Written: July 1946
Source: The Unbroken Thread
Transcription/Markup: Emil 1998
Proofread: Emil 1998
A year of peace has clearly revealed the changed relationship of forces between the great powers on a world scale. British imperialism is now definitely reduced to a subordinate position between the two giants, American imperialism and the Soviet Union. While attempting to maintain an independent position in relation to the USA, Britain has entered upon the epoch of definitive decline. She no longer even aspires to a position of world domination and unchallenged superiority possessed by her in the nineteenth century. Desperately, Britain attempts to maintain the Empire, and at least a secondary status in the world. But she is compelled to play a vassal role to American imperialism.
American imperialism now has unchallenged domination of the seas. As a result, she holds the lifelines of Britain - the channels of sea trade - at her mercy. In Eastern Asia, China tends to come under the sway of America, with Britain crowded out. An independent or pseudo-independent Egypt and India will tend also to gravitate towards the almighty dollar. Britain's dominions come more and more within the American orbit. On her own, Britain cannot hope to match her puny forces against the industrial and military might of the USA.
Britain emerged 'victorious' from the first world war. She strengthened temporarily her position on the continent of Europe, Increased her control of the gateways to her Empire through the Middle East and expanded the territory controlled by her central government and armed forces by' one million square miles. Despite this, the first world war marked the decline of Britain in relation to American imperialism.
The result of the second world war was a veritable disaster for the British imperialists. In Europe, having defeated the Frankenstein which they helped to create in the shape of nazi imperialism, the British capitalists are faced with an even greater menace in the domination of half of Europe by the Soviet Union. The immediate cause of Britain's declaration of war on Germany was to prevent the domination of the Balkans and Eastern Europe - which could only be a stepping stone to the Empire. Now, not only in this region, but in the Middle East and Asia, Britain is faced with a refurbished version of her nineteenth century nightmare - a Balkans dominated by Russia with control of the Middle East and India at her mercy. She is today faced with a power not only stronger than Czarism, but a greater threat than either the Kaiser's Germany or Hitler's Third Reich. A power which, because of its revolutionary traditions and an economy based on state ownership of the means of production, has a social appeal to the Asiatic peoples oppressed by British imperialism.
Britain is compelled for this reason alone to try and arrive at a compromise with sections of the colonial bourgeoisie. That is the significance of the treaties Britain is attempting to negotiate in Egypt and in India. She is faced, however, with a development of national consciousness and a ferment on the part of the masses far greater and more profound in its implications than after the first world war. This is the principal reason why she must make concessions to the colonies.
In addition, the masses of Britain have lost all zest for the glories of the Empire and could not be relied on to put down, by force of arms, a long and protracted struggle against the uprisings of the colonial peoples as soldiers and occupation forces.
Another factor is the pressure of American imperialism which seeks to break the bonds of Empire in order to gain a freer channel of trade and to make Britain absolutely dependent upon her. Britain's economy is not strong enough to maintain her hold on the Empire by the old methods of economic control, nor has she the military force to guarantee and maintain her old colonial military oppression. Thus, while preserving the formal framework of the Empire, in reality the liquidation of the Empire is taking place.
The tame acceptance by the Tories of the policy of the Labour government is dictated by their recognition of the real changes in world relations. Thus, by concessions, the bourgeoisie hope to disguise the process of the disintegration of the Empire and by some miracle, to delay it. The sun is setting on the British Empire. It can look forward only to further disturbances and decline. In so far as it continues to exist, it will do so largely by the gracious consent of Wall Street.
The economic basis of this process was long ago analysed and foreseen by Marxism. Britain's accession of wealth and power and her domination of half the world was gained at a period of the rise of capitalism and at a time when there were no other challengers in the race for world supremacy. Her advantages, as Trotsky has shown in his book Where is Britain Going?, have become her disadvantages. Her technique fell behind that of Germany and the United States. Because of their incapacity to compete, the British capitalist class - above all the monopolists - deliberately sabotaged the development of technique hoping to entrench themselves, like the empire of France, on their huge resources and their own backwardness. Basing themselves on a semi closed-in system of the sterling bloc, with assured markets, British capitalism had no incentive to begin large scale rationalisation of industry, which could only lead to increased production, without the possibility of finding increased markets.
