Clarion History 27

5 October 2019

27 The final episode. A Shocking Edition. The Clarion on Christmas
Day 1914

On 16 December German battleships bombarded East Coast towns of
Scarborough, Hartlepool , West Hartlepool and Whitby. There were nearly
600 casualties, mostly civilians, including 137 fatalities. An eyewitness
account by Thomas Beckett, headed ‘Bloody Murder’ appeared in the
Clarion, with terrible irony, on Christmas day. He began by referring to the
reassuring statements from the Admiralty about the ‘entire absence of panic.’
But what did they know? ‘We others know. By God we do!’ He continued,
‘We poor civilians who are so brave, and whose murder is to be regretted, we
have no trenches or dugouts in which to seek shelter,‘ and then gave the
following graphic narrative.

I saw a man hurrying along the street holding a girl by the arm. She was
bespattered with blood from head to foot The man was holding her arm
to stop the gush of blood. I saw a thing on a flat cart driven at a gallop;
it had a bloody flattened mass where the head should be. I picked up
a shrieking woman…she had seen her sixteen year old boy shattered
by a shell.’
He went on:
Yes, our demeanour was everything to be desired.; It was. The self-
sacrificing way in which the helpless civilians assisted each other
stands for ever as a crushing reply to the immutant law of self-
preservation Here a poor mother with five naked children flying before
the murder; and here people turning back to get clothes for these poor
naked bodies and to comfort the demented mother. And all the while
the very atmosphere rocking with the blood-dry of hell-hounds let loose.
On the same page Hilda Thompson criticised the slowness of the press in
bringing out ‘specials’ on the East Coast bombardment. It was, she said, ‘an
event which so far as England is concerned is unparalleled in the history of
generations’ Blatchford believed that fewer men had joined up than
expected because ‘they have not realised that this war is a real war.’ They
would now, she said.

 

Ian

Advertisements

Clarion History 26

16 September 2019

Blatchford and Thompson in wartime France

Of all the prominent figures in British socialism in the period before 1914 Blatchford was by far the most unequivocally in favour of British participation in the war.  On 28 August he had predicted that ‘the time is not far distant when the papers begin to print heavy casualty lists and the meaning of war will come nearer to us.’  The German plan was ‘to make war  “ with the utmost violence. “ ‘  and Britain must do the same.  The war must be ‘fought to a finish.’ He rejected any ‘foolish clemency to Germany’.’ There should not be ‘any kindly willingness to stop the war while Germany is still unconquered.’

He refused the  urging of  old comrades and associates to continue to play a part in the socialist movement.

I have not changed my religion.  I am still a Communist Socialist, as I was when I wrote ‘Merrie England,’ but one must face the facts, and it is a fact that I have done for the Movement all I could or can do. I cannot go back to it, even if I wanted to. It is too late. I am too old.

(By ‘Communist Socialist’  Blatchford would have meant it in the sense it was used in Marx and Engels Communist Manifesto of 1848.  In 1914 the adoption by the Bolsheviks of the label ‘Communist’ still lay several years in the future)

By the beginning of October 1914, in spite of being ‘too old’, both he and Thompson were reporting from France. Blatchford was keen to bring the reality of war home to his readers – ‘we islanders   do not know what war means.’  He went on – echoing his colleague’s comment the previous week, ‘Paris is not an island. There is nothing between Paris and the infuriated Germans but a French army and Sir John French’s contemptible little force.’ In his  ‘Notes from Paris’ in the same issue, Thompson was more upbeat, reporting that according to ‘ a relative with the British cavalry,  German soldiers were so worn by privations and broken in morale they are only too glad to be made prisoners.’

Many on the Left, both at the time and subsequently, were critical of Blatchford’s whole-hearted support for the war effort.  Yet he cannot be accused of  in anyway playing down, let alone attempting to glorify, the horrors of the war.  In his ‘Paris in War Time’ front page article on 9 October he gave an account of several horrifying incidents.

He expressed considerable pride in the British troops he encountered. Yet this did not mean that he was uncritical of the British officer class. On 16 October his article on the Clarion’s front page had the title   ‘British Snobs and Indian Princes.  Things I have seen in France.’   What Blatchford described as ‘snobbery’  and others as ‘caddish’ we  would certainly call racist.

