J. T. Murphy

The General Election, 1923

Source: The Communist Review, December 1923, Vol. 4, No. 8.
Publisher: The Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2006). 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 General Election of 1923 marks a decisive stage in world politics. It is not an election called because of the volume of protests against the social conditions under which the great masses of the country are living. Since the Baldwin Government was formed there have been no violent reactions in the shape of by-elections. Nor have the recent municipal elections given any cause for the Government to be alarmed. There is no great volume of protest from the trade unions, whilst the criticisms and protests from the Labour Party, either within the House of Commons, or outside, have been equally nil.

The Liberals were still at sixes and sevens. The Government had an overwhelming majority in Parliament. An appeal to the polls could not hope to give them a better working majority, unless the Government had some very special appeal which was likely to catch the imagination of the people at the expense of the political programme of the opposition parties. The policy they have chosen cannot play such a rôle, rather is it guaranteed to rouse the antipathy both of Liberal and Labour. To embark on the Imperial Preference policy is a risk, rather than a guarantee of a return to power. The speed with which the election has been put through is proof of that.

Again to, argue that the election decision has been taken in order more decisively to defeat Labour, as some in our own party morgue, will not stand examination. There was no need for an election for that purpose. The Conservative Government had already the power inside the House of Commons, and there are no signs of violent conflicts outside. For a Conservative Government to risk splitting its own party and to guarantee the rehabilitation of the Liberal Party, there must be a more serious reason closely bound up with the internal problems of the capitalist system.


It was not until the British Imperial Conference had opened and publicly revealed the conflicting interests within the Empire, and the difficulties which had to be faced in order to maintain their closest association, that there was any talk of a General Election. Up to this time, Mr. Baldwin had been content patiently to strive for uniting the Conservative forces, and to follow in the footsteps of Mr. Bonar Law. The proceedings of the Conference, the revelations of the trade conditions of the Empire, the scramble for markets, and the complete failure, even of the united forces of the Empire, to bring Poincaré to heel in Europe, and America. into European politics behind Britain, forced the Government into an entirely new position, where they were supremely eanseious of isolation and subordination.

The demand of the Dominions for markets, and increasing recognition of their independence, was made simultaneously. To meet the new situation the willing support of the Colonies and Dependencies was absolutely essential. That support was not forthcoming without concessions. The price that has been paid for united support is obvious from the following decisions taken by the Conference:

1. The British Government has abrogated the right to make foreign treaties involving the support of the Colonies without first consulting the Colonies.

2. The Colonies have secured recognition of their right to make separate treaties, or to make group treaties, where groups are interested with Governments outside the Empire.

3. The Colonies have withstood new financial schemes, and retained the currency advantages already secured.

4. The Colonies have insisted on Imperial Preference as a means of wearing a monopoly of the British market.

In return, it is interesting to note, that the Colonies were parties to the increase of the British Air Force, a proposal which can only be directed against France; to the development of the Singapore scheme; to the strengthening of Naval Forces, and the maintenance of the Mediterranean route to the East. These were the divisions which forced the hand of Mr. Baldwin and drove him to the Plymouth Conference with his Imperial Preference proposals for a tariff war and compelled him to face a general election. He had no choice but to plunge for a General Election. The drastic character of the changes involved were more than any Government dare face that was already bound by pledges that would have to be broken.


The General Election, therefore, is march more than an attemptto give another kick to the Labour Party, because it is “poor, confused and unready, etc.” The Labour Party is certain to come in for a severe test, but that is not the primary cause of this election. This political crisis is inherently bound up with the decadent conditions of world capitalism. It is a moment in the historic crisis of capitalism when one of its principal powers is dominated by a group, who feel that Britain must become militant and aggressive, or perish.

The character of Mr. Baldwin’s election programme, following on the Empire Conference decisions is ample testimony. Every clause of it is based upon a militant imperialism, which translates Galloper Smith’s “Glittering Swords” into practical politics. Cruiser replacements to rally the ship builders, tariff and subsidies to the farmers; increased Air Forces and the development of Naval bases for the engineers, and preferences for the Colonies. Placed in relationship with the immediate response of America to the proposed tariff war when she prohibits all foreign manufactures entering the States, where the manufacturers decline to submit their books for examination, and in relation to acknowledged antagonism to France, any other conclusion is clearly out of the question.

To those who approach the situation empirically, the rapid changes of friends to enemies, and allies to strenuous competitors, is all bewildering. But those who have correctly estimated the character of the epoch into which humanity was ushered by the economic crisis of 1913-14—a crisis which precipitated the world into wholesale surgery—there is no doubt as to the meaning of the present situation. The declaration of the inability of capitalism to adjust its markets to its productive capacity, except by means of war, is the key to all the subsequent problems of the war and post-war period.

The four years of surgical operations did not solve the problem. The five years of peace have only accentuated it by changing the leading protagonists. French reaction has stepped into the shoes of German junkerism, and the question of markets is more than ever pie-eminent. This colossal failure has quickened national hatred into national hysteria, and intensified the class war a thousand fold.

Panic-stricken by the triumph of the proletarian revolution in Russia and the mass risings of the workers throughout Western Europe, the most reactionary elements of the capitalist class have secured the reins of Government in all countries outside Russia. Resting on the most insecure of social foundations, they are leading straight to further war.


But neither war, nor the preparation for war, can be carried through without a large volume of support from the masses of the population. The appeal to the country under these conditions of duress is an appeal for support to militant imperialism, and an intensification of the class war. If any doubts exist as to the latter fact, the condonation of the murder of Vorowsky, and the complete absence of any reference to the recognition of Russia, in Baldwin’s election manifesto, needs only to be mentioned. Neither the Liberal Party nor the Labour Party has boldly faced these issues. The Liberal Party has been content to ride the Free Trade donkey, whilst the Labour Party has plumped for complete revision of the Versailles Treaty, an all-in conference of Governments, an all-embracing League of Nations; opposition to preferential tariff reforms, and the capital levy for the reduction of war debt. In neither case is there the slightest indication of a realisation of the political significance of the world situation.

