Editorial: The Bethnal Green Bungle
That stale old wheeze, the “three-card trick,” has been worked off on the electors of South West Bethnal Green. You know the process—as an onlooker, of course. Three cards are performing simple evolutions, and a flat comes along and tries to “find the lady.” He turns up a card—a knave; he tries again—another knave. About the time his money has all gone the flat becomes convinced that he has been trying to pick “the lady” from among three knaves.
At Bethnal Green the three cards were Masterman, Hoffgaard, and Scurr. In view of the law of libel, which exists to protect those whose actions will not stand the light of day, we are not going to use hard names, but whichever of those cards you turn up forces you to exclaim: “got him again.” The workers of Bethnal Green tried Masterman—and they got the man who presided over the “secret” commission the Government were compelled to appoint to enquire into the treatment of the workers’ children committed by the magistracy to that diabolical inferno, the Abkur Nautical Reformatory.
How this commission whitewashed the Home Office (which had deliberately shut its eyes to sworn statements concerning the inhuman brutalities of this institution flourishing under Government support, and had only moved under a strong fire of criticism), and issued a Report in which the evidence was garbled—this makes one of the most noisome pieces of history that could befoul any age or country. Even the late member for South West Bethnal Green, whom the Liberals have raised to the Bench in order to find a seat for Masterman, declared in the House of Commons that it was one of the most glaring and disgraceful cases of “whitewashing” he bad ever known.
Of course, the Labour Party served this “ fighting democrat ” a good turn, for when he was attacked over the reformatory affair he retorted that only 17 members of the Labour Party voted against the Government, the rest voting for.
The Tory candidate, Mr. Hoffgaard, anti-alien,Tariff Reformer, and Strong Navy advocate, was as little worthy of support.
Mr. J. Scurr ran as a “Socialist and Labour” candidate. The S.D.P. in their manifesto (“Justice,” 22.7.11) state that “at the desire of the Bethnal Green Branch and a number of dissentient Radicals” they have put Scurr forward.
After criticising Masterman, “Justice” says “No wonder the Radicals of South-West Bethnal Green resent having this person foisted upon them. We are affording them the opportunity of showing their resentment in a practical way, by supporting” Scurr!
And over 5,000 electors seized the opportunity of going to the poll to show their resentment at having Scurr foisted upon them.
Scurr opened his election address with the statement that he came forward “at the request of a considerable body of electors.” He got 134 votes. So events proved that, true to S.D.P. traditions, he sought the electors’ suffrage with bluff and deceit. These 134 votes cost over £1 apiece, and in view of all the facts that there was no attempt to use the opportunity for Socialist propaganda, and that the most the S.D.P. could have hoped for was to let the Tory in—it would be interesting to know who paid the cost.
The methods used to obtain votes for Scurr were utterly contemptible. He said in his address : “I believe in Legislative Independence for Ireland, and should support the Irish Party in any action they may take if a Home Rule Bill is introduced.” That, of course, was a sop for the Irish. But for any professing Socialist to promise to support the Irish in any action they may take is nauseous, for from O’Connell’s day to the present the tactics of the Irish Party have been reactionary. He fishes for Nationalist votes by stating that he has been member of the E.C. of the United Irish League. In “Justice’’ (July 22) he says there is no bar to a Catholic becoming a Socialist.
Scurr angles for Radical votes by recording that he has been Lecture Secretary of the Metropolitan Radical Federation and Executive Councillor of the English Land Restoration League.
Various leading lights illuminated Mr. Scurr’s platform. Hyndman and Quelch, the strong navy champions; Victor Grayson, the bombastic assistant on Blatchford’s sinking ship; Hunter Watts, that founder of the S.D.P. who in 1903 supported Masterman because he thought his opponent a scoundrel—what discrimination !— and even Belloc, of the Anti-Socialist Union.
The latter, being a rabid Catholic, was expected to influence the very considerable body of Catholic electors, and being a disappointed man, deprived of his seat by the official Liberals, he was very wroth against their nominee, and did his best to lure the Radicals from his side.
Scurr issued as an election leaflet a reprint of “An Open Letter to a Bethnal Green Radical,” which appeared in Belloc’s newspaper, the “Eye Witness.” A passage says: “ It is in your power to resist and to resist without violating your traditions. You would not, perhaps, choose to vote Tory . . . Well, you have your alternative. There is a third candidate in the field —Mr. Scurr. . . . You may not agree with his opinions on abstract economic Socialism. But you know very well that the Nationalisation of the means of production will not come within the next few years: the obliteration of all popular rights, unless you stir yourself to prevent it, may, and probably will. A vote for Mr. Scurr means a vote for democracy and for the right of electors to choose their own member. A vote for Mr. Masterman means a vote for the Caucus.”
“Justice” (July 20) says: “Those Radicals should certainly be influenced by the article reprinted from the ‘Eye Witness’—’An Open Letter to a Bethnal Green Radical.’ ”
So did these very revolutionary Socialists (!) of the S.D.P. join hands with a virulent Anti-Socialist Unionist, sit cheek by jowl with the man who said (Catholic Truth Society’s Conference, 1909;: “He believed the prime political struggle of the future would be between his Church and the Socialist organisations . . . The Right of Property, the Catholic Church maintained, was exterior to and superior to the mere enjoyment or use of the thing possessed. The owner may be a bad man. and the thing owned may be of very little use to him and of great use to someone else, but to deprive him of it would be an offence, not only against him, but against the Power that created both him and you . . . the fundamental principle of property must not be denied.” It is the same old dirty game of treachery, of lending (or should we say hiring ?) themselves to the Tories, of throwing dust in the eyes of the workers, who, as they become more enlightened, find they have no use for the S.D.P. and its filthy methods.
It is gratifying to find the attempt to drag the name of Socialism in the mire meets with such small success.
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We shall have ready in a few days a report of the debate between Comrade Fitzgerald and Mr. A. H. Richardson, M.P. Order now. 32 pages, 1d. Poet free 1½d.
Have you read “Socialism and Religion,” the latest S.P.G.B. pamphlet? It will interest and enlighten you, whatever may be your outlook on the religious question. It is an important addition to working-class literature.