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Raymond Challinor

Harold’s Forbear

(Spring 1967)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.28, Spring 1967, p.31.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’ Callaghan for the Encyclopaedia of Trotskyism On-Line (ETOL).

Philip Snowden
Colin Cross
Barrie & Rockliff, 50s

With all its twists and turns, Philip Snowden’s life resembled a scenic railway. His early political position was indistinguishable from Liberalism. Later, he adopted a.brand of Utopian Socialism. The class war was anathema to him. Ancient slavery and feudalism had disappeared because owners had seen that free labour was better. Likewise Socialism would arrive through growing enlightenment. The socialist revolution would, be ‘the revolution in men’s heads.

In the First World War, Snowden went through his most left-wing phase. He denounced arms expenditure. Although under pressure in his constituency of Blackburn, he refused to back recruiting drives. In 1917, he even chaired the famous Leeds conference, which expressed solidarity with the victorious Russian revolution. Yet Snowden was not a revolutionary. While he never concealed his anti-war attitude, he never went out of his way to express it. He was content to use the existing machinery of government in an attempt to gain minor ameliorations.

How wedded he was to the social order became clear when he was a minister in the first minority Labour Government. MacDonald was embarrassed by his display of chauvinism at an international conference, where he frankly admitted:

‘I have been a pacifist, I am an internationalist, but, somehow or other, whenever I see that flag in a foreign country, I become incredibly imperialist.’

Snowden is perhaps best remembered as Chancellor of the Exchequer in MacDonald’s second ministry. The economic situation was very similar to the present day. The country had a balance of payments crisis. The government was faced with a clamour from British and foreign bankers to attack the working class. Snowden kindly obliged. He put up the bank rate, reduced unemployment benefit, and overnight became the darling of the City.

After the 1931 debacle Snowden, with MacDonald, resigned from the Labour Party to form the National Government. He described the Labour opposition as ‘Bolshevism run mad.’

Snowden’s wife remained his active political partner throughout. After his death, she continued the rightward trend. She went to the Nuremburg rally and criticised those British guests who refused to give the Nazi salute: She found Hitler was ‘a simple man of great personal integrity.’ Her last political act was to support the candidature of ‘a tried man of progressive outlook’ – Cyril Black, Tory MP for Wimbledon!

Reading this well-written and informative biography of Snowden had a startling, unexpected effect upon me: it made me realise the Labour Party could have a worse leader than Harold Wilson.

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