Ramsay MacDonald

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Ramsay MacDonald

Ramsay MacDonald (12 October 18669 November 1937) was a British statesman who was the first ever Labour Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, leading a Labour Government in 1924, a Labour Government from 1929 to 1931, and a National Government from 1931 to 1935.

Quotes[edit]

1880s[edit]

  • I cannot refrain from wishing you God-Speed in your election contest... [L]et the consequences be what they may, do not withdraw. The cause of Labour in Scotland and of Scottish Nationality will suffer much thereby. Your defeat will awaken Scotland and your victory will re-construct Scottish Liberalism. All success be yours, and the National cause you champion. There is no miner – and no other one for that matter – who is a Scotsman and not ashamed of it, who will vote against you in favour of an English barrister, absolutely ignorant of Scotland and of Scottish affairs.
    • Letter to Keir Hardie, who stood as an independent candidate in the Mid Lanarkshire by-election on a platform of independent labour representation and Scottish Home Rule (c. April 1888), quoted in Michael Keating and David Bleiman, Labour and Scottish Nationalism (1979), p. 51

1890s[edit]

  • The Labour party is no class champion. In politics it is frankly democratic, in economics it is co-operative... It was not bought into being to revenge the wage-earner and mercilessly smash the capitalist... Capitalist and labourer alike feel that some new order must evolve if England is to exist.
    • The New Charter: A Programme for Working Class Politics (1892), quoted in Pat Thane, ‘Labour and local politics: radicalism, democracy and social reform, 1880–1914’, in Eugenio F. Biagini and Alastair J. Reid (eds.), Currents of Radicalism: Popular Radicalism, Organised Labour and Party Politics in Britain, 1850–1914 (1991), p. 262
  • There is too much expected of parliament. Localities should manage their own affairs and unions of localities should be formed when necessary to look after common interests. Our county councils are excellent beginnings in this direction.
    • The New Charter: A Programme for Working Class Politics (1892), quoted in Pat Thane, ‘Labour and local politics: radicalism, democracy and social reform, 1880–1914’, in Eugenio F. Biagini and Alastair J. Reid (eds.), Currents of Radicalism: Popular Radicalism, Organised Labour and Party Politics in Britain, 1850–1914 (1991), p. 262
  • Our loss of belief in the Liberal party is therefore owing to the fact that its day of historical fitness has passed away. The new problems of progress will demand treatment by men of different outlook, of a different political principle, of a different mental quality, of a new species of democratic sympathy. The mass of the Liberal party will no doubt continue progressive, but their organisation is not now the sole custodian of the progressive cause... The Independent Labour party is in the true line of the progressive apostolic succession. It alone is able to interpret the spirit of the time.
    • 'The Independent Labour Party's Programme' (co-authored with Keir Hardie), The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, vol. xlv (January 1899), pp. 24-25
  • The end we have to strive for is complete democratic liberty in politics and complete freedom in industry from the tyranny of monopoly and the vagaries of capitalism. Or, employing words appropriate to the spirit of Socialism, we should say that the task of the practical democratic reformer is now to show how the work of democratic liberty, begun so well by the early Radicals but dropped by their modern representatives, is to be completed; how the golden bridge of palliatives between political and social democracy is to be built; and how the foundations of social democracy are to be laid.
    • 'The Independent Labour Party's Programme' (co-authored with Keir Hardie), The Nineteenth Century: A Monthly Review, vol. xlv (January 1899), p. 27

1900s[edit]

