A Collection Of Oddities
The Bradford Branch of the Social-Democratic Federation
(First published in 1991 in volume 5, pp. 24-40, of the third series of The Bradford Antiquary, the journal of the Bradford Historical and Antiquarian Society.)
With the centenary of the Independent Labour Party only three years away the eyes of historians will undoubtedly turn to Bradford which, prior to 1914, 'can justifiably be considered the cradle of the ILP' and which in the 1890s provided much of its membership and financial support.1 The ILP's role in the formative years of the Labour Party has been well documented, as have the reasons for its success in Bradford.2 Indeed, it is a commonplace of Labour historiography that the ILP strategy of an alliance between the socialists and the trade unions was the only option open to the Labour movement, that a socialist party on the European model with a Marxist philosophy, was impossible in this country. This is a flawed analysis, largely brought about by the ILP's own propagandists, for until well into the first decade of the twentieth century there were two distinct lines of advance open to the British socialist movement. The ILP leadership favoured a progressive alliance with the trade unions, in order to capture parliamentary seats. Many of the rank and file, however, placed the emphasis upon 'making socialists', which was essentially the rationale of the Social-Democratic Federation, the other major socialist grouping in Britain. The debate between the protagonists of the Labour alliance and the supporters of socialist unity dominated the socialist milieu, in one way or another, until the outbreak of the First World War.
Initially the advocates of one socialist party were in the ascendancy in the ILP, many of them anxious to assert rank and file democracy in the face of what they saw as a move towards centralisation and bureaucracy within the party. In 1897 they pressurised the leadership into unity negotiations with the SDF, and a referendum of the joint memberships voted to fuse the two parties. Yet that decision was never ratified. The ILP Conference refused to endorse it and consequently the possibility of a British socialist party, integrating the moral concerns of the ILP with the scientific Marxism of the SDF, was lost. In that defeat lies the clue to subsequent Labour historiography, whereby the SDF was relegated to the margins. Clearly the ILP leadership was largely to blame for the breakdown of unity negotiations, for immediately after the vote they launched an intensive campaign to persuade their members to think again. Bruce Glasier in particular was instrumental in swaying the Conference delegates to the National Administrative Council's position. The kernel of his case was that
"the ways of the SDF are not our ways. If I may say so, the ways of the SDF are more doctrinaire, more Calvinistic, more aggressively sectarian than the ILP. The SDF has failed to touch the hearts of the people. Its strange disregard of the religious, moral and aesthetic sentiments of the people is an overwhelming defect."3
This savage attack was an almost classical statement of later Labour orthodoxy with regards to the SDF, yet it bears little resemblance to the truth. As David Howell has pointed out, 'There is little evidence to suggest that in the 1890s the ILP was revealing itself as clearly more suited than the Federation to British conditions.'4 The early socialist movement was notable for its eclectic nature, for its regional diversity, and neither the ILP nor the SDF could claim to be a truly national party. Thus whilst the ILP predominated in West Yorkshire, in parts of London and Lancashire the Federation was the natural organisation for socialists to join. Often socialists moved easily between the two, whilst the formation of a branch could be dependent upon the arrival of an individual in that area, an accident of time and place. Any significant disparities in membership and influence between the two parties came about as a result of the eventual triumph of the Labour alliance and were not the causes of its formation.
The Social-Democratic Federation was the pioneer organisation of the socialist revival in the 1880s, the veteran campaigner of the free speech and unemployed agitations, a propagandiser and populariser of Marxism. It established itself as the major socialist organisation in several areas, notably London and the cotton belt of North-East Lancashire, and was a vital presence at the founding conference of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. It was a most important school for working-class militants and activists, exercising a disproportionately large influence in rela1ion to its size. Although dwarfed by the ILP in Bradford and therefore seemingly unimportant, the Federation's history is worth recording To echo Peter Stansky,
"Little groups such as these… have been 'justified by history', in that they are direct ancestors of the Labour Party, and represent a crucial strand in today's England which the other, older parties failed to provide."5
Socialist organisations had existed in a limited form in Bradford in the 1870s James Bartley, a later Bradford ILP stalwart, recalled an early attempt to form a socialist society in 1872. They were, he remembered, 'a little coterie… Socialists in a strictly literary or academic sense' with some attachment to the ideas of Louis Blanc.6 Until the early 1880s they met to debate socialist theory and occasionally to hear a guest lecturer. Then, 'about 1883 echoes of the Democratic Federation began to be heard.' In February of the following year William Morris spoke at the Temperance Hall in Bradford on 'Useful Work versus Useless Toil'. He was disappointed with his reception, referring to the workers of Bradford as 'a sad set of Philistines',7 but his meeting stimulated discussion and 'two or three "advanced" men'8 acquired Federation literature. At a session of the Bradford Parliamentary Debating Society George Minty spoke in favour of forming a branch of the Democratic Federation. A preliminary meeting was held in June 1884 and another a fortnight later, but there is no evidence to suggest that a branch was ever formed. The accolade of the earliest branch in Yorkshire fell to Leeds, with a visit from Morris again providing the stimulus. Tom Maguire organised the branch there in September 1884, and a Hull branch was formed in November. However, hopes of further expansion in Yorkshire were dashed by the secession from the Federation of William Morris and his adherents. The early socialists in the West Riding of Yorkshire had been heavily influenced by Morris, and the Leeds SDF followed him into the Socialist League. Minty, Paul Bland, Fred Jowett, Fred Pickles and other sympathisers in Bradford similarly threw in their lot with the League.
