From the October 1904 issue of the Socialist Standard
Some years ago. when it was thought by many Socialists that West Ham was about to become in England what Roubaix was then in France —a town whose municipal government was to be controlled by Socialists—it was not anticipated, save by the clearest sighted amongst us, that the tactics then adopted were to prove so disastrous as they have done to the propagation of our principles?
At that time the branches of the I.L.P. and S.D.F. were strong in numbers and full of enthusiasm. But in order to snatch a political victory it was decided to form a Socialist-Labour party, to be called the Labour Group, and to include so-called Labour members and Radicals who were in sympathy with the ‘‘aims of Labour." This move was apparently successful in so far as it gave the Socialist Labour Party a majority on the Town Council, and was successful as long as nothing was attempted with which the non-Socialist section of the party could not agree, but immediately a move was made in a Collectivist direction it was found that the non-Socialists could not be relied on. The consequence was practically the failure of the party to make more than a halting stop or so, and very small steps at that, toward the Socialist goal.
This is ancient history for the older men in the movement, but it is worth repeating in order to emphasise what follows, and to prevent a possible repetition of a similar mistake in any other town or district where we may be making headway.
It is now admitted that this was an error of judgment, but it was a mistake that should not have been made if the S.D.F. and I.L.P. members had had a clear understanding of Socialist policy. "He that is not with us is against us," whether he be avowedly Capitalist or alleged Labour. I say, one such mistake in tactics on the part of any local body of Socialists may be forgiven, but a repetition of the error is a crime against the movement. And this is what we are faced with today in West Ham. There is the same aspiration abroad now as there was then. The aspiration is, perhaps, not yet avowed, but it is expressed in action. The local S.D.F. Councillors, who lead the remainder of the members, are anxious once again to form a composite Socialist-Labour nondescript party, which they hope will lie strong enough to form a majority of the Council. These men are supporting Alderman White, a Liberal Passive-Resister, who is a candidate at the forthcoming municipal elections, because, forsooth, “he is in sympathy with Labour.”
The result of the first mistake was a great set back to Socialist propaganda in Weal Ham. A second such error would have disastrous effects were it not for the existence of a branch of tho Socialist Party of Great Britain, who will keep the position clearly before the people, and publicly expose those who would mislead them. Such tactics undoubtedly cause confusion in the minds of the workers. They are not all heaven born politicians and wirepullers like the S.D.F. members of the West Ham Town Council.
Mr. Will Thorne, of the S.D.F., who was to have been the Socialist Parliamentary candidate for South West Ham at the next General Election, is now, we are informed, to run as the Labour candidate under the auspices of the Labour Representation Committee. Not that this makes much difference, for Thorne already had his hands firmly tied by his pledges to his union, the Catholics, and the Passive Resistors. So even if he understood what Socialism means—which he never did—and was elected—which is not probable—he would be so firmly bound by his pledgee that he would not be able to act as an exponent of Socialism in the House. Our S.D.F. friends have not yet even learned that elementary political lesson for Socialists, viz., to keep free from entangling alliances.
One of the things which Socialists have so fiercely criticised and held up to public scorn, is the corruption which so often obtains on our public bodies, and notoriously so in West Ham. It is reported that a Local Government Board auditor stated that the West Ham Board of Guardians was the most corrupt board in the country. This, to those who know a little of these local governing bodies, may seem to be a rather “large order." But I think he was not very far from the mark. Whether that is so or not, it is absolutely necessary that Socialist representatives (they are not yet delegates, unfortunately) should keep their hands clean and be above suspicion. If not, how can they criticise and expose their opponents ?
Now. the present “Socialist’’ representatives—with two notable exceptions—are not above reproach. Apart from accepting presents from contractors—which no Socialist should ever do—whether it influences his vote when tenders are before the Board or not, they have been parties to what is not at all an uncommon occurrence on this Board, namely, working their relatives into jobs or positions under the Board. They may say that a certain well-known, so-called Labour member has done this, and in so doing they are only following his lead. But our representatives are not on these administrative bodies to follow. They are there to initiate. and most certainly not to follow a lead of this kind. Nor are they there to hob-nob with officials, and to eat and drink at their expense. The excuse that other members do so is no excuse for Socialists, but—and the attention of the public should be drawn to this it—will explain why it is that the members are unable to deal with the officials in a suitable manner when any dereliction of duty takes place and such cases are not uncommon—and why it is that the officials of the West Ham Board are the masters of the members instead of the members of the Beard being the masters of the officials.
The result in West Ham of this political intriguing and these corrupt practices—though perhaps, not legally corrupt, they are from a Socialist point of view—has been to put back the clock for years, and although I am sure that a warning to keep clear of both these practices is unnecessary to members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, this article will have served a useful purpose if it opens the eyes of the members of tho so-called Socialist organisations and the public to what to an unbiassed observer appears to be trickery, which is not even successful trickery, and practices that cannot be condoned.