Independent Labour Party

From Academic Kids

The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was a former political party in the United Kingdom.

The party was formed in 1893 making it one of the earliest democratic socialist political parties operating in the United Kingdom. Its founder chairman was James Keir Hardie who had been elected an independent labour MP for West Ham South in the previous years General Election.

The early years of the ILP were characterised by a number of amalgamations with small socialist and leftist groups, and in the 1895 General Election they contested 28 seats. The party polled well in some urban centres but Hardie lost his seat.

The ILP played a central role in the formation of the Labour Representation Committee in 1900 and when the Labour Party was formed in 1906 the ILP affiliated to it. This affiliation allowed the ILP to continue to hold its own conferences and devise its own policies which ILP members were expected to argue for within the Labour Party. Also, as the Labour Party did not operate individual membership until 1918 the ILP provided much of Labour's activist base in the early years.

The relationship between the ILP and the Labour Party was characterised by conflict. Many ILP members viewed the Labour Party as being too timid and moderate in their attempts at social reform, and consequently many ILP branches chose to amalgamate with the Social Democratic Party of H. M. Hyndman in 1912 to found the British Socialist Party. However the new party was little more than the SDP rebranded and the ILP soon resumed its position as the largest of a number of small socialist parties and groups in Britain.

The coming of World War I in 1914 exposed the gulf between the Labour Party, based on the trade union bureaucracy, and the ILP when the latter opposed war on ethical principles based on a pacifism grounded in the Christian beliefs of much of both the leadership and rank and file membership.

In 1920, the ILP rejected (but only after the intervention of Ramsay MacDonald) a proposal to affiliate to the Third International. None the less, a great deal of sympathy was evidenced within the ILP for Soviet Russia. Few members of the ILP left the party to join the new Communist Party of Great Britain although a small grouping did so in 1920.

At the 1922 general election several ILP members became MPs (including future ILP leader Jimmy Maxton) and the party grew in stature. The ILP provided many of the new Labour MPs, including John Wheatley, Emanuel Shinwell, Tom Johnston and David Kirkwood. However, the first Labour government (returned to office in 1924) proved to be hugely disappointing to the ILP. Their response was to devise their own programme for government but the Labour Party leadership rejected this.

For the duration of the second Labour government (1929-31) 37 Labour MPs were sponsored by the ILP and they provided the left opposition to the Labour leadership. The 1930 ILP conference decided that where their policies diverged from the Labour Party their MPs should break the whip to support the ILP policy.

It was becoming clearer that the ILP was diverging further away from the Labour Party and at the 1931 ILP Scottish Conference the issue of whether the party should still affiliate to Labour was discussed. It was decided to continue to do so, but only after Maxton himself intervened in the debate to speak up to continue to do so.

At the 1931 general election the ILP candidates refused to accept the standing orders of the parliamentary Labour Party, resulting in them standing without official Labour Party support. Five ILP members were returned to Westminster and created an ILP group outside the Labour Party. In 1932 the ILP held a special conference and voted to disaffiliate from Labour. The same year, it co-founded the "London Bureau" of left-socialist parties (later called the International Revolutionary Marxist Centre).

The Labour left-winger Aneurin Bevan described the ILP's disaffiliation as a decision to remain "pure, but impotent", and in the long run his criticism was arguably vindicated, as once outside of the Labour Party structure the ILP's political influence went into decline. Some members of the ILP who chose to remain within the Labour Party were to be instrumental in creating the Socialist League.

In the 1930s the party suffered a massive decline in membership owing to the decision to disaffiliate from Labour, but they remained active. Moving to the left as a result of pressure from the more active layers of the membership in the Depression they also recruited many young people and workers as a result. But while winning new members they also lost members to the right, to the Labour Party, and to their left to the Communist Party and to the Trotskyists as well as losing a breakaway in the north west the Independent Socialist Party in 1935.

They were particularly active in supporting the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War, and around twenty-five members and sympathizers (including George Orwell) actually went to Spain to assist the POUM as part of an ILP Contingent of volunteers. From the mid-1930's onwards the ILP also attracted the attention of the Trotskyist movement with various Trotskyist groups working within it. This was in addition to the presence within the party of a group of members sympathetic to the CPGB, the Revolutionary Policy Committee, who eventually left to join that party.

As in 1914 the ILP opposed the Second World War on ethical grounds and turned to the left. One aspect of its leftist policies in this period was that it opposed the war time truce between the major parties and actively contested Parliamentary elections. In one such bye-election in Cardiff this was with the result that Fenner Brockway, the ILP candidate, found himself opposed by a Conservative candidate for whom the local Communist Party actively campaigned.

The end of war can be said to mark the final descent of the ILP into the political wilderness as its conference rejected calls to reaffiliate to the Labour Party. The final blow came in 1946 when the party's best known public spokesman, James Maxton MP, died.

Despite these blows the ILP continued and throughout the 1950s and into the early 1960's pioneered opposition to the nuclear bomb and sought to publicise ideas such as workers' control. The small party also maintained links with the remnants of its fraternal groups, such as the POUM, who were in exile, as well as campaigning for de-colonisation.

In the 1970s the ILP reassessed its views on the Labour Party, and in 1975 they renamed themselves Independent Labour Publications and became a pressure group inside the mainstream Labour Labour Party nn:Independent Labour Party sv:Independent Labour Party


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