Max Beer November 1908

Mr Keir Hardy and the Unity of Labour

(London Correspondent of “Vorwaerts”)

Source: Labour Leader 27 November 1908, p. 761
Transcription: Ted Crawford
HTML Markup: Brian Reid
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To the Editor of the Labour Leader
Comrade,— Kindly permit me to press, first of all, my sincere and respectful sympathy for comrade Keir Hardie with regard to the deplorable Holborn Town Hall incident. As a close observer of the British Labour Movement, I regard the work of Hardie to be of a much more permanent value than that of Hyndman, Shaw, Blatchford, Wells, let alone Grayson. Of all British Socialists none, in my judgment, has grasped the essence of modern Socialism—aye, of Marxism—better than Hardie. Moreover, none has done in practice better work than Hardie. His silent, clear-headed, and consistent efforts in the first years of the L.R.C. on behalf of unity and independence of organised Labour would alone be sufficient to raise him to the front rank of Socialist statesmanship.

For what is the essence of modern Socialism as Marx taught it?—the political independence of Labour. And what is the foremost duty of a Socialist in the class struggle?—to divorce Labour from the parties of the possessing class.

All that Keir Hardie has done, more, it is true, by virtue of a practically unerring proletarian instinct than by theorising and speculating about revolution and so-called constructive Socialism.

Socialism is not made, but it is growing out of the needs and struggles of organised Labour. The most simple Labour organisation fighting for higher wages, shorter hours, and better Labour laws does more for Socialism than all the Utopian books of Wells, all the Swiftian wit of Shaw, all the revolutionary speeches of Hyndman, and all the sentimental harangues of Grayson.

I have been saying that for years in the “Vorwärts” in the “Neue Zeit,” and sometimes in the “Justice.” And now let me make a confession. Soon after the election of Grayson my editor asked me whether I didn’t think it advisable to interview Grayson for the “Vorwärts.” I replied it would be better to wait; the British Socialists with their wonted hero worship were already spoiling him; there would be a Meeting at the Caxton Hall (in September 1907), where Grayson was to speak; I should then have the opportunity of arriving at some judgment about him. The meeting took place, MacDonald being the chairman, Curran and Grayson, the chief speakers. After that meeting, of which I gave a report in the “Vorwärts,” I wrote about Grayson: “He is very self-conscious; his Socialism consists of commiseration with the poor; in his speech he didn’t mention the Labour movement at all. Now, modern Socialism has very little to do with poor men stories, but a great deal with organised Labour. Grayson has still much to learn about Socialism, and he may learn if he remains in close touch with the Labour Party.”—(“Vorwärts,” September, 1907.).

In approving whole-heartedly of the policy of Hardie, I also approve of the general policy of J.R. MacDonald. At the publication of his “Socialism and Society” he had no severer critic than myself, because I suspected him of attempting to weaken the independence of the Labour Party. I still consider him what the Germans call a “Revisionist,” but at the same time I cannot help perceiving that his general policy is at present thoroughly in conformity with the mental condition of the British Labour movement. Any other policy at the present juncture spells disruption. We can’t force movements of oppressed classes. We must allow them to develop and to ripen.

“Ripeness is all.”

Fraternally yours,
London, November 22, 1908.