The Labour Party: A Marxist History

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Anderson , and a small group of like-minded radical pacifists, maintained an unflinching opposition to the government and its pro-war Labour allies. During the war the ILP's criticism of militarism was somewhat muted by public condemnation and periodic episodes of physical violence, which included a wild scene on 6 July , during which an agitated group of discharged soldiers rushed an ILP meeting being addressed by Ramsay MacDonald in the Abbey Wood section of London. Following the termination of World War I in November , the Second International was effectively relaunched and the question of whether the ILP should affiliate with this renewed Second International or with some other international grouping loomed large.

The majority of ILP members saw the old Second International as hopelessly compromised by its support for the European bloodbath of , and the ILP formally disaffiliated from the International in the spring of In January , Moscow issued a call for the formation of a new Third International , a formation which held great appeal to a small section of the ILP's most radical members, including economist Emile Burns , journalist R.

Brown, Helen Crawfurd , C. Norman, and J. The faction began to produce its own bi-weekly newspaper called The International , a four-page broadsheet published in Glasgow, and sent greetings to the conference which established a Communist Party of Great Britain , although they did not attend.

In addition to cutting its ties with the Second International, the Annual Conference of the ILP directed its executive to contact the Swiss Socialist Party with a view to establishing an all-inclusive international which would join the internationalist left-wing socialist parties with their revolutionary socialist brethren of the new Moscow international. The Executive Committee of the Communist International ECCI was asked for its positions on such matters as demands for rigid adherence to its programme, applicability of the dictatorship of the proletariat and the Soviet system to Great Britain, and its view on the necessity of armed force as a universal principle.

In July the fledgling Comintern gave an unequivocal reply: while the presence of communists inside the organisation was acknowledged, and their membership in a new Communist Party welcomed, there would be no joint organisation with those like "the Fabians, Ramsay MacDonald , and Snowden " who had previously made use of "the musty atmosphere of parliamentary work" and "petty concessions and compromises" on behalf of the labour movement:.

It seemed to them that because the capitalists treated them as equals, as partners in their transactions, the working class had secured equal rights with capital. Their own social standing secure and material position improved, they looked upon the world through the rose-coloured spectacles of a peaceful middle-class life. Disturbed in their peaceful trading with the representatives of the bourgeoisie by the revolutionary strivings of the proletariat they were the convinced enemies of the revolutionary aims of the proletariat.

The ECCI instead made its appeal directly to "the communists of the Independent Labour Party", noting that "the revolutionary forces of England are split up" and urging them to unite with communist members of the British Socialist Party , the Socialist Labour Party , and radical groups in Wales and Scotland. The agitation for affiliation to the Third International of Moscow came to a head in at the annual conference of the ILP.

There an overwhelming vote of the party's branches voted not to affiliate with the Third International. The " centrism " of the ILP, caught between the reformist politics of the Second International and the revolutionary politics of the Third International, led it to leading a number of other European socialist groups into the " Second and a Half International " between and The party was a member of the Labour and Socialist International between and However, the first Labour government , returned to office in , proved to be hugely disappointing to the ILP.

The ILP's response to the first Labour government was to devise its own programme for government. Brailsford , John A. Hobson and Frank Wise. Of these eight policies, the living wage, the unemployment allowance, nationalisation of banking and the bulk purchase of raw materials and foodstuffs were the chief concern of the ILP.

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The ILP criticised the "Continental" method of paying wage allowances from employers' pools, which had been implemented in by Rhys Davies. The nationalisation of banking involved more significant changes to economic policy, and had nothing in common with Labour practices. The ILP proposed that once a Labour government took office it should hold an enquiry into the banking system that would prepare a detailed scheme for transferring the Bank of England to public control, revise the operation of the Bank Acts and ensure that "control of credit is exercised in the national interest and not in the interest of powerful financial groups" by making creditors shift entirely to cheques and possibly getting rid of gold reserves, thus ending the policy of deflation practised by the Treasury and the Bank of England.

