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J. Keir Hardie
Chapter 11. Foreign Policy—The King’s Garden Party—Attacks from Within and Without


ALMOST immediately on his arrival, Hardie found himself deeply immersed in work, and seemed bent on squandering somewhat freely the energy he had gained during his travels.

The period, indeed, is so crowded with events in which he was involved that it is well-nigh impossible to present a sequential account of his sayings and doings. There was the usual round of welcoming demonstrations which were calculated not only to show the esteem in which he was held by the Labour movement, but also to act as a stimulus to that movement. The meeting in the Albert Hall, London, was remarkable for size and enthusiasm, and the recipient of so much adulation might have been pardoned if he had succumbed, if only temporarily, to the disease known as “swelled head”—a failing not unknown amongst popular politicians. Hardie was not without his share of self-esteem, but he never allowed it to magnify into a grotesque proportion his place in the movement. These demonstrations he accepted as his due, but he valued them chiefly as Labour’s answer to the misrepresentations and abuse that had been so lavishly showered upon him. If his own people believed in him, he cared not who was against him.

He had also to make a tour of his constituency, where his reception was such as to assure him that the attacks made upon him had not weakened, but had rather strengthened, the fidelity of his supporters. South Wales had now become a kind of second home to him, where he was as much at his ease, and had friendships as intimate, as in Ayrshire or Glasgow.

Following quickly upon these platform appearances came the I.L.P. Conference at Huddersfield, at which there were some signs of division over the Party’s connection with the Labour Party. The trouble centred round Victor Grayson, who had been elected for the Colne Valley division in the previous year, under conditions which did not strictly conform to Labour Party rules, and which had prevented his official endorsement either by the N.A.C. or by the Labour Party Executive. The former body, however, made itself responsible for paying him his share of the Parliamentary Maintenance Fund, from which the I.L.P. helped its Parliamentary representatives. The Conference sustained the N.A.C. attitude by a large majority. Thereafter, a resolution— to which Grayson agreed—was passed, declaring that “during the remainder of Parliament his relations to the Labour Party should be the same as that of all the other I.L.P. members, except in the case of his being placed upon the Parliamentary Fund.” This dispute, throughout which Hardie played the part of peacemaker, seems in perspective somewhat trivial, but at the time it looked to be very serious, and there were not wanting those who hoped to see it result either in the break up of the I.L.P. or in its severance from the Labour Party.

This Conference, however, was chiefly remarkable for its pronouncements on foreign affairs, and especially upon the agreement with the Russian Government, which it declared was equivalent to “giving an informal sanction to the course of infamous tyranny which has suppressed every semblance of representation and has condemned great numbers of our Russian comrades to imprisonment, torture and death.” A resolution was also passed protesting against the “shameless exploitation of the Congo by the Government of King Leopold, and calling upon the British Government to take such action as may compel a more humane treatment of the natives of the Congo.” This was followed by a resolution, moved by Hardie and seconded by Joseph Burgess, demanding “that the people of India should be given more effective control over their own affairs.” In the course of his speech, Hardie cited the native States of Baroda, Mysore and Travancore as proof of the fitness of the Indian people for self-government. In one or other of these States, he affirmed, he had found parish councils established, he had found the caste system disappearing, and he had found compulsory free education, and in one of them there was a popularly elected Annual Parliament meeting and discussing national affairs. “The whole of the administration, from the humblest office right up to the chief, was filled by natives and the administration of the affairs of those States was a model to the rest of India.” In face of the momentous issues raised by these resolutions, the Grayson incident dwindled into insignificance, and the somewhat rancorous feelings which it had evoked melted away in the. general recognition of the great purposes for which the I.L.P. existed.

Three keenly contested by-elections occurring almost simultaneously, at Dewsbury, Dundee and Montrose Burghs, in all of which the Labour candidates were defeated, afforded opportunity for big scale propaganda in which, as a matter of course, Hardie played a prominent part, evidently quite forgetful of the fact that only a year before he had been almost at death’s door.

At the same time, Parliamentary affairs developed in such a way as to throw him once more very prominently into the limelight. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman had retired from the Premiership and was succeeded by Mr. Asquith, a decided change for the worse from the democratic standpoint, and almost of sinister import having regard to the new Premier’s imperialistic tendencies and the international alliances which were in process of being formed. Notwithstanding the repeated inquiries of MacDonald and other Labour Members for information concerning the agreements which had been come to with'tEe Czar’s Government, no satisfactory or informative statement had been vouchsafed, and there were strong reasons for the suspicion that these agreements were of such a character as to involve this country in grave and unavoidable responsibility in the event of an outbreak of war in Europe. When, therefore, the announcement was made that King Edward was to pay an official visit to the Czar at Reval, these suspicions seemed to find confirmation, and it became the duty of all friends of international peace to protest. The fact that it was a Liberal Government which was pursuing a policy quite in line with the designs of the Tory Party threw the onus of opposition upon Labour, and against the combined forces of the two imperialist parties, Labour was in a hopeless minority and could do little more than make its protest in such a way as to arrest the attention of the nations.

