J. T. Murphy

The Moral Roots of the Crisis

Source: New Britain, April 4, 1934, pp. 601-602
Transcription/Markup: Brian Reid
Public Domain: Marxists Internet Archive (2009). 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.

IN my first article I stressed that the primary political cause of the crisis was due to the fact that the Labour Movement, founded on the working class, is led by leaders who carry within their heads the political equipment of nineteenth-century Liberalism, to wage the battles of twentieth-century revolution. The moral consequences are far reaching, demoralizing and devastating in their effect.

Class Interests

Political parties are the product of the class struggle. In a classless society which has rid itself of the remnants of class interests and ideology there will be no political parties. They will be unnecessary. But we have not reached the classless society. We are in the midst of a society torn by class struggle, and the political parties of necessity express and reflect the interests of classes in conflict. The more fierce the class struggle becomes, the more society is divided into two camps marshalled for decisive struggle, the greater is the tendency for a fusion of parties in terms of the classes upon which they are based. Where the process is not completed and the classes are divided against themselves owing to various historical causes their fate is jeopardized. This is the reason why the more desperate the capitalist class becomes the more rapid is the progress of the liquidation of the old parties and the consolidation of its ranks in a party of Fascism in order to smash the party or parties of the class opposed to capitalism. A similar process proceeds in the working class, and wherever it has not resulted in such a consolidation of working-class forces and a corresponding clarity and decisiveness of purpose, it has been defeated.

Enough historical evidence exists to prove that this is the historical process. Witness Italy, Germany, Austria, Hungary for complete evidence of the process culminating in Fascism. Witness the Russian Revolution on the other hand and its culmination in Socialism. In the former cases there was a counter revolutionary victory of capitalism. In the latter, a revolutionary victory of the working class culminating in Socialism.

To deplore the fact that history has followed the course of the class struggle is a waste of time, a philandering whilst life rushes on and the crisis grows in which the fate of classes in this country also will be determined. It is perfectly true that there is and will be no mechanical demarcation lines between social classes. Members of the middle classes, and even of the capitalist class, will be found on both sides. So also there is and will be workers on both sides. Nevertheless the main bodies representing the class antagonisms and social forces based upon them take the form of the capitalist and landlord class versus the proletariat.

Labour is Afraid . . .

In the alignment of forces there is only one revolutionary class, namely, the working class. This class is the custodian of Socialism, of all further progressive development of mankind. The capitalist class is no longer a progressive class. It cannot lead mankind forward. It can only drag it backwards. Based upon private property, it has long-since fulfilled whatever progressive role it had to play in the development of society. Capitalism now fetters the productive forces, drags society into desolation and catastrophe.

Hence it is the greatest of all tragedies that in these decisive hours of the history of this country that the Labour Movement is being sapped of its vitality by fear which is rooted in played out Liberalism. Liberalism is the politics and philosophy of voluntary class collaboration. This philosophy destroys the confidence of the working class in itself, spreads cynicism in its ranks, paralyses action, retards the advance to Socialism, indeed leads to capitulation of the kind which German Social Democracy exemplified.

. . . of the Masses

This moral condition of fear is not a fear of the capitalists so much as a fear of the masses. It expresses itself in an overweening respectability and regard for law and order, a smugness and placidity that hates to be disturbed out of the ruts of administrative comfort. For example the annual conferences are held at seaside resorts instead of the great industrial centres—Hastingsand Brighton, Llandudno and Scarborough and Southport instead of Manchester, Sheffield and Glasgow. The police are called upon to safeguard the conferences from the unemployed, who ought to be their great supporters. The demonstrations of the unemployed masses against the Unemployment Bill are left to forces on the fringe of the working-class movement instead of the leadership taking full responsibility and mobilizing every possible means of shaking the country from end to end against the atrocious conditions imposed upon the workers.

Think of it! What a demonstration against the Unemployment Bill, against the Means Test, against the War danger and Fascism, what a demonstration for the Socialist solution of the crisis, if the whole Labour Movement, if all the hundreds of Labour councillors and Members of Parliament, the thousands of Trade Union officials and Co-operative leaders had led the workers on to the streets in protest together! Why is it not done? Because the Liberal philosophy of class collaboration has inculcated the moral fear of unleashing the masses against capitalism. The leadership does not function as a general staff of an army destined to lead mankind to a new social order, but with halting apologies, sentimental pleadings for “better treatment” maintains the psychology of the slave amongst the slaves.

No Belief in Socialism

Again, have we ever seen a Labour poster with the confident declaration that “Socialism is Coming”? No. Why? Because the great majority of leaders don’t believe it is coming. Full of doubts and fears, clinging with pitiful faith to capitalism, hoping against hope that we can “return to 1928”, that somewhere just round the corner a trade revival stands waiting, sceptical of the masses upon whom they depend, they lack faith in their own cause and spread their pessimism like a poison into the workers themselves. How familiar is their conversation! How they atomize the workers and detail their waverings, their backwardness, the competition amongst them for jobs, and cite these things as the reason for their lack of faith in the masses and proceed to argue that education is the thing. “Until the masses are educated in Socialism we can’t have Socialism” and so on.

If the changes in society from one social system to another lead waited upon the development of the individual virtues and the education of each individual, then mankind would still be in primitive society. But society has not waited in this way. The intellectual and moral transformation of society depends upon and follows in the tracks of economic change. The dynamic of economic change is the development of the forces of production. Man is the maker of history, but he makes that history with the tools and material at his disposal. His relationship to these instruments of production is a dialectical relationship changing the materials and the tools and himself in the process. At each successive stage when property relations became a fetter upon the development of the forces of production those property relations had to be changed. They were changed. But they were changed when the class which was primarily interested in their transformation developed the will to fight for the change and fought and conquered. It was not an automatic process in which the leaders of one class embraced the leaders of the opposing class and sapped the vitality of their own ranks by dissertations upon the individual weaknesses and delinquencies of their followers. They harnessed the sum total of all the positive qualities of their followers, inspired them with the will to conquer and the belief in the righteousness of their cause. They set about their task with the conviction that they were the advance guard of mankind, that they were the custodians of a new social life, of a new and higher culture, a greater liberation.

Dare to Advance!

It is such a confident inspiring leadership that the Socialist movement requires to-day. We do not want a pessimistic leadership, suffering from the fatty degeneration of a prosperous capitalism that cannot return. We want a leadership that gathers up within itself all the confidence and inspiration of the millions of workers who have fought and who are willing to fight today for the triumph of the class which is the historical custodian of the next stage of human social progress. We want a leadership that is conscious of the vast power of the organized working class and will dare to use it to advance to Socialism.

I do not say that every Trade Union, Co-operative and Labour Party leader is a hopeless individual who cannot change. There are thousands who day in and day out work ceaselessly and hopefully. But they are not the dominating forces of the movement as a moment’s glance at the press of the movement would prove and the divided lethargic condition of the movement demonstrates. We need to see political clarity grow rapidly, and with it must come the moral qualities of confidence in the forces which alone can win Socialism, the casting out of fear and the development of the conviction that Socialism offers the way out of the crisis and paves the way to the next great stride in the evolution of society.