Tom Mann’s Memoirs, 1923

Book one: Europe

VIII. Secretaryship of the Independent Labour Party
1894 to 1896

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


At a conference of the Independent Labour Party, held in February 1894, I was appointed secretary of the party. For some time I had been in hearty agreement with the ILP, and while lecturing under various auspices I had supported the principles and policy of that organisation. Having become its secretary, I was henceforward actively connected with the work of extending its sphere of operations. Keir Hardie was chairman of the national administrative council, and he and I worked together harmoniously. The members of the NAC were Pete Curran, Ben Tillett, George S. Christie, Alderman Tattersall, Leonard Hall, Fred Brocklehurst and John Lister, who was treasurer. I had been for some years closely connected with the co-operative movement as well as with the trade-union movement, and in my propagandist efforts I laboured to extend ILP influence in the trade unions and co-operative societies, these tactics being vigorously supported by my colleagues. Definite attention was given to the running of candidates for municipalities and for parliament. Complete independence of Liberals and Conservatives was enjoined and insisted upon. The declaration of adherence was not exactly the same in all districts. That which prevailed in London was as follows:

Membership of this party shall be open to all men and women who shall sign a declaration of belief that the interests of labour are paramount to, and must take precedence of, all other interests, and that the advancement of these interests of labour must be sought by political and constitutional action, and that no member of any organisation connected with the Liberal, Liberal-Unionist or Conservative parties be eligible for membership of the party.

I hereby pledge myself to the above.

Keir Hardie and I did much platform propaganda, and although we were pledged to constitutional action, this did not prevent the capitalist newspapers from denouncing us in harsh terms. To dare to declare determined opposition to both the recognised political parties, and to act accordingly, brought condemnation and vilification from the ordinary press. I took especial satisfaction in exposing the principles and methods of the Liberals, showing that they were essentially capitalistic and were pledged to the maintenance of a profit-making system. However reactionary Tories were, none of them were or could be greater exploiters than the Liberals.

I was candidate for the Colne Valley division of Yorkshire, two reasons being urged as to why I should run in that constituency. First of all, it was at that time exceptionally backward, neither socialists nor Labour men having given attention to it. Secondly, the reason was that the sitting member was a prominent Liberal capitalist, the head of a well-known engineering firm in Leeds, Mr James Kitson, afterwards Sir James. The electorate was a difficult one to tackle. Industrially it was chiefly textile, partly cotton and partly woollen, for it occupied an intermediate position between the area of the Lancashire cotton trade and that of the Huddersfield woollen trade. There were also about six hundred small farmers and a few engineering workers.

I nursed the constituency systematically for the three years preceding the general election of 1895. There was never any chance of my winning the seat. At the election I received rather more than twelve hundred votes, whilst the sitting member received about three times that number.

At this date, Victor Grayson was a boy of thirteen years of age. Twelve years later, in 1907, Victor Grayson as a straight-out socialist candidate was returned for the Colne Valley division, against a Liberal and Conservative, Grayson receiving a majority of 153 over the Liberal and 421 over the Conservative.

At the 1895 general election, Keir Hardie, who had been the member for South-West Ham since 1892, was defeated. Keir stood for West Bradford in 1896 and was defeated there, but was returned for Merthyr in 1900.

All the time I kept industrial organisation to the fore, attaching prime importance thereto. In September 1894, I issued a pamphlet under the title What the ILP is Driving At, in which the following appears:

And now to guard against the view that the whole of our social difficulties are attributable to politicians or employers of labour, I am bound to state my conviction that while both those sections are about as wrong-headed as it’s possible to be, the bulk of the workers themselves are far from being able to cast stones, for as yet only a small minority of the workers have really tried to understand the causes of these difficulties, and taken such action as lies in their power to rectify them.