Labour was opposed to the ostentatious recognition of the Czar’s Government, not only because of the dangerous international commitments which it implied, but also because of the flagrantly despotic character of that Government which at that very time was engaged in suppressing with calculated savagery every semblance of constitutional rule. On every I.L.P. platform throughout the country the King’s visit to the Czar was strongly condemned, Hardie, of course, being in the very forefront of the attack. Under the title, “Consorting with Murderers,” he contributed a powerful article to the “Labour Leader/’ detailing the crimes of Czardom during the previous three years since the formation of the first Duma, which he contended had only been conceded for the purpose of giving confidence to European financiers so as to induce them to advance money to the Czar’s Government, a contention which had found confirmation in the fact that immediately on the successful flotation of a loan of £90,000,000 the newly-formed Duma had been forcibly disbanded, and one hundred and sixty-nine of its members arrested and imprisoned on the flimsiest charge, while seventy-four members of the second Duma had shared the same fate. The article gave the official figures of persons butchered by the Black Hundred under Czarist auspices as 19,000 in two years, and the number of political prisoners executed during the same time as 3,205; and it stated that, during two months of the current year, 1,587 persons had been condemned to death or penal servitude for no other reason than for being Radicals or Socialists. “The Czar and his Government have been singled out for honour by a Liberal Government. What is the explanation?” The article went on to show that Russian finances were again in a bankrupt condition. The Budget for the year showed a deficit of £20,000,000. The Russian debt was £665,000,000, and there were projects for a new navy and a new military railway at a cost pf £70,000,000. A new loan was necessary. “Financial reasons, therefore,” continued the article, “probably explain why King Edward has been advised by his responsible advisers to pay this official visit to a monarch reeking with the blood of his slaughtered subjects. The Stock Exchange hook needed to be baited. Two years ago the bait was a popularly elected Duma; this time it is a Royal crown. Truly kings have their uses.”

Language of this kind was not calculated to raise its author in the esteem either of royalty or of the financiers, nor was the persistence which the Labour Party showed in bringing the question into the House of Commons likely to be viewed with favour by the two other parties, who were at one on the question of Russian policy.

On June 3rd, Hardie came into conflict with the Speaker over the rejection of a question which he had put down as to the persecution of political prisoners in Russia—particulars of which he detailed—asking whether the British Government meant to make any protest or to continue relations with the Czar’s Government. The question was disallowed as reflecting upon “a friendly Power”! Notwithstanding its rejection, he managed to gain full publicity for it, which was all he would probably have got even if he had been allowed to put it. With all his directness, he was an astute parliamentarian.

The following day, in committee on the Foreign Office vote, Mr. James O’Grady, speaking for the Labour Party, in an exceedingly effective speech, moved that the salary of the Secretary of State be reduced, in order that he might raise the question of the King’s visit to Russia. In the subsequent debate, Hardie again incurred the censure of the chairman, who objected to the use of the word “atrocities” as applied to a friendly Power, and on Hardie replying that he knew no other word in the English language to express his meaning, a scene ensued, which provided the press with many columns of sensational “copy.” The chairman insisted on the word “atrocities,” which had only been used once, being withdrawn. Hardie declined to withdraw it, and continued on his feet, debating the chairman's ruling, and incidentally impeaching the Russian Government. Other members intervened, mostly in support of Hardie’s position, until at last the chairman threatened to name Hardie, with a view to his suspension. His continued refusal brought the Prime Minister to his feet with a dexterous definition of Parliamentary law, and a direct appeal to Hardie to accept the chairman’s ruling. After a very evident mental conflict, he reluctantly agreed to withdraw the term of offence, in order, as he said, “to secure a division.” This was certainly a mistake in tactics, and was one of the very few errors of judgment made by him during the whole of his Parliamentary career. It was at least a refutation of the charge often made against him of being a seeker after notoriety. Suspension would have been his best card if notoriety had been his object, but it would also have been the most effective way of bringing home the nature of the controversy to the public mind, and for that reason it would have been better if he had held his ground.

The most unfortunate feature of this debate was the manner of its ending, Arthur Henderson moving the closure just as Victor Grayson rose to continue the debate. It was afterwards explained that an arrangement had been come to between the leaders of the three parties that the debate should close at a certain hour and be followed by a division, which Grayson’s intervention would have prevented, but the fact that it was the Labour Party leader who intervened gave some colour to the accusation made in some quarters, that Grayson was being ostracised, and it certainly helped to roughen the already existing friction.

On this occasion it is noteworthy that more than one-half of the Liberal Party abstained from voting, while the Tories voted solidly with the Liberal Government, thus confirming Hardie’s oft-repeated declaration that on questions of foreign policy, the Asquith-Grey-Haldane administration was in reality a Tory Imperialist Government.

