Why Socialists Oppose the Political Levy
A REPLY TO A CORRESPONDENT
“Ilfordian” asks for our comments on a cutting in which figures are given of the number of members of various trade unions who claim exemption from the Political Levy. As there is so much confusion surrounding this question, let us first state some of the facts. The Labour Party, which came into existence in order to seek by political means to gain legal protection for trade union funds, derives the chief part of its finances from trade unions. Legally, trade unions may spend on political objects only those amounts which are contributed for this purpose, and those members who do not wish to support the Labour Party can decline to pay the Political Levy. Actually many who pay do so not because of any active sympathy towards the Labour Party, but because they are too indifferent to claim exemption. Knowing this, sections of the Tory and Liberal Parties favour an amendment to the law in order to weaken the Labour Party machine; and the Labour leaders seeing their political careers endangered have voiced their protest with a fervour and degree of indignation such as they never show when capitalist attacks are being directed against the workers.
The Press chooses to pretend that it is a fight between Socialist supporters of the Levy and non-Socialist opponents—a view which is sheer nonsense. The attitude of the Socialist party is plain, and follows from our Declaration of Principles. With the personal squabble between the wire-pullers who control the three parties we are not concerned; all that we need ask is whether support of the Labour party is compatible with our work for Socialism. It is plainly not compatible; hence our open and unqualified opposition to that party along with other parties—Liberal and Tory—which support the private property system. Whatever may be said about the persons or the detailed aims of the Labour party, the inescapable fact is that while they can successfully organise a large part of the working class for non-Socialist objects, Socialism is impossible. No member of the Socialist party would wish or be permitted to give any kind of voluntary assistance to the Labour party. The general position is plain, and the reasons have been and are continually being given by our speakers and in our literature to show that the position we take up is justified. But in actual practice it is not always possible to avoid helping our opponents, little as we may wish to do so. Anyone who is familiar with the internal organisation and political activities of many trade unions will be quite well aware that money contributed for ordinary “trade” purposes finds its way by various paths to the funds of central and local Labour parties. Much of the time of trade union organisers is spent on political work without any attempt to charge the political funds; money is contributed to such definitely political objects as the maintenance of the “Daily Herald,” and against these and other ways of evading the law, the Socialist is helpless at present, even although he obtains exemption from the levy.
It is, however, a matter of little importance. Socialists are as yet a small minority in the trades unions as outside, and must bow to the will of the majority. When we are more numerous we shall be able to make our views prevail, as the Labour party does now—with one important difference. We shall depend on the willing and active support of workers who understand Socialism; we shall not, as does the Labour party, build up an organisation on the illusory strength of thousands of “supporters” who in reality pay the levy because they are too apathetic to refuse.