A Worthwhile and Interesting Read Even If a Little Dated,
This review is from: The Life Of George Lansbury (Hardcover)
This book, published in 1951, is now showing its age but is interesting nevertheless. It is important that the reader appreciates its provenance; the author Raymond Postgate, was perhaps best known as the originator of the first `Good Food Guide' in Britain, but he was also a founder member of the British Communist Party in 1920 and son-in-law of George Lansbury having married Daisy Lansbury. Postgate was a journalist on the original Daily Herald under the editorship of George Lansbury and with his daily working contact and family connections was in a position to write an intimate, if somewhat favourable, portrait of Lansbury's life and work.
The book carefully tracks Lansbury's life from his early years in East London. The family owned a business and whilst not wealthy they were certainly not part of the starving poor. Postgate follows Lansbury's membership of the SDF and subsequent move to the ILP coincident with his re-conversion to life-long Christian beliefs. (The Social Democratic Federation was Marxist and atheist.) Postgate relates the foundation of the Daily Herald and the disastrous excursion into support for the Pankhursts which set-back Lansbury's career. Lansbury, like many Socialists of his day, was much taken with the revolution in Russia and visited the country himself, in the process being charmed and, with the benefit of history we can say, totally hoodwinked by Lenin and Trotsky. Unfortunately Postgate takes space to relate a brief history of the Polish-Russian War of 1921, with a favourable view of the role of the Soviet Union which modern scholarship would now lead us to condemn as completely misguided.
Perhaps, by way of contrast, the most interesting sections are those related to the first and second Labour Governments of 1924 and 1929 to August 1931 when Ramsay MacDonald formed a National Government leaving behind all his colleagues. Re-telling of the Labour story in the modern media gives far too much space to the influence of the `intellectuals' such as the Webbs, G. B. Shaw and H. G. Wells whereas these figures had little influence at the time. Postgate gives due prominence to MacDonald, Snowden, Henderson and the Syndicalists such as Ernest Bevin as merits these important characters. The role of Mosley and his co-operation with Lansbury is really interesting. We see Lansbury succeed to the leadership of the Parliamentary Labour Party as the `last man standing' after the October 1931 election and the emergence of Major Attlee for the same reason.
Lansbury's memory is perhaps most revered in his home area of Bow and there is much in the book about his untiring efforts on behalf of the East Enders and the working class in general. Lansbury's work with the Poplar Board of Guardians and his stand in refusing to increase the Poplar rate for which he went to prison make fascinating reading.
The book is a little verbose which is perhaps understandable as Postgate wanted to record everything he knew about George and some of the quite blinkered views of the Russian leadership make rather odd reading today, and were perhaps already a little ill-considered in 1951. Certainly a worthwhile read if a little dated. The book contains a fold-out Lansbury family tree.