For Class and Country

BookFor Class and Country

For Class and Country

The Patriotic Left and the First World War

Studies in Labour History, 9


February 20th, 2017

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The First World War has often suffered from comparison to the Second, in terms of both public interest and the significance ascribed to it by scholars in the shaping of modern Britain. This is especially so for the relationship between the Left and these two wars. For the Left, the Second World War can be seen as a time of triumph: a united stand against fascism followed by a landslide election win and a radical, reforming Labour government. The First World War is more complex. Given the gratuitous cost in lives, the failure of a ‘fit country for heroes to live in’ to materialise, the deep recessions and unemployment of the inter-war years, and the botched peace settlements which served only to precipitate another war, the Left has tended to view the conflict as an unmitigated disaster and unpardonable waste. This has led to a tendency on the Left to see the later conflict as the ‘good’ war, fought against an obvious evil, and the earlier conflict as an imperialist blunder; the result of backroom scheming, secret pacts and a thirst for colonies. This book hopes to move away from a concentration on machinations at the elite levels of the labour movement, on events inside Parliament and intellectual developments; there is a focus on less well-visited material.


'The first substantial text to concentrate on the importance of the patriotic dimension to the political beliefs of labour leaders, members of parliament, and a variety of ethical socialists and Marxists, thereby filling an important gap in the historiography of the British labour movement by exploring the relationship between socialists and patriotism during the Great War.'
Keith Gildart, University of Wolverhampton

'This is an important contribution to the ever-fascinating subject of the history of the British left with particular attention to the development of the Labor party. It is also timely as we are in the process of marking the centenary of the First World War and how it affected British society. Swift argues convincingly for its significance not only in dramatically changing the nature of the British left but also for sowing the seeds for the post–Second World War welfare state. [...] There is an impressive use of primary sources, both personal and institutional, most notably the records of the War Emergency: Workers National Committee. There are wonderfully detailed accounts of activity in support of the war in constituencies, as well as other war-related events involving the working class and local leaders.'
Peter Stansky,Journal of British Studies

'Through extensive use of the papers of the War Emergency Workers’ National Committee (WNC) and other trade union papers and journals, Swift offers a fresh look at pressing local concerns about such issues as food and fuel prices, pensions, and housing. He argues persuasively that during the war, the Labour Party gained a broad range of members, adopted a positive view of the role of the British state, and successfully made the case that its vision of the British economy, society, and politics was compatible with the nation’s values, laying the foundation for its achievements after WW II. Summing up: Recommended'
A. H. Plunkett, CHOICE

‘The study is at its best when it examines the nature of the Labour movement’s war effort, as in the work of the Workers’ National Committee – collecting information, exposing abuses, airing grievances, lobbying the government, demonstrating the value of the Labour Party at local level, keeping the various components of the party working together.’

Socialist History

'[Smith provides] a useful synopsis of this scholarship for historians not already familiar with it. Where Smith differs from much of this scholarship and where his greatest contribution lies, is in his examination of how Labour's experience of World War I contributed intimately to this transformation of British politics.'
Jonathan Weier, Labour/Le Travail

Author Information

David Swift completed his PhD in 2014 and currently teaches history at Queen Mary, University of London.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Table of Contents5
Tables and Graphs7
1 ‘If this is to be a jingo, then I am a jingo’ – Labour Patriotism before 191423
2 ‘I’d sooner blackleg my union than blackleg my country’ – Labour Patriotism, 1914–1834
August 191435
The Workers’ National Committee and Labour Support for the War38
Who Were the Labour Patriots?40
Workers and Trade Unions44
Labour Heroes58
3 ‘Middle-class peace men?’ – Labour and the Anti-War Agitation66
Conscription, 1916–1866
Wartime Strikes, 1915–1872
The Anti-War Movement, 1915–1877
The Leeds and Stockholm Conferences87
4 ‘Our Platform is Broad Enough and our Movement Big Enough’ – The War and Recruits to Labour91
The Conversion of Liberal and Conservative Elites92
Labour, Soldiers, and Ex-Servicemen98
The War and the Appeal to the New Electorate112
5 ‘The experiments are not found wanting’ – Labour and the Wartime State137
The Wartime Growth of the British State138
Labour and the Workers during the War147
The Impact of the War on the Relationship between the British Left and the State168
6 ‘The greatest democratic force British politics have known’ – Labour Cohesion and the War181
The Trade Unions and the Labour Party183
Labour and Women’s Organisations189
The Co-operative Movement and Labour195
Socialist Societies and the Labour Party202
The Rise and Decline of the Ultra-Patriots204