Keir Hardie

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The early Christian Fathers ... proclaimed that, inasmuch as nature had provided all things in common, it was sinful robbery for one man to own more than another.

James Keir Hardie (15 August 185626 September 1915) was a Scottish trade unionist and politician. He was a founder of the Labour Party, and served as its first parliamentary leader from 1906 to 1908.


  • From his childhood onward this boy [the future Edward VIII] will be surrounded by sycophants and flatterers by the score—[Cries of ‘Oh, oh!’]—and will be taught to believe himself as of a superior creation. [Cries of ‘Oh, oh!’] A line will be drawn between him and the people whom he is to be called upon some day to reign over. In due course, following the precedent which has already been set, he will be sent on a tour round the world, and probably rumours of a morganatic alliance will follow—[Loud cries of ‘Oh, oh!’ and ‘Order!’]—and the end of it all will be that the country will be called upon to pay the bill. [Cries of Divide!]
    • House of Commons speech (1894)
  • We are called upon at the beginning of the twentieth century to decide the question propounded in the Sermon on the Mount, as to whether we will worship God or Mammon. The present day is a Mammon-worshipping age. Socialism proposes to dethrone the brute-god Mammon and to lift humanity into its place. I beg to submit, in this very imperfect fashion, the resolution on the paper, merely promising that the last has not been heard of the Socialist movement either in the country or on the floor of this House, but that, just as sure as Radicalism democratised the system of government politically in the last century, so will socialism democratise the country industrially during the century upon which we just entered.
    • Moving a motion calling for a Socialist Commonwealth in the House of Commons (23 April 1901).
    • Hansard, HC 5th series vol. 92 cols. 1179-80.
  • As a matter of hard, dry fact, from which there can be no getting away, there is more Labour legislation standing to the credit account of the Conservative Party on the Statute Books than there is to that of their opponents. It is a grotesque assumption that one side exists for the purpose of passing such legislation while the other does so grudgingly and under the force of compulsion.
    • Labour Politics, Tracts for the Times, No. 2 (July 1903), quoted in Robert McKenzie and Allan Silver, Angels in Marble: Working Class Conservatives in Urban England (1968), p. 44, n. 60
  • For my own part I have always maintained that to claim for the Socialist movement that it is a "class" war dependent for its success upon the "class" consciousness of one section of the community is doing Socialism an injustice, and indefinitely postponing its triumph. It is, in fact, lowering it to the level of a mere faction fight. Socialism offers a platform broad enough for all to stand upon who accept its principles ... Socialism makes war upon a system, not upon a class.
    • Article in Labour Leader (September 1904).
    • "Keir Hardie's Speeches and Writings", edited by Emrys Hughes ("Forward" Printing and Publishing Company Ltd, Glasgow, 1928), pp. 118, 120
  • There were those who still believed that women should remain the domestic drudges they had been all through the ages, but they were aware that in every sphere of industrial activity women labour was coming more and more into competition with that of men, and the question they had to decide was whether they wanted women as competitors who would undercut wages or as comrades who would fight side by side to get better conditions for men and women alike. Class exclusion had been removed, but sex exclusion remained, and the time had now come when every cause that divided democracy ought to be removed. ... These women had no option but to make themselves a disagreeable nuisance to every party until their claims had been considered. ... Being outside the franchise, they were justified in being rebels until the State made them citizens. Men had no right to sit in judgment upon their tactics and their methods. They knew their own business and had courage and capacity for carrying the movement through. As a democrat, as a labour man who wanted to see the working classes more fully represented in the seat of power, and as a Socialist, he desired to see the political inequality which ruled women out from citizenship removed.
