Rear View

From Keir I to Keir II

The evolution of the Labour Party over 115 years from Keir I to Keir II is a practical confirmation of the theoretical case against reformism. The Labour Party, instead of gradually transforming capitalism in the interests of the workers, has itself been gradually transformed from a trade union pressure group into an instrument of capitalist rule.

Which of these three statements about Keir Hardie is correct?

i: ‘.. Labour Parties association with Marxism and a little understanding of the Labour Party’s roots, after all its founder Keir Hardie was a Marxist’ (Labour Heartlands, 13

ii: ‘A pacifist, Hardie was appalled by the First World War ..’ (, accessed 1 September).

iii: ‘.. his efforts to reform society were driven by a deep faith in Jesus and a commitment to the principles set out in the Sermon on the Mount’ (, 26 August).

Neither Marxist nor pacifist

Hardie stated in his 1892 election manifesto that he was ‘…in agreement with the present programme of the Liberal Party.’ Biographer Kenneth Morgan elaborates: ‘I found him a man who was not only an idealistic crusader, but a pragmatist, anxious to work with radical Liberals whose ideology he largely shared, subtle in building up the Labour alliance with the trade unions and the other socialist bodies, and supremely flexible in his political philosophy, a very generalised socialism based on a secularised Christianity rather than Marxism… He was no economist and was ill-informed on many issues, but he had uniquely the charisma and vision that any radical movement needs.’ Hardie’s ‘supreme flexibilility’ may explain why he is often portrayed as a pacifist, yet told his electorate in Merthyr: ‘May I once again revert for the moment to the ILP pamphlets? None of them clamour for immediately stopping the war. That would be foolish in the extreme, until at least the Germans have been driven back across their own frontier, a consummation which, I fear, carries us forward through a long and dismal vista… I have never said or written anything to dissuade our young men from enlisting; I know too well all there is at stake… If I can get the recruiting figures for Merthyr week by week, which I find a very difficult job, I hope by another week to be able to prove that whereas our Rink meeting gave a stimulus to recruiting, those meetings at the Drill Hall at which the Liberal member or the Liberal candidate spoke, had the exactly opposite effect’ (Merthyr Pioneer, 28th November 1914).

Labour’s dismal record

Labour has supported all major wars, including WWI, initiated the British atomic bomb, sent troops to smash strikes, established the vicious Special Patrol Group, passed racist immigration laws, imposed ‘monetarist’ expenditure cuts leading to the closure of hospitals and other vitally needed services… In the light of such evidence, how can anyone claim that Labour is anything other than a Party seeking to reform capitalism rather than end it through majoritarian social revolution? Not Philip Snowden, Labour MP: ‘The British Labour Party is certainly not Socialist in the sense in which Socialism is understood upon the Continent. It is not based upon the recognition of the class struggle; it does not accept the teaching of Marx…’ (Manchester Guardian Reconstruction Supplement, 26 October 1922). Nor Arthur Greenwood, Labour’s Lord Privy Seal: ‘I look around my colleagues and I see landlords, capitalists and lawyers. We are a cross section of the national life, and this is something that has never happened before’ (Hansard, 17 August 1945). Labour MP Douglas Houghton was impressed by his Party’s achievements : ‘Never has any previous government done so much in so short a time to make modern capitalism work’ (Times, 25 April 1967). Tony Benn, in a candid confession to the Independent (17 May 1989), wrote: ‘Past Labour governments have always worked within the limits set by market forces (as when the cabinet capitulated to the International Monetary Fund in 1976); have always supported nuclear weapons (as when Callaghan authorised the Chevaline without telling parliament); and have regularly confronted trade unionism (as with rigid wage policies)… We must add… a clear recognition that the Labour Party is not — and probably never was — a socialist party, and its individual members do not decide its policy, nor are its election pledges apparently meant to be taken seriously.’

The rich man in his castle

Did Hardie read Emma Goldman’s The Failure of Christianity, published two years before his death in 1915? Where she wrote: ‘The idea conveyed in the Sermon on the Mount is the greatest indictment against the teachings of Christ, because it sees in the poverty of mind and body a virtue, and because it seeks to maintain this virtue by reward and punishment…” Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” What a preposterous notion! What incentive to slavery, inactivity, and parasitism! Besides, it is not true that the meek can inherit anything. Just because humanity has been meek, the earth has been stolen from it. Meekness has been the whip, which capitalism and governments have used to force man into dependency, into his slave position. The most faithful servants of the State, of wealth, of special privilege, could not preach a more convenient gospel than did Christ, the “redeemer” of the people…’

Marxian socialism aims at taking from the masters the power they wield and the wealth they have stolen. Its object is to raise the workers from slaves to freemen. It is therefore opposed to Christianity.

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