Britian 1929-1940 - Economic crisis and political extremism

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The National Government

  • 1931-1940 - Britain governed by national government - not national
  • Ramsay MacDonald PM but National government not true coalition
  • most of Labour Party in bitter opposition.
  • Liberals made token contribution
  • power base of National government = majority Conservatives held in parliament.
  • MacDonald resigned in 1935 - Baldwin PM for 3rd time - Cons control >ed
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Economic problems in 1935

  • Wall Street Crash & Depression - world trade  didn't recover til 1937
  • Total output 1930 by 1932  <1/2 than 1913 figure.
  • Coal output
  • Shipbuilding - million tonnes pa 1920s - only 133,000 tonnes in 1933.
  • As a result, unemployment in these industries rose to frightening levels.
  • June 1932 - 47%> steel workers unemployed - x2 average for industry
  • Shipbuilding - 60% unemployed in 1932 - remained high for rest of 1930s. 
  • 1938 - 1/5 coal miners unemployed & 1/4 cotton workers.
  • 1932 - 1/3> workers in Wales &  1/4> N England, Scotland and N Ireland
  •  1934 - Merthyr Tydfil S  Wales - 62% male unemployment, Maryport in Cumberland 50%> & 
  • Jarrow 70% - symbolised problems of industrial decline & unemployed - Jarrow March 1936
  • 1937, 30% of jobless out of work continuously for a year.
  • S Wales - unemployment rate still one worker in five.
  • National figure = 1.5 mil - 10% of workforce.
  • Unemployment didn't fall < 1 million til 1941


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The Jarrow Crusade

  • October 1936 
  • marched 300 miles to London to petition parliament to bring work back to town.
  • Organised by Lab MP Ellen Wilkinson, mayor and council 
  • supported by the local churches, trade unions and politicians
  • caught public's imagination and sympathy - ordered and large scale 
  • Palmer's Shipyard - last large employer - closed in 1935 
  • male unemployment > to 77% - no alternative employment 
  • Attempt to set up steel works failed - lack of government support.
  • tried to hand their petition to Baldwin - refused to meet them.
  • Mayor addressed group of MPs 
  • Crusade brought little immediate benefit - marchers returned and some found their unemployment benefit stopped
  • raised awareness of the plight of depressed towns.
  • John Jarvis established metal foundry, tube mill, shipbreaking yard & engineering 
  • Jarrow's unemployment only disappeared when WWII started - shipbuilding
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Economic policies of the National government

  • to balance budget and limit government spending
  • 10% cut in unemployment benefit - introduced 'means test'
  •  wage cuts for public employees
  • to keep the value of the pound stable - intervened in currency market
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Trade Policies

  • 'sterling area' for members using £ not gold - settled trading accounts
  • Import Duties Act 1932 - tariffs protecting British industry and agriculture - empire counties exempt
  • agreed imperial tariff system at Ottawa Conference 1932
  • trade treaties with various countries - quota for British imoports for quota for British exports.
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Industrial policies

  • Special Areas Act of 1934 - government aid to most depressed areas
  • Cotton Industry (Reorganisation) Act 1936 - closed down non-profitable mills - reduce surplus capacity in the industry
  • British Shipping (Assistance) Act 1935 - government loans for shipping companies to scrap older ships and build new ones
  • North Atlantic Shipping Act 1934 - loans to restart building of Queen Mary liner
  • marketing boards for milk, bacon and potatoes - guaranteed prices for farmers
  • government subsidies for livestock farmers and sugar beet growers.
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Success of ecomomic policies

  • government spending cuts 1931 maintained international confidence & stopped banking crisis. 
  •  Left Gold Standard - £'s value
  • Sold more exports to empire,
  • Bank of England lowered interest rates - 'Cheap money'  
  • easier for industries to borrow money - invested in modern machinery & plant. 
  • easier for consumers to borrow money - mortgages for new houses. 
  • private house-building boom - 2 million homes built in 1930s.
  • Government schemes to close down uncompetitive shipyards, mills and mines - survivors attracted new investment. 
  • more modern machinery installed in coal mines
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Failures of Economic Policies

  • Gold Standard abandoned September 1931
  • Marketing boards - less help given to arable farmers.
  • Coal mines employed fewer workers
  • Jarrow - pushed unemployment 70%> 
  • Government public works programmes on much smaller scale than in US or Germany.
  • Special Areas Act - only £2 million - only most depressed areas - Old industrial areas did not qualify. 
  • no  regional policy - preferred unemployed to move rather than encourage new industry to locate in depressed regions. 
  • houses were built mainly for MCs - took advantage of cheap mortgages and low prices. 
  • Less local government house building; only 700,000 council houses built in t1931 and 1940.
  • 'sterling area', only didnt make up for < in demand from US and Germany
  • Many countries introduced protective tariffs - exporting difficult. 
  • effectiveness of leaving GS limited - other currencies left Gold Standard & <ed in value
  • Government spending cuts lowered total demand for goods and services in the depth of a world depression - unemployment rose 1932-3
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Economic Recovery

