The Call

The BSP Conference


Source: The Call, April 4, 1918, p. 2 (3,080 words)
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.


The Seventh Annual Conference of the British Socialist Party met at Leeds on Easter Sunday and Monday. Owing to the increasing difficulty of travel a large number of the delegates had not arrived at the opening of the Conference, but, nevertheless, there was a considerable attendance when Fred Shaw, of Huddersfield, as Chairman, opened the proceedings.

The Chairman’s Speech

At the very beginning, Shaw struck the note that the Conference responded to repeatedly during its deliberations. He said that whilst at the commencement of the war the friends of International Socialism had been shaken and discouraged by the divisions within the Socialist movement which the war had caused, there was no longer any room for doubt as to the early resuscitation with greater strength of the workers’ movement which provided the guarantees of permanent peace. The war was the outcome of capitalism, which in recent years had so expanded that the forces of its own creation escaped from the control of those few among the capitalist class who would have maintained the peace. For years, the capitalists of all industrial countries had accumulated wealth they were compelled to invest or use abroad, and at last the storm arising from their conflict broke upon the heads of men. The millions who suffered from this war were the fruit of that conflict for the private gain of the different national groups of financial capitalists. The war had yielded untold wealth to the owners of the means of production. They looked to the coming peace to provide more harmonious relations between Labour and Capital. They had visions of a more efficient labouring class so productive that an Aladdin’s cave of wealth and delight were made free, not for labour, but for the possessors of the means of life. Despite their democratic professions their distrust of working-class democracy was shown by their hatred of the Russian Revolution. Every slander that could be coined, every falsehood that could be fabricated by the enemies of Socialism had been hurled at the Bolsheviks. While refusing to recognise the Bolshevik administration, approved by the overwhelming mass of Russians, the British Government did not hesitate to declare that the Bolsheviks must accept liability to British investors for the loans contracted by the Czar. When a people did not borrow, the people rightly objected to pay. The British Socialist Party wished success to the Bolsheviks, was in hearty sympathy with their methods for the re-organisation of Russia, and congratulated them upon their efforts on behalf of a peace imposed by the workers of all nations.

The International

The Conference passed on to consider the Report of the Executive Committee, and on the lengthy section dealing with the International. John Maclean raised a protest against the Labour Party’s efforts to exclude the B.S.P. and the I.L.P. from the International Conference. He maintained that there could be no adequate representation of British opinion on Internationalist questions if the Socialist organisations were excluded. Mrs. Montetiore, Roberts, of Openshaw, and E.C. Fairchild supported the protest, the latter remarking that when the British section met Huysmans, the Secretary of the International Socialist Bureau, at Nottingham in January last, Huysmans contended that the British Labour Party had no power to decide the basis of representation at the International, that the Socialist bodies should send their delegates, and that the International Conference as a whole would then decide the question of admission.

The Absent Friends

On the section of the Report dealing with our imprisoned members, Mulholland referred to the case of comrade Shammes, John Maclean’s Secretary, who had been spirited away from Glasgow by the authorities for deportation. J.F. Hodgson said that, whilst according our recognition to bravery on the battlefield, we had as high a regard for the bravery of those who made the great refusal to bear arms in this war. Roberts held we were too lukewarm in our recognition of the service rendered by the Socialist objectors.

After the acceptance of the Executive’s Report, which also dealt with the Party’s activities on the question of the Food Supply, the Leeds Convention, the United Socialist Council, our Parliamentary candidatures, and many other matters, letters were read from Maxim Litvinoff, the Plenipotentiary of the Russian People’s Government, and comrade Serrati, Editor of “Avanti,” conveying greetings to the B.S.P.

War

On the motion of the delegate of the N.-West Ham Branch it was resolved:—

“That this Conference of the B.S.P., in the fourth year of the world carnage, reaffirms its unshaken fidelity to the cause of international working class solidarity, and extends to the workers of all lands its comradeship .and goodwill. It applauds the publication of the secret treaties by the Bolshevik Government of Russia as revealing definite proof of the Imperialist-Capitalist aims of both groups of belligerents, and calls upon the workers everywhere to insist upon the publication of all treaties entered into by their respective Governments. The Conference declares that the moment has arrived for the workers of the various countries to enforce their demands for facilities to enable their representatives to attend the forthcoming International Socialist Conference, as the only means which really democratic and lasting peace can be established.”

A.A. Watts, in seconding, pointed out that the Russian Government was the first to take definite steps to transfer the land and capital or any nation into its people’s hands. Fairchild maintained that let the Labour Movement of any country be ever so constitutional and given to action in accord with law and order, the day would come when the is workers would be forced to take hold of power by summary methods its had been the case in Russia.

