For Class and Country
The Patriotic Left and the First World War
Studies in Labour History, 9
Liverpool University Press
February 20th, 2017
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.’
David Swift completed his PhD in 2014 and currently teaches history at Queen Mary, University of London.