The Valley of Dry Bones.  The Clarion during the First World War

The Valley of Dry Bones. The Clarion during the First World War

Since the 1970s I have explored and written about the British Left.  My initial inspiration was reading Walter Kendall's The Revolutionary Movement in Britain subtitled The Origins of British Communism and particularly a comment near the  end of the  book where Kendall writes of new situation brought about by  the advent of Communism.  'The revolutionary movement, before the transformation took place had  been ultra democratic, opposed to leadership on principle, opposed to professionalization of the Labour movement almost as an article of faith.'  This inspired me to explore the pre=1914 British Left in my doctoral thesis concluding that though there were some aspects of  the Left which were heading in a different direction Kendall statement was broadly true.  Since then  I have explored a  number of aspects of the pre-1939 British Left. (Anyone interested can have a look at my website.                                                                                                                                                                            

But why write about, specifically, The Clarion in the First World War?  The current Wikipedia entry says on the paper says that it '...has been treated as little more than a footnote in the history of English socialism.'   This was not always the case. Philip Snowden, not by then one would imagine a natural supporter of The Clarion, wrote of Blatchford  in his autobiography written in 1934 towards the end of his life that 'No man did more to make socialism understood by the ordinary working man.'  [1] More than forty years later in his book on Marxism and the origin of British socialism Stanley Pierson concluded that Blatchford was  '... by far the most effective recruiter for Socialism in England'[2] And just a couple of years later he was described by A.J.P Taylor as ' ...the greatest popular journalist since Cobbett.'[3] One needs to add that like Cobbett the positions taken by Blatchford were very controverskial.  But I think we must conclude that Blatchford and The Clarion have suffered, like Hyndman and his faction in the BSP, from the  support for a war that began the awful events of the twentieth century  and which divided the British socialist movement and in the memory of many today remains divisive.

 

Both Laurence Thompson's  Robert Blatchford. Portrait of an Englishman   Gollancz. 1951 and Robert Blatchford's autobiography My Eighty Years, Cassell, 1931 include valuable insights.  But they of course deal with the whole of  The Clarion's time and in Blatchford's case the whole of his life – to date. He survived until 1943. Laurence Thompson and Blatchford himself are well worth reading. But I wish to deal specifically with the paper during World War I.  This was a time when the paper took a view quite at oddes with much of the Left.

 

The problem of writing about Blatchford is brilliantly expressed by the former early in the book (p 9) 'Between 1893 and 1910 Robert Blatchford was, in Holbrook Jackson's not wildly exaggerated phrase, the greatest living danger to the existing social system. Blatchford's autobiography deals with those  years in sixteen pages.  They were no important to him. His six years in the army occupy seventy-six pages.'  And a page further on  Thompson tells us that  that when Blatchford was interviewed by the Daily Herald as the oldest working journalist on his ninetieth birthday, he said he'd always thought of himself as 'Sergeant Blatchford'. 

 

The paper certainly lost much support as a result of its stance on the war, as it had earlier for its promotion of 'The German Menace' but it did retain the loyalty of many other readers,  And The Clarion did survive  through   the 1920s when many papers of the Left – including the oldest one Justice – did not, as I have detailed in the final chapter of my book Romancing the Revolution, The title of  this exploration of The Clarion during the First World War is taken from a front page article by Blatchford on 23rd July 1915.  In full title was 'The Valley of Dry Bones.  What the Socialist Party  Have to Do and How They Are to Do It.'  In it he attacked 'Little-Bethelits and wire -pullers' and asked 'If the prejudice against Socialism was widespread and obstinate a  quarter of a century ago what must it be now?'  He insisted that socialism should not be be 'muddled up with a score of other theories....' 

 

I can't claim to have read every Clarion article between the outbreak of War in August 1914 and the Armistice in November 1918 but I  have at least looked at every edition of The Clarion published during the war. I have concentrated on a number of themes including  'The German Menace.' For his articles in the paper Blatchford kept coming back to how he had warned of the hostility of Germany and the danger of war years before the war broke out. Even more crucial of course will be the paper's  approach to socialism,which I'll save to the end and, of course, the war itself.  I will try to give a clear account of the paper during the First World War, concentrating on the paper's own analysis of events and attempting to show  how those  who wrote, read and supported it saw themselves as authentic – perhaps, as they saw it, the only authentic – socialists.

 

For the British Left the First World War was doubly divisive. In 1917/18 divisions were to appear between supporters, to varying extents, of the Bolsheviks and those who rejected what became known as Communism completely. But  before than there was there was already a  division between those who - however reluctantly – supported Britain's participation and those completely opposed. Up until the outbreak of war – in spite of the Balkan wars of 1912 and 1913, there were plenty of issues that divided British socialists but, for many at least, the future looked promising. Sen Katayama and Plekhanov had shaken hands at a Socialist International Congress at Amsterdam in 1904 despite their countries, Japan and Russia, being at war.  Then in 1912 the German Social Democratic Party became the largest group in the Reichstag. Socialists could be forgiven for assuming that it was just a matter of time before socialism and peace became universal.

 

 The Clarion  was launched by  Robert Blatchford and his associates in December 1891. Blatchford had been a journalist on Hulton's Sunday Chronicle. In 1893 he published Merrie England . The initial cheap edition sold 40,000 copies while eventually, it is said, it sold some two million copies worldwide. But first Blatchford' 'German menace' warnings and then the actual outbreak of war  divided socialists  with the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and the majority of the British Socialist Party (BSP) taking an anti-war line.

 

At this point I need to point out that nearly all of the references used are to editions of  the paper and to avoid lots of footnotes these will be indicated simply by giving the edition in brackets after the reference is mentioned. I shall comment from time to time but mainly I want to allow the  paper and its contributers  to speak for themselves believing that their contributions, reflected deeply held views of the time.  We can all agree that the World War, like to one a little more than twenty years later, was appalling and should have been avoided. But it remains vital to consider, in as neutral a spirit as possible,  the positions taken on the war. And The Clarion  represented  an important part of the response of the Left.

 

 Almost equally important to Blatchford in understanding  The Clarion is A. M.Thompson sometimes referred to  as A.M.T. (Alexander Mattock Thompson)  He had ;long been  a major figure since the very beginning of the paper.  For initiates he had been known as 'Dangle' - The  Clarion went in for silly nicknames in a big way – Blatchford  (or Nunquam) would nearly always contribute  a front page article during the war while Thompson was in charge of the editorial 'Our Point of View'  In  April 1915 the masthead of  The  Clarion announced 'Edited by Robert Blatchford and Alexander M. Thompson.' (16/4/15) 

 

The Makeup  of the Paper and its Finances

In 1915 The Clarion usually had 12 or 16 pages. Later newsprint scarcity reduced it to 8 pages, Very occasionally – three times in the course of the 1915 – it expanded to 20 pages. Articles and letters followed a fairly regular pattern, though there were some variations from time to time.  The front page would nearly always be devoted to an article by Blatchford. - except, for instance, on 9 April and 3 December  in 1915.  In the latter case it was taken up by a full-page cartoon

 

Thompson  would give the paper's  view on current issues in 'Our Point of View.'  He was in France in early September  1915 and Suthers, a regular contributor, took over the editorial function. He was to continue to stand in during Thompson's absences. A Neil Lyons, the first  biographer of Blatchford, often contributed a short story (a review of his Kitchener's Chaps  appeared on 30 April 1915)  and there was usually a 'Passing Show' piece from Hilda Thompson and 'In the Library' from Winifred Blatchford which in November 1915 featured 'Two  Significant  Books' -  A S Neill  A Dominie's Log and Roger Wray The Soul of a Teacher.  The first was a diary of the future founder of Summerhill's time as head of the Gretna Green Village School.

 

 Letters from readers would form 'The Clarion Cockpit'  - always an important feature – and often a very lengthy one -  in The Clarion . By April  1915 a page of 'Letters from Clarion soldiers and sailors' was also a fairly regular feature  In June 50 copies of the paper were being sent free, to servicemen (25/6/15) and in July the same year it was announced that all such letters published gave 3 months free subscription to the paper. (16/7/15) Julia Dawson, (otherwise  Dora Julia Myddleton Worrall) who I will throughout refer by her journalist name contributed her 'Woman's Letter' which usually formed the final page of the paper announced that 107 copies were going to 'Tommies.' at the end of the year (31/12/15) Other regular features were 'CC and Motor  CC reports'  from the very successful Clarion Cycling Club and a number of Motor Cycling Clubs, Tom Groom's 'Clarion Cyclorama'  was another regular feature and on 7 May  1915 there was a 28 page  'Illustrated Motor Cycle  Supplement.'  There were quote a few other  activies of Clarion groups reported, including the Vocal Union and Football and Hockey  clubs but the Cycling Club was given  it's own allotted  space shared with a few reports from motor cycle clubs.  The motor cycle supplement  was clearly a success since on 30 July there was a piece by Tom Groom with the title 'Motormania' and the following week appeared 'Motor Cycle Notes.' by Laurence H. Cade which became a regular  feature throughout the War,

               

At the beginning of July 1915 the setting up of 'The CLARION Maintenance Fund' was announced with Fred Haggar as both Secretary and Treasurer.   He and Tom Groom  proposed  at a meeting in Birmingham, which it was reported, fifty attended. This passed a motion 'That this meeting of readers of the CLARION desires to place on record its appreciation of the magnificent services rendered to the Cause of Democratic Socialism during its 23 year's existence by the CLARION and deeply regrets the paper's  present financial embarrassment, but pledges itself to do its utmost to assist the scheme to overcome its difficulties'  (2/7/15) Two weeks later it  was announced that  £200 needed to keep the paper going and that   £115 3 10 had already been sent to the Maintenance Fund. (16/7/15)

 

In September 1915 an article by 'Outsider' listed reasons 'Why the “Clarion” Must Live.' These reasons included that the paper was  '...the essential exponent of true Socialism.' It was  clear '...that this true Socialism, the lack of which in past years has been responsible for social evils, which otherwise would not have existed, needs an exponent among the newspapers, a national. sane journal.' (10/9/15)  At the beginning of  October 1915 it was announced that 'The Fund still continues to make headway.'  (1/10/15) A target of '£1000 by New Year's Eve' was set the following month and weekly totals were announced. The amounts reported rose from just over £597  at the beginning of November to more than  £850.  The £1000  target was not met, though it had reached £891 by the Christmas Eve edition of the paper and in  the final edition  on New Year's Eve  Dawson announced, in her  'Woman's Letter' that  two 'Tommies'  had sent a shilling each to Maintenance Fund and asked    'Shall we women see by how many shillings we can swell Fred Haggar's fund before the New Year is a month old?' (31/12/15)

 

Jowett parts company with  The Clarion – an indication of divisions to come.

One indication of the division that appeared immediately with the outbreak of war was the departure of Fred Jowett from the paper. A Labour MP, Jowett had been a constant critic of the Liberal government and its foreign secretary Edward Grey whose 'secret diplomacy' he saw as a danger to peace, Secret diplomacy was frequently criticised in the paper. But Jowett was also an opponent of British participation in the war.  The Clarion  had no doubt that – horrific as it was – there was no alternative. Earlier in 1914 Jowett had been elected as chairman of the ILP which had passed his 'Bradford Resolution' which advocated 'voting on merits' as far as Liberal proposals were  concerned.  Ultimately, Jowett wished to replace the 'cabinet system'  by one of government by a House of Commons committee representative, proportionally, of all parties.

 

To stress and advocate 'real democracy' was very much a 'thing' with  The  Clarion. Between 1895 and 1900. Thompson had written, and the Clarion Press had published, three pamphlets advocating a Swiss style reliance on  the referendum. Jowett was already contributing a regular 'ILP letter' in the 1900s and after his election as MP for West Bradford the paper invited him to contribute regular 'Notes on Parliament'. Jowett's criticisms of the structures and  procedures of parliament were very much in line with those generally expressed in the paper.   Of the way things operated Jowett wrote on one occasion that 'It is not Democracy, it is not even representative government.' (3/8/06) Jowett's 'Parliamentary Notes' had briefly migrated to the  ILP's Labour Leader but they returned two years later.

 

Jowett appeared in the first wartime edition of the paper though his article 'The Fruits of Secret Diplomacy' was clearly written before the outbreak of war. It appeared on the front page together with a piece by Thompson occasioned by the murder  on the eve of war of Jean Jaurès the French socialist  together with a poem in a black box, 'Jean Jaurès   July 31st 1914' by John Helston, an article on 'The Effect of War on Credit' by Frederick Temple.and an account by Hilda Thompson of her trip to the Harz mountains which nearly left her marooned wartime Germany. This was one of the few  occasions when the front page was not devoted, in whole or part, to a piece by Blatchford.  Jowett's article began 'Secret diplomacy has done its work. Nothing sort of a miracle will save us. Before the words that I now write appear in print Great Britain, if there is no miracle, will be at war.'  In Jowett's view Edward Grey was clearly the main villain. Germany had been frightened by the Franco-Russian alliance, Franco-British naval co-operation, the activities of France in Morocco. Britain had no requirement to give military aid to Belgium.  It was only obliged to give diplomatic support.  Neutrality was possible, but had been rejected by the Grey and the Liberals. (7/8/14) Yet the view of Jowett remained very different from  The  Clarion's complete dismissal of MacDonald and the rest of th ILP.  In June 1916 Thompson wrote that  'Fred Jowett always means well – but his spectacles need refoccusing,'  and went on  'But I distinguish his sterling honesty from the ambitions of the political poseurs with whome he is uncongenially allied.  I respect and honour  him more that more astute and clever men....'  (16/6/16)

 

Jowett's  article  was quite contrary to The Clarion's position on the war.  If there was any doubt the following edition of the paper's front page  was divided between a Blatchford article, 'The Strain of Armageddon' and 'A Call to Arms' which began 'Your King and Country need you' and ended with 'God Save the King'. (14/8/14)  In  what follows I will try to pick out the main themes of   The Clarion during the war before attempting to characterise the paper's notion of socialism.

