The capitalist principles of the I.L.P.
It is common enough to hear the I.L.P. and the Labour Party attacked and defended on the ground that they are Socialist parties. Yet we find leading members of the I.L.P. affirming that the Labour Party is not really socialist, and members of the Labour Party agreeing with them. Indeed, if the members of the I.L.P. considered the Labour Party a Socialist party they could not very well justify retaining their own separate organisation claiming to be socialist, too. Then, again, the Socialist Party of Great Britain opposes both of these parties and maintains that they are anti-socialist.
It cannot fail to be confusing to the enquirer about Socialism to witness this disagreement between those who are all apparently socialists, and an attempt is usually made to dismiss the disagreement as a question not of principles but of policy and method, and of only minor importance. “We are all,” they say, “bound for the same place, but we travel by different roads.” Yet this explanation is not by any means true, for our opposition is not concerned merely with method, but is one of basic principle. We have to reject offers to sink our differences and join forces because we travel by a different road to a different place. The success of the I.L.P. would mean defeat for us, and we can get what we want only after defeating them.
If there exists this clash of aims no good purpose is served by minimising it, or ignoring it; hence our assertion that the I.L.P. is not deserving of working-class support.We must, however, not attach undue importance to mere names. We cannot prevent our opponents from calling their politics “Socialism” however much they differ from own own. The importance lies not in the name but in the thing, what it is and what it does for the workers, not what it is called. The Socialist Party and the I.L.P. both come before you to tell you the cause and the remedy for your poverty and insecurity. What we want you to notice is that their explanations and their remedies differ from ours as chalk does from cheese, in spite of an apparent similarity in the use of words. There are people who think that the I.L.P. and the Socialist Party are both wrong, but what you ought to avoid at all costs is thinking that we can both be right. If we are right, then the I.L.P. are wrong and vice versa. We ask you to examine our principles and choose between us.
To make clear why the Socialist Party takes up this uncompromising attitude, let us examine the case it presents.
We live in a system of society which by general agreement is known as Capitalism, and whose outstanding features are private property and wage-earning. A certain few fortunate individuals are the owners of the land, the railways, factories and other means of production, and the non-owners have to work for a wage or a salary in the service of the owners of property. Society is divided into a class of workers who must work to live, and a class of capitalists who can live without working. We know from everyday experience that there is no wealth without work, yet the workers are poor and the non-workers are rich. The Socialist says that the poverty of the poor and the riches of the wealthy are the results of the system of private property, and the only remedy is its abolition. Wo do not condemn the Capitalists as “wicked” because they live by exploiting the workers, but we do regard private property as no longer necessary to society. We shall, therefore, deprive them of their property. Whatever services the Capitalists may have rendered in the early days of their system in directing industry and as the medium through which accumulations of capital were made, they render needful services no longer. Society can manage now without them, but they still continue to levy tribute on production to which they make no active contribution. It is now a quite normal Capitalist practice for the property owner to be, in fact and in the eyes of the law, a passive investor without knowledge of the industry or the right to share in the management. Occupying this position it is possible for the wealthy to live in luxury and yet grow continually wealthier. The Capitalist is, moreover, interested in production only from the point of view of the dividend-receiver. There is hardly an industry in which more or less complete combination does not exist, and an admitted object of combination is to control and limit production in the interest of the shareholder. We even have associations of employers providing individual firms with an annual grant conditional on their loyally refraining from producing anything.
Socialism will terminate once and for all the right of any individual to receive rents, profits, or interest by virtue of being an owner of property. THE ONLY JUSTIFICATION for a claim on the produce of industry for able-bodied persons will be that they give personal service. Work, and work alone, will entitle any fit man to consume the wealth which work alone produces. That is the Socialist aim, but it is not the aim of the I.L.P. Their slogan is not the abolition, but the stabilisation of profit and interest.
