BSP raided - freedom of political association attacked

From The Call, paper of the British Socialist Party, January 24 1918

The central offices of the BSP in London were raided by police officers from Scotland Yard last Thursday.

Acting under regulation 51 of the Defence of the Realm Act, they took possession of the premises and confiscated copies of a manifesto entitled ‘Russia’s appeal - will British workers remain silent?’, intended for circulation to the delegates of the Labour Party conference at Nottingham this week, together with a message to British workers by comrade Maxim Litvinov, the Russian ambassador to Britain. Several thousand copies of the current issue of The Call, which contained the manifesto were also seized, as well as copies of the previous week’s issue containing comrade Litvinov’s message.

The police had previously visited the premises of the National Labour Press, which printed the manifesto, and threatened to dismantle the machinery unless full information was given as to its printing and delivery.

In the preparation of the manifesto all the requirements of the new regulation 27c of the Defence of the Realm Act had been complied with. Both the manifesto and the reprint of comrade Litvinov’s message bore the names and addresses of the authors and printer, and copies were lodged with the Official Press Bureau the requisite 72 hours before the day on which it was intended to circulate them.

The action of the authorities in this matter raises a question of grave concern to the organised working class movement. As an affiliated organisation of the Labour Party, the BSP sought to communicate its views to the other affiliated societies on a matter of urgent importance that was bound to arise at the Labour Party conference. But the government intervenes and, by its arbitrary seizure of the manifestos, prohibits the BSP representatives placing their opinions before their fellow delegates, and prevents the latter from considering them. It means, in effect, that at the gravest moment in the history of the working class movement an organisation is forcibly restrained from communicating its views regarding Labour policy and Labour tactics to other organisations with which it is in political association, because those views do not meet with the approval of the government.

It is not only a further and deadly blow at the free expression of opinion. It is an undisguised attack on the liberty of political association; and it betrays the fear of our ruling class that, inspired by Russia’s appeal, the working people of this country will rally, not only to impose Russia’s peace terms upon the government, but to sweep away the whole capitalist system, which is responsible for the horrors, miseries and sufferings of the last three years.

The significance of the government’s action, both to the Labour Party as a whole, as well as to individual affiliated societies, is easily appreciable, and already resolutions of strong protest have reached us. We hope that similar resolutions will be passed by Labour, socialist and trade union organisations all over the country and sent to the prime minister and home secretary; and we confidently appeal for support from those bodies influencing the Labour Party executive to make determined representations to the government.

[Editor’s note: The offending manifesto, carried in The Call of January 17 1918, was published in last week’s Weekly Worker January 22.]