Editorial: Much Ado About Nothing

We refer, of course, to Mr. Asquith’s speech of the eleventh of December, at a dinner given in commemoration of a Liberal defeat. “We are met,” said the Primier on that auspicious occasion, “to celebrate a failure.” The Lords had inconsiderately slaughtered a Liberal licensing bill, and sour-faced Nonconformity had in consequence been cheated of its sop. Weeks had been spent by the Commons in dreary talk in the passing of that measure, and tons of unreadable printed matter had been issued, but this had not prevented it going the way it had been expected it would, and perhaps intended it should, go—apparently to the relief of the majority outside. The bill, indeed, was utterly worthless to the workers, and quite hopeless in the promotion of temperance : its only function seems to have been to square the electoral account for nonconformist and teetotal support.

The collapse of the so-called Education Bill, added to the violent death of the licensing measure, had depressed the Liberal party and made many of its supporters discontented, and it became incumbent on Mr. Asquith to give a rallying cry to decaying Liberalism, and revive the drooping fortunes of his party. And to the accompaniment of loud and prolonged cheering the anxiously awaited pronouncement was made public. “I invite the Liberal Party from tonight,” said the hero of Featherstone, “to treat the veto of the House of Lords as the dominating issue in politics.” Hardly inspiring, this, as a rallying cry, even if it were not mere sound and fury, signifying nothing. Indeed, what did the Premier propose to do to make his dominating issue a reality ? Was the party to go to the country forthwith upon the issue and fight the Lords ? No, quoth Mr. Asquith, that would be to admit the right of the Lords “to dictate both the occassion and the date of a dissolution.” So the Liberals were going to be brave—and to submit. The hollowness of Liberalism hardly needed further demonstration. “Down with the Lords” is again to be its empty rallying cry ; and although the House of Lords, has not yet gone to Jericho, still its walls are expected to crumble at a shout, for certainly the Liberals are prepared to do nothing more.

It cannot be denied that there exist powerful constitutional weapons against the Lords which the Liberals could use were they sincere, but wherever capitalist interests are endangered Liberal and Tory have two minds with but a single thought, two hearts that beat as one. In view of working-class unrest, does not the second chamber offer a possible barrier to working-class advance should other obstacles not suffice ? And does not this account for the tenderness with which the Lords are treated by the Liberals, and partly, also, for the enormous number of peers which the latter create ? Not, however, that we are enamoured of a reform of the House of Lords, for the reform of a rotten institution simply serves to perpetuate that institution, and a House of Lords reformed would undoubtedly be a House of Lords strengthened as a weapon against the workers. Nevertheless the fatuity of Liberalism in this respect, as in regard to their projected Land Tax, cannot escape recognition. The fiscal reform of the Liberals, indeed, is at least as futile as the fiscal reform of the Tories, as far as working-class interests are concerned. So, also, with that other measure which collapsed of its own weakness—the “Education” Bill. There, also, we have an example of Liberal futility. Though called an Education Bill, this measure had nothing whatever to do with the improvement of education, but was solely a faction squabble between sections of the capitalist interest as to which particular brand of Christianity should be forced down the throats of the children. In other words, since the particular form of superstition to be taught is but the outward and visible sign of the interests of one section or other of the ruling class, so the squabble over religious education was really to decide which section of the ruling class the children were to be taught to look to for guidance. To capitalist parties this religious squabble may be vital. Mr. Hill, “Labour” M.P., may claim that “the Bible is still his best book,” and that he believes “in simple Bible teaching.” But from the working-class point of view the fact remains that the worker’s interest is foreign to all this Labour cum-Liberal twaddle.

Moreover, the Liberal-Labour bankruptcy on the question of unemployment could hardly be made clearer. Along with the boasted avalanche of Liberal measures—all conceived in the interest of the ruling class —the position of the worker has been steadily growing worse. Statistics convey a quite inadequate idea of the extent of dumb suffering and poverty that exists among the workers from this cause. Mr. William Redmond, M.P., is moved to remark in Reynold’s that “there is no part of the world where the contrasts between luxurious wealth and miserable poverty are so marked as in England, and particularly in London.” And he further adds,

“We have in Ireland suffering and unemployment enough. But the humblest labourer in his cottage in the country is to be envied in comparison with the workman in the great cities who finds himself without employment. Bit by bit the little articles of the home are sacrificed. The pawnshop stretches forth the only hand of assistance often to be found. The home goes, and there is nothing left but the streets. Far preferable is the lot of the poorest dweller is the countryside to this.
England has been glorified because of her great industrial progress, her mighty factories, and her great hives of industry. But when the depression of trade brings with it the discharge of workmen and the hopelessness which that entails, it is futile to talk of the glory of England’s progress. She then presents a spectacle which is unparalleled in the history of the world, of the most boundless wealth on the one hand, and the direst poverty on the other.”

But to these sufferings of the working class the Liberals, like the Tories, are cynically indifferent, and are, in fact, only likely to move when the workers start acting for themselves. So bad is the state of affairs, indeed, that the Labour Party, that docile tail of the Liberal bow-wow, is even moved by the callousness of the Government to murmur a faint protest. We quote from the daily paper of December 12th.

“Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, M.F., secretary of the Labour Party, speaking at Coventry last night, said deliberately (according to the Central News Agency) that unless the Government turned over a new leaf and observed more sympathy, initiative, and determination in dealing with the serious problems of unemployment it would find the Labour Party before long in violent conflict with it.”

Things must be bad indeed, when the Labour Party threatens to be in conflict with the Government ! In fact, we cannot believe that it will ever come to that. The faithfulness to the Government that has hitherto characterised the “Labour” members is not likely to be disturbed. As we have been reminded on more than one occasion, they find their seats too comfortable.

For the working class, however, groaning under their increasing burden of misery, only the policy of hostility can be of use. They must, as distinct from the Labour Party, find themselves all the time in violent opposition to the capitalist Government. They must democratically champion their own interests against all sections of the capitalist party, and realise to the full that the rallying cries and faction fights of Liberals versus Tories are in very truth rightly said to be “much ado about nothing.” Indeed, if the workers are not prepared to take a stand with their comrades in the Socialist Party and fight their own battles, then there is no power can save them from the deepening misery that threatens.

(Editorial, Socialist Standard, January 1909)

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