Editorial: Labour’s “Revolutionary” Leaders
When the Labour Party was returned to Parliament as the Opposition there was much rejoicing in “Labour” circles, and a “hot” time was promised the Government if the unemployed problem was not satisfactorily tackled in the immediate future. Nearly five months have passed since that auspicious event, and alleviation of unemployment is perhaps farther away than ever. So far the attitude of Labour’s “champions” has been limited to words “full of sound and fury signifying nothing.”
Now that the Labour members have had a chance to shake down more comfortably into their “important” position as “His Majesty’s Opposition party” we are provided with a few definite indications as to how they intend acting. That they will be thoroughly statesmanlike and highly respectable the capitalists apparently have little doubt in view of the character of the men at the helm. An influential newspaper recently expressed itself on this point as follows :
“The Speaker as shepherd has notable reason to be proud of the labour part of his flock. Apart from an uncouth few of the Clyde gang, they have learned parliamentary manners with surprising rapidity. They not only obey the chair; they keep each other in order. By comparison with the wild-cat section there is a solid element of practical moderation amongst the Labour members. We refuse to fear the future. (Observer, 11.3.23).
If a capitalist newspaper refuses to fear the future then the inference is that the capture of power by the Labour Party signifies “no change’’ in the social order. That the “powers that prey” have good reason to be content with the character of the new opposition has been amply borne out by certain recent events.
In the expectation of possibly being called upon soon “to form a government,” the. leaders of the Labour Party are apparently undergoing strict training to carry out such future august functions in a manner befitting the time-dishonored traditions of this great and glorious country. They have recently dined with royalty (to show there is no ill-feeling!)—eating choice viands and drinking choice wines in blessed harmony with those who are fed, clothed and housed by the sweated slaves of the field and factory.
“Prominent Labour M.P.’s and their wives were among the guests invited to meet the King and Queen at a dinner party given by Viscount and Viscountess Astor at 4, St. James Square, last night.”
reports the “Daily News” (9.3.23). Among those who attended were: Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Thomas, Mr. and Mrs. J. R. Clynes, and Mr. and Mrs. Philip Snowden. Incidentally we are informed:
“The King and the other men guests generally wore knee breeches, but the Labour Members appeared in plain evening dress.’’
Is this the way to tackle the unemployed and kindred problems? While the Labour members are pampered guests of the well-fed oppressing class their luckless constituents are in many cases without dinners worthy of the name. Anyhow, it is reassuring to notice that the champions of the oppressed wore “plain evening dress”— it is a pretty compliment to the ragged-trousered electorate who sent them to Parliament as representatives! Possibly the Labour Members will return from the banquet reinvigorated for the strenuous work of—softening the antagonism between master and slave.
Mr. Ramsay MacDonald was not invited to the above gathering. His turn came the following Thursday, when he went in lonely majesty to represent the workers in a convivial evening with the enemy, at Buckingham Palace.
Mr. Philip Snowden was so refreshed by the invigorating atmosphere at the dinner party that we learn, at the moment of writing, he is to move a resolution in the House of Commons on the 20th March in the following terms :
“That in view of the failure of the capitalist system adequately to utilise and organise natural resources and productive power, or to provide the necessary standard of life for vast numbers of the population, and believing that the cause of this failure lies in the private ownership and control of the means of production and distribution, this House declares that legislative effort should be directed to the gradual supersession of the capitalist system by an industrial and social order based on the public ownership and democratic control of the instruments of production and distribution.” (Daily Herald, 16.3.23).
Achilles was vulnerable in his heel, but this resolution is vulnerable in its tail. Not Common Ownership but Public Ownership is its ultimate aim. And what is “Public Ownership”? Only another phrase for Nationalisation. In other words, the aim of the resolution is to bring about collective ownership of the means of production on behalf of the capitalist class instead of direct ownership by individual groups within that class as to-day. That is, organising the whole of production on a similar system to that of the Post Office and similar State-owned concerns.
It will be further noticed that the resolution does not propose any immediate drastic change. Effort is to be directed to “ the gradual supercession.” There can be quite easily a gradual change from private to State property; but there cannot be a gradual change from private to common ownership. The latter change is a fundamental change, in which one form excludes the other. In a modern state private and common ownership cannot exist side by side as the Bolsheviks found to their cost. “ All or nothing ” is the way the question of necessity is put.
Anyone who understands the problem, and is familiar with the Labour Parliamentary Group, could have no illusions as to the improbability of any real attempt to, introduce common ownership coming from that quarter. This group is made up in the main of religious visionaries, taxation quacks, place-hunters, wind-bags, and would-be “statesmen”; all these have been returned by a politically backward electorate.
The leader of the Labour Party gave a demonstration of how well he could carry himself from the point of view of statesmanship at Port Talbot, where he said:
“In our policy regarding reparations we ought not to be ashamed to let the world know quite definitely that we must look after our own national interests and not sacrifice them merely to keep up the balance of an alliance with France or any other country.” (Observer, 7.1.23).
In this statement it will be observed that Mr. Ramsay MacDonald has risen above the “narrow” outlook of the worker and reached the “broad” outlook of—the English capitalist class! The “we” and “our” in the quotation stand for the capitalists, not the workers, as it is the capitalists’ interests that are concerned in the matter.
A sidelight on the nature of the backing that brought Ramsay MacDonald and Snowden back within the sacred precincts of “pelf and place” was given by the former when speaking at Newington Public Hall, S.E., when he referred to the way in which the I.L.P. was taking up singing:
“Wherever one went choirs were springing up in connection with the branches of the I.L.P., and they said in Scotland that it was not the genius of the I.L.P. that was responsible for the magnificent Labour victories last November ; it was because the Scottish I.L.P. had revived Scottish music, and in that way had got to the hearts and intelligence of the people.” (Daily Herald, 5.3.23).
Would it be unfair to recall the words of the old proverb, “Empty vessels make.the most sound “?