Thursday, November 14, 2013

Two old members (1954)



From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

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, rawboned, 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.
Gilmac.

Charles Lestor (1954)

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

I first met Charlie Lestor over 30 years ago. I was still a kid, he was a mature and impressive man. His effect on the eager audiences of the post 1914-18 war was electric.

He had just arrived in this country after 20 years in Canada and the U.S.A. His Canadian style, accent and rig made him remarkable enough; his address to the large audiences of unemployed ex-servicemen was extraordinary. When most of the I.L.P. and Communist "Unemployed organisers" devoted their attention to personal invective against individual ministers; or the usual temporary nostrums for increase of the dole, or (much more) prevention of its decrease. Lestor never failed, in my hearing, at least, to go straight to the root of the matter.

He just could not speak to an audience without dealing with the capitalist system. From that day to this, I have never wavered in the opinion that of all the speakers I have heard, Lestor, in those days, was out on his own as a powerful exponent of Marxian economics in a popular trenchant style.

In clipped and rugged American terms, without a word wasted, he would grip a large audience from the first phrase and proceed to build up a rigorously logical exposition of surplus value.

"There's no sentiment in Business," "that profit is wrung out of the hides and carcases of the working-class," "those wages amount to just enough fried fish, chips and beer to keep you working."

These and similar phrases were as typical of Charlie Lestor as the shock of hair, the bushy eyebrows covering the twinkling eyes, and the missing index finger on the waving hand. Tanned by the prairie suns and the Yukon snows as at home in 'Frisco or Winnipeg as in Stepney or Hyde Park, he was a modern cosmopolite, a man of all countries and all trades.

For many years I lost touch, but immediately remade his acquaintance on joining the S.P.G.B. in 1939. Much water had flown under the Bridge, the years were beginning to take their toll. In the bitter weather of 1941 it was Charles Lestor who attended regularly at the Gloucester Place office of the Party, in a Balaclava hat, sometimes with frost on his eyebrows, to give instruction and counsel to young members in between air raid warnings. Subsequently I read through the minutes of those talks which covered a wide field of History, Economics and Current Affairs.

In 1945, the post of full-time propagandist fell vacant. At an age when most men ask nothing more than their carper-slippers Lestor applied and was appointed. As Central Organiser of the Party at the time I went over to see him in N.E. London, and made sure, as it was snowing heavily, that he had some reasonably warm equipment for the bitter trip to Glasgow that night.

The years passed rapidly by, and many were the demands of the Party on Lestor's services. I cannot recall one occasion when these were refused or denied. Whether the meeting was large or small, far or near, early or late, he accepted as a matter of course.

As time marched on, it became apparent that even a man as vigorous, tough and energetic as Charlie Lestor could not beat Anno Domini indefinitely. Still the indomitable spirit refused to give up. In weather when he should have been indoors at home, he was regularly at Lincolns Inn and Tower Hill. The once powerful and strident tones which would ring out like a blast across a large audience, were sinking into an almost inaudible whisper.

Never did his sense of humour desert him, his remarks were now often punctuated by a quiet chuckle. He tended in later years, to an exaggerated optimism with regard to Socialist which other well-known Socialist speakers have also expressed.

During the Party's tenure of Rugby Chambers he once remarked to me "When you've stopped learning, you've stopped living." Surely that explains the astounding tenacity with which he stuck to his efforts as a Socialist propagandist, for so long.
Horatio

F. C. Watts (1954)

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

F. C. Watts was an active member of the group that came out of the Social Democratic Federation to take part in the founding of our Party.

He was an excellent writer and contributed many articles on theoretical subjects to the Socialist Standard as well as putting our position in written debates with opponents. He was also a good speaker; he spoke quietly and forcefully without indulging in rhetoric, and his lectures were packed with useful information and logical argument. He was particularly good when speaking on theoretical subjects.

For many years Watts conducted well attended classes on Economics at our various Head Offices; many writers and speakers, in the years before 1914, were greatly indebted to him for advice and for the information he so willingly imparted.

In the early years of the Party Watts undertook the work of keeping in touch with those abroad who were in sympathy with our outlook, and he contributed articles to the journal of the old Socialist Party of Canada The Western Socialist. He also translated a number of articles from foreign journals that had been written by prominent radical writers, such as Guesde.

