Working Class Movement Library

A blog from the Working Class Movement Library in Salford

Posts Tagged ‘Independent Labour Party’

In 1923 Dan Griffiths asked ‘What is Socialism?’ … now we have all the answers

Posted by wcmlibrary on February 6, 2014

The library has just received a very exciting donation of around 100 letters written to Dan Griffiths in 1923 in response to his question What is socialism?.

Dan, a school teacher in Llanelli, was very active in the labour movement and considered standing for parliament for the Labour Party, but stood down in favour of another candidate.  He also wrote a number of books, including What is Socialism?: a symposium – the book that the definitions of socialism were included in.

Dan’s great-niece, Rosemary, has kindly donated the folder of letters, which were received from a wide spectrum of people including politicians, trade unionists and writers, to the library along with a group photograph which includes both Dan and Ramsay MacDonald.

Dan Griffiths (third left) with Ramsay MacDonald and others

Most of the letters are very positive and give full and detailed responses to Dan’s question,  but a letter from May Starr of Plebs states:

“I am writing at Com. Horrabin’s request .. with reference to his definition of socialism he asks me to say that he really does not wish to add anything further to his definition.  In fact he feels that there is nothing to add to that particular statement – it must stand and fall as it is, and being an exceedingly hard pressed and busy chap begs to state that he can’t face the ordeal of starting all over again.  If the space really mus be filled up why not add “Buy the Plebs, 6d monthly” or similar phrases.” 

Other highlights of the collection include letters from Ramsay MacDonald, Ellen Wilkinson, Alfred and Ethel Holdsworth, Leonard Woolf, AJ Cook, GDH Cole and Tom Mann.

Letter from Ellen Wilkinson

Letter from Ellen Wilkinson

We are extremely grateful to Rosemary for giving us these letters which provide a fascinating insight into the politics of the 1920s.

Jane Taylor

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‘Socialism with a northern accent’ book review

Posted by wcmlibrary on August 3, 2012

Book review: Socialism with a northern accent: radical traditions for modern times by Paul Salveson.  Lawrence & Wishart, 2012 ISBN 978-1-907103-39-1

In 1998 at the Brit Awards the anarcho-punk band Chumbawamba attempted to throw a bucket of water over John Prescott and Cherie Blair/Booth. They said at the time:  “If John Prescott has the nerve to turn up at events like the BRIT Awards in a vain attempt to make Labour seem cool and trendy, then he deserves all we can throw at him”. John Prescott (and Cherie B/B) epitomise the worst in terms of working class people who have gained money and power and then peddle a stereotyped view of what it means to be working class.

In his introduction Prescott, or rather Lord Prescott, plays on his long forgotten (and ditched) working class background to extol the virtues of the last Labour government, whilst forgetting to mention that many of the policies that the Con/Dem coalition are following were originally New Labour policies. He may hope that he can use the past to rescue the Labour Party at the next election, but the voters will not be so easily conned.

Paul Salveson, Labour party councillor and Member of the British Empire, is quite clear about his agenda for this book. “Socialists – be they Labour Party members, Greens or non-aligned radicals – should have an awareness of their heritage that can help inspire campaigning today”.  He says the book “draws on examples of radical politics and culture in the North over the last two hundred years that are, to a greater or lesser degree, distinctive to the region, and have lessons for us today.”

Salveson concentrates on the north because, he argues, “Labour needs to cultivate a patchwork of regional and national identities, both political and cultural, as part of a wider “Britishness” celebrating a diverse, confident and progressive Britain of regions and nations.” For northern he means North West, Yorkshire and the Humber and the North East. And that word “socialism” again, only this time with a “northern accent”.

He traces the struggle for democracy within movements such as Peterloo and Chartism and places it within the distinctive history of the north. He introduces characters such as Thomas Newbiggin, a radical Liberal and shows how in the 1880s there was a radical Liberal political culture. It’s hard to believe this when the present day Lib Dems find it easy to get into power with the Conservatives.

Salveson explores the growth of the trade unions and alongside it progressive organisations such as the Social Democratic Federation, the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and the Labour Party.

A large chunk of the book extols, quite rightly, the important role that the ILP played in improving the lives of working class people. It was founded in 1893 in Bradford and “the achievements of scores of ILP councillors at the municipal level were considerable – free school milk, improved sanitation, municipal lighting, council run tramways,”fair wages’ clauses in council contracts and council housing”.

The ILP was not just a political party, it was a way of life with socialist education, journalism, music and art. However, by 1932 the Labour Party had changed from a community, grassroots organisation to an electoral machine and the ILP severed all links with the party.

It’s the template of the ILP that Salveson sees as the future for the Labour Party. “Can Labour recapture some of the radicalism and passion which informed the early years of the ILP and the Clarion Movement?”. This book is essentially about how they, the Labour Party, can re-fashion themselves for the next general election. However, he fails to address the reason why they lost 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010. One has only to look at the early days of the New Labour Government and their harsh treatment of single parents on benefits, the use of ASBOs against largely poor working class young people, the privatisation of elderly social care…I could go on. It was not just that they looked down upon their own voters but that in power they flaunted their wealth and power with their celebrity mates.

This is very much a nostalgia fest as Salveson returns to Bradford and the ILP birthplace as a good model of a Labour council. Clearly, he did not really know what was going on there as shortly after he published this book George Galloway and the Respect Party swept the Labour Party aside to grab power at a national and local level.

It is interesting that Salveson MBE and Lord Prescott still consider themselves to be socialists and believe that there are socialists still in the Labour Party. But it is clear that the people that he lauds in the book would be horrified if they saw what the Labour Party had done in their 13 years of government and would quite rightly line themselves up with everyone outside of the Labour Party.

One of the reasons that Labour faces an uphill struggle to regain its working class roots is that people are so disengaged with the political process and in particular young voters.  Many young people are active in social movements such as UK Uncut and Occupy where there is no hierachy of old men to tell them what to do. They have created their own communities, some of which have similarities to the radical culture of the ILP, but they see power in a completely different way from electoral politics. They are the ones, not the Labour Party, who to quote the subtitle of this book have “radical traditions for modern times”.

Bernadette Hyland, Library volunteer

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10,000th item catalogued!

Posted by wcmlibrary on November 12, 2009

I have just catalogued my 10,000th item as part of our Heritage Lottery Fund project. Its a leaflet from the Independent Labour Party about the Post Office and was published way back in 1902, but what it is talking about is very much in the public eye today – the privatisation of the Post Office. Some things never change. In fact a number of the things I have catalogued have as much relevance today as they did when they were first published.

I have almost finished adding the all pamphlets and leaflets that made up part of the Independent Labour Party archive to our online catalogue. If you are interested in seeing what we have, go to our online catalogue at

Project Librarian

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