MN Roy

The Liberalism of the
British Labour Party

Source: The Communist, June 3, 1922.
Publisher: Communist Party of Great Britain
Transcription/HTML Markup: Brian Reid
Proofreader: David Tate
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 ridiculousness of Wilsonian Liberalism fades away into insignificance when compared with the sanctimonious zeal of the international Social Democrats and Labourites for the doctrine of “self-determination.”

When the Liberals, who do not conceal their pious anxiety to save bourgeois society, talk about such things as the “self-determination of peoples,” etc., they at least deserve credit for loyalty to their class; but to the Social Democrats and Labourites, it is nothing but a doctrine; a doctrine to be utilised, not in order to serve the interests of the workers they profess to represent, but to mislead them, blindfold them, betray them.

Were it not so, how can we explain the shameful way in which the attempt to build a united front of the world proletariat to resist the determined assault of the bourgeoisie has been and is being sabotaged by the redoubtable Social Democrats of Europe and tile liberal Labourites of England.

Second International—First Humbug

What possibly could be the motive of Vandervelde or Ramsay MacDonald in adopting the obstructionist policy which almost wrecked the Berlin Conference? Can anybody help seeing through the crocodile tears shed by these two honourable gentlemen over imprisoned Social Revolutionary terrorists and the well-deserved fate of the Georgian Mensheviks, on recollecting how silently the one connived at the butchery in the Congo and how conveniently the other forgets about the Irish political prisoners rotting until recently in subterranean dungeons—or the wholesale massacres in India, Egypt and the Rand?

Before taking the Soviet Government to task for the alleged violation of the sovereignty of the Georgians, the Second International would do well to look after the morals of its own members. What about the colonial policy of the British Labour Party, one of the mainstays of the Second International?

The leaders of the British Labour Party never committed the crime of calling themselves Socialists (the Socialism of the I.L.P. brand can be calmly discounted), but the Second International has in its folds it number of the celebrities of renegade Marxism, and as an organisation it still pretends to lead the working class in the struggle for social regeneration (the word revolution is taboo). Cannot the Second International see that if the victory of the European proletariat depends in any way upon the self determination of the peoples subjugated by the various imperialist powers, then it should leave Georgia alone, and turn its attention to such nations as the Irish, Egyptians, and Indians, who are coerced into slavery with the connivance, if not support, of the British Labour Party! We know that the Georgian bogey has no earthly connection whatsoever with the much heeded unity of the European proletariat. It is conjured up purely to serve the interests of the bourgeoisie.

India? Egypt? Ireland?

But let as take for granted the sincerity of the democratic liberalism of the British Labour Party. Let us believe for the moment that Ramsay MacDonald together with his kin on the Continent, believes in the doctrine of self-determination. Let us also acknowledge that the Georgian Mensheviks are not tools of the Entente, but “legitimate representatives” of the Georgian people. Now, if the British Labour Party is so passionately in love with the abstract principle of self-determination” that it will not work for the consolidation of a united proletarian front against a concentrated capitalist offensive, until and unless the Communist International induces the Soviet government to stop the “Bolshevik aggression” in Georgia—may we not remind them that the Egyptians and the Indians stand in need of self-determination no less than the Georgians? Would not the juridicial knowledge of the leaders of the Second International be equally, if not more usefully employed, were it devoted to the defence of the harmless pacifist Gandhi, locked up for six years, to securing an equitable trial for those terrorists who have systematically tried to kill the leaders of the Russian Revolution? If a Tseretelli’s right to deliver the Georgian workers and peasants over to the exploitation of the English capitalists is to be respected as sacred, why does the British Labour Party look askance at the movements led by a De Valera, or a Zaglul Pasha or a Gandhi? Is it because Tseretelli’s “most democratic republic” accepted the dictatorship of British capital, whereas the right of self-determination accorded to the movements headed by the latter threewould mean the disruption of the British Empire?

We are expected to believe that the Social Democrats and the Labourites stand for freedom for all, as against the principle of proletarian dictatorship professed by the Communists. Well, the sincerity of the British Labour Party in this question cannot stand the test when its attitude towards the national movements in the colonies is examined. Let us look into its record. Never has the British Labour Party defined its attitude, on the Colonial Question. Of all its leaders, Ramsay MacDonald has written the most about the imperial administration of the subject countries. We search in vain all through his writings to find a sentence which unconditionally recognises the right of the colonial peoples to determine freely what sort of government they would like to have. The most liberal statement he makes amounts to this: the old jingoist imperialism is untenable under the present circumstances; more liberal methods have to be adopted if the safety and permanence of the Empire is to be insured; the word Empire has become too odious, a more democratic term—Commonwealth—has to be introduced. He is sure that the “democratic Federation of the British Empire“ will be safe and secure in the keeping of the Labour politicians; a Col. Wedgewood in the India Office and a Ramsay MacDonald in Delhi will be a great improvement upon the noble lords now occupying those comfortable positions. The Irish policy of the Labour Party has never committed the sin of exceeding the limits of Gladstonian liberalism. So much by way of generalisation; now a few particulars.

