Walter Arnstein / “16. The False Dawn and the Great Depression” / Britain Yesterday and Today / 1983 (1st ed. 1966)

Stanley Baldwin, Conservative British PM, 1924-9. Treaty of Locarno, Kellog-Briand Pact, Pensions Act, enfranchisement of women over 21, UK General Strike 1926

UC Berkeley historian James Vernon pairs this reading with his lecture, Rebuilding “Middle England.” Here is Vernon’s syllabus. The lecture is available on iTunes University.

Stanley Baldwin’s second ministry, 1924-1929, gave people impression that postwar boom and bust would give way to stability. This was false. Depression would give way to the Nazis in Germany, and WW2. Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, put Britain back on gold standard at prewar rate.

THE GENERAL STRIKE and AFTER. May 1926, only General Strike in British history. Previously, 1921, coal industry went on strike when mines were returned to private ownership. Demand for coal down in 1926 (oil cheaper), causing industry trouble. Strike stopped trains, trams, buses, newspaper presses, docks, steel mills. No one died. Bloodless and “peculiarly English.” Lloyd George outlined similar dilemma in 1919, to strike leaders: “…you will defeat us. But if you do so have you weighed the consequences? The strike will be in defiance of the government of the country and by its very success will precipitate a constitutional crisis of the first importance. For, if a force arises in the state which is stronger than the state itself, then it must be ready to take on the functions of the state, or withdraw and accept the authority of the state. Gentlemen– have you considered, and if you have, are you ready?” Strike lasts 9 days. Miners eventually went back to work without their demands met. 1928 Reform Act gave vote to women.

THE SPIRIT of LOCARNO. Locarno Treaties were 7 postwar territory settlement treaties signed in Locarno, Switzerland, by postwar states. Late 1920s, relative domestic and international tranquility. 1926, Imperial Conference, defined dominions as henceforth “autonomous Communities within the British Empire, equal in status… united by a common allegiance to the Crown, and freely associated as members of the British Commonwealth of Nations.”1928, Kellogg-Briand Pact, signed by France, United States, and 12 other powers, “outlawed war as an instrument of national policy.”

THE SECOND LABOUR GOVERNMENT. 1929 election. Conservatives ran on slogan, “Safety first.” Labour party pledged “to end the capitalist dictatorship in which democracy finds everywhere its most insidious and most relentless foe.” Liberal party under Lloyd George proposes means for reducing unemployment. Ramsay MacDonald’s Labourites emerged as largest parliamentary party. Within months, U.S. stock market crashes, May 1929. Collapse of international financial structure of 1920s. 1929-1933, total value of British exports down half, as was production of steel and iron. Percent unemployed rose from 10.4 to 19.9 (nearly 1/4 the population). Depression destroyed Liberal notion of self-correcting markets. Labour government attempts to deal with crisis relatively weak because 1) MacDonald’s was minority government 2) Many Labour leaders financially orthodox. Parliamentary leaders split from their parties. Sir Oswald Mosley left Labour, formed “New Party,” later led British Fascist Union. 1931, International run on England’s gold reserves. Government could not balance budget. Party adopts stringency plan. Party cannot agree whether to cut unemployment benefits.

THE NATIONAL GOVERNMENT. MacDonald resigns. King George V asks him to head temporary coalition government. He accepts. National government goes off gold standard, increases taxes, cuts government salaries 10%, unemployment benefits 10% (2 years later, United States would go off gold). 1932, National Government raises tariff, 10-33.33% on industrial and agricultural imports, except meat and wool. New Deal and National Government policies compared: 1) FDR and New Deal, deficit spending. Keynes, General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money (1936). 2) National government, tariffs, remove gold standard. Fewer social programs because already initiated old age pensions, unemployment insurance, pre-WW1. At first, Keynes ignored in Britain: Conservatives disapproved government role in business, and Labourites disapproved defense of capitalism and role of individual.

THE DEPRESSION and BRITISH SOCIETY. Unemployment and depression ended by war, as in United States. British worker remained moderate. Never in British history was crime rate lower than interwar years. 1930s, some intellectuals and students toured USSR and became Communists. Praises Stalin’s “five year plan” for promised efficiency, ignored millions in slave labor camps, and millions murdered. Total = ~12 million. British Communist party consisted of a few thousand members. Elected 1 MP during 1930s. 1936, Left Book Club, 50,000 members, novels and nonfiction with Communist flavor. Sir Oswald Mosley, led British Union of Fascists. Blackshirt uniforms emulating Hitler, Mussolini, theatrical floodlighted meetings, “Hail Mosley,” in unison. Fascists proclaimed to represent “youth,” “vigor,” “action,” “getting things done.” Mosley taunted Labour for surrendering power when capitalism collapsed with Depression: “What would you think of a Salvation Army which took to its heels on the Day of Judgment?” 1934, Union of Fascists had 20,000 members. Alienated mainstream with anti-Semetism, bullying, violence. 1934, Stanley Baldwin: “Mosley won’t come to any good and we need not bother about him.” Some fringe groups of 1930s: 1) The Distributionists, opposed industrialization, echoed early 19th century Luddites, wore handwoven clothes. 2) Social Credit Party, opposed bankers, wore green shirts, pro-distribution of “national dividend.” In arts, 1) desire to be socially conscious, affinity for Left, in works by people like: W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender, Christopher Isherwood. George Orwell wrote re poverty, Keep the Aspidistra Flying (1936). 2) Celebration of sex, D.H. Lawrence. 3) Stream of consciousness and wordplay, Joyce. 4) Personal relationships, “modernism” of Woolf and Bloomsbury group in London. 5) persistence of Edwardian giants Shaw, Wells, Gadsworthy. Cinema replaced music hall as chief popular entertainment, had far more influence on working class than aforementioned novels. Disparaged by intellectuals. 1922, BBC began. Intellectual welfare organization. During 1926 General Strike, broadcasted statements of government and strike leaders. Gained reputation for reporting impartiality in news reporting, that would make it a symbol for factual integrity for those in occupied lands during WW2.

RECOVERY. By 1935, Britain recovering, thanks to budget. Still unemployment in Scotland, Wales, New England. British capitalism now very different than during 19th century, with national utilities, regulation, state subsidies to industries like agriculture and housing. Movement toward oligarchical corporate structure.


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