Thomas Tait decided he was a socialist whilst serving in the forces during the Boer War, through reading the pamphlet, “What means this strike?” by American socialist, Daniel de Leon, who was the main Marxist voice for revolutionary Industrial Unionism.
The Socialist Labour Party, founded in 1903 in the UK, was the main supporting organisation for the specific principles expounded by de Leon, and this was firmly established mainly in Scotland. Thomas Tait joined the Socialist Labour Party in 1912, which was formally, the British Section of the International Socialist Labour Party.
Many of the main early figures of the Communist Party joined it either from the SLP or the British Socialist Party (BSP). Due to the evidence that he (or a remarkable coincidence of namesake in the same town) supported the Communist Party in the early 1920s, Tait must have also supported the foundation of the unified Communist Party. If so, he would have joined the Communist Unity group, those SLP activists entering the new Party in 1920. Some SLP members did remain aloof all along and sought to keep the body going independently and Tait would subsequently return to these comrades.
In November 1920, Thomas Tait stood as a Communist Party candidate in the council elections in South Leith, which he contested along with G M H Milne. (Candidates in Central Leith were L G Gordon, James Smith and R Robertson.) In November 1923, Tait stood in St Leonards along with George Allison (see separate entry), while Robert Gillespie stood in St Giles. The Leith South Ward Communist candidates that year were Thomas Maitland and Mrs Jessie Johnston.
Tait must have then left the Communist Party after some year’s membership but it is as yet unclear when his break with the Party came but it may have partly something to do with differences over the role of the Party newspaper. Generally, the SLP’s demise as a national party is dated to the early to mid-1920s, except in the main cities of Scotland where shadowy forms of it existed for another couple of decades.
The Communist Party had begun with a journal called `The Communist’ but this bore a distinct resemblance to the weekly newspaper of one of the main constituent parts of the new party, the British Socialist Party’s (BSP) “The Call”. Dissatisfaction with this led to the launch of a new publication called the “Workers' Weekly”, from February 1923. This emphasised ordinary working class life and struggle, rather than internal and theoretical differences.
When the Daily Worker was launched in 1930 the Weekly Worker was terminated. Either at some point before – but more likely in 1930 – some former SLP adherents seem to have left the Communist Party and reformed Workers Weekly. It is possible that the financial support that would have been evident from the Comintern may have turned Tait away, certainly his later views were rejective of the October 1917 revolution.
Whenever it was, Tait had returned to the SLP fold certainly by 1931. He stood as a socialist candidate in Edinburgh municipal elections 17 times, though was never elected.
In 1932 his son became the National Secretary of the British Section International Socialist Labour Party (BSISLP) and other sons and a daughter also supported this trend, which morphed into the Revolutionary Socialist Party in 1936, which insisted it was a non-Trotskyist Marxist body that did not value the Russian Revolution as an example of Marxist leadership.
Tom Tait died in early May 1941 and his obituary was significantly carried by what the BSISLP was calling “Workers Weekly” on 16th May 1941. This duplicated sheet is erroneously attributed to the CPGB on the web pages containing a facsimile of this but the name of the sheet is strongly suggestive that the earlier closure of Workers Weekly by the CPGB was somehow linked to the minor split.
Although almost extinct, except in Edinburgh, by the late 1940s, amazingly the SLP was not finally extinguished until 1980. Despite the use of the same name, other than a general left wing demeanour – despite the tenuous links claimed by itself – this body had no connection whatsoever with the SLP founded by Arthur Scargill and others in 1996.
Sources http://www.is.stir.ac.uk/libraries/collections/spcoll/leftwing/tait.php; plus issues of the Daily Record from 1920 and 1923 (thanks to MW)