Monday, April 3, 2023

The Socialist Forum. (1931)

Letters to the Editors from the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

A correspondent (A. J. G., Wimbledon) asks why we do not get inside the Labour Party and help to convert it to Socialism. He writes : —
“I am still a member of the Labour Party, because though differing widely from our present leaders, I think there is yet hope of getting the Party machine under the control of genuine socialists. (The same applies to the T.U.’s.) 
As the break down of the Capitalist system becomes increasingly apparent, involving more poverty, unemployment and strikes, the position of some of our leaders of “sitting on the fence” will be more and more difficult and a choice have to be made by them on a clear issue. 
I suggest that your influence (had you been inside the Party) in conjunction with the I.L.P. and many Communists who still remain in the Party, would have helped to bring about the above result.”

Our correspondent’s letter deserves close attention because it expresses the point of view of a considerable number of workers who have perceived the necessity for abolishing capitalism, but have not yet perceived that there is only one way in which that can be brought about. Each of the statements in the letter contains a partial truth, but in each case a deeper examination leads to a precisely opposite conclusion.

He says that he differs from the leaders of the Labour Party, but overlooks the very important fact that if this is a correct indication of his position, then he differs also from the overwhelming majority of the rank and file of the Labour Party, because the opinions and actions of those leaders are a very close reflection of the opinions of the members as a whole. We are aware that it is a constant slogan of the series of “Left Wing” movements, which follow each other like the days of the week, that the leaders do not represent the rank and file’s views ; but it is without any foundation. The same leaders with the same old tricks are elected and re-elected with monotonous regularity. When Maxton and Cook started their short-lived campaign which was going to carry a fiery cross through the Labour movement, they had to confess within a few short weeks that the working class wanted MacDonald and Thomas, with all their black record of betrayals of working-class interests.

Our correspondent says next that the leaders of the Labour Party and the Trade Unions will have to give up sitting on the fence and make a choice on a clear issue. Why must they do anything of the kind ? Was not the war in 1914 a clear issue? And the “greater production” campaign in 1919? And the series of “agreed” wage reductions in the past two years? And taking office on Liberal votes in the House of Commons? They have all been clear issues to the Socialist, but not clear to the members of the Labour Party. In consequence, the leaders have either sat on the fence or come down solidly and with the uproarious approval of their members on the capitalist side of it.

Lastly, we are told that we should have been inside the Labour Party, associating with the I.L.P. and the Communists, trying to oust the present leaders. Our correspondent disregards the facts. In the past four or five years I.L.P. members have been a clear majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party. So that every one of the leaders from whom our correspondent “differs widely” have been elected by the I.L.P. members with whom he wants us to associate for the purpose of opposing those leaders ! For a whole series of elections the Communists were in precisely the same boat. As we have pointed out in these columns year by year, the Communist Party has repeatedly told the workers to vote for MacDonald, Thomas, Frank Hodges, Clynes, Henderson, and the rest of the leaders. When Mr. Maxton was asked if he would try to get rid of MacDonald, he replied that he would not.

Lastly, our correspondent is silent upon one very important question. He gives us to understand that he is busy in the Labour Party trying to convert the members of the Labour Party and trying to get rid of the anti-working-class leaders. May we ask him a few questions? Does he tell the workers to vote at election times for these leaders? Or does he tell the workers that voting to return these men to Parliament is voting for the retention of capitalism? If he does the former, then he is not helping Socialism forward. Further, if he, or we, were inside the Labour Party, telling the workers to vote against Labour Party candidates, we would be confusing the minds of the workers. And, moreover, the Labour leaders would soon see to it that we were put outside, where we belong. Finally, the only way to obtain Socialism is to advocate it, and not to help the Labour Party by increasing the mental confusion already existing.

* * *

A Defence of the I.L.P.