The 1880s were a barren period for the SDF in Yorkshire, punctuated by isolated attempts at propaganda Jonathan Taylor of Sheffield was a prominent member, and at one time sat on the SDF executive Ben Turner of Batley, trade union organiser and later ILP member, joined the Federation in 1886 but he was an atypical member Efforts were made to intervene in the Yorkshire miners' strike in 1885, but the miners' agent at Denaby Main Colliery reported that the fear of victimisation was too strong to permit the formation of a branch. Propaganda campaigns in Huddersfield in 1887 and 1888 were similarly unsuccessful. There is no great mystery about the failure of the Federation to make inroads into Yorkshire in these early years. Quite simply, it could not afford to send organisers and lecturers to the county on a regular basis. The party was perennially short of money and suffered from a chronic lack of speakers. In such circumstances resources had to be concentrated where inroads had already been made or where the outlook appeared most promising Yorkshire at this time, outside the mining districts, proved a difficult area for trade union organisers let alone socialist agitators. Turner remembered Bradford as 'the most heartbreaking district for Trade Union organising that ever I came across.'9 The first major effort at expansion in Yorkshire came in the early 1890s, when the SDF held its annual conference in Sheffield in 1891. A series of open-air meetings was held in the city and delegates also travelled to Halifax to address a crowd of over 2,000. This propaganda proved singularly unsuccessful, but the SDF executive was now determined to gain a foothold in Yorkshire. The party journal, Justice, had displayed considerable interest in the Manningham Mills strike of l890-9l and in the subsequent growth of Labour Unions in Bradford and neighbouring towns. 'What is needed now', it said, 'is further education and most thorough organisation for there is an immense amount of what may be called floating socialism.'10 The party's expansion in neighbouring Lancashire finally provided the opportunity, and A.G. Wolfe, the Burnley organiser, commenced a Yorkshire speaking tour in January 1893. He conducted 27 meetings in the first six months of that year, visiting the major centres of Bradford, Huddersfield and Sheffield, the textile towns of the Heavy Woollen District, and outlying areas such as Barnoldswick and Skipton. His persistence eventually paid dividends, with branches being formed in Sheffield, Earby and Leeds. Yet the Federation struggled to survive. In Sheffield it maintained a somewhat erratic existence and the branch had to be re-established at the end of the decade. The problems there were symptomatic of the problems in the county as a whole.
Just as in the 1880s the SDF had been pre-empted by the Socialist League so in the 1890s it found itself confronted by the ILP. When the Federation made its first concerted effort to establish a Yorkshire base, in 1893, it found the ILP already in the field. The ILP's founding conference had been held at Bradford and Yorkshire was its major stronghold. Its ethical socialism had proved a powerful attraction to the remnants of the Socialist Leaguers, whilst its policy of an alliance with the trade unions appealed to such as Tom Maguire and Fred Jowett, active in the new unions which had sprung up in Leeds, Bradford and elsewhere. Consequently the SDF found itself with a lack of political space in which to operate. A further problem was its reputation as an anti-trade union body. Although this has been exaggerated, it certainly damaged its prospects in West Yorkshire, where the ILP's success was due largely to its connection with the unions. Essentially the Social-Democratic Federation had arrived in Yorkshire too late and therefore struggled to exist The West Yorkshire ILP was the stronghold of opposition to the idea of socialist unity.