Marxists and the British Labour Party

The Labour leadership did not support the programme. For the duration of the second Labour government —31 , 37 Labour MPs were sponsored by the ILP, but none were appointed to the cabinet. Instead, the group provided the left opposition to the Labour leadership. It was becoming clearer that the ILP was diverging further away from the Labour Party and at the ILP Scottish Conference the issue of whether the party should still affiliate to Labour was discussed.

It was decided to continue to do so, but only after Maxton himself intervened in the debate. At the general election the ILP candidates refused to accept the standing orders of the Parliamentary Labour Party and stood without Labour Party support. In a special conference of the ILP voted to disaffiliate from Labour. Some members of the ILP who had chosen to remain within the Labour Party were instrumental in creating the Socialist League , while the majority of Scottish members left to form the Scottish Socialist Party [28] and members in Northern Ireland left en masse to form the Socialist Party of Northern Ireland.

The remaining ILP membership tended to be young and radical. From the mids onwards the ILP also attracted the attention of the Trotskyist movement, and various Trotskyist groups worked within it, notably the Marxist Group , of which C. In the ILP wrote to the Labour Party requesting reaffiliation subject to a right to advocate its own policies where it had a "conscientious objection" to Labour policy. Labour refused to agree to this condition, stating that its usual rules for affiliation could not be waived for the ILP. One aspect of its leftist policies in this period was that it opposed the war-time truce between the major parties and actively contested Parliamentary elections.

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In one such contest, the Cardiff East by-election in , this was with the result that Fenner Brockway , the ILP candidate, found himself opposed by a Conservative candidate for whom the local Communist Party actively campaigned. The ILP still had some significant strength at the end of the war, but it went into crisis shortly afterwards.

At the general election it retained three MPs, all in Glasgow, although only one of them had a Labour opponent. Its conference rejected calls to reaffiliate to the Labour Party. A major blow came in when the party's best known public spokesman, James Maxton MP, died. However, all its MPs defected to Labour at various stages in , and the party was roundly defeated at the Glasgow Camlachie by-election , in a seat it had won easily only three years earlier.

The party was never again able to win a significant vote in a parliamentary election. Despite these blows, the ILP continued. Throughout the s and into the early s it pioneered opposition to nuclear weapons and sought to publicise ideas such as workers' control. It also maintained links with the remnants of its fraternal groups, such as the POUM, who were in exile, as well as campaigning for decolonisation. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. For other uses, see Independent Labour Party disambiguation. Independent Labour Party.

Politics of the United Kingdom Political parties Elections. Bruce Glasier — Philip Snowden — J. Ramsay MacDonald — F. Jowett — W. Anderson — J. Keir Hardie — F.


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Jowett — Philip Snowden — Richard C. Clarke J. Clynes Seymour Cocks A. Hobson Ernest E. Hunter C. London: Macmillan, , p. London: Allen and Unwin, ; p. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, , p. Retrieved 3 February Recruits to Labour. London: Faber and Gwyer, ; p. To End All Wars - a story of loyalty and rebellion, History of the Communist Party of Great Britain. London: Lawrence and Wishart. Glasgow: H. London: Faber and Gwyer, , p. Geschichte der sozialistischen arbeiter-internationale: - Berlin: Dt.

Wissenschaften, Fenner The New Leader. Leeds: Independent Labour Publications, Page Hidden categories: Pages using deprecated image syntax Commons category link from Wikidata All articles with dead external links Articles with dead external links from December Namespaces Article Talk. Views Read Edit View history. In other projects Wikimedia Commons. By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Scottish Labour Party. If they could see a little further than their own noses they would know better It is a grand struggle.