Watts was a carver by trade, and a first class craftsman; some of the internal decorations of the ill-fated Titanic were his work, and he also did some of the carving on the coronation chair of George V.

Like Fitzgerald he was fond of cycling and till late in life he could be met on some of the interesting byways of England and in some of the quaint old inns.

Watts was active from the early days of the Party until late in the twenties; then he seems to have quietly faded out and we have not heard of him for many years.

It may interest those who have read our pamphlet "Socialism and Religion," to know that it was drafted by Watts. It was one of the most popular pamphlets, both here and in America, that the Party produced and a certain Bishop Brown quoted from it, and paid it a tribute, in his pamphlet "Christianism and Communism."
Gilmac.

A. Jacobs

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Very early in his working life Jacobs became interested in the struggles of the working class. As a young man he lived in Edmonton, then a rising suburb of North London.

By occupation a cigar maker, he had to make the journey daily to Battersea, in South London, having to rise early every morning to reach the workshop.

With ever-increasing numbers of workers on the platform, and few trains to take them, the workers were aroused into agitating for increased trains and workmen's facilities for cheap fares. Meetings were held, and into these Comrade Jacobs flung himself with zeal. One morning he was arrested on Liverpool Street Station and charged with disturbing the peace. His trial took place at the Guildhall, and he was defended by Mr. Thompson, at that time Editor of Reynolds News, and acquitted.

He was an active member of the Cigar Makers Union and served on their executive committee. Then he became interested in the propaganda of the old Social Democratic Federation and eventually joined them. At about this period of his life he experienced considerable unemployment and, with a young family, suffered chronic privation and want.

Very shortly after the formation of the S.P.G.B. he decided to join the Party following his resignation from the S.D.F.

For many years he was an enthusiastic worker and spoke at four, five and six meetings a week, very frequently addressing two meetings on Sundays. Following the outbreak of the war in 1914 he never hesitated to hold meetings in Victoria Park, East London, notwithstanding hostile demonstrations  at every meeting he addressed.

When "peace" was declared he threw himself with redoubled energy once more into the struggle for Socialism, and only gave up owing to advancing age and decline in his health.

He became almost an institution on the meeting pace in Victoria Park, for he seldom missed a meeting on Sundays during many years.

The Party has produced many great workers in its cause, but few gave more ungrudgingly than our old comrade.

He died in his 70th year, early in 1940.
C. F. C.



Moses Baritz (1954)

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Moses Baritz was one of the most forceful and courageous characters who ever entered the ranks of the S.P.G.B. Of less than average height, bulkily built and with a stentorian voice, he was a ruthless and merciless man to meet in political debate. He had an uncanny memory, was a terror to his opponents and sometimes an embarrassment to his friends.

He was a Manchester man and much of his political work was done in his native city, and London. He was also active in the U.S.A. and Australia. In 1919 he was invited by comrades to give a series of lectures in New Zealand. On landing in that country he was met by detectives who shadowed him during his brief stay. He became a torment to New Zealand labour leaders and was soon arbitrarily deported. Finding it difficult to enter another country he spent some time on the sea to the annoyance of the shipping company.

Of the numberless anecdotes about Baritz's political activities we can give only one. Once, in Manchester, forcefully debarred from entering a meeting to be addressed by H.M. Hyndman of the old Social Democratic party, because it was known that he would be an annoyance to the speaker, Baritz climbed on to the roof and blew his clarinet down the ventilator shaft until he was enticed down and allowed to take his seat in the hall.

Later in life his detailed knowledge of music secured him a responsible job with a well known gramophone and radio company where he was highly valued. He broadcast on musical subjects on several occasions, and frequently combined his musical knowledge with his Socialist propaganda. Failing eyesight caused him to wear pebble lens spectacles and in the 1930's his bulky frame, white curly hair and dominant voice, were met with mixed feelings by men of all political parties throughout this country. When he died in April, 1938, at the age of 54 the S.P.G.B. lost a treasured and colourful personality.
W. Waters.

