Monday, December 16, 2013

No Glory: Remembering World War One in Music and Poetry (2013)

From the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

The launch of the No Glory in War 1914-1918 campaign took place in October 2013 at St James's church, Piccadilly in London. Robert Graves was married in this church in 1918 and his wedding was attended by Wilfred Owen shortly before his death on the Western Front. Good-bye To All That was Graves's autobiographical work on his experiences in the trenches of the western front. Owen was famous for his war poetry such as Anthem for Doomed Youth and the condemnatory Dulce et Decorum est.

David Cameron's speech of October 2012 at the Imperial War Museum (see Socialist Standard January 2013) about commemorations to mark the anniversary of the First World War inspired the open letter to The Guardian of 22 May 2013 where the signatories stated 'this was a war driven by big powers' competition for influence around the globe' and the campaign wants 'to ensure this anniversary is used to promote peace and international co-operation'.

The I Maestri orchestra conducted by John Landor with solo violin by George Hlawiczka performed Ralph Vaughan Williams The Lark Ascending written in 1914 just prior to the First World War. Although in his forties Vaughan Williams served as a stretcher bearer on the Western Front.

Actress Kika Markham, memorable in the Francois Truffaut film Les deux Anglaises et le continent, read the poem Last Post by Carol Ann Duffy and the poem A War Film by Teresa Hooley who had been inspired by seeing a documentary on the Battle of Mons. Scottish slam poet Elvis McGonagall read the poems Strange Meeting by Wilfred Owen, and Matey by Patrick MacGill who was wounded at the 1915 Battle of Loos. McGonagall read three of his own poems about the Black Watch Regiment in Fallujah Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and an indictment of warmonger Tony Blair called No Regrets.

There was unaccompanied singing by Sally Davies, Matthew Crampton, Abbie Coppard and Tim Coppard who performed the poem The Bridge by Edward Thomas who was killed at the 1917 Battle of Arras then a sung version arranged by Sally Davies. The story My Dad and My Uncle by Heathcote Williams was read out detailing the author's remembrances of his father and uncle's experiences in the First World War.

The poet and dramatist Jehane Markham read her poem Inheritance, and then spoke of her and Kika's father, actor David Markham who joined the Peace Pledge Union in 1937, and was a conscientious objector in the Second World War. Jehane read her father's written statement of May 1940 where he stated his 'pacifism was the affirmation of the dignity of mankind and the ultimate aim of brotherhood'.

The 'bard of Barking' Billy Bragg concluded the evening with a performance of songs that included Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream by Paul Simon, My Youngest Son Came Home Today by Eric Bogle, The Man He Killed, a sung version of a poem by Thomas Hardy, his own Between the Wars and Where Have All the Flowers Gone? by Pete Seeger.

Dr Neil Faulkner's booklet No Glory: The Real History of the First World War accompanies the campaign and is a good account of the First World War. Faulkner writes that 'The First World War was caused by military competition between opposing alliances of nation-states. These nation-states represented the interests of rival blocs of capital competing in world markets... to carve-up the world in pursuit of profit and power. The First World War was an imperialist war'.
Steve Clayton

The Party during the war (1989)

From the September 1989 issue of the Socialist Standard

What was never to happen again did in fact happen. In September 1939, after months of negotiations, appeasement and sabre-rattling, war was declared against Germany; a conflict that was soon to engulf the world. It was to prove a testing time for the Socialist Party of Great Britain. The Party's opposition to war had been well-publicised since our formation in 1904. Our Manifesto in August 1914 ended with the classic passage: "Having no quarrel with the working class of any country, we extend to our fellow workers of all lands the expression of our goodwill and Socialist fraternity, and pledge ourselves to work for the overthrow of Capitalism and the triumph of Socialism The World for the Workers!" A similar manifesto was published in September 1939.

