Tom Mann 1897

The Independent Labour Party: Its History and Policy

Author: Tom Mann
Publisher: Independent Labour Party, Circular No. 5
Printer: Labour Press Society Limited, Tib Street, Manchester
First published: 1897
Transcription: Graham Seaman, January 2022

The Independent Labour Party as a national organisation was founded in January, 1893.

For some time previously the numbers of unemployed workmen had been rapidly increasing, wages in all industries had declined, and old age found one half of the industrial population in such an abject state of destitution that no resource was left to them but the workhouse, and the degradation of the pauper’s dress. These, with other glaring social and economic evils, had convinced the thoughtful portion of Trade Unionists that the mere voluntary organisation of labour, even should it include the whole, instead of a minority, of the workers, was inadequate to cope successfully with the gigantic combinations of capital, which the development of modern industry had produced. As a result they turned their attention to both Parliament and the municipality, in addition to working vigorously in the Trade Union movement. They saw clearly that the whole of the political machinery of government and administration was controlled and manipulated by the same class, frequently by the same individuals, whom they were fighting in their industrial organisations. Hitherto the contests for political supremacy had been generally waged between landlord and capitalist, for the purpose of destroying the restrictions by which the hereditary aristocracy had fettered the development of commerce. To break down class monopoly, the capitalists had to appeal to the workers, and to repeatedly enlarge the circle of the franchise, with the result that political freedom, in so far as it consists of the power of electing representatives on legislative and administrative bodies, is to-day vested in the masses. But with the establishment of political democracy and the satisfaction of the demands of the capitalist class, the distinctions between the two political parties died out, both became essentially capitalist and unprogressive, and met the new demands for drastic social legislation, either by a policy of determined resistance, or by endeavouring to again divert the attention of the workers to mere alterations in the machinery of government.

THE FIRST DEFINITE STAND for Independent Labour Representation was made at Bradford, in 1892.

The workers of Manningham, who were on strike against a local manufacturer, had held a peaceful and orderly demonstration, when at the instigation of the Town Council, composed of manufacturers, they were suddenly, and without provocation, assailed by the police, the meeting was forcibly broken up, and many inoffensive persons seriously injured. The effect of this brutality was to convince the men on strike, and their sympathisers, of the absolute necessity of ousting the plutocrats from political power as the first step to gaining industrial liberty, and they therefore invited Ben Tillett, general secretary of the Dock, Wharf, and Riverside Labourers' Union, to contest the constituency of West Bradford at the General Election of June, 1892, against an influential plutocrat of well-known anti-labour views, who had held the seat for eighteen years. Notwithstanding there were three candidates in the field, Ben Tillett secured a vote of 2,749, and was only beaten by a majority of 558.

At the same election J. Keir Hardie (subsequently elected president of the Party), was returned by the workers of South West Ham to represent them in Parliament.

These successes stimulated the advanced Trades Unionists to bring the matter before the ANNUAL TRADE UNION CONGRESS held that year in Glasgow, and after an animated debate, a resolution in favour of Independent Labour Representation was carried by a bare majority. Unfortunately the Parliamentary Committee of the Trades Union Congress was composed of men who, though deservedly reputed for their earnestness and ability as organisers and leaders on the old lines, yet were most of them bound by political, and in some cases by financial ties, to one of the plutocratic parties, and as a consequence, nothing but passive hostility was to be expected. After allowing a considerable interval for them to move, it was felt that further delay was both useless and dangerous, and at the initiativeof the Bradford men a conference was summoned at that town, of all associations who were in favour of an Independent Labour Party. This conference met on January 13 and 14, 1893. 115 delegates were present, the majority sent by Independent Labour Organisations, Trades Councils, and Branches of the Social Democratic Federation and Fabian Societies were also represented.

It was agreed that the various local Independent Labour organisations should be federated and known as the Independent Labour Party, of which the local societies would be branches. It was strongly felt, however, that the mere representation of Labour in Parliament was useless unless the Party had an economic basis, and as a consequence, the following resolution was carried almost unanimously:—

"That the object of the Independent Labour Party shall be to secure the Collective Ownership of all the Means of Production, Distribution, and Exchange."

A Programme embodying the immediate demands of the Party was also drawn up and adopted.

Thus the I.L.P. at its formation declared definitely for Socialism, a position from which it has never, for one moment, receded.

