Our Conference

We should be less than human if we did not congratulate ourselves upon the success which has attended the holding of our First Annual Conference, and the vigour and promise displayed thereat.

When, in June of last year, those of us who felt compelled to secede from the S.D.F., on account of its inconsistent and compromising policy, decided, after very careful consideration, to found a new party, whose aim it should be to raise the Standard of Revolutionary Socialism out of the capitalist mire in which it was being dragged, we fully recognised the seriousness of the step we were taking and the difficulties we should have to encounter.

But the result has exceeded our most sanguine expectations. With one or two exceptions, where personal ambition has been stronger than the desire to act loyally to the Party, the original members have worked strenuously and harmoniously to maintain our “clear and unmistakable principles, interpreted in plain and unequivocal tactics,” as the Chairman of the Conference so ably expressed it.

Not the least notable of the achievements of our Party since its formation less than twelve months ago, has been the inauguration of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD, which occupies an unique position amongst journals claiming to speak on behalf of Socialism or Labour, in that it is neither the private property of individuals nor owned by any limited liability company. It is owned and controlled by our Party,—hence its fearless advocacy of our principles and its unflinching criticism of all who stand in the path of Socialist progress.

Ours has been termed a position of “splendid isolation.” It is, and we look hopefully to the future to justify us, recalling the words of our comrade Wilhelm Liebknecht: “This separation of our party from all other parties—this essential difference—is our pride and our strength.”

The First Annual Conference of The Socialist Party of Great Britain was opened on Thursday, April 20th, at 7.45 p.m., at the Communist Club, London. Twenty-one delegates attended, representing thirteen branches.

E. J. B. Allen was unanimously elected Chairman, R. H. Kent and L. Boyne, Stewards, and W. St. John Dillon, W. Gifford and J. H. Crump, Standing Orders Committee.

The Executive report, printed copies of which had been distributed among the delegates, was adopted after a few points had been raised. H. C. Phillips and H. W. Belsey questioned the right of the E.C. to include in their report suggestions for the alteration of rules which had not been submitted to the branches. Phillips asked whether the unemployed members of the Party were included in the number reported as lapsed. The General Secretary stated that all were counted as lapsed for whom cards for the current year had not been applied, and if Branch Secretaries did not renew the membership cards of their unemployed members, the Central Office could only assume that these members had lapsed. Belsey criticised the action of the E.C. in publishing a certain article by a non-member of the Party in the Official Organ, and Dumenil raised the question as to the propriety of selling at Party propaganda meetings pamphlets with S.D.F. advertisements on them. Pearson enquired why the E.C. had not decided to hold a meeting on the 1st of May, and it was pointed out that the Party was not yet strong enough numerically to hold a successful demonstration.

Belsey and Dumenil moved :

“That any article appearing in THE SOCIALIST STANDARD which has been contributed by a non-member of the Party be prefaced by a statement to the effect that the writer is a non-member and that the Party does not necessarily endorse the opinions therein expressed.”

This was defeated by 14 to 3.

G. Lehane and A. J. M. Gray were declared elected General Secretary and Treasurer respectively, and H. Neumann and D. R. Newlands were elected auditors. The Conference then adjourned.

The Conference resumed at 10.30 a.m. on Friday. The chairman, E. J. B. Allen, stated that many questions of importance would be discussed, and he felt assured that they would be dealt with in a manner becoming the delegates to the First Annual Conference of the Party. That Conference represented practically the beginning of the modern revolutionary movement in England. Capitalism had developed to an extent previously unknown. All the inventions that Science had been able to bring forth, every fresh extension of the domain of man over nature, had under the prevailing conditions only increased the army of the property-less workers and thinned the ranks of the exploiting class. Side by side with this development there was a ripening of the workers to full class-consciousness, and the establishment of the British wing of the International Socialist Party was an event fraught with a great and glorious significance. The Socialist Party of Great Britain stood on the revolutionary principle, and was the only party of the workers in this country. It rested on clear and unmistakable principles interpreted in plain and unequivocal tactics.

