Saturday, March 27, 2021

Notes by the Way: Democracy in Russia. (1935)

The Notes by the Way Column from the March 1935 issue of the Socialist Standard

Democracy in Russia.

After decrying Parliament and democracy and practising dictatorship and suppression for 17 years, the Russian Government has had to respond to the pressure of discontent and economic forces and begin to relax the system which it claimed was the best of all possible systems and the only method of achieving Socialism. The All-Union Congress of Soviets on February 6th decided unanimously in favour of constitutional reforms proposed by the Government (see Manchester Guardian and News-Chronicle, February 7th, Daily Herald, February 2nd, Daily Worker, February 4). Among the changes are to be the introduction of the secret ballot in place of voting by show of hands; the abolition of the system of indirect elections, under which the elector, instead of voting for the central assembly direct, voted for candidates to a local soviet, which voted for a regional soviet, and so on up to the centre; equal voting rights for town workers and peasants—in the past the town workers had more representatives than were their due according to their numbers. There is no indication however that political parties will be allowed in opposition to the Government Party.

What is really entertaining is the statement made by M. Molotov that Russia is going to take over “all that was best in the Parliamentary system” (Manchester Guardian, February 7th). It is only a few short years since the Communists were 100 per cent. sure that the parliamentary system was rotten to the core, a mere capitalist device, useless to the Socialist movement.

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Canadian Premier Embarrasses the Reformers.

Nobody can complain that capitalist politics are dull these days. While the Bolsheviks are going over to a parliamentary system, Mr. Bennett, Conservative Prime Minister of Canada, is raiding the programmes of his Liberal, Labour, and Communist opponents. All the observers agreed that Mr. Bennett would be hopelessly defeated at the next election and that the Liberals would come into power, with the Labourites (the Canadian Co-operative Commonwealth Federation) a likely second. Then suddenly Mr. Bennett proclaimed a “New Deal,” stole all the most popular points out of his opponents’ programmes, made fierce attacks on the evils of capitalism, and in short upset all calculations.

Here in a nutshell is the answer to the Labour-Communist argument that the way to establish Socialism is to rally the workers on a reformist programme. The capitalists can always, if they wish, adopt the programme or some of it, and round up the voters.

Now the Canadian Labourites are uneasily wondering what their next move shall be.

In the meantime Mr. Bennett is not doing things by halves. Perceiving that among the electors there is a lot of interest and. admiration for certain foreign “left wing" politicians, Mr. Bennett cleverly raids that also by expressing his admiration for the politicians in question. At a dinner at Montreal on January 28th he spoke as follows (Times, January 29th, 1935): —
  he thought the capitalist system should continue, but if the profit motive which had been its mainspring for centuries was left uncontrolled, conditions would arise disheartening to mankind and ruinous to civilisation.
   He agreed that he had held different views in the past, and gave an account of the influences which had helped to convert him. Conversations with M. Litvinoff at Geneva had played their part, he said, and he expressed admiration for Sir Stafford Cripps and Mr. John Strachey. describing Mr. Strachey as “one of the profound thinkers of our times.”
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Tory “Socialism."

Mr. MacDonald’s message to University Conservatives, telling them that their party has always been more or less Socialistic, was obviously designed to make easier his personal position as “Socialist" Prime Minister of a Conservative Government. The effect on old-fashioned Conservatives must have been startling. At once The Times gave prominence to a letter from Dr. Hearnshaw protesting that State capitalism, as exemplified in the Post Office and Telegraphs, is not Socialism, but is “for entirely non-Socialistic ends" (Times, January 12th), thus rescuing Disraeli, Shaftesbury, and other Conservative leaders from the doubtful honour MacDonald wished to give them. In order to support his plea for clarity Dr. Hearnshaw quoted from the Socialist Standard, but after seeking accuracy in one direction immediately went on to inaccuracy in another. It suited him on this occasion to oppose a certain misuse of the word Socialism, but he was not concerned with accurately representing the methods advocated by Socialists. So he proceeded to state that Socialists employ the methods of “general strikes or Bolshevist revolutions" to achieve Socialism.

The principal offenders in the misuse of the word Socialism—apart from the Labour Party and I.L.P., who invariably offend—are the newspapers. Almost all of them do it habitually. Even The Times, which is more accurate than some of its cheaper brethren, often writes of the Labourites as Socialists. Curiously enough, side-by-side with Dr. Hearnshaw’s letter was one from the British Empire Union calling the London Labour Party the “London Socialist Party."

