Editorial from the March 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
In the February issue of the “Labour Monthly” the Editor, R. Palme Dutt, adversely criticises the Plebs' League in a review of their text-book on “Modern Imperialism.” He says that the Plebs’ teaching is merely a “substitute for Marxism,” with the “essence of Marx left out”; that their “class consciousness” is abstract,” leading only to “Labour Party vagueness” ; that “Promising young men are sent to the Labour College for two years and come back budding snobs and trade union officials.”
He summarises the difference between the Plebs’ interpretation of Marxism and the real thing thus:—
“Marxism interprets history and politics in. terms of the class struggle. The British-American substitute for Marxism interprets history and politics in the terms of economics (an occupation favoured by many bourgeois historians).”
Palme Dutt points out that in dealing with the “deception of the masses” which took place at the outbreak of the war, the Plebs make no mention of
“the main agents which made the people fit materials for the great struggle—the social patriotic Labour leaders, whose treachery was the real collapse of 1914.”
He partly explains this by suggesting that the Plebs do not care to incur the “ ill-will of Trade Union Officials.”
With his ridicule of “ non-party Marxism” I entirely agree, but is he in a position to throw stones? He is a member of the Communist Party whose "Two Party Marxism” is hardly less ridiculous. The Communist Party claims to be a revolutionary organisation. The Labour Party is most decidedly not a revolutionary organisation, but the Communist Party’s “Marxism” is their justification both for claiming to be revolutionary and for supporting the Labour Party. It will perhaps be urged by the Communists that they must support the Labour Party to keep in touch with the masses, but the Plebs are at least no more inconsistent if they say they must avoid offending the Trade Unionists and Trade Union Officials who give them support. Anyway, some of the Communist leaders who now make this plea in defence of the Communist Party used to make precisely the same plea for the I.L.P.; and others who now quote Marx to justify their endeavour to get into the Labour Party, used to quote Marx just as cheerfully to justify the S.L.P. in keeping out.
Palme Dutt uses against the Plebs their readiness to quote from Walton Newbold in “his I.L.P. period.” He implies that Walton Newbold has now changed. Walton Newbold says he hasn’t, so the charge is equally valid against the Communist Party which now endorses Walton Newbold.
“I, like my comrade Saklatvala, am a member of the Labour Party. Either as a member of the Fabian Society or of the I.L.P. or otherwise, I have been a member of that party without intermission since the autumn of 1908. I have never had any cause to disagree with the Labour Party as such. I believe, as a cardinal principle of my political conviction, in the desirability and the urgency of all political power in Great Britain being in the hands of the Labour Party. I have laboured in season and out of season for the last 14 years to bring about that state of affairs and have rather intensified than relaxed my efforts since I joined the Communist Party in April, 1921.”—(“Manchester Guardian,” December 7th).
Under their standard of “two Party Marxism” the Communist Party at the General Election supported just those Trade Union Official to whom the Plebs ought not to bow the knee, together with people in their “ I.L.P. period ” who make Palme Dutt’s blood boil; choice old Conservatives like John Hodge (O.B.E. and P.C.), Liberal Clynes (of “increased production” fame), and in fact all the men who before, during, and since the war, have betrayed the working class.
The Plebs have not exposed their treachery, but has the Communist Party when supporting these men advised the workers of their record and their intentions?
Palme Dutt should be grateful indeed that the Plebs have not done so, or some of the workers when told by Communists to support Labour men might have asked the reason why.
The policy of helping capitalist candidates into power in order to get “bits of Socialism now,” or to prove to the worker that Socialism is not to be got either wholly or piecemeal by such methods, is so old, so universal, and so invariably fruitless, that Palme Dutt cannot be unaware of its absurdity. Why, then, does he turn a blind eye on the Communist Party?
Is there possibly someone whom he may not offend?
This tactic is not without its humorous side. One of the Labour Party’s true-blue Tories actively assisted by Communists, was C. W. Bowerman at Deptford. Bowerman, according to a Mr. W. Taylor, Chairman of the National Citizens Union (“Kentish Mercury,” 16th June, 1922), “had been communicated with and had promised to support” Sir John Butcher’s Seditious Teachings Bill; and the Seditious Teachings Bill is a Bill for the suppression of Communist propaganda!
This surely ought to teach the Plebs how not to be vague and how to denounce the “social patriotic Labour leaders.”
R. Palme Dutt, Communist, condemns the Plebs because they do not expose the men the Communists assist into the House of Commons. "Non-Party Marxism” is clearly absurd, but is "Two-Party Marxism” so much better that Communists can crow about it?
Labour Party vagueness is indeed the grave of revolutionary working class aspirations, but among the workers who reach that state of vagueness, is there really anything to choose between those who foot it behind the "headless horsemen” of the Plebs and those who come mounted on the "double-headed ass” of the Communist Party?