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J. Keir Hardie
Introduction by J. Ramsay MacDonald


THE purposes of biography are manifold, but they have this common end: to interpret the subject and show forth what manner of man he was of whom the writer writes. That done faithfully, the biographer can launch his work upon the waters and trust to the winds and the currents for a prosperous voyage.

But what is "faithfully"? A patient and accurate accumulation of facts and events strung upon time as boys used to hang rows of birds’ eggs upon strings? A cold, impartial scrutiny of a life made from a judgment seat placed above the baffling conflicts of doubting conscience, groping reason and weak desire? Biographies may be so written. But the life of him who has stood in the market place with a mission to his fellows, who has sought to bring visions of greater dignity and power into the minds of the sleeping and vegetating crowds, who has tried to gather scattered and indifferent men into a mighty movement and to elevate discontented kickings against the pricks into a crusade for the conquest of some Holy Land, cannot be dealt with in that way. He must submit to the rigid scrutiny; the dross that is in him, the mistakes and miscalculations which he made, must be exposed with his virtues, wisdoms and good qualities. But to portray such a man, the biographer has not only to scrutinise him objectively; he must also tell how he appeared to, and was felt by, the people who were influenced by him, and preserve for the future the hero or the saint who received the homage of leadership and the worship of affection. The glamour of the myth gathers round all great popular

leaders and becomes an atmosphere as real to their personality as the colour of cloud and sun is real to a landscape. Were we to separate what is inseparable, we might say that such a man has two beings, that which the critic alone can see, dissecting him as though he lay a lifeless thing upon a table, and that which the artist sees regarding him as one of the living formative forces of his time.

In the latter way the biography of Keir Hardie must be treated if it is to be a full interpretation of the man. Mr. Stewart, who has done this book, writes of his hero, frankly and unashamedly, as a worshipper. He is a disciple who for many years has enjoyed the intimacy of his master, and he sees with the eye and writes with the pen which reveal the inspiring leader to us. He has gathered from a great mass of details the outstanding incidents in Hardie’s life, and through the deeds has shown the man. He has also preserved for all who may read his book, and especially for those in whose memories those precious days of pioneering have no place, the inspiration that made the work possible and brought forth from chaos the Labour Movement.

Everyone who came in contact with Hardie felt his personality right away at the outset. His power never lay in his being at the head of a political organisation which he commanded, for the organisation of the Independent Labour Party was always weak compared with its influence, and he had ceased to be an official of the miners before their combination became really formidable; nor did it lie in his ability to sway the crowd by divine gifts of speech and appeal, for his diction though beautifully simple was rarely tempestuous, and his voice had few of the qualities that steal into the hearts of men and stir them in their heights and depths; more certainly still he never secured a follower by flattery nor won the ear of a crowd by playing down to it. He set a hard task before his people and gave them great ends to pursue. He left no man in peace in the valley gutter, but winded them on the mountain tracks. What then was the secret of the man? I who have seen him in all relationships, at the height of triumph and the depths of humiliation, on the platform and at the fireside, dignified amongst strangers and merry amongst friends, generally fighting by his side But sometimes in conflict with him, regard that secret as first of all his personality and then his proud esteem for the common folk and his utter blindness to all the decorations of humanity. He was a simple man, a strong man, a gritty man.

Hardie was of the “old folk.” Born in a corner of Scotland where there still lingered a belief in the uncanny and the superhuman, where Pan’s pipes were still heard in the woods, the kelpie still seen at the fords and the fairy still met with on the hills, and born in the time of transition when the heart and imagination paid homage whilst the reason was venturing to laugh, he went out into the world with a listening- awe in his soul; brought up in surroundings eloquent with the memory of sturdy men who trusted to the mists to shield them from the murderous eyes of the Claverhouses and their dragoons, and dotted with the graves and the monuments of martyrs to a faith—dreary moors “where about the graves of the martyrs the whaups are crying,” and grey farmhouses where in the “killing times” women lamented over their husbands and sons murdered at their doors for loyalty to God and the Covenant— surroundings, moreover, which in later times had seen Burns at the plough dejected, and had heard him singing his songs of love, of pity, of gaiety, he went out a strong man in heart and in backbone, with the spirit of great tradition in him; nurtured by a mother who faced the hard world like a woman of unconquerable soul, whose tears were followed by defiance and whose sighs ended with challenge, he went out like a knight armed with a sword which had the magic of conquest tempering its steel. That was his birthright, and that birthright made him a gentleman, whether running errands for a baker in Glasgow, or facing the “overfed beasts” on the benches of the House of Commons. Such men never fear the face of men and never respect their baubles.