The Stewards reported the votes for the Executive Committee as follows: Elected—J. Kent, 98 ; A. Anderson, 94 ; J. Fitzgerald, 88 ; E. J. B. Allen, 86; H. Neumann, 82 ; F. C. Watts, 81; T. A. Jackson, 72 ; T. W. Allen, 57 ; J. Crump, 57 ; A. Jones, 52; F. S. Leigh, 47 ; H. C. Phillips, 42. Not elected —R. H. Kent, 40; A. Barker, 37 ; Kate Hawkins, 36; A. W. Pearson, 32 ; R. Kenny, 31; L. Boyne, 28; W. Gifford, 26 ; H. T. Davey, 21; J. J. Humphrey, 20 ; A. V. Sparks, 10.

The amendments to rules were next considered, including the recommendations of the E.C. regarding some technical alterations they thought necessary. Phillips and Belsey moved:

“Whereas the alterations to the rules as proposed by the E.C. have not appeared on the final Agenda, and taking into consideration the exceptional circumstances, resolved that the discussion of such alterations shall not be taken as a precedent at any future Conference.”

Carried nem. con. The proposals of the E.C. were then adopted, with the exception that the E.C’s. definition of the method of taking a referendum of the Party was referred to the Branches, and that the establishment of relations with the Socialist Parties of other countries shall continue as one of the functions of the E.C.


E. J. B. Allen moved :

“That whereas in the struggle for existence it is essential that the working-class be organised on the economic field, but whereas Trade Union organisations unless based on Socialist principles are a snare to the workers : resolved, that The Socialist Party of Great Britain does not recommend its members to belong to any Trade Union unless such Union is organised on definite Socialist lines with the Social Revolution as its object, and this Conference hereby pledges the Party on attaining a 5,000 membership to organise Socialist Trade Unions where necessary.”

The Mover said that the political aspect of the Trade Union question was dealt with in the Declaration of Principles of the Party, but these organisations must be dealt with quite apart from the political position. The existing Unions were, without doubt, a stumbling block to the progress of Socialism, because they did not unite the workers—on the contrary, in their capacity as job trusts they divided them,—and because they were used as tools in the hands of the master-class. While fully agreeing that industrial unionism should be an essential feature of working-class organisation, he held that the Unions as they knew them to-day were useless and a source of danger to the revolutionary movement.

The motion not being seconded fell through.

Phillips and Belsey moved :

“That any resolution adopted by the Conference be sent round the Branches as only the expression of the opinion of the Conference.”

Carried nem. con.

Belsey and Dillon moved:

“Members of the S.P.G.B. shall not voluntarily participate in the political action (i.e. action in relation to or dealing with social and economic problems) of any other party or organisation to which, by the unavoidable compulsion of obtaining or retaining employment, or other necessity arising out of capitalist conditions, they may belong: the payment of a compulsory inclusive contribution to any such organisation, part of which is devoted to political purposes, shall not be regarded as participation in such political action, but no member shall seek or accept office in any party or organisation which takes political action.”

Belsey said that attempts had been made to draw a distinction between economic and political action, but in his opinion there was no economic action that was not also political. All working-class action taken outside The Socialist Party of Great Britain was absolutely void, and while members may belong to Trade Unions when compelled by the force of circumstances, he thought it would be well if they were prohibited from taking any office in Trade Unions under any condition. This, he held, was the only logical position.

F. C. Watts moved the following amendment:

“Whereas the Trade Unions, while being essentially economic organisations, are nevertheless in many instances taking political action either to safeguard their economic existence or for other purposes and,
Whereas any basis of working-class political action other than that laid down in the Declaration of Principles of The Socialist Party of Great Britain must lead the workers into the bog of confusion and disappointment; be it therefore
Resolved that this Conference of The Socialist Party of Great Britain recommends that all members of the Party, within Trade Unions, be instructed to actively oppose all action of the Unions that is not based on the principles held by this Party.”

