The Labour Party and the Future
At the time of writing, a few of the Election results have yet to be announced, but the general position is clear enough. The Labour Party will be the largest of the three Parties in the new House of Commons, and although lacking a clear majority over the other two parties, it will presumably take over the Government with the tacit consent of the Liberals, more or less as in 1924.
The Labour Party will have 288 seats, as compared with 251 Tories and 54 Liberals. As regards voting strength in the constituencies they polled 8,337,407 votes, as against 8,575,532 given to Tory candidates and 5,238,054 to Liberals.
In 1924 81 per cent. of the electorate went to the poll, as compared with about 79 per cent. this year. In the meantime the electorate has grown from about 20 million to over 28 million, largely owing to the extension of the franchise to millions of young women.
In the last House a clear majority (over 60 per cent.) of the Labour M.P.s were members of the I.L.P., although the number actually financed by the I.L.P. was of course much smaller. In the present Election, out of 56 candidates, for whom the I.L.P. accepted financial responsibility, 37 were successful (two results have not yet been declared, but are not likely to be I.L.P. successes). How many of the other Labour M.P.’s are also members of the I.L.P. it is not yet possible to say.
The Communists, with their Russian money, paid very dearly for an elementary lesson in electioneering. They sent 25 candidates to the polls and scored 25 failures. In 21 constituencies they forfeited their deposit through failing to poll one-eighth of the votes. Out of the 25 constituencies, seven (including Saklatvala’s seat at Battersea North) have been fought by the Communists on one or more previous occasions. In every one of these seven constituencies the Communist vote declined, in spite of the big increase in the size of the electorate. Saklatvala’s vote fell from 15,096 to 6,554 and the loss in the other six constituencies was in most cases very heavy. In the other areas their vote was insignificant.
The lesson they had hitherto not learned is that votes for a Communist who fights on a reformist programme are not votes for Communism. Their success at Motherwell a few years ago, and more recently at Battersea, was possible only because they received Labour votes owing to the absence of an official Labour candidate. (In face of the vast increase in the Labour vote and the insignificant Communist vote, it is amusing to recall that the Communist excuse for supporting Labour in 1923 was that the Labour Party would be discredited and the Communists would gain at their expense.)
The I.L.P. long ago recognised that they must carefully avoid anything which would cause the Labour Party to oppose the I.L.P. candidates. Between elections the Maxtons and Wheatleys and other incipient leaders of revolt can produce their thunder on the left as noisily as any communist. But election time finds them hastily deserting their rebel colours and rallying round the Labour Party and fighting as Labour candidates.
IS IT SOCIALISM.
What is the real significance of the Labour vote? Does it mean that 8 million people want Socialism? The Daily Herald says that it does. In the editorial of June 1st we read the following :—
“This great appeal to the people has shown that Socialism has no terrors for millions of men and women in this country of all classes and callings. The magnificent results we record to- day are an earnest that at no very distant date the banners of Socialism will be carried to that final victory of which the present triumph is only a prelude.”
Without in the least imputing dishonesty to the writer of that passage, we confidently assert that his view is hopelessly wrong. The Election shows that 8 million people are not afraid of the word Socialism; it shows that millions of workers have satisfied themselves that men and women of their own class are at least as capable administrators as the men of the ruling class and their professional politicians. That is all to the good, but it is very far removed from a desire for Socialism. The working class have lost their horror of the word Socialism, but they have hardly begun to understand the meaning of the word. To them Socialism means the administration of capitalism by people calling themselves Labour or Socialist. And therein lies the problem which no Labour Government can solve. We deal elsewhere in this issue with the failure of Labour Government in Queensland. We prophesied that failure and with absolute confidence we prophecy the similar failure of Labour Government here. No matter how able, how sincere, and how sympathetic the Labour men and women may be who undertake to administer capitalism, capitalism will bring their undertaking to disaster. As in Queensland, those who administer capitalism will find themselves sooner or later brought into conflict with the working class. Like their Australian colleagues the Labour Party here will find themselves in a cleft stick. Having no mandate to replace capitalism by Socialism, they have pledged themselves to solve problems which cannot be solved except by doing the one thing for which they have no mandate. That thing is the abolition of the private ownership of the means of production and distribution, and its replacement by common ownership : the production of goods for use not for sale; the discarding of all the paraphernalia of wages, prices, and profits. The millions of Labour voters who are not afraid of the word Socialism because they do not know what it means, would regard as absurd and Utopian common ownership and the production of gfoods for use. Yet it is in sober truth the only solution for the pressing economic problems of the day. Even those workers and their “left wing” leaders, like J. Maxton, W. J. Brown and others, who are prepared to make inroads into the possessions of the capitalist class, have still another great lesson to learn. They have still to learn that the use of political power for the purpose of forcing capitalism to function in a manner beneficial to the workers is a temporary and a dangerous expedient. It will produce as many and as grave new problems as those it solves. Capitalism is a system, the parts of which are interdependent. You cannot remedy the evils and yet keep the system, and you cannot abolish the system without a mandate from a Socialist electorate. This is the dilemma which faces the Labour Party. They are pledged to solve a problem, but lack the means of its solution.
(Editorial, Socialist Standard, June 1929)