The Socialist Party of Great Britain and The Socialist Labour Party


When The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed in June, 1904, the bulk of the members were sufficiently acquainted with the work and attitude of the Socialist Labour Party to render unnecessary at that time any further statement of the differences between the two bodies. New members have, however, since joined our Party, unacquainted with the facts, and several enquiries have been received from provincial correspondents for information upon the subject. Moreover, the refined literary criticism of our Party in the S.L.P. organ, The Socialist, has now taken the turn of stating that the difference between the parties consists in their respective attitudes towards trade unionism. It is therefore well at this stage to take up the matter for the benefit of those mentioned above, although to make the position clear it will be necessary to go back to the period preceding the formation of both bodies, the more so because both organisations were formed by, and in their early stages consisted almost entirely of seceding members of the Social Democratic Federation.

For some time previous to the first secession in 1903 an agitation had been developing inside the Social Democratic Federation against the vacillating policy that the Executive Committee of that body had, with some success, been urging upon its members. This agitation had grown independently in London and Scotland, but, as subsequent events showed, in different ways. In Scotland it appears to have been organised, and its supporters worked as a regular faction. In London, however, no systematic course was followed. The supporters of an uncompromising policy (dubbed “Impossiblists” by Mr. H. Quelch) simply pushed forward their views at every opportunity, and supported each other when they came in contact without special plan or organisation.

At the Blackburn Conference of the S.D.F. in 1902, the so-called Impossiblist delegates from Scotland and London met and supported each other, the Scotsmen nominating Friedberg (a London “impossiblist”) for the E.C. Friendly relations were established and the understanding arrived at that the London members would work in conjunction with the Scotch members for the adoption of an uncompromising policy by the S.D.F., Friedberg agreeing to act as correspondent for London.

The report of this Blackburn Conference as published contained some inaccuracies and left out some very important items of business. Friedberg wrote to Justice (the organ of the S.D.F.) pointing this out, and upon his corrections being refused publication, he sent a letter to the Weekly People of New York, detailing certain events of the Conference. For this he was expelled by the E.C. of the S.D.F., and as his branch (Finsbury Park) insisted upon retaining him as a member pending an appeal to the Annual Conference, it was dissolved. Against this the branch, of course, protested, and issued a statement to the S.D.F. branches. In this it was assisted by members in Scotland. While the above incidents were taking place, W. McGregor (one of the delegates to the Blackburn Conference from Scotland) came to London .and after some months residence here returned. Shortly afterwards the surprising news reached London that he had been expelled from the Leith Branch. As he had always acted the part of a straight comrade in London, he and those who expelled him were written to for their respective versions, so that the Londoners might have an opportunity of judging the case. No information, was supplied by Leith, but McGregor’s statement was received and was supported by an independent communication from a member named Gillespie. According to this statement McGregor and others were present, as non-delegates, at the Scottish District Council Meeting held on February 8th, 1903. After the Council’s ordinary business had concluded a meeting of the delegates from the branches running The Socialist was held, and before a secretary or chairman was appointed it was moved and seconded that “all those other than delegates leave the table.” As McGregor was one of the Auditors (though not a delegate) and wished to know how the paper was being managed, he resented this, and when the delegates of his branch (Robertson and Drummond) gave in their report, he asked if they did not move and second the above resolution. Robertson denied all knowledge of it, while Drummond replied “there was a suggestion of that kind.” Thereupon McGregor charged them with moving and seconding that resolution. Instead of hearing McGregor’s case a committee of enquiry was appointed, who simply wrote to the other delegates asking if such a resolution had been brought forward at the meeting referred to. The answers were in the negative, for the simple reason given by Geddes, who was appointed secretary and who, when asked why the resolution was not in the minutes pointed out not that no such thing had been proposed : it had been suggested before a secretary had been appointed, and therefore before any minutes were taken, or the meeting technically constituted. McGregor was called upon to withdraw, but as no refutation of his statement of fact was made and advantage was taken of this small technical point to refuse to consider any other portion of the gathering, he refused and was expelled—an inquiring kind of auditor thus being got rid of.

This was the first suspicious circumstance that came from Scotland.

A short time before this Friedberg had gone to Spain and Fitzgerald carried on such correspondence as was necessary with the Scotsmen.

About a week or so before the Shoreditch Conference 1903, letters were received from McGregor and Anderson, stating that a movement was on foot in Scotland to start a new party, and asking if the London “impossiblists” were aware of it. This was something of a thunderclap in the midst of the difficulties already existing—such as the Friedberg and Finsbury Park appeals. The correspondents were informed that nothing was known of this business in London, but as it was so close to the Conference and several Scotsmen would be in London on that occasion, the London section decided that no action should be taken other than to arrange for a joint meeting to discuss the whole business.

