The Early Days of a Better Nation

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

'A Popular Front in arms'

Home Guard Socialism: A vision of a People's Army

by Stephen Cullen

Copyright, Allotment Hut Booklets

Price £3.00. Available for cash, UK stamps, or sterling cheque made out to the author at 76 Hanworth Road, Warwick, CV34 5DX

The BBC comedy series Dad's Army has probably done more to shape the popular memory of the Home Guard, Britain's WW2 volunteer defence force, than any other source. Good though the laughs are, this is a shame, because the Home Guard was a serious organization whose history has some significance today and may have more in the future. Stephen Cullen, an anti-militarist with a sound knowledge of military history, here provides a clear, well-documented and non-sectarian introduction to one aspect of the Home Guard's history that deserves to be better known: the key role of a small group of socialists and Spanish Civil War veterans in its initial organization, in the training of thousands of its members, and in the popularization of its ideas and methods to a readership that extended well beyond the Home Guard itself. Tom Wintringham's New Ways of War (1940), and 'Yank' Levy's Guerrilla Warfare (1941), both Penguin Specials, provided their readers with the political rationale and the military tactics of guerrilla warfare as a method of national and popular resistance to mechanized warfare and fascist occupation. Guerrilla Warfare is a severely practical manual: Levy's personal experience ranged from the Royal Fusiliers through the Mexican Revolution and Sandino's struggle in Nicaragua to the British battalion of the International Brigades. He drew also on the contemporary experiences of the Soviet and Chinese partisans. It's a long way from Captain Mainwaring's comical crew.

Stephen Cullen's pamphlet provides a wealth of fascinating information about Wintringham, Levy and their comrades, the 'Osterley Park socialists', and their vision of a People's Army. It leaves its readers to reflect on the curious and unsettling fact that in the national and social crisis of 1940, the one moment in the twentieth century in Britain when an armed people led by socialists was an urgent necessity and was rapidly becoming a practical reality, the great majority of Britain's radical socialists were otherwise engaged.


It is indeed a wonderful pamphlet. The Home Guard revolutionaries is a subject I’ve been interested in for some years (not least for what it does to any attempt to morally define “terrorism”), and I read this one a few months ago, as background for a story I wrote for a Doctor Who anthology. Ken - do you know of any other books or pamphlets covering this subject?

- Mat Coward

Hi Mat

Only those in the pamphlet's bibliography. The Tom Wintringham bio is very readable. I own a copy of one of the Penguin Specials I mention - probably illegal now :-)

David Fernbach was well read in this, and once had a project to get Verso to publish the Picture Post specials on the Home Guard. He's a Marxist scholar and gay activist who was a sort of Maoist for a while, and wrote pamphlets on popular defence against the soviet threat (ahem) in the 80s.

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