The SDF achieved its strongest presence initially in precisely those areas where trade unionism was weaker and the ILP consequently less influential. By the end of 1895 it could boast three branches in Leeds and smaller ones in Hull, Bingley and Low Bentham. In Dewsbury the SDF first challenged and then replaced the ILP Very often disillusioned ILPers, supporters of socialist unity, switched to the Federation. Nonetheless they were forced to relate to the ILP. Thus it was reported that a branch was to be formed in Halifax because the ILP needed 'a little backbone.' The Bradford members, upon the formation of their branch in August 1895, wished to 'Let comrades of the ILP of Bradford understand that this branch of the SDF has not been started antagonistic to the ILP.'11
The Bradford branch was founded by a Coventry member, Comrade Tungate, who had come to Bradford seeking employment. It commenced operations with only six members. One of its first initiatives was to support Fred Jowett of the ILP in his election campaign for the Manningham Ward, where the Labour Echo reported that the SDF branch was working 'with a heartiness that does credit to the members.'12 The branch met every Wednesday in the Central Coffee Tavern on Tyrrel Street, following the tradition of the early Bradford socialists who had similarly eschewed licensed premises. They aimed a shrewd barb at the ILP when they reported that 'We do not intend to start a drinking club for the purpose of getting members', for this was a source of much contention within the rival party. Nonetheless, such convictions did not make it any easier to gain recruits. After some six months the SDF could claim only 28 members, although this included Mrs Nott, a Labour Guardian, and the branch was still entirely reliant on visiting speakers for propaganda. Henry Mayers Hyndman, the Federation's founder, came to Bradford in February 1896 and again in October whilst Chatterton, the national organiser, visited in July and September. It was almost a year after the branch's inauguration that it held its first open-air meetings, with J Hunter Watts lecturing in the market place on 'How the Workers are Robbed' and 'The Duty of Revolt.' As the branch secretary reported, they lacked both the speakers and the funds necessary to mount an outdoor propaganda campaign. Their activities consisted almost entirely of indoor lectures and study classes, the members discussing Hyndman's Economics of Socialism and forming both historical and ethical sections. Not surprisingly recruitment was slow, and even Hunter Watts' forays produced only two new members. It was indeed 'a stiff fight', which bred in the Bradford members a feeling of superiority in the face of adversity they regarded the struggle as 'a kind of purifier that keeps all that is worth keeping and throws off all that is useless.'13 Chatterton commented in similar vein that
"The Bradford SDF is not so strong (numerically) as some other branches, but it is solid to the backbone, and is composed of real live socialists who are worth any number of the other sort."14
Solid it may have been but a branch averaging only 15 members during its first brief existence and unable to publicise itself effectively could not hope to compete with an ILP membership of 2,000. The SDF had no figure of real stature in Bradford, although Charles Glyde had been a member of the Federation since 1887. Born in Leeds in 1869, Glyde and his family moved to Bolton in 1887. He was at that time a member of the Salvation Army but soon joined the SDF, where he was greatly influenced by Tom Mann, the Bolton organiser for the Federation. Glyde moved to Bradford in 1890 and after witnessing the Manningham Mills Strike joined the Bradford Labour Union and the Fabian Society. He was elected councillor for the Tong Ward in 1904, became one of the leaders of Bradford's unemployed, and edited his own newspaper, the Bradford Socialist Vanguard. In spite of his SDF membership Glyde was more heavily involved with the ILP and as an organiser for the Gasworkers and General Labourers' Union. Tungate, the original driving force behind the branch, left Bradford early in 1896 and his successor as secretary, W.J. Simmonds, was also forced to leave the city in search of work. This dispersal of its most active members, coupled with increasing disillusionment in the face of repeated setbacks, caused the collapse of the branch at the end of 1897. Elsewhere in Yorkshire the outlook was similarly bleak Of the three Leeds branches only Armley maintained an active existence. Low Bentham, Skipton and Sheffield branches clung tenuously to life until mid-1898 and then they too collapsed. Those who were sympathetic to the SDF undoubtedly followed the example of W.P. Redfern of Huddersfield, who reported that he had joined the ILP for want of any viable alternative and that he hoped eventually for the unity of the two parties.15 The only exception to this gloomy scenario was in Dewsbury, where an ILP branch which had always supported socialist unity and had been sceptical as to the value of trade unions was 'organised out of existence'16 by a capable SDFer from Burnley. Events in Dewsbury provided the catalyst for the re-emergence of the SDF in Bradford.
The Bradford branch of the Social-Democratic Federation was not re-formed until 1903, the main instigator being Edward Robertshaw Hartley. Hartley came into prominence in local politics in the early 1890s at a time of severe unemployment. He helped to form the Bradford Labour Union, and was a founder member of the ILP. However, the events surrounding the Dewsbury by-election of 1902 disillusioned him with the party's leadership and he joined the SDF shortly afterwards. He was on the SDF executive for seven years and fought five unsuccessful parliamentary election campaigns under its auspices. Hartley was also secretary of the Clarion Van Movement 1910-12.
