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  1. The main title for my Drums of Armageddon came from an article in the Clarion by its editor Robert Blatchford soon after the start of the the 1914 war. In a way the book was a piece of opportunism. The Sussex University library had the three longest established socialist papers of the period - Justice. The Clarion, and Labour Leader -on microfilm at least up to the end of the fateful year when war broke out. So the book was to some extent just taking advantage of this for a relatively straightforward bit of research which unlike my ILP book did not involve any travelling – apart from to the university. That's not to say that I don't think the book is a useful addition to our knowledge of attitudes on the Left to the outbreak of the war. I certainly do.

     

    I decided to begin by writing about the final peacetime month –July 1914 - to bring out the way the war was a disaster that set everything back – especially for those on the Left - and then the remaining months of the fateful year of 1914. I set out to examine attitudes and actions it in some detail through the prism of the three papers.

     

    When war broke out Justice, by that time the paper of the British Socialist Party, took the view that the invasion of Belgium and France meant that Britain had no alternative but to participate in the conflict, horrible and tragic though it undoubtedly was. But it soon was being challenged by those who disagreed which led to a 'split' in 1916. The ILP's Labour Leader took the opposite view opposing the war while The Clarion was unequivocal in its support for British participation and even carried the famous Kitchener, 'Your King and Country Needs you' advert in is second wartime edition.

     

    So I had one unequivocal supporter of the war, (Clarion) one opposer (Labour Leader) and one trying to hold things together as the rival groups of the BSP fought it out (Justice)

     

    But I began in July 1914, the final peacetime month' There were of course quite a few reports and articles following the Sarajevo assassinations. But the main preoccupations of our three papers were the arson campaign of the suffragettes, the threat, or promise, of major strikes come the autumn and -above all – the threat of protestant v catholic civil war in Ireland. But I was particularly pleased to be able to highlight in one of the two 'July' chapters what was described as 'A Challenging Article by a Feminist ' by Ellen Wilkinson. She was famous much later as a Labour MP, a leader of the 'Jarrow Crusade' and a Minister of Education in the Attlee government, dying in office in 1947. I believe the article might have been written, if not last week, at least a lot more recently than 1914..

     

    Though there had been enough international crises and two wars in the Balkans in 1912 and 1913 the war still seems to have taken everyone by surprise. This is especially true of the Clarion's Hilda Thompson who went off for a walking tour in Germany just a few days before war broke out. The short period covered by the book – just six months – enabled me to look at reactions to the war in some considerable detail. I tried to bring out both the emerging disagreements about the proper socialist attitude to the war between and within parties and papers but also the considerable areas of agreement. Even those most opposed to the war thought that those at the front should be paid properly and provision made for their dependents.

     

    I was also able to include an eyewitness account of the first war casualties on British soil when the German navy bombarded Scarborough and other East Coast ports that December. That was before Zeppelin bombing raids began in 1915. I included many explanatory notes and aimed the book more at the general reader than the academic specialist.

     

    I knew I was going to have trouble finding a publisher. AU Press which had published by previous two books were sceptical and were certain to ask for more changes than I wanted to concede. So in the end I published it myself – just before the pandemic got really going in 2020. Since we've lived in Bonchurch Road in Brighton since the late '60s I gave the publisher as 'Bonchurch Press' One huge advantage of doing it this way was that -though it cost me quite a lot to get it published the price the book, especially the Kindle version, was available to readers was a mere fraction of what my other books costs.

  2. My main inspiration for Under Siege. The Independent Labour Party in Interwar Britain, published, once again, by AU Press in 2017 came when I reviewed Gidon Cohen's book The Failure of A Dream. Gidon dealt with the years after 1932 and up to the outbreak of World War II when the ILP had disaffiliated from the Labour Party to pursue what turned out to be a fruitless search for a 'revolutionary policy' which would be much more radical than anything Labour was likely to come up with and both more genuinely 'revolutionary' and more democratic than that of the Communists.

     

    Romancing the Revolution had taken me into the mid 1920s with occasional references to later events so with the ILP book I was researching and writing about periods which were fairly new to me. The research took me to Manchester, Salford and Edinburgh as well as to branches of the British Library and the the LSE one in London. I was still working part-time at Sussex and Amelia Wakeford the university's research development officer helped me get a British Academy grant – the only grant I've ever received for research – which covered the considerable travel expenses

     

    A much earlier book than Gidon's in the 1960s was Robert Dowse's Left in the Centre. It had dealt mainly with the 1920s. He seems to have taken the view that when the ILP left the Labour Party they more or less ceased to have any significance. But the ILP had been the main political promoter of the idea of a Labour Party since the 1890s with Keir Hardie's 'Labour Alliance' strategy of linking up with the unions.

    Until 1918 taking part in your local ILP branch had been the main way people participated in the larger party. But the new Labour Party constitution that year introduced constituency parties and this posed an existential dilemma for the ILP. Its main raison d''être was gone – what new role could it find to perform?

     

    My own book looks at the whole of the interwar period. In the 1911 book I'd already written about the earliest years of the 1920s when there was a concerted effort to get the ILP to affiliate to the (Communist) Third International. I revisited this episode and the 'Left Wing of the ILP' in the second section of Chapter 2 of the new book This was after a look at the long career of Fred Jowett, long-time MP and briefly a government minister in 1924, who I found the most sympathetic of all prominent ILPers. He stayed in the party from its inception till he died in 1944 at the age of 80.

     

    In the 1920s the most interesting episodes were the brief period when Clifford Allan was the dominant figure and he – a former wartime conscientious objector – allied himself with future Labour PM Clement Attlee - who had fought in the war and was routinely known to the press as 'Major Attlee' – to promote a 'guild socialist' version of the programme of the party and the adoption a few years later of the well-researched 'Living Wage' demand. By the mid to late 'twenties the Jimmy Maxton had replaced Allan as the dominant figure. He clearly had charisma – almost everyone who came across him was knocked out by him - but in the 'thirties he was largely responsible for taking the ILP into disaffiliation from Labour and the fruitless search for the 'revolutionary programme' I've already mentioned.

     

    By the outbreak of war in 1939 the party had shrunk alarmingly and most members were now willing to rejoin Labour. But before they could the war intervened and with Labour joining the Churchill government and the ILP opposing the war, as they had largely done in 1914, this was no longer on. The ILP continued as a very small organisation until in the 1970s it changed its name to Independent Labour Publications and rejoined Labour.

     

    One thing about the book gave me much pleasure. I was able to quote a comment by Don Mcgregor from the the October 1939 edition of ILP's internal publication Between Ourselves. I had met Don a few times back in the '70s at Voice of the Unions editorial board meetings. He had made an indelible impression and it was good to think I'd found, and quoted, something that epitomised his approach to socialism.

     

    Under Siege. The Independent Labour Party in Interwar Britain Athabasca University Press, 2017

    Available in UK from www.combinedacademic.co.uk/under-siege, as well as Waterstones and Amazon.

    978-1- 77199-155- 1 paper
    978-1- 77199-157- 5 epub
    978-1- 77199-156- 8 pdf