"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. INGHAM 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 movement.
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.)
MR. FITZGERALD 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.
Mr. INGHAM in his 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 Party.
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 others.
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 power.
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.
MR. INGHAM 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.
MR. FITZGERALD 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.