Dewsbury was a stronghold of Liberalism, due largely to the strength of Nonconformity, a pervasive temperance movement, and the support of a large Irish vote. The Liberal stranglehold on the constituency bred a complacency which exposed it to criticism and eventually outright opposition from organised labour. Thus in 1895 Hartley stood as an ILP candidate, polling 1,080 votes. Although the ILP branch in the town was thereafter superseded by the SDF, there remained a strong ILP presence at nearby Thornhill Lees, which was also in the parliamentary constituency. A Labour candidate was mooted for the 1900 general election, but negotiations between the SDF, ILP, and the Trades Council were scarcely advanced when the election was called and adequate funds were not forthcoming. It was decided to select a candidate well in advance for the next election but the local Labour forces could not agree on a nominee. A section of the ILP, with Ben Turner prominent, were prepared to compromise with the Trades Council and accept a Lib-Lab candidate in the hope of cementing the Socialist-Trade Union alliance. They were working towards a local Labour Representation Committee on the lines of the national body established in 1900. The SDF, however, were vehemently opposed to such an arrangement. They had seceded from the LRC shortly after its formation, objecting to the watering down of the socialist commitment, and had resurrected the campaign for socialist unity as an alternative. The Dewsbury branch had consistently suggested Harry Quelch, a prominent national figure in the party, as the socialist candidate for Dewsbury. Events caught both groups unawares Mark Oldroyd, the Liberal MP, resigned owing to ill-health and a by-election was called. When the SDF heard that Sam Woods, the Wigan Miners' agent, was being supported by Ben Turner and the local ILP they rushed to nominate Quelch. The ILP, both locally and nationally, condemned his candidature, fearing that it would damage the LRC and split the local Trades Council. Then the situation was still further complicated when the Liberals refused to nominate Woods and stood a Newcastle shipowner, Walter Runciman. This blatant disregard of working-class opinion enraged the labour forces. and the Trades Council and the ILP now invited Hartley to be their candidate.
Temporarily there was the possibility of two Labour candidates in Dewsbury, but saner counsels eventually prevailed and the National Administrative Council of the ILP persuaded the local branch to stand down, with the injunction that they were not to support Quelch. This dispute certainly demonstrated the isolation of the SDF after its withdrawal from the LRC, but it also demonstrated the increasing tensions within the ILP consequent upon its affiliation to that body. Many members were worried at a rumoured trend towards ILP/Liberal understanding in an attempt to achieve electoral success. One such member was Hartley, who had always been doubtful of the value of an alliance with the trade unions as a vehicle for socialist advance. Much to the chagrin of the ILP leaders he now announced his support for Quelch, complaining that 'The great work of the official section of the ILP at the present seems not so much to push socialism as to try and intrigue some half-a-dozen persons into Parliament.'17 Events at Dewsbury disgusted him. He couldn't understand the hostility of the ILP towards the SDF and obviously shared the view that there had been behind the scenes manoeuvring to intrigue a Lib-Lab into the seat. 'This must end', he said, 'or my connection must cease with a movement which for the sake of getting men into positions will forget all its past and all its principles.'18 Other ILPers agreed, including the branches at Ossett and Huddersfield, and the Clarion movement also threw its weight behind Quelch, seizing the opportunity once more to campaign for socialist unity. In spite of the controversy surrounding his candidacy Quelch performed surprisingly well. In the heaviest poll ever recorded for a Dewsbury election he received 1,597 votes, and the Liberal majority was reduced by 1,000. The election campaign was a contributory factor in the socialist revival of the middle part of the decade. It also persuaded Hartley to join the SDF.
There were several reasons for the socialist revival. Disillusionment with the performance of the Labour Party in parliament was one; the success of Victor Grayson in the Colne Valley by-election of 1907 was another. Rising levels of unemployment and the Labour Party's failure to force its Right to Work Bill through parliament focused attention on the socialist alternative to the capitalist system The SDF shared in the revival, and by June 1911 had l4 branches in Yorkshire. These branches approximated far more to the traditional stereotype of the SDF than did, say, the Lancashire branches. They were 'propagandist' organisations, opposed to the Labour alliance, in favour of socialist unity, aiming to make socialists. In Bradford the Federation was fortunate in that it could boast an exceptionally able organiser and figure of some repute within the socialist movement. Hartley re-formed the branch early in 1904 and, with a strong base in the Bradford Moor area, was able to build an effective campaigning body.
