Why This Resignation? The I.L.P. And its Leaders
There is great to do in the land. The papers—particularly the Liberal papers—are discussing the “grave situation,” the “crisis reached.” Is there another “Patten ring ” or “wheat corner” ? Nothing so desperate—scarcely a storm in a teacup ; but, as shall see, it is to the interest of certain individuals and a certain Party to make it appear important.
Four prominent members of the I.L.P. have resigned from the National Administrative Council to which they were just elected. They are J. Keir Hardie, J. Ramsay MacDonald, Philip Snowden and Bruce Glasier. The first three were elected by large majorities. Then why have they resigned ? Being no confident of any of the parties named I cannot claim to have “inside information,” but the information at the disposal of the “outsider” is quite sufficient to give the answer.
On the surface the reason given was the referring back of certain paragraphs in the N.A.C. Report dealing with Grayson’s position as an official lecturer for the I.L.P. Grayson protested that the “paragraphs were entirely unjust and wrongly coloured,” and it was decided after discussion to refer the paragraphs back by 217 votes to 194. This occurred on Monday.
On Tuesday the Chairman (J. R. MacDonald) stated that “they (the N.A.C.) had had a trying time for the last twelve months owing to the growth of a movement of irresponsibility in the Party. It was an impossibilist movemnt unfair to the Parliamentary members of the Party,” (Labour Leader, April 16), and after referring to the matter of the paragraphs, said the above four members had decided to resign from the N. A.C. and fight the matter from the rank and file.
After long discussion a resolution endorsing the policy of the N.A.C. and expressing confidence in the four members concerned, and requesting the withdrawal of their resignations was carried almost unanimously.
Victor Grayson had departed the day previous. Keir Hardie now indulged in personalities that are rather incongruous with his virtuous indignation at our “abuse” when we tell the awkward truth about him. He said “self-respect demanded that a stand should be made. He valued the opinion expressed by the conference. He would like it sent down to all the branches, especially to those where there was that small, snarling, semi-disruptive element” (Labour Leader). However, the quartette decided to adhere to their resignations.
Of course, they have since issued a manifesto. So has Grayson. The latter, of course, views the thing almost, if not entirely, as a personal matter between himself aud the “four.” Still he maintains his position re the paragraphs, and it is significant that no real answer has been attempted. Even the toadying apologist For the N.A.C., W. Stewart, can only deal with it from the personal standpoint. He says (Clarion, April 16) “The N.A.C. had after a certain date in last November, refused to organise meetings under their auspices for Victor Grayson. And in this report they explained why. Grayson challenged the accuracy of the explanation. The conference, which only an hour before had re-elected the very members responsible for that explanation, now accepted Grayson’s view in preference to that of their newly appointed representatives. The situation had become intolerable. They had no alternative but to resign.” There is no attempt to show the N.A.C. had even tried to refute Grayson.
The “Big Four” in their manifesto say that a section of “Socialist opinion” has been growing up whose attitude “can best be illustrated by a quotation from a recently published essay entitled ‘The Problem of Parliament,’ by Grayson and Taylor,” part of which follows : “The basis of the (Socialist Party must be the I.L.P., S.D.F., the Clarion Scouts, and, if it can be brought to the point of making up its political mind, the Fabian Society.”
“Two things,” say the quartette, “stand out in this official” (why offiicial ?) “pronouncement, 1st, that the trade unions, which are the only expression of genuine class consciousness the workers of Great Britain have hitherto evolved, are to be rigidly excluded from the new party ; 2nd, that this new Socialist Party is not to concern itself with the advancement of labour.” (Labour Leader, April 16.)
From which it seems that at last the “Big Four” agree with us, first, that class consciousness is the essential of a Socialist party, and secondly, that the I.L.P., S.D.P., Fabian Society, Clarion Scouts, etc., are not, class conscious and therefore cannot be Socialist. How often have they called us names for saying exactly the same thing ! and now, they the favoured and petted, tell the rank and file of the I.L.P. that we were correct, and their’s is not a Socialist organisation !