 

The War – the overwhelming preoccupation. The beginning of the war

For The Clarion, Blatchford had repeatedly warned that the Kaiser's Germany was 'militarist' and was aimed at domination of its neigbours, and of the British Empire. For all its shortcomings this was worth defending.  The paper shared some of the criticisms of Grey's policy especially his indulgence in 'secret diplomacy' and the Britain had been at fault on numerous occasions but the fact remained that Germany had violated Belgian neutrality and was attacking France.  There was an imperative need to support these invaded countries. For Blatchford and Thompson and all the other regular contributors Allied victory in the war was absolutely vital confidently expected. While the issue  of the Marne battle was still in doubt Blatchford was adamant on  'Reasons why the Germans will never take Paris,' (8/9/14)  Early in November 1914 he criticised the notion of ' ...German invincibility'  adding 'The Indian troops routed and chased a superior number of German infantry' (6/11/14)

 

For his part, early in the New Year, 1915, Thompson was clear that the war should continue until the Allies had invaded Germany. Otherwise he predicted  'there would result only a truce of modest length, and then a renewal of the present horrors' (15/1/15)  No doubt the unconditional surrender of Germany in the Second World War confirmed  this view since Thompson lived till 1948. For his part Blatchford had no doubt that Germany was  'the most determined and relentless organisation of evil that has threatened Europe within the ken of history.' It must be 'broken and disarmed''   'Huns'  were 'the enemies of humanity' (16/4/15)  By the following month, May, he was admitting that 'Two facts trouble me: the heartbreaking loss of life and the obstinate stupidity of the Government' (14/5/15) Soon, Thompson was welcoming the joining of the war against Germany by Italy. He was clear that 'The quarrel is Germany's against the civilised and democratic world'  (28/5/15)  The following week  Harry Beswick reported on 'Anglo-Italian demonstration in London'  with a reference to  '...the magnificent London Czechs.'  Meanwhile Thompson was criticising the disastrous Dardenelles campaign. (4/6/15)

 

The Issue of Conscription 

At the start of the war Blatchford and The Clarion were very much opposed to conscription.  In one of his front-page articles -'The Government Plot for Conscripition' – Blatchford wrote 'I do not believe conscription is necessary, and until proper provision is made for the men who fight for us, will I admit that conscription is just.' (12/11/14) 1915 saw some softening of attitudes towards consciption but opposition still remained.  Another piece by Blatchford in January attacked 'A Cheap and Nasty Conscription'.  The government was trying to disguise it as 'compulsory service' (22/1/15)   The hope at this early stage was that sufficent numbers of me would respond to the appeal for recruits that conscription would prove unecessary.  Should women try to persuade men to volunteer? Hilda Thompson thought not.  She summed up her attitude, which she contrasted with that of Julia Dawson who wanted women to persuade men to volunteer. as 'I cannot urge a man to go.  But I can never again feel the same towards those who have held back.' (2/4/15)

 

The problem of many older socialists was summed up in a letter from J. Hunter Watts towards the end of April. His  'Appeal to Socialists' demanded that ',,,every Socialist who is physically capable of shouldering a rifle is bound to enlist.'  Hunter Watts was one of the 'Old Guard' of the SDF – a supporter of Hyndman.  But he was in his sixties (he would die in 1923)  so all he could offer personally was to volunteer as an 'Inspector of Recruiting' (23/4/15) and a week later Thompson reported that Hunter Watts was organising 'The Fellowship Company' for  'Socialists and Democrats' (30/4/15)  Suthers opposed conscription and defended '... the Voluntary principle'(4/6/15) But there were signs that the paper's opposition to conscription was weakening.  In the same issue Thompson wrote that he had always opposed conscription  and would continue to do so. But he  added that  this was unless '...'assured....'  and  '...essential to national security.' (4/6/15) 

 

At the end of the following month Thompson cited a number of prominent supporters of conscription accepting  that 'If Universal Service is to come it can only come in the hated form of Conscription.'  He much preferred the old SDF notion of  a 'National Citizen Army. The 'Clarion Cockpit'   that  week included a letter from a Bradford reader who described himself as 'A Socialist of the Old School'  accusing Thompson of  inconsistency  and asking whether he now withrawed the statement in 'Pass on Pamphlet No 25' that conscription should be opposed 'to the last ditch'  (30/7/15)  The following month there were letters supporting Hyndman's idea of a Citizen Army (13/8/15)  or suggesting that  the Socialist National Defence Committee should take up  Jaurĕs '...complete scheme.' (20/8/15)

 

Then, at the beginning of October, Blatchford made his own position clear in his usual front-page piece in which he declared 'My own position is that if we cannot, by voluntary enlistment, get the number of men we need to save the Empire, we ought to adopt compulsory service for the duration of the war.' (1/10/15)  In December Thompson was still  'fervently'  hoping that the success of the Lord Derby recruitment campaign '...may prove to have saved us from Conscription.'   He recognised that 'Some doubtless object to war and to the shedding of blood: every decent man does.'  In the past he had advocated the Citizen Army but now only volunteering by all eligibe could avert the '...calamity.... ' of conscription. (10/12/15) In  the New Year in 'Our Woman's Page' Dawson rejected the notion 'If England lost her dear old traditions of a free people in a free country she would suffer even a greater blow than if she lost the war ' as 'Deluded.' (7/1/16)

 

Thompson, supported by Suthers in an article in the same edition argued that 'If the blood and sinew of every male citizen fit to bear  arms belongs to the State, then the wealth of the nation must belong of right to the State also.' (21/1/16) A week later Thompson disowned consientious objectors claiming to be socialists  arguing that what such people ought to say was '...it is against his principle to fight so long as he can get someone else to fight for him.' (28/1/16)  The Clarion line was now fixed and would remain to the end of the war. B

 

The Clarion and the war from the end of 1915

Most of the   time  The  Clarion remained confident that Germany would be defeated. In November 1915 Thompson listed  some 'Reasons for Confidence'  concluding that 'If our plight is serious, that of the enemy is worse.' He had mentioned the '...marvellous quickness found means of dealing with the submarine menace...and we shall before long prove equally capable of dealing with the Zeppelins.' (12/11/15)  A couple of weeks later Vernon Hartshorn, who was a leader of the South Wales miners and would be  a Labour MP from 1918 till his death in 1931, declared  '...absolute confidence in the wonderful army we now possess' and saw the eventual defeat of Germany as    '...a victory of Democracy over Militarism.' (2/12/15)

 

The entrance into the war of the USA was a matter for italics as far as Blatchford was concerned.' He foresaw 'The Inevitable Victory of the Allies' and an end to the conflict. The only chance for Germany was to starve Britain out  'before America is ready to begin the final defeat of the Huns on land'.  In spite of all the set-backs the  general  situation promised an '...inevitable and decisive victory.' The same issue saw Harry Lowerison  a neighbour of Blatchford and a fairly regular contributor to the paper demanding 'Hang the Kaiser!' Lowerison also wanted Tirpitz and Bissing and 'all the crowd of criminals' to be treated similarly.  This would become a constant demand from the paper.(9/11/17)  

 

The German spring offensive near the beginning of 1918 shook Thompson's confidence in eventual victory. At the end of March he wrote that '...the Prussians are out to smash democracy' and 'there is a chance of their doing it'   (29/3/18)  But a week later he was welcoming the '...unification of control under a French Supreme Head'  and declaring '...we've got our second wind.'  (5/4/18)  By the second week in October both Thompson and Suthers  in a joint editorial were sure that 'Peace draws nearer week by week''  (11/8/18)

 

 

The German Menace

Like Hyndman, Blatchford had issued 'German Menace' warnings in the years before the war. For doing so both had been attacked by other socialists and the criticism clearly hurt. Understandably, he was not above pointing this out once the war started. Early in the war in an ironic piece on 'Splendid Isolation' he complained that a correspondent had not read '...the notorious articles for which a grateful country so handsomely abused me some four years ago.'  He had been surprised at the time that '...the Labour men never attempted to answer my arguments. But now I begin to understand: they did not trouble to read what I wrote. It was easier to shout “Jingo” and “Traitor”'  (21/8/14)   The Liberal government was a further target. The following week he complained about '... our wise Liberal statesmen....' who had ignored his warnings and ridiculed him. He was supported by Thompson who wrote of 'Blatchford's solemn warning...' being  '...fearfully justified.'   (28/8/14)   By the end of the year he was also insisting  'I am not a party man. I wrote about the German Menace as  an Englishman, not as a Socialist or a Tory.' (11/12/14)

 

Blatchford was not without support in the 'Clarion Cockpit,' the letters section of the paper.  And given front-page prominence and headed   'An Apology,' M. Dale told how he  stopped taking The Clarion because  ' I thought you were exciting feeling between England and Germany.'  Dale concluded 'You were right all along.'  (28/8/14)  A much better-known convert was Cunningham Graham, a socialist and pioneer of Scottish nationalism. When his 'conversion' took place it was duly noted by Blatchford himself at the beginning of his usual front-page piece. In the same issue a letter appeared from  E. A. McDonald wiritng from. Rhodesia which claimed '...R. B.'s name is on every man's tongue as the man who foresaw most clearly this conflict.' (23/10/14)

 

Blatchford himself returned to the theme in a front page article in the issue- of New Year's Day 1915.  He recalled his Daily Mail German Menace articles. The articles were his idea rather than the  Daily Mail 's. He had been accused of being a Tory because there was an election which he insisted he had not heard of declaring ' I am not interested in elections.'(1/1/15)  He would revisit his German Menace warnings several time in 1915 and throughout the war. In a piece,'History as She is Wrote' in December 1915 he rejected Chesterton's claim that few people in Britain saw the threat of war before 1914. On the contrary  many did and 'It was the intellectuals of the I.L.P. , the conceited egotists of   High-browed Socialism and the myopic journalists of the Radical Press who were in the dark...' and he concluded that 'the country was betrayed by fools and party tricksters.' (10/12/15) For Blatchford the whole thing  could be traced back to Bismarck and Frederick the Great.  Prussia and the Hohenzollerns dominated Germany and had used war as an instrument of policy. The story of German unification demonstrated this.  He finished with a reference to more recent events; 'The Kiel canal was ready in July, 1914 , and  the war began in August.' (11/1/18). And, a few days before  the horrendous war finally reached its end, he asked  'Does any sane Briton now pretend that we were  mistaken in going to the help of  Belgium  and France?'  (8/11/18)  For Blatchford and Thompson and those who shared their view the overwhelming and unavoidable imperative for participation in the war was the defence of these more or less democratic countries against a completely unjustified invasion by Germany.'  Thompson insisted that the war was not about Serbia:  ''Britain would not fire a pea-shooter nor kill a cat in defence of Servia.' The decision to try to defend Belgium and France was the right one.  'We should have been disgraced in the  eyes of all honest men and discredited in the records of history....' (7/8/14)  Just before the signing of the Versailles Treaty Blatchford returned to the theme of 'The German Menace'. He associated his own warnings with those of Hyndman and emphasised  'If the working classes had listened to us in 1908, and onto 1911, there would have been no war.' (6/6/19)

 

 

Prospects of Peace

From the beginning of the war Blatchford's view of how the war must end and the sort of peace that would follow flowed from his 'German Menace' position. Imperial Germany had planned the invasion of its neighbours and would remain a threat to European peace as long as it continued.  No one-  not the German people, or the French or British people wanted war.  It was the ambitions of the leaders of Germany which had brought it about.  Therefore they must be replaced; 'Kaiserism must go; autocracy must go; Caesarism and Bismarckism must go; the murderous desire for European domination must go.' (14/8/14)  A fortnight later he made clear what this would entail at the conclusion of the conflict and what manner of peace would be acceptable. 'Any foolish clemency shown towards Germany, any kindly willingnesss to stop the war while Germany is still unconquered would be treachery to Europe and the cause of peace,' he declared, and finished the article with an insistence of the need to '...fight to a  finish....' and ended with the prediction 'If Europe is wise this will be the last great European war.'(28/8/14)

 

Blatchford was opposed to 'A Too Rapid Peace.'  Liebknecht's idea for a '...rapid peace....' without conquests would ' ...very  rapidly lead to another war.'  (18/12/14) Thompson agreed and even criticised Liebknecht – one of the few German socialists applauded in  The Clarion – for proposing 'A Too Rapid Peace.'  '  Thompson was supported in the 'Clarion Cockpit' by at least one correspondent, Arthur Broadley, who concluded that '...we must push this war to a victorious, but not revengeful  conclusion.' (18/12/14)  In 1917 Thompson made the journey to Stockholm together with the Fabian Society's Julius West who wrote about  it for Clarion readers in an article  'Among Neutrals – and Others'. (29/6/17) West, who had tried and failed to join the British army at the outbreak of war – he was       Russian by birth and  advised to join the Russian army - and  the author of a book on Chartism was the following year a victim of the influenza epidemic. 