The branch was restarted after a Hyndman visit in October l903, part of his national tour in opposition to tariff reform. 'I had a packed meeting here last night', wrote Hyndman to Justice 'The great towns of Yorkshire are getting far beyond mere "Labourism", I rejoice to say.'19 Their initial meeting place was the Clarion Club at Whetley Hill, but they later moved to rooms above the Rawson Place entrance to the new Bradford market. The emphasis was primarily upon education and propaganda, with discussion and industrial history classes featuring prominently in branch activities, but Bradford was a far more active body than some of its Yorkshire counterparts. The unemployed agitation was particularly to the fore. Mass rallies, deputations to the Guardians, sieges of the workhouse, and a 'landgrab' brought the SDF into the limelight in Bradford and placed it firmly in the mainstream of the SDF tradition. In November 1904 2,000 people surrounded the workhouse demanding work, and the pressure of agitation persuaded the Education Committee to agree to the feeding of needy schoolchildren. On 24 July 1906, organised by Charlie Glyde, a group of unemployed workers took possession of land owned by the Midland Railway company. This was one of a series of 'land-grabs', the occupation of private, uncultivated land by the unemployed, initiated by the SDF. Some 30 men planted lettuce, celery, cauliflowers and turnips and even established a chip-chopping department to raise revenue. The main aim though was to attract public attention and to publicise Government inactivity. As a local observer noted, the SDF aimed 'to make the most of the opportunities afforded by the presence of curious onlookers of carrying on propaganda work.'20 Curious onlookers there certainly were, Glyde reporting over 100,000 visitors to the Bradford camp before its demise at the beginning of October. But it is clear that many of them regarded the proceedings as entertainment, even comedy, and the land grabs were of only minor value.
The SDF in Bradford was typical of the national body in that it combined revolutionary rhetoric with reformist activity. Indeed one of the party's major problems was its inability to define its role, to decide whether or not to operate within the mainstream of political activity. Thus Hartley condemned window smashing and other illegal activities,21 yet these sentiments contrasted strongly with his violent language in the council chamber after the Postmaster-General's visit in 1908. Unemployment in August of that year had risen to 85% of the male population, and militancy increased. In Glasgow and in Bradford troops were placed on standby. Those in Bradford were to deal with any violent outbreaks arising from the visit to the city of Sydney Buxton, the Postmaster-General In the event, although several attempts were made to rush St. George's Hall, the police were able to cope adequately. Nonetheless furious scenes ensued in the council chamber as both Glyde and Hartley attempted to move the suspension of standing orders to discuss the requisitioning of troops. Hartley was particularly vehement 'I am a man of peace', he told the Mayor, 'and believe in proceeding in a constitutional manner but if you shelve this matter in this cowardly manner I warn you that I shall have to take other steps; and that is no idle threat.'22 Later he called the Mayor a coward and, addressing the unemployed in the gallery, urged that 'For every one of you killed, demand a toll of two from the other class; take care that you aim high and hit the people who are responsible.'23
Yet this revolutionary bluster co-existed with a preoccupation with municipal electioneering which made the Bradford branch almost unique in Yorkshire SDF circles. The presence of Hartley and Glyde on the council was a major boost to the SDF, although neither of them was elected on an SDF ticket. It gave them an invaluable propaganda platform, and this largely explains why they put forward candidates at every municipal election between 1906 and 1911.
1. Hartley was elected on an ILP ticket although shortly afterwards he stood as SDF parliamentary candidate for Bradford East.
3. Tong had been held by Glyde since 1904. He had a strong personal following there. He did not stand in l9ll but regained the seat in l9l3. No other Socialist candidate whether of the ILP or SDF could win the seat until Labour's successes in 1919 and 1922
4. Two BSP members F.L. Liles and Glyde were elected to the council in 1913 but owed their success to the fact that they were also long-serving ILP members. These results are therefore omitted.
The SDF also believed that municipal socialism was possible, indeed that it was a much more viable proposition than socialism via Parliament. Thus Hartley's answer to unemployment was to elect socialists to the council and D.B. Briggs SDF candidate for East Bowling, showed that he had 'a thorough grasp of the possibilities of the further extension of municipal enterprises.'24 These annual election campaigns, the unemployed agitation the almost ritual 'free speech fight', history and economics classes, a book club and the whole gamut of social activities ranging from whist drives to trips to Bolton Abbey made Bradford something of 'a stronghold of the SDF.'25 It boasted 100 members in 1907 although they were dwarfed by an ILP membership of over 1,000, formed a second branch in East Bradford in 1909, and also assisted the formation of branches in Shipley and Birkenshaw. A solid cadre of' members was built up: George Malton, a barber and Ruskin Hall corresponding student; Heywood Beaumont, a printer, D.B. Briggs of Low Moor, perpetual election candidate: Doctor Dessin, close associate of Hyndman. Hartley of course. towered above all and his two parliamentary campaigns in East Bradford lent added stature to the branch. They also shed light on the relationship between the SDF and ILP both locally and nationally. and serve to explain the growing urgency of the call by the SDF for socialist unity.
