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Familiarity breeds content.  That is a thought that struck me over sixty years ago when Pat Murphy decided to produce a magazine in the Working Men's College in London and I had to write something for it.  The Working Men's College was established in the mid-19th century in Camden Town by Christian Socialists, who were pioneer Liberal Imperialists, and the thought processes of Liberal Imperialism were still evident in the gentry who conducted it.  Through observing them I got an insight into what is called morality, and I saw that the standard form of the maxim was wrong:  Familiarity does not breed contempt;  it breeds content.

"We are us, and not them.  And we thank God for conferring on us the blessing of being us and not them".  That was English morality as I observed it in the attitudes of that segment of the Liberal Imperial gentry.  They expelled me for seeing it.

The attitude was far from being exclusive to the gentry.  It was successfully transmitted to the elements that were trusted with the leadership of the masses.  Arthur Henderson had it—and I don't think anybody was more influential in the history of British Labour than Henderson.  (Ernest Bevin, after the 1931 fiasco, built up a great body of working class power and used it as Minister of Labour in Churchill's Coalition to lay the foundations for the comprehensive welfare state while Churchill played at war, but he had no heritage.)

Henderson was Northumbrian working class, of Scottish origin.  He took in the world as a Wesleyan Methodist, and began to act on it as a Methodist lay preacher.  He was influenced by the great Spurgeon, who is now forgotten everywhere but the Evangelical Bookshop in Belfast.

George O'Brien, Redmondite Professor of Political Economy at UCD, described Ricardo and Marx as "two Jews tugging at the same rotten rope", meaning that the one was a systematic defender of capitalism and the other its systematic negator, neither seeing that viable human existence lay in between.

Well, English Capitalism—the pioneer Capitalism of the world—is intimately connected with English Nonconformism.  And the two typical classes of Capitalism developed within Nonconformism.  The sceptical ruling class of gentry set the scene for it, but the history of the realisation of Capitalism as the organiser of society is inseparable from Nonconformism.  The Bible was the spiritual bond between capitalist and wage-slave.

Henderson was in the first instance the Election Agent for the local Nonconformist Industrial magnate.  Then he acknowledged an incompatibility of interests in the material world, wrenched himself free of his patron electorally, and won the seat, but remained within the Nonconformist culture, with its host of unspoken Imperial assumptions.


In 1916 he helped Lloyd George enact the coup against Asquith in alliance with the Unionists.  Then in 1917 he resigned from the War Cabinet and organised the Labour groupings into a Party in preparation for the post-War Election.

The occasion of his resignation was disagreement with Lloyd George over the Stockholm Socialist Conference that was being actively supported by the first Russian Revolution, that of February 1917 which is called Democratic. 

While in Cabinet he was sent to Russia to survey the situation.  He took Kerensky   at face value and wanted him to be supported substantially, in order to keep Russia in the War.  But—

"he did not much like Russia or what he saw of revolution.  He found more Syndicalism than Socialism.  As for the Bolsheviks, they struck him as alien and rather fearsome…  They were out to capitalise war weariness in the interest of a revolution of their own pattern;  if they were to succeed, good-bye to Russia as an ally in the war or Russia as a Socialist state"  (Mary Agnes Hamilton, Arthur Henderson, 1938, p130).

(In recent times I have noticed that there has been some discussion of Connolly as a Syndicalist, but no discussion at all of the material that he published about Germany, and his support for Germany on socialist grounds.  I assume that Henderson, who was a methodical person, informed himself about Connolly and dismissed him as an enemy on the basis of his publications on Germany.  Syndicalism would have been a very secondary matter:  the War was primary.)

The issue on which Henderson resigned from the War Cabinet was the sending of Labour delegates to a Socialist Conference at Stockholm at which German delegates would be present and a negotiated end to the War would be discussed.  Henderson argued a case for sending delegates in terms of war strategy, refused to be dictated to by Lloyd George, resigned, and constructed the Labour Party.  The issue itself hardly warranted resignation.  But Henderson, as party-builder, had the concern of keeping the various bits of the Labour movement (some of which opposed the War) together for combination into an organised party.  Resignation served this purpose, as well as demonstrating that, although he had helped Lloyd George to power, he was not Lloyd George's man.

And so the Labour Party was constructed, took the place of the Liberal Party, and was trusted with the governing of the Empire in 1924.


As far as one can tell, this made no difference at all to the British attitude towards Ireland—and I don't think that Gibbons suggests that it did.  He shows that Henderson led the way in supporting Irish self-determination without saying what they meant by the term, and certainly without saying that they supported recognition of the elected Irish Government.

A condition of permissible Irish self-determination for all concerned at Westminster was that it should be ensured that Ireland could not be a source of danger to Britain in the next war.  Gibbons records this without comment.  He does not deal with the Great War at all—it is just there in his narrative.  He does not ask why Britain launched the World War in August 1914, and therefore he does not need to recall that it was to make the world safe for Democracy and the Independence of small nations.  

The world was to be made safe for Democracy by destruction of the source of evil in it—the German State that had been formed around Prussia.  The spirit of it was well summed up in the title of H.G. Wells' very famous and influential war pamphlet:  The War That Will End War.  The elitist Times and a couple of soldiers who wrote books dissented from it, but there is little doubt that the middle classes acted as if they believed it and that the populace was energised by it.  And the British Empire, the source of Goodness in the world, won, didn't it?  And Germany was plundered, bits were cut out of it, and it was made to confess that it was Evil, and was put in a straitjacket.

But then, straight-away in 1919, it was generally agreed that Irish independence was out of the question because it would be a menace to Britain in the next war!  What can one say, other than to commend the French Gallican theologian, Bishop Bossuet for his insight:  "perfidious Albion".