Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Editorial: The "Practical" Politicians. (1910)

Editorial from the April 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

Had the Labour Party intended to show the rank and file of its members how much it is in the hands of the Liberal Party, it could scarcely have shown it better than in its action over the Veto question.

At the General Election all their candidates were desperately anxious to appear as supremely "practical" politicians, and to avoid frightening the voters by standing as representatives of the working class. To occupy the latter position would mean running as Socialists, and laying before the workers the opposition of interests that exists between employer and employed. But such an attitude is denounced by these “Labour leaders ” as “unpractical,’’ “impossible,’’ and in other terms that are found so useful when argument has failed.

Therefore they went before the electorate with such a splendid position that Mr. Snowden said in the "Daily News” (3.2.10):
   “The demand for social reform which the Labour Party's persistent propaganda work has created has expressed itself very considerably at this election by votes given to Liberal candidates even against Labour candidates, because the Liberal Government was believed to stand for all that was immediately practical in the Labour Party’s programme.”
Mr. A. Peters, National Agent of the Labour Party, also said :
  “the questions of the Lords’ Veto and the Budget were almost identical with those of the Liberal Party; or to put the point in another way, it was rather too much to expect ‘the ordinary m in in the street’ to pick out the distinction.”—“Labour Leader,” 4.2.10.
Practical politics up to date! Arrange your programme so that the ordinary voter will be persuaded, by that programme, to vote for your supposed opponents, and you will have won political distinction and a reputation for hard-headedness.

But were they opponents? Curious that opponents should occupy positions so much alike that the voters can see no difference. Like a flash however comes the answer when Parliament meets. A few days before a rumour goes round that, as is usual with the Liberals, their election cry is to be dropped and the “great Lords’ Veto” is to be indefinitely postponed. The chairman of the Labour Party makes a public statement that his party will not be satisfied with such a position. When Parliament meets Asquith confirms the rumour. “What he has said he has not said.” The Irish party kick up a row, and here, apart from the merits of the Veto, the Labour Party could have floored a tactical point by keeping their election pledges and refusing to support the Government. Instead they showed their complete subjection to the Liberal party by supporting Asquith. Not only do they lock up the Government in breaking its pledges, but every Labour Member deliberately broke his own election pledge for the purpose of assisting the Labored party !

Yet the cup is not full. Scarcely has this of the unity of Liberal and “Labour” been given than Asquith, under pressure from the Irish, withdraws, and promises, more or less, to take the Veto before the Budget, and the Labour Party are left wondering how they are to find excuses for their position. Mr. Clynes tries some word-spinning in the “Labour Leader," but even that journal has to admit that “the Labour Party has failed to make the most of one of the most magnificent opportunities history can record."

This on March 4th. On the 7th Ramsay MacDonald moved an amendment on the Army Estimates, regarding wages and conditions of employment in the Government departments. On Tuesday after a long debate Mr. Haldane promised that if anyone said they were not acting up to the spirit of the (Fair Wages) resolution they would refer it to the same tribunal as in the case of contractors. Instead of refusing to take this promise the Labour Party were prepared to withdraw the amendment and leave the Government as free as before. But the Tories forced a division—then fifteen of the “practical” politicians voted for the Government and against their own amendment! Only three voted for it, the rest (including the mover) did not vote!

What farther proof can the most hardened Labourite demand of the asinine stupidity and deliberate treachery of the “practical politicians” of the Labour Party ?

The Great Hoax. (1910)

Editorial from the March 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

The “great fite” between the Lords and the Commons is over “ bar the shouting." We may be reminded that bar the shouting it was never commenced—which, of course is perfectly true. We will therefore correct ourselves and put it this way: the bottle of political pop which the Liberal politicians uncorked—after vigorous preliminary agitation to bring it up “heady"—with such ostentation a few weeks ago, has got nearly through its effervescence. It has boiled and bubbled and toiled and troubled; it has frothed and foamed and raged and spluttered and spat fire; it has looked daggers and thunder and threatened plague, pestilence and famine; it has raved of red ruin and revolution and so frightened us with forewarning of volcanic eruption and sudden death that we have forgotten all about the comet. But if it frightened us it really meant no harm: it was a quite good-natured modicum of shandy-bluff, whose nature it is to be a little boisterous while it may. Now it has given up the gas and wants nothing more 1 than a quiet corner in which it hide its relic.

