Labour and Socialism: A History of the British Labour Movement, 1867-1974

By James Hinton | Go to book overview

established Marxist education classes in many parts of the country. And the Daily Herald, which began as a printers' strike sheet in 1911 and achieved sales of between 50,000 and 150,000, opened its columns to a wide and lively discussion of socialist ideas. All this laid the basis for a new kind of industrially orientated socialist politics that was to crystallise after the war in the formation of the Communist Party.

By 1914 the growing strength and ambition of some sections of the working class threatened to burst the institutional form in which working-class politics had taken shape since the 1890s. The imminent collapse of Labour's electoral pact with the Liberals -- and the rejection of the Labour Party by some of the less radical trade union leaderships which would probably have followed any such collapse -- placed the emergence of a smaller, but more authentically socialist Labour Party on the agenda. At the same time the strike wave had stimulated currents of opinion which challenged the established division between economistic trade unionism and a reformist politics. Because war broke out in 1914 it is impossible to say whether these trends would have led to the reconstruction of the labour movement on an altogether more combatative basis. In the event, the enormous social and political changes wrought by the First World War enabled the labour movement to consolidate its gains of the pre-war period, and make the break from Liberalism, without destroying what in 1914 was still a fragile alliance between socialists and the major trade unions. Paradoxically, it was the major historical discontinuity of the war, that enabled the Labour Party to resolve its crisis of growth in a manner which maintained at least the appearance of continuity with the organisation established at the turn of the century.


Notes
1
D. Evans, Labour Strife in the South Wales Coalfield, 1910-11, Cardiff 1911, pp. 90-1.
2
P. Lloyd, "'The Influence of Syndicalism in the Dock Strike of 1911'", Warwick MA., 1972, p. 46.
3
P. Bagwell, The Railwaymen, London 1963, p. 292.
4
Report of the Socialist Unity Conference, 1911, p. 11.
5
Tom Mann, "The Strong Right Arm of Labour'", Industrial Syndicalist, September 1910.
6
Tom Mann, speaking at Manchester Conference of ISEL, Industrial Syndicalist, December 1910.

-95-

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