This privileged position has been lost forever by the war. The vampire economy of Britain which, through her investments abroad, extracted tribute from her empire and semi-colonies and spheres of influence, has been undermined through the loss of foreign investments through the war. The unfavourable balance of trade, which was formerly a weapon in the hands of British imperialism, now becomes a dreaded threat to the standard of living of the masses and the very existence of British capitalism. What was the greatest stability in the system has now become the source of the greatest instability. Britain is more than ever dependent on the markets of the world, with the result that her economy will be even more affected by economic slumps than in the past. Britain is compelled to launch the struggle for markets with a greater ferocity and intensity than German imperialism launched the struggle for exports under the nazis. The character of British world trade has changed. Her privileged economic position which cushioned the full impact of world slump, as in the crisis of 1931, now changes into its opposite. The export of coal, which was her staple export, has dropped to almost nothing. The weakness of her economy is expressed in the fact that today she has not sufficient coal for her own needs. Meanwhile, because of the industrialisation of formerly backward areas of the world - above all of the Dominions and the Empire - Britain is no longer exporting the same type of goods. There has been a transformation of Britain's exports, which in turn has resulted in a change in the industrial structure of the country. In the long run this makes Britain more vulnerable than ever in the fluctuations of the world market.
Exposed to the vagaries of the world market, no longer able to protect herself on the basis of a closed-in Empire from competition, above all from America, Britain is compelled to abandon the policy of maintaining antiquated equipment in order to ensure profits, and to modernise her equipment to enter into competition against American production.
However, all these measures of British capitalism will be in vain. It is too late to catch up with the colossus across the Atlantic. Senile British capitalism cannot rejuvenate itself and capture new positions in a world market - which is shrinking in relation to world productivity. The long-term outlook for British imperialism is one of certain catastrophe.
This long-term perspective of British imperialism is indisputable and has been long foreseen. However, a mistake in conjuncture which was made was the telescoping of the inevitable long-term crisis with the immediate perspective for Britain.
We anticipated that British imperialism would be faced with a crisis as soon as the war was ended. However, the concatenation of circumstances has served to screen the disastrous results of the war for Britain. The huge markets created bv the destruction of the war can be utilised because of the temporary quiescence of the proletariat. What was an unfavourable relationship of forces has been turned into a temporarily favourable one. Germany has, for the time being, collapsed as a competitor; America has been faced with a series of unprecedented strike struggles in basic industry; Europe and the world needs tremendous quantities of capital goods, above all machinery.
At home, six years of war have created a huge market for consumer goods. The desperation of British imperialism compels the introduction of new capital equipment into the coal mines and steel industry. Rationalisation and streamlining of cotton and other industries are being pressed as a measure of survival. The housing shortage and the destruction in the blitz created a boom in the building industry. The fusion of finance capital and the state inevitably results in increasing measures of regulation and of 'planning'. The tendency towards state capitalism and state control is shown by the projected nationalisation of the mines, steel, transport and fuel, and by the blocking of export of capital and partial control of investment. These measures will undoubtedly temporarily aid the economy as a whole in the economic upswing. The lavish subsidies of the state, directly and indirectly, rebates of excess profits tax, subsidies to the cotton barons, subsidies to the food and chemical trusts, etc, help to prop up the structure. All these burdens, of course, are basically at the expense of the British inasses.
In addition US imperialism, anxious to use Britain as a future base against the USSR, has granted a huge loan. This will tide Britain over the next few years. Even without it, her export-import position has improved with amazing rapidity. The export rate now exceeds pre-war levels and is reaching record figures. The loan, however, will be swallowed up by the needs of capitalist economy. Despite the increase in exports, it is impossible to bridge the unfavourable balance of trade.
