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Great War - changes in people's attitudes about government

Uploaded by Daryl Chambers on Dec 10, 2001

How far did the Great War change people's attitudes about how big a part a government should play in peoples's lives?

“War” declared Trotsky, “is the locomotive of history” (Bourne, 1989,p. 191)

When considering the attitude of the people towards the change governmental intervention had in their lives, one must consider a number of different aspects.

The scene must firstly be set by ascertaining the mood of the people upon the outbreak of war, and this Bourne eloquently describes:

“The British urban working class was the oldest industrial workforce in the world. Its class-consciousness was very strong. It was well organised. It had a sharp awareness of its industrial strength. It was quite remarkably strike-prone. It was also riven with divisions, petty snobberies and subtle distinctions. It was disciplined and deferential, conformist and hedonistic, patriotic and loyal. It showed little interest in radical ideologies. It had a vast fund of goodwill towards Britain` s national institutions, especially the monarchy and parliament. From the point of view of a hard- pressed government in time of war, the working class was far from intractable. There was, however, a sticking point. This was `fairness`, a concept deeply rooted in Anglo-Saxon culture. Government could ignore `fairness` only at its peril.
(Bourne, 1989, p. 204)

These were the people the government were given the task of cajoling into acquiescence, people that had become accustomed to Free Trade, private enterprise and minimal governmental interference. Despite this scenario however, political Liberalism was seen to be evolving in response to social problems and the rise of labour, and the war became “the locomotive” which accelerated the change in British politics and society.

It was only when the pressures of war were brought to bear, that the government gradually abandoned its laissez faire principles in favour of direct control. The goal was to fight a war, but simultaneously preserve the living standards of the civilians, so as to uphold morale on the home front and in the factories needed to supply the military front.

Bourne suggests that:

“The nature of this interference was characteristic. It involved a series of ad hoc responses to specific problems. These were made of necessity and not through choice. There was no overall plan and no philosophy of action.”
(Bourne, 1989,p. 192)

The desperate need for munitions was an early realisation of the need for state control, which later extended to shipping in 1916, food in 1917,coal in 1917, and food rationing in 1918....

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Uploaded by:   Daryl Chambers

Date:   12/10/2001

Category:   World War I

Length:   18 pages (3,939 words)

Views:   2451

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