Frank Goss (b. 1896): Politics, Protest and Class

Labour poster, 1922.
Labour poster, 1922.

Politics is not a prominent theme in Goss’s memoir and is only talked about towards the end. This could be because the focus of his memoir is his childhood and being at such a young age he may not have understood the different political parties and class relations. He does not mention his own political views and only talks about the politics his parents were involved in.

E. P. Thompson argues that “The making of the working class is a fact of political and cultural, as much as of economic, history”. Goss’s parents were socialists and his father was a member of the Social Democratic Party about the year 1885 before the organisation later became known instead as the Social Democratic Foundation. Goss writes that “Both these organisations were mainly theoretical in their approach to the problem of bringing about a revolution to transform the capitalist system into the socialist society which they envisaged.” (p188). He further adds that his father’s socialism was “a more scientific and materialistic approach that the millennium was to be achieved on earth rather than the hope of achieving a heaven after death.” (p188). Goss goes on to describe how “They looked forward to a new world in which all people of the earth would be equal, brothers who would use the earth and its products for the benefit of all, each contributing in effort according to his ability and receiving according to his needs.” (p188). They have their own ideas of what makes a good socialist and Goss writes:

A good socialist was one who acted in his everyday life in his relations to others in the sense of this hope in the brotherhood of man. To them, the sanity of their proposition was so obvious that it only needed explaining sufficiently for all people to adopt it. Each socialist would become the nucleus of a snowball of revelation, which, gathering momentum, would soon embrace all the world. (p188).

Pyramid of Capitalist system, 1911.
Pyramid of Capitalist system, 1911.

However, there was a set-back to this theory because many people did not want things that way. There was also those who had been “lumped together as the ‘unenlightened'”. Goss states that they were called the unenlightened “because they had not achieved an educational level at which the sanity of the socialist theory could penetrate.” (p189). Therefore, socialists decided to classify themselves as the ‘enlightened’ (p189). There were those who saw what the socialists were aiming at but did not like their objectives and these “were those whom, from ownership of wealth or occupancy of position, preferred an unequal to an equal state of society and these had to be overcome before there could be any clear path to socialism.” (p189). Some argued that this could only be overcome “by opposing force with force, using the workers’ strategic position of being the producers of wealth to force the opposition to yield power to be the overwhelming numbers […] This was to be done by strikes or similar methods of such magnitude that in the resulting chaos the whole of the existing capitalist system would automatically disintegrate.” (p189).

Goss goes on to say that “There were many shades of opinion between the extreme revolutionary and the mildest gradualist on the way in which socialism was to be achieved and each shade generated different socialist societies. […] Different parts of the country would become centres of strength of particular groups”. (p190). People would then make contact with the local socialist party group and would “join in with ‘the movement’, a term which embraced all socialists from the extreme left to the extreme right.” (p190). This is how Charlie and Nellie joined the Independent Labour Party.

Labour poster, 2015.
Labour poster, 2015.

Upon moving to Oldham, Charlie and Nellie joined the “Independent Labour Party – the I.L.P.” (p190). Goss describes how “The Oldham I.L.P. met, deliberated, passed resolutions, kept minutes, sent delegations, held study circles and generally followed the basic principles of all similar democratic organisations. One of its activities in winter was to hold a ‘Social’ every Saturday evening in an assembly room just off Mumps, the main street in Oldham.” (p190).

Goss was allowed to accompany them one night to the I.L.P. Social and he remembers how this was his first introduction to both socials and socialism and being at the tender age of twelve, he confused the two which he believes wasn’t his fault because he was too young to understand what they meant at the time. He reminds the readers that ‘in the early years of this century, apart from the theatre […] and special functions of musical or other cultural societies, “The Social” was one of the most exciting forms of entertainment to be found; and to a boy of twelve years of age it was intoxicating enjoyment.” (p191).

Goss describes the activities they all took part in at the social and how the more talented members of the party ‘would come forward to render “The Last Rose of Summer”, “Down Among the Dead Men” […] or any other of the popular songs of the day which gave the best range for the type of voice, vocal ambition, or virtuosity of the renderer.’ (p191). He writes, “A piano solo always preceded the other platform items and was listened to by everyone in respectful silence, applauded with great appreciation” (p191). Afterwards, ‘A recitation or two was always interspersed between the vocal numbers. My father on these occasions always asked to give the Lancashire audience his Cockney rendering of a popular ballad of his youth called “Running up and Down our Stairs” […] which I never failed to enjoy despite the repetition.’ (p191). They would then dance while the piano was played in the background and Goss was sometimes brought onto the dance floor to make up the numbers. He describes how he never failed “to cause a lot of amusement by wanting to move in directions opposite to the routine ones, being dragged back by the lady nearest to me to be twirled unceremoniously into the rhythm of the dance again.” (p192). Whilst he may not have understood the meaning of these socials at the time, he got a lot of enjoyment out of them.

Bibliography:

Goss, Frank. ‘My Boyhood At the Turn of the Century’. Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiography, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection, Volume Number: 0.313194444 http://bura.brunel.ac.uk/handle/2438/10909

Thompson, E.P. The Making of the English Working Class. London: Penguin Classics, 2013

Image references: 

General Election 2015: Political poster campaigns from all the major parties. Web. Accessed 15 December 2015. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11519856/General-Election-2015-Political-poster-campaigns-from-all-the-major-parties.html?frame=3258403

The Labour Party. Web. Accessed 15 December 2015. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/politics97/parties/palab.shtml

25 Most Powerful Propaganda Posters That Made All The Difference. Web. Accessed 15 December 2015. http://www.emlii.com/795f0d22/25-Most-Powerful-Propaganda-Posters-That-Made-All-The-Difference

 

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