Tom Mann’s Memoirs, 1923

Book one: Europe

III. First socialist activities

First published: 1923
Publisher: The Labour Publishing Company Limited, 38 Great Ormond Street, London WC I
Transcription, mark-up: Steve Painter

Thorneycroft’s was slack; a number of men, myself included, were discharged. I remember that it was on the fourth of July we were discharged. I joked about our Independence Day. Trade was dull. I tried many engineering shops with no success, but Tilbury Docks were then in course of construction. Lucas & Aird of Chelsea were the contractors. Another of the discharged men, a fitter, and I went to Tilbury having learned there would be a good prospect. We both obtained work in the engine shop in connection with the docks, and this will help to indicate the kind of change made in a workman’s surroundings in London simply by changing his job. My home was in Chiswick, eight miles west of Charing Cross, whilst Tilbury Docks are twenty-two miles east. It was not merely that there was a distance of thirty miles between home and work, but in order to reach Tilbury from Chiswick in early morning the following was the method. To get the first workman’s train from Hammersmith, it was necessary to walk the two miles from Chiswick to Hammersmith, then on the Metropolitan to Aldgate, then walk to Fenchurch Street to get the Tilbury train to start a day’s work with the rest. The present town of Grays was at that time no more than a few streets to meet the needs of the men engaged on the docks, and I lodged there, getting home at weekends; but also, on the night of the meeting of our lecture society at Chiswick, I used to ask for an hour off, and so leave at four o’clock and get to Chiswick to participate in the meeting and then enjoy the morning journey as already described: and enjoy is correct, for I certainly had much more satisfaction in maintaining my interest in the affairs of the society than I possibly could have had by being in a state of mind that would have counted it too much trouble to bother with.

It was at this time, 1884 and on, that the Social Democratic Federation was conducting a vigorous propagandist campaign. The social Democratic paper Justice had been started, and those who were able to sense the situation recognised that something was buzzing.

I was on the alert for a situation in London so as to be near home, when I learned that Brotherhood’s, for whom I had previously worked at their old shop in Clerkenwell, were now in a fine new up-to-date establishment at Belvedere Road, Lambeth. I applied there. I may add that this building occupied part of the site on which the New County Hall has been built, and the firm of Brotherhood’s is now located at Peterborough. I started again for this firm, and I moved to Battersea to be within easy traveling distance. The Battersea branch of the Social Democratic Federation was a rapidly growing body. It held meetings every Sunday morning in the open air, at Battersea Park gates, on Sunday evenings in Sydney Hall, and at various other places during the week. John Burns was the foremost member of the branch, and had already won renown as a public advocate of the new movement. I at once became a member of the branch and a participant in the work thereof, literature selling and public speaking.

I threw myself into the movement with all the energy at my command. I thoroughly endorsed the principles, and such palliative proposals as I considered to be of a practical character. In any case, full of a desire to help in developing opinion favourable to change in the directions indicated, I found my bearings very quickly on fraternising with, and listening to the speeches of, John Burns, H.M. Hyndman, H.H. Champion, John Williams, James Macdonald, and many others with whom I came into contact. I became their colleague in the cause. The power of these men to attract and hold an audience, coupled with the wonderful amount of valuable information they imparted in their speeches, plus their glorious fearlessness and absence of apologetic timidity in the presentation of their case, attracted and pleased me immensely. I lost no time in endeavouring to become equally qualified, and as I look back upon that period it affords me satisfaction to recall that there was no time willfully wasted. Travelling by workman’s train from Queen’s Road, Battersea, to Waterloo, I was at work in the morning by six o’clock. Every weekend I was busy on propaganda work, usually speaking three times on the Sunday — twice in the open air and once indoors. Often the round would be near Bricklayers’ Arms, Old Kent Road, at 11am, Victoria Park in the East End, 3.30pm, and indoors at some branch meeting or other public gathering in the evening, rarely reaching home before 11pm, to be up at 5 o’clock next morning. No payment of any kind was received for this, a fact which I only mention to illustrate the truth of the axiom “where your treasure is there will your heart be also”,

