1900s >> 1908 >> no-49-september-1908

The Harrying of Haggerston. The Burial of Burrows

Poor Haggerston ! It had burrows and warrens enough in its half square mile of mean and congested streets, surely. To have another of each added to the already intolerable burden was too much. That it fired both Warren and Burrows out was therefore hardly surprising. Nor was it more surprising that such a land of unutterable poverty preferred guineas (pardon — Guinness) in the hand to a couple of empty rabbit holes in the bush. Haggerston will none the less find that its Guinness is not current coin in days of want. For the working class ignorance never works out in bliss.

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Guinness had a “long pull” over both his competitors from the very start. He knew that the constituency that elected a Randal Cremer must be fairly full of political sinners. The association of publicans and sinners has the authority of the scriptures. The association of bible and beer is equally notorious, if of a somewhat later creation. Moreover, all things work together for good to they who love the lord. And who has more reason to love the lord than Guinness ? Is he not the son of the lord ?

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In addition to this, however, he knew his Haggerston. He has even risked the dangers of living in it. He is a “Haggerston man”— for a day or two a year, anyhow. This is real courage. Men have been raised to the beer age for less. But then Guinness is a capitalist. And the capitalists will do anything for the workers, anything—except get off their backs. Mr. Warren, the Liberal, didn’t know Haggerston. According to a certain stout enthusiast who orated from the Guinness dray, Mr. Warren arrived in a cab making plaintive enquiries for his constituency ; while Mr. Herbert Burrows, the soi-disant Socialist candidate, seems to have been in such a condition as act to know which constituency he was contesting ! His election literature bore the strange device “Vote for Burrows and no poverty in Hoxton” ! Mr. Claude Hay the Conservative member for that divison was doubtless mightily impressed by Burrows’ solicitude.

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The Burrovians very early assimilated their leader’s spirit—bumptiousness. They dismissed Warren from their calculations. They then absorbed sufficient of the Burrovian brand of consistency to make themselves ridiculous. Having asserted that Warren did not count, they commenced to bewail the inconsiderate action of the Liberals in running him. After Mr. Burrows so long sacrificed his opposition to Liberalism on the altar of his friendship for Randal Cremer ; after he had done his best to “pull together the whole of the progressive forces in the division in the fight against reaction.” (Burrows’ letter to the Daily News, 1.8.08.) Warren and the Liberals who were running him, ought to have been ashamed of themselves, splitting the “progressive” vote in that way. The Warren who didn’t count polled several hundred more votes than the Burrows who did.

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According to Mr. Burrows and his organisation (the S.D.P.), Liberals and Tories are alike the enemies of the workers, and must be fought. “The principles of other political parties are those upon which the present social order is founded . . . As a Socialist I hold that those principles are against the interests of the nation, especially the workers.” (Burrows election address.) “Away with Lords and Liberals — Burrows fights both.” (Election leaflet.)

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But as a friend of Randal Cremer, Burrows prefers to let the principles that are opposed to the interests of the working class remain in operation rather than disturb the friendship. ” . . He persistently refused to contest the seat while it was held by the late Sir Randal Cremer.” (Manifesto of the Hackney Working Mens’ Club, issued in support of Burrows.) Barrows doesn’t fight both when he is pally with one of them !

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“All my political and social work has that end (the overthrow of the present social order and the parties that maintain it) in view.” (Election address.) He probably means his political and social work—when he does any, which is not very often. And even that is not true. Anyhow, it all depends upon whether he happens to be friends with the enemy. If he is, he suspends the work—and working class interests may go hang. This is a typical Burrows-cremer !

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“Myself and the Liberal Candidate will have to fight beer, blankets, coals, doles, and possibly creeds.” (Herbert Borrows, Daily Chronicle, 23.7.08.) No wonder the Burrovians were upset about the introduction of the official Liberal. With the Burrows’ fight identical with Warren’s; with Burrows such a good Liberal, it was surely wrong to oppose him.

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“From this condition (of slavery) there is no escape while the whole of the people do not either individually or collectively own the means of production.” “Nothing but . . . ownership by the whole people will abolish this form of slavery.” “Wage slaves you and your children will ever be, unless you use every shred of your political power to advance your social position as a class.” (From Burrows’ celebrated “No Poverty in Hoxton” leaflets.)

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Nothing matters—that is except Socialism. Apart from Socialism there is no escape. Yet nine-tenths of Burrows’ election address consisted of “reforms” that do not matter ! Apart from Socialism there is no escape, therefore as a “practical politician and a social reformer” (Election address) I will not go for Socialism, but for “Adult Suffrage,” “Second Ballot,” “Reform of Registration Laws,” etc., etc., none of which will advance the workers’ position as a class, and despite the fact that (vide Burrows’ election leaflet) the political reforms desired have already been largely secured in other countries “yet at this very moment, there as here, the workers are being half-starved in the naidst of plenty.”

