve the crisis that befell them. Professor Jenkins says that it is important to remain clear-headed when talking about these things and I agree, and in this spirit, rather than offering a grand assessment of the Labour government, I would like to start by laying out some facts about that government’s conduct. Ramsay MacDonald became prime minister at a time when around 3 million working people were on strike, and a further one and a half million were unemployed. By the time he left office, unemployment had risen by about as much as the number of workers on strike had fallen. Welfare subsidies for the unemployed remained negligible. The government demonstrated little to no energy in trying to solve either the crisis of employment or the crisis of the coal industry, and indeed soon capitulated in the face of resistance from the mine-owners. During the Labour government’s time in office, Parliament was evacuated to Cliveden, King George fled to Newfoundland and Whitehall lost effective control over much of the country north of Birmingham. MacDonald consistently showed more concern for the opinion of Middle England than he did for the working class, and having utilised the full force of the Metropolitan police force without qualm apparently refused to deploy the troops out of fear of being portrayed as a second Churchill. He made numerous attempts to arrest working class leaders on charges of mutiny and planned to oust George Hardy from the general secretaryship of the TUC. Arrest rates of workers continued to be as high as arrest rates of fascisti continued to be low. MacDonald aggravated the unions, deferred to the bosses and pandered to all interests except those of the working class. Roy Jenkins portrays Ramsay MacDonald as nothing more than a man out of his depth. I make an alternative argument: that MacDonald was not an ineffective prime minister, but rather a prime minister whose true ambitions were frustrated at every turn by the ingenuity of the workers’ movement. But for their strength, his effect could have been much, much worse.”

    Jenkins: “See, this is exactly the sort of excitable characterisation of history that I warn against. Colonel Healey is no doubt a very intelligent man, but it is quite evident that his judgement is irretrievably swayed by his ideological leanings. His image of MacDonald is an image of a man pathologically set on destroying the working class, which was absolutely not the case—“

    Healey: “—I did not say that.”

    Jenkins: “With respect, Colonel Healey, you made the argument that the working class somehow had to save itself from MacDonald’s programme of action. The real—

    Healey: “No, that’s not the argument I made at all. I said that MacDonald’s policies were frustrated by the organisation of the working class movement, which is true. The Labour government had planned a whole series of crack-downs and punitive measures on the unionist leaders, but they were rendered unable to act by the simple fact that the working class was by that point so disciplined that it was in many ways more of a government than the government. Take for example the documents drawn up in September 1928 that detailed plans to arrest specifically communist union leaders on charges of mutiny. These clearly indicate a desire by the government to neuter its rivals to the left in an effort to break the strike movement without addressing any of the root causes of the crises that birthed it. Were it not for the fact that the workers’ strength was greater than that of the Metropolitan Police, in all likelihood they would have succeeded.”

    Jenkins: “And do you consider it a bad thing, Colonel Healey, that a government should take action against people who act in open rebellion to the state?”

    Healey: “In this case, certainly. I think it represented a profound display of bad faith in going straight for the stick and skipping out on the carrot.”


    TALKING%20POINT%20JENKINS%20CLOSE%20UP.jpg

    Professor Roy Jenkins, 1979. Jenkins' father had been a prominent and militant member of the South Wales Miners' Federation during the revolution. Roy did not inherit his father's militancy and never took to the directorial socialism of the PLUA. He was asked by Popular Front leader David Lewis to stand as a candidate for the People's Assembly in 1961, though declined and remained in academia. As an academic and public commentator, he exhibited a liberal outlook on both social and economic issues.


    Benn: “Professor Jenkins, you have accused MacDonald and his government of failing to act sufficiently to stem the crisis. I think in some sense this is something we can all agree on. To what extent do you agree or disagree with Colonel Healey’s characterisation of the government as having acted in bad faith?”

    Jenkins: “I think it is perhaps an unfair assessment. If we are going to talk about bad faith, it is perhaps worth working out first what that means. Broadly, we might talk about it in terms of being underhand or deceitful in one’s intentions. I am not sure MacDonald was ever underhand in his intentions; he made no secret of his desire to alleviate the lot of the working class on the one hand, and of his distrust of Muscovite communism on the other. I think his programme was entirely consistent with these beliefs: trying to chart a course between correcting the injustices faced by the workers without submitting to the Leninism of Comrade Inkpin and his allies. Now,—“

    Benn: “—Do you think MacDonald’s government truly did enough to correct the injustices faced by the working class?”

    Jenkins: “If I might be allowed to continue, Tony, I was just about to address this point. Now, I make no quarrel with the idea that by any objective measure MacDonald failed to tackle sufficiently the problems of his day. Nevertheless, there is little that is objective about history. Therefore I think it is important, as historians have been arguing since at least 1957, that we bring a little context back into our considerations. Colonel Healey has already illustrated for us the dire situation the country found itself in by the time the Labour Party took power in winter 1928: millions were on strike and millions more out of work; the mine owners refused to countenance any kind of surrender to the unions and the unions certainly were not going to capitulate after all they had achieved; the unions wouldn’t come to the table without the backing of the pickets and the mine owners wouldn’t talk unless the pickets were called off. By summer, you had workers taking to the streets in London and a junior cabinet minister taking to the country, speaking as if he were some sort of saviour. Parliament was forced out of Westminster after the situation became too dangerous for MPs to return from summer recess, and the civil service had to up sticks from Whitehall and move to Oxford. The ability of the government to enact its policy was thus severely hampered to the point where really it governed in name only. And then of course the King left for Newfoundland on health grounds at the end of November. Thus by the end of autumn Britain had a prime minister whose powers were limited by the unions, a monarch whose power was exercised by the Prince of Wales, and an opposition who maintained relevance only by making a deal with the devil in the form of the BF [British Fascisti] and their Q Divisions. In these circumstances, what good, really, does anyone expect MacDonald to have been capable of doing? It’s like finding fault with King Canute for being unable to stop the tide.—”

    Healey: “—Except, of course, Canute never thought he could control the tides and was trying to demonstrate his powerlessness in the face of God the Almighty.”

    Jenkins: “Well that just proves my point.—”

    Healey: “—In that case your point is flawed!—”

    Jenkins and Healey talk across each other. Benn cuts in over them both.

    Benn:“—If we might return to something you just said, Roy: Denis Healey, what good would you expect MacDonald to have been able to do in the circumstances?”

    Healey: “I think there’s quite a simple answer to this, which is nationalisation—”

    Jenkins: “—Nonsense!—”

    Benn gestures for Jenkins to be quiet.

    Healey: “No, it’s not nonsense. The TUC had fairly simple terms for disengagement, and these were various wage guarantees and the removal of the coal industry from private hands. Rather than display any interest in meeting these demands, MacDonald lifted tactics straight from Baldwin’s playbook and stalled for time with the Thomas Report, which was truthfully little more than a repeat of the more adventurous avenues for reform laid out by the Sankey Report of 1919. It was clear, as it had been for a decade by that point, that British coal output would not recover from the slump it hit during the Great War except by recourse to extraordinary measures, and MacDonald quite simply was too wedded to classical ideas of liberal economics and vague utopian socialism to actually commit to anything beyond what had already failed. If he had wanted to, I have little doubt he could have forced something past the mine owners – by this point they had no credibility whatsoever, and even less authority. MacDonald on the other hand had a solid majority in Parliament and the dire circumstances necessary to justify extreme action. He had been voted in thanks to the workers, of course, but one must not forget that he owed his majority also to the countless voters of Middle England absolutely terrified of revolution, and these people no doubt would have preferred coal reform to the overthrowing of the elected government. Nevertheless, the prime minister was constantly looking over his shoulder – so much so that he never saw the opportunities for action that lay right in front of him.”


    TALKING%20POINT%20BENN%20CLOSE%20UP.jpg

    Tony Benn, 1979. The son of William Benn, a politician who had been a Labour cabinet minister before holding office under Mosley, Tony was born in 1925 into a liberal socialist dynasty. Starting as a radio producer on the CBC Current Service in 1948, Benn became a correspondent in 1954. He was political editor of the news magazine programme The World Today from 1961, becoming its main presenter when the programme moved to the newly-formed Radio 1 in 1964. He held the position until moving to The Politics Programme in 1972.


    Benn: “So you perhaps do agree to some extent with Roy Jenkins’ assessment that the Labour government was merely too weak-willed?”