Hartley had always been antipathetic towards the unions, viewing them as a reactionary force holding back the working-class movement. Inevitably, therefore, he was hostile to the idea of a socialist/trade union alliance. His opinion was forcibly expressed during a debate in Manchester, where he likened the Labour Party to a child:
"It was an excellent idea to lead the child, but if it was bigger than you, and refused to go? Nay! What if the child was so big that it not only refused to go with you but turned round and carried you where you never intended to go?"26
Hartley's solution to the problem was socialist unity. Innately distrustful of the leadership of both socialist groupings, he urged the rank and file to demonstrate their common sense and unite in the face of the common enemy - capitalism. And the attitude of this united socialist party to the Labour Party? 'Of course, they must have an alliance with the Labour Party, but it must not be an alliance which dominated and absorbed socialists.'27 Each party must work on its own lines, for its own ideals, and ally for all objects held in common.
Hartley's philosophy explains his later career in Bradford. He hoped, through his own example, to unite the socialist forces in the city and thereby inspire unity nationally. If the stronghold of the ILP could be brought into union with the SDF then, Hartley believed, the rest of the country would follow within twelve months.27 The ideal vehicle for such a strategy was a parliamentary campaign, and Bradford East was a most promising constituency, particularly in view of Hartley's local reputation. It was the most working-class constituency in Bradford. Unfortunately national developments militated against Hartley. At this time the ILP and the LRC were formulating a policy on the selection of candidates, and were very concerned that only those seats which were potentially winnable should be contested. Furthermore, in the aftermath of the Dewsbury by-election they were insistent that all local Labour organisations should be consulted before candidatures were given official sanction. These conditions often conflicted with the impulsive desire of local ILP branches and LRCs to run candidates at the earliest opportunity, and heated arguments resulted. What was certain was that no support would be given to candidates running without the LRC label, and the animosity of the ILP leaders towards the SDF ruled out any LRC/ILP support for Hartley in Bradford East. It was felt that this was simply an SDF intrigue to gain parliamentary representation, and by using ILP funds to boot!28 Moreover, sanctioning Hartley would direct resources away from Bradford West and weaken Fred Jowett's chances there.
Locally, relations were much more cordial, a reflection of Hartley's status there, and one is left wondering what might have been the future of British socialism if local initiatives had not been stifled by national bureaucracies or, conversely, if the Federation had remained within the LRC as a left-wing grouping. Starved of resources the SDF mounted what was essentially a propaganda campaign, boasting proudly that 'No canvassing was done and no conveyances were used.'29 The distribution of handbills and the chalking of pavements were the limits of their efforts. Yet a mass meeting at St George's Hall shortly before the election showed what might have transpired. Billed as a pro-Hartley rally, with the Countess of Warwick as the main attraction, it turned into a joint demonstration for Hartley and Jowett, attended by all the prominent figures of the Bradford ILP. From the platform Jowett wished Hartley every success and referred to the ILP and SDF as simply two sections of the one socialist party.30 The local ILP paper felt that 'The SDF friends have behaved with scrupulous fairness throughout the campaign have both tacitly and expressedly recognised priority of claim by the Western Division.'31 Jowett won a famous victory, but Hartley also polled 3,090 votes (Table 2 below). This was admitted by all shades of opinion to be a considerable success for the socialists. Like Quelch in Dewsbury, Hartley had proved that there was a sizeable body of support for the socialist option, certainly up to 1906.
