Notes on ‘Solo Trumpet’ (T.A. Jackson)

Notes on “Solo Trumpet”

A book has just been published by Lawrence and Wishart which calls for some comments from us because of what it says and what it does not say. The book is “Solo Trumpet” by T. A. Jackson.

In the description of his early days, in the ’90’s and the beginning of the present century, Jackson gives an authentic picture of working class life at that time and of the struggles to clarify the socialist outlook. So also is his description of the events leading up to the formation of the Scottish Socialist Labour Party and the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Whilst he quite correctly points out that the two groups were dubbed “Impossibilists” at the time, by the leaders of the Social Democratic Federation, he frequently mentions the S.L.P. by name. But nowhere throughout his book does he refer to the S.P.G.B. by name; whenever we are concerned he always uses the old sneer “Impossibilist.” Furthermore whilst he is lavish in detail about other parties he does not give any details about the formation of our party. This is curious because Jackson was one of those who left the S.D.F. to take part on the formation of the Party. He was a member of the early Executive Committee, and he spoke for the Party regularly from 1904 until he left in 1909. From page 64 onwards he makes references to the “Impossibilists” but in such a way that at times it is difficult to know whether he is referring to us or to the S.L.P., though he generally refers to the latter under its own name.

The complete silence about the S.P.G.B. is intriguing, particularly since the other parties and groups, about which he has so much to say, are either dead or moribund, apart from the Labour Party which might as well be dead. At the beginning of the Twenties Sylvia Pankhurst told one our members—Hardy—that instructions had been issued to Communist Party members to have nothing to do with our Party and not even to mention it. Can it be that this ostrich policy still operates?

Jackson gives two reasons for leaving the Party, though only those who know the circumstances would know who he is writing about. One reason is correct, the other is apparently a face-saving after-thought.

From pages 87 to 91 he explains the circumstances that led him to leave the Party and to become a freelance speaker. These circumstances were well known to members at the time, and the present writer is not going to throw stones at him for what he did then. He was having a very rough time, was badly on the rocks, was unable to get employment and needed what money he could get as a free-lance speaker in order to obtain the means to live and keep his family. As he himself puts it, he tried all kinds of jobs,

    “But a permanent job eluded my seeking. In those circumstances I was driven at last to ‘turn professional’ and charge a fee for my services as a speaker. This was quite a recognised thing, in those days—indeed just as there were free-lance journalists (whose ranks I tried vainly to join) so there were free-lance Socialist propagandists—who lived wholly or partly upon their earnings as lecturers and propagandists.” (page 90.)

That this was the real explanation of his leaving the Party is borne out by letters he wrote to members at the time.

After a short time speaking for the I.L.P. in the West of England he went North to join J. W. Gott of the Freethought-Socialist League. He carried on the agitation for that body in Leeds up to the outbreak of war in 1914. This propaganda he refers to as his “whole Atheistic interlude” which “A stern critic would condemn” and after some general and footling explanations, he opens the next paragraph with the following statement:-

    “In any case, in the purely personal sense I had little choice: It was the only means of living open to me—I had burned my boats’ and there was no going back.” (page 98.)

Surely he has given in his own words the complete explanation of the reason for his leaving the Party and for his subsequent career? Why then does he try to slip in another slant in other parts of his book? For example on page 87 where he writes:-

    “Thus, as I had sickened of the doctrinaire rigidity of the ‘Impossibilists,’ and found both the Hyndmanites and the MacDonaldites hostile to the ideological struggle for Marxism,” etc.

Sickness “of the doctrinaire rigidity” had nothing to do with the action he took that burned his boats, but his subsequent activities may have influenced him to change his outlook—if he really has changed it!

Although he refers to the attitude of the B.S.P., the I.L.P., and the S.L.P., on the 1914 war, about which they were hopelessly at sea, he makes no reference to the opposition of the S.P.G.B. which was stated in clear terms immediately the war broke out. If he did not know this at the time he must have known it soon after. He tells us that he was in Leeds at the time war broke out and that it came as an unexpected shock with which he was associated, groping in the dark.

In the course of his book he speaks very well of two members of the Party who have passed out—Fitzgerald and Baritz—but refers to them as belonging to the “Impossibilists.” He tells a humorous story of Baritz’s escapades in Manchester, when he climbed on a roof to blow a horrible clarinet obligato through a ventilator shaft while Hyndman was speaking at an indoor meeting. The story is funnier still when one realizes that Baritz was perfectly serious. Jackson refers to Fitzgerald as the man who took him through Marxian Economics and writes very appreciatively of him. It may interest him to know that Fitzgerald always had a regard for him, in spite of the line he took. He is mistaken in thinking that he and George Hicks (another ex-member of the Party) were the only two “outsiders” at Fitzgerald’s funeral: there were others.


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