Pacifism was still accepted as a legitimate viewpoint within the Party until 1936, when Germany and Italy leant support to General Franco in his attempt to oust a democratically elected socialist government in Spain. Many socialists were to follow Major Attlee's call to arms and fight in the Battalion of the International Brigade.
Whilst the Conservative government turned its back on Spain, mass supplies of food, clothing and medicine were sent to the Republic. Basque children were even adopted, and by 1937, more than 4,000 had been brought to Britain. The Co-operative Union and the Labour Party launched the Milk for Spain Fund - selling sixpenny and threepenny tokens in Co-ops throughout Britain. This raised #32,500 for suffering children in Catalonia and other parts of Republican Spain.
The Birmingham businessman Neville Chamberlain was now Prime Minister, and by 1938 was coming under concerted attack from the Labour leadership and some Conservatives. The deal at Munich to sell Czechoslovakia down the river merely increased the resolve of the Labour Party that Hitler's aggression against German people and other Europeans had to be stopped.
Attlee said of Munich that "the Czechs have been betrayed, and handed over to a ruthless despot." Winston Churchill was quick to agree, as were the many people who attended over 2,500 protest meetings in support of Czechoslovakia.
Even Chamberlain became resigned to the prospect of war after the occupation of Prague in 1939, and in September of that year, Britain declared war after Germany invaded Poland. Now a war leader was needed, with dissident Tories and Labour forcing Chamberlain to resign in favour of Churchill.
Whilst some Conservatives, such as Lord Halifax, and some Labour people, such as Stafford Cripps, disagreed with the war, the overwhelming view in the Party and Parliament was that it was a terrible necessity. The Popular Front disintegrated, with some Communists following the Moscow line on the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Labour played an influential part in the creation of the wartime Coalition, with a united Party. All of Labour's top men went into the War Cabinet - Attlee as Deputy Prime Minister, Dalton concentrating on economics and Herbert Morrison organising the civil defence in a new era of airstrikes and bombing.
The key role perhaps went to Ernest Bevin of the TGWU, who was placed in charge of massive personnel mobilisation into the armed forces or war production. As the government took over the mines and railways, and Bevin supplied the workforce, a way was paved for the New Britain that Labour declared it wanted.
Sometimes the wartime restrictions upon information made it hard for Parliament to assess the actual progress of the war. Nye Bevan was to question Churchill's handling of various incidents, such as the Singapore debacle, reflecting some restlessness within the Party. As Churchill was not only Prime Minister but was also the man co-ordinating all armed forces, Bevan attempted to restore some accountability for failures. Historians still argue whether the conduct of the war was as good as it could have been.
It can't have been that bad, because by December 1944, most of shattered Western Europe had been placed under Allied control. It was in Eastern Europe where Labour faced future problems, as Stalin's dictatorship travelled with the indisputably heroic Red Army into the centre of Germany. A new world order was emerging, with American and Soviet troops face-to-face across a devastated continent.
By the end of 1944, the labour movement was starting to show signs of discontent with the entrapment of the party within the coalition. A miner's strike erupted, contained with some difficulty by Bevin, and talk was of the next election - there had not been a contest for some years by this stage. Nye Bevan warned of 'corporatism' and the growth of a faceless bureaucracy; in itself an affront to the individual freedom that so many Britons had sacrificed their lives and homes for.
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