The I.L.P. and Their Idols: The Conference of Opportunism
The Easter I.L.P. Annual Conference has provoked much publicity in the Press, but it has not been publicity for Socialism. The hero-worship of MacDonald versus the idolatry of Maxton and Wheatley, is the tone of the controversy within the I.L.P. ranks. The entire time of the Conference was given up to discussion and disputes about policies and opinions on matters purely capitalist and opportunist.
The chairman’s address was typical of Maxton, a mixture of sentimentalism and reform. His admission concerning the present tendency in the I.L.P. is worth recording:
Since the period of the Labour Government there has been a tendency for the I.L.P. to stand for the gradualist method and to postpone the achievement of Socialism to some date far in the future. (Forward, April 23.)
The official organ of the I.L.P. (The New Leader) in its report of the chairman’s address, omitted this statement. The chief error in this reference by Maxton is the false view that the I.L.P. has ever been concerned about the achievement of Socialism.
That this is true now can be seen from Maxton’s own policy outlined in his address :
Get an I.L.P. of a hundred thousand men and women, every one to be a fighter in the shock troops of that Labour army, and go out on a definite offensive against capitalism with, as the key-centre of its objective, the demand for a living wage for all.
The approach to that achievement should be first made at this stage by an immediate demand for a 20 per cent. increase on the wages of all sections of the working classes. It is necessary to make life tolerable to the great proportion of our people; it is the increase in the purchasing power of the people which is needed to lighten the Industrial depression.
A definite offensive against capitalism with a programme of more capitalism paying a living wage! Making life tolerable for the workers by a 20 per cent. increase on wages —when they are allowed to work! Where is the offensive against capitalism in America in its employers paying what the I.L.P. calls a living wage?
When the Conference came to the proposal not to nominate Ramsay MacDonald as Labour Party Treasurer, the hero worship and idolatory burst forth. Sixty-nine Labour M.P.’s and candidates who are members of the I.L.P., had circulated a signed appreciation of Mr. MacDonald, and an appeal to the I.L.P. not to break the practice of 27 years in nominating Mr. MacDonald for Treasurer of the Labour Party.
In stating the case for the Executive of the I.L.P., Fenner Brockway said of Ramsay MacDonald’s action at the last Labour Party Conference :
He was opposed to the Party on not one issue but every issue that the I.L.P. had raised at the conference. It is not that Mr. MacDonald differs from us on details of policy. It is that his attitude of mind is wholly different from the mind of the I.L.P.
Many speakers who opposed this attitude of the I.L.P., referred to MacDonald’s “great work,” his services to the I.L.P., etc., and even Fenner Brockway, writing in the New Leader on the matter (April 22nd), tells us: “Personal devotion to Mr. MacDonald within the I.L.P. is deep.” In the same article Brockway says of MacDonald:
He was definitely at variance with us on our “Socialism in Our Time” policy, on China, and on international working-class unity, and did pot regard war resistance as a serious policy.
There was no attack on MacDonald for his open repudiation of Socialist principles, his pleas for co-operation between Capital and Labour, his support of capitalist government in home affairs. The reason for ignoring the fundamental objections to MacDonald is very plain. If they had attacked him on such issues, the I.L.P. could be easily shown to be just as guilty of anti-Socialist actions.
But the real hero worship of MacDonald was shown after Arthur Henderson had attacked the I.L.P. action and pointed out that MacDonald would be the Labour Party Treasurer whether the I.L.P. nominated him or not. It then became important for the I.L.P.ers to show that really they were not opposed to MacDonald, and Maxton specially set out to allay all the fears of the opportunists who were afraid to offend the official gang of the Labour Party and their power to provide positions and preferment. Maxton himself in an interview said they were trying to “ help MacDonald ” !
In spite of all the criticism of MacDonald and his disregard for I.L.P. policies, we have the following gem given out by Maxton, the I.L.P. chairman, as the considered reply of the E.C., to Arthur Henderson. What an example of political frothblowing !
The Conference decision certainly does not prevent the I.L.P. delegation at the next Labour Party Conference voting in favour of any nomination of Mr. MacDonald as Treasurer. In his statement on Sunday, on behalf of the National Council, Brockway said that he did not suppose there was any member of the Council who wished to see Mr. MacDonald removed from the Treasurership, and the delegation will be free to decide that the I.L.P. vote shall be given for his nomination.
As regards the first question, it was made perfectly clear that we retain personal friendliness towards Mr. MacDonald, and recognise him as the Leader of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which includes members of all Sections of the Labour Party. In that capacity, whilst retaining our recognised right to express our distinctive point of view on occasions, we shall faithfully give him the support which our loyalty to the wider movement requires.
Just as at the Liverpool Labour Party Conference the I.L.P. utters strong words of defiance and censure, but at the vital moment calms down and supports the man they attacked.
The rest of the I.L.P. Conference was concerned with the repairing and supporting of a rotten system instead of a policy to abolish and replace it.
Inquiries into surtax proposals, capital levy resurrections, municipal banks, war debt partial repudiation, nationalisation of mines—these occupied the major part of the Conference. Cheap and nasty political patent medicines was the stock-in-trade—the class struggle and Socialism were nowhere.
The left wing Communist element are disappointed with Maxton. Another lost leader ! They are now searching for another leader to worship and to follow.
One point in connection with the Conference deserves notice. After all their attacks on the I.L.P., the Communist Party sent resolutions and representatives pleading for a united front with the I.L.P. on questions which have nothing to do with Socialism or Revolution. Those who want a united front with such a party of professional opportunists as the I.L.P., are obviously playing the same game of fooling the working class.