E. D. Morel

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E. D. Morel
1922 Edmund Dene Morel.jpg
Member of Parliament
for Dundee
In office
1922–1924
Serving with Edwin Scrymgeour
Preceded by Winston Churchill
Alexander Wilkie
Succeeded by Tom Johnston
Edwin Scrymgeour
Majority 32,846 (26.5%)
Personal details
Born 10 July 1873
Paris, France
Died 12 November 1924 (aged 51)
Devon, England, UK
Occupation Journalist, author, politician

Edmund Dene Morel, originally Georges Eduard Pierre Achille Morel de Ville (10 July 1873 – 12 November 1924), was a British journalist, author and pacifist and radical politician. In collaboration with Roger Casement, the Congo Reform Association and others, Morel, in newspapers such as his West African Mail, led a campaign against slavery in the Congo Free State. He played a significant role in the British pacifist movement during the First World War, participating in the foundation and becoming secretary of the Union of Democratic Control, at which point he broke with the Liberal Party. After the war he joined the Independent Labour Party. Bertrand Russell said of Morel, "No other man known to me has had the same heroic simplicity in pursuing and proclaiming political truth."[1]

Background[edit]

Morel was born in the Avenue d'Eylau, Paris. His father, Edmond Morel de Ville, was a French civil servant; his mother, Emmeline de Horne, was from an English Quaker family. Edmond died when the boy was four and Emmeline subsequently fell out with her late husband's family. As a consequence, Emmeline changed her name to Deville and raised her son on her own. To remove her son from the family's influence, she worked as a teacher so that she could send him to boarding school at both Madras House school in Eastbourne and later at Bedford Modern School.

When Emmeline Deville fell ill in 1888, the money for school fees was no longer available and Edmund was forced to return to Paris to work as a bank clerk. He was able to move his mother back to Britain in 1891. Five years later he successfully applied for naturalisation as a British subject and anglicised his name. He married Mary Richardson that same year; they had five children. His daughter Stella married the Polish political advisor Joseph Retinger in 1926; they had two daughters.

Congo activism[edit]

Discoveries at Elder Dempster[edit]

Red Rubber: "The Story of the Rubber Slave Trade Flourishing on the Congo in the Year of Grace, 1906"

In 1891, Morel obtained a clerkship with Elder Dempster, a Liverpool shipping firm. To increase his income and support his family, from 1893 Morel began writing articles against French protectionism, which was damaging Elder Dempster's business. He came to be critical of the Foreign Office for not supporting the rights of Africans under colonial rule. His vision of Africa was influenced by the books of Mary Kingsley, an English traveller and writer, which showed sympathy for African peoples and a respect for different cultures that was very rare amongst Europeans at the time.

Elder Dempster had a shipping contract with the Congo Free State for the connection between Antwerp and Boma. Groups such as the Aborigines' Protection Society had already begun a campaign against alleged atrocities in Congo. Due to his knowledge of French, Morel was often sent to Belgium, where he was able to view the internal accounts of the Congo Free State held by Elder Dempster. The knowledge that the ships leaving Belgium for the Congo carried only guns, chains, ordnance and explosives, but no commercial goods, while ships arriving from the colony came back full of valuable products such as raw rubber and ivory, led him to the opinion that Belgian King Leopold II's policy was exploitative. According to the Belgian Prof. Daniël Vangroenweghe, Leopold gained 1,250 million present day[when?] euros from the exploitation of the Congolese people, mainly from rubber. Other Belgian sources calculated that the profits from the Congolese exploitation prior to 1905 were some 500 million present-day euros[when?].

The gains from the exploitation of rubber through the state and other companies like the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company (ABIR) were huge. The original value in 1892 of the ABIR shares was 500 francs. In 1903 the shares had risen to 15,000 gold francs. The dividend in 1892 was 1 franc, but by 1903 the dividend was 1,200 francs. These enormous gains came from horrible exploitation, and what Edmund Morel described as slavery. The scope of the destruction, together with disease and famine from forced labour, is estimated to have killed half of the native population of the colony.

