Apostles of Confusion

The last strains of the “Marseillaise” (it’s all right, Mr. Editor, this is not a tale of the French Revolution)—the last strains of the “Marseillaise ” were being sung when two comrades of the Watford Branch and myself entered Clarendon Hall, Watford, on the evening of Friday, February 22nd. We found an audience of about 300 assembled to hear addresses by Hyndman and Gribble (of Northampton) on Social-Democracy. The meeting was being held under the auspices of the Watford S.D.F., I.L.P., Trades Council, and Labour Church.

To make speeches that would suit such a mixture of psuedo-Socialists, “Labour” men .and reformers as were here gathered together would tax the capabilities of the best S.D.F. speaker, and that is saying much. Anyway, Hyndman and Gribble tried, and whether they succeeded in tickling the ears of their audience or not, they certainly never gave a clear exposition of Socialist principles. At least, that was our opinion, but then perhaps we are “too scientific.” As we took our seats, the chairman, Mr. Gorle, who proclaimed himself the only working-class representative on the local bodies, was reading apologies for non-attendance from Lord Hyde and other class-conscious individuals.

The chairman then made a short speech intimating that an S.D.F. candidate would be run for the County Council. Gribble was called upon and proceeded to speak on “Social-Democracy and the Present Political Situation.” After a few preliminary remarks (including the usual compliments to Hyndman) he assured us “that it was never more necessary than it was to-day for Socialists to work along the straight path,” .a remark that called forth loud “hear, hears ” from the S.P.G.B. men.

He then traced the evolution of the Socialist movement in England. He stated how the S.D.F. had fought alone for many years; told us how the I.L.P. came into existence as an independent political party only, but gradually evolved until it differed but slightly in its principles from the S.D.F. He told us of the desire for fusion that grew up in the two parties, of the vote taken and carried by a large majority, but did not tell us why the leaders refused to carry out the mandate of the members.

Briefly scanning the events that led to the formation of the L.R.C., he tried to make clear the S.D.F. position in regard to that, body. He said “it was a policy of friendly criticism and advice.” We (the S.P.G.B.) know where that policy has led.

He then told us how disappointed he was at the past year’s work of the Labour Party, and proceeded to criticise its members. He dwelt with bitterness upon those “Socialists” who opposed the adoption of a Socialist programme. The speaker complained of the way the decisions of the Labour Conference had been set aside by the Executive body, and of the way in which, after Quelch and others had by superhuman efforts managed to make the trades unionists swallow an “Universal Suffrage” resolution, the Labour members had disregarded that vote, and had allowed individual members a free hand to support or oppose any measure they liked during the coming session.

“They,” he said, “think that they alone are the Labour Party, and that the thousands behind them in the country are a mere nothing,” and he grew sarcastic about Shackleton’s withdrawal of the Old Age Pension amendment upon Mr. Asquith pointing out that it was a censure upon the Government. Then finishing up with the statement that the workers should put their trust in Socialists and disregard everything except the establishment of a Socialist Republic, Gribble sat down.

All this was very interesting. It might have been news to the audience, but it was merely what we had predicted come to pass.

Is Gribble’s feeling toward the Labour Party the feeling of the S.D.F.? Did his remarks please or offend the members of the local branch ?

As regards the S.D.F. as a body, we know that they occasionally utter a few criticisms of the Labour Party but all the time are supporting it. As regards the local branch, it is their duty either to repudiate Gribble or to repudiate and oppose the local Trades Council, I.L.P., and Labour Church.

But we know they will not do either. They will play the old game of being “all things to all men,” and nothing of any real value to the working-class movement.

The chairman then introduced the principal speaker of the evening, Mr. H. M. Hyndman, who started his speech by saying, as he usually does, that he never worked but lived upon those who did. We had heard this before, but the audience had not, and cheered in the usual way. It always fetches ’em.