The socialist case against war is unique but logical, arising from an analysis of capitalism and our opposition to it. Capitalism, based on class ownership of the means of wealth production and distribution, generates a relentless search by the various capitalist powers for markets and sources of raw materials. These are essential ingredients in the ever-growing chase for profits — the life blood of the system. The capitalist class tries to solve this antagonism between powers by diplomatic measures, or the turning of the screw by the more powerful on the weaker. But if this fails then war can be the outcome, and even in this age of nuclear annihilation the threat of war still dominates the foreign policies of in particular the major powers. So the socialist opposition to war is not a pacifist or a moral one but an inescapable conclusion of our general case. The total abolition of war and the threat of war will only be realised with the overthrow of capitalism and the restructuring of society on the basis of common ownership and production solely to meet human needs. For a more detailed analysis of our attitude to war there is no better reading than our pamphlet The Socialist Party and War.

Refusing to Fight
During the war our organisation had much to contend with. Our Head Office at Great Dover Street was almost demolished by a bomb, with the loss of many records. Strict paper rationing reduced the size of the Socialist Standard. The introduction of the wartime Emergency Powers legislation restricted what our writers and speakers could say, although this never prevented us from propagating the socialist case including our opposition to war.

But what of our members? We would all have a different tale to tell. Some, due to personal circumstances such as the pressures of family responsibilities, had to take on military service of some form or another. For the overwhelming majority of military age, however, it was a period of Conscientious Objectors Tribunals or of "being on the run". Adopting the latter course, I am sure, needed a certain type of personality. They had no identity papers, or perhaps forged ones, no ration book, and had to take any job where no questions were asked. These members were constantly on the watch for police raids to catch deserters from the armed forces. It was not an easy life. Finally, for those caught up in the military machine who then adopted the socialist attitude to war, it was sheer hell. These members, but a handful, would have a harrowing tale to tell.

For this writer, it meant registering as a Conscientious Objector when the call-up day arrived. The socialist case against war had been argued many times at different Tribunals, sometimes with success, but individual cases were largely a matter of luck. You could win or lose, and I lost. The Fulham Tribunal, where I appeared, was chaired by Judge Hargreaves and included a very nasty trade union representative — Mr Swayles — who certainly had no time for the SPGB and was particularly offensive to those appealing on religious grounds. I was turned down at the Tribunal and again at the Appeal Court and eventually served my sentence in Wormwood Scrubs Prison.

As a kid I had often played football against the walls of this establishment, little thinking I should ever be on the other side. To be locked up in a cell on your own for 20 hours a day is not only frustrating but boring. One library book a week was allowed; my choice one week was The History of Cycling which began at page 28: the other pages had been torn out by other prisoners as cigarette papers. The food, needless to say, left a lot to be desired. My training in sewing mail bags for the Post Office was not quite in the same category as the present government's training schemes; it did nothing for my future. An opportunity, during my daily exercise, to engage in conversation with a member of the Independent Labour Party (also in prison for his opposition to war) was the highlight of my stay. There were other SPGB members in the Scrubs at the same time, but "residing" in different blocks we had no contact. Rumours abounded: that all COs were to be released or moved into the country; that the Germans were suing for peace. Eventually another Tribunal did give me my freedom, and once again I joined my fellow members in the struggle. For a period land work in the heart of Sussex curtailed my activities, but I was soon to return to London to work for socialism, with all the enthusiasm of youth.

Socialist Activity Continues
It was a period of unprecedented outdoor meetings — Hyde Park, Woolwich, Finsbury Park, East Ham, to name but a few in London. Out of London there were Glasgow, Birmingham. Manchester and Bristol. The socialist case was heard by thousands of workers. Most of the audiences were tolerant and by no means antagonistic to the Party. This was very marked at Beresford Square, Woolwich, where a majority of the audience were often soldiers from the nearby barracks. There were of course the oddballs who wanted to drag you from the platform, or even have you shot, but such incidents were rare.

