WWI: ILP Oppose the War Drive

In September 1914, ILP representatives refused to follow the Labour Party in heeding government calls for a national campaign of recruitment to the armed forces, arguing that they would not support “militarists and enemies of labour”.

Here, we reproduce a report from the Glasgow Herald of 3 September 1914 on the ILP national council’s letter of explanation to its branches and members.


The National Council of the Independent Labour Party have issued to all branches of the organisation an explanation of the refusal of the Independent Labour Party representatives on the National Labour Party to follow the example of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Labour Party Executive in accepting the invitation of the Prime Minister to take part in the recruiting campaign jointly with the representatives of other political parties.

The Labour Party National Executive have already decided that their machinery; National and local shall be available for this purpose. The National Council of the Independent Labour Party held a specially summoned (?) meeting to consider the matter, and recommended branches to take no part in the proposed campaign.

“If Advise has to be given to the workers,” they say, “we hold it should be from our own platforms, preserving the character and traditions of our movement, and we refuse to take our stand by militarists and enemies of labour, with whose outlook and aim we are in the sharpest conflict, and who will assuredly seize the opportunity to justify the policy leading up to the war.

“Now that the country has been drawn into a deadly and desperate war which may in the end involve our existence as a nation, it is not a matter for speech-making, least of all from those who will not themselves be called upon to face the horror of the trenches.”

The manifesto goes on to say that the responsibility for national safety rests primarily on the Government.

“It is the duty of the Government taking the public into their confidence to press whatever steps may be necessary to defend the homes of the people. In our view the operation of a sort of moral press-gang will be inequitable and unjust. We must also protest against all attempts to force men into the ranks by withholding assistance from them or dismissing them from their employment. To starve or discharge men in order to compel them to join the Forces is a cowardly and unworthy weapon.”


More articles on the ILP and World War One are available here.

You can read more about the ILP’s history here and here.