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The British Revolution was a successful syndicalist revolution that engulfed the United Kingdom in 1924 and 1925 and sent shockwaves through the British Empire. It resulted in the creation of the Union of Britain, the Collapse of the British Empire (like the Indian Revolt, the Burmese Revolt and a scramble for British possessions in Africa, Southeast Asia, the Mediterranean Sea and the Americas) and the manifestation of German hegemony over Europe (leading to the closer binding of Belgium, Portugal and Ireland to Germany's economic sphere).

At the same time, the emergence of a Syndicalist state on the British Isles also drastically change the power balance in Europe towards the Third International. While the Commune of France had acted relatively pro-Germany in the early 1920s and was willing to compromise with Berlin to a certain degree, the British Revolution caused them to become increasingly self-confident, pursuing a more aggressive foreign policy against the German sphere.

The British Revolution is widely perceived as the cause of the "Troubled Mid-20s", also called the 1925/26 Upheaval, which led to a phase of extreme economic and political instability on a global level. Notable events directly and indirectly caused or influenced by the Revolution are the New York Stock Market Crash of mid-1925, protest movements in the Balkans, political instability in Austria-Hungary, the late 1925 Italian war scare which would eventually lead to the dissolution of the Italian Federation, the Second Ultimatum and the subsequent takeover of the Integralists in Portugal, the Egyptian declaration of independence and the Suez Crisis, the British Colonial Scramble, the 1927 Brazilian Civil War and various wars of independence around the world, most prominently in Southern Asia.

Prelude

Main Article: Great Slump

Aftermath of the Great War (1919-1921)

In 1919, the devastating Great War ended after five years with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. While Britain had officially maintained its integrity and made no concessions to the victorious Central Powers (hence the name "Peace of Honor", as the Treaty of Versailles was called by British propaganda), over three quarters of a million men of the British Isles had been killed or lost, the government was deep in debt, an outright War of Independence was raging in Ireland, and British India was close to internal collapse. Mere weeks after the peace treaty, the British Empire would plunge into a deep-rooted political crisis, which would be just one of several in the coming years. The tremendous losses for so little gain caused many returning soldiers to turn to Labour and radicalism rather than the Liberal and Conservative Parties which had overseen the slaughter.

The Liberal Prime Minister David Lloyd George, derided as “the man who lost the war”, lost the support of his Tory coalition partners and was forced to call a snap election in 1919. Soundly defeated by the Conservatives, who achieved a majority government of 395 out of 707 seats in the House of Commons, Tory leader Andrew Bonar Law became Prime Minister. Opposed to even Home Rule for Ireland, Law increased the forces present to try and crush the revolt.

With Germany’s victory in the Great War granting them dominance over Belgium and much of eastern Europe, the Kaiserreich was able to pressure the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden and the newly independent Finland to join the economic block of Mitteleropa. Members were encouraged to prioritise trade with one another and to impose high tariffs on all other countries, largely cutting Britain off from trade with much of Europe. The British economy faced other issues too, such as the ongoing debt repayments to the United States, and the massive demobilization and economic restructuring required following the end of Europe’s bloodiest ever conflict In response, the Law government substantially increased tariffs to reinvigorate the British economy, increasing the costs of goods from outside the British Empire, particularly the German aligned block. While this would see a resurgence for some industries it also caused greatly increased prices of many goods such as foodstuffs, raw materials and chemicals.

In 1921 several British trade unions amalgamated to form the formidable Transport and General Workers' Union. In its first election for General Secretary, the radical Ben Tillet defeated the moderate Ernest Bevin.

The defeat of vanguardist Bolshevism in the Russian Civil War in contrast to the success of revolutionary trade unionism in France made a strong impression on the extreme left of British society. The British Socialist Party, South Wales Socialist Party and the Socialist Labour Party merged to found the Syndicalist Party of Great Britain. The SPGB campaigned on a pacifist platform opposed to parliamentarianism and what it called “financial democracy”. Throughout 1921 it continued to grow, absorbing many small socialist parties and Sylvia Pankhurst’s British Section of the Third International.

While peace in Ireland would arrive in 1921 with the Anglo-Irish Treaty, the Empire was still plagued by colonial unrest and by one political scandal chasing the last: In late 1922, Stanley Baldwin, the inexperienced chancellor of the exchequer, caused nation-wide uproar when it was announced that he had agreed to repay £40 million of debt to the United States of America on an annual basis instead of the estimated £16 million. The notion that lining the pockets of Americans mattered more to the government than the welfare of the British people caused a storm of bad publicity for Baldwin and the Law administration as a whole.

Two Brief Prime Ministries (1922-1924)

In early 1923 Law began to lose his voice due to terminal throat cancer. Unable to speak in the House of Commons, he resigned as both Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Austen Chamberlain became its new leader while a general election was called.

Under the charismatic and reformist Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Party came into force as the anti-war opposition, advocating for defence cuts to alleviate the crushing poverty affecting much of the country. They won 201 seats, including Birmingham Ladywood which was taken by Oswald Mosley despite two demanded recounts. The Liberals’ modestly successful campaign against protectionism increased their share form 146 seats in 1919 to 163. The Conservatives remained the largest party with 243 seats, though with tacit support of the Liberals, Labour would arguably be effectively larger.

