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|From: Irish Foreign Affairs: Articles|
|Date: June, 2021|
|By: Brendan Clifford|
Pro-democracy activism Brendan Clifford
|“Pro-democracy activism” is a much-used term in news reports today. It describes agitators for democracy in states which the mature, world-dominating, democratic states judge to be undemocratic, even sometimes when they have elected Governments.
I cannot recall a single instance where democratic activism, against a regime that was decreed to be undemocratic, succeeded in overthrowing the regime and establishing a viable democratic state in its place.
The French Revolution was the first major democratic event in the life of the world. It put democratisation on the world agenda. It executed the King, established a Republic, slaughtered the nobility, declared the brotherhood and equality of Man, and declared the bourgeois who tends to his affairs generally to be the essential citizen—and failed to establish a viable form of state on these principles.
It established a way of life in which the bourgeois had the last laugh on the gentleman. It failed to establish an orderly bourgeois state.
It established freedom in the form of a bourgeois free-for-all, unrestricted by State power. In its internal life it was disengaged from State power. It was free in that sense. Its freedom is pictured in the novels of Balzac.
The power of State was taken in hand by a military and civil genius who directed it towards foreign wars on the one hand, and established a durable administrative structure on the other hand which seemed to be largely autonomous.
What it failed altogether to establish was a regularly functioning, democratic, State. In the course of its first sixty years it was, by turn, a disorderly democracy, an oligarchy, an Empire, a weakened monarchy, another disorderly democracy, and then another Empire.
Britain today sponsors pro-democracy activism, here, there, and everywhere, according to the principle of expediency. It suggests in its propaganda that it is a simple thing to set up a democratic State: that all that is needed is the application of a formula. And, if the formula does not work out, the reason must be that power-hungry maniacs confuse the people in order to become dictators.
But Britain did not make war on France in the 18th century because it was failing to be a democracy. It made war on it because it was attempting to become a democracy.
The British made war on France abroad. And it made war on French ideas at home. It won both wars. French ideas were tightly policed in England and driven to the margins. French Naval Power was broken. The French Army was defeated by a combination raised against it by England—including Russia, Prussia and Spain. Britain then held unbalanced power in the world for a century.
England had a revolution in the 1640s. It killed its King in 1649 and established a Republic, and flirted with the idea of a democratic Republic under the direction and protection of God.
This lasted only a few years. By the mid-1650s the English Republic, or Commonwealth, had acquired a human Protector, Cromwell. Cromwell as Protector stopped the process of democratisation under God. He told Parliaments what to do. If they didn’t do it, and if they tried to do something else, he dispersed them. In particular he insisted that the gentry must be retained. Equalising measures under the law of God must be halted. The Common Law—a form of law suitable for the gentry—must be preserved.
It might be objected that the law of God was an illusory invention, but so was the Common Law. Its precedents, stretching back into time immemorial, were early 17th century inventions, whereas the law of God, which inspired the revolutionaries, was written down long, long before by whoever produced the books of Moses.
The Bible was at the heart of the English Revolution. In 1916, when England seemed to be facing disaster in its ill-advised assault on Germany and Turkey, Parry supplied a hymn-like tune for William Blake’s visionary poem, Jerusalem. England, in its two great iconoclastic assaults on idolatry, under the two Cromwells, had rooted out the native English capacity for making music. Only hymn-writing survived. And Parry’s tune for Jerusalem, by all accounts, lifted the spirits with the reminder that what they were engaged in was “building Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land”. It was a final fling of Biblicalist illusion on a mass scale. It might be compared with Thomas Mann’s horrifying tale, The Black Swan, in which a woman in middle age imagines she is blooming with a late pregnancy when in fact she is in the grip of a terminal disease.
The moment for building Jerusalem in England came and went in the early 1650s. Cromwell wouldn’t allow it.
