Hyndman February 1910

Revolutionary Social-Democracy.
The Curse of Compromise in Great Britain.


Source: International Socialist Journal (United States) February 1910, Vol. X no. 8, pp. 681-685;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


What I feared and predicted would happen with the Labor Party and the Independent Labor Party, here in Great Britain, has unfortunately taken place. In order to make sure of retaining their seats in the House of Commons at the General Election, both the Labor Party and the L.P. have come to terms with the Liberals in a manner which must shake all confidence in them in future. When a body of men, returned to Parliament to represent labor interests exclusively and independently, enter upon a whole series of bargainings with the national and local organizers of one of the great capitalist factions, not for the purpose of gaining social advantages for the laboring class, but to assure political and personal benefits for themselves, they do an amount of mischief to the whole movement which I am quite ready to believe they do not fully comprehend.

Now, so far as I am concerned, I am quite ready to admit that, if by the help of Liberal votes in the House of Commons, it were possible to obtain that most important, perhaps, of all our stepping-stone, or palliative measures for the existing competitive anarchy, namely, the complete organization of all unemployed labor co-operatively by the state on useful work, thus taking “the fringe of unemployed labor” off the market, it might be well worth while to sink the class antagonism, for the moment, so as to gain this immense boon for the disinherited majority. But I hasten to say that no capitalist government of any kind, in any country, will honestly enter into such an engagement with the intention of carrying it out in letter and in spirit. This for the simple reason that to take such a course would mean the cutting of the ground from under the feet of capitalism in the immediate future. Still, assuming such an arrangement to be possible, I should certainly consider any Labor Party justified in backing the government that proposed to enter into it, if sufficient security for good faith were given.

Similarly, in regard to the maintenance of children at public cost, in our elementary schools, out of public funds. One of the very greatest difficulties we have to encounter in this country, in the way of education, is that very large numbers, in some districts the majority of the children who attend the public elementary schools are quite insufficiently fed and clothed to be able to take advantage of the education gratuitously provided. Here again, therefore, if any government would undertake to introduce and pass a compulsory measure enforcing the adequate feeding and clothing of the children, as part of the educational work, I should applaud the Labor Party for supporting the administration which brought forward such a bill, whole-heartedly and ungrudgingly.

Consequently, I have no blinding prejudice against agreements of a temporary character with the dominant plundering class, provided something important is to be gained for the people at large ; although, of course, I am as well aware as the most intransigent of impossibilists that even children of the workers who are well fed, well clothed, well housed and well educated only grow up to more effective wage-slaves for the capitalists under the conditions of our time. That fact does not, however, check me for an instant in advocating that which I believe to be exceedingly beneficial to the whole community and tending to bring up men and women more competent, physically as well as intellectually, to push ahead the social revolution.

It is, nevertheless, to my mind absolutely indispensable to maintain, even so, the attitude of distrust and antagonism, when some partial advance is being secured. The class war is going on all the time: the enemy is still the enemy, even when, for his own ends and to save his own skin, he gives way upon this or that point. “No compromise” must be our motto and our policy from the first and all through. Let us take all we can get, but never let us sink our principles, or lower our flag, for any consideration whatever. Least of all let us do so to gain some mere political advantage, or to keep brigaded in our ranks numbers of men and women who do not accept the revolutionary socialist creed or recognize Social-Democrats as their brothers in the greatest struggle the world has ever seen. Such people, however well-meaning and humane they may be, are ready-made tools for the political intriguer and the capitalist wire-puller. They will go over in masses to the enemy when the fight gets really hot not because they are intentionally treacherous or constitutionally cowards ; but because they have not grasped the principles of Socialism ; because they have not understood that between the capitalist class ( with its sleeping partners, the landlords) and the wage-earning class no peace is ever possible except through the complete victory of the latter ; or, because they fondly imagine that there is some nice, ethical, evolutionary method of making twelve o’clock at eleven by dextrous, manipulation of hands on the dial of social progress. But whatever may be the cause of their backsliding their defection will be equally disastrous – as it is proving to be in Great Britain now – to those who are foolish enough to rely upon mere numbers, irrespective of conviction, for victory, and who will persist in believing that the capitalist pirates at heart overflowing with the milk of human kindness.

That is why I have always said in England, and say again now in America, that I would far rather be fighting as one of a resolute army of ten thousand convinced and determined revolutionary Social-Democrats who are content to achieve eternal life in the glorious future which their work and death will help to hasten on for mankind, than I would spend my days in pretending that paltry political successes, gained by a motley mob of a million confused and wavering wage-slaves who are content to hug their chains and glorify their subsidized “bosses,” are worth striving for. And I say this as an old man of 68, with just upon thirty years of unremitting and wholly unremunerated Socialist propaganda behind me. I cannot hope myself to live to witness the realization of the great material ideal of a Co-operative Commonwealth, spreading nationally and internationally throughout the civilized world. But I know with the certainty of scientific conviction that its coming is not far ahead and that by the intellectual action of class-conscious capacity upon social conditions humanity will conquer forever its mastery over the means of creating wealth and gain for all time the power of uplifting the individual human being to a level undreamed of hitherto.

Holding these views as the necessary foundation of our Socialist religion, it is easy to understand that I look with sadness, not unmingled with contempt, on the manner in which the Socialists of the Labor Party have surrendered to the capitalist Liberals on the budget, on the House of Lords and on the General Election. I cannot blame men like Hendersort, or Shackelton, or Hodge, or others of the trade union leaders. They have never pretended to be Socialists. In fact, they have directly repudiated the imputation. They want to get what- they can under capitalism ; they have no sound economic basis for their political action: their independence means a quarter-of-the-way-horse laborism and nothing more. Very well. I know where these men are. I respect, though I deplore, their honest limitations. They have been and to a large extent are still Liberals and Radicals; cursed, many of them, with a Nonconformist conscience and a teetotal fetichism of the most narrow kind. Naturally, such men at a critical juncture “go Liberal” as Grant Allen’s cultivated negro “went Fanti.” It is the call of the blood.

