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To What Extent Did Socialism and Syndicalism Threaten the Establishment 1910-1914?

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Introduction

To What Extent Did Socialism and Syndicalism Threaten the Establishment 1910-1914? Socialism was defined by Kier Hardie in a speech to the House of Commons as "placing land and the instruments of production in the hands of the community."1 Socialism was a political and economic ideology that grew in strength across the Europe in the latter half of the 19th Century with the intent of gaining rights and sharing the wealth with the disenfranchised and impoverished of lower classes, even if this meant through revolution. Socialism in its modern form occurred in Britain in the 1880s but quickly fell into decline again. However, at the beginning of the 20th Century a socialist political party, named the Labour Party, was developed and gaining strength by 1910. At the same time, a radical anarchic strand of socialism, known as syndicalism, was amalgamating trade unions and leading general strikes across Britain. This period, 1910-14, came to be known as the Great Unrest. The establishment of the time, namely the Liberal government, felt threatened by socialism in the forms of the Labour Party and syndicalists and negotiated with them and passed laws in their favour with the hope of appeasing them. However, it was actually the outbreak of the First World War that succeeded in ending effective militancy against the establishment. J.A Spender and Ramsay Muir assert that Labour made little impact 1906-1914 and are supported by Wilson (66) and Clarke (71) who claim this period was a time of Liberal progress and there is a certain amount of evidence for this. ...read more.

Middle

Laybourn also says Labour's main aim was to attract the support of trade unions that already backed the Liberals and therefore had to appear moderate. This may also explain Labour MPs adoption of Liberal ideas in 1906 as a way of winning over trade unions. Conversely, the Liberal radical wing's desire to introduce laws that benefited the working class may, on some level, indicate that some Liberal politicians feared the consequences of the conditions the working class were living in and the potential revolt that could brake out, as George Barnes wrote in 1917 of the 'psychological conditions' that caused unrest: the feeling that there has been inequality of sacrifice, that the government has broken solemn pledges, that the trade union officials are no longer to be relied upon, and that there is a woeful uncertainty as to the industrial future.2 These were all present in the early 20th Century, though the belief that 'the trade union officials are no longer to be relied upon' did not develop until 1910 when working class militancy broke out and syndicalism was on the rise. Leon Trotsky said syndicalists were people 'who not only wish to fight against the bourgeoisie, but who, unlike... [the reformists]... really want to tear its head off,' that is to say syndicalism was a greater threat to the establishment than the Labour Party, who were reformists that intended to gain power through the political process rather than seize for themselves. ...read more.

Conclusion

is that workers perceived the law courts as a threat, for introducing the Taff Vale and Osborne Judgements, which enforced limitations on the working class. This is likely to have breed resentment against the establishment and a desire to change it, which would have inspired militancy. An important factor agreed by most historians, including Pelling (63) and Hunt (2003), which also relates to Dangerfield's thesis of the Liberal government's demise, is that there was a general atmosphere of violence in Britain between 1910-14. There were violent protests by the suffragettes, conflict between Unionists and Nationalists in Ireland and, Pelling (63) suggests, the friction between the Liberals and the Lords during the Constitutional Crisis. As Hunt (2003) put it 'striking action may in some way have been contagious,' and spread amongst workers influenced by the violence of other groups around them. Despite H.G. Wells' suggestion that workers at this time wanted to 'put the whole social system upon its trial,' and were concerned with politics the strikes during 1910-1914 were all over working conditions, particularly over pay, and this was also considered one of the causes of militancy at this, it was simply a different method of achieving what they wanted because, as already noted, they were frustrated with the usual means of getting what they wanted. 1 Socialism' Speech, 23rd April 1901. 2 Quoted from Henry Pelling, A History of Trade Unionism (1963); Chapter Eight, War and the General Strike 1914-26; p156. 3 France is where the word syndicalism derives from, syndic being French for 'trade union'. 4 From Wells 1912. 5 B. & S. Webb, The History of Trade Unionism (1913); p468-72. ?? ?? ?? ?? Jack Parsons 13KT 1 ...read more.

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