The Lansbury Lesson
Exit Lansbury !
The Revolutionary Movement has not a great deal to thank Mr. George Lansbury for. For years he has more or less successfully exploited its name, waxing fat on the very outrage ; but at last he has tumbled, and in his fall has afforded those misguided workers who believed in his “Socialism,” a lesson which, if they do but take it to heart, will serve them better than its author ever wittingly served anybody but himself. The Revolutionary Movement has to thank him for that!
We have always claimed that neither Mr. Lansbury nor any other member of the Labour Party is a Socialist. We have always held, and still hold, that there is not at the present time, and never has been, a Socialist in the British Parliament. Our position always has been that Socialism essentially includes democracy—the genuine thing, not the pitiful caricature some confusionist lips and pens love to portray. We have always held, as one of the primary tenets of our political faith, that a knowledge of the principles of Socialism, even together with an avowal of acceptance thereof, is not of itself sufficient to make a person a Socialist. Something more, we have maintained, is required.
This something more is goodwill. The Socialist must not only be one who understands Socialism and believes in it : he must be one who wants Socialism, and whose political activities, be they great or small, be they enacted in the full blaze of the Speaker’s eye or in the humble obscurity of the street corner rostrum, are consistent with the understanding of what Socialism is, and with the desire for its speedy achievement.
We claim to-day that the political actions of Mr. Lansbury have never been consistent with both a comprehensive grasp of Socialist principles and a desire to see those principles triumphant. Whether they were inconsistent on the first or the second point it is not for us to say. It is not our duty to analyse every loud-mouthed claimant of the revolutionary title, and to assign him to his place, on this hand among the fools, or on that hand among the rogues. Our part is to show his non-Socialist character, and to oppose him on that sure and unquestionable ground. This we did in the case of Mr. Lansbury in his recent contest, when the Executive Committee of our Party passed the following resolution and instructed the General Secretary to send it to the Press :—
“That as Mr. G. Lansbury is not a Socialist, and is therefore not standing for Bow and Bromley in the interest of the working class, the working-class electors in that division are advised to abstain from voting.”
This very clear and definite statement was published by a large number of newspapers, in some cases with comments in kind. We do not flatter ourselves that our action affected the result, nor were we greatly concerned with that, but we challenged Mr. Lansbury’s statement that he is a Socialist, and contradicted it in the most emphatic manner and in the most effective way in which we were able.
Naturally our action created a bit of a stir, and a certain section of the Press, who for some time past have made it a practice to refer even to the orthodox Liberal policy as Socialistic, affected to find our pronouncement false. Thus the “Globe” (22.11.12) said:
“Whatever the Socialist Party of Great Britain says, Mr. Lansbury stands for Socialism, and that is a fact which all electors in Bow and Bromley who are opposed to that policy should remember.”
while the “Morning Post” (23.11.12) remarked :
“Till the Socialist Party of Great Britain amplifies its statement with proofs, most people who know Mr. Lansbury and have heard him speak will continue to suspect him at least of Socialist leanings.”
Well, the proofs are at hand. In his Election Address for the recent contest Mr. Lansbury makes no mention whatever of Socialism. Instead, he declares definitely that “the policy which I urge you to support is the only policy in these days worth fighting for.”
Is that policy Socialism ? It is not—it is, in Mr. Lansbury’s own words, “to put this question of Votes for Women in the very foremost rank of social reform.” Is that policy part of the working-class struggle for emancipation? Mr. Lansbury himself supplies the answer when he says (Election Address) “four hundred men now in the House of Commons . . . pledged themselves at the last election to vote for the enfranchisement of women.”
So, this policy, to which four hundred Liberals and Tories in the House of Commons are pledged, is “the only policy in these days worth lighting for”! Socialism, then, according to this man who (except in his Election Address) claims to be a Socialist, is not worth fighting for! The terse pronouncement is sufficient.
As we have said, the Socialist must want Socialism—and the man who says it is not worth fighting for cannot want it very badly. As we have said, the political activities of the Socialist must never belie his principles, but must always fit in with the struggle for its speedy triumph —the man who says that Socialism is not worth fighting for not only belies one of the first principles of Socialism (viz., that it is the only means for the emancipation of the working class), but he deliberately discourages the prosecution of the struggle for its achievement.
On this ground alone, we contend, our resolution affirming that Mr. G. Lansbury is not a Socialist is amply justified, and is quite devoid of that “element of comedy” which that beery journal the “Morning Advertiser,” professes to see attaching to it.
We have said that Socialism includes democracy. It includes, therefore, the supremacy of the people over their representatives. Mr. Lansbury, however, says this concerning political parties:—
“Many will come to you and talk of party and party principles, but believe me, we have been caucus ridden and party driven too long. . . . To vote according to one’s conscience is often to be untrue to party, and I want you to send me back to the House of Commons to fight, irrespective of the convenience either of Government or party.”
