Party News: The Attempted Suppression of Free Speech in Islington
The attempt of the Islington Borough Council to suppress Socialist propaganda in their midst has proved ineffectual. Refused the hall of the Caledonian-road Baths, the Islington Branch of the Socialist Party commemorated the 40th. anniversary of the Paris Commune on Monday, March 20, at Myddleton Hall, Almeida Street. N. The meeting was largely attended, and, unlike so many Tory and Liberal gatherings, was marked by equal enthusiasm and orderliness.
Islington ratepayers may with advantage be reminded of the circumstances that led to this futile effort on the part of their municipal representatives to dictate what subjects may or may not be discussed in the borough.
In March last year our Islington comrades applied for and were granted the use of the Caledonian-road Baths for Commune-commemoration purposes. A deputation of ratepayers thereupon waited upon the Council to protest against the letting of the hall and to urge that our contract should be illegally cancelled. Their spokesman melodramatically predicted that, as the result of our teaching, the streets of Islington would be ”bathed in blood.” By a majority of sixteen the Council rejected the deputation’s appeal. Our meeting was held and was officially reported by the superintendent of the Baths as having been “conducted in a very quiet and orderly manner.”
Moreover, despite bourgeois apprehensions, the streets of the “merrie” mediaeval suburb did not run with blood. As a matter of fact, they did not even run with water, then or since; and, notwithstanding legitimate complaint, the filth which disfigured them in 1910 may be seen, with a year’s accretion, in 1911. So wretched an environment has its natural reflex in the conduct of certain residents and their elected representatives. To what other opinion can one come, after reading these observations from the Council’s discussion published in the Islington Daily Gazette of March 21, 1910 (italics ours):
“Alderman. Crole-Rees held that they ought to cancel, rule or no rule, whatever the cost might be. It was a sacrilege to hold such a gathering in the baths.
Alderman. Vorley thought technicalities ought not to stand in the way of cancelling. The meeting was not political—it was revolutionary, and something near to treason.
Mr. A. O. Clarke said any damages that might be obtained from the Council would be remote and small.”
That is to say, break the law of contract as against Socialists and trust the courts to uphold such breach.
The Islington Daily Gazette, an avowedly anti-Socialist paper, expressed in unstinted terms, in its issue of March 23, 1910, its view of the matter. The editor wrote:
“We are a little surprised that the Islington Borough Council should have made itself look ridiculous in the eyes of the public by endeavouring to prevent a meeting. . . . The conduct of the meeting has proved how childish were the objections raised in the Council to the letting of the hall to the Socialist Party. . . . The uninitiated might have thought, after listening to the debate on Friday night at the Town Hall, that the Socialists of England were suddenly overcome with blood lust.”
Yet, in defiance of the ridicule and censure thus heaped upon last year’s attempt to suppress free speech, the Council did not hesitate to reject this year’s application by our Islington comrades for the same meeting-place. The Baths and Wash-houses Committee wrote: “ Having regard to the fact that a large number of ratepayers objected to the meeting held last year at the Public Hall, and that a deputation waited upon the Council to protest against the meeting, the Committee do not feel justified in letting the hall again for the purpose named ”
On this refusal becoming known, Mr. B S. Bailey, an Islington ratepayer, published in the Islington Daily Gazette of March 14, 1911 an emphatic protest and a stinging rebuke of the Council’s own disregard of the amenities of public life. He said :
“I attended the Commune meeting held at the Baths last year, and I say (and challenge contradiction) that it was the most orderly and best conducted meeting that has been held in Islington by any political party. Surely a deputation of a dozen bigoted ratepayers and the Borough Council are not going to place themselves on a pedestal and tell us what we shall hear and what we shall not hear. . . . I would advise our servants (and I hope the Council will not object to this description since they address themselves as such when appealing for our suffrage at elections) to conduct their meetings in as orderly a manner as the Socialist Party, then we shall not have so many bear-garden meetings, for which West Islington is notorious.”
We ourselves were as little surprised at the absurd protest of the deputation as we are unmoved by the foolish action of the Council. The Paris Commune, alike in its mistakes and its achievements, is to us a guiding cresset. That alone would make it an object of hatred and fear to capitalism, the antagonism of whose puny champions, therefore, appears in our view not less natural than contemptible. How expect such dunces to know, or care for, the truth? No doubt, they willingly believe the deliberate lie that the Conmune caused the streets of Paris to run with blood. But, in very fact, the 1871 massacres were the work of the cowardly French master class and their criminal hangers-on. When these found heart to return from flight, with the support of their German conquerers, they were maddened at the successful efforts of the proletariat to direct, as themselves had failed to do, the machinery of administration. So they glutted their vengeance in a popular butchery, which ceased only through fear of a pestilence from the growing heaps of slain.
As the British heirs of those brave dead, brutally sacrificed to class interests, we welcome from the myrmidons of Capital any earnest of the class struggle already long declared. It is enough that with them fraternise the Social-Democrats, the Labourites, and other spurious friends of the exploited and oppressed worker. For us it is battle now and all the time!
The truth is, those struggling tradesman and professional snobs of Islington — parasites on parasites — obey blindly the preservative instincts engendered by our iniquitous system. They are slowly but surely being crushed between the upper and nether millstones of economic development, and their desperate hope to “get on” is only paralleled by their abject fear of “falling out.” Sycophants to their “betters,” bullies to their “inferiors,” they seek a frantic sanctuary in property, sacrificing to Mammon their present peace, their children’s future, and the whole welfare of their kind.
They hate the proletariat, because through the slightest mishap they may themselves be proletarianised. They oppress the toilers, because through their exploitation only can they hope to attain economic safety. And they, who scarcely know a night’s rest free from business worry, warn the still more miserable wage-slave to beware of Socialism. They are whited sepulchres from which judgment and conscience have been snatched. Is it other than madness to bolster up the competitive system when even a capitalist organ like the Daily News (March 23, 1911), in dealing editorially with the appalling universal increase of suicide, admits that to-day “even to live with an independent income is more of a strain than to struggle for a living was a century ago.”
Workers, we are out to destroy this man-made hell on earth. We can show you that the greatest of our social evils are directly traceable to the fundamental wrong of stealing from you the product of your work. We ask you to unite with us for the overthrow of capitalism and the establishment of the Socialist Commonwealth.