  • Mr. Rockefeller not only owns the Standard Oil supplies: he controls the railways, the banks, the shops...upon which his Trust depends. The Steel Corporation not only makes steel; it owns coal and iron fields, ore steamers, the Erie and Pittsburgh mineral railway, as well as the operatives in Homestead. We oppose the Trust, not as an organisation, but because it is controlled by individuals for their own ends...But the Trust points out the line of British advance. In this country, however, the introduction of the Trust should be marked by public ownership.
    • The Zollverein and British Industry (1903), pp. 159-160
  • Factory Laws, Fair Wages resolutions, Trade Unionism itself, are...all Protection - not the Protection of Mr. Chaplin, the landlord, nor of Mr. Chamberlain, the demagogue, but the Protection of the Socialist.
    • The Zollverein and British Industry (1903), p. 164
  • [Trade unions should identify] with something higher and wider than trade union industrial demands. It must set these demands into a system of national well-being; the wage earner must become the citizen: the union must become the guardian of economic justice.
    • 'The new Labour movement', New Liberal Review (September 1903), quoted in Duncan Tanner, ‘Ideological debate in Edwardian labour politics: radicalism, Revisionism and socialism’, in Eugenio F. Biagini and Alastair J. Reid (eds.), Currents of Radicalism: Popular Radicalism, Organised Labour and Party Politics in Britain, 1850–1914 (1991), p. 278
  • Lower forms merge into higher forms, one species with another, the vegetable into the animal kingdom; in human history one epoch slides into another...Socialism, the stage which follows Liberalism, retains everything of value in Liberalism by virtue of its being the hereditary heir of Liberalism.
    • Socialism and Society (1905), pp. 164-165
  • [W]e shall begin the exploitation of national resources like mines; or we shall begin the process of industrial reconstruction by agrarian policies which will bring the towns into contact with the country, re-populate the deserted villages, and re-till the waste fields.
    • Socialism and Society (1905), p. 180
Lower forms merge into higher forms, one species with another, the vegetable into the animal kingdom; in human history one epoch slides into another...Socialism, the stage which follows Liberalism, retains everything of value in Liberalism by virtue of its being the hereditary heir of Liberalism.
  • He had been across the veldt, he had seen the battlefields, the still open trenches, and it all came to Chinese labour. They were told it was going to release the slaves, the Uitlanders, to open up South Africa to a great flood of white emigrants. They were told it was going to plant the Union Jack upon the land of the free. But the echoes of the muskets had hardly died out on the battlefields, the ink on the treaty was hardly dry, before the men who plotted the war began to plot to bring in Chinese slaves. (Cheers.) They could talk about their gold; their gold is tainted. (Hear, hear.) They could talk about employing white men; it was not true, and even if it were true, was he going to stand and see his white brothers degraded to the position of yellow slave drivers? No, he was not. (Loud and continued cheers.) These patriots! These miserable patriots! If they had had the custodianship of the opinions of the country 75 years ago, slavery in the colonies would have continued. When the north was fighting the south for the liberty of men, these men would have counted their guineas, would have told them how many white men had plied the lash in the southern states, and they would have said that for miserable cash, miserable trash, the great name of the country required to be bought and sold. Thank God there were no twentieth century Unionist imperialists in office then. (Loud cheers.)
    • Leicester Daily Mercury (6 January 1906)
  • The England of 1844 did not break out into revolt; Chartism did not develop into socialism... The class war created trade unionism; the working classes became citizens; law, morality, the force of combination, lifted to some extent the pall of darkness which hung over the land. The Marxian today still wonders why England fell from grace. Neither Marx nor Engels saw deep enough to discover the possibilities of peaceful advance which lay hidden beneath the surface. Their analogies misled them.
    • Socialism and Society (1907), pp. 108-109
  • [A]ny idea which assumes that the interests of the proletariat are so simply opposed to those of the bourgeoisie as to make the proletariat feel a oneness of economic interest is purely formal and artificial... [T]o-day there is still a goodly number of workmen who cross the line and become employers or employing managers, whilst the great thrift movements, the Friendly Societies, the Building Societies, the Co-operative Societies, connect working class interests to the existing state of things. In addition, there are considerable classes of workers in the community whose immediate interests are bound up with the present distribution of wealth, and who, obedient to class interests, would range themselves on the side of the status quo. Of course (it could be said that) they are making a mistake from the point of view of their own interests, and that if they were properly enlightened they would see that they belong to an exploited class, one and indivisible. That may be true, but a mode of action which is ineffective until men are "fully enlightened" is a chimera.
    • Socialism and Society (1907), pp. 112-113
  • The idea that a lax administration of the Poor Law is Socialistic, that putting an unemployed man on a farm for six weeks at the public expense is Socialistic, that feeding school children is the beginning of the Socialistic State, is absurd. We can deal with our unemployed, our sweated workers, our derelicts, only by attacking the causes of unemployment, of sweating, of human deterioration and though at a crisis our humanitarianism will compel us to resort to palliatives and give temporary relief, our action at such times should not be a willing and proud thing but one which is hesitating and temporary.
    • Socialism (1907), pp. 119-120
  • The voting strengths of the movement will come from the ranks of labour – the organised intelligent workers – the men who have had municipal and trade union experience – the men of self-respect who know the capacity of the people... They are to be the constructive agents of the next stage in our industrial evolution. But they are not to stand alone. Socialism is no class movement. Socialism is a movement of opinion, not an organization of status. It is not the rule of the working class; it is the organization of the community. Therefore, to my mind one of the most significant facts of the times is the conversion of the intellectual middle class to Socialism.
    • Socialism (1907), pp. 122-123
  • Even if every person in the country had the ideal virtues that the working classes were asked by certain rather thin skinned and somewhat stilted critics of theirs to possess, and the capacity to turn his attention to every skilled trade in the country, and the very finest technical skill at his command, so long as they had the present system of industrial anarchy, when demand was never gauged by those controlling supply, when overproduction was a feature of one series of years and under-consumption a feature of another, they would have to face the unemployed problem. If that were so, it became a matter for the State to settle. The time had come to banish for ever from their thoughts the old-fashioned heresy that unemployment was merely the expression of individual shortcomings. Unemployment was the expression of the failure of social organisation, and so it became the duty of the State to protect the unemployed men from the awful horrors that attended unemployment.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (30 January 1908)
  • Of the Budget as a whole, I say "Bravo". I am going to support it through thick and thin.
  • State Charity is not socialism but may become the greatest menace the Socialist Movement [has been] threatened with.
    • Letter (1909), quoted in John Stewart, 'Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Party, and Child Welfare, 1900–1914', Twentieth Century British History, Volume 4, Issue 2 (1993), p. 114
  • The economic truths of Socialism, its industrialism, and its sociology, must remain the vainest of vain dreamings unless we preserve among the people the political frame of mind which can appreciate democratic liberty and worth. When "a man's a man for a' that" is recited without making the blood tingle, the man has ceased to be.
    • Socialism and Government (1909), p. xxvi
  • The State does not concern itself primarily with man as possessor of rights, but with man as the doer of duties. A right is the opportunity of fulfilling a duty, and it should be recognised only in so far as it is necessary to the performance of duty... Nor should the State grant the "right" to the franchise unless by doing so it is promoting its own ends...as man approaches the fullness of liberty which he can enjoy only when he is perfect, his rights become more ample... The State regards the man as a carrier of human life between the Past and the Future, and assigns to him the work of realising the Future from the Past. It shows him the path.
    • Socialism and Government (1909), pp. 11-12
  • The land will therefore belong to the State in one or other of its several forms, and rent will be State income. The great factory industries will be controlled by associations of consumers which again will be identical with the State in some one or other of its aspects... the socialist state will mainly concern itself with co-ordinating production and consumption so as to prevent gluts, useless labour, unearned incomes, industrial loss, surplus values,—the causes of poverty.
    • Socialism and Government (1909), pp. 119-120
  • Greater liberty will be given to localities to regulate their own affairs, to acquire property for that purpose, to promulgate byelaws and more particularly to organise themselves as markets after the manner of co-operative societies.
    • Socialism and Government (1909), p. 129

1910s[edit]

