Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

J. Keir Hardie
Chapter 7. South African War—The L.R.C.—Merthyr Tydvil


THE history of the South African War has been written officially from the standpoint of the British Government and also unofficially by various writers who do not all agree in their ascriptions of causes and motives. What we are concerned about here is the attitude of the I.L.P. towards the war and the part played by Keir Hardie during that time. Happily it is possible to set forth the I.L.P. attitude quite clearly without much traversing of ground which is covered by the historians.

On September 9th, 1899, five weeks before the outbreak of war, the National Administrative Council of the I.L.P. met at Blackburn and adopted the following resolution, equivalent to a manifesto, for circulation amongst its branches and for general publication :— “The National Administrative Council of the I.L.P. protests against the manner in which the Government, by the tenor of their dispatches and their warlike preparations, have made a peaceful settlement difficult with the Transvaal Republic.

“The policy of the Government can be explained only on the supposition that their intention has been to provoke a war of conquest to secure complete control in the interests of unscrupulous exploiters.

“A war of aggression is, under any circumstances, an outrage on the moral sense of a civilised community and in the present instance particularly so, considering the sordid character of the real objects aimed at.

“It is especially humiliating to the democratic instincts of this country that an ulterior and unworthy motive should be hidden under pretence of broadening the political liberties of the Uitlanders. Even if the admitted grievances of the Uitlanders were the real reason of the threatened hostilities, war would be an extreme course quite uncalled for.

“We also protest against the action of the press and the bulk of the leading politicians in strengthening the criminal conduct of the Government by misleading the public and rousing the passion for war, and we express the hope that it may not yet be too late for the manhood of the nation to prevent this outrage upon the conscience of our common humanity. ’ ’

This, let it be repeated, was five weeks before the outbreak of war. The members present were J. Keir Hardie (in the chair), France Littlewood, J. Bruce Glasier, Philip Snowden, H. Russell Smart, J. Ramsay MacDonald, James Parker, Joseph Burgess and John Penny (Secretary). In thus definitely and uncompromisingly setting forth the I.L.P. conception of the causes of the war and the Party’s policy towards ft, the N.A.C. took a step which decided, amongst other things, that for several years to come the I.L.P. would be the most unpopular Party and its adherents and leaders the most bitterly abused persons in the country. The Liberal Party escaped this odium by reason of the fact that having no alternative policy, it virtually acquiesced in the war, while criticising the diplomacy which had brought it about. Some few men there were in both of the orthodox parties who rose above party and even above class interests. Sir Edward Clarke, Q.C., one of the ablest of Tories, and destined in the ordinary course of events to reach the Woolsack, openly opposed the Government policy and sacrificed the remainder of his political life rather than be a consenting party to what he described as an absolutely unnecessary war caused by diplomatic blundering, the real responsibility for which, he declared, “rested upon Mr. Chamberlain and Sir Alfred Milner.” On the Liberal side, Sir Robert Reid (now Lord Lore-burn), Mr. James Bryce, Mr. John Morley, Mr. Lloyd George and Mr. John Burns spoke out strongly, but their utterances were more than counterbalanced by the Imperialistic declarations of Lord Rosebery, Sir Edward Grey and Mr. Asquith, the real mouthpieces of official Liberalism. Sir William Harcourt and Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman at the beginning blew neither hot nor cold. Inside the House of Commons, the only definite opposition came from the Irish Party. Outside in the country, the only British political parties opposing the war policy were the I.L.P. and the S. D. F., parties without a single representative in Parliament. The press, with the exception of the “Morning Leader,” the “Manchester Guardian,” the “Edinburgh Evening News,” and Mr. Stead’s monthly, “Review of Reviews,” was wholly with the Government, and soon succeeded making the war thoroughly popular with the masses and in creating an environment of intolerance in which free speech was well-nigh impossible. To Hardie and the other I.L.P. leaders it was a source of satisfaction to find that they had the support of the rank and file membership. Indeed, it is not too much to say that the membership of the I.L.P. constituted the only section of the community that was well informed concerning the questions at issue. South African affairs had received special attention in the “Labour Leader,” and latterly, a series of articles signed “Kopje,” which was the nom de plume of an exceedingly capable South African journalist, provided the readers of Hardie’s paper with an account of the doings of the Chartered Company’s agents and officials as viewed through other glasses than those of the Imperialist or the gold seeker, and described the development t>f the Cecil Rhodes’ policy as it affected the natives, the Boer farmers and the Chartered Company’s white employees, otherwise known as Uitlanders. Other writers in the same paper had turned a somewhat piercing searchlight upon the share lists of the Chartered Company and De Beers Ltd., and upon the manner in which influential members of these companies with high social status in this country were in a position to influence the colonial policy of the Government, itself well impregnated with Imperialist tendencies. I.L.P. members were therefore quite able to distinguish between the ostensible and the real causes of the war. They did not believe that it was a war to right the wrongs of the Uitlanders. They did not believe that the military power of Great Britain was being used merely to establish franchise rights in the Transvaal which had been refused to the people at home for half a century and were still withheld from womenfolk in this country. They did believe that already the process of fusion between the Dutch settlers and the British incomers had begun, and would, in course of time quite measurable, complete itself through intermarriage, social intercourse and mutual interest. They knew something about the diamond mines and the gold mines, the De Beers’ compounds and the forced native labour, and they believed with their National Executive that the war was a “war of conquest to secure complete control of the Transvaal in the interests of unscrupulous exploiters.” When Hardie, Glasier, MacDonald, Snowden and the other leaders declared wholeheartedly against the war, it was with the knowledge that they had their people behind them, few in numbers comparatively, but dependable and stout of heart.

