1920s >> 1926 >> no-259-march-1926

The antics of the Left-Wing

Without even having read the book one cannot help smiling at the diverting title chosen by the novelist who wrote “The Man with Two Left Feet.” How can a man have two left feet? If they both point to the left, as left feet should, the man must walk forever in a narrow circle, arriving nowhere in particular. If the feet are not side by side but in line, how does he manage to preserve his balance? Probably the novelist credits nature with this deformity, but if such things happened one might well imagine it to be an instance of nature imitating art—the art of politics.

Can a man have two left feet? Can a “united” party have one right, a centre or so, two and possibly three left-wings ? It can.

Can such a party march forever in a circle, arriving nowhere? It does. Can a party be achieving “progress” continually for. a generation and yet leave the beneficiaries of that “progress”—the workers—worse off at the end than at the beginning? If you doubt it, look at the Labour Party. Can a man balance on two left feet? Can one oppose Weir Houses and not vote against them, and support Weir Houses without voting for them? Watch the statesmanlike MacDonald and the Jesuitical Wheatley. Can Mr. Thomas and Mr. Cook engage heatedly in public conflict and remain loyal to the same programme, the same policy and the same methods? The “Daily Herald” says that they can.

Mr. MacDonald has reached the pinnacle of success, but there are many who are ready to pull him down if he stumbles, and fight like wolves for his place and power. Every political student knows that there is no surer method of forcing one’s way to the front rank than by stagemanaging well-timed rank and file “revolts”—hence the present flood of left wings.

MR. WHEATLEY.

MacDonald was in his own tortuous way something of a genius, but for sheer subtlety we think he has met his match in Mr. Wheatley. Wheatley is on one of the left wings, but not so far to the left as to have to refuse office in the Labour Government. He is himself a Capitalist of some degree of wealth, advocates the abolition of Capitalism when speaking on the Clyde, believes a Labour administration prolongs the life of Capitalism, introduced as Labour Minister of Health a Housing Bill which he himself described as “Capitalist”—“an attempt to patch up Capitalism,” says the Labour Party is not Socialist and also that the Labour Party’s support of religion proves that Socialism supports religion. But perhaps his finest piece of work was shown in his attitude to “direct action.” He proclaims his belief in the necessity of urging soldiers to disobey orders should they be used against strikes. He attached his signature to a letter protesting against the Communist Trial Verdict. It read as follows :—

“It was stated on behalf of the Crown that it is seditious—(1) to preach the Class war; and (2) to appeal to soldiers, in case of industrial troubles, not to shoot their fellow-workers. There is a special danger to Labour in this assumption that these doctrines are illegal. The great mass of the Labour Movement believes in them, and expresses—and will continue to express—its belief.”—(Daily Herald, 30th November, 1925.)

This, you may say, is perhaps rash, but surely the spirit is commendable? But just consider with me for one moment. When troops are so used they are under Martial Law, liable to the death penalty for disobedience; and when in 1924 an amendment was introduced in the House of Commons to abolish the death penalty, Mr. Wheatley voted against it. (Hansard 3 April, 1924, Army (Annual) Bill).

Is this not a mark of genius? Mr. Wheatley is a Catholic and a worthy descendant of the sixteenth century Jesuits who proved that Catholic subjects might legitimately assassinate Protestant rulers. But they added a rigid proviso that on no account may one put poison in a man’s food or drink, for this, they said, would make him a suicide—which would be most improper.

In a coarse age like ours it is at first sight by no means easy to appreciate the refinement of scruple, the delicate thoughtfulness of these Jesuit Philosophers. But, rightly looked at, what comfort it must have brought to the souls of murdered princes that they were despatched to their Maker not by poison in their beer, but by a poisoned dagger in the back. Wheatley, explaining his point of view to soldiers sentenced under an Act he voted for, because they took .advice he gave, is surely entitled to a place beside his Jesuit forefathers.

A “BETTER SPIRIT.”

Mr. Cook is another left wing hero—an evangelist unaccountably strayed into the Labour Movement. He has the usual Capitalist outlook on work and wages. He asks for instance (“Daily Herald,” 9 March, 1925) “was it not a mistake that a miner was working for a less wage than that paid to a scavenger?” Why this slighting reference to scavengers? Why is it not a mistake, may we ask, for a miner to get less than a miner’s official, or less than the Editor of the Herald? Is this how Mr Cook proposes to unite the working class?

Mr. Cook, in company with Lansbury, Purcell, Ellen Wilkinson, Coppock, Tillett, and other left wing “stars,” put his signature to a recent manifesto of the Industrial Christian Fellowship, which manifesto contains useful information about their queer beliefs.

It begins, “We stand for Christ and His Principles, independent of Party,” which is surely a promising basis for a left wing. “It is our conviction that statesmanship will fail, and political programmes will prove futile as a solvent of social troubles, unless they embody the spirit and practice of Christ. . .. . We are moved . . . in a sober and serious spirit, to make this appeal to our fellow-citizens of all classes, without regard to their political affiliations …”

This, you may observe, is not quite in the strain these people use at left wing gatherings. But then, of course, some of them are in the habit of being moved, if rumour speaks truly, not by a “sober, serious spirit,” but by some other.

It does seem that those who call Cook “Emperor Cook” are hardly fair. Surely in his more exalted moments it is Jesus Christ he thinks he is?

WHY NOT TWO LEFT WINGS? OR THREE? OR FOUR?

As we pointed out above, there is more than one left wing. The man has not only two left feet, but the two left feet want to walk in different directions. One, engineered by the “Sunday Worker,” called its little meeting of selected persons, only to find that “Lansbury’s Weekly” had called another little meeting of selected persons. Then they fought over the right to be the original and only left wing. One bone of contention was the Communist Party. Should they be admitted or not? In the meantime the Communists claim that they are themselves the real genuine article, but their position, it must be confessed, as a potential third left foot, is somewhat obscure. The parent body quite rudely cut them off and they are really the foot of another man altogether—a man living in Moscow. Does an amputated foot which insists on hanging around, really belong to its former body or not? That is the question of the moment. The I.L.P. claims to be a self-contained left wing itself, but Mr. Brailsford has given his Editorial benediction to one of the other left wings—which one we forget at the moment.

To be quite candid, we find this business of left wings a trifle confusing. What is going to be the outcome of this mess of intrigue? Suppose we grant, for the sake of argument, that the prime movers in these backstairs “palace revolutions” have only one motive—the welfare of the workers. Are they likely to achieve something beneficial by such means? Does experience show that anything worth while ever came out of such plotting and lying and wire-pulling? Is it not obvious that the only gainers will be the Wheatleys and Cooks and their imitators, and that the climbers who get left below will simply perpetuate the disgusting tradition in endless years of silly “tactical” marching and counter-marching, groupings and dissolutions, amalgamations and secessions? They agree only on the unworthiness of the Labour Party. Yet, ironically enough, we who alone maintain an attitude of open hostility to that unworthy party, and who consistently fight for Socialism and nothing else, are told by these very people that we confuse the minds of the workers !

H.

(Socialist Standard, March 1926)

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