From the July 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard
The debate which took place in the House of Commons on March 20th, described by the daily papers as a Socialist debate, was a sheer farce. Those who moved and supported the so-called Socialist resolution never laid down the Socialist position; nor did Sir A. Mond deal with a single Socialist principle.
The resolution moved by Philip Snowden was dealt with in the April issue of the S.S., but some of the points raised in the discussion are worthy of notice, as they go far to prove the falsity of the position taken up by the Labour Party and the inability of Capitalist politicians to meet Socialist arguments.
In his remarks, Philip Snowden used a statement quite common with Labour leaders: "The Capitalist system is passing away.” A Conservative member retorted with the question: "Then why worry?" Obviously if Capitalism is passing away, the policy for the Socialist is to let it pass. In any case the Labour Party is not helping it to pass. Their policy is to beg and demand reforms to patch up the system and prolong it, and incidentally to confuse the workers by leading them to expect material alteration from reforms.
According to the newspaper report, Philip Snowden “disavowed confiscation and revolution." Most Labour leaders do the same, but none of them show how it is possible to pass from a system of society where the means of life are owned by a ruling class to one where they are owned in common, without revolution. Labour leaders everywhere repudiate confiscation and in doing so state their agreement with the present system, where the wealth produced by the working-class is confiscated to the use of the Capitalist class, but must not be "confiscated" back by the workers to their own uses.
On a level with the above was the comment in the "Daily Chronicle" (21/3/23) that Philip Snowden "has always, since he entered public life, been an evolutionary Socialist; and only the ignorant have ever attributed to him any belief in violence." It is only the ignorant who use such phrases. A man can only be a Socialist when he realises the need for revolution. Evolution only brings nearer the time when revolution is absolutely necessary: It can not effect the change. Socialism can only be established through revolution, consequently, the Socialist has no use for adjectives to qualify his Socialism. Being a Socialist, he works for revolution by educating his fellow-workers in Socialist knowledge. He tells them, among other things, the truth about violence. Under Capitalism the workers are kept in subjection by violence, or the threat of violence, in the last resort; and they cannot hope to throw off the yoke of wage-slavery until they are in a position to use violence successfully against those who enslave them. They can only do this when they control the fighting forces through Parliament. Violence, when necessary, is the method of the capitalist class; if necessary it will have to be the method of the working-class, when they have the power.
The most damaging part of the debate, perhaps, was the controversy as to the true position of the Labour Party. Sir Alfred said that at the last election nothing was resented more by most Labour members than to be accused of being not a Labour but a Socialist Party. The reply from the Labour benches was: "We are the Labour Party. It is the same thing." Sir Alfred replied :
“It is not the same thing. The hon. Member for Colne Valley knows it perfectly well, and so do other hon. Members, or they would not get so excited. I am extremely glad the mask is off at last. It is a clean issue between individualism and Socialism, a clean issue of private ownership against national ownership, a clean issue as to the right of the individual to the reward of his labour and his enterprise."
It is quite clear from this that Sir Alfred, as well as the Labour members, conceive Socialism as national ownership; but even this conception according to him was not publicly proclaimed as an issue by the Labour Party. That although the latter individually subscribed to nationalisation, they kept it in the background when soliciting votes. If this is true, is it because the workers already perceive that nationalisation, whenever it has been applied, has not improved the lot of those who come under it?
The daily papers claimed Sir Alfred’s speech as a victory over Socialism. As a matter of fact, according to the reports that favoured him, his objections told more against Capitalism than against Socialism. According to the "Daily Chronicle," he said: “State Socialism would make machines of everybody.” As State Socialism, or Nationalisation, is only Capitalism organised by the State in the interests of the Capitalist class—as the Post Office, Telephones, etc.—it is clear that Capitalism and not Socialism makes machines of everybody but Capitalists.
"Men work best for themselves,” said Sir Alfred. The workers, however, have no choice in the matter. The means of wealth production are owned by the Capitalist class, and the workers have to sell their labour-power to members of that class, or go without the necessaries of life.
“Taken over the whole population the decrease of, wealth is more detrimental than its division,” said Sir Alfred; but in that ease, what is to be said of the common practice of Capitalists in nearly every industry of restricting production for the purpose of keeping up prices?
"The greatest wealth accumulated by anyone who has created new undertakings is a small percentage of the total wealth he has created for the country,” was another statement described by the “Daily Chronicle,” as one of Sir Alfred’s “pungent aphorisms.” But no proof has ever been advanced that those who put capital into new, or old, undertakings, “create” anything. Capital is neither “created” nor produced by the Capitalist. The factories are built, the machinery made, installed and operated by the workers. Whether the Capitalist gain is a large or small percentage—unless he is a very small capitalist and has to do his own supervising—it is added to his banking account without effort on his part.
So much for Sir Alfred’s pitiful attempt to show that Capitalism is the best of all possible systems. When he taxes his business intellect for the purpose of remedying existing evils he is even more pitiful. On March 12th he outlined a scheme in the "Daily Chronicle” for dealing with unemployment. His suggestion was that money should be taken from the unemployed fund to subsidise employers who took men off the books of the exchanges.
Of course, such a preposterous idea could have no effect whatever on the number of workers employed. Those taken off the exchanges must either replace others discharged, or squeeze out some of those already employed.
It is not shortage of capital that is responsible for unemployment — though shortage of capital may handicap many Capitalists in a small way of business—but the lack of markets. Production is restricted by Capitalists, through agreements, to keep up prices, because unchecked competition in a limited market, with modern means of production, would bring down prices and reduce profits all round.
All the most important organisations in this country calling themselves Communist or Labour Parties have members in the Labour Party of the House of Commons. Not one of these, either in the debate, or at any time in the House of Commons, have ever said anything to make Socialism clear to the workers. Yet they have always claimed that they would be able to use the floor of the House for its propaganda. The so-called extremists, and out and out Communists, if they ever understood the Socialist position, exhibited no evidence of their knowledge when they spoke. These latter claim to be more advanced than the I.L.P. and Trade Union elements, yet they never raised a voice in protest when nationalisation was falsely termed Socialism by all those who took part in the debate.
To call nationalisation Socialism, and to hold up the Post Office, Telephones, Water Supply, etc., as examples of Socialism, is to spread confusion among the workers. When Sir Alfred Mond or Mr. Lloyd George do this they are guilty of lying; but the Labour members are guilty of that, and treachery as well, because they claim to lead and represent the workers. In any case, if they have nothing better than nationalisation to offer they are utterly unworthy of support by the workers.