My doctoral research, ‘States of Exception: emergency government and the construction of “enemies within” in Britain and Germany during the First World War’, is a comparative study of emergency measures under the Defence of the Realm Act and the state of siege during the Great War. These emergency laws gave wartime governments extraordinary powers that were primarily used to deal with strike movements and anti-war protest.
My research provides an overview about the legal and political developments linked to the state of exception during the First World War. But it also adds an actor-centred dimension by taking a closer look on the agents of emergency measures such as police, military and courts. But it also examines the impact of emergency measures on certain groups. One of these case studies in my thesis focusses on a comparison between the British Union of Democratic Control (UDC) and the German New Fatherland League. Both organisations advocated the principles of open diplomacy, the democratic control of foreign policy and the establishment of institutions of international arbitration. Their membership included illustrious figures such as Bertrand Russell, George Bernard Shaw and Albert Einstein but also attracted anti-war liberals and numerous Labour activists such as the later first Labour Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald. Yet, the general anti-war stance of both organisations also made them the targets of emergency measures. The New Fatherland League was prohibited by the German military authorities in 1915 and consequently forced to conduct its work clandestine. Yet, it managed to set up a number of active lobbying groups that continued its activities. The UDC, in comparison, could initially conduct its campaigns relatively undisturbed. However, with the change of government to the Lloyd George cabinet in December 1916 the UDC was increasingly scrutinised by police and government and confronted with harsher repression. Censorship, raids of its offices and trials against leading activists such as E.D. Morel and Bertrand Russell in 1917 became constant features of the last two years of the war.
I was already able to consult several records of different intelligence services in both countries and files of the respective Home and War Offices as well as local police records to reconstruct the exercise of emergency powers during the war. However, in order to have a full picture, a look at the archives of the affected groups themselves is crucial as well. The archive at the Hull History Centre hosts the records of the UDC which contain reports of the general meetings, minutes of the executive committee and a collection of its leaflets, pamphlets and books. The correspondences between leading members such as Philip Snowden or Arthur Ponsonby and the UDC secretary E.D. Morel revealed that after 1916 the UDC was under constant pressure by the government. This is reflected in many of the UDC publications such as their journal The UDC, and pamphlets increasingly dealing with civil liberties. The confrontation with the state, however, also triggered an increased activism with regards to civil liberties. For this purpose the UDC intensified its cooperation with the National Council for Civil Liberties that was set up and led by prominent Labour activists in 1916.It will be very interesting to compare these experiences with the very similar developments in Germany during the war in the further course of my research.
I would like to express my gratitude to the Society for the Study of Labour History for providing me with the necessary means to conduct my three day research at the Hull History Centre.