Skip to Content

Book Review: 'Preparing for Power'

A "Red" Recants

'Preparing for Power', by J. T. Murphy. Jonathan Cape. 6s.

The author above named obtained a certain amount of notoriety in connection with the shop stewards' movement during the war. He became a member of the S.L.P., and sat for a while on the executive until expelled along with MacManus and others for intriguing with the B.S.P. Mr. Murphy states on page 15 of the above volume that the S.L.P. 'merged with the B.S.P." to form the Communist Party. It is pretty common knowledge amongst students of political history during the past twelve years that the S.L.P. maintained a separate existence for several years after the formation of the C.P., and ran its paper, "The Socialist," until 1925 or thereabouts.

After occupying a prominent position in the C.P. the author was expelled from that party about two years ago. Says he: "I therefore determined on a restudy of the history of the working class movement and Marxism. The first result was my decision to join the Labour Party as the mass political party of the workers, to subscribe even to what I regard as errors and mistakes, confident that the dynamics of the class struggle will force the revolutionary changes necessary to the fulfilment of the historic destiny of the working class." Page 16.

He attempts to derive theoretical support for this attitude from the passage in the Communist Manifesto of 1848, which refers to the fact that "the Communists do not form a separate party conflicting with other working class parties." (On page 56 he says this principle conflicts with the present relation of communists to the Labour movement.)

The C.P. have never been consistent in their hostility to the Labour Party, nor is their present attitude based upon any fundamental and revolutionary principle. Nevertheless, it is clear that Murphy has overlooked the point in Engels' preface (quoted from the joint preface to the German edition of 1872) that the political situation has been entirely changed and the progress of history has swept from of the earth the greater portion of the political parties there enumerated.

In spite of their limited outlook these parties (such as the Chartists of England) at the time appeared to hold prospects of the conquest of political power for revolutionary objects. Nowhere in the course of this book does the author show that the Labour Party has ever given any such hope. On the contrary, he quotes innumerable examples of the utter subservience of the Labour Party to the interests of the capitalist industrialists, mainly of the Liberal stamp.

So long as the workers had to win the franchise it would have been the height of folly for Marx and Engels to have opposed parties having this as their object. This issue once settled, however, the next step was obviously to set on foot the independent political party of the working class having Socialism as its conscious object.

Apart from the S.P.G.B. no party fulfils this essential condition of independence, least of all the Labour Party.

Writing of the general strike as a weapon (on page 50) Murphy says: "If it is an action to impose terms, whether economic or political, upon the powers that be, then it means an unarmed proletariat faces an armed State, which must either capitulate or defeat the strike." Compare this with his confident declaration in his pamphlet, "The Revolutionary Workers' Government," written while he was still in the C.P. "The general strike demonstrated before our eyes how the working class comes to power." Page 14.

Reviewing its past associations, Murphy repudiates Industrial Unionism (pages 88-90), and shows that the shop stewards' success were confined to local issues of minor importance. "Workers' control of industry is utterly impossible. The change of ownership is a political question, indeed the outstanding political question of our time" (page 159); and he says on the same page that "the central question of the conquest of political power by the working class was entirely overlooked. The shop stewards did not discuss it."

Mr. Murphy is far from having shed all his illusions. He still clings to the notion that Socialism is being built up in Russia (page 69), and objects to the clause in the preamble of the First International (drawn up by Marx) which declares "that the emancipation of labour . . . depends upon the concurrence, practical and theoretical,  of the most advanced countries." This he describes as "a point of view which was completely disproved by the Russian Revolution in 1917." Yet, strange to say, he makes the following confession on page 201: Referring to the second congress of the Third International, held in Moscow during July, 1920, he says: "The writer participated in this congress and was party to its decisions. Thirteen years have passed. Looking back over the experience of these years it appears clear to him that there was an overestimation of the rapidity of the development of the world revolution and a consequent underestimation of the strength of the leaders of the Second International in many countries . . . At the time of the congress itself the revolutionary wave that had swept Europe had already passed its zenith and nobody recognised the fact."

Mr. Murphy means, of course, nobody in the Communist Party. The S.P.G.B. repeatedly stressed the point that no world revolution was possible without a Socialist working class. Mr. Murphy, however, regarded the S.P.G.B. as a "counter-revolutionary" body in 1930. It would be interesting to learn how he regards them now that he has succeeded in persuading Sir Stafford Cripps (God bless him!) to write an introduction to his book. For another illusion which he has not shed is his faith in leaders. "Changes in the leadership of the Labour movement from bottom to top is thus the all-important issue." says he on page 285. One can readily understand why it is all-important to Mr. Murphy.

Eric Boden