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J. Keir Hardie
Chapter 14. The Last Year


HARDIE’S rest-time at Cumnock did not last long. He was not in good health, and never was again; but while any capacity for work, mental or physical, remained, he could not lie idle, a mere onlooker at the new phases of the conflict in which he had spent his life, the conflict between war and peace, between Capitalism and Socialism. The forces of evil had triumphed and were in the ascendant. That was all the more reason for continuing to fight against them. He had fought with his back to the wall before. He would do so now, though it should prove to be the last fight of all.

On August 27th, he had an article in the “Labour Leader” which showed no falling off in vigour of expression or lucidity of statement. It was in answer to the specious plea put forward on behalf of those Socialists who had become aggressively pro-British and needed some plausible justification for their lapse from the principles of Internationalism. Their plea was that this country was not at war with the German people but with the Kaiser, and that the overthrow of Kaiserdom would be in the interests of Socialism in Germany. The victory of the Allies, in fact, would be a victory for Socialism. Logically, though the apologists shrank from committing themselves to the statement in so many words, the war, from the British point of view, was a Socialist one. Hardie reminded the people who argued in this fashion that one of the Allies was the government of the Czar, and he wanted to know how Socialism would gain by the substitution of Czardom for Kaiserdom. If he had lived, he might have been able to show that it was only when Czardom ceased to be of any value as an ally that Socialism was able to make headway in Russia. As it was, he was able to show that it was this very fear of the supremacy of Czardom that had made some German Socialists also forget their Internationalism. One passage from this article should be quoted as it gives the point of view which largely determined Hardie’s attitude towards the war both before its outbreak and during its process in the remaining months in which he was to be a spectator. “Let anybody take a map of Europe and look at the position of Germany : on the one side Russia with her millions of trained soldiers and unlimited population to draw upon (its traditional policy for over a hundred years has been to reduce Prussia to impotence, so that the Slav may reign supreme), and on the other side France, smarting under her defeat and the loss of her two provinces, Alsace and Lorraine, in 1870. For a number of years past these two militarisms have had a close and cordial alliance. What was it that brought the Czardom of Russia into alliance with the free Republic of France? One object, and one alone, to crush Germany between them. German armaments and the German navy, were primarily intended to protect herself and her interests against these two open enemies. If this reasoning be correct, it follows that our being in the war is a matter of the free choice of our rulers who appear to prefer that Russia should become the domineering power of Europe. I do not write these words in order to say that we should now withdraw from the conflict. That is clearly an impossibility at present. But if we can get these facts instilled into the mind and brain of our own people, and of the working class generally, we shall be able to exert a much greater influence in bringing the war to a close much more speedily than the military element contemplates at present.”

In this same article he pointed out that Lord Kitchener’s new army scheme involved the raising and training of not merely one hundred thousand men, but of five hundred thousand, and that the final outcome thereof would be, and was intended to be, Conscription, a prediction which the Socialist patriots pooh-poohed as being the one thing from which their voluntary recruiting campaign was going to save the country! Hardie’s prediction, much to his own sorrow, was just on the verge of fulfilment when death took him away from it all. He was at least spared from seeing this humiliation and enslavement of his class, for whose independence he had fought all the days of his life.

The article concluded: “Some British Socialists are unfortunately ranging themselves on the side of militarism, and we shall require to take the strongest possible action to make it clear to our comrades on the Continent that the hands of the I.L.P., at least, are clear, and that when the conflict is over, and we have once again to meet our German, French, Belgian and Russian comrades, no part of the responsibility for the crime that has been done in Europe can be laid at our door.” .

By this time it had become evident that the I.L.P. would be the only political party or section in this country refusing to accept any share of responsibility for the prosecution of the war. The Government started a great recruiting campaign and called upon all political and Labour organisations to assist. A majority of the Labour Party Executive accepted the invitation, as did also the Parliamentary Labour Party, and both placed their organising machinery at the service of the War Office.

The I.L.P. representatives on the Labour Party Executive opposed this decision and reported to their own Head Office, while MacDonald had resigned from the position of Chairman of the Labour Party, actions which were endorsed by the National Council and by the entire I.L.P. movement. The reasons for this line of conduct must have been evident to all who had any knowledge of the origin and history of the Independent Labour Party. To have joined with the other parties would have been equivalent to ceasing to be an Independent Labour Party, and neither the leaders nor the rank and file were prepared to commit moral suicide in support of a war which they had for ten years back strenuously striven to obviate. The National Labour Party might, if it choose, merge itself with its bitterest opponents, but the I.L.P. could not do that. Even if Hardie and MacDonald had favoured such a policy—an unimaginable supposition—they could not have carried the Party with them. Most of the Divisional and Federation and Branch officials would have resigned, and there would have been an end of the I.L.P., a consummation which would doubtless have gladdened the hearts of the orthodox party politicians.