All these factors, however, lead to the situation where British capitalism temporarily attains a relative stability, only later, we repeat, to be faced with a catastrophe greater than she has ever experienced in the whole of her history.
The inevitable crisis, however, will not be immediate. It will be delayed for a time. The orientation and strategy of the Revolutionary Communist Party is firmly based on the long-term perspective of crisis and decline; but its eyes are also wide open to the immediate conjunctural upswing and its meaning. For it is on the basis of the economic upswing and the political and industrial moods it will engender, that the immediate evolution of the proletariat will depend. Before a new radicalisation takes place which will lift the workers onto new and higher levels of struggle, deep economic and political transformations will come into being. The growth and building of the revolutionary party, the strengthening of its ties with the advanced sections of the working class, will depend to a considerable extent on a correct prognosis of this period.
The perplexity of the capitalist class and lack of confidence in the future, was reflected in their policy during the war and during the general election. While The Times, organ of the basic section of the British bourgeoisie, regarded the election with an air of impartiality, the Tory Party tried desperately to make use of the Churchill mascot and to frighten the petit bourgeoisie with the spectre of a Gestapo-like dictatorship under the Labour Party. But the change in the psychology of the workers was too deep-seated for the success of such tricks.
However, the result of the election indicates that capitalism still has many heavy reserves in the backward sections of the population, who still live in the past. The Tories and Liberals together received a vote equal to that of the combined working-class parties. It was the peculiar electoral system of Britain which gave the tremendous majority at the polls to the Labour Party. Nevertheless, 12 million votes for the Labour Party is a sign of the tremendous radicalisation that has taken place.
The Tories are seeking to gain agreement for the defeat of the Labour government. But such an agreement and such a defeat is not a perspective which is likely to mature without a crisis. At present, the ruling class, through the Tory Party, prepares to bide its time and, while utilising every opportunity to discredit the Labour leaders, it relies upon them to carry on the burdens of imperialism. Both at home and abroad, in the present relationship of forces, it is more suitable to have Labour leaders do the dirty work of capitalism. At this stage they have no intention of disturbing the present relationship of forces and thereby rousing the anger of the masses, who tolerate the present standards under a Labour government, but would not accept these under the Tories.
At this stage the bourgeoisie has no need for the fascist bands, even as an auxiliary weapon to discipline the proletariat. Nor, it must be added, could they immediately succeed in forming such bands. But moods within the Tory reformers and the right wing of the Tory Party indicate the possibilities, at a later stage, of a swing towards the formation of royalist-dictatorial or fascist movements.
The Liberal section of the capitalist class tends, at this stage, to lean towards the Labour government and to support the reforms or semi-reforms which it is introducing. But the Liberals, already a dwindling and vanishing force, have only a perspective of further decline.
Of course, in the event of a serious crisis, all the forces of the bourgeoisie will gather together, with a big section of the Labour MPs - a majority of whom are petit bourgeois, even bourgeois in origins and outlook - to try and refurbish a new version of the National government.
However, such a development is not an immediate perspective. The Labour government of 1929-31 was a government of crisis right from the start, having come to power at a time of the world slump. On this basis the bourgeoisie was enabled to manipulate the situation, because of the incapacity of the Labour government to cope with the crisis, to precipitate its downfall and prepare the victory of the National government in the panic election of 1931.
The economic situation today is entirely different to that of 1929-31. The bourgeoisie does not wish to disturb the present relationship of class forces, and by rousing the proletariat to action, precipitate an anti-capitalist movement among the masses which would have serious consequences for the economy.