    Healey: “To an extent, yes. But I return to the idea of bad faith. And before Professor Jenkins starts shouting at me about objectivity, I’ve already dealt with how I think MacDonald could’ve quite reasonably addressed the coal crisis even within the circumstances of the day. But as I have stated since the start of this programme, to me the issue goes beyond being simply weak-willed. I think the issue is not that MacDonald was insufficiently active, but rather that he was active in all of the wrong areas. Again, I bring up the fact of his persistent campaign against the most radical sections of the workers’ movement. MacDonald was always more concerned with the opinions of the Conservatives and the anti-Labour press than he was with the opinions of his own constituents. To this end, not only did he neglect the working class interest by refusing to offer anything but palliatives as concerned the issue of coal, but he also adopted an aggressively anti-communist stance motivated entirely by his own prejudices. MacDonald I believe always thought that he could court the Tory interest safe in the knowledge that the working vote had nowhere else to go and thus would always be Labour’s. When the Minority Movement came along and the workers found somewhere else to go after all, I think privately MacDonald resented the fact that he had been upstaged. I think Lenin was right to some extent: the Labour leadership had been so won over by the warm reception they had had from the bourgeoisie that they genuinely forgot that for 90 per-cent of their voters reality was quite different. Thus they thought nothing of trying to win over the pensioners and the militarists instead of fulfilling the promises they had made to their own power base. And I think it is a shameful thing when people forget the debts they owe to the people who put them in power.”

    Benn: “Do you have anything to say to this, Professor Jenkins?”

    Jenkins: “Well yes, I suppose first of all I ought to say that I do not dispute that it is shameful when politicians neglect the mandates upon which they were elected to power. But by the same measure I think it is important not to be too narrow in ones focus. By all means, a government should be mindful of the desires of those who put it into office, but in taking office one becomes not just a servant of one’s electors but a servant also of the entire population. Which is to say that one cannot afford to act just with regard to the wishes of 8 million people, but must act instead with regard to the national interest.—”

    Healey: “Do you think that we should be lenient on governments that ignore their manifesto promises?”

    Jenkins: “Well no, I don’t. But if it’s quite alright with you—”

    Healey: “Then how are we supposed to forgive the failure of the Labour government to nationalise the coal industry as it somehow working in the national interest?”

    Benn asks Healey to let Jenkins speak.

    Healey: “As you well know, Professor Jenkins, Labour promised to nationalise the coal industry in their 1928 election manifesto. Therefore when the Thomas Report came back and argued against the possibility of nationalisation, it was in direct contradiction to the expressed wished of a majority of the voting population. Now what, given this fact, are we meant to find MacDonald guilty of: ineffectiveness, cravenness or outright malice?”

    Jenkins: “Colonel Healey, we are not here to find MacDonald guilty of anything! This is not some grand tribunal to root out the guilty men of the last days of the United Kingdom, this is a televised debate on a simple issue of historiography: what impact did the conduct of the Labour government have on the formation of the Commonwealth. Now, I have made the argument that MacDonald acted about as well as could be reasonably expected of him in exceptionally trying circumstances. You have made all sorts of claims about his malicious intentions towards the working class. I maintain that the historical record reveals no such campaign, beyond some relatively run-of-the-mill attempts to deal with groups acting in flagrant opposition to the state. This is not to excuse his actions – I don’t feel particularly that they need excusing – rather, to try to go some way towards accounting for them. And what’s more I would like to attempt this without any judgement being clouded by excessive prejudice. This being said, I would sum up the Labour government as a deeply flawed ministry, which acted ineffectively and indecisively on many key issues, but which nevertheless attempted as far as possible to act in the national interest. And for this I cannot condemn it.”

    Benn: “Just to clarify for the viewers at home, I’ll read a section of Labour’s manifesto from the 1928 general election. It says this: ‘The state of the coal mining industry is so tragic that measures would be immediately undertaken to alleviate the distress in the coal fields, organise the industry from top to bottom both on its productive and marketing sides, and shorten the hours of labour. A Labour majority would nationalise the mines and minerals as the only condition for satisfactory working.’”


    TALKING%20POINT%20HEALEY%20CLOSEUP.jpg

    Colonel Denis Healey, 1979. Healey became involved with far-left politics as a student during the Spanish War, and after university served in the Middle Eastern Campaign as an artillery gunner. He was eventually commissioned as an officer and left active service in 1945 having led troops in Iraq and Malaya. Staying on in the army
    with the rank of Lieutenant colonel as part of its historical research team, Healey left the department in 1954 after the publication of the first volume of the Middle Eastern history, following which he became a civil servant in the Bureau of International Relations.


    Healey: “Thank you, Tony. And in answer to your summation, Professor Jenkins, I’d just like to say this: perhaps it is overly emotional to accuse the MacDonald government of malice and all the rest. But I maintain that it is a privilege to be able to view politics without emotion; for millions, the reality of political decision-making is intensely emotional. Yes, a great deal is dictated by economics and international relations, which until recent decades it was fashionable to consider to be above human fallibility, but the fact is that even economics is experienced by millions every day on an emotional scale. It is all well and good striking because of a pay cut, but that is never the whole story: you go on strike because you can no longer put food on the table, or afford to stay fit and healthy, or put a roof over your head – and, yes, because the rich never seem to be affected even half as much as you do. And perhaps one could think of hunger, of sickness, of discomfort as economic considerations, but this would be ludicrous. The fact of the matter is that the poor resent the rich because they don’t realise their own stupidity, their blindness to their own good fortune, and of course because the rich in turn resent the poor for being so lazy and ungrateful. These are not rational responses. Just as people did not turn against the Labour government because Philip Snowden allowed £38 million towards this or that scheme in particular, but because they felt that they had been betrayed more generally. And, later, MacDonald lost all credibility not because of the specifics of his criminal justice policy – which may by some measure have been justified, or even-handed – but because it led ultimately to the force-feeding of political prisoners and the death of Adelaide Knight. When Donald Brown Knight stood in front of a crowd of half a million at Hyde Park on Christmas Eve, he did not weigh up the ethics of force-feeding and come to some balanced conclusion. No! He got up on stage and denounced the government as his wife’s killers. This is an entirely emotional argument, but would you begrudge him for making it? When the party you voted for, thinking quite sensibly that they might make some good of things, nine months later is accountable for the death of your wife and the misery of your friends and comrades, are you meant to process all the facts and come to some rational conclusion about the state of affairs? Only a desiccated calculating-machine would be capable of such a response. And if Professor Jenkins thinks this is the correct response in this situation, then that is his prerogative. But he should recognise that he is able to come to this conclusion only thanks to his good fortune. There have been millions throughout history who have had no such luxury.”

    Benn: “Thank you, Denis. We are now a quarter of the way through tonight’s show and I think it’s fair to say we have all the makings of a classic discussion on our hands. Professor Jenkins, we will come back to you for a response shortly. In the mean time, here is a short film taking a closer look at the events of Operation Exodus, the Workers’ Brigades’ campaign against the Metropolitan Police in January 1929, narrated by Vanessa Redgrave.”

     
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    "Operation Exodus", from Talking Point
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    OPERATION EXODUS

    NARRATED BY
    VANESSA REDGRAVE

    1979


    EXT. LONDON – DAY, 1928
    Montage of clips of police officers battling with striking workers. Shots of men and women constructing barricades. Shots of police officers on horseback. Shots of police officers with rifles positioned in streets in West London.

    Redgrave: While politicians in Westminster oversaw the downfall of the United Kingdom amidst a chorus of argument and parliamentary intrigue, for men and women on the ground the end of 1928 marked the beginning of the end of a more substantive battle: the battle for the survival of the workers’ movement.

    A baker hands out bread to women and children. Workers play football in the street. A woman addresses a small crowd on a street corner.


    EAST%20END%20KIDS%20FOOTBALL%201928.jpg

    Children playing football on a street in the East End, c. 1928.


    Redgrave: Since the outbreak of hostilities between bosses and workers in the coal industry at the end of May 1927, the united efforts of the trade unions had been working towards the formation of a British state more sympathetic to the livelihood of its working classes. By the time of the Labour budget over a year later in late October 1928, this great effort had resulted in large areas of the country falling under de facto worker control. Across the valleys of South Wales, the industrial towns of the North, and the coal-mining communities of County Durham, traditional structures of power had fallen away in the face of sustained working-class organisation. All over Britain, everything from food distribution to the management of local transport networks was being handled by committees formed from the ground up by working men and women.

    Volunteer special constables police dockers on a picket. Bourgeois students drive a bus. Stock footage of fascisti paramilitaries outside a village hall. Anti-fascist guerrilla groups are shown drilling in a field in Essex.

