In the 1880s working-class political representatives stood in parliamentary elections as Liberal-Labour candidates. After the 1885 General Election there were eleven of these Liberal-Labour MPs. Some socialists like Keir Hardie, the Liberal-Labour MP for West Ham, began to argue that the working class needed their own independent political party. This feeling was strong in Manchester and in 1892 Robert Blatchford, the editor of the socialist newspaper, the Clarion joined with Tom Garrs, and Richard Pankhurst to form the Manchester Independent Labour Party.
The activities of the Manchester group inspired Liberal-Labour MPs to consider establishing a new national working class party. Under the leadership of Keir Hardie, the Independent Labour Party was formed in 1893. It was decided that the main objective of the party would be "to secure the collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange". Leading figures in this new organisation included Hardie, Robert Smillie, George Bernard Shaw, Tom Mann, George Barnes, John Glasier, H. H. Champion, Ben Tillett, Philip Snowden, Edward Carpenter and Ramsay Macdonald.
In 1895 the Independent Labour Party had 35,000 members. However, in the 1895 General Election the ILP put up 28 candidates but won only 44,325 votes. All the candidates were defeated but the ILP began to have success in local elections. Over 600 won seats on borough councils and in 1898 the ILP joined with the the Social Democratic Federation to make West Ham the first local authority to have a Labour majority.
The example of West Ham convinced Keir Hardie that to obtain national electoral success, it would be necessary to join with other left-wing groups. On 27th February 1900, representatives of all the socialist groups in Britain (the Independent Labour Party, the Social Democratic Federation and the Fabian Society, joined trade union leaders to form the Labour Representation Committee.
By the end of 1892 it was felt that the various Labour Unions should be merged into a National Party. So steps were taken to call a Conference, which met at Bradford in January 1893. To this Conference delegates from the local unions, the Fabian Society (which at the time was doing considerable propaganda work among the Radical Clubs), and the Social Democratic Federation, were invited. There were 115 delegates present at this conference, and among them was Mr. George Bernard Shaw, representing the Fabian Society. He played a conspicuous part in the Conference. Mr. Keir Hardie, fresh from his success at West Ham, was elected Chairman of the Conference.
On January 13th, 1893, the Independent Labour Party sprang into being, and, as a child of the spirit of Liberty, claims every song that she has sung - in whatever land - as a glorious heritage. Life, lover, liberty, and labour make liquid music. The Labour Party is in league with life, and works for liberty that man may live. The Socialist creed of the 'One body' is a declaration that liberty grows with love, and that therefore life is love's child.
The Independent Labour Party was avowedly and uncompromisingly Socialist, and those of us who were its advocates attacked capitalism in every speech that we made. The Sunday meetings of the I.L.P. held in a thousand halls, suggested religious revival meetings rather than political demonstrations. The fervour of the great audiences that assembled in centres like Glasgow, Bradford, Leeds, Huddersfield, Birmingham, and Bristol, was quite without precedent in British political history. Men who had grown old in years had their youthful enthusiasms renewed under the glow and warmth of a new spiritual fellowship. They were born again; they joyfully walked many miles to listen to a favourite speaker; they sang Labour hymns; and they gave to the new social faith an intensity of devotion which lifted it far above the older political organizations of the day.
Margaret McMillan and many others say it will do good, by showing that movement is not merely a Hardie one, and that who have never taken to Hardie will join.
We are told that International Socialism is dead, that all our hopes and ideals are wrecked by the fire and pestilence and European war. It is not true.
Out of the darkness and the depth we hail our working-class comrades of every land. Across the roar of guns, we send sympathy and greeting to the German Socialists. They have laboured unceasingly to promote good relations with Britain, as we with Germany. They are no enemies of ours, but faithful friends.
In forcing this appalling crime upon the nations, it is the rulers, the diplomats, the militarists who have sealed their doom. In tears and blood and bitterness, the greater Democracy will be born. With steadfast faith we greet the future; our cause is holy and imperishable, and the labour of our hands has not been in vain.
Long live Freedom and Equality! Long live International Socialism!
The Labour Party in those days suffered considerably from the anarchy of conflicting ideas, and it was not easy for me to fit in anywhere. From 1923 onwards I used to attend meetings and conferences organized by the Fabians and the I.L.P. The Fabians were serious people, rather with Civil Service minds, extremely rational and full of common sense. But they were too quiet to get the public ear. Their influence was with the 'high-ups' and a few of the people who mattered.
The I.L.P. had the mass appeal and the means to get their ideas across. But what a chaos, if the solid trade union people were not there to give it some stability! There were a large number of young women with short hair and young men with long. There were also the old pioneers who had been active in the movement before these young people were born. They thought that what Keir Hardie had said in the year one and the resolution passed by a conference in the 1890s was gospel and that it was sacrilege to alter it for something more practical in the 1920s. Socialism with these people was of the Utopian kind, a mixture of Robert Owen, William Morris and of the mid-Victorian social reformers. But they believed in democracy and thought that by propaganda a Parliamentary majority could be obtained for revolutionary changes.
There was also a very strong pacifist element in the I.L.P. With a commendable courage, many of them had been conscientious objectors and even at the height of the recent War had exposed the more seamy side of the Western Allies' propaganda and actions. Some of them had suffered long terms of imprisonment for their ideas and I felt deep sympathy with them, especially since they were also fighting for civil liberty. Some of them would not even take 'work of national importance' in place of going into the army.
I did not agree with those of them who took the Tolstoyan view of complete non-resistance to evil. Yet these pacifist ideas had considerable influence in the I.L.P. in those days and largely brought it about that that party would object to the maintenance of the Army, Navy and Air Force.