Henry Hyndman October 1909

Socialism and Labourism in England.

Source: International Socialist Journal (United States) October 1909, Vol. X no. 4, pp. 351-353;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

Some time ago you wrote to me asking me to send you my views as to the position of Socialism and the Labour Party in this country. Unfortunately I am so much taken up still with the mere bread and butter sciences that I can do little more in the way of writing and speaking for Socialism than I am doing already. In fact, it will take me twice my present life to catch up with the work I feel I ought to do. You must therefore excuse a brief statement of my opinion about the present situation in England. If your readers wish to see my analysis of the general position here, and care to verify how completely that summary has been borne out by events, they can look back at an article of mine in the first number of your Review.

What has happened is precisely that which those who know best the ignorance and character of our working people saw to be inevitable if trade union leaders failed to develop vigour and initiative, As M. Clemenceau said more than three years ago, when lunching with me in Paris, “la classe ouvriere en Angleterre est une classe bourgeoise” – the English working class is a bourgeois class. That is absolutely true. It is ignorant, prejudiced, anxious to make petty profits for itself, and given over, in many cases, especially in the north of England and Wales, to the most canting and loathsome form of Religionism. Consequently, it has accepted in full the Political Economy of its worst enemies, holds that compromise is the highest wisdom, never accepts any definite principle with a view to pushing it to a conclusion, and believes that there is no way out of the present miserable system, because the governing classes say so.

The Labour Party, coming to the front at a time when the whole country was sick of both the existing factions, had a magnificent opportunity, if its Members of Parliament had acted straightforwardly upon Socialistic lines, of awakening the whole nation to the possibilities of social revolution. This they had neither the courage nor the ability to do; although all the really hard and dangerous work of Socialism in England had been done long years before the Independent Labour Party, and longer years before the Labour Party was ever heard of. They do not even take up and push vigorously palliatives of the existing anarchy formulated and advocated by the S.D.F. for more than seven-and-twenty years. They have been content to accept with gratitude just what the Liberals thought proper to chuck to them. The result of this, combined with their failure to criticise with any effect the proposals of Ministers, has been that they have lost all influence with really advanced men, and are now being rapidly absorbed into the capitalist Liberal party. The process has been going steadily on for some time past; but until the Labour Party resolved to support Mr. Lloyd George’s Budget, which puts more than ten times the amount of additional taxation on the workers that is imposed upon the landowners, the people at large thought the Labourists, though incompetent, were still independent. Now they are being taught the truth daily.

Nothing has surprised me more, I confess, than the attitude of your Review in regard to this miserable surrender. Anyone would think to read the International Socialist Review and its comments on British Socialism, that the one object of Socialist work in England is to get men who belong to the working class into Parliament, quite regardless of the principles which they hold. When a man once succeeds, no matter at what price in the way of sacrificing the principles of Socialism, in getting M.P. tacked on to his name as a Labourist, the revolutionary Socialists who have done and are doing all the really valuable Socialists propaganda in this country are told that they are not practical men, and that they ought to give up the results of thirty years of propaganda in order to come to terms with the Labourists and Liberals in a nice semi-Socialist “successful” sort of way.

For my part I utterly repudiate and contemn such criticism and such suggestions. I, for one, threw myself into the Socialist movement thirty years ago at the cost of position, property, friends and comfort, because I saw that until the capitalist system is completely overthrown the worst form of slavery must still continue. Therefore, though the S.D.F. was the first organization to propose the Eight Hour Bill, the Free Feeding of Children in all Public Schools, the Nationalization of Railways, Gratuitous Secular Education from the Public Schools up to the Universities, the Organization of Unemployed Labour on Co-operative Principles by the Community, and several other palliatives which we have always advocated, we, nevertheless, have at no time compromised in any way, and have always refused to sink our revolutionary programme by trafficking with the profit-mongers.

We do not pretend to be satisfied with the progress we have made. Our countrymen, however, are so badly educated, and slumdom is so rampant in our cities, that we could not possibly have done more in the way of Socialist propaganda than we have achieved. But it is sad, not to say disgusting, to see men who know better taking advantage of our unpaid and exhausting toil to make good positions for themselves, pecuniarily and politically, by deliberately trading away the interests of the workers to the exploiting class. You can see plainly enough in America whither such a policy must lead for you. I hope, after this letter, you will take the trouble to apply the same canons of political and social criticism to what is happening here for us. The Labour Party in England today is the greatest obstacle to Socialist progress at home; while the leaders of that party by their insulting refusal, when in Germany, to recognize the German Social Democratic Party in any way, showed to all the world how completely out of touch they are with International Socialism abroad, though recognized as Socialists by the International Socialist Bureau.