    Redgrave: As existing power structures failed and were replaced, numerous counter-revolutionary groups materialised in a bid to prevent the working class from taken full control. In the early days of the strike, this effort against the workers was led by the government-backed Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, a paramilitary force of bourgeois strikebreakers formed under the guidance of Winston Churchill, called upon by Stanley Baldwin to maintain order. But the OMS lasted only a few months, before succumbing to widespread antipathy from the bourgeoisie brought about after a series of violent scandals. The Organisation was an easy target for infiltration by more violent counter-revolutionary groups, including splinter groups from the British Fascisti. A lack of governmental oversight combined with sheer desperation on the part of the strikebreaking effort ensured that by the end of its life the OMS was a hotbed of far-right activity. Tasked with supporting the existing policing networks through the deployment of volunteer special constables, this led to a sharp rise in the number of violent clashes between police and the workers’ movement.

    A group of workers on a street corner tend to an injured man, his face bruised and bloodied. This is presumably the aftermath of an altercation between strikers and Fascisti thugs, though could just as easily be a consequence of a police raid.

    Redgrave: With the election of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government in late February 1928, it was widely hoped that there would be a subsequent drop in the level of violence used against the workers’ movement by the state’s forces of order.

    Cut to stock footage of Ramsay MacDonald entering Downing Street, the doorstep flanked by officers of the Metropolitan Police.

    Redgrave: MacDonald had spoken out against the heavy-handed policing tactics of Stanley Baldwin’s Conservative government, winning a victory for the Opposition when he forced the government to admit to the presence of Fascisti columns within the OMS in late 1927. Early into his term in office, MacDonald worked to redress some of the worst injustices suffered by the workers at the hands of the police. He released hundreds of men imprisoned after the Battle of Riverside, and promised the formation of a royal commission into policing abuses.

    Workers occupying Parliament Square. A young Wal Hannington giving a speech to a vast crowd. Fascisti thugs stood around by a car parked in central London.

    Redgrave: Yet by the summer, the government’s good favour amongst the workers’ movement was fast running out. Millions of the men and women out on strike were unprepared to wait for the conclusion of MacDonald’s patient policy, and in a show of union strength over one-hundred thousand workers took to the streets in Westminster once the Houses of Parliament had broken for summer in July. The Metropolitan Police were unable to deal with the numbers of demonstrators, and workers occupied Parliament Square in a symbolic act of trade union power. At the start of August, 350 thousand members of the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee took control of Hyde Park in a bid to force government action on the question of unemployment.

    Roadblocks in the East End. Footage of men and women smiling while building a barricade across one end of Cable Street. Footage of fighting between Q Division thugs and anti-fascists.


    CABLE%20ST%20BARRICADE.jpg

    An overturned van is used by antifascists as the basis of a barricade at one end of Cable Street, 1928.


    Redgrave: At the same time, communists in the East End began to organise themselves into paramilitary groups in response to mounting displays of anti-left violence by the British Fascisti Q Divisions. The largest of these groups was the so-called “Stepney Column”, led by 21-year-old tradesman Phil Piratin. Piratin came to the attention of the national organisation of the CPGB as a leader in the guerrilla campaign against the Fascisti. In the aftermath of the worker occupations, Fascisti leader Rotha Lintorn-Orman declared the Metropolitan Police “unfit for purpose”, and called for an escalation in the campaign against the unionist movement. Clashes erupted across the capital, though were most concentrated in the Jewish regions of the East End where Q Divisions launched attacks on both anti-communist and anti-Semitic grounds.

    Lintorn-Orman’s campaign achieved little. Violence was widespread, but the Q Divisions were neither as disciplined nor as numerous as the anti-fascist forces. In some instances, the Met turned a blind eye to Fascisti attacks. Privately, many special constables were glad of the assistance in their own battle against the workers. Ramsay MacDonald took to the BBC on August 12th to make a special broadcast condemning the violence, but it fell on deaf ears. Each for their own reasons, neither the Fascisti nor the trade unions were willing to hear out the Labour government’s calls for peace.

    Workers are seen running through training exercises and drills. Footage of men and women being instructed in the use of rifles. Younger partisans are shown hurling bricks at houses and slashing tyres.

    Redgrave: By the middle of August, governmental London was at a standstill. Whitehall and Westminster were both under solid worker control, forcing the civil service to evacuate a skeleton staff to the safe haven of Oxford. Ramsay MacDonald accepted an offer from heiress and Conservative MP Nancy Astor – whose anti-communism was matched only by her anti-Semitism – to reconvene Parliament at her home at Cliveden after the summer recess. In the wake of the departure of the British state, the workers’ movement established its own informal economy in London, as it had done across the country throughout the strike. In response to the dual threat of the Q Divisions and the Metropolitan Police, CPGB military spokesman Tom Wintringham was secretly tasked with overseeing the formation of an organised paramilitary force capable of defending worker control of London. By the end of summer, the first of the Workers’ Brigades had been deployed in the fight against the Fascisti. Phil Piratin became one of the Brigades most prominent commanders: at its peak, his Stepney Column numbered six thousand volunteers.

    Stock footage of the Cliveden Parliament. Army guards stand around on the driveway, lifting up a roadblock to allow an MP’s car to enter the estate. MacDonald is shown speaking from the dispatch box.


    CLIVEDEN%201926.jpg

    View of the southern facade of Cliveden House, c. 1926.


    Redgrave: After the heated summer of 1928, a period of relative normality followed in the autumn. With Parliament back in session, albeit removed to Buckinghamshire, the crisis left the streets and returned to the political stage. While Labour experienced a crisis of its own with the delivery of Snowden’s budget in late October, an uneasy ceasefire had materialised on the streets of London as the city’s inhabitants accommodated themselves to worker occupation. The Met had given up their attempts to remove the workers, and instead contented themselves with minor campaigns of harassment as levels of antipathy amongst constables rose. Much of the Fascisti core retreated to its base in the Home Counties, licking their wounds. As in Parliament, the crisis devolved into a stalemate.

    Mosley gives an impassioned address from the backbenches. Annie Kenney speaks to a crowd in London. Police arrest a group of young men and women. Crowds of workers and clash with Fascisti squads.

    Redgrave: The arrival of Oswald Mosley’s Provisional Labour–Unionist Alliance at the start of November shattered this impasse, both in Parliament and on the streets. MacDonald’s majority was cut down to only fifteen, and Churchill too had seen some of his most energetic young backbenchers quit the Conservative Party. The government, which had been in power for only eight months, looked closer than ever to collapse; it was unclear who would be the prime beneficiary when the time finally came.

    Outside of Parliament, Mosley’s break with the Labour Party inspired fierce emotional response from the Fascisti, who branded the PLUA leader an “enemy of the people”. Lintorn-Orman saw herself in grand terms as the only figure capable of preventing the descent of the United Kingdom into untrammelled Bolshevism; in early November she declared the start of a renewed campaign against worker-occupied London. The most controversial episode in this campaign occurred on November 9th in Canning Town, when Q Division street-fighters attacked a crowd who had gathered to hear old suffragettes Annie Kenney and Adelaide Knight speak. Kenney and Knight themselves were arrested by police on charges of incitement and sedition, while many Fascisti fighters escaped arrest or else found themselves charged with only minor offences. MacDonald made noises of protest, but did not act. By this point, he could not afford to alienate the Met.

    Stock footage of Tom Wintringham in a pub in Haggerston with men and women from one of the Workers’ Brigades. Two women are shown operating a checkpoint on a road in Hackney. Phil Piratin leads a patrol along Cable Street.


    WORKERS%20BRIGADE%20FIGHTERS.jpg

    Still image from footage taken of anti-fascist fighters in the East End, 1928.


    Redgrave: While Parliament demurred, the workers’ movement was quick to respond. At the start of December, unemployment hit 2 million and membership of the NUWC hit 1.2 million. The occupation at Hyde Park remained quarter of a million strong, and after the arrests of Comrades Kenney and Knight hostile feeling towards the Met was at a peak. At the start of December, Phil Piratin issued a declaration on behalf of the tenants of Stepney withdrawing consent for the Metropolitan Police to operate within the boundaries of the ward. Similar statements followed in the days after, and by the start of winter much of the East End had turned into a Met no-go zone. The situation only worsened when reports emerged that Kenney and Knight were being force-fed in prison, causing a scandal for the beleaguered Labour government. MacDonald, startled into action, quietly worked to secure the women’s release, but it was too little too late. At a ceremony to welcome the women home at St George in the East, Adelaide Knight collapsed and became unconscious. She had contracted pneumonia in prison, and died only three days after her release. Her widower Donald Brown Knight, a decorated foreman at Woolwich Arsenal, gave an emotional address to the Hyde Park occupation on Christmas Eve in which he denounced both the government and the Metropolitan Police as Adelaide’s killers. The next day, on Christmas morning, the CPGB declared the start of Operation Exodus.