 

Support for the war effort was not sufficient to protect individuals from Clarion  criticism. One criticwas R.B.Suthers, a long-time member of the Clarion staff who mainly wrote about economic issues and sometimes stood in for Thompson for the editorial  'Our Point of View'. Soon before Arthur Henderson resigned from the coalition government Suthers attacked him under the heading  'Stop at Home!'  Henderson had returned from Russia accepting the proposal for a Stockholm socialist conference.  Suthers asked   'Has Mr.Henderson surrendered his reason to the wild pacifist dream of a peace to be established by the “peoples” on the basis of “no indemnities and no annexations?'(10/8/17)  Three weeks later Suthers, still in charge of  'Our Point of View', characterised the peace  proposals of the British Socialist Party as  '...a mixture of idealism, common sense and muddle-headedness.'  (31/8/17)

 

This hard line on peace negotiations would persist. Early in  1918 Thompson wrote 'The Allied war aims are what they have always been – such reparation as is possible for the crimes that  committed on helpless small nations, and such territorial changes as will afford an international league of peace a fair chance of preventing their recurrence.... ' while Suthers was clear that 'We have to smash German militarism and utterly discredit it.' (11/1/18)  The uncompromising position of The  Clarion persisted throughout 1918 – and beyond.  In July Suthers wrote   'Peace with the Hohenzollerns and an undefeated Germany. This is the treachery the Pacifists would impose on us in the name of humanity.' (12/7/18)  The demand to  'Hang the Kaiser' and to  'Make Germany Pay'  continued. Thompson in a an editorial article,'Peace and Goodwill - An Example is Needed' published on the day after Boxing Day 1918 began ' I am not a vindictive person.... '  But he went on  '...we must hang the Kaiser' and put 'criminals'  on trial (27/12/18) In the  issue  preceeding the Treaty of Versailles Blatchford claimed the war might have been avoided if his -and Hyndman's - 'German Menace' warnings had been followed .Thompson was still pursuing an equally hard line as far as any prospects for a permanent peace were concenerned. He wrote ''The peace still halts short of a settlement, and the conviction grows that that the Germans will not pay the penalty of their misdeeds without further “nudging”'  (6/6/19) And Blatchford a fortnight later writing on  “Clarion” Policy & the Boche'  admitted receiving a large number of letters disagreeing with  The  Clarion's hard line. He quoted from one, unnamed, correspondent, and he summed up the paper's 'line'. The paper's view was that 'If we leave Germany the power to make another assault she will use it, and to trust them as friends is to seek betrayal.'  The issue came down, Blatchford insisted, to the question  '”Can we trust the Germans​?” Our correspondent believes we can. we are convinced we cannot.'  (20/6/19)

 

It is very easy now to mock 'Hang the Kaiser' calls and demands for putting other 'criminals'  on trial.  But we need to remember that 'Prussian militarism' was real  enough and that the Kaiser  and Co. had a very large measure of responsibility for a war that resulted in  about 9 million deaths. The  Clarion  believed that the major share of responsibility for the war belonged to the Kaiser's government. Indeed the issue of legal responsibility was raised during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference by the Commission of Responsibilities We should also remember that Nazis were tried at Nuremberg – and quite a few of them actually hanged, This reflects a difference in attitude to war which, I would argue, began in World War I with such crude demands to  'Hang the Kaiser.' Previously, war had been regarded as something that states from time to time resorted to.  To do so did not necessarily carry any overtones of moral or legal disapproval.  From the First World War it has. Things have moved on since Nuremberg. In the 1990s two tribunals were set up to try war crimes in the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda and the International Criminal Court (ICC) was inaugurated in 2002.  At the time of writing there is a warrant out for Vladimir Putin and a French court has issued an international arrest warrant for the Syrian dictator Assad

 

The German Socialists

Clarion attitudes to the SPD and German socialists hardened as the war continued. In September 1914 Thompson wrote 'This ghastly war has been a sore trial to the philosophy of Socialists in all countries – especially in Germany: our German comrades have been driven to fight in helpless submissiveness to the brutal tyranny they were powerless to resist.' (11/9/14) The paper printed  letters from Gustav Sussieck  who said he was a German socialist who wanted to join the 'English army' and fight for 'a new united Europe' (18/9/14) Sussieck's second letter, the following week insisted that  'German Socialists did not want this war. They demonstrated against it in great mass meetings all over Germany.' (25/9/14) An article on  'The Future of Democracy' by Vernon Hartshorn was still largely conciliatory and understanding of the dilemma in which German socialists found themselves.'To me,' wrote Hartshorn, ' the German Social Democratic Party stands forth even now as the most pitifully tragic failure in the whole world.'  He very much regretted the  'collapse of the German Social Democracy' which had '...paralysed international Socialism.'  There  was still an attempt to explain - though not to excuse – German socialists. Hartshorn concluded that 'The fear of Russian Autocracy has made the war slaves of the Kaiser.'(16/10/14)

 

But by the end of the year Thompson was joining Gustave Hervé in 'La Guerre Sociale' in criticising German socialists who voted for war credits and quoting approvingly the latter's description of Karl Liebknecht as  '...the one just man in Potsdam.' (18/12/14) Thompson agreed with Hervé  that  '..at the bottom of every German  Socialist heart slumbers a pan-Germanist. (18/12/14) By 1916, although Liebknecht remained the main focus for  The Clarion's approval and praise of German socialists, and the paper reported  'Dr. Liebknecht's prosecution for high treason' the same issue commented on the growing divisions between current and former SPD groups.(16/6/16).'The split in the latter seemed quite as wide s that that divides us of the CLARION from the I.L.P. and  B.S.P.' (16/6/16).

 

Blatchford's own attitude grew steadily harder. In September 1917 he  maintained, in his regular front page article entitled  'Democracy, War, and Peace'  that because of the German 'racial machine'  beating Germany, expelling the Hohenzollerns, and establishing German democracy  was not enough to '...ensure the safety of Europe and the peace of the world.' (7/9/17)  Blatchford was not alone in 1917 to have little or no time for German socialists. Arthur Kitson, a fairly regular Clarion contributor, was at least as dismissive of them.  In a piece labelled somewhat ironically 'Our German Friends' he took the view  that 'With the exception of Liebknecht the German Socialists were traitors, and willing traitors.' (19/10/17) while a month later Suthers, again standing in for Thompson, saw  the SPD conference at Wurzburg.as '...entirely with the Kaiser' and completely dismissed what had been till 1914 the great hope of socialists: 'German Socialism was always a myth....' he  concluded.  (26/10/17)

 

The mood of dismissiveness of any claim to socialism on the part of the SPD persisted into the final year of the war. Suthers even predicted  'The Next War' that  Germany was already  preparing, he asserted. 'We remember  what those four million German Socialists did with their fine phrases when war credits had to be voted.' (1/2/18) But in June 1918 Thompson, writing somewhat prematurely on ' The German Revolution' mentioned not only Liebknecht but also Haase and Dittman and welcomed the prospect of a peace backed by a German Revolution and an '...effective League of Nations.' (28/6/18)  In July he quoted Upton Sinclair's view that Liebknecht was '...the one great moral leader the war has produced in Germany.' (19/7/18) But  a few days before the war ended Tom Groom gave an assessment of the role of the SPD during the conflict.  His assessment was that '...at the first tap of the war-drum the German Socialist discovered that he was a German first and an Internationalist not at all.' (8/11/18)

 

 

The British Government, the British Empire, Monarchy and Republicanism

Near the beginning of the war The  Clarion had been scathing about the delay in bringing in Home Rule for Ireland when both Liberals and Conservatives claimed that the war was in support of the rights of small nations. (18/9/14) And The Clarion  didn't think much of the British Government. In May 1915 Thompson view was that 'Men who have never administered a  boot-blacking box...(and fit only  for 'cackling' are being pushed forward to control and direct the most vital departments of State.' (28/5/15) and at the end of that year Blatchford's ''The British Government's Blunders and Disasters' listed the setbacks and failures of the government beginning with  those who ridiculed his  Daily Mail warning 6 years previously and were still in power.  The result was  '...the disastrous expedition to Antwerp' and  the Dardenelles, Mesopotamia and Macedonia.

 

 Blatchford had very little time for the government. His view was that 'The navy is splendid; the army is splendid; the people are splendid; but the Government, ignorant, inefficient, and infirm of purpose, will dissipate the powers of the Empire, and blunder into disaster after disaster unless the country makes up its mind to kick them out of office.' (17/12/15) Blatchford's view of the government did not improve the following year. Shortly before the Lloyd George coalition took over he was demanding, not  for the first time 'Wanted: A General Election' and complaining of  ' ...our paralytic Government of all the talents' (10/11/16) Blatchford's wish came true when at the end of 1918, with the war recently finished, the famous 'Khaki Election' took place. Nor was The Clarion  entirely happy with the British army.

 In 1917 Blatchford argued in a piece called  'The Way Not to Treat Our Heroes'  that there was a failure to grasp the difference between professional soldiers and volunteers (10/8/17) and at the end of that year in 'How Not to Treat Our Soldiers – an Appeal to Trade Unions'  he finished with  'I am sure that  when the trade unions get at the facts and begin to understand how our men are treated they will not waste an hour in demanding and immediate and a radical change' (21/12/17)  Suthers agreed. In an ' Our Point of View ' piece in January 1918 he attacked 'Purple-faced Tories and Prussian-minded militarists' and called for promotion by merit in the army adding  'If we are fighting for democracy we must be democratic, as democratic as we can, at any rate, in our conduct of the war.' (25/1/18)

     

The paper had very positive views about the British Empire and its future.

In December 1914 Thompson  declared that ''The lands under British  rule lead the world and we are  therefore convinced that disruption of the British Empire would be a setback to the world's progress.' (11/12/14) He was supported the following week  by 'O.S.P.' who believed that 'The British Empire, with all its defects, is the lesser evil!' (18/12/14) In March the following year Thompson suggested that they should no longer call it the British Empire, '...or let us hence forth call it the British Federation.'  He went on to declare that  'That is the ideal of my Socialism.  A fifth of the world's surface is ready to our hands for the preparation of a free, pacific, co-operative Commonwealth.'  (19/3/15)

 

There was clearly much wishful thinking and not a little self delusion about this.  Suthers was equally positive about 'The Empire after the War'. He noted that  'The eagerness with which the free peoples of the Dominions sprang to the side of the Motherland in the hour of  trial astounded and confounded our enemies. The loyalty and help of the Indian Empire and Dependencies was no less astonishing.'  If ruled on 'co-operative principles...the British Empire should grow into the greatest and most beneficent world power that has ever existed.'  (7/1/16)  Later in 1916 he suggested ' a new world State' and made clear that 'If the British Empire is to become a Commonwealth of free people, Imperial equality is a necessity....'  (9/6/16)  By this time the 'Easter Rising'  -which needless to say shocked and horrified The Clarion  -  had again raised the  question of what was to become of the oldest of Britain's imperial possessions. Thompson predicted in July 1918 that 'The war will change everything. If the change is to be for the security of the British Federation it must provide for the more democratic rule and content of all the peoples in the Federation, including those of India, Egypt,and Ireland and not excepting Great Britain.'  (12/7/18)  The Clarion view of the future of the British Empire depended on democratic change taking place - and quickly.  Sadly, the paper's view of the empire proved very slow to arrive.

 

The Clarion  was not an enthusiastic supporter of the monarchy'  Thompson rejected any talk by the monarch about 'my armies'  and commented  'We are fighting for Democracy against Caesarism. Our king is a useful political  expedient. To try to make him more is to destroy him.'  (5/11/15) .  The 'Clarion Cockpit'  in 1917 included letters from  E.C. Reed who believed that 'Social Democracy and monarchical government are utterly incompatible'  while in the same issue Alexander H.Thorne rejected the notion of a  'crowned republic' (4/5/17)  The following month in an article headed 'Of Crowned and Uncrowned Republics'  Blatchford gave his own view' The republicanism advocated by H.G.Wells, he reported, '...leaves me cold.'  He accepted that  'Royalty is an anachronism.'  but to pursue republicanism as advocated by Wells would jeopardise the achievement of more pressing goals such as the achievement of a minimum wage and nationalisation or municipalisation of industry. He thought that 'It is quite possible that...our Monarchy may evolve peacefully into a Republic.'  But he warned against confusing '...mere names with things' and, with Henri IV and the Terror in mind, his view was 'That every Frenchman shall have a chicken in his pot was a wiser wish than  that every Frenchman shall have a noble to guillotine.'  (29/6/17)

 

 

The Russian Revolution in 1917 

The de facto alliance with Imperial Russia had from the start been an embarrassement to the 'pro-war' Left - including The Clarion.  At last this cause of embarrasement lifted. The headlines in Thompson's 'Our Point of View'  responding to the revolution in Russia tell their own story - 'The Russian Sensation'  and  'The Greatest Gain Since 1789.'  He was aware of '...an ultra-Communistic agricultura element.... ' expecting immediate land redistribution.  But he was completely unrestrained in his welcome to the February/March revolution. ' Free Russia   has entered the United States of free democratic people....' he proclaimed and ended with his assessment that  'The Russian Revolution is the greatest and decisive victory of the war'  The same issue featured a plea  for every support for Russia (23/3/17)

 