After an army captain he met in France told him that he knew Blatchford disliked his, the captain’s, class but insisted ‘we are not all blackguards’ he was at a loss to know why he was presumed to be so hostile. He had, Blatchford insisted, ’always liked and respected British officers.’  But their one great fault was snobbery; ’They are splendid chaps, but snobs.’  He then gave an example of this.  Arriving at a hotel five hours south of Paris Blatchford was told ‘with some pride’ by the hotel staff that they had an Indian prince staying there who had ‘come to fight for the Empire.’

That evening at dinner he and a friend were able to observe from a nearby table.  The prince came in with a British general who managed not to speak to him or even look at him throughout the meal. The following evening he saw a group of British officers ignore him in the smoke-room.  Blatchford’s, unidentified, ‘young friend’ thought ‘he had never seen anything so caddish and brutal in his life.’  And Blatchford agreed ‘He had come all the way from India at his own expense to fight our battles, and he was subjected to the most horrible snub by the officers of the army of the King to whom he was so strangely loyal.’   Blatchford’s army captain was not present. ’He had gone to the front.  Had he been there he would have joined in the infliction of that bitter insult on a brave man.’

This piece resulted in praise from the oldest of the socialist weeklies in Britain, Justice.  ‘Whatever some of us may have thought of  certain aspects of our friend Robert Blatchford on the European war, we can all agree that he has done  excellent service in calling attention to the manner in which English officers behave to Indian princes.’   The paper’s ‘Critical Chronicle’ was equally supportive. ‘Robert Blatchford has done much good service for many years, but we doubt if he ever did a better bit of work for his own country and humanity at large that by his exposure in last week’s ‘Clarion’ of the incredibly caddish behaviour of “English officers and gentlemen.’’’  The paper thought the prince’s action in coming to fight was ‘very foolish of him,’ but the officers’ rudeness was inexcusable. ‘How silly from the “Imperial” point of view, as well as how blackguardly.’

Reporting further on his ‘Trip to France,’ on 30 October.Thompson attempted to describe something of what he had seen near the front.

The cottages of ploughboys and shepherds are inhabited by troops, the farmhouses by colonels and generals. The fields are monstrous gipsy encampments, with artillery instead of hawkers’ vans. Costly motor cars without wheels are scattered along the roadside, with here and there a dead horse. The highways and the country lanes are thronged with a never-ending movement of military transports and soldiers –not soldiers like the dapper Tommies of the Horse Guards’ Parade or the shining cuirassiers of Longchamps but disorderly swarms of slouching, slovenly scarecrows, dirty as hounds returned from otter-hunting in muddy burrows, and dragging their feet like weary tramps.

‘Incidentally,’ Thompson added, ‘I myself enjoyed the adventure of being arrested by French officers as a German spy.’ Justice the following week (5 November) also reported the incident adding, ‘Fortunately there were no casualties.’

Ian         

 

Next time.  The final episode.   A Shocking Edition.  The Clarion on Christmas Day 1914


Clarion History 25

23 August 2019

My Clarion History series is coming to an end. I have read the paper up to the end of 1914, mainly but not entirely back in the 1970s, and after the episode in this edition I reckon I can do two more ones of reasonably general interest.

But Sussex University Library has only microfilm of the paper up to the end of 1914. So that’s where my history will end.

25 More on the outbreak of war in 1914

Of all the socialist papers of the time the Clarion was the most unequivocal in its support of the war. And there’s no doubt it disappointed many previously firm supporters and that it lost some readership as a result.

Blatchford’s own contribution to the first wartime edition of the paper had the title ‘The Drums of Armageddon.’ It had been written before war was declared. Blatchford predicted that by the time the paper appeared ‘every CLARION reader will know more than I know now.’ He had lived the whole of the previous week, he told readers, ‘in a kind of waking nightmare.’ In Sussex he had seen sentries posted on Newhaven Quay but ‘the few English women and men we met seemed so marvellously unconscious of the gathering storm.’   The regatta in Rye had seemed to generate greater interest.

Yet there was no escaping.

The drums of Armageddon are coming nearer, rolling louder. The men are marching steadily to slaughter and death. Do the German people want to fight the French? Do the French people want to fight the Germans? Do the Russian peasants want to fight? Do the British people want to fight? Have any of these peoples a quarrel with any other? No!

