The Guardian’s Perspective on Socialism and Cycling: Traveling Fellow | Editorial
VSRadical cycling traditions are part of the social history of Great Britain. Recalling her teenage years in the 1890s, the great suffragist Sylvia Pankhurst wrote beautifully about the group of carefree left-handers she’d hang out with in Manchester every weekend. Crossing rural Lancashire and Cheshire, his cycling club was one of many associated with Clarion, a popular socialist weekly. The most serious socialists of the time saw this crowd as ideological dilettantes, too eager to have fun. And their trips seem to have been pretty fun.
Although there had been some political evangelism and propaganda, “good fellowship” was the main focus of the exercise: “At the end of our journey,” Pankhurst writes in a 1931 edition of the Clarion , “Was always a huge tea of shillings, in which phenomenal amounts of bread and butter and preserved fruit disappeared, then a walk and often then a brief ‘song-song’. A favorite hymn was a marching song written by utopian socialist Edward Carpenter. “England, get up! The long, long night is over ”echoed in front of many rural pubs on Sunday afternoon. It is not clear how many regulars have been converted to the cause.
Although the Clarion newspaper is long gone, some cycling clubs are still thriving. But after 126 years on the road, a disheartening schism is looming. As the Guardian reported this week, the AGM of the National Clarion Cycling Club passed a motion to remove a reference to socialism from its constitution. Rather, the amended version will express a commitment to “equity, equality, inclusion and diversity”. The Saddleworth Clarion Club of Greater Manchester threatened to form a dissident organization in protest.
There is, of course, nothing wrong with the new wording. But it seems sad to lose the literal connection with such a rich past. The Clarion clubs represented a very different, non-doctrinaire and eclectic strand of the early British socialist movement. They were, as young Pankhurst discovered, a haven of peace for the “new wife” of the The Victorian era, who rode his bike in search of more independence, adventure and fun. They were also a Sunday release for the factory worker, savoring the clean air away from the smoke and grime of mill towns and sprawling towns. For many “Clarinets”, socialism was just another word for an idealized brotherhood.
The primary function of a constitution is to define the basic principles and laws of an organization. But in unusual cases like this, the language is also an original document; a testament to the perspectives, associations and hopes of previous generations. The National Clarion Cycling Club said local branches are free to write their own constitutions, retaining reference to socialism. Hopefully some of them will, in honor of those cycling choirs who sang “England, get up!” With so much enthusiasm.