With the election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour
Party, some on the Left are once again suggesting “socialists” should join the
Labour Party. The Socialist Party will disappoint them becoause we will have no
truck with this supposed workers organization. And it is a matter of principle,
not opportunism or dogmatic sectarianism that we oppose the Labour Party. This
debate from our earlier years is worth re-publishing as a statement of our
"SHOULD SOCIALISTS AFFILIATE WITH THE LABOUR PARTY?"
From the September 1913 issue of the Socialist Standard
A debate upon the above subject was held at the King and
Queen Assembly Rooms at Brighton on 25th July.
A local celebrity, Mr. Winchester, took the chair, and
introduced what he called “the two gladiators” to the audience. Mr. J. Ingham
(I.L.P.) took the affirmative, and Mr. J. Fitzgerald (S.P.G.B.) the negative.
In opening the debate MR.
said the subject was not what was Socialism, nor even whether the
legislation supported by the Labour Party leads to Socialism, but whether
Socialists should affiliate with that party with all its shortcomings.
For the sake of clearness, the speaker went on to say, it
would be as well to state that Socialism implied three changes—economic change,
political change, and mental change. That was the theory or aspiration of
Socialism. In practice it meant the revolt of the masses; but this revolt must
have power behind it, and this power was both economic and political.
The power behind the vote was the power of nomination, which
the working class have only had in late years.
As far as the capitalist class were concerned the S.P.G.B.
or I.L.P. or B.S.P. didn't matter much, and the only menace to the rulers in
society today were the Labour Party. They were demanding the right to manage
affairs for themselves. It might be true that they were not doing this in the
best way from the standpoint of the Socialist, and he aid not uphold the part
played by the Labour Party in the House of Commons, but they represented the
social consciousness of the the unions, who laid down the policy of the party.
The Labour Party consisted of the I.L P. and the Fabians—who
formed the intellectual Socialist wing—and the mass of the organised workers.
In all historic movements the intellectuality followed, it did not lead, the
The question the Socialist had to face was, should he help
the movement of the organised workers—the Labour Party—by being inside, or
should he play the part of the so-called intellectual and stand outside on a
mountain criticising and carping at their actions. Despite all their
shilly-shallying and support of the Government the Socialist should be inside,
doing his best to help it and to help it to take the right road.
The Revolution would be carried out by the workers becoming
class-conscious and taking hold of political power to overthrow their rulers.
In this connection he would point out that there had never been a traitor in
the House of Commons. Every member there represented the views of those who
sent him there. No member of the Labour Party could represent others than those
who sent him to Parliament.
Intellectual Socialists should be inside of the Labour
Party, guiding it by getting hold of the reins for that purpose. (Bell rang.)
said one fault he had to find with his opponent’s definition of Socialism was
the order in which the changes were placed. Before the working class could
carry through the political change having for its object the change in the
ownership of the means of life, there would have to be a change in their
understanding of the situation and a determination to alter it. Hence the
mental change must precede the political and economic changes involved in the
establishment of Socialism.
His opponent had said that the revolt must have power behind
it. Exactly. But what power? What must it consist of? To answer the question it
would be necessary to examine the power in the hands of, and used by, the
present rulers. The working class to-day were in want and misery because they
had no access to the means of life except by permission of the master class.
How did the master class retain their possession of those things? Leaving out
the various secondary agencies, the essential force came to the front when any
big dispute occurred, as a railway strike, a miners’ or a transport strike.
Then the army and navy and the judicial machinery were used, rapidly and
ruthlessly, against the workers.
These forces received their instructions from the War
Office, Naval Office, Home Office, etc., but the officials in the departments
were appointed by the House of Commons, and this was done without any reference
to the Hones of Lords, showing the character of the Labour Party’s campaign
against that institution.
Hence the capitalists must have control of Parliament for
the purpose of using the armed forces for the preservation of their property.
To get this control they must be voted into Parliament.
