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Discrete CollectionsPolitics, economics and social science collections
TitleIndependent Labour Party
Extent263 boxes and 4 outsize packages
Admin Biographical HistoryIndependent Labour Party 1893-1975

In the early 1890s a working-class independent labour movement emerged in the north of England based on factories, mills and mines. Various socialist leaders, the most important of which was Keir Hardie, worked to weld small socialist and labour groups scattered across the country into a national party. The national Independent Labour Party (ILP) was founded in 1893 at a conference in Bradford, attended by about 120 delegates from various local labour and socialist organisations.

Aims and Objectives
The ILP's objective was the establishment of a Socialist Commonwealth, a classless society with all economic resources communally owned and controlled. Its aim was to overthrow the capitalist system in Britain and also to co-operate with workers in other countries for the same end.

The ILP and the Labour Party
The ILP aimed to fight both local and national elections in areas where it stood a chance of success. Together with trade unions, the Fabian Society and the Social Democratic Federation (SDF), the ILP was one of the bodies who created the Labour Representation Committee in 1900, which became the Labour Party. The ILP remained an important force within the Labour Party until the mid 1920s. Before 1918 the Labour Party had little local organisation and Labour supporters tended to join their local ILP branch. Many prominent parliamentary Labour MPs between 1900-1924 were also ILP members and leaders, including James Ramsay MacDonald and Philip Snowden. However the ILP became increasingly distanced from Labour Party policy on many issues from the mid 1920s, the Labour Party committing itself to gradualism and moderation and the ILP working towards 'Socialism Now'. MacDonald and Snowden both left the ILP, in 1930 and 1928 respectively. The ILP dis-affiliated from the Labour Party in 1932, which led to a sharp fall in ILP membership across the country and the closure of many branches. The last MP to be elected as an ILP candidate was James Carmichael in 1946.

Relationship with other labour and socialist bodies
The ILP was keen to maintain links with labour and socialist bodies across Britain, Europe and the world, in the cause of international socialism. There was much discussion in the early years of the ILP about possible 'fusion' with the SDF, which Keir Hardie successfully opposed. The ILP continued to have joint committees with the Fabian Society into the 1920s. From its earliest days, the ILP was keen to collaborate with socialist parties in other countries and met periodically in an international Congress. The ILP took a pacifist stance during both the First and Second World Wars.

National and regional organisation
The ILP was run at national level by the National Administrative Council (NAC) from Head Office. The NAC consisted of the Chairman and Treasurer of the Party, members elected at the Annual Conference, representatives from the Divisional Councils and the Secretaries of the Party (the latter not having voting powers). From the party's earliest days, women were eligible to stand for ILP offices on the same terms as men.

At regional level, the ILP was organised into nine numbered Divisions (1-Scotland, 2-North-East, 3-Yorkshire, 4-Midlands, 5-East Anglia, 6-London & South, 7-South-West, 8-Wales, and 9-Lancashire). These were run by Divisional Councils consisting of representatives from local ILP organisations, which included District Councils, Federations and most importantly, Branches. All members were usually expected to belong to their local ILP Branch. The Branches, some of which were founded before the national ILP, operated with a good deal of autonomy. The Branches selected their own Parliamentary candidates which then had to be endorsed by the NAC and Divisional Council. ILP Branches varied enormously in size and strength as a minimum of only three people were required to form a branch, and branches were lapsing and being formed throughout the history of the ILP into the 1960s. There is no known definitive list of ILP branches, nor any list or index of ILP members.

Other activities
The ILP was active from the 1890s in the field of publications and published many pamphlets and leaflets. In 1903 it took over the Labour Leader, a weekly newspaper previously controlled by Keir Hardie, which became the New Leader under H N Brailsford in 1923 and later the Socialist Leader. The ILP's own press, National Labour Press Limited, was founded in 1909 to publish the Labour Leader and other ILP literature. It suffered proceedings against it during the First World War because of its anti-war publications. A subsidiary company, Blackfriars Press, was formed in 1914 to perform commercial work not suited to the National Labour Press.

Other companies in which the ILP had a direct concern included the ILP Trust Ltd (formed to advise on and hold ILP property and investments) and the Commonweal Building Society (formed to assist ILP branches with mortgages).

The ILP was the prime mover in the formation of the Keir Hardie Memorial Committee and the James Maxton Memorial Committee to commemorate Hardie and Maxton after their deaths, although these were not exclusively ILP bodies.

The ILP is still extant today although not as an active political party. Since 1975 it has been a socialist publishing body, Independent Labour Publications.

Chairmen of the ILP 1893-1971
1893-1900 J Keir Hardie
1900-1903 J Bruce Glasier
1903-1906 Philip Snowden
1906-1909 J Ramsay MacDonald
1909-1910 F W Jowett
1910-1913 W C Anderson
1913-1914 J Keir Hardie
1914-1917 F W Jowett
1917-1920 Philip Snowden
1920-1923 R C Wallhead
1923-1926 Clifford Allen
1926-1931 James Maxton
1931-1934 A Fenner Brockway
1934-1939 James Maxton
1939-1941 C A Smith
1941-1943 John McGovern
1943-1948 Bob Edwards
1948-1951 David Gibson
1951-1953 Fred Barton
1953-1958 Annie Maxton
1958-1961 Fred Morel
1962-1971 Emrys Thomas

Some secondary sources for ILP history
'Archives of the Independent Labour Party 1856-1975: A Detailed Guide to the Microform Collections' (Research Publications, 1990). [As well as being a guide to the microforms, it includes lists of ILP officeholders and annual conferences, a chronology and short biographies of some of the major figures]. 'The Centennial History of the Independent Labour Party: a collection of essays.' Eds. David James, Tony Jowitt and Keith Laybourn (Ryburn Academic Publishing, 1992).
Custodial HistoryThe ILP archive has been formed from a large number of deposits made from a range of sources over a long period of time. This has led to the current, far from logical arrangement of the papers.
DescriptionThe ILP papers comprise an extensive and wide range of papers from a number of sources. There are central and branch minutes, correspondence and a wide range of publications. The archive is divided into 16 series.
1. Early minute books of the National Administrative Council (NAC) and some ILP branches
2. Head Office circulars.
3. NAC minutes and related papers.
4. Francis Johnson correspondence.
5. Pamphlets and leaflets
6. Papers relating to individuals and publications.
7. General records.
8. Socialist and Labour Thought
9. Branch minutes and related records.
10. Papers sent by the Social Science Research Council.
11. Card indexes.
12. Further ILP print.
13. Pamphlets and leaflets of the Social Democratic Federation and the British Socialist Party.
14. Non-ILP print.
15. Non-ILP print foreign language.
16. Non-ILP print miscellaneous.
Related MaterialCOLL MISC 0102, COLL MISC 0103, COLL MISC 0371, COLL MISC 0400, COLL MISC 0495,, COLL MISC 0496, COLL MISC 0497, COLL MISC 0650, COLL MISC 0671, COLL MISC 0686, COLL MISC 0702, COLL MISC 0744, COLL MISC 0825, COLL MISC 0890.

"Publications of the Independent Labour Party, 1893-1932", by G B Woolven (Society for the Study of Labour History, 1977) is stored with the ILP catalogues in the reading room JN1129.L32 W91).
Access StatusMainly open; some items closed
Access ConditionsEarly minute books in ILP/1 have been withdrawn - microfilm must be used (Archives MF 12-14)
Copyright TypeOther
Former Reference NumberCOLL MISC 0464/ Independent Labour Party
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