Mr. Herbert Morrison, M.P., leader of the London Labour Party, and Mr. F. Montague, M.P., who was Under-Secretary for Air under the last Labour Government, have had a lifetime of association with the Labour Party and they both stand for more or less definite schools of thought in that party. They recently let fall observations about Socialists and Socialism which deserve to be recorded for the light they throw on the never-ending discussion about roads to Socialism. (A second reason why Mr. Morrison’s words should be repeated is that some two million readers, of the Labour Daily Herald will be unaware that he used them. They were duly reported in the other newspapers, but the passage that interests us did not see the light in the Daily Herald’s report of the speech, having, perhaps, fallen a victim to the sharp editorial pencil which comes between the Labour reader and the news it is not considered fit that he should see).
Mr. Morrison was addressing a victory dinner, after the Labour Party’s return to office at the London County Council election, and said:—
Perhaps nine-tenths of London’s great army of Labour voters could not tell you what Socialism means. . . . We have to convert this vague Labour electorate of goodwill into a conscious Socialist electorate.— (News Chronicle, March 22nd, 1937.)
This is an obvious truth and one with which Socialists would only disagree on the ground that it is over-optimistic. Undoubtedly the Labour voters are not Socialists and do not understand Socialism. Similarly, Socialists would agree with Mr. Montague’s assertion in a letter to the Daily Herald (June 17th, 1937) that “ of course the major demands of the Social Democratic Federation and Independent Labour Party have not been conceded. Why expect it, when the workers have never yet voted Socialists into power?”
This was in reply to a letter in which a reader had pointed out that though 50 years have passed since the S.D.F. and I.L.P. drew up lists of their demands and “palliative measures for immediate adoption,” the great majority are still unachieved.
This is all a very old story to the S.P.G.B. Nothing much will ever be achieved, and the building up of Socialism will not begin until the workers have taken control of the governmental machinery for the purpose of ending capitalism, and that cannot be done until there are Socialists to do it. “Vague Labour electorates” who do not understand Socialism are as good as useless for the end in view. So we are back where we were when the S.P.G.B. started, faced with the gigantic task of making Socialists.
The S.P.G.B. at that time put one view—the view it still holds. The I.L.P. and S.D.F. (including Mr. Morrison and Mr. Montague) put another. They said that the way to make Socialists was to work up enthusiasm for “immediate demands,” the eight-hour day, old-age pensions, and so on, and having built up an organisation out of this non-Socialist material and gained control of councils and put M.P.s in Parliament the work of making Socialists would be easier. The workers would be converted to Socialism by seeing how the Labour Party was doing practical everyday work. The leaders would go on preaching Socialism and would get a readier hearing for it because of their successful administration of the central and local government.
But it has worked out just as the S.P.G.B. said it would. Most of the “ immediate demands ” are still unachieved. Those that have been achieved have in many cases been introduced by Conservative or Liberal governments, who duly claim the credit. There have been two Labour governments, but, far from being an asset to propaganda, even the Labour M.P.s themselves are mostly apologetic about them and wish them forgotten. The men who promised to use the Labour Party to preach Socialism are too busy explaining and apologising for the wreck of the Labour governments to do so. And even if Mr. Morrison did make a practice of preaching Socialism how would the past work of his party help him? Will the “”busmen, for example, listen more readily to Mr. Morrison because, as part of his day-to-day work of administering capitalism, he fathered the London Passenger Transport Board? Is he or Mr. Montague in a better position than 30 years ago to put over Socialist propaganda? Does Mr. Morrison’s subtle argument that the capitalist London Passenger Transport Board is not Socialism but “socialisation” make it easier to explain to the workers what Socialism really is?
Besides, while Mr. Montague may clearly recognise and preach that social reform and State capitalism are not Socialism, what about the leaders of the Labour Party? Mr. Attlee recently addressed the railway stockholders and explained . how “Socialism” would provide them with more security for their holdings than they have at present. Mr. Tom Johnston, M.P., in a speech to a Labour Party Conference at Leeds, on June 19th (see Manchester Guardian, June 21st, 1937), said it was only necessary to win “another two million converts from the Tory Party. If we get that we are home, and involuntary poverty is finished.” Thus, he flatly contradicts Mr. Morrison and Mr. Montague, who both know that we shall not be home until we have got Socialists in place of vague Labour voters.
If Mr. Montague and Mr. Morrison were asked about this they would, no doubt, give the crushing answer that anyway the S.P.G.B. does not seem to have made much headway in converting the workers to Socialism. This is very true, but there is a reason. Every time we try to explain to the workers what Socialism is and how it differs from capitalism we find that the great majority of workers outside the Labour Party already think they know what Socialism is and what is a Socialist Party. Socialism, they think, is some State capitalist concern like the Post Office or the London Passenger Transport Board, and “Socialist Party” to them means Labour Party. The nine-tenths of the Labour voters who don’t understand Socialism think they do, and they muddle and confuse the mind of the workers to such an extent that Socialist propaganda has a desperate job to penetrate. In theory the Montagues and Morrisons who understand Socialism are supposed to keep the issues clear. In practice they cannot even explain Socialism to their own Johnstons and Attlees, let alone explain it to the mass of the workers inside and outside the Labour Party.
Socialist propaganda by a Socialist organisation is still the only road to Socialism.