The speaker then went on to show the desirability of certain reforms, dealing at length with the question of Free Maintenance. “After years of agitation,” he said, “we have at last got in the thin end of the wedge.” Afterwards in answer to a question, he admitted that this much desired reform would only produce better wage-slaves for the capitalist. He enlarged upon the benefit of Better Housing and Old Age Pensions. In stating that the opposition to Socialism arose largely from ignorance, he said that he had sufficient faith in humanity to believe that, did but the governing classes only know what benefits would accrue from Socialism, notwithstanding their desire to dominate others, they would join the Socialist movement !

And so his speech proceeded, “boxing the compass” politically, industrially and ethically, hinting vaguely at revolution, dealing in detail with useless reforms, but never giving his audience any real insight into scientific Socialism.

After the collection, questions were called for. Comrade Wilkins asked the speaker how he reconciled his statement that the capitalist class would welcome Socialism when they saw what benefits would come, with his supposed belief in the Class Struggle and the Materialist Conception of History as expounded by Karl Marx.

Mr. Hyndman answered that no reconciling of statements was needed, that although he believed in the Class Struggle, he believed that when the capitalists recognised the advantages of Socialism they would welcome it. Yet previously in his speech he had quoted Marx in agreement with his contention that, however much peaceful revolutions are expected, history always proves the expectations false ; that force is the deciding factor.

We sent up two other questions. One: was he in favour of economic organisation of the workers on a class basis, and if so could the present trade unions be altered to such ? To this he replied that the outtlook in the trade unions from a Socialist standpoint was hopeful, and seeing that many of their officials were S.D.F. men the future should see a more Socialist position taken up. The other question was: The Watford S.D.F. claimed to be revolutionary Socialists : if they believed what Gribble said to be true, would not the proper attitude to be taken up towards the Labour Parly, both locally and nationally, be one of hostility ?

But he would not have it. He could see the red light. “He wanted no rift within the lute” in Watford. So he said it was not his business. He left it to the local branch. He had never been a “Labour” man.

Of course it was not his business. Had he supported Gribble against the “Labour” crowd what a position the comrades would be in with an election coming on ! It would not have paid. “We are willing,” he said, “to work with those who go a little way with us and thus try and bring them in touch with Socialism.” And this is what Hyndman has spent twenty-five years of his life for.

. . . . . . . . . . .

Afterwards, when I had bidden my friends “good-night,” and braced myself for my four-mile walk home along the moonlit country lanes, the pity of it all came to me.

With machinery and industrial organisation rendering larger masses of men superfluous; with the intensity of production lowering man’s vitality; with the position of the workers becoming more precarious and the struggle for existence becoming keener ; with all the degeneration, poverty and hunger, with all the horror—there is no other word—of capitalism, yet they have no other message for the workers than this.

For two whole hours, having before them three or four hundred men, probably open to receive the truth, they had told them half truths that are worse than lies. Men who, properly guided, might have become members of a sound Socialist party, were deliberately led into the disappointing wilderness of reform.

What can one think of it?

Does Hyndman know the futility of these reforms he advocates ? Does he know he is misguiding the workers ? Has he not learnt the lesson that years of struggling for these things with no avail should have taught ? Can he not see that even if they were of any use the very best way to get them would be by the revolutionary method ? Does he not perceive that by side-tracking the working-class movement in this way he is delaying the day of the wage-slaves’ emancipation ?

If he does not see, then he is a blind leader of the blind, and should not be listened to. If he does see, then he is wilfully misdirecting the precious energy of the workers and should be exposed. Whichever way it is, we of the S.P.G.B. know our duty and are prepared to do it. We may be dogmatic—so is Science. We may deal with persons sometimes : but the act of any man that rivets the chains tighter upon the limbs of the workers is too tragic in its consequences to be lightly passed over. We may be small in numbers, yet we know that our efforts are exposing the misleaders of the working class and are teaching those principles that will help to bring about the abolition of capitalism in the quickest and surest way.


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