The Secret of the League

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The Secret of the League is a 1907 dystopian novel by Ernest Bramah, which describes the overthrow of a democratically elected British Labour Party Government through a carefully prepared plot by members of the upper classes, and depicts such an overthrow as being a positive and desirable outcome.

George Orwell credited the book with having given a considerably accurate prediction of the rise of Fascism, and also with reflecting "the mentality of the middle classes" and the brutal measures which members of these classes might condone or actively support, should they feel threatened with a revolution -"even such a decent and kindly writer as Ernest Bramah", in Orwell's words.[1]

Plot introduction[edit]

The book was written in the aftermath of the 1906 elections in which the Labour Party, formed just seven years before, gained 29 seats - a meteoric rise from the bare two seats it held before - and for the first time emerged as a serious force in British politics. The prospect of Labour gaining a majority, though still far-off, was no longer impossible - a prospect which some Britons, evidently including Bramah, found highly disagreeable. All the more so as the period following the elections was full of intensive labour disputes and militant strikes.

Plot summary[edit]

In the fictional British history depicted in the book the Labour Party wins an overwhelming majority in general elections and sets up a government. They do not institute a full Socialist economy, but they do constantly raise wages, heavily tax the upper classes and create a large government bureaucracy. In foreign policy, the Labour Government takes a conciliatory policy towards other powers and curtails military spending.

A powerful upper-class cabal (the "League" of the title), whose members feel that "the country is going to the dogs", makes careful secret preparations for overthrowing the government. Over two years they secretly hoard large quantities of fuel oil and convert coal-burning plants to oil-burning. Then, they suddenly announce a consumer strike against the coal industry - at the time, a central pillar of the British economy - and cause large-scale unemployment and distress among coal miners and secondary industries dependent on coal. This culminates in civil war, in which the upper class conspirators gain foreign help and emerge victorious.

Once in power, they forcibly dismantle the trade unions and institute a "strong" non-parliamentary regime in many ways resembling the Fascist regimes which arose decades after the book's publication. As mentioned, the "League" members are the Good Guys of the story and their acts are depicted as positive and worthy.

The policies which Bramah attributed to his fictional Labour Government proved a good prediction of those actually enacted by the Labour Government of Attlee which swept to power following the British 1945 elections. Bramah's fictional scenario bears considerable resemblance to the way that the Socialist government of President Salvador Allende in Chile (1970–1973) was "destabilised" and eventually overthrown with the help of the United States.


  1. ^ George Orwell, "Predictions of Fascism", originally published in Tribune on July 12, 1940, appearing in The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell, Volume 2, p. 47-48).