    Firefights between workers and police constables. An injured Workers’ Brigade volunteer is shown being lifted into an improvised ambulance car. Workers with rifles survey an empty street behind a barricade.

    Redgrave: Operation Exodus was the CPGB-backed campaign by the workers against the Metropolitan Police, led by Tom Wintringham. Wintringham was a former mechanic in the Royal Flying Corps who had established himself after its founding as the Communist Party’s expert on military affairs. He had an interest in street fighting and guerrilla warfare, and later in the Spanish War would prove a formidable commander. But it was in the campaign against the Metropolitan Police, and by extension the Q Divisions, that he cut his teeth. So long as MacDonald refused to call in the troops, the Met remained both outnumbered and outwitted by the tactics of Wintringham’s Workers’ Brigades. Given material backing by the TUC and its allies abroad, the Brigades were able to prosecute a fast and highly effective campaign. Spreading out from existing unionist strongholds in Westminster, Hackney and modern Tower Hamlets, by the New Year worker control had extended and secured throughout Islington and on its eastern perimeter hit the Northern Circular. A number of factors influencing both sides meant that fatality rates were low: the population of London displayed little to no resistance to the expansion of worker control, the combined unions having already taken over the de facto running of city life months before, while the Met offered only a muted response in most areas, perhaps in anticipation of the imminent deployment of the armed forces.

    In Cliveden, the question of deployment had vexed Parliament. MacDonald, who had come to power in part on the back of his impassioned opposition to Stanley Baldwin’s deployment of troops at Wapping and Riverside, had little appetite for directing fire on the workers movement. Yet Churchill was unrelenting in his own opposition to Labour’s timidity, and after weeks without a resolution on deployment put forward a vote of no confidence in the ministry on January 9th. MacDonald lost, and Prince Edward dissolved Parliament the following day.

    Stock footage of MacDonald leaving Downing Street. Various clips of parliamentary candidates campaigning across the country. Some events are policed by Fascisti; others are accompanied by a Workers’ Brigade presence. Life in London goes on as per usual under the occupation.


    MOSLEY%20SPEECH%201931.png

    Oswald Mosley campaigning in Stoke-on-Trent, February 1929.


    Redgrave: Having delayed in office for as long as he could, MacDonald was thus finally ejected over the issue of the troops. By New Year 1929, Parliament had switched roles from primary mover to secondary follower: no longer was British politics dictated by matters of policy, but by the events being played out on the streets of London and elsewhere. By the end of January, as the United Kingdom went through the motions of acting out one of the most unorthodox elections in its history, Tom Wintringham and his Workers’ Brigades had all but pacified the Metropolitan Police and secured London for the workers’ movement. For perhaps the first time in British history, it felt as if the outcome of the election wouldn’t matter – not because of a lack of diversity in opinion, but because Westminster’s power was now all but ceremonial. Now more than ever before during the long arc of the strike, the conclusion seemed imminent. The success of Operation Exodus put the workers of Britain within touching distance of final victory over the forces of capital. The United Kingdom had only weeks to live.
     
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    The In-Between State: Worker Control of Britain during the General Strike (February 1928 – January 1929)
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    ECHOES%20HEADER.jpg



    THE IN-BETWEEN STATE
    WORKER CONTROL OF BRITAIN DURING THE GENERAL STRIKE

    E. P. THOMPSON

    1973



    When circumstances came together at the end of the 1920s and offered the working classes of Britain the opportunity to take control of the process of their own emancipation, they were quick to seize upon it. Conscious of their own power more than they had ever been previously in of the history of Britain, working men and women across the country built for themselves unassailable networks of organisation that, in little under two years, enacted the complete victory of the workers over the governing bourgeoisie. This was neither a simple nor a linear process, and at many moments it seemed more than likely that the dominant forces of Capital might have defeated the revolutionary tendency. Yet the combined efforts of the British state were unable to mount any serious threat to the organised working class, and ultimately, as we know, they came to nothing. At no point between 1927 and 1934 could the subdued bourgeois tendency struggle enough to reassert its dominance, and the workers’ state held.


    In between these two points, the journey from A to B becomes muddled and murky. The agents engaged in the struggle for class emancipation were numerous and diverse, both in their methods and in their characters. I have written before of the mongrel nature of the structures of power in the Commonwealth, and much of this multiplicity is evident even in the seeds of its germination. Any action by a class of people, the singularity of that class being impossible, will necessarily lead to a rich flowering of potential if the context is suitably fertile. This remains true for both the result and the process. Thus it becomes possible to view the action of the working class during the General Strike not as one unified attempt at self-liberation, but rather as a tapestry of innumerable actions nevertheless engaged in one common struggle.


    The fact of this assessment becomes readily apparent when one engages with the character of the revolutionary struggle particularly after the election of the MacDonald government in February 1928. Having endured and survived the existential threat of the Conservative government, the workers faced a different threat from MacDonald, who looked in vain to a programme of reform to subdue the industrial dispute. In government for the first time, Labour’s altogether inadequate response to both the issue of the coal industry in particular, and the state of the working classes more broadly, exposed the reformist approach’s fundamental lack of utility. Hence the upturn around this point in revolutionary discourse emanating from the workers’ movement: if not the elected guardians of the working-class interest, it would have to be the working classes themselves who brought about their emancipation. Lenin’s view of the Labour Party as “a thoroughly bourgeois party … led by reactionaries … which exists to systematically dupe the workers” had been soundly vindicated, and having been vindicated was thus acted upon.


    MACDONALD%20WHITE%20TIE.jpg

    For many, MacDonald's time in government had succeeded only in pushing him into the firm grip of the upper classes.


    Unique after MacDonald’s election with reference to what had come before was the extent to which, for the first time, the trade unionist movement made use of the power of the organised unemployed. This marks the appearance of a novel tactic in the struggle, mobilising those who had no notional power as far as concerned jeopardising the interests of one particular industry (which, for argument’s sake, I take as the immediate methodology of any strike acton). The Communist Party had started to build up a body through which the unemployed might be organised along the lines of a trade union at the start of the decade. This was the National Unemployed Workers’ Movement, set up under the leadership of Wal Hannington, a young toolmaker who had been present as a delegate at the founding of the National Minority Movement. Prior to the strike, the NUWM had experienced some success in 1922 with a hunger march to London, but was not otherwise a mass movement. Unemployment by the time Ramsay MacDonald entered office sat at roughly 1.5 million, or 10 per-cent of the working population. At a time when the largest trade unions could boast membership figures of a quarter of a million or more (the Miners’ Federation had over a million registered members at its peak), before 1928 the NUWM at its height represented around only 100 thousand workers.


    This figure escalated dramatically during the General Strike, assisted both by increased working-class consciousness generally, and by the particular circumstances of a large number of job losses during the period 1927–28. In spite of the amnesty issued by MacDonald’s government, mine owners and other bosses were reluctant to take back workers who had been on strike. The government, which had come out strongly against this form of discrimination, declined to back its strong words with action of any kind, and the situation failed to dissipate. Thus unemployment figures from March 1928 onwards were supplemented by considerable numbers of radicalised workers who had been abandoned by their government. Rather than denouncing those left stranded after having attempted to return to work, in a rare moment of intellectual flexibility the CPGB decided to take advantage of the situation and organise these workers into the apparatus of the NUWM, now reconstituted as the National Unemployed Workers’ Committee. By July, Wal Hannington had risen overnight from a marginal figure in the class struggle to become the leader of a movement of 700 thousand highly militant members of the working classes. Unable to effect the shut-down of any one industry in particular, Hannington led his workers in a campaign of mass public disruption. His first coup, orchestrated after the NUWC hit membership of 1 million in early August, was the organisation of a “national congress of action” in Hyde Park, similar to that held by the Minority Movement before the official outbreak of strike action only on a far larger scale. 350 thousand unemployed workers from across the country answered Hannington’s call, and in front of this crowd he motioned that the workers continue to occupy the park “until such time that this government is willing at long last to dispense with its palliatives, and attack the root causes of the injustices suffered by the working people of Britain.” This followed a call made by the TUC leadership at the end of July, timed to coincide with Parliament’s vacation of the Palace of Westminster for the summer, for the workers to take to the streets of London en masse in a show of strength. This campaign reached its climax at the end of August when 100 thousand workers marched into Parliament Square and declared a second occupation, effectively shutting down Whitehall. In both cases, the Metropolitan Police and other forces of order proved unable to deal with the agitation, failing to break up the occupations and arresting only about one thousand men and women throughout July and August. Extra-legal attempts by the Fascisti Q Divisions to “restore order” met with a similar fate, and on 12 August MacDonald was forced to take to the airwaves of the BBC to repudiate fascisti activity. He was ignored by Rotha Lintorn-Orman, who continued to keep Q Divisions stationed around central London throughout the summer.


