Labourism versus Socialism. A Debate

I.L.P. or S.P.G.B.

“I. L.P. or S.P.G.B. which offers the most practical policy for the workers to follow ?”

The above subject was debated before a large audience at Tooting Graveney Schools on October 13th last, T. A. Jackson representing the I.L.P. and J. Fitzgerald the S.P.G.B. The chair was occupied by Mr. W. H. Smith, a well known local Liberal.

T. A. JACKSON in opening the debate, said the policy the working class must adopt must be a reasonable and practical one ; and the actions of a party have to be considered in relation to the times and circumstances in which the party appears.

One must consider the general tendency of the organisation, not the actions of individuals of that organisation. Socialism is a fixed principle of action, a method; and these methods will be determined by the condition of society. Society is an organism, and its institutions and general form are determined by the degree of economic development. What is the cause of the growth of society ? It is the struggle of individuals for betterment that is the driving force behind the changes and growth in society. When society has developed up to a certain point under the system of private ownership of the means of life, the class divorced from the means of life see in the possessing class their common enemy. This gives rise to a class conflict in society, and it is from the conflict that the I.L.P. takes its name. It is merely a question of time for the struggle on the workers’ part to become a class-conscious one. Trade unions were formed to resist encroachments, and we have acquired knowledge of a superior kind by persevering in this direction.

Unmasking the Capitalists

In a social struggle it is not what an individual thinks he is that matters, but what he does. The I.L.P. has systematically set itself to support a definite policy for the emancipation of the working class. But we have to take things as we find them, such as the degree of economic development, just how much the people are prepared to accept, etc. The movement is of necessity slow. The principle difficulties in the way are the ignorance and apathy of the working class. The I.L.P. encourages the hesitating and tentative actions of the workers. We have no scheme : we can only encourage and help the workers to struggle against the master class. You answer the man in the street with broad generalities, such as “unemployment cannot be abolished under capitalism.” We agree. But we propose to force the capitalist to reveal themselves as a class ruling in their own interests. Either they must adopt the measures we put forward, or they will commit suicide by rejecting them and thereby admitting that they are incapable of controlling society.

We encourage the spirit of revolt whenever it arises, as in the struggle the workers will acquire the knowledge and experience necessary to carry on a Socialist state.

FITZGERALD in his first speech said, a policy is a line of action to obtain a given object. Obviously, then, the policy is subservient to and must be guided by the object aimed at, otherwise one might take up the absurd position of having a policy or line of action in contradiction with one’s object.

The S.P.G.B. laid down as its object the ownership of the means of living and their democratic control by the community. To-day the workers operate all the means of life, and thus produce all the wealth existing in society ; but they do not control either the machinery of production or the products. This ownership and control is in the hands of the capitalist or master class, who look upon the working class as the goose that lays the golden eggs. Obviously the goose must be kept in the requisite condition for the production of the eggs, but that is the whole share of the worker in the wealth produced, no matter how large the product may be.

Unmasking the I.L.P.

Between these two sections in society there is of necessity an antagonism of interests, however vigorous the attempts to disguise it. To deny this class conflict is to deny the facts of capitalism. But while the master class were conscious of their position and on which side their interests lie, the workers in the main are ignorant of their position and the way out.

The master class are able to dominate to-day because, being in possession of political power, they control the revenues necessary for the maintenance of the armed forces, judicial machinery, etc., which are the ultimate factors in controlling the working class. The ruling class, however, have to rely upon the workers to vote them into power, as out of the seven-and-a-half million voters on the register, over five millions belong to the working class. Any and every advice given to the working class to use their votes in support of any other than a Socialist candidate was, necessarily, advising them to place the essential power for domination in the hands of their enemies the master class. When the workers gained the knowledge of their slave position they would realise that the only policy they could follow to achieve their freedom was that laid down by the S.P.G.B., namely, to organise politically in opposition to all other parties in the political field for the purpose of gaining the control of the political powers and using them to establish Socialism.

Criticism Defied

He challenged his opponent to show any flaw or mistake in either the premises or the deductions drawn from them.

What was the position of the I.L.P. ? Jackson had said that it was based on the class struggle. Listen, however, to what Keir Hardie said in the “Labour Leader” of 2nd September, 1904.

“For my part I have always maintained that to claim for the Socialist movement that it is a ‘class’ war dependent for its success upon the ‘class’ consciousness of one section of the community is doing Socialism an injustice and indefinitely postponing its triumph.”

True ! in the same column he also said :

“Now it is not to be disputed that there is a conflict of interests between those who own property and those who work for wages. The tenant and his landlord and the worker and his employer have interests which lead to inevitable conflict and antagonism.”

