S.D.F. Split-1914 World War

During the war of 1914 the old Cape Town S.D.F., which had been in existence for over ten years without any serious divisions, now found itself facing a serious split. Amongst the prominent patriots, as we called them, were J. H. Howard, H. Hiscox, H. McManus, H. A. Evans, Tom Rolton and others. After the split, Howard became a full-time secretary of the Commercial Travellers' Association and edited their paper, On the Road. Hiscox formed the Constitutional Socialist League and drew up a Parliamentary Bill, very much of a national character, to show us the way to the New Order through that machinery. Harry Evans turned his attention to the trade union machinery, in which he is still a shining light. (Since this was written Harry Evans has died.) Howard and McManus were very active members and otherwise good Socialists, having been with us since the early days of the movement. Both were good speakers and continual propagandists at our Adderley Street outdoor meetings, and both were at different times secretary of the party. Sad to relate, though, they both died, as also did Tom Bolton, soon after they left us. McManus was with us in spirit until the end, but never an active member after the divisions in the party following the 1914 conflict.

McManus's moderation might be explained by the tact that he was a Christian Socialist with whom I, an avowed agnostic, often had some controversy in debate-strangely enough, he was the inseparable pal of an avowed atheist, George Martin, who used to preach "Free Thought" from our rostrum in Adderley Street prior to our own meeting. There was also a strange combination at McManus's funeral. The Rev. Ramsden Balmforth conducted the service and he was a Unitarian-one God, no Christ. McKillop and I, both avowed agnostics, were delegated by the S.D.F. to deliver the funeral oration over his grave. Either the emotion of the moment or some occult force disturbed my mentality, and in my speech therefore I did not give him the credit he deserved. Balmforth delivered his oration in tears and he himself, good comrade that he was has now passed on.

Everybody was agog on August 4th, 1914, when war was declared. Socialists are, of course, the most noisy people about any crisis, so there was soon a difference of opinion in our S.D.F. representative of cosmopolitan Cape Town. There appeared to be trouble brewing on the pros and cons of the situation. Therefore, to keep our ranks intact and allow individual opinions, it was decided by resolution that the branch declare itself neutral on the war issue. It was not our business-we would carry on our own propaganda and leave it alone. This was carried out with some difficulty for a few months, or perhaps a year. In the meantime the Labour Party found itself in the same predicament on August 2nd , 1914. At its Administrative Council meeting it passed the following resolution:

"The S.A.L.P. at a general meeting of delegates express its protest against the Capitalist governments of Europe in fermenting a war which can only benefit the international armament manu­facturers' ring and other enemies of the working class, and appeals to the workers of the world to organise and refrain from participating in this unjust war."

This is a resolution that neither the Labour Party nor even the Communist Party would sign today, proving how the psychology of those bodies have changed. However, that is by the way. Here again Colonel Creswell, as his title implied, agreed to differ with this fundamental resolution, as he did with the Socialist object) many, owing to their loyalty to their leader, and also-some King and country, agreed to support Colonel Creswell in war through" policy. However, twenty of the party-active members which included one M.P., W. H. Andrews, and seven M.P.C. Transvaal, stood by the resolution of August 2 nd and seceded from the party, publishing a pamphlet on a "Declaration of Principles" which would be a credit to, and a considerable improvement upon, the Communist Party platform to-day.

The dissenting elements, rather than call themselves the Labour Party, which they really were, founded an International Socialist League, to which there was an adjunct known as the "War on War League," which issued pamphlets giving expression in revolutionary language against the war. One particular gem, of which Sidney P. Bunting was the author, was sarcastically entitled "Let Saints on Earth in Consort Sing," the contents of which led the Government to pay some attention to it. Hence publicity spread and the Cape Town S.D.F. had to discuss its merits, which led to strong protests from the neutrality wing. A resolution was then deliberately moved by myself that a certain number of the leaflets be imported to Cape Town for distribution. This resolution being passed, it became necessary to call a summons meeting of all members to decide for or against the war on the following resolution. I have the minute before me dated September 6 th , 1916:

"On Com. Harrison being called he moved in accordance with his notice given, 'That the Federation is opposed to all wars organised on Capitalist lines, and that we consider the present war the outcome of Capitalist machinations in which all belligerent nations are equally responsible.' Comrade Pick' seconded. A warm discussion took place, the secretary, H. McManus, and others opposing the resolution strongly. A good deal of feeling was manifested in the discussion and two amendments were put forward, one by the secretary and one by Comrade Vermont. After a conflict of opinions how the vote should he taken, Vermont withdrew his amendment and a vote was then taken, with the result that the Federation declared for an anti-war policy."

As one of them put it. "The Government is now defeated," and I, as the named leader of the opposition, took over the reins of office. The minute of the following week records:

"Propaganda Report: Comrade Pick reported that a good meeting had been held with Comrade Harrison as speaker, who announced that the Federation was now a 'War on War' organisa­tion and that all moneys given would be with that understanding. Comrade Evans sent in his resignation and challenged the Federation to debate in the open air the last clause of Comrade Harrison's resolution at the special meeting of September 6 th . After deliberation it was decided that it would be inadvisable to debate on the subject at the present."

