Written: March 1943
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 5 no. 6 (March 1943)
Markup: Emil 2007
The coalition between the labour movement and the capitalist class is cracking. The cynical indication by the government that it has no intention of carrying through even the modest reforms outlined in the Beveridge Plan has provoked a crisis within the Labour Party.
The Labour Ministers, having established “Social Security” for themselves, do not worry about splitting hairs when the Government tosses overboard the demagogy about “freedom from want” for the masses after the war. They have shamefully accepted the Government’s position. The majority of the second layer of the Labour leaders, under the pressure of mass discontent and disillusionment, have been compelled to oppose the Government; on this issue and for the first time, the bulk of them voted against the Government. Thus we have the farcical situation where the Labour Ministers, supported by only two Labour M.P.s, vote for the Government against the overwhelming majority of their Party group.
But the gesture of the Labour M.P.s in voting against the Government remains a piece of repulsive hypocrisy and a deception of the working class if they continue to tolerate the Labour Ministers remaining in the Government. Yet the disgraceful position exists where the Labour M.P.s agree to allow the coalition to continue on the familiar path of capitulation and surrender to the capitalists. It is reported in the capitalist press that one or more of the Labour Ministers has threatened to resign from the Labour Party. This is the MacDonald experience all over again. Anyone making such ultimatums must be immediately denounced and driven from the labour movement.
The ruling class is preparing measures, internally and externally, for an offensive against the working class. The speeches of Churchill and Roosevelt have raised the question once again of the real aims of the war. At home, the masses of the workers, and the middle class also, are becoming more and more critical of the situation in which they find themselves. The ruling class has utilised the war for the purpose of enriching themselves at the expense of the standard of living of the people. All the burdens of the war have been laid on the shoulders of the miners, soldiers, engineers, housewives, small shopkeepers, etc., while the millionaire combines and banks have ruthlessly secured an overwhelming grip on the economy of Britain.
Under these circumstances, the restlessness and disgust of the workers is rapidly turning against the Government of Big Finance. Nearly all the recent bye-elections show a tendency in this direction. In West Belfast, formerly a stronghold of backward Ulster Tory reaction, the Labour Party has won a resounding victory. This is the first Labour M.P. to be sent to Whitehall from Ulster. In the Midlothian bye-election in Scotland, the Tory candidate only managed to scrape home by a few hundred votes in what was regarded as a safe Tory seat. The Times, organ of Big Business, reflects the alarm of the ruling class at the tendency throughout the country, and reluctantly comments:
“When every factor has been deducted that may make a bye-election an indecisive index of opinion, such a result as that which the Midlothian electors have lately registered, is still something of a portent.”
It is to meet this steady move towards the Left and towards Socialism that compelled the Government to attempt to by-pass this opposition by announcing the Beveridge Scheme as a great scheme for Social Reconstruction. Despite warnings and efforts to avoid it by all the means in their power, the Government had to follow in the footsteps of Lloyd George. His “Land fit for heroes” has once again been pulled out of the drawer of capitalist promises and dusted over, his demagogy furnished with a new gilding, entitled &ldquot;Freedom from want for all. Social Security,” etc.
But immediately Bevin introduced the Catering Bill—meagre and inadequate as it was—to alleviate the horrible sweated conditions in this nightmare industry, the Tories showed their teeth. A substantial number of Tories voted against the Government. “National Unity” was contemptuously thrown aside even when a modest proposal such as this was placed before them. Their class interests and their right to exploit the workers as much as possible were, as always with the capitalists, their guiding considerations. If the Labour leaders showed only one per cent of the class-consciousness of these reactionaries, the future of the workers would be assured.
But the emptiness of all the Government’s proposals has been shown by the statement on the Beveridge Report. To quote the pro-Government Daily Worker:
“Under the pressure of the most reactionary group of Tories, the Government has already partially surrendered to the vested interests opposing Beveridge. No other meaning can be drawn from Sir John Anderson’s speech in the Commons yesterday.”
The Daily Herald stated:
“There is profound dissatisfaction with Sir John’s assertion that although the Government accepts the principles laid down by Beveridge, it is unable at this stage to enter into any specific commitments.”