    • Speech in Stevenson Square, Manchester (22 July 1906), quoted in The Times (23 July 1906), p. 10
  • They should remember that if wages were not so good as they should be, if the hours were long, and if the conditions of labour were becoming worse, the responsibility rested with those men who would not come inside the union and try to make things better. What was it that kept them apart? Some people said it was held different religious opinions they would not work together in the union. Nothing, in his opinion, could be more stupid. What did it matter to a man whether his neighbour was a Protestant or a Catholic so long as they were working men and had one common interest, to work together for each other's good?
  • They wanted to see in the House of Commons a strong Labour party, which would be able to compel the employer class and the landlord class to take their hands off the life of the nation and enable the working people to have a chance to live. They knew the terrible curse landlordism had been to Ireland; it had been the same in Scotland. It had been a curse all the time and always, and they wanted to get rid of it. They could only do so by having Labour members in Parliament to fight the cause of the common people.
    • Speech in Ayr to the Glasgow branch of the National Union of Dock Labourers (25 August 1906), quoted in The Times (27 August 1906), p. 4
  • The Zulus in South Africa were being treated, like the dock labourers at home, as a means for making money for an unscrupulous and conscienceless gang. As a member of the Labour party he was going to stand up for the Zulus or for any other race or people who were being treated unjustly under the British flag. He stood up for working men at home, and he did so for working men in South Africa.
    • Speech in Ayr to the Glasgow branch of the National Union of Dock Labourers (25 August 1906), quoted in The Times (27 August 1906), p. 4
  • The Master of Elibank is quite right when he says that Socialism and Liberalism are antagonistic forces. Socialism represents the principles taught by Christ, the reign of love and fraternity; Liberalism represents fierce, unscrupulous strife and competition, the aggrandisement of the strong, the robbery of the weak. Between these there can be no truce. The struggle is between God and Mammon, and Liberalism has ever been a devotee of Mammon.
    • 'The Master of Elibank's Confession', Labour Leader (31 August 1906), p. 8
  • His sympathies were with the people of Russia, but they were also with the colonial races of South Africa. He did not limit his sympathies to the colour of a man's skin, the religion he professed, or the language he spoke. Wherever he saw wrong being done or an injustice perpetrated, he had no option but to speak out and protest and make the truth known... They wanted to see justice obtain in the earth, justice in Russia, justice in Great Britain, and justice in South Africa, and the glory of the Socialist movement was that it united all that was best in the race in denouncing the wrong and helping to introduce right.
    • Speech in Blackburn town hall (3 September 1906), quoted in The Times (4 September 1906), p. 8
  • Surely we had got beyond that stage of civilisation as represented by war and the age of barbarism. What was the deduction from Mr. Haldane's observations? That the mass of the people in the industrial army corresponded to the rank and file in the military Army were to have no opinions, no individuality, no will of their own, no right to think, and no power to act, that they were to be obedient and in subjection to those placed in power and authority over them. That kind of dogma might do for the military feudalism of Germany, but it was alien and contrary to the freedom-loving spirit of Scotland, which inspired the poems of Robert Burns.
    • Speech in the town hall of Darvel, Ayrshire (12 January 1907), quoted in The Times (14 January 1907), p. 11
  • They of the Labour party were free-traders to a man.
    • Speech in the Guildhall in Cambridge (16 February 1907), quoted in The Times (18 February 1907), p. 12
  • Socialism stood for the divinity of the human race and as such detested war and all preparations leading to war. The one party in the world that could be trusted to be a peace party at all times was the Socialist and Labour party.