To the I.L.P., however, the struggle raised a question much greater than whether Boer or Briton would rule in South Africa. It involved matters materially affecting the process of world development towards Socialism. Hardie expressed this view with much clearness. “In the transition stage,” he said, “from commercialism to Socialism, there must needs be much suffering. All new births are the outcome of pain and sorrow. It was so when England passed from the pastoral into the commercial stage. So, too, when the machines began to displace the hand, and the factory the cottage forms of industry. For two generations there were want and woe in the land. So, too, must it be when the change from production for profit to production for use is made. A great and extended Empire lengthens the period required for the change and thus prolongs the misery, and it follows that the loss of Empire would hasten the advent of Socialism. The greater the Empire the greater the military expenditure and the harder the lot of the workers. Modern imperialism is, in fact, to the Socialist, simply capital' ism in its most predatory and militant phase.”

Such reasoning was incomprehensible to a populace whose mentality seemed to be well expressed by Lord Carrington, when he said : “We must all stop thinking till the war is over,” a condition of mind certainly very essential to the maintenance of the war spirit. The British nation, however, was not allowed to stop thinking for long. This war, like all other wars, did not go according to plan. It began in October. By Christmas Day Methuen had been defeated at Modderfontein. An entire British regiment had laid down its arms. General White was besieged in Ladysmith. Cecil Rhodes, in whom was personified the capitalist interests at stake, was in danger of capture at Kimberley, and General

Roberts was on order for the seat of war (with Kitchener soon to follow), and ever more troops were being-drafted out.

In face of these realities the jingo fever temporarily cooled down, and in the slightly saner atmosphere other people than the Socialists began to consider whether a movement for peace could not now be started. On Christmas Eve, Silas Hocking, the novelist, writing from the National Liberal Club, sent out the following letter to the press :—

“Sir,—There are many people who think, with myself, that the time has come when some organised attempt should be made by those who believe in the New Testament to put a stop to the inhuman slaughter that is going on in South Africa—a slaughter that is not only a disgrace to civilisation, but which brings our Christianity into utter contempt. Surely sufficient blood has been shed. No one can any longer doubt the courage or the skill of either of the combatants, but why prolong the strife? Cannot we in the name of the Prince of Peace cry ‘Halt!’ and seek some peaceful settlement of the questions in dispute? As the greater, and as we think the more Christian, nation we should cover ourselves with honour in asking for an armistice and seeking a settlement by peaceful means. We can win no honour by fighting, whatever the issues may be. In order to test the extent of the feeling to which I have given^expression and with a view to holding a conference in London at an early date, I shall be willing to receive the names of any who may be willing to cooperate.”

Canon Scott Holland, preaching in St. Paul’s Cathedral, sounded an even higher note. “We should humiliate ourselves for the blundering recklessness with which we entered on the war, and the insolence and arrogance which blinded us so utterly. Let there be no more vain-glory, no more braggart tongues, and let us at the beginning of the New Year find our true understanding.” As an immediate result of these appeals and the conference which followed, the “National Stop-the-War Committee” was brought into existence. This, with its auxiliary committees throughout the country, organised huge peace demonstrations in most of the big centres of industry during the winter. In nearly every case these demonstrations had to fight against organised hooliganism stimulated by the jingo press and the jingo music halls, and inflamed to delirious passion as the tide of war began to turn and the news of British victories came across the wires.

The I.L.P. naturally associated itself prominently with this Stop-the-War movement, and its leaders, especially Hardie as the recognised “head and front of the offending,” had directed against them, not only the virulence of the war press, but frequently the unrestrained violence of the mob—unrestrained, at least, by the official maintainers of Law and Order, though voluntary bodyguards were soon forthcoming, and the physical force patriots learned, some of them to their cost—as they were taught again some years later—that the advocates of peace were, on occasion, capable of meeting force with force. In spite of all the brawling intimidation of the war party, many successful demonstrations were held. At Leeds, Manchester, York, Birmingham, Glasgow, Edinburgh and various other places, the advocates for a peaceful settlement on honourable terms were able to get a hearing, and the very violence of the opposition secured for them some press attention, which, though mostly derisive, advertised the purposes of the movement. The Glasgow meeting was probably typical of the others. It was organised by a local committee of which David Lowe, of the “Labour Leader,” was secretary. The chairman was Baillie John Ferguson, of the Liberal Association. The speakers were Mr. Cronwright Schreiner, * of the Cape Parliament, Mr. Lloyd George, and Mr. K. J. Wilson.

