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Book Review: 'The Churches and the Labour Movement'

The Churches

'The Churches and the Labour Movement', by Stephen Mayor (Independent Press, 36s.)

A Red Flag flying from the tower of an English parish church, a "Socialist" Archbishop of Canterbury, and even more startling a "communist" Dean. These and similar things puzzled and intrigued people in the Thirties. They were always good for a headline in the Sunday papers, very useful in fact when more orthodox sensations were in short supply.

There was much alarmed speculation; 'was the C of E going Bolshie?" or "was this just another example of the decadence of the times?" Others built up false hopes that the bastions of privilege were being breached at least. All seemed to be amazed that they got away with it, and were not expelled from the Church.

There was in fact nothing particularly remarkable about all this, "Socialist" Bishops were by no means new. The Christian Socialist Movement, or rather a succession of movements with different titles but roughly the same aims, had existed from the early 19th century. They had been influenced by the theories of Fourier and Owen, and much of their earlier efforts were directed toward Co-operative schemes.

Their "Socialism" was in most cases a form of Radicalism, and they later played a part in the formation and growth of the Labour Party. The main stream was High Anglican and from the start they were wealthy and influential. Always small in numbers, their wealth and contacts gave them a say in affairs that belied their numbers.

Marx argued that the "movement arose from the guilty conscience of the upper classes": "Christian Socialism is but the holy water with which the priest consecrates the heart-burnings of the aristocrat." However there was much sincerity, and no little self-sacrifice, by many of its members. There had been bitter opposition to them in the early days, but by this century they had become accepted as part of the scene.

This is one of many movements described in the book The Churches and the Labour Movement by Stephen Mayor. The author accepts all the usual definitions of class without question. He talks of working class, lower middle, middle and so on. His definition of the Labour Movement is just the Labour Party. He deals at great length with such subjects as the influence of various religious denominations on the Trade Unions, and gives a great deal of information on minor aspects of working class life in the 19th century.

Les Dale