They endorse and wish to extend the movement in Capitalism towards removing from the hand of the Capitalist whatever active control of industry there is left to him, thus making him simply a passive owner receiving interest by right of ownership. They wish to hasten the Capitalist tendency towards nationalisation, and propose to give the Capitalist Government Bonds which will guarantee to him a secure and regular income without risk of loss, and without the right to share directly in administration, at the same time saving him the expense and trouble of dealing with the discontent of the workers. The I.L.P. does not attack the rights of capital; it defends them and holds out hopes of adding to their value. In the fight between the Socialist and the defenders of Capitalism, it stands on the side of property.
Thus, in “Socialism, Critical and Constructive,” in chapter 7, which is headed, “Socialist Society,” Mr. J. R. MacDonald writes :—
“When Labour uses Capital and pays it its market value, property is defensible, when Capital uses Labour and retains …. the maximum share in the product upon which it can keep its grip, property is devoid of a sure defence.” (Page 274).
In “How Socialists would run Industry” (I.L.P. Programme Pamphlet, Number 5, 1924) a footnote on page 14 asks :
“Why should not Labour hire Capital and devote the whole of the surplus to the improvement of the service?”
and again :
“… the surplus earnings after paying a fixed rate of interest for the hire of loan capital, should …. be reserved for specific purposes. …”
In “Socialism in the Village” (I.L.P., 1920) we read :
“The owners will receive Government Bonds in return for their land, the interest on which will be more than covered by the rents paid to the State” (page 5),
and (page 7) :
“There is every reason to expect that agriculture under public management will yield a far better return on labour and capital than it now does.”
A prominent member of the I.L.P. is Mr. J. Wheatley, himself the owner of considerable property, and ex-Minister of Health. In a recent speech reported in the Daily Herald (20th November) he declared that
“The only hope of saving us from catastrophe lies in a certain number of influential Capitalists recognising that Capitalism itself is becoming the greatest menace to their capital. Nationalisation is likely to prove the only way to salvation.”
He goes on to elaborate his proposals and adds :
“It could be effected without making the Capitalists poorer, or lowering their standard of life.”
In a pamphlet, “The Catholic Working Man,” a publication of the “Catholic Socialist Society” (1909) which declares its “hearty agreement” with the I.L.P., Mr. Wheatley expressly clears himself from the charge of being a Socialist in the sense understood by the Socialist Party. He remarks that his political creed “differs from the Socialism condemned by the Pope in that it retains the right to own private property” (page 22) and he assures his critics that nationalisation will show “due consideration of vested rights.”
When we remember that of the Labour M.P.s in the last House of Commons well over half were members of the I.L.P., we see in their support of the policies of the Labour Government further evidence of their anti-socialism. Mr. Wheatley introducing his Housing Bill declared in reply to an interruption, that
“The proposals which I am submitting are real Capitalism —an attempt to patch up in the interests of humanity, a Capitalist ordered society.” (See “Houses to Let,” page 8. A verbatim report published by the T.U.C. and the Labour Party.)
He again made his position clear in a speech at Glasgow on Sunday, November 2nd, when he commented on the election results,
“My own view of the return of the Tories in such an overwhelming majority is that it will considerably hasten the end of the Capitalist system of society. . . . Had the Labour Government been allowed to proceed it would have produced a greater amount of content among the toiling multitude, and it would have established Capitalism longer than it is likely to exist now.” (“Times”, November 3rd.)
The Socialist does not, of course, believe that it is possible to improve materially the workers’ position inside Capitalism, nor that the return of a Conservative majority will hasten the progress to Socialism, but of the deadly work done by the Labour Party and the I.L.P in making the workers contented with the private property system there can be no doubt.
Another prominent member of the I.L.P. is Mr. R. H. Tawney, author of “The Acquisitive Society.” On pages 66 and 177, after condemning various forms of property, he argues that the payment of “pure interest” will be necessary under what he calls “Socialism.” It is justified, he says, provided the owner of the capital is not allowed to have any share in, or responsibility for, the organisation of industry.
We see, then, that the view generally held by the I.L.P. members is that poverty can be removed without the abolition of private property in the means of production; while the Socialist Party demands, as the only solution, the extinction of all property claims whatever their name and form.
Were it not for the repeated refusal of the I.L.P. to defend its principles on the public platform against the criticism of the Socialist, the question might usefully have been thrashed out in debate.
(Socialist Standard, January 1925)