The Trade Union Congress, not to be outdone, endorsed the Bocialist resolution, and repeated its former decision, this time, by a majority of 65; but it again paralysed its action by the re-election of the reactionaries.

A series of STRIKES AND LOCK-OUTS took place the same year on an unprecedented scale, and the necessity of depriving the capitalists of political power, was again forcibly brought home to the organised workers of Great Britain by the ostentatious and indecent haste with which the troops were despatched by the Government to the assistance of the capitalists—many of whom where actual members of the party in power—for the purpose of fomenting disturbances, and thus giving an excuse for more vigorous measures; a policy which resulted in many injuries, and the shooting to death of two miners at Featherstone, in Yorkshire.

The I.L.P., therefore, stands as the political expression and unofficial mouthpiece of Socialist Trade Unionism. Its members are convinced Trade Unionists, every item on its programme, as well as the ultimate object, has been repeatedly endorsed by Congresses of Trade Unionists, and, notwithstanding the opposition of many of the leaders, it stands in the position of being the only political party which is prepared to advocate, and fight for the whole programm to which Trade Unionism is pledge.

The Independent Labour Party at present mainly CONFINES ITS ATTENTION TO INDUSTRIAL QUESTIONS, and avoids, as far as possible, allowing the attention of the workers being diverted from the economic goal by such side issues as the Abolition of Hereditary Legislators, the separation of Church and State, and other matters, on which, when the time comes for dealing with them, it will be quite prepared to speak out, and act decisively.

THE ATTITUDE OF THE PARTY IN PARLIAMENT was sharply defined by its president, J. KEIR HARDIE. It is that of a resolute hostility to any capitalist Government, and the relentlessly pressing forward of industrial demands, regardless of the convenience of the ministry of the day. The object of so doing is not so much to induce Parliament, as at present constituted, to deal with these matters, of which it has little hope, but to focus the attention of the public upon the economic evils of society, and to insist on Socialism as the only satisfactory remedy.

The I.L.P., though mainly formed for political purposes, does not by any means confine itself to such. It works also on the voluntary side of THE CO-OPERATIVE AND TRADES UNION MOVEMENTS, advocating and supporting strikes, when such action may be thought desirable, and organisation right along the line. It is, in fact, ready to adopt any methods —short of assasination and bomb throwing, which it leaves to its capitalist opponents—to further the object it has in view.

THE POLICY hitherto pursued at elections where there have been no Socialist candidates has been one of abstention, The party, however, is by no means pledged to this policy, but is prepared to use its vote, either in or out of Farliament in whatever manner it may deem will best advance the cause of Socialism. In its genera! policy, however, it believes that alliances of Socialist bodies with other political parties as known in Great Britain to be in every way harmful to the Socialist cause. It prefers to build up an organisation of workers and genuine believers in the necessity for Socialism, and to wait till it can win elections with candidates whose Socialism is beyond dispute, rather than drop any essential principle for the sake of an apparent temporary gain.

The I.L.P. is represented on local bodies by about 90 members, and at the general election of last year it was responsible for 28 Socialist candidates out of 33, who polled an average vote of 1,592. Although none of its candidates were elected, Socialism has never figured so largely before in English politics. Since then the branches have increased their strength and activity, and in a bye-election in North Aberdeen, May 1, 1896, the Gen. Sec. polled 2,479 votes against a Liberal Plutocrat, who received 2,909, in a constituency where Liberal majorities for many years previous had exceeded 3,000.

The party is controlled by a National Administrative Council, consisting of the Chairman, General Secretary, Treasurer, and six other mermbers, who are elected at an annual congress, formed of delegates from the various branches. Fach delegate votes according to the number of members he represents.

Branches have, subject to the constitution of the party, complete local autonomy, and fix their own contributions from their members. Every member has to contribute one penny per month to the National Administrative Council, which is spent in forwarding the objects of the party.

The Independent Labour Party ever upholds the solidarity of all workers, regardless of race or nationality, and although only recently formed, it was represented at the Zurich Congress by its General Secretary. It carefully watches the progress of all other democracies. It rejoices in their successes, is nerved by their sufferings, and shares with them their sorrows, which are also its own. If looks forward with confident hope to the international organisation of Labour, and echoes the cry, whose realisation means the complete downfall of Capitalism, and the final triumph of Democracy,—


Signed, on behalf of the N.A.C.,



Head Office: 53, Fleet Street, London, E.C.