In the second half of the nineteenth century the Radicals formed a powerful political group in Britain, closely linked with the Liberal Party and the Nonconformist churches. They opposed armaments, involvement in foreign wars and imperial expansion, and stood for free trade, the extension of the franchise, the curtailment of the power of the House of Lords and the disestablishment of the Church of England. After about 1870, there was a shift away from laissez-faire, with Radical leaders such as Joseph Chamberlain calling for free education, factory legislation, slum clearances and the break-up of great landed estates. The exodus of most of the Whigs from the Liberal Party after 1885 accentuated this trend. During the Liberal hegemony of 1906–15, the Radicals, led by David Lloyd George, succeeded in reducing the power of the House of Lords, disestablished the Welsh Church, introduced old-age pensions and national insurance, and came close to achieving Irish Home Rule.
This period saw the emergence of a number of socialist and labour parties in Britain: the Social Democratic Federation (1881), Fabian Society (1884), Independent Labour Party (1893), Labour Representation Committee (1900, renamed the Labour Party in 1906) and the Communist Party (1920). The Liberal Party became deeply divided during and after World War I and by 1922 it was eclipsed by the Labour Party as the main opposition party. From then onwards, radicalism was no longer a semi-organised political force associated with one party, but was rather a disposition shared by individuals of many kinds and various allegiances: communists, socialists, militant trade unionists, civil libertarians, feminists, peace activists, supporters of Indian independence, and critics and opponents of the British Establishment.
The principal collection of British radical pamphlets of the twentieth century held in the Library was purchased from Guernsey Books of St Peter Port, Guernsey, in 1972. In 1974 the Library bought from Harvester Press of Hassocks, Sussex, a collection of microfilms and microfiche of pamphlets, periodicals and other publications of radical organisations entitled ‘The Left in Britain’. Biennial or annual supplements (updates) were acquired from 1975 to 1988.
The collection acquired from Guernsey Books consists of about 3200 pamphlets, leaflets and issues of periodicals. Apart from a set of Fabian Tracts (1884–97), they were mostly published between 1900 and 1970. The bulk of them are British imprints, including translations of European writers such as V.I. Lenin, Rosa Luxemburg, Karl Marx, V.M. Molotov, Stalin, Leon Trotsky and A.Y. Vyshinsky. There are a small number of European, US and Australian imprints.
A large number of political parties, pressure groups and interest groups are represented in the collection. There are many publications of the Communist Party, Cooperative Party, Cooperative Union Ltd, Labour Party and Liberal Party. Examples of other organisations are the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, Anglo–Russian Parliamentary Committee, British–Czechoslovak Friendship League, British–Yugoslav Association, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Fabian Society, Friends of Soviet Russia, League for Democracy in Greece, National Council for Civil Liberties, Political Freedom Movement, Russia Today Society, Socialist Medical Association, Socialist Party of Great Britian, Union of Democratic Control and University Labour Federation. While the great bulk of the publications are left wing in varying degrees, some were issued by extreme right-wing organisations such as the National Front, National Pure Water Association, Racial Preservation Society and the Yorkshire Campaign to Stop Immigration.
One of the great strengths of the collection is an incomplete but substantial set of leaflets issued by the Liberal Party between 1906 and 1930. There is also a long series of Liberal Party pamphlets.
By their very nature, many of the pamphlets are anonymous and undated. Some of the better-known and more prolific authors include H.H. Asquith, Aneurin Bevan, Emile Burns, G.D.H. Cole, Maurice Dobb, R. Palme Dutt, W. Fox, William Gallacher, Victor Gollancz, Hewlett Johnston, Harold Laski, David Lloyd George, Herbert Morrison, Philip Noel-Baker, Harry Pollitt, D.N. Pritt, William Rust, Herbert Samuel, Gordon Schaffer, Bernard Shaw, Sir John Simon, Philip Snowden and Barbara Ward.
The subject matter of the pamphlets is extraordinarily broad. The following examples illustrate the scope of the collection: arms trade, British foreign policy, capitalism, coal industry, colonies, communism, cooperative movement, depression of the 1930s, economic planning, education, employment policy, factory regulation, food, free trade and protection, House of Lords, Indian independence, Labour Party, land reform, liberalism, Marxism, Nazi Germany, nuclear disarmament, poverty, prevention of war, prices and profits, public health, Russian Revolution, socialism, Soviet Union, Spanish Civil War, strikes, taxation policy, trade unionism, transport, treatment of Jews, wages, women’s suffrage, World War II and peace negotiations.
The collection entitled The Left in Britain consists of 1515 microfiche and 152 microfilm reels. The pamphlets, reports, leaflets, journals and other publications that were filmed were produced by about 50 British socialist, communist, anarchist and other left-wing parties and organisations in the period 1961–88.
Among the organisations represented in the collection are the Anarchist Black Cross, Anarchist Communist Federation, Association of Communist Workers, Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, Centre for Socialist Education, Communist Party of Britain (Marxist-Leninist), Independent Labour Party, International Communist League, International Marxist Group, International Socialists (later the Socialist Workers Party), May Day Manifesto Group, Militant, Revolutionary Workers Party, Socialist Organiser, Socialist Society, Troops Out Movement and Workers Power Group.
Most of the publications are unsigned, but there are several well-known political and literary figures among the authors. They include Tariq Ali, Tony Benn, Paul Foot, Ted Grant, Ernest Mandel, Ralph Milliband, Peter Taaffe, E.P. Thompson and Raymond Williams.
The Left in Britain microfilm includes such journals as International Socialism, Militant, Peace News, Red Flag, Socialist Leader and Socialist Worker.
There are 16 volumes, mostly of Liberal Party leaflets and pamphlets, while the rest of the publications are housed in 60 boxes. They have been catalogued as a collection, but are not catalogued individually. The catalogue produced by Guernsey Books, copies of which are shelved with the collection, lists all the items by author or, in the case of the anonymous works, alphabetically by title. The pamphlets and other publications are shelved at f 309.142082 T971.
The Left in Britain microfilm and microfiche are housed in the Newspaper and Microcopy Collection. The microfiche is divided into two series. On the first two fiche in each series there is a bibliographical guide, with chronological, title and author indexes. In addition, each biennial or annual supplement (update) commences with a bibliographical guide. The microfilm of journals is held at mfm 1330 (152 reels) and the microfiche of pamphlets, leaflets and other ephemera is at mc 136. The bibliographical guide to the 1983 supplement is also held in paper form at p 016.32240941 M979.
Derry, John W. The radical tradition: Tom Paine to Lloyd George, Macmillan, London, 1967.
Guernsey Books, 20th Century British radicalism, Guernsey Books, St Peter Port, 1972.
Murr, Maureen (comp.), The Left in Britain during 1983: a bibliographical guide, Harvester Microform, Brighton, 1984.
Spiers, John et al. The left in Britain: a checklist and guide, with historical notes to 37 left-wing political movements and groupings active in Britain between 1904-1972, Hassocks, Sussex, Harvester Press, 1976.
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)