Socialist Sunday Schools

Socialist Sunday Schools

Socialist Sunday Schools were set up as an alternative to Christian Sunday Schools in the United Kingdom. They arose in response to a feeling as to the inadequacy of the orthodox Sunday Schools as a training ground for the children of Socialists and of the need for some organised and systematic method of presenting the Socialist point of view and of teaching the ideals and principles of Socialism to the children, youths and maidens in the country.

The first Socialist Sunday School

The first Socialist Sunday school was set up by Mary Gray in 1892, a member of the Social Democratic Federation, and later the Socialist Party of Great Britain, who ran a soup kitchen for the children of the dock strike. Her aim, on realising they had little or no education, was to influence and educate them and make them aware of their socialist responsibilities and provide what was lacking in their day schools. She started the first Sunday with only one other besides her own two children but twenty years later there were approximately one hundred and twenty schools throughout the country, twenty of them being in London itself. []

In 1894, another Socialist Sunday School was created by trade unionist Tom Anderson. [] By 1912 there were over 200 socialist Sunday schools throughout Britain. In their early days they encountered opposition from local authorities and politicians, who argued that socialist Sunday schools were subverting the minds of young people with political and anti-religious doctrines and teachings.

A national movement, the National Council of British Socialist Sunday Schools Union, formed in 1909, however, traces its origin to a school opened in Glasgow by Caroline Martyn and Archie McArthur. It was established as a protest against, and an alternative to, the perceived middle-class bias and assumptions of the regular churches. Its aims were to help the schools in their teaching of Socialism. The schools were grouped in District Unions and for the first ten years were affiliated to the Council. However in 1920 the constitution was amended to allow direct school affiliation which meant there was wide representation at the Annual Conference. The manual is a very enlightening book into the teachings of the Sunday Schools and was prepared chiefly for the use of teachers. It contains specimen lessons and technique help to the teachers together with suggested reading for Socialist Education.

It was the leadership's view that public education should be secular and Socialist Sunday Schools were for purely educational bodies and therefore the hymns did not have theological tendencies or the Christian dogma which was preached in religious churches of the day. They worked in close harmony with the Labour Movement and were concerned with the spiritual and social objective of the human race with regard to daily life and conduct.

The "Young Socialist" was a monthly periodical published by the National Council and was first issued in Glasgow in 1901 and in the September 1910 edition the editor wrote that the true socialist, whatever, if any, denomination he belonged to, wanted fellowship, a kingdom of love and happiness, not hell. The Socialist Sunday Schools were organised with this theory as a basis and although there was no formulated set of rules to be followed there were three main guidelines of ethics, morality, brotherly love and social responsibility.

* That morality is the fulfilment of one's duty to one's neighbour.

* That the present social system is devoid of the elements of love or justice, since, as an organisation, it ignores the claims of the weak and distressed, and that is, therefore, immoral;

* That society can be reorganised on a basis of love and justice, and that it is every man's duty to use all available social forces in bringing about that reorganisation.' There were also 'ten commandments' to be followed which were printed in some of the editions of the hymn book.

# Love your schoolfellows, who will be your fellow workmen 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 men, be courteous to all men, bow down to none.
# Do not hate or speak evil of anyone. Do not be revengeful but stand up for your right and resist oppression.
# Do not be cowardly. Be a friend to the weak and love justice.
# Remember that all good things of the earth are produced by labour. Whoever enjoys them without working for them is stealing the bread of the workers.
# 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.
# Look forward to the day when all men and women will be free citizens of one fatherland and live together as brothers and sisters in peace and righteousness.

The 'Young Socialist' printed these in verse form which may have appealed to the young pupils of the day.

:1. Always love your schoolmates :Make happy those in sorrow :The children of today will be :The citizens of tomorrow.

:2. To parents and to teachers :Be grateful and be kind :For we should all love learning :(Which nourished the mind)

:3. Let every day be holy :By doing some good deed; :To all do kindly actions :Whatever be their creed.

:4. Be just and fair to all men, :Bow down or worship none. :Judge man by what he tried to do, :Or has already done.

:5. Hate not, and speak no evil, :Stand up for what is right, :And do not be revengeful, :But 'gainst oppression fight.

:6. Try not to be a coward, :But always help the weak, :Whatever path of life you're in. :For love and justice seek.

:7. All good things gathered from the earth, :By toil of hand and brain, :Instead of going to the few, :The workers should retain.

:8. Speak (the) truth at all times, :And try not to deceive, :And what opposes reason :We ought not to believe.

:9. Love all the races of mankind, :Abolish war and strife; :That we may reach the higher plains :Of our intended life.

:10. Look forward to the day when men :And women will be free; :As brothers and as sisters live :In peace and unity.

The Socialist Sunday Schools along with the Labour Church were impeded by a lack of their own premises and met objections to hiring of suitable halls to the extent that in 1907 London County Council evicted five branches out of hired school buildings. A massive demonstration in Trafalgar Square ensued addressed by Margaret McMillan who, with her sister, was a Christian Socialist and campaigned for better education and health for poor children. A few years later the Springburn branch met for many years in the Labour Party's Unity Hall in Ayr Street for the same reason. Later in 1926 Fulham Council refused permission on Sundays because it was of a 'non-theological' character. It was becoming apparent that the reason that the Socialist Sunday Schools were encountering so much opposition was because they were 'being seen as subversive and as poisoning the minds of the young people of the country with their political and anti-religious doctrines and teachings' and there were those who tried to discredit the Schools by accusations of blasphemy and revolutionary teachings.

External links

* The Socialist Party Homepage

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