The Troubles

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The Troubles
A tank from the Great War on guard outside GHQ Eastern Association, Haversham, in late June 1920.
Praetonia Nightwatch

after June 1920:
Praetonia Eastern Association
Praetonia Vigilance Committee
Guild Congress
Commanders and leaders
Praetonia Harry Drayson
Units involved
Eastern Association: 25,000 - 400,000 10,000 "active measures"
5,000,000 subscribers (peak)

The Troubles were a period of civil disorder in Praetonia caused by the emergence of the syndicalist movement. The syndicalists believed that capital such as factories should belong to workers, rather than absentee owners, but otherwise accepts the Common Law. A series of contract disputes between employees and employers escalated to assassination and finally open conflict in Praetonian cities during the final stages of the Great War into the early 1920s. In its final stages, organised syndicalists were able to completely overpower local nightwatch and temporarily take control of law enforcement in several cities. The situation came to a head in the final year of The Troubles proper when association forces were used to smash the syndicalist Guild Congress, the first time association forces had fired a shot in anger on mainland Praetonia since the end of the civil war in 1692.


During the Great War, large numbers of men joined the forces of the Estates-General, reducing the supply of labour. At the same time, soaring contributions to the Estates-General reduced civilian living standards. Finally, arms contracts placed by the armed forces made certain industries of vital national importance. Although syndicalist ideas had existed in Praetonia in various forms for hundreds of years, the Great War created conditions where they could be exploited. The Guild Congress - a minor syndicalist organisation in 1899 - grew enormously in size and importance throughout the Great War and had over a million members in 1908, many in the new arms industries.

Opening moves: 1908-1911

Demanding shorter hours and higher wages, the Congress began strikes in 1908. Although this was unlawful, the Estates-General indicated that its contractors should agree to at least some demands to keep the munitions flowing to the fronts. When a few factories fired or sued striking workers they were subject to violent reprisals. Although strikes were not unprecedented in Praetonia, the scale and weakness of response was. Emboldened, the Guild Congress gradually escalated the disruption, careful not to appear to be damaging the war effort too much. As the organisation grew in power and influence it gained more members, and some factories were coerced to making Congress subscription mandatory for all employees. The end of the war temporarily reduced the influence of the Guild Congress, but it remained powerful enough to continue industrial disruption after the war.

Escalation: 1911-1919

A "refusenik" factory burns, 1917.

Throughout the 1910s, the Guild Congress became more explicitly syndicalist, distributing syndicalist manifestos to its subscribers and funding syndicalist writers and speakers. Strikes also grew in size and frequency. The Congress set up a professional body for negotiating the end to strikes, called the Guild Tribunal for Arbitration. Strikes also began to be associated with violence. Not only did low level violence against resisting employers escalate, but walkouts were supplemented by picketing and even occupation: open defiance of the law. While at the beginning of this period the nightwatch was usually able to break up pickets and occupations, towards the end of this period in several cities the nightwatch and other militia organisations had been demoralised or overpowered. The breakdown in traditional civil order marks the end of this period and the transition to the final stage in the conflict. Although clear in light of what was to come, the Congress actions of this time period escalated slowly and the Congress was careful to dissociate itself form overt violence.

Boiling point: 1919-1921

In 1919, with the nightwatch seemingly crumbling, the Guild Tribunal began operating openly as a court, basing its judgements on syndicalist principles. A number of important occupations took place throughout the summer of 1919, in which factories were de-facto surrendered to the striking workers and organised into syndicates. The situation calmed throughout the winter of 1919-20, but Congress gains were not reversed. In spring 1920, the Congress launched its "Grand Offensive": a coordinated series of strikes in several Congress-dominated industries, combined with pickets and occupations of other industries. A number of large clashes took place between the nightwatch and local volunteers, and the Guild Congress picketers and "active measures" brigades, the vast majority of which ended with Congress victory. On the 20th June 1920, the Guild Tribunal issued judgements passing ownership of all occupied property to the local workers, who were to be organised into syndicates. This proved to be a step too far and prompted military intervention.

Guild Congress men gather on the outskirts of Constitution Park, Haversham, 22nd June 1920.