Well, it has fulfilled its mission—let it die. So say those who uncorked it; so said we ere yet it was uncorked. But it was so beastly easy to prophesy in such a case that we are almost ashamed to remind our readers of the circumstance. Well, let it die ; and let its miserable undertakers of the Liberal and Labour party find oblivion for its little ditch water corpse. It has served to carry the Liberals into power; it has served to bribe a way for those emasculates of the Labour movement, those eunuchs of capitalism—Barnes, Hardie, Thorne, MacDonald and crew—a path to the vicinity of the flesh-pots of Egypt, and nothing more was required of it.

As for these Labour mumpers, some of them were inclined to set up a howl when the fraud of the “Lord’s veto" was deliberately exposed to the view of the swindled electorate. In their anxiety to preserve their countenances they yelped. But their masters’ eyes were upon them and they very soon shook off their distemper. They slept the night on it, and in the morning were foremost in finding excuses for the swindle. What else could they do? Disobey their Liberal masters and refer the case to their Liberal constituents? Not likely! They had been at some pains to solve the poverty problem— for themselves and in their own cases —and are no great believers casting their bread upon the political waters. So they turned to covering up their Liberal masters’ treachery— which, by strange coincidence, was the only way of hiding their own. It was one of those “odd jobs in the Literal workshop” it is their special function to execute with neatness and despatch.

And now we simply ask those to whom we have given warnings in abundance, to watch these leeches who are battening upon their life’s blood, and if their own eyes and ears will tell them nothing, then we may draw the blanket over ours and sleep— for they are helpless.

Party Paragraphs (1910)

Party News from the March 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

Our SIXTH ANNUAL CONFERENCE will be held at Easter and promises to be satisfactory in every respect. A splendid suite of rooms consisting of two halls, cloak rooms, etc., have been secured at 
for Friday and Saturday, 25th and 26th March. Conference will commence each day at 10.a.m. On the Friday evening a SOCIAL EVENING will be held (doors open 7.30, commence at 8) and our North London Comrades guarantee a triumph.

The Hall adjoins Harringay Park Station (Midland), and is a 1d. tram ride from Finsbury Park Stations (Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Tube, and Great Ninth and City Tube).

Teas will be provided at the Conference at 6d. each, and catering will be continued throughout the evening.
* * *

Socialists willing to join the proposed Kennington Branch are invited to communicate with
W. McCartney,
20, Manor Place,
Walworth Road, S.E.
* * *

Socialists in Croydon who desire the formation of a branch of the Socialist Party in that district, are requested to communicate with 
P. G. Barker,
7, Corporation Road,
* * *

The debate between Mr. P. Alden, M.P., and our comrade Anderson has been arranged to take place on Friday, April 1st, at the Earlsmead Road Schools, Tottenham.

* * *

Our Tottenham comrades are again contesting two Wards in the forthcoming District Council Elections and will win—ultimately, of course.

* * *

Our exposure of the Social Democrats in our February issue seems to have caused a more than usually lively flutter in their camp, and while the truth of our statement is not denied, the endeavour is being made to discredit its worth by shouting “Tory newspaper ! ” It may therefore be as well to state that the “Coventry Sentinel’’ which we quoted is no more a Tory paper than is “Justice,” the “Clarion” the “New Age,” or the “Labour Leader.” The following, taken from its leaderette on the S.D.P. will make this clear.
  “Our readers will share the regret we feel that a wing of the Socialist party which once wielded a fair amount of influence has suffered the humiliation of rejected proffered services. In attempting to run in harness with a Liberal at Northampton, Mr. Quelch and the Social-Democrats have made an unwise step. Their resolve not to fall from grace again comes too late. . . . Jealous as we are for the honour of the movement, we deplore the decadence of the S.D.P., which appears to be due to a determination to secure office at any price.”
—“Coventry Sentinel,” 25.12.1909.
* * * 

The receipt of a copy of this paper is an invitation to subscribe.

