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Preparing for the people's war: the left and patriotism in the 1930's

Ward, Paul (2002) Preparing for the people's war: the left and patriotism in the 1930's. Labour History Review, 67 (2). pp. 171-185. ISSN 0961-5652

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In the 1930S the Labour Party was engaged in an intense debate over the direction of its foreign
policy in response to the rise of expansionist fascist powers in Europe. The lift of the party rejected
rearmament by the National govemment. Others, like Hugh Dalton, called for rearmament. Some
historians have seen this second stance as incompatible with socialism, describing it as an adjustment
to reality. This article argues that the Labour re-armers accommodated national difence within their
socialism, and that this benefited the party when in 1940 it entered the Churchill coalition and in
1945 when it faced the electorate.

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Item Type: Article
Additional Information: UoA 62 (History) Reproduced by kind permission of Maney Publishing © 2002 Maney Publishing
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General)
D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D731 World War II
Schools: School of Music, Humanities and Media
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References: 1 New Age, 9 September 1909. My thanks go to Keith Laybourn, Sarah I3astow and the anonymous readers for providing constructive comments on earlier drafts of this article. Valuable suggestions were made on one version of this paper at the Institute of Contemporary British History's 'The Left in the Twentieth Century' conference, London, July 1999. 2 R. Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism, first published 1961, second edition, London, Merlin, 1972, pp. 231-71; J. F. Naylor, Labour's Intemational Policy: The Labour Party in the 1930.1, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1969; M. R. Gordon, COllflict and Consensus in Labour's Fore(([lIPolicy 1914-1965, Stanford, Stanford University Press, 1969. See also S. Wichert, 'The British Left and Appeasement: Political Tactics or Alternative Policies?', in W. J. Mommsen and L. Kettenacker (eds), the Fascist Challellge alII! the P"licy "f Appeasemellt, London, Allen and Unwin, 1983, pp. 125-41. 3 J. I3rookshire, '''Speak for England", act for England: Labour's leadership and I3ritish national security under the threat of war in the late [930S', European History Quarterly, 29, 2, 1999, pp. 251-87; J. Swift, Labour ill Crisis: Clement Aftlee and the Labour Party ill Opposition, 193/-40, Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2001. J. W. Young, 'Idealism and realism in the history of Labour's foreign policy', Bulletin "f the Society for the Study of Labour History, 50, 1985, pp. 14-19, is a useful historiographical essay. 4 For a discussion of the politics of the historiography of the interwar years see M. Smith, Democracy ill a Depression: Britain ill the 1920.1 and 1930S, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1998. 5 K. Morgan, Against Fascism alld War: Ruptures and Contilluities in British Commlmist Politics, 1935-41, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1989; J. JuPP, The Radical L~ft in Britain 193/-1941, London, Cass, 1982; B. Pimlott, Labour arid the L~ft in the 1930.1, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1977. " See for example, I3. Pimlott, Hugh Daltoll, London, Cape, 1985; B. 13rivati, H11.([hCaitskell, London, Richard Cohen, 1996. 7 As N. J. Crowson does in depth for the Conservatives in his Facill,([Fascism: The COllservatille Party and the European Dictators 1935-194°, London, Routledge, 1997. H Labour Party, AlInual Conferellce Report, 1934, p. 174, henceforth LPA CR. 9 J. H. Grainger, Patriotisms: Britain 19°0-1939, London, Routledge, 1986, p. 329; G. Orwell, 'Notes on Nationalism', in S. Orwell and 1. Angus (eds), the Collected Essays, Jouma/ism alld Letters "f Geo~([e OniJcll. Vol. J.' As I Please, 1943-1945, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970, pp. 423-5. For the 1931 political crisis and its impact see R. I3assett, Nineteell Thirty-Olle: Political Crisis, Aldershot, Gower, 1980; P. Williamson, National Crisis and National Coverlllnellt: British Politics, the Ecollomy alld the Empire 1926-1932, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1992; A. Thorpe, The British Gellera/ Election of 1931, Oxford, Clarendon, 1991; S. Brooke, Labour's War: The La/lOur Party during the Sceolld ~Vorld War, Oxford, Oxford University Press, [992, ch. I. 10B. Donoughue and G. W. Jones, Herbert iVforrison: Portrait of a Politician, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1973, p. 150; Stafford Cripps, 'Natiollal' Fascism ill Britain, London, Socialist League, n.d.; LPACR, 1933, p. 218. See also Aneurin I3evan, LPACR, [937, p. 209. 