I have quoted the minutes of the proceedings and, as that was over thirty years ago, I do not remember much of the discussion nor the reason why they decided against debating with Comrade Evans. I do remember, though, and have every reason to, the temper of the crowds we addressed at the Adderley Street meetings during the war period, and I think our Comrade Evans knew which point of view the general crowd favoured.

It took us all our time to keep the crowd from throwing us into the sea, which was then quite close to our rostrum, and many other damages they promised us. All credit to the courage of Bob Stuart, since the well-known -secretary of the Federated Trade Unions of the Peninsula, and H. Leemans-two burly men in those days-the latter some time our treasurer. They used to stand as bodyguard on each side of our platform, while I howled on the fallacies of Capitalist wars to our crowded meetings. I often think it remarkable that, during those war years of hostility and all the threats I had hurled against me during the many meetings we held-including several typewritten unsigned letters I received threatening my life it I ever spoke at our outdoor meetings again-I came out of the affair without a scratch. Not even once did I lose my hat, or my head, although many would literally have liked me to. Mass psychology, however, is funny stuff. They will be as calm and chuckle like cooing doves one minute, and are as ferocious as wild beasts the next, if one knows how to get them like that. Therefore I used my years of experience as a mob orator to put the amusing side of the subject as much as possible, then a little serious talk, till they began to snarl, then think of something funny again. The effect is wonderful.

Mass psychology, I repeat, must be funny stuff or they wouldn't countenance war at all, neither would they the Capitalist system. It is really so simple to show up the fallacies of both. The masses contain clever people who work miracles and wonders my limited intelligence cannot understand, yet they cannot see what is the matter with the present system, which brings war, poverty and ruin. Another I had in my favour was that I am an Englishman aim ex-Guardsman. Therefore, as another Englishman told me, "You are allowed to criticise your own nation's tactics, but those of other nations in your ranks are not!" Like the father who gives corporal punishment to his son, but," whatever his sins, he does not allow that form of reprimand by anybody else. So, for the above reasons and my long experience, I was allowed to be the chief speaker. In fact, as Connolly, a one-time Member of the Natal Parliament, who was then in our ranks, said at our business meeting, "Nobody else dare."

The Australian soldiers gave us a call here on their way to Europe, and of course included our meetings in their jovial way of painting Cape Town red. I have never been to Australia, therefore I don't know how the youth of that otherwise progressive country occupy their time, but I do know how they occupied it in Cape Town. "Our boys from Australia are here again!" people would say, which induced me to ask when they were going to send their men along. I have known them empty the contents of a bottle on the outskirts of our meeting, then brandish the receptacle in a manner that was meant to reach my head, although I have never known them actually to do it. It made me give more attention to them than to the subject I was discussing. In fact, to change the subject in their direction I would tell them that I thought the British way of dealing with an opponent was to punch him on the nose. However, they didn't ever molest me once way, so perhaps there was not much harm in them after all, unless they eyed my bodyguard, or my six feet of athletic appearance was thought by them an obstacle.

We did not at any time attempt anything in the way of physical retaliation, nor, did we ever have reason to from our platform. I have always contended that passive resistance was the strongest force when properly applied, and which Gandhi has used with remarkable effect in India. All we wanted, I used to tell them, was a fighting intelligence and the Socialist' way of using it. That would soon end all wars, and their poverty squalor with it. Our Adderley Street meetings grew in such numbers that we packed the Dock Road from the Flat Iron Building to the Carlton Hotel, which solicited a protest from the proprietor, and we were told to move our platform to the side of the building racing the pier. This did not diminish our crowds, but rather added to our audience by including those sitting in silence watching the sea waves ripple from the pier.

Quite half a dozen uniformed police and private detectives were always in attendance to make notes of our remarks and deal with any disorder. The meetings were sometimes closed by them when they thought things were getting too rowdy for them to control, or when our remarks were considered seditious. On the whole they rarely exceeded their duty. In fact, I think we made more converts amongst the police than elsewhere. When I was a candidate for the public bodies in Cape Town afterwards they openly confessed that they voted for me. They are all pensioners now, so if the authorities read this they cannot now smell them out.

There was, of course, numerous complaints to them by some of the public about our unpatriotic language, and the remuneration we were getting from Kaiser Germany for our services. In reply to one of the anonymous typewritten letters I received threatening my life, I told the crowd that I was on one occasion the crack shot of my company as a soldier and also had a little experience in the gymnasium it boxing (both being true), therefore, though an admitted pacifist in matters of organised physical force to settle national disputes, I was quite prepared to use all I knew in self-defence if I was at any time attacked.

