Emmeline’s younger daughter, Sylvia, the socialist lover of Keir Hardie and a passionate opponent of the war in every aspect. Hochschild portrays other significant individuals on each side. Vignettes of pro-war figures, mostly highly unfavourable, include Haig, with his insatiable ambition to replace John French; Alfred Milner, the ‘nationalist socialist’ who became a pivot of Lloyd George’s War Cabinet, combining this with a twentyyear pursuit of Lady Violet Cecil; and Rudyard Kipling and John Buchan, who lent their literary skills to nationalist literature on the model of ‘For All We Have and Are’ (with its rousing line, ‘The Hun is at the gate!’), and Nelson’s History of the War. We also meet Basil Thomson, head of intelligence surveillance, who commanded a private army of agents provocateurs (he ended up under surveillance himself after public indecency in Hyde Park).
But it is to the courageous war resisters that the author’s heart r ightly warms. Three of them are great women who have yet to receive their full due: the Christian pacifist Emily Hobhouse, who had made her name condemning British ‘methods of barbarism’ in the concentration camps in South Africa; Charlotte Despard, who maintained warm relations with her military brother, for all her sympathies with Communism and Sinn Féin; and Sylvia Pankhurst, the greatest of her family. Here was a truly noble trinity of feminist dissent. There are also var ious distinguished male protesters: Stephen Hobhouse, Emily’s ailing brother, an articulate voice for conscientious objectors; Bertrand Russell, eventually imprisoned for alleging US troops might be hired for strike-breaking; Hardie, a supreme moral force to the end; E D Morel, the polemical champion of a negotiated peace; Fenner Brockway and Siegfried Sassoon; and international inspirations such as Jean Jaurès in France and Eugene Debs in the US. We also read of less familiar but equally courageous dissenters, all of them harassed and persecuted by the government, whom the author ably rescues from condescending posterity: John Clarke, the exotic socialist liontamer (subject of a fascinating work by the recently deceased Ray Challinor); Bert Rochester, a railwayman who showed brilliant forensic skills at his court martial; and Derby’s Alice Wheeldon and her left-wing family, who survived a show trial for subversion, only for Alice to perish during the postwar influenza epidemic.
The dissenters offer a distinct typology. The author outlines most of these figures with great clarity. His antiwar feminists are vividly depicted. Indeed, his research is especially pioneering in this regard since older books on the peace movement of 1914 to 1918, astonishingly, ignore the women’s contr ibution entirely. The gulf between Sylvia Pankhurst (to whom should be added her sister Adela, packed off to Australia by her mother for supporting striking workers) and her mother and elder sister Christabel is fascinatingly described. Emmeline Pankhurst was solemnly honoured this March with a wreath laid by Ed Miliband at her statue in Westminster on International Women’s Day, but her wartime activities are shown here in a gruesome light. Her campaign for direct action on behalf of votes for women turned into bloodthirsty jingoism, an example being her support for Russian warrior viragos in their ‘battalions of death’ (in Emmeline’s view the most glorious chapter in women’s history since Joan of Arc). Christabel’s journalism was unremittingly chauvinist. When Sylvia told her that Hardie was dying, her sister brutally printed a cartoon showing ‘Keir von Hardie’ receiving a crock of gold from the Kaiser. Other groups – the conscient i ous objector s o f t he NoConscr iption Fellowship and Ir ish nationalists such as Eamon de Valera – are also well described. The various shades of Labour dissenters, however, are set out less convincingly and thoroughly. There is very little on industrial resisters in the trade union movement (such as the quasi-syndicalists in south Wales and Clydeside), or the anti-war socialist press (Forward and the like). The discussion on Labour politicians focuses entirely on Hardie – a great man indeed – but ignores t he equally impor t ant Ramsay MacDonald, while some nuances of Hardie’s views, like his awareness of the issue of national self-defence, are not picked up.
Hochschild skilfully sets his chronicle of dissent against the background of war. He has an eye for picturesque detail such as Emily Hobhouse’s one-woman peace mission to Berlin in 1916, and the extraordinary secret deal by which the British purchased 32,000 pairs of German binoculars from Zeiss of Jena during the war; in return, the Germans received imperial rubber for their military vehicles, free trade bypassing the challenges of total war. The accounts of the great set-piece engagements on the wester n f ront – Loos, the Somme, Passchendaele, Amiens – are finely done. On the other hand, the relentless focus on Britain and the fighting in France limits the perspective. There is little on the Balkans and even less on the important war in the Middle East (General Allenby, the victor in Palestine, receives no mention). The treatment of the 1919 Peace Conference
LITERARY REVIEW May 2011