Priyamvada Gopal’s article on the resistance to the First World War (Honour those who fought – and those who would not, 28 February) provides an excellent and much needed rebalancing of the debate about the war. She rightly argues that those who opposed the conflict also deserve remembering. Not least the sacrifices that many of them made.
Some of those who refused to fight were unable to find work after the war, including the famous Yorkshire Dalesman, Arthur Raistrick. Like him, many served two or three jail sentences (and hard labour) for opposing conscription. Some among them had their health ruined and, as a result, died relatively young. Among them was Clifford Allen but not before he had raised the idea of the Living Wage in the 1920s.
The Daily Mail published Ramsay MacDonald’s birth certificate to show he was illegitimate to shame him for opposing the war.
Gopal also rightly mentions Bertrand Russell (jailed), Keir Hardie, Sylvia Pankhurst and Fenner Brockway (jailed) as opponents of the war. Yet she does not make an important connection between them: that they were all members of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). Indeed all those named in this letter were ILPers.
Gopal mentions various organisations that played an honourable anti-war role: the Women’s International League (which contained many women ILPers), the Union of Democratic Control, the Society of Friends, and the No Conscription Fellowship (which ILPers like Fenner Brockway helped to establish). Sadly she omits to mention the ILP here. She also refers to the 1917 Leeds Conference which opposed British imperialism. Again the ILP played a leading role in that meeting.
So while I welcome Gopal’s article, I hope she does not mind me trying to set the record straight.
Independent Labour Publications (ILP)
This letter was sent to the Guardian in response to Priyamvada Gopal’s article ‘Honour those who fought – and those who would not’, printed in the paper on 28 February.
Read other articles about the role of ILPers’ in resisting World War One here.