Published: The Labour Monthly, Vol. 7, March 1925, No. 3, pp. 180-183
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). You may freely copy, distribute, display and perform this work; as well as make derivative and commercial works. Please credit “Marxists Internet Archive” as your source.
The article of Mr. J.R. Clynes published in the New Leader of November 21, while urging the necessity of combating Communism, inadvertently gives occasion for a number of pertinent questions. The strength or weakness of Mr. Clynes’ case depends upon his ability to give satisfactory answers to these questions.
(1) Obviously in order not to provoke the hostility of the proletariat by openly denouncing the Russian Revolution, Mr. Clynes makes the concession that the forcible overthrow “of one class by another may be condoned or even approved” in countries not possessing “democratic weapons.” The logical sequence of this conditional admission places Mr. Clynes under the obligation of recognising the “sacred right of revolt” on the part of the subject peoples within the British Empire.
Does Mr. Clynes admit this obligation? If he does, will he pledge the Labour Party to support armed revolution in India, Egypt and other parts of the British Empire? Will he further declare that the Colonial policy of a Labour Government whose leadership he shared, was a violation of this principle?
(2) Mr. Clynes will retort that parliamentary institutions are introduced in the countries constituting the British Empire; therefore the people there are provided with a “democratic weapon,” the possession of which deprives them of the right of armed revolt. But another statement of Mr. Clynes made in the same article does not allow such a retort. This statement is “the organisation of force outside a Parliamentary system, where that system exists, provokes and invites a corresponding organisation of force by other classes.” Leaving aside the ruling class of Britain, it can be pointed out that British Imperialism organises and maintains formidable military forces in India and Egypt “outside the parliamentary system,” but the military forces flout and coerce the “parliamentary system” in every moment of its existence. The military budget, which absorbs well over half of the public revenue, is beyond the control of the Indian “parliament” nor has the latter any right over the organisation and command of the army. The hypocrisy of calling the British Army in Egypt a national force can no longer be maintained. This being the case, by virtue of his own statement, Mr. Clynes must admit that the organisation of force by the Indian and Egyptian Nationalist is “provoked and invited,” and that such an organisation of force is in the nature of things, so long as the democracy is overridden by Imperialism.
Does Mr. Clynes admit this logical implication of his own arguments, put forward to fight the Communists at home? Will he proclaim that the organisation of armed revolt in the colonies is perfectly constitutional?
(3) Mr. Clynes asseverates that the present political system “is said (by the Communists) to be a form of dictatorship by the exploiting class.”
Will he demonstrate how it is otherwise?
(4) Mr. Clynes summarises the Communist argument in favour of direct action as opposed to parliamentary action and dismisses it. But he does not dispute the facts that “ultra-constitutional authorities” were established during the last four years in a number of European countries, to witness, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria and Spain, all of which countries are supposed to possess more or less advanced “democratic institutions.” As against the dictatorship of the working class, advocated by the Communists, Mr. Clynes postulates the possibility of amending “our social system in a practical manner, and altering its authority and control in such a way that equity shall be the foundation stone of the social order.”
Will Mr. Clynes explain what is this “practical manner”? Will he show how it is humanly possible to believe that the problematical return of a Labour majority to Parliament will induce the commanders of the Navy on the seas and of the army stations all over the world-wide Empire to eschew all war-like resistance? How does the ideal democracy of Britain preclude the appearance of another Cromwell or an English Mussolini?
(5) The most potential argument of Mr. Clynes is that a revolution in Britain will be choked by the stoppage of food supply and unemployment. This is a pre-eminently capitalist argument, the clever and continual use of which has taught the British proletariat to love its chain -- the Empire. Mr. Clynes raises the bogy that the British industries will be ruined by the lack of raw materials, on the one hand, and of markets, on the other. British industries are starved and well over a million unemployed has become a normal state of affairs without a revolution. The search for ever-increasing markets is not caused by the necessity of selling enough manufactured goods to import foodstuffs sufficient for the British people, but to increase profits, which lead to the accumulation of capital, which brings in its train over-production, imperial expansion, rivalry over foreign markets, subjugation of non-European races and war. By far the major part of the raw materials and foodstuffs is imported at present from the colonial and semi-colonial countries; these also provide the greater part of the market, particularly since the destruction of the European markets by the war, The maintenance of British industry in its present top-heavy condition, therefore, means the perpetuation of the Empire. That is, even in the new social order reared upon the “foundation stone of equity,” Britain will fatten on the blood and bone of the colonial masses held forcibly down to a state of economic backwardness and political subjugation. If the Labour Party is known to the Colonies in this nature, the possibility for a socialised Britain to count upon the economic co-operation of the liberated colonial peoples will be deeply prejudiced. The revolt of the subject nationalities is inevitable. Such tremendous reserves of British industry as India, Egypt and the Sudan will eventually break away from the Empire, A pre-eminently capitalist orientation, such as that held by Mr, Clynes, on the part of the British proletariat will only cause the newly liberated peoples to proceed along the lines of capitalism, with its concomitant greedy exclusiveness and counter-revolutionary individualism. So no amount of anxiety on the part of Mr. Clynes can help the British Isles to continue perpetually being the workshop of a vast Empire, inhabited by hundreds of millions of people held forcibly in a backward state of economy. The top-heavy industrial structure of Britain is doomed to destruction by its own inherent contradictions. If revolutionary action of the proletariat does not reorganise it on reasonable proportions—transform it from an octopus sucking the blood of the working class at home and subject races abroad to an organism producing articles for use, and not mere values increasing capital—then collapse and exhaustion will overtake it, as was the case in Rome.
Does Mr. Clynes desire the overthrow of capitalism in its highest form—Imperialism? In that case, would he have the British working class, in power, step into the shoes of the Curzons and Baldwins, in order to maintain the British industries in their present top-heavy condition? Will a Labour Government, headed by him, counting upon a parliamentary majority secured thanks to the “democratic weapon,” be Socialist or Capitalist? If it would pretend to be Socialist, will Mr. Clynes explain how the admirable feat of fitting Socialism into the framework of Imperialism can be performed?