The bourgeoisie is waiting for the slump, when they will use the crisis against the Labour Party and the working class. However, they dread the possibilities latent in such a situation. A collapse of the Labour government - even though a section of the petty bourgeoisie and backward workers might be temporarily stampeded to the right - would prepare the advanced workers for a sharp swing left, and thus polarise the two camps, bourgeoisie and proletariat. In addition to which, such a background of a temporary upswing of British capitalism, led to a comparative tranquillity of class relations up to the period just prior to the war. Far from tranquillising the class relations, such a victory for the Tories would precipitate the working class on the road of open class battles. Those sections of the population, temporarily stampeded in the direction of the Tories, would swiftly react even more violently both to the left and to the right.
The collapse of the traditional capitalist parties would be accelerated and the Conservatives suffer the fate of the Liberals. But this is the perspective of the future.
Despite the difficulties at home and abroad, the Labour Party has attained power at a favourable period from the standpoint of short-term perspective. We anticipated that the coming to power of the Labour government would precipitate tremendous struggles on the part of the working class. We also anticipated large scale battles on the industrial field, with tremendous pressure on the Labour government. Had Labour come to power under conditions of industrial crisis and slump, undoubtedly the pressure of the workers for measures in their interests would have been insistent and immediate. Political developments would have been speeded up inside and outside the Labour Party.
It is necessary to make a correction in this short-term prognosis. As in the economic field, where long-term perspectives were telescoped with the short-term, so this was reflected in our political prognosis. We anticipated that the coming to power of the Labour government would almost immediately open up a situation of political crisis in the country. On the international and national arena, the class struggle has developed at a slower tempo and the decisive clashes have not yet taken place. Consequently political trends have developed in a somewhat different fashion. Because of the circumstances outlined above, the crisis will, in fact, have a more drawn out and delayed character.
The long-term perspectives remain that of crisis and collapse for the Labour government. But unless we correct our analysis, the Party will be disoriented in the coming period. While a series of minor and even important crises are inevitable, these political crises will not be of such a fundamental character as to shake the Labour Party from top to bottom, or pose the question of its downfall because of the movement of the masses in a revolutionary direction in the immediate period. Consequently there cannot and will not be a speedy polarisation within the Labour Party.
That the masses are critical of the Labour government is undoubted. But they are tolerant and are prepared to extend a large credit of time to the Labour government. The British masses are traditionally slow to change. Only big events will cause them to break with reformism. The masses feel keenly the burdens of food shortages and rationing, the vagaries of the black market, etc, and they are well aware that the bourgeoisie are still doing quite well under the Labour government. But they largely accept the argument of the Labour leaders that these conditions cannot immediately be alleviated because of the inheritance of the war and its aftermath.
Despite new restrictions which cause grumblings and a certain exasperation with the Labour government, these are not sufficient to provoke a real movement of revolt against the Labour leadership. Meanwhile, the acute shortages can only be temporary. Conditions will undoubtedly improve over what they have been in the war years. Already clothing, household utensils and other consumer goods are appearing on the market in increasing quantities. This process will be accelerated in the next few years. Notwithstanding the decrease of wartime earnings, the conditions of the British working class remain on a bearable level.
The undoubted economic boom masks the fact that no fundamental measures against capitalism are being taken by the Labour government. We are in a classic period of reformist illusions - a reformist government coining to power at a period of economic boom. Small reforms and semi-reforms tend to lull the masses with the perspective of a slow but steady improvement in their conditions.
In 1929, the Labour government operated in a period of slump and could not carry out anything of its declared programme, but on the contrary was forced to initiate counter-reforms on the pretext that it was not in a majority. Today, the Labour government rides in power at the crest of a tremendous wave of radicalisation seldom seen in British history, when the bourgeoisie lack confidence in their own future. The Labour government, with the agreement of sections of the capitalist class, is proceeding to nationalise coal and other industries for the purpose of modernising and preserving the structure of British capitalism. It is actually carrying out, in part, its declared election programme. In the eyes of the masses, this reconciles them to sacrifices because they have illusions in the 'theory' of a gradual and painless transition to socialism.