He continued in this vein for much of the editorial. Would it always be the case that ‘when our bloodthirsty, decadent half idiotic masters set the drums of Armageddon rolling we must march and slay?’

But it was clear that the Clarion was not going to follow the lead of Labour Leader in opposing British intervention in the war.

In the midst of this devilish tragedy as I can see clearly enough and so can many others, there are two powers against whom no charge of blood-guiltiness or violent threats can be brought, and those two countries are Britain and France. And they are both democracies. I have said before, and said it many times, that it behoves those two democracies to stand together and that while they stand together no power on earth can break them.

At the time Blatchford wrote war had broken out between Germany and France, the Germans had ‘threatened the French frontier’ but had not invaded. There had been no fighting. He continued:

Perhaps it is yet possible to prevent the tragedy? Perhaps if our Government stands firm and at the same time offers to Russia and to Germany the mediation of America, of Italy, of Britain, we may come through this awful trial without disaster or dishonour.

Alex Thompson’s article, ‘War!’ was written after the declaration of war. Like Blatchford, he recounted at some length how ‘The dread of this awful contingency has appalled and paralysed my faculties for a week.’ He recalled the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and the suppression of the Paris Commune during ‘Bloody Week’ which he had experienced as a child in Paris. ‘Forty four years ago my youthful mind received impressions of scenes so deeply grievous and ghastly’ that he could not now ‘muster philosophic composure to face the prospect of the tale’s repetition.’ Yet, he concluded, ‘It had to be. This war could not be averted.’

It was not a war to defend Serbia; ‘Britain would not fire a pea-shooter or kill a cat in defence of Servia.’ (Serbia was generally known as Servia in Britain at this time.) The war was, Thompson said, as Blatchford had been warning for the last decade, ‘premeditated and prearranged.’

It is a war for the domination of Europe by the German War Lords, for the annexation of the Dutch, Danish and Belgium seaboard, and the eventual smash of the British colonial Empire.

We should ‘acquit ourselves as a united and resolute people.’ There was no quarrel ‘with our brothers in Germany’ but with ‘the aggressive, arrogant, brutal and domineering War Lords of Berlin.’ When they had been ‘humiliated and destroyed’ and the ‘great German Republic’ had replaced them ‘the three most enlightened democracies in Europe will be able to form an alliance that shall indeed make for peace and progress.’

In the meantime the government had acted quickly ‘to protect the bankers and financiers.’ They should act equally quickly in the interests of the people. ‘The whole of the country’s food supply should be nationalised immediately.’ two months.’

If anyone had the slightest doubt about the Clarion’s stance the front page of the following week’s issue (14 August) featured not only Blatchford on ‘The Strain of Armageddon’ but also the large advertisement carrying Kitchener’s now famous appeal ‘Your King and Country Needs You’ which ended with ‘God Save the King’

I mentioned Blatchford’s attacks on religious belief in God and my Neighbour in 1903 and in Not Guilty: A defence of the Bottom Dog two years later a few episodes ago. So here you had Blatchford seeming to call on a God he didn’t believe in to save a monarch he’d never shown any enthusiasm for.

It is not hard to imagine the shock this must have caused to many readers.

Ian

Next time. Blatchford and Thompson in wartime France


CLARION HISTORY 24

9 August 2019

The Clarion and the outbreak of war in 1914 Hilda Thompson’s ‘Spoilt Holiday’

I’m devoting this episode almost entirely to an account which appeared on the front page of the first wartime Clarion on 7 August 1914. It’s by Hilda Thompson, daughter of A.M.or Alex Thompson – aka ‘Dangle’ – who by that time was virtually editing the paper.

The outbreak of the First World War was traumatic for so many involved directly or indirectly. There had been wars – notably the Crimean War in the 1850s and the South African, or Boer War, in 1899-1902 as well as various ‘colonial’ conflicts. But there had not been a general European war which one way or another dragged everyone into it and was impossible to ignore for 99 years. Since the final defeat of Napoleon I at Waterloo.

