From the November 1912 issue of the Socialist Standard
The leaders of the Labour Party, in order to obtain the confidence and support of the workers —without which they cannot obtain seats in the House of Commons and other comfortable positions — have to satisfy their followers that they understand social problems, and possess the ability to cope with them. This, in itself, is not difficult, because the workers, surrounded by capitalist institutions and taught capitalist ideals from childhood, have not yet, in any considerable numbers, questioned the basis of the system under which they live.
They accept in blind faith the assertion that there must always be rich and poor, rulers and ruled, if there is to be any sort of order. The result is that, although the workers recognise the social evils from which they suffer, they are easily persuaded that those evils can be removed by legislation.
Unconscious of the conflicting interests between capitalists and workers, they believe that when due representation is made to Parliament ; when a sprinkling of Labour members "voice the grievances of Labour on the floor of the House," legislators will, acting with fairness and impartiality, take steps to deal with those evils.
This is the mistaken belief that leads the workers to support the Labour Party. The leaders of the Party do their utmost to foster this belief, because it increases the security of their positions. But they go further than this, for they assert that the reforms they advocate, besides improving the conditions of the working class now, lead gradually toward Socialism.
Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, for instance, writing in the "Daily Chronicle," says that "We are passing rapidly into a transition stage, which is not Socialism, but introductory to Socialism . . . Under it the powers of the workmen will increase, and with that will come a better distribution of wealth."
The worker all the more readily believes the transition stage fiction because the exploitation which he suffers from, and has suffered from for so many generations, has reduced him, both mentally and physically, to a condition of abject apathy.
Unsupported by evidence of any kind, the transition stage myth is mouthed by all the Fabian and Labour hacks. A period will intervene between capitalism and Socialism, says Mr. MacDonald, "which can be called either State Socialism or State Capitalism, according to fancy." The basis of the "intermediate system" is not described. He evidently refers, however, to the more developed form, or latest stages, of capitalism, wherein the concentration and monopoly of the most important industries have been effected, together with the nationalisation of those services and industries which are most amenable to government administration and in agreement with the interests of the majority of the capitalist class.
The nationalisation fable is always very loosely handled by its advocates. They invariably neglect to point out that, even thongh all the industries were nationalised, the workers would still have to organise politically in opposition to the class that owned them, before they could take and hold.
Such a period—if the workers allowed the system to develop so far—would be merely an advanced stage of capitalism. Class ownership of the means of life would still be the basis of the system, and the working class still retain their merchandise character. Wealth still would be produced for profit, and unemployment still be necessary in order that the price of labour-power might be kept at or about the cost of living—the difference between the cost of living and the total wealth produced being the extent to which the workers are robbed.
Such, a stage in the development of capitalism could only be productive of increased competition among the workers, because concentration and monopoly lead to greater economy, which means increased unemployment.
Yet, in spite of this very obvious and logical deduction, we are informed by Mr. MacDonald that, in this very stage, the "powers of the workmen will be increased, and there will come a better distribution of wealth."
The contradiction must be evident. Unemployment increasing, competition becomes greater, and the workers are, inevitably, more at the mercy of their exploiters : their powers must, therefore, instead of increasing, diminish.
"There will be," says Mr. MacDonald, "a code of legislation dealing with wages, housing, hours of labour, and so on, and the pressure of that legislation will transform State capitalism into a more human form of national organisation." The State capitalist, according to him, will introduce legislation that will diminish the intensity of the workers' struggle for existence.
It is fairly easy to be optimistic about the possibilities of capitalist philanthropy, somewhere in the future, when one contemplates it from the position of an agent of that class, with a salary of £400 a year, plenty of time to augment this by writing in the capitalists' interests, and with (dare I say it ?) "prospects." But the eagerness with which capitalists pursue the question of rate reduction proves that where their interests are pooled, as in nationalisation or municipalisation schemes, their business interest— their desire for profits or for reduction of rates —will determine their resistance to any conceivable working-class reform that will lessen their share of the wealth produced.
That is why a capitalist government will never introduce an insurance bill that really insures the workers against unemployment, or a "right to work" bill that will mean for every worker the right to live under decent conditions. To eliminate competition by either of these methods, or in any other way, would be a form of social suicide which is not in harmony with the nature of the capitalist.
Mr. MacDonald next tells us that "Socialism must adapt itself to the peculiar conditions that exist in different countries." But he does not inform us of any essential difference where all countries are alike capitalist.
He speaks of German Socialism being different from English, as though Socialism were some indefinite creed, to be built up according to fancy, or according to the climate or the physical aspect of the different countries. German labourism may be slightly different from the English brand in the matter of details, but the underlying principles are the same in both countries—to spread confusion among the workers by advocating reforms, and to look for their reward from the class they serve.
