Editorial: The Countess of Warwick and John Burns

A considerable amount of interest appears to have been aroused by a statement which appeared in a recent number of this journal to the effect that the lady who came down from her exalted position to become a member of the lowly S.D.F. (the Countess of Warwick) sent a telegram to the gentleman who left his lowly position as a member of the S.D.F. to ascend to an exalted sphere (the Right Honourable John Burns) regretting her inability to attend one of his election meetings, and wishing him success. We have received quite a number of communications on the subject, and have been requested to state the grounds upon which the statement was made. Our correspondents appear to be astonished that a member of the S.D.F. should have taken a course so entirely opposed to the attitude of that body, and apparently are unable to understand why, if such a telegram was sent, the organisation has taken no steps to repudiate either the member or the action. So far as we are concerned, however, the only cause for surprise lies in the fact that there is evidently still a number of persons who see in the incident something incongruous—persons who, it would seem, are students of, or at any rate interested in, contemporary English politics. We can only commend to them a perusal of back numbers of THE SOCIALIST STANDARD and the pamphlet called the Manifesto of The Socialist Party of Great Britain, wherein they will find a record of many incidents of a similar character. Not only are members of the S.D.F. continually taking public action opposed to the policy for the time being of that organisation, but the organisation itself is continually taking action in flat contradiction to its professed principles. In the matter of John Burns its attitude to-day is one of virulent denunciation, but to-morrow it would not be a surprising thing if it were the complete opposite. On the contrary, it would be strictly in accordance with precedent. In the past it has roundly trounced the Right Honourable gentleman and a week or two afterwards supported him, although his attitude was unchanged, just as in the past it has been engaged in roundly trouncing the capitalist party Burns is a member of, while its members and branches have been actively engaged in assisting the candidatures of representatives of that party. Sufficient evidence to satisfy the most hard-shelled unbeliever can be found in the file of this paper and the Manifesto mentioned.

Therefore we may say that neither the present action of the Countess nor the lack of action of the S.D.F. is ground for incredulity. Indeed, there is less ground in this instance than in many others of a similar nature, because in the other cases the members concerned were just common or garden persons while the Countess is an exceedingly valuable asset. Her personality and associations secure for the S.D.F. most useful advertisement (much to the very pronounced disgust of the I.L.P., which regards itself as the refuge par excellence for all aristocratic and plutocratic persons with bees in their bonnets or democratic yearnings in their hearts, and is naturally incensed that the S.D.F. should have poached upon its preserves to such good purpose). Besides which has it not been told in Gath that “a mere drawerful of jewels” has been at the S.D.F’s disposal ? Very well then ; why should the S.D.F. take action ? Why should it risk a trump card ?

But if our correspondents want the evidence they may have it. We only hope its publication may serve as a further justification for our opposition to the S.D.F. and similar bodies, and by establishing a fact in proof of the supine, vacillating and confusing attitude of that organisation, help to direct the working-class mind to the consideration of the only principles and the only policy upon which a working-class party capable of effecting those social changes which alone will remove poverty and all its concomitant evils from out of working-class experience, can be built up—the principles and policy of The Socialist Party of Great Britain, as summarised on the front page of this paper.

This is the evidence :—

(1) Several members of this Party were present at the meeting and heard the telegram read (names and afdresses can be supplied if desired).
(2) Our Comrade Fitzgerald, speaking at Battersea on the Sunday following, was challenged by Mr. Archer, a prominent supporter of Burns, who, under the impression that Fitzgerald was a member of the S.D.F., demanded to know why he (Fitzgerald) was opposing Burns when the Countess was supporting him according to the telegram he (Archer) heard read at Burns’ meeting.
(3) The written statement of Mr. J. H. Brown, Hon. Sec. of Burns’ Election Committee, who informs us that he received application to reserve seats on the platform of Burns’ meeting for Lady Warwick and friends ; that Lady Warwick was unable to attend and sent a telegram of regret etc.
(4) A written communication from Mr. W. Rines (Mayor of Battersea) whose recollection was that some such telegram was received and read.
(5) The report of the Battersea Borough News, Jan. 12th, 1906, which concludes “Telegrams expressing regret at their inability to attend were received from Lady Warwick and Lady Collins.”

For our purposes statements 1 and 2 (the reports of our own members of public incidents well within the knowledge of the large audiences of both Burns’ and Fitzgerald’s meetings) are good enough. Statements 3, 4 and 5 only confirm and amplify those reports. Our correspondents may consider all of them in conjunction with the fact that another prominent member of the S.D.F. (its treasurer, Mr. J. F. Green) speaking at Hammersmith on April 22, informed his audience that they had only one “working man” in the Cabinet who could not do much by himself, and that what they wanted was to send another six working men to help him from, which we conclude that, according to Mr. Green, the S.D.F. is all wrong, and that there is nothing deplorable about Mr. Burns’ position except that there is not more of him !


