Practical Socialism in Harrow

Although one of the schools of the master class dominates us from the hill above, yet among the members of the working class who live in the mean streets stretching out upon all sides at its base, a considerable amount of activity in the “Socialist movement” is evident.

Unfortunately, the inverted commas are necessary ; for the only organised bodies are a group of the Fabian Society and a branch of the I.L.P.

As regards the former their activity has been confined to a series of four lectures delivered by Alderman Sanders, L.C.C. As might be expected from the lecturer, the usual Progressive, municipal gas and water “Socialism” was preached. Fortunately, the audience was made up mostly of I.L.P’ers, so no great harm may be expected. It is, however, with the political activities of the I.L.P. that I intend to deal.

The local I.L.P. number among their fifty members a well-known novelist, an artist, a son of the local vicar, commercial travellers, and so forth. Now the antics of some of these “practical Socialists” are very interesting, seeing that they are members of that “great national party” whose discipline and organisation, and whose scientific knowledge of and street corner adherence to the principles of Socialism, are so renowned. A writer in the Socialist Review urges that their watchword should be “Practical Socialists, close up your ranks,” and one has only to give a casual glance at the condition of the I.L.P. to see that it was never more necessary.

Let that be as it may, the following will speak for itself. Last Autumn when the unemployed agitation was revived, when the “practical Socialists” were giving forth a flood of spoken and written nonsense, with a view to persuading the capitalist class to abolish itself (for that is what solving the unemployed problem means), this district was in the throes of a local election. Two of the candidates were non-party, parish-pump reformers ; the third was an avowed Tariff Reformer. But Eureka ! he actually advocated the solution of the unemployed problem by planting trees along the streets. Here was a chance for the “practical Socialists” ! Several of their most prominent members fell over each other in their eagerness to “do something for the unemployed.” The artist, of course, was the most enthusiastic of them all, for could he not foresee the time when the dreary streets would be turned into avenues of verdant trees, beneath the leafy boughs of which the inhabitants of Harrow would rusticate, making pictures worthy of a Watteau’s brush ? Result: the “practical Socialists” took the chair for the practical Tariff Reformer, enthusiastic to do something—or somebody.

The branch, however, was a little apathetic, so it was waited upon, and attempts were made to either cajole or cudgel it into giving official support. This the branch was not prepared to do (although only a bare majority voted against) but it left the matter to the discretion of the members on the principle that although independent in Imperial, locally they could do what they liked.

Several of the members attended an open-air meeting at which their artist comrade acted as chairman, and when asked for their support, would not pledge themselves because the Tariff Reformer’s answers were not satisfactory. Which shows that the latter was not “wide” enough to bait his hook properly. I asked them afterwards what was their intention re the action of these members; would it be officially and publicly disavowed ? No, they could not do that, they replied : it would give offence, and they were such good fellows !

What blissful felicity ! What mutual admiration ! And what organisation and discipline in that “great national organisation of practical Socialists, the I.L.P. !” May all their guardian angels defend them next summer if they hold outdoor meetings, for the Liberals and Tories are waiting for them, to say nothing of the lone member of the S.P.G.B. who writes this.

I will give one other instance. In the local “Parliament” there is a Labour Party. One of its members is rather “extreme,” and attacks the Liberals, his comrades think, rather too bitterly. As a result an open meeting was held to discuss the following resolution. “Shall we (the I.L.P.) fight the Liberals with the object of smashing them ?” (By the way, the chairman pointed out in extenuation of the “extreme” nature of the resolution, that it was only “an academic resolution, made extreme to provoke discussion.” The oratory that followed perfectly scintillated with gems of I L.P. thought. My poor “impractical Socialist” eyes were dazzled ; in fact I saw stars. When it came to the voting six or eight of the most prominent members voted against—against fighting the Liberals ! Enough ! What a rod in pickle there is for them.

These, then, are the men who make up the I.L.P. These are the “practical Socialists” who sneer at the members of the S.P.G.B. as “insignificant impossibilists.” They claim to be the army of Labour, the hope of the working class. They are a mob, with an ignorant rank and file, led mostly by knaves. The hope they put before the workers is a will-o’-the-wisp. They are those who, disguised as friends, inflict the gaping wounds that drain away the precious energy and life-blood of the working-class movement.

The Socialist Party of Great Britain, small in numbers though it be, can rest content in the knowledge that with its scientific, revolutionary class consciousness, working in conjunction with economic evolution, it is always able to attack, and will finally overthrow, this party which, posing as the friend of working-class emancipation, is in reality one of its most deadly foes.


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