  • The Socialist, therefore, cannot consistently address himself to class sentiment or class prejudice. He ought, indeed, to look away from it, because any victory won as the result of siding with one party in the struggle only perpetuates what he desires to eliminate. The appeal to class interest is an appeal to the existing order, whether the class addressed is the rich or the poor. It is the anti-Socialist who makes class appeals; the Socialist makes social appeals. Class consciousness is an asset of the defenders of the existing order of exploitation.
    • The Socialist Movement (1911), p. 148
  • [T]he Labour Party stands for a contributory scheme so far as this Bill is concerned. Moreover, we are in favour of a contributory scheme with reference to sickness, whilst we were in favour of a non-contributory scheme in reference to old age pensions.
  • Mr. Lloyd George will not resign on anything anti-German. He is anti-German, and the trust which the reasonable Peace people place in him is altogether misplaced.
    • 'From Green Benches', Leicester Pioneer (20 July 1911)
  • I have been mixed up a good deal with Army officers, and I never met an Army officer in that time without being told by some of them that they were going to stop Home Rule if that was to be applied to Ulster. I have met them on board ship going out to India, and I have been nearly assassinated by them. I remember one day on the way out to India we got a marconigram saying that Larkin had been sent to goal, and I said I could understand it if it had been Sir Edward Carson. The result of my saying that was that I was very nearly thrown overboard.
    • Speech in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (24 April 1914), quoted in The Times (25 April 1914), p. 10
  • When Sir Edward Grey failed to secure peace between Germany and Russia, he worked deliberately to involve us in the war, using Belgium as his chief excuse.
    • Leicester Pioneer (7 August 1914), quoted in The Times (18 January 1924), p. 14
  • The only reason from beginning to end is that our foreign office is anti-German and that the Admiralty was anxious to seize any opportunity for using the Navy in battle practice. ... Never did we arm our people and ask them to give us their lives for less good cause than this.
    • Leicester Pioneer (7 August 1914), quoted in The Times (9 April 1918), p. 8 and The Times (18 January 1924), p. 14
  • Might and spirit will win and incalculable political and social consequences will follow upon victory. Victory must therefore be ours. England is not played out. Her mission is not accomplished. She can, if she would, take the place of esteemed honour among the democracies of the world, and if peace is to come with healing on her wings the democracies of Europe must be her guardians...History, will, in due time, apportion the praise and the blame, but the young men of the country must, for the moment, settle the immediate issue of victory. Let them do it in the spirit of the brave men who have crowned our country with honour in times that have gone. Whoever may be in the wrong, men so inspired will be in the right. The quarrel was not of the people, but the end of it will be the lives and liberties of the people. Should an opportunity arise to enable me to appeal to the pure love of country - which I know is a precious sentiment in all our hearts, keeping it clear of thought which I believe to be alien to real patriotism - I shall gladly take that opportunity. If need be I shall make it for myself. I wish the serious men of the Trade Union, the Brotherhood and similar movements to face their duty. To such it is enough to say 'England has need of you'; to say it in the right way. They will gather to her aid. They will protect her when the war is over, they will see to it that the policies and conditions that make it will go like the mists of a plague and shadows of a pestilence.
    • Letter to the Mayor of Leicester, declining to speak at a recruitment meeting (September 1914), quoted in David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald [1977] (1997), p. 175
  • Let us understand what we are out for. I say unhesitatingly...I say perfectly definitely that this country, if it retains any shred of honour at all, cannot accept a peace unless peace is forced upon it which means the sacrifice of Belgian sovereignty to any extent. If Germany imagines that there is any section of this country that is prepared to accept peace at the sacrifice of any portion—and I emphasise this—not merely of Belgian sovereignty, but of any portion of it, then the sooner German public opinion is disabused of that delusion the better.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (24 May 1916)
  • In youth one believes in democracy, later on, one has to accept it.
  • Were I a German Minister I should sign [the Treaty of Versailles] only after making it clear that my signature was obtained under compulsion and that the provisions were such that I could not guarantee they would be carried out.
    • Forward (25 June 1919), quoted in Quintin Hogg, The Left was Never Right (1945), p. 31

1920s[edit]

