Peter Petroff July 1911

Some Comparison of Methods of Organisation I

Source: SDP News, Monthly Journal of Internal Affairs for the S.D.P., July 1911;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Every Continental who has taken an active part in his own party, when he comes to study the movement in Great Britain is surprised greatly to observe the almost total lack of organisation in the movement in this country.

When he joins a branch he expects to find political work. If he is not a speaker he looks for his inclusion, as a matter of course, in some systematic work of organisation. At the first branch meeting, when he is accepted with cheers, he is always told by the chairman that the members expect him to help them in carrying out the work for the furtherance of Social-Democracy. He listens with the greatest attention to all the proceedings in order to see where he really can be useful. The Secretary reads the correspondence. A Social and Dance is going to be held somewhere in a similar organisation, the members are urged to support it by all means, to buy and sell as many tickets as possible. Then follows acknowledgments of payments made; inquiries about the programmes of certain candidates and methods adopted for securing that they should be a little above the bottom of the poll. From the Centre, a circular explaining that the defeat of candidates at the election was due to lack of money and “issues” in the country, and so on. A letter from the Committee of the Mental Destitute offering a lecturer to instruct the S.D.P. how to solve the unemployed problem by Labour Exchanges and other magic expedients; or from the National Anti-Vivisection Society volunteering a lecture on the human attitude towards animals and the means for their emancipation, and so on ad infinitum. Each item of the correspondence, calls forth vigorous discussion.

Then follow reports from committees, sometimes more in numbers than the whole branch. With the greatest possible solemnity reports from the Premises, the Social, and the Trading Committees are discussed. The potential leaders of the branch usually find here a magnificent opportunity to pit their eloquence against each other. The stranger who has been listening, straining every nerve to discover the mechanism for the revolutionary work of the organisation, becomes mentally weary, his mind strays. Suddenly he is recalled by the announcement of the report of the Propaganda Committee. His countenance lights up with hopeful expectation. Now he will learn something of the activity of the party. The secretary of the committee unfolds his momentous report – a meeting of the committee has been held; A, B, C, and D were present; the minutes were read and passed; there will be meetings in the Park and at N – Street. In the morning A and B will be respectively speaker and chairman – in the evening B the speaker and A the chairman; subjects according to the whim of the speaker. Volunteers are invited to carry the platform. At times, when anti-Socialist or personal attacks on the speaker are expected, volunteers are required to support the meeting. After a few other announcements, the report is adopted.

Should he attend an outdoor meeting announced in the branch, he finds the chairman, the speaker and the platform surrounded by two or three members. The chairman and speaker raise their voices high in turn in appeal oftentimes to the empty air. If they succeed in gathering an audience, it arrives in time for the close of the meeting. The speeches delivered are for the most part vain repetitions of something which the public have been listening to for years past, and contain only the most scanty reference to current questions. And so it goes on interminably.

I think that not only a Continental, who is used to a more serious form of organisation, but any new member who joins with enthusiasm must lose it. There is no work of serious organisation in progress, and most of the members have no political work whatsoever. Our organisation will compare unfavourably with those of the capitalist parties, and yet the latter only need to catch votes. We, having such great problems before us – to educate and organise the working class for its emancipation – must have an organisation which will influence them in every phase of their life.

The most perfect of this kind of organisation exists in Germany. Even in Russia, where Social-Democrats have to work in a terribly antagonistic environment, the methods employed there render ours childish by comparison. There, we are not satisfied in employing our members to speak at some meeting or in distributing literature. In the first place, we try in every district to get a footing in factories, workshops, or other places where workers are engaged. If we have no members there, we get to know as many of them as possible, pick out the most suitable, and neglect no effort to make them Social-Democrats. Then we use them for extending our acquaintance with their workmates, and at the same time to bring them to the point where they will be able to do the same as we ourselves are doing. When they are sufficient in number, we form a group in the factory for revolutionising it – combine them with the workers elsewhere, and so everywhere until we manage to establish an organisation in the district which would have its roots in every industrial establishment. The organiser in the district must not only work himself but find work for every member according to his abilities, and they in turn must do the same with the sympathisers among their fellows.


Hotel Amiral
81 bis rue Blomet
Paris. XV; October 8th, 1933

Mr George Lansbury M.P.
House of Commons
London S.W.1

Dear comrade Lansbury,

After all we succeeded to get out of the Hitler hell. Our two little children (9 and 11 years of age) had an eventful time. About two months they also had to live “illegally” changing their place of abode several times and witnessing some nazi raids. They travelled alone to Paris and from there to London where Sylvia Pankhurst has made very good arrangements for them. The little one has got a free place at Dartington Hall School, South Devon and the elder one is attending the West Ham High School.

We have not seen them for quite a long time and wish now to visit them. Apart from that we wish to arrange the publication of an English edition of a small book on the causes of German fascism which we have written.

On these grounds we have applied for a British viza for 6-8 weeks. While we were still in Berlin a viza was refused to us because, as we are stateless, there was no country to turn us out to in case of need. Now we have a French foreigners’ passport (Titre d'identite et de voyage) with a return viza for 6 months. We therefore ought to get the British viza. But we should not like to risk another refusal as that would mean a separation from our children for a long time.

Under these circumstances we should be very grateful to you if you could be so kind as to take the matter up with the Home Office and assist us to get the viza.

Thanking you in anticipation
we are, dear Comrade

Yours sincerely
Peter Petroff
Irma Petroff