Keir Hardie, Robert Smillie, Joseph Burgess, W. M. Haddow and prominent local I.L.P. men were present, not as speakers, but as directors of the defending forces. The preparations were as for a pitched battle. Before the doors were opened to the public, the hall was nearly filled with assured supporters. Outside there was an expectant mob of many thousands, conspicuous amongst them being University students and habitues of Glasgow Clubland, and when at last the doors were opened there was a mad rush as of stampeded wild cattle. Only a limited number got through the defences, and many heads were broken in the attempt. Inside the hall, the meeting went on. In the stairways and corridors, and at the back of the area, the battle raged. The police, whose headquarters were next door, held aloof with a serene impartiality equivalent to an encouragement to riot, until towards the end, by orders of the Sheriff, and to save the hall property from being wrecked, they were compelled to come into action. The meeting, however, was held. Lloyd George escaped unscathed, thanks to Socialist protection, and, as history tells, lived to become the War Spirit’s most blind and excellent instrument. The following week at Dundee and Edinburgh similar scenes were enacted, and Hardie, who was the principal speaker, was only saved from maltreatment by a Glasgow bodyguard that attended him at these places. It was a fine, exhilarating fighting time.

But Hardie at this time was doing better work than at peace demonstrations. He was wielding his pen with a skill and prowess such as he had never exhibited before, and with the possession of which he has not even yet been credited, so much has it been the habit to regard him either as a mob' orator or as a parliamentary extremist. A perusal of the files of the “Labour Leader” for this period will reveal Hardie as a writer, the reverse of declamatory and devoid of those florid superficialities common to controversial journalism.

An article under the heading of “A Capitalist War,” which he contributed to “L’Humanite Nouvelle,” and which was reproduced in the “Leader,” is perhaps as fine an example of compressec^ but accurate historical writing as is to be found anywhere. It traces, step by step, the development of South Africa from the first Dutch settlement down through the successive treks, the founding of the Dutch Republics, the discovery of the gold fields, and the consequent incursion of the speculators and exploiters, involving the British Government in their adventures, and steadily as fate driving the.Boers iijto a corner in which they must either fight, oc-surrender their national existence. He verifies all his statements, produces his facts and authorities, draws comparisons between ancient and modern imperialism, and sums up his argument with a literary skill all the more effective because it is unaffected and does not pretend to be literary. This was his conclusion : “The war is a capitalist war. The British merchant hopes to secure markets^ for his goods, the investor an outlet, for his capital, the speculator more, fools out of whom to make money, and the mining companies cheaper labour and increased dividends. We are told it is to spread freedom and to extend the rights and liberties of the common people. When we find a Conservative Government expending the blood and treasure of the nation to extend the rights and liberties of the common people, we may well pause and begin to think.” The latent unforced sarcasm of that last sentence is characteristic of a literary style which is not dependent upon expletives or invective for its strength.

At this high level he kept writing all through the war, reviewing Bryce’s “Impressions of South Africa” or J. A. Hobson’s “The War in South Africa,” criticising the supineness of the Liberal Party, examining the Government’s defence of its policy and exposing its evasions, and commenting upon the incidents of the war with a wealth of argument, illustration and appeal, directed always to the one conclusion, that the war must be stopped. The pity of it was, that all this fine work was limited in its effect, and never reached the people who could have most profited by it.

The “Labour Leader,” of course, shared in the unpopularity of its editor and its party, and the circulation declined, thereby circumscribing the scope of its influence. The lack of a newspaper press capable of competing with the lavishly financed journalism of the vested interests has always been the chief handicap of the Socialist movement. Had Hardie been possessed of a publicity organisation such as has always been at the service of the leaders of other political parties, his worth would have been recognised much earlier, his influence in his lifetime would have been greater, and some more important person than the present writer would be at work on his biography. It was the same lack of a publicity medium that made it necessary for the I.L.P. to have its anti-war manifesto placarded on walls throughout the country. There was no other method of proclaiming its views on a national scale, and even this was not very effective, as in many places the bills were torn down almost as soon as they were posted.

Amid all this war controversy and tumult, the political education and organisation of labour moved quietly forward. This year was formed the Labour Representation Committee, which became the Labour Party of the present day, and now challenges the other political parties for control of the government of the nation.

The first step was taken in Scotland. On Saturday, January 6th, 1900, what was described as “the most important Labour Conference ever held in Scotland,” met in the Free Gardeners’ Hall, Picardy Place, Edinburgh, when two hundred and twenty-six delegates came together for the purpose of agreeing upon a common ground of political action and of formulating a programme of social measures upon which all sections of the workers might unite. Robert Smillie was in the chair, and amongst those on the platform were Keir Hardie of Cumnock, Joseph Burgess and Martin Haddow of Glasgow, Robert Allan of Edinburgh, John Carnegie of Dundee, John Keir of Aberdeen, with John Penny, Bruce Glasier and Russell Smart holding a watching brief for the I.L.P. National Council. As this meeting is, in a sense, historical, it may be well to place on record its composition. Trade Unions sent one hundred and sixteen delegates. Trades Councils twenty-nine, Cooperative organisations twenty-eight, Independent Labour Party branches thirty-four, Social Democratic Federation branches nineteen. The acting Secretary was George Carson of Glasgow, whose activities in the formation of the Scottish Trades Union Congress, in 1897, bad brought him in close touch with every section of organised labour in Scotland, and this connection he now utilised in getting the present Conference together. Smillie, in his brief remarks as Chairman, went as usual straight to the root of the matter. “They had had enough of party trimming and sham fighting, and were determined to be done with that once for all and have Independent Labour representation.” The following resolution was adopted : “Recognising that no real progress has been made with those important measures of social and industrial reform that are necessary for the comfort and well-being of the working classes, and further recognising that neither of the two parties can or will effect these reforms, this Conference is of the opinion that the only means by which such reforms can be obtained is by having direct independent working-class representation in the House of Commons and on local administrative bodies, and hereby pledges itself to secure that end as a logical sequence to the possession of political power by the working classes.”

