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J. Keir Hardie
Chapter 13. South Africa and Ireland - Coming-of-Age Conference —Armageddon


IT is not easy to describe Keir Hardie’s activities during the succeeding eighteen months of turmoil. So many different events, political, industrial and international, were happening concurrently, in all of which he was interested and implicated. Perhaps the simplest way will be to take the more outstanding of these events in their chronological order.

At the I.L.P. Annual Conference held at Manchester, in March, he accepted once more the position of Chairman of the Party, the chief reason for his election being that he, as founder of the I.L.P., might preside at the “Coming of Age” Conference and celebrations to take place the following year at Bradford. His remarks in accepting the honour were brief and characteristic. “Twenty years ago I was elected to the Chairmanship. I then said I accepted the office reluctantly. I say the same thing to-day. Nature never intended me to be a leader. I find myself happier among the, rank and file: But one thing let us determine. During the next twelve months we are all going to be young men in a hurry.” In Parliament a fortnight later, Hardie found himself almost in the position which he had occupied at the beginning of his parliamentary career. He stood alone, or nearly so. The occasion was the introduction of what was' known as the Government’s “Cat and Mouse” Bill, the object of which was to enable the Home Secretary

to release suffragist hunger strikers when they were at the point of death, and, when they had recovered in health, to reimprison them without trial. Hardie moved the rejection of the Bill and got only seven other members to follow him into the lobby. There was magnanimity as well as courage in his lonely champion ship of the militants.

Only a few days before, these same women had not only shouted him down, but had actually assaulted him. Hardly by a word did he blame them. Nor did he look for gratitude from them. He opposed the Bill because it was the right thing to do, and he opposed it with so much vigour and persuasiveness that in the final division before it became law, his seven supporters had increased to fifty, a proof that he had stirred some of the parliamentary guardians of liberty to a perception of the danger of vesting such arbitrary power in the hands of a Secretary of a Government department. So far as the militant suffragists were concerned, he appreciated their fighting spirit, though he deplored their lack of judgment in the conduct of their campaign. The leaders, Mrs. Pankhurst and Mrs. Pethick Lawrence, both of whom had suffered imprisonment, were, or had been, his personal friends. Mrs. Pankhurst had declared war on the Labour Party because it had declined to adopt the policy of voting against every Government measure until the women’s demands had been conceded, and, of course, Hardie, as a member of the Labour Party, had been included in that declaration of war, and treated, or rather maltreated, as if he were a foe to the suffrage movement instead of its strongest advocate.

Recent developments had added exasperation to the sense of injustice in the minds of the women. The Government had introduced a Reform Bill which made no provision for votes for women, but had tacitly agreed that if amendments embodying such a provision were carried, they would be included in the Bill. There was a practical certainty that such amendments, proposed by the Labour Party, would be carried; but the hopes thus raised had been frustrated by the Speaker’s ruling that such amendments would constitute an entirely new Bill, which would require to be introduced anew, and the Government had thereupon abandoned the measure altogether. The militant section, violent in their methods before, were more violent now, and seemed more wrathful even against the Labour Party than against the Government, notwithstanding that the I.L.P. Conference had pledged itself to oppose every franchise measure which did not include women. That very Conference the militant women had tried to wreck, and mobbed and hustled Hardie and Snowden. He did not blame the women. He blamed the Government which denied them the rights of citizenship, much in the same way as he had held that unemployed workmen could not be expected to conform to a system of laws which did not guarantee to them the right to' work. In tactics the militant suffragists were wrong: in principle they were right. It should be said that the tactics of violence had never been endorsed by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies under which the majority of the women were organised and which had supported the Labour Party throughout in its methods.

Early in the month of April, Sir Edward Grey disclosed that a European war had again nearly broken out over a quarrel between Montenegro and Albania—a part of the aftermath of the previous year’s fighting in the Balkans. Only the most meagre information was vouchsafed and no opportunity was provided for public discussion. “I suppose,” commented Hardie, in his gravely satirical way—“I suppose we shall be allowed to say a word or two before war begins.” Put in the past tense, these words are an accurate description of what actually took place sixteen months later. Parliament was allowed “to say a few words” before the Great War began. Responsible Socialist leaders had certainly at this time other matters than the franchise question to engross their attention.

