1920s >> 1926 >> no-268-december-1926

Should We Join The Labour Party?

Our Position Vindicated. 


We have always maintained that the only place for Socialists is inside a Socialist organisation, completely independent ‘of all other political parties. This, we say, is the only way of carrying on Socialist propaganda free from compromise and from distracting side issues. Those who differed from us on this point have urged that it was worth while to make a sacrifice of some amount’ of independence in order to keep inside the Labour Party and carry on progaganda there. But what has been the result of their policy? Never have events shown so plainly as now, how unsound that policy and how poor its fruits.


As a political machine the Labour Party is a success, but its successes are not for Socialism. It has just won some 200 seats in the local council elections, but as is pointed out by a correspondent in the New Leader (November 12th), the Labour programme in Cardiff contained “little that could not be supported by any well-meaning Tory. . . . Only one candidate mentioned Socialism in his election address.” And as he rightly adds, “these shortcomings are by no means peculiar to Cardiff.” The winning of elections on non-Socialist programmes may give power for certain things to those who come into control of the political machinery, but it will give no power for the furtherance of Socialism. So also the enrollment of non-Socialist members will make the Labour Party larger, but it will not make it more favourable to Socialism. One of the recent notable recruits—Commander Kenworthy— has confessed (Daily Herald, November 15th) that just before his decision to leave the Liberals he was invited to join and receive the support of the Conservative Party. A man who was in the Liberal Party and is considered fit to receive Conservative support is not a Socialist, whatever he may be. The ex-Liberals who flock in with Kenworthy are no more Socialist than he.


John Beckett, of the I.L.P., a Labour M.P., laments that those who control the Labour Party are rapidly turning the “Labour movement . . . into a carefully controlled pawn in the political game.” (New Leader, November 12th.) He wants the I.L.P. to carry on the fight against reaction in the Labour Party, but is then compelled to admit that, “The Left must fight in the I.L.P. almost as hard as in the wider movement.”


The present situation, then, is this. The I.L.P. tries to permeate the Labour Party, but in the process has itself reached such a state that the permeators must “fight in the I.L.P. almost as hard” as in the Labour Party. The Labour Party wins elections on non-Socialist programmes, and the permeators are compelled to assist at these elections and suppress their own opinions for the sake of their loyalty.


George Lansbury makes a humiliating confession of his own position inside the Labour Party in explaining why he recalled a promise to support the candidature of Dr. Dunstan in West Birmingham. Dr. Dunstan was a Labour candidate and a Communist, and was replaced by an “official” Labour man in accordance with the Labour Party decision to refuse to endorse or accept to membership all members of the Communist Party. Lansbury writes to Dr. Dunstan (Lansbury’s Labour Weekly, November 13th): “I still think your position in West Birmingham entitled you to the support of every working-class elector . . . and I am only sorry that circumstances connected with my membership of the Labour Party and the loyalty which such membership involves prevents me carrying out my promise.”


Dr. Dunstan is in Lansbury’s view “entitled to the support of every working-class elector,” but is not going to receive Lansbury’s support because of the latter’s loyalty to the Labour Party, and while Labour Party discipline prevents the permeators from propagating Socialism, the Labour Party goes on absorbing Liberals at a rate which makes it possible for its leaders to continue to change its programme in an anti-Socialist direction, and make it a “pawn in the political game.” All the time the permeators find that their efforts to keep their own organisation straight are hampered by association with non-Socialists. How can a Socialist hope to convince electors that they should support non-Socialist labour men and programmes, if at the same time he is trying to preach Socialism? One or the other must suffer. In fact the Labour Party grows in size with the help of the I.L.P., but both the Labour Party and its would-be permeators become too much bound up with seeking for votes to have time for Socialist propaganda.


There is, of course, another group believing in permeation—the Communist Party. Their present undignified position is a further justification for our attitude. The Labour Party, not unnaturally, only wants assistance from those who will help it to get into power. It does not want to be hindered by affiliated bodies which propagate policies which have no electoral value, and since the mass of electors are not Socialist, Socialism is thus ruled out. Thus it accepts the I.L.P., which, as Mr. Beckett says, differs little from itself. But if the I.L.P. tried to justify its argument by concentrating on Socialist propaganda, it would be summarily ejected. The Communists have so far not been accommodating enough, and therefore are refused admission.To preach Socialism inside the Labour Party just as much as to preach it outside means condemning its programme and its methods. If, therefore, the Socialist Party desired entry into the Labour Party, it must consent to give up its work for Socialism and devote at least part of its energies to promoting non-Socialist candidatures which it honestly knows are of no value to the working class. We cannot accept such conditions.

We are Socialists because we believe literally that Socialism is the sole hope of the working class. We are independent because that is the only safeguard against confusion and compromise and the growth of non-Socialist tendencies in our own ranks.

Edgar Hardcastle