Party News: Annual Conference, 1948
“It’s been the best conference I’ve ever attended,” said one old member of the party after the Conway Hall rally on Easter Sunday evening, and, to judge by the enthusiasm of the majority of those present at the rally, his views must have been shared by nearly everyone. It was three days’ hard slogging for all of us, but we enjoyed it because in our own democratic way we spent the time in keeping the revolutionary weapon sharp. What a lesson in democracy in action there is to learn from the manner in which Socialists run their organisation! The whole conference belonged to delegates sent with their branch’s mandates; Executive Committee members present had the right to speak—but not to act.
Here are some of the things decided upon by conference. The first item on Friday morning brought delegates up against our most urgent problem, the question of financial resources. In spite of a plea from provincial delegates, conference found itself compelled to instruct the Executive Committee not to proceed during 1948 with filling the vacant posts of paid organisers, but to review the question again in twelve months’ time. The decision was made solely because of our weak financial position. The discussion of propaganda took a lot of time on Friday, but as propaganda is the heart of our activity the time was well spent Conference rejected the idea of appointing a full-time propagandist in London as opposed to full-time provincial propagandists; it discussed the appropriate propaganda in the present political situation; it declined to alter the party tradition of giving free admission to all our meetings, and it declared that we should be prepared to debate with any political party —this after turning down resolutions which would have kept Fascist organisations off our debating platforms. Conference then altered our rule book by making the literature distribution department the responsibility of the Executive Committee and not that of a Literature Secretary appointed by party ballot.
On the second day we started with greetings from companion parties overseas and from an old member in Vienna who sent a very inspiring letter. After this we took the item “Electoral Action,” and after a long discussion the branches, through their delegates, overwhelmingly defeated a resolution which wanted us to defer putting forward parliamentary candidates for the time being. Members of the Independent Labour Party, please take special note of this! Under the same heading we went on to discuss the attitude of a Socialist M.P. in the House of Commons towards reforms. This question was the subject of a prolonged series of debates in the party many years ago, and the position approved then was re-approved by conference without a dissentient. Those who are interested can find the party’s attitude given in an answer to a correspondent in the February, 1910, issue of the “Socialist Standard.” This answer is, by the way, being circulated in the full conference report sent to members. Space prevents us giving it here.
Late on the afternoon of the second day we started dealing with our publications. The first thing we talked about was the price being charged for our pamphlets. Some branches thought that they were too dear, and others that this sort of question was better left to the discretion of the Executive Committee. In the end a majority supported the latter view, but only after a keen debate. Then delegates really got to work. Pamphlets, pamphlets, pamphlets and still more pamphlets were asked for. The conference was reminded of paper and financial difficulties, but delegates were not deterred. They had the feeling that if we got stuff ready for the press, somehow or another we’d find the paper and the money too. Pamphlets specially mentioned were a short one on ‘‘War and the Working- Class,” a revised edition of “Questions of the Day,” and ‘‘Trade Unions.” Every month in this column we ask readers to help us financially, and we make the appeal again. Send as much as you can as quickly as you can. Socialists want all the written ammunition they can get hold of—it will be well used, but one of the curses of capitalism is that printing has to be paid for. Do what you can! Excuse the digression.
After pamphlets the “Socialist Standard” came under fire with a discussion on the desirability of publishing articles dealing with side issues on which party members might have varying views. No decision was arrived at and there was a wide divergence of opinion among delegates. It was pointed out to conference that the present policy is to publish articles providing they do not conflict with our position even if they contain material on other questions which represented only the writer’s point of view. One branch was in favour of discontinuing the publication of “Party News Briefs” in the “Socialist Standard” as soon as possible, but found very little support. Branches appeared to consider them useful and informative.
Another revival in party history was a branch’s suggestion to recommence an inter-party journal for circulation among members. We had one some years ago which had a brief existence before difficulties of production killed it. Here again no decision was arrived at, and delegates did not appear anxious, to commit themselves on the question. The discussion on party publications took us nearly up to-lunch-time on the third day, but during the morning conference had a report on the success of the Head Office tutorial class. They learned that the effort to turn out tutors able to run classes for party members was progressing in a very healthy fashion. The committee running the class was satisfied with the results, particularly as they aimed at something that took much longer than just preparing members for speaking on the party platforms.
Most of the afternoon of the third day was spent on an item of discussion which covered the method used by the party in its approach to workers organised in the trade unions, particularly those in factories, mills, mines, etc. A very wide field was traversed—much too wide to attempt to report here, but the final result was a request to the Executive Committee to get out a pamphlet, on Trade Unions as quickly as possible.
And so our 44th Annual Conference came to an end, and while most of us were washed out physically, our spirits were high and our minds refreshed. In all, during the conference we had 63 delegates representing 23 branches. And now for the relaxing side. First of all on Saturday evening the party had its annual fling at the Conway Hall where amiability was combined with agility on the dance floor. In view of the astonishing dexterity of some of the older members with their feet it is to be regretted that we only have these jive-sessions once a year. And then we think it reasonable to classify on the relaxing side the rally on Sunday evening. The hall was all but full and the whole atmosphere was one of enthusiasm and party well-being. The speakers concentrated their attention on the progress of the party, particularly in relation to those organisations which had derided us for what they claimed to be our ‘‘slow” methods. As they die one by one we gain in strength; and the audience provided an atmosphere which was stimulating and invigorating. They also donated £40 to our funds. And now for another twelve months’ struggle towards our objective.