1930s >> 1938 >> no-407-july-1938

Editorial: A Socialist Minority in Parliament

The position of a Socialist minority in Parliament and on local councils

Mr. R. Jessop (Spalding) asks a question which has often been answered in these columns, but which is obviously of continuing interest and merits repetition.

“What are the tactics of Socialist Members of Parliament in a minority position to be? Supposing the Government should introduce a Bill to increase Old Age Pensions, introduce wages boards, or any measure that would be of benefit to some section of the workers. Would the Socialists oppose such measures on the general grounds that they only deal with the effects of capitalism, or would they support them as giving the workers some small benefit whilst at the same time pointing out that Socialism was the only satisfactory solution to the problem?

The position of a Socialist Town or County Councillor also is not quite clear to me. Whilst capitalism continues, such individuals will be obliged to administer that system on housing committees, gas and water committees, A.R.P. committees, etc. Except that they will be standing by to help in the administration of Socialism, when it is instituted, they will, for the time being so far as I can see, have to do a similar job to any Labour Party member who can see nothing beyond combating the immediate ill-effects of capitalism. Is this your view?”

Regarding Parliament, the answer, in brief, is that a minority of Socialist M.P.s would vote for or against measures introduced by other parties, or refrain from voting, in accordance with the Socialist Party’s view as to which course would be in the interest of the working class and Socialism. To use our correspondent’s own words, they would vote for certain measures “as giving the workers some small benefit, whilst at the same time pointing out that Socialism was the only satisfactory solution to the problem.”

A minority of Socialist M.P.s would obviously not vote against a measure which simply raised old-age pensions, or raised wages, or helped trade union organisation, or made it easier to carry on Socialist propaganda or organisation.

It would, however, be of the greatest importance that a Socialist minority should retain its complete independence and not enter into pacts or bargains with other parties or groups. Its position would be quite different from that of the Labour Party minority, which is elected on a non-Socialist programme by electors who are reformists, not Socialists, and which does enter into arrangements with other Parliamentary parties.

The position is much the same on local Councils, but it is not that stated by our correspondent, who takes it for granted that the minority of Town Councillors must take part in and share responsibility for the administration of local affairs. Although Labour minorities habitually sit on the sub-committees of the Council there is no need for them to do so. A Socialist minority of Councillors would use their position on the Council to put forward the Socialist view, but would make it clear that the majority in control were responsible for Council decisions and for the carrying out of the work of the Council on sub-committees and in the various departments of the local authority services.

The local authorities in Great Britain only have the powers devolved upon them by Parliament and the central Government. They cannot act on their own responsibility, outside the limits set for them. The Council majority are, in effect, only the agents of the central Government, and when a Council refuses to carry out the central Government’s wishes steps are taken, as at Poplar some years ago, to have local services carried on irrespective of the wishes of local electors and their representatives on the Council. A Socialist minority (or even a Socialist majority) on a local Council would be governed as to what they could do by Parliament and the central Government and the electors who voted Socialist would very well realise this and not expect their Socialist delegates on the Council to do the impossible.


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