The Leeds Convention held on 3 June 1917 might possibly claim to be the largest ‘anti-war’ conference held in Britain during the First World War but in any case it has been described by Ralph Miliband as ‘perhaps the most remarkable gathering of the period’. It saw 3,500 people from across Britain gather at the Leeds Coliseum (now the O2 Academy) in solidarity with the February Revolution which had overthrown the brutal Tsarist autocracy in Russia. The Convention voted to hail the inspiration of the Russian Revolution, defend civil liberties, call for an end to the First World War and vote to set up Workers’ and Soldiers’ Councils in Britain in solidarity with the Soviets being formed in revolutionary Russia.
Speakers at this historic moment of international solidarity in Britain in 1917 included Bertrand Russell, Ramsay MacDonald, Sylvia Pankhurst, Tom Mann, Philip Snowden, Charlotte Despard, Ernest Bevin, Dora Montefiore and Willie Gallacher. As Philip Snowden put it afterwards, the Convention ‘was not only the largest Democratic Congress held in Great Britain since the days of the Chartist agitation’ but a ‘spontaneous expression of the spirit and enthusiasm of the Labour and Democratic movement’. For veteran Bradford socialist Fred Jowett, as Fenner Brockway noted, ‘to the end of his life Fred used to refer to the Leeds Congress as the highest point of revolutionary fervour he had seen in this country’.
On the 100th anniversary of this historic Labour and Socialist Convention held on 3 June 1917, the Ford-Maguire Society and Leeds TUC with the generous support of the Lipman-Miliband Trust are holding a one-day event at the Swarthmore Centre in Leeds on Saturday 3 June 2017 from 10-4pm.
Speakers include Michael Meadowcroft on the Leeds Convention, John Newsinger on the Russian Revolution, Jill Liddington on Leeds suffrage stories, and Janet Douglas on Arthur Ransome. This event will see a book launch of ‘British Labour and the Russian Revolution – The Leeds Convention of 1917’ (Spokesman, 2017) which details the Convention proceedings and provides context to the event. All are welcome and entrance is free but we will have a collection.
As the 3 and 4 June 1917 were also later marked by horrific anti-Jewish riots in Leeds, the evening will conclude with a Love Music Hate Racism gig at the Fox and Newt pub on 9 Burley Street with the American political folk-singer David Rovics headlining – entrance to gig £10 / £5.
10am – Welcome
10.15 – Michael Meadowcroft, ‘The Leeds Convention’
11.15 – coffee break
11.30 – John Newsinger, ‘Revolutionary Russia and the Dream of a New World’
12.30 – lunch break
1.15 – Jill Liddington ‘Leeds Suffrage Stories: Isabella Ford, Mary Gawthorpe and Leonora Cohen’
2.15 – Janet Douglas ‘Arthur Ransome, Leeds and the Russian Revolution’
3.00 – Final Remarks (inc Steve Davison, Keighley TUC) and Book Launch of ‘British Labour and the Russian Revolution – The Leeds Convention of 1917’ (Spokesman, 2017) and David Rovics leading us in singing ‘The Red Flag’ .