Labour Parties

To a Socialist the spectacle of the Labour Parties at home and in the colonies affords a very interesting study of the relations of labour politics to Socialism. To one who, in forming opinions on the tendencies manifested in society to-day, is accustomed to look merely on the surface of things, the formation of these labour parties in various parts of the British Empire may appear to be the forerunner of a great revolutionary movement on the part of organised labour. This view will be all the more strongly held if he should belong to one or the other of the alleged Socialist bodies whose business meetings consist of talking about the Labour Representation Committee, the “Labour” movement, the “Labour” party and, more important than all, the “Labour” leaders. To a member of The Socialist Party, however, that is to a person drilled in the methods of scientific analysis, the innocent economics and puerile politics which form the foundation and superstructure of “Labour parties” at home and abroad, are more often sources of regret than satisfaction.

At the present moment, therefore, it is more than ever advantageous to survey the political field within the Empire and the disposition of the forces of labour. There is the old established Labour Party of Australia, the more recent L.R.C. at home, and now the Canadian Trades and Labour Congress is going to inaugurate an Independent Labour Party. Thus organised labour is going to make itself felt, and the capitalists ? Enough, let us examine them and see if their political efforts, continued on the lines pursued at present, are likely to eventuate in any permanent good to the working class of the various countries.

The Australian Labour Party started out full of promise and was backed up by practically all the Socialists in the country, except the few, who, wiser than their generation, saw what must be the inevitable result of the development of such a party. In its initial stages it ran on a quasi-Socialist programme, i.e., the nationalisation of monopolies, etc. As, however, the Party had no clear conception of the working class position in politics, it split ten years ago over the tariff question, a matter which in the main had little to do with the working-class interest correctly understood. The Australian Labour Party, divided over the interests of the master class, has never really been united on the point since. To-day this same Party has formed an alliance with the Protectionist Liberals, and amongst some of the measures it now supports are anti-trust legislation, protection for coastal shipping and, above all, bonuses for the iron industry. Truly matters of vital importance to the working class ! The leaders of the Labour Party have agreed that if they, the Alliance, succeed in turning out the present Government they will go to the country as a National Progressive Party. Gone is even the mere vestage of their much vaunted independence!

Mr. Dalgleish, the new Labour Premier of Western Australia, in outlining his policy mentioned that there would be the most rigid financial economy, and that the “spirited” public works would be abandoned. This is the class of politics that the workers are asked to support.

The Australian Socialist League which first of all backed the “Labour” men, is now opposing them since the League was reconstructed some time back. The reason is not far to seek. The Socialists in Australia, like many of our friends here, thought that by pandering to the desires of those who were “coming our way” they would be in the end forced to embrace the Socialist position. Their expectations were not realised and now they are compelled to not only disassociate themselves from the “Labour” men but to actively oppose them. When King O’Malley, who recently complained about the smallness of his salary as M. P., some time ago was running for a constituency on the West Coast of Tasmania, he told one of his workers “it would not do to speak straight Socialism to people, you must bluff them.” He has acted consistently on this principle ever since, and his example has evidently been catching. The fact is the Australian Labour Party has become part and parcel of Australian master-class politics, of capitalism, where it will exist only as a disturbing factor until swept aside by the revolutionary current of scientific Socialism.

With regard to the Labour Representation Committee at home, it may seem unnecessary to criticise this, the most recent indication of the hopelessness of those who, in the name of labour, try to square the interests of the workers with those of their masters and secure justice for the working-class under capitalism. The programme, or what stands for a programme, of this body is of such a character that a good many loyal Liberals, without giving up in the slightest degree their faith in capitalism, would readily accept it. But in the eyes of the horny handed sons of toil who run the L.R.C., a party is more important than a programme, and if a “big” party can only be got together by a small programme, then the less of the latter the better for the needy politician.

If the L.R.C. is without a programme, at any rate, it will be said, it has a precious possession in the shape of Independence of both Liberal and Tory Parties. A slight examination, however, will reveal the fact that this policy of alleged independence is more of a shadow than substance. Arrangements between the “Independent” gentlemen of the L.R.C. and the Liberal Party, especially in double-barreled constituencies, are not by any means unknown. Messrs. Bell, Crooks, Henderson, Shackleton, have all, since being elected to the House of Commons, supported the Liberal Party and other brands of reactionary politics—always of course in the interests of labour !

This Labour Representation Committee was called into existence by the Trade Union Congress, and, as the child inherits some of the characteristics of the parent, the proceedings at the last meeting of the latter body will enlighten the workers as to what they may expect from the “Labour” Party of this country. At the Congress some of the delegates expressed the opinion that it would be a good thing if all the trade unionists were called off the L. R. C. They have issued manifestoes in favour of free trade, asked for old age pensions and an extension of the Workmen’s Compensation Act. At the same time some of their leaders tell us that this very “Compensation” Act is responsible for the older men being flung out of employment by the master-class who are unwilling to take the risks attendant upon the employment of workers over a certain age. One delegate pleaded earnestly for ”fair” rents. How wise ! Fair robbery !

The Canadian Labour Party will be like its British cousin in all its main features—the chief of which is, of course, the absence of any definite principle. Their “ideal,” according to Mr. John A. Flett, is to hold the “balance of power” at Ottawa like the Irish Home Rule Party at Westminster. It is only natural to expect that the tactics of the Irish middle-class party should appeal to the Canadian Labourites whose political vision is obscured by middle-class spectacles. Notwithstanding the latter, however, the Labour men have lately been grumbling because the capitalist legislators shelved some proposed labour measures while providing every facility to the big financial corporations. Sooner or later it will dawn on our fellow wage-slaves of Canada that economic development necessitates the concentration of wealth into fewer and fewer hands and that the political machine is but the tool of the dominant class. When the working-class realises this, the seizure of the machinery of government and its operation in the direction of the conversion into common property of the wealth producing instruments now held by the capitalists, will become the programme which will carry it to victory.

The work of the Socialist here at home or in the colonies is to build up a Socialist Party, clear in the knowledge of the irreconcilability of the interests of the wage worker and the master, ever warning the working-class of the pitfalls in the shape of “labour” parties strewing the path which leads to emancipation from wagedom, ever teaching the slaves of capitalism that only by the overthrow of the present system of Society and the establishment of the Socialist Republic can the various evils confronting the working-class be removed.

In this country The Socialist Party of Great Britain alone stands for the Revolution.


(Socialist Standard, November 1904)

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