1900s >> 1909 >> no-56-april-1909

Party News: Debate with the Anti-Socialist Union

On Friday evening, March 12th—after some three months negotiations—the debate between representatives of the Socialist Party and the Anti-Socialist Union of Great Britain, took place at Tottenham. Mr. W. B. Farraday, who was to have championed the Anti-Socialists, was unable to attend, and Mr. Urwin took bis place. Mr. Tomkins, of the “Tottenham Constitutional Union,” occupied the chair, and on the platform were several speakers of the Anti-Socialist Union. Though only some five days were really available for advertising the meeting an audience of well over 700 packed the Hall. The subject of debate being “Socialism v. Capitalism,” Comrade Anderson in opening defined those terms as denoting different phases in the historic and social development of Society, and said the purpose of the debate was to show which was now preferable. Then followed a well-reasoned, critical examination of modern conditions, clearly showing that capitalism had generated a “social problem” it could not solve; that, built, as it was, on the basis of the monopoly by one class of the means of life, the enslavement, poverty and degradation of the other was inevitable. Anticipating a request (which, however, did not come) for authorities as to the poverty and so on existing, the speaker gave several, quoting, to the amusement of the audience and the amazement of Mr. Urwin, Mr. Claude Lowther, President of the Anti-Socialist Union, who had said, after examining into modern conditions, that he ”found the workhouse the final goal of honest old age.” He showed how universal was the curse of capitalism ; that while fiscal and political forms differed and religious beliefs were many and varied, wherever, as under capitalism, the workers had to sell their labour-power, they were poor, and the masters—who robbed them—rich. Further, the anti-social form of society, reared upon the basis he had exposed, had brought us to the position of the “ house divided against itself,” where the class struggle raged and women were pitted against men in the labour-power market, and children against women. Thus was “family life” prostituted, the “home” broken up, and the nobility of “human nature” denied expression. Socialism, on the other hand, meant a social system based on the common ownership and democratic control of the means of life, by and in the interest of the whole community, wherein production would be for use instead of for profit, and, the essentials of life being assured to all, none could exploit his neighbour. Upon that basis alone could a society of free men and women exist, and a higher development, a fuller expression, a greater enjoyment of life be possible.

Mr. Urwin apologised for Mr. Farraday’s absence, and said that, having had only one day’s notice of the meeting he had come somewhat unprepared. He then declined to answer a question Mr. Anderson had raised, declaring “ I am here to defend capitalism as it stands.” Yet he finished by saying “reform certainly is needed, but the way to effect it is not to pull the house down because a slate is off.” He asserted that as in early tribal times people lived on fish and in mud huts, under Socialism we would do the same, as we would only produce for use, and each would get only what the State considered necessary. In Germany the peasants had worked from early dawn ’til late at night for the bare necessaries of life, and that was Socialism (laughter). It was said that labour produced all wealth, but it was labour aided by ability and capital that produced wealth, and capitalists took great risks. The means of production were in the hands of a few, and Socialism proposed to get rid of them, but Mr. Anderson had not said how. Was it to be by confiscation, by issuing bonds and then repudiating them, or by compensation? Socialism according to Marx was a policy of negation, and strife against all authority, and Socialists were creating a false impression among the workers that they were being unfairly treated. To-day they were free, they got wages and could spend them any way they pleased— under Socialism they would have to take whatever the State decided was for them. Claiming that England had grown great under capitalism, he finished with the plea for reform mentioned above.

Comrade Anderson now had a fifteen minutes reply. He at once seized upon Mr. Urwin’s obvious contradiction involved in “defending capitalism as it stands” by appealing for its “reformation.” Regarding early times and mud huts, he remarked that then no favoured few lived in palaces, but that all had mud huts, and under Socialism all would enjoy the plenty or otherwise that would then exist. He had not taken upon himself to guarantee all that would obtain under Socialism, but affirmed that Socialism guaranteed joint ownership in, and control of, the means of life. It was true he had not said how it was to come about, but that was not the question in debate, still he assured his friend that Socialists did not believe in compensation so-called, nor need it be confiscation really, but the simple process of restitution— the people taking to themselves that which had been stolen from them. Dealing with wealth production, he again accused his opponent of misquoting, and repeated that labour-power— physical and mental—applied to the natural resources of society, produced all wealth, including the portion that afterwards became capital. The ability came from the workers— all the capitalists took they plundered from the toilers. That Socialism was a policy of negation he denied being a Marxian statement—it was an anti Socialist, an Anarchist one. With a reference to England’s greatness he took up the plea for reform, arguing that as the house was beyond repair, it stood condemned as unfit, and therefore must give way to a better.

Mr. Urwin, replying, wanted to know who condemned the house. The only Socialist Party of Great Britain did not number 10,000, and was it going to bring about this great change? There was no need for Socialism as matters were improving in all directions. Regarding unemployment, any man who had ability and was willing to work could get work, only many were too lazy and preferred to walk the streets carrying unemployed banners (Interruptions during which Mr. Urwin resumed his seat). Proceeding, however, he still maintained his assertion and argued that it would be a mistake to throw over the present system for one that meant a return to serfdom and communism. His quotation from Marx was from a German publication not yet translated. (Laughter.) Twenty minutes were now devoted to the speakers questioning each other, and here Mr. Urwin seemed absolutely lost. He definitely declined to answer two questions, and the others he had better have left unanswered, while Comrade Anderson’s replies were so prompt and effective that they not only delighted the audience, but seemed to mystify bis opponent. That good work was done for Socialism may be gathered from the following words with which one of the leading North London weekly Conservative papers conluded its report:

“Mr. Anderson, representing the Socialists, laid his case before the audience in a most able manner, whilst Mr. Urwin did not seem at home with the subject. Possibly, Mr. Farraday, who was to have been the representative of the Anti-Socialist Union, would have presented the Union’s case better and to greater advantage, and it was distinctly unfortunate for the Union that that gentleman was unable to attend. Mr. Urwin was at one time compelled to sit down owing to persistent interruptions from a small section of the audience. At the same time he created the impression that if the Anti-Socialist Union are to do any real good in their crusade against Socialism stronger speakers and debaters will have to be sent to present the case against Socialism.

A hearty vote of thanks to the Chairman closed the meeting.

J. T. B.