Editorial: Marx and Hardie

In the Labour Leader, October 23rd, 1908, under the title “Is there to be discord?” Mr. J. Keir Hardie makes a lengthy endeavour to justify the position of the Labour Party in its relation to Socialism. His criticism of the S.D.P. attitude as representing an altogether needless sect is plainly correct, as that body, while holding aloof from the Labour Party nationally, allows its members to work with the Labour Party locally. If the Labour Party is to be considered as an opponent nationally, surely it is equally so locally. To us there appears no reason whatever for thus attempting to run with the hare and hunt with the hounds, except either an altogether mistaken notion of Socialist tactics, or an endeavour to play the political game.

But Mr. Hardie, in building his case for the Labour Party, invokes the blessing of Marx, Engels and Liebknecht, and for that purpose quotes two or three sentences from a letter Marx is said to have written in 1871. The rest of the letter is excluded on the plea that it would occupy too much space. Yet one column on the leader page is occupied in announcing and repeating Hardie’s statements, and could easily have been dispensed with to make room for the whole letter ; and if one column was not sufficient, a whole page could have been made available by omitting tlie advertisements of soothing syrup, ointment, pills, boot polish, etc. with which pages are filled. As it is the quotation is by no means satisfactory, and cannot be made to bear the construction Hardie labours to put upon it. As he himself says, “Marx’s great point was the organisation of the working class as a separate political party, apart and distinct from all other political parties.” Despite his assertion, Marx’s great point is emphatically not met by the Labour Party, which is, as we have demonstrated time and time again, a wing of the capitalist Liberal Party, and has its present footing in the “House” only with the consent of that party. Although political prophecy is a dangerous pastime, it is safe to say that the Labour Party will go out on the ebb of the Liberal tide that carried it in.

That portion of the quotation referring to sects which Hardie throws at us is equally inapplicable. “When the working class becomes ripe (for an independent historical movement) all sects are essentially retrograde.” The whole point is, therefore, whether the working class is yet ripe, or in other words, whether the working class is yet Socialist. There; can be no two opinions about it ; indeed, it is not a matter of opinion, but one of fact. The working class has to be converted to Socialism, and when that has been accomplished, the movement necessarily set up precludes the possibility ot sectional differences so far as the course of action is concerned. The present trouble, the exacerbation of which has called forth the pronouncement which forms the subject of this note, arises from the fact that the workers are not Socialist and cannot be driven or led or otherwise persuaded to take a line of action in accordance with the wishes of Hardie & Co. The fact that Hardie & Co’s, line of action is not the Socialist one is not the point for the present. It is not good enough for Hardie to put the thermometer in the furnace and then persuade himself that it registers the temperature outside.

The independent movement of the working class for its emancipation, admittedly necessarily Socialist, must be the work of a Socialist party, and the Labour Party is not the Socialist Party. Hardie has already explained that the I.L.P., as a political factor, has completely sunk its identity in the Labour Party, so that it is wih the latter alone that we have to deal.

The Socialist party has first of all, therefore, to convert the working class—has, in a word, to be a propagandist body. During its work as a proselytising force it is bound to take political action. The question which constitutes the rock of offence is whether that political action shall be merely an item in the general work of propaganda, or whether it will play down to the unconverted to win. The I.L.P., the S.D.P., and every other political party outside the S.P.G.B,, has chosen the latter course, and thereby ceased to be Socialist propagandists—fallen out of the Socialist movement. That they stole the Socialist thunder, used the enthusiasm of the rank and file, and prostituted the name and the cause of Socialism does not matter—they won. But the cost of their election is the hindering of the development of class consciousness and the hampering of the work of the Socialist movement. The greatest set-back, the most powerful opponent Socialism can possibly have, is, as Liebknecht has said, the man who comes into our ranks as a friend and a comrade and betrays us.


The Personal Service Committee
Once again the axiom is illustrated that the master class will do anything for the workers—except get off their backs. The newest illustration is the attempt at promotion, by personal visitation, of “friendship” between rich and poor in an endeavour to soften the increasingly apparent antagonism between those who live by robbery and the victims. This “Personal Service” committee includes representatives of the families of Asquith, Balfour, Gladstone, Cadbury and Lyttleton, while Lords Norfolk, Salisbury, and Wolverhampton are of the number, together with Mr. Arthur Henderson, leader of the Labour Party, who once again may be known by the company he keeps.