In June, he travelled further across Europe than he had yet been, to Budapest, to attend the Annual Congress of the International Women’s Suffrage Alliance, not as a delegate, but as a guest. This fact emphasises how widely he was recognised as a friend of the cause, some of whose advocates in his own country were throwing stones at him. He found the Hungarian capital to be a beautiful city, but a city in which democracy could hardly draw breath. Trade Unions were tolerated as long as they were harmless to the employers, there was a franchise which excluded the workers from any share in legislation or administration, and military law was dominant over all. Reading his description, we can realise how helpless the Socialist elements would be to rally any anti-war force, and how the whole populace would be rushed automatically into war when the crisis came. Side by side with the autocratic power, he found a certain amount of wisdom in the municipal management which made life tolerable, and there is no indication of any premonition of the terrible ordeal which awaited this fair city on the Danube fated to be scourged by war, pestilence, and famine, and, later on, by the infamous White Terror. He visited Vienna, where he found much the same conditions, and conferred with Dr. Adler and other Socialist leaders, and in* Brussels, on the way home, with Huysmans, the subject of talk between all these representative Socialists being, we may be sure, the ever darkening war-cloud and the possibility of dispelling it.

He does not seem to have derived much benefit in health from this Continental trip, as, almost immediately after his return, he had a temporary but rather alarming breakdown. On the last Friday in July, Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Anderson, on their way to an I.L.P. summer conference at Keswick, found their leader in a railway carriage at Euston in a state of acute exhaustion. He was due to speak at Whitehaven that evening, but finding his condition so serious, Mr. Anderson sent him home in a cab, and himself took his place at Whitehaven. Hardie turned up two days -later at Keswick looking very pale and shaken, but assuring his friends that he was all right. As a matter of fact he had very frequent attacks of this kind, known only to the friends with whom he happened to be staying. Seldom did he allow them to prevent the fulfilment of his public engagements.

In Parliament the following week he was, with Mr. Outhwaite, demanding an inquiry into the industrial trouble which had broken out in South Africa, and incidentally, providing the British public with the finest reliable information as to the nature and cause of that trouble. The Rand miners had at last realised that the conquest of South Africa had not been undertaken primarily in their interests, and when in order to better their working conditions they had begun to organise and to hold public meetings, they found that the very law which, when passed by the Boer Government, was declared to be one of the justifications for British aggression, was now used to prevent British labour in South Africa from organising itself. A public meeting in the Square at Johannesburg had been suppressed by armed force and twenty men killed and one hundred and fifty wounded. The Governor-General, Lord Gladstone, had allowed himself to be made the tool of the mineowners, had given the sanction of his authority to the outrage, and had thereby brought dishonour on British rule in South Africa. Such, with many additional particulars of the evil conditions prevailing in the mines, was the impeachment put forward by Outhwaite and Hardie. The Government had practically no defence, and an inquiry was granted, the subsequent outcome of which is no part of this narrative. What is noteworthy is how instinctively labour in revolt, whether in South Africa or elsewhere, looked to Hardie for championship. He could always be relied upon. It almost seemed as if in this resolute, unswerving man the working-class struggle the world over had become personified.

In August, Hardie, with Socialist representatives from many lands, was called to Zurich to the funeral of Bebel, whose place in the German Socialist movement was very similar to that of Hardie himself in this country. Jaures was absent through ill-health. The public mourning for Bebel, as described by Hardie, must have been deeply impressive, but more impressive to us are Hardie’s simple words: “The end came sudden, which at seventy-three is meet and proper. In the evening he retired to rest, apparently in his usual health, and ere the morning he had entered upon the rest everlasting. What now remains is but the memory of the mighty life, and the calm, peaceful death.”

