Sunday, June 5, 2016

THE BLEAK AFTERTHOUGHTS OF A LABOUR CRITIC (1947)

From the April 1947 issue of the Socialist Standard

THE CURIOUS HISTORY OF MR. W. J. BROWN. M.P. 

Mr. W. J. Brown, Independent M.P. for Rugby, who writes a political column in the Evening Standard has added a further page to his curious history. In the issue for February 20th, 1947, he declared that one good thing that may come out of the crisis is that it will teach us to have done with shibboleths and get down to dealing with the situation. His line is that “ the great issue for years ahead is not Socialism but Survival. Nothing but an immense increase in production will save us.” If we fail to do this, says Mr. Brown, there will be a "general crisis” and the economy cuts imposed after the last war and in 1931 "will be nothing to the retrenchments we shall be compelled to make then. They may well involve a reduction in our already inadequate standard of life of 30 or 40 per cent.”

First let us look at the labels Mr. Brown has worn over the years. Now he is Independent, before that for a very brief span he endorsed Mosley’s New Party (before Mosley went Fascist), and before that he was a Labour M.P. until he resigned from the Labour Party in disgust.

In the beginning he called himself a Socialist, by which he meant that he subscribed to the Labour Party programme. In 1931 he resigned from the Labour Party on the ground that the Labour Government instead of being a Socialist Party had determined "that its role was to be that of the Caretaker of Capitalism.” (“My Political Position.” W. J. Brown, 1931.) Mr. Brown objected to this role as he had also objected to the ‘‘economy cuts” of 1931. Declaring “I am a Socialist,” he warned us that “unless the next Labour Government goes all out for Socialism, it will fail.” It must “have done with petty tinkering:,” and must "risk all in the effort to chancre the order of society.” 

Very strangely, in view of the above demand, he signed at about the same time or a little earlier, the Mosley New Party Manifesto which, it was said, he had helped to draft, and which ruled out Socialism for just the same kind of reason as that given now bv Mr. Brown in his Evening Standard article. It said that "Questions of the ultimate goal of society are excluded by the very urgency of the problem which confronts us,” and went on to appeal to employers and workers  (as again does his present article) to get together to "meet the emergency by common effort.”

Finally, in 1941 (‘‘What Have I to Lose?”) he renounced his early claim to be a Socialist: "In earlier days I described myself as a Socialist. Except in a very generalised sense, I should hesitate to so describe myself today.”

It will be seen that Mr. Brown is very hard to please. When the 1931 crisis (caused by Capitalism) was gathering, he wanted the Labour Government to risk all for Socialism and not be a Caretaker of the Capitalist system. Now that there is another Labour Government and another crisis, he demands that Socialism be ruled out for years ahead. He can hardly deny that the present Government is trying to be a caretaker for Capitalism, but now he wants it to be a more careful caretaker.

So much for Mr. Brown’s uncertain views over the years; hut what of the policy itself?

If we do not take care of capitalism, we are warned that our standard of living will drop 30 or 40 per cent. In 1931 (in the anti-MacDonald phase, not the New Party phase), Mr. Brown was preaching the necessity of Socialism and the uselessness of caretaking. Mr. J. R. MacDonald, who rejected Mr. Brown’s advice, decided to go in for caretaking in a thorough way as Prime Minister of the Coalition Government with the Tories. What was the result? Wages and unemployment benefit were cut and unemployment rose to nearly 2,500,000. What possible reason can Mr. Brown advance for supposing that more of the same kind of caretaking will have a different result? The only difference we can see is that Mr. Brown has changed sides, but important though that may seem to Mr. Brown, it does not alter the nature of the Capitalist system, which breeds War, Want and Crises, no matter what Government is in charge.

Years ago a critic of the Socialist Party of Great Britain told us that it would be a good thing if we supported Mr. Brown. If we had we would certainly have been tied un in some pretty knots; and what sort of progress would have been or will be made by the workers if they all supported Mr. Brown? They would have wasted a quarter of a century getting periodic bouts of aggravated hardship in crises, on top of the continuing hardships of Capitalism in its “prosperous” times, and all Mr. Brown can now offer is the choice between “our already inadequate standard of life ” and 30 or 40 per cent, less even than that. What a prospect! and what a blind guide!

The history of the past 25 years, and the history of Mr. Brown strengthen the Socialist Party of Great Britain’s conviction that for the workers of this and all other countries the only cure for the evils of Capitalism is to get rid of it, including the form known as State Capitalism that the present caretakers believe to be an improvement, and which we find no more attractive than, as it happens, does Mr. Brown.
Edgar Hardcastle

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