My Clarion History series is coming to an end. I have read the paper up to the end of 1914, mainly but not entirely back in the 1970s, and after the episode in this edition I reckon I can do two more ones of reasonably general interest.
But Sussex University Library has only microfilm of the paper up to the end of 1914. So that’s where my history will end.
25 More on the outbreak of war in 1914
Of all the socialist papers of the time the Clarion was the most unequivocal in its support of the war. And there’s no doubt it disappointed many previously firm supporters and that it lost some readership as a result.
Blatchford’s own contribution to the first wartime edition of the paper had the title ‘The Drums of Armageddon.’ It had been written before war was declared. Blatchford predicted that by the time the paper appeared ‘every CLARION reader will know more than I know now.’ He had lived the whole of the previous week, he told readers, ‘in a kind of waking nightmare.’ In Sussex he had seen sentries posted on Newhaven Quay but ‘the few English women and men we met seemed so marvellously unconscious of the gathering storm.’ The regatta in Rye had seemed to generate greater interest.
Yet there was no escaping.
The drums of Armageddon are coming nearer, rolling louder. The men are marching steadily to slaughter and death. Do the German people want to fight the French? Do the French people want to fight the Germans? Do the Russian peasants want to fight? Do the British people want to fight? Have any of these peoples a quarrel with any other? No!
He continued in this vein for much of the editorial. Would it always be the case that ‘when our bloodthirsty, decadent half idiotic masters set the drums of Armageddon rolling we must march and slay?’
But it was clear that the Clarion was not going to follow the lead of Labour Leader in opposing British intervention in the war.
In the midst of this devilish tragedy as I can see clearly enough and so can many others, there are two powers against whom no charge of blood-guiltiness or violent threats can be brought, and those two countries are Britain and France. And they are both democracies. I have said before, and said it many times, that it behoves those two democracies to stand together and that while they stand together no power on earth can break them.
At the time Blatchford wrote war had broken out between Germany and France, the Germans had ‘threatened the French frontier’ but had not invaded. There had been no fighting. He continued:
Perhaps it is yet possible to prevent the tragedy? Perhaps if our Government stands firm and at the same time offers to Russia and to Germany the mediation of America, of Italy, of Britain, we may come through this awful trial without disaster or dishonour.
Alex Thompson’s article, ‘War!’ was written after the declaration of war. Like Blatchford, he recounted at some length how ‘The dread of this awful contingency has appalled and paralysed my faculties for a week.’ He recalled the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the suppression of the Paris Commune during ‘Bloody Week’ which he had experienced as a child in Paris. ‘Forty four years ago my youthful mind received impressions of scenes so deeply grievous and ghastly’ that he could not now ‘muster philosophic composure to face the prospect of the tale’s repetition.’ Yet, he concluded, ‘It had to be. This war could not be averted.’
It was not a war to defend Serbia; ‘Britain would not fire a pea-shooter or kill a cat in defence of Servia.’ (Serbia was generally known as Servia in Britain at this time.) The war was, Thompson said, as Blatchford had been warning for the last decade, ‘premeditated and prearranged.’
It is a war for the domination of Europe by the German War Lords, for the annexation of the Dutch, Danish and Belgium seaboard, and the eventual smash of the British colonial Empire.
We should ‘acquit ourselves as a united and resolute people.’ There was no quarrel ‘with our brothers in Germany’ but with ‘the aggressive, arrogant, brutal and domineering War Lords of Berlin.’ When they had been ‘humiliated and destroyed’ and the ‘great German Republic’ had replaced them ‘the three most enlightened democracies in Europe will be able to form an alliance that shall indeed make for peace and progress.’
In the meantime the government had acted quickly ‘to protect the bankers and financiers.’ They should act equally quickly in the interests of the people. ‘The whole of the country’s food supply should be nationalised immediately.’ two months.’
If anyone had the slightest doubt about the Clarion’s stance the front page of the following week’s issue (14 August) featured not only Blatchford on ‘The Strain of Armageddon’ but also the large advertisement carrying Kitchener’s now famous appeal ‘Your King and Country Needs You’ which ended with ‘God Save the King’
I mentioned Blatchford’s attacks on religious belief in God and my Neighbour in 1903 and in Not Guilty: A defence of the Bottom Dog two years later a few episodes ago. So here you had Blatchford seeming to call on a God he didn’t believe in to save a monarch he’d never shown any enthusiasm for.
It is not hard to imagine the shock this must have caused to many readers.
Next time. Blatchford and Thompson in wartime France