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The great claim of Mr. Burrows’ organisation (the S.D.P.) is that it never has made, and never will make, arrangements with capitalist parties to secure electoral or other victories. “Last week you stated that I had spurned all attempts to come to an arrangement with the Liberals. That is an entirely mistaken statement.” (Letter of Herbert Burrows to Daily News, 1.8.08.) Herbert Burrows “is one of the oldest, best known and most popular members of the S.D.P.” (From “A brief sketch of the life of Herbert Burrows,” issued to the electors of Haggerston.) A prominent member of the Party that fights capitalist Liberalism all the time assevers that it is an entirely mistaken idea that he had spurned all attempts to come to an arrangement with the Liberals.

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Well may the Labour Leader wax sarcastic. In its notes of the 7.8.08 it said : —

“We confess surprise that Mr. Burrows should hasten to deny that he had spurned “all attempts to come to an arrangement with the Liberals.” We have always understood that to engage in negotiations direct or indirect with the view to coming to “an arrangement with the Liberals “in order “to pull together the whole of the really progressive forces in the fight against reaction” is precisely what is meant by compromising with the capitalist enemy.
At any rate, had a letter containing an admission of that kind been sent to a Liberal journal by any member of the Labour Party, we can surmise how scathing would have been the comments of the organ of the Social Democrats.”

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A shrewd hit and well merited. The Labour Leader can afford to gibe. Not even at Leicester was there a more shameless, a more contemptible effort made to get in at any cost of principle. TheLabour Leader knows that Haggerston has shut the mouth of S.D.P. criticism of I.L.P. “tactics” for ever. Burrows and MacDonald — a pretty pair. What has the honest, earnest, S.D.P. man got to say about it all, I wonder.

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What has he to say, for example, to the attitude of his Party and his Party’s champion upon the question of Free Trade ? This is an extract from Leaflet No. 2 of the S.D.P. (London Committee) issued as election literature in Haggerston : “Those who cry, ‘Free Trade’ and those who cry, ‘Protection,’ are alike after your flesh and blood, and by listening to them you are only being drawn away from the true and only road which leads to your emancipation. That road is Socialism.” Against that set this, from Burrows’ election address: “I am, as every true Socialist is, a Free Trader.” And then say what conclusion the working class can draw. What effect must such flatly contradictory statements have upon the working-class mind ?

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The London Committee leaflet is correct, curiously enough. The cry of Free Trade diverts the working class from “the true and only road to emancipation.” Those who divert the working class from that road are working-class enemies. And all the vainglory, the inflated pretension, the rant and cant and fustian of a Burrows, will hardly prevail against the evidence of his own documents. Burrows is a working-class enemy.

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Consider two further points briefly—unemployment and the alien question. Both are referred to in Burrows’ election address. “The gravest question the nation has at present to face is undoubtedly that of unemployment” says the address. But the gravest question is dealt with in that document only after a long list of pettifogging political “palliatives” have been touched upon. That by the way. The unemployed problem will not be touched, dare not be touched, in any appreciable degree, by capitalist legislators or administrators. Capitalism absolutely relies upon that “industrial reserve.” Yet Burrows talks of setting the unemployed (after thorough classification) to work at “decent and reasonable wages” at agriculture, afforestation, and in the production of the necessaries of life, as if that were possible before a Socialist working class captures control of Parliament and local bodies. And then “decent and reasonable wages” will cease to perplex the bureaucratic Burrows and his kidney. The working class will be in power and will conduct their own affairs. There is no cure for unemployment apart from Socialism. Those who, for the purpose of vote-snatching, endeavour to convey the impression that there is, divert the working class from “the true and only road” that leads to emancipation. They are not seeking working-class enlightenment—whatever else they are after.

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The same argument and the same conclusion holds in regard to Burrows’ references to sweating and its prevention. “Its worst forms, however, can be dealt with by Wages Boards and the Minimum Wage.” “Dealt with,” yes, as unemployment can be “dealt with,” but “sweating is a part of our present social system and can NEVER be entirely abolished till that system is changed.” (Election address.) In short, you may patch here, and trim there, so that the appalling, disgusting, degrading effects of this pillar of the Empire’s greatness may not be so patent to the eye of delicacy ; but the problem will remain, the same grim conditions will environ the lives of the unpaid workers. They will still be robbed, crushed, sweated, because “sweating is a part of our present social system, and can never be abolished until that system is changed.” The “entirely” is just dirty, vote-catching dodgery. “Wages Boards and the Minimum Wage” are piffle, sheer, unlovely, unwholesome piffle, and Burrows either knows it or is a fool.

