Declined with thanks

Why the West Ham Branch Could Not Join the Local “Labour” Party

West Ham & District Trades & Labour District, Town Hall, West Ham.
19th July, 1906.
Dear Sir,—The following resolution was passed by my Council at their last meeting :
“That the Trades Council convene a Conference representative of all Trade Union Branches and Socialist Organisations in the Borough for the purpose of forming a local Labour Party on the lines of the National Labour Party. The Conference to consist of two delegates from the Trades Council, two delegates from each Trade Union Branch affiliated and unaffiliated, two delegates from each of the Socialist Organisations, viz., S.D.F., I.L.P., S.P.G.B., and Socialist League.”
Your Branch are therefore invited to appoint two delegates to attend the Conference, which will be held in the second week in August.
I shall be glad if you will let me know at your earliest convenience if your Branch are prepared to take part in the Conference, together with the names and addresses of your two delegates in order that I may send them date, time and place of Meeting.
Yours fraternally,
J. GILBEY, Secretary.


447, Katherine Rd., Manor Park,
29 August, 1906.
Dear Sir,—I have to transmit the following resolution passed by the W. H. Br., S.P.G.B. at its last meeting in reply to yours of 19th July last, asking us to send delegates to a meeting convened by the W.H. & D.T. & L.C. with the object of forming a local Labour Party on the lines of the National Labour Party, to which invitation I promised in my note of 14 Aug. a reply as soon as the Branch had time to fully consider the matter.
Your obedient servant,
G. C. H. CARTER, Br. Sec.
J. Gilbey, Esq., Sec. W.H. & D.T. & L.C.



That we, the members of the West Ham Br. S.P.G.B., having considered the invitation of 19th July last by the W.H. & D.T. & L.C. to send delegates to a meeting convened by that body for the purpose of forming a “local Labour Party on the lines of the National Labour Party,” wish to make clear the reasons which compel us to decline taking such action.

As a loyal branch of the S.P.G.B., whose declared object is the establishment of a system of Society based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, we are not only unable to work with, but are distinctly hostile to, any party on the political field, such as the L.R.C., or any local party on its lines, whose aims, objects, and methods are so opposite to ours.

We have re-read the reports of the Conferences of the L.R.C., and are more convinced than ever of the confusion existing in the minds of those iniating the establishment of that political party. Take for instance Resolution 1 of the first (1900) meeting (which was an amendment to a motion in favour of the working class being represented in the House of Commons by members of their own class) seconded by John Burns, M.P. in a speech during which that (now Rt. Hon.) gentleman stated that “he believed they should consider parties and policies apart from class organisations.” These members of class organisations (Trade Unions, &c.) obediently detached themselves from their class, negated their class organisations and by a majority of 102 to 3 resolved that “the working class should be represented in the House of Commons by men sympathetic with the aims and demands of the Labour movements.”

Again, the motion by James Macdonald of the S.D.F. endeavouring to place the Party on the only true working-class basis of the Class War was negated by these working-class representatives by 59 to 35, Sexton saying “it was very magnificent, it was very heroic, but it was not war. . . . The resolution was reviving a spirit responsible for more recrimination than anything else in the Labour movement. . . . He was in favour of the spirit of the resolution and would vote for it anywhere but there.”

Coming to the Darn Crook Conference of 1903 we find they have got the length of an “object,” viz., “a group in Parliament with whips and its own policy on Labour questions.” J. N. Bell, the chairman at that Conference, points out in his speech the danger to Trade Union funds by process of law, the aggressive attitude of British Capitalism, the development of Shipping Rings, Trusts, and other American inventions, the Housing Question, Old Age Pensions, Unemployment, etc., and goes on to say “if some years ago straight-forward and satisfactory statements had been given on some of these questions it is possible that such a gathering as the present might not have been necessary.”

Considering this speech in connection with the “object” (a Party with whips, etc.) we consider the S.P. of G.B. is justified in stating (as it does in its “Manifesto” p.7) “The L.R.C. came into existence chiefly, as far as the rank and file of the Unions were concerned, owing to the Taff Vale and Quinn v. Leatham decisions, and, as far as the Trade Union officials were concerned, because they saw the chance of Parliamentary jobs.”

There is much more of interest and instruction in this (1903) Report, especially when read in the light of subsequent history. Take two statements by two typical men, at almost two opposite poles of the “Labour movement” :

John Ward (now Lib.-Lab. M.P.) says “they wanted to get their feet well planted in the House of Commons and he believed they would not be particular about the way in which they did it.” Keir Hardie (Lab. M.P.) is reported as saying, “they should be neither Socialists, Liberals, nor Tories but a Labour Party,” and we find the space between these two poles filled in with a mixture in varying proportions of the two ideas.

At the Liverpool Conference of 1905 we find the L.R.C. (your model), have arrived not merely at an “object” (a party with whips) but have, from the Nebo heights to which they have been led, descried in the telescopic distance an “ultimate object.” This “ultimate object” is too far off, however, to be clearly seen, much less understood, even by the seers of the Party, if we may judge by a statement over the signatures of some of them, from Burns and Bell on the one hand to Ramsay Macdonald and Keir Hardie on the other. We find in the United Labour Manifesto against Chamberlainism signed, among others, by those gentlemen, it is stated, “Protection would limit the power of the Trade Unions to improve the condition of the wage-earners” and then they go on to state as counter proposals, “we appeal to the workers of the country to support us in a campaign which will benefit the industrious classes by increasing National efficiency and securing a substantial reduction in the cost of production.”

