Th. Rothstein 1908

His Majesty’s Opposition

Source: Justice, 11 July 1908, p. 6;
Transcribed: Ted Crawford,
HTML 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.

The action of our friend Keir Hardie in expostulating with the King for having removed his name from the list of those invited to the recent garden party at Windsor strikes us as one of the most original we have ever come across on the part of a Socialist. It is true that in last week’s “Clarion” we were assured that British Socialism had hitherto been distinguished from the Continental variety by its attachment to the Monarchy. We feel certain, however, that Keir Hardie emphatically repudiates this insult. A Socialist is necessarily a democrat, and neither the S.D.P. nor Keir Hardie were ever guilty of monarchist sympathies. It is, therefore, not from any disappointment at having fallen into royal disgrace that Keir Hardie has deemed it necessary to raise his present protest. As a matter of fact, he himself tells us in a speech delivered at Stockport that he never in the past attended the Royal garden parties, in spite of repeated invitations, nor is it his intention to do so in the future. What, then, are the considerations which are dictating his action on the present occasion? “I am not going to allow,” he declares in the course of the above-mentioned speech, “either my position as a member of the Labour Party, or my Socialism, or my views concerning King Edward’s visit to Russia, to curtail my privileges as a member of the House of Commons. I don’t receive these invitations because I am Keir Hardie, but because I am a member of the House of Commons, and if I am fit to represent the working-classes of Merthyr Tydvil I am fit to attend the garden party at Windsor.”

These, then, are the arguments, political and constitutional to boot. We doubt not, they appeal to the majority of the public, especially the Radical section. It is questionable, however, whether they appeal profoundly to thinking Socialists. It will occur to the latter that a Socialist cannot view the right of the members of the House of Commons to attend royal garden parties as a “privilege,” and it will strike them that the juxtaposition of the fitness to represent a working-class constituency and of attending a reception by the King is rather insulting to the former and suggestive of a recognition of the office of the latter. A Socialist might have been expected rather to denounce those who view the right of attending a royal reception as a privilege than himself claim a share in it, and it is certainly a cheap sort of Radicalism and Republicanism, which we usually associate with the bourgeoisie, to argue that the possession of the confidence of the electors constitutes a valid pass to the palace of the monarch. What has a Socialist to do with Monarchy and its mummery except to denounce it and to denounce those who actively or passively support it? How can a Socialist member of Parliament, the elected representative of the workers, demand as his privilege the right to participate in such functions which from his point of view are nothing but an insult to democracy and a living monument to the betrayal by the Liberal bourgeoisie of its own mission? We are afraid there lurks from behind the seemingly democratic attitude of Keir Hardie on this question a total misconception of the true aims and objects of representatives of Labour in Parliament. He evidently thinks that he and his colleagues are there to represent the interests of a certain section of the population, just as railway directors or mineowners are there to represent the interests of their constituents; and, so far from regarding Parliament as mainly an engine of war against the capitalist class and a means of capturing political power for the working class, his chief concern seems to be to obtain for the Labour members the same recognition of legitimate representatives of certain interests as is accorded, and is not disputed by him, to other groups. Needless to say, this is not the Socialist view of the position and aims of Parliamentary representatives of the proletariat; but it assists us in understanding why Keir Hardie is so insistent on the right of the Labour Party, and of himself as its representative, to share in all the privileges, however doubtful, enjoyed by the other members of the House, and why, in spite of his being a Socialist and a Republican—that is, an avowed opponent of the Monarchy—he talks of his fitness to attend the King’s receptions.

As a matter of fact, this is the view which underlies the conduct of the Labour Party as a whole. The Labour Party does not regard itself as having come to destroy. It regards itself as having come to build, that is, to fill out the gap which hitherto existed in the House of Commons owing to the absence of representatives of Labour fit to voice the “legitimate” aspirations of the working class. The Labour Party has now completed this deplorable void in an assembly which expresses the will of the “nation,” and its main ambition is to be regarded as a permanent and organic part of the whole. That this so called “whole” ought to be wiped out of existence, because there is no other way to satisfy the “legitimate” interest of the working class, has never entered their heads. They do not believe that history is a war of classes, and that in order to make it we must recognise this now ancient truth. But it is intelligible from their standpoint how it came to be that the leader of the Labour Party took upon himself to closure the debate of the Reval visit, because otherwise he would not have been given a day for the debate at all (as if it is the business of a Labour Party to be given days and not to take them!), and how it was that at a recent gathering of the I.L.P., on the occasion of a bazaar at Blackburn, Mr. MacDonald could speak of the time when the Labour Party would be in power and distribute peerages and other honours? Of course, the Labour Party is now in opposition. But they are in His Majesty’s Opposition, and may one day come to power just as any other party may and does.

We are afraid Keir Hardie has succumbed to this view or the situation. Though himself a Socialist and an opponent of the Monarchy, he nevertheless claims the right to be received as the King’s guest. For is he and his party not one of His Majesty’s Oppositions, as fit and good as any other? It is a pity that he at least should not understand better.