There was a remarkable sequel to this debate, an account of which may be left to one of the persons directly involved, all the more as it provides us with another of those contemporary pen-portraits of Hardie which have genuine biographical value. The witness is Arthur Ponsonby, who had recently entered the House as the successor to Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman in the representation of Stirling Burghs. Says Mr. Ponsonby: “I first met Keir Hardie at a luncheon party in the House of Commons before I myself was in the House. Amongst others, another highly placed, successful, and prominent Labour leader was present. I remember contrasting the two, and I was immensely struck by Keir Hardie’s reticence and his occasional incisive remarks, which were very different from his colleague’s voluble assurance. I decided inwardly that K.H. was the genuine article. My upbringing and the fact that I was a Liberal connected more or less at the time with officialism, I thought might give him a prejudice against me, but, on the contrary, he regarded me approvingly and I felt sympathy in his extraordinarily kindly smile. But I had only a nodding acquaintance with him till 1908, when we were thrown together in very peculiar circumstances. I had only been a fortnight in the House when a debate came on in which the Government defended the advice they had given King Edward to visit the Czar at Reval. This explanation appeared to me entirely inadequate. The people of Russia were long oppressed and persecuted in an abominable way, and I thought it morally and practically wrong that this compliment should be paid to the oppressor by a country which should always be on the side of the oppressed. Without any Hesitation I voted with a small minority of Labour men and Radicals against the Government. Keir Hardie was among the number. Shortly afterwards, King Edward gave a garden party to which all Members of the House of Commons were invited. But four exceptions were made. One member whose financial reputation was not the best, Grayson, who had made one or two ineffective demonstrations in the House, Keir Hardie and myself. I did not pay much attention at first, thinking there was probably some error. But when I discovered it had been done very deliberately, and at the King’s orders, the incident assumed its honest proportions. It was no longer a private affair but an insult to my constituents and an attempt by the sovereign to influence votes of Members by social pressure. Keir Hardie also had been inclined to let the matter pass as an entirely unimportant incident. But when I put it to him that it was not a personal matter, but an official aspersion on our constituencies, he agreed, and he deliberated with his colleagues as to what course should be taken. The press took up the matter with embarrassing eagerness and the whole incident became embroidered out of all proportion. I need not follow the course of events so far as I personally was concerned, but Keir Hardie decided eventually to let the matter drop after explaining the position publicly in an interesting speech at Stockport in which he showed how throughout his career he had seen clearly that an attack on monarchy and the advocacy of republican principles was of very little consequence as compared with the attack on the economic system.

“We had many a talk, and need I say a laugh, over a cup of tea while the ‘crisis’ lasted, and we sympathised with one another in our efforts to avoid the pressmen. As regards the constitutional aspect of the incident, it is interesting to recall that high officials in no way in sympathy with our views had no doubt that the royal disapproval ought never to have been expressed in this way. In the ‘Dictionary of National Biography’ the incident is referred to thus: ‘Unwisely the King took notice of the parliamentary criticism of his action, and cancelled the invitation to a royal garden party of three Members of Parliament. It was the only occasion during the reign on which the King invited any public suspicion of misinterpreting his constitutional position.’

“Subsequently, whenever I made a speech against the competition in armaments, or the policy of the balance of power, or on any subject on which I could only expect the support of a small minority, I invariably got a word of encouragement and approval from Hardie.

“There was always something in his uncompromising directness and complete indifference to the approval of the majority which attracted me. He was often blunderingly tactless and rough, and though he was strictly obedient to the forms of the House, he never indulged in the little complimentary politenesses which some Members find make life smoother. All this seemed to me part of the armour he wore deliberately against the insinuating influences of unaccustomed surroundings, and of the atmosphere of authority to which men brought up in a very different sphere of life not infrequently succumb. He seemed determined to preserve the integrity of his opinions—dangerously extreme as they were thought in those days, and to the end he succeeded. His geniality, his kindliness, and his appreciation of the gentler arts of life, came as a surprise to those who only knew him publicly. ”

Hardie’s own references to the matter were characteristic. He had no use for Kings’ garden parties. He had never attended any of them, and would probably never have known that on this occasion the invitation had not been sent had it not been that Ponsonby and Grayson were also implicated. “But,” said he, “I am hot going to allow either my position as a member of the Labour Party, or my Socialism, or my views concerning King Edward’s visit to Russia, to control my principles as a Member of the House of Commons. I don’t receive these invitations because I am Keir Hardie, but because I am a Member of the House of Commons, and if I am fit to represent the working classes of Merthyr, I am fit to attend the garden party at Windsor. ” His views concerning the monarchy had been defined on several previous occasions and it was hardly necessary for him to reiterate his opinion that it was a wholly superfluous institution, only tolerable as long as it did not actively interfere in the administration of the nation’s affairs or in directing its foreign policy. That it was being so used in Russian (and, as we now know, in other) affairs, there could not be any doubt, and it showed its pettiness by this paltry ostracism. The Labour Party at once took up the matter. If a king could take cognisance of one Parliamentary act, then the constitutional theory of Parliamentary independence was gone. That week it therefore passed the following resolution and sent it to those concerned :—

“That the action of Mr. Hardie regarding the King’s visit to the Czar, which incurred the displeasure of His Majesty and led to Mr. Hardie’s name being removed from the list of Members of Parliament recently invited to Windsor, having been taken by instructions of the Party, the Party desires to associate itself with Mr. Hardie, who, in its opinion, exercised his constitutional right on the occasion of the Foreign Office debate, and it therefore requests that, until his name is restored to such official lists, the names of all its members shall be removed from them.”

As a result, assurances were officially given that a mistake had been made, and the matter was allowed to drop.