The Great War of 1914-19 was, on the English side, an Imperial War fought with nationalist passion. The English Parliamentary system was democratised in the course of it. Democratisation made it impossible for an Imperial peace to be made when the enemy asked for an Armistice. Nationalism and democracy are intimately related. Neither was conducive to the making of a carefully-calculated Imperial Peace. The catchcries of the English nationalist democracy in the critical year that began on 11th November1918 were “Hang The Kaiser” and “Make The Germans pay” meaning Plunder Germany, starve it until it makes a false confession of War Guilt, and foster revolutions in it, and reduce the State that it is allowed to a flimsy shell so that it will live on the brink of anarchy.
The English democracy had at its disposal in 1919 the Empire that had been constructed by Kings, Dictators and Aristocrats during the preceding three and a half centuries, and it didn’t know what to do with it. It wouldn’t let it go—or, it couldn’t let it go because England would starve without the plunder it extracted from it. It had to keep it in being in order to draw tribute from it. And it had, in addition, to find something to do with the very substantial conquests made by the War, in the Middle East and Africa; and with the components of the Austro-Hungarian Empire which it had decided to destroy at the end of the war. The aristocracy, during its two centuries of government as a ruling class, had built up the Empire by skilful use of comparatively small forces, and therefore had the means of governing its conquests.
The conquests of the democracy were made by means of vast military forces, the like of which had never been raised in England. These forces were dissolved quickly after November 1918, leaving the Empire without the means of giving orderly government to its conquests. Other means had to be adopted.
Britain declared war in 1914 with a Volunteer army‚ not an unpaid Army like the IRA, but an Army composed of men who volunteered to fight for pay. All of its wars until then had been fought by Volunteer Armies, consisting chiefly of younger sons of aristocrats and what Wellington called “the scum of the earth”. The respectable classes of civil society were only called upon to cheer.
It seemed to be a point of honour with Britain that it did not impose military service on the population as European states did. But that point of honour was discarded in 1916.
European states raised national armies because they had land borders with other states. Britain had no land borders and it had a Navy that was greater than the combined force of any three other Navies that could be raised against it. It was invulnerable to invasion. It could therefore declare war and then set about raising the ground forces needed to fight it.
It declared war on Germany in this way in early August 1914. It had secretly constructed a small Expeditionary Force and had made detailed arrangements with France for deploying it in a joint operation against Germany when the opportunity presented itself.
These plans were made when there was no immediate prospect of war. But, when the opportunity arose, the ruling class was divided against itself on the issue of Irish Home Rule in general, and especially on whether it should be imposed by force on the Ulster Counties that had made preparations to resist it. Because of that dispute, it was without a Minister for
War when war was declared, and that is possibly why things began to go awry from the start.
The declaration of war was met with expressions of popular enthusiasm. Imperialism had during the preceding generation moved on from being just an objective military fact and become a popular ideology. A military hero of the Empire happened to be home on holiday and there was a popular cry that he should become War Minister. As such, he immediately declaredcontrary to the accepted view—that it would be a long war and that mass Armies must be raised to fight it.
Men of all classes flocked in their hundreds of thousands to the recruiting centres to join the Kitchener Armies. Britain, against its planning, found itself locked into a land war in Europe, for which it had to raise Armies on a Continental scale. Ian Hay published a book about The First Hundred Thousand. That hundred thousand was used up quickly. He then wrote an account of The Second Hundred Thousand. That was used up too. Even greater numbers had to be raised to keep Britain with a stake in the game, so that great dividends would come to it when the enemy was defeated and broken.
The required numbers could not be delivered by voluntary enlistment, even when encouraged by feminist white-feathering of men not in uniform and other forms of encouragement. After little more than a year, the voluntary system failed and compulsory military service for men was introduced. Democratisation followed. The Parliamentary electorate was tripled by the extension of the franchise to all adult men and to women over the age of 28.
Democracy was introduced as a war measure in what had taken on the character of a religious war—a war of Good against Evil. And, at the same time, the Liberal Party—which had launched the War—broke up under the stress of conducting it.
