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Ex-Service Men Oppose Bolshevism”: the use of veterans’ groups in anti-socialist politics, 1917-1921

University of Stirling

Paul Blanchard is a third-year PhD student at the University of Stirling, working on a thesis exploring Britain’s radical right in the interwar period. This research focuses on the Economic League, which organised a national anti-socialist campaign centred around propaganda, private intelligence work and blacklisting, and the numerous groups which co-operated with the League in this campaign.

This paper explores the manner in which ex-servicemen’s groups, particularly the Comrades of the Great War, played a role in the development of a private anti-socialist campaign between 1917 and 1921. The Comrades emerged from the government’s growing concerns over the influence of left-wing politics on ex-servicemen. The popularity of confrontational pressure groups like the National Federation of Discharged and Demobilised Soldiers and Sailors (NFDDSS) pushed the government to find a way of accommodating ex-servicemen’s needs while steering them away from radical groups. The result was the Comrades, founded by Lord Derby, the Secretary of State for War. The creation of the Comrades was backed by the War Cabinet and veteran MPs, with Conservative MP Wilfred Ashley as its chairman, and businessman and future MP Patrick Hannon as secretary.

The Comrades’ development was aided by the relationships between its leaders and other groups active in this period. Ashley was the Chairman the Anti-Socialist Union (ASU), while Hannon was the director of the British Commonwealth Union (BCU). The BCU provided propaganda and covert funding for patriotic anti-socialist groups, and helped to establish National Propaganda in 1919. This became the Economic League, an umbrella organisation devoted to anti-socialist politics, which directed the activities of both the ASU and the Comrades. This paper argues that the Comrades were an important part of this propaganda machine, as they associated the rejection of left-wing politics with patriotism and wartime sacrifice, while their nationwide organisation was used to disseminate propaganda and tackle socialist unrest."