John Burns and I became close friends and good comrades. He was two years my junior, but looked older than I. We were both members of the Amalgamated Engineers, he of the West London branch, and I of the Battersea branch. He had a splendid voice and a very effective and business-like way of putting a case. He looked well on a platform. He always wore a serge suit, a white shirt, a black tie, and a bowler hat. He looked the engineer all over, and was very easily recognised. When Charles Bradlaugh showed signs of physical weariness, John was in the ascendant. Surprisingly fluent, with a voice that could fill every part of the largest hall or theatre, and, if the wind were favourable, could reach a twenty-thousand audience in the parks, etc, he was undoubtedly the most remarkable propagandist speaker in this country. Close friends and fellow agitators as we were, there were occasions when we differed considerably in our estimates as to what was best in tactics, as I shall have occasion to show later.

Hyndman was a very different personality. In the early days of open-air propaganda — for he took his turn regularly at outdoor gatherings as well as indoor — his essentially bourgeois appearance attracted much attention. The tall hat, the frock coat and the long beard often drew the curious-minded who would not have spent time listening to one in workman’s attire. Hyndman always gave the unadulterated Social Democratic doctrine, as propounded by the Social Democratic Federation. He never whittled down his revolutionary principles, or expressed them in sugar-coated phrases. He took the greatest delight in exposing the exploitation carried on by the capitalists, and especially by those who championed Liberal and Radical principles, and were thought highly of by the workmen members of Radical clubs. He cleverly criticised the workmen listening to him for not being able to see through the machinations of those members of the master class, closely associated with the church or politics, or both. At almost every meeting he addressed, Hyndman would cynically thank the audience for so “generously supporting my class”. Indeed, he brought in “my class” to an objectionable degree. It seemed to some of us that it would have been better if he could have dropped this reference, but none of us doubted his whole-souled advocacy of socialism as he conceived it. Hyndman, like many strong personalities, had very pronounced likes and dislikes. To myself, he was ever kind and courteous. I am quite sure he did much valuable work at the particular time when that special work was needed.

It was no small matter to know that in our advocacy of the principles we had learned to love, which on so many occasions brought forth stinging criticisms from the press, Hyndman’s ability to state the case comprehensively, logically, and argumentatively, was at our disposal always, and was of very great value indeed. I am convinced, however, that Hyndman’s bourgeois mentality made it impossible for him to estimate the worth of industrial organisation correctly. For many years he attached no importance whatever to the trade-union movement, and his influence told disastrously on others. This phase it will be necessary to refer to later.

Henry Hyde Champion was about my own age, an ex-artillery officer, a foremost member of the SDF, taking part in all forms of propagandist activity, showing keen sympathy with the unemployed. He had a fine, earnest face, and a serious manner in dealing with the sufferings of the workers. He approved my ardent advocacy of the eight-hour day, and urged me to write a pamphlet on the subject, which he would print. At that time he had a printing business in Paternoster Row. I wrote the pamphlet: it was published in 1886, the first on this subject. Champion, being a man of vigorous individuality, and genuinely devoted to the movement, could not always wait to get his views as to various forms of propagandist activity endorsed by a committee. He would act upon his own initiative, and betimes commit the organisation to plans and projects without consultation. Naturally this would give rise to strong expressions of opinion, frequently of an adverse character, arising from the natural human dislike to being pitchforked into a project, however excellent, without having had reasonable opportunity for consideration. As a result, Champion aroused considerable hostility amongst the members who were no less devoted than himself to the advancement of the cause. My own conclusion with regard to him was that he was profoundly convinced that his judgment was right, that situations arose which necessitated prompt and decisive action, and that he could not endure to wait several days before the committee met. Anyway, he was more sure of his own judgment than of theirs. Later events, which I shall record in their place, throw light upon this interesting personality. I saw much of him in after years in Australia, and still keep in regular correspondence with him. Indeed, it is largely at his earnest and repeated request that I am writing these reminiscences. Champion is now a literary agent in Melbourne, while his wife runs a very successful bookstore there — the Book-lovers’ Library.

