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The labor imperialists : a study of British Labour Party leadership attitudes towards the empire in the early twentieth century Saunders, Gary Madison


The attitudes toward the empire of a small group of Labour Party spokesmen are compared in this thesis. Considered collectively these attitudes suggest that the Labour Party had developed a distinctive form of imperialism which was derived from a reasoned evaluation of the needs and aspirations of the dependent peoples. The historiography of the Labour Party indicates some Labour interest in the peoples of the empire, but it has not, as yet, systematically examined the collective views of key Labour leaders. It would seem that historians have assumed generally that, except for the Fabian Society, the Labour Party was decidedly anti-imperialistic. Through an examination of the writings of the spokesmen, and by demonstrating to what extent their views were reflected in party policy, the present study attempts to establish that Labour had developed its own form of imperialism. After an analysis of historiography in the introduction, this thesis explains that Labour imperial attitudes originated in a stream of nineteenth century liberal radicalism rather than in any form of doctrinaire socialism. Chapter three introduces the spokesmen and demonstrates that they were imperialists in that they were willing to retain the empire until certain objectives were achieved. Underlying religious motivations are then discussed. These show a strong desire among Labour leaders to regard the empire as an opportunity to exercise a missionary zeal to elevate humanity intellectually and morally. Trusteeship notions, the heart of Labour imperialism, are then examined. Finally, before concluding, the Labour philosophy of trusteeship is related to the question of free trade. Labour imperialism was benevolent, seeking to realize the advantages of empire through a policy of trusteeship which was designed to prepare colonial peoples to engage in a willing partnership. It involved a selection of colonial service personnel, a promotion of race and culture blending, and a development of colonial material resources with minimal disturbance of native social institutions. It was also based on a belief in an extension of domestic social legislation to the colonies. This economically and socially developing empire was to serve as a temporary substitute, and to a large extent, as a model for an ideal world federation to be eventually achieved. This study shows that Labour leaders were not opposed to empire per se, but against certain contemporary imperial activities which they regarded as indicating the mismanagement of empire. They were paternalistic in their proposed form of dominance, but willing, far more than representatives of other parties, to prepare colonial peoples to develop their abilities to survive independently. In this sense they were democratic idealists. They regarded mutual trust as the only way through which the long-range advantages of empire might be preserved. This study substantiates that influential party leaders largely agreed upon an imperial philosophy that was consistent and continuous since 1900, the year in which the party began as the Labour Representative Committee.

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