Appointed Prime Minister by George V, MacDonald proceeded to severely moderate Labour’s policies. This undermined his support both internally and from the syndicalists, who had begun advocating for violent revolution. Despite this the Liberals soon turned against Labour over MacDonald’s failure to reduce tariffs significantly. The killing blow to the MacDonald Government came in the form of the decision to withdraw the prosecution of left-wing activist John Ross Campbell, leading to both the Liberals and Conservatives to accuse Labor of giving favourable legal treatment to dangerous radicals. A vote of no confidence forced MacDonald to resign, parliament was dissolved and at the start of 1924 a general election was thus called.

Austerity and Outrage (1924)

Receiving a narrow majority of 317 seats, Austen Chamberlain wished to form a coalition with the Liberals for stability. Ramsey MacDonald hoped to join this national coalition, but when his plan was revealed it caused outcry among Labour supporters. The new leader of the Miner’s Federation of Great Britain, Arthur Cook, among other trade union activists, denounced MacDonald as a traitor and pushed a motion condemning “coalition politics'' at the Annual General Meeting of the Trade Union Congress. MacDonald was expelled from the Labour Party, with his loyalists forming the much smaller National Labour Party. Chamberlain was appointed Prime Minister as part of a coalition between this party, the Liberals and Conservatives.

The new Labour leader, George Lansbury, was something of an enigma. A Christian socialist with strong pacifist beliefs, he nonetheless drove the party towards radicalism and made the Syndicalist Party an official affiliate. Whilst he had made visits to the Commune of France, and his newspaper Lansbury's Labour Weekly has received funding by the Communards, he had also alleged in private that the British Syndicalists "couldn't run a whelk-stall".

The National Government caused controversy across the political spectrum, though especially from the left. It grew still less popular with the passing of an austerity budget in May. With the United Kingdom deep in debt, and the current state of affairs failing to improve the economy, pay was cut in all branches of the armed forces, and further investment into the Dreadnought Race ended. Many officers were decommissioned amidst accusations that preferential treatment was being given to men from the peerage or with well-connected family. Thousands of dock workers were left unemployed and with the prospect of an upcoming cut in unemployment benefits.

The British Revolution

HMS Hood Incident

On May 18, the HMS Hood docked at Devonport, having returned from a tour of the dominions and a visit to Lisbon. Learning of the measures affecting the navy, its crew suddenly turned mutinous. Assembling in crowds on the decks, the large majority of the Hood’s 1400 sailors were joined in disobedience by a similar number on non-naval ships. They sung “The Red Flag” and heckled officers who tried to threaten them into going back to work. The news spread and a crowd of locals quickly joined in the rabble rousing and singing.

Captain John Knowles Im Thurn, then captain of the Hood, had very little sea experience and spent most of the Great War working with wireless radio technology and inventing a torpedo tracking mechanism. Despite high praise from Rear-Admiral Tyrwhitt of his technical skills, Thurn made a huge mistake in dealing with the sailors. He chose to send the Royal Marines in, but upon boarding the HMS Hood they joined the strike over pay. Captain Thurn turned the matter over to the police and ordered the rest of the battlecruiser squadron to not negotiate with the striking sailors. The police boarded the HMS hood along with other ships where sailors attempted to start mutinies and arrested the suspects. Before the sailors could be escorted into custody a crowd of over two thousand assembled on the docks, demanding their release and their complaints be heard. If not, the protesters threatened to launch a wildcat strike. Fearful of the crowd’s reaction, the police released the sailors and called for additional manpower.

Misinformed that the demonstration was actually a riot, panic set in further up the chain of command. The dockside protesters meanwhile, did not disperse, as their demonstration morphed into one objecting to budget cuts and unemployment. Hundreds of policemen were drafted to forcefully disperse the protest, prompting violent resistance and stones thrown at the police. Some of the former protestors started to riot, and sympathy strikes broke out across the city. The police began assaulting and arbitrarily arresting picketers, but with their uncertainty about whose responsibility the mutinous sailors and marines were, many joined the rioting.

Spreading Labour Unrest

The news of the Plymouth Riots caused massive controversy nationally, the daily papers printed lurid stories of looting and burning, and rumours flew of red flags flown, police beating men to death in the streets, and even an elite French commando squad attacking the city. Near to Plymouth, wildcat strikes broke out in support of the workers of the city. On May 20, the Transport and General Workers' Union (TGWU) with its hundreds of thousands of members announced a solidarity strike, which paralysed docks, trainyards and stations across the country.

The head of the TGWU was Ben Tillett, a member of the Syndicalist Party of Great Britain. Fearing the strike was the first step in a plan for a French style revolution, on May 25 the government convened an emergency session of parliament and rushed through a bill outlawing the TGWU and suspended the right to strike for transport workers. This outraged the Labour party and the trade union movement, believing the government was deliberately overreacting to try and eliminate them.

On May 28, head of the syndicalist aligned Miners’ Federation of Great Britain, A. J. Cook, declared that his union would join the strike. The police engaged in an enormous number of arrests, many of which resulted in brawls from resisting picketers. The situation escalated with several territorial barracks mutinying, some expelling their officers and many raising red flags above the compounds. On May 31, the Trade Union Congress issued an emergency declaration announcing their intention to hold a general strike to protest the government’s treatment of the TGWU. Prime Minister Chamberlain felt the situation getting out of his control but nonetheless resolved, under pressure from the sections of both the Conservative and Liberal parties that had always distrusted Labour, to take a hard line. On June 1, the British government ordered the army to mobilize to support the police, help break up strikes, protect workers not striking and to force workers in essential jobs short on labour back to work. Workers who refused the latter were beaten, imprisoned or both. Many Labour members of the House of Commons not part of the governing coalition fell under suspicion.