The National Council, in its recommendations to Branches, declared: “If advice has to be given to the workers, we hold it should come from our own platforms, preserving the character and traditions of our movement, and we refuse to take our stand by militarists and enemies of Labour with whose outlook and aims we are in sharpest conflict, and who will assuredly seize this opportunity to justify the policy leading up to the war. Now that the country has been drawn into a deadly and desperate war, which may involve, in the end, our existence as a nation, it is not a matter for speech making, least of all from those who will not themselves be called upon to face the horrors of the trenches.”

We can well understand that the spectacle of the Labour Party (in the creation and fostering of which he had given so much of his life) transforming itself into a War Office annexe was a mortifying and painful spectacle to Hardie. Even more poignant were the emotions evoked by the consequent estrangement between men who had been his intimate friends and comrades, some of whom owed whatever endowment of political prestige and opportunity they possessed to their association with himself. A violent onslaught in the press by H. G. Wells affected him not at all, but parting company with George Barnes and some others hurt him deeply and permanently. He was stricken not only by the world, but from within his own household.

The steadfastness of the I.L.P. was the one sustaining fact proving that all was not lost, and giving to life still some zest and comfort. But even here there were individual defections that cut him to the heart. In the same week in which the already quoted article appeared, he, with James Maxton, Chairman of the Scottish I.L.P. Council, and the present writer, attended a district conference at Edinburgh to explain and discuss the Party’s policy. From Glasgow he telegraphed to a trusted Edinburgh friend to meet him at the station. This friend was one of those who had kept an open door for Hardie, who had pressed always to be nearest to him on public occasions : a most devoted follower. At the station the friend was not. Instead, there was a messenger to say that he had another engagement. Hardie understood. Another personal tie was broken never to be renewed. There were others. It was all part of the price. There were more war-wounds than those of the battlefield, and just as deadly.

This conference at Edinburgh, and one the following day at Glasgow, endorsed fully the policy outlined by the National Council, which was indeed simply a reflection of the will of the Party in general. At both conferences Hardie spoke with vigour and clearness and seemed to be the same man he had always been, save for a slight tendency to irritability, most unusual with him, and probably indicating some nervous derangement due to his recent trying experiences.

That his mental powers were unimpaired was shown in a strong and uncompromising reply to the critics of the I.L.P. in the “Labour Leader” of September 10th. Amongst these critics were included Mr. H. G. Wells, of whom and his friends in the controversy Hardie said they “must make up their own minds as to what they must do. That is their own affair. But one thing they must not do. They must not lie about those who differ from them. When Mr. Wells writes that I am ‘trying to misrepresent the negotiations which took place before the war/ he writes an untruth. Mr. Wells is shouting with the multitude and it is unworthy of the man to speak of either Mr. Ramsay MacDonald or myself as having whined in our criticism of the policy of the Foreign Secretary. But, after all, Mr. Wells has a reputation, not only in newspaper articles, but in his books, of taking a mean advantage of those whom he does not like.55 The manner of Mr. Wells’ retort proved that Hardie had not lost his old faculty for making his opponents very angry while he himself remained perfectly cool. In this article, on the question of recruiting, he had a query for Trade Union leaders. “It was in the year 1911 that the British army was last mobilised—and two men were shot dead at Llanelly. Would any railway man have touted for recruits for the army then? And is not the enemy of the worker the same now as then? The most prominent of the South African exiles has been to Germany and comes back with the declaration that ‘the only attitude for the British Empire to adopt, I am convinced, is to fight with every available man until the Prussian military despotism is beaten. I am pleased to learn that South Africa is rising to the occasion.’ Now, is was not ‘Prussian military despotism’ that sent troops to massacre striking miners in Johannesburg, or that sent into exile, where they still are, the writer of that passage and his colleagues.”

What was wrong with Hardie and the I.L.P. was that their memories were too retentive. They could not forget that there was a capitalist system and a capitalist class, or that there was a British policy which openly labelled itself “Imperialism,” nor could they forget history and its story of how all wars began—and how they ended.

