1920s >> 1923 >> no-221-january-1923

Editorial: Where does the Labour Party stand?

In the recent election battle the Labour Party, true to the only principle it possesses, fought for votes. The voters, except for an almost negligible minority, are opposed to attack on the present system of society. To get their votes the Labour Party had therefore to offer them something statesmanlike and inoffensive, differing just enough from the programmes of the opposing political parties to gain the sympathy of the discontented. It stood, therefore, as a bulwark against both “reaction and revolution”; but it was going to rap the knuckles of the profiteer with a capital levy. It didn’t explain how the cancelling of State debts to capitalists with money taken from capitalists, would alter the position of the workers as a slave class, and in case of misunderstanding it hastened to point out that Bonar Law had recently been strong in his approval. It advocated nationalisation, a measure definitely inimical to working-class interests, and hid behind the Daily Mail, which during the war, supported this proposal as a means of allaying discontent.

The “No More War” Labour Party was so far successful as to return 146 members to the House, the majority of whom supported the late war.

The election over, a rapid change took place in the attitude of the Daily Herald, the Labour Party’s mouthpiece. The Labour Party exists on money obtained through Trade Union affiliation, and self-preservation and the need to demonstrate the usefulness of money spent on political activities, required that the Labour Party should make at least a pretence of forcing the Government to be more generous to the unemployed and to try to lessen unemployment. They had to make a brave show, and they did.

The Herald made much of the Labour Members’ belligerent attitude at the opening of the House, when by a skilful combining of some revolutionary jargon with the politicians’ ordinary verbal window-dressing, they succeeded in creating the desired impression. Thousands of emotional “rebels,” with short memories and no knowledge of Socialism, felt delightful thrills and settled down blissfully happy to await the coming of the millennium, introduced gracefully but firmly, and above all constitutionally, by J. R. Clynes and Ramsay MacDonald.

To point to the Labour Party’s black record and to remind the over-trustful that the Labour Party was part of the Coalition Government up to 1918, and shared responsibility for all the acts of that Government, is to these people merely partisan bias. “Give Labour a chance,” they say, as if nearly a generation of persistent betrayal were not enough. But why wait?

Are the problems which face the workers capable of solution within the capitalist system, or are they not? If they are, then Socialism is not only an idle dream, but to waste time and energy on propagating Socialism is criminal folly. If they are not, then those who divert working-class energies to a futile attempt to save the present system are of necessity enemies of the workers and must be irreconcilably opposed by the Socialist. There is no need to await events to put this to the test. The workers are slaves to the capitalist class because the latter own the means of producing wealth. The workers will either replace Capitalism by Socialism, or they will retain Capitalism. If they perpetuate Capitalism they will perpetuate their slavery to the capitalist class. The form may change; the slaves may become well-fed and well-clothed; they may be given access to the literary and artistic crumbs from their master’s table; they may become contented, but they will still be slaves.

Wage slavery is inherent in the capitalist organisation of society. The presence of a number, even of a majority of Labour Members in the House of Commons will not alter the fact. When the workers understand and want Socialism, they will have it; not before. Many Labour Members really do imagine, although elected on a non-Socialist programme, that they can take action in Parliament to further Socialism; but they are no less dangerous because it is with sincerity that they propagate their delusion.

What is of chief moment, is that the majority of the Labour Members, from ignorance or with intent, are prepared to support the continued existence of the capitalist system.

As Philip Snowden says :

   “The British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle; it does not accept the teaching of Marx . . .” (Manchester Guardian Reconstruction Supplement. 26th Oct., 1922.)

As Mrs. Snowden says, the object of the British Labour Party is to demonstrate that it is “a practical alternative Government,” led by a man (Ramsay MacDonald), who “will uphold a constitutional Government as rigorously as any Conservative,” and who can be imagined “seconding the suspension of a Labour Member from the Clyde with a dignity and a reverence for the House of Commons, which even Mr. Asquith could not surpass ” (Observer, November 25th, 1922).

The Labour Party’s main argument is that an honest and efficient Government, sympathetic to the aspirations of the workers, can remove unemployment or reduce it to a negligible quantity, abolish war, and in general can solve the many problems of the day without revolutionising society; without abolishing Capitalism.

Ramsay MacDonald, Leader of the Labour Party, said in the House of Commons :—

“We of the Labour Party are not interested in ameliorative measure prepared by the late Government. We are interested in the blunders of the late Government, which created the conditions from which unemployment sprang.” (Daily Herald, 24th Nov., 1922.)

E. D. Morel, speaking the next day, on foreign policy, is reported by the Herald as follows :—

“The present situation, said Mr. Morel, was the outcome of the errors and faults committed at Versailles, and the situation could not be remedied until those faults were remedied.”

and again,

“The group system [of alliances] was responsible for the war.” (25th November.)

If unemployment, which as a product of modern industrialism has been intermittently acute for 100 years, really is due to the “blunders of the late Government”; if war is caused by a particular foreign policy, and not by the inevitable clashing of capitalist interests, then Socialism is unnecessary. But an elementary study of the working of modern industry is sufficient to show that war and unemployment are natural products of the capitalist system of production.

       “There were misery, want and unemployment under capitalism before the exchanges went to pieces or the indemnity was imposed; and there will be misery, want and unemployment as long as capitalism lasts; but, at any rate, the people who run capitalism might make the best of their own iniquitous system, and not combine with the wickedness of the system the lunacy of making the worst of it.” (Daily Herald, 19th Dec., 1921.)

The choice for the workers is, therefore, not between “the group system and the League of Nations,” it is not between a Tory administration and a Labour administration of the capitalist system; their choice is between Capitalism and Socialism. The Labour Party by past actions and present declarations stands for Capitalism, with modifications perhaps, but for Capitalism nevertheless. If it succeeds in helping the capitalists to “make the best of their own iniquitous system,” they will no doubt be appropriately grateful.

But is there any need, and can the workers afford, to wait another five years for an answer to our question?