I suspect pretty well everyone, at least in those countries most directly involved,suffered from some variety of trauma, if only intermittently, for the

rest of their lives. My mother was eight, going on nine, at beginning of August 1914. I’ve long believed that her worrying conviction that my brother and me would end up having to fight in a third world war reflected not only the fact that my Dad had been away in North Africa and Italy with the Eighth Army for much of the second conflict – and most of my early childhood – but also the unexpected shock of what happened at the beginning of the earlier war.

After 1914, and then reinforced in 1939 who could anticipate anything less awful? Fortunately, her fears never came to fruition – which is one of the many reasons I’ve always been a supporter of what is now the EU – in spite of its many shortcomings.

But first we need to remind ourselves of the chronology in order to understand Hilda’s piece better. The war had longer term origins – which are still very controversial – but what immediately triggered what has become known as the ‘July crisis’ was the murder of the archduke, Franz-Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne, and his wife in Sarajevo on 28 June by a Serbian nationalist teenager, Gavrilo Princip. Sarejevo was the capital of Bosnia, once part of the Turkish empire but since the late 1870s

under Austrian-Hungarian occupation and since 1908 formally annexed by the Dual Monarchy. There’d recently been two Balkan Wars in 1912 and 1913. There had been a degree of ‘proxy warfare’ by the Great Powers, especially from those Balkan rivals Austria-Hungary and Russia. But while many anticipated a third Balkan conflict few believed it might escalate into a much wider European war.

For example in his book Inside the Left, published during the Second World War Fenner Brockway wrote

The war of 1914 came suddenly. Ten days before it started I spoke at Oldham and my audience thought I was an hysterical scaremonger when I said that we were near war.

Things seemed to quieten down a little in July following the assassination but the Austrian-Hungarian rulers were convinced that Serbia was responsible for the awful act and determined that the Serbs should be ‘taught a lesson’ They began shelling Belgrade, the Serbian capital, on 29 July. Russia mobilised in Serbia’s support and on 1 August Germany, Austria-Hungary’s ally, declared war on Russia on 1 August, invaded Belgium in order to attack Russia’s ally France, against which it declared war. on 3rd and Britain declared war against Germany on 4 August.

For me more than any other later or contemporary account it’s Hilda Thompson’s story that is the most unexpected, even rather shocking, evidence of how unprepared for the outbreak of war almost everyone in Britain was. The title of her piece was ‘A Spoilt Holiday.’ It began ‘We had intended making a tour of the Harz Mountains, partly on foot, partly by train; and our intention had been to stay at least a month.’ It is not quite clear who exactly the ‘we’ were, apart from Hilda herself, but they had left Liverpool Street station late on Thursday 30 July and arrived in Hannover at about 1.30 the following day. While having a meal in a café they became aware of people excitedly reading ‘printed bills’ that were being given out in the street.

These, it quickly became apparent, announced ‘the Kaiser’s decree for the immediate mobilisation of the army.’ Still undeterred, they bought train tickets for Hildesheim and continued their journey, though at the station ‘the disorganisation caused by war was already felt.’ Sometime after midday the next day, Saturday, 1 August, they were advised by the landlord of the place where they were staying to return home immediately. He was himself ‘under marching orders’

Reluctantly agreeing, they took a train back to the Hook of Holland hearing en route that Germany had declared war on Russia. They worried that they might be marooned in Germany with trains unable to cross the border into the Netherlands. But in spite of such fears they reached home safely. Of their attitude at the start of their aborted journey Hilda Thompson wrote, ‘There were rumours of war, as everyone knew but no one in England had taken the matter seriously, and we felt that the excitement would add to the pleasure of our trip.’

Ian

Next time. More from the Clarion on the outbreak of war in 1914.


CLARION HISTORY 23

11 July 2019

 – The Socialist Unity conference of 1911 and the formation of the British Socialist Party.

In the previous episode I wrote about Victor Grayson’s success as an ‘Independent Socialist’ in the Colne Valley by-election of 1907 and how he was taken up by the Clarion becoming part of their editorial team. Whether or not he was paid for this work I don’t know, but given that his brief stint as an MP took place (just) before the introduction of payment of MPs in 1911 he may have been.