A. E. Jacomb (1954)

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

A. E. Jacomb was an active member of the Social Democratic Federation at the end of the last century and the beginning of this, and was a member of a group which came of that organisation to form the Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1904, helping to shape the Party's fundamental principles and policy. He was a compositor by trade and in the early years of the Party, in fact up to the beginning of the 'twenties, he was responsible for the printing of the Socialist Standard and pamphlets. In this work he was a tower of strength, for the job was certainly not a sinecure. Often enough there were not sufficient articles to fill the paper and Jacomb had to make up the ret, under various pseudonyms, as he was doing the composing.

For many years, up to the end of the first Great War, Jacomb was a member of the Executive Committee and the Editorial Committee. He was a fine writer with a keen and caustic humour, contributing many excellent articles to the Socialist Standard. He also drafted two of the Party pamphlets: "Socialism" and "The Socialist Party: Its Principles and Policy." He gave the best he could do to the Party although his life was one long struggle against financial difficulties.

It was a pitiful business that, towards the end of his life, Jacomb found himself in opposition to the Party about his attitude to the Spanish upheaval and to the last Great War, which led him to make a number of extravagant statements in the heat of controversy. But although he believed the policy of the Party was wrong, he still held fast to his fundamental socialist convictions. The vehemence of his criticism was due to his belief that the Party was on a wrong and fatal track, and to his anxiety to put it back again on what he thought was the right track.

Jacomb was a very fine character; simple and sincere, and a genuine and earnest champion of socialist principles for the whole of his long life.

He suffered from heart trouble for many years before his death in the autumn of 1946.

A. Kohn

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kohn became interested in politics when very young, taking part in discussions at Marble Arch, Hyde Park, when only  a youth. In 1908 he joined the Party and was soon very active as a writer and speaker; he spoke on the outdoor platform nearly every evening for some years.

Soon after joining the party he started a private book agency and was the principal means of bringing English translations of foreign Socialist classics to many of us at a time when they were little known in England.

Practically all his life Socialism and books were his main interests. He read voraciously and few had his knowledge of books, past and present, on different aspects of the working-class movement. He was a forceful and humorous speaker, both indoor and outdoor, and early in the 1914 war he had some rowdy meetings. At one of his meetings in 1914 at Marble Arch the crowd rushed the platform, after a hectic meeting, and the police had to escort him through an angry crowd of "patriots" and across the road to the tube station.

During 1915, when the passing of the Conscription Act became certain, Kohn left for America, where he remained for about six years and made many friends in Canada and the U.S.A. While out there he wrote and spoke on Socialism and also organised classes. He sent articles to the Socialist Standard from America, and the last one, in 1917, was picked up by the American authorities, who took exception to its anti-war contents and made considerable efforts to trace him. They also pressed the English authorities for assistance, and the latter called Fitzgerald up for questioning and kept him in a cell for a night. They also had his sister along at Scotland Yard for interrogation. However, they never Kohn and the matter was eventually dropped.

Arising out of the above police investigation there were two humourous incidents, which it seems to the present writer are worth recording. Fitzgerald was very methodical and also extremely critical of members whose "stupidity" helped the authorities to collect members whose military position was doubtful. When Fitzgerald was arrested and searched the police found in his pocket his address book, which contained the addresses of most of us! The other incident concerned Kohn's sister. Although she was secretary of the Party at the time, the police failed to discover that she was even a member of the Party.

Kohn was on the Executive Committee and the Editorial Committee before 1914,and he was again on the Editorial Committee from 1924 to 1929. He wrote many excellent articles for the Socialist Standard and was by nature very lively, full of jokes, and fond of company. Even when he was dying, humour still stirred in him.

A litle while before the second world war his health broke down, and in 1940 he had to go into hospital for treatment. While there the hospital was hit by a bomb, and a few weeks later the room where he lodged was badly blasted. After a couple of years out of hospital, T.B. developed, and early in 1944 he was back in hospital again, where he remained until his death on the 28th December, 1944. He was twice evacuated on account of the hospital being hit by flying bombs, finally reaching the temporary hospital quarters in a large house in North Wales where he died at the age of 56.

Kohn's brain was crammed with knowledge of the international working-class movement, and he was intellectually generous to members and sympathisers—always ready to answer a question or explain a point. He gave almost the whole of his life to the struggle for Socialism.
Gilmac.

