A timely reminder from one of our members, J Fisher:
I have just received this from the Quaker Socialist Group which I mentioned last Monday. Ada Salter is a fascinating women and did great things in Bermondsey in the early part of the 20th century. Each year at the Quakers Yearly Meeting there is the Salter Lecture. I thought the Book Review part of the email, of Ada, may be of interest to the Huntingdon Labour Party and could also perhaps be included in the Women’s Section as a start*!
I think she is an amazing person (her husband was a doctor and Labour Party MP) and they lived among the patients that he served. Of course there is another great book on Eleanor Marx which I also mentioned and is truly inspiring. The book is called “Eleanor Marx; A Life”, written by Rachel Homes and is obtainable in the Cambs Library. She was the first woman to lead the British dock workers’ and gas workers’ trades unions. Hers was the first English translation of Flaubert’s Mme Bovary. She pioneered the theatre of Henrik Ibsen. etc., etc.,!
Another great woman.
* we’ll be adding this into that section as well
Ada Salter Day, July 2016
Report by Alison Langford for the QSS Committee
Several QSS members took part in the 150th birthday celebration of Ada Salter. The central event was on Saturday 16th July, when we gathered by the statues of Ada, her husband Alfred and daughter Joyce on the Thames embankment at Rotherhithe, very near to where the family had lived. The statues of Ada (and also of Alfred) overlook the City of London on the other side of the river, now of course one of the significant points of global capitalism.
Apart from QSS members there were people from Bermondsey Labour Party, others from Ada’s home town of Raunds in Northamptonshire plus some who had heard about the event and were interested in taking part, to honour Ada’s legacy, including Sheila Hancock, who added a bit of celebrity to the occasion. All in all, it was quite a sizeable group.
There were a few speeches, including a very stirring one from Peter Tatchell. Juliet Prager spoke on behalf of Quakers in Britain and there were also speeches from the Labour Mayor and Leader of Southwark Council, plus the Conservative Mayor of Raunds and someone from Raunds Historical Society.
To reflect all aspects of Ada’s life there was a speech from a woman from the GMB union, one from the peace movement – an interesting mix.
The speeches were followed by presentations of flowers, most of which were laid by Ada’s statue by the people who had given speeches. Ada is of course associated with advocating for green spaces and the planting of trees and flowers in cities. When she was elected as a councillor, she ensured that these were provided in Bermondsey. However, it was at this point that QSS came to the fore, because the first presentation of flowers was made by David Forbes from QSS. David placed a bunch of red dahlias in “Ada’s” hand. The statue has been made so that one of her hands can hold a bunch of flowers. Red dahlias were particularly symbolic because dahlias were Ada’s favourite flowers. She found they were able to withstand city pollution better than many other flowers and their vibrant colours were effective in council park flower beds. The red colour of course symbolised her political affiliation.
Most of the group then moved to the Sands Film Studio to watch a performance of Red Flag Over Bermondsey, the play created by Journeymen Theatre about the life of Ada Salter.
Ada Salter, pioneer of Ethical Socialism
Graham Taylor – published by Lawrence & Wishart
Reviewed for QSS by David Forbes
Behind an incredibly detailed and sometimes dense historiography of the life of Ada Salter lies Graham Taylor’s conviction that his subject’s moral and political stance is right for our times. This stance, brought to fruition in the “Bermondsey Revolution” of 1922-1937, bears the description “ethical socialism”. The recent tragic murder of Jo Cox, which to many resembles nothing less than a martyrdom, serves to exemplify and vindicate Graham Taylor’s thesis. Here is an individual who, through her personal and ethical stance, has led many to conclude that an attachment to international peace and justice can coexist with a deep commitment to improving the lot of local constituents; that politics is not just an ongoing battle between right and left, but equally an issue of right and wrong. This is the position which was incarnated in the leadership of Ada Slater and her husband, Alfred in the first third of the last century.
