Source: Socialist Appeal, no. 26 (Mid-June, 1946)
Transcription: Francesco 2010
Proofread: Fred 2010
Markup: Niklas 2010
The Labour Party conference this year was a walkover for the right wing. The Labour leaders and the members of the government had it all their own way. There was not a single important issue on which they were seriously challenged. Even in comparison with conferences held during the war years, this one was sharply to the right.
The agenda was conveniently laid out for the bureaucrats. So cluttered up was it with resolutions of a secondary nature, that the leaders were enabled to squeeze the hundreds of resolutions into about 30. Even this offered little enough opportunity for a real discussion.
But the fact is that the agenda did not contain any resolutions indicating a left wing current. On the contrary, apart from a number vaguely left, they solidly supported the reformist conceptions of the Labour leadership.
The leaders who in the past had given an appearance of being to the “left”, have swung almost in their entirety to the right. The “left wing”—among them Aneurin Bevan, Laski, Silverman—were conspicuous by their lack of criticism of the government both at the conference and in the country.
The outstanding feature of the conference is that the Labour Party is to continue with its present policy unabated. At home: slow reforms, nationalisation with generous compensation and without workers’ control of industry. A Policy of state capitalism, which even if carried out in full, will leave four-fifths of industry in the hands of the capitalists at the end of five years. Abroad: the continuation of imperialism, but with a new varnish.
Bevin’s speech on foreign policy confounded his pro-Stalinist opponents—taking advantage of the fact that Stalin is playing the same game of power politics as the imperialists, [he placed the] responsibility for the holding up of “peace” and “reconstruction” onto the shoulders of the rulers of Russia.
He revealed the fact that Britain was only too eager to trade with the Soviet Union: that Cripps had offered to fly to Moscow to discuss a trade treaty, but had been rebuffed by Russia. No one challenged this, and it obviously had a profound effect on the conference. In this way, Bevin covered up the real issues: the basic antagonism between Bevin’s policy which is merely a continuation of Churchill’s, and the interests of the Stalinist bureaucracy.
The rightward mood of the conference was exemplified by the heavy defeat of the resolutions critical of foreign policy in Spain and Greece. Furthermore, such was the temper of the delegates, that most of the resolutions critical of Bevin’s foreign policy were withdrawn.
India was not even discussed, and the delegates accepted the pretence of Britain’s withdrawal from Egypt and India as genuine. The brutal imperialist intervention against the Indonesian people was not condemned.
On the home front the Labour leaders boasted that they were carrying out the programme Let us face the future on which they fought the general election.
They have nationalised the Bank of England, the mines are in the [process of being nationalised]. They have repealed the Trade Disputes’ Act, and introduced social reforms in National Health Insurance. In the lifetime of this Parliament they will nationalise steel and iron, gas and electricity.
Although the compensation terms to the shareholders of the Bank of England gives them a slightly bigger dividend than they reaped before, and the coal owners have been more than richly rewarded for a ruined industry, this looks to the members of the Labour Party like an impressive programme of legislation.
While it is true that some reforms have been introduced, these are largely cancelled out by rising prices and the fact that the burdens are being shouldered by the working class.
Will Lawther demagogically said that the miners did not favour nationalisation merely to continue under the same conditions of life as under private enterprise. He said that the miners wanted the Charter under a nationalised industry and implied that the Labour government was reluctant to give it.
Shinwell’s reply puts the real position of nationalised industry under capitalism, far better than any amount of Marxist agitation: “The miners were not entitled to expect to receive from the government, which is only on the eve of legislative experiment, what they did not get from private industry.”
On the issue of agriculture the Executive was defeated and a resolution carried demanding the improvement or the conditions of this most exploited strata of the British workers.
The only other issues on which the Executive was defeated were on the withdrawal of a pamphlet on education issued by the coalition government and which took its stand on different types of schools for the workers, and the middle and upper classes; and on the question of payment of wages lost and travelling expenses of local councillors.
But these issues are not fundamental and their defeat represented only a mild rebuff for the Executive.