Following close upon the Government’s open declaration of friendliness to the Czar’s regime, came a raging, tearing anti-German press campaign, and it was possible to discern in the propinquity of the two manifestations something more than accidental coincidence. Its tendency was undoubtedly to stimulate animosity between the people of Britain and Germany and render it difficult for peace lovers in both countries to make headway against their respective militarist elements. The British press campaign, naturally, had its reflection in the German press, which found in our Dreadnought programmes, our alliance with Japan, our Persian policy, and our highly demonstrative entente with France and Russia, the evidence of a policy designed completely to encompass and isolate Germany.

The obvious duty of Socialists in both countries was to give effect to the Marxian call, “Wage-workers of all countries unite,” and the most serious feature of the British war scare was that the scaremongers included two leading Socialists, Blatchford of the “Clarion,” and H. M. Hyndman of the Social Democratic Federation. Blatchford visualised an immediate German invasion of Britain and told hair-raising stories of embarkation rehearsals on the other side of the North Sea. Hyndman inveighed against all things German, and advocated, as he had always done, the formation of a citizen army, not primarily to resist capitalism, but to resist, if not to attack, Germany. Even Lord Fisher, who was getting his Dreadnoughts built, was constrained to characterise the scare as silly. “The truth is,” said he, referring to the embarkation story, “that one solitary regiment was embarked for manoeuvres. That is the truth. I have no doubt that equally silly stories are current in Germany.” Unfortunately, in this country the “silly stories” had the endorsement of two prominent Socialists, one of whom was believed in Germany to be representative of British working-class opinion. During the course of this scare there were sneering references from Blatchford to the Labour Party as the “Baa-Lamb School who believe that we ought not to defend ourselves if attacked,” as the “Ostrich School who, because they want peace, refuse to see any danger of war”; as the “Gilpin School, who had a frugal mind and wanted peace at the lowest possible price.” There were also references to Hardie which approached the verge of insult. Thus the capitalist-militarist game was played and an international Socialist movement, which alone could then have averted war, was weakened.

Hardie retorted with a strong article, the very comprehensiveness of which renders it difficult to summarise. After showing that Germany had nothing to gain from war with Britain and that there were interests in both countries seeking profit out of the increasing expenditure on armaments, he deprecated the fomenting of antagonisms by avowed Socialists. He accused Hynd-man of having ransacked the columns of the gutter press for inuendoes and insults levelled against the representatives of the German Empire, and of dishing them up with all the assurance with which he was accustomed to predict die date of the Social Revolution. “Blatchford and Hyndman,” he said, “seem to have set themselves the task of producing that very feeling of inevitableness than which nothing could more strengthen the hands of the warmongers on both shores of the German Ocean, now known, I believe, as the North Sea. Is that work worthy of the traditions of Socialism? I assure our German Socialist and Trade Union comrades that Blatchford and Hyndman speak for themselves alone, and that their attitude on this question would be repudiated with practical unanimity by the Trade Union movement could it be put to the vote. The Labour Party stands for peace. We are prepared to co-operate with our German friends in thwarting the malignant designs of the small group of interested scaremongers, who in both countries would like to see war break out?

There was an immediate response to this closing appeal. Bernstein wrote emphasising the danger of stabilising the feeling of “inevitableness” as to war, and did not minimise the fact that it had already taken deep root amongst sections of the German people. He declared it to be “the duty of Socialists to lift their voice against the mad race in armaments which makes civilised humanity, to its shame, the slave of conditions which it ought to master.” Bebel wrote prophetically : “A war between England and Germany would lead to a European—that is to a world—conflagration such as has never before taken place. The German Social Democratic Party will do its utmost to prevent such, but should it happen in spite of all their efforts, those who light this fire would also have to bear the consequences that await them. The vast majority of Germans are not thinking of war with England, and indeed do not do so for very sober, selfish reasons. We have nothing to gain, but much to lose.”

This war scare temporarily died down, but its evil effects remained. The rival governments went on unrestrainedly building navies and increasing armies against each other, and from this year, 1908, onward, it became more and more difficult to contend against the fatalistic expectations of war which had been created, alike by the jingoism of the press and by the European alliances entered into by Great Britain on the one hand and Germany on the other. We drifted into war. Few saw the tendency, and fewer strove to stop it. When it came, the scaremongers who made it hurried round and said with the air of prophets : “We told you so.”

Meantime, Hardie was once more on the high seas, bound for Canada, having been invited by the leaders of the Dominion Trade Union movement to attend the Congress in Nova Scotia, on September 21st; On this occasion he was accompanied by Mrs. Hardie and Agnes, their daughter. He had also for ship companion Mr. Fels of America, the millionaire disciple of Henry George, with whom he had long been on friendly terms, and would fain have persuaded to accept the complete Socialist conception of an ideal society. There is nothing of much note to record concerning this Transatlantic trip. He took part in the Congress as an. honoured guest, and endeavoured to convince the Canadians of the value of Labour representation as a means of reconciling elements which in Canada at that time were irreconcilable. He augmented his stock of knowledge regarding the industrial conditions of the Dominion, and crossed over into the United States, where he gathered impressions of the Presidential election then taking place, the Socialist candidate being Eugene Debs, who, for a wonder, was not in prison. But, on the whole, it was more of a pleasure trip than was usual with him, the companionship of his wife and daughter tending to save him from the propaganda traps lying in wait for him everywhere. He arrived back in Glasgow on October nth, and, after a few days spent at Cumnock, was in London in time to take part in the welcome to Kautsky and Ledebour of Germany who had come on the invitation of the British section of the International Bureau. At the public meeting which took place in the St. James’s Hall, both German delegates deprecated energetically the idea of war between the two nations. Kautsky especially, in language which to-day reads at once futile and prophetic, declared that capitalists themselves would be opposed to war. “Capitalism feared war to-day because it knew that after war there would be revolution. It was the certainty of revolution that would deter the exploiting capitalists of Europe from entering upon a struggle which would be death to capitalism itself.” One can only say, alas! alas! We now know that though the war was followed by revolution, the fear of revolution had no deterrent effect upon capitalism.

