William Morris. Commonweal, May 1885

[Untitled] Rider to a motion against the Soudan War

Source: Commonweal, Vol I, No. 4, May 1885, p. 36;
Transcribed: by Graham Seaman, February 2022.

The Socialist League determined to move a rider to the first resolution at the meeting against the Soudan War held in St. James's Hall on April 2nd. Comrades Morris and Mowbray were told off to move and second the rider, which ran thus :—

"And that this meeting believes that the invasion of the Soudan has been prompted solely by the desire to exploit the country in the interests of capitalists and stock-jobbers; and warns the working classes that such wars will always take place until they (the workers) unite throughout tho civilised world, and take their own affairs into their own hands."

The audience was attentive and moderately enthusiastic against the war — any reference to the cause of which was carefully avoided in the resolution. Mr. Bradlaugh from tne chair opened the meeting, and was followed by Prof. Beesley, Mr. Storey, Prof. Thorold Rogers, and Mr. N. L. Ghose. In spite of the inspiriting subject the speaking was on the wbole below the average: Mr. Storey's speech was the stupidest, and Mr. Bradlaugh's the most conventional; Mr. Thorold Rogers alone made a vigorous and pointed speech, justly throwing the onus of the war on the sluggishness of the whole British people who have permitted it to be undertaken and continued. He also, using partly the words of our Manifesto, pointed out the large share which Gordon's treacherous conduct had in bringing about the invasion, and his remarks on this point were received with applause by the greater part of the audience. At the close of Mr. Ghose's somewhat dreary speech, the Chairman announced, without reading out, our rider, and said that he would allow the mover and seconder five minutes each. This promise he broke by calling Morris to time after he had spoken a few sentences, which were reported verbatim by the Daily News next day1, and can only be spun out to something less than two minutes. There was no excuse for this unfairness on the Chairman's part, as the audience was quite prepared to give a fair hearing to our speakers; the reading of the rider was interrupted by widespread applause, the mention of the Socialist League was well received, and so were the few words spoken by Morris. The mover protesting against the Chairman's unfairness, Mr. Bradlaugh offered to let him speak through the seconder's time if tho latter would give it up. This he (very reasonably) declined to do, and Morris was compelled to retire. Mowbray was then allowed to speak for his allotted time, after which the chairman rose and announced that "we cannot accept the rider," thus dictating to what was supposed to be a free public meetiog. He then called on Mrs. Besant to oppose the rider. This lady, called on to answer arguments which Mr. Bradlaugh had forbidden the meeting to listen to, made but a poor job of it, and would scarcely have had a cheer till the close of her speech if she had not quoted the last sentence of the rider, which was received with loud applause. After she had concluded, she of course received the applause that politeness usually awards to a lady. Though Morris asked the chairman to allow a brief answer to Mrs. Besant, and John Burns (S.D.F.) att«mpted to reach the platform and speak, this slight indulgence to freedom of discussion before a good tempered and more or less sympathetic audience was refused by the chairman, who then put the rider (again without reading it). As matter of course, after such treatment, it was rejected. The only other remarkable event of the meeting was the uproarious applause which greeted Mr. Labouchere's rising to move the second resolution, compared wlth which Mr. Bradlaugh's reception was cool. This seemed to indicate a large contingent of Northampton voters, which makes the reception by the audience of our speakers the more encouraging. A considerable number of the Commonweal was sold at the hall doors, and the Soudan War Manifesto was widely distributed.

In considering their delegates' report of the meeting, the following resolution was unanimously passed :—

"This meeting of the Provisional Council of the Socialist League considers the action of Mr. Bradlaugh as Chairman of the St. James's Hall meeting of 2nd April to have been a flagrant breach of faith towards a delegate of the League, and in future resolves to treat Mr. Bradlaugh in accordance with this consideration of his conduct on that occasion."

— W. M.


1. The article "THE WAR IN THE SOUDAN. PEACE MEETING AT ST. JAMES'S HALL." (Daily News Friday April 3 1885, p.3) contains detailed reports on all the speeches and letters read out at the meeting. The original motion proposed by Professor Beesly was:

That this meeting, holding the invasion of the Soudan to be morally indefensible and injurious to the interest of the great mass of Englishmen, calls on the Government to withdraw our forces forthwith.

The section Morris refers to is as follows:

Mr. WILLIAM MORRIS, who was received with considerable cheering, and who said he heartily supported the resolution as far as it went, proposed the following rider, on behalf of the Socialist League, of which he was the delegate— "And that this meeting believes that the invasion of the Soudan has been promoted solely by the desire to exploit the country in the interests of capitalists and stockjobbers—(cheers)—and warns the working classes that such wars will always take place until they (the workers) unite throughout the civilized world in taking their own affairs into their own hands" (cheers). He had attended many meetings during the last few months, and any denunciaton of English intervention in Egypt, from the bombardment at Alexandria down to the present time, had met with a most enthusiastic response. He was convinced that no war had ever been undertaken by the English people that had been more unpopular with the English people than the war in the Soudan. (Cheers.) That was rather a strange thing. The whole English people made the war, and the whole English people condemned it. Why was that? Because they were forced into the war. And who forced them into it? The masters of the English people. And who were their masters? Those capitalists and stockjobbers of whom he had just spoken, and who could not exist as a class without this exploitation of foreign nations to get new markets.—

Mr. Morris was here called to time by the chairman, and he requested a few more minutes, which the chairman refused, saying that he had given the time asked for—five minutes—but if the seconder of the rider would second it without a speech Mr. Morris could have five minutes more. The seconder refusing to give up his own time, Mr. Morris was called upon to sit down, which he did with a protest that he had not been fairly treated.

Mr. MOWBRAY seconded the rider, and spoke in the sense of war being against the interests of working men.

Mrs. BESANT explained that the rider could not be accepted because it was entirely outside the object for which the meeting had been called, and because it would not be wise or right to throw down the vexed question of capital and labour as an apple of discord in that assembly. (Hear, hear.) She proceeded vigorousiy to condemn the war, asking what might not be done for the poor of this country by means of the millions which were being wasted in the Soudan (Cheers.)

The rider having beeen rejected by an overwhelming majority, the resolution was carried unanimously amid loud cheers, after which the Chairman was authorised to transmit it to the Prime Minister.