In the first week of September he was in Dublin at the invitation of the Irish Transport Workers’ Federation investigating the cause of the serious disturbances in that city, the memory of which has been dimmed by the subsequent more terrible happenings with which we are all too familiar. Indeed, the events of that time—outrageous though they were—seem now like a mere dress rehearsal for what was to follow. The city was given over to “Castle” rule, administered by the R.I.C. which was almost equivalent to being placed under military law. As at Johannesburg, public meetings were forcibly suppressed and lives lost in the course of the suppression. The organiser of the Transport Workers5 Union, Jim Larkin, was arrested on a charge of sedition, which, as Hardie pointed out, could, if upheld, be construed to apply to the whole of Trade Union activity. “There never was a meeting held in connection with a strike or a Labour dispute in which the same charge could not have held good.5’ This was not the “Irish Question55 as the politicians understand it. It was not England versus Ireland. It was Capital versus Labour, and was in reality an attempt on the part of the employers, directed by W. M. Murphy, an Irish capitalist, to destroy organised labour in Ireland before it became too strong. In six years5 time, Larkin, a man of volcanic energy, had achieved something like a miracle. The Irish industrial workers were already nation-conscious. He had made them also class-conscious, and had brought into existence a force which, in the event of Home Rule being established, boded ill for capitalism in Ireland. Larkin was the leader, the inspirer, of the new movement; but there was another quieter, brainier, but equally determined man, James Connolly by name. These two were creating an organisation and a spirit which was at once Nationalist and Socialist, and a mutual instinct of self-preservation made Dublin Castle, the army in occupation, and Murphy, the capitalist Nationalist, join forces for the destruction of this new phenomenon.

Hardie knew well how dangerous it was for any British-born agitator to obtrude in "Irish affairs, but nevertheless declared it to be the duty of British Trade Unionists to take part in the resistance to what he described as “a conspiracy to destroy the Trade Union movement.” He protested against the Government taking sides with the employers, and pointed out that, at that very moment, Carson and F. E. Smith were fomenting rebellion in the North of Ireland with apparently the approval of Dublin Castle. From Dublin he passed to Belfast where he addressed a meeting under the auspices of the I.L.P. and sought to convince the Trade Unionists of the North that it was their duty to make common cause with their fellow Trade Unionists in the South and West.

The week following he was at Jena as the fraternal delegate from the British Labour Party to the German Socialist Congress, his real object being as ever, to assist, if only by the weight of a single word, in consolidating the International Socialist forces against war. In .his greetings to the Congress he restated practically his whole Socialist and anti-militarist creed. “In these days of international commerce, finance, art, literature, and the increasing solidarity of the working-class movement of the world, the rulers and statesmen of Europe could, had they the will, abolish armies and navies in one generation. We could at least easily have the United States of Europe in that time, but they do not want to. Their rule is founded on the sword, and, were that to be abolished, the democracies of the world would soon abolish class rule. In the Socialist parties there is growing up a State within the State. The new State will not be based on force, but on economic equality and personal liberty.”

He does not seem to have been much impressed with the proceedings at the German Congress, and was disappointed that the general strike idea had not yet been embodied in any practical proposal, while, in the friction between the Christian Unions and the Social Democratic Unions, he saw a fatal obstacle to unity at a time when unity was the one thing needful. He knew from experience not so far away as Germany the evil consequences of sectarian differences. Thus the weeks and months passed, every day full of strife and agitation, the year closing with a national I.L.P. campaign against Conscription, in which, as usual, Hardie took a leading part, and with another impressive international demonstration in London with Adler, Vandervelde, Jaurks, Hardie all delivering the same message, these four standing side by side almost for the last time. The year of the Great War was at hand.

And yet it seemed as if the danger had receded. These distinguished foreigners were in London to attend the meetings of the International Socialist Bureau, the chief business of which was to arrange for the postponed International Congress, which it was, after all, decided could be held in Vienna. In the minds of these men the danger of European war had, for the time being, vanished, else they would not have been arranging for Vienna in August, 1914. When August came, Vienna was the scene of a congress of another kind—a congress of armed men. The conscripts were then mustering and were being marched out into Hell.

While in London the Socialist Bureau lent its influence on behalf of the movement for Socialist unity in this country which seemed now at last on the point of being achieved. This, also, the war rendered impossible.

