1900s >> 1908 >> no-42-february-1908

Editorial: Once a Liberal always a Liberal.

“Mr. MacDonald, who is certainly practical enough in Parliament, has been represented as a somewhat bitter critic of the present Government. I believe it to be a fact that he considers he has a grievance against the newspapers for the way they have ignored his repeated efforts to do justice to the Government’s good works.” Manchester Guardian’s London Correspondent, Jan. 9th, 1908.

Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald’s political career has been an interesting one. Just previous to the general election of 1895 he was straining every nerve to induce the Liberal Executive to adopt him as one of their official candidates for Southampton. Had they done so and he had secured election, it is highly improbable that he would ever have been heard of as an “Independent” Labour man, provided always that the Liberal moneybags had recognised his “statesmanship” and seen to it that his political advancement was not retarded. But the official Liberals of Southampton would have none of him, and so, like many another job-hunter, he became “converted,” and being anxious to enter Parliament, at once pushed himself forward as the “Independent Labour” candidate for the borough. At the last general election he secured the coveted membership of the House of Commons, sinking all the principles of political independence which the I.L.P. claim to have as their basis of operations, by making a compact with the Liberals of Leicester. That he is still, for all practical purposes, a Liberal, is shown by his remarks to a Daily News interviewer on January 8th. That interview, as the D.N. editor pointed out, was “an interesting evidence of the substantial identity of the immediate aims of Liberalism and Labour.” Now the immediate aims of Liberalism are to maintain and, if possible, strengthen the economic supremacy of the master class over the working class. It is for that that they enter into politics, and as the immediate aims of the Labour Party are substantially identical (for the accuracy of the D.N’s comment cannot be questioned) we are once more justified in our criticism of the Labour Party as upholders of capitalism. Moreover, Mr. MacDonald declared, “you can find Socialists in both the big political parties.” Why, then, does not the Labour member for Leicester denounce them ? They must be either ignorant, or dishonest. But it is clear that in Mr. MacDonald’s opinion Socialism is only a general term signifying a desire to reform, not to change the basis of Society, for he added “the people get Socialism from Tory as well as from Liberal Ministers” ! Will the chairman of the Independent Labour Party take the object of that party (fearful and wonderful as it is) and explain how, if that is his idea of Socialism, the people are getting it from Tory as well as from Liberal Ministers ?

Reform or Socialism?
There is one aspect of the editorial comments in the Daily News which deserves very careful consideration on the part of those who claim to be Socialists, but yet advocate reforms. It is idle to deny that many do so quite honestly, believing that there is little hope of the workers organising for Socialism until their conditions are vastly improved, and they must therefore ask, or appeal, or “demand” these reforms of their masters. The Daily News welcomes the pressure of the Labour Party in the direction of a generous scheme of old age pensions, as it can only be salutary, and will certainly come with equal conviction and energy from the Left Wing of Liberalism itself. The same thing, it adds, is true of the problem of unemployment. In its opinion, a niggardly scheme of pensions, and, above all, one which attempted to set up any discrimination on the basis of merit, would do more than anything else to disillusionise those workmen who trust the sympathies and goodwill of Liberalism. It might drive them to Tariff Reform, more probably it would convert them to Socialism. And so, as Mr. Cadbury’s journal does not wish workmen to be converted to Socialism, it hopes the Government will pass something which, in the name of Socialism, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald and his party advocate. The Daily News knows, of course, that Old Age Pensions, whether carried out according to the plan of the Labour Party or otherwise, are in no sense of the word Socialism. They, therefore, do not father the twaddle of the I.L.P. chairman about getting Socialism from Tory as well as Liberal Ministers. As Mr. A.J.Balfour daclared recently, Social Reform is the antidote to Socialism. It is therefore illogical for Socialists to advocate reforms. These will, of course, be passed into law by the master class whenever the exigencies of the political situation demand that operation. And as the working-class show they are becoming Socialists, the passing of reforms will be expedited by the capitalists. The only work then with which Socialists have to deal is the education of the workers to the principles of Socialism, for the spread of that education alone will secure, not only an amelioration of present conditions, but the complete change from capitalism to Socialism, which is necessary before freedom and general well-being can be possible for all mankind.

What’s in the Wind
Not only is Mr. J. R. MacDonald anxious to show how very little Liberalism has to fear from Labourism, but other Labour members are going about the country proclaiming that they are not Socialists, and evidently endeavouring to conciliate the Liberals. At Hulme Town Hall on November 28, Mr. G. D. Kelley, M.P. explained that he did not wish to see the Government wrecked by the introduction of an unacceptable Licensing Bill. But, from the workers’ point of view, Liberals and Tories are but two names adopted by the one enemy, and it matters not to them which section of the enemy is in power or thrown out. Moreover, if the Labour Party’s view is the correct one, and the next general election will see a large increase in their ranks in the House of Commons, it would suit their purpose better if the Government were wrecked at once, no matter on what. At the conclusion of the meeting Mr. Kelley was asked if he were a Socialist and replied in the negative. Hence his solicitude for the Liberal Government. Mr. H. Nuttall, Liberal M.P., mentioned at Heaton Mersey on December 20th that Mr. Clynes, M.P., had expressed himself in a way as to a practical working policy that he fully agreed with, and, commenting on this, the Manchester Weekly Chronicle pointed out that since Mr. NuttalFs speech Mr. Clynes, speaking at Hulme, said Socialism was a long way off, and they had to work for immediate reforms. Again we ask “what’s in the wind ?” Is it that the Labour members, anticipating an early general election, and fearing the Liberals will decline to renew the compacts by which so many Labour men became Labour members, fearing the Liberals will force them to fight three-cornered contests, are striving to conciliate the Liberals as much as possible, with a view to preventing such a (to them) dire catastrophe as is here foreshadowed ?

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, February 1908)

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