    • Speech in the Guildhall in Cambridge (16 February 1907), quoted in The Times (18 February 1907), p. 12
  • Finance was the power that the people had most to fear. It made States and Kings and Cabinets, and even Liberal Cabinets, mere puppets to dance when the Rothschilds pulled the strings. The Labour party had made its protest, and they were proud of it.
    • Speech in Newport, Monmouthshire (10 June 1908), quoted in The Times (11 June 1908), p. 10
  • For 50 years they had had free trade in Great Britain and they had a greater mass of sordid, miserable destitution in this country than could be found in any other country on the face of the globe. If tariff reform would solve the question there would be no poverty in America, protection was never intended to benefit the working classes.
    • Speech in Walworth (7 March 1909), quoted in The Times (8 March 1909), p. 12
  • Profit sharing, by anchoring a man to the spot, by breaking down the sense of his own consciousness, which inspired every big strike, had a positive tendency to lower wages and worsen the conditions of employment. Therefore he looked with no hope to profit sharing.
    • Speech in Newcastle-upon-Tyne (4 April 1909), quoted in The Times (5 April 1909), p. 6
  • Thanks to the wise legislators of the past who had allowed our native land to go out of cultivation and left us dependent upon other countries for our food supplies, all that an invading force would be required to do would be to stop our food supplies coming in; the gaunt enemy of hunger would do all the invader's work.
    • Speech to the annual meeting of the Liverpool Peace Society (19 April 1911), quoted in The Times (20 April 1911), p. 12
  • If...the Social Democrats make substantial gains at the polls every one here...will accept that as indisputable proof that the German people desire peace. ... A great Socialist triumph on that day would not only sweep the clouds of war from off this political horizon, but would also make it easy for an understanding to be reached between Germany and Great Britain concerning future naval policy, and thus relieve the taxpayers of both countries of the crushing burden which the present rivalry in Dreadnought building imposes.
  • Women have no voice in making the laws which they are expected to obey. "What about Mrs. Pankhurst?" ejaculated one of the audience, to which Mr. Hardie retorted, "If women are not allowed a say in making the laws they are justified in breaking them." (Loud shouts of dissent and a voice, "What about burning houses?") Mr. Hardie continued:—When men were agitating for the franchise not only were houses burnt, but there was armed revolution and rioting. I will oppose every Franchise Bill, including what is called plural voting, until women have the franchise.
  • Nationalisation of land, mines, and railways was not necessarily of a definite Socialist character. In Germany they had nationalisation of railways, but it did not help the workers, and in India they had nationalisation of land, railways, and mines, and there was more poverty among the workers there than in any other country. They might have all these things nationalised for the advantage of capitalism and the condition of the workers the same as before. Unless they had the State controlled by the working class and abolished class rule they could nationalise what they pleased, but the worker would continue in a subordinate position.
    • Speech to the conference of the Scottish Divisional Council of the Independent Labour Party in Glasgow (3 January 1914), quoted in The Times (5 January 1914), p. 10
  • “Their honesty,” said honest Keir Hardie, “is proverbial. They borrow and lend on word of mouth, and the repudiation of a debt is almost unknown.”
    • Keir Hardie about Indians. Quoted from Will Durant, Our Oriental Heritage.
  • Max Muller, on the strength of official documents and a missionary report concerning education in Bengal prior to the British occupation, asserts that there were 80,000 native schools in Bengal, or one for every 4000 of the population. Ludlow, in his History of British India, says that "in every Hindoo village which has retained its old form I am assured that the children generally are able to read, write, and cipher, but where we have swept away the village system, as in Bengal, there the village school has also disappeared."

