P - R

Robertson Archie

Archie Robertson

Archibald Harold Mann Robertson was born in 1886, the son of a bishop. He was educated at Winchester and Trinity College, Oxford, gaining the distinction of winning a first in philosophy and passing into the higher ranks of the civil service.

He became a close associate of Hyndman in the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) and, at times, wrote a large part of the articles in Justice. The SDF had taken part in negotiations to establish the Labour Representation Committee in 1900. However, it left the LRC and, in 1911, set up the British Socialist Party (BSP), when the SDF fused with a number of branches of the Independent Labour Party.

Hyndman created a crisis in the BSP by supporting Britain’s involvement in World War I. Following his defeat in internal leadership elections, he then divided the BSP in a 1916 split and formed a new `National Socialist Party’. (The phrase “national socialism” then had no connection with Nazism.) The NSP grew ever more moderate, affiliating to the Labour Party in 1918. 3 members of the party were elected to parliament in the 1918 election, 2 as Labour Party candidates and one under the name of the NSP. The following year, the NSP reverted to the name of Social Democratic Federation, which Hyndman continued to lead until his death in 1921. (Only in 1941 did it finally disband into the Labour Party.)

Robertson had supported the National Socialist Party. During the 1920s, he remained an independent Marxist, writing his book EB Bax - Thinker and Pioneer” in 1927, under his pseudonym, Robert Arch.

He was soon victimised for his beliefs in the Admiralty and was forced to resign from the civil service forsaking his pension. After this, he became a prolific author and academic, associated with the South Place Ethical Society. His “Whence, Whither and Why” was published in 1926, the purpose of which was to show ‘that belief in the supernatural crumbles before candid metaphysical reasoning no less than before scientific probability’.  He also wrote widely on religion, often writing under the name of Robert Arch. With John Draper, he co-wrote “History of the Conflict between Religion & Science” (1927). Robertson’s own most widely known work was his `Origins of Christianity’. Robertson became associated with the Rationalist Press Association, which he was a key member of until his death.

Robertson visited the Soviet Union in 1938, returning on the same boat as Harry Pollitt. This promoted him to join the Communist Party, to which he devoted himself until his death. Communist Party meetings in Oxford were often held in his house, according to Arthur Excell (see separate entry).

Archibald Robertson died at Oxford on 14th October 1961, aged seventy-five. It was recalled in his obituary in World News at the time that: “He was always just as ready to undertake the giving out of leaflets as he was to write with clarity and simplicity explaining some of the weightiest contributions to human thought, in order to help his comrades to understand them.”

Michael Walker

Source World News 28th October 1961