An incident confirming the foregoing occurred just previous to the Conference : the Leith Branch decided to send an ultimatum to the E.C., threatening withdrawal unless the compromising policy of the S.D.F. was dropped at the Conference. An attempt was made to persuade the Edinburgh and Glasgow Branches to adopt the same position for the reason (among others) that it was necessary for some branches to take the lead and then the rest of the “impossiblist” section would be obliged to follow them and form a new party.

At the Conference the expulsion of G. Yates, moved by the E.C., for his article entitled “The Official S.D.F.” in The Socialist, was carried, the expulsion of Friedberg was confirmed, and the dissolution of the Finsbury Park Branch was upheld.

As Anderson and McGregor were in London at the Conference it was suggested by the London section that they should be invited to the joint meeting so that the differences might be cleared up. The Scotsmen, however, declined to go to the meeting unless these two men were excluded. While this was thought another peculiar attitude, it was finally agreed to.

This meeting produced another surprise. During the course of his speech upon the situation Yates stated that in Scotland they had been building up a new party during “the last two years.” That is to say, during the whole time they were supposed to be working with the London section for the re-organisation of the S.D.F., they were playing a double game by forming a new organisation in secret.

This statement, coupled with the previous facts, showed the Londoners that if they joined the party thus forming, they would be simply leaving one organisation where the leaders deceived and misled the rank and file to support and strengthen another whose prominent members were prepared to play the same game. Accepting the facts of the class war and the necessary deduction made by Marx from those facts, “that the emancipation of the working class must be the conscious work of the working class itself,” the London section were no more ready to blindly follow would-be geniuses from Scotland than “highly educated” leaders from Queen Anne’s Gate, and therefore, despite the set-back that these incidents naturally gave to the business in hand, and the fact that a few Londoners joined the new party, the rest of the section decided to go forward on the lines originally laid down. When, at the Burnley (1904) Conference, fear of further exposure of their underhand trickery impelled the E.C. of the S.D.F. to further expulsions, the London members, after two meetings at which the situation was discussed, so clearly indicated their attitude that the bulk of the active S.D.F. membership in London revolted and, withdrawing in an open, above-board manner, formed The Socialist Party of Great Britain.

This difference of principle forms the real and substantial difference between the two parties—a difference the S.L.P. has always endeavoured to obscure by trying to find some detail point upon which to hang a sample of that cultured criticism for which they have something of a reputation. Chagrined at their failure to mislead the Londoners, they have thought to hide their disappointment in “a lofty superiority expressing itself in such observations as the following :

“Those timid souls (whom the S.L.P. will always find it hard to trust) i.e., those who against their expressed convictions have remained within this now discredited organisation [S.D.F.] have plucked up courage to give a gentle whine of protest, of course, on strictly constitutional lines.” (The Socialist, Dec., 1903,) while at the time of the Burnley Conference a leading article said:

“Some were sentenced to apologise and eat humble pie, and others were expelled. A meeting was held in London, after the return from the Conference, at which the expellees were largely supported and the result is that the London S.D.F. is rent asunder, and a considerable section will probably leave the Party and set up some sort of castle of cards of their own.” (The Socialist, May, 1904.)

No doubt, as in the argument put forward by the Leith branch 12 months previously, they hoped that this section would see their “castle” collapse in a short time and that then they would gravitate towards the S.L.P. But they were soon undeceived, and their next issue stated

“Our London comrades are face to face with a new foe, or rather an old foe in another guise. As a result of the Burnley Conference of the S.D.F. about 100 members have left that organisation and are forming a party of their own. Eighteen months ago most of these men professed to believe in our principles and tactics, but when 12 months ago adherence to principle meant leaving the S.D.F. and tackling the forlorn hope of founding a new party they basely deserted us. The preliminary spade work necessary to the building up of such a party as ours, accompanied by the risk of failure, was too much for the knees of those men, and the joints giving way through fear, they flopped prostrate before the ‘Holy Trinity,’ Hyndman, Burrows & Quelch, and craved mercy and forgiveness. And since the April Conference, 1903, their lives have been made miserable. Treated with contempt by the members of the Socialist Labour Party, sneered at, cuffed and ridiculed by their own organisation, they have been forced to save the small portion of self-respect still left by seceding from the S.D.F.
“Emboldened by the success of the S.L.P., they have decided to form a new party, and rumour hath it that they have adopted a similar constitution to our party. Such is the tribute mediocrity renders to genius. Our London comrades may be assured of every help we can give them in fighting this “Party of the Wobblers,” and though the fight may tax the energies of our members, the S.L.P. is too well disciplined and firmly founded to be swept off its feet by such a flood as has been loosed by the Burnley Conference of the S.D.F.” (The Socialist, June, 1904.)

