Today in radical history: National Conference of Women meets, Central Hall, to discuss basis for WW1 peace, 1915.

On 14th April the Union of Democratic Control (UDC) summoned a National Conference of Women to discuss the basis of a permanent peace settlement” at Central Hall in London.

This was designed to feed in to the Hague Women’s Peace Conference (set for April 28th). Read a previous blog post on British women’s involvement…

We haven’t yet found out much about this conference; but here’s a brief introduction to the Union of Democratic Control…

The Union of Democratic Control was formed at the outbreak of World War 1:
“At the end of July, 1914, it became clear to the British government that the country was on the verge of war with Germany. Four senior members of the government, David Lloyd George (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Charles Trevelyan (Parliamentary Secretary of the Board of Education), John Burns (President of the Local Government Board) and John Morley (Secretary of State for India), were opposed to the country becoming involved in a European war. They informed the Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, that they intended to resign over the issue. When war was declared on 4th August, three of the men, Trevelyan, Burns and Morley, resigned, but Asquith managed to persuade Lloyd George, his Chancellor of the Exchequer, to change his mind.

The day after war was declared, Trevelyan began contacting friends about a new political organisation he intended to form to oppose the war. This included two pacifist members of the Liberal Party, Norman Angell and E. D. Morel, and Ramsay MacDonald, the leader of the Labour Party.” This was the beginning of the Union of Democratic Control (UDC).

The four men agreed that one of the main reasons for the conflict was the secret diplomacy of people like Britain’s foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey. They set down three main objectives for the UDC: (1) that in future to prevent secret diplomacy there should be parliamentary control over foreign policy; (2) there should be negotiations after the war with other democratic European countries in an attempt to form an organisation to help prevent future conflicts; (3) that at the end of the war the peace terms should neither humiliate the defeated nation nor artificially rearrange frontiers as this might provide a cause for future wars.

The Union of Democratic Control issued a manifesto and invited people to support it. Over the next few weeks several leading figures joined the organisation. This included J. A. Hobson, Charles Buxton, Ottoline Morrell, Philip Morrell, Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, Arnold Rowntree, Morgan Philips Price, George Cadbury, Helena Swanwick, Fred Jowett, Tom Johnston, Bertrand Russell, Philip Snowden, Ethel Snowden, David Kirkwood, William Anderson, Mary Sheepshanks, Isabella Ford, H. H. Brailsford, Eileen Power, Israel Zangwill, Margaret Llewelyn Davies, Konni Zilliacus, Margaret Sackville and Olive Schreiner.
Trevelyan’s house (14 Great College Street, London) became the UDC’s headquarters. As the organisation expanded the organisation took larger premises at 37 Norfolk Street (1915) and 4-7 Lion Court, Fleet Street (1917). The UDC was mainly funded by prosperous Quaker businessmen such as George Cadbury and Arnold Rowntree.

The UDC was one of the first political groups to appoint women to senior positions in an organisation. Helena Swanwick was a member of the Executive Committee and twelve women were on the General Council. This included Isabella Ford, Margaret Llewelyn Davies and Margaret Sackville.
The UDC soon emerged at the most important of all the anti-war organizations in Britain and by 1915 had 300,000 members. E. D. Morel, as secretary and treasurer, became the dominant figure in the UDC. In August 1915, the UDC decided to pay Morel for his secretarial duties. Morel also wrote most of the UDC pamphlets published during the war. Others who wrote pamphlets included Ramsay MacDonald, Norman Angell, Arthur Ponsonby, J. A. Hobson, Charles Buxton, Norman Angell, Helena Swanwick, Richard Tawney and H. H. Brailsford. Members of the UDC also established a League of Nations Society.

