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The position of the I.L.P. A parallel and a moral

The means by which the defenders of an established order seek to retain supremacy and resist progress are always interesting, not merely from an abstract point of view, but also because of the valuable lessons which can be learned by a thoughtful observer, and applied with advantage in the future. Such a case occurred when the theory of Natural Selection, so intimately associated with the name of Darwin, burst like a thunderclap over the old ideas of a special creation, with each human individual, as distinct from the lower animals, endowed with a “soul” or “spirit”. These modern notions were met on the one hand with a conspiracy of silence, on the other with a venomous outpouring of abuse. But, of course, neither method proved to be any great barrier to the progress of an idea that was bound to grow and spread, by reason of its intrinsic truth and logic. The more astute, though less honest, apostles of ignorance were not slow to realise this, and in consequence they adopted a new method of combating the truth. We are now generally told that there is no real or necessary conflict between science and superstition, or, as it is phrased, between evolution and religion. Science is now invested with clerical garb where formerly it was reviled. By such means do the clergy desire to prevent its real significance being known, and to prolong the life of their creed and therefore the term of their occupation.

The essential features of the reception given to the above mentioned idea are also common to the attitude adopted toward the theories in which we are more immediately concerned. I refer to the principles upon which the Socialist takes his stand. The starting point is as follows:

The way in which wealth is produced and distributed in every social system determines the ideas of the people; in other words, material conditions dominate and form the basis of all the legal, ethical, moral and religious superstructure of society.

In modern society there are two distinct classes, namely, the producers and the possessors. The material interest of the possessing class lies in the direction of more profit, which means more poverty and greater hardship for the producers. The interest of the workers is, of course, against this, and lies in getting all the wealth it produces. Such is the position to-day, and we cannot ignore it. The ideas and aspirations of the master class are rooted in their class privilege – they will not abdicate their favoured position. Their legal and moral codes seek to justify their position as robbers. The man or the party that advises the workers to support capitalist candidates or parties under any circumstances is an enemy of the working class. It is our duty to keep the class issue clear. Either you must engage in the struggle against the capitalist system or else actively or passively support the ruling class. With its cause lying in the private property basis of society, the class struggle cannot be suspended, but must be waged with increasing bitterness until the capitalist class are overthrown and classes cease to exist. We do not cloak these facts, but make their clear presentment to our fellow-workingmen the very first object of our propagandist endeavours.

Realising the dangerous character of these revolutionary theories, the master class and their henchmen first endeavour to keep the working class in ignorance by such clumsy methods as the exiling or imprisoning of men (such as Marx) who discovered and first stated these facts, and by the suppression of their works and the harrying of those who openly accept their ideas. Finding the futility of such a course, they take a lesson from the Church, and resort to the boycott. In this the capitalist class in this country found a useful ally in the Independent Labour Party, and later in the Labour Party. The I.L.P. (as also the L.P.) at its inception completely ignored the fundamentals of working-class organisation, thus playing directly into the masters’ hands. This party, with whom popularity and Parliamentary seats appear to be the only measure of success, is bound in order to maintain its success, to preach and support anti-working-class nostrums which have been popularised by capitalist agencies. An ever-growing number of the working class have pointed out the futility of dropping revolutionary principles for votes and fighting elections on election cries kindly provided by the Liberal party, and specially designed to serve capitalist interests. Naturally enough, the labour leaders have been annoyed at these irreconcilable notions, and when they could not ignore them they have indulged in violent denunciations of the principle of the class struggle and everything connected with it.

After the International  Conference at Amsterdam Mr. J. Bruce Glasier, a prominent I.L.P.er, distinguished himself in this direction with the following (Labour Leader, 26.8.04): “The Class War dogma is a reactionary and whiggish precept certain to lead the movement away from the real aims of Socialism”. On another occasion Mr. Keir Hardie showed his “love” for the materialist class-war basis of Socialism by stating that if Socialism was to be achieved on these lines nothing would be changed, except for the worse, adding that it would be “a merely glorified animalism, dangerously akin to bestiality” (Labour Leader, 17.8.01). This sentiment, of course, is merely a variation of the old “religious” wheeze that everything materialistic is inexpressibly vile.

Another instance (out of many) of specific denial of the Socialist principle of the class struggle is contained in The New Theology and the Social Movement, a pamphlet issued by the I.L.P. Publication Department. The brochure is a report of the first I.L.P. meeting the Rev. R.J. Campbell addressed (Hope Hall, Liverpool, March 25, 1907). Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald, Labour M.P., wrote regretting his inability to attend and added: “Mr. Campbell’s adherence to the principles of our party is one more proof that we do not appeal to narrow class interests or prejudices, but that we aim at a state of society which commends itself to conscientious and rational people irrespective altogether of social status”. This childishly Utopian notion of a perfect society commending itself to all “conscientious and rational” people becomes merely laughable when tested by the historical fact that no ruling class has ever willingly relinquished its power, no matter how “good” or “rational” such a course might have been.