They have both permitted the imperialist significance of the election to be obscured by the rattle of “tin cans,” and the catch phrases of a Tariff Reform-Free Trade campaign. True, the Labour Party has declared it would do no such thing, and would lift the campaign on to the higher level of the Socialist programme. But in its attempts it has fallen into imperial reformism. It shirks the demand for the scrapping of the Versailles Treaty and merely pleads for its revision by means of an all-in conference of capitalist Governments. To call far an international conference of the Governments is practical politics, and would be a sound step for a Labour Government to initiate, but only on one condition, viz., that the predatory anti-working class character of the majority of the Governments was clearly recognised and the world forces of the working class were simultaneously mobilised to force upon the Governments the adoption of measures in keeping with the interests of the working class.

The utter failure to do anything in this latter direction, owing to Parliamentary and bourgeois obsessions, lands the Labour Party’s proposals into the same category as those of Baldwin, Smuts and Wilson. What is the use of Labour holding aloft the banner of Socialism if its deeds are the deeds of imperialism?


The response of the Labour Party to the red herring of Free Trade and Protection reveals how little removed Labour is from Liberalism. It declares that it will not be drawn by either side, since it is against the Imperial Preference scheme of Baldwin. Put an alternative to Free Trade and Imperial Preference it has yet to produce. How will it deal with the importation of goods produced by cheap labour abroad, so that the industries of this country are not paralysed? The Labour Party has no proposal, although the obvious alternative is State control of all foreign trade, both of purchasing and selling with the State regulation of prices in the home market.

Soviet Russia has demonstrated how to deal with foreign commerce to the advantage of the whole community, whilst sufficient experience was secured in this country during the war to demonstrate its practicability for the present state of affairs. Without this control of foreign trade, all the other proposals of social amelioration are vitiated. What is the use of the reduction of the war debt by means of a capital levy against the anarchy, arising from the shattered exchanges and coolie labour of the world? It can only free the capitalists of taxation to intensity the anarchy. What is the use of telling the farmers of the advantage of co-operative effort and leaving them to be bull-dozed with Baldwin’s preference bribes or victims to unstable prices and colonial competition? There is hardly an item in the social programme of the Labour Party which is not vitally related to this one problem to which it has offered no solution. As things stand, there is no difference on this vital question of tariffs between the Labour Party and the Liberal Party.

On the two fundamental issues before the electorate, the Labour Party offers only phrases in place of concrete measures. It has been caught napping as a result of its leaders’ disloyalty to working class interests. Their thunder on international politics is only the echo of the Liberal Party. Their alternative to Liberalism’s Free Trade on their rejection of Conservatism’s tariff is not known.

By the Baldwin move for a General Election on such an issue the Labour Party was driven into a situation, where only loyalty to working class interests could distinguish them from the capitalist parties. That loyalty they have not cared to show. Their election campaign is an exploitation of the miseries of the workers, without any effective attack upon the anarchy of capitalism.


What then must we do? First let it be clearly understood that we who realise that only through a workers’ dictatorship can we secure working class emancipation, cannot stand aside, and in the name of the workers wash our hands of the affair. Wherever there is a Labour Party candidate in the field, our course is quite clear. We must support him or her against both Conservative and Liberal. (The Communist Party has no candidate running against Labour candidates.) The class force upon which the Labour Party primarily rests, makes it imperative, that, when it is brought into struggle with the capitalist forces, as in the General Elections, we must support it. The struggle against the confused and reformist leadership is an internal struggle within the working class movement which we must not permit to be utilised against the workers when fighting the common enemy.

The advancement of the Labour Party, as of the Communist Party, is the advancement of the working class to new positions, wherein the struggle against reformism is sharpened the more it is involved in the problems of political administration. If the capitalists cannot solve the problems of capitalism, it is certain that the Labour Party leaders, dependent for power upon the forces fundamentally opposed to capitalism, cannot solve the problems of capitalism. Every attempt they make only hastens the disillusionment of the masses, upon whom they depend, and their own departure from the seats of power.

In supporting the Labour Party at the General Election the Communist Party has nothing to fear. It simply harnesses the forces of history to the process of winning the masses to the Communist Party. But in carrying out this task, it must explain the situation to the workers and contrast its own specific measures as the means to the victory of the workers. That is why our party has issued its own programme of concrete demands. But these measured can only be carried into effect through struggle, the ways and means of which should be determined by an all-in conference of workers’ organisations, in accordance with the conditions of struggle in the various countries.


Neither the stability of economic relations, nor the improvement of social conditions, can be secured without the workers make inroads into the obstructive powers and possessions of the capitalist class. Without such inroads the aspirations of Labour are as utopian as the dreams of More and Owen. With a fighting class policy there is not only hope, but certainty, of victory. It is clear that the working class is the only social force to which humanity can turn to create a pathway through the chaos and anarchy of decadent capitalism.

But the working class cannot bring its curative capacity to bear upon the situation without it is prepared to fight the enemies who stand in the way. It must attack the vested interests and prove that it has the measures requisite for meeting the needs of society at each stage of its history. This the present leaders of Labour have failed to do. Understanding neither the character of the epoch nor desiring to organise the struggle against capitalism, they have failed. The Communist Party puts forward its programme, confident that it has measured the situation correctly, and supplied the lead to the workers of Great Britain necessary for victory.