In Hyde Park the meetings were often interrupted by an air raid and we would beat a hasty retreat with shrapnel falling around from the anti-aircraft guns in the Park. The most vicious and unpleasant hostility came from the members of the Communist Party. They had wriggled this way and that way during the first months of war, and when Russia was attacked there was no greater supporter of the war than the CP. They would congregate at our meetings, hurling abuse at the speaker singing tne virtues of Stalin. Do they ever think back on those days?

May Day in Hyde Park was always a great occasion, with hundreds milling around the various meetings. The SPGB on that day hired a coal cart from which to speak, the horse contentedly grazing nearby out of harness. A panel of speakers would enable the meeting to carry on for 5 or 6 hours non-stop, and it was the one occasion when you could get away with selling literature in the Park. In those days the police always required the names and addresses of the speakers and usually asked what the subject was too.

Indoor meetings when the war first commenced were a non-starter because of the fear of air raids, but as things settled down so we filled Conway Hall time and again. There were good literature sales, bumper collections and enthusiastic audiences. I recall my first indoor lecture — 'Can Capitalism Cure Unemployment?' — one of a series run by Bloomsbury Branch at the Trade Union Club near Leicester Square. That I still speak on the same subject today says little for the ability of capitalism to cure this problem. I was soon speaking indoors and outdoors both in London and the provinces, and also ran a speakers' class. Leaving aside the sheer brutality and waste of the war, they were exciting times. Sadness would creep in when the death of a comrade was announced — killed by a bomb.

Competing for capitalism
After the bombing of Great Dover Street we set up headquarters in Gloucester Place, a stone's throw from Hyde Park. It was a grand house with well-proportioned and decorated rooms, and on winter evenings classes would be held on economics, history, politics, etc. Our next home in Rugby Chambers, Rugby Street, was the scene of many heated debates on the Executive Committee with plans aired for extending our propaganda in the provinces. The unofficial HO at this time for many London members was Lyons Corner House at Marble Arch. A pot of tea would last for hours as discussion took place on political matters, and many a speakers' list was drawn up by the Propaganda Committee at those tables.

The war years saw an intense concentration of propaganda, culminating in our first parliamentary election contest, in Paddington North in 1945. The war in the Far East was still going on; the class war in which we were engaged has never stopped. May its end be not too long in coming.
Cyril May

Alfred the Great (2013)

The Pathfinders column from the December 2013 issue of the Socialist Standard

“You would, if you’d had my leisure, have done the work just as well, perhaps better, than I have done it.’ The speaker, famously modest and generous in sharing credit, was Charles Darwin. The addressee was Alfred Russel Wallace, the co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection, described by David Attenborough as ‘the most admirable character in the history of science’, and the centenary of whose death has been the recent subject of public fanfare.

Darwin was not exaggerating, at least on the subject of leisure, because the story of evolution, with him on one side of the world collecting specimens in the Americas, and Wallace on the other side, doing the same in Malaysia, is in part a story of Victorian class privilege. While Darwin, propertied, educated, part of the respectable scientific in-crowd, had no trouble funding his leisurely Beagle voyage, Wallace faced nothing but struggle. Lacking social status, money or a university degree, Wallace left school at 14 to become an apprentice surveyor, educated himself through local libraries, travelled the railways with his brother by third-class open cattle truck, and lodged in low-rent digs so damp and dirty that his brother died of pneumonia. It was perhaps no surprise that Wallace became interested in social reform, went to meetings organised by followers of Robert Owen, read the works of Edward Bellamy and William Morris and considered himself a socialist.