The fact that the illusion of 'full employment' can be maintained in the present period of boom; that, apart from the nationalisation measures, other reforms and semi-reforms have been introduced by the Labour government - National Health Bill, old age pensions, the housing plan, abolition of the Trade Disputes Act - these have served to assure the masses that the government is making a serious effort to do the job for which it was elected.
The policy in Greece and Indonesia aroused trepidation and misgivings among the workers. But the weakness of British imperialism, which dictates concessions to the colonial bourgeoisie in Egypt and India, enables the Labour leaders to cover their reactionary policy as though it was a genuine liberation of these peoples and a blow against imperialism. This is especially the case since the Tories have in words greeted with criticisms and dismay this 'liquidation of the Empire'
Because mass unemployment will only begin towards the end of Labour's term in office, and because of all the other factors referred to above, it is quite likely that not only will the Labour government see through its term of office, but that we may see a second Labour government.
The most likely course of events, therefore, would appear to be a slow tempo of development. But this is partly dependent upon events abroad. The development of the class struggle in France to the point of civil war, or the outbreak of revolution in India, could speed the process in Britain.
The conjunction of circumstances has resulted in a deep political lull among the masses. This is reflected in the Labour Party as a political swing to the right.
The Labour organisations which tended to revive after the election are largely quiescent or dormant. The left-wing leadership has fused with the right wing, the most prominent leaders taken into the cabinet and given government posts. Even the incipient left wing has been dispersed at this stage. The 'Victory for Socialism' group has collapsed. The circulation of left labour publications such as Tribune and Forward has sharply declined.
There is much less political life in the Labour Parties than before the war. This is the general tendency while there are exceptions mainly in the rural areas. Until the economic situation changes and a left wing with prominent Labour figures develops inside the Labour Party, the general tendency will be for political life in the Labour Party not to increase but to remain at a low level.
This is the honeymoon period for the Labour bureaucracy. A symptom of the processes within the Labour Party was the overwhelming defeat of the Stalinist application for affiliation, largely on the grounds that it stood for 'red revolution and communism'. Undoubtedly the anti-Russian campaign had a certain effect which was helped by Stalin's policy in the occupied areas. It was not mainly because of the reactionary features of Stalinism that the swing against CP affiliation took place, although this undoubtedly assisted the Labour leaders; it was because of the reactionary campaign of the Labour leaders against communism and the renewed illusions in reformism. Only a handful of Labour Party branches throughout the whole country supported affiliation resolutions.
In our last conference document we stated:
"It is quite likely that the leaders of the left wing such as Aneurin Bevan will go over directly to the side of the right wing, accepting posts in the government. Thus the left wing, completely scattered and disorganised, will get even less of a national expression in the immediate period ahead. However, events will lead to the crystallisation of a new left wing in which sections of the newer and younger MPs in parliament will play a leading role." (RCP conference resolutions, August, 1945)
Such a crystallisation is inevitable and will most likely take place at a time of political crisis of the whole regime which will come with the development of the economic slump.
Meanwhile, the struggle between the workers and the employers will largely take place in the industrial field. These struggles will, in the long run, reflect themselves in the political field, inside the Labour Party. But not immediately; not as a direct and automatic process. The most important industrial struggles for many years - the dock strike, the movement of the London building trades workers, the engineers, and more recently, the tin-plate strike in South Wales - all of these movements passed by without affecting the internal life of the Labour Parties on a local or national scale.
While tolerating the Labour government in the hope of benefits to come, and satisfied that nearly all have work, the economic boom will invest the workers with confidence. They will attempt to iinprove their hours and conditions by a direct struggle against the employers. The epidemic of little strikes, even in those industries where no strike struggles have taken place for a generation (tin-plate workers), and among the most exploited sections (dairy workers), is an indication that hitherto unaffected strata of the workers will be brought into the struggle. The strikes in cotton, engineering, shipbuilding and other basic industries against victimisations of trade-union militants, is an instinctive preparation in which the workers are defending their organisations for the battles to come. (At the present stage, large numbers of these strikes revolve around the issue of workers' control of hiring and firing, in which the workers express what will later be the tendency to workers' control of production.)
