E. D. Morel

E. D. Morel

Edmund Dene Morel, the son of Edmund Morel de Ville, was born in Paris on 15th July, 1873. Edmund's father, a minor official in the French Ministry of Finance, died in 1877. His mother, Emmeline de Ville, brought her four year old son back to England. Emmeline was a member of the Society of Friends and this had a major influence on the development of Edmund's political ideas.

Emmeline de Ville had financial difficulties and Edmund was forced to leave school at fifteen. Edmund found work as a clerk with Elder Dempster, a shipping firm in Liverpool. In an attempt to increase his income, E. D. Morel turned to part-time journalism. Most of the articles that Morel wrote were based on information supplied by merchants and seamen who visited the shipping office. This included stories about British trade in Africa.

At first, Morel's articles reflected the economic interests of Liverpool's merchants. However, he became deeply concerned about the damage that Britain was doing to African culture. This included information that the anthropologist, Mary Kingsley, had given him about Sierra Leonne. Morel was especially worried about stories he heard about the rubber trade in the Congo. He discovered that European merchants were forcing Africans to perform unpaid labour. A series of articles entitled The Congo Scandal appeared in The Speaker journal in 1900. As his own company, Elder Dempster, was involved in this trade, Morel was forced to resign.

Morel now became a full-time journalist working for the newspaper West Africa. In 1903 he founded his own newspaper, West African Mail, and although it provided him with a vehicle to expose the bad behaviour of Europeans in Africa, it failed to make a profit. Morel also established the Congo Reform Association, an organisation that campaigned to persuade European governments to take action against those guilty of human rights abuses.

While carrying out his investigations in Africa E. D. Morel became convinced that diplomats in Britain and France were sometimes involved in immoral deals. In 1912 he published Morocco in Diplomacy, a book where he blamed the governments in Britain and France for the Moroccan crises of 1905 and 1911.

Morel became an active member of the Liberal Party and in October, 1912, he became its prospective parliamentary candidate in Birkenhead. However, Morel, disagreed with the way that Herbert Asquith and his government were dealing with the crisis in Europe. Morel believed that the conflict had been made worse by the secret diplomacy of people such as Britain's foreign secretary, Sir Edward Grey.

On the outbreak of the First World War, three senior members of the government, Charles Trevelyan, John Burns, and John Morley resigned. Trevelyan began contacting friends about a new political organisation he intended to form to oppose the war. This included Morel, Norman Angell and Ramsay MacDonald. A meeting was held and after considering names such as the Peoples' Emancipation Committee and the Peoples' Freedom League, they selected the Union of Democratic Control(UDC).

The four men decided that the UDC should have three main objectives: (1) that in future to prevent secret diplomacy there should be parliamentary control over foreign policy; (2) there should be negotiations after the war with other democratic European countries in an attempt to form an organisation to help prevent future conflicts; (3) that at the end of the war the peace terms should neither humiliate the defeated nation nor artificially rearrange frontiers as this might provide a cause for future wars.

Over the next four years the Union of Democratic Control became the most important of all the anti-war organizations in Britain. E. D. Morel, as secretary and treasurer, emerged as the dominant figure in the organisation. In August 1915, the UDC decided to pay Morel for his secretarial duties. Morel also wrote most of the UDC pamphlets published during the war. Herbert Asquith and his Liberal Government were furious with Morel's actions and he was removed as the Liberal parliamentary candidate for Birkenhead.

In 1915 Morel's book Morocco in Diplomacy was reissued as Ten Years of Secret Diplomacy. The following year he published Truth and the War, an attack on the foreign policy of the British government. Morel also wrote several pamphlets for the Union of Democratic Control including The Morrow of War (1914), War and Diplomacy (1915), Our Ultimate Objects in This War (1917) and The African Problem and the Peace Settlement (1917).

The Daily Express, edited by Ralph Blumenfeld, led the campaign against Morel and the UDC. In April 1915 it printed wanted posters of Morel, Ramsay MacDonald and Norman Angell. Under headings such as: 'Who is E. D. Morel? And Who Pays for his Pro-German Union? it suggested that the UDC was working for the German government. The Daily Express also listed details of future UDC meetings and encouraged its readers to go and break-up them up.

Although the UDC complained to the Home Secretary about what it called "an incitement to violence" by the Daily Express, he refused to take any action. Over the next few months the police refuse to protect UDC speakers and they were often attacked by angry crowds. After one particularly violent event on 29th November, 1915, the Daily Express proudly reported the "utter rout of the pro-Germans".

The Daily Sketch joined the campaign against the UDC. It told its readers on 1st December, 1915, that to: "kill this conspiracy we must get hold of the arch-conspirator, E. D. Morel". Over the next few months . Morel was physically attacked several times. He continued to run the organisation and by 1917 membership of the UDC and affiliated organizations had reached 650,000.

The government now saw E. D. Morel as an extremely dangerous political figure. Basil Thompson, head of the Criminal Investigation Division of Scotland Yard, and future head of Special Branch, was asked to investigate Morel and the Union of Democratic Control. Thompson reported that the UDC was not a revolutionary body and its funds came from the Society of Friends and "Messrs. Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree".