The stability of the British state during two centuries of great social and economic change had been due in great part to its historically-evolved party system of Tories (or Conservatives) and Liberals (or Whigs).
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The Liberals were the party of Progress, of laissez faire capitalism, and therefore of war. The Tories were the party of the status quo, and therefore of peace. But there was no Tory Party in being in 1914. The 1914 Opposition to the Liberal Government, His Majesty’s Opposition, was the Unionist Party. The Unionist Party consisted of a union between the Tory Party and the social reform breakaway from the Liberal Party in Birmingham.
The Birmingham Liberals, led by Joseph Chamberlain—a successful manufacturing capitalist—held that the laissez faire capitalism sponsored by Gladstone’s Liberal Party could not continue indefinitely. Raw capitalism was certain to produce a powerful working class revolt against it. Chamberlain drafted a scheme of social reform in the form of a safety-net which would make life more tolerable for the victims of capitalism. When the Liberal leadership refused to consider the project the Birmingham Liberals adopted it as their own “Unauthorised programme” and contested the election of 1885 with it. They contested the following election in alliance with the Tory Party, and then the two parties agreed to merge. The merger was called The Unionist Party.
The Unauthorised Programme outlined a scheme for what became known as a Welfare State. All elections between 1890 and the Great War were contested between the Unionist Party and the Liberals. And the Unionist Party in government between 1895 and 1905 implemented an extensive scheme of reform in Ireland, chiefly in agriculture.
3 In foreign affairs Chamberlain’s policy was to consolidate the Empire economically by means of an Empire tariff system, thereby establish it as a settled presence in the world order, and on that basis to work out an agreement with Germany. That became the nominal policy of the Unionist Party, but the Party Leader, Arthur Balfour, would not give it whole-hearted endorsement. Instead he set up a Committee Of Imperial Defence, and through it he set things in motion for war with Germany.
He put it to the CID to consider whether Britain was vulnerable to invasion by Germany. The CID gave a detailed reply, explaining that a German invasion was utterly impossible. Balfour’s actual anxiety was not about the possibility of German invasion. It was about the probability of German industry outstripping British industry if peace continued. Henry White, the American Ambassador, later wrote of a conversation he’d had with Balfour:
“Balfour: We are probably fools not to find a reason for declaring war on Germany before she builds too many ships and takes away our trade.
White: You are a very high-minded man in private life. How can you possibly contemplate anything so politically immoral as provoking a war against a harmless nation which has as good a right to a navy as you have? If you wish to compete with German trade, work harder.
Balfour: That would mean lowering our standard of living. Perhaps it would be simpler for us to have a war.
White: I am shocked that you of all men should enunciate such principles.
Balfour: Is it a question of right or wrong? Maybe it is just a question of keeping our supremacy…” (White: 30 years Of American Diplomacy, p257).
The Unionist Party lost the 1906 Election to the Liberals by a large margin. The issue was Free Trade versus an Imperial Tariff. Free Trade signified a continuing expansion of the Empire. It was open-ended. Imperial Tariff was a confining, claustrophobic concept. It would leave a large piece of the world out of reach, unredeemed, alien. England was not yet ready to allow limits to be put to its redemptive action on a fallen world.
The Liberal Party came back to Office on a programme of open-ended free trade Imperialism. It made active preparations behind the scenes for war with Germany in alliance with France. It also arrived at an understanding with Russia, under which Russia shifted its expansionist activity from Asia to Europe and undertook to be an ally against Germany in return for having Constantinople (Istanbul). This required that Britain should make war on Turkey. It set the scene for war with Turkey on the first day of the War with Germany by confiscating two battleships it had made for Turkey, which Turkey had paid for, and by other measures that seemed designed to persuade Turkey to become an active ally of Germany as its only hope of surviving the War.