From the same sources came his comfort in the common folk. All great human discovery is the discovery of the wisdom that comes from babes and sucklings, as all great artistic achievement depends on the joy that dwells in the simple. It has been said that there is the false ring of peevishness in Burns’ “A man’s a man for a’ that,” and it may be that resentment gives a falsetto note to some of the lines. But when the great labour leader comes, whether he be born from the people or not will be of little concern, the decisive thing will be whether he values in his heart, as Burns did, the scenes and the people from which spring not only “Scotia’s grandeur,” but the power which is to purify society and expose the falseness and the vulgarity of materialist possession and class distinctions. The mind of the labour leader must be too rich to do homage to “tinsel show,” too proud of its own lineage to make obeisance to false honour, and too cultured to be misled by vulgar display.

A title, Dempster merits it;
A gfarter gie to Willie Pitt;
Gie wealth to some be-ledger’d cit,
In cent, per cent.
But give me real sterling wit,
And I’m content.

A working class living in moral and social parasitism on its “betters” will only increase the barrenness and the futility of life. In the end, it is perhaps a matter of good taste and self-respect, and these are birthrights and are not taught in the schools. They belong to the influences which life assimilates as plants assimilate a rich or an impoverished air and sap. Perhaps the Scotsman is peculiarly fortunate in this respect. No country has had a meaner aristocracy or a sturdier common people. Partly its education, partly its history, partly its church government and system of worship, partly the frugality which nature imposed upon it for so many generations, laid up a store of independence in the characters of many of its people, and Burns awoke this into activity. I doubt if any man who received the historical birthright of Scotsmen at his birth, ever accepted a tinsel honour without feeling that he was doing wrong and somehow abandoning his country.

Be these things as they may, Hardie had those native qualities which never became incompetent to value the honour and the worth of a kitchen fireside, of a woman who, like his mother, toiled in the fields, of a man who earned his living by the sweat of his brow, subduing Heaven the while. He said a life-long Amen to the words which Scott puts in the mouth of Rob Roy on Glasgow bridge: “He that is without name, without friends, without coin, without country, is still at least a man; and he that has all these is no more”—Hardie’s democratic spirit might have added “and is often something less.” When he became famous, his world widened and he mixed with people in different circumstances. But he met them as the self-respecting workman, all unconscious of difference and with neither an attempt nor a desire to imitate them. The drawing rooms of the rich never allured him into a sycophantic servitude, a chair at a workman’s fireside hard to sit upon never robbed that fireside of its cheery warmth. The true gentleman is he who acts like a gentleman unconsciously. Therefore, this quality eludes him who would write of it, for an explanation of it suggests consciousness of it. Only when the ruling class habits sought to impose themselves on him by authority did he resent them and become conscious of his own nature—as when he went to the House of Commons in a cloth cap, or when, in an outburst of moral loathing, he replied to the jeers of a band who had returned to the House radiant in the garb and the demeanour of those who had risen from a well replenished table, by the epithet “well-fed beasts,”—and then his native good taste speedily asserted itself and he became natural.

Experience in the world strengthened this part of his nature. Whether as a baker’s messenger forced to pass moral judgment on the man of substantial respectability, or as a Trade Union official studying the results of the work of directors, managers and such like, or as a politician in touch with the political intelligence and general capacity of “the ruling classes,” he saw no inferiority in his fellow workmen. He found them careless, disorganised, indifferent; but their lives remained real and their common interests were the true interests. They were the robust stem upon which every desirable thing had to be engrafted.