    LINTORN%20ORMAN.jpg

    Lintorn-Orman, posing in her official portrait as Q Division commander-in-chief.


    Conflict between the combined police forces and the occupying workers was more incendiary away from central London over in the East End, where 21-year-old tradesman and CPGB member Phil Piratin had been leading groups of mainly Jewish workers on sorties against the Fascisti ever since the London Docks Massacre the previous June. The Q Divisions were an odd assortment of generally bourgeois figures, drawn often from the ranks of the officer corps, though in the East End the British Fascisti could count also upon the services of a corps of working-class street fighters. What united these men and women was their motivation, in almost every recorded case based upon one of numerous – yet all equally abhorrent – conspiracy theories involving the ruination of the British Empire by a cabal of Communist Jews. Street fighting was therefore bitter, and the anti-fascists secured a major victory at the end of July by driving the Q Divisions out of Cable Street, the main thoroughfare between Whitechapel and Limehouse. Piratin proved an incredibly capable leader, quickly coming to the notice of the CPGB’s national organising committee as a result of his exploits. While Rotha Lintorn-Orman was making grave public declarations about “eradicating the threat of sedition from the political life of this country”, CPGB military spokesman Tom Wintringham was busy working with Piratin to organise the first of the “workers’ brigades”, a paramilitary force tasked with opposing fascism in all of its forms. Piratin’s Stepney Column was by far the largest, at its height staffed by 6 thousand volunteers.


    In addition to the great victories won by the workers’ movement in the capital, the workers’ movement established its control of local government throughout areas of South Wales, Clydeside and the industrial North. Outside of London, policing efforts were increasingly antipathetic; constables often turned a blind eye to the existence of these informal worker economies and political structures, in some cases actively co-operating. While the Metropolitan Police remained vigilant in their actions against the Workers’ Brigades in the East End – removing barricades and so on – in November there was little resistance when workers in Leeds derailed a train and installed road blocks around the city centre. By the start of winter, large areas of Leeds, Hull and Newcastle were under worker control. The TUC National Organising Committee, responsible throughout the strike for the distribution of materials and resources necessary for the maintenance of the strike effort, took on an increasing role as a directing force behind an alternative infrastructure to that commanded by the government in Westminster and Whitehall. Occupations in London and elsewhere were sustained by improvised co-operative movements, food and other sundries provided on the basis of need by the bakers’ union, various clothes-makers’ unions and other similar bodies. The beginnings of a programme of worker control were thus visible even in the last days of the strike, when men and women in key industries returned to work so as to appropriate the means of production for the sustenance of the wider workers’ movement. From an initial situation in May and June 1927, where vital services were kept operative by bourgeois volunteer strike-breakers organised under the auspices of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, 18 months later a similar situation emerged, only this time at the direction of the workers themselves, sufficiently empowered not only to disrupt the workings of industry but to repurpose its workings for their own ends.


    While the political structures of the United Kingdom would subsist for another few months, by the start of winter 1928–29 their redundancy was becoming ever more apparent. Having organised to not only sustain but gradually escalate a mass struggle from summer 1927, now the working classes were able to demonstrate their true power, rendering the bourgeois political class obsolete through radical efforts at self-organisation. By the end of 1928, symbolic victories had been won against Parliament (who had fled from Westminster to Cliveden), the state police (who had been neutralised across the country and who would soon be evicted from London), and even the Crown: King George had taken off for Newfoundland at the end of November, supposedly following his doctor’s orders (documents discovered years later revealed the royal doctor advised the king need only go to Bognor). Thus already present and visible in the final months of the revolution was the operation of the Commonwealth, not in fact a successor state born out of the ruins of the United Kingdom, but a subversive tendency co-extant with the United Kingdom in its final days, representative of the great power of the working classes excluded from an ossified political structure and manifesting itself elsewhere, alternatively. This is the true muddy boundary between the two orders: bourgeois and proletarian, capitalistic and communistic. The latter was always already present in the former, articulated through innumerable relationships forged between newly-conscious members of the working classes, now given the power of manifestation in a revolutionary space.



    Edward Palmer Thompson (b. 1924) is an English historian and activist in the Marxist tradition of “history from below”. Since 1969 he has directed the Institute for Social History at the University of Warwick, where is also a Professor of Sociology. The above excerpt is reproduced from his forthcoming book, Lions Rising: A History of the Working Classes in Britain, 1925–1934.
     
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    THE UGLY DEATH OF LABOUR BRITAIN
    PART TWO

    1979



    Tony Benn: “And we’ll hear more from Vanessa later when she takes us through the events of Operation Night Flight. If you’re just joining us, we are talking this evening about the ugly death of Labour Britain. On my right is Professor Roy Jenkins, who argues that Ramsay MacDonald holds an unfair reputation as an enemy of the working class movement, and on my left is Lieutenant Colonel Denis Healey, who argues that condemnation of the MacDonald government is justified. My name is Tony Benn, and we are with you until midnight. Roy Jenkins, I promised before the break that I would come to you next, and I will. We have talked a lot already tonight about the Labour government’s record in office, in particular examining its economic policies towards the problem of the coal industry, and lately touching on what might be described as its attitude towards ‘law and order’. Perhaps it is worth turning now to look at the election of February 1929, and giving some consideration to how the Labour government itself defended its record?”


    Roy Jenkins: “Yes, thank you, Tony. As we saw in that film, Labour went into the general election in 1929 rather on the back foot. Whatever the political realities may have been, and as I have argued, they were prohibitive in letting the ministry act, MacDonald’s fear of a loss of public support had been founded and he was forced to defend his record against vigorous, if competing, attacks from both Mosley on the Left and Churchill on the Right. Mosley was pressing ahead with his campaign of unprecedented, top-down economic restructuring, while Churchill had doubled down on his militant rhetoric and was making all sorts of promises about sending in the troops to break up the strike. Caught in the middle of this, MacDonald chose to conduct a dignified, defiant campaign that highlighted Labour’s fundamental competence in government. This was notable faced with the PLUA as a major opposition force on the Left; Mosley of course had only ever held one rather minor ministerial position, and for all of the talent he boasted of within its ranks his party could hardly describe itself as being experienced in government. Therefore in an admittedly ironic move, MacDonald attempted to shift onto Mosley and the PLUA the criticism that had only the year before been applied to his own party: that of inexperience leading to incompetence in government.”


    Benn: “Did it perhaps expose the paucity of Labour’s own proposed response to the crisis that it was forced into waging an essentially negative campaign?”


    Jenkins: “I think I would characterise the campaign as pragmatic rather than negative. While MacDonald did of course make a point of repeating his concerns about Mosley to anyone who would listen, he was equally insistent on reminding voters about his own record in office.”


    Denis Healey: “—Which naturally did him very little good indeed.”


    Jenkins: “I think MacDonald was always going to experience some degree of prejudice regardless of the message he brought to the public.”


    Healey: “I think it’s all well and good making excuses for historical events, but ultimately the results of the election speak for themselves. The extent of MacDonald’s failure to defend his conduct in office does suggest a large amount of bad feeling towards both him and his government, but no public figure has any divine right of good reputation: the voters evidently felt justified in sending him a strong message. And this in itself must be taken as evidence of some degree of failure in office. Malicious rumours alone do not make for such comprehensive election defeats.”


    1929%20ELECTION%20MAP.jpg

    The results of the 1929 election, with parties shown as follows: Blue and Dark Blue, Conservative and Unionist; Bright Red, PLUA; Yellow, Liberal; Pink, Continuity Labour; Dark Red, CPGB. CPGB seats map largely to areas of strongest worker control, with the PLUA dominant in the areas where trade unionism had a firm base.


