The Failure of Radicalism
A T its simplest level the argument for working-class support of imperialism finds evidence in the lack of mass opposition to the Boer War. It is assumed, as it was assumed by contemporaries, that the failure of the working class to respond to the immorality of the war illustrated its surrender to the prevailing enthusiasm for the Empire. Superficially, this is a convincing argument. The moral issues raised by the war were obvious and clear cut. Like most other imperialist ventures, it was justified on the dubious grounds of moral responsibility and strategic necessity. But the nature of the conflict made it easier to deny apologists' assertions that the Boers were a savage, uncivilized race.1 Thus, to accept the war, one had to accept the assumption that British racial superiority bestowed the right to rule white men as well as black. The anti-imperialists' rejection of this was followed, however, by an equally invalid assumption of their own. They believed that all that was needed to generate an
effective opposition to the war was to expose its immorality to the public just as Gladstone had exposed Disraeli's foreign policy of the late 1870s. The shadow of the Midlothian continually lurked over the Radical analysis.