The statement as applied to trade unions, of course, is utterly incorrect. Moreover, to say that this movement has grown up lately is to say what is not true. Ever since the “Fourth Clause ” wrangle there has been a section in the I.L.P. opposed to some, at least, of the tactics of of the official clique. Russell Smart, in his letter to the Labour Leader (23.4.09), once more nearly gives the game away, although he repeats the stupid statement re a movement “growing up.” He says “There has arisen in the movement a revolt which has nothing whatever to do with the personalities of our leaders or the principles of the Party. . . It is directed against the cabinet or caucus system which enables a few clever men to have complete control of the coach and drive the passengers where the leaders please.”
Further on he says “For the last few years the Junta pursued a policy which had steadily and stealthily deprived the branches of their autonomy and increased the power of the centre. The caucus had control of every wire. The exchequer was in its hands ; it selected the constituencies to be fought; it decided who were to be the candidates. We were not allowed to contest even when the Labour Party had declined to fight, and we ourselves found all the money. Even now we cannot work or vote for a Socialist candidate if the organisation responsible is not affiliated to the Labour Party.
“But with themselves it is another matter. In all their political work they claim unrestricted liberty, passive obedience from the rank and file. It would be scarcely credited by our Continental comrades that they (the Junta) make no attempt to present a Parliamentary report or discuss the past Parliamentary actions of the M.P.s.”
In support of this it may be noted that Keir Hardie said at the Conference, “If the Labour Party was to be saved from ruin the last word respecting three-cornered contests must rest with the Executive.”
To get at the root of the matter we must clear the ground of some of the supposed explanations that block the way. W. Stewart in his report says it is the principle of the Labour Alliance that is involved. The absurdity of this statement is shown by the fact that only 8 votes were cast against the Alliance (of I.L.P. and L.P.) to 378 for it. It cannot be fear of Grayson personally, as the Conference almost unanimously passed a vote of confidence in the “Big Four” and even reinstated the paragraphs over which the squabble took place. The inadequacy of the statement in their manifesto is given above.
What remains ? First some significant voting at the Conference, in which a respectable minority voted against the official clique every time. Now take a fact or two outside the Conference. As we have proved in our Manifesto and organ (March ’06) there exists an arrangement between the leaders of the I.L.P. and L.P. and the Liberal Party, whereby seats are not only left open for Labour candidates, but active Liberal support is to be given them. The kicking over the traces by those outside the arrangement, as at Colne Valley, Newcastle, etc., has called forth indignant protests from the Liberal Press, who declare the uselessness of bargaining with leaders who cannot make their followers keep their compacts. Then happens the greatest fiasco the Labour movement has ever seen in the Croydon election, where the “sane” and “safe” man, Frank Smith, assisted by all the “big guns,” adopted by the Labour Party, running as “Labour ” candidate, in favour of “Right to Work” Bill, Taxation of Land Values, Free Trade, etc., and removing all doubt as to his orthodoxy by stating in his election address “My years of service as a commissioner of the Salvation Army make it useless to denouince me as an Atheist and an enemy of family life,” polled only 886 votes where “Labour” had polled 4,007 in 1906 ! All the statesmanship and explanations of the leaders of the Labour Party still leave this the most severe collapse of a “Labour” vote in the history of the movement. And, what is more, still leave it the unmistakable sign of the utter failure of their machinations, the emphatic condemnation of their policy.
Things begin to look ominous. Evidently the Labour Party by itself is powerless to hold a constituency or the votes therein. Present seats are insecure, even with Liberal aid—without, their loss is certain. Hence their occupants must take drastic action—they resign the N.A.C. Victor Grayson is a convenient excuse for bullying the rank and file into allowing their leaders to make what compacts with the Liberals they please, and to abide by them when made. His vague reference to forming a new party strengthen the hands of the official clique, who will brand as “wreckers” all who oppose their bossing the I.L.P. Russell Smart is aware of this, but has his own arrangements to make.
Meanwhile we go on with our work of propagating the principles Socialism, quite sure that in the fullness of time the temporary victory of the “Big Four” must bring grist to our mill, as does each new in stance of the treachery of those who claim to “lead” the working class to victory.
(Socialist Standard, May 1909)