Mr. W. Latimer (Carlisle) objects to our policy, particularly our criticism of the I.L.P. The chief points in his letter are given below, together with our reply.
“(1) I accuse you of misrepresentation of the I.L.P. . . . You wrote that the I.L.P. is not a Socialist organisation or party. What is it then? Capitalist?
(2) What are you doing to nullify the attacks of the capitalist class?
(3) How are you capturing the various weapons (State and Municipal) for the workers?
(4) Have you a policy to put into practice when you acclaim power?
(5) What are you doing to Socialise the Labour Party and the Trades Unions?”

(1) The I.L.P. stands for nationalisation under which the capitalist class will continue in existence, but will draw their income on Government stocks instead of on company shares. “The Socialist Programme” (published by the I.L.P. in 1923) says :—
“The present shareholders in mines and railways could receive State mines or railway stock based on a valuation and bearing a fixed rate of interest.” (Page 24.)
That is capitalism. The party which advocates it is a capitalist party.

(2) While pointing out the limitations of trade union action, we urge the workers to resist attempts by the employers to lower wages. This has been made more difficult by the actions of the Labour Government in reducing the pay of Civil Servants. A majority of the Labour M.P.s are members of the I.L.P., which therefore cannot escape responsibility.

(3) The I.L.P. members in Parliament were all elected on the Labour Party programme, described by Mr. Maxton as a capitalist programme. That is not capturing the political machinery for Socialism, but for something else.

(4) Socialists want power only for the purpose of introducing Socialism. That is our programme.

(5) By propagating Socialist principles among the workers we try to make Socialists of them, whether in the trade unions or in the Labour Party or any other non-Socialist party. Our work is made vastly more difficult by I.L.P. Propaganda, which misleads the workers into believing that nationalisation is Socialism and will benefit them. (See I.L.P. pamphlet, “Socialism in Queensland,” for an example of harmful I.L.P. Propaganda.)

* * *

Why workers do not join the Socialist Party.

January 16th, 1931.

To the Editor, 
The Socialist Standard.

Dear Comrade.
Re your question to non-members, I venture to put forward a few reasons as to the apparent apathy among sympathisers. I am certain there must be some thousands of Socialists in this so-called second city of the Empire who are unattached to any party. At the Sunday night meetings here at West Regent Street, your speaker, Comrade Shaw, can and does, hold large and attentive crowds, seldom or never are questions put forward. I am convinced that a fair percentage of these crowds is made up of individual who have, at one time or another, been members of a political organization, and are, as it were, sitting on the fence. The following are some of the reasons (in my opinion), why men hold aloof :—

(1) Many are convinced Socialists that grudge the time and energy that is expected of them when joined up in an organization—Laziness.

(2) Not a few would join up and take an active part in the movement, but for the fact that it would cause unpleasantness, if not unhappiness in the home. One real Socialist in the midst of anti-Socialists is always in hot water, and to one who takes an active part for Socialism the water is extra hot.

(3) No doubt a number are timid or funky Socialists, and are somewhat obsessed with the thought that to be seen or heard by gaffer or boss taking part in Socialist propaganda, means, if not the sack, becoming a set man.

(4) Again, I believe there are many who have made up their minds that Socialism won’t come in “their” time, have become disgruntled at the apathy of the masses, and are out to get as cushy a time possible out of the present system.

The above four reasons apply to Socialists only ; outside of these, of course, are a host of bewildered individuals who listen to the various speakers of different organizations—each and all slating each other ; these bewildered ones won’t read or think for themselves, hence their bewilderment. As to those who oppose the position of the S.P.G.B., I mention one view which I often hear advanced. Many Socialist politicians start off in all good faith and earnestness, but when they get mixed up in Westminster or Trade Union atmosphere, they are bought over, become corrupt, make a position or pension. They have arrived, lifted out of the gutter, as it were, on the backs of others. They are convinced that Socialism won’t come in “their” time; their bread and butter is secure. They become apathetic or hypocritical, and the cause is deserted.

There can be no guarantee for the integrity of any man, no man is infallible; human flesh and, too often, the spirit, is weak.

