The Plaint of the Palliator

A resident in Watford has written me calling my attention to an article by Mr. H. W. Lee (whose name was recently brought into some prominence in connection with the Cainborne affair), and suggesting that I offer an opinion upon it. He seems to have had some discussion with another local gentleman who thought, in opposition to my correspondent, that the proposals made in the article should be adopted by a Socialist Party, and that the reasons given were satisfactory and convincing. I should have preferred that an abler pen than mine dealt with the matter, but as it is one that strikes me as not over difficult for any professor of Socialism with a moderately efficient knowledge behind the Socialism he professes, to handle, I gladly avail myself of the opportunity of contributing something that may help those who are anxious to occupy a right and logical position to that end.

Mr. Lee’s article is briefly an argument for Socialist concentration upon two palliative (?) proposals which he names. He says, “The question I wish to bring under the notice of English Socialists … is whether the time has not arrived when they should formulate a vigorous demand for some or all of the political measures I have indicated” (he only indicates two, viz., Payment of Members and Election Expenses, and the Second Ballot) “with a view of using them to the advantage of Socialist candidates.” He adds, rather naively, “Twenty years ago that kind of political agitation might have been safely left to the Radicals of that day.” Well, as a Socialist resident in England, I thank Mr. Lee for bringing this question under my notice, but after due deliberation I must regretfully say that I have come to the conclusion that I don’t think much of his proposals. But then my outlook appears to differ from Mr. Lee’s in a very essential particular.

Unlike Mr. Lee, who, it seems, is quite ready, and even anxious, that his candidate should be returned to political office by a class unconscious vote if need be,—to use his own words, “as the lesser of the two evils at the second ballot,”—I am only concerned with success at the poll, for any candidate upon clearly defined lines and by a class-conscious working-class vote. Because I know, and I should be surprised indeed if Mr. Lee did not know also, that no real contribution can be made to the solution of the poverty problem unless the men who have taken possession of the machinery of government have done so in the interests and under the instruction of the working-class intelligently organised upon the basis of their class interests. In other words, the elected person must go to his duties as their delegate, not as their director. The emancipation of the working-class must be the work of the workers themselves, and he who thinks by coercion or cajolory to hustle them along a road down which they cannot see is, if he is honest, voluntarily stretching himself upon a rack that will lacerate him painfully before he is free of it.

Of course the argument is that


enables the occupant to educate the more effectively. But in that case the course to pursue would be to whittle the candidate’s programme down as near as possible to nothingness in order that no question might arise in the minds of the untutored electorate to give them pause in their blind or semi-blind voting. That would surely be the most effectual method of procedure assuming the honesty of the candidate could be relied upon—although Mr. Lee would be hard put to it to create a confidence in the honesty of an elected person who as candidate was guilty of most culpable dishonesty. Mr. Lee, I take it, would not urge such a course, although his suggestion amounts to the same thing. He argues that the political activity of the Socialist Party should be concentrated upon two specified political reforms. Which means that these two are to be brought out in bold relief while all other proposals are to be set well away in the background. For the time being the Socialist is to take his stand on the same ground that any Radical occupies. Any number of Radicals or Liberals (I never did know where the Liberal left off and the Radical began) will agree that Socialism is a good thing, but as practical politicians, seeing that Socialism is without the range of possibility until at least certain political reforms (of the type of Payment of Members, and Second Ballot) have been achieved, they think the best course is to concentrate upon that achievement, which it seems to me, is Mr. Lee’s position, only he will probably protest that his Socialism is not so far in the background as the Radical’s—a difference of small moment, seeing that both Mr. Lee and the Radical are agreed that


anyhow, and that the foreground shall be occupied by one or two or a dozen reforms.

That being so, the question immediately arises as to whether any present need for a Socialist organisation exists at all. if Socialism is not possible unless and until these reforms have been attained, and if to attain them Socialism is to be obscured, as it must be, why waste strength in a separate organisation ? Why not unite in one great and powerful Radical faction, and with the strength that comes of unity, strike the blow that shall shiver the barriers erected by Reaction (with a capital R) between the forces of progress and their political objective. Or something like that. If the immediate necessity for the propagation of the principles of Socialism is conceded for the prosecution of a vigorous agitation on behalf of these reforms, then the necessity for the propagation of the principles of Socialism retreats to a secondary position and the necessity for the present existence of a Socialist party retreats with it.

To me there seems no escape from this conclusion. Mr. Lee will protest that for the Socialist, Socialism does not retreat that it is in the first position all the time. Which is quite true. But then a Socialist would not advocate the concentration that Mr. Lee advocates upon


the realisation of which will not necessarily land us a step nearer Socialism. The point in this connection (and it is a point that Mr. Lee and those who think with him are concerned to labour at other times) is that palliatives are only of utility when they are achieved by a working-class consciously organised as such. How often has Mr. Lee and his friends pressed the objection with unanswerable force that the whole Newcastle programme—which included Payment of Members by the way—can be granted by a capitalist state without endangering itself, and as a matter of fact has been so granted ? Then why this Volte Face ? Is there any special virtue in Payment of Members or Second Ballot’ ?. Under present conditions there is no advantage to the Socialist in the Second Ballot, and Payment of Members cannot be regarded as anything like an unmixed blessing. Certainly neither of them nor both, even from their best aspects, can compare in importance with the propagation of Socialism.