True, the following week Thompson noted that '...attempts are  being made by our Pacifist cranks to exploit the Tolstoyan element among Russian               revolutionaries.' (30/3/17)  But his enthusiasm continued into April.   Headlined 'The Great Example' his enthusiam for what had happened in Russia remained unrestrained: 'The Russian Revolution Proceeds as wonderfully as it began' (6/4/17)  But soon he was warning of  'Snags Ahead.'  Noting dissension emerging in  'the Committee of Workers and Soldiers' he warned that '...a section of the Russian Revoluionaries threaten to turn their own efforts and the sacrifice of the world's democracy to waste, humiliation and failure. '  (20/4/17)  His initial enthusiasm was shared by at least one correspondent in the 'Clarion Cockpit.' One reader, C.Brown, wrote in to say that '...many of the older generation of CLARION readers scarcely hoped to live to see the Russian people so successfully throw off  their reactionary and oppressive form of government....'  (27/4/17)  Meanwhile, the Clarion Fellowship was

collecting signatures for an 'Address to rhe Russian people.'  In May it reported that there were already a thousand of these.   (11/5/17)    Later that month the paper featured a piece on the revolution by Upton Sinclair   while Suthers noted the  '...determination of new Coalition Goverment to uphold the Revolution and keep faith with the Allies.' (26/5/17)

 

The first mention of Lenin in  The  Clarion came in an article  by the Labour MP, James O'Grady, who referred to 'Lenin and his followers'  and '...the extremist section of a small revolutionary party.'   (1/6/17)  Soon Suthers was warning that   'A seperate peace would simply overturn the Revolution and restore the dynasty....'(22/6/17) and a week later he asked 'Will M. Kerensky and his comrades be equal to the task of curbing the  wild anarchic elements?' (29/6/17). By July, Julius West, who had been born in St Petersburg as Julius Rappoport, and was acting as a correspondent in Russia, reported that ''Lenin and other German agents.' were arguing that Russia was  '...tied to heels of 'British and French capitalism.'  (13/7/17)  The following week in 'The Triumph of the Jawbone' he wrote that Russia was ruled by the ' All-Russian Conference of Councils of Worker's and Soldier's Delegates' and added 'If only the secrets were published, say the  followers of Lenin, bourgeois society would collapse in about ten minutes, and there would be drinks all round and nothing to pay.' (20/7/17) A week later Blatchford joined in, mocking  'The Bolsheviks, who think it expedient and possible to jump straight from Autocracy to complete Socialism....'  Suthers  thought that   'The Leninites and their German associates are apparantly losing ground'  while West  speculated on Lenin's motivation.  'Lenin (or Ulianov) is a queer person. Some people say he is a German agent, but  it is more likely that he is one of those curious products of the Russian revolutionary movement who have ceased to live on the moral plane of the rest of the world.'  He added that 'To him the end justifies the means.' and for the first time used the term  'Bolshevism' (27/7/17)

 

Thompson was sure that Lenin was a German agent. 'The German Plot in Russia' gave an account of the July rising by the Bolsheviks adding  'The footling futility of the whole business puzzled me sore until we were informed of the documents incriminating  Messrs, Lenin, Trotsky and Co. in the great Germans piracy....' He praised ' 'Heroic Kerensky'(24/8/17)  But Thompson's early optimism about events in Russia was now shaken. Early in September under the heading 'Object Lessons for Democrats'  he  warned of  the  '...danger of military dictatorship.' He hoped the new  ministry would survive until the election of the Constituent Assembly. He recalled the  failure of  the  'Bolshevik insurrection' and the 'prosecution of “Leninites.”'   after '...clear evidence that  their Pacifist agitatation was inspired and  financed by the Kaiser's agents concluding that ' The hour of  Socialism is still far off. The democratisation of this semi-Asiatic Russia must precede its socialisation (7/9/17) 

 

The following week Suthers,   standing in ,once more , as editor, was at least as gloomy about the prospects for Russia and predicted that  'Now the Russian Revolution has apparently failed the Allies the haters of Democracy seize the opportunity to paint in glowing colours the  merits of Tsars and Emperors.' (14/9/17) Thompson in a piece on 'Troubles in Russia and Sweden'  datelined  'Stockholm, 19 September now believed that Russia lacked '...the binding force of a national sense' while Suthers wrote of 'Russia's AgonyThere  was '...no hope for  Socialism and  Democracy unless 'Prussian militarism' was defeated and destroyed.  But he believed that 'There seems to be still a chance that the Bolshevik coup d'etat will fizzle out' and he criticised  Kerensky for 'temporising with the arch-traitor' Lenin. (16/11/17

 

 

Opposing the Bolsheviks - 1918 

Blatchford seemed early in 1918  to have given up both on Russia and on those calling for a general strike in Britain. 'If it will stop the war and not simply our share in the war, heaps of people will be very pleased, adding 'I suspect that the object of revolution is just the revolute.'  Identifying Trotsky as 'the dictator' he asked  'But do we really want a dictator?'  Writing on 'The Russian Reign of Terror' in the same issue Thompson alleged that 'Pograms of Jews are organised by the  Red Guards' and that

'The prisons are filled with our comrades.'   Noting  Litvinov's speech at the Labour Party conference he insisted on '...the damning fact that the Bolsheviks are actually assassinating and imprisoning Socialists who venture to differ from them'  and insisted that according to the Bolsheviks

British workers should, by Bolshevik style revolution, compel their Government to surrender to Germany and follow the Russian Revolutionists make-believe  in their acceptance of German overlordship and national ruin.'  (25/1/18) 

 

He had support from  Eric Northwood whose article 'What Is Democracy?' identified the Constitutuent Assembly as 'The first real Democratic Parliament in Russian History' which  '...M.Trotsky and M.Lenin had scattered.'  Northwood also commented that  'In this country many of our Democrats seem to have adopted the Dictatorship of the Proletariat idea....'

 (1/2//18)  In March Thompson judged that 'Whatever else our people want they do not want invasion or a Germanvictory.' He thought that the '...smashing victory won for German Junkerdom by Lenin and Trotsky....' had 'postponed the defeat of German  militarism by at least a year.'(8/3/18) In August, almost repeating what he had  already written in May he noted that  'The Revolution which we  acclaimed with such enthusiasm a year ago now promises nothing on anyside but strife and hate and tragedy (9/8/18) 

 

Fundamental clashes of  view  on the events in Russia of 1917 and 1918 was not the first time the British Left was irreparably shattered. The war  had already divided those on the Left.  The  Clarion's support for the war had been condemed even by many erstwhile readers of the paper.  It was no longer a paper they could support  - or even one that  advocated socialism. In several weeks in January and February 1915  attention was focused on a letter, published William T.Piggott  in the 'Clarion Cockpit. Pigott deplored  '...the change for the worse in the CLARION.'  It was responded to  by Frederick Le Mare who defended the paper and  Blatchford(15/1/15) At the end of the following month Blatchford himself referred to a letter taking him to task for   ',,,pugnacious patriotism'  and claiming wars were caused by '...capitalists and armament rings.' Blatchford responded by  arguing that 'The causes  of war are deeper and older than Capitalism'. Many wars had been caused by religion for example. Capitalism was '...a sore evil' and he had '...always hated war.' He had come to the conclusion that '...our Socialists are the slaves of shibboleths. They have got Capitalism, Armament Rings and Militarism on the brain.'  He went on, 'Capitalism, as I have said above, is a sore evil but it is not the only evil.' (26/2/15)

 

Divisions continued.In April 1915 there was the withdrawal by the London and Southern Counties of its delegates to the  London Clarion Van Committee because '...the CLARION does not reflect the spirit of Socialism.' In the same edition there was a report that a section of the London Clarion Cycling Club had, unsuccessfully, tabled a motion deploring the paper's 'jingoism'  (16/4/15) Later in the year this led  Charles W.Hale,  the Secretary and Treasurer of the  London Van Committee, to comment   'Some self-styled Clarion clubs seem to have lost touch with Clarion ideals and ideas, and waste their time in passing  resolutions.' (24/9/15) Meanwhile in May Tom Groom, the founder of the Clarion Cycling Club, whose 'Cyclorama' appeared throughout the war, complained about letters addressing him as  'Dear Comrade' writing 'I do not want to be called “Comrade” by every idiot who praises ...every country but his own.' (28/5/15)  And in June a letter from  James P.M.Millar of Musselburgh decried Upton Sinclair's mistaking Blatchford for a 'Socialist thinker' and suggested changing the name of the paper to 'The Bugle' (4/6/15) There was plenty of dissent about the paper's support of the war before  events in Russia and their implications elsewhere added to charges against  The  Clarion from the Left. But the way things developed in Russia certainly added to divisions.

 

So far I have tried to give an account of the major preoccupations, judging by the space devoted to them in the paper.  But before turning to the crucial question of what The  Clarion considered the nature of socialism to be we should consider a number of other issues that were a little less prominent in the paper. This is not to suggest that they were not important or taken seriously by The Clarion – they simply were given less space than the issues already noted,  sometimes because they only appeared at a particular stage in the more than four years of the war such as the Easter Rising.

 

Profiteers and Fraudulant Contractors

The Clarion was quick to condemn anyone who sought to take advantage of the war by one form of exploitation or another. Early in the war Thompson attacked, under the sub-title 'Work for the Hangman'  those  '... scoundrels who are exploiting the nation's needs to build up fraudulent fortunes.' (27/11/14) He was joined by Suthers early in the following year in a piece with the title 'Patriotism and Profit. Fraudulent Contractors and Murdered Soldiers.' (8/1/15) A fortnight later he returned to the theme declaring 'Our problem now is to stop the profiteers from stealing our food supplies and starving the people. And that can only be done by national control.'  He was joined by Thompson  with an attack on those exploiting the war to increase freight rates under the title 'Hang the Traitors!'(22/1/15

The following week saw  Thompson attack food adulterers declaring that 'The average burgler is obviously an estimable and meritorious gentleman compared with the ghouls who seek increases in their filthy garbage in such low-down forms of rascality'(29/1/15) Suthers continued to attack

'Coal Pirates' (9/4/15) and 'Rapacious Rent Grabbers' (22/10/15) in 1915. In November he alerted readers to the  'Food Pirates at it Again'' (5/11/15)

 

Early in 1916 Thompson wrote an editorial, 'The Promoters of Anti-Patriotism' which began with his opinion that  'The Shirking and striking of British workers is bad enough, but the shameless exploitation of the national necessities by the profiteers is immeasurably more infamous...'  (4/2/16)  Later in the year Suthers was unimpressed with what he called the 'Hands Off the Profiteers' report of Food Prices Committee .  He was

 equally unimpressed by Runciman's, the President of the Board of Trade -,what  he called ironically - the latter's '...dare-devil attacks on profiteers.'  He ended the article with 'We want a new broom.' (6/10/16)  He didn't have very long to wait since  in December Runciman resigned and didn't take part in the Lloyd George coalition. There were few attacks in The Clarion on profiteers and 'fraudulant contractors' for the rest of the war.  The paper  seemed fairly content with the measures subsequently taken by the government.

 

Atrocities and Reprisals

Thompson registered his disagreement during the first month of the war with a Times comment that in the war of 1870/71 the Prussians had conducted themselves well. On the contrary, wrote Thompson, '...the Prusians made war with the utmost violence.' (28/8/14) And after the destruction of Louvain  Dawson wrote – of the charge that it had been preceeded by women pouring boiling oil on German soldiers – 'If all the women of Louvain had been real devils and had drowned in oil  all the beasts masquerading as men (a pity they didn't) it  would not   be the slightest excuse for the demolition of one brick of the any of the beautiful buildings  of Louvain....' (4/9/14)   Blatchford remained relatively hesitant to become  involved in the question of atrocities. A week after Dawson's outburst of fury he wrote 'I have just been reading a long list of fiendish outrages by the German armies. I hope that many are untrue, that many more are exagerated....'  But he then added '...there remain sufficient outrages beyond excuse or denial to justify the execration and the vengeance of the whole civilised world.'  (11/9/14)

 

He was not alone. Cunningham Graham now believed 'The German people are as mad as their Kaiser.' He hadn't anticipated their '...unspeakable savagery.' (23/10/14)  With unimaginable irony  The  Clarion  reports of the naval and zeppelin attacks on various East Coast ports appeared on Christmas Day (25/12/14) At the end of January Blatchford insisted that

'The Germans did not attack Hartlepool for the purpose of destroying forts or guns.  They came there to murder civilians: men, women and children.'  Likewise Zeppelin raids - 'The intention was to murder civilian's' (29/1/15) Hilda Thompson quoted from a Weekly Dispatch article by Max Pemberton alleging instances of German  '...frightfulness' in raping Belgian and French women and leaving some pregnant. Pemberton had cited instances where Belgian priests had said women in this situation might kill their babies(26/2/15)  This led to some debate in subsequent week with one correspondent, Mabel Dixon though she didn't actually mention the possibility of abortion, asking' ...why the medical profession did not help these poor girls.' (5/3/15)

 

Later in 1915 Thompson complained that a recent book by J.A.Hobson seemed to be citing evil deeds in the British past in order to justify or mitigate German behavious in the war.  He asked   'Is it not the  basis of our charge against Germany that she has flouted the modern standard of civilised usage and not only reverted to an ethical  standard  in international politics of which our forefathers were ashamed  a hundred years ago....' (20/8/15)  And a month later A.St.John Adcock in a 'Clarion Cockpit' letter headed 'Punish the Criminals'  asked  'Can't the democracles make a stand for equal justice, and insist that the Allies make a proclamation that any more submarine murders  '... shelling or zeppeline raids on  civilians will  result in the Kaiser and his responsible advisors being '...honestly hanged.' (24/9/15)  October 1915 saw Suthers citing the French government's 'Germany's Violation of the Laws of War , 1914-15.'(15/11/15) And soon after her execution by firing squad a 'Cockpit' letter from Frederick R.Ragg  was appalled by 'The Murder of Edith Cavell' (12/11/15)

 