Thus it was that the sober people, the people prepared for idealistic effort, the people whose ears detected the ring of a genuine coin and had become tired of the spurious or ill-minted thing, the people who were laying the foundations of their new cities on the rock of human worth, were drawn to him, honoured him, believed in him and loved him. It is very difficult for a man made of that material to do justice to “the classes” in these times—to their qualities, their lives, their interests, and even their worships—but Hardie was catholic, and rarely have his friends heard from his lips an unjust condemnation of those people. Charity lay even in his most emphatic condemnations.

Of Hardie’s work it is easy to judge even at this early day, so distinctive was it. He will stand out for ever — as the Moses who led the children of labour in this country out of bondage—out of bondage, not into Canaan, for that is to be a longer job. Others had described that bondage, had explained it, had told what ought to come after it. Hardie found the labour movement on its industrial side narrowed to a conflict with employers, and totally unaware that that conflict, if successful, could only issue in a new economic order; on its political side, he found it thinking only of returning to Parliament men who came from the pits and workshops to do pretty much the same work that the politicians belonging to the old political parties had done, and totally unaware that Labour in politics must have a new outlook, a new driving force of ideas and p. new standard of political effort. When he raised the flag of revolt in Mid-Lanark, he was a rebel proclaiming civil war; when he fought the old Trade Union leaders from the floor of Congress, he was a sectary; when the Independent Labour Party was formed in Bradford, it was almost a forlorn hope attacked by a section of Socialists on the one hand and by the labour leaders in power on the other. What days of fighting, of murmuring, of dreary desert trudging were to follow, only those who went through them know. Through them, a mere handful of men and women sustained the drudgery and the buffetings. Hardie’s dogged—even dour—persistence made faint-heartedness impossible. One has to think of some of those miraculous endurances of the men who defied hardship in the blank wilderness,

the entangled forest, the endless snowfield, to get an understanding of the exhaustion of soul and mind and body which had to be undergone between 1890 and 1900, in order to create a Labour Movement.

For this endurance Hardie had an inexhaustible inner resource. He knew

The hills where his life rose,
And the sea where it goes.

He was one of the sternest champions which his class has ever produced, and yet his was no class mind. His driving and resisting power was not hate nor any of the feelings that belong to that category of impulse. When I used the expression “communal consciousness,” for the first time in a book I had written, as the antithesis to “class consciousness,” which some Socialists regarded as the shibboleth test of rectitude, he wrote me saying that that was exactly what he felt. But even that was not comprehensive enough. His life of sense was but the manifestations of the spirit, and to him “the spirit” was something like what it was to the men whose bones lay on the Ayrshire moors under martyrs’ monuments. It was the grand crowned authority of life, but an authority that spoke from behind a veil, that revealed itself in mysterious things both to man’s heart and eyes. He used to tell us tales and confess to beliefs, in words that seemed to fall from the lips of a child. Had he not found his portion where blows had to be given and to be fended, and where the mind had to be actively wary every moment of the day in advancing and retreating, he would have been one of an old time to whom a belief in mystic signs and warnings would have been reverence and not superstition, and by whom such signs would have been given. Those who knew him have often met him looking as though a part of him were absent in some excursion in lands now barred to most of mankind. This, I believe, explains the hospitality he always gave to every new attempt to express the truth, explains his devotion to the cause of women as it was in his lifetime and, above all, explains the mysterious affinity there was between himself and children. His whole being lay under the shadow of the hand of the crowned Authority which told him of its presence now by a lightning flash, now by a whisper, and now by a mere tremor in his soul like what the old folk believed went through the earth when night died and the day was born. The world was life, not things to him.

Thus, his Socialism was not an economic doctrine, not a formula proved and expressed in algebraic signs of x and y. He got more Socialism from Burns than from Marx; “The Twa Dogs,” and “A Man’s a Man for a’ that7’ were more prolific text books for his politics than “Das Kapital.” This being the spirit of his handiwork, the Independent Labour Party, is one reason why it became the greatest political influence of our time and threw into an almost negligible background, both in its enthusiastic propaganda and practical capacity, all other Socialist bodies in this country.