  • Felt the virtues of the Victorian times so condemned by Mr Strachey. The simple honesties can always be made a butt by the impish unrealiabilites.
    • Diary entry (23 April 1921), quoted in David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald [1977] (1997), p. 246. MacDonald was reading Strachey's biography of Queen Victoria. He finished the book two days later and wrote in his diary that he was relieved that Strachey "enmeshed in Victoria's virtues & the real drama of her last phase. As a good Victorian I shd. like to let myself loose upon him. A psychological study of unusual interest" (Marquand, p. 246)
  • We will endeavour to unite the whole country in opposing French aggression. ... We cannot stand by and allow the resources of Germany to be deteriorated by French action. The British occupation of the Rhine, if it is part of the French policy, cannot be allowed to continue.
  • They were going to work their own country for all it was worth, to bring human labour into touch with God's natural endowments, so that the land would blossom like the rose and have houses and firesides where there would be happiness and glorious aspirations.
    • Speech to a Labour Party luncheon in the Hotel Belgravia, Victoria (1 November 1923), quoted in The Times (2 November 1923), p. 9
  • When Mr. Lloyd George talked...about unemployment he forgot that he was the cause of it. Unemployment...and the increased cost of living were all due to causes that had been begun during Mr. Lloyd George's régime. Mr. Lloyd George went to Paris to try to make good the nonsensical pledges he gave in 1918, and supported a Peace Treaty which had been the cause very nearly of Britain's bankruptcy, and certainly the bankruptcy of many other nations. He, and he alone, was responsible for that. ... Everything that had happened had been the outcome of Mr. Lloyd George's blunderings, and he was using the calamities of his own policy as a reason why they should send him back to office.
    • Speech in Northampton (19 November 1923), quoted in The Times (20 November 1923), p. 16
  • He was a free-trader, because he felt it was the best, with all its drawbacks. There were higher wages in protected America, but there was corrupt politics. Protection in America meant more sweating in America than free trade did in England. The very worst of conditions and slums in England were a paradise compared with the conditions of steel workers under protection in Pittsburg. The whole of the protection system was meant not for workers, wage-earners, or the wives of working men, but to make capitalists millionaires.
    • Speech in Northampton (19 November 1923), quoted in The Times (20 November 1923), p. 16
  • I do think...that the way the Daily News and the Westminster Gazette behaved [during the election] was contemptible. We expect nothing better from the Daily Mail and such miserable products. The result, however, of the whole fight has been to dig both deeply and broadly a ditch between Liberalism and Labour. From all over the country I hear from my friends who fought that the Liberal fight was dirtier than the Tory, and I have seen leaflets like that issued by [Sir Henry] Webb who fought [Hugh] Dalton in Cardiff, which are simply amazing in their dishonesty. The line he took was that whilst we pitied the poor German who was being asked to pay £2,000,000,000 we had no qualms in imposing a Capital Levy upon Englishmen to the extent of £3,000,000,000.
    • Letter to C. P. Scott (11 December 1923), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), pp. 448-449
  • Mr. Lloyd George's campaign in its gross demagogic vulgarity has also increased both the number and the value of the reasons why we should have nothing whatever to do with his Party.
    • Letter to C. P. Scott (11 December 1923), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), p. 449
  • We do not believe that military alliances are going to bring security. We believe that a military alliance in an agreement for security is like a grain of mustard seed—small to begin with. That is the essential seed of the agreement, and that seed with the years will grow and grow and grow, until at last the tree that has been produced from it will overshadow the heavens, and we shall be back exactly in the military position in which we found ourselves in 1914.
    • Speech to the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva (4 September 1924), quoted in The Times (5 September 1924), p. 12
  • The League takes upon itself as its first task the creating once again of the European system, and that European system never will exist until our late enemies have ceased to be our enemies and have come in to take their cooperative part in that system.
    • Speech to the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva (4 September 1924), quoted in The Times (5 September 1924), p. 12
  • I am in favour of arbitration—I see nothing else for the world. If we cannot devise a proper system of arbitration, then do not let us fool ourselves that we are going to have peace. Let us go back to the past, let us go back to competitive armaments, let us go back to that false, whited sepulchre of security and of military pacts—there is nothing else for us—and let us prepare for the next war, because that is inevitable.
    • Speech to the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva (4 September 1924), quoted in The Times (5 September 1924), p. 12
  • We are here preparing, as I see it, this international armaments conference. That ought to be our project. If we can remove the obstacles in the way of that we shall have done a tremendous amount of work that, in its very nature, once it is done, is bound to be permanent, because the reason and morality of the world will stand by it so loyally.
    • Speech to the League of Nations Assembly in Geneva (4 September 1924), quoted in The Times (5 September 1924), p. 12
  • During all my political life I have anchored myself firmly upon the conviction that if progress is to be well-rooted, it can only be carried on by what is called political or constitutional ways. ... I can see no hope in India if it becomes the arena of a struggle between constitutionalism and revolution. No party in Great Britain will be cowed by threats of force or by policies designed to bring government to a standstill; and if any sections in India are under the delusion that that is not so, events will very sadly disappoint them. I would urge upon all the best friends of India to come nearer to us rather than to stand apart from us, to get at our reason and our good will.
    • Message dispatched to India (6 January 1925), quoted in The Times (26 January 1925), p. 9
  • Political leaders, irrespective of party...were beginning to see that, unless in Europe they could create an enormous federation of free-trade nations, there was not a single nation in Europe which could flourish in the industrial standard it ought to occupy.
    • Speech in Northampton (21 November 1925), quoted in The Times (23 November 1925), p. 14
  • I can assure you that, whatever your political colour may be, in the Old Country political parties, even in the heat of battle, never obscure national or Imperial interests.
    • Speech to a state banquet in Ottawa (9 September 1928), quoted in The Times (11 September 1928), p. 13
  • The policy of Great Britain is not the policy of alliances with any certain set of nations. It is a policy of friendship with those nations that believe in democratic forms of government and democratic development. The policy of Great Britain now is, and must be, and will be, that all nations in good will, in singleness, and in disinterestedness of heart will meet together, consider the great problems of Europe and the problems of the whole world, and agree, as the result of cooperation, discussion, and joint exchange of opinion, on a common policy which will make alliances absolutely a thing of the past.
