Harry Quelch January 1913

What is the Matter with Socialism?

Source: Justice, January 1, 1913, p.5;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.

In last week’s “Clarion” Robert Blatchford expresses his opinion on the above question, which, he says, “some of our young men have been asking lately.” His conclusion is that “There is nothing the matter with Socialism. Socialism is all right.”

There I agree with him, in spite of the hysterical fluster of some of our friends who, because they have never taken the trouble to get even an elementary knowledge of the fundamentals of Socialism, have suddenly convinced themselves that “Socialism will not do,” and, in fact, that “Socialism is dead – dead as a door nail.”

On the contrary, Socialism is very much alive, and is the only thing that will do.

Therein, it appears, I am entirely in agreement with our friend Blatchford. When it comes to a consideration of the present position of the movement in this country, also, I am bound to admit the accuracy of much that Blatchford says.

I agree with his criticism of the Labour Party; but I do not agree with him that “the leaders have led the movement astray.” The movement – that is to say the Socialist movement – has not been led astray. But the general movement of the working class, as represented by the Labour Party, refused to follow the Socialist movement; and its leaders were wiser in their generation than the men and women of the latter in that they watched for the cat to jump, and led their forces, not in the way they should have gone, but in the way they wished to go.

And I am sorry to say that I cannot hold Blatchford absolutely blameless in this. He says: “I have always been a Socialist of the Morris school.” Yet he tells us that “more than twenty years ago” the conviction that the workers “could not trust the Liberal and Tory Parties” “led to the idea of forming a workers’ political party to fight both the Liberal and Tory Parties, in and out of Parliament.”

Now, such a party was already in existence, a party which had been for more than ten years endeavouring to impress these truths upon the working class – that they could not trust Liberal or Tory, and that if they wanted anything done politically, and if they wanted Socialism, they must join the Socialist Party, and agitate, educate, and organise for Socialism.

That was good enough for Morris. It was not good enough for those responsible for the formation of the Independent Labour Party twenty years ago, of whom Blatchford was one.

Of course, we were then treated to all the objections to the S.D.F., its objects, its methods, its principles, its work, and its members which have since become stock phrases in the mouths of trimmers, time-servers and misleaders. The S.D.F. was narrow, doctrinaire, intolerant; and its cold, theoretical, dogmatic Marxist Socialism was not sufficiently attractive to the ardent, idealistic, yet practical Englishman. It was alien to the national temperament, and so on.

All this was untrue, of course, but it served to explain why he workers did not rally to the Red Flag of Social Democracy, and afforded an excuse for offering them something less revolutionary. It seems rather inconsistent now however, to chide the workers for having preferred “Labourism” to Socialism when, that was about twenty years ago, they were advised to do so by their present critics.

The same thing happened when the Labour Party was formed. We of the S.D.F. endeavoured to give it a Socialist basis, programme, and direction. Of course, we were wrong. It was quite right for the Party to refuse to have any programme or principles, or to be turned in a Socialist direction. Yet then, at the parting of the ways, the thing might have been done; and would have been done, had we received the support of those who called themselves our fellow Socialists.

What Blatchford and others seem to have lost sight of at that time is the fact that it is precisely at the parting of the ways that the right or wrong thing is done, and that, if the wrong road be taken, every mile travelled takes one farther from the right. Yet here we have Blatchford and other critics astounded that the Labour Party, after thirteen years of marching along the road leading thereto, now finds itself wallowing in the Liberal bog.

If, it the outset, Blatchford and the I.L.P. leaders had joined their warnings to ours, the initial mistake would have been avoided. We tried for two years to get the Party on the right track, but we tried in vain. We got no help, but only sneers from those who now condemn the Party for having taken the wrong road. And now it is too late.

Blatchford now talks of twenty years having been wasted. I make it thirty years – and more. But by whom have these years been wasted? Not by us Socialists, who have never wearied in pointing out the right road; but by the mass of the workers who have preferred to take the wrong, and by those who have encouraged them in so doing.

Had the lead of the S.D.F. been followed thirty-two years ago we might have realised the revolution, by now. As I have repeatedly said at strike meetings during the last year and the year before – if the workers had only rightly used their political power in the years which have gone by since the great dock strike, these more recent strikes would have been unnecessary. But they have not done so. We have told them that if they vote against Socialism it is pretty clear evidence that they don’t want it. But this, of course, was mere Marxist dogmatism.