We intended dealing with the matter of the resignation of Mr. H. Quelch from the Chairmanship of the London Trades Council last month, but the April issue of the Trades and Labour Gazette, containing the official report, did not reach us until we were going to press.

“Mr. H. Quelch announced his resignation at the ordinary meeting of the Council, held at the Club Union Hall, on March 8th, after a letter had been read from John Burns, sincerely thanking the Council for its expression of congratulations on his appointment to the Cabinet. He (Mr. Quelch) wished to announce that he did not propose to offer himself for re-election to the chairmanship. In his opinion the chairman oughtt to be the official mouth-piece and representative of the Council as a whole . . In view of the decision of the last meeting, when the Council repudiated the whole of his cherished convictions and stultified itself by repudiating all the principles which had been supposed to guide it during the whole of the period that he had been associated with it, it was obviously incompatible that he should retain his position. … He did not propose to retire from the Council unless the society whom be represented, the Printers’ Warehousemen—he did not represent the Socialists—declined to elect him.”

The italics are ours.

Mr. Quelch, editor of “the Organ of the Social Democracy,” member of the S.D.F. Executive, does not represent the Socialists. In his capacity as a trade union representative he has sunk his Socialist principles and has supported Liberal-Labour candidates, both for Parliament and the L.C.C., whilst in his capacity as Editor of Justice and member of the S.D.F. Executive he has opposed them. Could anything be more absurd and more calculated to confuse the minds of the working class ? And seeing that Burns is no worse than Steadman, whom Mr. Quelch and the S.D.F. have supported, why all this fuss over Burns ? Both are “firmly caught in the nets of the Liberal Party.” They were already caught at the election of 1900, when the S.D.F. supported them, and the position at the last election, when Mr. Quelch denounced Barns but supported Steadman, was unchanged.

We are glad, however, to see that Mr. Quelch is beginning to recognise how “obviously incompatible” is his position. It is charged against us that our persistent criticism of his actions in these columns has in large measure contributed to his awakening. We take the flattering unction to our soul and hope that he will soon see further and decline to sit on a body obeying the behests of a trade union when those behests are in flat contradiction to the Socialist principles and policy that he professes. If we have been the humble means whereby one erring Social Democrat, albeit he a leader, has seen the error of some of his ways, we have not lived in vain, and we will go forward hopefully, confident that others, equally erring, will eventually forsake the broad road that leadeth unto personal power but working-class confusion, and plant their feet firmly on the narrow path that leadeth direct to the triumph of Socialism.


“Those who were at the top of the social ladder, or half-way up, must help those who were at the bottom. If they did not do so they must expect that some day the ladder would be pulled away.” W. CROOKS, 4/5/06.

The first part of the pronouncement is quite up to the Crooks standard, and assumes, like the statement familiar to every school-boy that “every lad can become a Lord Chancellor if he likes,” that there is plenty of room for everybody on top of the social ladder. Which even the school-boy himself, to-day, recognises as the acme of absurdity. The idea of Society being likened to a ladder at all is confusing. It presupposes that the whole of Society is on the ladder, whereas the fact is that the bulk of Society forms the base upon which the ladder rests. Even social ladders must be planted on something. Only infinitesimal fragments of Society occupy the rungs, fragments which grow smaller by degrees and beautifully less the higher they get. Clearly, therefore, the fragments on the ladder could not help any appreciable portion of the bulk below into a more elevated position because to do so would render the base upon which the ladder rests exceedingly unstable and the position of the fragments most unhappily precarious And even if this were not so it would be quite palpably impossible to assist any notable number on to the bottom rungs already overcrowded, without pushing off some of those already on or forcing them higher; and as the economy of ladders precludes the possibility of any overweight at the tqp, the fragments of Society already there must be unceremoniously cuffed or pushed off by those forced up from below or the whole ladder must lose its balance and come toppling to the ground. Therefore the main concern of those on top, as well as those on the lower rungs, is to prevent the base from shifting.

We do not think Mr. Crooks is so desperately baffle-headed as not to understand that. As a matter of fact he makes it fairly apparent that he does understand in the last part of his remark. If those who are on the ladder do not help those at the bottom they must not be surprised if presently the ladder itself is pulled away.

Precisely. And the exact difference between Mr. Crooks and ourselves is that we are out to pull the ladder away by inciting the working-class at the base to view it as not less than an unmitigated nuisance at the best and as a crushing burden at the worst, a ladder up which they cannot climb anyhow, while Mr. Crooks is out to inspire the working-class at the base with the idea that the ladder is a great institution up which they may climb if they are good and virtuous, what time he points out to those on the ladder that if they are to maintain their position they must fill the working-class base with the idea that they (the ladder persons) are very sympathetic and only anxious to lend a hand to help them (the working class base) up the rungs. In other words Mr. William Crooks, M.P., like his friend, Mr. John Burns, M.P., is playing a double game.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1906)

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