    • Address to the German Reichstag (15 October 1928), quoted in The Times (16 October 1928), p. 15
  • What the Liberals have done to the Labour Party's programme is to come along like a gipsy, steal our child, get it in gaudy attire, and then produce it on platforms to perform at the General Election.
    • Speech in Swansea (15 March 1929), quoted in John Campbell, Lloyd George: The Goat in the Wilderness, 1922–1931 (1977), p. 226
  • I see that Mr. Lloyd George last night confessed that he read the betting news in the papers. (Laughter.) Ah! I shake my head at the Rake's Progress. (Laughter.) ... The only Liberal contribution to the programme advocated by Mr. Lloyd George is its headline. ... It is just a certain amount of improvised jazz—that is their programme.
    • Speech in Madeley in the Wreckin Division in response to the Liberal Party's "Orange Book", We can Conquer Unemployment (27 March 1929), quoted in The Times (28 March 1929), p. 16
  • In 1918 Mr. Lloyd George let himself produce such a programme of development as would astonish his rivals. He was going to hang the Kaiser. You said, "That is the man who has the ear of the public." He was going to build one million houses. He was going to make the land fit for heroes to live in, and you said, "That's the thing." He was going to search the pockets of Germany for the last penny, and you said, "That the stuff." My friends, it was stuff. (Cheers and laughter.) ... If unemployment had been tackled in a business-like fashion in the first three years after the War, it would not have grown to the proportion it had now reached. ... Mr. Lloyd George has been in office, nay in power, with a majority of 300; Mr. Baldwin has been in power with a majority of 200. What have they done? Have they broken the tale of heartbreakening worsening? Nowhere. It is only to the Labour Party that you can look for the solution of your troubles.
    • Speech in Aberavon (2 May 1929), quoted in The Times (3 May 1929), p. 11
  • Let us declare boldly in favour of disarmament. Let us put down our own proposals, arguing them, fighting for them, persuading people to join us, appealing not only to the reason but to the moral sense of the world. Great Britain marching clear away at the head of the great movement for international peace, that is our idea.
    • Speech in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester (24 May 1929), quoted in The Times (25 May 1929), p. 6
  • We want no injustice done to other people. I do not appeal to you merely as a class, but I do appeal to you workers to form yourselves into an organisation which will use political power in order to protect our human conditions and give you fair play in life.
    • Speech in the Hippodrome, Darlington (25 May 1929), quoted in The Times (27 May 1929), p. 9
  • [I]f we lose our chance now, which really means if this Government is to be continued in power, that chance will not return either to us or to our children. The memories of the last War will grow dim. The world will get back into its old rut, familiar professions and piety about peace will again soothe us to sleep, and the various countries will once more base their security upon military preparation. So they will all, in the end, find themselves drifting hopelessly upon those currents that make for war—1914 will be repeated. ... And remember what the next war is to be like. The old lines which divide combatants from non-combatants, the weak and the diseased from the strong and the robust, men from women and children, will all be obliterated and civilization itself assailed, and from sea and sky will be brought to a heap of ruins.
    • Speech in the Newcastle station of the BBC that was broadcast on radio as the Labour Party's election address (28 May 1929), quoted in The Times (29 May 1929), p. 9
  • There can be no security until the Great Powers have agreed to settle their disputes, which have hitherto led to war, by conciliation and arbitration. This was the policy which the Labour Party was working up to in 1924, and which it will pursue again when it is in office.
    • Speech in the Newcastle station of the BBC that was broadcast on radio as the Labour Party's election address (28 May 1929), quoted in The Times (29 May 1929), p. 9
  • Unemployment cannot be cured by relief work nor by patchwork of any kind. We must develop national resources and improve trade so that there will be increased employment and a tremendous revolution in industry and in power by the use of electricity and petrol, which must be accompanied by reorganisation of transport, including the making of roads, the reconditioning of railway plant and equipment, an extension of pensions which must enable the more aged workers to retire, the raising of the school age with necessary maintenance grants. We must dam the influx of premature people into industry.
    • Speech in the Newcastle station of the BBC that was broadcast on radio as the Labour Party's election address (28 May 1929), quoted in The Times (29 May 1929), p. 9
  • We do not believe that a nation can flourish on the poverty of its masses. Empty pockets are not only poverty, but breed poverty. Our own backs and stomachs still are the most neglected and yet the most profitable of our markets. Those who believe that safeguarding or protection is any aid to the development of that market had better study protected countries, where wages are low, unemployment is habitual, and poverty even worse than it is here. Unemployment insurance is not a dole, it is a benefit which has been paid for just like life insurance. These payments must be made adequate for the purpose in order to safeguard our people against the demoralisation of charity. We have concentrated this policy into two points and they stand as representing our purpose. Work first of all, but if no work, maintenance.
    • Speech in the Newcastle station of the BBC that was broadcast on radio as the Labour Party's election address (28 May 1929), quoted in The Times (29 May 1929), p. 9
  • One of the great reasons why I belong to the Labour Party and hold the Socialist views of what a wise and just social structure is, is because I detest class politics and want to end them in real national unity. In bringing that about we have to consider the claims of the great mass of our people, who, on account of their poverty, cannot adequately protect themselves. What has national unity meant to them? A change in a machine can make them outcasts; a change in fashion can make them paupers. ... The Labour Party wants to bring within the bounds and the meaning of this national unity the bottom dog, as he is called. For this purpose we have organised our great public services. The Labour Party wishes to develop them.
    • Speech in the Newcastle station of the BBC that was broadcast on radio as the Labour Party's election address (28 May 1929), quoted in The Times (29 May 1929), p. 9
  • I am so much concerned for the quiet development of industry, the peaceful mind and confidence both at home and abroad, that I will use every ounce of influence I have to prevent another election for the next two years. ... I wish to make it quite clear that I am going to stand for no monkeying.
    • Statement to a London correspondent of the Associated Press (1 June 1929), quoted in The Literary Digest, Volume 101 (1929), p. 14 and Current History, Volume 30 (1929), p. 660