Thompson pointed out early in 1916 that in the past war had always meant '...the ravage of other people's homesteads.'  but the advent of Zeppelin raids ad changed that. And he commented ' ...'our   air service is in the fighting line, not murdering women and children.' (11/2/15  ) Standing in  for Thompson on 'Our Point of View' Suthers was at pains to emphasise 'We cannot intimidate Germany by imitating its frightfulness.' (22/6/17)  

        

 The  question of possible  reprisals was taken up by Blatchford in August 1916. 'Reprisals must come after victory; the more complete the victory the more salutary the reprisals.' (4/8/16))  But the following week Hilda Thompson  disagreed with Suthers and supported air raids on Germany.  (29/6/17) Immediately the latter, again providing the editorial 'Our Pointof View' wrote that Hilda Thompson seemed to think that his opposition to reprisals was based on  'tenderness'.   But it was not '...so easy to descend into barbarism....' and   Germany was not 'advantaged' by doing so  . (6/7/17)  The  question of possible   reprisals was taken up by Blatchford  'Reprisals must come after victory; the more complete the victory the more salutary the reprisals,'(4/8/16))

 

The debate intensified the following year and saw a definite hardening of attitudes in favour of air raids. Blatchford's front page piece that July asserted that 'The Germans will stick at nothing. They will compel us to surrender or bomb their towns.  The Americans understand that ….'   He was also suggested that opponents of air raids were largely those  not subject to Zeppelin and airplane raids (13/7/17) But Suthers stuck to his rejection of reprisals. He offered 'More Explanation ' of his opposition. He expected that Clarion readers would agree to reprisals but 'The cry for reprisals is inspired either by revenge or dispair.'  Blatchford sought to justify reprisals on grounds 'necesity' but Suthers didn't accept this.(20/7/17)  In the meantime  G.O.Warren who signed himself as '(Major)' in the 'Cockpit' supported air raids on Germany. (6/7/17) Thompson took  a 'softer' line too, He condemned – as  'The Crown of Horror' - a German air attack on  Etaples hospital  during the final year of the war. (31/5/18) But the following month,  responding to Pope's plea not to bomb Cologne in Corpus Christi Day having made the  point that the Germans had shelled Paris on Good Friday he concluded that it was nevertheless   important to maintain the '...moral  advantage '(7/6/18)

 

The 'Easter Rising' and Ireland

The Clarion had long supported Home Rule. Thompson had blamed the '...blundering incapable Government' and contrasted the response to the Ulster rebels with the '...indiscrimantly fired on ' nationalist' demonstration in Dublin at the end of July 1914.(31/7/14). But when what quickly became known as the 'Easter Rising' took place in 1916 he labelled it   'The Blunder and the Crime of Dublin' and insisted that parellels with the Paris Commune, which he had experiencd as a child, were not valid. But in the same issue, in a piece on James Connolly, Harry Beswick, who appeared in the paper fairly regularly, wrote  'One has to resist the tendency to say hard things of Connolly and his Sein Feiners'  but added that there was '...something to be said for them.' ( (5/5/16) and  F.L.Willoughby in a letter to the 'Cockpit' suggested that many would think '... that James Connolly is a martyr to that love for the oppressed which he has shown all his life, however may be his action in this instance.'  (12/5/16)  The following week saw Thompson moving in the same direction.  Connelly's execution was inevitable - 'It had to be.' -  But 'Connolly fought bravely like a man and paid like a man.  I wish for myself and all true men as honourable an end.' (19/5/16) This seems to have had an effect on at least one correspondent who wrote that  during the last 2 years  he had  'been convinced'  that Thompson -who he referred to as ' Dangle' - was '...afflicted with Jingoism in its worse form and beyond recovery, but for your appreciation of poor Jim Connolly's life and death please accept my deepest grovel.' (14/7/16) '  But Thompson, who showed some sympathy for Connolly,  had no  time  for Casement who he described as a '...a sexual pervert' who should be denied martydom and locked up in an asylum (28/7/16)

 

Towards the end of  1917 Thompson asked 'What is Sinn Fein? concluding that it was  '...at bottom...the world movement for democratic rule and more just distribution of wealth'  He ended by declaring that 'The democratic cause in Ireland, as I have urged for thirty years, is  Ireland's.' (9/11/17) Then in May 1918 Thompson announced that he was going to Ireland and that ',,,promising youth of sixty-seven named Blatchford' would stand in for him. (3/5/18)  He thought it was   'mad' to extend consctiption to Ireland.  (31/5/18) Blatchford maintained a fairly neutral position with regard to the conflict in Ireland declaring 'I can sympathise with the wrongs of Ireland without forgetting the rights of Ulster.' (19/7/18)

 

Strikes and Trade Unions

For The Clarion the overwhelming priority was winning the war, So there was little support of sympathy for strikes or workers' militancy. 1917 saw a  record strike wave but Suthers insisted, writing on 'Labour Troubles,' that 'Extremists in  the ranks of Labour have no influence with the mass of  workers unless there happen to exist legitimate grievances requiring urgent removal.'  (1/6/17)  In November 1917 he supported the Whitley Report which sought to bring the representataives of employers and workers together adding his rejection of  '...the revolutionary whom nothing will satisfy but the immediate destruction of the present order of society and the substitution of the Millenium by tomorow morning in full working order....'(2/11/17)

 

Thompson had a front-page piece at the end  of 1917 called 'The Industrial Disquiet' and sub-titled 'Home Strife and Foreign War. ' He began by saying that 'Insofar as it aims at more direct and speedy adjustmenf of workshop grievances, in so far as it also aims to  win for Labour promotion to human treatment  and control of its own industry the Shop Stewards movement is wholly comendable.'  The movement went   back long before the war but had intensified during the war.. He blamed the works manager in one local dispute. But '...if repeated often enough....' the strikes would bring about '...the defeat of Great Britain in the war.'  The one thing that had been missing in converting people to socialism was '….the people's will....' Therefore '...the propagandists devoted themselves to propaganda.'  But then '...came a school of young men in a hurry who couldn't wait for the conversion of the people.'  With regard to Russia they should ask themselves ''How much of the fruits of the Revolution will remain there when the Prussians have made peace and restored order.' (28/12/17)

 

Thompson came out for the Whitley Committee (26/7/18) during the final year of the war /'(26/7/18) and later commented that  'The remedy for the growing industiral chaos is to restore the power of the responsible trade union executives'.'(2/8/18).  Even closer to the end of the war he saw the Clydeside strike as much against union officials as employers and as the '...revolt of the new Bolshevism.' In the same piece he expressed some support for Guild Socialism (4/10/18) while Dawson saw the need to at least retain in the postwar world some '...measures of justice' for workers .  Otherwise people would wonder '...why all our men bled and died'. (18/10/18)

 

Racism and Anti-Semitism

Both Blatchford and Thompson went to wartime France in 1914. Blatchford's front-page article 'British Snobs and Indian Princes. Things I have seen in in France' told of the behaviour of British officers towards an Indian prince who had come to take part in the war which Blatchford's unidentified '...young friend' with whom he was having dinner characterised as the most '...caddish and brutal' behaviour he had ever seen.  Blatchford agreed. (16/10/14) This article was much praised especially by Justice which the following week acknowledged Blatchford's past contributions and added with reference to the article'...we doubt that he ever did a better bit of world for his own country and for humanity,,,,'  (Justice, 22/10.14)

 

In November a letter from  K M Panikkar made the point that Britain could no longer count on  Indian support '  '...so long as Indian are not treated  on an equal basis in every part of the Empire... '  Indian nationalism would revive after the war' (20/11/14) Another letter in the 'Cockpit' on 'The Empire After the War' declared that ' ...it will be a queer sort of freedom that denies our dusky partners in war the right to live and work in our Dominions. ' But another letter from Australia decleared that 'This White Australia is a religion with us.'  (28/7/16)  Early in 1917 Thompson declared that most of the British Empire was '...coloured' and criticised the attitude of, allegedly, the Labour Party, which he said, had  refused '...to give its black brother a chance....when ' ...a Chinaman' was employed in Bethnal Green (2/2/17)

 

As for anti-Semitism there was more than a touch of it  in  Dawson's 'Jews and Jewellery'.  (6/8/15) And while Thompson rejected the claim of Cecil Chesterton in the New Witness that free trade economic theory was ...'invented by a Jew' and attributed it to  the 'Quaker-Liberal' John Bright (18/12/14) he had earlier described the notion of '...might over right' and capitalism  as Jewish (29/10/15) A letter from Arthur D.Lewis  the following week objected objecting to Thompson's notion of  ' Jewish   Capitalism.' ' Thompson tried to defend his position on the basis that some of the Kaiser's '...intimates' were Jewish financiers (5/11/15) which simply got him into further trouble with at least some readers. Fitzpatrick Levi protested against the the anti-Semitism displayed by Thompson, He was not expecting an apology because 'Anti-Semites never apologise to Jews.'  Thompson was sufficiently alarmed to add after the letter in brackets  '(I repeat that I have absolutely no prejudice against Jews; I merely stated facts. Two of my dearest friends are Jews.)'  (19/11/15)  This was followed by letters from Fitzpatrick Levi and Arthur D.Lewis, the latter pointing out that  '...neither the Kaiser, Hindenburg, or Bethmann -Hollweg are believed to be Jewish.' (26/11/15)  Thompson seems to  have learnt his lesson – at least for the moment

 

 There were few instances of anti-Semitism duing the final years of the war, though there is, again, more than a suggestion of anti-Semitism in Hilda Thompson's reference to  '...a party of ladies of the Jewish persuasion, who wore gaily-coloured and unsuitable clothing.' (7/7/16) and Suthers' comment that Karl Marx as  as a member of a race without a country, was not  best qualified to judge the depth of national feeling. (21/9/17) This was echoed by Thompson in the final Clarion of the year, though he did acknowledge Marx's 'genius,' and attributed the notion that '...industrial internationalism was a truer bond of concord than a man's love for his mother or his homestead or his native village or his country' also to ''...French and Russian anarchists and nihilists....' (28/12/17)

 

Hilda's Club

From time to time the paper had featured, as mentioned earlier, in addition  to the regular 'Clarion Cockpit' of readers' letters what were described as 'Letters from Clarion Soldiers and Seamen.'  Then at the end of 1917 Hilda Thompson suggested launching a  'Soldiers & Sailors Club' (14/12/17)  This was popular with the Clarion Fellowship and the first list of subscribers was published a couple of months later.  (22/2/18)  Hilda acknowledged more donations and appealed for help with furniture for the proposed club in March.(1/3/18)  The third list of subscribers followed the following week and it was announcd that the club would be opening in April. Winifred Blatchford announced that the club would open on 6 April (19/3/18) and Hilda herself  confirmed that it would open the next day on 5 April. That edition also included an advertisment for the 'Clarion Club for Soldiers and Sailors, Cavendish Chambers, 239b High Holborn.'

 

Donations continued and Hilda reported in  'More Club' lots of subscriptions (16/4/18) and again in May. (10/5/18) At the end of that month in an 'S.O.S. she appealed for '...CLARION women with free days -especially mornings' to get in touch (31/5/18) At the end of June Hilda began her regular 'Passing Show' article with -'Yes, the Club is all very well' said that Editor of the CLARION, who is my boss by reason of birth '...but isn't it about time you did some theatres?' (28/6/18)  But after the war Thompson acknowledged that 'Of all the CLARION ventures none has proved more popular with readers, none has appealed more successfully to the people...' than 'our cosy little home for Jack and Tommy in Holborn'(20/12/18)

 

Divisions on the Left over support for the war caused a great deal of angry disputes. But the divisions on how to see and whether to support Lenin, Trotsky and the Bolsheviks were even more serious. To The Clarion it was obvious that Lenin was a German agent.That he then pursued authoritarian and anti-democratic goals simply added to the charges against him. We must now turn to how the paper saw itself as a socialist enterprise.  What was Clarion socialism and how did that paper see socialists who opposed the war?

 

 

Clarion Socialism. Divisions over political envolvment

Throughout the war there were criticisms, as we have already seen, that The Clarion was no longer a socialist paper, I will try to trace the paper's stance on socialism during the war and the characteristics of what it understood by socialism. Blatchford insisted he had not abandoned socialism, though winning the war was now the overwhelming priority.  He was clear about the relationship of the latter, in his view, to any advance toward socialism.  Early in the war he wrote that ' ...the country is waging the best fight for Socialism which has ever been waged, anywhere or anywhen.' (14/8/14)  In December 1914 he made clear the connection between, as he saw it, the coming of peace and socialism. 'The only way to bring about  the reign of Peace is to begin by converting the nations to Socialism. If  the mass of all the peoples were persuaded that it is better to help each other, better to  lift their weaker brothers  than to trample on them, better to strive for the Commonwealth and progress rather than for individual plunder, then their  Governments would automatically reflect their spirit of concord  and cooperation and room would be found in the sun for Germans, Russians, Serbians, British, and even Turks.'  (18/12/14)

 

 In his article on  'The Drums of Armageddon'  written before the actual declaration of war Blatchford wrote of his  '...waking nightmare....'  while in the first Clarion of the war Thompson insisted that the war was not about Serbia.  He maintained that 'The whole bloody business had been premeditated and prearranged.'  This was consistent both with Blatchford's 'German Menace' warning and with the paper's attitude throughout the war. Thompson  declared that the decision to try to defend Belgium and France was the right one.   (7/8/14) Again, this was to remain very much The Clarion view of the war till its end - and beyond. There was relatively little interest shown in the paper for the wider war outside Europe.  The Western Front and the defence of Belgium and France – both regarded as basically democracies -  dominated. For his part Blatchford insisted that his commitment to socialism had not in any way changed: 'I have not changed my religion. I am still the Communists Socialist as I was when I wrote “Merrie England”'.he insisted. (23/10/14) 

 

Some other prominent members of the Clarion team were equally supportive of Blatchford's view of socialism. Tom Groom, founder of  the Clarion Cycling Club, strayed quite frequently in his 'Cyclorama' to support the Blatchford view.  The work of socialists was in Groom's  view '...to convert thousands and then still thousands more....' to socialism. When this was done it wouldn't matter who a '...professional politician' was or whether he called himself  called himself  '...a Liberal, Tory, or Labour Man.  Our work is to create that desire.'  (30/10/14) It is totally unsurprising that such a long-term view of socialist prospects didn't satisfy everyone on the Left. Many might agree with Suthers that '...to attain freedom...we will have to abolish Thievery, Exploitation, and Profiteering.'(28/8/14) But  he still believed that some political steps needed to be taken towards these desirable ends. Even Thompson seemed to see a greater role  for the politician. Writing  in the November 1914 of that initial period of the war that  Parliament  should '...organise the whole  nation in one united Co-operative Commonwealth.'(13/11/14)  Even those who agreed with Blatchford that universal brotherhood was '...the task of centuries.' - given the  problems of overcoming national. religious and political differences - were open to shorter term considerations.