A very different type of man was John Williams. He was rather below medium height, round-shouldered, with one shoulder higher than the other. He spoke with a strong Cockney accent. On the platform, John was the picture of pugnacity. He had a fine command of language, was well-informed, and full of apt illustrations of the seamy side of a workman’s life. He could hold an audience with the best, and was a most effective propagandist. He had a large family, and frequently had long spells out of work, but this never damped his ardour. In work or not, Jack was at his post taking his turn in any part of London, outdoors or in. He knew the East End particularly well, speaking its peculiar tongue, and using its characteristic phrases. Jack has gone to his long rest; he deserves to rest in peace. He, with Burns, Hyndman, and Champion, was tried at the Old Bailey for sedition — but that will come later.

Jem Macdonald, of the London Tailors’ Union, but an Edinburgh man, was one of the finest speakers the SDF ever had. No one possessed a more scientific grasp of vital principles, and few sensed so quickly any attempt at subterfuge or scheming. Since opponents were often disguised as friends, a man of Jem’s type was especially valuable when an important discussion was on, and all the better for us if Jem could be kept till last, so as to have nothing sprung on us that would not get handled effectively. In recent years Jem’s hearing has proved defective, and it has been a serious barrier to his participation in propagandist work, but he still carries on the secretaryship of his trade union.

The Amalgamated Society of Engineers, with the late John Burnett as general secretary, had become very respectable and deadly dull. Burnett had rendered exceptionally good service at the time of the nine-hour day agitation in 1871. He had been chairman of the Nine-Hour League in Newcastle. Negotiations were attempted with the employers to obtain the nine hours without a stoppage of work, but unsuccessfully. On June 1, 1871, began the struggle which won the nine-hour day for the iron trades. It was not till October 6 of the same year that the employers made the concession demanded by the men. At that time William Allan was general secretary of the Engineers, a man of commanding influence over a period of years in the trade-union movement. Allan died in 1874, and in July 1875, Burnett became general secretary. His period of office lasted eleven years, nothing remarkable taking place during that period beyond abnormal fluctuations in trade, and efforts of the society to cope with the same. In 1886, Burnett resigned the secretaryship, becoming labour correspondent to the Board of Trade, and Robert Austin of Manchester was elected secretary in his place.

I conceived it to be my duty, in addition to my socialist propagandist effort, to try and shake up the Engineers. The branches then, as now, met fortnightly. The branch meeting did not afford sufficient scope to touch upon general topics of an educational character. With others, therefore, I founded the Battersea Progressive League. Its meetings were held fortnightly in the alternate weeks to those of the branch. It was chiefly for branch members, but was open to all trade unionists. By such means general subjects were dealt with in addition to purely ASE affairs, and this served as a feeder to the propagandist efforts at park gates and elsewhere.

The fact that I was working for some time at Tilbury withheld me from close relationship with the leading activities in socialist circles in 1884. The Social Democratic Federation grew out of the Democratic Federation, formed in London in 1881, amongst the chief promoters of the latter being H.M. Hyndman, Herbert Burrows and Dr G.B. Clark.

William Morris joined the Democratic Federation in 1883. He favoured a distinctively socialist policy, and this body became the Social Democratic Federation in 1884. Those who are concerned to understand the development of affairs from this most interesting period must be willing to give some attention to detail. It soon became manifest that differences of opinion existed, and no doubt some incompatibility of temperament between members of the SDF. The question of parliamentary action was a bone of contention. William Morris and other members of the executive decided to resign, and to form the Socialist League. The following copy of a manifesto was issued explaining why this action was taken. I am indebted for this to James Tochatti, himself a member of the League throughout the greater part of its existence.

We, the Members of the Council of the Social Democratic Federation who, although a majority, resigned on December 27 [1884], wish to explain our reasons for that retirement, and for our forming a body independent of the Social Democratic Federation.

