Socialist Worker

There are better reads than 1919 on Britain’s year of revolution

by Jeff Jackson
Issue No. 2534

The front cover of 1919—Britain’s Year of Revolution

The front cover of 1919—Britain’s Year of Revolution


The 1917 Russian Revolution was a flaring beacon of hope for working and oppressed people across the globe.

It inspired a great revolutionary wave across a Europe exhausted and scarred by the First World War’s bloody carnage.

Britain was no exception, with 1919 representing a high point in working class struggle unmatched since in its breadth or scale.

In 1919 over 34 million working days were “lost” due to strikes compared to an average of 4.5 million for each of the preceding four years.

Two thousand soldiers, ordered to embark for France, instead mutinied and formed a “Soldiers Union”. Even the police force struck and demanded the right to unionise.

In Glasgow 100,000 workers struck for a 40?hour week. Sailors from the HMS Kilbride refused to go to sea and hoisted a red flag. Britain’s prime minster told the trade union leaders “we are at your mercy”. Britain was on the brink of revolution.

Simon Webb’s book attempts to uncover why these momentous events are now written out of British history, to shed light on their scale and make sense of why they occurred.

In chronicling some of this period he vividly conveys how close Britain came to revolution. The problem however is with the analysis.

Webb seems to lack the intellectual tools needed to understand the actions of the people and organisations embroiled in this massive struggle.

His view of the state as a neutral arbiter in the battle between labour and capital means everything it does to maintain “order” is justifiable—be it slaughtering over 500 rebels in the Punjab to stationing warships on the Clyde or Mersey.

1919 is a crucially important year for the British working class but it has received better treatment in other books.

My advice would be to get a copy of Chanie Rosenberg’s marvellous short book 1919, Britain on the Brink of Revolution.

1919—Britain’s Year of Revolution by Simon Webb Published by Pen and Sword History, £19.99

Edmund Clark: War of Terror

Artist-photographer Edmund Clark has created several series of works exploring state control during the “Global War on Terror”.

This thought-provoking exhibition looks at issues of security, secrecy, representation and legality.

The show focuses on the measures taken by states to “protect” their citizens from the threat of terrorism, and their ­far?reaching effects.

The exhibition brings together a variety of images and documents of CIA operated secret “black sites”, including photographs from the US torture camp at Guantanamo Bay.

This is an immersive experience, that invokes a sensory engagement with the experiences of the systems of control Clark explores.

Edmund Clark: War of Terror Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Rd, London SE1 6HZ. Until 28 August 2017. Free entry

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Reviews
Tue 13 Dec 2016, 18:09 GMT
Issue No. 2534
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