From: South Africa's Radical Tradition, a documentary history, Volume One 1907 - 1950, by Allison Drew
Document 6 - M. Lopes,13 "Socialism and the Labour Party", The Bolshevik, April 1920
In a recent issue of our esteemed contemporary, the International, appeared a statement to the effect that the International League is not out to fight the Labour Party but to supersede it. This statement is surprising, and may even be construed as being a first attempt to look with a more favourable eye upon the Labour Party which has attained the fleshpots of a certain share of political power. The statement, from a Socialist standpoint, is absurd. Socialism, we know, will supersede Capitalism. Does the International consider that also a good reason why we should not fight Capitalism?
The International also suggested that Socialist propaganda can be more safely conducted under the protection of a large Labour Party in Parliament. In this connection it overlooks the suppression of the Spartacists by the Ebert Government of Kaiser-Socialists in Germany, the attacks upon the Bolsheviks by the followers of Kerensky, and the prosecution of Revolutionary organisations in England by a Government in which Labour leaders held office. Does the International believe Cresswell, Sampson, etc., to be less docile followers of social patriotism than George Barnes or Arthur Henderson?14 Does it believe that a party representing mainly the white aristocratic Trade Unions and the middle-class to be more favourable to its propaganda amongst the natives than General Smuts or any other Capitalist politician? If not, where does the increased safety for Socialist propaganda come in? We deny that the Labour Party is out for Socialism, or that it is a Workers' organisation at all.
It is a Party representing the upper layers of the white workers and the middle class. It represents those aristocratic unions - of the North especially - that, with their feet on the natives, shriek of exploitation; shopkeepers foam at the mouth with anger against the large combines that are cutting down their profits; and the middle class are feeling the pinch of the steady increase in the cost of living. These sections are not out to overthrow Capitalism; rather do they desire to get the most they can out of the present system. Therefore they are out for rent tribunals, Anti-Profiteering Acts, etc., which, they confidently expect, will bring them the relief they desire. At the majority of the Labour meetings Socialism was never mentioned; when it was, it was always accompanied by apious insistence upon the necessity of constitutional action. These sections, which form the driving force of the Labour movement, do not desire to organise the lower unskilled sections of the white workers or the native and coloured workers, as they fear this would lessen the privileges they enjoy, and also act as an obstacle to the masters granting the skilled workers increased wages. The insistence of the Labour Party upon the British Imperial connection would seem to imply that the party perceives some advantages to be gained from this connection which the Irish, Indian and Egyptian nations have not yet perceived. Its attitude during the great war was for "democracy" and the "fourteen points" of a half-witted President reveals how little it can be trusted in this connection. To sum up - the Labour Party is not out to overthrow capital in the interests of the toiling masses, both white and black, but to obtain concessions for the middle-class and the white Trades Unions of skilled workers. It is not a proletarian organisation, in spite of the fact that many of the workers voted for it. By its attitude to the forcible overthrow of Capitalism, to the organisation of all the workers in One Big Union, to the late war, it betrays the middle class origin of its principles and tastes.
The devil is no more afraid of holy water than is the Labour Party of mentioning Soviet Russia. The reason is plain: the great tactical lessons of the Russian Revolution are in contradiction to the principles of the Labour Party. The necessity for revolutionary mass action and the dictatorship of the workers through Soviets are being now assimilated by all genuine proletarian organisations throughout the world. By its repudiation of these lessons, the Labour Party definitely places itself "on the other side of the barricade." As the final struggle approaches in all lands, the capitalists will seek to protect their privileges under the cloak of Labour or pseudo- Socialist Governments.
These Governments mislead the workers by adopting the slogans of Revolutionary Socialism, and thus endeavour to prevent the rising of the organised workers. They can be appropriately called "Capitalist shock absorbers.
"Ever at the beck and call of the exploiters, they appear during a crisis as Revolutionary leaders, establish Labour or so-called Socialist Governments, and endeavour to pacify the workers. Once the danger is over, the Socialist or Labour mask is dropped, and the Capitalist can then proceed to crush the Revolutionary sections of the working class. Thus acted the followers of Kerensky in Russia, and the Ebert "Socialist" Government in Germany. Have we any reason to believe that Henderson in England and Cresswell in South Africa would act otherwise in a Revolutionary crisis? None whatever.
For these reasons, therefore, following the example of the Communist Parties in all lands, we are out to attack the Labour Party and to expose the Social patriots and Labour fakirs that have gathered beneath its banner.
We freely acknowledge that there are many sincere and class- conscious workers in the Labour Party. Their presence in the party only reflects discredit upon their knowledge of scientific Socialism, and their inability to realise the insincerity and hollowness of their parties' catchwords. Their sincerity and devotion to the workers' cause we must admire. The Labour Party, however, we shall fight with all the vigour at our command as being a reactionary organisation, and a pillar of Capitalism. We are confident by our clear insistence on the necessity for the Social Revolution, the Proletarian Dictatorship, and the Republic of Soviets, we shall, as the class-conflict grows more intense and the misery of the workers deepens, rally to our banner all the class-conscious and Revolutionary elements in the Labour Party.