The tenor of the conference was shown by the overwhelming defeat of the proposed affiliation of the Communist Party. It is true, that large sections of the rank and file are hostile to Stalinism for progressive reasons—to its manoeuvres and turns, its anti-working class outlook and methods. But the great majority unfortunately opposed affiliation because Morrison and the Labour leaders had raised the scare that the Stalinists were really “communists” and stood for “red revolution” as against parliamentary reform.
Of the 468,000 votes received for communist affiliation, 406,000 were bloc votes of the AEU and NUR. One or two smaller unions also voted for affiliation, so that a mere handful of actual local Labour parties voted for affiliation.
So bitter and hostile were the delegates to the Communist Party that the resolution altering the Labour Party’s Constitution to prevent the affiliation of any other political Party was carried without a discussion. This, in spite of the fact that it means a fundamental change in the structure of the Labour Party.
But those who think the victory over the Communist Party is a definitive one will have a rude awakening in the coming struggles when the crisis descends upon Britain, and the Stalinists move left.
The conference reflected the tendency to political passivity on the part of the workers at the present time. From the point of view of the Labour leaders they have come to power at a very fortunate period. The destruction of the war, the world famine of goods, the need to reconvert industry to peacetime purposes, has created a huge and apparently inexhaustible market on a world scale. Thus, there is for the time being no great unemployment. With the prospect of a loan from America, and the increases in production to make up the shortages at home and abroad, there is a boom. Because of low standards and rationing, there is a prospect of small improvements in clothing and other amenities.
On this basis, the workers who are generous in their faith and loyal in their support are extending a credit in time to the Labour government. Despite uneasiness, the attitude of the British working class remains one of “Give them a chance—wait and see.”
But capitalism has its laws. The boom will not last forever. In a few short years Britain will be facing the greatest crisis in the whole of her history. Her difficulties are concealed at the moment because of the crisis of world capitalism and the aftermath of the war. But by the time that Britain has overhauled her productive machine which the Labour leaders are planning, in the industries both under capitalist ownership and control, as well as those owned and controlled by the capitalist state, the bottom will have dropped out of the market. The capitalist world will be faced not with a shortage of goods, but with a crisis of over production. In such a crisis Britain cannot compete with the American productive machine. The advantage of a huge and closed-in empire which Britain possessed in the past has been lost in this war.
Crisis will come in Britain as it did in 1931 when the Labour government was in office after the slump had already begun. Only now the Labour leaders will not have the excuse they had before of not having a majority. The utopia of reforming capitalism, while allowing the capitalists to continue making profits, will be shattered. The Labour leaders have relied upon an export drive for markets in traditional capitalist fashion to solve the problems of the capitalist class. On a capitalist basis there could be only one solution to the crisis. As in 1931, as in previous crises, the capitalists will drive down the standards of living of the workers, will demand the cutting down of the social reforms introduced by the Labour government, and even the meagre present unemployment pay will have to be reduced.
The Labour leaders are blind to this impending catastrophe and for the time being have lulled the workers into a false sense of security. The capitalist are preparing for this, but the Labour leaders are living in a fool’s paradise.
In the struggles that lie ahead, the workers in the labour movement will come to see that it is no use tinkering with capitalism, it must be overthrown and replaced by a new system of society. In such a system the capitalists would be expropriated, and the whole economy of the country planned and run under the control of the working class as it was in Russia under Lenin and Trotsky in 1917. This is the only way in which nationalisation would really benefit the working class and be a measure of socialism, not of state capitalism.
The workers inside and outside the Labour Party must demand that real measures be taken by the Labour government against the capitalist class. In a struggle to force the Labour government to take such measures, the working class will become conscious of the inadequacy of the policy of the Labour leadership.
While supporting every progressive step forward taken by the Labour government, and criticising all reactionary measures, the revolutionary communists will be in the forefront of the struggle to better the conditions of the working class and introduce real socialist measures.
Fighting side by side with the Labour workers, the most advanced elements will come to understand that only the programme of the Revolutionary Communist Party will lead to a socialist Britain.