In speaking in support of the following resolution, which was also carried, John Maclean urged that the workers must consider the efficacy of an international strike in order to prevent war:—

“Recognising that wars are a direct product of International Capitalism, this Conference places on record its conviction that it is in the best interests of Socialism and the working-class movement to oppose all wars, whilst reserving the right to use all means in establishing Socialism. It therefore calls upon all bodies affiliated to the International Socialist Bureau to declare their inflexible determination to refuse their assistance to their respective Governments on the outbreak of future hostilities, either by voting supplies, working in munition factories or by participation in the fighting. This Conference instructs the Executive committee to bring this resolution before the International Socialist Conference with a view to making it the policy of the International Socialist movement. ”

MeLaine argued that the Government had itself destroyed every vestige of constitutional guarantees. In the capitalist interest the Parliamentary machine was destroyed. We had no preference for Westminster. We would as gladly have a Convention in Leeds as the Central Authority established by the workers. We should have recourse to every form of political and industrial action to achieve our aim, and we must not hesitate to use force if that were necessary.

Ireland, India, Egypt

Mrs. D.B. Montefiore, in moving the Central and South Hackney resolution:—

“That this Conference calls upon the working class to bring pressure to bear upon the Government to prove the sincerity of its professed desire to liberate oppressed peoples by making immediate preparations for granting self-determination to Ireland, India and Egypt, and to put an end to its persecution of religious and political prisoners by granting them immediate release,”

said the resolution would test the Government sincerity, The land question was still the great cause of discontent in Ireland. In Egypt the fellaheen and his child worked in the cotton mills for British capitalists under conditions that prevailed in Lancashire before the days of the Factory Acts. India was still the heritage of the soldier and the civil servant, while the ryot lived in misery. Murray (Sheffield) said that the treatment of Ireland had been a national disgrace; whilst that continued it was hypocrisy for Britain to speak of freedom for small nationalities. Socialism would prove to be a practical friend of the Irish people. Mrs. Walker (Liverpool) said that Britain’s peculiar interest in small nations was due to her difficulty in dealing with larger nationalities. The resolution was carried unanimously.

The I.S.B.

Albert Ward moved: “That the Executive Committee at once take steps for the re-construction of the International Socialist Bureau.” Ward held that had the Stuttgart Congress Resolution been adhered to by European Socialists the war would long since have ended. The resolution was carried by 108 votes to 2 against.

Palestine and the Jews

J. Wolfe, on behalf of the Jewish Social Democratic organisation, moved:—

“This Conference recognises the international character of the Jewish question and considers that it cannot be solved by the formation of a Jewish state in Palestine, which is in itself Utopian, and by raising false hopes and unrealisable aspirations amongst the Jewish workers, obscures the real issue of their class interests and makes their struggle doubly hard. The Conference is of opinion that the solution of the Jewish question, as that of all national questions in territories where the population is not homogenous, lies not only in the granting of complete civil equality to the Jews in all countries, but also their right to national self-determination in such countries where they demand it, i.e., autonomy in such matters as education and culture generally, and the right to use their own language in all legislative and administrative institutions, in schools, courts of law, etc., including the appointment of Jewish-speaking judges, teachers, and other functionaries.

“Further, while in conformity with the general principle, of internationalism, the Conference demands the removal of all measures restricting immigration and colonisation of the Jews as of all peoples, in Palestine as in all countries, it emphatically repudiates the right of the Allies forcibly to annex Palestine from Turkey so as to turn it into a so-called ‘independent’ Jewish State, as such an act is opposed to the principles of non-annexation and the self-determination of nationalities accepted by the international democracy, more especially since the Jews form but an insignificant minority of the population of Palestine, and its fate must be decided by the inhabitants of Palestine itself. The Conference sees in the declaration of Mr. Balfour a veiled attempt at the annexation of Palestine, and also a means to enlist the assistance of the Jews the world over for the Imperialist ends of Great Britain and its Allies.

“Finally, the Conference declares that it is the imperative duty of the working classes of all nations to fight against anti-Semitism with all the means in their power, as by so doing they will be fighting reaction in its worst manifestation, and the Conference is of opinion that a powerful Jewish Labour Movement and the complete unity of the Jewish proletariat with that of the rest of the International is the most potent weapon in the struggle against this race hatred and antagonism which will be finally eradicated with the final triumph of the proletariat, the establishment of international Socialism.

In seconding, H. Alexander stated his entire agreement with the opposition to the proposals of annexation advanced by the Government under cover of the plea that the Jews were to be protected. He held that the Jews should be free to consult with the Sultan for the acquisition of racial autonomy in Palestine. J. Fineberg, in reply, said that the Zionists advised other people to go to Palestine. The Russian Revolution had shown the true solution of the Jewish problem. No new nationalist ideas should be aroused. There could be no Greater Jewry. Though both suffered oppression, there was no unity between the Jewish capitalist and the Jewish workman. The latter must ally himself with the workers in the country in which he lives.