During the month of September, similar conferences to those at Edinburgh and Glasgow were held all over the country, those at Ipswich, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Eccles being addressed by Hardie who continued to show the same energy which had characterised his propaganda work all through life, so that there seemed some justification for the belief amongst those who were not in close touch with him that his leadership would be available for many years to come, and that the end of the war, which it was hoped would come soon by means of negotiation, would find him still in the van of the progressive movement.

In October, he was back in his own constituency where the reception given him (the meeting to which reference has already been made) was in striking contrast to the organised hooliganism at Aberdare in the first week of the war. With him were MacDonald and Glasier, and to an audience of three thousand in the skating rink at Merthyr the trio of the I.L.P. champions explained and defended the policy of the Party. They were well received and loudly cheered, and the indications were that Hardie had not lost his hold on the constituency, and that any defection there may have been was more than counterbalanced by new adherents won by his courage and straightforwardness. He also held meetings of the I.L.P. branches in the constituency, at Merthyr, Mountain Ash, Aberdare and Penrhiwceiber, receiving votes of confidence in each place. This was at a time when the war fever was mounting and the recruiting campaign was in full swing. He was still continuing his weekly articles in the “Merthyr Pioneer,” which circulated all through the constituency, and the people in the district were thoroughly familiar with his views and opinions on the war, his attitude towards recruiting and his general outlook. The fact that there were no manifestations of hostility during this visit might have been an indication of the existence of a spirit of fair play in the Merthyr community sadly lacking in most other districts, or it might have been due to the personal respect which his past services had won from them. Probably both influences were at work.

In the “Labour Leader” of November 5th, Hardie had a review of Brailsford’s book, “The War of Steel and Gold,” written before the outbreak of war, but as readers of the book know, substantiating both by fact and argument the Socialist analysis of the causes which produced the war. As was to be expected, Hardie gave the book high praise. The opponents of the war, standing against overwhelming odds, with the entire British press against them and a Defence of the Realm Act already looking for sedition in every pacifist utterance, were naturally glad to avail themselves of every intellectual contribution which might fortify them in the defence of their convictions. At the outset of the war the withdrawal from the Government of such men as Lord Morley, Lord Loreburn, Mr. John Burns, and Mr. C. P. Trevelyan was of itself a comforting though silent witnessing on their behalf, while the searching criticism of foreign policy by Bertrand Russell, Gilbert Cannan, E. D. Morel, and Arthur Ponsonby, M.P., none of whom could at that time be described as Socialists in their outlook, was also of great value. In the same category was Mr. Brailsford’s book, and it was eminently satisfactory to Hardie because it emphasised the sinister influence of Russia, upon which he had insisted so strongly in all his platform and press declarations. He urged that it should be widely circulated by all I.L.P. branches and propaganda agencies.

George Bernard Shaw’s pamphlet, “Common Sense about the War,” which first appeared as an article in “The New Statesman,” and was the cause of much controversy and the subject of hostile criticism in “The Citizen,” a paper originally promoted as the organ of the Labour movement, gave Hardie much satisfaction, chiefly because it tore to shreds that British selfrighteousness which saw motes in the diplomatic German eye, but never a beam in that of the British or the Allies. He wrote the following letter to Shaw:—

“House of Commons,

“November 26th, 1914.

“Dear Bernard Shaw,

“As my disgust with the ‘Citizen’s’ attitude over the war is great, I have not even looked at it for some weeks. Thus it comes that I knew nothing about its attack on your ‘New Statesman’ article until someone told me of your letter in to-day’s issue. I am sending for the issue containing the attack and shall see what can be done to raise the Socialist and Labour unions to make protest. The paper is making rapidly for the void. The circulation, after going up to 70,000 [a great under-estimate] a day, is now less than it was before the war broke out. A big effort is now about to be made to raise more funds to keep it going, but nothing can save it so long as the present bumptious and reactionary cad is in the chair.

“May I now say that which I failed to muster enough courage to say when first I felt the thrill of your article, that its inspiration is worth more to England than this war has yet cost her—in money I mean. When it gets circulated in popular form and is read, as it will be, by hundreds of thousands of our best people of all classes, it will produce an elevation of tone in the national life which will be felt for generations to come. In Scottish ploughman phrase, ‘God bless ye, and send ye speed.’

“I prohibit any reply to this, or even acknowledgement. It is the expression of a heart which now throbs towards you with almost feelings of devotion.