It is admitted by those who remain on the council, as well as by ourselves, that there has been for some time past a want of harmony in the council; we believe that this has been caused by a real difference in opinion as to what should be the aims and tactics of a socialist propaganda.

Our view is that such a body in the present state of things has no function but to educate the people in the principles of socialism, and to organise such as it can get hold of to take their due places, when the crisis shall come which will force action on us. We believe that to hold out as baits hopes of amelioration of the condition of the workers, to be wrung out of the necessities of the rival factions of our privileged rulers, is delusive and mischievous. For carrying out our aims of education and organisation no overshadowing and indispensable leader is required, but only a band of instructed men, each of whom can learn to fulfill, as occasion requires it, the simple functions of the leader of a party of principle.

We say that on the other hand there has been in the ranks of the Social Democratic Federation a tendency to political opportunism, which if developed would have involved us in alliances, however temporary, with one or other of the political factions, and would have weakened our propagandist force by driving us into electioneering, and possibly would have deprived us of the due services of some of our most energetic men by sending them to our sham parliament, there to become either nonentities, or perhaps our masters, and it may be our betrayers. We say also that among those who favoured these views of political adventure, there was a tendency towards national assertion, the persistent foe of socialism: and it is easy to see how dangerous this might become in times like the present.

Furthermore, these views have led, as they were sure to lead, to attempts at arbitrary rule inside the federation; for such a policy as the above demands a skilful and shifty leader, to whom all persons and opinions must be subordinated, and who must be supported (if necessary) at the expense of fairness and fraternal openness.

Accordingly, attempts have been made to crush out local freedom in affiliated bodies, and to expel or render unpopular those individual members who have asserted their independence. The organ of the party, also, has been in the hands of an irresponsible editor, who has declared himself determined to resign rather than allow the Federation to have any control over the conduct of the paper.

All this we have found intolerable. It may be asked of us why we did not remain in the body and try to enforce our views by steady opposition to it. We answer, as long as we thought reconciliation possible, we did do so; but the tendencies mentioned were necessarily aggressive, and at last two distinct attacks on individuals showed us that the rent could not be mended.

We felt that thenceforth there must be two opposed parties in the Social Democratic Federation. We did not believe that a propagandist body could do useful work so divided, and we thought that it would not be in the interests of socialism to carry on the contest further in the federation; because, however it might end, it would leave a discontented minority ruled by a majority, whose position would have been both precarious and tyrannical.

On the other hand, our view of duty to the cause of socialism forbids us to cease spreading its principles or to work as mere individuals. We have therefore set on foot an independent organisation, the Socialist League, with no intention of acting in hostility to the Social Democratic Federation, but determined to spread the principles of socialism, by the only means we deem effectual.

January 13, 1885.

Edward Aveling, W.J. Clark, Eleanor Marx Aveling, Joseph Lane, Robert Banner, S. Mainwaring, E. Belfort Bax, J.L. Mahon, J. Cooper, William Morris

Issued from the offices of the Socialist League, 27, Farringdon Street, London, EC.

One of the signatories to the above document was Sam Mainwaring. He was a member of the Amalgamated Engineers, and one of the very first to understand the significance of the revolutionary movement, and the first, as far as my knowledge goes, to appreciate industrial action as distinct from parliamentary action. He had been, in the late seventies, a member of the East London Labour Emancipation League, and was an early member of the SDF. Then, when the severance took place, he was one of the founders of the Socialist League. Sam Mainwaring was once my foreman, and he showed in the workshop the same quiet, dignified bearing that characterised him at public meetings. He was full-bearded like Morris. After attending propagandist meetings William Morris frequently walked back with Mainwaring, and it was said of them that they looked like the skipper and the first mate of a ship. Mainwaring was a good speaker, and took part in many meetings. As time went on he showed an increasing disposition towards Anarchist Communism, but the members of the league generally called themselves revolutionary socialists, to differentiate themselves from parliamentary socialists. In 1891, Sam Mainwaring removed to Swansea, and there he started the Swansea Socialist Society. It was about this period that J. Tochatti, a member of the Hammersmith branch of the league, produced the anarchist paper Liberty, and Mainwaring identified himself with it. He later settled again in London, and, while actually engaged addressing a meeting on Parliament Hill Fields, he turned faint and died. This was on Sunday, September 29, 1907.