By 1919 the German, Hapsburg, and Ottoman Empires had all been defeated and were being broken up. The Tsarist Empire was not there to take possession of Constantinople. It had melted away under the stress of war. So Britain itself had Constantinople. It also had the Middle Eastern territory of the Ottoman Empire, apart from a bit given to the French to keep them happy. And it had the German possessions in Africa.
What it lacked was a Tory regime which would consolidate its conquests, and make a viable settlement in Europe which preserved as far as possible the pre-War order of things, leaving England free to digest its conquests.
What it needed was a Conservative settlement of Europe such as had been made two centuries earlier when the Tories, helped by the persuasive powers of Jonathan Swift, had prevented the radical Whigs from doing to the defeated enemy in Europe what Lloyd George did in 1919, and directed them towards exploiting the gains made by the war in other parts of the world. (The big gain won by that 18th century war was a British monopoly of the Slave Trade.)
Conservative consolidation was off the agenda in 1918-19. Democracy had arrived. The government was a Coalition of radical Liberals and Unionists. It had won the Election by a landslide, and its mentality was megalomaniac.
An American Professor quotes Lloyd George on the situation in the world at that point, 1918-19: “The whole state of society is more or less molten and you can stamp on that molten mass almost anything as long as you do it with firmness and determination” (Jan Werner Muller: Contesting Democracy: Ideas In 20th Century Europe (Yale 2011: Epigraph to Chapter 1). He does not give a source, and I am not familiar with the quotation, but it certainly is in the spirit of the Prime Minister’s conduct in that period of British supremacy in the world. And it explains why the several generations of unchallenged British magisterialist supremacy expected by Churchill in 1919 did not happen.
Britain had its democratic revolution too. The two-century old party system was jolted out of its tracks. The great Liberal Party had suffered its second severe split in the course of a generation. One piece of it was merging with the Tories in the Unionist Party. The Unionist Party was in coalition with another piece of it under the leadership of Lloyd George. And a new party, the nationally organised Labour Party, had suddenly sprouted up and had become the Official Opposition at its first Election, without quite knowing what it stood for. Its only experience in government was in the War Cabinet during the War, when only one thing mattered. Its credential was that it was a War-party. Its ideology said it was a Peace-party. It was also Anti-Imperialist in ideology, but success in an election would give it an Empire to govern, and it was common knowledge that the state could not do without the Empire.
The vast army that was raised to defeat Germany and conquer the territory of the Ottoman Empire demobilised itself rapidly in the Winter of 1918-19—leaving the State without the force required as a basis for orderly government of the expanded Empire. In Ireland a force of ex-Servicemen was raised for the purpose of suppressing the democracy. It had something of the character of the German Freikorps.
A Turkish nationalist rebellion was launched in Anatolia against the Treaty imposed on the central Government. Lloyd George encouraged the Greek Government to invade Turkey and annex part of it in the name of a Greek Empire of ancient lines. The Turkish rebellion drove the Greeks back into the sea, and some Greek populations of long standing along with them. Lloyd George called on the Dominions to come to the assistance of the Greeks and to the defence of the Treaty of Sevres. The call fell on deaf ears. Kemal Ataturk swept away the Treaty and founded a Turkish national state by independent action. And the War Coalition fell apart.
4 The Unionist backbenches brought down the Government. At that point it seems that the Unionist Party began to call itself the Conservative Party. This did not signify a rupture between the Chamberlain Liberals and the Tories. It signified a completion of the merger. The sons of Joseph Chamberlain were prominent in the leadership of the Tory Party during the next generation.
Two-party politics resumed, with the Labour Party taking the place of the Liberal Party. Fragments of both the Asquith Liberals and the Lloyd George Liberals continued to hang around on the margins but were of no party-political consequence.
The formal system settled down again into a two-party system in 1922 with the Labour Party taking the place of the Liberal Party and the Unionists becoming Tories. But the substance of the central party difference after 1922 was not what it had been for a century and a half before 1886. The Labour Party took over from the Liberal Party after the Liberal rupture of 1916 but it was not the Liberal Party under a new name even though many disillusioned Liberals joined it.