The people possessing the majority of the votes were the
members of the working class. Hence the political promises, the election
red-herrings, and the buying of the “leaders” of the working class when
elections were on. The capitalists clearly saw the importance of political
power, and spent millions to obtain it.
Where did the Labour Party stand in this connection? They
acted as decoy ducks to the capitalist class. From their first formation to the
present day they had refused to lay down any principles or policy in the
interest of the wording class. The Socialist Party’s Manifesto gave numerous
instances and proofs of their treachery, but one or two cases having a
particular bearing on his opponent’s statement would be useful.
In 1906 a group of nearly 40 “Labour” leaders were returned
to Parliament with the help of the Liberal Party. So much were they really part
of the Liberal party that when, a little later, a by-election took place at
Leicester, the Labour Party dared not contest the second seat. The same thing
occurred at Newcastle, but it was left for the January 1910 general election to
completely pull the veil away. A short time previously the Labour Party had
received an immense addition to its membership and leaders by the affiliation
of the Miners’ Federation, yet after the election they had only about 43 seats.
This result by itself was a collapse of the Labour Party, but worse than this
had happened. His opponent had said “those who nominate control," and had
stated that the members of the Labour Party had nominated their
representatives. At the 1910 general election the nominations of the rank and
file were withdrawn by the score at the orders of the Executive acting on the
instructions of the Liberal Party. Again, the election had been fought by
Liberal and “Labour” Parties on the Veto of the House of Lords and the Budget.
When the election was over Mr. Asquith announced that the Veto question would
be deferred until after the Budget had been taken. A paper called the “Labour
Leader” described Mr. Asquith’s action as one of treachery to his constituents.
When the matter was first voted upon the Labour Party voted for the Government.
They therefore were equally as guilty of treachery as Mr. Asquith.
In March 1910 the Labour Party moved an amendment on the
Army Estimates over the wages of Government employees, and when it was voted
upon about 22 were absent and 15 of the remainder voted against their own
amendment to save the Government.
The fact that the Labour Party had lost every three cornered
contest—as well as several others—in the January election, showed how
completely dependent upon the Liberals they were.
While the working class accepted “leaders” they would always
be misled. It showed that they had not yet reached that stage of class
consciousness that was necessary for their emancipation. When they became
Socialists they would abolish “leaders” and “leadership,” and keep control and
power in their own hands.
second speech said it appeared to him that the philosophy of the , S.P.G.B. had
changed since the issuing of their pamphlet on “Socialism and Religion”
according to Mr. Fitzgerald’s statements. There they laid down the materialist
conception of history as their basis, while his opponent took up the idealist
position. He was beginning to believe the S.P.G.B. had no intellectuality.
The working class must be free mentally from the influence
of their rulers, but every class who had revolted had leaders. His opponent had
stated that the S.P. were going to take control of the army and navy when they
had a majority in Parliament. Did they think the capitalists would let them?
Without organised labour outside political power would be useless. Men always
had had and always would have leaders. It would not be by teaching but by
economic pressure that the change would be brought about, and the mass would
follow leaders at the period of change. Bat ae they would nominate these
leaders they would control them. TheTories controlled those they nominated. Mr.
Lloyd George was controlled by his nominators, who forced him to introduce
measures that threatened his political career.
Snowden and Macdonald occupied the position of himself (Mr.
Ingham) and the S.P.G.B, fifteen years ago, while men like Broadhurst then took
up the attitude of Macdonald & Co. to day. Despite this, Labour politics
must lead to Socialism and the future laid with the trade unions.
If the majority were with him at the Conferences the clique
would soon be turned out. So long as the working class thought a clique
represents their interests they would support them. It was because they thought
the Liberal clique thus represented them that they supported them to day.
MR. FITZGERALD said that his opponent clearly contradicted
himself, and in parts admitted the correctness of the policy of the Socialist
If the workers must be free mentally from the influence of
their rulers, obviously a mental change was the first requisite. With reference
to the point of the lack of intellectuality on the part of the S.P.G.B., what
he (Mr. Fitzgerald) had said was that the S.P. contained no “intellectuals” of
the type condemned by his opponent. To try and twist this into an admission of
"lack of intellectuality ” was both cheap and childish.
