Monday, May 25, 2015

Socialism in Sheffield: The recent by-election (1930)

From the March 1930 issue of the Socialist Standard

The recent by-election in Sheffield would have appeared tragic had it not been so amusing. After a knock-out contest lasting several rounds the Labour nominee emerged into full public view in the form of a local Trade Unionist.

The Communist candidate, J. T. Murphy, also made the most of his local connections and his activities in the shop-stewards' movement during the war. His supporters, however, do not appear to have learned the lesson of the collapse of that movement, but still cling to the "industrial" illusions associated therewith. In the face of experience of the power of the employers on the economic field (as exemplified in rationalisation, etc.), they still swallow the yarn that it is possible to develop a movement which will "take and hold" at the point of production and successfully challenge the armed forces of the nation. Murphy took his stand on the Communist Party's programme of reforms (comically labelled "class against class") and left the basis of Capitalism untouched. He had the easy job of pillorying the failure of the Labour Government to solve the problems afflicting the workers; but in general his remedy was the delightfully vague one of "raising the workers' standard of living." Challenged to explain why the Communist Party had supported the Labour Party at elections over a period of six or seven years he took refuge in the feeble plea that the Labour leaders had been "obliged by circumstances to appear on the side of the workers." From which we reach the conclusion that the Communist Party backed them in 1923 and 1924 because the said leaders "led" the strike of 1926!

This champion of a "disciplined revolutionary international," however, was candid enough to admit that the Communists had maintained their support of the Labour Party "too long." They should, he said, have abandoned that policy immediately after the strike fiasco and not have waited till 1929. He was thereupon challenged to debate with a representative of the S.P.G.B., and this he accepted with the assurance that "he would debate with the devil himself." We cannot promise the workers of Sheffield any display of Mephistophelian fireworks, but the debate may provide them with food for thought.

The Labour nominee's case was so feeble that he dropped seven or eight thousand votes. Tory criticism was directed towards showing that "Socialism" had failed to do anything but add to the numbers of the unemployed, and relatively speaking he got away with the story very well. Possibly on some future occasion the local branch may invite him to explain why two million unemployed exist in Germany, and from three million upwards in the U.S.A., countries which have enjoyed the benefits of "safeguarding" for generations.

The Liberals' case was that the Labour Government needed gingering up, but probably could, with parental supervision, be relied upon to do the right thing. "After all," argued their street corner orators, "it was the Liberals who had made it possible for the Labour Party to experiment in social reform."

The election proved once more the vast amount of propagandist spade-work needed in this reputed "hot-bed of Socialism." We are not greedy! Socialists in Sheffield are invited, nay urged, to come and give a hand in this work.
Eric Boden 

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