Hardie’s contribution to the speech-making was an impassioned appeal to organised labour to place no faith in armies, “whether citizen or by whatever name they might be called”—an exhortation which immediately roused the ire of the chairman, Mr. Hyndman, who, as we know, was a strong supporter of the citizen army idea. The fact that there were these divisions among British Socialists themselves, detracted largely from the value of this meeting as an influence for international peace.

Whilst this darkening shadow of impending international war was slowly gathering and filling the minds of serious men, with ominous forebodings, there was serious enough trouble in the industrial world at home. A period of trade depression had again come round— had indeed hardly been absent for several years—and month by month the records of unemployment went on increasing, accompanied by even stronger manifestations of discontent than on previous occasions. There had been disturbances in most of the big towns. At Glasgow a great crowd of workless men, led by members of the I.L.P., themselves unemployed, had stormed the City Council Chambers demanding work, and from thence had marched threateningly into the West End. At Manchester there had been similar scenes and violent conflicts with the police, resulting in arrests, and in several persons being sentenced to long terms of imprisonment. All through the summer, the Parliamentary Labour Party had been pressing the Government to give the financial aid which alone could make the Unemployment Act really serviceable, and to make the Distress Committee powers compulsory instead of permissive, and it had at last secured the promise of a statement from the Government as to its intentions.

On the day following that on which this promise was made, Mr. Victor Grayson created a scene in the House by moving the adjournment, his expressed desire being “that it should consider a matter of urgent importance —the question of unemployment.” and on being told by the Speaker that, under the rules of the House, he could not move the adjournment at that juncture, he declared that he refused to be bound by the rules. After a somewhat lengthy altercation with the Speaker and many interjections from the members, he withdrew from the House, but not before he had stigmatised the Labour Members as “traitors to their class, who refuse to stand by their class.” The following day, while the House was in Committee on the Licensing Bill, a similar scene ensued, which ended in Grayson being suspended.

Hardie’s view of the matter had best be given in his own words: “Grayson came to the House of Commons on Thursday, but spoke to no one of his intentions, consulted no one and did not even intimate that he meant to make a scene. That may be his idea of comradeship; it is not mine. Nor is it what the I.L.P. will tolerate from one of its members. If the Labour Party, or if the I.L.P. members, had been invited to take part in a protest and had refused, then Grayson’s action might have been justifiable, but acting as he did, no other result could be expected than that which happened. If a protest is to be made, it must be done unitedly, and in a manner to command respect."

Hardie, as we know, had no reverential regard for the rules of the House—though he had known how to make use of them for his own purposes, but he had very great regard for the prestige of the Labour Party in the House and in the country. He, of all men, could not be accused of indifference to the claims of the unemployed. What legislation on their behalf did exist was mainly the outcome of his efforts at a time when he stood alone. But now that there was a Labour Party in the House, he held that upon that Party rested the responsibility of forcing the hands of the Government, and that isolated action by one individual could only have a disruptive effect upon the Socialist movement without being helpful to the unemployed.

There was, moreover, some reason to believe that the Grayson histrionics were deliberately intended to produce the disruption deprecated by Hardie, and an incident which occurred outside the House, almost immediately after, seemed to verify that belief. Grayson and Hyndman refused to appear on the same platform as Hardie at a public meeting under the auspices of the Clarion Van Committee, a body existing for the purpose of promoting the Clarion Van propaganda carried on in connection with Blatchford’s paper. Hardie, Hyndman and Grayson had been invited by the Committee to speak at demonstrations in the Holborn and Finsbury Town Halls. Hardie had agreed to do so and was much surprised to receive a letter from the secretary on the day previous to the meetings, requesting him to “refrain from attending the meetings,” the reason given being that Hyndman and Grayson were unable to join with him as speakers.

That this extraordinary and insulting attitude towards the greatest of all working-class agitators was the outcome of something more than mere personal pettiness was evidenced by the fact that the “Clarion” was at this time devoting its columns to the promulgation of a new Socialist Party, with the Clarion Scouts and the Clarion Fellowship as the nucleus, and dissentient I.L.P. members as potential recruits; whilst Hyndman justified his action by reference to Hardie’s anti-war scare article, and to his attack on a citizen army at the reception to the German delegation. The best comment upon this disgraceful episode was supplied by an unsolicited letter to the “Labour Leader” from M. Beer, London correspondent of “Vorwarts,” whose recently published “History of British Socialism” is recognised as the standard authority on the subject. Beer had dissented strongly from Hardie’s views at the time of the class-war discussion, and his support of Hardie now was therefore all the more valuable. The letter has both biographical and historical interest, and is therefore reproduced here intact. As an exposition of the practical philosophy of the British Labour Party movement from the point of view of a Marxian disciple it is worth considering at the present time. The letter was as follows :—

“To the Editor of the ‘Labour Leader.’