The Party in Scotland (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

The big mystery is, why did the Socialist Party of Great Britain take so long to become established in Scotland? After all, when the London Impossibilists formed the party in 1904 socialist ideas were not completely absent north of the border. The probable explanation is that the Scottish Impossibilists, because they were surrounded by heavy industry, fell for the Industrial Unionism ideas of the Socialist Labor Party of America. So it was the SLP which flourished in Scotland instead, and not until that organisation had shot its bolt after the first world war did the SPGB make any impact.

Even so, it is surprising that the party had no branches in cities like Edinburgh and Glasgow before the 1920s. Edinburgh branch was formed first, in 1922, but never really established itself and after an in-and-out existence died just before the war in 1939. In Glasgow the story was entirely different and while the party's ideas were slow to take root there, once they did they dug deep and, except for a brief spell in the late twenties, there has been a strong branch in the city ever since.

Now comes another mystery. Edinburgh was not the party's first branch in Scotland. Incredibly, this was in what was then the small fishing town of Fraserburgh in the north-east. The details of this branch first appeared in the Socialist Standard Branch Directory in August 1910 and vanished after May 1911. Who this small band were and what happened to them remains unsolved and no other record of them exists in the party.

Glasgow branch was not formed until 1924, although there had been individual members in the city before then. Times were harsh with much unemployment among members but gradually the branch began to make itself known. Outdoor meetings were held in and around Glasgow and members made their presence felt at meetings run by other organisations. A whiff of the political atmosphere of the period can be had from a lengthy report in the Socialist Standard for August 1931 of a street corner debate with the Communist Party. It is extremely doubtful, for a variety of reasons, if a similar event could be held today.

Inevitably, the branch produced its share of stalwart personalities. John Higgins was the first branch secretary and remains in the party today, having given a lifetime's service for socialism. John's indoor and outdoor meetings provided an introduction to socialism for many future members and his efforts were crucial in establishing the party in the city.

Outdoor Orator
Then there was Alex Shaw. Whatever his failings, Alex was everybody's idea of what an outdoor orator ought to be. Alex didn't speak, he roared and could keep it up for hours with every sentence guaranteed to have the audience either in a rage or, much more likely, in stitches. He had a turn of phrase that was unique. For example, listeners would be warned of the reformist proposals made by "Tory diehard, Labour blowhard, gasbag Trotskyite and Communist blatherskite"! Alex made so many appearances on our platform down the years that local wits referred to us as "the Shawcialist Party" and he spoke for the branch only two days before he died in 1966.

Thanks to the work done by the branch the socialist message spread and branches were formed in Hamilton and Dundee in the mid-thirties. Neither survived the war but the present Edinburgh branch still holds meetings in Dundee and we shall surely see new branches of the party in these and other towns.

If anything, socialist activity in Glasgow hotted up during the war and speaking engagements in the city were much sought after by London speakers eager to get away from the bombing in the capital. Eventually the branch was strong enough to have its own headquarters where public meetings and education classes were held. There was a plan to contest the 1945 general election but it was not until 1962 that the first genuine socialist candidate stood in Scotland, when North Kelvin Ward was contested in the municipal elections. This campaign broke new ground for the party when Tony Mulheron became our first representative to appear on British television. In the next four years the branch contested five municipal and three parliamentary elections. Night after night members canvassed the entire area, sold large amounts of literature and distributed mountains of leaflets and manifestoes. It was a tremendous effort although the returns from it, other than the few votes we got, were disappointing.

The Mound
Today, the work of the party goes on. Edinburgh branch, now re-established and with its own speakers and writers, continues to hold outdoor meetings throughout the summer at The Mound in the heart of the city. There the locals and many overseas visitors, especially during the Edinburgh Festival, hear the case for the abolition of the wages system and its replacement by production for use.

In Glasgow a high level of indoor and outdoor meetings, debates, literature sales is maintained although the local authorities seem determined to make the holding of political outdoor meetings as difficult as possible. However, this method of communicating is probably doomed anyway, and new methods will have to be developed by both branches.

Does our resolve never weaken? The truth is that sometimes is does: some members simply give up because they cannot see socialism coming in their lifetime. But recently a few Glasgow members visited a veteran comrade in the city, and although practically disabled his mind is still as sharp as ever and we sat and talked, over a few drinks, about old times. Inevitably, we got around to talking about the future society and what it would be like. Our old comrade observed that he would never live to see socialism but he had no regrets. He told us "The most wonderful experience of all would be to live in socialism. The next best is to spend your life fighting for it". Those words perfectly sum-up the socialist attitude and no resolve could stay weakened for long in the face of inspiration like that.

