Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Lukács

Thursday, June 14, 2007

M.N.Roy on 'the liberal Labourites of England'

M.N. Roy was an early leader of Indian Communism, and in 1922 wrote this article, The Liberalism of the British Labour Party which should remind us that the Labour Party has always loyally supported British Imperialism and that the idea of a 'pro-war "Left"' as being something 'new' and 'unprecedented' and only resulting from 'Liberals losing their way' after 9/11 is clearly problematic. As Roy noted:

Ramsey MacDonald, Labour's leader, always 'forgets about the Irish political prisoners rotting until recently in subterranean dungeons—or the wholesale massacres in India, Egypt and the Rand'...

'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...

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...were only concerned 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...

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.'

And all this when Labour was in opposition and before they had ever formed a Government!
No wonder that whenever these 'champions of liberty' have been in power since, they have carried out the imperial 'civilising mission' - or 'humanitarian intervention' as it is more fashionably called today - with as much vigour as any other British Government. The British Labour Party was born at the time when the British Empire was at its height - and along with the decline and fall of the British Empire has gone the decline and decay of British Labourism. That tradition does not deserve to be revived - even if revival of it were still possible. Fortunately the British working class has always contained more internationalist, more progressive, more revolutionary traditions which socialists can and must relate to if a socialist alternative to Labourism is to be built.

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At 5:10 pm, Blogger Biby Cletus said...

Cool blog, i just randomly surfed in, but it sure was worth my time, will be back

Deep Regards from the other side of the Moon

Biby Cletus

At 4:49 pm, Anonymous Vinod Moonesinghe said...

Interestingly, Clare Short, interviewed by Al Jazeera's inside Iraq, says that Labour was consistently opposed to the British Empire, opposed to British rule of India and so on.
The link, unfortunately, does not appear to contain a transcript:


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