11 J. Hinton, Protests and Visiom: Peace Politics ill 20th Celltury Britain, London, Hutchinson Radius, 1989, p. [14· 12 Pimlott, Dalton, pp. 246-7. 13 Ibid., pp. 104, 184. 14 H. Dalton, The Fatiful Years: iVfcmoirs 1931-1945, London, Muller, 1957, p. 41. 15 Stephen Bird, archivist at the National Museum of Labour History, kindly allowed me sight of his biography of Gillies for a forthcoming volume of the Dicti,mary of Labour Biograpl/y. 16 Labour Party International Department: Germany files, National Museum of Labour History (NMLH), ID/GER/15, contain the memorandum and Noel-Baker's response. 17 'Fight for Freedom' circular letter, II February 1942, NMLH, !D/GER/r6/o.IH Quoted in C. Collette, The International Faith: Labour's Attitudes to European Socialism 1918-39, Aldershot, Ashgate, 1')')H,p. 4'). 19 See, T. D. Burridge, British Labour and Hitler's War, London, Deutsch, 1')76, pp. 23-4, for the distinctions made between Nazis and Germans in the Labour Party during the Second World War. See also I. Tombs, 'The Victory of Socialist "Vansittartism"; Labour and the German Question,' Twentieth Century British History, 7, 3, 1')')6, pp. 2H7-30'). 20 NMLH, ID/GER/3/P. 21 NMLH, ID/GER/3/34. 22 H. Dalton, Practical Socialism for Britain, London, Routledge, 1')35, p. 4. 23 R. McKibbin, Ideolo.f;ies of Class: Social Relations in Britailz 1880-1950, Oxford, Clarendon, 1')')0, pp. 25')-')3. For Baldwin's Englishness see S. Nicholas, 'The construction of a national identity: Stanley Baldwin, "Englishness" and the mass media in inter-war Britain', in M. Francis and I. Zweiniger- Bargielowska (eds), The Conservatives and British Society, 1880-1990, Cardiff, University of Wales Press, 1996. 24 See E. F. M. Durbin, The Politics olDemocratic Socialism: All Essay on Social Policy, London, Routledge, 1')40; E. Durbin, New jerusalems: The Labour Party and the Economics of Democratic Socialism, London, Routledge, I')H5; S. Brooke, 'Evan Durbin: Reassessing a Labour "Revisionist"', Twetztieth Cel/tury British History, 7, I, I')')6, pp. 27-52. 25 'The English Political Scene/British Political Tradition' (lecture), E. F. M. Durbin Papers, British Library of Political and Economic Science (BLPES), 1/3. 26 'Future of the English Labour Party' (lecture), Durbin Papers, BLPES, 1/3. 27 H. J. Laski, ParliamClltary GovernmCllt in England, 1')38, in H. Pelling (ed.), The ChallCllge of Socialism, London, A. and C. I31ack,1954, p. 2H3. For a historian's explanation of similar matters see R. McKibbin, 'Why was there no Marxism in Great Britain?', in his Ideologies o.l Class. 2H P. Ward, Red Flag and Ullion jack: En,f;lislmess, Patriotism atld the British Lelt 1881-1924, Woodbridge, Royal Historical Society/Boydell and Brewer, 1998, chs 3 and 8. For the relationship of the left to British parliamentary democracy see L. Barrow and I. Bullock, Democratic Ideas and the British Labour l'vlovement, 1880-1914, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1')')6. For Dalton's views on parliamentary reform, see Practical Socialism, chs S, 6, 8. 29 C. R. Attlee, The Labo;,r Party in Perspective, 1')37, cited in K. Harris, Attlee, London, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1')H2, p. 130. 30 Dalton, Practical Socialism, pp. 16,17. See also Dalton as chairman of the party conference, LPACR, 1')37, p. 137. For Webb, see Ward, Red Flag and Union jack, p. 181. 31 See 'Note on Munich Agreement of September 30 1')38', Durbin Papers, BLPES, 3/ro; Durbin to Hugh lGaitskell]' 13 October I,)3H, ibid. 32 Sheffield Trades and Labour Council, Annual Report 1938-9, p. 8, WakefIeld, E. P. Microform. 33 Collette, International Faith, quotes are from pp. I and 187-8. 34 Ward, Red Flag and Union jack, pp. 103-8. 