Kropotkin on the French Revolution (1910)

Book Review from the March 1910 issue of the Socialist Standard

Kropotkin’s work on the French Revolution, just issued in its English edition, professes to be written from the point of view of the “common people”. The author says: “The Parliamentary history of the Revolution, its wars, its policy and its diplomacy, has been studied and set forth in all its details. But the popular history of the Revolution remains still to be told. The part played by the people of the country places and towns in the Revolution has never been . . . narrated in its entirety.” (Page 4.) Kropotkin claims that his work, to a certain extent, fills the gap which previously existed. “the people,” he says, “long before the Assembly, were making the Revolution on the spot; they gave themselves, by revolutionary means, a new municipal administration.” (Page 108). Further: “The Assembly only sanctioned in principle and extended to France altogether what the people had accomplished themselves in certain localities. It went no further.” (Page 125.) Again, the middle-class Brissot said: “It is the galleries of the Convention, the people of Paris, and the Commune, who dominate the position and force the hand of the Convention every time some revolutionary measure is taken.” (Page 357.)

We know to-day that the French Revolution was a bourgeois revolution, that from the assembling of the States General to the days of the Directory there was a succession of bourgeois assemblies, and that, above all, fear drove the Royalist party to cede first one point and then another, and further, that the bourgeoisie, once in unstable control of the State, was compelled, in order to keep the allegiance of its own lower ranks and the help of the incipient proletariat, to grant measures of relief, of political and legal reform. And, of course, a plentiful crop of promises. As Meredith puts it: “The rich will not move without a goad – I have and hold – you shall hunger and covet – until you are strong enough to force by hand.”

The French revolution was, then, a bourgeois revolution, made by a wealthy class, a class which, having gradually attained a position of economic advantage, determined on the grasping of political power as the proper safeguard of its interests. There can be little doubt that the English Revolution of 1640 and the great French Revolution were enacted by such.

But Kropotkin does not adopt the Marxian view that the root of historic change is to be found chiefly in economic development. He says that “It is always ideas that govern the world”, and he contends that two currents made the French Revolution. “One of them, the current of ideas, concerning the political reorganisation of States, came from the middle classes; the other, the current of action, came from the people,  . . . who wanted to obtain immediate and definite improvements in their economic condition.” (Page 1.)

There have been many attempts to explain the French Revolution in other than economic terms. Kropotkin thus largely attributes it to the work of the philosophers and teachers who preceded the Revolution, but after all his concept differs but little from that of Louis the Sixteenth, who, when he encountered the works of Voltaire and Rousseau in the library of the Order of Malta, referred to them as the source of all his misfortunes. Other historians have spoken of the whimsical and unbalanced character of the French people as the cause of the great Revolution, and this is surely as plausible as an explanation as the “idea” hypothesis of Kropotkin. Frederic Harrison, in his essays on the Meaning of History, gives a long and remarkable list of economic changes which the Revolution made, and Kropotkin himself recognises this when he says: “Before all this (i.e., the Revolution) could be realised they (the bourgeoisie) knew the ties that bound the peasant to his village must be broken. It was necessary that he should be free to leave his hut, and even that he should be forced to leave it, so that he might be impelled towards the towns in search of work.” (Page 8.) “As to the real authority, that was to be vested in a Parliament, in which an educated middle class, which would represent the active and thinking part of the nation, should predominate.” (Page 7.)

