Englishness, Patriotism and the British Left 1881-1924
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Historians have shown how, in the last third of the nineteenth century, the language of patriotism and national identity was appropriated by the political right It has been all too easily assumed that after this they held a monopoly on such language. However, the British left did not give up ideas about patriotism and the nature of Englishness after the revival of socialism in the 18805. Socialism was rather presented as the restoration of an English past lost to industrial capitalism. They therefore argued for a return to 'Merrie England'. Socialists frequently used radical patriotic vocabulary as a tool in their struggles for social transfotmation, particularly in defence of what they saw as traditional English liberties. But some socialists also used ideas of Englishness to legitimate their own form of socialism and to repudiate other forms, such as anarchism, syndicalism and Marxism, as 'foreign'. Central to this was a belief that Parliament stood at the centre of the national history. This Whiggish parliamentary view of history was essentially English, yet many who held it were Scottish, Welsh and Irish, and they played a full role in creating a 'British Socialism' . The First World War dealt a severe blow to radical patriotism. Pro-war sections of the labour movement were brought into the state, and this reinforced their belief in parliamentarism and a consensual patriotism. The anti-war left continued to use radical patriotic language in the early years of the war, for example against the 'foreign yoke' of conscription, but the war degraded patriotism generally and the Russian Revolution gave internationalism a new focus. It also threatened the concept of British Socialism, and the post-war years saw a bitter debate over forms of socialism, when it was argued that Bolshevism was not suited to 'British conditions'. Moderate Labour, convinced that office could only be achieved on terms set by the British Constitution, sought to prove their fitness to govern. This meant concentration on traditional patriotism and the national interest, rather than conceptions of oppositional Englishness. The left of the labolD' movement now looked to soviet Russia rather than the English past as a model for the future socialist society. Hence the hold of radical patriotism on the British left was broken, but that of patriotism was not. It would take another world war to re-unite the two.
AuthorsWard, Paul Joseph
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