The Labour Party does not do what the Liberal Party did for two centuries. But it is necessary to the British system that what the Liberal Party did should be done. The Tory Party has therefore functioned as both Liberal and Conservative.
The main argument about what the British state should do has, for the last couple of generations, not been conducted between the Tory Party and the Labour Party. It has gone on within the Tory Party.
The Tory Party serves as both Liberal and Conservative. And the Labour Party is in effect two parties which detest each other, and which preserve the primitive rhetoric of a by-gone era.
The Deputy-Leader of Sir Keir Starmer’s modernising Labour Party, Angela Rayner, hissed “Scum!” at the Tories in Parliament. She apologised for it, but there is no doubt that it expressed her feeling on the subject. A few months later, after Sir Keir had tried to sack her but was obliged to promote her instead, she seized on an allegation by Dominic Cummings to build a picture of the Tory Cabinet, in its handling of the virus, deciding to kill off thousands of people, and “mocking, laughing and joking about thousands of lives” as they did so. It seems that the Labour Party took over the superficial anti-Tory rhetoric of the old Liberal Party which it displaced, and attached it to very un-Liberal feelings of primitive classconflict.
The anti-Tory rhetoric of the old Liberal Party was superficial because both Parties were aware of themselves as participants in the same political development. They emphasised different aspects of that development. The Liberals (Whigs) were the radical pioneers. The Tories (Conservative) resisted adventurism in the process of change while being prepared to make terms with it. And, in the course of the process, there was a noticeable tendency for Liberals to become Conservative.
Labour, on the other hand, has always been ill at ease in the position it took over from the Liberals.
In the great change of 1714-15, when the substance of monarchy was dissolved and an aristocratic regime was established, the Liberals murdered a few Tories as Jacobite counter-revolutionaries to show what they were capable of, and then dominated public life for the quarter of a century of the Whig Ascendancy by means of corruption. When Walpole, master-mind of the Ascendancy, fell, the Tories considered
impeaching him for subverting the Constitution, but then decided to take what he had done as being the Constitution. In this, and in what followed, the Liberals stood for Freedomwhich meant Capitalism—and the Tories stood for the State (or monarchy) which meant restraint of capitalist freedom.
In order to become the dominant force in society—dominant over society—Capitalism needed a vast pool of ‘free labour’, unorganised labour, labour detached from property and unprotected by law or traditional arrangements. That was what was meant by Progress. And it was what Liberalism was committed to delivering.
The spontaneous response of actual labour to Progress was reactionary. It was Luddite. It was a considerable achievement on the part of Liberalism that it overcame the natural impulse of labour to resist progress, and that, when a Labour Party was eventually organised, it came about under Liberal hegemony. It broke free of Liberal Party hegemony only because the Liberal Party was destroying itself. Lloyd George might, in that sense, be described as the real founder of the national Labour Party which displaced the Liberals at the 1918 Election. But independent Labour Party organisation did not bring with it independent political orientation.
H.M. Hyndman, a pioneer of socialist organisation in England, saw Socialism as a development which would be best pursued in conjunction with the Tory Party. He approached Tory leaders about this but it didn’t work out. Socialism developed instead in conjunction with Liberalism, which was the ideology of pure capitalism, and the idea of Socialism as a Tory development appeared to be absurd. But it was the Tory Party that imposed the first restrictions on the freedom of capital: The Factory Acts. And, right at the end of the 19th century, there were still benevolent Liberals like John Morley who opposed restrictions on child labour as an erosion of Freedom. And there were large blocks of workers who were not caught by the Liberal vision of Progress and who voted Tory.
Harold Wilson, the most successful Labour leader, said that the movement owed more to Methodism than to Marx. Maybe it did. Methodism was a slightly Nonconformist splinter from the State Church and seems to have functioned as a religious social ideology of a section of the lower middle class and the “responsible working class”, and it functioned within the dimension of Liberal patronage.