The next day, the Army Council of the Eastern Association made an application to the Haversham Metropolitan Court to adjudicate whether the Guild Congress was an outlaw organisation. Before the court could rule, a Congress "active measures" brigade attacked the court, killing several jurists and causing a fire that destroyed part of the building. This action, probably committed by people from the West of Praetonia where syndicalism was more prominent, outraged Senland opinion, where the Metropolitan Court was regarded quasi-religiously as the birthplace and seat of Common Law. The Eastern Association took the unprecedented step of moving its regular forces into the city and re-occupied all large collectivised factories. Shocked that the associations would intervene and temporarily caught off balance, the Congress initially offered little resistance.

On the 22nd, hit-and-run attacks with rifles and bombs were made on Eastern Association troops, killing several, and fires were started throughout the city. In response, the Eastern Association declared that it would treat the Guild Congress as an outlaw organisation and all of its contributors and adherents as outlaws. When a large crowd of Congressmen gathered in Constitution Park, Eastern Association troops moved into the park and opened fire, killing several hundred. The Congress described this as a "massacre" and an "outrageous atrocity". That evening the Eastern Association held a victory parade and publicly awarded medals for the action.

On the morning of the 23rd, the Congress Tribunal declared the Eastern Association an outlaw organisation, citing the Constitution Park action, the fact that it had declared the Guild Congress an outlaw organisation without judicial review, and accusing it of attacking of the Metropolitan Court under a false flag. It called on the other associations to suppress the Eastern Association. The Eastern Association responded by mobilising all its reserves, and by the afternoon had enlisted an additional 75,000 nightwatchmen and veterans of the Great War. The Haversham-based Committee for Parks Maintenance, which had declined to involve itself in civil law enforcement out of respect for tradition, placed itself under the command of the Eastern Association and mobilised an additional 50,000 men. In the evening the Metropolitan Court, which had relocated to the coastal market town of Whitehaven, issued a provisional judgement that the Guild Congress was an outlaw organisation, to which the Guild Tribunal responded with a judgement that only the syndicalist interpretation of Common Law was correct and all dissenting courts were outlaw organisations. On the night of the 23rd, Praetonia teetered on the brink of civil war.

An Eastern Association yeoman (private) guards a roadblock outside Haversham, 23rd June 1920.

Throughout the 24th, many associations initially declared their neutrality, but a number also declared for the Eastern Association, and actions took place in several cities to de-syndicalise factories and seize known Guild Congress figures. Finally, the Protector made a radio broadcast calling for calm and "peaceful observance of the laws our ancestors have handed down to us and for which we have bled in the recent conflict", a statement that was interpreted as backing the Eastern Association. Seeing a large and committed coalition against them, ultimately no associations backed the Guild Congress, although Congress sympathisers occupied key positions in several of the large Western associations. General Walter Jell, quietly dismissed by the Ports' League in 1921, gave the candid analysis in his autobiography, written in Polacekia in 1936,

We had frankly not expected such decisive action on the part of the Eastern Association. In the West, the passivity of the associations was due to infiltration and subversion and we knew that. In the East, the associations were just as passive but as it turned out this was due to a profound and, to many of us, unintelligible deference to tradition. It was that same deference to tradition that produced officers who could coolly order troops to massacre working men in cold blood and that produced troops who pulled the trigger and, for all I know, wear the medals they won for it proudly to this day. With hindsight we should have waited, but in the end there would have been a showdown with the Eastern Association, and they would have had half a million loyal troops or more. The peaceful transition we planned and hoped for was simply not possible, but we didn't know that at the time.

The Army of the Eastern Association remained on a war footing and continued to expand into 1921, eventually reaching a strength of 400,000 men and 2,500 armoured cars. In July 1920 it announced that it would cross the island for the first time since 1692 and directly enforce the law anywhere local forces could not - or would not - re-establish it, but this threat did not need to be acted upon. The Guild Congress organisation disintegrated with the threat of death hanging over its public figures and unable to assemble publicly, while most associations purged tainted officers and men and pledged to support the nightwatch. For the most part, nightwatch along were able to re-take control. Throughout 1920 and into 1921 attacks continued by "direct action" irregulars, but without decisive effect. By late 1921 organised syndicalism in Praetonia had petered out.