But in spite of this Keir Hardie specifically endorsed Macdonald’s effusion. “As Macdonald says” he declared, “his (Campbell’s) presence here is one more proof that the Socialism of the I.L.P. is no narrow class movement. It is a great principle which we invite all classes to come into and help to realise”. This is the sort of stuff Hardie ladled out in the name of the I.L.P. as an antidote to Marxian principles, and, be it noted, none of these statements have ever been repudiated or even objected to by his party. In fact, in I.L.P. leaflet Nº 5, ironically called “A Statement of Principles”, the same position is taken up. We are told that the party does not make war upon a class but considers a man’s convictions and not his social status, thus making it plain that they consider the two things entirely separate instead of, as the Marxian philosophy shows, vitally connected.

Considerations of space prevent me quoting further evidence of the opposition of the I.L.P. to Marxian tenets. Sufficient however, has, I believe, been written to prove beyond all doubt the hostile and anti-working-class attitude of the Labourites.

It is becoming increasingly evident that after all neither Utopian day-dreams nor sentimental piffle have much effect upon the steady progress of the Socialist idea. With the deplorable results to the labour “leaders” themselves consequent on the workers embracing the new philosophy, ever before their eyes, the more astute of them have fallen back to their last ditch. The time has gone by when it was profitable to repudiate Marx, and now the wirepullers of the “Labour” movement shift their ground and affirm that the Labour Party is based upon his teaching.

In view of this insidious move it is more than ever necessary for us to point out what position the labour “leaders” and the organisations they dominate have occupied on this question. Let any of these “latter-day Marxists” show, if they can, how a Marxian party could be guilty of such anti-Marxian pronouncements as those quoted above.

It is peculiar that it should have been left to Keir Hardie, who has so vehemently denounced the principle of the class struggle in the past, to introduce the new methods and pose as a Marxist. Yet, relying on the proverbially short memory of the British working class, he has not shirked the task. In My Confession of Faith in the Labour Alliance, a pamphlet issued just after the Edinburgh conference of the I.L.P., Mr. Keir Hardie, among other curious statements, makes the following assertion: “The Labour Party is the only expression of orthodox Marxian Socialism in Great Britain”.

Unfortunately for Mr. Hardie and his gang of political brigands, he neglected, when perpetrating this foul lie, to give his confederates the cue, with the result that some amusing complications have arisen. Father should have said “turn”, for the sake of harmony. As it is some of the party are still declaring that Marx was the last of the Utopians, while others, more up-to-date, are repeating Hardie’s prevarications. For instance, after the latter had discovered that they were a class party, Mr. J. Ramsay Macdonald, of the “Brunner Bill” fame, wrote in the Labour Leader of May 21st, 1909: “The Socialist movement knows no class but is drawn from all classes”, and clinched the matter thus: “So I can sum up, the Labour Party is not a class but a community party”.

What a spectacle of contradiction and confusion! Here are two men with unrivalled opportunity of knowing what the Labour Party really does stand for, flatly contradicting each other on the very basis of their movement. If the leaders are so divided on root principles it may be left to the reader’s imagination to determine what state of mind the “rank-and-file” of the party must be in.

The most important point, however, is just that the labour “leaders” have in the past first ignored and then opposed the theories of Marx. Only recently have they attempted to “revise” these great scientific truths. The “revising” process is merely an endeavour to emasculate the Socialist doctrine, to rob Marx’s terms of their meaning and so make them fit in with the confusing and contradictory propaganda of the Labour Party.

It is not surprising, therefore, that the new plan has already caught on. The official organ of the I.L.P. for September 9th last tells us that no one can have a complete knowledge of Socialism unless he is acquainted with the theories of Marx. Incidentally it has taken them seventeen years as a party to find this out. But they go on to say that Marx’s work belongs to the pioneer stage and requires some restatement. In this way they seek to impose upon the credulity of those of their readers who do not know that Marx’s work was the laying bare of the economic foundation of society – which remains the same now as when his labour was accomplished. Consequently they do not suggest a study of Marx’s works, but advise the perusal of a pamphlet written by a pseudo-Marxist of the Labour Party type, who can be depended upon to suppress awkward truths and distort inconvenient theories.

It is not my special purpose here to show that the class struggle has nothing in common with licensing bills, capitalist budgets, Free Church councils and P.S.A.’s, even were it necessary to do so; but I shall be satisfied if I enable my readers to see through the shame enthusiasm of the Labour “leaders” for their perverted Marxism. Just as the clergy opposed the theory of evolution until its progress made it imperative to smother it with embraces, so too the changed attitude of Hardie and his gang toward the principle of the class struggle is forced on them by the rapid spreading of the idea among the working class. Hence it is a hopeful sign, signifying that the Labour tricksters are being forced into their last resource.

When the facts are known, the insincerity and double-dealing of the Labour “leaders” are plain. It is not surprising that their fight against progress runs on parallel lines to that of the clergy for they have much in common. Both are the servile tools of the capitalist class, and their function is to mislead the workers and so postpone the day of reckoning – hence the Socialist Party spare no pains to effect their exposure.

R. Fox
(Socialist Standard, December 1910)