Strikes of a scope such as have never been seen before in Britain will take place. At this stage, the ruling class will be forced to give small concessions to the masses in wages and conditions. The miners are expecting great results and benefits from the nationalisation of the pits. They are demanding concessions: many will be given to them. Without concessions, the ruling class and the Labour government would be faced with a series of gigantic battles in the coalfields, once the miners realise the fraud of the reformist nationalisation measures.
However, the slump will take away all the secondary reforms and improvements and entirely transform the character of the struggle.
In the industrial struggles which will take place in the interim, the Labour government will support the employers against the militant elements of the working class. This will inevitably arouse a deep hostility from the left to the Labour government, and even to the Labour Party. While in the past the Labour Party was the mass alternative to the existing government in power, it was inevitable that the workers should turn to the Labour Party as an organised mass political force directed against the Tories, against the government of the day. But it is not easy to conceive of the growth of a new mass orientation towards the Labour Party, or growing confidence in the Labour Party, in a period when the Labour government is supporting the capitalists against the workers in strike struggles.
Meanwhile, the trade-union apparatus will become further integrated into the state apparatus and organisations of joint production and class collaboration. This tendency will be accompanied by a growing hostility to the policy of class collaboration and the crystallisation of an organised movement of opposition.
The Militant Workers' Federation(1) failed to strike roots and grow as a centre for trade-union opposition during the war and immediately following its conclusion, and it is now clear that the industrial opposition will find a different organisational expression.
The experience of the great dock strike and of the building trades movement indicates that the workers will throw up unofficial co-ordinating organisations for the purpose of directing their struggle against the employers and overcoming the sabotage of the union leaderships. The Party must constantly seek to integrate itself with these co-ordinating bodies and to link them up on a regional and national scale. At the same time, the Party must seek, as it did in the past, to find the maximum expression, support and organisation for these unofficial movements through the trade-union organisation as a whole.
It is from the industrial field and the trade unions that the militant and growing class opposition will find its first important expression in opposition to the Labour government. The task of our Party is to seek that opposition wherever it arises, and to try to give it a correct industrial and political orientation. It is in the industrial field, therefore, from industrial militants (among them Labour and CP members and sympathisers) that the Revolutionary Communist Party will make its most important gains in the period that opens up.
Under the influence of the impasse of British imperialism, and the powerful pressure of the working class, the Labour leaders have gone further on the road of carrying through their election programme than we anticipated. Nationalisation of the mines is already accomplished. Steel, electricity, transport and fuel, sections of the basic industries on which the economic structure of the country rests, are apparently to be nationalised. However, the method and form in which statification is being accomplished - with compensation and without workers' control - is a compromise with the bourgeoisie as a whole, and is carried out in agreement with important sections of the bourgeoisie. The nationalisation of the Bank of England merely made de jure what was already de facto. These are measures of state capitalism and not of socialism.
All these steps show the increasing tendency towards the fusion of finance capital with the state. It is not an accident that the most serious representatives of the capitalist class, reflected in The Times and The Economist, are supporting the nationalisation of those industries that have become a drag on the British economy as a whole.
These serious representatives of the ruling class are willing to accept the taking over of these industries by the state - even with Labour in power - as the best method of bringing about the necessary measures of rationalisation and placing the burdens on the shoulders of the masses. By means of state rationalisation they hope to gain efficient and cheap coal, electricity, steel, fuel and transport, in order more effectively to compete on the world market. The capitalists are becoming reconciled to the terms of compensation and the manner in which the change is being accomplished. Their acceptance of these measures is a reflection of the decay of British capitalism; the lack of confidence of the capitalist class in its future; its weakness in face of the working class; its desperation to seek a solution. Ten years ago, when the bourgeoisie were endowed with more confidence in the future of their system, suggestions of such measures would have been greeted with savage opposition.