    Benn: “Just for the benefit of viewers at home, it might be worth noting that Labour lost 317 seats at the 1929 election compared to the year before, corresponding to a Butler swing of about 37.5 per-cent against the government. Denis Healey, what do you consider the greater contributor to Labour’s collapse at the polls: MacDonald’s lacklustre record or Mosley’s energetic campaign?”


    Healey: “Naturally I think it is a balance between the two, but I would say that without Mosley’s dynamic character I don’t think the PLUA would have been so comprehensive in picking up the old Labour vote. I am not convinced that it was a given thing that the voters were going to abandon Labour in 1929, and clearly they needed somewhere viable to go to once they had left. Some of the more bourgeois constituencies of course returned to the Tories or the Liberals, but the vast majority of PLUA seats were won on the back of a straight swing from Labour. Therefore I think it is not unreasonable to suggest that the Left – as it was within Westminster politics – decided that Mosley was the more likely man to actually achieve what he set out to achieve. Which of course was a very bold programme – far easier to sell than MacDonald’s more wishy-washy reformism. And this was part of the problem in getting the Minority Movement on board, of course: the Communists did not trust Mosley, with the exception of Arthur Cook. They thought of him as a useful organiser but were highly sceptical of his programme insofar as it was not Marxist nor Leninist nor Stalinist. People have suggested that Mosley at that time was a hardcore Keynesian, though of course his ideas were contemporary to Keynes’s and always shaded by a certain idiosyncrasy. It was perhaps because the CPGB wouldn’t entirely accept him that Mosley was able to present himself as a man of action without stoking fears of a Communist takeover, which of course aided him in the job winning over the bourgeoisie.”


    Jenkins: “If I might home in on one thing, Denis, I think it is worth talking a bit about the repercussions of the TUC’s position towards the election, which was essentially one of disdain. In 1928 Labour was aided massively by the structural and material support of the trade unionist movement, but in 1929 this had been withdrawn. Most of this money went instead to the various strike funds, but a little bit went through the Minority Movement to the Communist Party, who at this point were enjoying a period of then-unprecedented success – something not commented upon as often as the Labour failures, it must be said. An incredibly effective, concentrated strategy of campaigning and organisation saw the CPGB take seven seats in 1928 with only two per-cent of the national vote. They grew this to nine seats a year later. And actually this is arguably the main, visible consequence of the TUC’s material intervention in the election. Mosley’s relative success was facilitated by the TUC’s organisational network – or more particularly the workers’ movement’s organisational network, but there was relatively little union capital behind the PLUA. Mosley was almost entirely self-funded, or else relied on contributions from his friends and allies – who, let us not forget, were mostly men and women of some means. Much has been written over the years about the relative class make-ups of the workers’ movement and the PLUA, so maybe it’s not worth going over again here— what do we think, Tony?”


    Benn: “No, carry on by all means.”


    Jenkins: “I just wonder whether there is something in the fact that, in comparison to the Labour leadership, the core of the PLUA was probably even more representative of the bourgeoisie. And yet Mosley’s great success was transforming himself into a conduit for the frustrations of the workers’ movement, so that his class didn’t really matter. The Tories of course had been accusing him of being a class traitor since 1925, and maybe this helped him as he could be justified in claiming that he and the workers had a common enemy. Whereas Labour were considered class traitors by their own side, which certainly did not help. But in spite of this difference in presentation it is important to keep hold of the fact that the class composition of Britain’s governing class was fairly consistent between the wars, probably with the exception of the five years of Communist dominance before 1934. The differences were really only economic, which isn’t entirely the same as class though certainly a big part.”


    Healey: “I think you raise an interesting point, Roy, but I think this idea of the governing class not really changing in its composition takes too wide a view of things. On the ground, the workers I think didn’t much care who the governing class were because, ultimately, they had very little effective power. Nominally, little changed I agree. But materially the workers had taken control of pretty much all that counted in Britain from about 1928 onwards. Westminster only mattered insofar as it posed a threat to the continued existence of worker control. Now, this is reflected I think in the attitudes of the workers to the various parties – and also somewhat in the campaign strategies of the three main parties. Labour were very much a force of continuity and so they behaved as if nothing has changed, which led to embarrassing situations like MacDonald being refused entry to worker-controlled Leeds, and even being booed and jeered in his own constituency of Seaham, which ultimately went to Manny Shinwell of the PLUA. Thus they got nowhere not because of some grand conspiracy of public opinion, but because of the simple fact that they refused to acknowledge the new terms of engagement. What’s more, they were very open about this; the threadbare existence of the Continuity Labour Party until 1934 has to represent one of the most blatant displays of a lack of self-awareness in the collective political memory.


    “Now Mosley was keenly receptive to the present situation, and thus understood its terms perfectly. One could even say he was so fluent so as to be able to manipulate them to his own advantage. The rapid expansion of the PLUA between November 1928 and January 1929 is thanks in great part to this understanding, and of course a generous amount of grease applied to the wheels by the fundamental amenability of the TUC and the workers themselves. Mosley had no trouble getting around the country – or at least not from the workers. The Fascisti of course proved a nuisance wherever he went. But he was at least able to get his message out there, which MacDonald was not. So in a way it doesn’t matter how MacDonald planned to defend his record because he never got to do it.


    “Lloyd George privately backed Mosley, but a great number of his Liberals were less enthusiastic and thus the campaign was about as coherent as any Liberal campaign had been since the Great War. As a result they continued to find themselves marginalised, or else doing various dealing with the Conservatives, who under Churchill campaigned with a particular zeal – one might call it nastiness – in much of England outside of London and south of the Trent. Nevertheless the Liberals did of course pick up a number of seats from Churchill in areas where voters were turned off by his militarism. After almost two years of strike action, Britain had settled as it were into a sort of interim status quo, and many people were fearful that Churchill’s desire to send troops to take back worker controlled areas would just as soon spark violent conflict as the election of a Marxist-Leninist government.”


    BENN%20TALKING%20POINT%20PIPE%20COLOUR.jpg

    Tony Benn, seen smoking his iconic pipe towards the end of the evening's programme.


    Benn: “Churchill is often portrayed as the pantomime villain of the revolution – and not entirely without reason. Is there anything to be gained from perhaps questioning his role in the downfall of the United Kingdom?”


    Jenkins: “I think certainly Churchill quite rightly must be held accountable for his conduct during the strike – but it’s a similar situation to that which has developed with MacDonald: people have taken to attacking an idea rather than a set of facts. Churchill was of course in the early days of the strike responsible for the formation of the Organisation for the Maintenance of Supplies, and ultimately he was accountable for its conduct, particularly at Wapping Docks. But after this point we must not forget he has little direct involvement with policy, and a lot of his contribution to the anti-strike effort was just talk. He made a great show of being the strikebreaker-in-chief, and certainly he associated with a group of unsavoury characters—”


    Benn: “—you mean to say Fascisti paramilitaries?”


    Jenkins: “Yes, principally. But at the same time, Churchill held ministerial office for less than three weeks during the revolution – I will discount the fact that he was notionally prime minister for about 36 hours before the surrender of the Cliveden Parliament – and association alone cannot do the sort of material harm of which public opinion accuses him of having carried out.”


    Healey: “Once again I think, Roy, you have fallen into the trap of being far too academic in your considerations—”


    Jenkins (in the background): “—Imagine that!”


    Healey: “—because it’s all well and good to examine the historical record as if it were a balance sheet, with ‘good’ and ‘bad’ neatly counted up and tabulated, but it doesn’t work like that. No, Churchill wasn’t in office – but he did bring down two governments in the space of a year. Besides which his constant agitation for military intervention, not to mention his unashamed association with the British Fascisti, went a significant way towards normalising extreme right-wing violence in Britain. Churchill knew full well the power of words, and he was canny in his use of them. More often than not, he was putting them to use in the service of violent rhetoric against the conscious working class, even if he was not himself committing the violence. But considering this was a climate where Communist and unionist leaders were being routinely convicted of charges relating to incitement – let us not forget Adelaide Knight – it seems distasteful, to put it mildly, to reserve one standard for Churchill and another for the workers.


    “This of course also ignores the fact that even in opposition Churchill was making very concrete steps towards counter-revolution. Prince Edward had numerous private talks with the opposition leader after King George had left the country, and during the election campaign the two even went so far as to draw up plans for a putsch against the workers’ movement led by MI5.”


    Benn: “This, presumably, is the infamous ‘Sandringham Plan’, apparently drawn up on January 24, 1929 – coincidentally, the same day as Nancy Astor hosted Rotha Lintorn-Orman at Cliveden.”


