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Obituary: Tom King

Obituary: Tom King (1881-1970)

It is our sad task to record the death in a Manchester hospital late in December, of the last of our founder members, Tom King, aged 89 years. We recognise, of course, that it is not only our loss but that of his family to whom we extend our deep sympathy.

Tom led a full life and like so many pioneer Party members was a respected craftsman, in his case, in the sphere of water and heating engineering. He grew up in Hertfordshire and it was as a member of the Watford branch of the Social Democratic Federation (founded in the year of his birth) that he came into association with that group of men and women that was becoming increasingly dissatisfied with the contradiction between the Marxian theories of their economic classes (run in Watford by Jack Fitzgerald) and the political opportunism and reformist programme of the Federation.

In 1904 they were to make a clear break following a conference at Burnley, they made history by setting up the first working-class party in the world to be based upon the clear-cut scientific Socialist principles, the first to recognise that political democracy within capitalism can and must be used for revolutionary ends, the first to be wholly democratic in structure, without leaders or led.

Because of the strong foundations upon which it had been built, the Socialist Party of Great Britain was proof against the myth that Socialism was the outcome of the Russian revolution and from 1918 in our journal, the Socialist Standard, consistently pointed out that it was state capitalism that was being developed under Bolshevik rule.

Through both world wars this firmly knit organisation remained loyal to the idea of international working-class solidarity.

The research historian will not find the name Tom King listed among the initial members although his wife-to-be figured early on as the Watford Branch Secretary under her maiden name of King. It was to confuse the authorities when he was 'on the run' during the first world war that Comrade Wilkins came to be known as Bill France and then, being settled in Manchester, hence called Tom King for the rest of his life.

Sixty-six years after playing a part which will guarantee him at least a modest place in history, the Party he helped found, remains largely unknown to the vast majority of workers in this country and the capitalist system he sought to replace by world Socialism continues in being with the tacit support of those millions of people. Yet progress has been made, however slow, however little in relation to the immensity of the task. We do not stand alone. Our sense of loss on the death of a pioneer is shared by comrades as far afield as Vancouver and Stockholm, Boston and Vienna, Auckland and Jamaica — small in numbers but resolute in their determination to carry forward the often unromantic but none the less revolutionary work of making more Socialists.

William Morris, who had also broken with the SDF, wrote of the Socialist future as he imagined it might be in his book "News from Nowhere". In those happier days to come he supposed that toast would be drunk from time to time to the memory of those who had struggled in the early days to make it all possible. Tom King was one such.

E. S. G.