Editorial from the August 1929 issue of the Socialist Standard
The Socialist Party of Great Britain was formed 25 years ago to work for Socialism. We found ourselves then, as now, opposed by the I.L.P. and other bodies, whose members believed that it was useless to preach Socialism. Their method was to try to win working-class support by promising and agitating for Old Age Pensions, Health Insurance and other reforms. The workers, they said, want not Socialism, but “something now.” Let us promise them what they want and thus get a Labour Government. The numerous benefits it will bestow on the workers will then win their support for the introduction of Socialism.
This theory, as we pointed out, was based on a series of misconceptions. It assumed that a Labour Government could so run Capitalism as to remove the great problems which have been, and are being, produced by Capitalism. It assumed, in other words, that unemployment, poverty and the like, are the outcome, not of the system, but of the stupidity, malevolence or incompetence, of Liberal and Tory statesmen. It overlooked the very important lesson of modern representative Government that the party which happens to be in power gets blamed by working-class electors for the evil effects of the Capitalist system on themselves.
All these years we have carried on the hard struggle to build up a party of Socialists, understanding and ready to work for Socialism. Our critics, in the meantime, have carried on their work of building up the non-Socialist Labour Party, incidentally making our work tenfold more difficult. They have succeeded to the point of being in power, the largest party in the House. But no sooner do they get to work than they discover the truth of some of the counts in our argument.
Mr. J. H. Thomas, Lord Privy Seal, is commander-in-chief of the special section devoting its energies to the problem of unemployment. On Friday, July 5th, he addressed at Southampton the Annual General Meeting of the National Union of Railwaymen. He first admitted that the Labour Government is in office to administer the Capitalist system. He said :—
I have been entrusted with the responsibility of seeing how far within the limits of our Parliamentary traditions and our resources of the State—and accepting the present order of society —how far it is possible to mobilise, organise, institute, and get going useful works for those now unemployed. (See “ Daily Herald ” Report, 6 July.—Italics ours.)
His subsequent remarks indicated that even a few weeks of office have taught him how little difference a change of persons makes to the administration of Capitalism. He said :—
We ask you not to expect too much, nor attempt to force from us, because we are a Labour Government, what you would not force from a Capitalist Government.
Thus we have the delightful spectacle of the workers being asked not to demand their instalment of “something now” (which they have already waited a generation to get) by the very people who have preached the doctrine of “something now" in opposition to Socialism.
The moral of this has been seen by at least one Labour opponent of the Socialist Party, Mr. Tom Kirk, alderman at West Ham. In a letter to the “New Statesman" (July 13th) he states that the Labour Government’s declarations on unemployment caused dismay among their supporters in the House. But what is most significant is Mr. Kirk’s admission that the building up of the Labour Party has been at the expense of Socialist propaganda. He writes :—
The work, however, of building a Labour Party thrust “critical revolutionary” Socialism into the background, where it stubbornly maintained itself in the Socialist Party of Great Britain.
Mr. Kirk, one of those who helped to thrust Socialism “into the background” is now convinced that the Labour Government will prove a broken reed. "Indeed,” he writes, "unless I read things wrongly, we shall soon witness a reversion to the earlier standpoints of the old S.D.F.”
To this we need only add that the earlier standpoints of the S.D.F. are embodied in the Socialist Party of Great Britain, the only organisation which declined to abandon Socialism in order to build up the Labour Party, and the only organisation which will not be implicated in the disgust and disillusion which will follow the inevitable failure of Labour Government.