“Sincerely,

“J. KEIR HARDIE.

“P.S.—Only a Celt could have done it.”

Shaw’s article did not produce “an elevation of tone in the national life.” All the angelic hosts could not have done that. It only added to the volume of damning. The tone-producers were Northcliffe, Hulton, Bottomley, and such-like, and their combined output was the reverse of elevating.

The fervour of gratitude in the closing words of Hardie’s letter gives some indication of how much he was feeling the need for sympathy and support. With all his courageous facing of the situation on the platform and in the press, so far as it was available, the conditions growing up around him were such as to make life for a man of his temperament and principles, almost unbearable. He could hardly move without coming in contact with the things that were hateful to him. The very colour scheme of the streets had now militarist khaki for its dominant note. The noises in the streets were militarist noises, even the cries of the newsboys were “shouts of war.” The marching and drilling of men, the drum-beatings and bugle-calls, the open training of young boys in bomb-throwing and in bayonet exercise with dummy figures to represent Germans, and with accompanying obscene expletives to stimulate hate and blood-lust, were rehearsals of the foul sport deliberately calculated to brutalise the public mind. The overbearing vulgar swagger of many of the officer class, the steady supersession of civic authority by military rule, the abdication of Parliament itself in favour of the militarists, and, added to all, the news and ever more news, of colossal bloody murder on the battlefield, made the world into an inferno for him. He could not get away from it. Wherever he turned it was there. In the House of Commons, in the House of God; in the streets, in the railway stations and the train compartments ; amongst the hills and glens and valleys, on the open highway—everywhere omniscient and omnipresent, ruthless in the lusty day of its power. The thing he had fought, Militarism, was triumphant. Perhaps worst of all, he saw in this the coarsening of the public mind, the swamping of its intelligence, and, in spite of fine words, the lowering of its ideals. If these things read hard, they must stand here as they were Hardie’s thoughts, and time has already begun to deliver its verdict upon them.

In the midst of all this, Shaw’s “Common Sense about the War,” even with its acceptance of the war as a fact which could not now be run away from, was to Hardie like a gleam of sunshine through the darkness— like a drop of water to a very thirsty man.

In the last week of November, he went to Blackburn, Philip Snowden’s constituency, and spoke three times in the district. Snowden was at the time in New Zealand, but he had found means, by speech and interview, to let his constituents and the world in general know that he was at one with his I.L.P. colleagues at home in their policy on the war. It was necessary, in his absence, to have that policy made clear, and to give the fullest encouragement to his supporters. Hardie evidently succeeded in doing so, for the “Northern Daily Telegraph” declared that, “both at the Trades Hall and the I.L.P. Institute, Mr. Hardie was greeted in a most cordial manner, his reception possibly being warmer because of the way he has been attacked during recent weeks.”

He had, however, for the time being at least, exceeded the; limit of his powers and had once more to turn his face homeward suffering from what appeared to his friends to be a very dangerous nervous breakdown. During the greater part of December he rested at home, but "did not show much sign of improvement. It was this illness which gave rise to a rumour that he had been attacked by paralysis, a rumour which travelled far, as we shall see. The trouble was quite serious enough, and it would have been good for him if he could have been prevailed upon to continue resting. It was perhaps part of the trouble that he could not do so. He was restless and unsettled, and could not stay quietly as a looker-on at events. He had to be faithful in his storm-tossed world.

On the first Saturday of the New Year, he was in Glasgow addressing the annual Scottish Divisional Conference of the I.L.P. Here an incident occurred of a kind not calculated to be helpful to a man suffering from nervous trouble. It was a conference of delegates to which the public had no right of admission, but it was found that four persons had obtained entrance to the ante-room of the hall without the necessary credentials and were known to be detectives. They were asked to withdraw, and did so. The Defence of the Realm Act was now in full operation, but the officers of the law had not yet fully realised the powers which it conferred upon them. Otherwise they might have insisted upon remaining, in which case there would probably have been serious trouble arising not out of any words spoken by Hardie, but out of the resentment of the delegates to the presence of spies. Hardie was not informed of the incident till after he had spoken, but it annoyed him and rankled in his mind. He was accustomed to open opposition and to press misrepresentation. But to be spied upon in his own country was a new experience, and too much akin to Russian and German methods. It troubled him greatly and preyed upon him.