With regard to leaders, it was, perhaps, a trifle
elementary, but as his opponent had introduced the point he must deal with it.
Under any system of organisation various activities had to
be delegated to different individuals, but this delegation of function did not
necessarily mean a sheep-like following, or the placing of power in the hands
of the delegates. Thus in the Socialist Party certain members were delegated as
speakers, some as writers, others as organisers, etc. But each and all were
under the control of, and obeyed the directions of, the membership. The
position of Mr. Ingham was similar to that of Keir Hardie, who stated that
mankind was a herd who followed leaders, and that that was "the purest
form of democracy” ! That, of course, was the sort of following the clique who
run the Labour Party wanted, so that they could make their bargains with the
Liberals for posts and positions a la Shackleton, Cummings, Mitchell, and
His opponent's statements on the army and navy showed how
little he understood the power of the ruling class. They controlled these
forces because they possessed the political machinery. When this machinery was
wrested from them by the working class, how could the capitalists prevent the
workers controlling those forces? He had dealt with these matters in his first
speech and his opponent had not shown a single point to be wrong.
His opponent’s next statement showed how completely he was
misled by the Anarchist rubbish re-labelled Syndicalism, that an economic
organisation can destroy capitalism. No matter what the form of organisation or
how complete its membership, such a combination of unarmed men would obviously
he powerless against the armed forces while the capitalists had political
Macdonald and Snowdeu may have occupied a position fifteen
years ago similar to that of his opponent to-day, but neither then nor now did
they take up the attitude of the Socialist Party — i e., the Socialist attitude.
If his opponent agreed that he must get a majority on his
side to get his views adopted, he was admitting the correctness of the policy
of the Socialist Party, for this was their position.
in his last speech said that delegation of
function was exactly the position of the Labour Party. To take up a position of
delegate of the organised workers one must be in their ranks, not outside. The
Macdonald crowd would be pushed aside by those inside the Labour Party, not by
those outside. While they (the S.P.) remained outside their organisation,
criticising and fault-finding, they antagonised the workers and had no
influence upon them.
By economic pressure, not by intelligence, the workers would
be forced to take control. The great trade unions were endeavouring to express
themselves upon society, and would change with the growing consciousness of the
workers. Thus the railway unions formed their great combination from inside; it
was not formed by any men outside. The economic pressure would force the
workers to realise the necessity for the Revolution, and the Socialists should
be inside, aiding this development and bringing to a realisation the Socialist
hopes and aspirations.
denied that the Labour Party adopted the policy of delegation of function that
he had described. Their policy was one of delegation of power —and this made
ail the difference. If a position outside the Labour Party would antagonise the
workers, then opposition to the Liberals would antagonise a still larger number,
as the working-class following of the Liberal Party was much greater than that
of the Labour Party. And actually what his opponent was defending was
Socialists joining the Liberal Party, for as he (the speaker) had shown them in
his previous speeches, the Labour Party was but a portion of the Liberal Party.
Take the question of nomination continually insisted upon by
his opponent. The rank and file could, within certain limits, make nominations,
but they did not control them. As shown in mass in Jan. and Dec., 1910, as
shown in various bye elections, the Liberal party controlled them, and at their
instructions scores of nominations were swept aside. The support of the
Government, even against their own amendments, coupled with these facts, showed
that the liberal managers held the Labour Party in their grip, and dictated the
policy as well as selected the candidates to be put forward. Hence his
opponent's whole plea was for Socialists to join the Liberal Party.
The Socialist knew the majority of the workers were still
below the stage of mental development necessary for the revolution, but
experience showed that the most effective method was to fight all the enemies
of working class interests, i.e., Socialism, to add to the education, and so
shorten the time required for the establishment of Socialism.