As the summer progressed, the Trade Union Congress organised for a tough fight. Strikers were assigned to the distribution of essentials such as food and fuel to households of their fellow workers. Thousands of workplaces that remained operating came under the effective control of the trade union movement, with workers following instructions from union leaders rather than their official managers. These often had their produced goods redirected to support TUC members and their associates.

Vast numbers of essential workplaces that joined the strike did not completely cease work, due to the hardship it would cause other members of the working class. Instead, industries including transport, fuel and groceries greatly reduced their working hours.

Police numbers were few compared to the number of strikers, and were quickly spread too thin to provide much hindrance to the large bulk of the general strike. Property crime in urban areas soared with police overburdened and vast numbers of people with little to do.

The break down in supply chains resulted in whole industries being unable to operate. Having been laid off work, masses of workers joined protests and picket lines or assisted in the TUC’s grand logistic campaign to maintain the strike.

On August 15, Syndicalist Party General Secretary Albert Inkpin was speaking at a rally in Leeds when a gunman charged onto the stage. He shot Inkpin twice, killing him, before firing at Inkpin’s brother Harry and then into the crowd, killing two workers. The gunman fled the scene. Leeds police later reported his arrest but his identity would remain anonymous until the trial so as not to compromise the investigation. This outraged the SPGB, who began supplying all party members with revolvers and encouraging them to stockpile additional weaponry.

By September, 3.5 million workers were on strike.

Sparks of the British Revolution.webp

The Spark

The small town of Port Talbot in South Wales is home to a vast steelworks, and nearly all of its heavily unionised workforce joined the strike. The weather was cold and windy, leading to unhappy, demoralised soldiers.

On September 5, a crowd of strikers chanting syndicalist slogans marched in the direction of inexperienced soldiers guarding the docks. One private panicked and opened fire, the first known case of the deliberate killing of a striking worker. Fearing that their comrade had spotted a threat, other soldiers fired too, leaving five of the strikers dead before the rest fled.

The military were quickly ordered to vacate to a barracks outside town; the government feared their presence would anger the workers. Armed police, the first of their kind outside Ireland, placed the docks and town centre under lockdown. Nonetheless, that night civilians marched on the barracks and stormed it. The furious miners held a “trial” of the captured soldiers, whom they stripped and beat before expelling them.

Frantic messages were sent up the chain of command and the next day three words appeared on the front page of the daily papers: “MURDER – GUNFIRE – REVOLUTION”. However, the Daily Worker – a tabloid aligned with the radical left – told a different story. It reported that at least 100 miners were massacred and their bodies pickpocketed by the soldiers before being dumped into the harbor. At the same time, the Syndicalist Party called for the “brave revolutionaries” of Port Talbot to be imitated around the country. The interactions between police and strikers grew ever more violent as picketers grew still less responsive to police orders and respectful of their presence, which only made police tactics more aggressive. Increasing numbers of protestors threw bricks and rocks at police. Particularly when mounted or in groups, they often responded by charging the crowds swinging truncheons. This was sometimes successful, but on other occasions created large street battles where strikers fought back with stones, tools such as spades or even knives. Looting and angry protests consolidated into widespread rioting in Newcastle and Liverpool while in Sheffield a pair of policemen were set upon and beaten to death with metal pipes.

On numerous occasions, including several in London alone, crowds were successfully dispersed by army units firing over their heads, though not without several protestors being killed by poorly aimed bullets or trampled to death. In Glasgow’s George Square protesters responded to orders to disperse by throwing items at the soldiers, who were ordered to fire into the air. Amidst the noise the order was misinterpreted and shots were fired into the crowd, killing sixteen. The trickle of policemen going absent without leave due to fear or sympathy with the strikers became a stream, further weakening the government’s ability to keep the situation under control.

Amid the chaos, controversial Chancellor of the Exchequer Winston Churchill called for arbitration to no avail.

In France, rumours spread that the socialist uprising akin to theirs in 1919 had begun in Britain. This would imply that help should be given, just as the Commune had provided to other revolutionaries around the world.

The Revolution Begins in Ernest

With the smell of revolution and blood in the air parliament reacted strongly. Its members were advised to remain in London on the grounds that their safety could be guaranteed in the capital. On September 9, bills were rushed through Parliament outlawing leftist organisations including the Syndicalist Party, the Trade Union Congress and the Independent Labour Party. The former two remained headed by Arthur Cook while John Wheatley and Philip Snowden were key leaders of the latter. George Lansbury’s Coalition Labour barely escaped being banned but was placed under immense suspicion. Having spoken in favour of strikers, several members of parliament were arrested for sedition and incitement to mutiny. This violation of parliamentary privilege outraged the opposition, most notably Labour which condemned the tyrannical crackdowns on Socialist organizations. Its leaders began to rally behind the radical trade unionists who now openly called for the deposition of the current government. Some efforts to peacefully end the chaos were led by prominent political figures, most notably by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson. In a speech to the House of Lords on September 12, he condemned the violent actions of the Syndicalists, but also pointed towards the British government’s own policies as the root of the labour unrest. Davidson later attempted to reissue his speech in a nationwide radio broadcast to call for an end to the violence. However, the government successfully pressured the BBC’s manager to disallow the speech from airing.

