When I started to write this text I thought it would be a simple job of collating documentary material which I have been collecting for a number of years. I then managed to track down some survivors from those tumultuous times and the further I got into interviewing them the more I realised how difficult it is to do full justice to the tangle of personal and political relationships which constituted the socialist and anti-war movement in North London during the 1914-1918 war. On further reflection it occurred to me that this complexity is common to all real social movements past and present, and that if this text, warts and all, reflects that richness, it could contribute not only to an understanding of the past but even of the world of today.
Much of available labour and socialist history is about institutions- parties, trade unions and similar organisations, on the anatomy rather than the physiology of the movement; while another substantial chunk is about individuals - usually those who have reached some sort of prominence. Both of these approaches can be valuable but they do not usually help us understand the confused matrix of the grass roots movements from which these individuals and organisations emerged, or how they articulated together. At worst much of what has passed for labour/socialist history - particularly of the twentieth century - is little more than retrospective justification, a hunt for apostolic or demonic successions and the legitimisation of this or that organisation or ideology, rather than an attempt to describe the rich and fertile contradictions of the movement as it was, and for that matter still is.
The struggle against the 1914-1918 war is often seen in a partial way, as being embodied in either the established socialist parties or in the pacifist movement. I hope that this text will show that the reality was much more substantial, complex and fruitful. What is clear- certainly in London and I suspect nationally too - was that the main origin of the radical anti-war movement was not in the established socialist groups, or among middle-class pacifists, although both these currents made a contribution (and were themselves profoundly affected by the heat of the struggle); rather it lay in the 'rebel' milieu which had existed before the war - the syndicalist and industrial unionist movements within industry, the radical wing of the women's movement and the wide range of networks and organisations which by and large were very critical of the established labour movement.
As the war progressed and its true horror in terms of carnage on the battlefield and deprivation at home became apparent, the courageous stand taken by relatively few at its start began to strike a deep chord among the working class. It was this wider movement which in its turn became the basis of the massive wave of industrial and social unrest which shook British society to its foundations in the first years of peace. This text is an attempt to document this process on a local basis.
What I have tried to do is to show the whole matrix of the radical anti-war movement, its roots in the past, its political interconnections, and its influence on the future. One of the methods which I have used to illustrate this complex of relationships has been to recover a wide range of biographical notes about participants. Most of these are printed as footnotes, but taken collectively they are an essential component of my main theme. The individuals I have been able to describe are not just interesting exhibits; they were active parts of a living movement, a poli tical ecology . For each one detailed here, there were dozens of other contributors to the struggle about whom I have been unable to retrieve information.
This text grew out of work I have been doing for a number of years on the socialist and working-class movement in Islington from the 1850s until 1939. I t necessarily bears the imprint of my own local chauvinism - although I am now living in exile - and it deals only superficially with events in other parts of North London except where they are directly relevant to my main themes. It should be remembered that while North London was without doubt a major centre of the anti-war struggle, events there can be closely paralleled in many other places.
This book is dedicated to those thousands of ordinary men and women who fought against the 1914-1918 holocaust and who, without a thought for their own future prospects, made enormous sacrifices for what they knew was right.