At the end of July, too late for comment in this issue, the Independent Labour Party held a Conference to decide whether it would disaffiliate from the Labour Party. Those of its leaders who favoured this course claimed, in advance, that a decision in that direction was a foregone conclusion. The National Administrative Council accordingly prepared what is intended to be the new constitution and programme of the party. The opponents of a breakaway made their preparations for carrying on a separate organisation inside the Labour Party.
The situation is deserving of some attention, for it enables us to measure the emptiness of nearly 40 years of I.L.P. propaganda in Great Britain.
The I.L.P. was formed in 1893, with the professed intention of winning the workers away from Liberalism and of promoting independent political action, with Socialism as the ultimate aim. The method was to be that of reforming the capitalist system little by little—the policy which later became known as “gradualism.” Seven years afterwards the I.L.P. took a prominent part in forming the Labour Representation Committee, which, in 1906, became the Labour Party. At the inaugural meeting of the Labour Representation Committee the I.L.P. delegates moved, and the meeting adopted, a resolution which laid down the lines on. which the Labour Party has conducted its activities during the following 30 years—the policy of bartering its professed independence in return for social reforms. The resolution favoured the establishment of “a distinct Labour group in Parliament, who shall have their own whips and agree upon their policy, which must embrace a readiness to co-operate with any party which, for the time being, may be engaged in promoting legislation in the direct interest of labour . . . ”
This was the policy on which the Labour Party was founded. It is a policy which has permitted all of the political bargaining, the vote-catching, and the open and secret pacts with the Liberals for which the Labour Party has been and is notorious. It is this policy which some members of the I.L.P. in recent years have condemned. Let it not be forgotten, then, that it was the I.L.P. delegation, including Keir Hardie, which moved the original resolution on..which this unsavoury policy was based. Mr. Maxton, who did not protest at the time, now (New Leader, July 15th, 1932) condemns the Labour Party for having taken office in 1929, on the tacit acceptance of the condition laid down by Mr. Lloyd George that he would support them in Parliament only so long as they kept clear of Socialism. Mr. Maxton cannot, however, deny that the Labour Party in 1929 was doing precisely what, in the beginning, the I.L.P. had proposed that they should do, i.e., they were co-operating with the Liberals in order to push through some reform legislation.
The Socialist Party of Great Britain, right from its commencement, attacked the policy of political bargaining. We held then, as we do now, that a Socialist Party must be independent and must be based on the demand for Socialism, not on a programme of reforms to be obtained by cooperating with capitalist parties. The recognition by a large number of members of the I.L.P., that the gradualist policy has failed is, therefore, in fact, a recognition that the I.L.P. has been wrong all these years and that the S.P.G.B. has been right.
In view of this it is impudent of the I.L.P. to claim, as they do, that their proposed new programme and policy are intended to appeal “to all Socialists who realise the necessity for a break with the past and a new approach to the future” (New Leader, July 1st, 1932). It is not Socialists who have to break with their past. On the contrary, the convulsions from which the I.L.P. now suffers are a tardy sign that Socialists have been right. It is the I.L.P., not the S.P.G.B., that needs to consider fundamental changes in its basis. That such a change has to be discussed is due to the fact that hitherto the I.L.P. has been in no respect a socialist party.
One curious admission made by the Secretary of the I.L.P., Mr. John Paton
, deserves to be placed on record. For years it was a standing complaint of the I.L.P., continually hurled against the Socialist Party of Great Britain that our Declaration of Principles is too rigid. Socialist principles, they said, could not be reduced to hard and fast formulas. There must be flexibility and constant adaptation to changing circumstances. . This was the “principle” under cover of which they justified the issue of new vote-catching programmes whenever the old reforms/had become unpopular, or had been filched by the Liberals or Tories. The I.L.P. were entirely wrong on this point, The basis of capitalism does not change from day to day in the manner supposed by them.
Given a real understanding of the capitalist system, it was not impossible to frame scientific principles as the permanent basis of a Socialist Party. The S.P.G.B. did this in 1904, and the events of the ensuing quarter of a century have proved these principles to be sound and not too rigid. The I.L.P. is at last making some approach to a recognition of this. Mr. Paton writes as follows:—
A new Constitution is also being submitted to the Conference by the N.A.C. The basis of it was accepted by the Blackpool Conference in a general statement, and the new document incorporates in proper form the decisions then taken. The Constitution, in both thought and expression, marks a definite break with the traditional outlook of the I.L.P. Its basis is definitely Marxist, and it embodies the new thought and spirit with which the I.L.P. is surging as a reaction to the changed conditions in which the Party is operating.