Some Labour leaders really believe they have done something practical for the workers when they have taken their seats in the House of Commons. What they really do is to assist the master class to interest the workers in capitalist politics.
The permanence of any system of society depends upon the numbers who are interested, or think they are interested, in maintaining it. Obviously, then, as Socialism cannot be established while capitalism is in existence, the Socialist will decline to bolster up the system he wishes to abolish. By withholding his vote from either capitalist party, by refusing to favour reforms, or one capitalist policy over another, he leaves; purely capitalist questions to be settled by fewer and fewer members of society, until capitalist politics become of diminishing consequence, appear ridiculous because they interest so few, and by that means strike directly at the confidence of the ruling class.
The constitutional form of government depends for its authority and permanence upon the numerical sanction it receives from those it governs. The more workers that support capitalist parties, the firmer and more stable is the capitalist rule.
Practical politics for the working class mean to organise for control of the political machine, in order to take possession of the means of life. The Government will introduce reforms fast enough when they are threatened with such an organisation. They have not yet commenced to throw any real sops or palliatives to the working class. When they do commence their concessions should be treated with contempt, for they cannot be anything else than paltry in comparison with the object the workers have in view.
The Labour Party denies that the interests of the workers and those of the capitalists are in conflict. To them working-class revolution is impossible : from their standpoint, therefore, Socialism, too, is impossible. The real Impossiblists are, for that reason, those who expect to establish Socialism with the assistance of the master class, and without revolution.
It is this elementary question which has to be recognised first—the fundamental basis of the working-class position—that the Labour Party declines even to discuss. Like the "Christian Socialist," they mouth the "brotherhood of man " and denounce class hatred, posing all the while as pacificators reconciling conflicting interests—regardless of the fact that reconciliation means submission for the workers.
The Labour Party assert that their object is the same as that of the Socialists, although their method is different. They consider this as sufficient reason for declining debates. They are not, however, above the contemptible tricks of the party politicians with whom they are associated. Mr. MacDonald snatches the opportunity afforded him by the publication of Mr. Walling's book "Socialism As It Is," to deal a blow at Socialism from a vantage-ground where he himself is inaccessible —the capitalist Press.
Mr. Walling's book, published at 8s. 6d., is not likely to be widely read by members of the working class, but an attack on Socialism in the "Daily Chronicle" will find many readers.
Under cover of a book review Socialism can be misrepresented ; and when the critic sets up for himself the object of his criticism, it is fairly easy to ridicule, or show its fallacy.
Mr. MacDonald, however, only boomerangs himself in trying to ridicule Socialism. At the very outset he tells us that "the impossiblist has to admit that his State can only be realised in stages." He forgets that if a thing is impossible it cannot be realised at all.
Next he complains that the Labour Party in this country "have to face in the most awkward way the difficulties of a party which can make public opinion outside, but which sees that public opinion used from time to time by Governments which they cannot control."
It is only necessary to read the programme of any Labour candidate, with its Liberal policy and reforms, to realise how absurd is this lament.
The Labour members, without exception, obtain their seats by compromise with the Liberals, so much so that Mr. Davis, chairman of the Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress, complained that "the Liberal party might be a little more generous in conceding seats in Liberal constituencies where vacancies arise. The Labour Party do not like to be asked to fight only those constituencies where there are strong Tory majorities."
The Liberal Press invariably supports Labour candidates. They stand for Liberalism in the absence of official Liberals. At Hanley the spectacle was witnessed of a Liberal Press unable to make up its mind which to support, leaning, if anything, toward the Labour man. If the Labour Party were a genuine working class party such things could not occur. The capitalist Press would denounce every candidate and the Liberal Party would not allow one seat to go uncontested. It is because Liberal and Labour form one party inside the House that they are so completely united outside.
Mr. MacDonald's claim that the Labour Party makes public opinion is absurd in view of the real facts. They merely assist the Liberals to foster Liberal opinions. The reward for their treachery takes the shape of an opportunity to contest, here and there, a seat in the Liberal interest.
Socialism is always impossible to the Labour faker, because to confess otherwise prevents his personal ambitions being realised. Seats in the House of Commons and other comfortable jobs are not given in return for Socialist propaganda, but only for capitalist propaganda.
The working class can only achieve their emancipation when they understand Socialist principles, and are determined to follow those principles to their conclusion. But they have first to learn, and the real Impossiblists are those who would teach them something else and at the same time claim that it leads to Socialism.