His speech was simply in the nature of advice to the delegates to hold fast to the I.L.P. organisation during the troublous times through which they were passing. He counselled them to continue their propaganda for Socialism, and to seek representation on Citizen Committees and all other bodies through which it might be possible to safeguard the rights and interests of the common people without taking responsibility for the conduct of the war. He also advised them to associate with other agencies and movements working for the speedy restoration of peace.

On the following night—Sunday—he spoke in Hamilton, making his last public appearance in the district where, thirty-five years before, he had started out as an agitator. There were men there who had worked in the pits with him, and who still worked in the pits. They were proud of the record of the comrade of their youth, but some of them perturbed and doubtful of the wisdom of his attitude on the war. His speech was a vindication of that attitude as being in conformity with the whole of his past career. He showed that the Liberal Party had held the same attitude as himself towards the war, but had changed in a single day. His own principles, as they knew, had never been of that flexible quality, and he held that because the Foreign Office secret alliance with Russia had involved the country in an unnecessary war, that was no reason why he, or the Party to which he belonged, should approve of the war, but rather the reverse. He spoke argumentatively and clearly, but without passion. Mrs. Hardie was with him on the platform, and few in the audience could have guessed that she had wished to keep him away from the meeting and that her one concern was that it should come to an end quickly that she might get him away safely to the place where he ought to be, in bed, and within call of medical attendance.

After a week’s rest he began to regain strength, so much so, that by the end of January his colleagues of the N.A.C. sent him congratulations on his recovery. The re-assembling of Parliament drew him up again to London as by a magnet, to live again lonely in the Nevill’s Court lodgings and to attend to his Parliamentary work.

On February 25th, he spoke in opposition to the proposal to relax the educational by-laws to enable children under twelve to be employed in agricultural work, the alleged reason being the shortage of men caused by the war. He contended that working-class children should not have their educational opportunities curtailed because of the war, and declared that the real object aimed at was to enable the farmers to obtain cheap labour. “The by-laws,” he said, “issued to protect our children are being practically swept out of existence. I think it can be demonstrated that they are being swept aside, not because of any special necessity for child labour, but very largely as a means of perpetuating uneducated sw.eated labour in the agricultural districts.” He had a partial alternative, in the suggesting of which there came out some personal reminiscences of an interesting kind. “There is one proposal upon which I do not know whether my colleagues would be unanimous, but which I think might be used to great account in solving this problem during the war period.

I refer to the employment of women. I can remember in Scotland, my own mother, who was a farm servant, often at work after she was married, with her family growing up. I have seen her employed in the fields at kinds of work which I would not like to see women employed at now : but there is much work about a farm which is perfectly respectable and clean, and which calls for a certain amount of intelligence, such as milking, the handling of milk, the making of butter, and many other occupations which a woman can do with advantage' to herself and to others. But the average woman brought up in the town has lost all instinct for, and all contact with, the life of the farm.”

On this occasion, for the first time in his life, he claimed indulgence from his fellow Members of the House of Commons on the ground of ill-health, giving that as the reason for lack of energy in his treatment of the subject. It was fitting that his last recorded parliamentary utterance should have been on behalf of working-class children.

About this time it would be that he met by chance Lord Morley. His note on the incident in the “Merthyr Pioneer” has for us even a deeper pathos than it had then. Not Lord Morley, the octogenarian, was the first to pass from the scene, but Hardie the much younger man. “Passing along the Lobby the other day, I met a familiar figure, the outstanding figure of the trio who resigned from the Ministry rather than soil their consciences by the bloodshedding in which we are now engaged. He stopped and shook hands with me. ‘You have been ill/ he said; ‘what was the matter? Was it the war which so weighed upon your soul and spirit that it made your body sick?’ I had to smile a vague assent to the question. ‘The war,’ he said, ‘when will it end? If we lose, we shall pay an awful penalty; if we win, the penalty may be greater still.’ He sighed as he walked away with the weight of eighty years bending his shoulders. I stood and watched the retiring figure, and thought to myself, there goes the last of England's great statemen. To-day, it is not statesmanship or principle which actuates those who hold office. They are as completely under the power of the capitalist as any ordinary member of the Stock Exchange.”

And thus these two sincere men, diametrically opposed to each other in political and philosophical outlook, met now on common moral ground. To both, the war was a crime, and Britain’s part in it wicked and foolish. And both were helpless to prevent it or to stop it.