The springtime of 1914 was a time of great satisfaction for Keir Hardie. It brought him a sense of achievement. The Independent Labour Party had existed for twenty-one years. It was now a power in the land. It had created a political Labour Party expressive of working-class ideals, and its principles were accepted by the great Trade Union movement. In all this his own personal effort was manifest. His had been the guiding hand, not always visible, but always operating. The influence of the I.L.P. was apparent, not only in Parliament, but in every sphere and phase of local government. In Town Councils, County Councils, Parish Councils and School Boards, members of the Independent Labour Party were at work, and the effect of their presence was already beginning to humanise the administrative work of these bodies. Almost imperceptibly, a new collectivist spirit was permeating the public life of the country, and a consciousness of power was growing amongst the working class. In all this the Independent Labour Party had been the driving and the inspiring element. The very fact that it was the mark for special attack by the vested interests was the proof of this. Many times during those twenty-one years the capitalist press had exulted in the appearance of division, and had gloated over the coming disruption— which never came. It was now celebrating its “coming of age” as a political party, and the man who presided over it on the day of its birth was presiding over it now. Keir Hardie, like the Party, had survived through abuse, ridicule and misrepresentation. He was able, literally, to look upon his handiwork and find that it was good. To consolidate organised Labour and shape it into an invincible power for the realisation of Socialism. That was his purpose. Only a beginning had been made, but it was a good beginning. A path had been cleared along which others might follow. .

It was in something of this spirit that the I.L.P. met at Bradford, the place of its birth. Congratulations came from every Labour organisation in Britain and from every Socialist Party in the world. From many of these also came delegates in person. Camelinat, who had been a member of the First International and Treasurer to the Government of the Paris Commune, beaming over with kindliness, gave his blessing to the I.L.P. pioneers for liberty. Huysmans, of the Second International, told how the great fraternity of Socialist effort was growing in all lands, and paid tribute to the Independent Labour Party’s share in that work. Herman Muller, of Germany, spoke in the same hopeful strain. There was eloquent speech-making and brave and stirring music, including a Song of Liberty, specially composed for the occasion by Granville Bantock to words written by Mrs. Bantock. The early pioneers of the Party were much in evidence; Robert Smillie, Fred Jowett, M.P., Bruce Glasier, Mrs. Glasier, with many a rank-and-file delegate from the first-year branches of the Party, fighting their battles over again. The general feeling was one of confidence and optimism, and for the moment, at least, they had put out of their hearts and minds the fear of war. Even Hardie’s presidential address made no reference to the European spectre. He looked to the past and to the future, and if for that future he had any fears, he kept them to himself. “The past twenty-one years,” he said, “have been years of continuous progress, but we are only at the beginning. The emancipation of the worker has still to be achieved, and just as the I.L.P. in the past has given a good, straight lead, so shall the I.L.P. in the future, through good report and ill, pursue the even tenour of its way, until the sunshine of Socialism and human freedom breaks forth upon the land.”

It was a rejoiceful time for the I.L.P. marred only slightly by attempted outbreaks of violence from the militant suffragists, and even they, could they have peered into the near future, would probably have held their hands.

Hardie’s closing words in vacating the chair constitute the most self-revealing public utterance he ever made, and as they have also a bearing on present—and probably future—developments within the I.L.P., it is well that they should be preserved. They are also biographical, in the truest sense of the word. “I think I have shown that I can be a pioneer, but I am not guided so much by a consideration of policy, or by thinking out a long sequence of events, as by intuition and inspiration. I know what I believe to be the right thing and I go and do it. If I had, twenty-one years ago, stopped to think about what the future would bring,

I would not have dared to accept the responsibility of entering the House of Commons. During those first three years my wife kept my house going, kept my children decently and respectably clothed and fed on an income which did not even exceed twenty-five shillings a week. Comrades, you do well to honour her. Never, even in those days, did she offer one word of reproof. Many a bitter tear she shed, but one of the proud boasts of my life is tp be able to say that if she has suffered much in health and in spirit, never has she reproached me for what I have done for the cause I love. I leave the chair, then, as I did at the end of the first Conference, to be a pioneer. I said the other day that those of us who are advanced in years may easily become cumberers of the ground. I am not going to die if I can help it, but there is a dead spirit which blocks the path of the young. I am not going to stand in their way. I shall die, as I have lived, a member of the I.L.P., but I want the Party to have freedom to grow, and I do not want young men and women to say, ‘We might have done this or that if it had not been for old Keir.’ I will accept no position which will give me standing over you. I will fight for what I think the right thing, but I will trust your judgment. While I have anything to give, it shall be given ungrudgingly to the child of my life—the I.L.P.”