Some newspapers do it out of simple ignorance and an inveterate inability to be accurate. Others, like Lord Beaverbrook’s papers, offend wilfully. Lord Beaverbrook employs tame “left-wingers" as Labour correspondents. Let him ask them whether they think that State action is Socialism, and the Labour Party a Socialist party.

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Cardinal Bourne and The Labour Party.

From a Times editorial on the death of Cardinal Bourne, head of the Catholic Church in this country: —
   When, more than thirty years ago, Dr. Bourne, the youngest of the English Roman Catholic Bishops, was chosen for the metropolitan see of Westminster, the appointment was received by his own communion with surprise and with grave doubts. He seemed to be a contrast to his great predecessors. He had not Wiseman’s profound learning, nor did he appear to possess Manning’s statesmanship and social enthusiasm or Vaughan’s commanding personality. But the Vatican knew their man, and their choice has long been abundantly justified. . . .
   Everyone will recall the profound effect produced by the broadcast of the Cardinal’s brief and pithy condemnation of the General Strike of seven years ago. But he persistently refused to declare membership of the constitutional, non-revolutionary Labour Party inconsistent with fidelity to the Church.
(Times, January 2nd, 1935.) 
But it must not be imagined that the Cardinal was in any way unsympathetic towards the efforts of the humbler classes to ameliorate their lot through legitimate political action. Some of the stiffer Tories among his flock frequently demanded that he should place the Labour Party out of bounds; but his Eminence always replied that Catholics might work and vote for any of the three great political parties so long as those parties remained within the four corners of Christian ethics and that none of them drifted into Socialism of the Marxian school.
(Times, January 1st, 1935.)

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The Absurdity of Mixing Socialism and Reforms.

The Times asks the Labour Party to explain why it has a long list of reforms, if it really believes that its so-called “Socialist" programme will obviate the need for any of these ameliorative measures. It is a mystery to which no Labourite can ever give a satisfactory answer.
  Why the Labour Party should keep in its programme a long list of proposals for ameliorative legislation, to improve industrial and social circumstances, when it claims to possess one grand remedy for all the economic ills of the community, and to lack only the power to apply it in every department of national life, has been a little puzzling; but it has the practical effect of giving the party a choice of policies to set before the country when a General Election comes.
(Times, January 17th, 1935.) 

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Communists again Support the Labour Party.

The history of the relations between the Communist Party and the Labour Party (summarised in the Socialist Standard, October, 1931) has taken a further twist which lands the Communists back where they were 12 years ago. The position at the 1931 General Election was that the Communists nowhere supported Labour candidates, at least if they did it was apparently not on official instructions. Now the Conference of the Communist Party will again require Communists to work for the return of Labour Party candidates, where there is no Communist in the held. This is merely an extension to parliamentary elections of the policy already applied in the recent municipal elections. At South Kilburn and Willesden in October, 1934, two Communist candidates were put forward for the Council elections, and then officially withdrawn, according to a statement of the Communist election agent, “in the interests of unity with the rank and hie electors against the Municipal Reform candidates. We shall call on all our supporters to vote for the Labour candidates in these two wards." (Willesden Chronicle, October 26th, 1934.)

At St. Pancras, Southwark, Hendon, and apparently all over London and the Provinces there were last-minute withdrawals of some of the Communist candidates in order to help the Labour Party.

There were, however, the usual entertaining developments of Labour candidates publicly repudiating the Communists who were supporting them; for the reason, of course, that Communist support is in many neighbourhoods a sure way of losing votes. At Finsbury the Labour candidate, Mr. F. T. Lynch, issued a repudiation of this kind, and was hard-hearted enough to describe the Communist offer of support as a wrecking manoeuvre designed to let the Tory in.

Of course, the Communists hoped to get Labour support for their own candidates, but their two-faced policy availed them nothing, for, according to the Times (November 3rd, 1934), all of their 62 candidates in London and all of their 45 candidates in the Provinces were defeated.

It need hardly be said that the Communists everywhere followed their usual practice of soliciting votes on a programme of reforms. In North-West London the Communist Party issued a Manifesto, cadging for votes on the following reformist pleas:—“Extra winter relief," “free boots for the unemployed," “new school buildings," “immediate 25 per cent. reduction in rent of all Council houses," “more playing fields," “work at trade union rates to provide houses at rents workers can afford to pay,” etc., etc.

In the Gorbals District of Glasgow the Communist, Mr. McShane, came out strongly for the very revolutionary demand: “Vote and fight for the de-rating of working class houses."

He also demanded, “immediately,” a two-year programme of 20,000 houses for the workers, the “immediate ending of every slum in Glasgow,” and the “75 per cent. rate exemption for all workers’ houses."