  • recovery limited - more obvious Midlands + south east - new growth industries were not older industrial areas  - north and west. 
  • unemployment growth rates higher than 1920s.
  • New industries grew  (motor vehicles, chemicals and aircraft) 
  • Output of motor cars x2ed 1929-1939 - 2nd >st car maker 
  • Coal production 1938 - 227 million tonnes, almost back to1928 level 
  • 1938 steel industry producing > steel than 1928
  • A. J. P. Taylor - 'increased consumption by individuals pulled England out of the slump' 
  • Depression <ed prices which tended to stay low - those in steady jobs found that wages stretched further. 
  • rise in real wages - demand rose at home & demand abroad
  • unemployment still high but there were more people inwork than out of work 
  • created rising consumer demand in areas like house building 
  • trend towards smaller families - more to spend.
  • >ing consumer demand - expansion of Home Market - cuts in government spending. 
  • consumption of electricity x2ed in 1930s & demand for 'consumer durables' grew 
  • 1938 - 9 million private wirelesses & 2 million private cars 
  • Home Market encouraged growth of jobs in service industries
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Economy Recovery cont'd

  • more employment in retailing and transport every year
  • Mass entertaimnent growing sector of employment - cinemas and dance halls open in almost every town by 1939
  • New methods of production (assembly line and electric power) - more goods sold more cheaply. 
  • price of motor cars & wireless sets fell during the 1930s
  • A small family car in 1922 cost £220 - £120 by 1932 
  • 1932, almost 1/2 households had radios - 1939 = 3/4
  • new industries less affected by Depression than old staples. 
  • output of motor cars xdoubled 1929-1939 & output of electricity x4ed 1925-1939. 
  • 1939 - motor industry employed 400,000 workers. 
  • new industries did not expand fast enough to absorb all the workers shed by declining staples
  • Spending on rearmament >ed 1935 onwards & shot up sharply 1938-9 - stimulated staple industries & new industries
  • many of Jarrow unemployed found work 1938-9 - new steelworks established orshipyards on Tyne
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The Communist Party of Great Britain

  • Founded 1920 & lasted until 1990s. 
  • Although always small numers but big influence 
  • based on philosophy that working classes and their middle-class supporters should be provided with model for progressive society.
  • Communist regime established Russia 1917 - British sympathisers saw it as 'new civilisation'.
  • Capitalism seemed to be collapsing early 1930s & parliamentary democracy seemed unable to cope
  • revolutionary ideas & challenge of creating better type of society appealed to young people. 
  • Faced with mass unemployment, the break up of the Labour government 1931 and the creation of a British fascist party in 1932,
  • membership rose - unemployment, break up of Lab govt 1931 and creation of British fascist party 1932,
  • Rise of Fascism in Europe - Communism attractive - fighting against Fascism - Spanish Civil War
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Threat of CPGB

  • The Cons exaggerated threat of Communism to weaken support for Labour. 
  •  forged Zinoviev Letter in 1924 & allegations of communist influence behind the General Strike in 1926.
  • Several trade unions leaders were members or sympatheizers 
  • Played key role in major strikes - Lancashire cotton industry 1932 & Birmingham rent strike in 1939. 
  • Leading role in National Unemployed Workers' Movement - 50,000 members 
  • gave advice to unemployed but organised 'hunger marches' & mass demonstrations - violent confrontations with the police.
  • Disrupted meetings and marches held by British Union of Fascists - violence. 
  • The Daily Worker had daily circulation of 80,000 copies
  • Left Book Club had 50,000 members by 1939 - secretly financed by Stalin's USSR
  • Formed large proportion of British section of International Brigade sent to fight in Spain. 
  • Handful of MPs elected - some Labour MPs sympathetic to communist ideas. 
  • Party membership x2ed early 1930s.
  • support from students - mostly faded away as students established careers. 
  • Cambridge - Apostles' developed network of spies - revealed in 1951 they had passed
  • secrets to USSR during war & early Cold War years. 
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Weakness of CPGB

  • Party membership peaked at 18,000. 
  • only 1 or 2 communist MPs at one time 
  • Communist influence in trade union movement limited by opposition of moderate union leaders such as Ernest Bevin. 
  • Labour Party refused to work with CPGB
  • Not as strong as Italian, German and French counterparts.
  • National government never seriously worried 
  • secret service watched leaders, sympathisers and activities. 
  • police cracked down hard on communist led or inspired demonstrations. 
  • 1934 Incitement to Disaffection Act used to prosecute communists
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The British Union of Fascists