It is fatuous for Mr. Lee to suggest that while Socialists are concentrating upon these two palliatives they are at the same time maintaining Socialism in its pre-eminent position as


You cannot concentrate upon something short of, and not necessarily germain to, your real objective and at the same time concentrate upon that objective itself. Besides, Mr. Lee has himself urged as a strong reason—as a fact it is his strongest reason—for the adoption of his method, that a large number of Radicals and what not, who are opposed to Socialism itself, would support an agitation for the palliatives. They are opposed to Socialism but yet will work for your palliatives—why ? Because, largely, they do not understand Socialism. The Socialist is concerned that they shall understand Socialism. And how shall the Socialist affect his purpose by putting his Socialism behind his back and going down to the position of the anti-Socialist—retreating twenty years in order to take up the agitation that Radicalism of that day dropped ? And this at the same time that Mr. Lee and his friends are pointing to the countries where the proposals it is suggested should be agitated for, have been realised without any effect at all upon working-class conditions and I will assert without perceptible effect upon the local Socialist movement. Mr. Lee must go back if he will, but he will not take one Socialist back with him. The Socialist will stay to show


to prove to the Radical how deplorably unproductive must be any effort not directed toward the attainment of the only thing that matters—Socialism.

I repeat again—it cannot be too often repeated—that there is no point in securing palliative measures apart from the manufacture of Socialist opinion that alone can use them. And this Socialist opinion must be manufactured first. And it will only be manufactured by Socialists who, refusing to go back twenty years or one year to the propagation of reforms, persist in the heavy educational spade work that still requires to be done. For Mr. Lee to suggest as he does, that the time is now ripe for Socialists to secure some reward—meaning office—for the work they have done in the past, is simply to proclaim that they are tired of the work that still remains to be done. There is no reward for the Socialist except the satisfaction that comes of the knowledge that he has faithfully discharged the duty laid upon him and by which alone he justifies his existence. Administrative power will come presently, when an electorate of enlightened producers moulded to class-consciousness by the work of the Socialist educationalists who have emphasised


and insisted upon the re-organisation of industry upon the basis of common ownership in the means of life as the only antidote to the hardship and suffering such economic change involves for the wealth producers—when this class-conscious electorate shall have translated their appreciation of their distinctive class interests into logical political action. The power will come as a result of working-class enlightenment, and. it will be working-class power, therefore, not the power of persons elected upon a class-un-conscious—that is, an ignorant—working-class vote. I hope that is fairly clear. It is working-class power the Socialist wants to increase. And no working-class power is possible outside working-class enlightenment. And the Socialist propagandist is one of the important factors in that effort towards enlightenment—the Socialist propagandist, the propagandist, that is, of revolution, as distinguished from the palliative propagandist, the propagandist of reform. The only justification for the Socialist’s existence therefore is


As to whether better educational work could be done by a person who, having shed the Socialist coat to secure election, or who, having been elected upon some issue other than Socialism, dons his coat again or revives his Socialism after election, is a question that to me can only be answered in the negative. A Socialist can do, as an elected person, exceedingly little. Certainly he can do nothing that will have any material effect upon working-class conditions. His election must have been secured upon this understanding if he is to maintain the following that he has created. That is to say he must have been elected as a Socialist if he wishes to keep the adherents to his views as numerically high as they were at the moment of his election. Because, otherwise he will have been elected by persons who will look to him to realise certain reforms (a possibility only when a majority of Radical representatives favourable to those reforms have been elected—sufficiently large an order to start with) because those reforms are in one way or another to benefit them (the persons electing him). But as I have said, Mr. Lee and his supporters are at times quite ready to deny that reforms can make any appreciable difference to working-class conditions, and are able to point in evidence to concrete cases where, in practice, these reforms have so failed; and as it is mainly upon


that any person is elected, it follows that Mr. Lee’s Socialist Councillor or whatever he may be, will hardly realise his reforms in the first place, amd in any event, will be unable to show appreciable effect as a result of those reforms. Wherefore his following will tail off until it is reduced to but little more than the converted nucleus with which he set out, and who would have expected the more or less barren results that the elected person would have to show. This is not hypothetical at all. The record of a thousand cases will bear the conclusion out. The whole history of reform movements can be called up in evidence. The latter end of every reform agitation presents the unhappy spectacle of great bodies of tired, dispirited men and women whose discontent, that once had urged, them so insistently to action, has turned to apathy hi the wreck of their high hopes.

Mr. Lee can not deny this without at the same time undermining the whole ground for the existence of Socialist organisation. And yet he would have us go back to the position of Reformers of 20 years ago and he talks of the advantages of the Second Ballot in which Socialists might stand a chance of election as, to use his own expression, “the lesser of the two evils” !

Which, I mean to say, is,


Does Mr. Lee deny that the working-class have at the present moment sufficient political power to do what they like ? Then why all this blethering for more political power ? The only question which concerns the Socialist is why the working-class should not like Socialism and why they do not return Socialists to power. And the only answer to that of course is, working-class ignorance. Very good. Let Mr. Lee, if he is a Socialist, start in to dispel the ignorance and not waste so much time and energy in pressing for more political power when it is not wanted. The worst of these young men in a hurry is that they will be forever attempting to take short cuts to the Social Revolution against the advice of maturer and more reflective minds. There are no short cuts. There is only a long, straight line. If that’s too monotonous for Mr. Lee to follow he must, until he is tired of it, keep up his pleas and little game of running round in a circle. But he must not expert Socialists to run round after him ; they have more important work to do.


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