A DECADE OF DORMANCY
FOR many who lived through the 1930s the decade seemed one of perpetual crisis and conflict. But whereas periods of upheaval, even despair, will often fire people's imaginations and kindle a spirit of prophecy, the dominant currents of political thinking in England at that time retreated even further into weariness and complacency.1 As the decade unfolded, fascism--for which more than one British socialist had expressed admiration in the 1920s--lost its compelling aura of vitality as its German variant loomed menacingly on the international scene. Inside Britain, a lack-lustre Labour government had left in its wake an economic and political crisis that gravely shook the self-confidence of the nation, calling up a die-hard conservatism which forced a retreat just short of a rout on progressive opinion. The Liberal party, severely diminished by external competition and internal strife experienced yet another split, into Samuelites and [J. A.] Simonites, the latter fast assimilating into Conservatism. Communism alone attracted the enthusiasm of small groups, but served more to channel a romantic backlash to the perplexities of the times than to reshape effectively social thought and action. In moving forward from liberalism,2 it repopularized a nineteenth-century image of a materialist, capitalist liberalism cut off from social life. Conservatism stood still, while liberalism and moderate socialism submerged beneath the political surface, emerging periodically to survey the bleak horizon and to signal their continued presence, but operating with barely enough intellectual resources to remain bouyant.
In these depleted circumstances the quality of political argument deteriorated further. If conflict is functional, it was as a consequence of its exacerbation in the European arena that British resolve hardened to withstand its stiff test at the end of the decade.____________________