By this time the Labour Party’s contingent in the Commons had grown to around 40 – partly as a result of the miners’ unions deciding to instruct their existing or prospective former ‘LibLab’ MPs to transfer their support from the Liberals to Labour. Of course this did little to change the mind-set of such MPs and a common complaint was that they only spoke in parliamentary debates when something that affected their union was at issue. Certainly all the leading figures, Keir Hardie, Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden and – by far the best of the lot in my view – Fred Jowett, were all ILPers who in all the cases just mentioned were founder members and -apart from their parliamentary duties active mainly in the ILP. Bear in mind that until the new 1918 Labour Party constitution there were no constituency parties and the way most people expressed their Labour commitment was by participating in the local ILP. Please also note that contrary to the impression given by some accounts the Labour Party didn’t have a formal leader until the early 1920s.

As ever in Left wing parties expectations and ambitions of Labour Party members greatly exceeded what it was possible to accomplish with what was still a small contingent of MPs – or so most of the leadership of the ILP which also doubled as the Labour leadership argued. But discontent continued with the Clarion very much taking part in this. The cause célèbre of 1910 was the publication of a pamphlet, known as ‘the green manifesto’ from the colour of its cover, with the title Let Us Reform the Labour Party. It was by four members of the ILP’s national body, its National Administrative Council or NAC.

What the ‘manifesto’ denounced, like so many ILPers in later years, as ‘Reformism’ then amounted to supporting the Liberal Government – the last one to date – in return for some concessions on matters of special interest to – largely – the unions. The manifestists wanted this abandoned in favour of Jowett’s policy of ‘voting on the merits of the question …regardless of consequences ‘ – what later became known as the famous ‘Bradford Policy’

This the four authors of Let Us Reform the Labour Party grandiloquently labelled ‘Revolutionist’ which even many who agreed with their general argumentative thrust thought a bit of an over-statement.

Unfortunately from the standpoint of getting their arguments seriously considered the authors made the fatal error of referring to themselves as members of the NAC – which they were,of course – on the title page of the pamphlet. The result was that their opponents in the ILP were able to divert the argument – what is known today as the ‘dead cat strategy’ – away from the substance of the issues to a debate lasting for many weeks on the democratic propriety, or lack thereof, of seeming to claim NAC approval when that body hadn’t even discussed, let along approved, the publication of the document. One of the authors, Leonard Hall, who often wrote for the Clarion, should have known better since only the year before he had made a big fuss and vehemently protested against the ILP putting out Keir Hardie’s My Confession of Faith in the Labour Alliance as an official publication of the ILP. The ILP’s official paper Labour Leader still somewhat resented by those who ran the Clarion, took the lead in expressing indignation with the manifestists while the Clarion did what it could to defend them and get the debate back onto the issues of substance

The scene was now set for the Unity Conference of 1911. The Social-Democratic Federation (always, please note, with a hyphen) had been the original organisation in the ‘Socialist Revival’ of the early 1880s. It had changed its name from ‘Federation’ to ‘Party’ in 1907 As we saw in an earlier episode of this series (16) the SDF in the ’90s had been keen to unite with the ILP and form a united socialist party. This had been thwarted largely by Hardie and the ILP leadership. As noted last time the SDF had made the fatal mistake of taking a ‘purist’ line and leaving the LRC in 1901. The new party formed in 1911 did not agree to affiliate to Labour until 1914

This party was the British Socialist Party (BSP) formed at the Unity Conference in 1911. In retrospect this was the second big mistake of the Social-Democrats. Most ILP branches did not join the new BSP though some did as did a lot of – mainly – younger people inspired by the the syndicalism advocated by the likes of Tom Mann and to a lesser extent by the ‘direct action’ of the militant suffragettes. As things turned out the BSP not only failed to unite the entire Left but from the start there were serious divisions within it over the attitude of what often called itself the ‘Old Guard of the SDF’ and many of the most active of the new recruits . Most of this was focussed on Hyndman, the virtual leader of the SDF since its very beginnings and his warnings about ‘the German menace.’ Once the war started the division between those who called themselves ‘internationalist’ and those who took the label ‘Pro-Ally’ and supported the war as a necessary evil naturally increased leading to a split in 1916. The majority of the BSP – the ‘internationalists’ – eventually formed the main ingredient of the Communist Party of Great Britain in 1920 while the ‘Old Guard’ became the most unequivocally opposed to the Bolsheviks of the entire British Left But I’m shooting on too far ahead.