Ernest Bevin, the most effective leader of the workers as a class force, was bred a Baptist and he dabbled in Marxism with Hyndman’s organisation. (Dabbling in Marxism was probably as much as was useful in England.) He acted pragmatically in pursuit of working class power, uninhibited by Liberal shibboleths. His active presence in British affairs during the World War prepared the way for the Labour victory of 1945 and for the enactment of the Welfare State. He seems not to have been concerned as to whether the reforms should be enacted by a continuation of the War Coalition or by the Labour Party. But the progressives in the Party were intent on having a party Election in 1945, to be fought with the rhetoric of fundamentalist class conflict. (Aneurin (Nye) Bevan, the best-known of the progressive demagogues, denounced the Tories as “lower than vermin”.)
Bevin, who more than anyone else was responsible for the accumulation of working class power that existed, was removed by Attlee from the sphere of things he knew best and was given the job of holding together the decaying Empire in that 1945 Labour Government.
5 Bevin had been brought into government by Churchill in May 1940 because he represented a power in the country. He was a Government Minister before a seat in Parliament was arranged for him. He acted in Parliament on behalf of the power which he represented, with minimal concession to Parliamentarian affectations. The means by which he gained Government Office, and his conduct of that Office, were resented by many Parliamentary Socialists, the most vociferous being Aneurin Bevan.
The main business of constructing the Welfare State—the establishment of the National Health Service—was given to Bevan, for whom it was important that the reform should be done with the maximum of rhetorical class conflict. Bevin would willingly have it done by consensus in practical acknowledgement of the arrival of working-class power—as was the case with the Education Act of 1944.
Parliamentary Socialism had a full five-year term thanks to the landslide Labour victory in 1945, and it exhausted its potential. It was returned with a much-reduced majority in 1950, and it fell in 1951 in a dispute over payment for prescriptions for Teeth and Spectacles.
The Tories were returned with a rhetoric of restoring freedom. Food rationing was ended. The Welfare State was preserved and enhanced by all subsequent Governments, and certainly not least by Thatcher’s.
The scheme for the Welfare State was drawn up by Sir William Beveridge, whose Report was published in 1942: under the Wartime Coalition Government. Beveridge was a Liberal and his Report can be seen as a follow-on from the Unauthorised Programme of Chamberlain’s Birmingham Liberals in 1885.
Beveridge’s Report, like Chamberlain’s Unauthorised Programme, had the purpose of preserving Capitalism by alleviating class conflict. Life was to be made tolerable for the poor, but not so tolerable that they would just opt out of the struggle for existence. Labour discipline had to be maintained. The economic compulsion to work could not be removed. An element of the Poor Law system was therefore retained in the Welfare State in the form of the National Assistance Board, of which I had some experience around 1960.
Unemployment Benefit (financed by worker, employer and State contributions) was not enough for a person to live on. National Assistance, a supplementary means-tested benefit, was available in addition, but its entitlements were a State Secret, and were very intrusively doled out. Mrs. Thatcher swept away that feature of the Welfare State in the early eighties. When Labour MP, Reg Prentice, was de-selected by his Constituency Party and held his seat, she made him her Minister for Labour: he published the book of secret National Assistance entitlements, ending the Poor Law stigma around claimants.
Organised working class power had become too strong by the 1960s for it to be exerted with full force against the system and the system still remain functional. Harold Wilson and Barbara Castle saw this and they tried to do something about it. They proposed to introduce a formal system of class collaboration which would implicate organised labour in managing the system.
There was already class-collaboration de facto in the form of prudent action by Trade Union leaders. But the attempt to formalise it in the structure of management was strongly opposed by Trade Union leaders, as well as by ideological socialists. The Unions insisted that there must be “free collective bargaining” between Unions and Management, 6
which would not be possible if the Unions agreed to play a part in management.