In their letter of appeal the committee say that if a sufficient number come forward “many families in poor circumstances might be tided over the coming winter, who, if left to themselves would inevitably fall below the poverty line.” But they also say in the course of the same appeal that the cases for visitation will be selected through the Charity Organisation Society and the Unemployed Distress Committees, and this practically guarantees that all those dealt with shall be already far below the poverty line ; so that the committee’s statement in this respect is simple a piece of unctious humbug.

In the Daily Mail H. Hamilton Fyfe warmly praises the idea, and attempts, with little success, to make a distinction between the new scheme and the old insulting district visitors’ coal-ticket distribution. He further accuses the “working classes” of inelasticity, unadaptability, and “ignorance or mistrust of the little things that make all the difference to life,” and suggests that “most of those who come off badly in the struggle for existence are lacking either in bodily strength or in mental equipment.” The workers, forsooth, are poor because they are inferior in bodily strength or in mental equipment to the parasites that social conditions compel them to keep in luxury ! And the worker, able and willing to supply his needs by his labour, but denied the opportunity by the profit system, is to be advised and lectured on his unadaptability and ignorance by useless, jewelled parasites who owe their wealth and position to the fortune of birth and class rule, and who know nothing of working conditions, being totally incapable of supplying their own needs, or even of dressing themselves in many cases ! One can imagine the sullen rage that must rise within the intelligent but impoverished worker under the torture of such stupid advice and degrading charity from the class that lives by his robbery.

Indeed, if the truly terrible distress from which the working class are now suffering were the result of what is usually called a natural calamity, such as an earthquake, there might be some excuse for such a movement. But the distress of unemployment is not a natural calamity in that sense ; it is a preventable disease. Moreover, the names of the Personal Service Committee are emphatically representative of those who have, in the interests of the master class, set themselves determinedly against the only possible remedy, and have championed the system of robbery that manufactures the unemployed and their distress. They stand, indeed, for those who decline to do even that which is within their power toward ending the possibility of this preventable and unmeritted misery. Such an appeal as that of the committee, therefore, can in plain English, only be characterised as demnable hypocrisy.

Not being prepared to be just, some of the master class profess a willingness to be charitable. Feeling that there is danger to their profits and their security in the growing feeling of hostility between rich and poor, they make a pretence of friendship, endeavouring to tranquillise their victims and prevent them taking steps that may endanger the position of the capitalist class. It is not love, but fear, that makes the ruling class loosen its purse strings, as experience has repeatedly shown. And the dainty, jewelled dames who may soon find a hobby in insulting visits, stupid advice and priggish charity, would readily, as has happened in the past, applaud police and soldiery in their brutal batonning and slaughter of the workers the moment the latter, driven to desperation, took their fate into their own hands. The name of Asquith would once again find congenial association ; and charity and humbug, having failed in their purpose, would be cast aside by the master class in favour of a frank reliance on coercion by means of the armed forces of the nation. There can, indeed, be no conciliation in the great class antagonism. All pretence at friendship between the two armies in the modern struggle is sheer hypocrisy. This we know, and all history is its confirmation, that the working class, in the ending of their misery, must rely, first and last, upon themselves.


Out-Heroding Herod
After the little scene in the “House” on Nov. 12, it can hardly be argued that the workers have gained even a more sympathetic administration of capitalism by the advent of the workman Cabinet Minister. After Mr. Asquith, who has no reputation for kindliness toward the workers, had promised the removal of certain restrictions in the dispensation of relief, the L.G.B. order, instead of instructing such removal, made it a voluntary action by the authority. Taxed with this in the “House,” Mr. Burns replied that he had adopted the best way of carrying out the Prime Minister’s promise. Mr. Asquith, however, disagreed, and the order is to be replaced by one incorporating the removal of the disability of having received Poor Law Relief within a specified time. Mr. Burns had better be careful. Already dissatisfaction is being expressed in high Liberal circles owing to his not playing the game carefully enough, and if he assumes a callous, unsympathetic attitude toward an unemployed problem which compels even the Premier to affect commiseration, he will have to give place to one who will smile and frown with his master, and shed tears to order. A few more examples like that under notice will blow the gaff on Liberal hypocrisy completely. Burns’ special function in the Cabinet was to conciliate working-class demands for independent representation and to show that the Liberal Party was so concerned to have the voice of Labour in its counsels as to obviate the necessity for separate representation.

To realise that the “short, square built man in the straw hat” who talked himself hoarse on behalf of the dockers in 1889 and the man who is out-Heroding Herod in the cruel, callous administration of relief to the unfortunates of capitalism are the same John Burns is difficult, and shows how complete a control over their representatives must the workers exercise before their convictions can be made to prevail.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, December 1908)

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