|1.||1906 Bradford East|
|W.E.B. Priestley (L)||6185|
|V. Caillard (C)||4277|
|E.R. Hartley (SDF)||3090||22.8%|
|2.||1910 Bradford East|
|W.E.B. Priestley (L)||7709|
|E.R. Hartley (SDF)||1740||12.0%|
The SDF was impressed by the encouraging progress of its Bradford branch and the Federation's annual conference for 1906 was held in the city Charlie Glyde was able to report that the six Bradford delegates to the ILP conference had strict instructions to vote for fusion, a further tribute to Hartley's efforts in that direction. But the fact that he and Dessin voted on opposite sides in the debate on re-affiliation to the Labour Party demonstrated that the Bradford branch was as divided over the issue as the parent body. Hartley was elected to the provincial section of the Executive, a position he retained until his departure for New Zealand in 1911. His opinions were clearly expressed the united socialist party must come first. and it could then decide on the question of affiliation to the Labour Party. To those in the ILP who argued that their strategy was, and must be, firmly orientated towards Labour Hartley retorted that 'A socialist is a socialist wanting socialism and there is as wide a difference of temperament amongst the various member of the ILP themselves as between them and the most extreme members of the SDF.'32
Between 1906 and 1911 the Bradford SDF seemed to be engaged in one long election campaign, whether at the municipal level or promoting Hartley for Parliament, and the message was insistent and clear - 'Socialists unite!' Success or failure was gauged in terms of the numbers of new members and the extent of the co-operation with the ILP. Thus Hartley's defeat and reduced poll in January 1910, although disappointing, was viewed positively in terms of recruitment and propaganda. 'Our methods are unique!' they proudly announced. 'No canvassing, no posters on the wall - nothing but educational methods, leaflets, literature and meetings.'33 The reasons for his defeat were correctly analysed as a switch of Labour votes to the Liberal as a response to the national issues of the Budget and the Lords, but that didn't matter. Socialist votes were clean votes, votes for principles, and the cause of socialist unity had been advanced. In view of the circumstances they felt that Hartley's poll was more than encouraging.
There seemed to be some justification for this attitude. In 1911 the Railwaymen complained at a Trades Council meeting about the Liberal MP's vote on the Railway Bill and urged that a Labour man should oppose him at the next election. The ILP reaction to this request was that the SDF had first claim in East Bradford, and the SDF response was clearcut. 'We have planted the SDF flag in the division and we are going to remain.'34 Hartley's departure for New Zealand shortly afterwards did not alter the SDF's direction. They were fervent proponents of socialist unity their views encouraged by widespread duality of membership and co-operation between the two bodies. The SDF in Bradford functioned as a kind of haven for left-wing ILPers dissatisfied with their own party's moderation; there they could preach the pure unadulterated gospel of socialism without cutting their links with organised labour. Although the SDF were opposed to a formal Labour alliance they were never overtly hostile to the Labour Party or the trade unions in Bradford, unlike the Leeds branch.
1911 was an eventful year for the British socialist movement, in many ways a watershed year. It saw the formation of the British Socialist Party, (BSP) which brought together the SDF, left-wing ILPers and large sections of the Clarion movement. Many hoped that the BSP would eventually unite all sections of the movement. There were a number of reasons for the founding of a new party in 1911. The SDF was racked by internal disputes, particularly over the question of international relations and foreign policy. Its leaders hoped to use the unity campaign as a diversion from the party's internal problems. They were motivated too by a financial crisis. Dismay at the Labour Party's performance in Parliament had produced a spirit of revolt within the ILP. Many on the left of the party felt that it was losing sight of the ultimate socialist vision and they objected to what they saw as the increasingly oligarchic control of the party by the NAC. The dissidents drew closer to the SDF, sharing its platforms and co-operating in election campaigns. In 1910 four members of the NAC signed the so-called 'Green Manifesto', Let Us Reform the Labour Party, accusing the leadership of 'bartering the soul of a great cause for the off chance of an occasional bare bone.' However the dissidents were outmanoeuvred by Ramsay Macdonald and not one was re-elected to the NAC. Dissatisfied ILPers would have to look elsewhere! The SDF hoped to take advantage of this crisis within the ILP and launched a campaign for socialist unity. And then came the bombshell! Victor Grayson, now out of Parliament and political editor of The Clarion, launched his own appeal for the formation of a British Socialist Party.
Grayson was a charismatic figure with support across the spectrum of British socialism. He was disillusioned with the existing parties and their leaderships and wanted individuals to send in their names for the formation of a completely new party. 'For our new wine we must have new bottles', he argued.35 The SDF, however, wanted already organised groupings to send delegates to a conference, there to discuss the grounds formal amalgamation. Grayson suspected that this would lead to little more than an enlargement of the existing party, with the same leadership. There were differences of political outlook too. Many of Grayson's supporters were syndicalists, in favour of direct action, which ran directly counter to the SDF's traditional political orthodoxy and suggested problems ahead. Yet the Unity Conference at Manchester was a triumph of unity and comradeship, a resounding success. Attendance was impressive, delegates claiming to represent some 35,000 members. For some 12 months the BSP made substantial progress, winning ILP members in large numbers, but the initial euphoria was soon dissipated as divisions over policy re-surfaced. By the time of the 1913 Conference membership was down to 15,000, little more than that of the SDF prior to 1911. Indeed the party seemed to be centred on the old SDF heartlainds of London and Lancashire, the SDF under another name. How had it fared in West Yorkshire, and Bradford in particular?