It was at one of these social reform meetings that he met a kindred spirit, a hosiery apprentice by the name of Henry Walter Bates, an equally passionate autodidact who had left school at 12. Both had developed a keen interest in naturalism and in particular entomology. Both had read Malthus on population, Hutton and Lyell on geology, and Darwin on the Voyage of the Beagle (1839). Bates at just 18 had already had a paper on beetles published in the scientific journal Zoologist. What excited them most was the pressing question of the day in naturalist circles, which was the precise mechanism behind the transmutation of species. The debate over this was fierce, and due in large part to the activities of a Scottish journalist recovering from a psychiatric illness, one Robert Chambers, who in 1844 published anonymously a book entitled Vestiges of the History of Creation. This book attempted to bring together various partial theories of evolution into an overall coherent narrative, at the same time attacking Lamarckism and outraging religious conventions by locating the agents of change in purely mechanical processes, in so doing relegating the role of God to first cause. Chambers’ fear of being ‘outed’ as an evolutionist contextualises Darwin’s own fear and hesitation in publishing his own work, but Chambers needn’t have worried. Scientifically speaking the book might have been amateurish and speculative, with a lack of any solid research data, but commercially it was a sensation, quickly becoming an international bestseller and so respectable that Prince Albert read portions of it every day for the intellectual edification of Queen Victoria.

Being both self-made men still on the make, and burning to contribute to this debate, Wallace and Bates hit upon the wheeze of borrowing money to go to the Amazon to collect specimens. The motive was, as Wallace put it in 1847, ‘to gather facts towards solving the problem of the origin of species’, but there was a hard-headed business angle too. Naturalism was not just a popular intellectual topic in drawing rooms. Victorian gentlemen with private incomes had a mania for collecting exotica of all descriptions, and would pay handsomely for novel species that would drive their peers insane with envy. To Wallace and Bates, the Amazon was if not a get-rich-quick scheme then certainly a sustainable self-funding project. They managed to wring the money out of a commercial agent and set off for Brazil, where they worked indefatigably at building up prize collections, ruining their health in the process. Wallace went home after four years with his entire collection in order to secure further finance, but lost everything when his ship caught fire. Distraught, penniless, all his labours for nothing, he swore never to go to sea again. Bates meanwhile stayed in the Amazon and later became celebrated for his pioneering work on mimicry, bringing home after 11 years (by separate ships) nearly 15,000 species of which 8,000 were new to science.

For Wallace it might have ended there, but never is a long time and just a year later curiosity got the better of caution and he once again fought to get money for another expedition. This time he went to Borneo and New Guinea, where he lived with head-hunters and suffered miserably from malaria. The motive was his reading of Vestiges, which proposed that humans were descended from an ancestor of the orang-utan found in Malaysia. His agent repeatedly told him to stop wasting time with such speculative nonsense, and keep the lucrative specimens coming. But Wallace couldn’t let it go. His conviction grew through his studies that the process of ‘transmutation’ was entirely automatic, triggered by nothing more complicated than relative fitness for survival in the face of competition of species. His agent wouldn’t listen, so Wallace decided to write to somebody who would. His letter dropped on Darwin’s doormat like an atom bomb, with results that are too famous to need repeating.

Why is this interesting for a socialist? Not especially because Wallace himself was a socialist, because he wasn’t, at least not in the sense we mean. He’d never heard of Marx or Engels, never entertained the notion of abolishing capitalism rather than palliating its effects, and in later years became closely associated with John Stuart Mill’s land nationalisation movement, a futile attempt to turn the clock back by reversing the dispossessions of the Great Enclosures Act. Nor is it especially remarkable that the story of Darwin and Wallace was a story of class differences, as the history of science is full of such tales.

What is significant about Wallace is that he was in a sense a living refutation of another popular idea that was circulating in his lifetime, and which continues to influence class ideologies into the modern day, to wit, the Great Man Theory of History. In his book On Heroes, Hero-Worship and the Heroic in History, Thomas Carlyle stated baldly that ‘the history of the world is but the biography of great men’. Simply put, there was no underlying pattern to history, no progression, no process, merely a succession of influential human drivers. Had Napoleon, for example, died in infancy, there would have been no empire, no retreat from Moscow, no Waterloo. The theory played well among respectable academics like Hegel, Kierkegaard and Nietzsche and anyone who wished to emphasise the primacy of human will over natural forces, an essential component in the white colonialist intellectual justification for conquest and subjugation. Against this view stood Marx who argued that humans could choose to act but not in conditions of their own making, and that these conditions were driven by material processes that it was possible to comprehend scientifically. In short, great men did not make history, history made great men.

