Our 48th Annual Conference
On the morning of Friday, April 11th, of this year, 69 delegates, representing all but one of our branches, assembled at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, London, for our 48th Annual Conference. The delegates sat down to criticise and discuss a 14-page report from the Executive Committee, together with two pages of amendments to rules, 22 resolutions and 13 items for discussion. This was quite a plateful to digest in the three days at their disposal. On Friday afternoon the delegates reached the all-time record total of 72 delegates.
Much of the discussion on Friday morning centred around proposals for reorganising and improving the procedure at our Conference. This was undoubtedly due to the fact that the increased size of our conference delegation during late years has shown some of our procedure to be suitable only for smaller bodies and that, as we grow in numerical strength, we must amend our methods in order to facilitate our work.
Another proposition which was obviously inspired by the increase in our membership was that all branches with a membership of over 50 should be encouraged to divide and set up new branches in nearby localities. Conference decided that to attempt to increase the number of our branches by these methods was undesirable and would not have the effect desired by the proposers of the item. Branches should be allowed to grow naturally without urging from Head Office.
The Executive Committee reported to the Conference on the Party’s finances during 1951. The report showed that losses made in previous years on our Summer Schools were not repeated during 1951. The cost of postage, printing and stationery increased by about 30 per cent, compared with 1950 and over 60 per cent, compared with 1949. The cost of producing the Socialist Standard was up by £150 during the year necessitating the increase of price by 1d. Expenditure on Hall Hire, Advertising, etc., was also greater so that altogether, “The end of 1951 sees us worse off financially (as far as balance is concerned) than a year previously, but with the problem of premises solved permanently.”
The main item of discussion on the Saturday session centred around our methods of propaganda. Heated arguments were advanced in favour or in opposition to our various avenues for expounding our case. All were agreed that it would be inadvisable to discard any one of those avenues but that we might with advantage concentrate on certain ones without neglecting any. The disadvantages attendant upon outdoor meetings in this age of noisy traffic, cinemas, radio, television, etc., were considered, but our inability to make use of the modem mass propaganda machinery, due to lack of finances and Government control, make it necessary for us to continue with older methods despite the fact that they may be less productive of results than of yore.
The training and encouragement of new speakers, the methods and manner of our approach to audiences, the social problems that we investigate and the flaws in our propaganda organisation were all debated, and delegates indulged in a lot of self-searching to find causes for dissatisfaction and remedies for the future.
Sunday afternoon was devoted mainly to a discussion on electoral activity and the Executive Committee was instructed to put forward candidates at the next General Election. Here a problem was encountered. It was recognised that a Parliamentary Election could be held at very short notice and that quick decisions would have to be made. The concern of delegates arose from the need to keep decisions on all major issues in the hands of the Party membership whilst at the same time being able to make such decisions in the limited time available.
Much of the discussion disclosed a dissatisfaction with the slow growth of our organisation, but never at any time did a delegate or other member suggest that we should depart from the rock-firm foundation on which our Party is built—a sound understanding of our object and principles on the part of all applicants for membership. We have seen other political parties which have called themselves socialist but have in reality been little more than rebellions, build up large organisations on the soft sand of a mass, politically-ignorant membership, and then crumble away to oblivion.
The report of the work done during 1951, which was under review, did not show anything sensational. The decline in interest in outdoor meetings was offset by an increase in the number of writers for the Socialist Standard, tending to show that many members consider written propaganda to be more effective than verbal.
Those members who sat through the three days of the Conference, whilst the sun was shining outside the Conference Hall, probably felt that they had experienced three days of dry-as-dust discussion. It has been said that this was not our most brilliant or enthusing Conference. Long hours of serious discussion was relieved by an occasional humorous wisecrack or, interjection. But it was business done. It was a real Conference in that the delegates assembled to confer on the many problems facing the Party and not to listen to long-winded oratory from a bunch of party commissars, as is the case at the Annual Conferences of other political parties. We can embark on the next year of socialist activity reinforced with the ideas and decisions that emanated from the Conference.
A successful social evening was held at our new Head Office on the Friday evening and the social and dance on Saturday evening was likewise a great success. The Conference concluded with the usual Party rally in the Conway Hall on Sunday evening.