The MacDonald-Brunner combination

The position of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald as backer of Sir John Brunner’s bill, designed to reduce the age limit at which children may be withdrawn from school, seems to have created quite a mild sensation among those who, for some reason we do not pretend to understand, regard Mr. MacDonald as a leader of the working class and one whose departure from what they regard as the straight path, is a notable and highly deplorable event. Thus Mr. Rose, one of the regular contributors to the Clarion, writing in that paper, asks for explanations of “a callous and capitalistic attempt to lower” the age limit. He thinks that as chairman of the I.L.P., Secretary of the L.R.C.. and whip of the Parliamentary “Labour” group, Mr. MacDonald’s association with a whiggish millionaire in the production of a bill which would ‘‘accentuate the worst evils of child labour,” a bill particularly “Anti-Socialistic and retrograde” is exceedingly lamentable. “MacDonald’s splendid work for the movement has entitled him to such a measure of gratitude and admiration that it pains one to say a single word of disparagement, but his best friends can hardly defend an attitude of approval toward an attempt to sentence children of twelve to the drudgery of farm labour,” etc.

Well, we do not wish to speak disparagingly of Mr. MacDonald either, but really we are at some loss to know why his present action of support of a capitalist measure should give rise to any agitation. We thought it was fairly well understood by every student of current politics that Mr. MacDonald’s splendid work for “the movement ” was always subservient to his splendid work for Mr. MacDonald. That was the reason why we were quite astounded when reading of him in a contemporary as the “dark-eyed inscrutable Secretary of the L.R.C.” Not because he hasn’t dark eyes, but because he was always to us so far removed from the inscrutable. We saw in him a gentleman whose action was most consistently pro-MacDonald. If “the movement’s” interests conflicted with the interests of MacDonald, so far as we have been able to observe, it has always been so much the worse for “the movement.”


“He’s a good Socialist” said Mr. Clarion Vanner Hartley of an I.L.P. colleague who succeeded in winning a seat at the General Election,—”He’s a good Socialist only he believes in getting in.” He might have said the same thing of Mr. Macdonald. He was a good “independent Labour” candidate, a very “independent Labour” candidate, only—”he believed in getting in.” ! He believed, like Mr. Ward, the “Labour” member for Stoke, in “getting his feet into the House of Commons and he wasn’t very particular how lie did it.” We pointed out at the time how very fragile was Mr. Macdonald’s “independence” as compared with his desire to “get in.” We understood that his real busuies was to “get on” and as “getting in” was so good a means to that end why of course he must get in. And, therefore, it was not astonishing to us that he got in, this “independent Labour” gentleman, by collaboration with the Liberal Candidate and by arrangement with the local Liberal Association. It was, briefly, because of this arrangement that no “Labour” candidate was put forward at the recent by-election at Leicester (Mr. Macdonald’s constituency). It would have disturbed the harmony existing between Liberalism and “Labour” and imperilled the Parliamentary security of the Macdonald. And so it came about that, although Mr. Broadbent, the retiring member, was by way of being a “Labour” leader himself and the seat might, therefore, be fairly held to be a “Labour” possession by the L. R.C.-cum-I.L.P. type of “Labour” mind, no opposition was offered to the candidature of a very hack Liberal with strongly marked anti-labour tendencies. Mr. Macdonald was, of course, a strong opponent of Liberalism, a professor of Socialism and a believer in independence, but—he believes in “getting in.” And if his getting in and stopping there conflicts with his Socialism and his independence and his anti-Liberal professions, so much the worse as we have said, for them. The harmony must not be disturbed—that so readily perceived harmony between conflicting interests !