This was Easter, 1914. The delegates returned to their districts to report the proceedings to their branches and to prepare for the usual summer propaganda work and for the coming general election which was expected before the end of the year. The possibility of war did not enter into their calculations. Indeed, it is a remarkable fact that the great upheaval, so long feared and dreaded and prophesied, came at the last unexpectedly, almost like a thief in the night, and gave the democracies of the various countries no time to organise any resistance, much less to collaborate internationally on a common policy. The people of this country were not dreaming of any European War in which they would possibly be involved. On the Saturday and Sunday— twenty-four hours before Sir Edward Grey made his fateful speech which brought the war spirit into the heart of the country—there could be seen on the London streets groups of men and women on their way to Germany to convey to the German workers the fraternal greetings of groups of British Adult Schools and of British citizens innocent of what had gone on behind the scenes.

So far as politics were concerned, people were deeply interested in two subjects only. One was the increasingly outrageous lawlessness of the militant suffragists. The other was the threatened Ulster rebellion in resistance to the Home Rule Act due to be put in operation shortly. Shiploads of ammunition— said to have been imported from Germany—had been landed in Ireland for the arming of the Ulster Volunteers. Certain officers of high rank, responsible for the control of the military forces in Ireland, had let it be known that they could not be relied upon to act against the Ulster rebels, and to the threat of rebellion there was thus added the threat of mutiny, and though these officers had somewhat modified their mutinous declarations, the utterances of such politicians as Sir Edward Carson, F. E. Smith and Bonar Law were the reverse of reassuring. The situation was regarded as serious. The people of this country were more concerned about the Curragh of Kildare than about the Market Square of Sarajevo. .

The Socialist movement, too, was, as has been indicated, for the time off guard. Philip Snowden, in rather poor health, went off with Mrs. Snowden on a world tour. If he hajd thought so great a crisis was imminent he would certainly have stayed at home. Even the assassination of the Austrian Grand Duke at Sarajevo did not awaken serious apprehension of a general European war, though such a possibility was not absent from the minds of the I.L.P. leaders. That possibility was indicated in an article by W. C. Anderson in the “Labour Leader” of July 30th, but even at that late date he felt justified in writing: “Despite all signs to the contrary, there will, I believe, be no war; nothing, at any rate, in the nature of extended warfare.” And so was it with the international movement.

On July 29th, the International Socialist Bureau met at Brussels, hurriedly summoned to consider the state of matters created by Austria’s declaration of war on Servia. “But,” says Bruce Glasier who was present with Hardie and Dan Irving from Britain, “although the dread peril of a general eruption of war in Europe was the main subject of the deliberations, no one, not even the German representatives, seemed apprehensive of an actual rupture between the great Powers taking place until at least the full resources of diplomacy had been exhausted.” So little was a general European war expected that it was decided to go on with the International Congress, only changing the place of meeting from Vienna to Paris because of the state of war in Austria, and fixing the date for August 9th instead of the 23rd, the original date. By August 9th, neither Paris nor any capital in Europe could give hospitality to an International Socialist Congress.

In the evening after this Bureau meeting in Brussels, a great anti-war meeting, attended by 7,000 people, was held in the Cirque. Vandervelde, of Belgium, presided. Haase, of Germany, Jaures, of France, Hardie, of Britain, all spoke movingly. Jaurks, in this last speech he was ever to make, warmly thanked the .German Social Democrats for their splendid demonstrations in favour of peace, and with impassioned eloquence invoked the workers to rescue once and for ever civilisation from the appalling disaster of war.

Forty-eight hours later Jaures himself fell, not by the hand of a German, but of a fellow-countryman, inflamed, it was said, by war madness, though to this hour no serious attempt has been made to discover whether any other motive power directed the assassin’s arm. It was here then, in Brussels, that Hardie and Jaurks met and parted for the last time. It was in Brussels that on this, the very eve of Armageddon, the citizens, men and women in their thousands, marched through the streets displaying their white cards with the strange device, “Guerre a la Guerre” (war against war). We know what happened to Brussels in the time that was near at hand.