In drafting this new statement, the N.A.C. has kept clearly in view that such a document should be, in the main, a statement of the permanent principles and objectives of the Party, containing only the unavoidable minimum of topical reference, in the “Programme,” which forms part of it. The Constitution, therefore, is not concerned with argument as such, nor with internal Party organisation and activity, but seeks to express the body of more or less fixed doctrine within the I.L.P.—(New Leader, July 15th, 1932.)
But in spite of the claim that the new constitution is to be a Socialist one, and a clean break with the I.L.P.’s past, there is nothing to indicate that the new I.L.P, is fundamentally different from the old.
The breakaway was not demanded on the ground of a basic disagreement with the Labour Party, but only on the ground that the Standing Orders of the Parliamentary Labour Party are unacceptable. In spite of criticisms of particular items in the Labour Party’s programme, the I.L.P., as a body, has repeatedly shown its approval of the programme as a whole, and urged the workers to support it. Even at the last General Election, in October, 1931, the I.L.P. allowed its members, including members of its National Administrative Council, to fight as Labour candidates, on the Labour programmes And even those members who fought as independent I.L.P. candidates, put forward election programmes packed with the same old reformist absurdities.
A more recent case in point will show how little change and how little increase of understanding there is. At recent elections in Manitoba the I.L.P.
ran candidates, five of whom were elected. This is the comment of the British New Leader
In Winnipeg, John Queen, the I.L.P. leader, polled 9,337, the largest Socialist vote ever recorded. John MacLean, the I.L.P. Mayor of Winnipeg, was only defeated by 117 votes in the Conservative stronghold of Assiniboia.
It is not suggested that the I.L.P. in Great Britain is responsible for the actions of the I.L.P. in Canada. What is asserted is that the Canadian I.L.P. ran on the usual reformist programme, and that this was known to the British I.L.P. when they congratulated the successful candidates and claimed that the vote given to them was a Socialist vote. In the issue of the New Leader
, which published the note of congratulation, is an article by Miss Jennie Lee
, describing the Canadian I.L.P. as “ broadly similar to ours in Great Britain,” and recording a joint conference recently held by, the Canadian I.L.P. and the Independent Farmers Party, “both agreeing that at the next Provincial general elections they ought to fight on common platform.” This joint programme consists of a demand for nationalisation of the land, public ownership and control of railways, telegraphs, etc., control of currency and credit, and numerous other similar harmful and blind-alley reforms of capitalism. Miss Jennie Lee calls this joint conference “a promising political development,” yet she admits that it is probably true that “one really profitable harvest would knock the bottom out of whatever Socialist sentiment exists among the farmers of the West.”
In other words, Miss Jennie Lee and the Editor of the New Leader, in spite of the alleged break with their past, are prepared to endorse the old policy of looking for pacts and alliances with any non-socialist organisation willing to back a vote-catching programme of reforms.
In fact, the I.L.P. candidates in Manitoba did not receive or seek Socialist votes. They ran on a reform programme, and that one of their candidates who got most votes (John Queen) in fact received a large number of votes from Conservatives.
The Winnipeg Tribune (quoted in O.B.U. Bulletin, June 23rd) reported the Deputy Returning Officer as saying that hundreds of voters who gave their first vote to the Conservative (Evans) gave their second vote to Queen, and vice versa. There were scores of ballot papers on which the voter gave his first vote to Queen and all his other votes to Conservative candidates. (The election was run on a system of Proportional Representation, each voter having several votes.) The Tribune expressed the view that personal popularity played a large part in getting Conservative votes for some I.L.P. candidates, but not for others.
It is this success which the British I.L.P. claims to be a victory for Socialism!
Actually there was one candidate
who stood for Socialism and nothing else, the candidate of the Socialist Party of Canada. His vote, 859, is an indication of the small degree of socialist knowledge in Winnipeg, and Winnipeg is in that respect just like Great Britain.
Because the number of Socialists is so far very small, a political party cannot adhere to Socialist principles and at the same time secure popularity, seats in Parliament, a large membership, and large funds. There is not the slightest chance that the Maxtons and Brockways of the I.L.P. will drop reformism and adopt a Socialist programme, since to do so would mean sacrificing Parliamentary seats, donations from wealthy non-socialist individuals and organisations, and the limelight in which they have been accustomed to move.
The fact is that the I.L.P. was, is, and will remain an organisation lacking an understanding of Socialism, and utterly incapable of making any real advance towards it. It deserves nothing but the unrelenting hostility of the workers, whatever the name under which it may masquerade.