On March 25th, he had an article in the “Labour Leader,” the last he ever wrote for that paper, though, as we shall see, not his last press utterance. There was nothing valedictory about this article, nothing to indicate that he had come to the limit of his power or that he himself felt conscious that the end was near. The title of the article was “Patriotism Measured in Millions.” Therein he traced the growth of the Imperialist idea in British foreign policy, synchronising with the growth of capital investments in the colonies and in foreign countries, and, in order to show to what this had led, he quoted Lloyd George’s reply to a question, on March 13th. “The total British capital invested abroad amounts to four thousand million pounds (£4,000,000,000), and the income from interest on colonial and foreign investments is two hundred million pounds (£200,000,000) a year.”

The following passage from this article is well worth producing now. “Very many millions will be needed to finance our allies, and to induce some to join in the murderous melee who now stand aloof. When the war is over these will require large sums for the renewal of their navies, and the creation of new, and the repair of war-destroyed, railways and the like. There will also be unlimited scope for new companies to open out the great mineral, oil and other industries of Russia, Persia, and the Balkans, which are yet in their infancy, and the British investor will be the only man left with money to float them. France and Germany will alike be bankrupt, and only the United States will remain as a possible competitor with Lombard Street.”

He did not foresee the Bolshevik intervention to spoil sport for the British financiers, but, had he lived, he would have had no difficulty in explaining the malignant attempts to prevent the Socialist regime from establishing itself in Russia.

Withal his realistic vision of the dread consequences of the war, he had not lost hope in humanity, nor faith in Socialism. “When the war is only a stinking memory of a bloodstained nightmare, and we are again face to face with the real things of life, then surely there will be a great and mighty agitation for complete enfranchisement of democracy, man and woman alike, who will then be able to win control over both domestic and foreign policy, and break the rule of those to whom Imperialism and Militarism mean wealth and power, and to instal all the peoples of all lands in authority, and thus bring plenty, peace and concord to a long-suffering race.”

This was his last “Labour Leader” article, but it might have been written in his prime, so vigorous was it, so clear in the marshalling of fact and argument, so dignified in diction. It was not to be wondered at that the movement was deceived into believing that the end of the war would find Keir Hardie still guiding and inspiring it, especially as during all this time he had, by an extraordinary exercise of will power, or else by sheer force of habit, been contributing almost without a break his weekly article to the “Merthyr Pioneer,” and did so up till as late as April 17th.

Curiously enough, on the same date as this final “Labour Leader” article, March 25th, the “Merthyr Pioneer,” reproduced from an American paper, the “Boston Evening Transcript,” an obituary sketch of Keir Hardie’s career, the rumour of the attack of paralysis having evidently been accepted as true. The sub-heading of the sketch, “Another of England’s Picturesque Figures Passes from the Scene,” though premature, was not inapt. Keir Hardie had not passed, but he was passing. He had made his last speech in Parliament; he had written his last article in the “Labour Leader”; and now he was going to attend his last I.L.P. Conference.

It was held at Norwich under conditions unprecedented in British history. Great Britain was governed as if it were a beleaguered country. There had been nighttime Zeppelin raids on the Norfolk coast, and when, on Easter eve, the I.L.P. delegates, many of whom had been travelling for twelve hours in crowded trains, reached Norwich, they entered a city of dreadful night, and had to be piloted through utter darkness to their hotels and lodgings. When Easter morn came, and with it the blessed sunshine, it revealed a city full of soldiers, with officers billeted in all the hotels, and with bugle-calls and drum-beats mocking the peaceful message of the chiming Eastertide bells. An attempt had been made to prevent the I.L.P. Conference being held, through the cancelling of the halls engaged for the Conference and the public meeting. In the interests of free speech the Primitive Methodist Church placed its Schoolroom at the disposal of the Conference; and it has to be recorded—and remembered—that two other religious organisations, the Scott Memorial Church and the Martineau Unitarian Church, had also offered the use of their meeting places.

At the Conference, Hardie, who was looking very ill, spoke only once, and just at the close, in support of a special resolution protesting strongly against severe sentences passed upon fifty-three members of the Russian Seamen’s Union and on the five Socialist Members of the Duma, and asking the British Government to bring pressure to bear on the Russian Government with a view to their ultimate freedom. In his speech he declared that the fifty-three seamen were in prison for no offence except membership of a trade union. Their secretary was illegally arrested in Egypt, he was sent to Russia, and there sentenced to Siberia. “Some of us tried in the House of Commons to get Sir Edward Grey to intervene, or at least to have him tried in Egypt. Grey then said that this country could not interfere with the political affairs of another country.