  • October 1932 Sir Oswald Mosley formed the British Union of Fascists (BUF). 
  • Brought Italian Fascism to Britain - black uniforms, silver insignia & facists salutes 
  • 1936 >ing German influence - renamed British Union of Fascists and National Socialists. 
  • Gained support from Lord Rothermere, proprietor of the Daily Mail, and grew quickly, up to 50,000 members by 1934.
  • Support for the BUFwas strongest in parts of London and in some northern cities like Liverpool,Manchester and Leeds. Early on there was also some support in more affluent middle-class towns like Harrogate - but the typical recruits to the BUF were young working-class men. 
  • Mosley was powerful speaker - ideas for reducing mass unemployment 
  • His book The Greater Britain set out his programme and was thought by some people to be intellectually superior to the writings of Hitler and Mussolini. 
  • Gave a hundred speeches around the country, published three books and wrote
  • many articles for newspapers and magazines - BUF's biggest asset but also tended to do too much on his own. 
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Threat of BUF

  • 1931-1934 - new political movement
  • disillusionment with the traditional political parties and system
  • apparent dynamism of Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany
  • Mosley's  anti-Semitism won support in East End and Manchester
  • every supporter gained = one potential supporter turned off
  • support in the north - arguing tariffs to protect textile industry
  • Some Lab supporters - disillusioned with Labour 1931
  • support from people in favour of better relations with Hitler's Germany to avoid a war or thought Hitler was defence against Communism
  • Mosley = credible political figure in early-1930s 
  • Mussolini and Hitler came to power by exploiting economic problems 
  • Some hoped same would happen Britain & M would be seen as country's saviour and rival to MacDonald and Baldwin.
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Weaknesses of BUF

  • Yet his movement never really took off. 
  • Even at its peak in 1934, the BUF had a membership of 50,000 - enough to make an impact but far short of a mass movement.
  • By 1935, these numbers declined to 5,000. 
  • In the late- 1930s there was a modest revival with membership around 20,000 but no political breakthrough came. 
  • Electorally,the BUF was a failure with no MPs or even local councillors
  • elected. 
  • Following the violence of a BUF indoor rally in London's Olympia Hall in
  • 1934, the BUF lost the support of Lord Rothermere. In the later 1930s, the BUF lost support through becoming more closely associated with the ideals and racial policies of Nazi Germany. 
  • Right until the outbreak of war in 1939, Mosley could still attract sizeable audiences to his speeches. 
  • The majority attending were opponents determined to disrupt his meetings rather than committed supporters.
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National government policies limiting political ex

  • 1934 Incitement to Disaffection Act - used to prosecute anyone advocating revolution or violence
  • The Public Order Act 1936 -  forbade wearing of political uniforms & gave police >er powers to control and ban political meetings and demonstrations.
  • no Nuremberg-style rallies in Britain.
  • National government ensured stability and prevented extremist parties from exploiting any power vacuum - no need to depend on any political alliances with the extremists. 
  • The National government was in place 9 years 
  • Baldwin and Chamberlain avoided conflict with communist or fascist countries 
  • policy of 'Appeasement' and avoidance of war ensured public support until March 1939
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Other factors limiting political extremism

  • 1930s -  Labs & TUs led by moderates opposed link with communists. 
  • TUists unionists like Bevin fought communist influence in TUs 
  • Labs rejected all attempts to create 'Popular Front' against Fascism with CPGB - happened in France 1936 
  • late- 1930s - truth about Stalin's brutal collectivisation of Soviet agriculture, show trials of political opponents & mass purges
  • Hostility to Stalin's role in the Spanish Civil War. 
  • alienated from Soviet Communism - Stalin made pact with Hitler August 1939 - British communists looked ridiculous and unpatriotic.
  • Mussolini's invasion of Abyssinia 1935 & backing Franco 1936> - turned people away from Fascist Italy. 
  • Hitler's Germany discredited by internal violence - Kristallnacht 1938
  • May 1940 - fear BUF posed threat to British security justified Churchill's government arresting Oswald Mosley and 700> followers 
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Other factors

  • mass unemployment reduced by 1937
  • Midlands & SE - new industries were growing rapidly - more comfortable lifestyle
  • British middle classes did not suffer economic disaster. 
  • deep unemployment in the depressed areas but these did not lead to political extremism. 
  • long- term unemployed became demoralised and apathetic, or adjusted to life on the dole. 
  • George Orwell - 'It is quite likely that fish-and-chips, tinned salmon, cut-price chocolate, the movies, the radio, strong tea and the Football Pools have between them averted revolution' 
  • Communists never found outstanding leader - no British Lenin.
  • Mosley - impatient, poor administrator and made political mistakes.
  • BUF got reputation for thuggery - lost public support. 
  • strength of Britain's political institutions, especially parliament and the monarchy. 
  • 1914-8 war had not ended in defeat and revolution 
  • No widespread loss of faith in government or monarchy - not even after Abdication Crisis 1936.
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