1930s[edit]

  • The day is coming when we may have to give up orthodox free trade as we inherited it from our fathers.
    • Remark to J. H. Thomas (14 January 1930), quoted in Thomas Jones, Whitehall Diary, Volume II: 1926–1930 (Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 235
  • [The Kellog Pact is] a mighty moral bulwark against war - and we must never underestimate the effectiveness of moral bulwarks with no bayonet nor bludgeon behind them. The entry of the United States into the Permanent Court of International Justice, the growing confidence in the court, and the increase in the number of nations who have signed the Optional Clause mark definite and, I believe, irrevocable steps in the displacement of military power by judicial process in the settlement of international disputes. Public servants like us will fail in our duty if we do not diminish military power in proportion to the increase of political security...I dare affirm that, in the naval programme of the leading naval powers, there is a margin between real security needs and actual or projected strength, and the world expects this Conference to eliminate that margin.
    • Speech as chairman of the London Naval Conference (January 1930), quoted in David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald [1977] (1997), p. 510
  • All this humbug of curing unemployment by Exchequer grants is one of the most superficial and ill considered proposals that has ever been foisted upon the Party. There is no more Socialism in it than there was in the cup of tea that I had at breakfast this morning.
    • Letter to Walton Newbold (2 June 1930), quoted in David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald [1977] (1997), p. 538
  • As a result of a careful examination of ideas they had come to the conclusion that the great work of every constructive Government must be to put the population on the land. Here was something permanent. They took men body and soul off the pavements, which had no rootable capacity, and put them in the fields to till and sow and harvest. In the worst time they would produce their own food there. It might not be luxurious, but it was healthy.
    • Speech to the Labour Party conference in Llandudno (7 October 1930), quoted in The Times (8 October 1930), p. 7
  • If we refuse...what are the prospects? Repression, and nothing but repression, and it is a very uncomfortable repression; a kind of repression from which we shall get neither credit nor success. It is the repression of the masses of the people, the great proportion of these masses being women and children. It is the repression not of organisations and not of bodies; it will develop into the repression of the whole of the population. ... If, on the other hand, you wish to bind India to you by bonds of confidence, to make her happy within your Empire and Commonwealth, if you wish to hear her praise you in gratitude and remain with you in pride, then accept the work that has been done by the Conference, and instruct the Government to proceed with it to a complete conclusion.
    • Speech in the House of Commons (26 January 1931) on Indian constitutional reform
  • We are going to Geneva determined, by persuasion, by arguments, by appeals to what has been written, appeals to measures already taken, appeals to history, appeals to common sense, to get the nations of the world to join in and reduce this enormous, disgraceful burden of armaments which we are now bearing from one end of the world to the other.
    • Speech in the Royal Albert Hall, London, in support of the aims of the Disarmament Conference in Geneva (11 July 1931), quoted in The Times (13 July 1931), p. 14
  • The Socialist Movement in this country is going to rack and ruin, because it is being controlled by people who are nothing more than critics of the Government, inspired by the idea that all you have to do is to hand out largesse to the community. All sense of principle, of communal organisation, and of service given with one's whole heart to the community, has gone and we are in danger of drifting into a Poor Law frame of mind.
    • Letter to Captain Bennett (8 August 1931), quoted in David Marquand, Ramsay MacDonald [1977] (1997), p. 609
  • If we yield now to the TUC we shall never be able to call our bodies or souls or intelligences our own.
    • Diary entry (22 August 1931) after the TUC rejected cuts in public spending, quoted in David Marquand, ‘MacDonald, (James) Ramsay (1866–1937)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009.
  • Yes, to-morrow every Duchess in London will be wanting to kiss me!
    • MacDonald to Philip Snowden the day after the formation of the National government (c. 25 August 1931), quoted in Philip Snowden, An Autobiography. Volume Two: 1919-1934 (1934), p. 987
  • The desolation of loneliness is terrible. Was I wise? Perhaps not, but it seemed as though anything else was impossible.
    • Notebook entry (27 December 1932) on his estrangement from the Labour Party, quoted in David Marquand, ‘MacDonald, (James) Ramsay (1866–1937)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edn, Oct 2009
  • I do not intend to carry on when we are through this mess. As soon as we have turned the corner I will get out, but I do not want to leave the Labour Party in a bad position.
    • Remarks to Walter Citrine (27 January 1933), quoted in Walter Citrine, Men and Work: An Autobiography (1964), p. 288
  • If I had only been able to carry my colleagues with me what we could have achieved! What a chance we had! But we threw it away. If they had only been straight enough to stand by what they had initiated, not what finally resulted from it—I am not saying that—I could have helped them. When they ran away and began to deny that they had ever had anything to do with our proposals, well, I thought to myself that politics had become too degraded for me. Do you know that they turned me out of the Labour Party with a rubber stamp? ... [W]hen I write my book on how the Labour Party betrayed Socialism I will tell the story there.
    • Remarks to Walter Citrine (27 January 1933), quoted in Walter Citrine, Men and Work: An Autobiography (1964), pp. 288-289
  • You are faced with the problem of what to do in respect to this question, to that question, and to the other question, but perfectly obviously, after you have faced the more superficial aspects of the separate questions, you want to know in relation to a complete plan what you are actually giving and what you are actually getting. Therefore, when the departmental, or compartmental, exploration has gone on to a certain extent it cannot be finished until somebody, co-ordinating all your problems, sets out in one statement and declaration the complete scheme that this Conference can pass in order to give security, to give disarmament, to give hope to the future–until that scheme has been placed before you, you cannot complete your examination of compartmental problems and questions...
  • As far back as 1895 I stood as an unflinching opponent of the idea that the progress of Socialism could be made by the declaration of a class war. I have always been opposed to it, and I exemplify that opposition to-day. The only method of social progress is not by dividing society, but by uniting society and giving all of us the community-consciousness that asks us cooperators to reach the great and good state ahead of us.
    • Speech in Southampton (13 November 1934), quoted in The Times (14 November 1934), p. 15
  • To-day, in spite of the prospects, our faith is undiminished. Our hearts may be sad—mine certainly is—but I have handed in none of my papers of enlistment in the Army of Peace. I am still in the ranks of that Army: a fighting soldier to remain there and act there and strive there as long as there is breath in my body and persuasion in my lips.
    • Speech in Southampton (13 November 1934), quoted in The Times (14 November 1934), p. 16
  • What we have to do is to doom the slums. And we have done it. It is going to take a year or two. We are not only going to doom slums, we are going to doom overcrowding. Next Session the House of Commons will...pass legislation which is going to doom overcrowding as we have already doomed the slums.
    • Speech in Southampton (13 November 1934), quoted in The Times (14 November 1934), p. 16
  • The channels of world trade are so obstructed by the pursuit of nationalist economic policy that steps should be taken at once to make it possible to arrive at an international economic agreement which would revive international trade. A return to free trade pure and simple would only increase unemployment.
    • Speech to the National Labour conference in Caxton Hall, London (28 October 1935), quoted in The Times (29 October 1935), p. 9
  • This nation ought to be quipped to defend itself and to fulfil its responsibility under the League system of mutual assistance in the event of an aggressor coming to threaten us all. A defenceless Britain at this stage of evolution will not be an aid to peace but an incentive to war. But we must watch very closely lest the acceptance of the responsibility to prepare for defence may lead to a policy of militarism for its own sake. We draw this distinction and will continue to observe it.
    • Speech to the National Labour conference in Caxton Hall, London (28 October 1935), quoted in The Times (29 October 1935), p. 9
  • That blot on the peace of the world, the Treaty of Versailles, is vanishing, and for that I am thankful. ... France has again had a severe lesson, and I hope it will take it this time. In any event the folly of pandering to it by standing rigidly to the letter of Versailles or Locarno...must now be plain and this logical and legalistic nation should be brought to face reality.
    • Diary entry (8 March 1936) in response to the remilitarisation of the Rhineland, quoted in Stephen A. Schuker, 'France and the Remilitarization of the Rhineland, 1936', French Historical Studies, Vol. 14, No. 3 (Spring, 1986), p. 314

Quotes about MacDonald[edit]

