I was just leaving a second-hand bookshop the other day having made a few interesting purchases when I spotted on a top shelf three bound volumes of Socialist Standard. Wow! It's not often you see something like that.
The SPGB believes not in seizing power through revolution but in the Parliamentary road and stands candidates in elections - with a conspicuous lack of success. It is Marxist but not Leninist, and is opposed to the idea of the revolutionary vanguard.
And famously its declaration of principles hasn't changed since the party's foundation, including the 'hostility' clause, in which the SPGB expresses a determination to 'wage war against all other political parties'.
Throughout its long history, the SPGB has placed emphasis on soapbox-style outdoor oratory. In the earliest of the issues I bought there's a list of its London outdoor pitches and a rota of speakers.
Among the rota is Jack Fitzgerald, a legendary figure within the party and the closest it has to a founder ... and also Tommy Jackson, who later became a prominent Communist (and whose SPGB roots were sometimes hushed up in biographical notes about him).
In the month in question, September 1907, Fitzgerald is listed as having as many as ten outdoor speaking slots - and that's on top of the more formal indoor speaking engagements and branch meetings. (Jolly Butchers' Hill, by the way, was in Wood Green).
The copies in the volume - either four or eight pages - include the SPGB's line on the First World War ...
... during which it sometimes faced problems getting its message out.
And then there was the great drama of the Russian Revolution ...
... it need hardly be said that the SPGB disapproved.
I already have a lovely piece of SPGB ephemera ... this rather grainy postcard size photo of those attending the party's 1921 annual conference.
I do wonder who the three young girls are, so smartly dressed. The photo reinforces the impression of the SPGB as a very masculine party - the three girls apart, I can only see two women in the photo.
I knew and interviewed Harry Young, who - after fifteen years or so in the Communist Party (several of them sent in Moscow) - joined the SPGB in the mid-1930s and became one of its best-known orators. Towards the end of his long life, he was part of a split within the SPGB - a small group broke away complaining that the majority had deviated from the party's founding principles. (This all reminds me of the manner in which some US Supreme Court justices interpret the clauses of the American Constitution).
I wrote an article about Harry for the New Statesman:
In 2004, much to my surprise, I was invited to the SPGB's centenary knees-up at Regent's College in London - a pleasant, and pleasantly non-doctrinaire, occasion. SPGBer Adam Buick wrote up the event for History Workshop Journal.
Bending the Knee on Romney Marsh
It wasn't intended as a church spotting weekend, but that's how it worked out. We were in Romney Marsh, in the south of Kent close to the border with Sussex. And on the marsh, and nearby, there were some really wonderful churches:
St Rumwold's, Bonnington
St Rumwold died young. The hagiographical account is that he lived for just three days in the seventh century - he was a grandson of King Penda of Mercia. But he still managed to deliver a sermon. How's about that for a holy prodigy!
This church at - or to be more accurate, outside - the tiny village of Bonnington feels as if it's in the middle of nowhere.
It is one of four surviving dedications to Rumwold (or Rumbold). It's Grade 1 listed and dates from the twelfth century. The small graveyard incudes the burial place of the Labour peer, Lord Vaizey.
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