Nineteen Thirty-One Political Crisis

By R. Bassett | Go to book overview

position, since the Liberal Party seldom operated as a unity, and then only in a formal sense.

This state of affairs may be attributed simply to the emergence of the Labour Party, founded as the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, and constituted a Party after the General Election of 1906. But, although it may now seem that the new Party had plainly come to stay, that was not so clear then or for some time to come. In the years immediately preceding 1914, the advance of the Labour Party appeared to have been checked. The party was confronted by the difficulties against which any third party has to contend under our electoral system. Much Labour and even Socialist opinion was consequently expressed through the Liberal Party. Labour's parliamentary representation was for the most part dependent upon Liberal support or acquiescence. In the House of Commons from January 1910 onwards, the Labour Party constituted little more than a Left Wing of the Liberal Party; its ability to act as an independent political force being severely restricted by the desirability of maintaining the Liberal Government in office. In these years, it did not appear at all likely that the Labour Party would ever become a successful competitor for office with the Liberals and Conservatives. Its future as an independent Party was itself uncertain. A merger with the Liberals was a possibility. When James Ramsay MacDonald ( Secretary of the Labour Party from its inception and, from 1911, Chairman and Leader) wrote his important but strangely neglected work, Socialism and Government, in 1909, his view of the evolution of the Labour Party embraced two alternatives. One was, of course, its gradual rise to the position of one of two great parties; but there was another, the adoption of its principles and objects by one of the two great parties. During the years 1910-14 the second seemed more likely to happen than the first. In this period, too, Labour's parliamentary leaders had to contend against a wave of disillusionment and anti-parliamentarianism in the Labour movement. It was a phase of militant industrial action and development in Trade Union organization, influenced by and promoting Syndicalism, then the popular revolutionary doctrine of the Left.


LABOUR AND THE FIRST WAR

The development of British political parties was profoundly

-2-

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