 

The 'Clarion Cockpit' was not without letters simply rejecting  The Clarion's claims to be socialist. When the paper criticised Shaw's views on the war's origins J. F. Horrabin defended Shaw who he saw as a Socialist first, unlike Blatchford adding  'We prefer Mr Shaw to Mr Blatchford (the present Mr Blatchford) because Mr Shaw has not been afraid to speak the truth.' (4/12/14)  T.H. Ferris asserted that   'Blatchford and Thompson never have believed in Socialism.... (11/12/14) Thompson a week later seemed to reject the association of socialism with internationalism and peace.  He wrote '... I imagine, that the nations  first adopting Socialism will not be Internationalists at all, but intensely Nationalist; and not Pacifist but extremely warlike as pioneers of revolutionary nations are compelled to be.'  He was in favour of dealing with other democracies by arbitration when necessary but of standing up to '...hegemonic aggressors'. In the same issue Blatchford disagreed with one correspondent rejecting any notion of an uprising to end capitalism -' I do not believe that the British workers will take what they want by force of arms.'  This anticipated his and The Clarion's total rejection of Bolshevism. (18/12/14)

 

Meanwhile there was little or no understanding of the position of those socialists who opposed participation in the war.  Very early in the war Thompson ended an  article  on 'Fears and Hopes'  with a rejection of the entire Labour party. 'The war for peace had to be fought. All men in all countries now see that- except, alas! - the statesmen of the British Labour Party' (14/8/14))  A week later he characterised MacDonald as an '...amazing man....' who still thought the British Foreign Secretary,  Grey, had made the war inevitable. (21/8/14)  Blatchford was dismissive of anti-war socialists asking 'Can Britons still believe or pretend  that their own country is the only country that never does right?'(27/11/14) The following  month Thompson  saw 'A Chance for Socialists' but only 'If British Socialists were united in their country's defence....'  In the same issue he claimed that '...the German rulers of Belgium have placarded Brussels with quotations from an utterance by Mr Keir Hardie.' (4/12/14)   and on the first Christmas Day of the war he appealed for socialists to be 'Rescue Socialism from the tangle of futilities in which some foolish sentimentalists have all but smothered it...' (25/12/14)

                        

Clarion attitudes to political involvement changed – or at least wavered - in 1916, as we shall see later. But it was also at least ambivalent about it         in the previous year. At the beginning of April 1915 'A Clarion Call' from the otherwise anonymous  O. S. P.  denied that  '...the CLARION has gone jingo mad'   and thought that '... the chief value of the Clarion movement is that it gets in touch with the social side of people...' This was an important point which we will return to later.  O.S.P. also thought that  '...the German menace is as much a menace to Socialism and Democracy as it is to the national independence of this or any other country....' (2/4/15) Later that month, clearly under attack from those who believed he had deserted the cause, Blatchford insisted he had been a socialist for a quarter of a century and the paper had never '..,dipped the Socialist flag.' He added 'Socialism, as I understand it, means some form of national co-operation as opposed to private competition.   I am in favour of that.  I think Socialism is a sound and hopeful theory.'   (23/4/15) In addition to his Merrie England Blatchford had published another book advocating socialism in 1902 -Britain for the British. His clearly nationalistic view was clear the following month in his statement that  'For me Socialism means Britain for the British.' (7/5/15) And in July 1918  a new subtitle appeared in The Clarion ; ' The Advocate of Britain for the British' (5/7/18)

 

Meanwhile, in what might be regarded as a departure from the Blatchford line, at the end of April 1915 Thompson was declaring that 'Some others of us '... were 'forming 'the Socialist National Defence Committee...' to  counter '...the pestilential piffle of the Pacifist cranks.'(30/4/15)  This evidently had some success since in May Thompson announced the 'Manifesto of the Socialist National Defence Committee.' (SNDC) Its committee included Blatchford and Julia Dawson with Thompson as chair and Victor Fisher as secretary.  Fisher would be a National and Democratic  Labour Party candidate in 1918 and he stood as a  Conservative in the 1923 election.  Other notable figures who joined the new organisation included H.G.Wells, Rebecca West, the future Labour MP  Dan Irving  and Stewart Headlam. (14/5/15)

 

A week later one 'Cockpit' correspondent, Arthur D.Lewis wrote in support of the SNDC and was glad the paper was '...working to dissociate Socialism from the ignorant pro-Germanism of Bernard Shaw and others.' For Thompson the new organisation  was essential to  '...save Socialism from public discredit and execration.'  (21/5/15)  At the beginning of June the formation of six local groups was announced (4/6/15) and at that month's end the aims of the SNDC were declared to be  '... 1) to resist the Anti-British, pro-German. and ultra pacifist elements in this country 2) to vindicate the National principle in Internationalism  3) to insist that the war must be pursued to the complete triumph of the democratic principle in civilisation. '  The point about Internationalism was identical to that pursued by Justice insisting that the very word international recognised the    existence and legitimacy of nations.

 

Thompson at that stage was very enthusiastic about the SNDC - 'There never was a brighter day...'  At a  SNDC garden party in Hampstead Emil Vandervelde, president of the Second International, was the main speaker. He commended Liebknecht, A number of others present included Cunningham Graham and John Hodge, the Labour MP.  The paper reported that there was '... a background of Clarionettes in khaki'(25/6/15) What was described as the first London public meeting followed in July. Speakers this time included Hyndman, Cunningham Graham, Ben Tillett – who had first risen to prominence with the London dock strike of 1889 and was soon to be a Labour MP –John Stokes, the president of London Trades Council  and two - then – Labour MPs.  John Hodge, the future Minister of  Pensions, was described as the acting leader of  the Labour Party in parliament and  was to become a member of the Coalition Government.   G.H.Roberts also held a post in Lloyd George's Coalition and stood as a Coalition Labour candidate, opposed by the regular Labour one, in the 1918 election. (9/7/15)  The following week another meeting was held in Birmingham which was addressed by a local councillor, who confessed to previously seeing Blatchford as an alarmist and a jingo before the war but now apologised. (16/7/15)

 

Early in August  1915 two letters appeared in the 'Cockpit' supporting the  SNDC. One was from an ex-member of the ILP, G.H.Ellis, who characterised his former party as set on a '...definite repudiation of any obligation (other than pious resolutions) towards Belgium or France.'  The other, from G.H.Harris, a member of the BSP and of the Railway Clerks' Association,  believed it vital that '...the red flag is not identified with treachery and treason.' In the same issue Thompson's editorial piece declared  that he looked  forward to '...a sane and virile party of national reconstruction – the party of National Socialism. Its objects will be those which the CLARION has advocated for nearly a quarter of a century.  Its motto will be “Britain for the British”'. (6/8/15) But Blatchford himself joined the debate the following week with a rather  different emphasis.  Recalling how from its earliest days  The Clarion had warned repeatedly about '...party politics and professional leaders....' he concluded that 'The activity of a Socialist Party or of a Labour Party should be educational.  Not for a long time can any such activity be turned into any other purpose but the great purpose of propaganda.' (13/8/15)

 

That September Suthers reported a meeting of the  SNDC in Bristol and another in Glasgow where the veteran Joseph Burgess made what was described as a '...pungent' speech....' (10/9/15) Burgess would later resign from the ILP. The following week another Bristol meeting, chaired by John Hodge MP, took place. (17/9/15) Thompson appeared as '(Chairman Socialist National Defence Committee)' the next week (24/9/15) Another two weeks passed and Thompson as chair of the SNDC issued a statement supporting 'Voluntarism.'  But if that failed to produce sufficent recruits it . '...will have proved that Freedom sacrifices the lives of good citizens for the benefit of shirkers and dastards.' He had also more progress to report.   J.A.Seddon, a former MP and ex-chair of TUC. was now on the Committee as was  C.B.Stanton.a former miners' agent, who had been successful in the by-election for the  Merthyr Division .(29/10/15)  Joe Burgess's resignation from the ILP was featured the 'Cockpit' at the beginning of December. He claimed that 'All existing British  Socialist papers have been paralysed by a futile Internationalism'  (2/12/15)  The following week in a 'Cockpit' letter his 'rough draft' of constitution for a national and socialist party appeared.  It began with a list of 'Objects' the first being 'To bring  about a natural evolution from Capitalism to Socialism in the United Kingdom....'   In the same edition  Dawson was not happy with the involvement of the SNDC in  the recent by-election. 'I do not think it has received the support it deserves from Socialists.' She went  on to urge hostility to Germans that was greater than was usual even  in  The Clarion  'In all our Internationals of the future – more power to them – the German nationality must be rigidly excluded, and German spies, for choice, shot on sight...' (10/12/15) A week later Thompson reported that Cllr.Eldred Hallas, chair of Birmingham SNDC had persuaded the local council to unanimously pass a resolution  instructing all of its committees to make detailed preparations for peace.(17/12/15)

 

Meanwhile controvery with other parts of the Left – especially the ILP – continued. In April O.W.M, asked  'Are We Downhearted?'  over the  withdrawal of ILP delegates from the  London Clarion Van Committee because '...The Clarion  does not reflect the spirit of Socialism.'  O.W.M. declared  'No, we are not  going to encourage Wilhelm – that bright particular friend of the I.L.P. - by withdrawing our Van...'  ILPers would be welcomed back when they acknowledged that  the best outcome of the war

would be victory for the Allies. (16/4/15)  Dissenting views continued in the 'Cockpit' with one reader, G.W.Davies, complaining that the paper was fit only to be read by '...frenzied German hater.' (7/5/15) while 'Mustard' the  following week insisted he was a patriot and '...trust the Allies will win.' But on reading The Clarion  'I gather that all Germans are fiends and all Englishmen stained-glass angels in a cathedral window.' (14/5/15) And in June, also in the 'Cockpit',  M.A.Anderson challenged the tendency of the paper to describe the ILP as '...pro-German.' (11/6/15)  

 

Blatchford made his own attitude clear in three articles at the end of January 1916 and the beginning of February. Originally, he explained, 'My idea was to convert the working classes to the collectivist idea  by means of a great Socialist Party.'  He thought that Thompson would agree '...that  we expected too much of the Labour MPs and  Parliamentary action.'  On the contrary   '...it would have paid the movement better to go on teaching Socialism and making Socialists.' Three times he and others on the Left had come into '... collision with some of the factions of our heterogeneous party.'  The first was the Boer War '...when my patriotism offended the pacifists and cosmopolitan sympathisers with the Kaiser and Kruger plot, the second was his rejection of  '...professional religion....'  while the third was of  course his warnings of the 'German menace.'  (28/1/16)

 

 In his second article he told how the paper and the ILP had '...drifted apart....' He stood for '... some form of national co-operation which I call Socialism.  I was never a revolutionary Socialist.'  Instead he stood for education '...in the principles of sensible Socialism.'  He added 'Education of the kind I mean will kill Capitalism just as surely as education killed slavery and witchcraft and religious massacre and murder.'  The first essential was for the  abolition of  '...the extremes of wealth and poverty' and a  '...maximum wage.'  (4/2/16)  The following week's third piece in   the 'Looking Backward and Looking Forward' series  continued to make his attitudes clear.  He no longer believed in'... forming parties...' or '...having anything to do with parties, independent or otherwise.'   He did not believe that its possible to achieve socialism '...in one stroke.'  The national tradition was '... for compromise, for cautious and gradual reform.'  Socialism could not be achieved by '...a coup d'etat....' It was the duty of '...every Briton..' to  '...hold and secure the safety of the British Empire.' As regards Germany '...any silly sentimentality about  international brotherhood ….' would be fatal.