Watts said that up to the present nothing had been done in the Unions to reveal to their members the true basis of working-class action. The members of the party were few, but they must actively resist all unsound political action on the part of the Unions. It was impossible to form Socialist Unions at present, but the better way was to give the Party members in the Unions a definite lead, and in doing this the Conference would be doing all that was expected from it. G. R. Harris seconded,

H. Neumann said that it was impossible to separate economic from political action, for economic action was a thing of the past and the Unions were to-day taking political action. The Trades Councils and the local Labour Representation Committees were trying to get members into the local bodies and into Parliament, and the economic action of the Trade Unions was subordinate to the political. The Party could not say to its members “do not belong to the Trade Unions,” because a man to get a living must very often belong to a Union ; but there was a vast difference between compulsion for the sake of a livelihood and voluntarily going and helping the Unions in their unsound political action. All the political actions of the Trade Unions resulted only in the support of the capitalist-class. Our Declaration of Principles was not sufficient to cover the activity of Party members in Trade Unions, and when they were called upon to take part in the work of the Unions they should be compelled to refuse, whether the office was paid or not. The Party should prevent its members from going astray by laying it down definitely that they shall not take office nor do anything to help the Unions in their unsound position.

Watts denied that the Unions were primarily political organisations, or that the economic action was subordinate to the political. Economic action took place in the workshop, not at the ballot box.

J. Fitzgerald said that if it were true that there was no difference between political and economic action, then it was equally true that there was no difference between the animal and the vegetable kingdoms, no difference between the solid and the liquid. A thing should always be judged by its essential features, and this was the safe and scientific method, If there was no difference between political and economic action, why had it been discussed? An economic organisation fights on the industrial field alone. A political organisation concerns itself with the political or governmental machinery of the country. These were the essential features of economic and political aotion, and these two fields were separate and distinct notwithstanding the fact that there existed a borderland where they intermingled. There was not a Trade Union in the country that paid a tenth or a twentieth of the money towards political purposes that it did for economic action. The miners, for instance, will spend more in one strike than they will spend for generations in political action—sending representatives to Parliament. The very conditions of capitalism forced the workers to form Unions. The duty of the members of the Party was to fight against the unsound position of the Unions to-day. Craft divisions would have to be broken down, skilled and unskilled, brain and manual workers, have to join hands. The tendency of economic evolution should be pointed out, and the changes rendered necessary in the economic organisation. Trade organisation must exist to bring about Socialism, and industrial organisation would be necessary under Socialism itself. Let the members of the Party put their shoulders into the Trade Unions and carry on their work of educating straight and uncompromisingly. In this way better work could be done than by remaining outside.

The amendment was carried by 11 to 3.

Upon being put as a substantive motion, Phillips moved the following amendment:—

“Delete all after ‘Resolved’ and substitute ‘that this Conference recommends that no member of the Party shall hold any official position whatsoever in the Trade Union movement, and moreover recommends that all members of the Party within Trade Unions be instructed to actively oppose all action of Trade Unions that is not based on the principles held by this Party.’”

This was defeated by 9 to 2.

A. W. Pearson moved a further amendment:—

“That this Conference reaffirms the previous declaration of the Party.”

The Mover said that the position of the Party was very clear on the matter. If the Party were to oppose Trade Unions, it should also oppose the Co-operative Societies when they take political action. The Friendly Societies may also go in for political action, and then to be consistent the Party should not allow its members to join them.

F. Craske seconded the amendment, which was defeated by 8 to 6.

The resolution moved by Watts and Harris was then carried by 11 to 3.


Gifford was of the opinion that the elections were the best time for propaganda, because then the people took a greater interest in public questions than they did at any other time. He suggested that an electoral programme be drawn up by the E.C., explaining the position of the Party and criticising the reforms proposed by other parties.

Belsey and Dillon moved :—

“That the Party do not take part in any Parliamentary or municipal elections during the next twelve months.”

Allen thought that very little could be done either in Parliament or on local bodies until the Party had a majority of delegates on them. Meanwhile, however, the representatives of the Party on those bodies should do their best in the interests of the working-class.

