Book Review: Portrait of the Labour Party
Portrait of the Labour Party by Egon Wertheimer (G. P. Putnam. 5s. 214 pages.)
This book is written by a German journalist who resided in London for six years as correspondent for two German Social Democratic newspapers.
The impressions received and the opinions formed of the Labour Party by the author are alternately flattering, candid, and refreshingly simple.
His facts are clouded by romanticism. The leadership of the Labour Party by MacDonald and Snowden is accounted as a great “moral victory for the I.L.P”; Clynes and Henderson are “products which the British Labour Party can justly regard with pride.” Cook is described as a “weak man, intellectually far below the average miner’s agent, fascinated with the half-baked Marxism he picked up at Labour College classes, and mixing the Communist dialect with that of the Nonconformist evangelical preacher . . .” And George Lansbury—”the old class warrior and most endearing figure among all the English left and by whose side a man like Cook cuts a pitiful figure.”
The Labour Party is compared with corresponding organisations in Germany and on the Continent generally. The policies of these organisations are said to be based on Marxian knowledge, in which the members are said to be well grounded. The result being that the German organisations make “less mistakes” than their British brethren. Of what does this alleged scientific Marxian knowledge and outlook of the Continental parties consist? Were they not, in common with the British Labour Party members of the same non-Socialist international which collapsed so pitifully on the outbreak of War in 1914? Did they not support the sectional Capitalist interests of their National Governments, and form Coalitions with the enemies of the working class? In spite of the alleged “Socialism” of the German parties, Mr. Wertheimer says that their Marxism is mere “lip-service,” and that the British Labour Party and the German Social Democrats are in “immeasurably closer relationship than in the first half decade in the twentieth century.” We contend that if there has ever been any difference between the British Labour Party and its equivalents on the Continent, it has never been due to one of them pursuing a policy based upon working class interests, arising from sound Socialist knowledge, in opposition to all Capitalist parties and interests.
Mr. Wertheimer says erroneously that the I.L.P. is a “Socialist organisation of an extreme kind,” that adopted an attitude of “absolute condemnation to the War. ” This is consistent with the author’s “ideas of Socialism,” and “Sound Marxian training and knowledge.” He describes an organisation which permitted its members to support the War on grounds of “individual conscience”—as the I.L.P. did—as being in “absolute condemnation to the War.” The facts are that the I.L.P. decided on a policy, and permitted its members, as “individuals,” to oppose that policy. Such two-faced conduct enabled them to trim their sails to any wind that blew. A game of which they and their colleagues of the Labour Party are masters.
The Communist Party, we are told, was a “child of crisis.” It was formed from the ashes of the Shop Steward movement and the cinders of such obscure organisations as the “Socialist Labour Party” and the “Socialist Party of Great Britain.” This is really unkind ! Our bitterest enemies in their wildest moments have never held us responsible, or partly responsible, for the Communist Party. Neither have we been reduced at any time to that relative condition which could be compared to cinders. That “child of crisis,” the Communist Party, was a creature of circumstance, and working class lack of knowledge. The Socialist Party, which seeks to provide that knowledge of Socialism, certainly did not have any hand whatever in forming or assisting the Communist Party.
The book is moderately priced and makes interesting and easy reading for those who would like to learn what are a foreigner’s impressions of English political life.