 

So far Blatchford seemed rather less than radical. But he then advocated an end  to '...unbridled competition....' and the separation '...of trade and industry from the State. Instead there should be some  form of  '...nationalisation or state  control....' of railways, shipping, 'supply of foodstuffs and other necessities....'  He wanted to  '...tax to  extinction....' all incomes over £5,000 a year and see free food and schooling for all children plus a '...minimum wage and right to work law....'  He wanted to see  '...changes made in some such natural way....'  He recognised that some things '...advocated by  doctrinaire extremists....'  might  result in  '...a form of bureaucratic slavery....'  So in Blatchford's view it was all down to education and propaganda and he concluded    'No parties for me.... The Fellowship is party  enough for me.'  (11/2/16)

 

Blatchford was equally clear about  those who '...resent our attitude towards Germany....' early in 1916.  His usual front-page piece was this time entitled 'The Parting of the Ways.' He wrote ' I should wish that every pacifist or pro-German should cease to buy the CLARION forthwith.' (31/3/16)  He had some support from correspondentswho believed the 'pro-German' label justified. These included Shaw Maxwell, who had  been secretary of the British section at the Zurich congress of the  International twenty-three years previously. In April 1916 Maxwell  denounced  '...those purblind idiots and cowards...masquerading as pacifists.' (21/4/16) This was mild stuff compared with Julia Dawson, later in 1916, who, having received a  communication from the Union of Democratic Control, wrote in her 'Our Woman's Letter' 'Let me put down my pen a moment to burn the  letter and circular and disinfect the place where they have rested.' (18/8/16)

 

Responding to a letter from Joseph Burgess, Blatchford conceded that even those close to The Clarion  might disagree with him and have more positive views of political involvement.  'But I am only expressing my own personal conviction that when I say that any party whose object is of a political nature will be doomed to  failure.  I may be wrong, and Thompson and Burgess may be right...'  (10/3/16) Certainly Blatchford's 'No parties for me' did not deter The Clarion from publishing the following week  the 'Manifesto of  the British Workers' National League' which declared that 'The most solid basis of such an international understanding is the integrity of the British Empire.' 'The most solid basis of such an international understanding is the integrity of the British Empire.' This was signed not only by Thompson, H.G.Wells and Victor Fisher who became secretary of the new organisation but also by  a number of vice presidents. These included  a number of  Labour MPs including  Charles Duncan who was for many years General Secetary of the Worker's Union , John Hodge,  James O'Grady,  C.B. Stanton, and  StephenWalsh.  The same issue included a letter from Victor Fisher in which he declared that the new organisation  would be 'Free from economic dogmatism and the limitations of a definite programme...' but '....working for the basic principles of Socialism'    (17/3/16)

 

Hyndman and his supporters had now left the BSP. Tom Groom reported that Hyndman and his wife had attended the Clarion  Easter Meet commenting that  it was the first time '...we have had the pleasure of giving a welcome to the G.O.M. of British Socialism at a Clarion Meet.'  (21/4/16). But not everyone on the paper was so positive about Hyndman, Dawson saw Hyndman as '...out to form still  another Socialist Party....'  But what, she asked what was wrong  with the League?  (5/5/16) She had already hailed 'The British Workers' National League, which all CLARION women, of course are joining.... '  It would, she predicted, '...have it work cut out.' after the war with so much to  do.   (7/4/16)

 

The same issue carried a large advertisement which reported  that branches of the League were being formed '...in All Parts of the Country' and organisers were required.  (7/4/16)  The following week there were reports of demonstrations in Newcastle, Ashington and Carlisle. (14/4/16) At the end of the month 28 contacts for the League were listed.  But there was still support for Blatchford's  'evolutionary'  approach to socialism, At the end of March 1916  Tom Groom in his regular  'Cyclorama' feature  declared that he was not taking sides with either Blatchford or Thompson about parties. But, he insisted, 'The Socialism that aroused us was something  more than a mere economic change.  There was  the belief in good fellowship; and if this fellowship was going to be of  great value to future generations, there seemed no particular reason why we should not try a little of it here and now.' (28/3/16)

 

But soon there were signs of a change of view  on Thompson's part - reverting to a more Blatchfordian position.  In June he wrote 'If, as Hagger suggests, the Clarion Fellowship has now purged itself of its disgruntled elements, my undivided allegiance necessarily returns to the Clarion Fellowship.'  He had resigned '...my connection with the Workers' League.'  He concluded  'Ours is the only Socialist organisation that is not disruddered, disreputed, disrupted or suspect'   (23/6/16) The following week Tom Groom writing on 'The Clarion Fellowship' began the article with 'At last! After much tribulation and sore questioning of the spirit A.M.Thompson has decided that the only real, genuine party in which a Clarionette can feel happy is the Clarion Fellowship. We have  gone out of our way to create other organisations, no one of which can be said to embody the CLARION spirit.'  He asked why  this was so and answered    '…it arises, I think, in impatience with propaganda work and a desire to hurry things up by political action.'  But that could only follow '...sound propaganda work.' 

 

In the same issue (30/6/16) a letter appeared in the 'Cockpit' from a Manchester reader, Arthur Bleasdale, which advanced a view quite different from Blatchford's insistence of avoiding 'politics.'  Bleasdale ended his letter with 'When we have   consolidated our forces'; when we have increased our numbers sufficiently to justify it, we may ask to be  affiliate with the Labour Party- not as a political organisation, but as a party supplying new recruits to aid the Labour Party in the stern and inevitable fight that will have to be waged once this war is over.'  (30/6/16)

 

As one might expeck this was not what Blatchford wanted to hear.  A week later he responded to Bleasdale in his usual front-page article with the title 'The “Clarion” and the Fellowship.'   He was not, he insisted, out to dissuade people from forming parties but 'I do not think any new parties are wanted.'  As Tom Groom had said 'The proper business of the CLARION and the Fellowship is to teach Socialism and make Socialists.'

Haggar had talked about organising the Fellowship. Blatchford was not sure what he meant  but political parties were best left to politicians.  He hoped that Haggar agreed  that organising the Fellowship meant that it would be '...organised for teaching Socialism and making Socialists.'  His view was that 'The Fellowship exists for fellowship among its members and for the teaching of Socialism.'  He no longer believed as he had done  'In the early days' in  '...a great party of workers'.  If one was to be formed it would be without Blatchford's help. 'We do not believe  so much in parties as in education. The real controlling power in this democratic  country is public opinion. When public opinion is in favour of Socialism we shall get Socialism.'  But for now 'I am full of this awful war.'  'I have a son in the trenches and many dear friends in the field or at sea.'  (7/7/16)

 

Blatchford had some support from a 'Cockpit'  letter signed  Sapper H Rogers who wrote 'We will revive the spirit that founded the cycling clubs and the vocal unions, put the Vans on the road and  established club-houses, We will let other parties struggle for the limelight and wrangle in grubbly rooms situated  over stables, about what Karl Marx said in 1874 and what he meant when he said it.'  Again this is something I will return to later. He ...'confessed....' that during the previous two years he had '...been conviced that Dangle was afflicted with Jingoism in its worse form and beyond recovery, but for your appreciation of poor Jim Connolly's life and death please accept my deepest grovel.' And he signed himself ' Fraternally yours.' 

 

In the same issue there was an indication that not all those associated with the paper were happy with Blatchford's propaganist view of socialism. Fred Hagger, the Fellowship secretary gave its constitution adopted at Easter 1914 at the 'Conference of Clarion Societies.'  So far  there had been 25 applications for a 'National Branch.'  Before the war, he said, he was in the habit of advising enquirers to join  the ILP or BSP but that was no longer possible.  But he insisted the The Clarion 's role should not be confined to to propaganda  In contrast to the Blatchford line Haggar believed that  'The role of John the Baptist may be well suited to those who are attracted to this kind of work, but it can hardly be said to fit the temperament of the average Socialist. '  He thought that consideration  should be given to affiliating to Labour Party.   

 

 But imediately below Haggar's Fellowship  piece  was  an article from Arthur Thompson  the secretary of the Glascow Scouts who more in line with Blatchford declared 'We have  had enough of Parties'  (14/7/16) Others joined in the debate. Beasdale detected  '...two opinions....' of the  future of Fellowship (21/7/16) while O.S.P., writing on 'The Future of the Fellowship'  was convinced that It was the CLARION'S task  to open up to the people  vistas of knowledge and ideals hitherto outside the range of their circumscribed vision....'    He went on to mention the role of the paper in promoting science, nature and books before concluding that the Fellowship '...should play a  prominent part in driving home the lessons of this great epoch-making war.'  And in the same issue Bleasdale declared that 'The revival of the Fellowship is to be commenced in Manchester. Other centres please copy.'  (28/7/16)

 

In October 1916 there were reports of slow progress in forming a National Branch of the Fellowship. (20/10/16) but by the beginning of 1917 there had been many letters supporting Hagger  and a report that  Shaw-Maxwell – the  first Secretary of  the ILP - had applied for membership of the National Branch of the Fellowship (19/1/17)  Meanwhile, the conflict over the future of the Fellowship continued. In the regular article on the Fellowship in the first edition of the year an unsigned piece by Tom Groom -identified as such the following week – referred to the 'row' over its future of the Fellowship and confirmed 'I prefer leaving politics to te other chap.' Haggar, he announced would argue his case the following week.   (5/1/17) Which he did. 'I hold  strongly oto the view that the Fellowship should be organised  to play a part in every form of a activity in which Socialists  participate.' This was a rather indirect way to refer to specifically political action. (12/1/17) But it was enough to bring Blatchford back  into the debate which he did early in 1917.

 

Blatchford's view was so clear that it is worth examining it in some detail. The front-page article was headed  'Ought the Fellowship to become Political?'  Blatchford began by saying that he was content to leave the matter to '...the young women and young men of the Fellowship.'  But he had been invited to join the discussion and would do so. For him a Fellowship organised for political action it '...will no longer be the Fellowship as we have known and valued it. The soul of the Fellowship has been its broad individual liberty and tolerance.'  Members had been '...free to join and help any Socialist body which appealed to them....'  but ''The Fellowship has never been tangled in party politics....'  It had been a 'non-political refuge where Socialists could meet for rest and recreation.'  And 'Directly you go in for active politics you must sacrifice the sponteneity of the  Fellowship.' Political Socialists were '...quite out of sympathy with the old easy-going, humane Fellowship would join the new party. Carpet-baggers would work their way in. '  The Fellowship had been '...a  great club, a great  temple, a great warm hearth in a kind of democratic inn.'  If they pursued the 'political' route  'Personal ambition would play its part.'Intrigues would spring up like mushrooms.'  In Blatchford's view the Fellowshop  should remain '... innocent of intrigue, or dogmatism, or jealousy.'  If it '... can keep clean and happy, and can make Socialists and teach Socialism and help other organisations, the Fellowship is doing good work and at the same time is making life a little brighter and happier for its own members.'  He admited that '... I am conservative, as most old men are.'  He detested politics and distrusted politicians. He did not want to  'interfere' but he had been asked for his view and  'This is it.'  Blatchford said he believed that Forces of reaction

' ...are not beaten by “counter organisation” but  by '...the dissemination of principles of truth and justice.'  Thompson,who seemed less inclined to damn 'politics' stuck carefully to aspects of the war in his 'Our Point of View'.

 

In the same edition Haggar wanted a hundred readers to act as local organisers. .'Whatever view we may take of the future of the Fellowship, the fact remains that the extent of the work will be determined by the capacity of the Fellowship to organise.' he insisted.  The other contributor to 'The Clarion Fellowship,' that week, Charles W.Hale,  unequivacally supported Blatchford's view including asking 'If the Clarion Fellowship joins the Labour Party can Robert Blatchford and Alex M. Thompson sue the Fellowship for improper use of the word 'Clarion? (26/1/17)  The following week  Haggar welcomed Blatchford's contribution and hoped it would encourage others, including 'Thompson  and other members of the paper's staff  to join the debate. He stressed that joining the Labour Party would not mean accepting ILP policies but the Fellowship would lend it weight in determining post-war policies and prevent it becoming an '...anti-national party.'

 

 But Blatchford's line was supported in the ''Cockpit' by C.Brown who wanted to see more '...inculcation of a more communal spirit – in short, true fellowship.''  He added 'We don't want “Das Kapital”  or “The Economics of Socialism,”but more “News from Nowhere” or “The Sorcery Shop.”'  He asked ' Will R.B. take the hint?'.' Thompson included in 'Our Point of View' a piece on 'Labour and the War' which  praised the recent Labour Party conference which had  '... asserted by  an  overwhelming majority the determination of the Labour Party to see the war through to a victorious conclusion, and the pacifist wreckers were ignominiously routed.'  (2/2/17) The following week there was an advertisement  for a 'Fellowship Reunion' the following day organised by the 'Glasgow   Scouts and Glasgow and Cycling Club' which promised 'Fellowship & Frolic' as well as a dance and a whist drive. This was mentioned at the beginning of Haggar's letter on the Fellowship which also reported that he'd had replies to his appeal for volunteers to organise local groups. (9/2/17)

 

Haggar defended his notion that the Fellowship needed 'organising.' a week later. 'The reason why some of us are keen on seeing the Fellowship organised is that they are anxious that, so soon as the war terminates, the Fellowship should inaugurate and carry through the most extensive and effective campaign on behalf of the principles of Socialism yet witnessed in this country.' (16/2/17)  The contribution to the 'Fellowship' page of F. L.Willoughby supported the Haggar's idea of '...organising' the Fellowship but he believed  that they should be aware of '...entangling alliances.' He noted,  'The recent  vote depriving Socialist bodies of their privileged position on the E.C....'  and concluded that '...the Fellowship should be content to work on our own lines without affiliation.  (2/3/17)

 

For Blatchford the clear priority was the establishment and defence of democracy. This was made clear once more in another article at the beginning of September in a piece titled 'Democracy, War, and  Peace' in which he defined a democracy as a state conducted '...in accordance with the general will.'  (7/9/17) A fortnight later in  'Socialism in & Out of Season'  he conceded that it would always be difficult to establish socialism which could only succeed if supported by '...an overwhelming majority of intelligent and well-informed people, acting with caution and discretion under honest and competent leaders.'  In a war – he clearly had events in Russia in mind – it was bound to be an attempt by '...an excited and inexpierenced minority.' He was quite clear that the priority was democracy; 'I put democracy above and before  before Socialism' and he concluded '...those who value democracy or wish for Socialism will be wise to concentrate their efforts upon the defeat of  of the powers that would destroy democracy and render Socialism unattainable.'  A defeat of the Allies would be the  defeat of democracy and socialism.  (21/9/17) Haggar's resignation as secretary of the Fellowship was announced in the paper at the end of  October 1917 (26.10/17)  and soon  O.S.P.was warning of the dangers of  apathy in Fellowship in in the  post- Hagger situation(14/12/17)

