Written: December 1944
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 6 no. 10 (December 1944)
Transcription: Harry 2007
Markup/Proofread: Emil 2007
“I do not want to break up the national government on this issue.”
The Labour Party conference this year is one of the most fateful in the whole history of the labour movement. All the deliberations of the conference were overshadowed by the tragic events in Greece. Greece was the test, and on Greece the labour leaders have betrayed the working class of Greece, of Britain and of the whole world.
The attention of the entire world was focused on the Labour Party Conference. The workers of Europe and the world were looking to the Labour Party to give a lead. During the course of the last few days, despite the veil of the British censorship, the situation in Greece has become clear. It is not a civil war that is taking place in Greece, but an undeclared war of British imperialist intervention, to impose on the Greek people their own reactionary puppets, against the wishes of the Greek masses.
Yet the resolution drawn up by the Executive and passed by the Conference, fails to openly condemn the counter-revolutionary and anti-democratic actions of British imperialism. It commits the Labour leaders to nothing, but confines itself to vague generalities in which there are so many loopholes that the Government could impose any policy they please on the Greek people.
And Ernest Bevin, in a speech which would have disgraced Ramsay Macdonald, came out even more blatantly and openly for the policy of imperialism, than Churchill dared to do. He revealed that the criminal intervention in Greece had the full support of the Labour members of the Cabinet. In defiance of working class opinion in Britain, he said, as if to emphasise that they would behave in the same way again:
“Anything I say will be with deliberation because it must have an effect on our attitude to other countries besides Greece.”
In revealing the anxieties of British imperialism, which Bevin and the Labour leaders have taken upon themselves to defend, he said:
“I took part with my socialist colleagues in the whole of these discussions going over nearly four years, trying to work out the best way to handle these terrifying problems that would arise at the end of the war.”
In other words, the Labour leaders are preparing and conniving with the capitalist class for intervention against any revolution in Europe.
Cynically he revealed that both Stalin and Roosevelt had agreed that while Bulgaria and Rumania should be territories where Russia kept “order” (i.e. spheres of influence), Britain should keep “order” in Greece.
Bevin’s main preoccupation, like that of his master, Churchill, is to hold up any possibility of the peoples of Europe settling accounts with the capitalist quislings and traitors, who have exploited and battened on them for centuries. Churchill could not declare openly his motives for intervention in Greece, but Bevin, the lackey of the master, has blurted it out:
“The British Empire, whether we like it or not, cannot abandon its position in the Mediterranean. It is impossible for it to do so.”
This is the reason for British intervention in Greece and Italy, and tomorrow other countries. The Mediterranean is “Mare Nostrum” (our sea). Among other things, this is one of the main objectives for which British imperialism has been fighting the war: domination of the Mediterranean for markets, raw materials and above all, for the route to India and the Middle East. And this man, Bevin, comes to a Conference which is supposed to represent the interests of the working class, to defend nothing less than a full blown imperialist counter-revolutionary programme.
In relation to the European peoples, he stands—as did Noske and Scheidemann, the German Labour leaders—as an open supporter of counter-revolution. We see the result of Noske’s policy in Germany today; Bevin’s policy, if it succeeds, will have no different result. The ruling class will use Bevin and then cast him aside as the German ruling class contemptuously thrust the social democrats into the concentration camps, after they had no more use for them.
What a shameful speech! Bevin should have been hooted off the platform and driven from the labour movement.
But the workers are already disillusioned in Bevin by his actions in the Government in the course of the war. They are seeking leadership elsewhere. They have been looking to Aneurin Bevan and other leaders in the “Left” wing of the Labour Party. Since the debate on Regulation 1A(a), Aneurin Bevan has stepped forth as an opponent of the Labour Executive. He has spoken in opposition in Parliament on Regulation 1A(a), on the Greek and other questions. This Conference was the test of what his words were worth.
Neither he nor any other of the so-called left-wing delegates had the courage to come out with a fighting socialist lead which would have resounded not only in the conference hall, but from Land’s End to John O’Groats.
Aneurin Bevan started off by attacking Ernest Bevin’s speech:
“One complete answer to Mr Bevin is that only three bodies of public opinion in the world have gone on record in his support—fascist Spain, fascist Portugal, and the majority of the Tories in the House of Commons.”
He then went on to say:
“This Conference should go on record condemning the action of the Government and insist that our representatives inside the Government should exercise a more decisive influence on the conduct of our affairs, or leave the Tories to do their own dirty work.”
Once having stated this, the obvious course of action for anyone taking this position seriously, would have been to demand an end to the infamous and quisling collaboration with the British Tories in doing their dirty work in this and other countries. For this is what the Labour leaders have been doing for the last four years. But delegates could have asked Aneurin Bevan “Where do we go from here?” Which indeed they did. Shouts from the body of the hall called to him “We agree with all that, but what is your alternative?” Bevan lamely remarked “This is unfair, because the EC had not permitted amendments.” But this excuse is no answer! Bevan wants to have his cake and eat it. He wants to support the government and the coalition in the imperialist war, and allow himself the luxury of empty criticism. Bevan says that the Labour leaders shouldn’t do the dirty work of the Tories. The rank and file Labour workers might well ask that Bevan should not do the dirty work for the Labour ministers.