How could the condition of the wage-earners be improved by the cheapening of production or by efficiency ? By cheapening production you cheapen commodities including labour-power, i.e., you lower money-wages leaving real wages as before. Where then is the improvement ? Further, not only is there no improvement in the condition of the workers employed, but the aggregate wages of the working class are lowered by the increase in the number of the unemployed : the inevitable result of efficiency under capitalism.

If these prophets of Labour, instead of passing pious resolutions in favour of ultimate Socialism which they appear neither to believe nor understand, would turn their attention to immediate common sense, not to say anything so advanced as logic or economics, they might ultimately become less purblind leaders of the blind, though certainly not so successful political tricksters.

During the General Election campaign not only did their “ultimate Socialism” become so very ultimate as to be unworthy of serious mention, but their boasted independence, that terribly extreme policy which prevented Steadman, one of their founders, from signing their declaration, also became so “ultimate” as to be unavailable for immediate use.

We were informed by the Daily News of 10th Jan., 1906, that “Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald and Mr. H. Broadhurst on separate platforms are urging that electors should not plump but allocate their votes to the two Progressives.” This was confirmed after the election by the local papers in which Mr. Broadhurst is reported to have said, “he was proud of the Liberal Party and of the Labour Party of Leicester who had brought about this great triumph. Liberalism and Labour had known no difference. . . This was what they did when they had confidence in each other.” Mr. J. R. Macdonald is reported as saying that “there was one significant fact about the contest. Practically every voter of the 14,000 had polled Broadhurst and Macdonald. The plumping had been insignificant. . . owing to the crises—the crisis to Trade Unionism and the crisis to industry they had co-operated on these specific and definite points to kill the late government and prevent things going from bad to worse.” “Hurrah! for Liberalism and Labour !” says Broadhurst. “Hurrah ! for Labour and Liberalism!” says Macdonald. “Hurrah! for Tweedledum and Tweedledee, and the independence of Tweedledum !” say we.

It sounds like the language of two separate sections of the same Trust with two different local names professing independence and excusing the similarity of their language by a crisis common to both. Macdonald was no more independent of Broadhurst than Liberalism was of “Labour.” There was no independence on either side.

Whatever pious resolutions the L.R.C. may pass in favour of ultimate Socialism, independence, etc., the language and actions of their members point to a stronger belief in Lib.-Lab-ism if not ultimate Liberalism.

Their professed independence which at its best has about the same relation to even an “ultimate” Socialist attitude to other political parties as the Zulu cotton-thread-on-sticks magic had to the English Field-telegraph has been illustrated locally by Will Crooks and Will Thorne. Both these gentlemen, as you no doubt recollect, supported an ostensibly Free Trade meeting in Stratford (really got up to support the candidature of its chairman Masterman). Thorne by letter wishing it success, and excusing himself from attendance on account of a prior engagement. Crooks by a speech during which he alluded to Mr. Masterman as “your member.”

During the General Election, perhaps to demonstrate principles held by company kept, or it may be to illustrate the proverb, “birds of a feather,” Crooks and Thorne, flanked by Passmore Edwards and G. Cadbury, appear as supporters of the Liberal Percy Alden in the company of Buxton, Gladstone, Burns, and Asquith. Crooks and Thorne are local members of the National Party on whose lines you propose forming, or perhaps ere now have formed, a local party.

Should any professed Socialists not understanding the principles of Socialism be tempted to join and, from the Local Party following too closely the “lines” of the National Party, find themselves compelled to withdraw, it may be as well they should know the treatment mated out by the secretary of the National Party to the S.D.F. on their retirement.

In the International Socialist Review of June, 1903, Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald writes: “Two years ago the S.D.F. ceased to co-operate because it alleged the Committee was not receiving sufficient support from the Trade Unions. . . . The I.L.P. will support such movements in spite of a handful of more timorous and dogmatic Socialists.”

In short, even were we not prevented by our principles and policy from voluntarily associating ourselves with any un-class-conscious political action such as you propose, a statement like the above from the point of view of tactics alone would prove sufficient deterrent.

Even supposing ourselves destitute not only of principles and policy but of political experience or aptitude, we could take warning as to the folly of compromise from part of the chairman’s speech at the L.R.C. Conference of 1903. He said (Report, p. 22) : “The path of compromise is often alluring, and the path of principle is nearly always difficult to tread, but in deciding which way we shall take we cannot afford to forget that by following principle we are certain that it leads, however slowly, to the object we wish to attain, while compromise may lead us there, but may also lead us in a hundred other directions,”

While thanking you for your invitation, which, however, we are convinced must have been sent in utter ignorance or misunderstanding of the principles of the S.P.G.B., we would invite the attention of your members to some of the literature published by our Party, notably the “Manifesto,” and THE SOCIALIST STANDARD, 1d. monthly (28, Cursitor St., E.G.) which in every copy up to the present one contains the “Object and Declaration of Principles.”

Yours faithfully,
G. C. H. CARTER, Br. Sec.

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