Skip to Content

Should We Join the Labour Party?

When it was decided to form the Socialist Party of Great Britain fifty-three years ago those who made that decision did so against the advice of many individuals and groups that claimed to know a better way of getting Socialism—by joining the mass organisation, the Labour Party (known at that time as the Labour Representation Committee). The L.R.C. was, they frankly confessed, not a Socialist Party in any sense, only a trade union organisation formed to look after trade union interests in Parliament, linked up with a number of people anxious to push their pet schemes of social reform. All the more reason, our advisers said, why genuine Socialists should get inside where they would have a wide and receptive audience for Socialist propaganda. Some of those who said this did so with tongue in cheek—all they wanted was an excuse to further their careerist ambitions. Others could not preach Socialism in or out of the L.R.C. for they knew nothing about it. But there were some who meant what they said and tried to do what they promised. And for some time events gave the appearance of justification to their view. It was possible in those days to talk and write about Socialism within the ranks of the Labour Party and to argue the Socialist case with Labour supporters who were at least familiar with the works of the Socialist pioneers. They didn't accept the Socialist case but they were aware what that case was. Their most plausible line was to argue that Socialism is the only worth-while aim but that, the workers being what they were, the only practical policy was the triple one of making capitalism better through reforms and through eradicating war; of introducing nationalisation as an administrative stepping stone to Socialism; and of preaching Socialist principles to raise the level of understanding among the workers.

They builded worse than they knew

And what has it all achieved apart from the carving out of dazzling careers for many Labour leaders? Has it raised the level of knowledge in Labour Party ranks? In a not-intended sense it has. In and around Labour Party headquarters and among the M.P.s there is now a vast accumulation of knowledge and experience. They know all about winning votes and influencing electors. They have an encyclopedic knowledge of some of the intricacies of government and administration. They can compare with the Tories in a grasp of the pros and cons of joining the European free trade area, they can discuss income tax and purchase tax with the experts, they can hold their own in the wire-pulling and double talk at United Nations, and have proved in a series of wars that they can organise destruction as to the manner born. In short they have passed their apprenticeship and become so statesmanlike as to be barely distinguishable from their opponents the Tories. But where, oh where is the Socialist influence that was to permeate the ranks of the Labour Party?

Where are the "Pinks" of yesteryear ?

The Daily Mail (8/3/57) had an editorial of a kind that is becoming more and more frequent in the capitalist Press. Its theme was that things are in a mess, that the features of the mess change but it is just as much a mess as that between the wars, that literally everything has been tried but without success, and nobody can understand just what is wrong and how to put it right.

Any Labour Party supporter will say that he is not a bit surprised that a Daily Mail journalist should write in this vein, but what has it to do with the Labour Party and Socialism? It has quite a lot to do with it. When the Daily Mail says that everything has been tried, forgetting that Socialism has never been tried, it does but echo what is written in the Daily Herald, Tribune, and other Labour journals. They are full of ingenious schemes for settling Capitalism's problems but never on any occasion do they put the Socialist alternative to Capitalism or show a Socialist understanding of the nature of the problems.

Challenge to Labourites

And if any member of the Labour Party thinks this is not true let him meet the challenge and show us when he has seen the Socialist case in the columns of the Daily Herald or the other journals, or heard it on a Labour Party platform (except from an S.P.G.B. opponent of the Labour Party) or at a Labour Party Conference.

The Socialist case is not heard in Labour Party ranks and if it were the man who put it would be regarded as a crank or an oddity not to be taken seriously. Far from being influenced by Socialist propaganda inside its ranks the Labour Party has now forgotten what little it once knew. It cannot now even argue against Socialism for it does not know what Socialism is. It no longer possesses what was once its sole attractive quality, an aimless but enthusiastic spirit of revolt against the iniquities of Capitalism. It is now a highly organised political machine for handling the affairs of British capitalism in between Tory administrations.

We still receive the same advice, as was given to the S.P.G.B. when it was formed, "get inside and influence the Labour Party." Then it was sufficiently plausible to merit argument; now it is a bad joke.