Editorial: Socialism v. The Labour Party
“It is equally inexplicable that Mr. Keynes should suppose that the British Labour Party …. includes (or has in its quarter of a century of existence, ever included) anything, either in politics or in economics, that can honestly be called Marxian Socialism.” (Sidney Webb, “Economic Journal,” September, 1926.)
“If a Parliamentary Labour Party is not to be trusted to handle Parliament and to advance Socialism, for goodness’ sake do not elect it to begin with.” (J. R. MacDonald, “Daily Herald,” October 9.)
The second of the two quotations at the head of this column was addressed by Mr. MacDonald to certain sections of the Labour Party which sought to induce the Party Conference to pass resolutions which would have had the effect of tying the hands of the party’s parliamentary leaders. Mr. MacDonald candidly denounced some of these resolutions as “political jerry-building of a high order” (for instance, the minimum wage and family allowance proposals of the I.L.P.), but whereas we accept the logic of Mr. MacDonald’s challenge, his various critics inside the Labour Party fear to do so. We frankly do not believe that the Labour Party can be trusted to advance Socialism, and honesty to ourselves and to the view we hold, compels us to oppose the policy of helping to “elect it to begin with.”
This is not because of personal antipathy towards Mr. MacDonald or a belief that he and his colleagues are less trustworthy than other people. For certain purposes the Labour Party may be an efficient instrument, but such a party with such a programme does not and cannot advance Socialism. In order that our position may be made plain, let us apply a test which was applied by Mr. H. N. Brailsford (originator of the proposals described by Mr. MacDonald as jerry-building) in the “New Leader,” of which he has just ceased to be the Editor. That test is the recognition of the class struggle. Is the Labour Party based on a recognition of the existence of such a struggle in the capitalist system? Mr. Brailsford says that it is, and consequently that it is a Socialist Party. (“New Leader,” October 15th.)
The class struggle is defined by Mr. Brailsford in these words :—
“The broad distinction is between those who live upon rent, profit or interest, and those who live by rendering service useful to the community.”
The aim of the Socialist is to replace a society divided into property-owners and non-property-owners, by a system of society in which the only claim to the enjoyment of wealth produced, will be the rendering of service by all who are fit to do so. This involves the suppression of all incomes derived from the ownership of property; but does the Labour Party propose that suppression? If not, then Mr. Brailsford is wrong. If not, the Labour Party is not a Socialist Party, and cannot be trusted to advance Socialism.
At its annual conference, the Labour Party made many decisions which plainly disgusted its so-called left wing (or wings). It is, however, not necessary to criticise these decisions separately. They all arise because of the deliberate omission from the Labour Party’s programme of a recognition of the class struggle. The capitalist class does, at present, own and control the means of producing wealth, and will not, without compulsion, yield its legal right to live by the ownership of property. Rather than face this fact, rather than admit that the class struggle exists and can be abolished from society only by the victory of the working-class majority, the Labour Party proclaims its belief in the possibility of achieving Socialism without destroying the property rights of the capitalist class. It believes that it has found a solution to the ancient problem of making omelettes without breaking eggs. It will have “Socialism” without “confiscation.”
Mr. MacDonald, discussing the question of land-ownership (reported in “Daily Herald,” October 14th) defined his position thus :—
“If he could not get a thing done without compensation, and could get it done with compensation … he would do it. No moral issue was involved; it was simply a business proposition.”
This was greeted with applause, and no one troubled to ask whether the “thing done” would be Socialism. All of the Labour Party’s nationalisation proposals involve the payment of compensation in the shape of interest-bearing bonds to the former owners. Now, apart from the futility of trying to introduce Socialism piecemeal, industry by industry, what will be the position when the Labour Party has finished nationalising all the essential services? The capitalist class will still be property-owners —their property being Government Bonds instead of company shares, etc. They will still live by owning, and without rendering service. To return to Mr. Brailsford’s words, instead of extinguishing “Rent, profit and interest,” the Labour Party will at immense trouble have completed the great transformation of turning “Rent and profit” into “Interest.”
The working-class will still be engaged in producing wealth for the benefit of the capitalist class. Socialism will not be in existence, and no important working-class problem will have been solved.
The alternative advocated by us, is to propagate Socialism and organise the working-class in a Socialist Party on a clear-cut Socialist programme. This does not mean, as Mr. Bowen suggested, “Bloody revolution.” (“Herald,” October 14th). The working-class are the great majority. When they become Socialist they will endeavour to obtain possession of the machinery of Government in the usual “constitutional” way. The Socialist Party not having been guilty, as was the Labour Party, of helping to carry on the recent “bloody war,” is less likely than that Party to adopt irresponsible courses leading to bloodshed and disorder.
(Socialist Standard, November 1926)