But this is only one example of the deliberately contradictory and misleading statements of that agent of the Liberal Party. In the same journal for Sep. 9 ’04 he says “the class war dogma . . does not touch one human sentiment or feeling . . . I protest against the insistence upon the class war dogma. There is no ‘ruling and oppressed class’ in the Marxian sense of the terms in England now. . . Socialism will come for the most part as a thief in the night, without observation.” Let Jackson square these statements with his own remarks—if he can.

Fitzgerald then read several extracts from an article in the SOCIALIST STANDARD for July 1906, wherein it was stated that those who denied the class struggle must adopt the attitude of reform and compromise, and that that worker is class conscious who has seen the duty of enlisting under the banner of Revolution—in the political party of the workers—the Socialist Party of Great Britain. That the middle-class man “converted” to Socialism is generally a grave danger to the movement, and that the first thing to do is to make the workers class-conscious. That article was signed by T. A. Jackson. Would he point out wherein it was less correct to-day than when it was written ? The I.L.P. was led by a clique who advised the workers to knock their heads against a wall, with the result of sore heads following, and then scolded them for the apathy such results naturally brought.

Jackson Congratuiates Himself

JACKSON in his second speech said : The I.L.P. have embodied Socialism in their declaration of principles. Would you alter people’s ideas by preaching at them or by taking them along the road of practical experience ? For his part he refused to believe in a dogmatic set of individuals who claim to know everything. As Liebknecht had said, it was a waste of time to frame programmes as the most exact and scientific statement to-day would be obsolete tomorrow.

The policy of the I.L.P. is more in accordance with Marx’s position than is the policy of the S.P.G.B. When the International was founded they did not set themselves up as a sect apart. The working class will only gradually develope and therefore to make them class-conscious we must encourage every action on their part. Our policy was to get the workers moving as a mass, irrespective of the object aimed at. The members of the I.L.P. were allowed a wide diversity of opinion, and the fullest possible freedom, was given to the branches. He did not agree with everything said by Keir Hardie, neither did the rest of the members. How then, could they be led? The article in the “Standard” he still adhered to if I.L.P. was substituted for S.P.G.B. He had almost forgotten he possessed the ability to pen such a brilliant article, and he could only say he was proud of it, Jackson then quoted from the “Communist Manifesto” : “The communists do not form a separate party opposed to other working-class parties. They have no interests separate and apart from the proletariat as a whole. They do not set up any sectarian principles of their own by which to shape and mould the proletarian movement. . . . Finally they labour everywhere for the union and agreement of the democratic parties of all countries.” That, he claimed, was the position of the I.L.P. Of course he knew of Engel’s preface, and to save Fitzgerald’s time he would quote it then. “The practical application of the principles will depend, as the Manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and for that reason no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of section II.” He claimed the I.L.P. were applying those principles to-day in a practical manner. They used the organised forces of the workers to wring concessions from the capitalist class, and when the ruling class refused to deal with any problem, the l.L.P. not only put forward proposals, but had also detailed practical propositions for the working class to take up when they had conquered political power. The S.P.G.B. thought they had only to get control of political power and the social problems would automatically solve themselves.

FITZGERALD in his second speech said : To continue from the point where the call of “time” interrupted him, we are told the l.L.P. is an “independent” party. When and where was it independent ? From the first elections it had contested in 1895 down to that of Mid-Derby, where Keir Hardie wore the Liberal favour, the l.L.P. or the clique who ran it, had always had its bargains with the capitalist party. That was why certain bye-elections were not contested, and also why in other bye-elections the official section publicly opposed the local member’s choice. To-day they no longer existed as a Party, for they had sunk their policy entirely into that of the Labour Party, which they themselves had stated again and again was a non-Socialist organisation. The I.L.P. opposed the introduction of Socialism into the Labour Party, and yet claimed that this non-So3ialist body should have representation upon the International Socialist Bureau. To obtain a reputation abroad the l.L.P. were willing to accept the prosecution of the class war as the basis of their political activity, as a condition of entry to the International Socialist Congresses. When at home again, they denied the existence of the class war. Their policy is to get certain men into Parliament, and their only independence was that of selling themselves to the highest bidder—Liberal or Suffragette.