Would S.P.G.B. M.P.s have this integrity and soundness of spirit? Would they withstand the temptations by which many have failed ? Would they hold the bridge or sell the pass?

I know a reasoned answer can be given to above, but without doubt, this view sticks in the minds of many. Let us hope this letter will open up discussion on same.
Yours for Socialism,
F. J. Derrett.

The above letter very well sums up the various reasons given by sympathisers for remaining outside the Socialist Party. We would suggest to our sympathisers that they should reconsider whether their reasons are really adequate.

A number of readers have pointed out that many Socialists are undoubtedly in the position that they dare not actively associate with the Socialist Party without certain loss of their employment. This applies particularly in small country and provincial towns, where any public activity is sure to come to the ears of employers.

The reference in the above letter to the untrustworthiness of political representatives is worth special comment.

Electors who want a certain end but are not prepared to support the only way of getting it are sure to be disappointed. Nothing can prevent it, not even the most incorruptible of political representatives. How, for example, can any M.P. keep his pledge to solve the problems of unemployment and poverty if the electorate are not prepared to have Capitalism replaced by Socialism? M.P.s being human, and being usually under the necessity of earning their living by keeping their seat, have no choice but to go on doing those things that the electors are prepared to support.

The only remedy is a politically educated electorate which knows the problems and the solution. Nobody can “sell” an electorate which knows what it wants and how to get it. The Socialist Party  not say, “Support us and all will be well.” Our message to the workers is, “Study Socialism yourselves ; organise in the Socialist Party to get it.” Only Socialist knowledge will protect the workers against lenders and misleaders.

The chief trouble now is not that workers’ leaders sell out and go over openly to the other side, but that they remain in the workers’ movement because the workers approve of Capitalist policies. Should a Socialist M.P. sell out, that would end his association with the Socialist movement.
Editorial Committee.

A Socialist Searchlight. (1931)

From the April 1931 issue of the Socialist Standard

Labour Party as Investors' Party.

It is often alleged by Labour Party members that their party differs from the Liberals and Tories in that it is a workers’ party.

If they mean by this to claim that Liberal and Tory supporters are, in the main, not workers, the facts are against them. At least 85 per cent. of the voters are members of the working class, and since the number of Labour voters at the 1929 General Election was only two-fifths of the total number who went to the poll, it is evident that there are more workers who vote Liberal and Tory than there are who vote Labour.

The Daily Herald used to claim that it was “the workers’ paper.” Now its posters proudly proclaim that—


In its City column, on March 13th, an article was published, telling a reader “how to invest £12,000.” Won’t this be good news for unemployed miners, and railwaymen whose pay has just been reduced !

The Daily Herald’s editorial on March 12th contains still more cheering news. It says :—
“The investing public is, on the whole, doing remarkably well.”
We ask readers who still support the Labour Party to think over that statement. Nearly two years after the Labour Party came into office, when the workers are suffering more than they have ever suffered, they are told as a fact that “the investing public … is doing remarkably well.”

* * *

A War-Time Curiosity. The Leeds Conference.

The following passages are extracted from a circular letter sent out on May 23rd, 1917, by those responsible for the calling of the still-born Workers’ and Soldiers’ Council which was to have been inaugurated at the Leeds Conference. It is interesting to observe that several of the signatories are now members of the Labour Government.
“To Trades Councils, Trade Unions, Local Labour Parties, Socialist Parties, Women’s Organisations, and Democratic Bodies. 
Dear Comrades,—The conference to which we invited you is already assured of a great success. It will be one of the greatest democratic gatherings ever held in this country. It will be historic; it will begin a new era of democratic power in Great Britain. It will begin to do for this country what the Russian revolution has done for Russia. …. It will be a democratic conference to establish democracy in Great Britain. Russia has called us to follow her. You must not refuse to answer that appeal. Send in your application for delegates’ cards at once, etc.”—On behalf of the United Socialist Council we remain, yours fraternally, 
H. Alexander, Chas G. Ammon, W. C. Anderson, C. Despard, E. C. Fairchild, J. Finsberg, F. W. Jowett, Geo. Lansbury, J. Ramsay MacDonald, Tom Quelch, Robert Smillie, Philip Snowden, Robert Williams.
May 23rd, 1917.”