There were 27 organisations from the county represented at the Unity Conference, and at the height of the party's fortunes some 42 branches can be traced. ILP defections numbered some 1,300. In March 1912 the West Yorkshire District Council claimed to represent 1,000 members, and if we add to this branches not represented there and the membership of the Colne Valley Socialist League then a figure of 2000 members in West Yorkshire seems reasonable. Bradford claimed over 500 members. Yet significantly no prominent ILPer other than Grayson joined the BSP and leading figures such as Fred Jowett and Willie Leach in Bradford were severely critical of the new party. After March 1912 support fell away rapidly and only ten branches were represented at the 1913 Conference. Essentially the West Yorkshire BSP had slimmed down to its pre-1911 SDF core. Electoral success was minimal, with only F. Lockwood Liles in Bradford and Alf Barton in Sheffield counting as genuine BSP victories. Bradford was in fact the most successful BSP centre, but even there it faded badly after 1912. In that year there were six branches: Central, East, West, Dudley Hill and Tong, North Bierley, Clayton, and West Bowling. The national executive of the party imposed John Stokes, secretary of the London Trades Council, upon East Bradford as its parliamentary candidate. The local branch was unable to gain ILP acquiescence in this and its chances of contesting, in the Labour interest, the constituency it regarded as its own appeared slim. Thus the idea of uniting the ILP and the SDF outside the Labour Party had been tried and found wanting. The advent of war brought about marked changes in the political landscape. The BSP eventually affiliated to the Labour Party, thereby signalling the demise of the socialist unity option, before breaking apart due to differences over the party's attitude to the war Hyndman and supporters of the war effort re-formed the Socialist-Democratic Federation in 1916, but it was a spent force. Edward Robertshaw Hartley defected to the British Workers' League, an ultra-patriotic grouping which became avowedly critical of socialism. He had always been a staunch supporter of Robert Blatchford and followed him in his advocacy of the war. At a public meeting of the Bradford BSP in August 1915 he admitted that it seemed strange after 40 years of advocating peace to be advocating a crushing victory over the Germans. 'But willy-nilly we were at war, and to prate about peace and talk about the terms of peace before we knew which side was going to win was a waste of time.'36 Hartley's attitude to the war cost him much of his influence in Bradford socialist circles, and his death in 1918 removed the only prominent figure in BSP circles. Down to three branches by 1916, at Eccleshill, Great Horton and East Ward, by the end of the war Bradford had only one branch. It stood a candidate in Bradford South in the 1918 election, although without Labour Party endorsement. W. Hirst polled 8,291 votes, 30.9% of the total. However, as the BSP was now affiliated to the Labour Party he was perceived as a Labour Party candidate, hence the sizeable vote. The branch remained in existence until 1920, when it followed the national body into the new Communist Party of Great Britain.
William Morris, writing of the Social-Democratic Federation in the 1880s, called its members 'a collection of oddities'.37 In Bradford they were very much that, a small isand in an ILP sea. The very existence of the group was a strategy in itself - 'its increase in membership, its collective missionary and other activities, just its being there however small, being a major part of what it is necessary to do to bring Socialism about.'38 Yet even in Bradford the SDF serves to remind us that the forward march of Labour did not have the inevitability that hindsight gives it, that more than one route was open. In Bradford relations between the ILP and the SDF were cordial, showing what might have been. Socialists were often members of both parties, another commonplace now often conveniently forgotten. Socialist unity was a viable option, which was precluded by events at a national level. Unfortunately the formation of the BSP came too late to offer a credible alternative to the Labour Party. The SDF produced a whole generation of working-class intellectuals and introduced many local leaders to socialism. In Bradford Charles Glyde was one, such leader, converted by Tom Mann in Bolton,39 whilst Edward Hartley was attracted to the Federation by its refusal to compromise its socialist beliefs. The SDF educated, with Bradford and the other branches placing great emphasis on study classes and lectures. It also agitated, originating many of the tactics of mass action taken up in later years. Unemployed agitation was an SDF monopoly, and in Bradford the branch was effective in forcing the Education Committee to cater for needy schoolchildren. The SDF was the pioneer of the socialist revival in Britain and its presence in Bradford, the stronghold of the ILP, is a reminder of that fact. The eventual fate of the ILP proves that its alternative provided no panacea for socialist success.
MARTIN CRICK was educated at Cardinal Hinsley Grammar School Bradford and took his degree at Liverpool University in 1968. He completed his MA at Huddersfield Polytechnic in 1968 and his PhD at the same institution in 1988. He is Head of History at St John Fisher High School, Dewsbury, as. well as Co-ordinator of Special Needs. He is also a qualified Rugby, League Coach.
© 1991, Martin Crick and The Bradford Antiquary