    Healey: “Yes, thank you Tony.—”


    Jenkins: “It should be pointed out that the authenticity of the Sandringham Plan is disputed by certain sources.”


    Healey: “Granted, there has never been any official confirmation of the content of Churchill’s later meetings with Edward.”


    Benn: “But the gist of the alleged plot is a coup against the unionist leadership.”


    Jenkins: “Exactly. What is alleged to have taken place in late-January 1929 is a discussion between Edward, Churchill and a number of frustrated MI5 officers who had taken it upon themselves to act in the absence of any direction from the Labour government. The plan supposedly involved taking back Parliament Square by force, including assassinating a number of Communist leaders so as to break up the workers’ organisational capacity, then retaking Parliament and declaring a government of national emergency headed by Churchill. Lloyd George was to have been responsible for solving the crisis of the mining industry, and MacDonald was to have been farmed out to the Foreign Office – though it is doubtful that they would have known anything about the plan, were it genuine.


    “But this again paints Churchill as a sort of scheming fantasy villain, which is far too reductive an assessment. Yes, as Denis says it is necessary to consider the effect of Churchill’s public statements against the revolution. But it is important also that we judge his record on the basis of the facts as we know them, and quite simply a lot of the worst excesses Churchill is accused of having perpetrated just are not substantiated by the historical record.”


    Benn: “I think perhaps this is a good place to pause for a moment as we are now halfway through tonight’s programme. We will return for the final half-hour after this short film about Operation Night Flight, the storming of the Cliveden Parliament by Workers’ Brigade volunteers, narrated again by Vanessa Redgrave.”
     
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    OPERATION NIGHT FLIGHT

    NARRATED BY
    VANESSA REDGRAVE

    1979


    INT. VILLAGE HALL – MORNING, 1929
    It is a cold, late-February morning and people arrive to cast their votes. There are men and women with rifles stood outside the hall keeping watch over proceedings. It is unclear whether they are Fascisti, worker volunteers or some other force entirely.

    Redgrave: On Thursday 21st February, 1929, the voters of Britain went to the polls for the second time in under a year. The attempts of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour government to solve the crises that faced the country had broken down, and it was hoped that the election of a fresh ministry could break the deadlock. The choice open to voters was, in essence, threefold: continuity with MacDonald, a restoration of “order and security” with Winston Churchill’s Conservatives, or a radical restructuring of the economy under Oswald Mosley’s new Provisional Labour–Unionist Alliance, or PLUA. Liberal leader David Lloyd George had taken a back seat.

    EXT. NORTHERN TOWN – DAY, 1929
    Young women seen queuing outside a school hall to cast their votes for the first time.

    Redgrave: For millions, this was their first time at the polls. MacDonald’s government had passed the Fifth Reform Act with little fanfare in March 1928, finally granting full suffrage to all men and women over the age of 21. It was a significant time to receive the vote: the 1929 election can be described with little fear of hyperbole as a vote on the very future of the United Kingdom.

    VARIOUS – 1929
    Stock footage of Mosley, Churchill and MacDonald campaigning. Churchill arrives at Cliveden under armed guard. Mosley addresses a crowd in Parliament Square.

    Redgrave: When the results came in two days after polling, it soon became evident that the ballot had not cleared the hoped-for path out of the deadlock; the voters of Britain had elected a hung parliament. Churchill’s Conservatives were the largest party – just; the Tories secured 266 seats, only marginally ahead of Mosley’s new PLUA, who defeated the Labour Party at the first attempt by winning 259 seats. MacDonald was left with only 23 seats, pushed into fourth place by Lloyd George’s Liberals, who experienced an unexpected resurgence to take 55 seats. The Communist Party, building on a solid campaign of concentrated activity in key areas, increased their 1928 showing by two seats, achieving victory in nine constituencies.


    Graphics showing the composition of Parliament and the geographical spread of party support. Compared with map showing spread of worker control.

    WORKER%20CONTROL%20MAP%201929.jpg

    Map showing approximate extent of worker control by February 1929.


    Redgrave: The electoral map from 1929 can be made to double as a map of the boundaries of the revolutionary conflict. Regions under worker control largely backed the PLUA, with the most militant areas electing Communist candidates. Labour MPs were returned in more rural areas, generally supportive of the workers’ movement but not necessarily under syndicalist control. Liberal gains show areas where people were broadly in favour of measures against the strike, but who found Churchill’s militancy hard to swallow. The Tories meanwhile won in the most rural areas, securing their biggest majorities in the Home Counties where Fascisti groups had taken their strongest hold over social life.

    Given these numbers, it was hard to see how a stable government could be formed. Matters were at once complicated and made simpler by the policy of abstention espoused by both the PLUA and the CPGB. Backed by the workers’ movement, these parties did not recognise the Cliveden Parliament as a legitimate body and sat instead – at the pleasure of the trade unionists outside – in Westminster. Thus while Britain’s elected MPs were divided geographically as well as politically, Prince Edward was faced with a situation where the Cliveden Parliament, still recognised as legitimate by the ailing British state, was entirely dominated by the Conservatives. While the abstentionist parties sitting in Westminster outnumbered the Tories by 268 seats to 266, in Cliveden Churchill had a majority of 185. Thus on February 24th, Winston Churchill was appointed prime minister.

    EXT. CLIVEDEN, BUCKINGHAMSHIRE – DAY, 1929
    Military vehicles move around the estate. Fascisti guards in British Army uniforms stand around beside entrances. Churchill speaks to his cabinet in Lady Astor’s boudoir.

    Redgrave: Cliveden was the home of Lord and Lady Astor, 30 miles west of Westminster just outside the village of Taplow in Buckinghamshire. Lady Astor was an American socialite who had in 1919 become the first woman elected to Parliament to take her seat[1]. As a leading figure in Conservative society, she was at the heart of an aristocratic group who entertained numerous anti-catholic and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. The group lived in almost constant fear of a Communist takeover of the British Empire.

    When Astor invited Parliament to relocate to her home in September 1928 after the occupation of Westminster by workers that summer, the local branch of the Territorial Army were seconded to the estate to provide protection to Members of Parliament. In January 1929, Nancy Astor met with British Fascisti leader Rotha Lintorn-Orman to discuss engaging the Q Divisions as supplementary guards. Her husband, Waldorf, Viscount Astor, was reluctant to give the appearance of hiding away at Cliveden guarded by armed thugs. A compromise was reached whereby the Fascisti would be outfitted so as to look like TA volunteers. Thus were appearances of relative normality kept up.

    Astor was worried in the immediate term about a threat against her life. Why the workers’ movement would have targeted her in particular, as opposed to the numerous decision-makers also present at Cliveden, is unclear. Nevertheless, her other fear – that workers were plotting to storm Cliveden – was more founded: Tom Wintringham, Commander-in-chief of the Workers’ Brigades, had since the end of 1928 been formulating a plan to take the Cliveden Parliament and force the surrender of the rump British state. He was assisted by Jock Cunningham, a Clydesider who had come to prominence as the commander of a column of anti-fascist volunteers in Glasgow. Together, they masterminded the delivery of the coup de grâce that finally ended the ailing United Kingdom: Operation Night Flight.


    INT. PUBLIC HOUSE, STEPNEY – FEBRUARY, 1929
    Tom Wintringham and Jock Cunningham are seen enjoying a drink together with some volunteers in their respective battalions. Cut to Wintringham and Cunningham studying maps, plans and typed reports, presumably relating to the comings and goings at Cliveden. Cut to scenes of volunteers drilling. Stock footage of coaches driving battalions out of London.

    Redgrave: On the morning of Monday 25th February, 1929, the newly-elected members of the rump parliament at Cliveden arrived at the Buckinghamshire estate. Oswald Mosley and Albert Inkpin, along with their respective parties, the PLUA and the CPGB, were conspicuously absent; as the day’s business started at Cliveden, workers from the Parliament Square occupation stormed the Palace of Westminster and symbolically allowed the abstentionist parties to take their seats in the House of Commons. Winston Churchill had stayed in the house over the weekend, using a guest bedroom as his base while forming his minority ministry. He also oversaw the installation of a TA bivouac on the parterre behind the house. David Lloyd George is supposed to have remarked upon arriving at Cliveden that morning that the estate looked more like a battlefield than a seat of government. It was a prescient thought.

    Half a mile east, Wintringham and his battalion watch the stream of cars heading towards the Cliveden estate under the cover of an area of woodland, just west of a golf course where they had camped out overnight. Jock Cunningham was positioned with his battalion in a second area of woodland to the south-east of the estate.