With government control looking increasingly hollow in large parts of major cities, and a torrent of information and misinformation describing violence against authorities and rumours that dozens of workers’ communes had been declared across the country, the Chamberlain government feared the situation was far worse than it actually was. On September 16 it declared a state of emergency and began to mobilize the territorial army as barricades, military checkpoints and barbed wire sprung up over London. As the government ordered the army to do whatever it could to stop the radicals, across the country, troops were ordered to open fire into crowds.

The army experienced a flood of desertions by men unwilling to obey such orders. A significant minority joined the burgeoning rebellion, defending workers attacked by police and disincentivising government counteroffensives against various local communes. Cities such as Glasgow, Manchester and Liverpool turned into chaotic low intensity battlefields as the government attempted to use its weakened forces to enforce authority on thousands of hostile inhabitants, now increasingly willing to fire back. Particularly notable was on September 22 when the entire battalion stationed in Bradford refused to attack that city’s commune, leaving most of a major city effectively in rebel hands. Despite many attempts by strikers to gather, the massacres of which left hundreds dead, London remained firmly under government control.

Parliament erupted into chaos as a large group of the Liberal party defected from the coalition in protest at what they denounced as authoritarian tyranny. They petitioned King George V to dissolve parliament and called for a general election in order to unseat the sitting government. Despite his tacit sympathies for the striking workers, the King refused on the grounds it would not be his place to forcibly dissolve it and made it clear he would not involve himself in affairs of the government. A significant minority of the Liberals, as well as National Labour members found their sympathies turning towards the rebels.

Despite the violence and economic chaos, continued cooperation of the working class meant Manchester was able to host the Labour Party’s annual conference. On September 28, George Lansbury held a speech there, openly condemning the “political meddling” of King George V. The socialist referred to the fate of Charles I and made ominous threats that the last time a British king stood in the way of the common people, he “lost his head”. Lansbury followed up by declaring himself to be a Republican but remained ambivalent about the ongoing hostilities within the country, saying that he could not claim to know the will of the people, but that he was adamant that “one day a social revolution” would sweep away the monarchy. Some party members viewed the speech as uncharacteristic of such a noted pacifist, with articles and commentaries in the press later attempting to paint Lansbury’s words as more allegory than threat. Nevertheless, Lansbury’s fiery rhetoric helped kick off a growing tide of republicanism, even within the moderate British left. It also served as the last straw for the National Government. Labour itself, alongside any affiliates openly supporting revolution, were declared illegal shortly after and any Labour MPs left in London were arrested for high treason. Those able to escape went into hiding and pledged their allegiance to the rebellion. For the first time in modern British history, the political Opposition, as much as there was one, renounced the title “His Majesty’s Most Loyal Opposition”, denouncing both the King and the National Government.

It was at the beginning of October when the government’s authority in Cardiff finally broke. September had seen large portions of the city fall under the effective control of TUC aligned communes, which offered limited violent resistance as the government sent troops into block after block, only for its authority to evaporate the instant its forces did not pose an immediate threat. The intensification of resistance following the Lansbury speech, with rebel forces increasingly willing to fire on any soldier not clearly aligned to them, convinced the Parliamentarian commanders in the city that harsher tactics were needed against suspected rebels. The application of these was the cause of the first major mutiny on October 1st. The mutinies spread over the next few days and on October 5th the few remaining Parliamentarian troops were ordered to abandon the city. A part-professional worker’s militia was founded to patrol the streets and prevent further violence and looting, and syndicalist leaders from across Wales rallied to the city, most prominently Arthur Horner. Contact with what is sometimes called the “Cardiff Commune” was made by French agents watching eagerly for signs of genuine revolutionary spirit in the city, and a trickle of material and expertise begins to flow. The trickle soon became a flood as French advisors brought munitions and equipment with them, turning the rebels into a more competent fighting force. Much of Wales quickly fell, engulfed in revolutionary fervour as martial law was declared in the areas still under government control.

The alarming failure of the government to contain the insurrection contributed to a mood in many quarters that it was losing and would be toppled; fervent revolutionaries found their reluctant comrades more and more willing to commit entirely to the workers’ cause. Mutinies multiplied in the Royal Navy, leaving much of the fleets in Dover and Faslane stranded in harbour unable to move, along with every major ship in Rosyth.

British Revolution October 1924 - January 1925.webp

The Red Tide’s Breakout

The victory in Cardiff emboldened the Glasgow rebels, and on October 8 their advancing forces stormed the Glasgow City Chambers. Edinburgh had been a comparatively peaceful city up to that point, despite mass protests. With fewer and fewer troops remaining, and those that did more and more willing to open fire upon the massive crowds of strikers, on October 10 the Edinburgh City Chambers were stormed by a mob tens of thousands strong. The following day, a red flag was flown over Edinburgh Castle. In both cities worker’s militias were soon organised for formal training, but in another respect the takeovers were quite different. Edinburgh declared itself part of the wider British Revolution while Glasgow demanded an independent Scottish Workers’ Republic following a popular plebiscite. Nonetheless, both cities agreed to secure the rail lines between them.

