A couple of months ago I went to a talk on the theme of Radical Walthamstow, given by local historian Roger Huddle. Walthamstow is the Victorian suburb of London that has been my home for nearly 20 years. Between around 1870 and 1940 it was a hive of working class agitation, organising and self-help. Just yards from where I lived until very recently, workers had clubbed together to build a community centre named in honour of William Morris, the Arts and Crafts Movement leader and socialist dynamo who was born in the town.
One of the services that used to be run in the centre was a socialist Sunday school. On the wall was a wooden plaque, and on it were set out the “Socialist 10 Commandments”. (Thanks to Mehrdad Aref-Adib for permission to use the image). These are, in full:
- Love your schoolfellows, they will become your fellow workers and companions in life.
- Love learning, which is the food of the mind; be as grateful to your teacher as to your parents.
- Make every day holy by good and useful deeds and kindly actions.
- Honour good people, be courteous and respect all, bow down to none.
- Do not hate or offend anyone. Do not seek revenge, but stand up for your rights and resist tyranny.
- Be not cowardly, protect the feeble and love justice.
- Remember that all good things of the earth are the result of labour. Whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the worker.
- Observe and think in order to discover the truth. Do not believe what is contrary to reason and never deceive yourself or others.
- Do not think that he who loves his own country must hate and despise other nations, or wish for war, which is a remnant of barbarism.
- Help to bring about the day when all nations shall live fraternally together in peace and prosperity.
And the declaration reads:
We desire to be just and loving to all our fellow men and women, to work together as brothers and sisters, to be kind to every living creature, and so help to form a New Society, with Justice as its foundation and Love its law.
[Note: declaration text added on 9 Nov 2015, in response to the comment from Nick Jones below]
As someone whose political consciousness evolved in the turbulent 1980s, for a time I was happy – or at least willing – to call myself a socialist. Since then, I have felt less comfortable with that label, and indeed have become more sceptical about politics generally.
In that period I have also become a father. Like many parents, I believe that part of my job is to give my daughter a kind of moral compass that will help her find her own way through an increasingly complex world.
Hearing, and then reading, the above list brought me up short. Its generous, respectful, courageous, progressive (in the best sense of the word) message set out, in beautifully simple language, a humanist manifesto that I would be happy to sign up to.
In these dark times, the word ‘socialist’ is rarely used except as a term of abuse or contempt. The Socialist 10 Commandments remind us that the movement embraced a vision that was admirable, humane, and enlightened. Who could possibly object to such a vision?