The Labour machine in Conference

The 1928 Labour Party Conference met in Birmingham during the first week of October. The chief work before the delegates was the consideration of the “Programme of Legislation and Administrative Action for a Labour Government,” which had been drafted by the National Executive on the instruction of the 1927 Conference. The draft programme has already been dealt with in these columns. It contains a large number of social, administrative and industrial reforms, the application of which will, in the view of the Labour Party, solve the pressing problems of modern society. It is impossible in a few sentences to summarise the large number of proposals, but it may be said that they continue and extend the policy of past and present Liberal and Tory Governments, in providing legislative safeguards against excessive hours of work, dangerous and unhealthy factory conditions, and propose better provision for those who are prevented from securing employment through illness, old age, trade depression, and so forth. A reduction in the inequalities of income is promised by means of taxes and death duties, and peace is to be secured through the League of Nations. The industry of this country is to be placed in a condition of prosperity primarily through a reorganisation on the lines of State ownership : It is this latter point which is regarded by Labour supporters as marking off the Labour Programme from all others. By it the Labour Party stands or falls.

As this programme of reforms embodies the opinions of the bulk of the members of the Labour Party, its acceptance was to be expected, and as the great bulk of the workers, in and out of the Trade Unions, are not in favour of Socialism, it follows as a matter of course that the programme acceptable to them contains no reference to Socialism. The essential features of Capitalism are : one, the ownership of the means of wealth production by a propertied class which lives by owning; two, the sale of their labour-power by the property-less majority for salaries or wages; and three, the production of goods for sale.

The Labour Party does not propose now or hereafter, constitutionally or unconstitutionally, gradually or suddenly, to abolish these essential features of the Capitalist economic system. Under “Nationalisation,” mineowners, railway owners, bank shareholders and others who now live on property incomes, will still live on property incomes. Their respective industries will be subject to State control, and the State will guarantee to them their privilege of living on the interest from State bonds at the expense of the wealth producers. The working-class will be what the postal workers are already, the wage-slaves of the Capitalist State. And so far from abolishing production for sale, the Labour Party believes that their policy will enable this country to sell more cheaply in face of foreign competition.

We reject that programme and the assumptions underlying it. We say that only with the advent of Socialism will the poverty and insecurity of the workers and their unemployment be brought to an end.

The risk of war will be removed only with the removal of the commercial rivalries of Capitalism. The Labour Programme will fail, not because of the personal merits or demerits of its leaders, but because it is wholly a programme of reforms of Capitalism.

A number of “left-wing” delegates criticised the programme as being “Liberal.” Mr. Clynes, speaking for the Executive took up the challenge. He said (“Daily Herald,” 4th October) :—

“Mr. Wheatley had said that any Liberal would accept most of the programme. Would the Liberals accept such proposals as the public ownership of mines, transport, power, and land? ”

The answer is, yes, they would.

The Liberal “Yellow Book” (p. 229), proposes the nationalisation of agricultural land, and the public ownership of electricity production (p. 82). The Liberals stand for the retention of the public ownership of the Post Office, the telegraphs and telephones. Capitalist governments in different parts of the world have nationalised mines (Germany), railways (France), and shipping (U.S.A. and Australia). The Labour Party’s scheme of public ownership is simply State Capitalism, and as such does not differentiate them from the Liberals. The Liberal “Manchester Guardian,” in an editorial, defined the position of the Liberal Party and the slight difference between its position and that of the Labour Party. For the Liberals “the case for nationalisation must be discussed on its merits as applied to any particular industry,” whereas for the Labour Party “it is stated as a general principle applicable to all industries.” (October 9th, 1928.)

To this we would add that the Socialist Party does not advocate nationalisation at all.

But although there were several delegates who declared the Labour Party Programme to be simply a collection of Liberal reforms, none of the critics is prepared to advocate Socialism in opposition to the Liberalism of the Labour Party. All of them come to heel when faced with the threat of disciplinary action. Thus W. J. Brown, of the Civil Service Clerical Association, said (“Daily Herald,” October 4th):—

“If the whole of the programme were put into effect …. it would not be Socialism, but a system of State-subsidised Capitalism.”

But Mr. Brown is a Labour Candidate and will fight the next election as he has fought past elections, on the Labour Party programme.

Mr. Wheatley, whose criticism is referred to above, said a few days later :—

“Neither Mr. Maxton, nor he himself, nor any of their friends had the slightest intention of leaving the Labour Party or of splitting the Labour Party” (“Manchester Guardian,” Oct. 16).

It is a Liberal Party, but Mr. Wheatley and Mr. Maxton are going to remain in it !

The I.L.P. suggested a number of additional Capitalist reforms (family allowances, banks nationalisation, etc.) and failed to get them carried. Having failed in open conference, it adopts the face-saving plea that they may be wangled into the actual election programme. The I.L.P. itself did not suggest that the Labour Party substitute a Socialist programme for its own and is not contemplating leaving the Labour Party. It allows a prominent member of the I.L.P. (H. N. Brailsford) to advocate a Liberal-Labour coalition on the ground that “we of the I.L.P. have failed in our efforts to induce the Labour Party to adopt our programme.” (“New Leader,” October 12th).

There would, after all, appear to be no reason why Messrs. Wheatley, Maxton, Cook & Co. should strain at a Liberal coalition after swallowing the Labour Party’s Liberal programme.

And the reason for the failure of these “Left Wing” Labour M.P.s to act on their words is simple enough. It is candidly stated by Mr. Alfred Slater, Labour M.P. and member of the I.L.P., in a letter to the “New Leader” (October 12th). He says :—

“There is not a single constituency in the country where there is a majority of convinced Socialist electors. We have plenty of districts, such as Bermondsey, where there is an overwhelming Labour majority, but it is a sheer delusion to think that the greater number of these people understand what we mean by Socialism. They neither understand it nor want it.”

Here we have the rock on which all the reformist parties from Labour to Communist are wrecked. It is this plain brutal fact which nullifies all the fine words of the left wingers and makes all their protests impotent. All of these professed “Socialist” M.P.s (including Dr. Salter) are in the House of Commons under false pretences. None of them—Maxton, Brown, Saklatvala, Wheatley, or any other M.P,— has been elected by Socialists’ votes on a Socialist programme. None of them could be so elected now, because there is no constituency in which the majority of voters are Socialist. They can criticise the Labour programme, but they dare not defy the Labour Party machine in the constituencies. Hence the long list of reforms which is the stock-in-trade of the candidates of the I.L.P., the Communist Party, etc.

The Socialist Party alone has seen that there must be Socialists before there can be Socialism, and acts on it.


(Socialist Standard, November 1928)

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