Beginning October 15, fighting took place all up and down the line, the fiercest taking place at Livingstone. Leaving over three hundred dead, the inexperienced militia were able to overwhelm the pincered British Army and on the 21st the route between Glasgow and Edinburgh was secure. Unwilling to compromise collapsing morale any further, the army withdraw from the heart of Scotland while the victorious syndicalists proclaimed a Provisional Scottish Government until such time either independence was secured or a British Government declared. On October 28, the remains of the Bradford Battalion, reinforced by thousands of syndicalist militia, arrived in the disputed city of Leeds. By December it was entirely in rebel hands.

The Battle of the Railways marked the true start of the government losing control as by winter most of Scotland and Wales had fallen to the rebels. Sitting Members of Parliament grew ever more erratic as the Cabinet assured them the situation was under control even while plans were made to move the Royal Family to Canada. With the police, army and navy suffering thousands of desertions, military ranks were refiled with ex-servicemen, most notably former Black and Tans and former members of the Auxiliary division. Many of these became notorious for their ill-discipline and drunkenness, as well as their ruthless treatment of civilians which brought the Irish experience of brutality home to Great Britain. Horrified by the treatment of their own government, the rebels would find many citizens flocking to their ranks. With the boundary between solider and civilian among the rebels fluid and murky they were able to return the brutality of the Black and Tans in full with little alienation of non-combatants. The Cardiff Commune formed a centrepiece of the revolution as volunteers from France, Italy and America flooded in, as well as a small number of German syndicalists who were able to make it out of their country. With their backing the rebels began to push into North Wales.

Red December

The atmosphere of revolution proved intoxicating and many students were swept up by the new radicalism. At Cambridge, the heart of a very conservative and aristocratic part of the country, a debating society approved near unanimously a motion that “This house would under no circumstances take arms against the rebels in the present civil war”. A sentiment for which they received much condemnation and several arrests.

As the Parliamentarians were gradually forced from the city, on December 14 a council of the rebels elected to declare themselves “The Free City of Liverpool”. Sectarian violence broke out in which many suspected Labour moderates, Conservatives, Liberals and other “counter-revolutionaries” were beaten, imprisoned or shot for not joining in the rebellion. The Liver Building served as a temporary prison for these purposes and became the de facto rebel headquarters. Augmented by French aid and bolstered by radicals fleeing loyalist reprisals in North Wales, counterattack from the depleted Loyalist army was repulsed, securing Liverpool for good.

Manchester too was increasingly in rebel hands, but a remaining core of the “auxiliaries'' were not giving up. In the dead of night on the 24th of December some ambushed a group of soldiers planning to desert and savagely beat them, leaving many wounded and several dead. From there they set out to “enforce curfew” in the city, beating or killing anyone suspected of being rebellious. Lurid rumours of alleged ‘deserters’ being beaten or tortured to death in the streets spread. An unwitting militia patrol discovered auxiliaries clubbing a volunteer medic to death in an abandoned building and fighting began. The fleeing auxiliaries were chased to Manchester Cathedral, where they were confronted by William Temple, Bishop of Manchester and social reformer. In a confrontational sermon Temple roundly denounced their unchristian persecution of the innocent and and refused to give them refuge in the church. Beaten senseless, before Bishop Temple could be killed militiamen arrived and executed the Auxiliaries. On Christmas Day carols were sung as a red flag flew over Manchester Cathedral, which soon became the hub of the small Christian Socialist movement.

Syndicalist Amalgamation

British Revolution January - July 1925.png

Reinforced by foreign aid and supported by the mutinous navy, the Welsh Syndicalists were able to advance into England against their demoralised opponents. A chaotic Gloucester was abandoned by the loyalists on December 15 when the Welsh syndicalist army reached the city, and Bristol followed on January 8 as the Parliamentarians did not wish to be surrounded. The men of the Cardiff Commune marched into the city the following day, greeted by enthusiastic crowds and the small number of survivors from the city’s own militia.

In January the British Army began an evacuation from Scotland of all soldiers and any material it could feasibly move. The railway worker unions had secure control of stations and train yards throughout the region, requiring them to be forcibly removed in order to make progress. Many soldiers were unable or unwilling to abandon Scotland and evacuated to the Highlands where they formed an impromptu guerrilla force. With breathing space secured the debate began in Scotland as to the future of the country. A congress convened in Edinburgh, with John Maclean taking the natural position as the leader of the pro-independence faction, and Willie Gallacher as the leader of the pro-union faction. Maclean argued that only an independent Scotland could see the rise of true socialism, while Gallacher contended that unity with their English and Welsh comrades was the only way to win the war. In the end the congress was unable to reach a satisfactory conclusion as neither side could obtain a supermajority in favour. Talk instead turned to the business of the war with Gallacher wishing to strike south and attack the retreating loyalist armies. Maclean took issue and instead believed the fledgling Scottish forces should assault the last royalist forces in the north before securing the Anglo-Scottish border, effectively a ploy to secure an independent Scotland. Maclean died January 28 from an alleged case of pneumonia, though allegations that he was poisoned by royalist agents flared up amongst particularly radical nationalists. With Robert Cunninghame Graham taking the new lead of the independence faction, he sided with Gallacher, believing a reactionary England would be too dangerous a threat. The decision was made to strike south and pursue the retreating army before it could evacuate war material. With the debate settled, the Scottish Government elected to annex itself into the Union of Britain given the possibility of self-determination later on.

