The Labour fiasco in Australia
The visit of the Australian Premier to this country has been given wide publicity by the capitalist Press. What Mr. Hughes stands for has been the subject of more than one newspaper article, and interviewers have been busy writing dreary accounts of his personal characteristics, his rise to position and power, and his sentimental ideas on social questions. An interview by Harold Begbie, as might have been expected, placed on record much slobbering sentiment, while “A Labour Correspondent” in the “Daily Chronicle” endeavoured to show how really practical is Mr. Hughes’s policy from the workers’ standpoint. By a perusal of these two it is possible to obtain a fairly clear conception of Mr. Hughes’s philosophy, if such a word is not too dignified for an outlook that grasps the magnitude of social evils without understanding the cause or perceiving the insignificant nature of the changes wrought by the application of those nostrums that have served him as stepping stones toward the realisation of his ambition.
Mr. Hughes worships that airball, the British Empire. He declares :
“It has got a soul. It is spiritual. . . It is one of the world’s greatest assets, one of the greatest forces in civilisation ; for it’s a unity that could only exist on a moral foundation. The separate States composing that Empire are free, or nearly all of them, and that which binds them together is a spiritual ideal—it isn’t only kinship or language, and it isn’t only trade ; its ideas : ideas of justice, liberty, and social progress ; moral ideas, spiritual ideas.”
These are the attributes of the “British Empire.” Ideas—”Justice,” “Liberty,” and so on. Ideas for the Imperialist to boast—for Mr. Hughes to boast, and then, inadvertently it may be, prove that they are only ideas after all, and have no existence outside the imagination of those who believe capitalism to be “the best of all possible systems in the best, of all possible worlds.” He says:
“Surely when men see an empire which in territory and material wealth surpass anything of which the ancients dreamed, a territory so vast, a wealth so prodigious, that the brain is staggered by the very attempt to conceive of it ; and when in the midst of this vast empire they find a poverty so hideous and so tragic that it surpasses the power of any pen to describe it—surely, I say, when they see that, and reflect upon it, they must come to the conclusion that something is wrong—to anyone who knows the great manufacturing centres -that occasionally a man may despair of civilisation, and I am quite sure of this, that a community that by its very system breeds sexual immorality, which spreads poverty in ever-widening circles, and which degrades masses of its population to a level lower than that of the animals, I am quite sure that such a community is destined to be wiped out, to die, to be swept out of existence. There is no room in nature for such a community.”
Whatever may be wrong with civilisation, it is plain that Mr. Hughes’s spiritual ideas do not tally with his observations on economic conditions. His “Liberty” is the liberty to exploit, and his “Justice” is a shallow hypocrisy in face of his admissions of “prodigious wealth” side by side with “a hideous poverty.” But apparently spiritual ideals are everything, poverty nothing, unless it is a means to an end, a means to “true happiness” for the idealist who finds this “true happiness” in a desire to make “things better for other people”—who would, of course, cheat him of this desire if society were based on principles that enabled them to satisfy their wants independently of such interfering busy bodies.
While graciously acknowledging that “material plays its part,” Mr. Hughes is paternally severe on materialists. He says :
“We have got materialists in our labour politics. These men believe that economics are the beginning and the end of life. But if such a world could be fashioned as they desire, every man in it, themselves included, would commit suicide. … If Labour would only make life a glorified trough, into which we could stick our snouts and gorge to repletion, it would not be worth fighting for.”
Of course, those who, like Mr. Hughes, could if they chose, “gorge to repletion,” those who have never suffered the horrors of “hideous poverty,” cannot understand how the desire to place himself above want fills the mental horizon of the worker to the exclusion of all else. Art, music, literature, and “ideals” are only for those whose material wants are supplied. The average worker’s life is one continual struggle for food, clothing, and shelter ; it is only logical, therefore, that his first thoughts, his first organised efforts, should be to secure those things. The end and aim of working-class organisations, economic and political, is the satisfaction of material needs, an improvement in the standard of living. Until the necessaries of life are assured to him, what Mr. Hughes means by “economics” must be the beginning and end of life for the worker.
