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

By James Hinton | Go to book overview

the Popular Front agitation, since fear of an alliance between disgruntled Tory backbenchers and the Labour Party had as much to do with Chamberlain's change of course as any genuine rethinking of his belief in the possibility of reaching an enduring accommodation with Nazism. During the closing months of peace the Labour leaders denounced the absurdity of Chamberlain's offer of guarantees to Eastern European states against further Nazi aggression unaccompanied by any serious effort to secure the military alliance with the Soviet Union that alone could make those guarantees plausible.

It was in the politics of the Popular Front (in all but name) that the labour movement found the lever necessary to shift the weight of Tory hegemony. In 1914, taken by surprise, Labour had committed itself to the war effort while asking virtually nothing in return. This time they were determined to strike a harder bargain. From the spring of 1939, as Chamberlain shuffled reluctantly into war, the Labour Party offered to collaborate in the construction of a new war economy, but only on condition that Labour be admitted to positions of real power. The appeasers believed that a new world war would destroy the containment of labour engineered by Stanley Baldwin in the 1920s. This only served to reinforce their refusal to plan seriously for war. And they were right. When Chamberlain was ousted in May 1940 the Baldwinite solution to the 'rise of labour' finally disintegrated.


Notes
1
M. Foot, Aneurin Bevan, London 1966, p. 135.
2
E. Barry, Nationalisation in British Politics, London 1965, p. 341.
3
W. Citrine, Men and Work, London 1964, p. 300.
4
Barry, op. cit, p. 321.
5
R. P. Shay, British Rearmament in the Thirties, Politics and Profits, Princeton 1977, p. 260.
6
G. Orwell, review in New English Weekly, 17 February 1938, reprinted in S. Orwell and I. Angus (ed), The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, vol. 1, "Harmondsworth 1970", p. 339.

-160-

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