One dazzling illustration is the story of Alfred Russel Wallace. It shows that when the world was ready for the ideas of evolution, it did not all ultimately depend on Darwin. In the same way, when the world is ready for the ideas of socialist revolution, it will not all ultimately depend on us.

Mr. Maxton's Apology for the ILP (1928)

Editorial from the June 1928 issue of the Socialist Standard

Elsewhere in this issue we report a debate between the S.P.G.B. and Mr. James Maxton, who is Chairman of the I.L.P. Mr. Maxton insisted on treating the debate as one concerning him and his record rather than the record and policy of the I.L.P. In view of the chequered history of the I.L.P., this was not surprising, but such an attitude of repudiating the past and present leaders of his own party is not good enough. Mr. Maxton may, as an individual, repudiate the anti-Socialist actions and principles of Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, but there is only one way in which the I.L.P. can clear itself of responsibility for Mr. MacDonald, that is by expelling him.

To offer as an excuse the plea of tolerance for old comrades who "make mistakes" is an attempt to obscure the facts of the situation. When MacDonald and other prominent I.L.P.-ers supported the war in 1914, and Keir Hardie boasted of his success as a recruiting agent in Merthyr Tydfil, were these "mistakes"? (Will Mr. Maxton mention this when he speaks at the Keir Hardie Demonstration on June 23rd?) Was it a "mistake" that not one of the I.L.P. Members of Parliament voted against war credits during the war? Was it a " mistake " that I.L.P. Members were in the War Government?

The I.L.P. cannot escape the full responsibility for the actions of the Labour Party, since it has been content to remain inside that body. In the 1924 parliamentary Labour Party, raised to office by Liberal votes to carry on the administration of capitalism, out of 192 Labour members 120, a clear majority, were members of the I.L.P. As Mr. Roden Buxton, M.P., declared at the 1928 I.L.P. Conference,

The I.L.P. in Parliament was doing exactly the same thing as the Labour Party was doing. There could be no difference of opinion on fundamental issues. The fact was that they were doing the same day to day work.
Apart from its pre-war bargains with the Liberals, the I.L.P. is still guilty of urging the workers to return to Parliament men committed to the retention of the capitalist system. Mr. Maxton is perfectly well aware that MacDonald, Thomas, Hodge, Clynes, Henderson, and scores of other Labour M.P.'s, are not Socialists — why, then, does he and his party support these men at elections? Why does the Editor of the New Leader (May 25th) offer congratulations to the German Labour Party on their recent electoral successes, while admitting that that party is ready to "enter a coalition with the centre," that is, with the Catholic Party, open and avowed enemies of Socialism?

In debate, Mr. Maxton admitted that, after being in existence for more than 30 years, the I.L.P. still have in their statement of their aims the absurd phrase that "capital" should be "communally owned." He agreed that capital, being wealth used for the purpose of gaining a profit by the exploitation of the workers, cannot be communally owned, but he dismissed this as being merely a loose phrase of no importance. That it is more than a loose phrase is shown clearly enough in The Socialist Programme, published by the I.L.P. in 1924. Under the heading, "A Socialist Policy for Industry" (page 24), we find these words :—

The present shareholders in mines and railways could receive State mines or railway stock based on a valuation and bearing a fixed rate of interest.

The object of the I.L.P. is not, and never has been, Socialism. They do not propose to abolish the right of the capitalist to live by owning and to continue the exploitation of the workers. Their object is merely State capitalism or nationalisation, a reform which will not improve but worsen the condition of the working class. When Mr. Maxton announces his acceptance of Socialism and his repudiation of the policy of voting into power the defenders of capitalism, he is repudiating the programme, the propaganda, literature and the bulk of the members of his own Party.