The “success” which so “emboldened” us consisted, as far as London was concerned, in about 3 new members after more than twelve months existence ! while in addition to the modest (and grammatical) reference to their party as a “genius,” the material is supplied for a new definition of “basely desert.” Evidently, according to this quotation, to refuse to blindly follow the lead of one set of tricksters, while you are engaged in a fight with another set, is to basely desert the first one !

The constitution of the S.L.P., then, and for some time after, had a “palliative” or “reform” programme as part, while The Socialist Party’s constitution ignored such confusionist items.

When reporting the formation of the Wimbledon branch of the S.L.P. (since dissolved and its secretary, J. Grose, expelled) it was stated that this formation

“affords proof of the fact that in spite of the political mushroom growths that have made their appearance during the last month or two, in spite of the unscrupulous intrigues of those disgruntled individuals who are moving heaven and earth in London circles to gather together a party to enhance their political ‘exchange-value,’ the Socialist Labour Party is not only holding its own but is also annexing territory in the extreme South-West of London.” (The Socialist, July, 1904.)

In the next issue ” W.S.J.” writes that this formation is a

“fitting reply to the group of intriguers whose sole aim and object appears to be the splitting of the Revolutionary Socialist movement in Great Britain. But we can afford to ignore them, knowing full well that their treachery will meet with due reward in the future, and knowing, too, that a party built on sound scientific principles, as the S.L.P. undoubtedly is, need never fear the puny attacks of parties composed of tin gods and their worshippers.” (The Socialist, August, 1904.)—A method of ignoring an opponent that can only be compared to that of the Irishman who made a long journey in order to tell an enemy “to his face” that he was going to treat him with silent contempt !

At the De Leon Meeting in London, August 31st, the chairman, E. E. Hunter, said

“One result of the formation of the London branch (S.L.P.) was that we already had imitators here—a sincere form of flattery greatly appreciated by the S.L.P.” (The Socialist, Oct., 1904.)

Evidently then, The Socialist Party, while being “base deserters,” a “Party of Wobblers,” “unscrupulous intriguers,” who were “moving heaven and earth … to enhance their political ‘exchange-value'” and whose “sole aim and object appears to be the splitting of the Revolutionary Socialist movement” are only imitators of the S.L.P. in these matters !

The International Congress was held at Amsterdam in 1904. While these congresses have never been purely Socialist congresses (as they allow organisations, that can by no stretch of language be called Socialist, to be represented thereat), yet this remains the only regular international gathering whereat the majority of Socialist parties are represented. This of course is well known to the various national parties, and a steadily growing section are endeavouring to ensure that future congresses shall be Socialist and nothing else. The point (as to the constitution of the Congress) is usually thrashed out at the Congress on the question of the right of entry and sometimes on the question of voting. At Amsterdam the Allemandist Party of France wished to have voting power independent of the two other French parties. This would have made an opportunity for fighting out the whole question of representation from the floor of Congress itself, but it was moved by those who wished to shelve the matter that it be referred to the Bureau. This motion the Scotch S.L.P. delegation supported, thus helping to prevent the question being dealt with in open Congress. It was decided by the Congress that credentials should be verified by each Nation. The S.L.P. delegation refused to submit their credentials to the English section because it was “composed of people whom they condemn at home.” The argument is doubly puerile. In the first place, for the purpose of obtaining provisional tickets they had already submitted their credentials to the International Bureau composed of Hardie, Hyndman, etc., whom they “condemn at home” ; In the second place they were already aware that the Congress had decided upon this course when they tried to obtain entry by other methods, while if they had been seated at all, they would have actually joined with those they condemn in an international meeting. (As a matter of fact for the first three days during which they sat in Congress they did so join with those they condemn.) They knew before they left Britain (if they knew anything of the international congresses at all) that these people would be present and would be accepted by the Bureau, and therefore they would be sitting with them (Hyndman & Co.) under any condition of entry that could have been expected to be in operation.

