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The New Age, Volume 21 (May 3 to October 25, 1917): An Introduction
by Pansing, David Wallace

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“ That horrible ogre Tradition, lies in the dust. ”R.D. Blumenfeld Editor of The Daily Express October, 1917.

Volume 21 (May 3 - October 25, 1917) takes place in the same context of the continuing trench warfare stalemate taking place in France. However, in this volume attention largely turned from the question of how to win the war to plans for rebuilding Britain and Europe. Two significant changes in the war situation were ever-present in this volume: the entry of the Americans into the war , the first of whom arrived in France in May of 1917, and, the build-up to the Russian Revolution that spanned this period (though the two significant rebellions took place just before and just after this volume). The many momentous events of 1917 led W. N. Medlicott to label it “The Decisive Year.”

The year began badly for the British and the early part of the year was marked by imminent material collapse for Britain. In a deep financial crisis, with a collapsing food supply and the most serious Labour unrest of the war, Britain's ability to wage war was seriously threatened by German submarines which sank record numbers of ships in the early part of the year. Not until July did the British Navy solve the problem by moving ships in convoys. Nonetheless, in this volume the victory of the allies was assumed. Contributors to The New Age, like the rest of English society, saw the entry of the United States into the war as a clear sign that the war was almost over. The number of troops the United States was willing to commit was overwhelming (In July General Pershing requested a million troops by 1918 and shortly thereafter amended his estimate to three million). However, as had happened throughout the war, the outlook that the allies would win the war was correct in the long term, but overly optimistic in the short term. In early battles the United States suffered heavy losses familiar to the French and British who had been in the trenches for years. “The Notes of the Week” of September 20 makes the point that “the war is dragging when we least expected” (21.20:437).

Of course, the war continued for another year after the end of this volume, full as it was of astute commentary and criticism on postwar aims and policies. It is interesting to note that after three years of war and countless deaths, the war aims of the various belligerent nations were still not formulated with any fixed clarity. In one of the finest series of the volume, “An Industrial Symposium,”The New Age asked a broad spectrum of politicians, trade union leaders, and religious figures to answer the questions,

  • 1 What in your opinion will be the industrial situation after the war as regards (a) Labour, (b) Capital, (c) the Nation as a single commercial entity?
  • 2 What in your view is the best policy to be pursued by (a) Labour, (b) Capital, (c) the state?

These questions, answered in the symposium from a number of fascinating local perspectives, made up the content of much of the rest of the paper as well. The question of how to proceed once the war was ended was considered again and again from the perspective of questions about Irish and Indian independence, post-war food supplies, the rightward swing of the Labour party, personal liberty, and national foreign policy. These considerations were nuanced and surprising at times, suggesting subtleties of policy to end the war that are often lost to the magnifying lens of the historian or literary critic. For instance, in the “Notes of the Week” on May 24 The New Age suggested that the demand for a “knock-out blow” ending to the war (as opposed to a negotiated settlement) stemmed from the desire of imperialists to continue to profit from the exploitation of colonies that would no longer be contested by a rival nation if German military and industrial power was destroyed utterly, rather than the national interest in ending the war as soon as possible and with the least loss of life (21.04:73). The complexity of this position can be seen by President Wilson's early support of a negotiated “peace without victory” for all parties which he dropped once the United States entered the war. Participating in the war required Wilson to win it, not end it. After this, the chief hope of a negotiated peace falls to the Russians and this is where The New Age sought it.

Much of Orage's writing in this volume advocated a foreign policy that would end the war as quickly as possible and allow for German self-determination after the cessation of hostilities: the separation of the German people from their rulers. Orage wrote, "What is still needed to tip the balance in the Allied favour is a reaffirmation of our conviction that Kaiserism alone is responsible for the war..." (21.09:194). Orage was convinced that should the German people understand that they would not be held responsible for the war and that the Kaiser and "Prussian militarism and aggression" would, then they might revolt against their leaders themselves and end the war earlier. Orage believed that this policy would also lead to a democratic Germany. This is a typical example of Orage's foreign policy in this volume: he sought the ideal of a democratic Germany, but did so through policy and media analysis: he did not do so himself in his newspaper. Orage discussed the advantages of the policy, but did not attempt to implement it in The New Age. There was no hint of propaganda or promotion in this volume at all.

The looming Russian Revolution threw these and other questions into stark relief. If the entry of the United States suggested an early end to the war, the possible departure of Russia from the Eastern front boded disastrously for the allies. The New Age's material on the Russian Revolution is fascinating to read, as the complete uncertainty of the result of the Revolution is evident here. News out of Russia was scarce at the time, but each morsel in this volume was given tremendous space for speculation and analysis about its potential impact on world politics. The New Age was generally positive, but so, it seems, was much of the British public for its ally in the war, however distant the proletariat revolution might have been from Britain's commercial values. On the other hand, the contributors to The New Age considered the effect of Russia's new socialist society not only for its effect on the war, but also on the continuing project of social transformation in favor of labour and the working class.

