SSLH Blog - SSLH MA Bursary Report: Beth Fisher (York) writes about her research on the Labour Party’s foreign policy towards Nazi Germany, 1936-1939

With the help of the generous bursary given by the Society for the Study of Labour History, I was able to make three research trips to the Labour History Archive at the People’s History Museum, in Manchester. My MA dissertation is on the Labour Party’s foreign policy towards Nazi Germany, 1936-1939. While the road to the Second World War, and the Third Reich, are saturated topics, there is no one single study that looks at the Labour Party’s role during this long crisis. My aim is to discover whether Labour, as the official opposition party at the time, had an alternative to Chamberlain’s appeasement, and I also hope to trace Labour’s journey from pacifism to their eventual support of rearmament.

The purpose of my trips was to look at the Labour Party files on Stafford Cripps’ ‘Unity Front’ campaign, and Labour’s relations with the Social Democratic Party of Germany. Cripps was a renowned Labour MP and a thorn in the side for the Labour leadership during these years. In 1936, he launched a left-wing group called the Socialist League, which put forward ideas such as the ‘Unity Front’ campaign. The idea behind the campaign was that to oust the National Government and help defeat Fascism, an alliance of Labour, the Independent Labour Party and the Communists was needed. The campaign was swiftly thwarted by the Labour Party leadership, who were wary of joining forces with the Communists. During my time at the archive, I was able to read the 1936 Party Conference Report, which contained several resolutions and speeches on the Unity Campaign, I also had the opportunity to look through files from the Labour Party’s International Department. Here, I was able to learn that the Party kept in close contact with German socialists throughout the 1930s, and provided emergency relief funds for socialists who were victims of Nazi persecution.

These research trips have significantly bolstered my knowledge of the Labour Party’s foreign policy. Thanks to the generous bursary, I now have a wide collection of primary sources which can be used to piece together my dissertation.

Image information: Letter from the German SPD to the Labour Party, discussing the sale of badge to help raise funds.

A BA, MA or PhD student interested in labour history and in need of research support?
Apply for an SSLH research bursary here!

Beth Fisher