The party has had over fifty years of struggle in Scotland and despite the hard work and sacrifice all we have won is a foothold. But we survive and are determined to ensure that the socialist case will continue to be heard in this part of the world.
Vic Vanni

The Russian Revolution - Its impact on the Socialist Movement

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

When the Russian Revolution broke upon war-weary Europe in 1917 most of the present members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain were wither unborn or very young. To most of us the Russian Revolution is past history, as indeed it is to most people living to-day.

Whilst a knowledge of events relatively so recent is easy to acquire, the emotional impact of those events on politically-minded working men and women in this country, reformist and self-styled revolutionary alike, is harder to recapture. The fervour aroused by this impact even seeped into the S.P.G.B. Growing up into manhood in the years following the first world war, it is difficult for any young politically-interested worker, unbriefed in Socialist theory, to escape the influence of the emotionalism and the fervour which clouded opinion on the happenings in Russia. The Socialist revolution had started in Russia and would sweep through Europe! The workers would rise (at the psychological moment), form their own councils (Soviets) and take over land, the mines and the factories. Parliament had been shown by the events in Russia to be "useless"—a "gas house." Every strike was interpreted by the new, self-appointed Bolshevik theorists in this country as a move in the strategy of the coming struggle for Socialism. Those who seemed quite unaware of this development were the workers generally, though the English Bolsheviks seemed not to notice the fact.

One result of the Russian Revolution was the formation of the British Communist Party in 1920. The Socialist Labour Party, an organisation formed in 1903 and allegedly Marxist, split and some of its prominent members became leaders of the new organisation, which devoted itself to preparing for the "psychological moment." So seriously did it take this mumbo-jumbo that at one time in the late twenties Communists wrote to the S.P.G.B. declining a challenge to debate on the grounds that there was not time to debate Socialism—"it was round the corner." Others who joined the early Communist Party came from the I.L.P. and the Labour Party, it being possible at that time to be a member of each party at one and the same time, the assumption being that the different branches of the "working class movement" were moving towards the same goal even if "tactics" differed. Even one or two members of the S.P.G.B. found their way into the Communist Party.

As a political party, however, the Socialist Party remained unshaken in its basic attitudes by the events in Russia. It would be an understatement to say that the Socialist Party showed a disinclination to identify itself with the "working-class movement" on Russian questions. Whilst not unmoved by the events in Russia we rejected what Communists claimed were the lessons to be applied from it to England. We saw nothing in the Russian upheaval which would make it necessary for the Party to deviate from the course it has set itself at its foundation in 1904. We rejected the propositions that a Socialist revolution had taken place in Russia, that the working class had come to power, that "intellectual minorities" could "lead" an unprepared working class to Socialism, that Parliament was "useless" and that Russia had forged new instruments for working class emancipation. We expressed our views forcefully and objectively on these issues which resulted in bitter opposition from our opponents, as the Socialist Standard and propagandists of twenty and more years ago testify. Our attitude on the Russian question is unchanged to-day and there is nothing that was written by our comrades in 1918 about it that we would withdraw. In contrast, prominent members of the Labour Party, who, whilst making pious reservations about the "violent methods" of the Bolsheviks in the early years, expressed approval of their aims and thought Russia was Socialist: but to-day see Russia as an empire-building, police state. It is an odd thought what the next thirty years might bring when one reflects that early Communist M.P.s like Newbold and Saklatvala owed their seats in Parliament to the fact that they were candidates of the Labour Party whilst at the same time being members of the Communist Party. Time and events have brought changes of attitudes among erstwhile supporters of the Bolsheviks. Having little or no theoretical knowledge, support, idolatry and tolerance have given way to criticism and bitter opposition. The Socialist Party of Great Britain opposed the basic assumptions of the Bolsheviks and their English supporters as unsound and non-Marxist, and the consequent development of affairs in Russia since the Revolution has occasioned us no surprise.