Take for instance the relatively small proportion of the workers who as yet belong to the trade unions. Thus out of six and a quarter millions of workmen in the United Kingdom eligible to join the unions, only two million are members, and while the good work these have been enabled to do has undoubtedly proved of enormous advantage to the workers generally, their power for good has been checked much more by the indifference and selfishness of thoughtless workmen than by the opposition of employers. No need here to recite the benefits of trade unionism, still less to defend it, but as a collectivist and a member of the ILP, I know for a certainty that the greatest hindrance to the democratic movement at the present time is the lack of effective industrial organisation, backed up by equally effective political organisation for purposes of industrial change. A member of the ILP who should have the impudence to act the part of “blackleg’ in his or her trade, is almost unthinkable. Let there be no mistake, we must have the trade unions perfectly organised and adequately financed, and I have no atom of sympathy with those who profess regard for political action on advanced lines who shirk their duties and responsibilities as trade unionists.

The Social Democratic Federation was conducting a vigorous agitation all this time, and was preparing to run candidates at the next parliamentary election. I thoroughly believed in the desirability of harmony between the two propagandist bodies, and lost no opportunity of endeavouring to secure joint action. Thus, in the pamphlet just referred to, I wrote:

What then is the ideal aimed at by the Independent Labour Party?

It is the establishment of a state of society where living upon unearned income shall be impossible for any but the physically enfeebled; where the total work of the country shall be scientifically regulated and properly apportioned over the total number of able-bodied citizens; where class domination shall be rendered impossible by the full recognition of social, economic, and sex equality.

It may be well to give here the object of the Social Democratic Federation as stated by that body, reminding readers that the object of the two organisations is identical. It is the socialisation of the means of production, distribution, and exchange, to be controlled by a democratic state in the interests of the community, and the complete emancipation of labour from the domination of capitalism and landlordism, with the establishment of social and economic equality between the sexes.

The above fits perfectly with the following comprehensive and important sentence from Karl Marx: “The economical subjection of the man of labour to the monopoliser of the means of labour (that is, the sources of life), lies at the bottom of servitude in all its forms, of all misery, mental degradation, and political dependence.”

The economical emancipation of the working class is therefore the great end to which every political movement ought to be subservient as a means.

There were hopes at one time of uniting the various socialist bodies into one organisation; but although there was no vital difference of principle, there was a considerable difference in temperament, and the uniting of forces did not come off.

In May 1896, owing to the retirement of Dr Hunter from the constituency of North Aberdeen, and the local organisation being desirous that I should stand as the ILP candidate, it came about that I again stood for parliament. The Liberal candidate was Captain Pirie, of the well-known firm of papermakers, whose works are situated in the district. The contest was short, sharp and vigorous. I did not win, but we materially reduced the Liberal majority, which for four successive elections had been over three thousand. The previous election gave the Liberal a majority of 3548, which was reduced on this occasion to 430. Up to that time it was the nearest approach to a win of any ILP candidate.

I desire here to record my sincere admiration and deep respect for one who helped very materially at that election, the late Miss Carrie Martyn. She had been actively connected with the ILP for some years, coming from Lincolnshire, where, in consequence of having espoused socialism, she was made to feel that her absence would be more appreciated than her presence if she continued identified with such views. Miss Martyn soon qualified as an efficient platform speaker, and threw herself into the movement with whole-souled abandon.

Many of the election meetings were held in the open air, not a few of them in stonemasons’ yards, the speakers often standing on blocks of granite intended for tombstones. Miss Martyn addressed many meetings under such conditions, and was always most effective. Indeed, I really believe that had she been the candidate, she would have won the election. She was suffering from a cold during the contest, and ought to have had a considerable rest afterwards, until she could have thrown it off, but duty called. The Dundee jute operatives invited her to take up work on their behalf — work which involved a good deal of public speaking. Having accepted this invitation she became worse, and died, literally in consequence of not being able to take the necessary rest.

She lies in the cemetery at Dundee. The tomb- stone bears the inscription: Caroline E.D. Martyn, Bom, Lincoln, 3rd May, 1867. Died, Dundee, 23rd July, 1896.