Journalism and Congo Reform Association[edit]

In 1900, Morel put new life into the campaign against Congo misrule (begun a decade before by the American George Washington Williams) with a series of articles in the weekly magazine Speaker. He realised that King Léopold II of Belgium, the absolute controller of the Congo Free State, had created a forced labour system of huge dimensions, emulating slave labour. Despite having risen to be Elder Dempster's head of trade with the Congo, Morel resigned in 1902 to further his campaign. He became a full-time journalist, first finding a job in the editing of a recently founded periodical, West Africa. In 1903, he founded his own magazine, the West African Mail, with the collaboration of John Holt. John Holt was a businessman and friend of Mary Kingsley, who feared the system of the Congo Free State would be applied upon the rest of the West African colonies. The Mail was an "illustrated weekly journal founded to meet the rapidly growing interest in west and central African questions".[2] During this period Morel published several pamphlets and his first book, Affairs of West Africa.

Roger Casement's 1904 report confirmed Morel's accusations

In 1903 the British House of Commons passed a resolution on the Congo. Subsequently the British consul in the Congo, Roger Casement, was sent up country for an investigation. His 1904 report, which confirmed Morel's accusations, had a considerable impact on public opinion. Morel was introduced to Casement by their mutual friend Herbert Ward[3] just before the publication of the report and realised that in Casement he had found the ally he had sought for. Casement convinced Morel to establish an organisation for dealing specifically with the Congo question, the Congo Reform Association. Affiliates of the Congo Reform Association were established as far away as the United States.

The Belgian socialist leader Emile Vandervelde aided Morel by sending him copies of parliamentary debates

The Congo Reform Association had the support of famous writers such as Joseph Conrad (whose Heart of Darkness was inspired by a voyage to the Congo Free State), Anatole France, Arthur Conan Doyle and Mark Twain. Conan Doyle wrote The Crime of the Congo in 1908, while Twain gave the most famous contribution with the satirical short story "King Leopold's Soliloquy". Morel's best allies, however, may have been the Christian missionaries who furnished him with eyewitness accounts and photographs of the atrocities, such as those given by the Americans William Morrison and William Henry Sheppard, and the British John Hobbis Harris and Alice Harris. The chocolate millionaire William Cadbury, a Quaker, was one of his main financial backers. The American civil-rights activist Booker T. Washington participated in the campaign. The French journalist Pierre Mille wrote a book with Morel, while the Belgian socialist leader Emile Vandervelde sent him copies of Belgian parliamentary debates. Morel also had secret connections with some agents within the Congo Free State itself. Even the Church of England and American religious groups backed him. In 1905 the movement won a victory when a Commission of Enquiry, instituted (under external pressure) by King Léopold II himself, substantially confirmed the accusations made about the colonial administration. In 1908 the Congo was annexed to the Belgian government and put under its sovereignty. Despite this, Morel refused to declare an end to the campaign until 1913 because he wanted to see actual changes in the situation of the country. The Congo Reform Association ended operations in 1913.

World War I activism[edit]

E.D. Morel before WWI

Foreign policy[edit]

During the Agadir Crisis of 1911, Morel was entirely in sympathy with Germany and opposed to what he regarded as bellicosity by the United Kingdom and France, as well as secret diplomacy between the states involved. He wrote Morocco in Diplomacy (1912) to express his views on the issue. At this time he was also selected by the Liberal Party as a prospective House of Commons candidate for Birkenhead.

Pacifism and formation of Union of Democratic Control[edit]

As the tension grew in the run-up to World War I, Morel was again sympathetic to Germany, disinclined to stand by Belgium under German pressure, and opposed to the United Kingdom and France getting involved in war. He campaigned for neutrality but on the outbreak of war accepted that the fight was lost, and with Charles Trevelyan, Norman Angell and Ramsay MacDonald, formed the Union of Democratic Control to press for a more responsive foreign policy (he also resigned his candidature at this time). He was Secretary of the UDC until his death. The main demands of the UDC were: (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 terms of peace should neither humiliate the defeated nation nor artificially rearrange frontiers, as this might provide a cause for future wars.

The Union of Democratic Control became the most important of all the anti-war organisations in Britain, with membership reaching 650,000 by 1917. His political courage was praised by people such as Bertrand Russell and the writer Romain Rolland, but his leading role in the pacifist movement exposed him to violent attacks led by the pro-war press. He was pictured as an agent of Germany in the Daily Express, a newspaper that also listed details of future UDC meetings and encouraged its readers to attend and break them up. The accusation gained some credibility when Roger Casement, who was known as a friend and supporter of Morel, was hanged for treason (he had contacted the Germans seeking support for Irish nationalism). Morel was even the victim of occasional physical assaults.