  • Ramsay MacDonald was a born leader, with a commanding personality and a magnificent presence; the most handsome man in public life. He was a great orator whose deep, resonant voice and sweeping gestures added to the force of his words. In his vehemence, however, he sometimes perpetrated startling malapropisms, and I remember him calling on delegates at an ILP conference to "work by day and propagate by night".
  • The Prime Minister had always had that gift of imagination, that touch of the quixotic, which might be called Scottish rather than Celtic, because it was the birthright of all their people. He had dreamed dreams which perhaps were not the dreams of many of them, but at any rate he had always had vision and a long perspective in life. There was a great deal of the Covenanter in him, and there was a great deal of the Cavalier. He had an acute sense of the past, and history was a living thing to him; but at the same time he was no drab antiquarian. He embodied, too, all their local affections, and he was a Highlander by descent and by domicile.
    • John Buchan, speech to the birthday dinner given to MacDonald in the Connaught Rooms (26 November 1931), quoted in The Times (27 November 1931), p. 14
  • What is the Prime Minister going to do? I spoke the other day, after he had been defeated in an important division about his wonderful skill in falling without hurting himself. He falls, but up he comes again, smiling, a little dishevelled but still smiling. But this is a juncture, a situation, which will try to the fullest the peculiar arts in which he excites. I remember when I was a child, being taken to the celebrated Barnum's Circus which contained an exhibition of freaks and monstrosities, but the exhibit on the programme which I most admired to see was the one described as "The Boneless Wonder". My parents judged that that spectacle would be too revolting and demoralizing for my youthful eyes, and I have waited fifty years to see the boneless wonder sitting on the Treasury Bench.
    • Winston Churchill in the House of Commons (28 January 1931), quoted in Martin Gilbert, Prophet of Truth. Winston S. Churchill. 1922-1939 (1979), p. 389, n. 1
  • Although we have differed in late years on political matters, I hope that in the bitterness of spirit you must feel at present, you will recall that there are thousands who, like myself, remember with pride and gratitude your work for Socialism and the cause of Labour in days when it was neither easy nor popular to be a pioneer.
    • Walter Citrine, letter to MacDonald after he had lost his seat in the 1935 general election (November 1935), quoted in Men and Work: An Autobiography (1964), p. 291
  • Deep resentment was felt against him and charges of treachery were frequent. Throughout the Labour movement he was bitterly criticised for his action in 1931, and I fully shared the prevailing sentiments towards him. ... During 1931 and earlier I had been one of his most severe critics. While deeply conscious of his powers as an orator and liking him personally, I thought he was woolly headed; and behind the scenes I left him in no doubt of my estimate of his executive or administrative skills. Yet not once did he show ill-feeling towards me.
  • MacDonald simply couldn't understand why he had been deserted by his former close friends. He felt that he had departed from none of his Socialist principles and had been true to the conceptions which had guided them through his political life.
  • The Gladstone of Labour.
    • Patrick Dollan, New Leader (17 October 1924), quoted in Keith Middlemas, The Clydesiders: A Left Wing Struggle for Parliamentary Power (1965), p. 179
  • MacDonald at Llandudno [in 1930] faced the test of a lifetime and, despite his assumed air of a weary Titan, it is hard to deny that he rose to it superbly. Even when his speech is read today – and MacDonald's speeches were very much intended to be heard, not read – its force is apparent. Picture the full scene with the presence, the gestures, the beautiful accent, the whole elegant swaying and lilting integration of voice, mind and body which is what a great MacDonald oration was, and it is not difficult to imagine the spell he cast.
  • MacDonald's temperament was temporising, calculating, cautious, gradualist to the fingertips. ... He had enormous resources of diligence and patience and endurance. These qualities together made him the expert negotiator and party manager which he undoubtedly was. ... [H]e also had great spasmodic gleams of imagination which enabled him to sweep aside the suffocating orthodoxies of the time.
  • [In 1931] MacDonald havered and hesitated and prevaricated; but he did not consciously set out to betray. ... Rather, he was utterly crushed by the choice he had desperately made. ... 1931 was a collective failure, not a personal failure. ... The scapegoat theory was an indecency as well as a falsehood. ... But neither he nor the other leaders had a right to run away in their different directions, and thereby open the gates wide to the enemy. No theory, evolutionary or revolutionary, or moderate, could justify that.
  • In the study there are photographs of Ll[oyd] G[eorge], Ramsay, and S[tanley] B[aldwin]. S. B. had learnt indirectly from one of the maids at Chequers in Ramsay's time that on entering the study for the weekend he always put the Ll[oyd] G[eorge] photograph in the table drawer, "because it makes me see red".
    • Thomas Jones, diary entry (14 April 1929), quoted in Thomas Jones, Whitehall Diary, Volume II: 1926–1930, ed. Keith Middlemas (1969), p. 181
  • I never thought Ramsay would willingly cooperate with the Liberals. He hates them. He is a compound of vanity and vindictiveness. His snobbish instincts incline him to association with Tories.
    • David Lloyd George, letter to C. P. Scott (19 October 1927), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), p. 493
  • He was a much more considerable man than it is now the fashion to admit. He was one of the creators, if not the chief architect, of the Labour Party. He brought it from a small membership in the House of Commons to a position in which it was able to hold office, not without credit...on two separate occasions. ... His actions in 1931, by which he destroyed his own creation and doomed the Labour Party to a long eclipse, naturally caused intense bitterness among his old colleagues. But the formation of the National Government resulted from real devotion to what he sincerely believed to be the interests of the State. ... He cannot be blamed for accepting what was the unequivocal view of almost all the leading experts as to what had to be done. ... The only difference between MacDonald and those who deserted him is that he had the courage to follow the advice which he believed to be sound, while they shrank from the unpopularity of policies which they themselves admitted to be necessary. ... If in his last years MacDonald sank into a woolly confusion of mind and language, the achievements of his life, taken as a whole, are by no means negligible.
  • In the House of Commons once he was not in very good form. He tended to hesitate and repeat himself. I'd never heard him quite so bad ever before. And Jimmy Maxton stood up and said: "Sit down, man, you're a bloody tragedy." You could have heard a pin drop; you could have heard a feather move.