While the implications of foreign affairs dominated The New Age, contributors continued to decry the conditions of liberty at home during the war and to advocate for a return to freedoms of press, speech, and organization. How to reestablish democratic values and principles in a much-changed post-war England was analyzed in detail and in its complexity far in advance of the actual return of demobilized soldiers. In addition, with conscription still only a year old, the question of how conscientious objectors should be treated was frequently discussed in this volume.

The period of this volume might usefully be thought of as a chaotic but formative period for working class and labour philosophies and organization of the twentieth century. With the introduction of a socialist state in Russia, increasing parliamentary influence for the Labour Party in Britain, the radicalization of troops at the front, and the attempt to hold major international conferences that saw labour, not as marginal to domestic issues, but as central to international affairs, the question of how governments and economies should work together to the benefit of all the citizens was ever present. Guild Socialism was Orage's answer to this conundrum. It continued to be a preoccupation for Orage and other contributors to The New Age in this volume.

Names to Know While Using this Volume

    H. H. Asquith. (1852-1928)
  • Liberal Prime Minister from 1908-1916, Asquith limited the power of the House of Lords in the Parliament Act of 1911. Assailed by the press over the many troubles of 1916 (the Easter Uprising, the tremendous losses on the Somme, the introduction of conscription), he resigned and was replaced by Lloyd George. He remained the leader of the Liberal Party until 1926.
  • Sir Edward Carson (1854-1935)
  • A prominent conservative and leader of the anti-Home Rule Irish Unionists. Carson signed the covenant of resistance to Home Rule along with thousands of others in Belfast in 1912 and his work in parliament blocked Asquith's Home Rule Bill. Carson was appointed Attorney General in Asquith's wartime coalition government (1915), but resigned in protest over the conduct of the war. He was the First Lord of the Admiralty in Lloyd George's ministry (through July 1917).
  • David Lloyd George (1863-1945).
  • Liberal Member of Parliament, then Prime Minister 1916 - 1922. Before becoming Prime Minister he was sharply critical of his own party's execution of the war. Firm proponent of the “knock-out blow” end to the war. When he replaced Asquith in December of 1916 as Prime Minister, he split the Liberal Party.
  • Aleksandr Kerensky (1881-1970).
  • Moderate Socialist leader who led the Russian Provisional Government from July to October 1917. He displeased both the conservative and radical wings of his supporters and eventually fled Russia just ahead of the October Revolution.
  • Andrew Bonar Law (1858-1923).
  • Leader of the Conservative Party from 1911 (replacing Arthur Balfour). Cooperated with Lloyd George in the wartime government after 1916. After the war he opposed Home Rule for Ireland and encouraged Ulster Separatist Militancy. He was briefly Prime Minister in 1922.
  • Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937)
  • Labour Party leader from 1905-1914, MacDonald was forced to resign his leadership in 1914 and was defeated in his re-election effort in 1918 for suggesting that the war against Germany was morally wrong, though he did say that having entered the war, England should do everything it could to win it. He returned to Parliament in 1922 and became the first Labour Prime Minister in 1924.
  • Lord Northcliffe (Alfred Charles William Harmsworth). (1865-1922).
  • After exposing the shell shortage early in the war in The Daily Mail, Northcliffe was instrumental, through the bully pulpit of his newspapers (including The Times) in pressing for the formation of a coalition wartime government.
  • Russian Revolution
  • In Russia, in March of 1917 strikes and riots and a general mutiny of troops led to a Provisional Government and the end of the old regime (Nicholas II abdicated on March 15). The period of this volume is defined by the rule of the Provisional Government, a coalition, headed by Prince George Lvov (chairman of the Union of Zemstvos and Municipalities) and including Paul Miliukov, leader of the Constitutional Democrats, and Alexander Guchkov, leader of the Octobrists, and Alexander Kerensky, the only Socialist. The Provisional Government announced sweeping reforms proclaiming civil liberties of equality without discrimination on the basis of social, religious, or racial characteristics and social reforms including land redistribution among the peasants. Still, it found itself in conflict with the Petrograd Soviet (Council of Workers' and Soldier's Deputies), the socialist party. The Provisional Government continued to pursue the war, though its aims and methods were hotly debated. The Provisional Government was reformed in July resulting in Kerensky's leadership.
  • Stockholm Conference.
  • Attempt to have a conference in Stockholm in August, 1917 of Socialists from all countries involved in the war. Cancelled because of the fierce opposition of the English and French Governments. Its sabotage by these governments increased labor unrest and opposition to the war.