An amendment to strike out the word “independent” was defeated by a large majority, as was also another amendment to define the object of the Conference as being “to secure the nationalisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” The Conference, it will thus be seen, while breaking completely with the political traditions of the past, refrained from identifying itself with Socialism. It was a Labour Representation Conference, that, and nothing more. There is no need to detail the other proceedings of the Conference, as its decisions and the organising machinery which it outlined were, for the most part, incorporated in the programme and constitution of the larger national Conference which was held in London in the following month, but it will be agreed that an account of the Labour Party movement would be incomplete, if it failed to take note of this rather notable Scottish gathering.

The date of the British Conference was February 27th, 1900, the place of meeting the Memorial Hall, London. It was the outcome of a resolution passed by the Trades Congress the previous year, which itself was the culminating sequel to the many debates initiated by Hardie on the floor of the Congress in bygone years. On this occasion, however, the Congress, instead of remitting the matter to the Parliamentary Committee, had instructed that Committee to co-operate with the Independent Labour Party and other Socialist bodies. This joint Committee was duly appointed, and requested J. Ramsay MacDonald to draft a constitution for the new Party—a wise proceeding which enabled the Conference, with the minimum amount of friction, to achieve the purpose for which it had been called.

The proceedings of this memorable meeting are chronicled in the official report and also in A. W. Humphrey’s admirable “History of Labour Representation.” What we are concerned with here is the part which Hardie played in the Conference. He was perhaps more deeply interested in its success than any delegate present. It was for this, the political consolidation of organised labour, that he had given the greater part of his life, and although he knew well that this was not the end, but only the essential means to the end, namely, labour’s conquest of political power, for that very reason He was keenly alive to the possibility of failure at this particular juncture. Against any such mischance he was watchfully on guard. The danger of a breakdown lay in the different, almost antagonistic, conceptions of what should be the composition and function of a Parliamentary Labour Party held by certain Trade Union sections and by certain Socialist sections. The question of the formation of a Labour group in Parliament was the danger point. Against a proposal by James Macdonald of the S.D.F. that Socialism be adopted as a test for Labour candidates, an amendment by Wilkie of the Shipwrights making a selected programme the basis and leaving the members free outside the items which it contained, had been carried after a somewhat acrimonious debate.

This was altogether too loose and indefinite, and Hardie intervened with a resolution in favour of establishing a distinct Labour group in Parliament, which should have its own whips and agree upon a policy embracing a readiness to co-operate with any party which, for the time being, might be engaged in promoting legislation in the distinct interest of Labour, and, conversely, to associate itself with any party in opposing measures having an opposite tendency; and further, no member of the Labour group should oppose a candidate whose candidature was promoted by any organisation coming within the scope of Resolution No. 1. Wilkie withdrew his proposal and Hardie’s resolution became the finding of the Conference. Its virtue lay in the fact that it committed the delegates, Socialist and Trade Unionist alike, to the formation of an Independent Parliamentary Labour group, and also provided that temporary alliances with other parties should be determined, not by the individual members, but by the group itself acting as a unit. Probably these disciplinary implications were not fully grasped by some of the Trade Unionists, but that was not Hardie’s fault. He never at any time wilfully left his meaning in doubt, either to the one section or the other. He was a Socialist, but this was not a Socialist Conference, and even if it had been possible by a majority vote to make it so, that would have been an unfair departure from the purpose for which it was called. The one thing to do at that moment was to make Labour Representation a fact. “The object of the Conference,” he said, referring to the S.D.F. resolution, “was not to discuss first principles, but to ascertain whether organisations representing different ideals could find an immediate and common ground of action, leaving each organisation free to maintain and propagate its own theory in its own way; the object of the Conference was to secure a united Labour vote in support of Labour candidates and co-operation amongst them on Labour questions when returned.” In this way, and on that basis, the L.R.C., as it was familiarly called, came into being.

The first Chairman was F. W. Rogers, of the Vellum Binders’ Union, who will be chiefly remembered for his persistent pioneering of the Old Age Pension movement. The first Treasurer was Richard Bell, of the Railway Servants. The I.L.P. delegates on the first Executive were Keir Hardie and James Parker. The S.D.F. were represented by Harry Quelch and James Macdonald, and the Fabian Society by E. R. Pease. Thus all the Socialist sections had a place in the councils of the new Party, though the S.D.F. seceded later. The Secretaryship was placed in the capable hands of J. R. MacDonald, to whose appointment was undoubtedly due the immediate recognition of the L.R.C. as a new vital force in British political life.