The proposals of the Commission On Workers’ Control, set up by Wilson, were rejected by the Unions in the late 1970s. Union militancy intensified in the struggle against Workers’ Control, and the problem of management increased.
The scene was set for Margaret Thatcher to win the Election after the Winter of Discontent (which saw widespread social disruption and numerous strikes), and to set about restoring the power, as well as the right of the capitalist management to manage. She did this in conflict with the Miners’ Union, whose leadership had passed from Joe Gormley to Arthur Scargill. Gormley had organised strikes as part of the bargaining process to improve pay and conditions for the miners in the coal industry, and never with the aim of bringing down the system. He was the outstanding de facto class collaborator, tormenting the system while preserving it. Tory leader Ted Heath ran the 1974 General Election against him with the slogan Who runs the country?, Parliament or the Miners. The Miners won, and Harold Wilson came to Office. (This was at a time when Coal was the basic fuel both commercially and domestically.)
Wilson then tried for Workers’ Control and lost.
Thatcher came in and was faced with Arthur Scargill at the head of the Miners’ Union, Joe Gormley having retired. And Scargill was not a class-collaborator of any kind. Thatcher gave him an easy victory to start with, while making preparations for the showdown which Scargill was eager for. The issue on which he chose to fight was not pay or conditions, but pit closures: and not about the phasing of closures either. And he called an all-out strike without a ballot, saying he would not be balloted out of a revolution (if I recall right). His purpose seemed to be a total confrontation with the system which would bring it down, without any political preparation having been made about what should be done when the system fell. And he relied on the sacredness of pickets for industrial workers to carry the thing through.
The conflict was long and brutal, but the outcome seemed certain from the start—the dissipation of organised working class power in a conflict that was unwinnable because it was incoherent, and a speeding up of pit closures.
The message was that, if organised labour prefers free collective bargaining to workers’ control, then capitalism must retain effective power of management and enterprise. Class struggle then becomes a matter of wages and conditions under Capitalism, not its abolition. Capitalism cannot be abolished if organised labour insists on free collective bargaining against a management which is alien to it. Wage bargaining is therefore essentially a Trade Union function. The function of a Parliamentary Socialist Party, which tends to be ill at ease with Trade Union power, therefore becomes problematical.
The last effective Labour Party Government—that of Tony Blair and his slippery young men—attempted to resolve the problem by dissolving organised labour through mass immigration, so that the Party might become in substance what the Liberal Party was before it split. He wanted it to cease to be a Party representing vested interests and to become a generalised “radical” Party. He appeared for a moment to be succeeding, but it is now clear that in the end he failed.
Trade Union power is a product of steady, purposeful growth. Ernest Bevin had much to do with building it up and showing how it could be used. The Parliamentary Labour Party was a sudden creation of the collapse of the Liberal Party in its wild, adventurist wars of destruction on Germany and Turkey. Its first organiser was a long time agent of the Liberal Party. Its appearance brought together the ideologists of socialist groups and the organisers of Trade Unions. The ideologistsRamsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden—soon lost their bearings and, in the face of profound economic crisis, they formed a National Government with Tories and Liberal remnants in 1931. There were then National Governments right through to 1945.
The Liberal architect of the Welfare State, William Beveridge, had been a member of the Government in the First World War. In 1939 he prepared for the new War on Germany by writing a pamphlet in defence of the Naval Blockade of Germany in 1914-19, which was published by the Oxford University Press. It was reckoned that half a million German civilians were killed by starvation, due to the effectiveness of the Blockade by the Royal Navy. Beveridge asserted that the distinction between civilian and soldier had ceased to be meaningful. Modern warmeaning war as waged by Britain since August 1914—was “totalitarian”. It was war waged by peoples, not by dynasties, as in the past. This had in fact been declared by the British propaganda in 1914. It was announced that the era of people’s war had begun.
In fact, Britain had already practised totalitarian war against the Boers in 1900 when it swept up entire populations into Concentration Camps. And the War it had prepared for in 1939 was a bombing war against cities, which would be a war against civilians rather than soldiers.
