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Socialism and radicalism in the 1940-1945 period Free essay! Download now

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Socialism and radicalism in the 1940-1945 period

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Downloads to date: N/A | Words: 5100 | Submitted: 11-Jul-2005
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This essay argues that the wartime period of 1940-1945 was strongly characterised by a collective spirit or ‘social unity’ (Durbin, 1942) - a peculiar synthesis of radical socialist thought and patriotic fervour. The essay demonstrates the depth to which this feeling permeated all parts of British life and society and the extent to which it was seized upon by different sectional interests to serve their own purposes. In particular close attention is paid to the significance of the British Communist Party and the Common Wealth Party, two political entities whose successes during the war can be attributed to the prevailing radical spirit.


Cole, a Fabian radical, similarly believed that capitalism had failed in the run up to the war and vehemently believed that the war presented a clear choice between the merits of socialism and fascism. “I verily believe that unless we succeed in establishing socialism as the basis of post-war reconstruction, we are destined to fall under fascism as the only remaining alternative.” (GDH Cole, Fabian Socialism, 1943, London)
Three decades earlier, RH Tawney had spoken of a “golden moment” at which point some form of social unification would be brought about “from the possession of a common moral idea.” (RH Tawney, Commonplace Book, Cambridge, 1972) To some this “golden moment” came when “the public mood after Dunkirk renewed confidence in the possibility of a united national community turning towards socialism as the most desirable way forward.” (Brooke, 1992: p271) As Brooke explains – “the pessimistic mood of the post-1931 period, coloured by talk of class struggle and division, was swept away in the crisis of national survival.” Tawney himself suggested a new birth of social unity and wrote that the unique situation had produced “good faith, tolerance, and respect for opinions which we do not share, consideration for the unfortunate, equal justice for all.” (New York Times, 21 July 1940) Similarly Cole spoke of the “deep sense of national unity which holds us together as a people, which saved us when France fell.” (GDH Cole, Great Britain In The Post-War World, London, 1942)
Laski believed the summer of 1940 had injected a strong radical sentiment into British society. In his book Reflections Of The Revolution Of Our Time he talked of a “revolution…taken place in the outlook of the masses upon matters of economic and social constitution” – what he termed “a revolution of consent” (H Laski, Mr Churchill’s Conception Of Victory, New Stateman, 11 April 1942).
George Orwell’s wartime writings, notably The Lion And The Unicorn – Socialism And The English Genius, exemplify the peculiar wartime national spirit. The Lion And The Unicorn essentially propounded the idea of socialism as patriotism. Speaking of “solid breakfasts and gloomy Sundays, smoky towns and winding roads, green fields and red-pillar boxes,” Orwell emphasised the country’s unity. For Orwell, England may have been a “family with the wrong members in control” but the country was still a “family.” Orwell believed the war would instigate a revolution, a uniquely English one where a “revolutionary and realistic future” could be brought about. (G Orwell, The Lion And The Unicorn, 1941)

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