The men are simply admirable, though the suffering is very great. How some of the families live is a mystery. If only we could spread our socialist nets properly we should get a splendid haul--but I fear our fishes slip away. And later she wrote in a similar vein to her friend Natalie leibnecht Unless much help is forthcoming Meantime the socialist feeling is rapidly growing, and though we are so abominably slow, we are sure , and once we do move, we move with a will Poverty and unemployment provided important themes of agitation for the socialists.

There were numerous campaigns for the acceptance of union rates for employed workers and agitation for more generous poor relief. When Keir Hardie rose to make his maiden speech in parliament in it was precisely this issue of social distress to which he addressed himself. At the same moment the unemployed who were demonstrating at the Embankment were being baton charged by police.

Labour party conference - Victory next time? - Miners strike - TV Eye - 1984

Issues to do with Liberal foreign policy also aroused working class opposition. Socialists who condemned British repression in india and the occupation of egypt won wholehearted support. In the election one Labour candidate, Arch, won 4, votes and a majority of 1, in North West Norfolk on the basis of a campaign which appealed for home rule for the Irish. One issue over which the socialists really had to battle and over which they were for a time on the defensive was that of the Boer War in South africa.

The rise in support for the ILP in the years following the war can be seen in its sales of the Labour Leader which it had taken over in and which doubled its circulation over the next three years. By the ILP had branches around the country--the following year this number had increased to However, despite the wide range of political issues over which the socialists could agitate and propagandise, the fact remained that the level of industrial struggle was very low throughout the years on either side of the new century: The lowest level was reached in , and although an upward tendency is later noticeable, it is very slight.

In a country of such colossal capitalist development, with 14 million people employed in trade and industry, there were no more than strikes and lockouts in a whole year In the absence of widespread militancy by which we could assess the readiness of workers to follow a socialist leadership we must content ourselves with electoral performance as our next best guide. It is certainly the case that the appearance of 'independent' labour politics and figures who espoused a strongly pro working class policy were met with an enthusiastic reception by workers.

In the general election of the ILP won seats for the first time in the face of opposition from the Liberals. When Keir Hardie won the seat at South West Ham, the Liberal candidate having withdrawn in despair, the response was ecstatic: When Mr Hardie's victory was announced the enthusiasm was overwhelming. The crowd broke through the cordon of police and rushed up the town hall steps waving hats, handkerchiefs and umbrellas.

Torches were blazing and bands playing. It was not that Hardie campaigned on the basis of high socialist principle. In the election, for example, his policy was that he would fight for gunboat building contracts in local shipyards--he lost to the Conservatives on that occasion. However, workers saw in Hardie a man of their own class and their enthusiasm reflected an expectation of much greater significance than the fortunes of the local area. The election results that year showed that ILP candidates were commanding the support of In the general election of the 28 ILP candidates won 44, household votes and even Hyndman, the somewhat eccentric founder of the SDF, 16 polled 2, votes in Burnley, although other SDF candidates did not do well on that occasion.

In by-elections throughout the s ILP candidates were consistently achieving votes that numbered in the thousands. In Frank Smith polled 1, in sheffield, and Joseph Burgess 4, In North Aberdeen Tom Mann got 2, votes. In pete Curran of the ILP won 3, votes. In the general election of the average ILP candidate got 3, votes. In municipal elections for local government boards Independent Labour candidates were achieving a significant share of the vote.

In ILP candidates were polling an average of 38 percent of the votes cast, and were also winning seats on school boards. Whereas the ILP support shown in the elections of the s was an echo of the explosion of New Unionism, by the early years of the century a new militancy was stirring. Unemployment riots were a prelude to the next phase of dramatic working class action which erupted in The mood which preceded this was again expressed predominantly in electoral terms. The best example of this is the election of Victor grayson to the Colne Valley seat in In this Yorkshire constituency the socialists were strong.

When the 25 year old Grayson was put forward neither the Labour Party, which had been founded from the LRC in , nor his own party, the ILP, would give him official endorsement. He was seen as a firebrand and too far to the left to be the respectable parliamentary figure they wanted. They were right and his supporters in Colne Valley agreed with that assessment.