When at the beginning of the war the Boer Nationalists of South Africa rose in revolt with the object of declaring an independent republic, the liberalism of the British labour leaders fell into line with those rank imperialists who found German intrigue, behind that revolt and dammed it as treason. Not a murmur was to be heard from the British Labour Party when De Wet was sentenced to hard labour.

Such an event as the 1916 Easter Revolution in Ireland could not make the British Labour Party define its attitude regarding this thorny question. As a member of the War Cabinet, Henderson did not raise a finger to save James Connolly, not to speak of others whose genuine fervour for national independence cannot be blackened by the insinuation of underground German intrigues. The British Labour Party did not find it necessary out of loyalty to the working class at least to withdraw from the Coalition which has killed the champion of the Irish proletariat.

In the present Irish embroglio, the British Labour Party has succeeded only in making itself ridiculous. Lloyd Georgian (not even Gladstonian) liberalism has stolen its thunder. The perfunctory Irish Settlement, which resulted in the betrayal of the Irish people by Collins and Griffith, has satisfied all the demands the British Labour Party ever put forth on this question. Consequently, there is no other way left to it but to look on stupidly and impotently at the hopeless mix-up in Ireland.

The British Labour Party has maintained a sublime indifference towards the brutal repression is India ever since the earliest years of the present century. When the so-called “war services ” of the Indian people—services for which even the pacifist Ramsay MacDonald congratulates the Indians and recommends a better lot for them—were paid for by the infamous Rowlatt Act, which practically put the entire country under martial law, not even a word of protest was raised by the British Labour Party. But the Amritsar massacre which followed upon the heels of the Rowlatt Act, disturbed the philosophic calm of the British Labourites and elicited a conventional protest from them. This document, signed among others by Henderson, J.H. Thomas, Robert Williams and Lansbury, deplored the foolishness of such a policy of repression, and pointed out that thereby “the lives of the thousands of English women and children in India were endangered.” The apostles of humanity, who are so indignant over the imaginary terrorism in Georgia, were onlyconcerned about the precious lives of helpless members of the ruling class, when the unarmed workers of India were being bombed and blown up by hundreds.

Terror in India

When Col. Wedgewood and Ben Spoor attended the Indian National and Trade Union Congresses as fraternal delegates in the stormy days of 1920, all they did was to prevent any dangerous turn in the Non-Co-operation movement by stalwartly pointing out the possibilities of the Montague Reforms, as well as the Divine Providence behind the Anglo-Indian bond which, they exhorted, should be preserved for the welfare of civilisation. On his return to England, Wedgewood warned the British ruling class of the seriousness of the Indian situation and advised them to be careful in handling it.

The reign of terror initiated in India by Lord Reading last winter has been overlooked by the British Labour Party. The situation became such that even the capitalist press was full of news about the daily arrest and imprisonment of hundreds of nationalist leaders and volunteers on mere technical charges. The debate in the House of Commons upon the Indian situation placed the British Labour Party in a very delicate dilemma. In order to evade the frankly imperialistic rôle of supporting the Government’s Indian policy as against the bloodthirsty resolution of the “Die-hards,” Col. Wedgewood led his flock dramatically out of the House. But no one can be fooled any longer by such naive political manœuvres.

The resolution subsequently adopted by the joint session of the Labour Party Executive, the Trade Union Congress and the Parliamentary Labour Party concerning the reign of terror in India was a shameful instance of pseudo-liberalism. It suggested that the Indian National Congress should stop all Non-Co-operation activities before meeting with the Government for the purpose of negotiations. Such instances, which are but veiled imperialism, can be added to indefinitely. But these are enough to expose the hypocrisy of the doctrine of self-determination, so dear to the British Labourites.

A few words more about Egypt. The Labour Party did not have anything to say against the proclamation of the British Protectorate over Egypt at the beginning of the war. The repeated persecution and the ultimate deportation of Zaglul failed to inspire these champions of liberty with holy indignation. They tacitly support the present policy of coercing the Egyptian people with the help of a few landed aristocrats, bought with sham concessions.

Wake ’em Up

Such, in short, is the glorious record of those who are sabotaging the proletarian struggle. As at the just concluded meeting of the Commission of Nine, the representatives of the Second International attempted to sidetrack the issue of proletarian unity by raising the Georgian question and that of the imprisoned Social Revolutionaries, our representatives asked them to put their own house in order first. They called upon the British Labour Party to demand the recognition of the Irish Republic and the freedom of Egypt and India, under the threat of direct action by the British working class. At least let the British Labour Party openly advocate the right of self-determination for the peoples subjugated by British Imperialism as ardently as they hold the brief for the Georgian Mensheviks. We know what the Second International and the British Labour Party will answer. They are defending the interests of the bourgeoisies of their respective countries. This will be another way of tearing the mask from their face so that the workers, who are still following them, will see them in their true light.


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