1930s >> 1930 >> no-305-january-1930

Editorial: Labour Party’s Main Plank Gone

The principle which above all distinguishes the Socialist Party from the Labour Party is our realisation that there are no short and easy cuts to Socialism.


Only a party whose members understand and want Socialism can work to that end, and the growth of such a party cannot proceed faster than the work of spreading socialist knowledge. It was in protest against the view we hold that the I.L.P. and the Labour Party were formed. They have always proclaimed their belief in the possibility of building up a party on a non-socialist basis, becoming the government of the country and introducing large measures of reform—old-age pensions, minimum wage acts and the like, and so retaining the support of the electors while leading them, almost without their knowledge, on the road to Socialism. The fallacy of that position, briefly stated, is that until we have Socialism, we shall continue to have Capitalism and Capitalism can be run only on Capitalist lines. You cannot retain capitalist private ownership and control, and yet administer the system in a way which will prevent it from producing its normal effects. You cannot have Capitalism without a subject class of wage and salary earners struggling incessantly against the pressure which tends to make them more insecure and badly paid, drives them to harder work and reduces them in greater numbers to unemployment. The success of their theory rests upon the ability of a Labour Government to satisfy the electors; but the electors will want the results which they were led to expect and the Government cannot deliver the goods. For years we have been told by Labour Party supporters (who had never tried to teach or even to understand Socialism) that the working class did not want Socialism, they wanted “something now.” We return the jibe and ask when the Labour Government is going to give it to them. We were told that “half-a-loaf is better than no bread” and that the way to get Socialism is to build it up piecemeal, adding one gain to another until some day we shall wake up and find that Capitalism has imperceptibly changed into the co-operative commonwealth. One “ half-loaf ” has already been delivered to the cotton workers by the Labour Government—a 6¼ per cent, reduction in pay instead of the 12½ per cent, asked for by the employers. May we ask how many such half-loaves will be required to produce Socialism?


Mr. J. H. Thomas, addressing the annual general meeting of the National Union of Railwaymen at Southampton, on July 5th of this year, threw overboard the main plank of his party’s policy when he said:—


We ask you not to expect too much, nor attempt to force from us, because we are a Labour Government, what you would not force from a Capitalist Government.—(Daily Herald, 6th July, 1929.)

A few months before the Labour Government took office, Mr. Philip Snowden, now Chancellor of the Exchequer, wrote a pamphlet, “Wealth or Commonwealth,” in which he stated his party’s intentions. He wrote that


The taxation of the rich for the purposes of national reconstruction and for social reforms is a means of re-distributing the national income so as to lessen social evils and inequalities.—

(Quoted in the New Leader, 20th December.)
Qn October 24th Mr. Snowden returned to the subject in a speech at Sheffield, reported in the Manchester Guardian on October 25th. It will be noticed that Mr. Snowden administering Capitalism does not see eye, to eye with Mr. Snowden seeking non-Socialist votes. He stated on this occasion that he had no wish to extract from the Capitalist class concessions to improve the position of the workers.


The last thing a Chancellor of the Exchequer wants to do is to add to the burden of taxation, and this assurance at least I can give you, that, if I should be in the painful circumstances of having to do that it will be from sheer necessity and not with any desire to inflict new taxation upon what I have sometimes described as “the idle rich.”—(Manchester Guardian, 25th October.)

Then Mr. J. H. Hudson, M.P., the Parliamentary Secretary to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, writing in a Sunday newspaper, supplemented his chief’s remarks and explained why it is impossible for the Labour Party to carry out its programme within the Capitalist system. If heavier taxation were imposed on the rich, they would, according to Mr. Hudson, invest abroad, let their factories fall into disrepair, and find devious ways of nullifying the intentions of the Government.


International complexities are driving us to see that our expectations of deriving from Capitalists and financiers the means to support our schemes of social improvement must give place to the better Socialist plan. When we really control our own industrial machine, we can then decide how the surplus shall be spent on the communal welfare without reference to the evasions of those who now add so greatly to our difficulties.— (Quoted in The New Leader, December 20th.)

It will be noticed that the three spokesmen of the Government do not use exactly the same form of words for their declarations. Mr. Thomas says that the workers must not ask for their “something now”; Mr. Snowden says that he won’t try to get it for them; and Mr. Hudson says that it can’t be got—three different ways of saying that there isn’t going to be any half-loaf. But if the Labour Government cannot save the working class from the effects of Capitalism why are they in office? And if, as Mr. Hudson says, the “Socialist plan” is the only practicable one, what is the Labour Party’s justification for going into Parliament without obtaining from the electors a mandate for Socialism? In short, what becomes of the case against the Socialist Party?