Now a political party is a group of people organised to achieve a certain object or objects. The duty of its representatives is simply to act as its agents. If they are sent to Parliament it is not “to vote according to one’s conscience,” but according to the “conscience,” or the will and instruction of those who sent them there. A man is not representing the views of those who elect him on the guarantee of a party, and on the strength of its programme and principles, by voting according to his “conscience,” if that involves being “untrue to party.” Twinges of “conscience” should occur before accepting office. If they manifest themselves later they indicate simply that the sufferer is sensible of being in a false position—and the honest course is to get out of it.
Mr. Lansbury, however, did not get out of it. He was elected under the auspices of the Labour Party, and with the assistance of the Liberals. He was therefore elected to support the Liberal-Labour policy. Then he begins to set up his conscience. Was he representing the views of his constituents when he opposed the Insurance Act ? Was he representing the views of his constituents when he shook his fist in Asquith’s face because forcible feeding was being applied to women of the class who forcibly starve ours? No. On the other hand, the man who aspires to be the champion of Votes for Women, with consummate impudence and conceit, disfranchised his own constituents by setting up his “conscience” against theirs, and opposing the policy they had sent him there to support.
The question of the merits of that policy is not raised in the slightest degree. Mr. Lansbury was elected upon it, and chose to flout it, until a group of “middle class” women got hold of him for their purposes. Then he has the impudence to come forward, not to ask his constituents if he may oppose the policy they sent him to support, but to tell them he has done it. He comes forward, asking those whom he has flouted and misrepresented for two years without scruple, to stake their every political asset on the vagaries of his “conscience.”
And as if to touch the very limits of cynical impudence, he himself reveals the true value of that “conscience ” by lamenting that: “In regard to the Osborne Judgment, we have also failed to secure . . . the complete reversal of this piece of judge made law”—a reversal which, Mr. Lansbury forgets to say, would simply restore to the “labour leaders” the opportunity of plundering trade unionists for the support of a party and a policy which even he, Mr. Lansbury, finds it against his “conscience” to adhere to ! So much for Lansbury’s democracy. So much also, we may perhaps say, for his reputed “transparent honesty.” It certainly has not proved very opaque to us.
The lesson for the working class is clear. Mr. Lansbury is a man with a following. Like all such, he is not particularly concerned with his followers understanding their position. He knows that he can only exploit their ignorance. Hence, instead of declaring for a definite set of principles, leading to a clear and worthy object, he mouths meaningless phrases about “fighting for the weak,” and makes all manner of vague and contradictory promises. In this way, and trading on a certain seeming bland and open address, and a Christ-like compound of magnanimous and forgiving injured innocence, he manages to gather about him a considerable portion of those who are looking for someone to repose their simple faith in.
Being thus equipped with an extensive following, Mr. Lansbury is qualified to become a political “tool,” so the Liberals take him up, through the Labour Party, of course. But Mr. Lanbbury is not content to remain a call-bird in the Liberal trap cage. He sees an opportunity of advancement in “Votes for Women.” He says : “The fight for woman’s enfranchisement is the biggest fight socially that is going on in this country.” To be the biggest figure in the biggest fight is better than being an uncounted hair in the Liberal dog’s tail.
So Mr. Lansbury throws over the Liberals aud adventures into that land flowing with milk and money, the Suffragist camp. He is received with open arms. He is just what is wanted—a man with an unquestioning following. He can provide them with a good run for their money, and there is plenty of that. True, there is his £400 a year to be considered, if he loses ; but that is a small matter where £10,000 is obtained at a single meeting.
So Lansbury, who claims to be a Socialist, becomes a Suffragist candidate, declares that nothing else is “worth fighting for,” and sheds a lurid light on the whole business by making a grievance of the fact that (we quote his Election Address) “on the Conciliation Bill, which would have given votes to only a few women, Liberal and Irish Members who were avowed supporters of the Women’s cause, either went into the Lobby against the Bill or abstained from voting.” Who were those few women who would have been, enfranchised under the Conciliation Bill—rich women or poor? The answer to this question will show whose agent Mr. Lansbury is.
Those workers who, sympathising with Socialism without understanding it, thought they were sending a Socialist to Parliament whan, two years ago, they voted for Mr. Lansbury, have now something to think about. Well for them if they realise that they can never elect a Socialist by voting for a popular personality with a following, but only by voting for the clear, definite Socialist principles through a candidate put forward, guaranteed, and controlled by a political party based upon those principles.
There is but one such political party in this country; there is but one party so grounded in democracy that its candidates and representatives but the mouthieces and representatives of vital Socialist principles. That party ia the Socialist Party.
Those principles appear on the last page of every issue of this journal. Study them!