One of the biggest risks we run is being allied to a nation whose past and present record is a disgrace to civilisation and progress. The alliance with Russia is not to help Belgium. It is to open up fresh fields for exploitation by capitalists. We register our protest against all the infamies of the bloody cruelty of Russia.” These were the last words of Keir Hardie at a Conference of the Independent Labour Party. Never again would the delegates hear the voice or grasp the hand of the man who for twenty-two years had been their leader, comrade and friend.

Yet he was not finished, nor his fighting quite done. His speech at the public meeting on the Saturday evening brought him once again into public conflict with authority. The circumstances are within memory, but Hardie’s own words which ruffled Mr. Lloyd George to anger, will best recall the situation. “In time of war, one would have thought the rich classes would grovel on their knees before the working classes, who are doing so much to pile up their wealth. Instead, the men who are working eighty-four hours a week are being libelled, maligned and insulted; and, on the authority of their employers, the lying word, accepted without inquiry by Lloyd George, went round the world that the working class were a set of drunken hooligans. That is the reward they got. The truth is, that the shifts could be arranged so as to overtake all the work in hand. Mr. John Hill, the Secretary of the Boilermakers, has shown that if the shipbuilders would reduce their contracts ten per cent., the Government could get all their work done, but the shipbuilders will not do that because ships were being sold at two and three) times their value before the war.”

Popularity was then, as always, essential to Mr. Lloyd George; loss of it, a thing to be dreaded. At that moment especially it was needful for him to stand well in the opinion of the working classes. He hastened to essay the task of clearing himself from the charge involved in Hardie’s remarks. On Monday he sent a telegram to Hardie, quoting the offending passage, and concluding with a query for which the quotation afforded no basis whatever. “Would you kindly let me know where and when I am supposed to have uttered such words or anything that would justify so monstrous a deduction.” Hardie’s telegram in reply was as follows: “I pointed out that the employers, when before you, concerning output of armaments, etc., had put the whole blame on the drinking habits of the workers, and that you, by accepting this statement without challenge, had given world currency to the fiction that the workers were drunken wasters. I never said ‘bullies’ nor have I seen the report from which you quote.—Keir Hardie.”

Mr. Lloyd George, notwithstanding this explanation, sent a denunciatory letter to the press accusing the I.L.P. leader of “reckless assertion,” “wild accusation,” “mischievous statement,” “excited prejudice,” but at the same time found it necessary to explain that he himself had referred only to a small section of the working classes, a qualifying excuse which would probably never have been given but for Hardie’s public protest on behalf of the reputation of his class. Lloyd George’s letter received the fullest prominence in the press. Hardie’s letter in reply was relegated to the back columns, and in some cases sub-edited to distortion.

With this incident the public career of Keir Hardie came to a close. He ended, as he had begun, standing up for the working people. The British public heard no more of Keir Hardie until the closing days of September, when the newspapers announced his death. During the intervening months it was borne in upon his intimate friends and colleagues that the days of their leader were numbered. Indeed, early in May it seemed as if the end had come. The illness from which he had been suffering intermittently since the previous August reached an acute stage, producing what looked like complete collapse. He was in London at the time, and after a week, at the end of which it had become evident that the necessary care and attention was not possible in the Nevill’s Court lodgings, and that in his physical condition travelling home to Scotland was also out of the question he was removed to Caterham Sanatorium, where he had alike the benefit of skilled medical and nursing attendance, and the devoted service of personal friends, chief amongst these being the ever faithful Frank Smith and Tom Richardson, M.P. Mr. Smith took charge of his correspondence and warned all inquirers, of whom there were hundreds, against addressing any letters to Hardie himself, such letters being more disturbing than helpful. At the end of the first month he was still unfit for railway travelling, and Mrs. Hardie came up from Cumnock and remained with him until he was able to face the homeward journey four weeks later. During all this time there had been alternating periods of oblivion, acute physical suffering, and apparently normal alertness. It was during one of the normal intervals that he, with the consent of the medical advisers, determined to make for Cumnock. He broke the journey at Newcastle and stayed for a few days with Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, arriving home in Cumnock at the end of July, Frank Smith and Tom Richardson being his travelling companions. A week or two of rest in the home circle seemed to bring him some renewal of strength, and he ventured to cross over to Arran where his son Duncan was having a brief holiday—the elder son, James, had been settled in America for some years and was therefore unable to be with his father during these last weeks. From Arran, after a few days, he went on a visit to hisi brother George at Clarkston, Glasgow, where the utmost care and attention awaited him. Neither the breezes of Arran, nor the comforts of home,* nor the solicitude of friends could now ward off the approach of that “White Herald” of whom he had once spoken as a welcome friend rather than a foe to be dreaded.