The Socialist League was formed on December 30, 1884, and a manifesto was issued setting forth its principles as a revolutionary socialist body, signed by twenty-three supporters. Among the names were William Morris, Belfort Bax, Frank Kitz, Edward Aveling, W. Bridges Adams, Robert Banner (Woolwich), Tom Maguire (Leeds) and Andreas Scheu (Edinburgh). It was decided to start a monthly organ, The Commonweal. William Morris became editor, and Dr Aveling, sub-editor. J.L. Mahon was secretary of the League. Now began a friendly rivalry between the League and the Federation as to which should do the most effective propaganda work. The chief importance was attached to open-air meetings, and especially to the Sunday meetings. I first met William Morris in the summer of 1885. The lecture lists were regularly printed for SDF speakers in “Justice”, and for the League speakers in “The Commonweal”. One Sunday afternoon, when I was the appointed speaker for the SDF in Victoria Park, making my way to the rendezvous to take up my position under a large tree, I saw at some two hundred yards distant signs of a gathering meeting under another fine old tree. I was informed that the League was to hold their meeting there, and that William Morris was the appointed speaker. I therefore arranged to speak for only one hour instead of the usual two hours. I left the SDF meeting to be carried on by others, and slipped quietly away to get to Morris’s meeting, that I might have the pleasure of seeing and listening to him. Of course, I was well repaid. I had to get close to hear distinctly, but he was a picture on an open air platform. The day was fine, the branches of the tree under which he was speaking spread far over the speaker. Getting him well in view, the thought came, and has always recurred as I think of that first sight of Morris — “Bluff King Hal”. I did not give careful attention to what he was saying, for I was chiefly concerned to get the picture of him in my mind, and then to watch the faces of the audience to see how they were impressed. As is often the case at outdoor meetings, nine-tenths were giving careful attention, but on the fringe of the crowd were some who had just accidentally arrived, being out for a walk, and having unwittingly come upon the meeting. These stragglers were making such remarks as: “Oh, this is the share-and-share-alike crowd”; “Poverty, eh, he looks all right, don’t he?” But the audience were not to be distracted by attempts at ribaldry: and as Morris stepped off the improvised platform, they gave a fine, hearty hand-clapping which showed real appreciation.

In 1885, a general election took place, and the SDF decided to run John Burns as a socialist candidate for West Nottingham against the sitting member, Colonel Seeley. This meant that Burns must be absent from Battersea for a while, and some one must step in and take up the work of the branch, as chief advocate, etc. I was ready and willing; also I became the treasurer of a John Burns Election Fund to enable John to proceed to the scene of the contest. The activities in Battersea did not slacken, and the movement was recognised as of growing importance. There was no hope of winning the election; no one could gauge with any accuracy what the vote was likely to be. The result was: Colonel Seeley (Liberal), 6609; E. Cope (Conservative), 3797; John Burns (Socialist), 598. At this stage of affairs I was not much concerned over the relative merits of parliamentary effort. I was chiefly anxious to see something done to arouse the inert mass of workers. With the old religious fervour I kept at the agitation incessantly, and ran risks of getting discharged from employment. One instance was about this time whilst working at Brotherhood’s. I was told by the foreman that my “back time” would be in, which meant the “sack”. Asking the foreman as to why, he answered: “You’d better see the manager”. I did, and put the same question to him. He replied kindly but firmly: “The reason is, Tom, that whilst we admit you are a decent young fellow, we don’t keep this shop going to give you opportunities of preaching socialism.” I was conscious there was some warranty for the observation, so I finished.

