S.D.P. Befogged

For some weeks past a discussion has been carried on in the columns of our contemporary, “Justice,” a periodical which presumably claims,to be a Socialist journal, on the above question. The mere fact of such a subject being debated is sufficient to prove that the publication referred to is not an organ of Socialist thought, and that the party for which it speaks does not understand the principles of Socialism.

We find in the discussion under consideration, many and various policies advocated ; but even the slightest study of the records of the S.D.P. will reveal the fact that politically they are all at sixes and sevens. And to this the obvious fact that after thirty years of political existence they do not know what to do with the chief weapon for working-class emancipation, and we see that so far are they from being Socialists, that they are still floundering in the morass of Capitalist philosophy.

The use of the vote is no problem to Socialists, because their whole thought and action is based on the recognition of the class struggle. By this term is meant the struggle that must exist when, in society, one section own all the means of wealth production, while the other section, owning nothing but the energy in their bodies, have to sell their energy to obtain a living. Between these two sections—capitalists and workers— a bitter war rages.

The class struggle—of which the foregoing is an explanation—forms a part of the basis of Socialist principles, and anyone rejecting the same either does not understand those principles, or is deliberately misleading the working class. In either case he is of no use to the proletariat.
Of such is the kingdom of the I.L.P. and the S.D.P., with which latter body I am, for the time being, more immediately concerned.

The first significant note in this controversy was struck by Mr. T. Stanley Mercer, in “Justice” (Feb. 5th, 1910); who put the question : “Is there any possible means of finding out definitely the actual policies pursued by the I.L.P. and S.D.P. ?”

He says when he first joined the I.L.P. there was no greater authority than himself on the “ways and objects of the Party” (a large order to start with, as Keir Hardie, Philip Snowden, Ramsay MacDonald & Co., must have been lesser lights by comparison), but as months grew into years he felt less and less certain of his position, etc.

The mere possibility of asking the query with which Mr. Mercer opens his letter is sufficient to show that these parties do not act according to Socialist principles, but that their actions are governed by the exigencies of vote and seat capturing at any price.

Mr. Mercer further says “I think the worst shock I have had was . . . when an I.L.P. member, on having his position challenged, retorted, ‘You’re trying to obscure the constitutional issue by dragging the red herring of Socialism before the members of the I.L.P.’ ! ”

These are the people who are going to emancipate the workers some day—perhaps.
No, so far from accomplishing that will they be, that they will only lead the workers into the Desert of Reform, and so make them the more secure victims for capitalist exploitation.

Now for the S.D.P.

Mr. J. Maclean, writing in “Justice” for Feb. 12th, 1910, deals with local affairs at Pollokshaws (Glasgow). He says amongst other things: “If we had no candidate we always issued a manifesto, supplemented by public meetings, to advise the voters which candidate to reject.” He also says : “Encouraged by our success in local elections, we thought it expedient to experiment with the General Election by adopting similar tactics, although not with the unanimous consent of the branch.”

So there are some members, at least, who see the light.

Socialist policy should at no time be governed by expediency for “experiments” or otherwise, “but should at all times be decided by principle and principle alone.

I suppose that Maclean and others like him would say : “Of two evils choose the lesser.” But Liberalism and Toryism both stand for the same thing—Capitalism, and working class exploitation —and voting for one in preference to the other will not alter the fact that they are both the enemy.

But the gem of the whole matter is the contribution by Mr. H. Quelch, editor of the “official organ of the Social-Democracy,” whatever that may mean.

Dealing with a complaint by Maclean in the previous issue, where that gentleman said : “Had a special conference been convened, or had the E.C. given a definitely clear lead, there might have been the possibility of united action,” Quelch says : “there is not yet among the general body of our members, and still less among sympathisers, a clear conception of what political action should mean for Social-Democrats.” (Italics are ours.)

That is, in common parlance, “they dunno where they are.”

Nothing more unkind than this has yet been said of them even by any member of the S.P.G.B.
Socialists, on the other hand, have got that “clear conception,” the lack of which amongst the Social Democrats is so deeply deplored by Mr. Quelch.

“In order to gain that clear conception,” says Mr. Quelch, “it is necessary for it to be understood . First that we mean what we say when we declare that from our point of view there is absolutely nothing, fundamentally, to choose between the two parties—Liberal and Tory” (that, it seems), is why Quelch & Co, are so frequently angling for Liberal—or Tory for that matter—support and votes) ; “second, that politics are not an end, but a means—not a question of principle at all, but of tactics,” etc.

Now bearing in mind the premises laid down at the beginning of this article, I cannot believe that Quelch does not understand the position, therefore in view of this brilliant utterance, I am forced to the conclusion that he is deliberately obscuring the issue in order to confuse the working class.

This idea is further borne out on a perusal of the remainder of Quelch’s illuminating (?) quota to the discussion. He says that to abstain, from voting or to mark or spoil ballot papers “is not political action but inaction. Absolute abstention is simply disfranchisement; it is to withdraw ourselves from the political arena altogether, and leave it entirely free to our capitalist enemies for the continuance of their petty, superficial faction fight. Abstention pure and simple is to make ourselves as a party a negligible quantity, no matter how strong numerically we may become,” and more to the same effect. He also says : “except for tactical purposes, there is absolutely no reason. . . why a Social Democrat should . . . vote for either Liberal or Tory.” Expediency again ! It is not a matter of principle at all, but of seats at any price.

But let us go back a little—where is the need for Socialists to take part in the “faction fights” of their masters, even for “tactical purposes” ?