Without reservation the Socialist Party refuted the claim that the Bolsheviks could introduce Socialism in Russia. We were critical of their aims and methods. Socialism was impossible before large scale, industrial production has developed, and with it also, a dispossessed working class had been formed and won over to Socialism. The position in Russia was that it was a country largely populated by a peasantry, dominated by a semi-feudal aristocracy. Capitalist production was small in relation to the economy as a whole. Politically, the land-owning aristocracy were dominant and in control. the capitalist class were weak and insignificant, the working class was relatively numerically small though its organisations were semi-insurrectionary, vigorous and well organised. Parliamentary government in the Duma was a facade and creaked under the burden of aristocratic privilege and power: the franchise made a mockery of democracy.

Unable to deal with the complex problems thrown up by the war, the Russian Imperial Government, in 1917, began to lose authority and prestige. Lack of transport, food and arms, led to seething discontent among the soldiers, workers and peasants. It was in these circumstances that the Soviets (loosely organised councils or committees) established themselves among the workers, the soldiers and the peasants. The weaker and the more incompetent the Government were to control the situation the stronger the Soviets became and the more authority they assumed. The tottering Imperial government  gave way in March, 1917, to the Kerensky regime. Kerensky was leader of the Mensheviks, who were, like the Bolsheviks, a section of the Social Democratic Party. The Kerensky regime lasted until November, 1917. Its failure resulted from its complete inability to assess the widespread discontent with the war among the soldiers, workers and peasants. Where the Mensheviks failed the Bolsheviks succeeded. They realistically exploited these discontents in the meetings of the Soviets. As the authority of the new regime declined so the Bolsheviks gained in popularity in the Soviets and the prestige of the Soviets grew. There were instances of some constitutional powers passing from the government to the Soviets. The slogan of the Bolsheviks became "All Power to the Soviets" and "Peace, Land and Bread." They crystallised the discontents and spread rapidly throughout Russia. The Kerensky regime, following its corrupt predecessor, came to its end.

The Bolsheviks had come to power in Russia. The Soviets, despite their spontaneous and improvised character had assumed constitutional forms and power. Amid all the excitements and the interest in the Russian Revolution aroused outside Russia the S.P.G.B. remained calm. From the outset it knew it could repudiate the wild claims that were being made. Whatever the merit of the slogan and object of "Peace, Land and Bread," we said, this was not Socialism, and that, in the absence of knowledge and understanding among the majority of the population, could not lead to it. Further, we argued, this knowledge and understanding could not arise in the absence of maturity in productive relations and social development. Any government which assumed power in such circumstances, whether it claimed to be Socialist or not, must make itself responsible for the problems of capitalism and bring upon itself the opposition of the workers—they must fail. We were right.

In 1917 the Bolsheviks kept an earlier promise in arranging for free elections to a Constituent Assembly. When the result of the elections showed a majority opposed to the Bolsheviks, the government of the latter, which controlled the armed forces through the Soviets, decisively suppressed it. That was one of its first openly terroristic acts. It was certainly not the last. What idealism, principles or Socialist ideas might have existed in the pre-1917 Bolshevik movement in Russia, soon became lost in the evolution of the autocratic tyranny that soon established itself and remains firmly in the saddle to-day.

If there are lessons to be learned from Russia and other parts of the world where capitalism is administered in the name of Socialism and by men who sprang from the workers it is that the only was to Socialism is through working class understanding and democracy.
H. W.



The Impact of the First Great War (1954)

From the September 1954 issue of the Socialist Standard

The 1914-18 war had a disastrous effect upon the Party. On many Sunday mornings before the war broke out the Executive Committee had been meeting to read through and amend a pamphlet that had been drafted for publication. This had to be abandoned and the pamphlet was not considered again until a few years after the war ended. Another project that had to be abandoned was the appointment of a paid Secretary-Organiser. Money had been subscribed for this purpose, the member selected, the Executive Committee were discussing the date when he should start and the work he should start upon when the war put an end to the idea.

The war dealt its worst blow to the membership. The Military Service Act, which came into operation in March, 1916, applied immediately  to a large body of active young members and, eventually, to nearly all the men in the Party. The Appeal Tribunals that were set up were quite useless, as far as members were concerned, and were treated by them largely as a means to put the Party's case where possible; generally, however, the objections of members only got a few minutes hearing. In order to escape the clutches of the authorities many members "disappeared" and some we never saw again; others went to prison.