My next place was at Pomeroy Street, Peckham. Here they were building the refrigerators which would supply the compressed air that gives the Whitehead torpedo the initial impulse when fired. The job suited me well, and I worked along comfortably, being careful to keep regular time, but taking frequent part in outdoor agitation, etc. I made it my special work to urge the necessity for a reduction of hours, on the ground that, owing to the many improvements in machinery from the time the nine-hour day was established, this was a right step to take, irrespective of whether socialism was approved or not. As the unemployed agitation was general at that time, I argued that a reduction of hours would be the most practical method of coping with the evil. But I declared no less emphatically that shorter hours would not cure unemployment, and that no restriction of the working day, however rigid, would meet the case. It was to be looked upon merely as a palliative, pending the realisation of socialism. I quoted Ruskin and Thorold Rogers more often than any other authorities.

In appealing for independent thought and self-reliance instead of leaning upon capitalist advice and instruction, I quoted John Ruskin’s eighty-ninth letter in Fors ClavigeraWhose Fault is it? — to the trade unions of England, and especially that portion where Ruskin states that he at one time had confidence in the “learned and the rich,” and adds:

And during seven years I went on appealing to my fellow scholars in words clear enough to them, though not to you, had they chosen to hear; but not one cared nor listened, till I had sign sternly given to me that my message to the learned and the rich was given, and ended.

And now I turn to you, understanding you to be associations of labouring men who have recognised the necessity of binding yourselves by some common law of action, and who are taking earnest council as to the conditions of your lives here in England, and their relations to those of your fellow workers in foreign lands. And I understand you to be, in these associations, disregardent, if not actually defiant, of the persons on whose capital you have been hitherto passively dependent for occupation, and who have always taught you, by the mouths of their appointed economists, that they and their capital were an eternal part of the providential arrangements made for this world by its creator.

In which self-assertion, nevertheless, and attitude of enquiry into the grounds of this statement of theirs, you are unquestionably right …

Trade unions of England — trade armies of Christendom, what’s the roll-call of you, and what part or lot have you, hitherto, in this Holy Christian Land of your fathers?

Is not that inheritance to be claimed, and the birthright of it, no less than the death eight? … What talk you of wages? Whose is the wealth of the world but yours? Whose is the virtue? Do you mean to go on for ever, leaving your wealth to be consumed by the idle and your virtue to be mocked by the vile?

The wealth of the world is yours, even your common rant and rabble of economists tell you that: “no wealth without industry” Who robs you of it, then, or beguiles you? Whose fault is it, you cloth-makers, that any English child is in rags? Whose fault is it, you shoemakers, that the street harlots mince in high-heeled shoes and your own babies paddle barefoot in the street slime? Whose fault is it you bronzed husbandmen, that through all your furrowed England, children are dying of famine?

Many hundreds of times have I made some portion of the above serve as my text for a speech on The Condition of England Question. The last-named work of Carlyle itself contains a number of passages that can be used with great effect on the minds of those not wholly weaned from conventionalism.

In dealing with unemployment, for a long time I supported the establishing of municipal workshops. Here again I made use of Ruskin, but this time it was Unto this Last, and especially the preface thereof, where he says:

Thirdly, that any man, or woman, or boy, or girl, out of employment, should be at once received at the nearest government school, and set to work as it appeared, on trial, they were fit for, at a fixed rate of wages, determinable every year: that being found incapable of work through ignorance, they should be taught, or being found incapable of work through sickness, should be tended: but that being found objecting to work, they should be set, under compulsion of the strictest nature, to the more painful and degrading forms of necessary toil, especially to that in mines and other places of danger (such danger being, however, diminished to the utmost by careful regulation and discipline), and the due wages of such work be retained, cost of compulsion first abstracted, to be at the workman’s command, so soon as he has come to sounder mind respecting the laws of employment.

This with variations, dealing with the apathy of the trade unions, and urging them to definite action, gave me a good jumping-off ground at open-air meetings.