From the standpoint of economic development, state capitalism is a step forward from laissez-faire or monopoly capitalism. But it is not socialism. The state remains a capitalist state. Nationalised industry will be run for the benefit of the ruling class as a whole, not in the interests of the working class. The shareholders are to be richly rewarded with lavish compensation, although they brought the country to the edge of economic ruin. The industries are to be run as state capitalist corporations, largely staffed with their former capitalist owners and managers. The workers will have no control in the running of these industries, and will thus find themselves in the same position as the Post Office workers have been for the past generations.
The Leninist demand: 'Nationalisation without compensation under workers' control' assumes the character of a basic demand in the coming period. The workers in nationalised industry must demand that from top to bottom they should be managed and controlled by committees elected by the workers, to which technical experts would be attached.
While consistently exposing the partial and reformist character of the policy of the Labour government, and advocating the revolutionary programme, we defend even those partial measures against any attempt of the Tories to return to individual capitalist ownership. But it would be a crime to create illusions among the workers as to the meaning of these state capitalist measures. Our propaganda must stress that half-and-half measures are inadequate to meet the needs of the working class, and illusions created by the Labour leaders will lead the workers to disaster.
It is impossible to plan and take advantage of the enormous potentialities of modern production in the interests of the masses, without destroying capitalism and taking over finance and all big industry without compensation, and without the active and conscious intervention and democratic participation of the proletariat in the running of industry and the country.
The measures taken by the Labour government will temporarily assist in the alleviation of the capitalist crisis, but it cannot solve it. In the inevitable economic crisis which the continued existence of capitalism will bring, and which the nationalisation measures will not avert, the very conception of nationalisation will be discredited in the eyes of the masses. Large sections of the middle class and the more desperate section of the capitalist class, will be pushed onto the road of fascism. This debacle of reformism will, however, inevitably prepare the way for the revolutionisation of the masses, as in the days of their Chartist forefathers.
The failure of the ILP to gain affiliation to the Labour Party resulted not so much from the fear that the ILP would form an independent left wing within the Labour Party, as from the unholy fear of the affiliation of the Communist Party. The Labour leaders had no desire to accept ILP affiliation, which would thus have assisted the CP to that end. This has resulted in the degeneration of the ILP to the point where its very future existence, even as a sect, is imperilled.
A continuous process of splintering has occurred which has decimated the organisation. Leaders and members alike lack a principled political base and a clear historical perspective. It is this, primarily, that has led to the present disintegration.
The ILP could only have survived or played an important historical role if it had worked out a revolutionary policy, or if it had entered the Labour Party, where it would have become the organisational-political base for the growth of a left wing in the mass party. But it had already lost any revolutionary possibilities before the end of the war.
The collapse of the ILP has strikingly confirmed the prognosis of our last Party conference that:
"As a current spearate and apart from the reformists and revolutionaries, the ILP will not be able to maintain itself. Like its brother parties on the continent of Europe it will disappear ignominiously from the scene." (RCP conference resolutions, August 1945)
True, the ILP has not yet disappeared, although for all practical purposes it has ceased to play the slightest role in British political life. The defection of Fenner Brockway(2) will speed up the process of disintegration. It will be a few short months before the remnants of its parliamentary wing will break and openly enter the Labour Party.
The rump of the ILP can still vegetate for a few years to come. But a much more likely perspective is that it will fuse with the rump of Common Wealth. Even in this event there is no future for the ILP as an important factor in the ranks of the working class.
Unlike its brother parties on the continent of Europe, the British Stalinist Party failed to secure the leadership of the majority or even a considerable proportion of the working class. The workers clung to their traditional mass organisation, the Labour Party. Nevertheless, it did secure the leadership of the most courageous and influential industrial and political militants in the years before the war and in the period of anti-war activity. The result was an influential penetration of some of the most important trade unions in the country. This was an important capital, an accumulation from years of self-sacrificing activity by these militants, gained despite the false political line of the leadership.