“Comrade,—Kindly permit me to express, first of all, my sincere and respectful sympathy for Keir Hardie with regard to the deplorable Holborn Town Hall incident. As a close observer of the British Labour movement, I regard the work of Keir Hardie to be of much more permanent value than that of Hyndman, Shaw, Blatchford, Wells, let alone Grayson. Of all British Socialists none, in my judgment, has grasped the essence of modern Socialism—aye, of Marxism—better than Hardie. Moreover, none has done in practice better work than Hardie. His silent, clear-headed and consistent efforts in the first years1 of the L.R.C. on behalf of the unity and independence of organised Labour, would alone be sufficient to raise him to the front rank of Socialist statesmanship. For what is the essence of modern Socialism as Marx taught it?—The political independence of Labour. And what is the foremost duty of a Socialist in the class struggle?—To divorce Labour from the parties of the possessing class. All that Keir Hardie has done, more by virtue of a practically unerring proletarian instinct than by theorising and speculating about revolution and so-called constructive Socialism. Socialism is not made, but it is growing out of the needs and struggles of organised Labour. The most simple Labour organisation, fighting for high wages, shorter hours and better Labour laws, does more for Socialism than all the Utopian books of Wells, all the Swiftean wit of Shaw, all the revolutionary speeches of Hyndman, and all the sentimental harangues of Grayson. I have been saying that for years in the ‘Vorwarts,’ in the ‘Neue Zeit,’ and sometimes in ‘Justice.’ And now let me make a confession. Soon after the election of Grayson, my editor asked me whether I did not think it advisable to interview

Grayson for the ‘Vorwarts.’ I replied it would be better to wait; the British Socialists, with their wonted hero-worship, were already spoiling him; there would be a meeting at the Caxton Hall (in September, 1907), when Grayson was to speak. I should then have an opportunity of arriving at some judgment about him. The meeting took place, MacDonald being the chairman, Curran and Grayson the chief speakers. After that meeting, of which I gave a report in the ‘Vorwarts,’ I wrote about Grayson. ‘He is very self-conscious; his Socialism consists of commiseration with the poor; in his speech he didn’t mention the Labour movement at all. Now, modern Socialism has very little to do with poor men stories but a great deal with organised Labour. Grayson has still much to learn about Socialism and he may learn it if he remains in close touch with the Labour Party.’ (‘Vorwarts,’ September, 1907.) In approving wholeheartedly of the policy of Hardie, I also approve of the general policy of J. R. MacDonald. At the publication of his ‘Socialism and Society’ he had no severer critic than myself, because I: suspected him of attempting to weaken the independence of the Labour Party. I still consider him what the Germans call a ‘Revisionist,’ but at the same time I cannot help perceiving that his general policy is at present thoroughly in conformity with the mental condition of the British Labour movement. Any other policy might at the present juncture spell disruption. We can’t force movements of oppressed classes. We must allow them to develop and to ripen. ‘Ripeness is all.’—Fraternally yours,

“M. Beer,

“London, November 22nd, 1908.”

It should be said that this letter was followed by one from H. G. Wells protesting against being “lumped with Hyndman, Shaw, Blatchford and Grayson, as being opposed to the work of Hardie,” and viewing “with infinite disgust the deplorable attacks upon the I.L.P. leaders.” These attacks upon Hardie had the usual effect of strengthening the loyalty of the I.L.P. rank and file who, through their branch secretaries, literally bombarded him with assurances of esteem and confidence.

Amid it all, he went on with his work, and in the same issue of the “Leader” in which Beer’s appreciation appeared, he had an appeal to the local education authorities to give effect to the Provision of Meals for Children Act and reminded them that they possessed powers to supply each scholar in every public school with two or three substantial meals each day. “I have frequently,” he said, “had occasion to point out that if in this and other respects the existing law were put into operation the hardships and suffering due to unemployment would be mitigated.”

There never was a more practical idealist than J. Keir Hardie. By blocking a North British Railway Bill, he compelled that company to withdraw its dismissal of a number of its employees who had been elected as Town Councillors, and in December he introduced an “Emergency Unemployment Bill” to enable Distress Committees to use the penny rate levy for the payment of wages, and to provide for special Committees where no Distress Committee was in existence. His object was to make the present Act workable during the winter, pending the promised Government measure. He also protested strongly against the mutilation by the House of Lords of the Miners’ Eight Hours’ Day Bill, but as the Miners’ Federation had agreed to accept the amendments rather than lose the Bill altogether, he had to waive his objections. Every hour of his waking time seemed to be filled with work. “I envy the editor of the ‘Clarion/ ” he wrote, “the quiet day at home in which to write his article on the political situation. Some of us are nomads and vagrants all the time, and have to write as odd moments offer, in the midst of many other and divers duties.”