Thorold Rogers I used largely too. Holding meetings in densely populated areas, such as at the East India Dock gates where it was always easy to obtain a large audience chiefly of waterside workers, many of whom were out of work, and many others on only two or three days’ work a week, it was helpful to tell them of the conditions that prevailed five hundred years ago when no machinery existed — and the people were accounted poor then — but as regards food, see what Thorold Rogers the economist said:

Fortunately for the English people, as I have frequently stated, their habit, even under the adverse circumstances of their existence and the uncleanly ways of their life, was always to subsist on abundant provisions of naturally high quality. They ate wheaten bread, drank barley beer, and had plenty of cheap, though perhaps coarse, meat. Mutton and beef at a farthing a pound, take what multiple you please, and twelve is a liberal one, were within the reach of far more people than they now are. The grinding, hopeless poverty under which existence may be just continued, but when nothing is won beyond bare existence, did not, I am convinced characterise or even belong to medieval life.

As showing the attitude of the government towards the old guilds, the counterparts or forerunners of the trade unions, the following, also from Rogers’s Six Centuries of Work and Wages, was a good text:

For nearly five centuries the legislature had declared that labour partnerships, that is, associations of working men formed for the purpose of selling their labour collectively to the best advantage, were under the ban of the law. The motive for this repression was never concealed. It was designed in order to increase and secure rents and profits at the cost of wages.

I followed this up by telling of the action of the employers in the first quarter of the nineteenth century, when workmen again attempted to organise; how that, being unable to dissuade them or terrify them into not doing so, the employers requested parliament to make it a punishable offence for any two or more workmen to associate together in order to adjust working conditions; and a bill to this effect became law in 1799, and remained operative until 1824. During that twenty-five years, numbers of English workmen were transported as convicts to Australia and Tasmania for no other offence than that of endeavouring to organise in unions to try and cure some of the evils which parliament refused to deal with. In 1824, largely as the result of the tactful behaviour of Francis Place, the Charing Cross tailor, the obnoxious Combination Laws were repealed; but it required many years of battling to establish the full right to organise. Those who wish for information on this subject cannot do better than turn to the History of Trade Unionism by Sidney and Beatrice Webb.

The Fabian Society came into being about the same time as the SDF, but was founded by persons of a very different type. The Fabians soon became very active in the holding of meetings and the issuing of pamphlets. Intellectuals such as Sidney Webb, Bernard Shaw, Hubert Bland, William Clark, E.R. Pease, Sidney Olivier, and Annie Besant probably did more work in this separate organisation than they would have done had they been members either of the Social Democratic Federation or of the Socialist League. The Fabian Society invited me at the end of 1885 to give an address on The Eight-Hour Working Day. I did so, and a very good discussion took place almost entirely favourable. I remember Mrs Besant taking part in it, and I had a conversation with her at the close. This was the first time I had spoken to Mrs Besant, whose powers and courage I so much admired.

I was now entirely devoted to the advocacy of socialism. With a temperament easily enthused when favourably impressed, and a strong desire to be identified with efforts for the curing of social distress, I found in socialism a more complete satisfaction than I had ever before experienced. Enthusiasm I had possessed before, and had put a good deal of energy into the advocacy of teetotalism. When I came to recognise limitations in the temperance movement, I extended my activities to embrace food reform. My first spell as a vegetarian was for a period of three years. For a considerable portion of this time I was more of a fruitarian, as I did not include in my dietary either fish, flesh, fowl, milk, eggs, cheese or butter. I lived almost exclusively on bread and fruit, and as far as health was concerned the diet suited me well. I never had an hour’s illness, or lost time from work. But I must admit it did tire me to be continually asked, would I not make some departure or other? Was I not likely to suffer if I kept to such a diet? I found myself on so many occasions holding forth on the qualities of food, telling the composition of foodstuffs, explaining the assimilative power of the human organism to draw nourishment from the most varied foodstuffs, that I spent much more time than was pleasant contraverting the stupid views which are all but universally held with regard to this subject. But that which weakened my ardour in this direction was the recognition that however widely food reform might be diffused, it would never prove a cure for the economic evils I deplored. The fact was, I had not yet realised that the social evils I was cognisant of were economic in origin. I did not yet understand the relationship of the working class to the employing class. I did not, therefore, yet realise that the employing class is also the exploiting class, and that it is inevitable under a wage-paying and profit-making system that everything produced by the working class will for a certainty be taken by the profit-receiving class, less the amount necessary for the workers to exist upon, and that the standard of life of the worker is decided, not by the amount he produces so much as by intelligent association with his fellows in insistence upon a decent standard. At length I came to see that stricter economy in working-class homes did not mean a higher standard in other directions in those homes. Such thrift ultimately furnished increased profits for the master class; for profits always advance proportionately with harder work, greater production and increasing economies on the part of wage receivers.