Imprisonment[edit]

On 22 August 1917 Morel's house was searched and evidence was discovered that he had sent a UDC pamphlet to Romain Rolland in Switzerland, a neutral country; this was a breach of the Defence of the Realm Act. Morel was sentenced to six months' imprisonment, which he served in Pentonville Prison. Although, along with other pacifists, he was placed in the 'second division', allowing some privileges over the majority of prisoners, conditions were very hard, and Morel's health was seriously damaged. Bertrand Russell described his condition at his release:

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.

Independent Labour Party membership[edit]

In April 1918, he joined the Independent Labour Party, and began to feed his views into the Labour Party to which it was affiliated and which adopted his critical view of the Treaty of Versailles. Morel explained his decision to join the Independent Labour Party to a friend:

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.

Treaty of Versailles and racialist agitation[edit]

Morel was severely critical of the Treaty of Versailles, warning that it would lead to another war. He did not give up his career as a journalist, becoming director of the magazine Foreign Affairs. Foreign Affairs became a significant voice of the English left about foreign politics at the time. Morel was particularly critical of the use of African troops amongst the French forces during the occupation of the Rhineland.[4]

Parliament[edit]

In the 1922 general election, which followed the retirement of an incumbent Labour Member of Parliament, Alexander Wilkie, Morel fought the two-member Dundee constituency as a sole Labour candidate. Although he gained fewer votes than Edwin Scrymgeour of the Scottish Prohibition Party, he won the second seat, in the process defeating one of the outgoing Members – Winston Churchill, standing as a National Liberal. Morel regarded Churchill as a warmonger and took pride in having defeated him: "I look upon Churchill as such a personal force for evil that I would take up the fight against him with a whole heart."

With his foreign affairs specialty, he was expected to be appointed as Foreign Secretary in the government of Ramsay MacDonald in 1924, but MacDonald decided to serve as his own Foreign Secretary. MacDonald led an attempt to buy Morel off by gathering together a large number of senior Labour politicians to nominate him for the Nobel Prize for Peace, but that did not prevent Morel from remaining a forceful critic of MacDonald's foreign policy. In August 1924 he is believed to have persuaded MacDonald to recognize the communist government in the Soviet Union and nominations on the Anglo-Soviet trade treaty.

Shortly after his re-election in the 1924 general election, Morel suffered a fatal heart attack at the farm near Bovey Tracey, Devon where he lived.

Miscellany[edit]

Arthur Conan Doyle became acquainted with Morel through the work of the Congo Reform Association. In his novel The Lost World (1912), he used Morel as an inspiration for the character of Ed Malone. Morel is the great-grandfather of author Jasper Morel Fforde.

George Orwell, writing in 1946, recalled "this heroic but rather forgotten man."[5]

Books published[edit]

  • The British Case in French Congo
  • King Leopold's Rule in Africa (1904)
  • Red Rubber – The story of the rubber slave trade that flourished in Congo in the year of grace 1906 (1906)
  • Great Britain and the Congo
  • Nigeria
  • Morocco and Diplomacy (1912) (reissued as Ten Years of Secret Diplomacy in 1915)
  • Truth and the War (1916)
  • Africa and the Peace of Europe
  • The Black Man's Burden (1920)
  • Thoughts on the War
  • The Peace, and Prison
  • Pre-War Diplomacy
  • Diplomacy Revealed

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Hochschild 1998, p. 298
  2. ^ Hochschild 1998, p. 186
  3. ^ Martial Frindéthié: Francophone African Cinema: History, Culture, POlitics and Theory
  4. ^ Tirard, Paul (1930). La France sur le Rhin. Paris: Plon. p. 302. 
  5. ^ Orwell, George. “Far Away, Long Ago.” The Observer, 6 January 1946: 3.

References[edit]

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Winston Churchill and
Alexander Wilkie
Member of Parliament for Dundee
19221924
With: Edwin Scrymgeour
Succeeded by
Thomas Johnston and
Edwin Scrymgeour