Monday, 3 April 2017


Wakefield Socialist History Group
Thirty three people packed into the meeting room at the Red Shed in Wakefield last Saturday (1 April) to discuss BRITISH SOCIALISM AND WORLD WAR ONE.
The first speaker, historian Martin Crick, gave a fascinating account of socialist responses to World War One including the struggles of socialist conscientious objectors.
Martin noted that there were 30 conscientious objectors in Wakefield.  He also explained that Wakefield prison became a home office work centre for conscientious objectors (CO's) who agreed to do work of "national importance."  The CO's did not have to wear uniforms, had free association and were able to go out during the day.  This led to letters from residents of Wakefield to the Wakefield Express complaining that CO's were "cluttering up the free public library" and warning of the impact they might have on the "morals of Wakefield's young women ."
The second speaker was Paul Bennett from the Socialist Party of Great Britain (SPGB).  Paul noted that the SPGB was unequivocal at the time.  It called the war a "capitalist war."  It called on workers to "join the army of revolution instead."
During the war the party itself faced many difficulties.  Its' membership fell two thirds.  Outdoor meetings were broken up and speakers attacked.  Some members lost their jobs because of their opposition to the war.  The party was battered but emerged better prepared for the struggles to come.
The final speaker was Jock from the Communist Workers Organisation.  He said World War One was an "extraordinary watershed in human history" and that we are "still living with the consequences."
Jock noted in particular what one socialist, one of 16 conscientious objectors imprisoned in Richmond Castle in 1916, wrote on his cell wall --"The only war which is worth fighting is the class war....if the workers of all countries united and refused to fight, there would be no war!"
This event was organised by Wakefield Socialist History Group.  The Group's next event is SYNDICALISM AND THE GREAT UNREST on Saturday 13 May, 1pm back at the Red Shed (Vicarage Street, Wakefield WF1).  All are welcome and admission is free.
Alan Stewart
Convenor, Wakefield Socialist History Group

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