As a harmless critic who does not take his criticism seriously, but puts it forward merely as a means of diverting the anger of the Labour workers, he plays the role of lightning-conductor for the Labour ministers. He said: “I don’t want to break up the national government on this issue.” In that case, Mr. Bevan, you are as responsible for the crimes of Churchill and the ruling class as Ernest Bevin himself. In fact, your role is more dangerous. Because, while criticising in words, you prevent the masses from moving against this infamous counter-revolutionary government and its crimes. Those who are not with us are against us, that is the decisive test in this case. You try telling the Greek workers who are dying from the bullets of British imperialism about the responsibility of this government. You take open responsibility for Churchill and his crimes—which is your cleverly concealed position—to the steel workers of Ebbw Vale and the miners of South Wales, and see what they will tell you!
When it comes to the test, you are on the other side. You may say these are hard words, Bevan. But there can be no fooling when the destiny of hundreds of millions in Europe, and the destiny of the British working class, depends on the actions of the working class movement, and not mere words.
Bevan revealed how tense the feeling of the workers is, when he warned that while they might decide one thing, the workers in uniform might decide another—and then where would they be?
But he gave no lead to the workers of Britain. If Bevan can help it, the coalition is to continue—until such time as the Tories have no more use for it.
The bitterness of the rank and file was revealed by the uproar at the Conference, due to the flagrant manoeuvres of the platform and the chairman in not allowing amendments to the resolution, not only on this question but on others.
Had a clear lead been put to end this disastrous coalition and take power on a socialist programme, the rank and file would undoubtedly have responded enthusiastically. The speeches of the trade union bureaucrats which condemned the resolution faint-heartedly—Benstead of the NUR, Griffiths of the miners and others, reflecting the pressure of the rank and file—all sheltered behind the cowardly statement that they could not break up the government. The temper of the rank and file war shown by the numerous references to the glorious episode of the Jolly George, when the British workers prevented Churchill from making war on Russia by stopping supplies in 1920, and the call for the same action today.
On all questions, on the other hand, the cowardly and treacherous attitude of the leadership was revealed. In declaring that the German and Japanese masses were responsible for the crimes of their rulers and the demand that they should pay, they confirmed their Vansittart attitude. On all major problems that confront the working class today, the leadership stood behind the capitalists, while the rank and file were dragged unwillingly behind them for lack of an alternative leadership.
The one thing the Labour leaders were more terrified of than anything else, was the possibility of being forced onto the road of taking power themselves. But Conference decisions are one thing: the decisions of the masses are another; the last word rests with the masses.
Workers! Look where this collaboration with the ruling class by the Labour leaders has led us. While the Labour leaders have been exhorting the workers to &ldquot;Go to it” and the soldiers to die “for democracy” they have led them to this shameful pass. Today your brothers and sons are dying in Greece, to preserve a reactionary clique of royalist fascists, to preserve the profits and interests of British capitalists.
The workers cannot be satisfied with such a result of the Labour Party Conference, when it is clear to everyone that Greece is not the last, but only the first of a series of episodes of like character. It is time that this shameful coalition was ended! There is no excuse for waiting. The mass of the people in Britain are horrified at the crimes of Churchill and the government. Now is the time to expose the Tories in the eyes of the electorate. Now is the time when a majority could easily be gained for Labour. Now, is the time to force a General Election. Churchill says that the Greeks have no democratic mandate. Has he got a democratic mandate for his crimes? Let the people of Britain decide. With a fighting policy Labour would overwhelm the Tories at an election.
Workers! Demand that your leaders end this coalition. Greece is a taste of what the Tories hold in store for the workers of all Europe and for Britain if they are allowed to retain control and dictate policy. Our duty to the Greek workers and peasants, our duty to the starving Indians, our duty to our German class brothers struggling against Hitler, our duty to the British workers—all demand that we fight this capitulation to the class enemy
Workers of the Revolutionary Communist Party will fight side by side with the Labour workers to force the Labour leaders out of the warm ministerial seats to which they have clung for so long. By forcing them to take power, we believe that the working class movement in Britain can take a tremendous step forward. It can serve to expose the fact that the Labour leaders are incapable of serving the interests of the workers. The road will be clear for the Revolutionary Communist Party to attract to its banner the majority of the working class who still have illusions in the Labour leaders.
Support the Revolutionary Communist Party in its fight to end the coalition!
Demand Aneurin Bevan, G. R. Strauss and the other “Lefts”, match their words with deeds!
Demand from your leaders, that they end the coalition and fight for power on a socialist programme!