Despite Thompson's failure to find any evidence of criminal activity, the Home Secretary gave instructions for Morel's arrest. On the 22nd August, 1917 Morel's house was searched and evidence was discovered that he had sent a UDC pamphlet to a friend living in Switzerland. This was a technical violation of the the Defence of the Realm Act and Morel was sentenced to six months in prison. Morel, whose health was already poor, never fully recovered from the harsh conditions of Pentonville Prison. On his release from prison E. H. Morel finally left the Liberal Party and like his colleagues at the UDC, Charles Trevelyan and Arthur Ponsonby, joined the Independent Labour Party.

After the war Morel severely criticised the Treaty of Versailles warning that it would lead to another war. In 1922 Morel became the Labour Party candidate at Dundee. In a vigorous campaign dominated by foreign policy issues, he managed to defeat the Liberal Party candidate, Winston Churchill.

When Morel's old colleague at the Union of Democratic Control, Ramsay MacDonald, became Prime Minister in 1924, some people expected Morel to become Foreign Secretary in the new government. Morel was deeply disappointed when MacDonald, took the unusual decision to become Foreign Secretary as well as Prime Minister. However, Morel's advice was sought about foreign policy and it is believed he played an important role in persuading MacDonald to recognize the communist government in the Soviet Union.

The willingness of MacDonald to negotiate with the Soviet Union was used to smear the Labour Party with the with the "pro-communist" label. Part of this strategy was the publication of the Zinoviev Letter during the 1924 General Election campaign. Morel rightly condemned it as a forgery but it was generally believed to be genuine and the Labour Party lost the election.

Edmund Dene Morel died of a heart attack two weeks later on 12th November, 1924.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Union of Democratic Control Manifesto (August, 1914)

1. No Province shall be transferred from one Government to another without the consent by plebiscite or otherwise of the population of such Province.

2. No Treaty, Arrangement, or Undertaking shall be entered upon in the name of Great Britain without the sanction of Parliament. Adequate machinery for ensuring democratic control of foreign policy shall be created.

3. The Foreign Policy of Great Britain shall not be aimed at creating alliances for the purpose of maintaining the 'Balance of Power', but shall be directed to concerted action between the Powers, and the setting up of an International Council, whose deliberations and decisions shall be public, with such machinery for securing international agreement as shall be the guarantee of an abiding peace.

4. Great Britain shall propose, as part of the Peace Settlement, a plan for the drastic reduction, by consent, of the armaments of all the belligerent Powers, and to facilitate that policy shall attempt to secure the general nationalization of the manufacture of armaments and the control of the export of armaments by one country to another.

(2) E. D. Morel, editorial, Union of Democratic Control (10th October, 1916)

The politicians are preparing a worse world for our children than the one they were born into. And we should be inclined almost to despair of the future were it not that we still preserve our faith in the ultimate triumph of reason over the national and international dementia now prevailing, and that we believe there is a vast mass of opinion in this country represented by the politicians nor by the Press, and considerably saner than either.

(3) The Union of Democratic Control (10th October, 1916)

The Council of the Union of Democratic Control re-affirms its unshaken conviction that a lasting settlement cannot be secured by a peace based upon the right of conquest and followed by commercial war, but only by a peace which gives just consideration to the claims of nationality, and which lays the foundation of a real European partnership.

(4) Basil Thompson, report to the Home Secretary (November, 1917)

The Union of Democratic Control has been more before the public eye than other pacifist bodies, partly on account of the position of Ramsay MacDonald, Arthur Ponsonby, Charles Trevelyan, and Frederick Jowett, and partly because of the notoriety of E. D. Morel. It is not a revolutionary body, and it has been appealing, at any rate in the early days of the war, more to the intellectual classes than to the working class. Beyond the cost of printing, its expenses are not very large. The Society of Friends and Messrs. Cadbury, Fry and Rowntree have all subscribed fairly liberally to its funds.

(5) Bertrand Russell wrote a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell after visiting E. D. Morel, in prison (27th March, 1918)

His hair is completely white (there was hardly a tinge of white before) when he first came out, he collapsed completely, physically and mentally, largely as the result of insufficient food. He says one only gets three quarters of an hour reading in the whole day - the rest of the time is spent on prison work, etc.

(6) Willie Gallacher was one of those who queued for four hours in an attempt to hear E. D. Morel speak at the Metropole Theatre in Glasgow in June, 1918.

The theatre was packed out and a huge overflow meeting was held in an open space across the way. Morel confined himself to the inside meeting. But what a reception he got. Outside, across the way, we could hear cheering as though they wanted to lift the roof off. We admired Morel and we turned out in full strength to do him honour.

(7) E. D. Morel, letter to William Cadbury on joining the Independent Labour Party (7th April, 1918)

I have joined the ILP and I have told Snowden and others that if they like to put up for Parliament I will stand. I have long been gravitating towards the Socialist position - of course there is Socialism and Socialism, and mine is of the reasonable and moderate kind. When I look over my public efforts through the years, it seems to me that I have been a Socialist all my life.

So far as any Party can express what appears to me to be the country's needs, the ILP approximates nearer to my outlook that any other, although I still look forward to and hope for the day when all really progressive forces can unite under the title of the Democratic Party. But Liberalism as represented by both wings - the Lloyd George wing, and the Asquith wing, is right outside my outlook now.