From Serfdom to Socialism (1907)

  • If the State has no right to interfere to protect the poor struggling against circumstances over which they have no control in the industrial world, it is difficult to see why the same State should be considered a beneficent agency when called in to protect the property of the rich against an infuriated mob of starving people. If the poor are to be left to struggle for existence unaided by the State, then why not the rich?
    • pp. 3-4
  • If it could be shown that the great Trust magnate or the great Aristocratic landowner, apart from the advantages of his inherited wealth, was a more highly developed species of humanity than the poor struggling sempstress or the unemployed docker, then there might be some justification for allowing the docker and the sempstress as the representatives of a weaker class to die out in order to enable the more highly developed creature to survive; but one moment's reflection will show that the alleged superiority of the landowner or the Trust magnate rests on one fact alone, namely, that he owns certain material possessions, usually inherited, which enable him to dictate the terms upon which his less fortunate fellow creatures shall be permitted to live.
    • pp. 4-5
  • The individualistic conception of the State as some external authority exercising a malign influence upon the life of the community is a travesty of fact. The State is that form of organised society which has evolved through the process of the ages, and represents the aptitude for freedom and self-government to which any people has attained. The policeman and the soldier, for example, who are at the call of the landlord or the employer when tenant or workman becomes turbulent, exist by the will and under the express authority of those same tenants and workmen, who constitute a preponderating majority in the State, and without whose consent neither soldier nor policeman could continue to exist.
    • p. 6-7
  • No law can give freedom to a people which is dependent upon some power or authority outside themselves for the necessaries of life. The owners of the means of life can dictate the terms upon which all who are not owners are to be permitted to live.
    • p. 9
  • Socialism does not propose to abolish land or capital. Only a genius could have thought of this as an objection to Socialism. Socialism proposes to abolish capitalism and landlordism.
    • p. 11
  • The landlord, qua landlord, performs no function in the economy of industry or of food production. He is a rent receiver; that, and nothing more. Were the landlord to be abolished, the soil and the people who till it would still remain, and the disappearance of the landowner would pass almost unnoticed. So too with the capitalist.
    • p. 11
  • By capitalist, I mean the investor who puts his money into a concern and draws profits there from without participating in the organisation or management of the business. Were all these to disappear in the night, leaving no trace behind, nothing would be changed.
    • p. 11
  • There is the increasing tension required in the conduct of business which so saps a man's energies as to leave him little of either time or inclination for the cultivation of any other than the business faculty. A tendency to revolt against this is a well-marked feature of the social life of our time. Of what use is it, ask these slaves of the ledger, to spend the greater part of a lifetime in acquiring a competency only to find after it has been acquired that its acquisition has taken all the savour of enjoyment out of life?
    • p. 29
  • By inherited instinct we are all Communists at heart; and if the isolated Ego of self gets the upper hand for a time he produces results so terrifying that the mistake of allowing him to rule is speedily made apparent, and we begin to seek a way whereby we may return to the kindly sway of the spirit of Altruism.
    • p. 34
  • Almost without exception, the early Christian Fathers whose teachings have come down to us spoke out fearlessly against usury, which includes interest also, and on the side of Communism. They proclaimed that, inasmuch as nature had provided all things in common, it was sinful robbery for one man to own more than another, especially if that other was in want. The man who gathered much whilst others had not enough, was a murderer.
    • p. 39
  • History is one long record of like illustrations. Must our modern civilisation with all its teeming wonders come to a like end? We are reproducing in faithful detail every cause which led to the downfall of the civilisations of other days—Imperialism, taking tribute from conquered races, the accumulation of great fortunes, the development of a population which owns no property, and is always in poverty. Land has gone out of cultivation and physical deterioration is an alarming fact. An so we Socialists say the system which is producing these results must not be allowed to continue. A system which has robbed religion of its saviour, destroyed handicraft, which awards the palm of success to the unscrupulous, corrupts the press, turns pure women on the streetsm and upright men into mean-spirited time-servers, cannot continue. In the end it is bound to work its own overthrow. Socialism with its promise of freedom, its larger hope for humanity, its triumph of peace over war, its binding of the races of the earth into one all-embracing brotherhood, must prevail. Capitalism is the creed of the dying present; socialism throbs with the life of the days that are to be. It has claimed its martyrs in the past, is claiming them now, will claim them still; but what then? Better to "rebel and die in the twenty worlds sooner than bear the yoke of thwarted life."
    • p. 103–104

Election address for the 1910 general election (1910)

  • The events of the past few weeks in the Aberdare and Rhondda valleys must have shown you anew that a Liberal government is first and foremost a capitalist government. If the bloodshed and riotous conduct of which the police have been guilty had taken place under a Conservative government every Liberal platform would have rung with denunciations of the wicked Tories; but, because it is the Liberals who are responsible there is a conspiracy of silence in the press and every Liberal speaker is dumb.
  • The Home Secretary not only defends the actions of the police and refuses an enquiry into the charges against them but also eulogises the hooligans in uniform, whilst Liberal MPs, with few exceptions, back him up by their votes in the Division Lobby.
  • As a consequence of this the men on strike are believed by millions of people who know nothing of the facts to be wild, riotous, drunken, worthless scamps, whereas the very opposite is the truth. The military and police have been sent to help the masters to crush the men. The trick won’t succeed.
  • During the contest I shall be a good deal in other constituencies where Labour men are being opposed. Both parties fear the presence in Parliament of Labour men whom they can can neither silence nor control. I want to see the number of such men increased, so that political hypocrites to the Churchill type may be unmasked and the health, comfort, safety, and general well-being of the working class promoted. I know you will hold the fort for Labour in my absence.
    • Election address for the Merthyr Tydfil Boroughs parliamentary constituency (dated 28 November 1910). Printed and published by the Labour Pioneer Press Ltd, Williams' Square Glebeland, Merthyr Tydfil. Copy preserved in the People’s History Museum.