In Liverpool, delegates from Labour met with dissident National Labour followers and Liberals now backing the rebellion. On February 20 they issued the Liverpool Manifesto, declaring the Union of Britain as a federal republic replacing the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland with George Lansbury appointed President of the Provisional Revolutionary Government. It laid out the number of federal regions to be established and the territorial claims of the country, with the status of Northern Ireland left open but to be decided by negotiation with the recognised Irish Republic. The question of self-determination for Scotland and Wales was left ambiguous. After much politicking the early political leadership of the Union was solidified on March 13 with A.J. Cook elected Chairman of the Ministerial Council, the de facto cabinet, representing the old guard of the unions though Lansbury remained President in a more figurehead role. With Lansbury’s blessing, Cook appointed John Wheatley as his deputy, representing the Independent Labour Party. The still Lansbury-led Labour Party was ostensibly head of this revolutionary coalition and on paper was much bigger than all smaller groups combined, both in terms of members and seats in parliament prior to being banned, but its scattered and diffuse nature made it an ample vehicle for the old-SPGB membership, which soon begun to use the old Labour apparatus as its main support base and organising machine.

The Spring thaw brought renewed fighting to northern England. In early March the rebels finished securing Manchester and fighting shifted to Salford. Widespread guerrilla warfare, sabotage and noncooperation by the working class paralysed Parliament’s ability to direct forces where needed as the rebels linked up the cities they held in Northern England. By early April the syndicalists were in full control of the route between Liverpool and Manchester, and on the 19th the loyalists abandoned Huddersfield rather than risk encirclement. From the beginning of May rebel reinforcements poured into the embittered city of Sheffield. Efforts by the government to save the city by diverting additional territorials and arm new recruits resulted in the large majority of both deserting, many in favour of the rebels who declared it secure on May 25.

Bristol became a battlefield once again in mid-April, with the British Army attempting to retake the city. Soon surrounded, the rebels formally surrendered on the 27th, but sporadic resistance by committed socialists continued until summer. On May 4 Pembroke voluntarily defected to the Union of Britain, marking the final outpost of parliament and placing all of South Wales and most of Ceredigion under syndicalist control. Volunteers were therefore withdrawn from the region and able to hold off the army’s attempt to advance further. In the rest of Wales student uprisings were the chief force, with Syndicalist organisations formed in Aberystwyth, Bangor and Wrexham that begin to train as militia and try contact the main body of revolutionaries.

As summer began the Union of Britain’s Yorkshire and Lancashire forces began a massive campaign to join up with the territory in central and southern Scotland. The government’s efforts to turn Preston into a fortress resulted in widespread rioting and civil disorder. The rebel army securing the city from June 1-3 was generally hailed by its people as restoration of order. Efforts by increasingly demoralised loyalist troops to halt the syndicalist advance were hamstrung by the widespread though far from universal need for civilian cooperation to be strong-armed. A uprising of sorts helped Scottish rebels secure Carlisle on June 4, leaving Penrith to repulse the first syndicalist assault on June 9. Four days later, rebel forces approached the city from the south and after a day and a half of house to house fighting, the city fell to the revolution. The joining of the two principle zones under revolutionary control cost the Union of Britain thousands of casualties, but was met with much celebration and enormous reward. Northeast England north of the Humber had still been mostly controlled by the Parliamentarians, but due to being cut off from any land link to the rest of the United Kingdom things quickly changed. Facing catastrophic discontent, Newcastle declared for the Union of Britain on June 16 before major violence could break out and was followed hours later by Gateshead and on June 17 by the remaining loyalist forces in Middlesbrough. Though large numbers of troops deserted rather than fight for the syndicalists, more joined the revolutionary cause with their units.

The Union of Britain had captured a large amount of war material, as well as much of Britain’s munitions, shipbuilding and manufacturing. Syndicalist forces were sent southward to hold the “Trent Line”, which followed part of the River Trent, while foreign advisors trained their increasingly professional army. The rapid decline in the United Kingdom’s fortunes encouraged more and more territorial units to defect en masse, greatly bolstering the rebel ranks. Meanwhile, the first units of the Republican Navy, made up of mutinous ships, sailed for friendly ports in Wales, Scotland and the North of England.

Fearing the enhanced position of the syndicalists in the North, the Government began a highly secretive campaign. They dispatched units of the Territorial Army, civilian volunteers and the Auxiliaries to areas under syndicalist control to undertake covert sabotage operations deep behind enemy lines modelled after similar operations in Scotland. While initially many of these units acted as sleeper agents until they had managed to create proper bases, the plan was expanded for the south and special units that were to be ‘left behind’ if the area was taken over were set up. These so-called ‘Operational Patrols’ were made of auxiliaries and local civilians who would operate as autonomous cells, covertly live off the land and conduct guerrilla warfare. Hastily made underground and camouflaged bases were constructed (often deep in woodland areas) though some more elaborate ones were made. In the Northern areas, covert operatives were provided with instructions on how to develop their own bases and acquire material but were otherwise left to their own devices. Consequently, many would instead occupy abandoned buildings, hastily entrenched encampments and regularly keep moving to evade syndicalist militias.