Mr. Maxton's continual objection that he had not done the things that other leaders of the I.L.P. had done was met by our representative with the point that Maxton's own address last month (as Chairman of the I.L.P. Annual Conference) contained proposals that could be supported by any Liberal Capitalist. These proposals were: (1) "A narrowing of the gulf that separates rich and poor." (2) "Abolition of the status implied in the terms master and servant, employers and employed, ruler and ruled." (3) "Reduction of arduous labour to the minimum necessary to material comfort and the more equitable distribution of that type of labour throughout the entire community." (4) "Land and capital must be communally owned."

A summary of Maxton's speech was printed in their official organ — the New Leader (April 13th, 1928) — to correct the mistakes of the daily press. When our representative drove home the point that every parson and politician talked of narrowing the gulf between rich and poor but that the socialist stood for the abolition of the gulf altogether by abolition of classes, Maxton said that their own paper had not printed the words in full, which were that the gulf between rich and poor was to be narrowed to vanishing point.

Several weeks have elapsed since his speech was reported, but no correction has been made by Maxton in their own paper. Only when challenged by our speaker did he plead that it wasn't a proper report. But the "narrowing of the gulf" idea is actually the "philosophy" of the I.L.P., as is easily shown by the Living Wage proposals upon which they spend so much time.

Maxton's defence of the I.L.P. was similar to the reform campaign of Lloyd George or any Liberal or Tory vote hunter. He claimed that, as they wanted large numbers, they could only get them if they advocated what the workers wanted and concentrate on bad housing, low wages and similar details of working-class life.

That outlook is completely opposed to the Socialist case. The Socialist recognises that, however much the conditions are reformed, the real causes of poverty, unemployment and insecurity will be untouched, and the effects, therefore, always be with us.

If our programme were concerned with the reform of capitalist conditions, and, as Maxton put it, we went on dealing with one evil of capitalism after the other, then our policy would be no different to that of any Capitalist Party, and just as ineffective. We are Socialists because we realise the entire system must be abolished before the evils can be remedied.

The policy pleaded for by Mr. Maxton that we must offer the workers what they want and appeal to what is in their mind, is a justification for preaching any nostrum for the sake of numbers. Not what the workers in their ignorance think is the right policy, but what we Socialists know to be the only remedy is what we must advocate. If the workers want wars or tariffs, then the I.L.P. should advocate them, because that is the way to get numbers on their side.

James Maxton: a political failure (1988)

Book Review from the July 1988 issue of the Socialist Standard

Maxton's whole political life was devoted to the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He was its Chairman in 1926-1931 and again in 1934-39, served on various committees in the organisation and was one of its principal spokesmen in Parliament and up and down the country. So the measure of his achievement is to be looked for in the principles and policy of the ILP, its rise and eventual winding up.

In his book on Maxton in the Manchester University Press "Lives of the Left" series William Knox sets himself the task of evaluating Maxton's work. He rejects AJ.P. Taylor's assessment that it was "barren of achievement" but concedes that Maxton was not responsible for any identifiable body of political theory. On Maxton's claim that he was a Marxist, the author says that it was "a brand of idiosyncratic Marxism", whatever that may mean.

He quotes many opinions of Maxton: That he was a "powerful orator"; that he was "the finest gentleman in the House of Commons" (Winston Churchill); That he was "the greatest Briton of this generation both in his ideas and his life" and that "he made more socialists than any other comparable figure in Britain" (Fenner Brockway).