* * *

The Daily Herald's Two Voices.

Daily Herald Editorial on December 10th, 1930:—
“The man in the street, asked what is the cause of our present troubles, would be likely to answer, “There’s not enough money about.” The man in the street would be largely right. The world is not . . . producing enough gold for its needs. . . . Shortage of gold means shortage of currency. Shortage of currency means shortage of purchasing power.”
Daily Herald Editorial, January 20th, 1931:—
“The pessimists received a further blow yesterday when a £3,000,000 issue of new debenture stock by the London Power Company was oversubscribed within a few minutes. Here is evidence in plenty that there is in this country money available for sound schemes. . . . How can it be attracted into industry again? The sure way is by increasing public confidence in our industrial future, and by persuading the ordinary consumer to buy more of the goods which are on all sides being offered at reasonable prices.”
It may be remarked that the oversubscription of public issues of shares was going on throughout the latter half of 1930. We wonder, too, whether the “ordinary consumer” who is asked to spend more includes the workers whose wages have been reduced while the Labour Government has been in office.

* * *

The Cotton Lock-Out.

It is interesting to notice that the factor which induced the employers to withdraw the lock-out notices and abandon their intention to try to impose a further 12½ per cent. reduction in pay and an increase in hours was the refusal of the locked-out men and women to give their trade union officials power to enter into negotiations. Reynolds’s Illustrated News (February 10th) says :—
“What brought about the collapse of the lock-out undoubtedly was the firmness of the rank and file of the operatives.

Right from the beginning of the dispute they have resolutely refused to give their Trade Union leaders power to negotiate with the employers, and have held our for the complete ending of the more-looms system.”
The Socialist Party has always pointed out the danger which arises from the practice of giving the officials power to negotiate in secret with the employers.

* * *

Unemployment in France.

A Blow to the Birth-Controllers.

Last year the publishers of the New Generation distributed (with the assistance of the New Leader a leaflet by G. A. Gaskell and R. B. Kerr, M.A., LL.B., showing how birth control would abolish unemployment. France, they said, was the “one country . . . which is free from unemployment.” France used to have unemployment, but birth control cured it. “Surely this is a magnificent achievement for birth control !” wrote the authors. Unfortunately for them, France hasn’t got rid of unemployment. In the August, 1930, Socialist Standard we gave the reasons why France had temporarily escaped obvious unemployment, and prophesied that unemployment would soon appear.

Now we have some definite evidence on the subject. The special correspondent in France of the News-Chronicle wrote as follows (22nd December, 1930) :—
“No reliable unemployment figures are available, though the Government admits a slow, but steady, increase. M. Lenoir, the Secretary of the Confederation Generale du Travail, declares that the situation is serious and that the number of unemployed is increasing every day. ‘It is not,’he adds, ‘seasonal unemployment. The workless are legion in the textile and metal industries of the North. . . . There is also a lot of short time everywhere.’”
Further evidence was given by Mr. H. J. Greenwall, who was in France for the Daily Express. He wrote (January 13th, 1931) :—
“There are, at the moment, about a quarter of a million unemployed in France, while those on short time bring the figures up to about half a million.”
The French representative at the recent Geneva Conference on unemployment admitted that there are in France 350,000 wholly unemployed and about 1,000,000 partly unemployed, excluding all firms employing under 100 persons (see The Times, February 7th). These figures were confirmed by the French Government. The Paris correspondent of The Times also reported that the census of 1921 showed 537,000 unemployed, and the census of 1926, 243,000. France is now faced with threatening strikes and lock-outs in several industries owing to attempts to reduce wages.

By the end of February, according to The Times March 7th, 1931), unemployment had risen to at least 650,000, with a further 1,500,000 partly unemployed.

