1940s >> 1945 >> no-496-december-1945

Socialism and the Labour Party

Mr. Morgan Phillips, Secretary of the Labour Party, in the pamphlet, “What is this Labour Party?” states that: “The Labour movement is not a narrow restricted thing. It goes outside trade and class. Anyone can be in it. The test is simply political allegiance. If you believe in Socialism, then support the Labour Party.” Take the basic national object of the Party as set out in the Constitution:—

“To secure for the workers by hand or by brain the full fruits of their industry, and the most equitable distribution thereof that may be possible, upon the basis of the common ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange, and the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service.”

“That’s Socialism,” says Mr. Phillips.

“That’s nonsense!” says the Socialist Party, especially when Mr. Phillips adds “and the method by which its objectives can be fully attained is Public Enterprise,” which turns out to be the old Labour Party gag “Nationalisation,” vide “Let us face the future,” the Labour election fairy tale.

Let us briefly analyse the “Object” of the Labour Party. First, “To secure for the workers, by hand or by brain, the full fruits of their industry.”
We have never yet discovered anyone who can use his hands without using his brain, neither has biological science. It is possible to use the brain without using the hands, but most work is done by both in consonance.

It is utterly impossible to “secure the full fruits of their industry ” to “the workers.” “The workers” can only mean the working class under capitalism—“the workers” will be transformed into members of the Socialist community by Socialism—under capitalism “the workers” will always secure wages—which can ONLY be a small fraction of the wealth they produce. Even under Socialism the producer will NOT receive the full product of his toil, as Marx indicated to the German Labour Party seventy years ago—all organised society necessitates certain social charges on the social wealth, education, hospitals, maintenance of the aged, administration, etc. (Gotha programme). What the “most equitable distribution” of the “full fruits” of the “worker’s industry” is supposed to mean, nobody knows!

If it is meant to mean that, under Socialism, everybody will receive an exactly equal share of the social wealth— that non-smokers, for example, will get a “share” of cigarettes daily, or vegetarians be compelled to take two pork chops in the week, it is not Socialism, but “crude equalitarianism,” denounced by Marx and others in the last century. Socialism does not mean the abolition of personal divergences of individual taste—it means free distribution according to the single test of NEED. Indeed, individual taste will secure real recognition for the first time in history.

If it means “equitable distribution” under capitalism— i.e., what the Labour Party flogged when it was OUT of office—a re-distribution of existing wealth in the workers’ favour (capital levy, etc., etc.), this is NOT Socialism—but moonshine.

But the cream of the joke is the Labour Party’s frantic attempt to acquire a “Socialistic” flavour by its formulation of its object as the “common ownership of the means of production, distribution, AND EXCHANGE.”

We defy Mr. Phillips, the Secretary, or that pompous little gasbag, Professor Laski, the Chairman, or Mr. Greenwood, the Treasurer, or any member or official of the Labour Party to tell us what this means!

It is utterly and completely meaningless!

Let us patiently explain all over again. Exchange is a social relation of private owners. Socialism abolishes exchange by free distribution. Socialists under Socialism will ALL commonly OWN. Whom Mr. Phillips will find to exchange the full fruits of his industry with, under Socialism, we can’t think!

Common ownership of the “means of exchange” means precisely “common ownership of private ownership.” In other words the subject cancels out the predicate—it is a perfect contradiction meaning nothing—which is what the Labour Party really stands for (except jobs for leaders).

The final phrase of the Labour Party’s object, “the best obtainable system of popular administration and control of each industry or service,” is pure rhetoric.

It might be asked, if what has been said is true, how is it that a large party like the Labour Party, with many quite clever members, can formulate its objects so stupidly? The answer is, firstly, that it is by no means so silly as it might seem.

To understand how the Labour Party Constitution and Object has been formulated one must investigate the history and character of that organisation.

Briefly the present Object of the Labour Party has evolved grown-up, with the times, and is an attempt to combine attracting enthusiastic class-conscious workers, who have got to do the local spade work of the Party, by convincing them that it stands for Socialism, and catching the votes of ordinary electors, who just want something NOW (“full fruits,” etc.).

The “common ownership” phrases were introduced at Margate and Edinburgh after the last war. The discussion around them was the same as always take place, for instance, on Compensation at Bournemouth. The “responsible leaders” tell the conference that it is not “practical politics”—that it “will prejudice the Party’s future,” etc.; in other words— that it may lose votes. The same debate took place on full versus partial nationalisation. Every Socialist party propagandist knows the look of blank incredulous amazement which comes over the countenances of well-meaning Labour Party members, who sincerely believe the statements of Morgan Phillips and the Executive that the Labour Party is a Socialist Party—when the object of the Party is analysed.

It is only equalled by the expression of dumbfounded astonishment on the Socialist’s face when the Labour man says finally, “Well, what does it matter, anyway!”

People who wouldn’t dream of calling in a “doctor who had not a scientific training, or let a “dentist” put a drill in their mouths who did not know the name of one tooth from another, trust their social welfare to politicians whose real aims they never closely examine. The Labour Party does not stand for Socialism. Its declared object is a meaningless phrase.

The best comment on it was made by Lord Snowden :—

“It (the Labour Party) gained its former political strength neither from its Socialist idealism nor its election programme. It was an electoral refuge for a vague discontent.
The old political parties had failed. Here was a new party which made the social condition of the people its claim to popular support.
Millions of men and women who know nothing about Socialism, and who have never read the Labour programme, vote for Labour candidates because they believe that this is a party which is going to do something—they don’t know what—to improve their condition.
I have been in this programme-making business for forty years. I have always realised its futility. Every programme in which I have had a hand I have seen discarded and another put in its place, later to share the fate of its predecessor.”—(Snowden, Sunday Express, October 16th, 1932.)