Monday, May 3, 2021

MacDonald’s hypocrisy. (1923)

From the October 1923 issue of the Socialist Standard 

A minor storm hath arisen in one of the London districts in connection with certain past actions of one Ramsay MacDonald.

Some of our members in the district in question asserted in discussion that MacDonald had backed Sir John Brunner’s Bill to Amend the Education Acts and thereby increase child slavery.

A Mr. Easton took up the point and, apparently so staggered at the suggested duplicity of his “honourable Leader,” wrote MacDonald on the matter. Below is a copy of what appears to be the second letter Mr. Easton wrote MacDonald :

Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, M.P

Dear Comrade,

You will remember I wrote you a little while back re certain charges made against you by the Socialist Party of Great Britain. You suggested I should demand specific evidence. They have brought to our Branch of the I.L.P. a copy of the “Socialist Standard” for July, 1906, wherein is quoted an article of Frank Rose in the “Clarion” stating that you back Sir J. Brunner’s Bill to allow children to be worked by the capitalists. That is the charge, you would help the cause if you will give your reply. I think you were then General Secretary of the I.L.P., 1 am not quite sure.

I hope you will not think me impertinent in following up this matter.

All best wishes.
Your faithful comrade,
(Signed) Fred Easton. 
July 25th, 1923.

Readers will notice that the charge contained in the letter is, “that you backed Sir John Brunner’s Bill to allow children to be worked by the capitalist.” To this charge Macdonald replied as follows :

My Dear Easton,

Thank you very much for all the trouble you have taken. The statement that I backed a Bill of the nature described is nothing but a fabrication. I cannot remember the provisions of Bills I backed in 1906, but I know this perfectly well, and I think that I can ask you to accept my attitude on education and child labour as a proof of my statement, that whatever Bill I backed was to protect children from the capitalist and to give them a better chance of education.

From time to time, the section whom you are now fighting has misrepresented—sometimes on account of their ignorance, but not infrequently on account of their malice—things I have said and done, and I can assure you this is an instance of it.
Yours very sincerely,
(Signed) J. Ramsay MacDonald.
July 25th, 1923.
His reply to the charge, then, is, in the first place, “The statement that I backed a Bill of the nature described is a fabrication.”

Before the Brunner Bill was introduced into Parliament 12 and 13 were the earliest ages at which children might be partially exempted from attending day school.

In May, 1906, Sir John Brunner asked leave to introduce a Bill to amend the Education Acts. The description on the back of this Bill runs as follows :



To amend the Education Acts, 1870 to 1903. Presented by Sir John Brunner,
supported by
Sir William Anson, Mr. Burt, Mr. Butcher, Mr. Cameron Corbett, Mr. Crooks, Mr. Eve, Mr. Ramsay MacDonald, Mr. Masterman, Mr. George White, Mr. Whitley, and Mr. Yoxall.

Ordered by the House of Commons to be Printed 21st May, 1906.

Printed by Eyre and Spottiswoode, etc., etc. [Bill 220.]

On the cover (or first page) of this Bill it states :
  “This Bill provides that local authorities may fix thirteen as the minimum age for total exemption from attendance at a public elementary school if they frame bye-laws for the attendance of children so exempted at some recognised continuation school for at least three evenings a week until they attain the age of sixteen years. In the rural districts it is provided that the local authorities may fix twelve as the minimum age for total exemption in the case of boys who have definite and regular agricultural employment, and whose parents desire that they shall be so employed, on condition that they attend a continuation school for at least two evenings a week during the winter months until the age of sixteen.”
Page 1, Clause 1, contains the two para¬graphs covering the above two points.

It will be seen that, where formerly children were only partially exempted from day school attendance, i.e., half-timers, this Act gave them total exemption, thus allowing them to be worked, their whole day, in the mind and body destroying atmosphere of modern industry at an earlier age than formerly, and thereby increasing the amount of child slavery—the essence of the charge against MacDonald.

He “cannot remember the provision of Bills I backed in 1906.” Oh, perfidious politician ! Was it then of such small account as to be easily forgotten, this attempt to smother youthful bloom in factory hells? The brutalisation of childish minds; the maiming and dwarfing and mis–shaping of tiny limbs under the influence of the machine?

Not content with working children of such an early age, the whole day long they must needs complete the diabolical work by driving them to school in the evenings, instead of allowing them this small opportunity for the rest and amusement so essential to childhood. They take away the child’s opportunity of acquiring education during the normal time—the daytime—and seek to pump knowledge into him when he is too tired to think. And this is done in the interests of those who want cheap labour.

Imagine the harm suffered by a child leaving the suffocating atmosphere of a factory to work in the close atmosphere and artificial light of a schoolroom ; or leaving the backaching work of the fields to stoop over a desk and cramp little fingers striving to form letters ; or leaving the work of a long day of concentration upon work under a foreman or overseer to force the wandering thoughts to concentrate upon figures under the exacting rules of the schoolroom.

Was this action of MacDonald’s such as “to protect children from the Capitalist and to give them a better chance of education” ?

As to the “better chance of education,” the harm done to the general health and mental capacities of children in the towns where the half-time system nourishes has been frequently dwelt on. Educational experts have pointed out that the children come to school tired and sleepy and lose education during the most important time of their lives ; and of this MacDonald, as a one time teacher, must have been well aware.

To estimate more fully the depth of MacDonald’s treachery one should consult the Report of the Thirteenth Annual Conference of the I.L.P. (1905), page 55, and read clause 5 of their programme of “demands,” which demands—
“The raising of the age of child labour, with a view to its ultimate extinction.”
Compare this “demand” of the party of which he was secretary with the terms of Brunner’s Bill which he backed, and it will be easy to decide from whence comes the “fabrication.”

No wonder Macdonald said, at a Westbourne Park Fellowship meeting on March 12th last:
  “The work of the politician was one long experiment with truth.”—(“Daily News,” 12/3/23.).
If Mr. Easton wishes the evidence of his eyes to verify the statements quoted above, he can obtain it in two ways. Either obtain the Brunner Bill from the Government stationery office, or visit our Head Office and examine the document by arrangement with the General Secretary. The same remark applies to other “unbelievers.”

1 comment:

Imposs1904 said...

Hat tip to ALB for originally scanning this in.

The aforementioned article from the July 1906 issue of the Socialist Standard is not yet online. I'll see what I can do. Sadly, scanning in 1914 material from the Socialist Standard is always a pain in the arse because of the poor quality of the PDFs I have available.

I thought the ILPer, Fred Easton, rang a bell. He's mentioned in Ken Weller's 'Don't Be A Soldier' as "a methodist Sunday school teacher, who had been thrown out of his church because he took 'thou shalt not kill' literally. He also ran the NLHL's Socialist Sunday School on a non- religious basis." That means that Easton - and the local SPGBers who had annoyed him so - were most probably in the Islington (maybe Tottenham) part of North London.