Whereas the Manchester Guardian and The Nation were fairly sympathetic to the aims of the UDC, the majority of the press, consumed with patriotic fervour, were extremely hostile. Members of the UDC came under vitriolic attack for their opposition to the war. The Daily Express, edited by Ralph Blumenfeld, led the campaign against the UDC. In April 1915 it printed wanted posters of E. D. Morel, Ramsay MacDonald and Norman Angell. Under headings such as: ‘Who is E. D. Morel? And Who Pays for his Pro-German Union? it suggested that the UDC was working for the German government. On 1st October 1914, The Times published a leading article entitled Helping the Enemy, in which it wrote that “no paid agent of Germany had served her better” that MacDonald had done. Horatio Bottomley, argued in the John Bull Magazine that Ramsay MacDonald and James Keir Hardie, were the leaders of a “pro-German Campaign”. On 19th June 1915 the magazine claimed that MacDonald was a traitor and that: “We demand his trial by Court Martial, his condemnation as an aider and abetter of the King’s enemies, and that he be taken to the Tower and shot at dawn.” John Bull also made a big splash of the revelation that MacDonald was illegitimate.

The Daily Express listed details of future UDC meetings and provoked its readers to go and break-up them up. Although the UDC complained to the Home Secretary about what it called “an incitement to violence” by the newspaper, he refused to take any action. Over the next few months the police refuse to protect UDC speakers and they were often attacked by angry crowds. After one particularly violent event on 29th November, 1915, the newspaper proudly reported the “utter rout of the pro-Germans”.
The Daily Sketch joined the campaign against the UDC. It told its readers on 1st December, 1915, that to: “kill this conspiracy we must get hold of the arch-conspirator, E. D. Morel”. Over the next few months Morel was physically assaulted several times, but continued to run the organisation. By 1917 membership of the UDC and affiliated organizations had reached 650,000.

The government now saw Morel as an extremely dangerous political figure. Basil Thompson, head of the Criminal Investigation Division of Scotland Yard, and future head of Special Branch, was asked to investigate Morel and the UDC. Thompson reported that the UDC was not a revolutionary body and its funds came from the Society of Friends and “Messrs. Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree”. Given Thompson penchant for inciting attacks on opponents of the war and sending agent provocateurs to wreck leftwing groups, this suggests the UDC was relatively benign. Many radical anti-war activists in other organisations were also members of the UDC however.

Despite Thompson’s failure to find any evidence of criminal activity, the Home Secretary ordered Morel’s arrest. On the 22nd August, 1917 Morel’s house was searched and evidence was found that he had sent a UDC pamphlet to a friend living in Switzerland. This was a technical violation of the Defence of the Realm Act and Morel was sentenced to six months in prison. His health was already poor, and he never fully recovered from the harsh conditions of Pentonville Prison.
Frederick Pethick-Lawrence, formerly a leading supporter of the Womens Suffrage movement, was treasurer of the UDC, and in the spring of 1917 was chosen as the organisation’s candidate in the South Aberdeen by-election. Pethick-Lawrence got only 333 votes whereas the government representative won with 3,283 votes. Although he was forty-six years old, the government attempted to conscript Pethick-Lawrence in 1917. He refused but instead of being imprisoned he was assigned to a farm in Sussex until the end of the war.

In the 1918 General Election all the leading members of the Union lost their seats in Parliament. However, by 1924, they had returned and several, including Ramsay MacDonald (Prime Minister/Foreign Secretary), Philip Snowden (Chancellor of the Exchequer), Arthur Henderson (Home Secretary), Charles Trevelyan (Minister of Education) and Fred Jowett (Commissioner of Works) were all members of the new Labour Government. E. D. Morel was not given a Cabinet post but was MacDonald’s leading adviser at the Foreign Office.

Members of the Union of Democratic Control were strong opponents of the Versailles Treaty. Several senior army officers joined the UDC in protest against the treaty including General Hubert Gough, Brigadier-General C. B. Thompson, Commander Kenworthy and Colonel Bruce Kingsmill.
In the 1930s the UDC campaigned against fascism in Germany and Italy, supported China in its struggle with Japanese aggression and advocated Indian independence.

Mostly lifted from the Spartacus site

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An entry in the 2016 London Rebel History Calendar – check it out online

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