The Real Winston Churchill

Richard Seymour in Jacobin:

Young_winston_churchillChurchill was the progeny of high aristocracy, the son of Chancellor Lord Randolph Churchill, a boy who would have been destined for high office whatever he did. It is important to note that the young Churchill was not an outright reactionary. A member of the Conservative Party, he considered himself Liberal in all but name, his attitudes — secular, pro­­-free trade, pro-democracy, and in favor of some mild ameliorations for the working class — reflecting the ideologies of a Whiggish Liberalism that was even then in decline. (The single exception to this affiliation was that he rejected the idea of Irish Home Rule.)

But to be a Liberal at this time was in no way incommensurate with imperialism, racism, antisemitism, support for eugenics, and patriarchal disdain for Suffragism. As Candice Millard suggests in Hero of the Empire, her history of Churchill’s derring-do in the Boer War, he was a politician raised in, and formed by, the British Empire. Churchill reached adulthood with an advanced sense of his own potential greatness, as someone who prized his reputation for courage in the face of death. The British Empire had offered millions of people willing to travel halfway across the world to rule over people they knew next to nothing about the chance for that kind of adventure. Across an empire enfolding 450 million in its death grip, revolts and struggles were appearing in southern Africa, Egypt, and Ireland. Millard writes:

To Churchill, such far-flung conflicts offered an irresistible opportunity for personal glory and advancement. When he entered the British army and finally became a soldier, with the real possibility of dying in combat, Churchill’s enthusiasm for war did not waver. On the contrary, he had written to his mother that he looked forward to battle “not so much in spite of as because of the risks I run.”

Churchill succeeded in proving himself a man by those imperial standards, fighting in India and Sudan, helping the Spanish suppress Cuba’s freedom fighters, and, after a brief South African parliamentary career, fighting in the Second Boer War. This experience primed Churchill to seek similar solutions to domestic trouble. When he joined the 1906 Liberal administration, he advocated aggressively authoritarian measures to curb social disobedience. Churchill’s promotion to home secretary four years later came at a time of still-rising political turmoil in the United Kingdom: Irish struggles for Home Rule, Suffragism, strike waves. Churchill opposed them all violently.

More here.

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