1900s >> 1906 >> no-21-may-1906

Editorial: May 1st, 1906

On this day, the world over, the advance guard of the army of the revolution which is to break the power of the private possessors of the means of life to dominate and keep in subjection the workers who alone manipulate those means in the process of production, will meet in demonstration of their solidarity of purpose. On this day, in every country where capitalism has entered in to wring from the sweat and the sorrow of Labour, those profits which provide for capital’s ministers luxurious comfort and all the pleasures that wealth can command, in earth and sky and sea, the harbingers of the co-operative Commonwealth destined to arise upon the debris of the present capitalist system which must give it birth, will gather rejoicing in the knowledge that everywhere their comrades have special thought tor the international character of their mighty movement; that everywhere their comrades have turned aside from the work immediately before them to survey the vast field over which the operations of their many organisations extend, and to observe with glad satisfaction the measure of success which has attended the efforts of each section of their party. North, South, East and West, separated by vast seas and great mountains, yet animated by the same desire, inspired by the same ideal, fired by the same enthusiasm, the working-class armies press forward, steadily recruiting their strength as they go. Rank upon rank in ever increasing numbers they march, confident in the final issue of the struggle in which they are engaged.

It is well that we should take a short breathing space occasionally and renew our strength for our fight at home in the observation of the success of our comrades over-seas. Today, whatever suggestion of insularity there may be in our work as a national section of an international movement, is dispelled as we stretch out the hand of fellowship to the organised, class-conscious workers of other countries, and echo back the shout of fraternal greeting with which they salute us.

ET TU BRUTE
After Bebel—Lafargue. Writing to Justice, our comrade says:—

“The Socialists of the two worlds unite fraternally in heart and voice with English Socialists in celebrating the electoral victory of the working class of Great Britain. Its victory is the victory of International Socialism. . . . The Trade Unionists . . . understand at last that in order to ameliorate their lot and to benefit by the wealth which they alone produce, the workers must form themselves into a class party for the purpose of expropriating the capitalist class from political and economic power.”

Which is precisely what they do not understand. As Lafargue himself unwillingly admits, ”the movement is confused, uncertain, unconscious.” And it is unconscious and confused because the Trade Unionists do not understand the necessity for the formation of “a class party for the purpose of expropriating the capitalist class.” How, therefore, Lafargue can hail the electoral victories of a confused, uncertain and unconscious movement as victories for International Socialism we fail to understand, while to talk of “the cool energy of the British working class that no effort will weary and no defeat discourage,” is to attribute to us virtues which are certainly not the conspicuous or peculiarly charateristic possessions of the British working class. We fear that Comrade Lafargue has allowed his kindly May-day desire to say something nice and appreciative to lead him to express himself in terms provocative of the idea that his acquaintance with English conditions is unhappily superficial—an idea which, knowing Lafargue’s high standing in the international movement and being acquainted with his exceedingly valuable contributions to Socialist thought, we are loth to entertain. We cannot agree that the election of the nominees of the Labour Representation Committee were working class victories. We have shewn them to have been achieved partly in alliance with capitalist Liberalism, and wholly by a class-unconscious vote. Does our comrade believe that because Trade Unions stimulated into political activity by certain legal decisions having the effect of endangering the financial reserves of their organisations, have entered into a loose association, for the purpose of recovering a position they had thought themselves secure in, that, therefore, they have established themselves upon a definite class basis in opposition to the political expressions of capitalist interests ? Why, every indication gives a flat denial to the supposition. Their leaders dare not formulate a programme that would emphasize the antagonism of interest and dare not even if they desired it, proceed in such fashion as would bring them into sharp conflict with the capitalist parties, because the membership of their organization have not yet withdrawn their allegiance from those capitalist parties. These leaders, some of whom at times profess Socialism, frankly drop their Socialism to secure the support of the Labour Representation Committee on the ground that to urge Socialism would alienate the Trade Unionists who are not Conservative ! And, so they proceed with halting steps and no little trepidation along the tortuous and unprofitable path of reform legislation, which, as our Comrade Lafargue will not be inclined to dispute, is not calculated to effect that sound class organisation of the workers which it is the sole purpose of the Socialist propagandist to facilitate, but is, on the contrary, more likely to result in confusion and apathy, because the attention of the working class is diverted to the consideration of immaterial issues. We need only add here a quotation from a speech by one who is regarded as among the most advanced thinkers, directing this new pseudo-labour organisation, which Lafargue regards so favourably. He may see in it an indication that the Trade Unionists of Great Britain are still far from recognising, “that their ideal of a fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work recedes in proportion to the development of capitalist production.” Thus;

“For years the Association he represented had been trying to organise the town of High Wycombe. They were not doing that with any animosity towards the employers or the capitalists. Whatever might be their opinion as between capital and labour, as practical men of the world they knew that under present circumstances capital and labour had to co-operate in production . . . They as Trade Unionists said that if the principle of combination was good for the workmen it was good also for the employers. As workmen they wanted to see as strong a combination amongst the employers as it was possible to get. And why ? Because if the employer wanted to conserve the interests of his capital, the only possible way to do it was to prevent unfair cut-throat competition. The only way he could do that was to combine with his fellow capitalists, so that they might come to an understanding with the organisation representing labour, that there should be a bed-rock set of conditions that should determine the prices at which they should put their goods on the market . . . He believed that if there were 75 per cent. of the workmen in the Trade Union at High Wycombe and if there was a strong federation among the employers, they would double their wage in five years.”—J. O’Grady, M.P., made organizer of the National Amalgamated Furnishing Trades Association, reported in the Society Circular for April, 1905.