Easter week brought the Eighth Annual Conference of the Independent Labour Party (held this year in Glasgow), an event which has its chief biographical interest in that it marked Hardie’s retirement from the Chairmanship which he had held uninterruptedly since the formation of the Party. The delegates seized the opportunity to mark their high esteem and deep affection for the man whom all recognised as their leader. During the session the business was suspended in order to present him with an address wherein it was sought to express “with gratitude and pride our recognition of the great services he has rendered the Independent Labour Party and the national cause of Labour and Socialism.” J. Bruce Glasier, his successor in the Chairmanship, in moving the resolution, made a speech which is here reproduced because in some measure it reflects characteristics common to both men, and also because it indicates, in a manner which no amount of biographical detail can equal, the character of the work which had gained for Hardie so abiding a place in the hearts of the rank and file of the Party. “I have claimed of my comrades of the N.A.C.,” said Glasier, “the privilege of moving this address as one of Keir Hardie’s oldest personal friends and colleagues in the Socialist movement, and also as a fellow-Scotsman. It is with some emotion that I look back on the early days of my association with him, and consider how much has happened since then to forward the Socialist cause in our country. In those early days many of us doubted the wisdom of his political policy as we have not infrequently since had occasion to differ from him, but in most instances events have shown that his wisdom was greater than any of ours. In connection with the political issues before our Party and the country, Keir Hardie has displayed a truly marvellous insight, I would almost venture to say second-sight, for indeed I do not doubt that Keir Hardie is gifted with at least a touch of that miraculous '—and peculiarly Scottish endowment. In the House of Commons and in the country he has established a tradition of leadership which is one of the greatest possessions' of the Socialist and Labour movement in Britain. His rocklike steadfastness, his unceasing toil, his persisting and absolute faith in the policy of his party, are qualities in which he is unexcelled by any political leader of our time. He has never failed us. Many have come and gone, but he is with us to-day as certainly as in the day when the I.L.P. was formed. By day and by night, often weary and often wet, he has trudged from town to city in every corner of the land bearing witness to the cause of Socialism and sturdily vindicating the cause of Independent Labour Representation. He has not stood aloof from his comrades, but has constantly been in touch with the working men and women of our movement as an every-day friend and fellow-worker. He has dwelt in their houses and chatted by their firesides, and has warmed many a heart by the glow of his sympathy and companionship. The wear and tear of these many years of propaganda have told somewhat on the strength of our comrade, but he has never complained of his task nor has he grown fretful with the people or their cause. On the N.A.C. his colleagues are deeply attached to him. He is always most amenable to discussion with them. They do not always agree with his views, but they have been taught by experience to doubt their own judgment not once, but twice and thrice, when it came into conflict with his. But I must not detain you with this ineffectual effort to express what I feel. I shall venture only one word more. Hardly in modern times has a man arisen from the people, who, unattracted by the enticements of wealth or pleasure and unbent either by praise or abuse, has remained so faithful to the class to which he belongs. His career is a promise and a sign of the uprising of an intensely earnest, capable and self-reliant democracy. He is a man of the people and a leader of the people! .

These words, be it remembered, were spoken when the I.L.P. was passing through its darkest hours, when its teachings were unpopular and its adherents marked down as political Ishmaelites, and when militarism was rampant in the country; and their utterance at such a time indicates. that not only Keir Hardie, but his colleagues and followers, were endowed with great faith and great co'urage, and explains how it is that the I.L.P. has survived through all the succeeding years. Hardie, of course, remained on the National Council, and his personality continued to reflect itself in every phase and aspect of the movement.

This Conference, which was the first since the outbreak of war, confirmed and reaffirmed absolutely the anti-imperialist policy of the National Council, already spontaneously approved and supported by the branches. The Conference also issued a strong protest against all forms of conscription, and expressed “deep sorrow at the terrible famine that had fallen upon the toiling people of India,” which, it declared, was to a great extent the result of the heavy taxation placed upon the people and the expropriation of their slender resources by the existing Government and capitalistic occupation of India.

To focus public attention upon this latter question was indeed impossible. The people of this country were so preoccupied by affairs in South Africa as to be incapable of realising the calamitious condition of India. The I.L.P. protest was like a very still small voice, yet some people heard it in that far away oppressed land, and appeals came to Hardie and MacDonald asking them to come and see for themselves how India was governed—appeals which, though they could not be responded to then, did not go unheeded.

A general election was now near at hand. The finish of the war, though still distant, was thought to be within sight. The trained British forces, two hundred and fifty thousand strong, were gradually overmastering the small volunteer armies of the Republics, and the tactical question for the Government was whether it would wait for, or anticipate, the final victory before going to the country. For the opponents of the war policy it did not matter which. They had little hope of coming out on top in existing circumstances, whilst the Liberal Party, as Laodicean in its attitude on the terms of settlement as it had been towards the war itself, had no lead to give the people. Whether the election came soon or late the return of the Salisbury-Chamberlain Government was a foregone conclusion.

In an open letter to John Morley, Hardie made a strong appeal to that statesman to cut himself adrift from the Rosebery-Grey-Asquith section of Liberalism and give a lead to democracy. “A section of very earnest Liberals are thoroughly ashamed of modern Liberalism and anxious to put themselves right with their own consciences. Working-class movements are coming together in a manner, for a parallel to which we require to go back to the early days of the Radical movement. Already, two hundred and twelve thousand have paid affiliation fees to the Labour Representation Committee. What is wanted to fuse these elements is a man with the brain to dare, the hand to do, and the heart to inspire. Will you be that man?” Mr. Morley did not respond. Probably Hardie did not expect him to do so. But the nature of the appeal indicates the existence of possibilities which might have considerably changed the course of parliamentary history in this country, and of Britain’s international policy.