Immediately the war broke out we drew up a Manifesto which was published in the September 1914 Socialist Standard; the August number was already printed. This Manifesto is reprinted in our pamphlet on War. In the same September issue of the Socialist Standard an editorial article appeared setting out the real basis of the conflict and concluding with the following paragraph: —
"The question for the working class, then, is not that of British or German victory, since either event will leave them wage-slaves living upon wages. Under German rule those wages cannot be reduced lower than under British, for very British working man knows that the masters who are shouting so loudly today for us to go and die in defence of our shackles and their shekels, have left no stone unturned to force wages to the lowest possible limits. The question, then, before the workers, is the abolition of the whole social system of which war and unemployment are integral parts, and the establishment of society upon the basis of common ownership of the means of production—the establishment, that is, of Socialism."
The Executive Committee passed a resolution stating that any member who voluntarily joined the fighting forces was unfit for membership of a Socialist Party. This attitude the members loyally adhered to during the course of the war.

Outdoor speaking during the war was extremely difficult. There were many turbulent meetings. Some meetings were broken up and members had to defend the speaker and the platform. Speakers were arrested for "spreading disaffection amongst His Majesty's subjects." A speaker was arrested at Leicester and followed to the police station by a crowd howling for his blood. He was released, after a week, on giving an undertaking not to appear on the platform again for six months. When he got back to London he phoned his employers intending to give a plausible reason for his absence. He did not get that far. He was told his wages would be sent on and they never wanted to see him again. Later he learned that one of his fellow clerks had obligingly pinned up a report of this case in the manager's office.

One instance in particular reflected the attitude of the authorities towards our speakers. One of them got upon the platform and, before putting our case, said he would read to the audience Lord Roberts' Circular to Commanding Officers in India. Before he got half way through the circular the police intervened and took him off to the police station where he was charged with "spreading disaffection." When he came before the magistrate he protested that he had made no personal contribution at all; that he was arrested whilst in the middle of reading Lord Roberts' circular. The magistrate asked to see the circular and, after reading it, said "Well there is nothing wrong with the circular, but, read at a meeting in the present circumstances, it was likely to cause disaffection amongst His Majesty's subjects." He then warned the speaker not to repeat his crime and fined him £2 2s.  . . . As a matter of interest the circular dealt in detail with the selection and care of native girls to act as prostitutes for the soldiers in India under official licence!

The difficulties of speaking increased so much that a Party meeting was called to decide whether it was worthwhile continuing. A majority decided that it was not. On the front page of January 1915 Socialist Standard we informed readers of our decision to suspend outdoor propaganda and the reasons that forced us to this decision. The article, in large type, appeared under the heading "Under Martial Law."

So outdoor meetings were closed down but the columns of the S.S. continued to criticise all concerned in the war and to put the Socialist attitude on the war. Every issue was full of statements that came under the  Regulations and members were expecting the Head Office to be raided and the Party compulsorily closed down. In October 1916 the War Office informed us that the S.S. was prohibited from being sent outside the United Kingdom on the ground that a portion of its contents "might be used by the enemy powers for their propaganda." In 1917 the Head Office was raided by the police but there was nothing left there to interest them; all Party records had been deposited elsewhere and the General Secretary at the time, Hilda Kohn, carried the minute book around in her bag.

During the war the funds of the Party got very low and an urgent call for donations brought in very little. But the members who were left managed to hold out until the end, although we had to give up our premises in 1918 and move to a couple of rooms on the first floor of a house behind Oxford Street.

When the war ended members began to drift back and the job of rebuilding the Party was commenced with enthusiasm and success.
Gilmac.


75 years of the Socialist Standard (1979)

From the September 1979 issue of the Socialist Standard

It may not seem much of an achievement to commercial publishers but we take pride in the fact that the Socialist Standard has been published without a break for seventy-five years. Writing and editing of the articles and preparing for the printer—as well as the distribution—have been done by members in their spare time and often under great difficulty.

Frequently it happened (and no doubt can happen still) that when the deadline was reached for sending material to the printer there were not enough articles or—which is just as much a problem—there was not a proper mix. The editors then had to fill up the space with hurriedly written material of their own. Gilbert McClatchie, who was directly involved with this during the First World War, wrote about the difficulties in the Socialist Standard (September 1954). As he put it, "Filling the columns of the SS became a major problem. Most of the regular writers were too busy keeping out of the services to do much". To make things worse writers who had promised articles were unable to deliver them, or sent them too late, and on at least one occasion a long article being published serially was never completed.