And this is one of the “Socialist” leaders of the new “Labour” Party, one of the victors in the electoral contest which achieved “a victory for International Socialism.” He is a fair type of the new movement’s fore-front men, and his views a fair sample of the views of the “extremists ” of the Party. How long then, Comrade Lafargue, will it take, think you, to build up a working class party on these lines ? And where in this speech is the idea of mutuality of interest between capital and labour, which is the hallmark of class-unconsciousness and continued working-class enslavement, combatted as one would expect it combatted by an organizer of victory for International Socialism ? It is not combatted at all of course either by O’Grady or any other leader of the new Party. It is deliberately fostered, and while that continues to be the attitude of the leaders of the Party acquiesced in by the rank and file, it is idle and mischievous to endeavour, as both Bebel and Lafargue have done,to invest the movement with an importance that may only be correctly applied to an enlightened proletarian organization on well defined class lines.

THAT BLESSED WORD—UNITY !

With Easter comes the Annual Conferences of those bodies which, with fine contempt for the meaning of words, call themselves Socialist, and with the conferences come also the customary demands, appeals, and entreaties for unity. And, indeed, there is no real reason why these bodies should not unite, seeing that in practice they do not differ. It is true the S.D.F, say they could not join the L.R.C. if it were ever so, because the L.R.C. is a non-Socialist body and an alliance might involve them in non-Socialist action. But as the S.D.F. is continually taking, not only non-Socialist, but anti-Socialist, action, that does not seem an insuperable objection. True again the I.L.P. say that they cannot join with the S.D.F. because the S.D.F will not join the L.R.C.—a sort of argumentative circle which might be vicious were any vital principle involved. True again neither S.D.F. nor I.L.P. will join with the Fabian Society because George Bernard Shaw, who is the Fabian Society, often makes it clear that “he dunno where he are,” nor would they, presumably, join that other “Socialist” organisation called the Clarion Cycling Club, whose many thousands of members may also be members of Liberal or Tory Party, although S.D.F., I.L.P., and F.S. May and do support at their discretion, Liberal or Tory candidates.

Therefore we say these objections are not very strong from our point of view. We only venture to remark that the unity of these bodies would not affect the question of Socialist unity because they are not Socialist organisations. A Socialist organisation is one which, starting from a clear understanding of the position of the working class, and their irremediably antagonistic relationship to the capitalist class, translates that antagonism into clear and consistent action to the end that the unenlightened working class, having a clear issue set and kept before them, may the more readily comprehend that issue and the more rapidly organise themselves for the specific object of the overthrow of capitalism and the realization of Socialism. If there are any members of other Parties endorsing that view, their place is clearly with the Party that holds it—the Socialist Party of Great Britain. There is no other Party in Great Britain whose name so unmistakably expresses its position; there is no Party whose principles are more clearly defined or whose actions have always so consistently, logically and unequivocally translated those principles. Socialist unity, therefore, is achieved by membership in the S.P. of G.B. and although it is true, as the Countess of Warwick has so accurately pointed out in a contemporary, that the S.P. of G.B. does not include the S.D.F., the I.L.P., the F.S., the Clarion groups, and the others, there is no reason why, if the members of those organizations desire Socialist unity and not only the unity of non-Socialist Societies, and are prepared to adopt a Socialist attitude, they should not withdraw from their various separate bodies and enrol themselves with us. We only insist that they shall sign a declaration of adherence to the principles set out in column 1 of the lirst page of this Journal and never depart from the position such adhesion involves, even though the chances of “getting their man in” were never so rosy. Who then is for SOCIALIST unity ?

A TERRIBLE OUTRAGE

The “Labour” members were very indignant. “Mr. Suowden was white with anger.” Mr. Jowett was disquieted. Mr. Macpherson and Mr. Barnes said the stupid exhibition had put the movement back 10 years. And Mr. Burns, brave, bold and brotherly Mr. Burns, said if it had been his sister, he would have boxed her ears ! Such an outrage upon the dignity of a legislative assembly. Such an affront to the “Mother of Parliaments.” Such a disagreeable departure from all precedent, They ought to be ashamed of themselves. And to persist until a posse of fat policemen hurried them out of the gallery ! The hussies ! Let them think themselves fortunate they did not belong to Mr. Burns, he would have spanked them—if only to retrieve the prestige lost by running away from the elderly gentleman who responded to his bumptious challenge to a boxing bout.

Apart from that and the ludicrous disgust of the “Labour” members so anxious to deserve the praise lavished upon their moderation and respectability and regard for the forms of the House, we confess to considerable admiration for the energy and determination with which the women suffragists have forced themselves and their demand for votes upon the attention of stodgy statesmen and a Parliament apathetic toward all things except the interests of the capitalist class, and concerned only to dodge demands not regarded by them with approval. We do not agree of course that this agitation for votes for women is worth while, for the reasons we have several times given ; but the persistence and determination in the teeth of opposition, and the fine disregard for Parliamentary procedure and respectability which the women who are conducting the campaign have displayed, compel appreciation. They are worthy of a loftier cause. These women have recognised that in a fight the best thing to do is not to make your opponent as comfortable as possible ; and anyhow they have set an example which their masculine fellow pedlars of reform might well follow if they think, as we assuredly do not, their short sighted and in effectual objects are worth while striving for.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, May 1906)

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