 

The growth of pro-Bolshevik sentiments in parts of the Left in the final year of the war was noted several times in the paper. For his part  at the very end of 1917 Thompson was dismissive of  '...our British Bolsheviks, the untravelled, untutored flatheads of a stagnnant pond.'(28/12/17) and a couple of months later he expressed scorn for . '...our British admirerers of Bolshevik methods....' who favoured  '...Leninite tyranny.' (1/2/18) A 'Cockpit' letter from Joseph Burgess confirmed that he had resigned from the  ILP in November 1916  and accused it now of '...dragging the British Labour movement into Bolshevism.' (12/6/18) Then there was the  Labour MP, George Barnes, who referring to 'Post-War Protection' complained that 'The British Bolsheviks barred me the other night from discussing it with my constituents.'  (30/818) 

 

 

And now  I really need to summarise my own view of Clarion socialism. It is  important to note that no other organisation or paper of the Left did as much to promote leisure activity bodies as I indicated earlier.  It is worth listing just how many there were still active during the war. The cycling club – which is still going in the 21st century – was the major one – throughout the war it had its own feature in The Clarion with reports from local club (together with a few motor cycle clubs).  But there were many others.  And  it is  worthwhile listing them as an indication of how wide the spectrum of Clarion organisations was. All appeared at least several times between August 1914 and the Armistice in 1918.  Camps and Club Houses was a pretty regular feature  as was the Cricket Club, the Rambling Club, the Swimming Club, the Football Club, Clarion Scouts, the Dramatic Club, the Social Club, the Vocal Union, the Clarion Players and the Hockey Club,  Also in 1918 there appeared the 'Clarion Heroes' Memorial Appeal whilc according to Tom Groom there were still four Clarion Vans propagandising for socialism  as the war came to an end  (15/11/18)

 

In the same issue,  in the regular  Clarion Cyclorama Groom expressed what might be called the Blatchford line. He insisted that 'The CLARION and Fellowship belong to no political party.  I hope they never will belong to any.' A fortnight later he insisted that The CLARION movement has never been political. I hope it never will be.' It should be a   '...'purely propagandist'  (29/11/18) But not everyone took this  view. I have already mentioned the case of Haggar who was at least unsure that the Fellowship should remain outside politics  Even Blatchford accepted that though he might have no interest in 'politics' others might. And Thompson, his fellow editor, was much more open to political involvement as his chairmanship of the Socialist National Defence Committee earlier in the war might suggest.

 

The 'Khaki Election' took place soon after the end of the war. Late in December 1918 Thompson  explained why he had not voted. 'When I reached London I could see no reason for exercising my electoral privilege....' he began.  To support the Coalition candidate would be '...reactionary....' but to vote Labour would mean giving support to the  '...prominent imbeciles of traitors....' He declared that Labour's '...economic aims are,broadly, my own.  But I would rather be shot than entrust the future of the British Commonwealth and the British working classes to the folly, vanity, or treachery for men who have conspired for our soldiers' and sailors' defeat in the war.'   War, he went on '... has converted me to Clemenceau's  cynicism'' (20/12/18)  So, for Thompson – whatever we may make of his reasoning – it  was a  question not of 'not being interested in politics' like Blatchford but of opposing all candidates in a particular election. Thompson would even later praise MacDonald.  Just before the 1924 election he would  write 'The Pact of London crowned a series of diplomatic master-strokes which converted my wartime distrust of Ramsay MacDonald to respect and approval'  (17/10/24)

 

It was vital to the continued success of all the Clarion's great range of activities not to require conformity to particular membership or voting for a particular party. A general commitment to something called socialism was enough – and even non-socialists could join if  they accepted the ethos, The implicit appeal was that there was no reason to wait for a perfect society to emerge. In the meantime one could participate in the fellowship and participate in whatever appealed as well as potentially encouraging socialist views.  But those who said that propaganda was not in itself sufficient had an equally good point, It is enormously difficult to imagine how propaganda for socialism could be done independent of any advocacy of how those who were convinced might support particular policies and should vote.

 

That said, was important that The Clarion remained a paper that could be relied on to support all  moves towards equality, human rights and democracy and for whom socialism was not a dirty word.  There were, and still are,  plenty of papers which presented conservative, or even Conservative,values as common sense.  The reaction to the Bolsheviks showed that the paper was firmly on the side of social democracy even though many on the Left were, and remained for some considerable time, prepared to support Communism  to at least some degree.

 

There was certainly a degree of nationalism in the paper which is often unpleasant but attachment to countries has yet to prove less compelling than any sort  of  attachment to class which remains far less powerful even in the 21st        century in spite of much advocacy for  more than a hundred years.  We can see this clearly in the case of Ukraine. Along with a nationalistic outlook the paper had -  to put it as kindly as possible – an over optimistic view of the British Empire. It was optimistic to a very large degree and its notion of a British Federation was, I'm afraid, delusionary.  The best one can say  is that  The Clarion was on  the side of a fully democratic empire.

 

Much earlier I drew attention to a statement from the frequent correspondent O.S.P. in April 1915 who argued that '... the chief value of the Clarion movement is that it gets in touch with the social side of people...'  I think he may have hit the nail on the proverbial head. The socialism of The Clarion was certainly more cultural and social than political. 

 

   

 

 

 

[1]Philip, Viscount Snowden, An Autobiography. Volume One. 1864–1919 (London: Ivor Nicholson and Watson, 1934), pp. 58–59 h.                                                                   

[2]Stanley Pierson,Marxism and the Origi ns of  British Socialism.;The Struggle for a New Consciousness,  1973, 272.

[3]|A, J. P. Taylfor Esssay in English History, 1976,174

 

The 2021 annual conference adopted a statement about the origins of our Club which acknowledged the original commitment to socialism but declared that 'Clarion socialism was more social and cultural than political' What might this mean? Can the statement be justified? I believe it can and will cite in support a number of statements made in the paper in June and July 1916 and in January 1917. There will of course be many who disagree with all the views expressed and positions taken – including the one the paper took on the war itself. But I'm confident that the quotations from the paper do illustrate the 'social and cultural' nature of the Clarion's version of socialism.

 

At this time Robert Blatchford and Alexander M. Thompson were joint editors – described as such on the paper's masthead. Usually Blatchford wrote a front page piece and Thompson indicated the Clarion's position on current issues on an inside page under the title 'Our Point of View.' The paper had warned about the 'German Menace' in the years before 1914 and once war broke out it believed that Britain and its Allies should be supported against a 'Prussian militarism' that had invaded Belgium and France. This put the paper and its adherents at severe odds with much of the socialist movement, notably the Independent Labour Party (ILP), whose foundation in 1893 had owed something to the Clarion and the now dominant element of the British Socialist Party (BSP). For the Clarion they were both irredeemably 'pacifist and pro-German.' In 1915 Thompson chaired of the Socialist National Defence Committee. The following year this became the British Workers' National League and for some time the paper included its reports and a form to fill in if you wished to join.

 

The sequence of events, comments and letters this article is concerned with began in an apparently inconsequential way not untypical of the Clarion. Fred Hagger for the past year had been running the paper's 'Maintenance' campaign which sought contributions from readers to help keep the paper going. It had tried, and just failed, to raise £1000 in 1915 – a lot of money in those days. But on 9 June 1916 Thompson was able to acclaim what he called 'A Journalistic Marvel' and announced that 'Fred Hagger's prodigy has passed the £1,500 mark....' And he ended his 'Our Point of View' piece with 'The CLARION'S debt to Fred Hagger is beyond compute'

 

Hagger replied to 'Dangle' – as Thompson had been called since the earliest days of the Clarion. Thompson then issued 'A Call to Arms' in his editorial column. The British Socialist Party - formed in 1911 with the SDF as its chief component – had split with the anti-war majority in control . The veteran socialist, Hyndman had made an appearance at the Easter Meet earlier in the year after the BSP conference where the' split' occurred.. Hyndman's 'pro-Ally' minority, Hagger had argued in his letter to Thompson, and the League were 'mutually nullifying.' Thompson's response was to declare that 'Ours is the only Socialist organisation that is not disruddered, disreputed, disrupt or suspect,' and to sever his 'connection with the Workers' League.' Then he went on: 'If, as Hagger suggests the Clarion Fellowship has now purged itself of its disgruntled elements, my undivided allegiance necessarily returns to the Clarion Fellowship.'

 

The following week (30 June) featured an article on 'The Clarion Fellowship' by Tom Groom, the founder of our Club who is commemorated in the Tom Groom Trophy. Groom's piece began 'At last! After much tribulation and sore questioning of the spirit A.M.Thompson has decided that the

only real, genuine party in which a Clarionette can feel happy is the Clarion Fellowship.' In the past, Groom went on they had gone out of their way to help create other organisations 'no one of which can be said to embody the CLARION spirit'.' Groom himself had participated in the 'Unity Conference' that formed the BSP in 1911. This had come about, argued Groom, because of 'impatience with propaganda work and a desire to hurry things up by political action.' Thompson included two letters praising Hagger from F.L.Willoughby, who called for 'Three cheers for Hagger and the Fellowship' and Arthur Bleasdale who identified himself as a ''Manchester Clarionette.'

 

All seemed in line with Hagger and Groom but Bleasdale ended his letter 'When we have consolidated our force; when we have increased our numbers sufficiently to justify it, we may ask to be affiliate with the Labour Party - not as a political organisation, but as a party supplying new recruits to aid the Labour Party in the stern and inevitable fight that will have to be waged once this war is over.' That might be OK - possibly - with Hagger, but Blatchford felt it necessary to respond to Bleasdale's suggestion the following week (7 July) in a front page piece with the title 'The “Clarion” and the Fellowship.' He was not, he insisted, out to dissuade people from forming parties but 'I do not think any new parties are wanted.'

 

He agreed with Groom that the 'proper business' of both the paper and the Fellowship was 'to teach Socialism and make Socialists.' But what did Hagger mean when he talked of the need to 'organise the Fellowship?' Blatchford was not sure what that meant. But he hoped it didn't mean political parties which were best left to politicians. He hoped Hagger agreed that 'The Fellowship exists for fellowship among its members and for the teaching of Socialism.' He and the paper had in the early days believed in 'a great party of the workers' - but they no longer did.

'We do not believe so much in parties as in education. The real controlling power in this democratic country is public opinion. When public opinion is in favour of Socialism we shall get Socialism.' Meanwhile 'he was full of this awful war.' He had 'a son in the trenches and many dear friends in the field or at sea.'

 

Originally, I meant to end it at this point. But since writing this piece I have moved on with what I've called my 'exploration of the wartime Clarion. Early in January 1917 (5 Jan) a piece on 'The Clarion Fellowship' appeared which endorsed much of Fred Haggar's proposals but announced a 'row' with him before announcing that Haggar would argue his case the following week. The fundamental disagreement? 'I prefer leaving politics to the other chap.' I assumed this was Blatchford himself, but Haggar's article the following week (12 Jan) made it clear that it had been written by Tom Groom. Groom at his stage had a regular feature ' Clarion Cyclorama' and was Chair of the Fellowship.

 

Haggar's piece (19 Jan) included a letter from 'Pa Bennett – North Islington N.S.P. and Clarion Cycling Club' - supporting Hagger's more 'political' line and quoted also in support Shaw-Maxwell who had been the first secretary of the ILP. Then (26 Jan) Blatchford made clear, once again, his belief in a 'non-political' Clarion Fellowship in a front page article

'Ought the Fellowship to become Political?' He began by declaring that the issue should be left to to younger people. But he made his own view very clear. A Clarion Fellowship organised for political action would ' no longer be the Fellowhip as we have known and valued it. The soul of the Fellowship has been its broad individual liberty and tolerance.' It had ' never been tangled in party politics....' It had been ' a non-political refuge where Socialists could meet for rest and recreation.' The dangers of changing this approach were fundamental, 'Directly you go in for active politics you must sacrifice the sponteneity of the Fellowship' It would result in 'Political Socialists, quite out of sympathy with the old easy-going, humane Fellowship' joining '...the new party. Carpet-baggers would work their way in.' For Blatchford 'The Fellowship has been a great club, a great temple, a great warm hearth in a kind of democratic inn'

 

That's probably enough to demonstrate the 'social and cultural' nature of the Clarion socialism but I can't resist quoting from a letter in the 'Clarion Cockpit' from Sapper H. Rogers with its very specific details (14 July 1916). He agreed with 'Dangle' that 'the only Party for Clarionettes is the Clarion Fellowship.' He then went on: 'We will revive the spirit that founded the cycling clubs and the vocal unions, put the Vans on the road and establish club-houses, We will let other parties struggle for the limelight and wrangle in grubby rooms situated over stables, about what Karl Marx said in 1874 and what he meant when he said it.' So I think I can rest my case that Clarion's version of socialism.nature was ' more social and cultural than political.'.

 

 

 

Ian Bullock, Brighton and Hove Clarion. Chair of NCCC 2019-2021.  I've been researching and writing about the pre 1939 Left in Britain since the 1970s.