J. T. Murphy

Book Review

An Angel’s Dilema

Source: The Communist International, Vol. III, No. 4, November 30, 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.

Must Britain Travel the Moscow Road?
By Norman Angell
Noel Douglas

HERE is a pretty kettle of fish! Another angel has fallen from heaven, and struck a bad patch. It is a real angel too, of thorough petty-bourgeois brand, flapping broken Liberal wings on behalf of the Labour Party.

It is not the first fall this poor angel has had. Just before the war in 1914 he was a literary musician, peddling a song called “The Great Illusion.” It was a very charming song—“war would not pay,” and lo, the capitalists had another opinion and the war came. And the song ceased. We heard no more of the singer for a long time, until one fine morning in 1926 he was cast out from the heaven of contemplation and struck Britain—“on the Moscow Road.” It hurt him very much and some kind publisher threw Trotsky’s book “Where is Britain Going?” at him, and, angel though he be, he resented it, and screamed with a loud voice—“Must Britain Travel the Moscow Road?” Then he tried to answer the question by writing a book.

Mr. MacDonald reviewed the book, Mr. J. L. Garvin also reviewed the book. In short, it got a boosting in the bourgeois press, and it was regarded as the Labour Party’s “crushing” reply to the Communists. And what does it say? First, “What is ignored is the fact that the direction of tendency of the Labour movement is determined much less by its own leaders, agitators and policies than by its opponents—Conservative leaders, Conservative public, class conscious employers—and their policies and the conditions which these latter policies produce.” (p. 18.) “Imagine, in other words (and the thing does not require a great imaginative flight) that the absence of an Opposition Party capable of putting a government into power causes the Conservative Government to become increasingly unbending, increasingly dominated by the Diehard element, increasingly subject to such follies as the prosecution of Communist journalists, in just the time and circumstances when such a step would revive the Communist influence which had become negligible; the creation of Fascisti bodies at a time when the development of Fascisti means inevitably a counter-balancing increase of revolutionary sentiment. In other words, imagine the probable.” (p. 20.)

But there is another alternative or possibility—

“There is something else that must be shown too, namely, that those to whom the present system gives power and authority hold themselves ready to accept any change which would indubitably improve the lot of the people as a whole.” (p.28.)

Having stated these two “possibilities,” the probable, and what must be shown to the workers as a possible means of preventing revolution, does this angelic friend of “peace” proceed to at once prove that the capitalist classes are prepared and are “willing to accept any change which would indubitably improve the lot of the people as a whole”? Not at all. He passes on to tell us on the one hand that the position of Britain is quite all right. He says that there isn’t a problem before British capitalism, that the decline in Britain’s position in the world has been over-emphasised. On the other hand he proceeds to give everybody a lecture on the virtues of the high standard of living. He tells us that a “high standard of living is indispensable to the type of work, the kind of activity, high productivity demands.”

How Very Strange!

Strange that the British bourgeoisie have not learned all about this! Surely they knew of the existence of Mr. Ford and the virtues of American capitalism before this dear middle-class angel introduced him! What strange creature cart have persuaded them to pursue exactly the opposite policy? Why on earth did they not listen to the heavenly message long ago and refrain from forcing a General Strike and the six months’ stoppage of the mining industry by demanding lower wages, etc.? He does not say. He simply propagates Fordism, thinking that he has propounded something with which the British capitalists were not yet acquainted.

As a matter of fact after making all this agitation about the virtues of America lie says “It is easy enough to indicate measures which would put the economic organisation of the world upon a more stable foundation . . . . But all thorough-going far-reaching and really effective measures immediately encounter the difficulty that there is not the remotest chance of their being accepted and worked by the nations moved by the public opinion which we know . . . . ”

Does he then proceed to analyse the situation and indicate what must be done? Well, let us see. He tells us that we should return to the policy of the war period which, be it observed, was Socialism. He says: “When it was proposed to continue for the purposes of peace the self-same methods to which we had resorted so readily during the war we suddenly discovered it was Socialism, and then proceeded not only to destroy the national organisations of war time but to close our minds to any real consideration of how far the war method could be adapted to the peace need.” (p. 68.) Then completely exasperated with the futility of his sermons he declares that if the ruling classes are not ready to sacrifice as much now as in the time of war “to be just as sincere in doing our bit and trying honestly everything that promises to be an effective remedy, if they cannot say that in their hearts, then the revolution may well be around the corner.”

Having come to this exasperating conclusion he decides to put on a new record, and proceeds to restate the case for civil war as per Trotsky’s book with a view (one would expect) to slaughtering it, especially in regard to its application to Britain. But we expect too much. Instead of scientifically analysing the social conditions of Britain and proving his case that British capitalism can recover by means of higher wages, shorter hours and the general application of Fordism, he attempts to show that there has been no revolution in Russia, or at least that what there is left of it has almost vanished, thus proving the falsity of Trotsky’s case!

Why are They Scared?

He says there is no proletarian dictatorship in Russia, that private capitalism is going on fine and that therefore the whole argument of Trotsky’s book which is devoted to showing the inevitability of civil war in Britain goes by the board.

He quotes Farbman, the Menshevik correspondent of the Tory journal, “The Observer” and quite a number of counter-revolutionary authorities to prove that the Russian revolution is finished, and that Bolshevism has gone to the devil. So much so that we wonder why on earth the capitalist governments of the world are so frightfully scared of Moscow, and why he himself is so terribly alarmed about the “Moscow road.” But this part of his argument there is no need for us to answer, only the utterly stupid would advance it.

We look again at the book to see exactly what he has got to offer the workers of Britain in the present situation and this is what we find: “Well, it is entirely within the power of Labour without any bloody revolution or storming of barricades, with the means already in their hands if they care to use them, to capture this citadel. A tiny act of daily discipline on the part of each worker—the decision to take one paper instead of another, the Labour Daily first as he goes to work in the morning—would transfer the most of this vast power, these tremendous resources, from the side of capital to the side of Labour . . . . ”

Read the “Daily, Herald”! The alternative to revolution! The alternative to the Moscow Road! Guarantees tine security of capitalism from the Bolshevik Invasion! Edited and managed by renegade Communists! Ha! Ha! Ha!

J. T. Murphy