(Why not 100 per cent.?)

Other of his demands were “Soviet Power in Glasgow,” more workers and less work on the trams and buses, and no more evictions.

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Mr. Arthur Woodburn and Capitalism.

Among the interesting features of the elections was a letter to the Glasgow Herald (October 26th, 1934), from a candidate, Mr. Arthur Woodburn (who masquerades as a Marxist), claiming that his party’s (i.e., the Labour Party’s) schemes for nationalising the banks—
   are purely of a business character and can be justified on grounds of efficiency and public policy.
He explained that nationalisation of the banks “does not in any way interfere with the normal functions of assisting industry, except in so far its their services might be supplied cheaper by an elimination of overlapping and waste.”

Here speaks the ambitious Labour leader, assuring his future masters that they need fear no attack on capitalism.

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The Robin Hood Bank Clerk.

Recently a case came before the Courts of a bank clerk who had transferred money belonging to wealthy clients or to the bank itself to the accounts of poorer depositors. The sum ran into a few thousand pounds, and an unsympathetic Court sentenced him to 12 months' imprisonment. Seeing that the Douglasites believe the banks can create tens, hundreds, thousands, and millions of pounds at no cost except the actual writing of figures in a book, why did they not point out to the learned judge and the hard-hearted bank that the supposed theft of thousands of pounds was quite illusory, and that at most the bank had only been robbed of the time taken to make the entries, and the cost of pen, paper and ink -say 2s. 6d. in all?

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A Political Curiosity.

A letter from Mr. J. Middleton Murry, a leader of the “Independent Socialist Party,” to the Times Literary Supplement (December 6th, 1934):—
  Sir,  I have no objection to being called a Communist, provided it is in a reasonable context, with proper qualifications. Mr. Wyndham Lewis’s letter affords neither of these safeguards. Therefore, I wish to be allowed to say that within his frame of reference I am not a Communist, but simply a democratic Socialist. When the term Communist is applied to me and used (as Mr. Lewis appears to use it) to suggest that I am an adherent of some Russian Communist orthodoxy, promulgated from Moscow, I must claim my correct “political” label. I was quite accurately described both by your reviewer and Mr. Heppenstall as the adherent of a Marxism which owes “as much to Blake and to Jesus, to Shakespeare and to Keats  . . . as to Marx.” I see no reason why this description should be simplified and I distorted to suit polemical needs.
Yours very faithfully, 
J. Middleton Murry.

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Labour Party's Lack of Socialist Convictions admitted by Mr. Herbert Morrison.

From a speech at the Paris Sorbonne (Daily Herald, December 1st, 1934): —
   The British Labour Party is a Socialist Party. It believes that the existing economic muddle and confusion can only be effectively remedied by the public ownership, direction and planning of the nation’s economic resources, and it desires to see a similar policy applied all over the world.
   Definite Socialist convictions are not growing among the British electors as fast as their attachment to the more general and immediate ideas of the Labour Party.
   Labour is particularly popular for its support of peace policies.
(It will be noticed that Mr. Morrison misuses the word Socialism by applying it to the schemes for rationalised and planned capitalism with which he and his party are so much concerned.) When, last year, the Labour Party won a by-election at Swindon they did so in just the manner suggested in Mr. Morrison’s speech, i.e., by soliciting the votes of non-Socialists who happened to be attracted by reforms and immediate issues. Read Dr. Addison’s explanation of his victory, which he attributed to several things, but not to Socialist convictions among the electors: —
  The new member as a Liberal was Minister of Munitions and Minister for Health, and after joining  the Labour Party in 1923 was Minister of Agriculture in the last Labour Government.
  After the result Dr. Addison said: —
     “I attribute my victory very largely to the line I have taken on the issue of peace and the League of Nations. I believe that has appealed to many people, especially in these troublous times. Another point which has told strongly in my favour is the means test, for in the borough there are many cases of hardship. Generally the result shows that the people are tired of the National Government.” 
—(Manchester Guardian, October 27th, 1934.) 
Edgar Hardcastle

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

"In the Gorbals District of Glasgow the Communist, Mr. McShane, came out strongly for the very revolutionary demand: “Vote and fight for the de-rating of working class houses.""

That'll be Harry McShane, who was a leading Communist in Scotland - and especially Glasgow - up until the early 1950s when he broke from the CPGB and eventually became a leading supporter of the politics and ideas of Raya Dunayevskaya. As a young man - and prior to joining the CPGB - McShane had been a political colleague of John Maclean in the years when Maclean was at odds with the early CPGB.

Read McShane memoir, 'No Mean Fighter', many, many years ago. A wonderful book.