Union of Democratic Control

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Founded Nov. 1914 in London, England by an alliance of radical Liberal Party and Independent Labour Party members, to protest Britain's decision to enter World War I; founders were E.D. Morel, Norman Angell, J. Ramsay MacDonald, and Charles Trevelyan; lobbied for democratic control over British foreign policy, the abolition of industrial and military armaments and conscription, the promotion of free trade, the self-determination of peoples, and the development of the League of Nations; became a well-respected and internationally known research organization, publishing many pamphlets about British national and colonial affairs; disbanded in 1966.

From the description of Collection, 1915-1966. (Swarthmore College, Peace Collection). WorldCat record id: 41890282

The UDC was established during the first days of the First World War to work for parliamentary control of foreign policy and a moderate peace settlement. There was a belief in some quarters 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 (the only member of the Liberal government to resign over the declaration of war), James Ramsay Macdonald, Arthur Ponsonby, Norman Angell and ED Morel. Morel became the secretary and initial driving force behind what was soon re-named the Union of Democratic Control. The group was formally launched with an open letter to the press in early September 1914. The UDC's stated objectives were: parliamentary control over foreign policy and the prevention of secret diplomacy, a movement for international understanding after the war, and a just peace. A Committee of 18 members was established, including Arthur Henderson, JA Hobson and Bertrand Russell. Operations were initially based at Charles Trevelyan's London home, but offices were quickly acquired off the Strand, and later, on Fleet Street. Running costs were met from subscriptions, plus large donations received from several major Quaker business concerns. In late 1917 the UDC reached its maximum membership of some 10,000 individuals in over 100 branches. By 1918, 300 other groups (mainly co-operatives, trade unions and women's organisations) with 650,000 members were also affiliated to the UDC.

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). The pamphlets, in particular, were very successful, and the first 15 sold over 500,000 copies by 1915. The UDC also played a part in the terminal decline of the Liberal Party, especially after the formation of the Lloyd George coalition government in December 1916. Joining the UDC became a sort of half-way house between leaving the Liberals and joining the rising Labour Party. Morel himself started the War as a prospective Liberal Parliamentary candidate, but in 1918 joined the Independent Labour Party. Members of the UDC (especially Morel, with his Germanic name) were often harshly criticised for their views (and Morel was even imprisoned). 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. By July 1921 organisations affiliated to the UDC contained over one million members. Thirty members of the UDC were elected as Labour MPs in 1922, and in November 1922 Morel himself defeated Winston Churchill (then a National liberal) at Dundee for Labour. The first ever Labour government in 1924 included five members of the UDC Executive and eight members of its General Council - although not Morel, owing to personal animosity between him and the Prime Minister, Ramsay Macdonald. Again, in practice the UDC still had very little influence on government policy, except in gaining British recognition of the Soviet Union.

ED Morel died suddenly in 1924 at the age of 51. The UDC was never really the same again, even though membership subsequently included the likes of Fenner Brockway and Harold Wilson. 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 (to include Germany and Russia); 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.

From the guide to the Records of the Union of Democratic Control, 1910-1974, (Hull University Archives)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn International Organizations: Pressure Groups Material, 1950- Institute of Commonwealth Studies
creatorOf Sturge, Joseph, fl. 1914. Papers relating to the Peace Committee of the Society of Friends and other peace movements collected by Joseph Sturge. Brotherton Library, University of Leeds
referencedIn MOREL, Edmund Dene, 1873-1924, MP, 1883-1957 British library of political and economic science
referencedIn The Papers H. N. Brailsford (1873-1958), 1905-1958 Labour History Archive and Study Centre
creatorOf Records of the Union of Democratic Control, 1910-1974 Hull University Archives
referencedIn BUXTON, Charles Roden, 1875-1942, politician, 1900-1923 British library of political and economic science
referencedIn Macdonald, E. Ramsay. [Letter] 1914 September, Westminster, London [to] "Dear Sir" / E. Ramsay MacDonald...[et al.]. University of Manchester Library, Main Library
referencedIn Playne, Caroline Elizabeth, 1907-1924 Senate House Library (University of London)
creatorOf Union of Democratic Control. Collection, 1915-1966. Swarthmore College, Peace Collection, SCPC
referencedIn Kahn-Freund, Otto (1900-1979): pamphlets and newsletters, 1941-1965 Wiener Library
referencedIn Papers relating to the Peace Committee of the Society of Friends and other peace movements collected by Joseph Sturge, 1854-1927 GB 206 Leeds University Library
referencedIn Davies, Benjamin, 1863-1957. Papers. 1882-1952. American Institute of Physics, Niels Bohr Library
referencedIn Trevelyan Family Papers, 1758-1962 Newcastle University
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Buxton, Charles Roden, 1875-1942 person
associatedWith Davies, Benjamin, 1863-1957. person
associatedWith Freund, Otto, Kahn-, 1900-1979 person
associatedWith Henry Noel Brailsford person
associatedWith Institute of Commonwealth Studies corporateBody
associatedWith League of Nations corporateBody
associatedWith Morel, E. D. 1873-1924. person
associatedWith Playne, Caroline Elizabeth, 1857-1948 person
associatedWith Sturge, Joseph, fl. 1914. person
associatedWith Swarthmore College. Peace Collection. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Great Britain
Anti-imperialist movements
Conscientious objection
War resistance movements
Union of Democratic Control
World War, 1914-1918

Corporate Body

Active 1915

Active 1966


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