No doubt there are many workers who, if they could escape from their “hideous poverty” by the establishment of a sane system of society would become dreamers, sentimentalists, and idealists, equalling in gush and slobber the Begbies and the Hughes, but those who preferred more solid forms of enjoyment and recreation would no doubt extend toward them the same toleration that is shown toward imbeciles generally.
So much for the sentimental side. The practical side, as outlined by a “Labour Correspondent in the ‘Daily Chronicle,’ 8.4.16,” includes the following :
“The Australian workman, in a sense which we hardly dream of here, rules his country. Australian industrial policy can be worked only when there is the widest possible franchise and a complete subordination of capital to labour. Whereas in this country our organised workers are never quite sure of the State, the Australian workman gives it his confidence because he controls it. He has therefore made the State the adjunct of the trade union.”
From the above quotation—which is a gross exaggeration—there is a lesson to be learned. But first let us compare it with the following statement by Mr. Hughes in his interview with Mr. Begbie. “I asked,” said the latter,
“if capital trembled before a triumphant Labour Party. He assured me, on the other hand, that capital had increased considerably during the last ten years, and that many capitalists saw that their greatest security lay in a healthy, moral, and contented democracy.”
So much for “the complete subordination of capital to labour.” The capitalist of Australia willingly concedes to the worker—by means of “the widest possible franchise”—the choice between capitalist representatives and agents of all shades of opinion. He has no fear for the result because they are his tools, all of them, from the trade-union leader to the Protectionist and the Imperialist. The proof lies in the conditions as described by a “Labour Correspondent.” The State being an “adjunct of the trade union,” nevertheless remains a capitalist State in all its essentials. “The Australian worker rules his country,” we are told, but he rules it in the interest of the capitalist class. What a paradox !
A triumphant Labour party presupposes a hostile Labour party, a working class antagonistic to the capitalist class. Being triumphant there must be some reason why they do not gather the fruits of their victory. Controlling, they still remain in poverty, though “healthy, moral and contented.” Having “subordinated capital,” they still remain wage-slaves of the capitalists. “Ruling his country,” the Australian worker still permits “capital to increase” ; he allows the wealth which he alone produces to accumulate in the hands of the robber class. Why ? The answer is clear : without Socialist knowledge political control is of little use to the working class. To the wage-slaves it can only be a means to an end, i.e., to take and hold the means of wealth production in the interest of the working class. Failing to understand this, the triumph of the Australian Labour Party is a hollow mockery for the workers of that country, who cannot claim even the slightest improvement in conditions over the workers of other lands. In this country there have been similar movements to that in Australia. Trade unionists hare made more than one municipal council “an adjunct of the trade union,” and the only result has been continual squabbles between them for honours and jobs.
Unemployment and poverty exist in Australia as they do in other capitalist countries, yet a “triumphant Labour Party” takes on these evils by “Excise Acts” and “Bounties Acts,” penalising the employers who do not pay wages “approved by courts of Parliament” or giving bounties to those who do which, of course, leaves things as they were. For “the Australian workmen have set up courts of Industrial Arbitration, which fixed wages in an ever-increasing number of industries ; and speaking generally, the basis upon which courts fix wages is that of a satisfactory standard of living.”
Here, as elsewhere, it is bred in the brain of the worker that he is a wage-slave for all time, that there must be capitalists to exploit and wage-workers to be exploited ; that without exploitation there can be no production of wealth, and all the other lies and fallacies that the ruling class seek to impose on the workers of the world, Because they believe in the permanence of capitalism, because they do not understand Socialism, the Australian workers have allowed a few trumpery demagogues to seize, political pover in their name. The allegience of these demagogues to the ruling class was never in doubt. They could not serve the working class because that class did not understand what was necessary for their emancipation, and therefore could not support them ; and not only so, these demagogues had not the capacity or the will to teach.
So the workers of Australia were led up a blind alley. They are told that they control the political machine. Do they ? Grant that nominally they do, nevertheless they manipulate it against themselves. They organised for control, but organised without knowledge of their true interests and aims. Their work still lies before them. They cannot get rid of poverty and slavery without getting rid of capitalism. They have to get out of the blind alley of the commercial system, to unlearn the capitalist philosophy that has bean bred in their brains ; they have to realise the full meaning and object of the class struggle, in short, to learn— Socialism