Yet, still there was hope, amounting almost to a belief, that the crisis would pass. Assuredly in Great Britain that was the prevalent conviction, and it was only when it was realised that Russia was mobilising her troops, and massing them where, in time of peace, no Russian troops should be, and that German forces were threateningly near to the Belgian frontier, that the people of this country woke up to a real sense of peril, and it must be said that they did not wake up with any enthusiasm. The common people did not enter into war. They were dragged into it. That they could be dragged into it was due to the fact that they had been kept wholly ignorant of the doings of their diplomatists, and they had not believed the I.L.P. when it tried to inform them. The I.L.P. now, and up to the last possible moment, directed all its efforts towards keeping the nation out of the war.

With a spontaneity which was a striking proof of how surely rooted in principle was the organisation, every section of it moved in the same way. The National Council, the Divisional Councils, the Federations, the branches—even the smallest and most isolated of these— acted as by a common impulse; and on Sunday, August 2nd, in every city, town and village where there was a branch or group of the Independent Labour Party, a public protest against the nation being dragged into the war was made, and a demand that whatever might happen in Europe, this country should stand neutral and play the part of peacemaker. Hardie, if he had time to think of it—which he probably had not—had reason to be proud of his beloved I.L.P. that day.

He himself was in Trafalgar Square taking part in a demonstration organised by the British Section of the International Socialist Bureau, of which he was Chairman. The Bureau had already issued a Manifesto which is here reproduced for two reasons, first, because Hardie was one of the signatories, second, because it is important to preserve this documentary proof that organised labour in this country was unitedly opposed to the war. Had it continued to be so after war was declared, history would to-day have had a different and better story to tell than it can now present to posterity. The Manifesto was as follows:—

“AN APPEAL TO THE BRITISH WORKING CLASS.
“(Manifesto by British Section of the International Socialist Bureau.)

“The long-threatened European war is now upon us. For more than a hundred years no such danger has confronted civilisation. It is for you to take full account of the desperate situation and to act promptly and vigorously in the interests of peace.

“You have never been consulted about the war. Whatever may be the rights and the wrongs of the sudden crushing attack made by the Militarist Empire of Austria upon Servia, it is certain that the workers of all countries likely to be drawn into the conflict must strain every nerve to prevent their Governments from committing them to war.

“Everywhere Socialists and the organised forces of Labour are taking this course. Everywhere vehement protests are made against the greed and intrigues of militarists and armament-mongers.

“We call upon you to do the same here in Great Britain upon an even more impressive scale. Hold vast demonstrations in London and in every industrial centre. Compel those of the governing class and their press, who are eager to commit you'to co-operate with Russian despotism, to keep silence and respect the decision of the overwhelming majority of the people, who will have neither part not lot in such infamy. The success of Russia at the present day would be a curse to the world.

“There is no time to lose. Already, by secret agreements and understandings of which the democracies of the civilised world know only by rumour, steps are being taken which may fling us all into the fray. Workers, stand together therefore for peace. Combine and conquer the militarist enemy and the self-seeking Imperialists to-day once and for all.

“Men and women of Britain, you have now an unexampled opportunity of showing your power, rendering a magnificent service to humanity and to the world. Proclaim that for you the days of plunder and butchery have gone by. Send messages of peace and fraternity to your fellows who have less liberty than you.

“Down with class rule ! Down with the rule of brute force ! Down with war ! Up with the peaceful rule of the people!

“Signed on behalf of- the British Section of the International Socialist Bureau,

“J. Keir Hardie (Chairman).
“Arthur Henderson (Secretary).”

There is a strange ring about that appeal now. It still seemed as if organised Labour would hold together for the preservation of peace, or for its speedy restoration if war should come. But it was too late. The country was in the rapids and was being rushed to the doom of the waterfall. Within twenty-four hours both temper and outlook had changed. The heavy blares of the war trumpets were beginning to perform their magic.

The Trafalgar Square demonstration, which the “Manchester Guardian” described as “the biggest held for years,” was representative of all sections, as is shown by the list of speakers, which included Mr. J. Stokes, Chairman of the London Trades Council; George Lansbury, now of the “Daily Herald”; Robert Williams, of the Transport Workers’ Federation; Will Thorne, M.P., of the General Labourers’ Union; Mary R. Macarthur, of the Federation of Women Workers; Margaret Bond-field, of the Shop Assistants’ Union; Dr. Marion Phillips, of the Women’s Labour League; Herbert Burrows, of the British Socialist Party; Keir Hardie, of the I.L.P.; Arthur Henderson, of the National Labour Party; Mrs. Despard and Mr. Cunninghame Graham. The latter gentleman’s speech was said to have made the most profound impression, and to have been “the best he had ever delivered,” which was saying a great deal. “Do not,” he implored, “let us do this crime, or be parties to the misery of millions who have never done us harm.”