Indeed that was the very reason they insisted on their right to put Grayson forward as an independent. Grayson's election address made his stance abundantly clear: I am appealing to you as one of your own class. I want emancipation from the wage slavery of capitalism. I do not believe that we are divinely destined to be drudges. Through the centuries we have been the serfs of an arrogant aristocracy. We have toiled in the factories and workshops to grind profits with which to glut the greedy maw of the capitalist class. Their children have been fed upon the fat of the land.

Our children have been neglected and handicapped in the struggle for existence. We have served the classes and we have remained a mob. The time for our emancipation has come. We must break the rule of the rich and take our destinies into our own hands. Let charity begin with our children. Workers, who respect their wives, who love their children, and who long for a fuller life for all: a vote for the landowner or the capitalist is treachery to your class. To give your child a better chance than you have had, think carefully ere you make your cross. The other classes have had their day.

It is our turn now. Having won the seat, Grayson did not disappoint his working class electors. He had no time for the courtesies of the parliamentary process when issues of working class grievance were concerned. In distress due to unemployment was at a high level. There were riots in scotland, and in glasgow and Manchester the council chambers were stormed. The unemployed rallied at trafalgar Square and fought with police outside the House of Commons.

At Trafalgar Square they were told by Will Thorne that there was no point going to parliament for there was no bread there but to go, rather, straight to the bakers' shops where there was plenty. Thorne was jailed for his speech. This was the mood of which Grayson was a part. Grayson brought the spirit of the street onto the floor of the House.

Refusing to sit down when the Speaker rose he tore into the Liberals--the 'well fed men', as he called them. The House was in uproar as Grayson lambasted the sitting MPs for refusing to discuss the unemployment question. As he was escorted from the House by the sergeant-at-arms he appealed to the Labour MPs to join him. To his disbelief they sat dumbly in their seats and refused to move.

This will not be the end of it And this is exactly what he did. Grayson addressed literally hundreds of meetings and rallies of the unemployed over the next few months. He was a passionate speaker and was able to capture and express the anger of his working class supporters with brilliant and humorous rhetoric: No one could draw the crowds like Grayson. Wherever he spoke they came in crowds to hear him, and having heard him they came again and again, and never quite forgot the things he said, the way he spoke, or the things inside themselves that responded.

So that 30 or more years later, two world wars and torrents of speech making had not wiped away that memory, and a railwayman, or a weaver, or a fitter, or a taxicab driver would still remember him of all the speakers they've heard before or since. On a personal level Grayson came to a bad end.

He never forgot that what mattered was not his personal career, or his 'performance' within the political arena, but rather the workers who had carried him there as their tribune. The question of the significance of an election result and the success of a particular poll is a matter of political orientation.

If the only criteria are obtaining parliamentary seats and achieving office at some level then the results for the Independent Labour candidates and the socialists were not inspiring. The road towards labour representation in the House of Commons was a long one, and even the breakthrough of could only be seen as a modest, though significant, step on the way towards a strong labour presence in British establishment politics. However, to socialists bent upon building a mass socialist influence within the heartlands of the industrial working class in Britain these results were promising.

But it was not the Marxists of the SDF who were to benefit from this potential. Rather the party of the left which attracted supporters during this period was the ILP with its vague ideological outlook which lent itself to opportunistic collaboration with forces to its right: The socialism of the ILP was ideal for achieving this end; lacking as it did any real theoretical basis it could accommodate practically anything a trade unionist was likely to demand. Fervent and emotional, the socialism of the ILP could accommodate, with only a little strain, temperance reform, Scottish nationalism, Methodism, Marxism, Fabian gradualism and even a variety of burkeian conservatism.