I was fully conscious that I had much to learn, and in my own interest I did not miss many opportunities of learning; but I saw clearly enough that the employers as controllers of industry never even attempted to regulate production in the interests of the community; that they had no regard, as employers of labour and controllers of industrial establishments, for the well-being of the people. Indeed, I could see that, as industrial magnates, they were utterly disregardent of the common well-being, and that neither individually nor collectively did they aim at producing a sufficiency of life’s necessaries. They never even pretended to have any concern that the wants of the needy should be supplied. Whatever interest in such matters they might show in private life, by identifying themselves with societies for ameliorating the condition of the people, was nullified and swamped every hour of every day by the profit-making system they were identified with as business men.

The presentation of the case admitted of and necessitated such a variety of illustration and explanation that there was no lack of subject matter; the danger was, in my case, that when attempting to deal with main principles exhaustively, I frequently gave too little attention to current events.

Two Social Democratic candidates were run in the metropolitan area in the 1885 election, when John Burns stood for Nottingham. The candidates were John Williams for Hampstead, and John Fielding for Kennington. The socialist vote was insignificant, but the discussions that took place over this on the executive of the SDF were the hottest I had ever up to this time listened to. The controversy brought out the respective qualities of the disputants, and the question of what constituted good and bad tactics was exhaustively thrashed out.

Shortly after this I felt the necessity for a change in attitude on the part of some of the prominent members of the SDF towards the trade-union movement. At an executive meeting (or it may have been a conference) I therefore suggested the desirability of avoiding such strong and hostile criticism of the trade-union movement as was frequently indulged in, and that care should be taken to show that we attached great importance to the trade-union and co-operative movements. I urged my colleagues to bestir themselves and get into line to help in solving the social problem.

This brought Hyndman to his feet. He criticised me severely for my championship of the trade unions. What were these precious unions? By whom were they led? By the most stodgy-brained, dull-witted, and slow-going time-servers in the country. To place reliance upon these, or to go out of our way to conciliate them, would be entirely wrong, and the same applied to the co-operative movement. I summarise from memory, but I am sure that I give the gist correctly. Herbert Burrows followed in the same strain as Hyndman, though less vehemently. I forget what the vote was, but I know that my proposition received little support, and that the meeting endorsed Hyndman’s views. I refer to the matter because at this early stage I felt the tactics were not the best. The conviction grew. Now, some thirty-seven years later, I am still of opinion that Hyndman failed to realise what should have been the attitude of himself and the SDF towards the industrial organisations of the time. It was a serious disservice to the cause; this policy antagonised trade unionists without drawing over any considerable percentage to the socialist position. Herein Hyndman was essentially bourgeois, and lacked perspicacity in that he failed to see the probable development of affairs. Small blame to him; he boasted that he was not of the working class, and neither he nor Champion could be expected to see the position from the industrial standpoint. I venture to believe that had the tactics been different, had it been the recognised and persistent policy to attach what I will call proper importance to the co-operative and trade-union movements, the growth of the SDF would have been far more rapid, and there would have been no necessity for the coming into existence of the Independent Labour Party. But who shall complain of what fate has decreed?