In another part of the country Robert Smillie said that if it were yet possible to stop the war by a cessation of work all over Europe he would be glad to pledge the miners to such a course. On August 2nd, labour was against the war.

On the following night interest was transferred to the House of Commons, and Parliament was “allowed to say a few words” before the war, already decided upon, really started officially.

The few words, from the I.L.P. point of view, were spoken with unmistakable emphasis by MacDonald and Hardie. Never did speakers speak under difficulties like those men. The facts had not been disclosed; the crowded House was in a frenzy and wished to listen to no reason. “I think,”, said MacDonald, “Sir Edward Grey is wrong. I think the Government which he represents and for which he speaks is wrong. I think the verdict of history will be that they are wrong. There has been no crime committed by statesmen of this character without these statesmen appealing to their nation’s honour. We fought the Crimean War because of our honour. We rushed to South Africa because of our honour. The right hon. gentleman is appealing to us to-day because of our honour. So far as we are concerned, whatever may happen, whatever may be said about us, whatever attacks may be made upon us, we will say that this country ought to have remained neutral, because we believe in the deepest part of our hearts that is right, and that that alone is consistent with the honour of the country.”

Hardie, some time later on in the debate, made a speech of extraordinary dignity and earnestness. Addressing himself in the first place to the consequences rather than the causes of the war, he impressed everyone with a sense of the extent of the distress that might be expected. Unemployment would spread and, lacking wages, the poor would be robbed by the manipulators of the various food rings. He darkened the picture of suffering as only one could who had seen it so frequently. “How,” he asked, “were the Government going to relieve it ?” He pointed out that earlier in the sitting a Bill to help the bankers had been rushed through all its stages by the Government. Where was the Bill to help the workers? He passionately denied that the mass of the workers of the country were for war. “Had they been consulted, war would not have happened. Why were not they consulted?”

Both MacDonald and Hardie knew only too well that their speeches and protestations were now in vain. They had made these protestations years before, when they ought not to have been in vain. What they were doing now was to clear themselves and their Party from responsibility for the crime, and, if possible, hold the Labour movement of this country true and faithful to the spirit and pledge of International Socialism. It was a tremendous ordeal for both, but especially for Hardie, who was the older man, and physically unwell, and only sustained against collapse by the intensity of the crisis, which made him forgetful of bodily infirmity. These had been two weeks of terrible strain. The critical Conference at Brussels; the emotional experience of that great public gathering there; the murder of Jaures, revealing, as by a flash from the fires of hell, the potential horrors opening out upon humanity; the I.L.P. Council deliberations; the Labour Party Executive meetings; the Socialist Bureau’s meetings and decisions; the Trafalgar Square demonstration; and now, this last solemn hour in the House of Commons. The wonder is that he was able to pass through it, and that he did not break down then instead of a year later. There are occasions for some men when the spirit triumphs over time and circumstance and fate itself: But for such men the penalty in pain is very great.