In spite of all this they have, tried to claim that their action was the only consistent one to follow, while our delegates sacrificed their principle by taking their seats under the conditions laid down. If this is so then of course every other delegate who sat in the Congress was equally guilty. But when this is pointed out to our objectors ; when it is shown that De Leon of the American S.L.P. (whom the Scotch S.L.P. parody on all occasions) sat with those he had continually denounced at home (the Socialist Party of America); when it is also pointed out that he acquiesced in the seating of the S.P. delegates in so far as he made no protest, and, stranger still, afterwards obtained a seat on the Bureau along with Hardie, Hyndman, and Hillquit—then the brilliant defence is put forward by the editor of The Socialist that De Leon submitted his credentials to himself. Sweetly simple ! Then why did the Scotch delegates abstain from submitting their credentials to themselves ? Because they were not a National delegation ? But neither was De Leon. Then under the rule of entry his credentials must have been submitted to and accepted by the American Delegation, unless there is a means of evading the rule, in which case he might have given his friends the “tip.” W. S. Jerman, in The Socialist for Jan., 1905, attempted to support the above thin editorial piffle by saying “they (the S.P.) no doubt thought they might pass it off with the aid of the stock-in-trade they brought out of the S.D.F., viz., “lies.” The “it” referred to being the point given above re De Leon’s credentials. As Mr. Jerman was in possession of the facts given here before he wrote this statement he is particularly well situated to talk about lies.

In the same issue, in the “London Notes” appears a statement that the S.P.G.B. was “formed for the purpose of popularising Esperanto” but “of late has been giving its attention to politics” —a fair specimen of the veracity of their statements. The writer there deals with a challenge sent to our E.C. by the London Branch, S.L.P. and the answers given thereto, which are termed “evasions.” Although these replies were lying before him, the writer, curiously enough, forgot to quote them, either in full or in part, but winds up by saying “they speak their volapuk with a decided S.D.F. accent.” The impression that it is endeavoured to convey is that we refused to debate. The truth, as the letters would have shown, was that, while pointing out that set debates were only undertaken with recognised political parties, all our platforms were open to opposition, while the statement in our Declaration of Principles stating that “we waged war against all other political parties” was a standing challenge to any who cared to take it up.

Writing in the March (1905) Socialist, Mr. Jerman, after about a column of similar inanities to those already quoted, says “As I pointed out in my letter to The Socialist, I tumbled to the motives of our one-time impossiblist comrades in the S.D.F., they were out for something shady, and if anyone has been sucked in, that is their fault, for it was pointed out time and again what one man in particular was moving heaven and earth to obtain.” Unfortunately we are again left without any information as to what we were “out for” or as to who the “one man in particular” who “was moving heaven and earth”—evidently a new Atlas with a double burden—was, or what he was out to “obtain.”

The criticisms given above, extending over a period from a few months before the formation of our Party to nearly twelve months after, have a certain feature that may be specially noted—they are, without exception, remarks dealing with the political question and the political position of the two parties. Illuminating indeed, then, is the statement of the editor of The Socialist in reply to a correspondent signing himself “G.G.” that “When the S.L.P. ” came into being, if there was one thing it was absolutely clear upon it was its hostility to the pure and simple Trade Unions and laying it down that this is the point of difference between the two parties (March, 1906), while in a further reply to the same writer he says “When the S.P.G.B. has emancipated itself from S.D.F. traditions and obsessions by adopting a clean and consistent Trade Union policy, it will be time enough then to talk of joining hands”, (April, 1906), for if this is correct, the whole of the criticism, extending over the period given, is inaccurate and misleading as it entirely fails to mention the Trade-Union question. We may be “base deserters,” “unscrupulous intriguers,” who are endeavouring to “enhance our political exchange-value” and who deal in lies, but if we only adopt “a clean and consistent Trade Union policy” we shall be whiter than snow and all will be well, But let us look at this matter a little closer. We are told that they were “absolutely clear” upon this question, yet, neither in the first Manifesto issued shortly after the Shoreditch Conference, nor in the second Manifesto, “The Party of the Workers,” issued some months after, is the Trade Union question dealt with at all ! Practically, with the exception of a rule stating that one of the duties of the E.C. is “the formation of Socialist unions,” the first official pronouncement was in the Manifesto issued to the International Movement, in Feb., 1904, where they state their policy as “one of criticism and exposure in order to prepare the minds of the workers for the Socialist unions.” Apparently although “absolutely clear” they require nearly a year to discover it ! And as (in his second reply) the editor states that “the T.U. policy of the S.L.P, is the foundation upon which the Party is built” an organisation can exist for some time without any foundation !

