Professor Laski’s Secret
Many of the trade union element in the Labour Party dislike Professor Laski’s ideas. To them he is a troublesome interloper, a sort of cuckoo in the nest trying to make them responsible for intellectual progeny that may some day grow up and push them out. Without delving further into the habits of real cuckoos, we do learn from Professor Laski’s Secret Battalion (Labour Party, 2d.) just what happens in the political world when cuckoo number one finds a second cuckoo trying to lay eggs in the same nest; cuckoo number one becomes very indignant and says that cuckoo number two is not playing the game.
In 30 pages of argument Professor Laski tries to convince members of the Labour Party that it would be fatal to their cause to let the Communists become affiliated. With a rich array of facts he shows, that the Communists, while swearing their acceptance of Labour Party methods, are hiding their true aim, which is to capture the Labour Party as a first step towards setting up a one-party dictatorship in this country.
As propaganda to help the Labour Party repel the latest attack of the Communist political paratroopers it may serve its purpose, but as a contribution to Socialist thought it is largely stale and unprofitable. It echoes the 25-year-old controversy between Kautsky on the one side and Lenin and Trotsky on the other, adding nothing of value and enlarging an element of confusion that was already present. The protagonists then, like Laski and Pollitt to-day, were debating whether the working class should soberly use democratic Parliamentary methods or go in for a hectic bout of forcible seizure of power and minority dictatorship. The S.P.G.B., while endorsing Kautsky’s principal arguments – they were those put forward by the S.P.G.B. at its formation nearly 20 years earlier – pointed out that Kautsky the Labour politician was at variance with Kautsky the theoretician, for the politician Kautsky cherished the illusion that Socialism could be achieved by Labour Governments elected on the votes of workers who want reforms of capitalism but do not understand and want Socialism. Our answer to both Kautsky and Lenin was that Socialism cannot be brought about either by Labour Governments or by a Communist Party dictatorship, since its achievement requires that there should first be a majority of convinced and understanding Socialists.
Professor Laski’s pamphlet is liberally sprinkled with Marxist phrases and references to Marx’s views, calculated to give the impression to those who do not know the facts, that the Labour Party is Marxist. He claims (p.16) that the Labour Party “does not deny either the reality of the class-war or the imperative need to change fundamentally the capitalist foundation of society.” This seemingly clear declaration is ambiguous. The Labour Party would certainly subscribe to it, meaning that they do not deny the hostility of workers towards employers and that they favour replacing private capitalism by State capitalism. To Marxists, however, recognition of the class struggle means recognising that the interest of the working class is incompatible with the interest of the class that owns the means of production and distribution and that, the class struggle can be abolished only by dispossessing the capitalist class and introducing a social system based on common ownership and democratic control, involving, of course, the abolition of the system of wage-labour and of the production of goods for sale.
Laski, who makes so much use of Marxist phrases, must know that the Labour Party does not accept the Marxist view. Like Kautsky he is a theoretician who in words propounds one theory, but belongs to a Party that works on a quite different one. If he believed his case to be sound he had a magnificent opportunity to floor the Communists by pointing out that Socialism has not been, and is not being, achieved in Russia after nearly 30 years of dictatorship; and then try to show how Labour government (here or in Australia, New Zealand and elsewhere) had introduced or is introducing Socialism. He does neither. On Russian State capitalism masquerading as Socialism he says nothing —how could he without inviting the retort that Labour Government State capitalism is riot Socialism either? Instead he gives away his case by trying to justify the Labour Government for its reforms and for its policy of State capitalism. He writes: “Socialism in Britain has …. already secured for the working class of this country great reforms, both in the economic and in the social realm. It has made it possible to place in power a Socialist Government which, also by constitutional methods, moves steadily forward to national ownership and control of the vital instruments of production” (p.17). He must know that Socialism as understood by Marx and other Socialists does, not mean a State capitalist programme of “national ownership and control.” For all their Marxist phraseology, he and the Communists are actually debating whether the workers should seek State capitalism by the Parliamentary road, or seek it by dictatorship. Rejecting both disputants, the S.P.G.B. holds that the working class should certainly use the Parliamentary road – but for Socialism.
One small point of interest. Professor Laski has exposed the secret battalions of Communists. Will he now yield up the secret of why he claims to be a Socialist but does not repudiate the reformism and State capitalist aim of his Party?