Russian Revolution

The resolution of the Walthamstow Branch on the Russian Revolution as follows:—

“This Conference of the British Socialist Party welcomes the Russian Revolution, and assures the Bolshevik Government of its hearty goodwill and support. At the same time it desires to urge upon the Socialist and Labour Movement in all countries affiliated to the International, the urgent need of giving immediate support to the Government of the revolutionary workers of Russia, and to warn the capitalist Governments that no interference with the affairs of the Russian workers will be tolerated by the International working class. It urges that an early meeting of the International should be held to bring about a workers’ peace, and to take steps to re-organise the nations under the control .of the working class,”

was supported by J.F. Hodgson, who said that Trotsky had attempted to drive a wedge between the workers and the governing class. His efforts resulted in the Austro-German strikes. The Russian Revolution had driven a wedge between the Reformists and the Internationalists in the Socialist Movement. All working-class hope centred on Russia. The Revolution had released a cataract of intellectual life, and we could safely depend upon the inventive genius of Russia freed from the incubus of capitalism.

Reconstruction

On behalf of the Executive Committee, E.C. Fairchild moved:

“This Conference holds that it is the imperative duty of the organised workers to aim at the social-democratic ownership and control of industry in order to secure that the machinery of production and distribution is utilised for the welfare of all. It declares that the molten condition of society, and tremendous advance in State and private organisation of industry resulting from the operations of war, afford the best occasion for the workers to impress their will upon society, and to give full and free expression to their aims and aspirations. Unless immediate, bold, and drastic action is taken by the whole organised working class, the return of peace will plunge the wage-earning population into the miseries of an intensified capitalism. This Conference therefore urges upon the Socialist, and Labour Parties of all countries to co-ordinate their political and industrial forces and concentrate their energies for the purpose of winning complete economic and social freedom for the democracy.”

Fairchild contended that unless the workers moved definitely towards common ownership they would find that on the ending of the war the employers would make peace more profitable than war had been, and that the vaunted reconstruction schemes were framed to strengthen capitalism’s hold on labour. Lewington (Kentish Town) referred to the workers’ changed outlook due to the altered conditions of the workshop.

Shop Committees

In moving the Resolution below, which was carried, F. Shaw said that the Shop Stewards movement was the direct result of the closer organisation of capital. Before those combinations the craft Unions were practically powerless, and the Shop Stewards movement represented a necessary stage in development towards a form of workers’ organisation fitted for the intensified production of to-day.

“This Conference welcomes the Shop Stewards Movement as a change in working-class organisation rendered essential by altered conditions of capitalist production, and holds that the shop committees which give the rank and file ready means for the discussion and settlement of works administration should not be inconsistent with that centralised organisation of labour requisite for the effective resistance of consolidated capital.

“The Conference, however, warns the Labour movement against the danger of attempts by the governing class, by means of such proposals as those embodied in the Whitley Report and paraded as concessions to the demand for the control of industry, to turn aside the Shops Committees from their function of organising the workers in defence of their class interests.”

“Furthermore, whilst regarding the Shop Committee composed of representatives of all trades within the works as a sound departure from the folly find formerly divided the workers into crafts, each with its own special interests to protect, this Conference points out that in a society where the means of production are used for profit, the actual control of industry will remain with those who own the capital, negotiate contracts, and select markets and materials. The true control and direction of industry in the interests of the working class can only be attained in the Social Democratic community, vesting in the people collectively the ownership of the means of life.”

W. Padley looked to the Shop Stewards movement for the abolition of piece work, and for turning the managers of the big industrial establishments into more generously disposed persons than they usually were, unless forced to be so.

Industrial Unionism, the Labour Party, Socialist Unity

The greater part of Monday’s sitting was devoted to matters of internal organisation and party policy. During the morning session Alexander announced that the Executive readily accepted the Openshaw resolution calling for the appointment of organisers.

An animated discussion, in which Albert Ward was able to urge his case for class or Socialist. Unionism as opposed to Industrial Unionism, arose upon the following resolution prepared by the Standing Orders Committee in place of the resolution on the agenda:-

“This Conference declares that no form of industrial organisation can be effective unless it is based upon the complete recognition of the class struggle and has Socialism for its objective. The British Socialist Party advocates industrial unionism as a class-conscious weapon for the workers to fight the capitalist class.”

Ward; however, did not win the day, the Resolution being carried by 101 votes to 10 against.

Probably the best debate of the Conference arose on the North-West Ham proposal to cease our affiliation to the National Labour Party, Mulholland, Cocker, Roberts, John Maclean, and Ward spoke in favour of secession: Gath, Fineberg, W.S. Stott and Fairchild spoke as strongly in support of remaining in the Labour Party. Eventually the Elland amendment: “Seeing that a referendum of all B.S.P. members was taken re-affiliating to the Labour Party, that decision shall not be altered until another referendum is taken” was carried by 102 to 17 against.

An important resolution by the Openshaw Branch setting out “. that the time has arrived for the co-operation of all active Socialist forces, whatever their constitutional differences,” was moved in an excellent speech by Roberts, and was carried by 89 votes to 2 against.

Greetings were conveyed by telegram from the Socialist Sunday School Union in Conference .at Bradford and by letter from members of the B.S.P. at Dartmoor.

The election of the Executive Committee for the ensuing year resulted in the return of F.W. Llewellyn, John Maclean, J. Fineberg, J.F. Hodgson, Mrs. D.B. Montefiore, Albert Ward, C. Dukes, F. Shaw, G. Deer.

Sheffield was selected as the town for next year’s Conference.