The Clarion Cycling Club took part in the Unity Conference of 1911. In the 1930s when E Archbold completed the history of the SDF by H W Lee, its long-time general secretary, he included this passage about the conference.

Tom Groom, of the National Clarion Cycling Club, said that he and those who thought with him were anxious to avoid the use of phrases which might mean a great deal to those who used them, but had another meaning to others. Many people were not clear as to what “class war” in the resolution meant, and he did not recognise it exactly.

I need hardly say that Groom got very little support for this proposition. Later after the First World War had broken out he reflected on the failure from the Clarion standpoint of all the political organisations it had supported

          Some of us once joined the I.L.P. and thought that that was the movement. But the I.L.P. joined the Labour Party and the Labour Party joined the Liberals; so we came out. Then

         we joined the B.S.P, and thought that this was the Movement right enough. But the B.S.P. headed straight for the morass of politics, wasted a lot of time in ‘perfecting the irregular

          verb,’ passed a lot of impossible resolutions; and we came out of that.

Groom then went on to give a succinct summary of the distinctly Clarion approach to socialism. .The work of ‘the Movement’ was ‘to convert thousands and then still thousands more’ to a desire to live in a socialist society.. ’When that desire is great enough the professional politician will supply the goods, whether he calls himself Liberal, Tory or Labour Man. Our work is to create that desire.’

Ian                                                                 Next time. The Clarion and the outbreak of war in 1914


Clarion History 22

27 June 2019

CLARION HISTORY 22 – The Labour Party and Victor Grayson

As I pointed out in an earlier episode about the 1895 election – a disaster from the socialist and especially ILP point of view with even Hardie losing his seat – the only way forward seemed more than ever to be Keir Hardie’s notion of a ‘Labour Alliance.’ This meant the political Left – above all the ILP itself – working with the – previously largely Liberal-supporting – trade unions. The socialist groups operated on a shoe-string. Relatively speaking the unions were well-off.

The eventual outcome of this strategy was the formation in 1900 of the Labour Representation Committee (LRC) By no means all the unions took part – the miners, with their exceptional degree of influence and control in mining areas – remained LibLab supporting until after the 1906 general election which, aided by a not very transparent deal with the Liberals, gave Labour a parliamentary foothold. The official name was changed to Labour Party – a title already often used informally.

The Clarion approach was basically that of converting as many people as possible to socialism. The politics, which would probably be messy and sometimes not too admirable, could, the paper often implied, be left to take care of itself . The big issue of the time was whether Labour should explicitly commit itself to socialism rather than just pursuing the not very clearly defined working-class interests that the term ‘Labour’ implied. The oldest British socialist organisation, the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF) left the LRC after a year, frustrated by the failure to make a socialist commitment. This, it was later recognised by most SDFers, was perhaps the biggest mistake the SDF made. But that’s another story. What of the Clarion?

The attitude of the Clarion can perhaps best be illustrated by an editorial in the paper in March 1903 which asked:

If avowed Socialists are going to water down their principles and programmes for the sake of the fleshpots of Independent Labourism, what will be the difference between such conduct and that of the Liberal-Labour man who waters down his Labourism in order to gain the sops thrown by the Liberal Party?

Clarion confidence in Labour got, if anything, worse as time went on. Then in 1907 came something which gave those who demanded a more forthright attitude and approach great encouragement – actually rather more than would be justified by later events. When Sir James Kitson, the Liberal MP who had represented the constituency of Colne Valley since 1892 was ‘elevated’ to the peerage as Baron Airedale the local Liberals selected Philip Bright – son of the famous radical free trader John Bright – as the prospective replacement. The local ILP selected the 27 year old Victor Grayson.

So far, so good. But there was a snag. Colne Valley was part of the deal with the Liberals. Labour would not run a candidate there in return for being given a clear field in other constituencies. So the national executive committee of the Labour Party refused to endorse Grayson’s candidature.. The Colne Valley Labour League (C. V Socialist League the following year) supported Grayson as an Independent Socialist candidate. Much to most people’s surprise he won though with a percentage of the vote and a majority not unlike that of Labour in the recent Peterborough by-election.

