Socialism v the I.L.P.
The following is a letter from a member of the I.L.P. :—
To the Editor of the SOCIALIST STANDARD.
I have been very interested in the discussions contained in the “S.S.” from time to time, especially between your Socialism and that of the I.L.P. I, however, fail to see any gulf between the objects of the S.P.G.B. and the I.L.P., and its kindred association. It, therefore, seems to me unfortunate that speakers of your party should be continually denouncing the representatives of working-class interests, and it would be better if they devoted their speeches entirely to making Socialists. I have before me the “S.S.” of September, 1926, in which you say (page 12) that “no fundamental change in the object and policy of the I.L.P., however, is dreamt of,” and later on “These champions of Nationalisation . . . would not solve the wages problem.” I will, and have only the time, to deal with these two points.
(1) Firstly, “no fundamental change” is necessary, as their object is, has been and always will be, to transfer the private ownership of land and means of production, etc., into social ownership. You are at liberty to criticise their tactics, but not their object. Advice from technical and economic experts must be taken in the transformation of society, and we must be assured that this advice is in the interest of the working-classes. These experts must be, then, of the working-class.
(2) Secondly, the I.L.P. fully recognises that the wages system has got to go, and here again, the method to be adopted must be one that will not injure the class whom they desire should benefit.
(3) It is obvious to you that the so-called “living-wage” proposals, in my opinion, are held out to the masses as so much bread and butter to them under the Capitalist system, and that by intensive propaganda, more support will be given to the party in order to conquer the political machine and to use it without inflicting too great a hardship on their supporters. For instance, if in one sweep, a Socialist party abolished interest, some of the people who would be hit the hardest are those who are trying to live on a starvation wage, plus a few shillings resulting from a small investment—say £200 5 per cent. stock. When it is a matter of principle, there must be no discrimination between one form and another.
(4) If you have any suggestion as to what a Socialist Party should do when it has been returned to power, and at the same time retain the confidence of its supporters, I should be glad to hear of it in your next issue alongside of this letter. Could you spare me the space, please?
For convenience of reply we have numbered four paragraphs with which we propose to deal.
(1) It is news to us that the I.L.P. propose to abolish private ownership. It will also be news to the I.L.P. The abolition of private ownership would involve the abolition of all forms of living by owning property, i.e., rent, interest and profit. Asked as recently as August whether the I.L.P. proposed to abolish “rent, interest and profit,” Mr. E. E. Hunter, Secretary of the I.L.P. Information and Research Department, replied in an official letter, dated August 22nd :—
“Many Socialists are in favour of their complete abolition, while others have held the view that complete abolition is not desirable.” (Of course, when Mr. Hunter writes ” Socialists,” he means here “members of the I.L.P.”)
The “Socialist Programme” published by the I.L.P. (1923) is more definite. Under the heading “A Socialist Programme for Industry,” it says (page 24) :—
“The present shareholders in mines and railways could receive State mines or railway stock based on a valuation and bearing a fixed rate of interest.”
Mr. J. R. MacDonald, in his “Socialism, Critical and Constructive” (page 274) says :
“When Labour uses capital and pays its market value, property is defensible . . .”
This may be the aim of “I.L.P’er,” but it is decidedly not Socialism.
(2) The I.L.P. will be equally surprised to learn that it. proposes to abolish the wages system. The constitution adopted at the 1922 Annual Conference states under “Political and Industrial Democracy,” that the “basis of industrial democracy must be the organisation of the wage and salary earners.” (See the “Story of the I.L.P., page 20.)
(3) “I.L.P’er” believes he knows why the I.L.P. advocates its “Living Wage Policy.” We do not know that, but we do know that Socialism is not going to be in troduced by a political party which has been placed in power for some other purpose by electors who are not Socialist. If “I.L.P’er” will recall the administration of Capitalism by the Labour Party in 1924, or the experience of various Labour Governments (e.g., New South Wales in September of this year) he will perceive that when electors find themselves deceived by a political party which fails to carry out its promises, or which goes beyond its mandate, they express their disapproval by voting against it at the first oportunity. It is interesting also to recall that the Labour Party in office appealed to the miners not to embarrass it by asking for more wages, and threatened striking transport workers with the Emergency Powers Act. That seems to us to be a curious way of expressing the I.L.P.’s enthusiasm for a living wage. (As well over 50 per cent. of the Labour M.P.’s at that time were I.L.P. members, the I.L.P. is fully accountable for all of the anti-working class actions of MacDonald’s Ministry.
(4)”I.L.P’er” here overlooks the important point that Socialist Party candidates will only be elected to the House of Commons on a Socialist Programme (not on a programme of Capitalist reforms), by a Socialist electorate (not by electors who want a living wage, or family endowment, etc., etc.) and for the single purpose of establishing Socialism. The only way of retaining the confidence of a Socialist electorate will be to work for Socialism just as it is now true that the only way I.L.P. M.P.’s can retain the confidence of their non-Socialist electorates is to work for everything other than Socialism. If Socialist M.P.’s fail to do the work for which they are elected, the voters will get rid of them at the first oportunity.
(Socialist Standard, November 1927)