Two Old Members: Alex Anderson and Jack Fitzgerald
Anderson and Fitzgerald were two of the most active members of the Party during the first 25 years of its existence. Anderson was a house-painter and Fitzgerald a bricklayer; and in the early days both of them were often out of work. Both were excellent indoor and outdoor speakers and debaters, both were members of the Executive Committee during the whole of that time, and both held their convictions strongly and argued them fiercely and forcefully. They were both very active in internal party controversies, though sometimes on the opposite sides.
Yet in spite of their similarities they were, in many respects, opposites.
Anderson was tall, raw-boned, commanding; he was a first-class orator, with a high carrying voice, and could carry on speaking untiringly for hours at a stretch. He was at his best on the outdoor platform where his clarity, quick wits, rhetoric and caustic humour either drove his opponents into fits of laughter or reduced them to despair and impotent anger.
Fitzgerald, on the other hand, was short, compact, tough and had a deep powerful voice. He was at his best indoors. He prepared his material carefully, used simple language and put forward powerful logical and direct arguments, rarely employing humour or invective and never using rhetorical flourishes of any kind.
Anderson’s chief activity was speaking and he organised the Party’s outdoor propaganda in London for most of the time. He was in his element at rowdy spots where his forceful manner dominated the audience and quietened the disturbers. Before the Party was formed he was on the Provincial Executive of the Social Democratic Party and was active in Scotland.
Just before the 1914-18 war broke out the Party raised a fund to put a paid organiser into the field and Anderson was appointed to the job. The outbreak of war, and the difficulties into which the Party landed on account of it, put an end to the project.
In 1925 Anderson developed arterio-sclerosis and died in 1926 at the early age of 47.
Although a regular and active speaker Fitzgerald’s principal interests were writing and taking classes in economics. He was on the Editorial Committee of the Socialist Standard from the early days until his death, and he wrote many excellent theoretical articles. He wrote the first article on the Russian Revolution, which appeared in the August, 1917, number and placed that upheaval in its proper perspective.
Fitzgerald was a first-class debater; two of the debates he represented the Party in were reprinted as pamphlets under the titles the ‘Conservative Party” and the “Liberal Party”—others appeared in the Socialist Standard. The two that appeared in pamphlet form were reported verbatim and reading them discloses how clearly, simply and accurately, he spoke.
Fitzgerald was exceedingly helpful to young members, always willing and anxious to assist them in their studies by the loan of books, advice in their reading, and the resolving of knotty points.
In spite of his work for the Party Fitzgerald found time for other studies. He passed an examination for building construction and, after a period, teaching mathematics to aspirants for the Indian Civil Service, he got a permanent job teaching at the Brixton School of Building.
Fitzgerald was an assiduous cyclist; he and the small-framed bicycles he designed for himself, were inseparable. He went to meetings and everywhere else on his bicycle, wet or fine.
In 1925 Fitzgerald contracted kidney trouble. He got temporary relief from an operation but the trouble returned again towards the end of 1928. He returned from a cycling holiday in Austria, Italy and Switzerland, to undergo two operations, and died in the spring of 1929 at the age of 56, a fortnight after the second operation.
Anderson and Fitzgerald, each in their own way, were sound guiding influences in the formative period of the Party’s history. When they died in the twenties they were sad losses to the Party. They did their work during the toughest part of the Party’s life when speaking was difficult, audiences hard to get, and the Party known to few, and they did not live to see the fruit of their labours.