Events by Month

  • Unrestricted German Submarine warfare launched. Expected to bring Britain to defeat in six months. Over 1000 ships were sunk in February, March, and April
  • April
  • British offensive on the Somme. Tactical success, but not the drastic change expected.
  • May
    • 2
    • Imperial War Cabinet concludes (began March 20). Meeting of Dominions and India to discuss the course of the war.
    • 18
    • President Wilson signs Selective Service Act
    • 26
    • First U.S. Troops arrive in France
  • June
    • 7
    • U.S. Proposes to send 120,000 soldiers per month to Europe; Battle of Messines (Ypres) begins eventually resulting in General Plumer taking Messines Ridge.
    • 13
    • General Pershing lands in France
    • -
    • Germany launches the first heavy bomber raid against London. 18 aircraft kill 162 people and injure over 400. The RFC fails to shoot any of the attackers down.
    • 14
    • U.S. Espionage Act passed.
    • 15
    • Amnesty granted the Irish rebels of the 1916 Easter Rebellion
    • 16
    • First Congress of Soviets convenes in Russia
    • 29
    • Russian offensive against Austro-German forces. Ends disastrously July 7.
  • July
    • Convention on Ireland's political future.
    • 6
    • General Pershing requests a million U.S. troops by 1918
    • 7
    • - 22 German planes launch a second daylight air attack on London, killing 57 people and injuring 193. 108 sorties were launched in defense, and one German plane was shot down, and three others suffered severe damage. Two defending aircraft were also shot down.
    • 11
    • General Pershing suggests U.S. war effort may take 3 million troops
    • --
    • Release of Sinn Fein leader Eamon de Valera who was then re-elected to parliament
    • 16-18
    • Attempted Bolshevik coup fails in Russia. Trotsky jailed. Lenin goes into hiding in Finland.
    • 17
    • British Royal Family changes its name from Hanover to Windsor.
    • 18
    • Winston Churchill becomes Minister of Munitions.
    • 20
    • Prince Lvov resigns leadership of Provisional Government in Russia. His place is taken by Kerensky.
    • 31
    • Third Battle of Ypres (Paschendale) begins
  • August
    • Pope's peace proposal unveiled.
    • 6
    • Kerensky appointed Prime Minister of Russia
    • 10
    • Emergency Labour Conference
  • September
    • 1
    • Pershing establishes headquarters at Chaumont
    • 9
    • Kornilov attacks Russian government with the intention of freeing it from Socialist domination. His attack fails. The government relies on popular Bolshevik support for its protection.
    • 23
    • U.S. Tank Corps founded
  • October
    • 2
    • War Revenue Act
    • 19
    • 11 Zeppelins carried out the last airship raid on Britain.
    • 17
    • first British bombing of Germany
    • 24
    • Austro-German breakthrough at Caporetto
    • 25
    • Sinn Fein Convention at Dublin adopted a constitution for the Irish Republic; elected De Valera President.
  • November
    • 6
    • Bolshevik Revolution

The Journal

The journal continued in price (sixpence) and format until the tenth issue of this volume when the size of the journal was reduced from 24 pages to 20 pages. Presumably, this is related to the financial condition of the journal at the time. Wallace Martin reports that The New Age was in disastrous financial condition resulting in the dissolution of The New Age Press in March of 1917. After this Orage alone is financially responsible for The New Age. In addition, costs of publicity rose during the war. Martin reports that one side-effect of this financial situation is that Orage was no longer able to compensate contributors as frequently or as well.

Of special interest to scholars of The New Age is Orage's list of published books that contained, in whole or in part, previously published material from The New Age in number 24, page 508.

Continuing Series in Volume 21

  • “Towards National Guilds,” by National Guildsmen, appears in issues 1-3, 16
  • “Failure of the National Church,” by a Trade Unionist, appears in issues 1-2.
  • “The Collected Papers of Anthony Farley,”by S. G. Hobson appears in issues 1, 09 13, 15, and 17.
  • “Education for Liberty,” by Kenneth Richmond, appears in issues 1-6.
  • “The Value of Liberty,” by Cruz appears in issues 2-3.
  • “An Industrial Symposium,” moderated by Huntley Carter, appears in issues 1-10
  • “Interviews” by C.E. Bechofer appears regularly in this volume.