The author says that between 1922 and 1945 Maxton was "the personification of British left-wing democratic socialism", and offers this final judgement:

His oratory and challenging idealism influenced thousands of young people to become Socialists and instilled in them a vision of Socialist society which transcended the narrow, unimaginative doctrines of Stalinism and State Capitalism. As long as the idea of "Red Clydeside" and the world community of freely co-operative producers endures then so long will the name of Maxton, the "incorruptible conscience" of the British left. His search for a Socialist/Humanist solution to economic crisis and war is as urgent today as it was in the 1930s (page 150).
The reader of this may well wonder what exactly the author is trying to say. A critical look at Maxton's aims and activities in the ILP point to a much more definite conclusion. Maxton declared his great admiration for Keir Hardie, founder of the ILP and "Father of the Labour Party" and shared his views on aims and policy. (Maxton was, too, a great admirer of Lenin). He also shared Keir Hardie's weakness for making contradictory statements, sometimes declaring a commitment to socialism as a sole objective; sometimes looking to reforms of capitalism to solve society's problems.

Keir Hardie declared his unqualified support for socialism as defined by Marx in his From Serfdom to Socialism, published in 1907 when he was first Chairman of the Labour Party and three years later in his My Confession of Faith in the Labour Alliance. Maxton did the same in debate with The Socialist Party of Great Britain in 1928, a report of which was published in the Socialist Standard (June 1928). After the opening speech in which J. Fitzgerald had stated the case for the SPGB, Maxton said: "This state¬ment of socialist first principles was unassailable. The definitions were clear and correct. He accepted absolutely the diagnosis given". Several debates with the ILP took place over the years and it was customary for their speakers to take that line.

But later in the debate Maxton discovered "a point of difference". It concerned the need now to build up an effective machine for the achievement of socialism in the form of a majority of Labour MPs in the House of Commons. In this Maxton was following the strategy laid down by Keir Hardie when the ILP was formed in 1893. Hardie argued that it was useless simply to ask the workers to vote for socialism because they are not ready for it. As evidence he pointed to the inability of the Social Democratic Federation to get its candidates elected. Hardie's alternative was for the ILP to work first for the formation of a working class organisation with mass trade union support to send to Parliament MPs independent of the Liberals and Tories and then tackle the job of winning them over to socialism. That organisation was the Labour Party. Maxton repeated this in the debate: "The ILP seeks to induce the Labour Party to accept Socialism as their Object". But of necessity the strategy carried with it the tactic of promising all sorts of reforms in order to attract the votes of non-socialist workers. As Maxton put it, when defending the ILP's reformist "Living Income" policy: "The ILP wants socialism but the workers want a living wage".

The first half of the Keir Hardie strategy was a remarkable success story. The ILP concentrated on recruiting first the young local officials of the unions and then the national officials, so that by 1910 when there were 42 Labour MPs in Parliament more than half were members of the ILP. Its membership reached 50,000. As the Labour Party grew this continued and in 1924 when the first Labour government came into office, out of 193 Labour MPs 132 were members of the ILP. Twenty-six of them were in the government and six of them, including Prime Minister MacDonald, were in the cabinet. In 1929 out of 288 Labour MPs over 200 were members of the ILP. Again it was very strongly represented in the government and cabinet including, as before, MacDonald as Prime Minister. Among the MPs was another ILP member, Clement Attlee, who was to become Labour Prime Minister in the 1945 government. A distinction has to be made between members of the ILP who were candidates of local Labour Parties and the much smaller number who were the ILPs own candidates standing under Labour Party auspices.

So far so good. At that stage the ILP could congratulate itself on building up the mass party Keir Hardie wanted. But what of the next stage, getting the Labour Party to accept socialism as its object? If the ILP was to win over the Labour Party membership to socialism, who was to win over the ILP membership to socialism as a first step? For while the ILP published works by Marx, and Keir Hardie and Maxton could declare their support for Marx's conception of socialism, their own publications and election programmes were full of proposals for reforming capitalism. In the debate Maxton personally disowned some of these but that did not prevent the ILP continuing with them, because the majority of their own members had been recruited, not on the demand for socialism, but attracted by the reforms. A typical example of these many reforms was that dealing with unemployment, in the ILP's The Socialist Programme (1923). Having said that there was practically no unemployment in France, Belgium and Italy it explained how the same effect could be achieved in Britain if only the banks would "lend freely". Before many years had passed all of those countries, and Britain were submerged in unemployment much heavier than the level to be reached in the 1980s, but by then the ILP had discovered a new false cure for unemployment in the old rubbish of Keynes.

