Walter Arnstein / “15. The Consequences of the Peace” / Britain Yesterday and Today / 1983 (1st ed. 1966)

Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald, head of the short-lived Labour Party government, 1924. Appointed by King George V to lead government after “no confidence” vote in Parliament after King appointed Stanley Baldwin as PM.

UC Berkeley historian James Vernon pairs this reading with his lecture, The Great War. Here is Vernon’s syllabus. The lecture is available on iTunes University.

ELECTION of 1918. WW1 ended, elation of armistice day, 1918. Quickly gave way to challenges of Irish question, reconstruction, boom and bust economy, and dramatic change in political structure. 1st major event, election, House of Commons, 1918. Liberal, Conservative, and Labour. For 1st time, Labour distinguished itself from prewar Liberal allies by calling for “common ownership of means of production.” Advocated expansion of nationalization. Rush election and victory for Lloyd George’s coalition. Only 57.6% eligible voters voted.

A SOLUTION FOR IRELAND. WW1 furthered a split in Ireland: 1) Nationalists who supported British cause as only way of winning home rule. 2) Revolutionary Sinn Fein who accepted German aid. April 1916, Sinn Fein launched “Easter Rebellion” in Dublin. Fell apart. British executed 15 leaders. 1918, “Time of Troubles” had begun. 1918, military wing of Sinn Fein, IRA, begins assassinations of Royal Irish Constabulary. British supplements Irish police with notorious fighting force, “Black and Tans.” Civil War. 1920, Home Rule Act, gives irish 2 parliaments, one for north and one for south, with all authorities except defense, currency and tariffs, which British parliament retains. Northern Irish accept. Sinn Fein rejects as effort to divide. Furthers civil war. By 1921, Lloyd George and Sinn Fein sign treaty that gives new Irish Free State dominion status in the empire. As Sinn Fein leaders die, Eamon de Valera de-escalates violence in favor of parliamentary change. Peace lasts until next Time of Troubles, 1969, Northern Ireland.

THE TWENTIES: ECONOMY AND SOCIETY. Returning veterans has plenty of jobs in newly expanded factories. Caused 225% inflation relative to prewar. Endemic strikes, 1919-1921, 49 million working days/year lost. That is 2x prewar rates, 10x any year in 1930s, 40s, or 50s. Class consciousness unprecedented high in British history. 1883-1913, one in twenty men unemployed. 1921-1938, one in seven. Difficulty in 3 prominent industries, 1921-1938: 1) coal mining 2) cotton manufacturing 3) ship-building. “The Slump,” 1921. 1920, Unemployed Insurance Act, most significant of immediate postwar social service measures. Change to people believed they had a right to such help. The dole. Summary: war initiated postwar boom and bust cycle, attenuated British decline from unrivaled pre-1914 international trading position. Social changes, too. War blurred distinctions of class. Mass consumption, readymade clothing. Cinema and radio helped establish mass culture. Edwardian upper class sons had died. Rise of sport. War blurred distinctions of sex. Postwar, decline number women factory workers. Nonetheless, middle class women maintained foothold in business and professions.

THE FALL of LLOYD GEORGE. 1921 economic slump weakened Lloyd George’s coalition. More and more conservatives did not favor coalition. Bonar Law led backbench revolt in conservative party, in 1922 conservative party left Coalition. Forced Lloyd George resignation. Liberals and Conservatives concerned re Labour coming to power. Labour claimed not Bolshevism nor Communism, and sought common sense equity by constitutional means. Election replaced 4 party system (2 major, 2 minor), with 3 party system. Bonar Law retires from PM, May 1923. King George V names successor, Stanley Baldwin. Bonar Law dies of throat cancer. Baldwin “not a peer,” i.e. not from House of Lords. His slogan: “Faith, hope, love, and work.” Baldwin, 1923 platform: tariff protection to fight mass unemployment. Baldwin resigns as PM after “no confidence” vote from Liberal-Labour opposition. King calls on Ramsay MacDonald, Labour party leader, to form new government. 1924 Labour Government was coalition of: moderate and radical trade-union leaders, socialist intellectuals, converts from Liberalism attracted to party’s humanitarianism and internationalism more so that its socialism. 1923, Sidney Webb observed: “For we must always remember that the founder of British socialism was not Karl Marx but Robert Own, and that Robert Own preached not class war but the ancient doctrine of human brotherhood.” Ramsay MacDonald was the illegitimate son of a poor Scotswoman, and “the handsomest of all Prime Ministers.” Government dropped Campbell case, prosecution of Communist editor, and Conservatives branded Labour party as Bolsheviks. And Zinoviev letter published. 1924, Conservatives take power under Baldwin, and voice of moderation.


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