On Wednesday, September 22nd, a change for the worse took place, and on the advice of the doctors, who still seemed to think that some partial recovery was possible, removal to a home for special treatment was decided upon. On the Saturday a great weakness overcame him, and in the evening pneumonia set in. On Sunday at noon, September 26th, he passed peacefully away in the presence of his wife and daughter.

Thus, in his sixtieth year, in the second month of the second year of the Great War, which he had tried to avert and of which he was unquestionably one of the victims, died Keir Hardie. Next morning, when the newspapers announced his death, they carried heartfelt sorrow into many thousands of British homes, sorrow, not alone for the loss of a great agitator and Labour leader, but for that of a dear personal friend. Probably never was any public man so sincerely and deeply loved by so many people as was Keir Hardie.^

On the following Wednesday, a great concourse of mourners of all classes, but mostly of the working class, joined the funeral procession which followed his remains through the streets of Glasgow to the Crematorium at Maryhill, where eight years before he had said farewell to his father and mother. Some were there who had accompanied him through the greater part of his public life, Robert Smillie, Bruce Glasier, Sandy Haddow, George Carson, William M. Haddow, Alex. Gilchrist3

James Neil, Cunninghame Graham, and others, recalling memories of the early days of struggle ere fame or even the promise of success had come as a stimulus to labour and self-sacrifice. His colleagues of the I.L.P. National Council were, of course, there, as many as could attend, Ramsay MacDonald, T. D. Benson, W. C. Anderson, Fred Jowett and the others, serious and sad at this last parting with the comrade of so many years of ceaseless endeavour for the betterment of the common people. Delegates came all the way from Merthyr Tydvil, members of the election committee who had fought side by side with him in those never-to-be-forgotten political battles and who now realised sorrowfully that never again would Keir Hardie lead them to victory.

At the funeral there were no delegates from foreign lands to lay wreaths upon the bier of the man who had striven so resolutely for international unity of purpose among Socialists, and who had refused to join in a struggle which he held to be fratricidal and unnatural. The war which had slain Jaures of France, and Franck of Germany, had now claimed Keir Hardie of Great Britain, and had made it impossible for any of the men and women with whom he had fraternised in the common efforts for international Socialist achievement to manifest in person their respect for him and his work.

A simple burial service was conducted by the Rev. A. M. Forson, of London, whose associations with Hardie dated back to the early evangelising days. A few words from Bruce Glasier calling upon those present to honour the memory of their lost leader by preserving his ideals and continuing his work. A brief exhortation in a similar strain to the multitude outside from W. C. Anderson—both have since followed him into the unknown country of which Hardie used to speak as the “Beyond”—and the mourners dispersed.

Here ends the work of the present writer. He has tried to tell as fully as possible the story of Keir Hardie’s life, and leaves it to others to estimate the value of his work and example. Time itself will probably prove to be the truest commentator, and it is the firm belief of the writer that the passing of the years will establish Keir Hardie as one of the permanently historic figures in that great age-long progressive movement which must find its complete realisation in the establishment of human equality on a basis of mutual service by all members of the human family. An essential part of that process is the struggle of the working class in all countries for the abolition of class. In directing that struggle Keir Hardie played an important part during an important period. In future years, whatever may be the prevailing form of society, men and women will have to turn their thoughts back to that period, and will find James Keir Hardie to have been one of its outstanding characters. Perhaps even this imperfect account of his life will help them to know the kind of man he was, and to visualise the environment amidst which he lived. That his worth and the nature of his rendered service is already beginning to be understood is apparent. The monument which the Ayrshire miners are erecting is only one of the signs of that recognition. The annual Keir Hardie celebrations held by the Independent Labour Party is another. These organisations themselves stand as a proof of his courage, foresight and resolute energy. But the time will come when miners’ unions and political Labour Parties will be unnecessary, and even then there may linger some dim memory— traditional it may be—of an incorruptible man of the common people, who, in his own person, symbolised the idea of independence, and in his message proclaimed the practicability of Brotherhood.


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