Sir William Beveridge, architect of the British welfare state, was a militarist, imperialist capitalist. How could it have been otherwise? The Empire was the context of all British development, including democracy. The association of Imperialism and Democracy was not coincidental. And, for all the breast-beating of recent years, that association has not ended.
Blockading The Germans! With an overview of 19th century maritime law The evolution of Britain’s strategy during the First World War, Volume 1 (Paperback)
Eamon Dyas Belfast Historical and Educational Society 2018
This is the first volume of a Trilogy examining overlooked aspects of the First World War and its aftermath from a European perspective. Comprehensively sourced with scholarly research, it explains how Britain used a continental blockade to force the capitulation of the Kaiser’s Germany by targeting not just military, but also civilian, imports—particularly imported food supplies, upon which Germany had become dependent since its industrial revolution.
After joining the European War of August 1914—and elevating it into a World War—Britain cast aside the two maritime codes agreed by the world’s maritime powers over the previous almost 60 years – the Declaration of Paris in 1856 and the Declaration of London in 1909.
In defiance of these internationally agreed codes, Britain aggressively expanded its blockade with the object of disrupting not only the legitimate trade between neutral countries and Germany but trade between neutral countries themselves.
Britain’s policy of civilian starvation during the First World War was unprecedented in history. Whereas it had used the weapon of starvation against civilians in the past, in such instances this was either through the exploitation of a natural disaster to bring about famine (Ireland and India) or the result of pre-conceived policy against a non-industrial society (France during the Revolutionary Wars). Its use against Germany was the first time in history where a policy of deliberate starvation was directed against the civilian population of an advanced industrial economy.
This volume traces the evolution of Britain’s relationship with international naval blockade strategies from the Crimean War through the American Civil War and the Boer War culminating in its maturity during the Great War. It also draws out how the United States—the leading neutral country—was made complicit in Blockading The Germans during the war and brings the story up to America’s entry into the War. Eamon Dyas is a former head of The Times newspaper archive, was on the Executive Committee of the Business Archives Council in England for a number of years, and was Information Officer of the Newspaper Department of the British Library for many years.
Volume 2, Starving the Germans
Is available now.
This is the second volume of a Trilogy that examines the manner in which the First World War was fought by Britain and its Allies against the civilians of Germany and the Central Powers and the way in which the outcome of that war distorted the prevailing trajectory of European history. The first volume —Blockading the Germans— explored the way in which Britain as the world’s primary naval power shaped the use of the naval blockade as a weapon against civilians from the time of the Napoleonic Wars to the advent of the First World War. It also dealt with the way which United States’ actions as the main supplier of munitions and financial credits to the Allies compromised its neutrality and made the British pursuit of that war possible.
This current volume begins at the point when the United States formally joined the war in April 1917. It shows how, through the use of food embargoes on the northern neutral countries, the United States completed Britain’s food strangulation of Germany and brought misery and death to the civilian populations of those countries in the process. It explains the way in which the terms of the November 1918 Armistice was arbitrarily expanded by the Allies to ensure that Germany was made malleable to the British demand that it accept total responsibility for the war and at the same time hampered its chances of a post-war recovery.
It further explains the impact of the Armistice on the food supply mechanism that had been established in the United States to supply its own troops and the Allies during the war. In addition it reveals the way in which the post-Armistice attempts by Herbert Hoover and the American Food Administration to use the American food surplus to feed Europe were thwarted by obstacles place in its path by France and Britain.
Finally, the volume reveals Britain’s role in formulating the reparations demanded of Germany in the face of initial American opposition. The volume ends with an examination of the way in which the powers of the Reparations Commission undermined the incipient democratic institutions established in Weimar Germany. Eamon Dyas is a former head of The Times newspaper archive, was on the Executive Committee of the Business Archives Council in England for a number of years, and was Information Officer of the Newspaper Department of the British Library for many years.