Labour History Review

The General Strike as a Weapon of Peace: British Socialists, the Labour Movement, and Debating the Means to Avoid War before 1914

Labour History Review (2018), 83, (1), 29–53.

Abstract

As tensions grew and the prospect of war seemed ever more likely in the years preceding 1914, Europe’s socialists regularly debated the means to avoid war. Many options were open to them, with this article focusing on one of the most radical, the general strike. The debate at the Second International is much discussed, but there has been little attention paid to the domestic debates, especially in Britain. This article redresses this, outlining the domestic dialogue and examining the different opinions voiced on this weapon of peace. In doing so, it demonstrates how important the domestic context was to the debate, and how tensions within the labour and socialist movement profoundly influenced both the supporters and opponents of the strike. It argues that many genuinely believed in the potential of the strike, and would continue to post war, while acknowledging that many others, conditioned by recent labour unrest and political concerns, questioned such faith. This was an important debate that as well as highlighting labour and socialist responses to war also reveals much about the challenges a developing Labour Party faced: the negotiation of Labour policy and questions over direct action as an effective tactic for the labour movement.

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Details

Author details

Morris, Marcus