Friday, August 20, 2010

Don't Be A Soldier! The Radical Anti-War Movement in North London 1914-1918 by Ken Weller (Journeyman Press 1985)

Much of available labour and socialist history is about institutions - parties, trade unions and similar organisations, on the anatomy rather than the physiology of the movement; while another substantial chunk is about individuals - usually those who have reached some sort of prominence. Both of these approaches can be valuable but they do not usually help us understand the confused matrix of the grass roots movements from which these individuals and organisations emerged, or how they articulated together. At worst much of what passed for labour/socialist history - particularly of the twentieth century - is little more than retrospective justfication, a hunt for apostolic or demonic successions and the legitimisation of this or that organisation or ideology, rather than an attempt to describe the rich and fertile contradictions of the movement as it was, and for that matter still is.

The struggle against the 1914-1918 war is often seen in a partial way, as being embodied in either the established socialist parties or in the pacifist movement. I hope that this text will show that the reality was much more substantial, complex and fruitful. What is clear - certainly in London and I suspect nationally too - was that the main origin of radical anti-war movement was not in the established socialist groups, or among middle-class pacifists, although both these currents made a contribution (and were themselves profoundly affected by the heat of the struggle); rather it lay in the 'rebel' milieu which had existed before the war - the syndicalist and industrial unionist movements within industry, the radical wing of the women's movement and the wide range of networks and organisations which by and large were very critical of the established labour movement.

[From Ken Weller's introduction.]

1 comment:

Darren said...

A review of Weller's book from September 1985 issue of the Socialist Standard.

Wonderful book despited the usual consigning of the SPGB to the footnote of history. (Page 23 Footnote 7 in this particular case.)