As I am writing these notes of the events some thirty years after­wards, it is unnecessary for me to say I am still alive. The fact that all the nonsense we heard then about that war being a "war to end war," and that we were acquiring land for our "war heroes to live in"-which really meant for paupers to die in-and the loud boast about "destroying that world menace the German military machine" has resulted in the chaos existing to-day, and justified our using at that time the slang phrase "Capitalist moonshine." And further instead of destroying that "military machine," the same allied authorities, who urged us to destroy it then have helped to put a much more formidable one in its place, and made possible a more arrogant dictator to control it, and which was lately again in full working order piling up the profits of Big Business and the interests of Big Finance, which are the cause and purpose of all Capitalist wars. Here are figures of succeeding wars published by me in 1922 in The- Cape. Figures of this war would exceed all of them:

"With Samuel Pepys' reappearance as a diarist after an absence of a few centuries, one cannot wonder (vide jingo Press) at his describing the Bolsheviks as 'blood letters.' Obviously his long sleep has prevented him watching the similar tactics of their opponents. For comparison, the figures read thus:

Loss of Life

War between England and France, 1793-1813 1,900,000

Crimean War. 185:5-56 ... ... ... ... ... ... ... 485,000

United States Civil War, 1863-65 ... .... 656,000

Franco-German War, 1870-71.. 290,000

Russo-Turkish War, 1876-77 ... 180,000

United States-Spanish War, 1898 ... 2,919

Boer War, 1899-1902 ... ... ... ... .. 90,898

Russo-Japanese War, 1904-5 ... ... . 555,900

Great European War (approximately). 20,000,000

I could fill a page, but I think there is enough there to justify an apology from Mr. Pepys to the Bolsheviks."

However, I am digressing. The dissenting members of the Labour Party continued publishing leaflets under the auspices of the "War on War League." I look with amazement on some of the "red" stuff they poured out in their pamphlets in those days. Now I dig them out of my archives for reference. It makes me exclaim: "Oh, where! Oh, where are these people now?" I have one of the pamphlets before me headed, "Keeping the Red Flag Flying; An Address to the S.A. Labour Party," and it smacks the verses in their face, giving headlines to the various paragraphs thus: "The Banner Bright"-"Though Cowards Flinch"-"Within its Shades"-"The Hope of Peace at Last" -and also "Vive 'Internationale"- "Quantum mutatus ab illo!" (in English, what a come down!). I cannot publish the contents of the pamphlet owing to space, but they are emphatic that every Socialist should "oppose this and any other war at all times and at all costs." It was said, in fact I heard W. H. Andrews publicly say, "that he would not sign 'The War on War League' pledge, as he might support a war on behalf of the working class."

Andrews' biographer, R. K. Cope, said: "Ivan Jones, then secretary of the Labour Party, and one of the twenty signatories against the 'See the War Through' policy of Colonel Creswell, retorted, 'That is generations away-it is only an excuse.' "

However, it has suited Andrews' well-known efforts to be con­sistent, to refuse "to oppose this and any other war at all times and at all costs" as laid down by the "War on War League." Although he headed the list of the twenty members of the Labour Party who opposed the First World War, we found him in 1943 supporting the current war, which General Smuts said was a continuation of the previous war. If that was so, then Andrews is only consistent in paradox. His "War on behalf of the working class" is based on the out-of-date Marxian theory that the revolution can only be accomplished by war between employer and employee to the point of the bayonet. Industry then and its trend of development naturally induced Marx to say so; Marx, however, did not assume its contrary developments; he saw no growing middle, professional and agency classes such as we have to-day. Neither did he nor anyone else in his day assume that so many workers would be replaced by the machine. Further, the class barrier was much more distinct then, in a country only recently emerged the feudal system, than now.

The Cape Town S.D.F., having declared its anti-war policy, linked up with the "War on War League" of Johannesburg, and, like them, began to publish leaflets of our own for distribution at our meetings. Comrade. L. Dryburgh published one with rather a seditious title "Have You Answered the Call?"-which I thought remarkable to escape the notice of the authorities. So far so good. I attempted the next, headed "War," and I also thought in language that would evade persecution, seeing that it was merely an analysis of modern and primitive warfare, showing the more modern as the more gruesome. Of course one could not word it otherwise to tell the truth and the authorities allowed its distribution. Six months after that leaflet was published there was a tramway strike in Cape Town. I have a Press report before me which says they were striking to get their wages raised to two pound 2s. per week. The tramway strike was under the manage­ment of the Cape Federation of Trade Unions, and they held outdoor meetings to gather funds and solicit public support. Bob Stuart, the general secretary of the Federation of Trade Unions, invited me to address one of these meetings at our usual meeting place at the foot of Adderley Street. Amongst other statements of a more revolutionary character than the trade unionists generally use, I advocated stopping the power station as the most effective way of bringing the whole tram service to a standstill, and finished' up with the old Marxian dictum, "Workers of the world unite, you have nothing to lose but your chains." These arguments, and my gifts as a mob orator, produced loud applause, and Bob Stuart told me I had said "quite the right thing."

Wilfrid H. Harrison