Grayson was not a great success as an MP, attending the Commons only rarely, and he lost his seat to the Liberals in 1910. Meanwhile he had become part of the Clarion editorial team and wrote numerous articles for the paper. He later mysteriously disappeared in 1920 and his subsequent fate is unknown and has led to much speculation. Was he murdered or did he take on another identity? Those have been among the various speculations’

Grayson probably had relatively little to contribute except ardour for the cause though that’s always imporant. But he provided a symbol of the discontent of socialists with the Labour Party which has endured now for well over a century. The Clarion shared this discontent. Yet the fact that an inexperienced and virtually unknown man in his ‘twenties could become an overnight hero – and to some on the Left a legend for generations to come – on the basis of a narrow victory in a by-election and less than three years as an MP, must give pause for those – at the time and since – who dismiss the importance of electoral politics altogether.

Nor did the Clarion view of Labour get much better in 1910. Its suspicion of the party and union leaderships is well-reflected in its reaction to the publication of the autobiography of John Wilson a miners’ MP who remained a Liberal. Given that Labour Leader was the title of the ILP’s weekly and the Clarion’s rival the reaction of the to Wilson’s Memoirs of a Labour Leader can be seen as covering a much wider field than the author of the autobiography himself. The reaction was a bit Pavlovian.

Not to have been a Labour Leader and not to have written the story of your life, or have it written for you, argues a very commonplace character in these early twentieth century times. In the days of our youth the rewards for good conduct at Sunday School took the form of literature of the ‘Long Cabin to the White House’ class. Today the budding youth of the greatest Empire feeds its aspirations on ‘From Workshop to Westminster,’ ‘From Butcher’s Bench to Parliamentary Bar’, ‘From Cab Rank to Cabinet Rank’. Or some other impossible jumping of place to fame and glory.

Given all this it is not surprising that the following year, 1911, the Clarion supported, and indeed the Clarion Cycling Club took an active part in, one final pre-1914 effort at ‘socialist unity’ outside the Labour Party.

Ian


Clarion History 21

14 June 2019

Blatchford alienates two very different groups of readers

Until the late 1890s Blatchford had been supported pretty uncritically by most readers of the paper. But then, first with the outbreak of the South African (or Boer) War in 1899 and later with his attacks on organised religion and belief in his books God and my Neighbour in 1903 and Not Guilty: A defence of the Bottom Dog two years later he upset two rather different sets of readers.

The war, which lasted from 1899 to 1902, was opposed by most of the Left – including the Liberals and above all Lloyd George who came to national prominence at this time as an opponent of the war. Blatchford’s socialist allies in the Social-Democratic Federation were particularly active in opposing the war.

There were a number of factors which led to this apart from simply an opposition to war in general though that certainly played an important part.

That the, apparently mighty, British Empire was waging war against two small republics – Transvaal and the Orange Free State – naturally led to sympathy for the underdogs. The suspicion – not without supportive evidence – that designs on the gold and diamond mines of South Africa played an important role was another factor. Later on Emily Hobhouse’s exposure of conditions in the concentration camps set up by the British added to what for many was already a scandalous war.

Most people have probably heard of the famous nationalistic celebrations following the lifting of the siege of Mafeking, but less well known are the violent attacks by supporters of the war on anti-war meetings including those of W T Stead’s Stop the War Committee. Stead was one of the founders of investigative journalism who would later be one of the most prominent figures to go down on the Titanic. The Manchester Guardian was another outspoken opponent of the war.

Blatchford, of course, had spent some of his most formative years in the army and – as would later be the case in 1914 – found it impossible to do other than support a war in which British soldiers were involved – often with fatal results.

This position of supporting the war alienated quite a few readers of the Clarion as one would anticipate. Then a few years later, his atheistic writings brought a lot of criticism from those who still adhered to some form of religious belief.

Blatchford introduced God and my Neighbour like this:

I was not perverted by an Infidel book. I had not read one when I wavered first in my allegiance to the orthodoxies. I was set doubting by a religious book written to prove the “Verity of Christ’s Resurrection from the Dead.” But as a child I was thoughtful, and asked myself questions, as many children do, which the Churches would find it hard to answer to-day.

 

Both Blatchford and the Clarion survived these controversial episodes. But there is little doubt that his appeal was at least temporally dented.

Next – The Labour Party and Victor Grayson