The ILP consistently misled the workers with its description of state capitalism (nationalisation) as socialism. One of its favourite nostrums was the nationalisation of the Bank of England. At the end of his life, when the Attlee Labour government came to power in 1945, "Maxton" says Knox, "especially welcomed the nationalisation of the Bank of England" (page 145) but by then the ILP had broken with the Labour Party and Maxton was opposed to re-affiliation.

With the formation of the first two Labour governments trouble had built up for the ILP in its relations with the Labour Party. In 1930 at a conference of the Scottish group of the ILP a resolution was passed demanding the expulsion of MacDonald from the Labour Party. The National Administrative Council of the ILP in June 1931 carried the following resolution:
It must be noted as a remarkable fact that to wage a Socialist fight against the poverty of the working class is made more difficult when a Labour Government is in power than at other times, and that obstacles are put in the way and threats directed against working class organisations maintaining that fight.
Maxton opposed the demand for MacDonald's expulsion. He was against expelling anybody. He wanted to keep them in the Party where they were "under control". He had got it all wrong. The ILP didn't control the Labour Party leadership, nor its own members who were leaders in the Labour Party. It was the Labour Prime Minister and his fellow ministers who insisted on enforcing the Labour Party discipline on the small group of the ILP's own Members of Parliament. It was over this issue that the ILP in 1932 disaffiliated from the Labour Party, by which time MacDonald and a few others had joined the Tories and Liberals in forming a National government. The whole of the Keir Hardie-Maxton strategy for socialism was in ruins.

Knox's statement about Maxton's oratory "which influenced thousands of young people to become socialists" can now be seen for what it is worth. It never even influenced them to remain loyal to the ILP, let alone to become socialists. When Maxton won the seat at Bridgeton in 1929 he got over 21,000 votes. When the ILP put up a candidate there at the 1955 election his vote was 2619 and he lost his deposit. After the 1945 general election the number of ILP members in Parliament had dropped to four, all of whom eventually drifted back into the Labour Party. The ILP has now vanished.

So what can be said of Maxton? He worked devotedly all his political life in the service of the ILP but his efforts achieved nothing for socialism because the Keir Hardie plan he followed was mistaken from the start. They had a wrong idea about the politics and economics of capitalism — and the same is true of all the long line of Labour Party leadership through MacDonald, Attlee, Wilson, Callaghan to Kinnock. As they see it, if you have the "right leaders with the right compassionate" policy as the government, all the evils of capitalism can be got rid of, one after the other. Marx and Engels wrote about such people in the Communist Manifesto in 1848:

To this section belong economists, philanthropists, humanitarians, improvers of the condition of the working class, organisers of charity, members of societies for the prevention of cruelty to animals, temperance fanatics, hole and corner reformers of every imaginable kind.

Keir Hardie, in 1907, said that the first "evil" they would tackle would be armaments. Eighty years later, with the destructive power of weapons multiplied a thousandfold, his political successors are still talking about it. On the political side Keir Hardie and Maxton imagined a working class becoming more and more attracted to socialism as they saw Labour governments progressively getting rid of war, poverty, unemployment, crisis, depressions and the rest. Capitalism isn't like that. Its "evils" are an integral part of the system itself, only to be removed by abolishing it - for which the Labour Party and the ILP never had, or sought, a mandate. So in 1987 we see the workers returning a Tory government to power for a third time.

The only organisation that can consistently carry on propaganda for socialism is one the membership of which is confined to socialists, with socialism as its only objective. The Labour Party and ILP never met this requirement. If winning over the working class to accept the socialist case is a painfully slow process, it is made more difficult by the reformist propaganda of the Labour Party and ILP.
Edgar Hardcastle