In proof of this, he appended his week’s diary of work, which included attendance and speech-making in the House of Commons, six hours’ sitting on the “Coal Mines Eight Hours’ Bill Committee,” a “Right to Work Executive” meeting, a “Labour Party” meeting, a conference with French workmen delegates, an I.L.P. Parliamentary Committee meeting, a weekend public meeting at Halifax, besides correspondence entailing over a hundred replies to personal letters. Hardie did not really envy Blatchford his life of leisured journalism, but he resented strongly the habitual assumption of pontifical authority on working-class questions by one who had no practical connection with the working class, who did not participate in any of the drudgery inseparable from the work of labour organisation, who was not in a position to understand working-class psychology, and who held himself safely aloof from all official responsibility. Hardie was amongst the workers every day. He knew every phase of working-class life, not only that of the toiling underground collier, but of the skilled artisan, the sweated labourer, the under-paid woman. His life purpose was to make the working class united and powerful, and conscious of its power; and he believed he knew better than Hyndman and Blatchford the methods whereby that purpose could be achieved. It had been no easy task to call the Labour Party into being, and he was certainly not going to allow it to be destroyed by the subversive and divisive tactics which were now being used. New parties might be formed bearing all manner of names, but the Labour Party would remain and be moulded towards Socialism by the I.L.P. as long as the breath of life remained in the founder of both organisations.

The climax came at the 1909 Conference of the I.L.P. held at Edinburgh. At this Conference, a proposal that the I.L.P. should sever itself from the Labour Party found only eight supporters against three hundred and seventy-eight in favour of “maintaining unimpaired the alliance of Labour and Socialism as affording the best means for the expression of Socialism to-day.” A further resolution declaring that “no salary be paid to Members of Parliament unless such Members sign the Labour Party constitution” was adopted by 352 votes to 64. Thus was reaffirmed with emphasis the fundamental principles of the Labour Party alliance. It was otherwise when the same principle reappeared in a form involving the discussion of Grayson’s conduct outside the House of Commons.

A paragraph in the N.A.C. report explained the reasons why that body had ceased to arrange meetings for Grayson. They were that he had failed to fulfil engagements already made, and that his refusal to appear with Hardie on the Holborn Town Hall platform made it useless to fix up meetings for him through the Head Office. On the motion of Grayson himself, this paragraph was “referred back”—that is to say, deleted from the Report—by 217 to 194 votes. This could only be interpreted as an approval of Grayson’s action, and of the motives which had actuated it. Hardie, Glasier, Snowden and MacDonald so interpreted it, and resigned from the N.A.C. to which they had just been re-elected by large majorities, Hardie, as usual, being at the top of the poll—a paradoxical state of matters which evinced considerable mental confusion on the part of the delegates. The resignations were announced by MacDonald, who was chairman, in a firm speech in which he declared that he and his three colleagues declined to associate themselves with the growth of what seemed to them an impossiblist movement within the Party, with its spirit of irresponsibility, its modes of expression, and its methods of bringing Socialism; and he affirmed that it was not the mere reference back of the paragraph which made them take that action, but the source and antecedents of that event. The Conference, thus brought to face the implications of its censuring decision, quickly realised its mistake, and with only ten dissentients, passed the following resolution, which was, of course, equivalent to a rescinding of the Grayson motion: “That this Conference hears with regret the statement made on behalf of the outgoing National Administrative Council, and desires to express its emphatic endorsement of their past policy, and its emphatic confidence, personal and political, in Messrs. MacDonald, Keir Hardie, Bruce Glasier, and Snowden, and most earnestly requests them to withdraw their resignation.” This the four members declined to do; Hardie, who spoke with strong feeling, declaring that they had been regarded as limpets clinging to office, and that members present and a section of the Socialist press had put forward that statement. The trouble with Grayson was that success had come to him too easily, and he was surrounded by malign influences that would ruin his career—a prediction that was unfortunately amply fufilled. Grayson, Hyndman and Blatchford had refused to appear on the same platform with him, and it had gone abroad that he had lost the confidence of the movement. Self-respect demanded that a stand should be made. He valued the opinion expressed by the Conference. He would like it sent down to the branches, especially to those where there was that small, snarling, semi-disruptive element. They must fight that down, and if need be fight it out. With his colleagues he was going to test the question whether the I.L.P. was to stand for the consolidation of the working-class movement, or whether, departing from the lines of sanity, they should follow some chimera called Socialism and Unity spoken of by men who did not understand Socialism and were alien to its very spirit.

Thus, in the sixteenth year of the I.L.P., its founder ceased to be a member of its executive, and with him the three men most representative to the public mind of the spirit and policy of the Party. Of the four, Glasier was the only one who was not a Member of Parliament, but he was editor of the “Labour Leader,” which expressed the policy of the Party. During his four-and-a-half years of editorship, the circulation had increased from 13,000 to 40,000, but, nevertheless, his editorial conduct had been severely and unfairly criticised during this Conference from the same sources which had promoted the disruptive tactics, and in addition to resigning from the N.A.C. he announced his intention of ceasing to be editor as soon as another could be found to take his place.

Superficially, it seemed as if the designs of the enemies of the I.L.P. had been accomplished, and that the Party had been rent in twain. Those who thought so knew little of the I.L.P. or of the men who had resigned from office in order to meet disaffection in the branches. The influence of the four retiring men had increased rather than diminished. The work of the I.L.P. lay, where it has always been, in the country, and the branches continued to do the work with an energy that this internal strife only stimulated.