A hundred years later Graham Taylor summarises the critique of today’s political scene: “Contemporary political parties are much more sophisticated, but none has an ethical framework. Their leaders are far more professional, but all are mistrusted [….]politicians point to the opinion polls, charities ape big business, and no one knows where technology is taking the planet”. In stark contrast, it was with no concern for ‘the middle ground’ of opinion that Ada Salter always came top of the poll and scored the highest votes ever recorded in London. She was “green” before “greens” existed and (we may add) she “thought global, acted local” long before the slogan had been invented.
However, this history of “Ada Salter: Pioneer of Ethical Socialism” points up a paradox. Small is beautiful, but beautiful is small. Ada was successful precisely because she did not attempt to exercise national political leadership, but instead,along with Alfred, converted Bermondsey into an international example, which then proceeded to be echoed to some extent at the national level with the subsequent advent of the NHS, the Green Belt and environmental planning. Alfred was inevitably less than successful in his efforts to win over parliament and government to his positions as a constituency MP. The Salters’ fellow pacifists, Ramsay MacDonald and Fenner Brockway shifted position, one to the rightwing position of accommodation with capitalism and the other to the left stance of accommodation with Marxist inspired class warfare. The Independent Labour Party with its interpretation of Clause 4 as a universalisation of small-scale co-operatives was squeezed out.
This and the defeat of unconditional pacifism, culminating in the physical destruction of much of Bermondsey by the Luftwaffe, the elimination of its co-operatives at the hands of wartime coalition and the death of the Salters themselves explains their relative neglect beyond a limited circle of Bermondsey notables and readers of Fenner Brockway’s Alfred Salter biography. This is the challenge Graham Taylor seeks to meet in his book. Brockway’s great biography was achieved at the expense of obscuring the equal, if not even greater significance of Ada Salter as an example for today’s world. Graham Taylor’s descriptions of events are complex and uncompromising, but revelatory. They counteract any tendency we may have to think there is something new in today’s complex tactical manoeuvres and splits.
We see how Ada emerged out of a divided Methodism to espouse its radical wing and to become “Sister Ada” in the West London Mission; how soon after this she was a key figure in the founding of the Women’s Labour League (WLL) which stood for a Mazzini-inspired coalition of the women and workers movements at a time when the suffragettes lurched to the right; how this led to the Salters out of the Liberal party and into Keir Hardy’s Independent Labour Party. It was for the ILP and the WLL that Ada became the first ever woman London Councillor in full elections and the first Labour Councillor.
Meanwhile, disillusioned by the failure of a majority of Methodists to oppose the Boer War in 1900, she had become an Associate Member of the Quakers when Alfred was admitted to full membership, she herself becoming a full member in 1915 under the impact of the First World War.
Graham Taylor reveals to us an Ada Salter who was a pioneer of the women’s movement as part of the empowerment of marginalised workers and residents. She more readily spoke the language of socialism than that of Methodism or, later, Quakerism. She was a renowned organiser for survival in the great strike of 1912 and the General Strike of 1926. But her socialism was an expression of her faith and practice. It was “ethical”, not pragmatic. It promoted beauty as well as justice. It was uncompromisingly pacifist; co-operative, not statist; local and global, more than national (though it is true that her work in developing urban gardening took on national dimensions.) She was personally inspiring and empowering, whether as “Sister Ada” to numerous street-hardened young women and youths or as Councillor Salter, fashioner of the Bermondsey Revolution. She was a pattern and an example.
The Quaker Socialist Society
has the following objectives:
– to provide fellowship and a forum for Friends and Attenders who believe that political affairs are an essential part of our life of faith;
– to work for social justice and a fair, safe and peaceful world;
– to develop understanding and practice of democratic socialism;
– to maintain a Quaker witness within the socialist movement, and to make available the insights of socialism for Friends;
– to work, with others, for a corporate Social Testimony.
If you would like to know more about QSS, please contact our Membership secretary:
Deirdre Flintoff , 5 Orchard Court, Rose Hill, Oxford 0X4 4HJ firstname.lastname@example.org 01865 715870
The annual subscription is £10 for an individual, £15 for a couple at the same address, and £5 unwaged. Associate Membership is also available at £5 for non-Quakers who prefer this, although full membership is open to all who share our aims.
Clerk: Chris Newsam, e-mail: email@example.com