ILP members, though often impressive as individuals and as principled figures with strong working class origins, did not represent a break with parliamentarianism. Their logic was fundamentally electoral and the notion of the building of a revolutionary working class organisation which was centrally orientated on industrial struggle was simply not a part of their thinking. For example, in , when Harry Quelch, editor of Justice , stood in the ILP stronghold of dewsbury in defiance of the ILP national leadership, who successfully appealed to the LRC that they should have priority in the constituency, the expectation amongst many of the labour leaders was that the SDF would be humiliated.

In fact Quelch won 1, votes out of a total of less than 12, The SDF was always a small organisation of no more than perhaps 10, at its strongest. And yet its turnover was vast, attracting and losing recruits by the tens of thousands. The SDF was a recognised and respected organisation in working class districts. Its leading figures such as hyndman and Morris could draw working class audiences of tens of thousands. Its influence in the new unions of the s was strong.

Will Thorne was after all the undisputed leader of the gas workers' union, and Eleanor Marx sat on its national committee and was known simply as 'our mother' within the union. Thorne was also elected chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the TUC in , and was a vital link between the socialists and the trade unions.

Indeed it was Thorne who really began the tradition of fighting for municipal socialism. He had won a council seat for West Ham as a socialist candidate in and over the rest of the decade built up a formidable base of support for socialist politics. His election platform included promises of public baths, municipalisation of the tram service and an eight hour day for council employees. In an attempt by councillors to impose wages below union rates was frustrated by Thorne With great speed he organised the SDF, the ILP, the trades council and all local branches of trade unions in the area, to march on the council at its next sitting, and occupy the public gallery.

He himself remained in the council chamber, and it was Pete Curran, one of the organisers of the gas workers and later MP for jarrow, who led the delegation. Curran, carrying the red flag of the Federation on high, demanded, on behalf of the unemployed, that trade union rates and conditions should be applied to all relief work in the borough. It was a moment of high drama, as the crowds surged, the public galleries heaved with excitement, and, for the first time in British history, the red flag of socialism was waved triumphantly in such an 'austere and dignified place' as a council chamber.

The West Ham councillors bowed to public pressure. It was through such actions that Thorne built his base in West Ham and by , partly as a result of the mood that had been generated by the engineers' lockout of the previous year, the first Labour controlled council came into being. Thorne was able to successfully link the socialist vision with concrete agitation on a local level. He also understood the importance of building united fronts on the basis of an agreed programme of aims.

The 'Labour' council was really a coalition of socialists, Progressives, Radicals, Irish Nationalists and trade unionists. Their achievements were significant: the partial taking over of the North Metropolitan Tramways Company; land purchase for house building; a new fever hospital; a new 'lunatic' asylum; a new council works department, the eight hour day or the 48 hour week for council employees; a minimum wage of 30 shillings a week; a new paid holiday of 'Labour Day' on 1 May; a tree planting programme to provide work for the unemployed; free concerts and open libraries.

What gave the council the confidence to keep pushing for radical reform was regular working class mobilisation and open socialist argument. Thorne himself addressed dozens of open air meetings and rallies where he insisted over and over again that trade unionism alone would not solve the problems of working class life, and that only by challenging the capitalist system itself could real freedom be obtained.

There were other SDF figures who were of similar stature to Thorne. Ben Tillet and John Burns 26 in the earlier years, and Tom Mann well into the 20th century were giants in the working class movement. There was the example of the continental socialist parties which inspired socialists and their supporters in Britain. Most inspiring of all was the German experience, where the votes had risen from , in to 3,, by with the return of 50 socialist deputies to the reichstag. The SDF as a whole, however, was possessed of the spirit of the sect.

Its 'Marxism' was of the purist variety which would permit no 'dilution' by working with others. Hyndman described the rally as the 'May Day folly' and it was only as those members and leaders more in touch with the mood of working class enthusiasm in the days leading up to the event involved themselves that the organisation officially gave its support. This sort of vacillation over engagement in the real working class movement was symptomatic of a mechanical and one-sided understanding of Marxism.