Eight months later came the General Election, with the I.L.P. and Labour Party candidates in the field working together, and the membership unitedly behind them, fighting for Socialism and for working-class political power. The efforts to disintegrate the Labour movement had failed.

In the months prior to the General Election there occurred opportunities of a kind to test the moral courage of the Parliamentary Labour Party and demonstrate the need for the existence of such a Party. The most outstanding of these was the visit of the Czar to this country and his official reception by the Government at Cowes. The significance of this would have passed almost unnoticed but for the protest of the Labour Party, so much at one were the Liberals and Tories on the question of foreign policy. On July 22nd, on the Civil Service vote, Arthur Henderson, as leader of the Labour Party, delivered a strong speech denunciatory of the Government’s action as being in effect a condonement of the crimes of the Czar and his Government against the common people of Russia. His recital of those crimes drew from Sir Edward Grey the memorable and immoral declaration that “it is not our business even to know what passes in the internal affairs of other countries where we have no treaty rights,” an avowal which Hardie, who followed, had no difficulty in proving to be without either historical or political vindication, by recalling the action of Mr. Gladstone with regard to the internal affairs of Naples and the tyranny of King Bomba, and also the more recent interventions in the matter of the Congo and of Armenia. This was one of the finest utterances Hardie ever made in the House of Commons. In his closing words he appealed for a clear vote of the House on this subject of the Czar, as apart from the general discussion which had included other topics. “It was because he belonged to a Party whose whole sympathies were with the people of Russia in the great fight which they were making, and because he knew that every section of the advanced movement in Russia, from the extreme Socialist to the mildest Liberal, regarded the visit of the Czar to this country as, to some extent, throwing back their cause by giving him the official recognition of a great democratic State, that he, and those with him, opposed the visit.”

This protest, which was re-echoed from every Labour platform in the country, had its effect. Not only did it wash the hands of British organised labour from the blood-guiltiness involved in the Russian alliance and left the Party free to oppose the development of the policy which that alliance implied, but, as a result, the Czar remained on board his yacht at Cowes and did not set foot on English soil. It is true to say that at the forging of every link which bound Britain to Imperialist Russia in a common policy, the Labour Party made an effort to prevent the chain from being completed; and it is also true to say that this was mainly due to the influence of the I.L.P. within the Labour Party, seeking thereby to perform its duty as a part of the International Socialist movement.

And not only with regard to Russia did the Labour Party maintain this attitude of sympathy with the oppressed, but with regard to every land whose affairs came in any way under the cognisance of the British Parliament. It championed the claims of the South African natives during the passage of the Draft Constitution of the South African Union; it protested by speech and vote against the suppression of civil liberty and the right of free speech in India; it supported the Irish Nationalists in their claims for Home Rule and joined hands with the Egyptian people in their demands for the establishment of their long withheld national independence. On foreign and colonial policy the Labour Party was, in fact, at this time, the only Parliamentary Opposition, and the only source from which emanated any virile criticism.

In all this work Hardie was bearing a very large share, not only in Parliament, but in the country and in the world. Thus, for example, we find him with George N. Barnes, representing the Labour Party at the Annual Conference of the Young Egyptian Party at Geneva, and hailed there as a valued friend and counsellor. One passage of his speech on that occasion should be preserved, if for no other reason than that it is in direct contrast to the conception of him prevalent in some quarters as an irresponsible firebrand and mischief maker. “Beware,” he said, “of secret organisation and of all thoughts of an armed rising for the overthrow of British authority. Every patriotic movement which indulges in secret forms of organisation places itself in the power of the Government. Such organisations are sure to be honeycombed by spies and traitors. The experience of Ireland in former times, and of Russia at present, is all the proof needed on this score. Work openly and in the light of day for the creation of public opinion in Egypt and Great Britain, and have no fear of the result.”

With this wide outlook upon the progress of democracy throughout the world, it is not surprising that abstract contentions about Socialist dogma sometimes seemed to him irrelevant and trivial, and the intrigues within the Labour and Socialist movement, petty and vexatious.

Nor must it be forgotten that all this time the Women’s Suffrage movement was becoming more violently militant in its tactics, breaking up meetings of friends and foes alike, and acting generally on the principle that every other cause must stand still until the women’s claims had been conceded. The women themselves were consistent and courageous in carrying through this policy, and nearly all the time there were numbers of them suffering imprisonment. To Hardie and Snowden they looked chiefly to champion their cause in Parliament and exploit their martyrdoms for propaganda purposes, and it is to be feared that they did not reflect that while harassing the Government they were also harassing their best friends and putting a serious strain upon physiques already overwrought. Nor was this all. Miss Mary Macarthur, of the Federation of Women Workers, has told us how, in the midst of her work of organising the underpaid and sorely sweated women of East London, Hardie was the one Labour Member upon whom she could always rely to come down and speak words of sympathy and encouragement to those victims of commercialism.

He responded to every call, and never counted the cost to himself, and when occasionally he ran off for a brief spell of rest it was an extremely wearied, though undaunted man, whom his friends among the Welsh hills welcomed to their firesides.


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