Since he has been in Parliament Mr. Macdonald has always seemed devoted to the same end, and his present support of the Brunner bill is only one of the many manifestations of his desire to ingratiate himself with Capitalist Liberalism—and preserve the harmony. Besides which, as consistency seems to be something of a passion with him (a consistency of wrong truly, but still a consistency) it was in accord with precedent that he should be in favour of child labour. Did he not support David Shackleton, the champion of the half-time child labovir system, for the premier position in the “Labour” group against Keir Hardie ? Let Mr. Rose and the others who seem so much perturbed, cease then from troubling and be at rest. Mr. Macdonald is of the stuff that “Labour” statesmen are made of, and however grievous it may seem to Mr. Hose and Co., he will assuredly (it requires no gift of prophecy to say so) snap at the iirst portfolio any Liberal administration may have to offer him.

As to demanding explanation of the “Labour” group—really, Mr. Rose ought to know better. The “Labour” group have nothing to,explain. The “Labour” group is not one and indivisible, on the contrary it is, to be precise, twenty-nine entirely divisible ! Its members may do just whatever seemeth them fit—and do it. They have no common principle to build upon and no common idea of the edifice to be erected. For which reason they can have no common programme—and plume themselves upon the fact. They are, in short, a heterogeneous collection of (upon most questions) mutually warring elements in momentary danger of sliding off the one plank (the re-establishment of the status quo ante Farwell) upon which they perch precariously, and dissolving into two or three or more sections. Only the liberty to do as they generally please and the fear that in their present condition they would probably hang separately if they did not hang together, keeps them in what is called a group. Mr. Rose knows—or should know—this quite well and his appeal to the group to keep Mr. Macdonald in order is, therefore, either an obscure form of humour, or a lumbersome attempt at bluff.

The matter is one that well illustrates the utterly futile position the “Labour” members are in. It is a further demonstration that if the working class are to capture the political weapon as they must for use in their own interests, they will have to give some better indication of their determination than is said to be expressed in this Parliamentary “Labour” Group. The position, of course, would be quite impossible were the working class aware of the cause of their condition ; if they bad knowledge of the remedy and had organized themselves upon a class basis. It is only possible because of the absence of that working-class knowledge and organization. Our purpose, within the limits of our capacity, is to impart the one and effect the other. It is the ostensible purpose of the “Labour Leaders” to do the same thing, but as on all the evidence their group is simply a manifestation of working-class confusion, they are clearly not doing it.

Win the “Labour” Leaders are not educating and organisng the class they are alleged to lead is a question answered variously out of the mouths and out of the actions of the men themselves. Some, in ignorance perhaps, attach an exaggerated importance to getting into the House of Commons or other public chambers, ignoring the fact that should loom largest upon the mental horizon of one aspiring to be a Labour Leader, viz., that an elected person cannot outstrip the advance of his electorate and that, assuming success in “getting in” (which is usually achieved by obscuring as much as possible the real issues it is hoped may be raised so much more effectively inside) he must kick his heels impotently until his constituents come up with him. Others, again it may be ignorance, think to effect the working-class purpose bv pressing for certain reform measures which, as we have so frequently shewn, can by no chance whatever, permanently or in any material degree, ameliorate the unhappy lot of the wage-worker. Others, again, are quite transparently concerned mainly with their own advancement and are prepared to go to any safe lengths to facilitate it. But, honestly ignorant or otherwise, they are assuredly neither educating nor organizing the working-class. On the contrary their vacillations and puerilities ; their halting half-measures and “evil communications” with capitalist representatives ; their lack of emphasis on the one thing that really matters (Socialism) and their “damnable iteration” of the things that do not matter (Reforms)—all these have an undoubted effect detrimental to the intellectual clarity and the effectual organization of the working-class.

Therefore, in the efforts which we are making to educate and organize the workers, we come into sharp conflict with the obscurantists and confusionists acclaimed as “Labour” Leaders both inside and outside the House of Commons. We regard them as enemies of Labour to be fought; their work as entanglements in the working-class path to be cut away.

And that is briefly the difference between us and the “Labour” group that Mr. Ramsay Macdonald is so prominent a member of.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, July 1906)

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