English radicalism has been a deep-rooted but minority tradition in the political culture since at least the seventeenth century. The central aim of this book is to examine, in historical and political context, a range of key events and individuals that exemplify English radicalism in the twentieth century. This analysis is preceded by defining precisely what has constituted this tradition; and by the main outline of the development of the tradition from the Civil War to the end of the nineteenth century. Three of the main currents of English radicalism in the twentieth century have been the labour movement, the women’s movement and the peace movement. These are discussed in some detail, as a framework for the detailed consideration of ten key representative figures of the tradition in the twentieth century: Bertrand Russell, Sylvia Pankhurst, Ellen Wilkinson, George Orwell, E.P. Thompson, Michael Foot, Joan Maynard, Stuart Hall, Tony Benn and Nicolas Walter. The question of ‘agency’ – of how to bring about radical change in a predominantly conservative society and culture – has been a fundamental issue for English radicals. It is argued that, in the twentieth century, many of the important achievements in progressive politics have taken place in and through extra-parliamentary movements, as well as through formal political parties and organisations – the Labour Party and other socialist organisations – and on occasion, through libertarian and anarchist politics. The final chapter considers the continuing relevance of this political tradition in the early twenty-first century, and reviews its challenges and prospects.
The political history of two principal trends in British Trotskyism, 1945–2009
Socialist Review Group/International Socialists (SRG/IS) and forerunners
of the ‘official’ Fourth International franchise, the International Marxist
Group (IMG).7 Nevertheless, in 1964, Militant was launched from an
organisational base of around 40 members.8
Another fortuitous development came in 1969 with the setting up of
Labour Party Young Socialists. Previously the Labourhierarchy had
expelled the SLL over the control of its youth section.9 Their retreat from
entrism in late 1964 in conjunction with similar turns made by their IS
rivals presented Militant (as the RSL
Conservatives alone may have contributed to complacency amongst the
Labourhierarchy. However, academic research by Robert Ford and Matthew
Goodwin had highlighted how UKIP could prove to be attractive to
traditional Labour supporters who were elderly and white working class
(Ford and Goodwin, 2014a ). The assumption that
UKIP was a party whose primary attraction was its hostility to the EU
was too simplistic
: that Bevan was a senior and powerful figure in the
Labourhierarchy, whilst Foot was, in 1945, a new, junior MP. Secondly, despite
his erudition and easy relationship with intellectuals and powerful figures, Bevan
remained true to his working-class roots and the community from which he came.
Like many middle-class, left-wing socialists, Foot was somewhat in awe of this
genuine proletarianism, which appealed to his romantic, idealistic view of the
Bevan was the defining political figure in Foot’s life. He was more than Bevan’s
‘comrade. He would be his Boswell
and the State (London, 2005) pp. 6–26;
Linehan, British Fascism p. 44; Renton, D. Fascism, Anti-Fascism p. 12.
Cited in Workers’ Dreadnought (18/6/21), p. 3.
Ibid. (9/9/22), p. 4.
Cited in Behan, Resistible Rise p. 50.
The Daily Herald (4/11/22), actually carried an advertisement for the march, though,
as a commercial paper, advertising was prominent and the decision to accept it was
unlikely to have been sanctioned by the Labourhierarchy.The WSF’s blanket condemnation is in Workers’ Dreadnought (11/11/22), p. 1.
The early 1920s saw the formation of several more
their power depended on keeping the Arab masses in a state of
backwardness. Referring to the armed clashes of 1920–1921 between Arabs and
Jews in Jaffa and Jerusalem, he asserted that the Arabs had no right to ‘prohibit
the approach of other land and work seeking people to soil which is lying idle’.21
These were to become familiar themes in Labour Zionist propaganda that Poale
Zion propagated in Britain. The party members were active in a few constituency
Labour parties but the focus of their activity was to establish friendly relations
with the Labourhierarchy. At