In London itself the streets were tense as heavy police and an army presence kept a lid on matters as Martial Law was declared across most of England and all of Scotland. A curfew of 8pm was strictly enforced. Despite this a number of rebels remained in the capital and when a plot to assassinate King George V reached the ears of a Special Branch informant the decision was taken to move His Majesty and the rest of the royal family to Canada until the crisis blew over. The Canadian government was informed that the King would be making a state visit on short notice, with the evacuation of the country’s gold reserves also planned and kept top-secret. Initial proposals were brought up to evacuate the reserves to Canada with the Royal Family, then postponed. This sparked the rumour mill once more and the slight trickle of people leaving the country became an outpouring. People cashed in their assets and attempted to flee the country, most going to Canada but many fled to the Netherlands, Norway or to one of the other colonies. The ports of the south of the country were quickly flooded with refugees. Keeping order became difficult, necessitating the use of military forces to ensure the peaceful and orderly evacuation of those who wished to leave. Those who elected not to or were unable found themselves watching the situation with caution and fear.

Birmingham and Oswald Mosley

While Birmingham was a highly industrialised town and the Black Country to its south saw the formation of its own militias, the city proper continued to be held by the UK. Nonetheless, it was far from secure. The number of men that garrisoned it was in the five figures on paper, but many were conscripts of questionable loyalty and skill. Attacks from syndicalist cells were common, and violent raids by the auxiliaries on the homes and workplaces of perceived traitors were a daily occurrence. Having returned from India with his wife just the previous year, Labour MP and activist Oswald Mosley travelled to the city in May after having already fled to rebel lines. He and his wife Cynthia had ingratiated themselves with the local Labour activists when previously campaigning for his seat there.

On June 21, what was initially intended to be a pro-government rally was marked by Mosley's sudden emergence from hiding. Giving his speech wearing a black shirt and imitating the manner of the Socialist Republic of Italy’s Benito Mussolini, the crowd ballooned as Mosely denounced capitalism and the “London Regime'' as the instruments of “financial democracy”. Feeble efforts to arrest him were physically blocked by his thousands of supporters, and an effort to seize him while sleeping was driven off by armed bodyguards. The following day he spoke before a still larger, now in a large part armed crowd who he whipped into storming the city’s key buildings and attacking all those who showed signs of loyalty to the crown. By June 24 most of the city proper was effectively in his hands. In the heart of Birmingham, the Bull Ring Court was held where public denunciations were made of many people great and small, with hangings taking place of those deemed “reactionary” and figures such as Austen Chamberlain burned in effigy.

The city was swiftly surrounded and placed under siege, with brutal urban combat ensuing. However the news soon reached the northern militias and a reckless advance was made that established a corridor to Mosley’s forces on June 29 – just in time as they were running severely short on ammunition. Despite this, the militias in the western part of the country were a spent force and could barely hold the line at Birmingham, reinforced by local volunteers and defecting TA units.

Nottingham and the Autumn Stall

Further east, with its military better rested and supplied, the Union of Britain decided to seize the moment. The first units of the new Republican Army stepped into battle using captured and borrowed aircraft forming the Republican Air Force. Nottingham was set as the target and a rapid offensive began on July 7, taking the British Army by surprise as they were used to fighting disorganised mobs and rag-tag Great War veterans in the militias. The fighting in the city was fierce and the Republican Army cut its teeth, but by July 22 the Parliamentarians were forced to abandon Nottingham. This left much of the East and West Midlands fundamentally at the rebels' mercy and while rural resistance and grumbling continued the military way south was secured.

The strain of the evacuation and the war had become massive for the government. It ordered the loyal parts of the royal navy, beaten but intact after a year of venting its spleen, to help evacuate people to Canada along with much of the sitting government, causing the Empire to unravel. The army, reinforced with irregulars, elected to launch a counteroffensive against the Union of Britain as the beginning of Autumn brought heavy rain. Canada made plans to mobilize several divisions as reinforcements so long as the ports of Southampton and Plymouth could be kept open for them to land uncontested. In late October the republican advance was checked at Coventry and as winter arrived both sides dug in and waited.

Royalist Collapse, Republican Victory

With no clear end in sight and the front lines stagnant, the Union of Britain looked for intervention before troops from Canada could arrive. Frantic negotiations with France secured an agreement and in absolute secrecy the French aided the Republican Army in launching a proto-commando raid on Southampton on December 8 while the French navy raided Plymouth. Dozens of ships were sunk in the harbour, mostly civilian vessels. What remained of the British government was unsure of the situation but was nevertheless terrified by the prospect of their flank being turned by an unexpected French invasion or mutinous naval units. Forces were scrambled southward and the weakening of the battle lines allowed a planned offensive by the Syndicalists to take place beginning December 13. Coordinated strikes across the front saw breakthroughs at Peterborough, Luton and the retaking of Bristol on the 17th. In response to the news London descended into chaos as the last of the civil service officials were evacuated with the government abandoning the city by December 20th. In the hectic evacuation, the treasury and many government documents, classified and more open, were left behind for the rebels. The troops that remained were cut off from orders and found themselves in frantic urban battles as red flags, union jacks and French flags flew in the streets. The way to London lay open and on Boxing Day the Republican Army arrived to mop up whatever resistance remained leaving countless wealthy and aristocratic citizens trapped in the country. On the radio Prime Minister Austen Chamberlain announced that the government was ceasing armed resistance to the advancing “Syndicalist Traitors” for now, but that in the fullness of time His Majesty’s government would return and restore order to Britain.