The inconsistencies which are essential attributes of human greatness are the cause of much trouble to the ordinary man, but these inconsistencies do not belong to the same order of things as the unreliabilities of the charlatan or the changefulness of the time-server. Hardie’s apparent waywardness often gave his colleagues concern. He was responsive to every movement and hospitable to the most childlike thoughts— —so much so that in a battle he not infrequently seemed to be almost in the opposing ranks, as at that Derby Conference, described by Mr. Stewart, when he sorely tried the loyalty of our own women by going out of his way to greet those who had done everything in their power to harass and insult them. A great man has so many sides to which the various voices of the day make appeal. He is not only one man but several—not only man, but woman too. But greatness is inconsistent only in the things that do not matter very much, and in the grand conflict of great issues he stood up as reliable as a mighty boulder in a torrent. The strength of hills was his for exactly the same reason as he had the trustful mind of a child. What appeared to be inconsistency was indeed many sidedness. No man was more generously international in his outlook and spirit, and yet to the very core of his being he was a Scotsman of Scotsmen, and it is not at all inappropriate that I came across him first of all at a meeting to demand Home Rule for Scotland. A man who held in no special esteem the “book leaf"of universities, he, nevertheless, warmed in interest to all kinds of lore, and he read choicely and was ever ready to sit at the feet of whomsoever had knowledge to impart. Always willing to listen, he was never ready to yield; loyal like a man, he was, nevertheless, persistent in his own way sometimes to a fault; humble in the councils of friends, he was proud in the world. Looking back at him now, the memory of his waywardness only adds to affection and admiration. One sees how necessary it was for his work.

There is one other inconsistency of greatness which he showed only to friends. He could stand alone, and yet he could not. “No one can ever know,” he once said to me, “what suffering a man has to endure by misrepresentation.” He required a corner in the hearts of his people where he could rest and be soothed by regard. He therefore felt keenly every attack that was crudely cruel. For instance he was sorely struck by the brutally vile cartoon which “Punch” published of him when he was in India. (I knew of the letters which Lord Minto was sending home expressing pleasure at his conduct in India, and I cheered him by telling him of them.)

But sorest of all was the wound which the war made upon him. Like every intelligent man who kept his head, he saw that the most worthless elements in the country would ride the whirlwind, that the people would be worked up into a state of mind that would not only defy every appeal to reason, but would prolong the agony and settle it, as all wars have hitherto been settled, by crushing debts, ruined ideals and a peace which would only be a truce to give time for the sowing of new seeds of war. He knew that when the clash came it could^ .not be ended until the conditions of a settlement arose, and he joined heartily with the small group in the country who took the view that those conditions were political and not military, and that, therefore, whilst the soldier was holding the trenches, the politician should be as busy as the munition worker creating the political weapons which were to bring peace. He also knew that, when the war comes, the safety of every country is endangered by its enemy and that adequate steps must be taken to protect it. But he saw that problem in its fulness and not with military blinkers limiting his vision to recruitment, guns and poison gas. He was quite well aware that the sky would speedily be darkened by black clouds of lies and misrepresentations, innocent and deliberate. That was in the day’s work, and he knew that in time the attitude of his colleagues and himself would first of all be understood and that, later on, people would wonder why it took them so long to see the same things. He saw the Treaty of Versailles before 1915 was very far spent, and he was content to endure and wait. That is not how he was wounded. The deadly blow was given by the attitude of old colleagues. When he returned from his first meeting in his constituency on the outbreak of war, described by Mr. Stewart, he was a crushed man, and, sitting in the sun on the terrace of the House of Commons where I came across him, he seemed to be looking out on blank desolation. From that he never recovered. Then followed the complete mergence of the Labour Party in the war-lusty crowd. The Independent Labour Party kept as trusty as ever, but he felt that his work was over, that all he could do in his lifetime was to amount to no more than picking up some of the broken spars of the wreckage. As Bunyan puts it, “a post had come from the celestial city for him.” And so he died.

The outlook has already changed. The floods are subsiding and his work stands. We are still too near to that work to see it in its detailed historical relations; the day and its events are too pressingly close and urgent to enable us to view the results of it in a lasting setting. Of this we are assured, however : in its great purposes and general achievements it is permanent. It is well with him and his memory.

“I shall be satisfied when I awake.”

J. Ramsay MacDonald.


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