Hardie was specially desirous that in the forthcoming election all the anti-imperialist forces should work in unison with each other, and, in the “Labour Leader,” he invited opinions as to whether or not the I.L.P. should issue a white list of candidates other than Labour Party nominees, who, because of their consistent opposition to the war policy, should receive the support of I.L.P. electors. He declared himself strongly in favour of such a course, and specially mentioned such “unbending individualists as John Morley and Leonard Courtney,” together with some Socialists like Dr. Clark and Lloyd George. The latter name classified as Socialist, sounds strange to-day, but was certainly justified by some of the Welsh politician’s utterances, publicly and privately, on social questions at that time.

The election came before the Party had made any decision Regarding the suggestion, but there can be no doubt that it was acted upon, and that the anti-war candidates got the Labour vote.

The Special Election Conference held at Bradford on September 29th, decided : “That the full political support of the Party be given to the candidates of the S.D.F. now in the field, also to the Labour and Socialist candidates promoted by local branches of the I.L.P. in conjunction with other bodies, and to all candidates approved by the Labour Representation Committee; and that in all other constituencies, each branch be left to decide for itself what action to take, if any, so as best to promote the interests of Labour and Socialism.”

Hardie was not present at this Conference, having already entered upon a fight in two separate constituencies, Preston and Merthyr. John Penny, the General Secretary, was also absent, acting as election agent at Preston. So rapidly did events move that the same issue of the “Labour Leader” which reported the Conference gave the result of the Preston election, Hardie being at the bottom of the poll with 4,834 votes as against nearly 9,000 given for each of the two Tory candidates.

It was a tremendous task Hardie had undertaken in contesting simultaneously these two seats, so far apart from each other, not only geographically, but industrially and politically. Yet the double contest somehow typified Hardie’s personal attitude towards both political parties. Preston was a double constituency represented by two Tories. Merthyr was a similar constituency represented by two Liberals. It was as if they had been specially selected to exemplify his hostility to both parties, yet, when the dissolution of Parliament came, he had been selected for neither, and his course of action was undecided.

For months previously his colleagues on the N.A.C., desirous that, whatever happened to the other candidates, he should get back to Parliament, were on the look-out for a seat which would give him a reasonable chance of success—a seemingly hopeless quest in the feverishly patriotic state of the public mind. Merthyr, in view of his work amongst the miners, seemed the most promising. As early as March 2ist, we find John Penny writing to Francis, who has been mentioned already, and who was now secretary of the Penydarren I.L.P., asking for an accurate and .exhaustive report upon the advisability of running an I.L.P. candidate for Merthyr. The answer seems to have been indecisive yet encouraging, and, on July 25th, Bruce Glasier wrote the following letter, which is illustrative alike of the N.A.C.’s anxieties in the matter and of Hardie’s personal disinterestedness where the welfare of the movement was concerned :—

“Chapel-en-le-Frith,
“via Stockport.

“Dear Francis,—Kind remembrance and hearty greetings to you. The N.A.C. meets on Monday at Derby, when we shall have to take the Parliamentary situation into most careful consideration. Among the most important things that we shall have to come to some conclusions upon, is the constituency which Keir Hardie ought to be advised to contest. We all feel that Hardie has a claim to the best constituency that we can offer him, and we also feel that it is of the utmost importance to the Party that he should be returned. Hardie himself does not view his being returned to Parliament as a matter of much moment, and he is only anxious that at least he should fight where a worthy vote could be obtained. But I am sure you will agree with us that if any single man is to be returned, that man should be Hardie. I am therefore going to ask you to kindly inform me as frankly as possible what you think would be Hardie’s chances were he to contest Merthyr, and especially what you think would be the attitude of the Trade Unionists and miners’ leaders. Hardie has himself a warm heart towards a South Wales seat—or rather, if you will, contest—but I am anxious that there should be at least a reasonable hope of a very large vote, if not actual success, before we consent to his standing. I am sure, therefore, you will give me your sincere opinion upon the matter. You might let me have a reply c/o Tom Taylor, 104 Slack Lane, Derby, not later than Monday morning.”

Francis, upon whose judgment much reliance was placed, must have replied favourably, so far as the I.L.P. was concerned, but doubtfully with regard to the official Trade Union attitude, and raising questions as to financing the candidate, for the following week, on August 2nd, Glasier again wrote, explaining that “a strong election fund committee had been nominated, but that in most cases the local branches held themselves responsible for the expenses.” In the case of Merthyr, if Hardie were adopted by the Trades Council, and the N.A.C. finally approved the candidature, the N.A.C. would, he was sure, contribute towards his expenses. If the Trades Council declined to be responsible for his candidature, and the I.L.P. agreed to run him with the approval of the Trades Council, the N.A.C. might constitutionally take the entire responsibility (with, of course, the utmost local help) of running him. “Hardie, if returned, would support himself by his pen and by lecturing, as he did when formerly in the House. There would be no difficulties on that score.” The following passage is noteworthy for various reasons : “The election fund will be an entirely above-board affair. The money will be collected publicly, and we expect that many well-known advanced Radicals will subscribe. A. E. Fletcher, Ed. Cadbury, A. M. Thomson (“Dangle”), Arthur Priestman, etc., will probably be on the committee.”

