What the Labour Party Represents
A reader asks us to explain what forces are represented by the Labour Party. He writes:
“I know that Labour, l.L.P. and Communist Parties are reformist, but what sections of the capitalist class do they represent? What class or personalities went to the trouble and expense of forming these organisations with the object of gaining political power? ”
Not merely the above-mentioned political parties are reformist: all other political parties, by their very title “political party,” have for their object the gaining of political power; but only the Socialist Party aims at power for socialism. Therefore all other contending parties have programmes which are designed to attract anti- or non-Socialists.
These programmes are made up of a series of immediate proposals or demands which, judged from the Socialist viewpoint, may have advantages for the workers, but will be useless in preparing and making the working-class Socialist. Hence our attitude to reforms is not merely that they are of no immediate or lasting benefit to the workers, but that for the party aiming at social revolution the task of making Socialists is paramount. The advocacy of reforms fails to accomplish this, in fact hinders the furtherance of Socialist education.
Now, the approach to all other political parties is not necessarily the same; whilst we oppose all other political parties, it is not correct to lump them all together—Tory, Liberal, Labour Parties, and so on—and just say they are not Socialist, therefore we oppose them.
It is necessary to bear in mind the historical and organisational differences that exist. The historical differences are, briefly, these: the Tory and Liberal Parties express the sectional interests of the nineteenth century capitalist class, now rather clouded by interwoven interests, due to the development of capitalist production, as can be seen by the age-old controversy, Tariffs versus Free Trade, now rendered obsolete.
These parties affirm that they desire to continue the present capitalist system. They argue that the present order of things is the only one possible; but, beginning in the nineteenth century, there was a feeling among sections of workers that there was an alternative system. This developing consciousness was considerably influenced by the writings of Marx and others, and expressed itself in a desire to break away from the old policy of supporting one and then the other of the then existing main political parties—to end the Tweedledum and Tweedledee form of political bargaining. Hence the formation of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Its emergence did denote a heightening of the consciousness of the organised section of the workers: however, that consciousness was insufficiently matured to be Socialist. It could only express itself through the more progressive section of the ruling class, i.e., the industrialists. It will be seen by this that the so-called “ left wing ” parties were, in fact, expressions of the left wing of the capitalists, not of the working-class.
The parties and organisations, such as the I.L.P. and ”Socialist League” and other splinter organisations, form centres for the discontented members of the parent body, the Labour Party. They serve the purpose of grouping the would-be breakaways. The Labour Party leadership, aware of the inconvenience of splinter organisations, supported the £150 deposit for Parliamentary candidature.
Thus it will be seen that the so-called left wing organisations were not engineered by capitalists or ambitious personalities, though both have used these organisations, but rather the workers, having recognised that the purely economic organisation through which they had operated was insufficient, desired to take independent political action though still within the framework of capitalist politics.
The lessons to be learned from the Labour movement throughout the capitalist world are many. Two outstanding features are: first, that it is insufficient for workers to aim merely at political control, but that they must obtain political control through their own independent organisation and for Socialism; secondly, that Socialist action on the political field must be action for the abolition of capitalism, whatever the intentions of the leaders, whilst the mass of the working-class electorate are not Socialists, they can only act within the bounds of capitalism. The problems they set out to solve are inherent in the capitalist system: thus at the very outset they are doomed to failure and will be discredited. Having spent their time popularising reform programmes and catching votes they have had no time or energies for spreading Socialist knowledge.
The workers blame the existence of such problems as poverty, unemployment, etc., upon the men who hold the reins of Government. The Socialist Party is not concerned that these political parties and their leaders should be discredited by their failure, but a serious consequence is the disillusionment and apathy that falls on millions of workers as a result.
The Communist Party cannot be wholly explained along the same lines. The social upheaval that occurred in Russia during the first Great War had its repercussions throughout the working-class movement. Those that were impatient with the Socialist Party’s insistence that Socialism could only he achieved by a working-class understanding Socialism, rushed to assure us that ”the revolution was round the corner.” The impossible had been achieved, they said, in one-sixth of the world—Socialism in backward Russia.
The formation of the Communist Parties throughout the world just after the cessation of hostilities attracted thousands of disgruntled workers who, despairing of the Labour and other parties doing anything for them, looked to the leaders of the Russian movement for guidance in the day to day struggles.
Writing in 1941, it is difficult to imagine that the Communist Party were engaged twenty years ago in training an “army” to fight capitalists at the barricades, but so it was.
Such were the ideas circulating in and around the Communist Party in its early days. These, however, were soon dispelled against cold facts.
It became clearer the role of the Communist Party was destined to play. By the end of the twenties, as the foreign policy of the Russian ruling clique began to take shape, so the Communist Parties began to twist and turn. This has continued up to date, culminating in the grovelling retraction in October, 1939, by Messrs. Pollitt and Campbell of their support for the war. Now, of course, the Communists have about turned once more.
With the explosion of the myth of Russian Socialism, the Third International will be written down as an organisation that has done much to put back the clock of working-class development.
The writer may be excused for seizing the opportunity that the answering of these questions affords in order to review the position of the various parties dealt with.
After forty years of activity, the Labour Party, formed by sincere working men to end the policy of “Backing the Liberals to dish the Tories,” finds itself backing the Tories to dish some of the Liberals, tied to the avowed representatives of capitalism.
The I.L.P., who urged us more than thirty years ago to join with them in order to transform the Labour Party into a Socialist Party, have split from the Labour Party and is now a shadow of its former self.
Those readers who may have been among the many workers whose tireless energies and selfless devotion built up the Labour and Communist Parties should answer this question: If it were possible to start again, with the knowledge that after 20-30 years your organisations would be where they are to-day, would you still do what you have been doing for the past 30 years ?
Surely, the miserable plight of the workers throughout the world, their suffering and anxiety, is a vindication of the attitude taken up by the Socialist Party; that an organisation having for its object the capturing of the machinery of government for Socialism, must devote its energies and abilities to the making of Socialists and organising them to this end.
Dictatorships, poverty and other social evils can only arise in a world where the control behind the management of industry is the production of goods for sale and profit-making. Whilst this obtains peoples will stand in fear and hatred of each other and Governments be driven on to the building of armaments for their eventual use in war.
These problems can only be removed by the world working class establishing a social system which has for its basis the production of wealth solely for the use of all, regardless of race or sex.
This cannot be accomplished by a working class blindly following leaders who have preached to them policies of reforms, nor can violence be a method to make up for the unreadiness of the workers.
Only by the mental development of the working class can the suffering and misery of capitalism be replaced by Socialism.