Pressure Group Archives Subject Guide

Union of Democratic Control

The UDC was established during the first days of the First World War to work for parliamentary control of foreign policy and a just peace settlement. There was a belief that Britain had been dragged into the war because of secret military agreements with France and Russia. The early leaders of the group initially called the Committee of Democratic Control, were Charles Trevelyan, James Ramsay Macdonald, Arthur Ponsonby, Norman Angell and ED Morel. The group was formally launched as the Union of Democratic Control in an open letter to the press in September 1914. Morel became the secretary and a committee was established, including Arthur Henderson, JA Hobson and Bertrand Russell. In late 1917 the UDC reached its maximum membership of some 10,000 individuals in over 100 branches.

The UDC undertook a massive publicity effort in support of its aims. During the War, 28 pamphlets, 47 leaflets and 18 books were issued, plus a journal, The UDC (later re-titled Foreign Affairs). Joining the UDC became a sort of half-way house between leaving the Liberals and joining the rising Labour Party. Members of the UDC were often harshly criticised for their views. But this was softened by two factors: the publication by the Bolsheviks after the Russian revolution of the secret treaties between Britain, France and Russia before 1914; and the first of President Woodrow Wilson's 'Fourteen Points', referring to 'open covenants openly arrived at'. However, the UDC's campaign to modify the Treaty of Versailles peace settlement was largely ineffective.

Nevertheless, the UDC, established as a wartime phenomenon, continued to thrive after the War. Thirty members of the UDC were elected as Labour MPs in 1922. The first ever Labour government in 1924 included five members of the UDC Executive and eight members of its General Council. Again, in practice the UDC still had very little influence on government policy, except in gaining British recognition of the Soviet Union. From the 1920s the UDC concentrated its efforts on highlighting and offering solutions to problems in international affairs, eventually becoming a leading anti-colonial organisation. In the 1920s, it pressed for the keeping of peace by open diplomacy and a reformed League of Nations; in the 1930s, it challenged the growth of armaments and imperialism in China and East Africa; and in the 1940s it supported the struggles for independence in Asia and Africa. With the virtual disintegration of the British Empire by the mid-1960s, the UDC was eventually wound up in December 1966.

The surviving papers reflect all the above interests. There are minutes (of the General Council, Executive Committee and sub-committees), accounts (particularly relating to the sale of publications), subject and correspondence files, press cuttings, photocopies, and numerous copies of UDC publications (books, pamphlets and leaflets), including some original drafts and typescripts by, amongst others, Kenneth Kaunda [DDC]. A small collection of papers of Audrey Jupp-Thomas (Secretary of the UDC from the late 1940s to the early 1960s) is also held [DJT].

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