Still the negotiations proceeded leisurely and indecisively, due doubtless to the difficulty of bringing the official Trade Unionists into line, and probably also to the belief that the election could not come till the spring of next year. As late as September 19th, we find C. B. Stanton, miners’ agent—whose strong support of Hardie at this time stands out in strange contrast to his violent jingoism fourteen years later—urging Francis, Lawrence, Davies and others, to attend a conference at Abernant on the following Saturday, to deal with the question of a Labour candidature; and on September 21st, John Penny wrote from Cardiff to Francis as follows : “This morning’s London ‘Standard’ reports that at the conclusion of the meeting at Preston, Hardie promised to give his final decision on Monday next. Let me know if you expect him in Merthyr, and if he comes through Cardiff, you might let me know the time of his arrival so that I could meet him at the station and have a talk. I see that he is booked up to be at the Paris Conference next week. So, if he goes, there will not be much time for fighting. It is now honestly, Preston or Merthyr. My advice is go in and win. Saturday’s conference must invite Hardie and so leave the onus of decision with him.” And, finally, on the same date, Hardie himself wrote this note, also to Francis:—

“Dear Comrade,—Many thanks for your letter. / have decided to acce-pt Preston. It is not likely now that Merthyr will succeed in putting forward a Labour candidate. Your wisest policy would be to defeat Pritchard Morgan, and thus leave the way open for a good Labour man at the next election. He is one of the most dangerous types the House of Commons contains.—Yours faithfully,

“J. Keir Hardie.”

Merthyr seemed now completely out of the running, but the following day, September 22nd, the Abernant Conference adopted him and decided to go on, no matter what happened at Preston. Hardie, of course, did not go to the Paris International Congress. He addressed huge meetings at Preston, and immediately after the vote counting (the result of which has already been given) passed into Wales just one day before the polling, to emerge triumphantly as the junior Member for Merthyr, to the great bewilderment of the newspaper-reading British public, who had already seen his name in the lists of the vanquished.

The victory was practically won before he arrived on the scene, so enthusiastically did the local men throw themselves into the contest. The N.A.C. despatched Joseph Burgess to act as election agent, with S. D. Shallard as his assistant. Both of these worked with a will in systematizing and co-ordinating the committees in the various districts and in addressing public meetings, but it was the people on the spot who had been looking forward to and preparing for this day during many months, and who by the most Herculean efforts brought every available Labour voter to the polling booths. It was they who won the victory. Their energies were directed wholly against Pritchard Morgan, characterised by Hardie as a “dangerous type.” They did not expect, and, indeed, did not desire, to defeat D. A. Thomas, the senior member (known in later years as Lord Rhondda), who was one of the few Liberals definitely opposed to the war, and had thereby preserved the pacifist tradition of the constituency whose greatest glory was that it had sent to Parliament Henry Richard of fragrant memory, known as the Apostle of Peace and pioneer of arbitration in international disputes. Of Pritchard Morgan nothing need be said here, except that he was by profession a company promoter, and doubtless regarded a seat in Parliament as a valuable aid to his speculative activities.

Hardie only spoke three times in the constituency; once in the open-air at Mountain Ash, once at Aberdare, and once in Merthyr (indoors), and all on the same day. If there were any doubts as to the result, his appearance in the constituency at once dispelled them. Yet, coming on the back of his Preston exertions, the one day’s labour amongst the Welsh hills in an atmosphere of intense excitement must have strained his powers of endurance to the utmost. Writing reminiscently when it was all over, he says : “I have dim notions of weary hours in a train, great enthusiastic open-air crowds in the streets of Preston, and thereafter, oblivion. Jack Penny tells me that my opening performance in one afternoon included almost continuous speaking from three o’clock till eight, with a break of an hour for tea.” Yet he was defeated at Preston and victorious at Merthyr, though he only spent eleven waking hours in the latter constituency previous to the opening of the poll—eleven hours of “glorious life,” with victory cheering him on.

And then that last tense experience as the votes were being counted. “The Drill Hall; the general presiding officer; the anxious faces of the watchers at the tables as the voting urns were emptied and their contents assorted. Joe Burgess, confident from the start; St. Francis, strained to a tension which threatened rupture; Di Davies, drawn ’twixt hope and fear; the brothers Parker, moved to the cavernous depths of their being. Di Davies looked up and nodded, whilst the shadow of a smile twinkled in his eyes. At length came the figures, and Di found vent for his feelings. St. Francis was not so fortunate. Who can measure the intensity of feeling bottled up in the unpolluted Celt? A great cheering crowd. A march to a weird song whilst perched on the shoulders of some stalwart colliers, I trying vainly not to look undignified. A chair helped considerably. That night, from the hotel window, in response to cries loud and long-continued, I witnessed a sight I had never hoped to see this side of the pearly gate. My wife was making a speech to the delighted crowd.”

