Marx and the Labour Party
Mr. Arthur. Woodburn, writing in Forward (September 3rd), tries to meet Socialist criticism of the Labour Party’s programme with the retort that Marx, too, was a reformist. This he does by reproducing the list of measures drafted by Marx and Engels in 1847, and incorporated in the Communist Manifesto. (See Section II.)
Mr. Woodburn leaves out the essential explanation without which his statement is grossly misleading. Marx and Engels were socialists, that is to say, they aimed at dispossessing the capitalist class as a necessary preliminary to establishing a system of society based on common ownership of the means of production and distribution. The first step was that the working class must obtain political supremacy. They must then use this political supremacy to dispossess the capitalists. Marx and Engels put forward, in the light of their reading of existing conditions, certain measures as a beginning of the process of dispossession.
Of course, in the beginning, this cannot be effected except by means of despotic inroads on the rights of property, and on the conditions of bourgeois, production; by means therefore which appear economically insufficient and untenable, but which, in the course of the movement, outstrip themselves, necessitate further inroads upon the old social order, and are unavoidable as a means of entirely revolutionising the mode of production. These measures will, of course, be different in different countries. Nevertheless, in the most advanced countries the following will be pretty generally applicable.
Now the important thing to notice is that these measures were proposed as the way in which the working class, after conquering political power, would begin the task of dispossessing the capitalists and instituting common ownership. This is something poles apart from the Labour Party’s aim and programme. The Labour programme is something so acceptable to large sections of the capitalists that you can have a Labour Government’s public utility schemes modelled on Conservative schemes, and carried on without material modification by subsequent Conservative Governments. The Labour Party, in fact, does not aim now or ever at dispossessing the capitalists. Mr. Snowden, when Chancellor of the Exchequer in the two Labour Governments, repeatedly insisted that the Labour Party does not believe in making despotic inroads on the rights of property, and the Labour Party still holds that view and confirmed it at the Leicester Conference.
To illustrate this we need only point to two of the measures suggested by Marx and Engels, viz., “abolition of property in land ” and “abolition of all right of inheritance.” Mr. Woodburn knows quite well that the Labour Party has never committed itself to those two proposals. It dare not do so, and thus it has no intention of beginning an attack on private ownership.
In passing, it is worth while recalling what Engels, looking back in 1888, had to say of the 1847 proposals: —
The practical application of the principles will depend, as the manifesto itself states, everywhere and at all times, on the historical conditions for the time being existing, and, for that reason, no special stress is laid on the revolutionary measures proposed at the end of Section II. That passage would, in many respects, be very differently worded to-day.” (See Preface written in 1888.)