    EXT. CLIVEDEN – DAY
    A graphic appears showing the layout of the estate with reference to Wintringham and Cunningham’s positions. We are shown a re-enactment of the storming of the driveway.


    BATTALION%20INITIAL%20POSITIONS.jpg

    Wintringham and Cunningham's movements, from initial positions to the driveway. The main buildings of the estate are shown in black.


    At half-past eight, with all of the 344 Cliveden MPs safely inside the main dining room, news reached the house that Mosley and Inkpin had been installed in the House of Commons by workers in Whitehall. The Tories were sent into uproar, with members rising one after the other to denounce Mosley and the Westminster MPs as traitors to the United Kingdom. As the revelation continued to animate those in the house, Wintringham and his volunteers arrived at the estate driveway, shooting the guards dead and advancing towards a small wood to the east of the parterre. Alerted by the sound of gunfire, the TA garrison opens fire on the volunteers, who are held in the woods. A sloping lawn separates them from the parterre.


    INT. CLIVEDEN DINING ROOM – DAY
    We are back with the re-enactment. MPs notice the activity on the parterre lawn below and hear the first exchanges of gunfire. Churchill realises what is happening and attempts to make a phone call, but the lines have been cut.

    Redgrave: Inside the house, panic breaks out as MPs see the soldiers outside open fire on an unseen enemy. Churchill and Lady Astor soon restore calm, with the prime minister giving a speech about the “folly of the revolutionaries” and assuring the room that the odds of defeat were minimal. He does not tell his audience that all lines of communication to the outside world have been sabotaged. By quarter-past nine, just as the new government should have been starting its business, it had become apparent that parliament was under attack – and with little hope of reinforcement.


    Meanwhile, Lady Astor sprang into action organising the domestic staff and leasing with the armed guards outside. At nine-twenty, a “century” of fighters from the British Fascisti are deployed to re-secure the driveway and seal off the estate. The are intercepted by the arrival of Jock Cunningham’s second battalion. Caught off guard and sustaining fire from the worker volunteers, the discipline of the fascist ranks shatters; some retreat in an attempt to alert those in the house of the approaching worker reinforcements, others are killed before they can act. Cunningham’s volunteers advance along the driveway and move down the Grand Avenue to the front of the house, engaging the TA garrison camped on the front lawn. Using the arrival of reinforcements as cover, Wintringham’s battalion come out from the woods and open fire on the government forces on the parterre.

    EXT. PARTERRE, CLIVEDEN – DAY
    The dramatisation footage plays on: Cunningham leading his volunteers up the Grand Avenue; a firefight between the workers and the TA on the parterre; MPs in fraught discussion, trapped inside.


    BATTALION%20MOVEMENTS.jpg

    Wintringham and Cunningham lead their battalions into position on either side of the house.

    Redgrave: By ten a.m., the Cliveden Parliament is in a grave state: faced with worker forces on both sides and cut off from the outside world, inside the dining room MPs frantically try to agree on a strategy. Their discussions are interrupted at around quarter-past ten by news that some sections of the TA battalion have mutinied and defected to the workers’ cause. Colonel Arthur Vincent Wyndley, commanding officer of the TA battalion, calls for a retreat off the parterre and up to the south terrace. From this vantage point, Fascisti volunteers open fire on the mutinous soldiers and inflict about a half a dozen fatalities. But the workers return fire and force the garrison inside the house; worker volunteers outnumber the TA force by a ratio of six to one.


    Between half-past ten and eleven o’ clock, Cliveden is afforded a temporary ceasefire as both sides regroup. Wintringham deploys Cunningham’s battalion to secure the estate perimeter, while his own volunteers take up positions around the house and prepare to storm it. The ceasefire is broken when gunfire erupts from the upper-floor windows on both the northern and southern facades. The worker volunteers, exposed to attack from above, sustain some of their highest casualties of the operation during this phase. In retaliation, a handful of TA soldiers are killed – including one Tory MP who had picked up a hunting rifle and joined the defence. It was only through great effort that Churchill himself was dissuaded from taking up arms.

    INT. SERVANTS’ QUARTERS, CLIVEDEN – DAY
    Actors playing a detachment of worker volunteers force down a service door and enter the house from below, unnoticed by the Fascisti on the upper floors. They soon encounter domestic staff, who sound the alarm. Upstairs, hearing the alarm government loyalists abandon their posts without particular direction and scramble to meet the intruding force. Wintringham uses the respite in fire from above to manoeuvre onto the South Terrace. Volunteers smash windows and begin to enter the house.

    Redgrave: By noon, worker volunteers have the ground floor secured. MPs had evacuated to the upper floors earlier on, and the staircase is well defended by Fascisti loyalists. A tense firefight breaks out in the hallway as the workers are held back. Meanwhile, the defence of Cliveden continues unabated as government loyalists maintain fire from the upper floor windows. Wintringham decides to force the situation, and at twelve-forty orders his volunteers to storm the staircase. A bloody battle ensued as the loyalists on the first floor held their discipline, pinning the advancing worker volunteers under a constant stream of fire.

    Yet the loyalists could not hold out forever, and the disparity in numbers soon forces gunmen at the windows to leave their posts to shore up the defensive force on the landing as it begins to falter. By one o’ clock Wintringham’s volunteers had forced themselves onto the landing and pushed the loyalists back into Lady Astor’s boudoir. Lady Astor herself entered a state of shock and passed out. She did not witness, at one-fifteen in the afternoon on Monday February 25th, 1929, the unconditional surrender of the Cliveden Parliament, and the recognition of the Westminster Parliament as the only legitimate legislative body in Britain.

    EXT. CLIVEDEN – DAY
    Churchill is led out of the house under guard and driven off in an attendant car. Assorted members of the Cliveden Parliament are released from the estate, again under armed escort. Worker volunteers watch over loyalist fighters confined to various outbuildings. Jock Cunningham leaves the estate in one of the Astor’s cars and heads into the nearby village of Taplow.

    Redgrave: Instead, she regained consciousness later that after noon, Cliveden empty save for her husband and herself. Worker volunteers remained stationed around the estate, watching over prisoners and managing the flow of former MPs out of the grounds. Most were allowed to return to their homes, though Churchill and some other members of the cabinet were taken to Whitehall and held in lavish rooms at Derby Gate. The Astors themselves were under effective house arrest at Cliveden; they could only watch as Jock Cunningham took one of Lord Astor’s cars and drove into Taplow.

    In Taplow, Cunningham entered the upmarket Skindle’s Hotel and asked at the reception desk to use the telephone. He phoned George Hardy in Westminster, who listened as Cunningham recited a verse from The Masque of Anarchy by Shelley:

    Let a vast assembly be,
    And with great solemnity
    Declare with measured words, that ye
    Are, as God has made ye, free.

    Hearing these four lines, Hardy knew that Night Flight had been a success. He put down the phone and relayed the message to Oswald Mosley, waiting for his cue in the House of Commons. Mosley stood up and went to the dispatch box, setting out the first motion to be considered by the new Westminster Parliament: the abolition of the United Kingdom and the formation of the Workers’ Commonwealth of Britain. The motion was passed by acclamation. Hardy, waiting in the lobby, rushed outside and took to the stage in Parliament Square. He repeated the declaration of the founding of the Commonwealth to the 100 thousand people assembled outside of the Palace of Westminster. Wal Hannington, sat in Parliament as a Communist MP, left the Commons and took the Tube to Hyde Park. At quarter-to-four, the occupying crowd received news of the Commonwealth’s inception.

    After nearly two years of bitter struggle and fraught with sordid political crises, the workers of Britain had finally won their prize: the formation of a new state, attendant first and foremost to their needs and desires. The promise of a hopeful tomorrow echoed throughout Britain, but its arrival was not guaranteed. As the battle for the existence of the Commonwealth ended, the battle for its survival had only just begun.


    1: The distinction is important: Irish Republican Constance Markievicz was elected in 1918, but did not take her seat in accordance with Sinn Féin’s policy of abstention from Westminster. Instead, Markievicz took her seat in the First Dáil, in Dublin, and from 1922 served as Minister of Labour, becoming the first female cabinet minister in the world outside of Soviet Russia.
     
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    Preface to 'English History, 1914–1929'
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    PREFACE TO ENGLISH HISTORY, 1914–1929
    A. J. P. TAYLOR
    1965


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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



    Alan John Percivale Taylor
    Oxford, 1965




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