Editorial: The Outlook
The Liberal Argument
The present political situation, with the possibility of a General Election looming in the foreground, cannot fail to be of exceptional interest, and in the circumstances may prove to be fraught with importance to the working class. The Liberal Party is diligently digging its own grave by using arguments against landowners that are every bit as applicable to the capitalists, while the Labour Party have all they can manage to demonstrate to the plain man the reason for their separate existence.
In the event of an early Geueral Election brought about by the Lords rejecting the Finance Bill, this must be the immediate subject of the appeal to the country. To this will he tacked, according to the apostles of the “Newest Liberalism,” the abolition of the Lords’ veto. The Liberals in such a case are confident of success, apparently sure that the enthusiasm for the Budget exists in sufficient force and depth to carry with it the greater constitutional question. But, without the Lords, what will the Liberal Party do for an excuse for their own procrastination in the matter of reform ? Up to now the standing argument has been that the Lords block the way. It would indeed be interesting to see the sincerity of the Liberals tested by them having, beyond possibility of cloaking, that free hand in legislative matters they have hitherto denied. To conduct their present campaign the George-cum-Churchill combination has been arguing against the landed interest that the land, rendered useful and valuable by social occupation, should not be exclusively enjoyed by a class of monopolists, but should contribute to the upkeep of the State. These great Parliamentary debaters, if they are as logical as debaters should he, must know that they are forging a double-edged weapon which must inevitably he turned against them when the working class, to whom the appeal is particularly directed, recognise that capital likewise owes its quality as a means of production to social activities, and is no less monopolised than the land itself.
The income derived from an investment in industrial stock is no more defensible on those lines than is the income from an investment in land.
Nor will it serve to quote the privileges attaching to land ownership ; the essential nature to society of access to the land ; nor the flimsy nature of the right by which land is held. From the working-class point of view, exactly the same applies to that preponderating category of wealth, the instruments of production. Its possessors and monopolists are privileged to receive the bulk of the wealth accruing from its use : it is absolutely essential to the existence of modern society, while the right of the capitalist is really at one with that of the landholder. Neither produced his property, while with the capitalist the whole process is dependent upon the skill and the service of the workers. More than that, the very evolution of both of the actual instruments and of the processes in which, and by which, they are employed, has been a social one, based upon the experience of the workers in their use. The capitalist, as such, has long ceased to perform any useful or necessary functions either in direction or organisation in industry. He is approaching, where he has not already reached, the position of the financial manipulator of the results of the wealth producers’ efforts. To speculate with wealth produces nothing. The capitalist class generally is equally as parasitic to-day as its landlord section, and to draw a distinction between them from a test of social utility would be as impossible as it would be destructive to both.
The Tory Opposition
On the other hand it must be recognised that the opposition they have to face is lamentably weak. The Tory Party is not only deficient in men of outstanding ability, so far, of course, as parliamentary leadership is concerned, but even on the question of Tariff Reform—to which, apparently, they have pinned their faith—there seems an extraordinary indefiniteness as to just what this central point of their creed means, with the result that there is nothing for the rank and file to enthuse over.
The Labour Party
The Labour Party and the position it can take up, may furnish some interesting speculations. At present they are tumbling over one another to support the Liberal Budget—which renders their identity with the Liberals too obvious to justify the Trade Unions paying for their separate existence : in which connection it is well to remember that Trade Union contributions to Labour Party funds must now be very largely voluntary. The more they become “advanced” to keep their identity clear, the farther they get from that Liberal support which, in no small measure, is responsible for their presence in the House.
If the Constitutional question is raised in an appeal to the country, the Premier has practically promised that the question of the Franchise will be raised, especially as it affects women, and this would probably be included. One of the few things for which we may give credit to the Government is the way in which its head opposed the hysteric demands of women for the enfranchisement of the propertied ones among them. In that case we may see a bid for popularity by the Liberals with a democratised Suffrage.
The Dark Horse
The uncertain and unsettling element in the situation is the President of the Local Government Board. Three years ago he was the populariser of the Government, the testimony to the democratic ideals that actuate “the Great Liberal Party.” Not many months ago an important London Liberal paper was urging that John Burns should be used more on the party stump—if the term may be allowed—because he more than any other man in the Liberal ranks could get to the heart of the people. Now John Burns is dumb. The national appeals, the propagandist speeches, are left to Mr. Lloyd George or Mr. Winston Churchill, with an occasional endorsement in the leader. This is unlike the Burns we know. When the Liberal Party is attacking the “hereditary principle” why is Mr. Burns silent, when the abolition of that principle found a place in his election programme in 1906 ? When the Liberal Government is “penalising property” with the “predatory Socialism” of its Budget (according to the Tory Press) why is the “Socialist” member of the Cabinet, which we are assured by the Liberal Press is perfectly united, not lending his most powerful aid ?
The Socialist Attitude
We are not in a position perhaps at this stage to prophecy, but Mr. Burns is probably contemplating some means of gaining the public ear and the public attention with something of wider importance and interest than Town Planning Bills.
For the Socialist Party, and the working class for whose interest it stands, the position is clear. Convinced that no gerrymandering of the franchise or the Constitution, no readjustment of fiscal burdens, no amount of social or political or fiscal reform, from wheresoever it emanates, can touch the economic position of the workers, while they are bound by the conditions of the labour market and excluded from ownership in and control over tins machinery they operate and the wealth they produce : they will keep steadily plugging on in the heavy preliminary work of converting their fellows to the importance of the bread-and-butter question and the insignificance of’ anything else their masters may wish to bring before their notice. To the capture of the political machinery for the purpose of establishing Socialism the Socialist can only work. When he works for anything else he ceases to be a Socialist and is lost in the dust of the political contest for party, place, and power.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, November 1909)