An S.D.P. Curio

A surprising discovery has been recently made in an old, old Roman camp at Elslack, near Skipton. It was a volume shaped like an exercise book, made of that inferior kind of paper which stamped it at once as reminiscent of the twentieth century. In some strange way it had become mingled with the potteries and coins of the old camp, perhaps left there by some twentieth century explorer. A thorough examination proved it to be an old minute book belonging to the Burnleigh Branch of the Social Democratic Party, and as luckily a specialist in things historical is now investigating the wobbling and bewildering policy of this one time well-known party it will perchance be of valuable historical interest. I write a few extracts culled at random from this mysterious volume.
The Secretary, Mr. I. Dirving, read the minutes of previous meeting. Twenty-five members present. Questions were invited on the minutes. Tertullian inquired about the antics of Mominsen, who had recently joined the Tariff Reformers (these being one of the side-tracking sects of that time). Was it true that this Mominsen had been cheekily saying that he had as much right to advocate Tariff Reform as a palliative as other Socialists had Free Imports? Another member remarked that Mominsen was gulling the workers by a deliberate distortion of the word “palliative,” for was not Socialism itself a palliative?
Arising out of the minutes Euselrius enquired as to the truth in the report of a member mentioned having tried to form a suicide club, consisting of those members of the branch who were Conscious Pessimists, and uttered in unison an amount of commonplace pseudo-philosophic pessimism anent the impossibility of cultivating the working class—not including in the phrase “working class,” of coarse, the members named. He was informed that the allegation was an S.P.G.B. calumny, and that one S.P.G.B. firebrand in particular was persistently commenting on the alleged indifference of certain S.D.Peers because they had, after a few years’ experience of reform agitation been “fed up” with it. Many other members of the branch had also been charged by the same clique with holding a foolish fatalism and with being like those Eastern philosophers mentioned by Gibbon who “sat motionless year after year absorbed in the contemplation of their own navels.”
Celsus questioned about members of the branch sitting on the directive board of the Co-operative Society, whether the Society was a revolutionary body, and could members improve working-class conditions by being on the picnic or library committees of the society. He was told that fine work had been done by our members, that margarine was being bought shillings a cwt cheaper owing to the exertions of one of our members, and that Mr. H. G. Wells’ great work, “New Worlds for Old,” had been placed on the library shelves.
Origen asked the secretary if they could not obtain more uniformity in their speakers, that one week the speaker would condemn palliatives and the four following weeks perhaps the lecturers would speak of reforms with laudation. It was pointed out that the action of a certain organisation made it imperative that occasionally we have speakers who would put the straight position, but it would be seen to at election times that the more extreme men were silenced in some way.
Arising from the correspondence a member said it was sad to think the Sunday morning discussion class was to be abandoned, and what was the reason? Answered that the previous year had seen a successful choir and cycling club, but that for some incomprehensible reason the discussion class had been a complete fiasco. Besides, a discussion class attracted a certain sententious type of individual not possessed of the sweet reasonableness of the choir members. They saw the dilemma. The wreckers or blackleg Socialists would attend and argue indefinitely, while their own members were apathetic toward politics. It had, however, been definitely decided to form a class for the study of botany; a dart club was also to be originated. He believed, said the secretary, their comrades at Sarle Hyke boasted the finest dart team in the Kingdom.
Augustine questioned on the matter of Socialist councillor Harry Lee Henry being on the committee of the Guild of Help, an organisation formed for the economic distribution of alms. The secretary said that the Guild of Help was a non-party organisation, witness the fact that both Liberal and Tory were connected with it. The larger a material platform, remarked the chairman, the more it would accommodate, but the larger a mental platform the smaller the number it would hold. As an organisation they must be tolerant so as to attract all and sundry to the fold.
Epictetus said: arising from this point, had their candidates come to any agreement on the reform question? It was answered that one was opposed to secular education, another to compulsory evening schools, another to proportional representation, but they had united on the common ground of a complete abolition of the smoke nuisance, and incidentally on the question of Socialism.
Lucian asked could they not amalgamate with the I.L P. in the town and thus prevent confusion in the minds of the workers. They had a common aim, Socialism, and agreed on the desirability of working with the trade union forces. Why not present a united front to the enemy? Answer: the S.D.P. as an organisation refused to join the National Labour Party, but locally individual branches had a free hand. Just as a general on the field of battle must adapt his tactics in different parts of the field to varying requirements, must sometimes practice contradictory tactics at one and the same time, may both be traitor and patriot, cautious tactician and daring fighter; just as in logic a thing can both be and not be—
Here the manuscript ends.
John A. Dawson

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