SDF members, with some very important exceptions, saw themselves only as standard bearers of the working class movement, preaching Marxist doctrine, and calling on workers to rally round the red flag. It was a policy which was not based on a real relationship with actual workers. Such a relationship can only be effective through a sensitivity to the contradictions in workers' minds, and a willingness to work with those prepared to fight though not yet on the terms of revolutionary politics.

This understanding was not at the heart of the SDF's politics, much to the despair of some of its most talented figures. As we have seen, Eleanor Marx was frequently exasperated with what she called the 'out and out SDF people'. The SDF was dismissive of the trade unions and especially of the officials of the old unions. For Tom Mann the final straw, and the issue which led to his resignation from the SDF, came when the Federation refused to support the campaign for the eight hour day--one of the most important working class campaigns of the s.

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This meant that the SDF did not engage in a sustained or consistent battle of ideas with the existing Liberal union leaders despite the very apparent support they received from a significant minority of the movement. They looked instead to the unorganised and unskilled working class from whom they expected elemental and spontaneous revolt. Many of the younger members of the SDF--the generation who had joined after having been inspired by New Unionism--were influenced by the American Marxist daniel De leon who had developed his own particular political philosophy based upon an admixture of Marxism and syndicalism.

Influenced by the dynamism and dramatic actions of the Industrial Workers of the World, De Leon had become the leading propagandist of the American Socialist Labor Party. His notion of party organisation was an ultra-centralised one in which revolutionaries acted alone as the only true emissaries of Marxism.

It was a deeply sectarian model and one which had a direct bearing on the thinking and orientation of the SDF in the LRC. In , less than a year after the inception of the LRC and just as the cause of labour representation was on the rise, the SDF delegates at their August conference voted to resign from the committee. Also addressing the matter of a political fund for trade union affiliation, the motion held that the candidate would be 'pledged to the above principles and to the recognition of the class war as the basis of working class action'.

The ILP delegates with whom the SDF should have been making common cause against the more conservative of the trade union official delegates were more accepting of the phrase 'class struggle', which they saw as a de facto reality under capitalism.


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In the term 'class war' they recognised the much more revolutionary intention to challenge the power and very existence of capital itself. The ILP was not revolutionary, and in insisting on this wording as a matter of principle within an electoral alliance the young 'impossibilists' of the SDF, to the despair of their leadership, including Hyndman, were preparing their exit from an important political platform.

It was not wrong of the SDF delegates to have put up such a motion. It was important that they fought for the most socialist position achievable with the committee. But to leave when the motion was defeated was to make it a condition of participation which guaranteed their isolation from potential allies. It was pure 'ultimatism'. It is important to point out that although the SDF was in a minority on the matter of the banner under which the LRC was to operate there was still fluidity in the situation.

The SDF had already succeeded in reducing the number of seats of the right wing Fabian group inside the committee.

There was also some sympathy with the adoption of the title 'socialist' which went beyond the SDF's own ranks. When the matter was raised again at the LRC's Newcastle conference of the votes were 86 against and 35 for. This motion was defeated and a counter-motion was carried which admitted all socialist societies. There was room here which the SDF could have exploited. An attempt to reverse the decision at the SDF's conference was defeated. Hyndman had resigned from active politics over the issue and similarly, George lansbury, the most effective of the SDF's London propagandists, also left the Federation.

Two years later, led by the east London branches, the London members broke away to form the Socialist Party of Great Britain. Despite picking up some new membership in Yorkshire, the general trajectory of the SDF was downwards. But even after the departure of some of the most extreme elements in the SDF the fundamentally sectarian outlook of the organisation remained.