Night of Reprisals: 1922

On the first anniversary of the Guild Tribunal's first rulings in direct contradiction of the orthodox Common Law, the Vigilance Committee launched a wave of targeted reprisals against important individuals in the syndicalist cause. This included a handful of Guild Congress officials who had not yet been apprehended, but the purge was much wider and included academics, journalists, current and former officers, and even some business owners accused of culpable complicity in the Guild Congress's actions, or "secret membership" of the Guild Congress. In total over six hundred people were killed, their names posted along with an indictment by the Vigilance Committee. The legality of some of these killings has been disputed and it remains a controversial moment in the history of the Vigilance Committee. The Vigilance Committee claims it can prove direct and personal guilt of each person who was killed but, as much of this information was obtained covertly, refuses to release it except in defence of a particular Vigilance Committee operative accused of murder. As the persons who carried out the attacks are unknown, and most people interested in avenging the syndicalists have been killed or fled, no such case ever had to be defended.



Harry Drayson (centre) inspects the Army of the Eastern Association encamped about Haversham, 28th June 1920.

The Troubles highlighted the geographic division between the "old commonwealth" of Senland, where Common Law had originated and was several centuries old, and the "new commonwealth" to the West, which had been monarchical territory until the turn of the 18th century. It was clear that the orthodox Common Law was stronger in the East, and particularly in its birthplace the Senland Peninsula, while syndicalism had taken much deeper root in several of the Western cities. One heterodox view is that syndicalism was a reassertion of Western "national" character and even an attempt deniable attempt at monarchical restoration. Arthur Pendleton, an ardent "Empire Loyalist" and opponent of both syndicalist and orthodox branches of Common Law wrote in his journal Third Monarchy in 1921,

As Senland feared, syndicalism would have found its schemes impossible to rationalise or sustain except by the establishment of a single economic, political, and legal authority: the unification of all powers of state in the Guild Congress. And such an organisation could be controlled only by a single man. Restoration, though the king be called by some other name, would have been inevitable. This effort has failed. This Common Law realm of Praetonia has always been a Sennish imposition, and today it is become a Sennish Empire.

Ultimately, however, the decisive victory of the Eastern Association and the orthodox Common Law contributed to the solidification of the national character of the island, and regional divisions declined in importance in the following century. Syndicalism also largely disappeared from the public consciousness, although it remained an issue of interest and relevance in some intellectual circles. Future general and statesman Archibald Bumpington-Smyth wrote his first book, The Long Dream, on the subject of The Troubles, introducing the work with the following analogy,

Upon waking from a long dream we prefer to forget the absurdities that had once seemed rational and obvious, rather than reconcile them with how we know the real world to be. In this way, the people of this island simply erased the years of Troubles from their memories, and most of all the year or two in which Praetonia could somewhat justifiably have been called a syndicalist country. A slower or more equivocal reverse syndicalism might have survived, but the Eastern Association awoke this country with a start.

The book had a particular focus on Eastern Association operational commander-in-chief General Harry Drayson, whose influence was largely unappreciated at the time as he sought to keep a low personal profile both during and after his association's intervention. Careful archival work has shown that he was the conscious mastermind of a plan to bring down syndicalism in Praetonia and had been preparing his moves for several years. As early as 1917 or 1918, the Permanent Strategic Establishment of the Eastern Association had identified syndicalism as a military threat that would require the intervention of the associations to defeat, but it was Drayson who carefully and quietly planned for the eventual confrontation and mobilisation which overcame syndicalism. Drayson gave a hint as to his reasoning in a letter to a friend written toward the end of his life in the 1950s, a rare comment on the events of his career,

The PSE had done a lot of work getting to know their motives and methods. We knew their strategy was to escalate just far enough to make the situation uncomfortable for the other fellow, and then propose a deal that he would accept. In this way they constantly looked reasonable, and they spoke and acted in a way that their business opponents understood as business-like. They never cornered large accumulations of force and made them fight, but they would repeat this strategy over and again until their opponents had nothing left. Our advantage was entirely in the other direction: we could not counter them everywhere they thrust, but we could utterly smash them in one big direct confrontation. We made it look as though they could beat us too by slowly upping the stakes, and then we outbid them ten, a hundred, a thousand times. They had no choice but to fold.



Major Reginald Tyreford-Dawes was celebrated by Common Law loyalists for his decisive actions at Constitution Park.