During 1896 I did much propaganda work in London, the provinces, and on the continent. One series of meetings was held in what was then known as the Holborn Town Hall, now the Holborn Hall, Grays Inn Road. The advertising was properly attended to, and the organising of the meetings was well done. We had the organ and soloists and a choir. There was an adequate staff of stewards who understood their duties well, and carried them out attentively. Every Sunday evening at 7.30 o’clock precisely we took the platform, the organist already having played a voluntary. The meeting lasted fully two hours, and was well balanced throughout with singing and speaking. It was universally admitted that this series was a complete success. Here are a few of the press notices indicating the character of the meetings:

Mr Tom Mann had a wonderful audience on Sunday night, when he commenced the first of his series of six lectures on Socialism and the Labour Question. The hall was crammed in every part, and hundreds were standing down the aisles. — The New Age

Tom Mann has evidently made a mistake. It was the Albert Hall, or, at any rate the Queen’s Hall, he should have taken to accommodate his audiences in. I have never seen the Holborn Town Hall so packed as it was last Sunday evening since Henry George’s last visit to England, and people who want to get in next Sunday had better go early. Hundreds couldn’t get in last week, and the lecturer had to pause before he was halfway through, to bid the standing crowd at the back come up to the front and not block the doors. The choir surrounded and backed lecturer and chairman like a bevy of angels, and sang like nightingales. — Weekly Times and Echo.

Every succeeding meeting at the Holborn Town Hall beats the record of the preceding one. At Tom Mann’s third lecture on Sunday last, the greater hall was packed tighter than ever. — Labour Leader.

The International Socialist Congress was held in the Queen’s Hall, London, commencing on July 27, 1896. I was on the organising committee, and had much to do in the fixing of the necessary halls to accommodate the respective national groups when they desired to meet separate from the main congress, also in arranging accommodation and many other things essential to the success of so large a gathering. Many of those who were delegated to the congress were already famous, or have since become famous, in international affairs. In 1889, while the London dock strike was in progress, two International Socialist Con- gresses were held simultaneously in Paris. There were two in consequence of the disagreements between French sections of the delegates. The next International Socialist Congress was held in Brussels in 1891, when it was decided to hold them every three years. At the Zurich Congress it had been laid down that in future:

All trade unions shall be admitted to the congress, also all those socialist parties and organisations which recognise the necessity for the organisation of the workers and for political action.

By political action is meant that the working-class organisations seek, as far as is possible, to use or conquer political rights and the machinery of legislation for the furthering of the interests of the proletariat and the conquest of political power.

The interpretation of this caused a very heated debate. There were present many anti- parliamentarians, one-half of the French delegates taking up this position; but there were also prominent anarchists, including Peter Kropotkin, Domela Nieuwenhuis and others, and German and British Social Democrats. Many of the ILP delegates were for refusing all such the right to take part in the congress. Keir Hardie and I made a determined stand upon this, insisting that all present should have the same right to participate in discussion. Much excitement prevailed. Singer, a German delegate, and H.M. Hyndman, were successively in the chair during this discussion. In the end no one was excluded from the congress, but steps were taken to make the conditions of admission in future somewhat more precise.

I refer to this incident chiefly because of the action of some of the ILP delegates, who were all intimate friends of mine. They actually got up a round-robin of emphatic protest against myself — I forget whether they included Hardie in this — for defending the right of the anti- parliamentarian delegates to have a voice in the congress. Nothing came of it, except that it caused me to observe even more closely the psychology of the two schools.

Among many socialists there was very little appreciation of and no admiration for trade unionism. In Germany, the Social Democratic movement was powerful before trade unionism had made much headway, and many socialists were lukewarm about the advantages of trade unionism. So at this congress of 1896 in London, a special commission was appointed by the congress to sit apart and discuss and decide upon what the attitude of the international socialist movement should be towards industrial organisation. The commission consisted of two delegates from each nation: H.M. Hyndman and I were the two for Britain; Legien and Molkenbuhr represented Germany.

We sat the greater part of two days debating the subject, and succeeded in drafting a report for the congress. Its purport was that not only was it desirable that socialists should be identified with the trade-union movement, but that an instruction should go out from the congress that it was the duty of all socialists to resort to systematic industrial organisation and use the same for the advancement of the economic emancipation of the workers.

One of the delegates to the congress was Rosa Luxemburg, then as ever until her untimely death at the hands of the reactionaries in Berlin, alert and keen, following all important phases of international development, and tactfully exercising great influence in the congress, apart from any speeches she delivered. Millerand was there as a French delegate; also Jaures; altogether one hundred and one from France, fifty of whom favoured political action, and fifty-one did not, or it may have been the other way about, but there was a majority of one only whichever side had it.