The desire to be near her husband at this time of crisis; perhaps even an intuition of victory, had drawn the hame-loving Scots guidwife all the way from quiet Cumnock to this scene of excitement, and probably here, for the first time, came to her some real revelation of the insistent call which kept her man so much away from his ain fireside. It was certainly a great gratification to Hardie to have his wife sharing in his triumph; a pleasure equalled only by his sense of the thrill of pride with which the great news would be welcomed by his old mother in Lanarkshire, from whom he had inherited the combative spirit that had kept him fighting from boyhood right up. To her was sent the first telegram announcing the result.

The election figures were :—

D. A. Thomas............8,508
J. Keir Hardie............5,745
W. Pritchard Morgan ... 4,004

Majority for Hardie ... 1,741 He took no rest, but passed immediately into the Gower constituency to assist in the candidature of John Hodge, of the Steel Smelters, and it was not until the General Election was completed that he got home into Ayrshire to meet the eager, almost boisterous, greetings of his old associates.

Very happy weeks these undoubtedly were for Hardie. A natural man always, he made no secret of the pleasure he derived from the congratulations that were showered upon him at this time; but most of all he took satisfaction from the expressions of delight on the part of those who had been associated with him in his early struggles on behalf of a political Labour movement. At Cumnock, where he was feted in the Town Hall, he found himself surrounded by the men who had shared with him the rough spade-work of twenty years before. James Neil, who had led many a picketing expedition, was in the chair. George Dryburgh was also there, and William Scanlon of Dreghorn, and many other veterans of the Ayrshire miners’ movement. A speech by Alex. Barrow-man so comprises almost in a single paragraph the whole philosophy of Hardie’s career up to that time, that a reproduction of it is more valuable than whole chapters of minute biographical detail would be.

“Their townsman,” he said, “had he cared to turn his talents to personal advantage, might to-day have been a wealthy man. Liberalism or Conservatism would have paid a big price for his services had they been for sale, whilst he might have found an easy life as a writer for the ordinary press. But he was not built that way. He had all his life been creating agencies through which the spirit of democracy might find expression, and had been content to sow that others might reap. Twenty years ago he might have found a snug berth as secretary to some old-established Union, instead of which, he came to Ayrshire where the men were not organised, and established a union that had now nine thousand members. Not finding any newspaper representative of his opinions, he had started one, and the ‘Labour Leader’ was now a recognised power. Seeing through what he conceived to be the hollowness of political parties, he set to found a Party of his own, and had succeeded, for the Labour Party was now a reality. Shallow people might say it was Mr. Hardie’s perversity and masterfulness that made him do these things. In reality, they were the outcome of his intense earnestness, combined with his extraordinary energy and ability.”

In truth, an admirable summing of Hardie’s work and its impelling motives, and, accustomed as he was to misrepresentation, it was a joy to know that he was understood and appreciated by those who knew him best.

A poem addressed to him by an anonymous local poet, exemplifies, whatever may be its poetic merit, how far from being merely materialist was the appeal which his life had made to his comrades in Ayrshire.

“Brave Soul I From early morn till darksome night,
For ever leading- in the fitful fight.
Come for an hour into our social room
And, heark’ning- to our cheers, let fall the gloom
From off thy wearied face. Lay off your sword,
And laugh and sing- with us around the board.
And when the nig-ht is done, your armour don,
And face again your fierce) foes all alone—
Strong- in the faith that Rig-ht at last will be
The mightiest factor in Society.’'

The Glasgow movement also organised a big congratulatory demonstration in the City Hall, where only eight months before he had been in some danger of physical assault.

The chairman of the Glasgow District Council of the I.L.P., W. Martin Haddow, presided, and on the platform, in the balconies, and in the area of the hall, Socialists, Trade Unionists, Co-operators, Irish Nationalists, besides men and women of every shade and section of advanced political thought, joined, as one press writer said, “to do honour to the man in whose triumph they seemed to see the foreshadowing of ultimate political victory for that democratic principle which concentrated the aims of them all.” The Meirthyr victory was indeed one of the great events of his life, bringing to him a sense of real personal achievement, and it was recognised as such by the people for whose appreciation he most cared. He enjoyed it thoroughly and made no attempt to disguise his pleasure. The following Sunday he spoke at a meeting similar to that at Glasgow in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. During the next week he was banqueted by the London City Socialist Circle, and made a run into Wales for what proved to be a triumphal tour through his constituency, and then back into Ayrshire for a few weeks’ much-needed rest and quietude in the companionship of his own household.

The children were now grown up and of an age to understand and take some pride in the work in which their father was engaged. The eldest boy, James, had just finished his apprenticeship as an engineer, the youngest, Duncan, was making a start at the same trade, and the daughter, Agnes—known familiarly as Nan— had also left school, and was assisting her mother in the housekeeping duties. Doubtless as they gathered round the fireside they found much to interest them in the tales their father had to tell of the big world in which he had travelled so much; of what he had seen in the American Wild West; of his visits to France, and of the varied contrasting scenes of life in London Town, and of the House of Commons and the strange animals that frequented that place, to which he was now going back again. He was a good story-teller, given the right kind of audience, and what better company could there be than his own young folk amongst whom to fight his battles and live his life over again during these few weeks of restfulness? And for them, too, there was some compensation for having such an absentee father. December 3rd saw him back at Westminster taking his stand once again as a “one-man Party.”


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast