The Futility of Compromise
“Straws,” we are told, “show which way the wind blows.” The results of recent Parliamentary bye-elections and the municipal elections in November indicate a marked diminution in the number of enthusiastic supporters of the Labour Party. Already “the flowing tide” has commenced to ebb, and the prospect of the Labour leaders forming a “majority” Government fades rapidly away. Wherever one turns, one discovers disappointment in the minds of life-long workers for the Labour Party at the manifest failure of these leaders to make an impression upon the various evils of the worker’s life. Past masters in the art of blowing radiant bubbles of Utopian promise, these successful climbers of the political ladder are helpless in the face of increasing unemployment and wage reductions.
The Conservatives are jubilant. Mr. Baldwin sees prospects of another lengthy term of office to commence in the not far distant future; but it is not, perhaps, that prospect which pleases him and his supporters most. He is a wealthy man, surrounded by wealthy men, to whom office is a secondary consideration. What is of first-class importance in their eyes is the stability of the social system which guarantees to them a livelihood of ease and luxury without the necessity of working. Throughout the length and breadth of the land, Conservatives (and, for that matter, Liberal) spokesmen are chanting of “the failure of Socialism.” Their logic is as simple and convincing as their assumptions are spurious. “The Labour Party is a Socialist Party. The Labour Party has failed !” “Socialism has failed !” Thus runs their argument.
Of course, it is not their business to point out to the workers that the Capitalist system is still running, that the Labour Party has done nothing to interfere with it, that the Labour Party has not even shown any intention of interfering with it. The leaders of the Labour Party have pleaded that they are helpless before the operation of world causes on the one hand, and the absence of an “independent majority” on the other.
Capitalism, however, did not become a world system last year; it has been a world system for generations. The evils of Capitalism, which the Labour leaders professed to be able to remedy, have been world-wide in the scope of their operation for an equal period. Are we to understand that these leaders were such simpletons that they have only just realised this? Or did it require the responsibilities of office—and the salaries—to awaken them?
As for an “independent majority,” what is the difference between depending upon Liberal votes inside the House of Commons and depending upon Liberal votes outside in the constituencies? The Labour Party has from the time of its foundation depended upon Liberal votes. MacDonald, Snowden, Hardie, and others sat for years for double-membered constituencies with Liberals as their fellow M.P.’s, on the “one-and-one” principle.” The I.L.P. made a speciality in its election campaigns of capturing the support of Liberal Trade Unionists by offering them a programme slightly more liberal than that of the official Liberals. This policy of compromise was styled “practical politics,” and the present situation of the Labour leaders is no mere accident, but a logically inevitable result of their entire political career. Incidentally, these facts dispose of ‘the puerile nonsense recently indulged in by the Communists, to the effect that “the Labour Party has ceased to be a Socialist Party.” It never was a Socialist Party and none of its responsible representatives have ever claimed that the majority of its members and supporters were “Socialists,” even in the false sense in which they frequently use the term. The Labour Party’s election programmes have never contained any principle which made them fundamentally distinct from Liberal programmes, and the Labour Party has therefore in practice never been anything more than a substitute for the Liberal Party. It has taken over that party’s role of trying to keep the workers quiet by promises of reforming Capitalism.
Some supporters of the Labour Party appear to consider that their leaders’ failure is personal; that it is due to not having the right men in .office. It is plain, however, to anyone understanding the above facts, that no shuffling of ministers in the Government can accomplish any vital change. Neither Mosley nor Maxton in the place of MacDonald could ignore the Liberal vote in the Commons and the constituencies without undermining their whole position. Any attempt to interfere with the normal operations of Capitalism could only introduce chaos and intensify the very evils of which the workers complain, thus bewildering their supporters and producing an even more rapid reaction than that at present in progress.
Economic laws cannot be set at defiance by emotional orators, however sincere they may be. The only logical alternative to Capitalism to-day is Socialism, and as the majority of Labour Party supporters are not Socialists, they will not support any fundamental attack upon Capitalism.
The present leaders of the Labour Party are astute enough and experienced enough to realise this, and they possess sufficient control over the party’s wire-pulling machinery to hold the “rebels” in effective check. The Liberals (and, if need be, the Conservatives) are quite ready to save MacDonald from any embarrassment at the hands of the Maxtonites, so long as MacDonald serves their turn. Indeed, it is difficult in the circumstances to take Maxton’s threats of independent action seriously, and the fate of Bailie Irwin at Renfrew shows that numbers of erstwhile Labour supporters cannot do so.
Compromise appeals to two types of politician for what may appear to be two reasons, but which are, in reality, two aspects of the same reason. The place-hunter practises compromise because it is the quickest way to reach office. We do not deny the statesmanlike skill which MacDonald and Snowden have exhibited in rising to the two principal offices of State. On the other hand, compromise enmeshes the unstable sentimentalist, because otherwise he would feel lonely. He wants to be “with the masses,” to do something for them! And seeing that he can only try to do as they wish (however ill-informed they may be at the moment), he eventually finds himself assisting the place-hunters into office; for the workers, in turn, can only act in accordance with their knowledge or their ignorance, as the case may be.
At present the majority of the workers lack the necessary knowledge to organise for Socialism. Only economic development coupled with intelligent propaganda can teach them. In the meantime, all the efforts of calculating schemers and well-meaning blunderers can only bring them disappointment, disillusion and despair. The Socialist Party has said this for a quarter of a century, and it is prepared, if necessary, to go on repeating it for a similar period; but it looks as though we shall be saved the trouble. Day by day the truth of our contention is being vividly demonstrated. The bitter fruits of compromise are setting the workers’ teeth on edge. The immediate result may, perhaps, be apathy and reaction on the political field, strikes and violence on the industrial field. The attempts of reformers to gloss over and patch up the class-struggle will be mocked by its virulent re-assertion.
For ourselves, however, not having based any hopes upon a cheap “Labour victory,” we find no cause for despair in its coming debacle. The need for our existence becomes plainer than ever. Out of a realisation that compromise is futile will grow the conviction that the Socialist policy of unswerving determination to end Capitalism by attacking unceasingly its political props is the only fertile one.
We do not fear the temporary reaction. We shall not see some other Capitalist party solving the insoluble antagonisms within Capitalism. The failure of Labourism is but the echo of the failure of Conservatism and Liberalism. It is Capitalism which fails to permit the workers to enjoy the fruits of their labours. The interests of the workers demand a social change, a change from the private ownership of the means of living to the common ownership thereof. To that end we summon those workers whose scales are dropping from their eyes to organise for the capture of the powers of government in order to achieve their emancipation.