Labour History Review

Two Tales about Crisis and Corruption at the Central Labour College

Labour History Review (2007), 72, (1), 69–93.

Abstract

The labour college movement was a significant feature of the landscapes of British labour in the early years of the last century. Its residential academy, the Central Labour College, attempted to popularise Marxist theory, educate trade union cadres in the philosophy of class struggle and prepare teachers for work in the local labour colleges. Its collapse in 1929 was the consequence of a force field of pressures. Yet the commemorative history of the college said nothing, and subsequent historians little, about one factor in its demise: the peculation of college funds by its leading officials. Arguing that inconvenient aspects of labour's past have sometimes been downplayed by historians of labour, this essay traces and explains the suppression of the issue of embezzlement at the college. It proceeds to present a detailed reconstruction and close reading of the affair and its repercussions. An old proverb has it that a fish rots from the head. The article concludes that the incident is explained by and exemplifies the faltering of radical momentum in independent working-class education by the 1920s and is emblematic of its failing impetus and subsequent marginality.

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Author details

McIlroy, John