Quotes about Keir Hardie

In alphabetical order by author or source.
  • A number of the delegates – even at the Marxist meeting of the Second International – were supportive of class struggle but opposed to violence, basing their socialism on ethical, partly Christian, foundations at least as much as on Marx. Keir Hardie, who had left school at the age of eight and from the ages of ten to twenty-three had worked in coal mines, was a case in point. His socialism was an eclectic mixture, owing much to the poetry of Robert Burns, religious mysticism and an intuitive feel for ‘the gradualist, peaceful evolution of British society, however pugnaciously he might champion the workers’ cause’. To the British political establishment, Hardie seemed an extremist (not least as a result of his attacks in Parliament on the monarchy); for the revolutionary Lenin, he epitomized 'opportunism'.
  • The Independent Labour Party is extremely indefinite in its tactics, and its leader, Keir Hardie, is a super-cunning Scot, whose demagogic tricks are not to be trusted for a minute. Although he is a poor devil of a Scottish coal miner, he has founded a big weekly, The Labour Leader, which could not have been established without considerable money, and he is getting this money from Tory or Liberal-Unionist, that is, anti-Gladstone and anti-Home Rule sources. There can be no doubt about this, and his notorious literary connections in London as well as direct reports and his political attitude confirm it. Consequently, owing to desertions by Irish and radical voters, he may very easily lose his seat in Parliament at the 1895 general elections and that would be a stroke of good luck — the man is the greatest obstacle at present. He appears in Parliament only on demagogic occasions, in order to cut a figure with phrases about the unemployed — without getting anything done — or to address imbecilities to the Queen on the occasion of the birth of a prince, which is infinitely banal and cheap in this country, and so forth. Otherwise there are very good elements both in the Social-Democratic Federation and in the Independent Labour Party, especially in the provinces, but they are scattered; yet they have at least managed to foil all the efforts of the leaders to incite the two organisations against each other.
  • Keir Hardie's socialism [was] idealistic in character, drawn more from Methodism and Robert Burns than from Karl Marx.
    • Hugh Gaitskell, speech in Westminster Hall to the commemoration of the centenary of Keir Hardie's birth (11 December 1956), quoted in The Times (12 December 1956), p. 6
  • It sometimes filled him with a little bit of melancholy when he thought that to many in the Labour movement Keir Hardie was only a name. The generation that knew the man was steadily being turned out, and before many years would all have gone. Hardie would only be something like a myth in the imagination of the living. He would be arrayed in garments of great dignity, and with almost superhuman purity and power, which always happened when a great man had died and had become a historical figure. But whatever happened to Hardie, he would always remain as the first man in their great Labour movement.
    • Ramsay MacDonald, speech to the opening of the Keir Hardie Institute in Glasgow (28 September 1927), quoted in The Times (29 September 1927), p. 14
  • He set out not to clear his own course, but to blaze a trail along which he might lead the people towards the city of his dreams, a city well founded on justice and on equality, a city in which all men and women might live together and work together in brotherly service for the common good. It is for us to carry on with the building of that city, encouraged by his example, held together in unity by the common heritage which has come to us from him. We salute his memory. We pass on to complete his work.
    • Ramsay MacDonald, message to the annual demonstration arranged by the Independent Labour Party in memory of Keir Hardie in Cumnock, Ayrshire (22 June 1929), quoted in The Times (24 June 1929), p. 16
  • He is an observant, hard-headed, honest fellow, but rather vain and crammed full of vehement preconceptions, especially on all the most delicate and dubious parts of politics. Perhaps it is only the men with these unscrupulous preconceptions—knocking their heads against stone walls—who force the world along.
    • John Morley, letter (23 August 1907), quoted in John Morley, Recollections, Volume II (1917), p. 235
  • [He was] one of the best loved and most respected of the public men of those times. His politics were, above all, the politics of compassion; his voice was the voice of the oppressed and the neglected—the sufferers from a civilisation that was full of injustices.
    • Herbert Samuel, speech in Westminster Hall to the commemoration of the centenary of Keir Hardie's birth (11 December 1956), quoted in The Times (12 December 1956), p. 6
  • During the years Hardie was in Parliament, from 1892 to 1895...he made the subject of unemployment an issue in British politics. Before then the State acknowledged no obligation to make provision for the unemployed. They were regarded as being in the main a lot of drunken, thriftless, ne'er-do-wells whose condition was due to their own fault. By persistently keeping the unemployed question before Parliament, and by speaking at week-ends throughout the country, Hardie at last succeeded in getting the Government to admit a public responsibility for the unemployed. To Keir Hardie, more than to any other man, the credit was due for the great change which, in the last 30 years, had come over Parliament, and the awakening of the public conscience on this question.
    • Philip Snowden, radio broadcast in the series I Knew the Man (13 December 1935), quoted in The Times (14 December 1935), p. 7
  • Snowden denied that Hardie's Socialism was indebted to the teachings of Karl Marx. He had often heard Hardie say that his Socialism was derived from the New Testament and the poems of Robert Burns, rather than from the writings of Socialist economists.
    • Philip Snowden, radio broadcast in the series I Knew the Man (13 December 1935), quoted in The Times (14 December 1935), p. 7
  • By listening to the lectures and reading a wide variety of books I nursed the seed which had been planted in my mind by Keir Hardie's speech in Denver, and by Myron Reed's discussions of the human struggle there.

