The first edition of the Socialist Standard appeared nearly three months after the formation of the Party, being dated “London, September, 1904” and costing one penny. Entitled the “Official Organ of The Socialist Party of Great Britain”, it was eight pages of dense type and small headlines (in that sense very much the style of the time) but noticeably larger than the current A4 page size. The first editorial promised “we shall give a fair hearing to all sides on any question, and trust that our correspondence columns will be freely used”, a promise that has been upheld ever since by both sides.
The first edition included an editorial outlining the Party’s hopes (in some ways over-optimistic) for the development of the Standard and the movement for socialism in general, but for reference we include in this section an article from this first issue simply entitled “The Socialist Party of Great Britain”. This is because it explains, from the standpoint of the founder members, the basic political positions of the SPGB in distinction to those held by the growing number other organisations claiming the title “socialist” at the time.
The Standard during this pre-First World War period mainly tended to comprise original articles from Party members on topical issues of the time plus theoretical articles expounding aspects of the Materialist Conception of History and Marxian Economics, some written by Party members themselves but many were reprints or translations of the writings of some of the “greats” of the Second International period like Kautsky, Bebel, Lafargue, Guesde and Morris. Perhaps belying the somewhat staid physical appearance of the Standard, the topical articles written by members tended to be lively and polemical, using rhetorical devices in a way the party’s outdoor orators often did. The article about the official appearance of the Labour Party on the British political scene in Westminster (The New ‘Force’ in Politics) is as good as an example of this an any, though some of the later articles we’ve included in this section certainly run it close for tightly-argued political invective.
Politically, the party nailed its colours to the mast on the “nation or class” issue at the outset and the article included here on the rise of Sinn Fein in Ireland is a stinging attack on the idea that “national liberation” movements against established imperialist powers are in some way progressive and worthy of working class support. The stark class division identified as being at the heart of capitalism’s social relations by the party’s Declaration of Principles was reflected in many other articles of the time too. Indeed, many modern readers may be surprised at the vehemence with which the early party opposed the Suffragette movement on class grounds, identifying the Suffragettes as – at best – an irrelevant movement of propertied women falsely claiming to represent the interests of female workers.
The naked working class anger at the iniquities of capitalism to be found in the pages of the Standard in its early years is understandable given the conditions of the time and it is exemplified no better than in the articles on the brutal suppression of the miners’ strike in South Wales by the Liberal government and the piece written on the sinking of the luxury liner, the Titanic. Both are fine examples of a particular style of political prose in the small revolutionary milieu in Britain at the beginning of the twentieth century and of the application of a class-based analysis to contemporary issues. But contrast these with the more elegan—even quaint—piece on the “motor car problem”, specifically as it affected post-Victorian London where the majority of SPGB members at the time were based.
Lest this particular piece lull any readers into labelling the Party “backward-looking” in its attitudes to developing social issues during this period, the article expounding “the Case For Free Love” should dispel any such myths. It manages to put an eloquent and considered case on the subject long before it was fashionable to do so in radical circles, let alone in the mainstream press.