New Series in Volume 21

  • “We Moderns, ” by Edward Moore (Edwin Muir).
  • “Notes on Economic Terms” appears throughout this volume.
  • “Thoughts for a Convention,” by A.E. on the Irish National Convention. This brief series is a thorough introduction to the complexities of Irish Home Rule politics in the period.
  • “A Modern Prose Anthology.” Includes spoofs of modern writers: 21.10:229 (G.K. Chesterton), 21.11:251 (Hilaire Belloc), 21.12:270 (John Galsworthy), 21.13:290 (R.B. Cunningham-Graham), 21.14:305 (E.V. Lucas), 21.15:325 (H.G. Wells).
  • “Provincialism the Enemy” by Ezra Pound.
  • “Studies in Contemporary Mentality” by Ezra Pound.

Of Further Note

If, as Paul Fussell argued, the first world war was a literary war, then The New Age is a tremendous source for a perspective on the mass of writing about the war taking place even as the war progresses. Books about the Great War were published throughout the war and some of the major texts were reviewed in this volume. The New Age considered this literature around the war carefully for its literary, political, social, cultural, and economic value. See the review of Henri Barbusse's Under Fire21.21:453 and Orage's discussion of how to write properly about the war in 21:20.

The New Age's contributors show particular venom against war profiteers, as did the rest of British society. This can be seen most humorously in V.A. Purcell's poem, “My Love he is a Profiteer:”

Whilst others' lives conscripted they
By thousands, millions: what said he?
"Let others fight for paltry pay;
"My place is here - they'll fight for me.
My chance has come, my course is clear."
He was a humble profiteer.
Uplifting he in all his aims-
Up high the prices raises he -
He tribute from all sources claims:
Munitions, pills and shoes and tea.
And if it pays to shed a tear,
He won't refrain, my profiteer!

These rarely named but frequently referred-to figures came to represent, in the pages of The New Age the sacrifices made by the working class in the war effort while industrialists prospered. F.E. Smith put it thus,

“God forbid we should belittle the war or the efforts of those actively engaged in it. At the same time, when we see what can be done upon the civil side of things while the war is still in progress, the reflection must occur that it is labour alone that is to be fobbed off with the excuse that war makes reform impossible.”21.05:98
. See the discussion of the Corn Production bill as “Statutory Profiteering” in 21.13:280. See also 21.11:239

One other interesting development in this period was the advent of air raids on London by planes and zeppelins, which take place in the summer and early fall. The question of how to respond to this new military technology and method were much discussed. The act of war against civilians seemed to call for reprisals in kind, though even at this late point in the first world war, the idea of military acts against civilians was radically unsettling. 21.11:238

Literature and the arts

In spite of the war, major literary figures continued to publish volumes during 1917, including in Britain, T.S. Eliot (Prufrock and Other Observations), D.H. Lawrence (Look! We Have Gone Through), and W.B. Yeats (The Wild Swans at Coole). Other major publications of 1917 include Amy Lowell's Tendencies in Modern American Poetry, and Carl Jung's The Unconscious. Leonard and Virginia Woolf founded the Hogarth Press in 1917.

Katherine Mansfield has a series of short home front vignettes of ruthless insight. Wicked in their exposure of wartime extravagances (the spectacle of two gentlewomen taking the bus in “Two Tuppenny Ones, Please,” speaks volumes about the social and cultural changes occasioned by the war), these pieces provided a brilliant counter-point to the other considerations of wartime culture, society, and politics in the volume (21.01:013)

The writers of The New Age were some of the best readers of their own medium as well. Orage and his fellow contributors spent a great deal of time in this volume critiquing the methods of other journalists. The New Age never competed with other news sources in these considerations, but took them as their objects of study (or ridicule). One of the primary places this occurred in this volume is in Ezra Pound's long series, “Studies on Contemporary Mentality,” in which he analyzed a different popular newspaper every week. For those interested in the relationship of modernism to popular media and journalism, this series is a treasure trove. This sort of journalistic critique was peppered throughout the “Notes of the Week,” and “Readers and Writers,” as well. See “'The Times' as Hare and Hound” by W. Durran for another example of this kind of piece (21.11:243).

Works Consulted

  • A Companion to Early Twentieth-Century Britain. Ed. Chris Wrigley. Blackwell Publishing, 2003.
  • Encyclopedia Britannica. 2005. Encyclopedia Britannica Online 7 Feb. 2005
  • Martin, Wallace. The New Age Under Orage: Chapters of English Cultural History.
  • Medlicott, W.N. Contemporary England 1914-1964. NY: Longman, 1967.
  • Seaman, L.C.B. Post-Victorian Britain 1902-1951. London: Methuen, 1966.
  • The Great War Reader. Ed. James Hannah. College Station: Texas A&M UP, 2000.
  • Twentieth-Century Britain: An Encyclopedia. Ed. Fred. M. Lowenthal. NY: Peter Lang, 2002.