35 H. Dalton, 'Some Impressions of Czechoslovakia', New Statesman, IH May 1935, cited in Naylor, Labour's International Policy, p. 237. 3r, LPACR, 1')36, p. 204. 37 Harris, Attlee, pp. 12H-'). See T. Buchanan, The Spanish Civil War and the British Labour Jl10VemCllt, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1991, especially for divisions over attitudes to Spain. Dalton, Fateful Years, p. ')6. 3H Donoughue andjones, Hcrbert Morrison, p. 254. See alsoJ. Williams of the Miners' Federation, LPA CR, 1')35, p. 16I. HuddersfIeld Labour Party saw 'the safety of the British people' being 'assured by alliance with Russia', Minute Book, Special General Committee, 2 May 1939, University of HuddersfIeld Archives. 39 Both quotes from Naylor, Labour's International Policy, pp. 47, 54. See also Labour Party, The Communist Solar System, London, Labour Party, 1933, and National joint Council [of the TUC and Labour Party]' Democracy I'crSIlS Dictatorship, London, National joint Council, 1933. 40 K. Laybourn and D. Murphy, Under the Red Flag: A History ,~l Communism in Britain, c. 1849-1991, Stroud, Sutton, I')')'), p. H6. 41 Press cuttings, Durbin Papers, 13LPES, 7/3, 6.42 Dictatorships and the Trade Union Movement, TUC Report, 1933 in A. Bullock, The Life alld Times of Ernest Bevin. Volume One: Trade Union Leader 1881-1940, London, Heinemann, 1900, pp. 527-8. 43 H. Morrison, 'Social Change - Peaceful or Violent?' Political Quarterly, x,january to March 1939, p. 3. 44 'Labour and the War' draft, n.d. [September 1939], Hugh Dalton Papers, BLPES, 3/2/rI-I4. 45 S. Howe, Anticolonialism in British Politics: The Left and the End i!fEmpire 1918-1964,Oxford, Clarendon, 1993, pp. 47-8. 46 Quoted in Naylor, Labour's International Policy, p. 12. See also G. Orwell, 'Not counting niggers', in S. Orwell and I. Angus (eds), The Collected Essays, journalism and Letters i!f Ceo~r;e On;JClI. Volume 1: An Age Like This, 1920-194°, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970, which specifically addresses the relationship between British democracy and imperialism. 47 E. F. M. Durbin, VVhat Have We to DefCHd? A Bri~f Critical Examination if the British Social Tradition, London, Routledge, 1942, p. oI. 48 Howe, Anticolonialism, p. 98. 49 Ethical World, 12 November 1898, quoted in B. Porter, Critics (~f Empire: British Radical Attitudes to Colonialism in Africa 1895-1914, London, Macmillan, 1968, p. 189. 50 J. R. MacDonald, Labour and the Empire, Hassocks, Harvester, 1974, first published 1907, pp. 49-50. 51 C. R. Attlee, The Labour Party in Perspective, London, Left Book Club, 1937, p. 25[. 52 LPACR, 1937, p. 2II. 53 Dalton, Fateful Years, p. 153. 54 Ward, Red Flag and Union jack, p. 185. 55 For Labour's inattention to imperial matters in the I930S, see K. O. Morgan, Labour in Power 1945-1951, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1985, pp. 188-9, and P. S. Gupta, Imperialism and the British Labour Movement 1914-1964, London, Macmillan, 1975, pp. 227-3 I. 56 For Attlee's role see Swift, Labour in Crisis, pp. 40-54. 57 Quoted in Howe, Anticolonialism, p. 90. 58 Ibid., p. I06. 59 Orwell, 'Not counting niggers', p. 434. 60 Attlee, The Labour Party in Perspective, p. 232, quoted in Howe, Anticolonialism, p. 40. 61 See for example, LPACR, 1934, p. 3; National Council of Labour, Imernational Policy and D~fCHce, London, National Council of Labour, n.d. [1937], p. 4. 62 General Election leaflet, 1931, Durbin Papers, BLPES, 3/r 25. 63 Will Lawther's Election News, n.d. [1931]. H. Morrison also used the phrase in An Easy Outline of Modern Socialism, second edition, London, n.p., 1935. For the slogan's earlier use see Ward, Red Flag and Union jack, pp. 23-4. 64 Cited in Donoughue and jones, Herbert Morrison, p. 253. 65 LPACR, 1939, p. 285. 66 Labour Party, War and Socialism, London, Labour Party, pp. II, 12. 