Two events from this time achieved totemic significance in Praetonian culture: the burning of the Metropolitan Court and the Constitution Park incident. Involvement in burning the Metropolitan Court was quickly denied by the Guild Congress and continues to be denied by most modern syndicalists. Most historians don't consider the theory that the Eastern Association set fire to the Court credible, and believe that it was an ill-judged military manoeuvre by the Guild Congress intended to intimidate the Eastern Association and buy time. Connection with the burning served to discredit the Guild Congress and syndicalism as a movement for decades after the events, and syndicalists continued to be referred to as "the vandals" in Senland until the eve of the Questarian Mutiny, when the term once again became widespread across the Commonwealth. It is speculated that the much more robust response of the Vigilance Committee after than during The Troubles was motivated by the burning, the Metropolitan Court being something close to holy ground for most Common Law radicals. While previously syndicalism may have been seen by the Committee as a low level and perhaps understandable dispute within the Common Law, the burning of the court made them clear enemies.

Meanwhile, the events in Constitution Park on 22nd June have become a key point of cultural contention. For the syndicalists, the "massacre" is a foundational martyrdom. Mainstream opinion in Praetonia at the time was that the shootings were "necessary but regrettable". The Eastern Association, however, has steadfastly refused to acknowledge any wrongdoing or regret whatsoever and includes "Constitution Park" on its roll of battle honours. "Constitution Park" is embroidered on the colours of the Eastern Association and of the 1st Battalion, Eastgate Brigade. The Order of the Broken Sceptre awarded a commemorative sword to the company commander at Constitution Park engraved Be Just and Fear Not, the motto of the Eastern Association, and in 1921 a monument was unveiled in Constitution Park commemorating the actions of the Eastern Association bearing the same inscription. The Committee for Parks Maintenance, which owns the park, continues to forbid any commemoration of the Guild Congressmen whatever. Lawrence Fletcher, the syndicalist who assassinated the Protector of the Estates-General during the Questarian Mutiny, cited the incident in his final diary entry,

The justice of the Constitution Park Massacre (or the "Constitution Park action", as they call it), is the shibboleth of the Eastern Association, of the Estates-General, the Committee, and all the other self-anointed forces of law and order. It is their most basic statement of belief. A social order founded on the massacre of unarmed working men can only be met with fire. Pragmatism demands it. Justice demands it.

Fletcher may have been referring to the popular school text, A True and Complete History of the World, which describes the incident as, of the most courageous acts in our history. However difficult it may be to overcome a foreign enemy by physical strength, it is far more difficult to summon the mental strength to do violence to a neighbour, even when we know that he is acting wrongly, even when we know he wishes us harm. Only men secure in their belief in Providence, looking not to their own feelings for guidance but to their reason and to justice, could have acted as those men did. And by the death of four hundred outlaws, the Eastern Association saved the Commonwealth from civil war, and spared the lives of millions.

Legally, the act is uncontroversial. After itself judging in favour of the Eastern Association, the Metropolitan Court referred the judgement for review by the Questarian branch of the Court of Maritime Settlement. Its leading jurist, the Hon. Sikander Singh, closed his own judgement with the following remarks,

It is not disputed that the Guild Congress intended to overthrow the law, not even by the Guild itself; it is therefore plain that it was an organisation of outlaws. It is not disputed that these men were acting in support of the Guild Congress, not even by themselves; it is therefore plain that they were outlaws. It is not disputed that outlaws can be met with violence until they submit, even where they pose no immediate threat. There is no substance to this complaint beyond sentimental regret that the battle was so uneven. That it does not serve the thief to place his hand inside the guard dog's mouth confers upon him no right to remain unbitten.

General Walter Jell, who went public as a syndicalist after going into self-imposed exile in Quiberon, offered a more guarded condemnation of the action,

The bandits accuse us of sentimentality, and that is true for many of us. And there is much to be sentimental about in watching innocent and unarmed men being shot down. But it is the fact that they were innocent, not that they were unarmed, that truly signifies: that the Eastern Association were the outlaws, and we the lawful. That is what conferred on us the right to walk safely, and them no such right. If a hundred of so of our volunteers for active measures had met an unarmed crowd of ten thousand of theirs, we would have acted in the same way, and been right to do so.

In 1962 the epic film Five Days in June was released depicting the events of 20th - 24th June 1920. It is regarded as a classic of Commonwealth cinema on account of its artistic quality and historical integrity.