But in what does their “clean and consistent Trade-Union policy” consis ? First (aping the American S.L.P.), the adoption of a rule forbidding members to hold office in a present Trade Union, otherwise silence ; then that their policy is to be one of “criticism and exposure” with the object of establishing Socialist unions as “that portion of the working-class army which conducts on the economic field skirmishing operations with the view to seizing small points of vantage, while all the time working in close conjunction with the heavier and solider regiments which carry out the more serious pitched battles on the field of politics ” (Feb. 1904. italics ours.) Later it is stated that the Party will have to consider whether “the time is ripe for the formation of a Socialist union based on the lines of the Socialist Trades and Labor Alliance and American Labor Union of America.” Then still another change comes o’er the scene and, when the new unioa called “The Industrial Workers of the World” is started, the E.C. of the S.L.P. without consulting their members send a message of approval and pledge themselves to work to establish a British wing of the I.W.W. (Oct., 1905). When the question of starting I.W.W. clubs was discussed at the S.L.P. conference, the delegates from the two strongest branches (Edinburgh and Glasgow) had received instructions to oppose, but were told by J. C. Matheson that the clubs, would be formed and so long as the members joining these clubs kept within the rules of the Party, the Party had no right to interfere with their activity on the economic field.

Evidently then the S.L.P. conception of a “clean and consistent trade union policy” is to repeat, parrot fashion, the decisions arrived at by the American S.L.P., including the contradiction of that Party’s past position on the S.T. & L.A., wherin it was laid down that the Trade Union was the skirmishing force or arm that must be dominated by the political arm, with the present one on I.W.W., wherein it is stated that the economic arm must dominate the political, which it now seems is the skirmishing force.

When the S.P.G.B. was formed a series of Party Meetings were held and the question of our attitude towards the Trade Unions discussed, with the result that a decision was arrived at to carry on the fight for Socialism inside and outside the present unions, with the object of educating the members thereof into realising the necessity for accepting and adopting the Socialist position, —that decision has been adhered to ever since.

In the preface to his magnificent work, “Capital” Karl Marx says, “I paint the capitalist and the landlord in no sense coleur de rose. But here individuals are dealt with only in so far as they are the personifications of economic categories, embodiments of particular class relations and class interests.” When, therefore, in dealing with political and economic opponents, such beauties of literature as the extracts immediately following (all from the organ of the S.L.P.) are met with, one can only wonder what ” economic category” or “particular class relation” these distorted facial and physiological descriptions are “embodiments of.” Old, however, is the remark “When you have no case abuse the opponent,” and the specimens of profound and scholarly criticism quoted certainly convey a volume of information as to the amount of argument in the possession of those using them.

“A prognathous, drink-soddened ranter.”(Sep. 1903.) “Political Debauchees.” (Jan., 1904.) “Flannel-mouthed S.D.F. organiser” (ibid) “the drivelling senilities of this dotar.” (May, 1904.)
“… an official of the I.L.P. . . . had wild, staring, maniacal eyes, black dishevelled hair, a sloping forehead, prognathous jaws, and the general appearance of a congenital idiot. These beauties, however, were hidden to some extent by his mouth, which was wide open . . . while from the pit of his stomach he emitted a blood-curdling howl, the blind, instinctive, meaningless expression of a stricken beast.” (Sep., 04.)
“The Lancashire fakir . . . with black hair, oily skin, shifty eyes, one-and-half inch forehead.” (ibid.) “political swankers.” (Mar., 1905.)
“A wild, scatty individual.” (June, 1905.)
“Pouring forth a torrent of gush and slobber.” (May, 1906.)
“A flannel-mouthed, lank-haired, political individual with a pink complexion and a faraway look in his eyes.” (ibid.)
“Who conducted himself . . like an epileptic chimpanzee, whose spluttering, inarticulate malevolence . . equalled the performances of the most besotted and befuddled Hyndmaniac.” (July, 06.)

” G.G.” in the second article referred to above says that when he asks the members of the S.P. why they started another party they cannot exactly define the cause, “for like all facts it is not the result of any one cause, but of many.” (April, 1906.) While “G.G,” quite forgot to state the “many causes” that would even approximately define the facts, his statement is correct in so far as the main cause itself has certain minor ones contributing their quota to increase the sum total. First and foremost is the difference of principle given above ; while the vacillating policy of the S.L.P. on trade unionism and the gutter garbage ladled out as political criticism, complete the many causes that made it necessary for those who desired to spread the principles of Socialism among the working class and give correct instruction upon the economic categories and class relations of their position, to form a new party to carry on the propaganda of those principles, clean, straight and above board, and so organise the working class along the lines laid down in those principles, for their own emancipation.

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