So that the brave, new world they promised, of which they have now given a glimpse, is nothing but the same old world—only worse. The same as the “good old days” after the last war: Means Test, unemployment misery and want for the working class. Even the carrying through of the Beveridge Report itself would not alter this in any way. But the capitalists and their government are showing already that the Beveridge Report was not meant seriously. Sir John Anderson and Kingsley Wood have demonstrated quite crudely and brutally that this scheme was purely meant as a fairy tale to keep the masses quiet.
Says the Times on the Government position:
“The Government’s acceptance ‘in principle’ of a very large part of the report has been presented with so many conditions and qualifications as to leave the impression that action, in their view, is only vaguely desirable, that it may be postponed for years, or may even be deferred altogether in a coming era of poverty and depression.”
Thus the Times, most authoritative journal of British capitalism, sums up the Government’s position as it “appears” to be. Of course, the alarm of the Times is merely voiced at the indiscretion of the Government revealing the brutal truth of the position of British capitalism too soon.
They realise what the reaction among the masses will be, as the bye-elections have already shown. It is in this atmosphere that the Labour M.P.’s, faced with the pressure of the workers, have threatened a &ldquot;revolt” against the Government.
That is the position with regard to home politics. So far as foreign politics is concerned, Lord Beaverbrook has shown the miserable trickle of “aid” and supplies which have been sent to the Soviet Union. The capitalist class and the government are looking with hidden fear and trembling at the advance of the heroic Red Army. In India and the colonies, the rule of blood and terror, of force and famine, is being imposed on the masses of the people. In “liberating” Tunis from the Axis, the armies of British and American imperialism are using just as inhuman and brutal methods against the Arabs, as the Axis uses in Europe. The whole of the capitalist press fanned the justified indignation of the masses at the destruction of Lidice in Czechoslovakia, and of other towns in occupied Europe. Yet a report published in the Daily Telegraph reveals that British troops are burning and destroying villages, seizing the inhabitants’ cattle, and driving them from their former homes. This is a picture of the regime which they intend establishing in Europe and Asia, when they have been “liberated” from the iron grip of German and Japanese imperialism. The farce of the “war against fascism” has been exposed in North Africa by the installation into power of the French fascist quislings.
The capitalists are planning ahead both for the struggle against the peoples of Europe and the workers of Britain. They offer a future of hunger and chaos, of Quislings in Europe and Asia, and inevitably of reaction and fascism at home. The working class must plan ahead as well. The Labour leaders have been holding the masses in check with the fiction of “national unity”. But even the Times can see that the workers want an alternative to the rotten system of capitalism. In undisguised dismay they watch the barometer of the bye-elections.
The Labour Members of Parliament have been forced into opposition over the refusal of the Government even to pay lip service to the Beveridge Plan. This is not enough! Speeches in Parliament cost nothing but hot air! The time has come to act!
The bulk of the workers in the Labour movement support the Labour leaders because they believe that they represent their interests. The Labour leaders have entered the government with the cry that it was necessary for a struggle against fascism. Sacrifices must be made, they said. But only the masses, not the capitalists have made the sacrifices! Sacrifices for the workers, profits for the bosses! Now even the miserably inadequate Beveridge Plan is not even to be promised. It goes too far for the Tories.
If the Labour leaders desired power it is theirs for the taking. A campaign throughout the country on a militant socialist programme would force a general election. And a General Election under these conditions would give the Labour Party an overwhelming majority. It is time for the farce of “national unity” to be ended. End the coalition with the capitalists—Labour must take power! No more compromises, no more sell-outs by the Labour and trade union leaders to the bosses.
Workers’ International League believes that only the taking of power by the working class can solve their problems. But the road to this lies through the independent struggle of the working class. We believe that the Labour leaders do not represent the interests of the workers, but since the masses of the workers still have confidence in these leaders, we will fight side by side with them to convince them that our point of view is correct. But the whole course of the war has shown the rottenness and bankruptcy of the coalition. The next step forward is the reassertion of the demand that the Labour leaders fight for power.
Workers, members of trade unions,
Labour Parties, Co-ops and the whole labour movement, the time has come
to exert pressure now. We appeal to you—don’t put your trust in the
capitalists and their politicians. Watch the actions of your own leaders.
Rely on your own strength, your own forces, your own organisations.
Only the working class can solve the problems facing the workers. End
the Coalition! Labour to Power! Put into force the programme of the
Socialist Appeal, which will lead the workers to victory.