In some respects conditions have become more difficult. In the 1930s it was possible to have the 21st of each month as the latest date for receipt of articles—now it is much earlier. Printers then worked Saturdays and letters posted quite late in the London area were certain to be delivered next morning.

The Party was fortunate in the early years in having our journal printed by a Party member, A. E. Jacomb, who set the type himself. And for many years after that we had as printers R. E. Taylor, who had Party members in their employ and a manager who took a sympathetic interest. Untyped articles were also acceptable; nowadays printers are justifiably more demanding. Jacomb used to advertise his business in the Standard in terms strikingly unlike the extravagances of modern advertising. His notice informed possible customers that "Jacomb Bros. can do printing as cheaply and as well as anyone else".

Writers sometimes presented problems by sending in articles written on odd scraps of paper of different sizes, or written on both sides. One writer regularly sent his articles on the sticky, very thick blue paper used for packets of sugar. One or two writers made life difficult by insisting that their articles must be published exactly as written, with not a word altered; which could mean missing publication in the intended issue while they were asked for their agreement to alterations.

Different writers have a very different approach to their task. At one extreme was O. C. Iles, who had a facility for producing smooth generalisations of our case. On more than one occasion, hearing that we were short of material, he would sit at the Executive Committee and, while participating in the business, dash off his articles. At the other extreme was Wilmott, who would go to great trouble in tackling complex theoretical issues backed with quotations. He was a perfectionist and had an exaggerated fear that he might have covered some point inadequately. It was normal for him to submit an article and ask for it back after a few days. One of his articles he recalled three times before he was satisfied.

Bold Reputation
When I came on the Editorial Committee I was instructed by Fitzgerald, McClatchie and Moses Baritz about the need to maintain the Standard's high reputation in presenting our case and willingness to meet criticisms from opponents ("we shall give a fair hearing to all sides on any question", as it was put in the first issue). They also warned against accepting any alleged quotation without checking it. Baritz mentioned, with justification, that more often than not quotations, either through carelessness or intent, were inaccurate. Once we were puzzled to receive an article written jointly by two new writers which contained a "quotation" which we unable to find in the book referred to; only to be told that they had summarised several pages and re-written their own version as a "quotation". They were, they said, confident that that is what the writer meant to say.

The Party's reputation, even among opponents, had an interesting confirmation late in the 1930s when we debated with a fascist organisation. A Party member wrote a report and we informed the organisation that we were publishing it and would let them check it in advance. We received a reply that if we were the Communist Party they would want to see it but as we were the SPGB they did not need to do so.

Moses Baritz was firmly convinced that too little credit had been given to Engels in his partnership with Marx and that some material published over Marx's name had been written by Engels. Baritz was triumphant when he was able to show in the Standard that this was true of Revolution and Counter-Revolution.

Letters of criticism from readers sometimes led to trouble when the writers paid no regard to limited space. We once received a "letter" from sailors on a Russian ship which had docked here, which ran to 14,000 words. When we pointed out that it would occupy the whole issue and asked for it to be cut to a reasonable length, we were told that our undertaking to reply to criticism demanded that we should publish the whole letter as a special issue.

The Socialist Standard, like any other publication, has to be concerned about libellous statements and writers have not always appreciated this. One writer indignantly protested against the alteration of a statement he wanted to make, on the naive ground that he was sure that what he said was true—which signally fails to take account of the intricacies of the libel laws. The Party did not have one libel action, reported in the issue for August 1907. We were alleged to have libelled officials of the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants. Two of our members, Anderson and Fitzgerald, conducted our defence and lost the case; but as the jury awarded damages of only £2 they cannot have been much impressed by the railway union's arguments.

In wartime, censorship and Defence of the Realm regulations presented new problems as printers naturally did not want trouble with the authorities. On one occasion (February 1916) the printer flatly refused to publish an article "Lloyd George and the Clyde Workers" and the column was left blank, with an explanation of what had happened.

Readers of the early issues will notice the optimism of the writers about the speedy winning over of the working class. The first issue expected soon being able to go over to weekly publication. It has proved to be a much more difficult task than was then believed.
Edgar Hardcastle