So much for birth control as a cure for unemployment and poverty.

* * *

Mr. Maxton's acrobatics.

Mr. Maxton has often declared that the Labour Party is a capitalist party, but he always takes good care to keep inside that capitalist party, in the warm. The thought of being put out into the cold, where there are no political jobs going for the bright young men and women of the I.L.P., fills him and his supporters with the wildest alarm. He was taunted with this inconsistency at the Conference of the Scottish I.L.P. He said (Forward, January 17th) :—
“He had been told in the House of Commons that a man could not ride two horses. All I can say is that if you cannot ride two horses you have no right to be in the bloody circus. . . . 
Surely I, in the Left Wing, am entitled to my acrobatics, and to have one foot on the Labour official horse and the other on the fighting socialist horse.”
A resolution to disaffiliate from the Labour Party was defeated by 112 votes to 25. Bold Mr. Maxton, riding his two horses as usual, “said he would not speak either for or against the resolution.” This is how the “leaders” give a “lead” to their followers.

* * *

The I.L.P. drops members.

It was disclosed at the Conference of the Scottish I.L.P. that the number of Labour M.P.’s who are members of the I.L.P. has fallen to 156. A year ago, when the Party held its National Conference, it was stated in the Report to Conference that nearly 200 I.L.P. members were Labour M.P.’s. So that over 40 Labour M.P.’s have in a year decided that the I.L.P. can be of no further use as an aid to a political career. The I.L.P. still, however, counts as members a clear majority of the Labour M.P.’s.

It is interesting to notice how the membership of the I.L.P. has fallen in recent years. In February, 1925, according to the “Socialist Annual, 1925,” published by the I.L.P., there were approximately 50,000 members and 1,028 branches. At the Conference in 1930 it was stated (Manchester Guardian, April 3rd, 1930) that the branches had fallen to 748. If the membership has fallen proportionately to the fall in branches, it would have been not more than 30,000 a year ago. The income from affiliation fees fell by over 40 per cent. between 1925 and 1929.

The Report of the National Administrative Council to the 1931 Conference shows a further decline. The branches now number 712, and affiliation fees have fallen to £.1,523, as compared with £3,467 in the year ended January, 1926.

According to Mr. F. A. Ogg (“English Government and Politics,” p. 541), the I.L.P. in 1914 had 60,000 members, and in 1927, when its book membership was 50,000, the actual paid-up membership was nearer 30,000.

* * *

The Well-To-Do I.L.P.

The I.L.P. has objected to the Government’s proposed Voting Bill because it is not sufficiently democratic. The I.L.P. put down several amendments, but we observe that neither they nor the Labour Party, the Liberal Party or the Tory Party, propose to abolish the clause which compels candidates to deposit £150. To find such deposits is a hard task for a party (such as our own) dependent on the spare cash of members of the working class. It is by no means difficult for the wealthy parties referred to above. The dependence of the I.L.P. on well-to-do supporters is illustrated by their recently published appeal for funds. Four lists of subscribers have been issued up to February 20th. Out of a total amount of £1,169, no less than £709 was subscribed by only 14 persons. This included one donation of £250 and three donations of £100. Although the I.L.P. complains of dwindling funds, it is still able to count on well-to-do supporters.

* * *

Capitalism and class barriers.

Defenders of capitalism are fond of pointing out that everyone has a chance of climbing to the top. The statistical department of the German Government has just conducted an inquiry to find out how many workers’ sons have actually been able to climb into the ranks of the privileged class. An account of the inquiry was given in the News-Chronicle on December 10th, 1930.

It was found that there were only four workers’ sons among 247 bankers, stockbrokers and big business men ; two among 258 company directors ; none among 122 big property owners ; six among 203 actors, singers, theatrical managers ; none among 300 political economists, etc. ; and only about seven among 1,370 high Government and Municipal officials. 

No daughter of a working man was found to have penetrated into the learned professions or big business circles.
Edgar Hardcastle