J. T. Murphy

Book Review

Socialism By Kind Permission

Source: The Communist International, Vol. III, No. 1, October 15, 1926
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
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.

Socialism in our Time
By F. W. Jowett
Published by the I.L.P.
April 1926

Trade Unions and Socialism
By F. W. Jowett
A Report to I.L.P. Conference
April 1926

THESE two publications illustrate the dilemmas and the dreams, at times charming, of the I.L.P. Every time the I.L.P. attempts to touch an immediate problem of the working class it is so perturbed it doesn’t know what to do, and usually ends in supporting the bosses in some compromise proposal which intrigues the workers into defeat. But it can tell a nice story and weave remarkable schemes, for use under Socialism—after the capitalists have granted permission. Of course, there are so many “views” within the I.L.P. both of the “Socialism that is to be” and of what should be done immediately, that it is always difficult to fasten responsibility upon the I.L.P. as a party. It includes such contradictory elements in its ranks as the good Tory, Mr. MacDonald, who relegates Socialism to the “never—never time,” Mr. Snowden of the Liberal-Labour Alliance, and workers who want a united front with the Communist Party.

The I.L.P. has not merely a left, a right, a centre and what not, but will include anybody and everybody except those who advocate hurting the boss. Habitually it draws in a deep breath, puffs out its cheeks and strikes such an attitude that anyone, especially a stranger, would think it was really going to do something terrible. But really it is nothing to be frightened at. It does not mean anything beyond a desire at least to appear strong. For proof, please read the publications referred to above.

The first consists of the chairman’s speech to the I.L.P. Conference on April 4th, 1926. Mr. Jowett, quite early in his speech, declared: “open and unashamed we stand for drastic social changes which will overthrow the rule of the rich and end the exploitation of the poor.” There, that is the first good puff, and it sounds as if the I.L.P. is going to become violent. A little later he again became emphatic and said:

“The right to live involves, in the first place, a living wage. Whatever the cost of a living wage, the workers should under no circumstances be content with less, and they are entitled to use all power, industrially and politically to enforce it.”

What exactly is a “living wage” is not defined, but about that we will not worry for the moment. What follows is so interesting we will not delay.

“If the demand were rejected by Parliament, we suggest that the trade union movement should put all its strength behind all sections of the workers who took industrial action to secure their demand. Mr. Churchill says that there is no reason why the present government should not live its full span of five years. If Labour united determinedly behind the living wage, this demand would gather such momentum that no government could continue in office if it failed to respond to it.”

On May 1st, the General Council of the Trades Union Congress, consisting of a large proportion of I.L.P. members assisted by Mr. MacDonald, also a member of the I.L.P., led the workers into a General Strike against the Government. The I.L.P. headquarters became silent. Neither the I.L.P. Executive nor the leaders referred to, nor any organ of the I.L.P. raised the political issue, or attempted by any means to bring the Government down. On the contrary, the leaders advocated reductions of wages, denounced large combinations of trade unions, attacked the miners (who were subsequently left isolated to defend what is admittedly lower than the “living wage”) and declared the policy just advocated by Mr. Jowett, and approved by the I.L.P. Conference, to be utterly futile and doomed to failure from the beginning.

Does it mean Anything?

“On the issues of Socialism and the abolition of poverty there is no room for compromise” declares the I.L.P. What it actually means by this is uncertain. Tested by the actions of the. I.L.P. it does not mean anything at all. Did not the I.L.P. lay claim to be the original proprietors of the Churchmen’s proposals, which were worse than compromise proposals, extending the poverty of at least five million people directly by means of wage reduction, and subsequently to the whole working class?

The shallowness and hyprocisy thus revealed is not an isolated phenomenon. For example, what does it actually mean when it says that “on rejection of its demands by parliament the trade union movement should put all its strength behind striking workers”? Does it mean transforming a sectional strike into a general strike? This would appear to be the logic of Mr. Jowett and the I.L.P. And, if so, is the I.L.P. prepared to face the logic of the General Strike and the resistance of the governing class thereto? Not at all. This we can say with the authority of the recent General Strike behind us. Its leaders stabbed the General Strike in the back, advocated more poverty for the miners and their families, and pleaded that they had no intention of hurting anybody or any institution, indeed had no intention of bringing the Government down, as per its bold declaration of April 4th.

When faced with the issues of the class war it assumes the role of the parson and sanctimoniously says to the struggling classes: “Ah! my dear friends, compose your differences. Please don’t fight, give way a little on both sides and vote for us at the next election. This is what we mean by the pressure of the unions. And when you vote for us see what we will give you—a glorified House of Commons, a Consumers’ Council, a peaceful trade union movement administering industry in the spirit of co-operation, Joynson-Hicks in loving association with Harry Pollitt; the end of all forms of warfare through universal conversion of the bourgeoisie to the sentiments of the I.L.P., and no more association with the Communist Party. On no account will we do harm to the bourgeoisie, even in our time. We beg for their consent, but fight them, never.”

Whatever the role of the I.L.P. may have been in the days when it participated in the great awakening of the British working class to the necessity of independent political action, it is impossible to avoid the conclusion that it has entirely lost its proletarian character, and is now the Left-wing party of the bourgeoisie, handing out drugs to stifle all forms of mass action, and subordinating the interests of the workers to the preservation of capitalist institutions. If still more evidence is required to prove the correctness of this conclusion, read these pamphlets.