A Look Round

An idea which is widely held, although quite baseless, is that the Labour Party is an anti-war party. Many people have already forgotten that the Labour Party officially supported the war in 1914, engaged in recruiting, was represented in the Asquith Coalition Government by Mr. Arthur Henderson, Mr. Barnes, and Mr. Roberts, and in the Lloyd George Coalition by Mr. Henderson (member of the War Cabinet), Mr. John Hodge (Minister of Labour), and Mr. Barnes (Minister of Pensions). (See 1919 Labour Year Book, pages xii and xiv.)

It was Mr. Arthur Henderson who distinguished himself by urging the deport­tion of strikers from the Clyde, including Mr. David Kirkwood, now a Labour M.P.

It is, however, often argued that the Labour Party has learned by experience, and would not repeat the “mistake” of 1914. It is therefore worth while taking particular note of the actions and declarations of Mr. Arthur Henderson, Secretary of the Labour Party, and now Foreign Secretary in the Labour Government. In 1914 Mr. Henderson supported war. Has he admitted his error, or changed his attitude? Let Mr. Henderson speak for himself.

At the 1925 Labour Party Annual Conference, Mr. Henderson spoke on behalf of the Executive Committee in opposition to a resolution asking for disarmament. At that time the French Government’s occupation of the Ruhr was still fresh in mind, and in certain circles, including the British Labour Party, feeling against France was running high. This is what Mr. Henderson said :—

“If France continued in the frame of mind she was now in, had they to overlook the possibilities of defence? They could not afford to ignore this question of defence.”—(See Conference Report. Page 232.)

Then, in 1929, Mr. Henderson was challenged about his war-time activities, and replied in a statement to the “Daily Herald” (January 10th, 1929). In that statement Mr. Henderson said “he was not in the least ashamed of his war record, and was willing that it should be investigated by any committee appointed by the Labour Party.”

Of course, Mr. Henderson was willing to have his war-time activities investigated by the Labour Parly. How could his fellow jingoes find him guilty without condemning their own anti-working class activities?

It will be noticed that Mr. Henderson retracts nothing and apologises for nothing. In 1914 it was Germany; in 1925 it was France; who will it be next time Mr. Henderson wants the working class to go to war in defence of British Capitalism?

* * *

Mr. Henderson is ably supported by Miss Susan Lawrence, M.P., who is Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of. Health. Speaking at Friends’ House, Euston Road, on January 14th, on “Women and Peace,” Miss Lawrence said :—

“I think we must face the fact that under certain circumshinccs war is inevitable. I would go so far as to say that there are certain conditions which are worse than war … It is a horrible fact that there is no great nation in the world that has attained its freedom except by war.”—(“Manchester Guardian,” 15th Jan.)

Unfortunately, Miss Lawrence did not let out two intriguing secrets. She omitted to say what were the conditions worse than war, and she forgot to say which was the nation in which the working class had attained their freedom. As she went on to say that the “memories of how we attained our freedom are proud memories,” we are forced to conclude that the “we” who have attained freedom arc not the working class at all. May we ask Miss Lawrence and the I.L.P., of which we understand she is a member, why we of the working class should go to war to maintain the freedom of the Capitalist class?

* * *

Mr. James Maxton, Chairman of the I.L.P., has just been severely snubbed by the Scottish group of his party. At a delegate conference a resolution endorsing his recent attitude towards the Labour Government was rejected by 103 votes to 94, although the national executive supports him. In the course of his speech to the delegates, Mr. Maxton complained bitterly that the army of revolt which he thought he was leading, suddenly vanished into thin air. “You had shoved me up against the guns, and when I looked round there was nobody there.” (Reported in “Manchester Guardian,” 13th and 14th January.)

Truly an unfortunate position to be in, but one which sooner or later always overtakes those who trade in bluff. Mr Maxton’s army of revolt is composed of I.L.P. members of Parliament who owe their seats to Labour votes and Labour support. How can they then seriously oppose the Labour Party? And is Mr. Maxton himself an inspiring figure to lead revolts? He has yet to live down even among his own supporters the ghastly fiasco of the “Cook and Maxton” campaign. At the outset of that little firework display Mr. Maxton was neatly cornered on this very question of revolts.

He spoke to a crowded audience in St. Andrew’s Hall, Glasgow, on Sunday, July 7th, 1928. (Reported in “Forward” on July 14th.) He was asked the following question :—

“You have denounced Ramsay MacDonald. Are you prepared to advocate the expulsion of MacDonald from the Labour Party?”

Here was a chance for Maxton to show a bold and logical front. But this was his reply :—

“He was not prepared to advocate the expulsion of MacDonald. He did not believe in expelling anybody. He believed in having both Lefts and Rights in the Party where they could fight things out and let the Centre get on with the work. If people got expelled from the Party they got further away from the Party, and he believed in keeping them under control.”

Here you have the bold, bad office boy who puts his fingers to his nose behind the boss’s back, but “does not believe in sacking the boss because he wants to keep him under control.”

It has been truly said of Mr, Maxton that he is “one of those people who mean well, but …”

* * *

Mr. Maxton’s idea of letting “Lefts” and “Rights” fight while the “Centre” gets on with the work, brings to mind another hoary old argument used by the I.L.P. against the Socialist Party, “Why not,” they say, “let us all get together in the Labour Party and be one great, happy-band of brothers all united for Socialism?”

The answer is that only Socialists can be united for Socialism, and the Labour Party and I.L.P. are neither Socialist nor united. Mr. Maxton and the majority of the National Administrative Council of the I.L.P. are at daggers drawn with the minority and with the Scottish Group. Mr. Johnston, Mr. Wheatley, Mr. Dollan and others are carrying on a heated and abusive quarrel in the columns of “Forward,” and the Editor of the “New Leader” boasts that he is holding the balance evenly between the two sides. Mrs. Mary Hamilton, an I.L.P. member of Parliament, writes in the “New Leader” (6th December) saying that the I.L.P. is not a class party, and Mr. David Kirkwood, another I.L.P. member of Parliament, replies (13th December) that it is a class party or ought to be if it isn’t. A “branch secretary” of the I.L.P. writes as follows (“New Leader,” 27th December) :—

“Once more a position has arisen in which the I.L.P. seems hopelessly lacking in unity. Speaking as a branch official who has served the Party as boy and man for 30 years, I say quite frankly that the situation cannot long continue. It is quite impossible to maintain any semblance of work locally whilst I.L.P.’ers in Parliament continue to talk from opposite positions.”

“Branch secretary” is quite wrong in one respect. The I.L.P. from its birth has always had its members “talking from opposite positions,” and have we not just quoted Mr. Maxton’s statement that that is what he likes? That is a situation which will continue as long as workers can be found lacking Socialist knowledge, and consequently prepared to go on entrusting their thinking to leaders.

But we must confess that the horrible chaos existing inside the I.L.P. is hardly the kind of thing we want to be mixed up in. That is not what we call “unity for Socialism.”


Leave a Reply