Neumann said that it was entirely impracticable to mention any time within which the Party should not take political action. If in any constituency there were sufficient workers to demand a representative of class-conscious principles, the workers themselves would come forward and ask for such a representative. With regard to what the members of the Party should do when elected on governing bodies, this was shown in the Declaration of Principles, and they should support only the measures in accordance therewith. The principal thing was to get behind them a class-conscious proletariat, not Radical votes, and then their representative would be backed up in his action by those who elected him. They should be revolutionists all the time.

A. W. Pearson considered that it would take a long time before a Socialist Party man would be returned to Parliament or a local body, but when he got there he would know what to do. There were certain measures which a revolutionist could support, and he instanced the case of the Municipality of Brest which voted money to the strikers. Even when they did not put up a candidate themselves they could issue literature calling upon the workers not to vote.

Belsey explained that his resolution was not intended to prevent the issuing of literature, but aimed only at deferring direct political action by the Party for a period of one year.

Fitzgerald said that Parliament was the power that politically dominated the rest of society, and so long as it was a question of Parliamentary action there was no need for any programme at all. But it was different with regard to municipal action. The Party should contest municipal elections because it would be good propaganda, because during the elections the people took a greater interest in politics, and because the Party was out for the capture of the whole of the political machinery. The local bodies were very limited in their powers, and the Socialist position should be laid down clearly pointing out that even with a majority in power much could not be done. The capture of a municipality would, however, be a means of educating the other municipalities. Money should be voted for all possible purposes in the interests of the working-class, and the wages of municipal employes raised as high as possible, but no doubt the ruling authorities would come down on the municipality and some of its members would be imprisoned.

The resolution was defeated by 14 to 2.


Jackson said that if they examined the British delegation to the Amsterdam Congress they would discover that it was the largest and was composed largely of non-Socialists. The I.L.P. voted for the class war resolution at the Amsterdam Congress, and afterwards scoffed at it as an obsolete Marxian dogma in their official organ.

Pearson was of opinion that the International Socialist Bureau was composed of persons opposed to the principles of this Party. The rule at the Congress was that each country must verify its own credentials, and if the delegates of the Party had refused to go into the British section they would not have been admitted to the Congress at all. They were in a minority and would have to present their credentials at Stuttgart in 1907 to the British Section.

Fitzgerald said the Conference was an International assembly composed of men of different nations, customs, and languages, and the difficulties surrounding such an assembly were very large indeed. Before it would be possible to break down the national system of representation a better education of the working-class of the world would be necessary. Different systems of representation could be adopted based upon (1) the number of members of Parliament, (2) the parties in a country, (3) the membership of the parties. The Bureau had decided that each nationality should have two votes, and when there was a dispute between two sections of the nationality they were to split the votes between them. When this was done another section in France claimed a third vote. Who is to decide and where is the question to be raised as to the rights of the parties to representation? The matter should be raised on the floor of the Congress itself. They should keep steadily fighting at the Congress for the principle that only Socialist parties should be admitted to the Congresses. When this had been done for two or three Congresses many of the other parties would adopt that view.

F. Sator thought that a manifesto ought to be issued to the Socialist Parties of the world explaining the Party’s position.

C. Lehane, General Secretary, submitted to the Conference the following questions : —

(1.) Shall the Party become affiliated to the International Socialist Bureau and pay subscriptions thereto ?
(2.) Shall the Party demand its own delegate on the International Socialist Bureau?
(3.) Shall the Party demand independent representation at the International Socialist Congress and verify the credentials of its own delegates ?

On the motion of Phillips and Belsey it was resolved that the questions be sent round the Branches for a poll of the members. Phillips and Jones moved :

“That the E.G. be instructed to draw up a series of resolutions embodying the following points:
1.—That only Socialist organisations recognising the class war in theory and practice should be represented at the International Socialist Congress.
2.—That disputes between the various parties in each country as to the genuineness of their respective organisations be settled by the Congress itself.”

After a few remarks from the Chairman the Conference closed at 8 p.m. with the singing of the “International” and cheers for the Social Revolution.

(Socialist Standard, May 1905)

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