At the conference, as the electoral Labour Alliance was clearly moving from strength to strength, a motion from East Liverpool branch to reaffiliate was again defeated by 55 votes to The political consequences of this were to last well into the early s. The predominant outlook of workers during the strike waves of the Great Unrest period before the First World War, for example, was distinctly anti-political and syndicalist. For workers, by this time, in the absence of any alternative having been built to the left on anything approaching an adequate scale, 'politics' had come to mean only the parliamentary system and the pathetically timid Labour representatives in the House of Commons.

This political vacuum also meant that the working class movement was extremely vulnerable to ideological influences to the right. Specifically it meant that the militancy of the period gave way all too easily to nationalism and war fever. This in turn meant that the political base for the formation of the Communist Party was tiny compared to that in countries with similar levels of industrial development such as france and Germany.

After the early s we must stop criticising the SDF since their mistakes become less and less relevant as other, more contemporary factors come into play. Nonetheless an important opportunity for Marxists to build a large-scale base and widespread influence in Britain in this period was lost. The question of how and when revolutionary socialists should stand in elections is tactical. Often when workers are on the offensive the issue of elections to bourgeois institutions is secondary as all attention is focused on the industrial struggle.

But at times when the level of industrial struggle remains low and the political mood of the working class is moving to the left, socialists can make good use of the electoral platform to extend their propaganda and to bridge the gap between the most confident workers and those who are slower to move. The period from the end of the New Unionism in to the beginning of the Great Unrest in was like this.

On what we can broadly call the 'left' there were two attitudes towards elections we can characterise. The ILP were 'sincere' electoralists in that they genuinely sought office in parliament. Once in the House they very much played the parliamentary game. Friendly relations with the Liberals were a concern to the ILP more often than the desire to establish a distinctly pro working class policy. Even Keir Hardie, cloth cap and all, publicly condemned Grayson in when he broke through the pomposity of parliamentary protocol to demand discussion of the plight of the unemployed.

The other attitude was, of course, the sectarianism of the SDF. The SDF did stand candidates in elections in the s, but always with the most abstract rhetoric. They were uninterested in putting forward reforms in any sense. Their candidates usually did poorly at the polls, which in turn fuelled their members' belief that workers in Britain were in some sense 'unready' for the socialist message. The best opportunity for socialists to exploit the electoral platform came with the formation of the LRC. A good showing for socialist candidates either as a part of the LRC or even in alliance with its best elements could have amplified socialist opinion and taken working class politics in Britain to a new level.

By socialists could have achieved a crucial influence in the working class movement and begun to influence events. A break to the left at this point might have been substantial and meaningful. But by walking away in and then floundering in confusion as the mass movement swept past them, the SDF guaranteed its isolation and eventual fragmentation. As ever we must remind ourselves of the luxury of hindsight.

The SDF was operating before the advent of the Third International and before the tactical formulations of the early European Communist parties in relation to predominantly reformist consciousness. However, it is the case that a missing tactic could have been applied to great effect. Will Thorne had shown how in his West Ham campaigns in the s, as had Eleanor Marx and Edward Aveling in the organisation of the great May Day rallies of the early s. The ability to work with others to the right--though still within the working class and progressive movement--was an essential requisite which the SDF did not have.

The tactical flexibility to carry out intervention in elections in a way which combined socialist rhetoric with concrete demands that pushed beyond the limitations of the system was missing from the SDF's political outlook, as was the building of tactical alliances designed to last for a definite period. The last word goes to lenin, that most 'unparliamentary' figure of the 20th century: In Great Britain the Communists should constantly, unremittingly and unswervingly utilise parliamentary elections and all the vicissitudes of the Irish, colonial and world imperialist policy of the British government, and all other fields, spheres and aspects of public life, and work in them in a new way, in a communist way, in the spirit of the Third, not the Second International The Communists must learn to create a new, uncustomary, non-opportunist, and non-careerist parliamentarianism; the Communist parties must issue their slogans; true proletarians, with the help of the unorganised and downtrodden poor, should distribute leaflets, canvass workers' houses and cottages of the rural proletarians and peasants in the remote villages