50 Years Ago: Labour Parties

To a Socialist the spectacle of the Labour Parties at home and in the Colonies affords a very interesting study of the relations of Labour politics to Socialism. To one who, in forming opinions on the tendencies manifested in society today, is accustomed to look merely on the surface of things, the formation of these Labour parties in various parts of the British Empire may appear to be the forerunner of a great revolutionary movement on the part of organised labour. This view will be all the more strongly held if he should belong to one or the other of the alleged Socialist bodies whose business meetings consist of talking about the Labour Representation Committee, the “Labour” movement, the “Labour” party and, more important than all, the “Labour” leaders. To a member of The Socialist Party, however, that is to a person drilled in the methods of scientific analysis, the innocent economics and puerile politics which form the foundation and super-structure of “Labour parties” at home and abroad, are more often sources of regret than satisfaction. . . .

* * *

With regard to the Labour Representation Committee at home, it may seem unnecessary to criticise this, the most recent indication of the hopelessness of those who, in the name of labour, try to square the interests of the workers with those of their masters and secure justice for the working-class under capitalism. The programme, or what stands for a programme of this body, is of such a character that a good many loyal Liberals, without giving up in the slightest degree their faith in capitalism, would readily accept it. But in the eyes of the horny-handed sons of toil who run the L.R.C., a party is more important than a programme, and if a “big” party can only be got together by a small programme, then the less of the latter the better for the needy politician. . . .

* * *

The Labour Representation Committee was called into existence by the Trade Union Congress, and, as the child, inherits some of the characteristics of the parent, the proceedings at the last meeting of the latter body will enlighten the workers as to what they may expect from the “Labour” Party of this country. At the Congress some of the delegates expressed the opinion that it would be a good thing if all the trade unionists were called off the L.R.C. They have issued a manifesto in favour of free trade, asked for old age pensions and an extension of the Workmen’s Compensation Act. At the same time some of their leaders tell us that this very “Compensation” Act is responsible for the older men being flung out of employment by the master-class, who are unwilling to take risks attendant upon the employment of workers over a certain age. One delegate pleaded earnestly for “fair” rents. How wise! Fair robbery! . . .

* * *

The work of the Socialist here at home or in the Colonies is to build up a Socialist Party, clear in the knowledge of the irreconcilability of the interests of the wage worker and the master, ever warning the working-class of the pitfalls in the shape of “labour” parties strewing the path which leads to emancipation from wagedom, ever teaching the slaves of capitalism that only by the overthrow of the present system of society and the establishment of the Socialist Republic can the various evils confronting the working-class be removed.

In the country The Socialist Party of Great Britain alone stands for the Revolution.


(From the “Socialist Standard,” November, 1904)

Leave a Reply