But this excuse is not available for the avowed Socialists of the Labor Party. They are never weary of insisting upon the purity of their Socialism, especially at International Socialist Congresses, at the International Socialist Bureau and at public meetings, national and international. Nay, they claim, nowadays, to be in the direct apostolic succession from Marx and Engels, who are called up from their graves to bear witness to the impeccable revolutionism of Keir Hardie, Ramsey Macdonald, Philip Snowden and the rest of them. And Bernstein and Beer chant an amen chorus in various languages, as inspired prophets of Israel voicing the opinions of the dead.

Now I do not wish to weary the readers of the INTERNATIONAL SOCIALIST REVIEW with the details of English politics; but it is worth while to consider for a short space the sort of budget, the set of financial proposals, which our Socialists of the I.L.P. regard as “Socialistic,” and so favorable to the Poor Man that the members of the Labor Party, one and all, are justified in voting for it and in sinking their own independence in the Liberal Party in order to carry it. And here I would interpolate the statement that no Socialist can admit the right of the House of Lords to throw out the House of Commons budget, however bad it may be in principle, or in application. They had no right to interfere with it or to obstruct it in any way. But that is not the point. The question before genuine Socialists is: “Was there, could there be, anything in Mr. Lloyd George’s budget which justified the Labor Party in bowing the knee, before the more unscrupulous and designing of our two great capitalist factions?” Let us see.

The Liberal Chancellor of the Exchequor had to cover a net deficit of 13,000,000, after deducting 3,500,000 from the sinking fund. Now, out of this 13,000,000 he is raising at least 7,000,000 by extra taxation not of the luxuries of the rich but of the trivial luxuries still left to the poor. But the cost of the Old Age Pension of five shillings a week for every necessitous worker who arrives at the age of 70 is also about 7,000,000. So that Mr. Lloyd George, the intimate friend and guest of Lipton, the wholesale grocer, and Brunner, the great chemical manufacturer, makes the workers of Great Britain pay for their own Old Age Pensions out of their already miserable wages. Nobody disputes this. Everybody knows it perfectly well. Yet Keir Hardie, Ramsey Macdonald, Philip Snowden, etc., call this a “Socialistic” budget, a “Poor Man’s Budget,” take credit for having suggested its provisions to Mr. Lloyd George, and arrange with the Liberal government not to oppose them in their electoral contests on the strength of it.

“But that is not all. There must surely be something more in the budget than that.” There is. But it is nothing new and nothing beneficial to the workers. The 6,000,000 of taxation, at the outside, imposed upon the rich as against the 7,000,000, at the very least, levied from the poor is mere burden-shifting. There is an increased income tax, a super tax, an increased death duty and a small, very small, tax on unearned increment. George II has taken a diminutive leaf out of the book of George I. Henry George is reincarnated in Lloyd George with reductions in intellectual weight. This, however, according to our new light of Socialism, is “the thin end of the wedge” towards Land Nationalization. Nothing of the kind. As I argued out with Henry George himself in St. James’ Hall and in the nineteenth century five and twenty years ago, the whole thing is mere burden-shifting and will not benefit the wage-slave class one atom. I don’t suppose there is a single Socialist in the United States, or in any other country except England, who would contend that taxation of unearned increment, or confiscation of rent, is anything approaching to Socialism in any shape or way. It is strengthening the capitalist, who is the wide-awake slave-driver against the sleeping slave-driver, the landlord. Yet here we have our Independent Labor Party Socialists headed by Keir Hardie – whose language about myself is worthy of the atmosphere of religious rancor in which he was brought up – bowing the knee to the Liberal capitalists, applauding Viscount Asquith, Lloyd George, Churchill and the rest of them, and concluding open bargains for their seats, on the strength of a budget which I do not hesitate to declare is as outrageous a fraud upon the people of the United Kingdom as any swindle which even the Liberals have as yet perpetrated – and that is saying a very great deal.

Let me sincerely hope that this will be a warning to the workers of other countries. Not only in America, but on the continent of Europe, there has been far too much inclination to regard a seat in Parliament, no matter how got or how retained, as the great end and aim of working-class agitation. If you win a seat you are a great man. If you don’t you are of no account It was quite amusing to see the effect produced upon many of the Labor Party here, and not here alone, when they put M.P. after their names. They at once assumed they were authorities on all sorts of subjects they knew nothing whatever about. They imagined that their intellect had expanded when it was only their heads which had swelled. But they also got to believe they were “statesmen,” who could ride the whirlwind and direct the storm of capitalist politics. And a pretty mess they have made of it all. They have discouraged the workers of this country to an extent which is not even yet fully appreciated and they have taken a most dangerous step towards re-absorption in the capitalist-Liberal faction.

I hope sincerely this will serve as an “object lesson” to our comrades in the United States who are inclined to venture on the same slippery path. It will throw back their movement many a long day if they do. We are working for the greatest cause the world has ever known. We ourselves are dignified by being privileged to take part in such a struggle. It is for us to take care that we hand on the torch of revolutionary Social-Democracy, kept alight for us by the sacrifices, sufferings, disasters and death of our noble predecessors, burning the brighter for our efforts, to those who shall in turn take up the splendid task from us.

Bromley, Lancashire, December 29, 1909.