67 R. Samuel, 'Introduction: Exciting to be English', in Raphae1 Samuel (ed.), Patn'otism: The JWaking and Unmaking of British National Identity. Volume 1: History and Politics, London, Routledge, 1989, p. xxiii. Richard Weight argues that the intelligentsia's affair with the left was short-lived but its relationship with the 'national' culture was much more enduring: 'State, Intelligentsia and the Promotion of National Culture in Britain, [939-45', Historical Research, LXIX,1996, pp. 83-lOI. 68 For a discussion of the methodology employed by Mass-Observation, the largest of these documentarist organisations, see P. Gurney, '''Intersex'' and "Dirty Girls": Mass-Observation and working-class sexuality in England in the I930s', journal if the History if Sexuality, 8, 2, 1997, pp. 250-90. See J. Baxenda1e, '''I had seen a lot of Englands": J. B. Priestley, Englishness and the people', History Workshop journal, 51, 2001, pp. 87-1I I for Priestley's project to base politics on a culture of the national-popular, in Gramsci's phraseology. See also C. Waters, 'J. B. Priestley (1894-1984): Englishness and the Politics of Nostalgia', in S. Pedersen and P. Mandler (eds), After the Victorians: Private Conscience and Public Duty, London, Routledge, 1994, pp. 208-20. 69 See for example, Report if the Labour Party's Commission if Enquiry into Distressed Areas: Durham and the North East Coast, London, Labour Party, n.d. [1937]. 7() See for example, the illustrated version of Labour's Immediate Programme, published as Your Britain in 1937.71 G. Field, 'Social Patriotism and the British Working Class: Appearance and Disappearance of a Tradition', Intemational Labour mId Working Class History, 42, 1992, pp. 20-39. 72 Brookshire, 'Speak for England', p. 268. 73 Huddersfield Labour Party, Minute Book, General Committee, 17 May 1938; Sheffield Labour Party, Minute Book, Executive Committee, 18 April 1939, Wakefield, E. P. Microform. 74 'Politics of Re-armament', Durbin Papers, BLPES, 4/ I. 75 'Informal Discussion on the New International Situation and Labour Party Policy in Regard Thereto', 19 October 1938, Dalton Papers, BLPES, 4/T. 7(, See Notes by Hugh Dalton, 2 September 1939, Dalton Papers, BLPES, 312/3. 77 See for example, Bullock, Life and Times of Emest Bevin, p. 636. 78 Naylor, Labour's Intemational Policy, p. 278; Miliband, Parliamentary Socialism, p. 265; Gordon, Conflict alld COllsensus, pp. 8 1-2. 7" See for example E. G. Hicks, House ofCommotlS Debates, 5 Series, Vo!. 34(), columns 1399, 1397. HO R. H. S. Crossman, 'Labour and Compulsory Military Service', Political Quarterly, x, July to September 1939, pp. 31 5-1(). 81 Huddersfield Labour Party, Minute Book, General Committee, 20 September 1939. H2 H. Laski, Is this mI Imperialist War? London, Labour Party, n.d. [February 19401. 83 Swift, Labour ill crisis, p. 138. 84 For the fall of the Chamberlain government see B. Pimlott (ed.), The Political Diary of Hugh Dalton 1918-40,1945-60, London, Cape/London School of Economics and Political Science, 1986, pp. 339-49; P. Addison, 77le Road to 1945, London, Pimlico, 1994. 85 H. Dalton, Hitler's War, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1940, p. 52. 'Cato', Guilty 1\1ell, London, Gollancz, 1940, is of course the classic indictment of the Conservatives. 86 Durbin, What Have We to Dqfend?; Brooke, Labour's War, p. 274. H7 ~Vhat Have We to Defend?, p. 49. For another Labour interpretation of the national character contrasted with that of Germany, see Herbert Morrison, Mr Smith and 1\1r Schmidt, London, Collins, n.d. 88 G. Orwell, 'The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius', in S. Orwell and I. Angus (eds), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of CeOlge Owell. Vol. 2: My Country R(,?ht or Lq[t, 1940-1943, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1970, pp. 74-134. 89 S. Fielding, 'What Did the People Want? The Meaning of the 1945 General Election', Historical Joumal, 35, [992, pp. ()23-9; S. Fielding, P. Thompson and N. Tiratsoo, England Arise! The Labour Party alld Popular Politics ill 194°.1 Britaill, Manchester, Manchester University Press, 1995; T. Mason and P. Thompson, '''Reflections on a Revolution": The Political Mood in Wartime Britain', in Nick Tiratsoo (cd.), The Attlcc Years, London, Pinter, 1991, pp. 54-70. 91l Primrose Stewart to Mr Durston, 3 June 1945, Chelmsford Conservative Association papers, Essex Record Office, D/Z 9()/25, 'Opponents' file. 91 Harris, Attlee, pp. 25()-7. n H. Morrison, Peace for Whose Time?, London, n.d. [1938], p. (). 93 'Cato', C/lilty Mell: p. [9. 94 P. Finney, 'The romance of decline: The historiography of appeasement and British national identity', Electrollic Joumal '!f IlItemational History, < >, paras 5-6, 12 January 200 I.
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Date Deposited: 02 Nov 2007
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