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And “both of these (Wages Boards and Minimum Wage) if properly applied, would go far to solve the alien question.” (Election address.) More dodgery, more low cunning. The Haggerston workers have had it pumped into them that the alien problem is the cause of their unemployment and poverty. Burrows therefore drags in the alien question, not to put the truth of it, but to pose as the man having the solution of it, and to scoop in votes on the strength of that. What is this alien question and why does it require solution? The untutored elector of Haggerston is not informed. He is left with the same prejudices, the same false ideas—he is encouraged in them by the cowardice of Burrows. But what matters that so long as Burrows can appear as his saviour from this evil of the alien and collect his vote?

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There is plenty more, equally illuminating, equally nauseating, equally helpful to the cause of working-class enlightenment in which we are informed Burrows has spent his whole life. Poor Haggerston, to have to choose between a Burrows and a Guinness and a Warren. If the voters had been obliged to vote (as they were not) and had gone to the booth blindfold (as they largely did), the result would have been the same as now, even if Burrows’ hole received the greatest number of crosses. Between the three of them there was not the equivalent of a tinker’s cuss in difference from the point of view of working-class interests.

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And Burrows is typical of the organisation he represents. “I would accept the help of Satan himself,” he said (Shoreditch Town Hall meeting). And he would, even though he knew that Satan’s help would only be given for further Satanic purposes, as the capitalist help Burrows endeavoured to secure and did secure in Haggerston (“Liberals and Radicals are throwing themselves into the fight for me.”—Letter of Burrows to Justice, 1.8.08) was given to further capitalist interests. The S.D.P. knows that the education of the working class depends upon its recognition, and acceptance, of the fact of the class struggle. The S.D.P. knows that the recognition of the class struggle by the working class is hindered, thwarted, often rendered impossible, by compromise, by arrangement with capitalist political parties, by action at complete variance with profession, by confusionist tactics such as were the outstanding feature—the only feature indeed—of the Haggerston election. Yet in face of Haggerston the S.D.P. denies that it is party to any arrangement with capitalism, or is the cause of any working-class confusion !

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The case of Haggerston is only another count in the indictment against such organisations as S.D.P., I.L.P., and the rest of the pseudo-Socialist, reformist groups.

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The difference between us and them is that we are after the education and organisation of the working class on class-conscious lines ; they, on their own confessions, are after office and the plums thereof , and they are not at all particular how they get them. The candidature of Herbert Burrows was not endorsed by a single Socialist—although the list of organisations backing him necessitated a special bill. The S.P.G.B. repudiated him in the public Press and Haggerston placed him at the bottom of the poll. If our action contributed to that result we take full responsibility. Our hands at any rate shall be kept clean.

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The resolution passed by the Executive read as follows : —

“In response to many enquiries as to the attitude of The Socialist Party in the bye-election pending in Haggerston, the Executive of the Socialist Party of Great Britain desire to make clear that they are in no way responsible for the canditure of the alleged Socialist—Mr. Herbert Burrows, Mr. Burrows, who is not a member of the Socialist Party, is standing as a free trade, social reform candidate, accepting the support of the capitalist party in the shape of sections of the Liberal Party in Haggerston. His candidature could not be endorsed by the Socialist Party, he being in no sense of the word a Socialist, or representative of Socialist principles. The Socialist Party of Great Britain, therefore, repudiates him and the organisations responsible for his appearance in the field, and warns the working class of the Haggerston Division against being deceived into voting for Mr. Burrows under the impression that his return to Parliament would in any way benefit them. Finally, the Socialist Party desires to point out that between the three candidates there is no difference from a working-class standpoint. The working class of Haggerston, therefore, are urged to abstain from voting on this occasion altogether.”

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Well, isn’t it nearly time the serious student of politico-economic problems, the earnest champions of working-class interests, considered themselves and their position ? Are they content to let their work go for nothing, for worse than nothing, for ever ? Or are they prepared to cut themselves free from the trammels and responsibilities of parties whose work either leaves the working class unaffected entirely, or contributes to its continued enslavement by keeping it in ignorance, strengthening the power of the capitalist class to that effect—are they prepared to cut themselves adrift and come over to the only Party in Great Britain that has an impregnable position in the political field, that acts consistently and logically, and that refuses to be turned from its purpose by any side-wind of reform whatsoever? It is “up to” them to decide. “Choose ye this day whom you will serve”—the working class through the S.P.G.B. or the enemies of the working class through “reform” organisations.

JAMES ALEXANDER

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