Hardie had yet another ordeal to pass through, and he resolved to face it at once before going home to the quietness of Cumnock. He had to see his constituents. He knew well that the drums of war that were already beating would, in proportion, as they roused national pride and prejudice, drown reason, and that if he was to get a chance to explain his position it would have to be immediately. On August 6th, he spoke in Aberdare. What happened there had best be described by one who was present. “As soon as the hall began to fill it was obvious that a large hostile element was present. There was no disturbance when Hardie, Richardson and the Chairman, Councillor Stonelake, mounted on the platform. The Chairman spoke without interruption, but as soon as he called on Hardie the uproar commenced. A well organised body of men had taken up a strong position near the back of the hall, a huge dreary building, which was usually the local market. They were the members of the Conservative and the Liberal Clubs who had always hated Hardie. Their opportunity had come at last. ‘God Save the King’ and ‘Rule Britannia’ were sung lustily, and the clang of a bell could be heard amongst the general pandemonium. The crowd in the front attempted to quell the disturbance. It soon became evident that Keir Hardie was not going to be heard that night. Hardie continued to speak for about half an hour utterly undaunted by the noise, but his voice could not be heard further than the front seats. Once or twice a few scraps of phrases could be heard amidst the din. He was heard to refer to the German workers as good, kind natured people and the noise drowned the rest. At last he sat down. Richardson met with a similar reception and soon gave it up. A Union Jack was displayed, but it soon disappeared. Evan Parker had seen to that (an incident which was to tell against him in a D.O.R.A. prosecution months after). A small body of the comrades closed round Hardie. There was a rush near the door but the street was reached safely. The crowd surged down the side street, but in the main street it began to get less. But several hundred men followed us up the main street singing their jingo songs. Hardie was unperturbed; he walked straight on with his head erect, not deigning to look either to the right or the left. He was staying with Matt Lewis, the school teacher, secretary of the local Labour Party. As we turned up the road the crowd became gradually less and, as the house was reached the sight of Mrs. Lewis with the baby in her arms dared the rest. Several of the comrades kept watch for some time. Hardie sat down in the armchair by the fire and lit his pipe. He was silent for a time staring into the fire. Then he joined in the conversation, but did not talk so much as usual. I had to catch the nine o’clock train down the valley. He shook hands, and said, ‘I understand what Christ suffered in Gethsemane as well as any man living.’ ”

A report of the meeting in the “Western Mail,” which had for its headings

“Mr. Hardie Hooted.

“Hostile Reception in his own Constituency.

“Wild Scenes at Aberdare Meeting.”

confirmed the foregoing account in every particular, but, in addition, credited him with having restrained his supporters from retaliating, thereby preventing outbursts of actual violence. From this report we learn also that “amid a hurricance of booing Mr. Hardie said that the whole Liberal press stood for British neutrality until they heard Sir Edward Grey’s speech last Monday. The effect of that speech was that the Liberal Party found itself committed to war without having been consulted in any shape or form”; and that in his concluding words he declared that “he had won this seat as a pro-Boer, and he was going to oppose this war in the interests of civilisation and the class to which he belonged.” The other meetings were abandoned and he returned to London, where, broken in spirit for the time, he unbosomed himself to a friend. The result was that another meeting in Merthyr was arranged and MacDonald, Glasier and Hardie had a triumphant reception.

Nor is it too much to believe that if he had lived till an election came round, he would have still held the seat for Labour. He spoke several times in the constituency during the ensuing twelve months without molestation, and continued his weekly criticism of the Government in the “Merthyr Pioneer.” There was evidence that his strong personality was beginning to prevail again over the temporary war prejudice. He had, however, received a mortal blow, and that Aberdare meeting gave the fatal wound to the man who had lived his life for his fellows. He derived great comfort from the knowledge that his Welsh I.L.P. comrades were staunch. Except “one who was numbered with us,” there were no deserters. Di Davies, Lewellyn Francis, John Barr, Evan Parker, Matt Lewis, Stonelake, Morris, the Hughes family, all the stalwarts who had fought and won with him, were now ready to fight and lose with him, and to stand by him, even unto death if need be. He had reason once again to be proud of his I.L.P. He did not hide from them nor from himself the seriousness of the outlook. “This war,” he told the Merthyr comrades, “means conscription,” and there were tears in his eyes as he said it. “My own boy may be taken, and I would rather see him in his grave than compelled to fight against other workers.”

He went home to Cumnock to see the boy, and the boy’s mother and sister, and to rest himself for a little while. It was more than time.

Similar experiences to those of Hardie befell the other I.L.P. Members of Parliament. MacDonald at Leicester, Jowett at Bradford, Richardson at Whitehaven, Snowden—when he reached home—at Blackburn, had all to pass through the same ordeal of calumny and abuse, growing ever more bitter and unscrupulous as the years of war lengthened out, and constitutional methods of government were displaced by militarism and bureaucracy. Hardie did not live to see the evil thing at its very worst. For the others there is at least this consolation: they have lived to see their principles vindicated, and may yet live to see their cause triumphant and their position honoured.


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