Letters: Remembering the Past
Next month will be the centenary of the formation of the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904. To mark this, the Socialist Standard will be expanded to 48 pages (the price will remain the same), with articles about the activities of the Socialist Party over the decades and how others have seen these as well as on our specific contributions to the development of socialist theory. In anticipation, we publish below some of the contributions we have received.
To say times were hard when Glasgow branch was formed in 1924 would be a serious understatement. The branch consisted of working men, only some of whom had jobs, and money was so scarce that in the early days branch meetings were sometimes held in the open because members couldn’t afford to rent a hall.
If funds were lacking then energy and commitment were not, so members threw themselves into making the party known in the city. John Higgins, the first branch secretary, was particularly effective at this and his meetings Glasgow Green gave many Glaswegians their first introduction to the party’s case.
To branch members knowledge meant everything and they were determined to have as much of it as they could, so classes on Marxist theory, logic, etc, were an essential feature, but the main activity was always indoor and, especially, outdoor meetings. Glasgow branch always had a reputation for having first-class speakers and even our opponents, whatever else they thought of us, conceded that.
Two outstanding examples of this were Alex Shaw and Tony Mulheron. Shaw was an old-time street corner orator with an ability to have his audiences in stitches – his lampooning of some of Glasgow’s left-wing folk heroes, especially the “Red Clydesiders”, was hilarious. Mulheron, by contrast, was in his element on the indoor platform. Tony was extremely articulate and had a witty, flamboyant speaking style that could turn even the driest-sounding theoretical subject into an entertainment.
During the war activities were stepped up. Ever more meetings were held and new, younger speakers came forward. The wartime scene was brightened by visits from London speakers taking a break from the Blitz and, later on, doodlebugs and V2 rockets.
After “peace” was declared the momentum was maintained and the branch’s biggest ever audiences attended meetings at the St. Andrew’s Halls and the Cosmo cinema. Membership increased and the branch even acquired its own premises. In 1949 a second branch was formed in the city and this lasted until 1961.
In the late 1950s an influx of younger members revitalised activities, and in the 1960s candidates were fielded in three parliamentary and five municipal elections. More outdoor speaking stances were opened and there were public debates aplenty with Labourites, Leninists and others.
Added to all this was a winter programme of Sunday evening indoor meetings which ran from October to April and continued for many years. This meant that members had to wrack their brains to come up with titles for around 30 meetings every winter!
Today the old propaganda methods, which were the branch’s strength, are all but finished. People will no longer come to indoor meetings or stop and listen to those held outdoors, and this means that the branch has had to adapt to the new situation. Now we organize day schools, discussion groups, hand out leaflets at demos, provide speakers and other assistance for party activities elsewhere in the country etc.
Glasgow branch has for eighty years played its part in the party’s activities. Its members have, in the past, given generously of their time, effort and abilities, and today’s members, despite very different and difficult conditions, strive to maintain this record.
Memories of Camberwell Branch
At the end of World War II and a landslide victory for the Labour Party, there was a greater public interest in politics. The Communist Party had a large number of members as a result of pro-Russia sentiment at the end of the war. During this period the Camberwell Branch was formed with about a dozen members. A decent room was hired from the Labour Party in Camberwell. The local MP Freda Corbett used to enter the room apologising for disturbing the meeting. She was unaware of the fact that we were not the Labour Party. When the SPGB contested Paddington North in 1945, realising we were not the Labour Party we were given notice to quit.
The branch held meetings on Sundays at East Street, Walworth market place. These took place at 12 o’clock midday. The local stall-holders regarded our arrival with suspicion and puzzlement. They could not figure out what was in it for us. However, when we sold Party literature and took collections they considered we were getting the proceeds.
The meetings were successful. Only one meeting could be held at a time because of Home Office regulations. The Communist Party who, locally, had many more members were competing with us for the pitch and on one or two occasions they succeeded. The Camberwell Branch forced a vote to get to the meeting site earlier in order to “book the pitch”. This resulted in us getting there at one o’clock in the morning, so the pitch could be occupied. The Communist Party stopped competing and disappeared from East Street for many months.
A handful of dedicated socialists saw off an organisation with several hundred local members. The Communist Party today is virtually non-existent . . . The Socialist Party is still alive.
Since the beginning of the 1970s there have been socialists in Sweden, sharing the ideas of the World Socialist Movement. For a number of years some of them produced a journal, Världssocialism (World Socialism). Many of the articles in it were translations from the Socialist Standard.
After several years of informal work with Världssocialism and other socialist activities a handful of socialists living in Uppsala and Stockholm decided to organise themselves formally as Världssocialistiska Gruppen (the World Socialist Group). At its first meeting in Uppsala on Saturday 20 January 1979 the group adopted a slightly modified version of the Object and Declaration of Principles of the Companion Parties of Socialism. The modifications had to do with the fact that the Group was not a political party, but had as its object to work for the formation of a Socialist Party in Sweden.
The work of the Group centred on the production of a series of pamphlets called Världssocialistiska häften. The first of these booklets was a translation of the SPGB-pamphlet Questions of the Day. Other issues of Världssocialistiska häften dealt with Soviet state capitalism, capitalism and war, Marxism 100 years after Marx´ death, and how life is in capitalism and can be in socialism.
Most of the members and a few sympathizers were in their twenties when the group was formed. After a few years, as some of them established families or got jobs in other places — and one or two lost interest in socialism altogether – it became increasingly difficult to maintain organised activities. During the past ten years or so Världssocialistiska Gruppen, although not formally dissolved, has not carried out any organised activities. Individual members read the Socialist Standard and sometimes see each other.
Hopefully there are people in Sweden who in the not too distant future will find that they agree with the object and principles of the World Socialist Movement and then take action in order to reawaken the group. To achieve its object, the establishment of a Socialist Party in Sweden, will be a tiny task compared with bringing about the object of such a party.
ÅKE SPROSS, Uppsala, Sweden