Aftermath

Britain & Ireland

At the beginning of 1927, the constitution of the Union of Britain was formally brought into force. It established a secular state with universal suffrage for those over 21 and elections every five years. There were to be two equal chambers of Congress, each elected by a single transferable vote, but candidates must be approved by the Ministry of Information. The Chairman of the Federal Congress was to be appointed by a vote of both chambers and would unrestrictedly appoint the Executive Committee.

Britain's new syndicalist government nationalized the whole economy and turned it over to the trade unions for worker's management. Embargos from what were many of Britain's principle trading partners necessitated rationing of dairy, sugar, fruit, margarine, meat, tea, clothing and petrol. Nonetheless, the expansion of agricultural land meant a reduction in the number of nutritionally deficient Britons.

Ongoing resistance by loyalist guerrillas prompted Vice-Chairman Wheatley to create the Special Operations Executive, a counter-insurgency detachment of the Republican Army.

Fearing British invasion, dealing with an Irish Republican insurgency and with no help from the rest of the empire forthcoming, Northern Ireland entered negotiation with the Irish government in early 1926. It agreed to join the Irish Republic, in return for a set of protections known as the “Ulster Privileges”. These privileges granted the county councils of the six counties special autonomy, guaranteed that a certain number of Unionists would sit on the President’s Council of State, and created a Minister for Ulster Affairs.

Canada

The Dominion of Newfoundland remained loyal to the Empire and after a successful referendum in 1926 it was incorporated into Canada with 62% in favor of confederation. The results however were contested and the Royal Family was accused of meddling with the outcome, calling it an "an unholy union between the Royalists and Ottawa", but the accusations were quickly rebuked.

In the 1925 general elections Sir Mackenzie King's Liberals held on to power with the help of Progressive Robert Forke, despite the Conservatives, led by Sir Arthur Meighen, winning more seats. A political crisis ensued as a flood of British political refugees poured into Canada, together with George V and the Royal Family. The Progressives, painted with the brush of Syndicalism, were then viciously attacked by the Conservatives in the media and some street fighting had been reported between members of the right and left wings. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police restored order and Prime Minister King declared a national emergency and invoked the War Measures Act. The Royal Navy re-established itself in Canada as the Union of Britain consolidated its control of the Home Isles.

The declaration of a national emergency played into King’s hands. He was able to stifle accusations of corruption and patronage within his government, which later emerged as having much validity, and the more centrist of the Progressives jumped ship to the Liberal party which wrapped itself in the flag to weather the crisis. With a stronger Liberal party and an emasculated Progressive party, the Conservatives bid their time, constantly criticizing King’s failure to secure more of the Empire, though realistically, the tiny Canadian army was only able to send a token force to the Caribbean. King, realizing that the Empire was lost but that the admission of such a fact was political suicide, embarked upon a new imperial policy as the most powerful British state left standing. The presence of a British government in exile was a threat to Canadian unity and King’s power, and under the provisions of the War Measures Act and martial law, King promulgated a legislative union act, merging the two governments into one under his control. He was then able to outmaneuver and replace all British leaders who could conceivably try to become Prime Minister of Canada in the highly charged emotional mindset of the fall of Britain. After asserting his control over the Cabinet and parliament and making sure that only British MP’s who would follow his line and get elected in their own right in Canadian ridings, King moved on to the armed forces. Seeing the Royal Navy as the only common institution of the Empire still intact, the Fleet was ordered to divide up and deploy squadrons to Karachi, Australasia and South Africa. This did much to reassure the Australasians and South Africans, despite being intended as temporary.

India

British India, already plagued by revolts for over five years, completely collapsed into a Free Indian Republic in the north, proclaimed in Calcutta, a Indian-aligned Republic of Burma, proclaimed in Rangoon, and the remnants of the British administration in Southern India, consisting of the former Raj itself, Ceylon and the Princely States of Hyderabad and Mysore.

Australasia

The Commonwealth of Australia and the Dominion of New Zealand merged to form the Australasian Confederation in 1924. This was to help maintain order in that part of the Empire following the syndicalist influenced Melbourne riots. However, without the protection of the Royal Navy, which remained in the Atlantic to protect the Royal Family, and with unrest and rioting throughout Australasia, nothing could be done to prevent the German occupation of many remaining British colonies in the Pacific.

Caribbean

The Royal Navy, acting mostly of its own initiative, was able to largely maintain control of the Atlantic and its colonies. In the interests of security and restoring the Empire the British and French Caribbean and South American colonies continued to recognize the sovereignty of the British Monarch in Canada, but chose to form a Federation in order to maintain independence. Thus, the West Indies Federation was created.

Africa

The German Empire seized most of the strategic naval stations of the British Empire, allegedly to prevent a world crisis, but it soon became clear as most of the Empire plunged into rebellion and civil war that the British could not ensure order and the German presence became a permanent occupation. The African colonies that Germany took over were later incorporated into Mittelafrika. However, South Africa managed to occupy and annex the Bechuanaland Protectorate as well as Basutoland and Swaziland. Gibraltar was seized by Spain.

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