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Book Review: 'The Labour Party'

On Political Cowardice

'The Labour Party', by J. Ramsay MacDonald, Secretary to the Labour Representation Committee

Our objections to this brochure start on the front page of the cover and multiply in the proportion of about ten objections per page to the finish. It purports to deal with the Labour Party. As a matter of fact it deals exclusively with the Labour Representation Committee — a very different matter. It is conceivable that the Labour Party may presently embrace the components of the L.R.C.. but no Labour Party could embrace the L.R.C. itself, as that unhappy body is understood to-day.

Moreover the pamphlet is not even an explanation of the position of the L.R.C. It is an endeavour —and a laboured endeavour at that —to justify the existence of a body with neither principles nor programme, and with only the most nebulous of objects to lie reached by the most ill-defined of methods. And although (vide a certain “Labour” journal scribe) it is the “dark eyed inscrutable” secretary of the L.R.C. himself who essays the justification, we confess to not being greatly awed by his effort.

The impression the writer has succeeded in conveying is that of a man deliberately weaving words into an inscrutable (inscrutable seems a very apt word here) pattern in order that the real matter for consideration may be obscured, and at the same time that the idea is fostered that the writer is an exceedingly honest person whose one desire is to lay bare the whole truth.

The Labour Party, we learn, comes “to deal mainly with the social condition of the people. A never-ending industrial conflict which necessitates standing armies of Capital and Labour, which drags into its heated and noisy vortex Press and Pulpit, Law court and Parliament, and which throws out a constant stream of maimed and wounded and shuttered humanity ”—which for a prominent member of an organisation that repudiates the class struggle as “an obsolete Marxian dogma” is, to say the least of it, a noteworthy pronouncement. It is also a true one.

Very well. Now how is it proposed that this problem should be dealt with ? Mr. MacDonald’s Labour Party has no programme. We have this Labour Party therefore coming to deal with the social condition of the people without an idea sufficiency definite to be incorporated into a tangible proposal as to how it will proceed.

Here is a position bordering on the grotesque, and here Mr. MacDonald displays with marked ability Ins capacity for word-spinning. The Labour Party, he says, "has refused to compile a programme for the very sufficient reason that a party is not created upon a programme but upon a point of view."

And what is a point of view ?

Is it not the standpoint from which certain problems—in this case the social problem—are regarded? How then does the L.R.C. regard the social problem which Mr. MacDonald says it comes to deal with? What is its point of view? And the answer is that the point of view is not yet formulated! So that the L.R.C. comes into existence without a definitely ascertained point of view, to deal with problems that it gives indication of understanding, by methods it is not necessary (because it is not possible) to set out. "Parties are not built up on programmes”!

Mr. MacDonald is not strong enough to write what is obvious to any but the most casual of observers, viz., that the L.R.C. is an organisation held together by no stronger tie than the desire of Trade Union officials and leaders of impecunious “Labour” parties, to secure political positions, and that it must fall to pieces directly it has sufficient honesty or intelligence to attempt to formulate a programme that shall definitely express its attitude toward the social problem with which it comes to deal, for the very sufficient reason that the great majority of the members of the various unions affiliated do not understand their position, and are still held in bondage by the political fetiches they have worshipped in their ignorance from their youth up. Consequently any move that might be made—and that must be made if the working-class are to deal with the social problem—will immediately come into sharp conflict with the worship of the fetiches, and the result would disastrous. Mr. MacDonald knows this very well, hut he may not admit it without conceding the accuracy of the indictment of political impotency which we of the S.P.G.B. bring against the L.R.C. So that he is reduced to talking round his subject with the palpable intention of covering the weakness of his position.

The pamphlet to us, therefore, has been wrongly named. It should have been described as an essay on political cowardice.

A. J. M. Gray