J. T. Murphy

The Labour Government—What We Must Do

Source: The Workers’ Weekly, February 15, 1924
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2007). 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.

Everybody is agreed that the advent of a Labour Government is a step forward in the advancement of the working class. But once we have got past this point of agreement, doubts and fears alternately colour the situation. Concern is shown for its existence, and the apologetic note is struck to rebut the slightest criticism—“Ah, yes, in office but not in power.” So what must we do about it?

First let us take note of the facts of its existence. It is in a minority and exists, so far as Parliamentary votes are concerned, by the consent of the Liberal Party. Its composition is a coalition of Labour, Liberal, and Tory. The Labour elements within it apart from Wheatley and Muir, have only their socialistic phrases to distinguish them from the Liberals. The same can be said concerning the large majority of the Labour members in Parliament. Only a small minority centring round Maxton, Lansbury, Maclean, and Johnston show marked tendencies in the direction of a working-class policy. Nevertheless, all of them are part of the organised working-class movement, and the Cabinet and the Labour M.P.’s must render an account to it.

These facts have already had a big effect upon the workers’ movement. Instinctively, the workers expect something very positive from the Labour Government. But its political weakness and its voting weakness in Parliament has produced a bad impression. Nationalism has superseded the workers’ interests in the minds of the leaders. Wherever the workers have begun to move against the employers, up jumps the central organ of the unions and the Parliamentarians to establish “peace,” to “mediate.”

The recognition of Soviet Russia has not taken the form of uniting the workers of Britain with the Workers’ Republic, but of an arrangement between the Workers Republic and the “British” Government in the same sense that Lloyd George would have it. The negotiations with Poincaré are not sounding the “workers’ note” but the National note. It is after all the “King’s Government” clothed in the working man’s Sunday best.

The Need for Criticism

These things call for criticism, for exposure. There is no question here of votes. There were no votes required in either case, but a complete failure to bring the workers of each country into living relations with each other. The importance of criticism under these circumstances cannot be overestimated. It is the weapon which must be constantly used to beat the mental policeman of the bosses which reign in the brain-boxes of the leaders of the Labour Movement.

There is a nervousness expressed in our ranks concerning the discrediting of the Labour Government in the eyes of the workers. But criticism which exposes the Labour Government for betraying the workers is a totally different thing to the criticism which reveals it as a poor instrument for running capitalism. The latter is the job of the Tory and Liberal Parties, and it is that kind of criticism which will defeat the Labour Party at the next elections, without we strengthen the Labour Movement by rousing it to more class-conscious efforts.

It is not the growth of class-consciousness which weakens the Labour Movement and jeopardises its chances at the next elections. It is no exaggeration to say that it is upon the class-conscious elements within the ranks of the Labour Movement that it depends for its vigour and enthusiasm in any election. But if the voice of working-class criticism is silenced because Labour is in office while in a minority in Parliament, and pursuing a Liberal policy, how are we to develop the class-consciousness of the workers and free them from the snares of capitalist Liberalism? It seems to me that this would be a surrender of the revolutionary movement to Macdonald on a par with Macdonald’s surrender of the Labour Party to Nationalism.

Revolutionary criticism of the Labour Government inside the working-class movement cannot bring it down. Its fall depends upon either its surrender or the votes within Parliament, or upon another contingency which can never take place if the voice of working-class criticism is subdued, viz., the challenge of the workers outside Parliament moving to take power from Parliament itself. That such a challenge is likely at this stage in the life of this Government can be ruled out. Criticism, therefore, becomes pre-eminently important in the working class as the means of clearing out reformist politics, changing the personal leadership of the movement, and rousing the workers to vigorous action.

But it is answered that Labour is


This apologetic answer immediately brings us to the next characteristic weakness within the movement—the tendency to measure things only with the Parliamentary yardstick. The fact that the answer is true, strengthens a hundredfold the importance of critical vigilance outside Parliament. The working-class movement neither begins nor ends there. The weakness in Parliament must be minimised by the power of the workers outside Parliament. Mass intimidation by strikes, by demonstrations, by the pressure of the unions, and the workers’ parties, must be the supplementary forces which will curb the actions of the Liberals and the Tories.

We cannot forget the Chartists and their demonstrations when they had nothing like 192 votes in the House of Commons on their side. Nor can we nor must we forget that the miners forced an hostile Government into its Sankey Commission; that everything gained by the workers has been commensurate only with the power they used. How much further ought we to get if such movements are backed up by a Labour Government!

No one expects it to do more than it has the power to do, but a Labour Government which fails to rouse the whole working-class movement into action for the defeat of capitalism, and turns instead to be an instrument for suppression of mass activity, not only asks for defeat at the polls in any subsequent election, but betrays the workers in their struggles to defeat the capitalists. Mass activity must be the driving force pushing the Labour Government into conflict with the Liberals and Tories and strengthening its hands in every conflict with them.

What of the Leaders?

Any action along these lines brings to the front the relation of the Government to the Labour Movement. Its principals also head the Labour Party and the unions, and it is through these that the challenge of the workers can incessantly be made. They must be held responsible to the Labour organisations for their actions and not permitted to hide behind the parliamentary franchise for their lack of loyalty to the workers. Let us have none of the nonsense that they represent all the people and must view things from the standpoint of the nation! They have come to office by virtue of the growth and activity of the working-class movement to pursue its interests, and disloyalty can only be answered by disowning them. The Labour Party Conference, and the Trades Union Congress must be the determining bodies governing their actions, and not the Parliamentary constitution. The latter is an arena of conflict, and not the arbiter of the policy of the Labour movement.

To sum up our policy: the Party must put forward its demands with the workers, as it has already done, conduct a vigorous criticism in the interests of the working class, develop the mass activity of the workers to strengthen any action of the Labour Government on their behalf, and to challenge it where it pursues an anti-working-class policy, concentrate attention upon the working-class organisations both as the means for further progress and the weapons to control the leaders.

The Labour Government will thus be revealed to the workers as a step forward in the breaking up of capitalism, a preliminary to a real working-class Government in content and purpose.