Police & Socialists


As is generally known, it has for some time been necessary for anyone taking up a collection at most street-corner meetings in London to first obtain a permit from the Chief Commissioner of Police ; but as this appeared to be simply a means of preventing the obtaining of money by false pretences, there seemed little harm in it. The experience of the Paddington Branch, however, shows there is more in it than meets the eye. For long the branch had been granted permission to make collections at their meeting opposite the “Prince of Wales,” but toward the end of last year this permission was withdrawn without a reason being given. The branch reported the matter to the Executive of the Party, which instructed the comrades to take up collections in spite of the police and to see if anything happened.

After months of hesitation on the part of the police, our comrade Wilson was summoned for having, as requested by the branch, taken up a collection without a permit, and Mr. Plowden, at the Marylebone Police Court, fined him the maximum penalty of 40s. and costs. From the opening of the proceedings the issue was never in doubt. Special counsel represented Scotland Yard, but apart from the technical point of the infringement of the police regulation his only point was that complaint had been made regarding the number of meetings held at the spot in question. No reason was given for the sudden refusal of a permit, and our comrade, in a plucky defence, drove this point home. The magistrate,, however, told him that the Commissioner was not bound to give any reason—he acted entirely at his own discretion. The constable who brought the charge had reported Wilson as saying that so long as the Salvation Army were allowed to take a collection at the same spot and on the same day, they (the Socialists) were going to take up collections also. This remark was made, not by Wilson, but by another member of the audience, and our comrade pointed this out. The magistrate, however, by his remarks and his manner during our comrade’s brief statement, showed that he had already decided the case. His attitude appeared to be “say what you like, bring what witnesses you like, prove what you like ; I’m going to fine.” When our comrade asked permission to call a witness the magistrate blandly told him he could call who he liked, but “to prove what?” In face of such an attitude our comrade saw that to proceed further would be to waste his time, and he therefore closed his case with the result already stated.

Wilson, of course, admitted that he knew of the police regulation when he took up the collection, but pointed out that the Salvation Army took collections unmolested at the same spot, and that since no reason was or could be given for the refusal of a permit he desired to test the matter and to expose in that court the unfairness of the police. We have known all along that “the law is a hass,” but the present case shows a curious muddle. The Socialist Party is granted a permit to take collections in some parts of London ; in other parts the police state that no permit is required, and in Paddington a permit is refused without a reason and a member who acted as collector is prosecuted. Yet at the same spot, as the police do not deny, a religious organisation takes collections without a permit openly and unmolested. Though the police gave no reason for their discrimination between the organisations we can supply it. It is because one is Socialist while the other is part of capitalism’s “moral police,” and is dear to the capitalist’s heart precisely because it endeavors to reconcile the workers to their slavery and keep them duped and servile and broken. In other words, it is because there is a class struggle.

F. C. W.

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