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First Tuesday: Joe Redmayne, The Post-War Labour Unrest 1919 – 1921: The Consolidation of Socialism and the transition from Syndicalism to Communism in the Durham Coalfield
April 2 @ 19:00
The presentation will offer an analysis on the nature and significance of the British political, social and economic turmoil in the post-war period 1919-1921 and which could be labelled the ‘Post-War Labour Unrest’ due to the rapid rise in industrial strife. The field of enquiry is to use the Durham Coalfield and the Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) as a case study to highlight national issues at a regional level. It seeks to explore the nature of socialism of grassroot activists under institutions such as trade unions, the Labour Party and the emerging Communist Party of Great Britain (CPGB) and focuses on the dialogue of class representation to better understand the competing visions of the socio-political world. It analyses the complex relations between political discourse, structure and agency, the industrial and political spheres, leaders and led, reformers and revolutionaries. In other words, an examination of the ways in which political actors and discourse operated through trade union (and other) organisations; interacted with structural/contextual conditions in appealing to discontented miners. Furthermore, the talk will investigate what different sections of trade union members expected of their leaders and government as well as the extent to which their leaders and government recognised their wishes.
The presentation will provide a better understanding of the complexities of the British Left identity at a time when the Labour Party had just been reformed and the CPGB was emerging. In doing this, it will help our understanding of what happened to the pre-war DMA rank-and-file movements during the ‘Great Labour Unrest 1910-1914’, with many of the leaders becoming union bureaucrats after the war and taking on a more passive role. Consequently, this created discontent with other rank-and-file members who would become associated with the CPGB and would advocate for a more forceful approach of ‘direct-action’ against the government and employers.
By exploring the various political discourses, it becomes clear that class was about the representation of a socio-economic phenomenon between competing views of how society should operate. This was a time the working-class in Britain was pushing forth their view of equality rather than preservation of private-ownership. A Socialist Commonwealth: a system of society which the production, distribution and exchange of all life’s primal necessities should be owned and controlled by the State in the interests of all the people in the State instead of by private-ownership. For many miners, socialism was the establishment of a new system of society, based not on competition, but seen as a system based on co-operative and communal effort: ‘each man for all, and all for each’. They envisaged that socialism could change the motive for production – production for the use – instead of merely profit; which would finally bring about the entire elimination of private profit in production, distribution and exchange within society. This was an idealistic view, but many believed it could be achieved. It was this political discourse represented by the Labour Party members which would help County Durham to become a bastion of socialism and consequently gaining the majority of constituency seats in 1922.
Joe Redmayne is an MA student at Newcastle University