I remember once seeing an advertisement in an American magazine puffing up a well-known brand of revolvers. It was illustrated with a picture full of meaning. A paymaster stood behind a wire screen doling out wages. A few dozen piles of coins were laid in a row, and behind the screen were a few dozen rough looking men waiting for their wages. Within easy reach of the paymasters’ hand lay a revolver; one, as the advertisement grimly said, reputed for quick, accurate work at short notice. The revolver was emblematic of force, but here is the rub – what was there to prevent the men themselves likewise possessing these weapons celebrated for quick and accurate work? I think we can safely say that in the majority of cases it was the “idea” deeply imprinted on the minds of the men that the paymaster had a right to his piles of gold. Not that the illustration stops here, or we should be idealists; but this servile idea that property is sacred, a test of virtue and ability, had been sedulously instilled into the minds of those men by the paid orators and quibblers of the capitalist class. It is our work, we who are conscious of the working of class society, to combat that idea, and in this work we are aided by economic conditions; whilst the economic environment existing at the time of the great French Revolution was not adapted to the social ownership of the means of production and distribution. We Socialists, just as much as the hired hacks of the capitalist class, are products of our time. We move along the line of the law of things; to-day insecurity of existence for the many, production concentrating into monopoly, our vigorous propaganda, these are the elements which make for Socialism.

Kropotkin, however, gives us some acute criticism. He deals with the Communistic conception of Babeuf in a manner which is capable of application to our would-be sociologists of the I.L.P. Altogether Babeuf’s conception was so narrow, so unreal, that he thought it possible to reach Communism by the action of a few individuals who were to get the Government into their hands by means of a conspiracy of a secret society. He went so far as to put his faith in one single person, provided this person had a will strong enough to introduce Communism and thus save the world! (Page 491.) And so to the “Socialists” previously named it seems possible to reach Socialism by anticipating the workers’ class-consciousness, by “giving” the proletariat something; promising them amelioration with their enemies in power, and being so near sighted as to imagine that the crux of the problem lies in getting the suffix M.P. at the end of their leaders’ names, whilst the Socialist democracy is still in the making.

Kropotkin, on page 391 says: “Either there will be in the revolution (of the future) a day when the proletarians will separate themselves from the middle-class  . . . or this separation will not take place, and then there will be no revolution.” Now Kropotkin gives a detailed account of the position of Maximilien Robespierre. Robespierre was the tool of the third estate, the instrument of the newly wealthy, who were satisfied with the position they had obtained. He was not their hypocritical, conscious tool, for he was noted fir his rectitude and sincerity. But he was doing their work, nevertheless, when he was annihilating the Herbertists and Montagnards; for during the Terror, Louis Blanc tells us, out of 2,759 executions only 650 were wealthy people. Robespierre guillotined his “more advanced” co-workers. Then the “more conservative” of the bourgeoisie soon despatched Robespierre.

Liebknecht, in his short treatise No Compromise, says that the German Social Democrats have used opponents against opponents, but have never allowed their opponents to use them. Whether that be true or not, Kropotkin shows how during the French Revolution the proletariat were used by the bourgeoisie. At critical moments the poor were brought into the streets to fight and terrify the royalists. But when the terrifying was done they were sent back to their hovels to be patient and starve, and when the royalists had been beaten, the bourgeoisie did all that was possible to destroy the proletarian organisation in the sections. When the armies returned from the frontiers the men of the Faubourgs were surrounded and disarmed.

Kropotkin also brings out beautifully the work of the unknown toilers in the Revolution, the unknown organisers in the sections, of the type of the Communard of eighty years later, who died fighting at the barricades shouting, “For the solidarity of Humanity”. The Positivists set aside a day for the worship of “All the Dead”, of all those heroes by whose efforts and sacrifices, hopes and ideals, a better world has been made possible. Is it too sentimental to suggest that we also, amidst times of hoper and gloom, should give more than a stray thought to all those unknown comrades whose individual minute but collectively massive efforts have made Socialism something more than a Utopian dream?
John A. Dawson