1920s >> 1923 >> no-232-december-1923

The Policy of the I.L.P.

The New Leader, October 5th, published a statement outlining the policy of a “Socialist Government” on the question of unemployment. This statement was drawn up by the National Council of the Independent Labour Party, and is the first of a series on “outstanding political questions of the day,” to be issued weekly.The introductory paragraph by the New Leader says ‘‘the I.L.P. is the militant socialist wing of the Labour Party.” In bold type is printed the headlines :

 “How to deal with unemployment. What a Socialist Government would do. ”

There is no mistaking this definite claim by the I.L.P., not only to the title of Socialist but also to this particular policy as being Socialistic

The statement opens with an absurd contradiction :—

   “Before the war even in time of trade prosperity, there were always at last 200,000 persons out of regular employment.  “The primary cause of unemployment is the capitalist system of society. The operations of capitalism result in (a) violent productive fluctuations ; (h) violent financial fluctuations; (c) constant international disturbances. These in turn create unemployment.”

How these create unemployment when it already exists in /the most prosperous times, i.e., when the fluctuations and disturbances are absent, is for the council to explain.

The point to be noted, however, is not so much the contradiction as the pretended analysis contained in the paragraph quoted; (a), (b), and (c) are reputed to be the three causes of unemployment, and the statement of the National Council is divided into three sections as follows: “(a) methods of preventing violent productive fluctuations; (b) methods of preventing violent financial fluctuations, and (c) methods of preventing international disturbances.” It is quite unnecessary to go further than this supposed analysis, together with the methods denoted in the sub-headings to show conclusively that the statement is not drawn up from the working-class standpoint, nor does it explain unemployment in the light of socialist knowledge. Fluctuations in production when they occur are the result of fluctuations in demand, and are the bugbear of capitalist politicians, economists and captains of industry. The boom in trade catches them unprepared, and the slump finds them with unsaleable goods on their hands. It is their concern to find the mean level and abolish fluctuations. But the finding of such a mean level does not alter the amount of unemployment; all that it does is to diminish the numbers during the slump and increase the numbers during the boom. The result is best seen by taking a production chart over a number of years,’ and cutting off the peaks to fill in the depressions ; when it will be seen that a straight line will result somewhere between the highest and lowest points.

It would be a mistake, however, to imagine that this line bore any definite relation to the amount of unemployment, or even to the quantity of wealth produced. For while the amount of production might show an enormous rise over a period of, say ten years, the number of workers employed in its production might have decreased considerably in consequence of new machinery, new methods, and. speeding-up generally.

It matters but little to the workers whether the growth of unemployment proceeds spasmodically through fluctuations or whether it proceeds evenly without them. The fact for them to notice is that unemployment does increase with capitalist development, and that the National Council produce no evidence, nor show any reasoning to prove that the elimination of crises, industrial or financial, would benefit the workers. On the other hand it is almost safe to assume that such elimination would in reality diminish the number of workers required to produce a given quantity or wealth. Chaos and uncertainty invariably cause wastefulness in the expenditure of labour power.

During the 19th century, when crises occurred periodically, Capital was often expended in anticipation of booms that never matured, and mistaken ventures by capitalists frequently resulted in gluts that compensated the workers to some extent by falling prices.

If the capitalists knew always the extent of the market, production would be arranged to that level. Mass production would be introduced more extensively. Competition would be eliminated by the closed formation of rings and combines, and the workers, as a result of these very reforms, advocated by the National Council, would be in a worse plight than now.


Nor must it be forgotten that without help from the I.L.P. capitalism is already developing rapidly along these lines. Prices, over extensive markets, are fixed, and maintained by agreements between the capitalists concerned. In many cases the demand is known, and shared, by arrangement between the associated concerns.


For the workers to organise politically with the object of smoothing away difficulties in the path of the class that exploits them is folly. Such action could only follow from lack of knowledge of their actual relationship towards the master class. Given the facts of Socialism, every worker of ordinary intelligence can reason for himself how he stands in relation to every question that engages public attention.


The paramount fact of every worker’s existence is his poverty and insecurity, and those who trade on his poverty or play on his fears without helping him to understand the antagonism of interests between the working-class and the master-class, together with the reasons for that antagonism, are guilty of trickery and fraud.


On this question of unemployment the National Council have utterly failed to explain either the cause or tbe cure. Their contribution to the general discussion might have been published in any capitalist newspaper without fear of enlightening a single worker to the fact of his slavery. It barely scratches the surface. It analyses the subject from a purely capitalist viewpoint, and proposes reforms to patch up the existing system, with no proof that such reforms would benefit the working-class in any way whatever. It claims to stand for the workers yet fails to lay down the working-class position on the most prominent question of the day. It calls on the workers to consolidate for the achievement of capitalist ideals; a system of exploitation without trade upheavals or international conflicts; a system where dividends would be assured; where the percentage of unemployed would always be sufficient for capitalist needs, but never so high that it threatened the system.


F. Foan