Their Object—”the Socialist State where land and capital would be held by the community” was a contradiction in terms. Capital was wealth used to obtain a profit—that was exploitation. Under Socialism exploitation, and, of course, profit, would be abolished. Necessarily then capital could not exist. According to their statement the l.L.P. wished robbery to continue under Socialism. Keir Hardie had questioned “whether there is another political party in the world where democracy is so much a reality as it is within the ranks of the l.L.P.” Democracy means the control by the rank and file. In the l.L.P. constitution it was deliberately arranged that the rank and file should not control, as nowhere in it was there any provision for a vote of the members on any question. Again, the constitution stated that “the Annual Conference is the ultimate authority in the Party,” but the final word in the selection of candidates and the choosing of constituencies was left to the N.A.C. To talk of democracy in the face of these facts was sheer piffle. If the I.L.P. agrees with the Communist Manifesto, and “do not form a separate party,” why had they allowed the official clique to prevent the fusion of the I.L.P. and S.D.P.? If Liebknecht’s statement was to be taken, then the I.L.P. was to be doubly condemned, for they not only had a long programme of items for the capitalist class to deal with, but had proposals for the early days of Socialism ! If the first set would be obsolete the second would be fossilised before materialisation.

To say the S.P.G.B. was dogmatic was deliberately aside of the truth. As Jackson well knew, we were the only party in the political field who were prepared to discuss any point of our position, from the statement of object to the last utterance of a speaker upon the platform. It was significant also that the I.L.P. had to wait until they obtained a renegade from our own ranks before they could attempt to defend their position in debate.

JACKSON in his last speech said : The differences were largely a war of words, and that only a difference of policy separated them.

The policy of the I.L.P. was not deduced from some of Keir Hardie’s sayings, but from their experience in the conflict. Their Object had been objected to because of the inaccurate statement re “capital” being owned by the community. He would remind his opponent that Karl Marx, in “Value, Price and Profit,” had used what Marx himself called the “slang” term “value of labour” for “value of labour-power.” The l.L.P. used the term “capital ” in the generally understood meaning of instruments of production. If it were permissable for Marx to use “slang” terms, surely the l.L.P. could follow his example. When referring to the action of the l.L.P. in claiming representation on the International Socialist Bureau for the Labour Party, Fitzgerald forgot to mention that the Bureau had accepted the position of the Labour Party as being the practical application of the class war, and agreed to seat them.

Fitzgerald had stated that the I.L.P. had refused to fuse with the S.D.P. nationally, but here in the local elections they had joined together, not only l.L.P. and S.D.P., but also the local Trades Council. Every working-class effort on the political field should be supported. We should bring forward practical proposals for dealing with certain problems such as the Unemployed Bill, to show the workers how the matter could be dealt with. We should show we were capable of facing the difficulties of the present while the working class was developing. Until the working class have grown to a recognition of their position this was the soundest and most practical policy to follow.

FITZGERALD in closing the debate, denied that this was a war of words, and claimed that it was one of principle. While it was true that he had taken the sayings of Hardie, McDonald, etc., in illustration of his case, the l.L.P. acquiesced in and accepted these actions and statements and stood bound by them. Not one of these things had ever been repudiated by the I.L.P., and they therefore stood as expressions of their policy. The reference to Marx’s use of “slang” in “Value, Price and Profit” was quite beside the point. Marx had taken care to give correct definitions and terms first, and stated that he was only using the popular substitute for convenience sake. The l.L.P. gave a false statement without any explanation—nay they even defended the false as truth. To talk of the Labour Party’s policy being “the practical application of the class war” was deliberately inaccurate. Take one instance alone. When tbe strikers were shot down in Belfast under the Liberal Government, not a single “Labour” member denounced the official Government responsible for this murder. The I.L.P. members of Parliament were silent also—why ? Because like the other members of the Labour Party they owed their seats to the Liberal Party and therefore, as often before, acted the part of traitors on the very occasion when a defender of the working class would have spoken out. It was rather amusing to hear of the local unity as a reply to the statement of the national disunity that existed, but even here his opponent fell short of the truth. One of the candidates they were opposing (Anderson) stated in his election address that he was in favour of the Right to Work, while the “Labour” candidates said nothing about it. He was also in favour of penny fares for any journey any time on the trams, while the “Labour” candidates only wanted cheaper fares up to 9 o’c. a.m. Why did they not join with this “advanced democrat”?

In conclusion he claimed that the position of the S.P.G.B. had not been touched in any point. Jackson had failed to show any error in the Declaration of Principles of the S.P.G.B., nor had he shown any flaw in the logical deduction from these principles, which formed our policy. We therefore still stood clear and correct as we had done from our inception.

A vote of thanks to the chairman, to which he suitably replied, closed the meeting.

F. F.

(Socialist Standard, December 1909)

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