Editorial from the March 1958 issue of the Socialist Standard
From time to time the I.L.P. makes proposals for uniting itself with the S.P.G.B. and various other organisations. One such approach to us was made early in 1954. and at the end of 1957 the I.L.P. in conjunction with several small groups, repeated the proposal. The S.P.G.B.'s attitude is always the same. We are not prepared to associate with organisations which carry on propaganda for the reform of capitalism, recruit members on that basis and seek the votes of reformists. Our case is that work for Socialism is the essential end and it cannot be combined with reformism. The I.LP.'s answer to this is to claim that since 1932 they also have accepted this principle. They say so, but their activities and propaganda belie the claim. In 1954, for example, their unity scheme was a manoeuvre to detach the local Labour Parties from the Labour Party, on the plea that the “well- meaning Socialists who are members of the political section of the Labour Party are continually frustrated . . . when their ideas and resolutions are voted down with soul-destroying monotony," by the block vote of the trade unions at Labour Party conferences. The reply of the S.P.G.B. pointed out that the membership of the local Labour Parties is no more Socialist than the rest of the party. This was illustrated at the time from the list of resolutions put on the Labour Conference agenda by the local parties, all of which were for reforms of various kinds, all assuming the continuance of capitalism.
The I.L.P. has been in the news with its candidate at the Kelvingrove by-election, running in opposition to Labour and Tory. The I.L.P. claimed that their candidate was fighting for Socialism. against the Tory “ political gangsters of the ruling class," and against the Labour politicians who on all issues behave no better than the Tories.
The editorial of the “Socialist Leader” (1st Feb., 1958) ended with a declaration of “socialist” independence:—
“The party of Keir Hardie and James Maxton enters the fray with a song in its heart. It has nothing to fear from the charlatans and lick-spittles of the other parties. It will seek to convince the men and women of Kelvingrove that only by Socialism can the challenge of these stupendous times be met. And it will not compromise its policy and programme to win votes."
Unfortunately, even if the Editor meant what he wrote to be taken literally, it is evident that other members of the I.L.P., including their candidate, Mr. William Park, do not
“Cross-Bencher” in the Sunday Express (9/2/58) reported that the Labour Party leaders were worried about the I.L.P. intervention because they feared that the I.L.P. candidate would filch from the Labour Party its “pacifist" voters. Was this imputation of I.L.P. vote-catching unjust? Mr. William Park, the I.L.P. candidate, made it clear that it was not. While reiterating his refusal to “indulge in vote-catching” he hastened to inform the Press that he did not mean it:—
“In a statement to the Press . . . William Park said that among the main points in his campaign would be a demand for unilateral disarmament, as well as the abolition of the hydrogen bomb.”—(Socialist Leader, 1/2/58.)
There you have the never-changing I.L.P. “Socialism is the only hope they say, and they only want the votes of Socialists: but if you happen to be a non-Socialist with pipe-dreams about Capitalism disarming and British capitalism disarming on its own, or if you think that Capitalism would be all right but for the H bomb (like it was in two world wars or in the slump between the wars!) Mr. Park wants your vote.
This disarmament policy was elaborated a week later in a resolution passed by the Annual Conference of the London and Southern Counties Division of the I.L.P. It demanded that British Capitalism should “at once” bring home all troops from abroad, and disband the armed forces, and also that it should at once take the action of “denial of British bases to all other countries.” Could political ineptitude go further than this! Just how do unarmed civilians “deny" bases to the armies occupying them? Do these amateur policy-makers for British Capitalism really imagine that the other Powers would leave a strategic vacuum unoccupied? Does the I.L.P. not remember how two years ago large numbers of Hungarian workers tried to “deny” to Russia capitalism its occupancy of bases in Hungary?
The Keir Hardie-Maxton Tradition
When their editor called the modern I.L.P. the “party of Keir Hardie and James Maxton” he was certainly right, for between them these two used every conceivable form of vote-catching. Hardie, the arch-compromiser, was the originator of the I.L.P. policy of building up a reformist Labour Party with trade union backing. In his “Confession of Faith” he claimed that achievement as the measure of the success of the I.L.P.
One of his vote-catching side-lines was the advocacy of coal nationalisation "in order that the country should have a supply of the coal without which the navy was helpless and powerless.” (Manchester Guardian, 4/3/1912).
Maxton was a fitting successor to Hardie. At the 1923 General Election, for example, when, as usual he fought as candidate of the Labour Party, he combined a pledge to overthrow capitalism with vote-catching demands for government action to raise wages, to fix maximum prices, to reduce rents and to give Scotland "a Parliament of its own” (this to catch the nationalist vote).
On occasion Maxton, like Keir Hardie. could, with some lucidity, state the case against his own reformism, but it never cured him of it. In August, 1930, he was writing that a quarter century of reforms had convinced him of their uselessness because “before these reforms have been fully operative such advantages as they seemed on a superficial examination to offer were eaten up by the development of new evils or by a further extension of old ones” (New Leader, 15th August, 1930). but within a few weeks he had become unconvinced again. He introduced a particularly stupid bill in the House of Commons designed to make capitalism pay a "living wage.” The amount was to be determined by a government committee which, among other things, was to have regard to the need for “replacement and extension of capital.”
But for the I.L.P. times have changed. A quarter of a century ago it had been so successful in building up the reformist Labour Party that 200 members of the I.L.P. were able to sneak into Parliament as Labour M.P.'s. and had all but destroyed the Liberal Party. Now. while the I.L.P. vote catcher at Kelvingrove was filching reformist votes from the Labour candidate, over at Rochdale it was a slightly revived Liberal Party whose candidate was doing the same.