An Autobiography, Volume One, 1864–1919 (1934)

by Philip Snowden
  • Keir Hardie told me that it was Progress and Poverty which gave him his first ideas of Socialism. Henry George, he felt, had claimed too much for the results of the appropriation of the economic rent of land, and had not appreciated the importance of capitalistic exploitation.
    • p. 49
  • To him more than to any other individual the bringing of the British working classes to a consciousness of their own power is due.
    • p. 74
  • He was not the politician, but the prophet and the seer. Compromise was not in the man's nature. He was the unsparing iconoclast who sought to break the illusions and conventions of his generation. He had set before himself an ideal which he pursued regardless of the hostility and opposition of enemies, and often with scant regard for the criticism and advice of his friends. But, withal, he was the greatest product of the democracy of our times.
    • p. 314
  • His speeches were not those of the politician, but of the man with a mission and a message. His fine, rugged appearance, his powerful and resonant voice, the character of his popular addresses, brought to one's imagination the old Hebrew prophets thundering forth denunciation of the evils of their day and prophesying the coming of a better time. The moving impulse of Keir Hardie's work was a profound belief in the common people. He believed in their capacity, and he burned with indignation at their unmerited sufferings. He was no theoretic dogmatist. He never argued on the platform the economic theories of Socialism. His Socialism was a great human conception of the equal right of all men and women to the wealth of the world and to enjoyment of the fullness of life.
    • pp. 314-315
  • Hardie profoundly believed himself to be inspired with a mission. After the declaration of the poll in an election in which he had been an unsuccessful candidate, he said to a gathering of his supporters: "I come from a race of seers, and I see clearly in prophetic vision the day, not fifty years ahead, when the cause for which we stand will be triumphant".
    • p. 317
  • His life was the expression of a deep religious faith. A mutual friend once said to me: "If Hardie were the most blatant atheist I should still regard him as the most religious man I have ever known". "I do not know", Hardie once said to me, "what they will say about old Keir Hardie when he is dead and gone. But this at least I hope they will be able to say—that, with all his faults, he always fought for his own class." And that, indeed, those of us who knew him can say.
    • p. 318
  • Few men have had so great an influence on the political life of the country. In the day when the common people enter into the Promised Land no name deserves to be more affectionately and gratefully remembered than Keir Hardie.
    • p. 319
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