Mr. Quelch goes on : “Accepting the first principle that I have submitted an essential to a clear understanding of our position in politics —that there is nothing fundamentally to choose between Liberal and Tory—the policy of abstention, where there is no Socialist to vote for, is from the point of view of principle, the only possible policy to adopt.” Yet he negates this by wanting us to abandon “the only possible policy” in order to vote Liberal or Tory “for purely tactical reasons.” However, he shows the mental tangle he has got into by saying “If there really is no fundamental difference for us between the two parties, then obviously we cannot vote for the Liberal as being the lesser of two evils. To do so is to admit that after all there is a difference, and one to the advantage, in our estimation, of the Liberal.”

Mr. Quelch sees the danger of this policy, because “it follows, as naturally as night follows day, that the good ‘practical’ Socialist had much better vote Liberal, even where there is a Socialist candidate, rather than risk letting in the Tory.”

Now let us see where Mr. Quelch has landed himself.

(1) He admits that there is no fundamental difference between Mr. Liberal and Mr. Tory. This means that in voting for either we are supporting our natural and historic enemy. (2) But to abstain means self-effacement, politically, and therefore we must support one section of the enemy against the other, “for purely tactical reasons.” Yet to do so is to admit that there is a difference,” etc., etc. At the same time “this is a most dangerous policy” because it will cause those, “good ‘practical’ Socialists to vote Liberal rather than risk letting in the Tory.”

But we find later on that Quelch is quite willing to enter the capitalist “faction fight”—”to use our organisation in every possible constituency to defeat the Liberal and to destroy the Liberal Party—not because that Party is any worse or any better than the Tory ; but because it is the party which stands in our way, which saps our strength,” and so on.

Mr. Quelch says that “At the Annual Conference held at Edinburgh in 1898, he proposed a resolution to the effect that the organised vote of the Social-Democratic Party in Great Britain should be directed solidly to the extinction of Liberal candidatures by the vote being cast steadily on the Tory side up to and through the General Election.” The resolution goes on to give instructions as to the means of its being carried out; but with characteristic Social-Democratic duplicity it provides for exceptions “where the candidate belongs to the extreme Radical Left, and is prepared to work with us,” etc., etc.

Mr. Quelch and the average S.D.P.er cannot see that the nearer some other body may appear to be to them, the more dangerous that other body will probably be. But Quelch’s eloquence was not sufficient to carry his resolution, for after considerable opposition the following was carried :

“That this Conference in view of the growing tendency of the capitalists and landlords to unite against the interests of the people, instructs the E.C. to use its influence to throw the Socialist vote against the Liberal and Tory candidates indifferently, as may seem to the greatest advantage of the Socialist cause, except——”

They must have the usual exception.

Now they admit of no fundamental difference between the sections of the political expressions of capitalism. They further recognise that this admission means that it is dangerous to support either political faction, yet they are prepared to support one against the other, except where that other is a representative of those who are prepared “to act with us for the realisation of immediate practical measures,” and so on ad nauseam.

Oh ! but I forget! This course is adopted for “purely tactical reasons.” As if that makes any difference. The tactical advantage—if any—is much more likely to be on the other side than on theirs ; for they stand to gain greater tactical advantage by being in constant opposition to all capitalist parties than by supporting at one time and opposing at another.

This can easily be confirmed by reference to the famous Albert Hall speech of butcher Asquith, in which the Irish party, having adopted a policy of hostility to the Liberal party, are promised Home Rule. The Suffragettes, having consistently opposed the Liberals, are promised votes for womrn ; but the Labour Party are promised—nothing.

In the recent election we find Social Democrats fishing for Liberal support (vide Northampton). Not getting it, they opposed the Liberals with a second candidate. Elsewhere they had no settled policy. Thus in Battersea we find them supporting the Tory against Burns (just the reverse of what they did in 1900).

Mr. Frank Colebrook, writing in “Justice” for Jan. 22nd, 1910, advocates the claims of the Liberals to S.D.P. support in view of the great constitutional crisis. In the same journal dated Feb. 5th Mr. Stanley Briggs reports a resolution of protest passed by his branch against Colebrook’s letter in the previous issue. In the issue for Feb. 26th Mr. Colebrook made some attempt to defend his action in voting Liberal, pleading the “purely tactical reasons” beloved of Quelch. Neither tactics nor any other consideration would allow members of the S.P.G.B. to use their votes in conflict with the Party’s constitution, for we are governed not by expediency but by principles.

E. W. Spackman puts forward in “Justice” (12.3.10) a novel proposition. That is to “put up candidates in every constituency where a branch of the S.D.P. exists at every election. …Not having the cash to pay the returning officer’s fees, he will not be allowed to go to the poll. Nevertheless, so far as we are concerned, the candidature could be proceeded with.” The writer then goes on to press for payment of Members, etc., so ruining a proposition that had the promise of a sound foundation by introducing the eternal, vote-catching reform.

Mr. Quelch is continually denying any compromise or bargain of any shape or form with the Liberal Party, but “M.G.” puts the position very neatly in “Justice” for March 29th, when he says : “There are, of course, in the English language, other expressions for this than ‘arrangement with one of the orthodox parties,’ as used in my letter (“Justice,” March 5th, 1910), but in such an important question preciseness is very desirable.” That is very true, and it is the hope of some, at least, of that desired preciseness being attained, that has inspired this long article.

To sum up, Socialists should give their votes to none but Socialist candidates, or if there is no such candidate in their constituency, they should mark their ballot papers by writing “Socialism” across them. This is not self-disfranchisement, as Quelch says, but is a practical demand for a candidate to be put up for that constituency.

To do anything else is to support the exploiting class and so enable them to live by the exploitation of the workers. Socialists should be governed by principle alone. Let Quelch and his fellow reformers and job-hunters flounder in the bogs of “tactics” and expediency if they will—they will surely become engulfed.


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