  • I was surprised when it was conveyed to me that he expected me to call on him... I was shown into the Cabinet room, where I found the Prime Minister alone. Queen Victoria complained that Mr. Gladstone addressed her as if she were a public meeting. I know what she meant. Mr. MacDonald stood up and delivered a long discourse in his beautiful voice and with the phrasing of a practised orator. He began: "I am a layman from the crown of my head to the soles of my feet, but I realise to the full the importance and value of religion in the community. It should be a force making for unity and a bulwark against the forces of disruption, which are more powerful to-day than is generally supposed." ... I listened attentively to this speech, storing up questions and points of disagreement for the time when my turn to speak should come. They were wasted; that time never came, for as soon as the Prime Minister had ceased his oration, Mr. Baldwin was shown in and I was shown out, having uttered perhaps two sentences during the whole interview.
    • Walter Matthews, A History of St. Paul's Cathedral and the Men Associated with it, quoted in The Times (23 May 1957), p. 6
  • Ramsay MacDonald has a front-bench mind. Years ago I tried to get him taken into the Ministry, but others thought otherwise.
    • John Morley's remarks to John Hartman Morgan (September 1914), quoted in J. H. Morgan, John, Viscount Morley: An Appreciation and Some Reminiscences (1924), p. 80
  • On [5 August 1924] Hankey lunched with MacDonald and "took him to task about his unconcealed hatred of Lloyd George whom he always belittles". He stressed that the present conference "was simplicity itself compared with the Paris [Peace] Conference", that Lloyd George "had never allowed anyone to run him [MacDonald] down...when he was the underdog", but had described him as "a very considerable fellow fighting a lonely battle very pluckily". Hankey attributed MacDonald's attitude "to jealously of a much bigger man than he".
    • Stephen Roskill, Hankey, Man of Secrets: Volume II, 1919–1931 (1972), p. 371
  • MacDonald then burst out into a general denunciation of the whole crew of French politicians—underhand, grasping, dishonourable. I was entertained the other day, he said, at Versailles... There were present about 70 ex-premiers and would be premiers—everybody, he added, in France wants to be a premier, if it is only for four days. I was seated in the middle of the long side of the table so had a good view of all the men opposite. There wasn't a good face among them. Mme Herriot, a very nice person, was seated next to me. I said to her "can you tell me if there is an honest man here, besides your husband". "Yes", she replied, "I think there are two".
    • C. P. Scott, diary entry (15 July 1924), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), p. 460
  • He reverted again and again to this dislike and distrust of the Liberals. He could get on with the Tories. They differed at times openly then forgot all about it and shook hands. They were gentlemen, but the Liberals were cads.
    • C. P. Scott, diary entry (15 July 1924), quoted in The Political Diaries of C. P. Scott, 1911–1928, ed. Trevor Wilson (1970), p. 460
  • What a fine speech MacDonald made at Geneva—wise, far-seeing and courageous. I wish we had a man in our party who could have done the like.
  • Ramsay MacDonald, who came to power in 1924; and thereafter, whether in or out of office, set his mark on British foreign policy for the next fifteen years. The MacDonald policy seemed to end in catastrophic failure with the outbreak of the second World war in 1939. His name is now despised; his very existence ignored. Yet MacDonald should be the patron-saint of every contemporary Western politician who favours cooperation with Germany. More than any other British statesman, MacDonald faced "the German problem" and attempted to solve it. Coercion was futile, as the occupation of the Ruhr had just shown... Only conciliation of Germany remained; and if conciliation were to be practised at all, it should be practised wholeheartedly.
  • Ramsay was a simpler character than Baldwin, though he did not look it. He too was complicated, but not by S. B.'s desire to seem plain. A 'blend of cosmopolitan distinction and Scottish sense', Harold Nicolson called him, and no greater contrast with his predecessor could have been penned... [T]he key to him was the commonest in human nature—illusion, our stick and carrot. He had an overdose of incentive and I wished him joy of it, though joy he never got... Ramsay really was persuaded with H. G. Wells that 'our true nationality is mankind'... He really did believe that men were naturally good, that they could be brought into line though they looked like horses at a starting-gate for ever facing opposite ways and savaging each other. He had faith in every panacea... He really did hope that politics were a glittering but not endless adventure, especially in foreign affairs where he trusted to magic solutions round green baize... He really did believe that the grumpy wurrld found felicity by its firesides—he overdid firesides—and that he could make it happier still by catching it there. He really did persuade himself, especially on his feet, that we have some appointment with a star, and would rise to it by better ways than class-war, which he called 'pre-socialist and pre-scientific'... In short and in his own words he held that we were eternally moving in a surge toward righteousness... [He was] nearer to the Liberals than of his extremists. He was less absorbed in Socialism than in international events.
  • [I]n the slums of the manufacturing towns and in the hovels of the countryside he has become a legendary being—the personification of all that thousands of downtrodden men and women hope and dream and desire. Like Lenin...he is the focus of the mute hopes of a whole class.
  • [T]he Labour Party was always receptive...to rebels against the whole outlook of a leadership which they always accused of lacking determination or vigour or Socialist principles. These systematic critics...[included] the fervent and impatient idealists... Their outlook reflected the old radical, provincial, Nonconformist tendency to see Westminster politicians as willing victims of the aristocratic, or the parliamentary, or the Whitehall embrace. All those suspicions were so stimulated by the trauma of 1931 that even a generation later the most influential figure in the Labour Movement was said to be the ghost of Ramsay MacDonald.
  • We commemorate a man, a leader, who in the years of creation and achievement towered above his contemporaries in figure and manner, in voice and power, who worked and fought, and who suffered—as they all suffered who dared to preach socialism in an unreceptive and hostile age. He was a man who had vision, and dared all in those years to make that vision a reality; a man who inspired affection in his associates as in his own domestic circle, and who, daring all, created a lasting and durable political instrument which today 60 years after its first political success, provides the Government of this country and in so providing owes more than many are prepared to admit to the young Ramsay MacDonald.
    • Harold Wilson, speech at a luncheon in the House of Commons to commemorate the centenary of Ramsay MacDonald's birth (12 October 1966), quoted in The Times (13 October 1966), p. 12

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