The incredible switches of party policy which took place overnight and without discussion, the strike-breaking activity of the party during the latter part of the war, and especially since its end, have served to disillusion the best and most critical elements of the party. For the first time a bridge exists from the Trotskyist party to these militants.
Our theoretical criticism of Stalinism in the plane of international politics had not succeeded in gaining a hearing among these workers in the past. It was in the course of their own experiences - the effects of the strike-breaking activities of their own party - that these worker Stalinists began to comprehend the fruits of 'socialism in one country'.
For the first time, serious fissures opened up within the British Communist Party. A continuation of the open class-collaborationist line would have led to splits and significant resignations. Only the lack of a mass base in our own party rendered it possible for the leadership of the CP to prevent a serious split.
A new turn on the part of the Communist Party, however, a turn which appears to be definitely to the left, but which depends upon the agreements between Molotov and Bevin for its further evolution, will halt that process for the time being and cement these critical elements to the Communist Party again.
The Communist Party was shaken from top to bottom as a result of the general election. The worker elements, already in opposition to the pro-Churchill line, were disgusted by the general election policy which argued the impossibility of a Labour victory without the support of the 'progressive Tories and Liberals'. The results of the election demoralised them. Many of the petit bourgeois and most backward sections who approved of the line of class collaboration, tended to drift towards the Labour Party or to inactivity. Many of the best elements lapsed into apathy and left the party. Nevertheless, the Stalinists recovered from the effects of this crisis because of their tremendous machine, their basis in the factories and unions, and the substantial section of militants who still clung to the party.
A further setback for the Stalinists was the overwhelming defeat they suffered, not only in the factories but in the unions, on the question of affiliation to the Labour Party. Even where the executive supported affiliation (AEU, Mineworkers) when the issue was carried to the rank and file, it was overwhelmingly defeated. The AEU conference endorsed the decision of the Labour Party conference on this issue.
Because of the general political stagnation and the tendencies among the masses, unless Stalinist policy swings left, the decline of the CP will continue. The defeat on affiliation has left the Stalinist leadership with no alternative but to manoeuvre to give their policy as 'left' a coloration as possible, while its content has remained the same.
Nevertheless, this turn to the left and participation in a militant struggle will bring about certain difficulties for the leadership of the Communist Party. It will not be possible to separate their militants from the Trotskyists in the course of common action in the industrial field. The Trotskyists, moreover, have a consistent policy. Only they will seek to draw the necessary class lessons from individual struggles, and push these struggles to their logical conclusions. Common action in the industrial field will fuse the Trotskyists in comradeship with the rank and file of the Communist Party, and create the necessary conditions to enable us to counterpose our policy to that of the Stalinists.
Disillusionment with the policy of the Labour government will inevitably lead to a turn toward communist sentiments among the working class. To prevent that revolutionary sentiment being dissipated by Stalinism, and to turn it into a real struggle for communism, is the task of the RCP.
In spite of the setbacks which the Communist Party may experience in the immediate period ahead, at a time of crisis for the Labour government, the swing of large sections of the workers to the Communist Party as a temporary phase is inevitable. This could only be avoided by a swift and powerful growth of the revolutionary party which could offer an alternative.
Trotsky explained that the processes on the continent of Europe reflect themselves in Britain, though with some delay. In the same way as the finest strata of the European working class (even in the traditionally reformist countries) have swung to the Communist Parties, so we will see a like process in Britain. Mass unemployment in Britain, while a swift growth of the productive forces in the Soviet Union will be taking place simultaneously, cannot but influence the workers and precipitate an enormous swing towards the CP. This is especially the case as we will have a Labour Party with an overwhelming majority in parliament. Illusions in reformism, which still remained after the last world slump, will be dissipated among wide sections of the workers in the coming slump.
This process will undoubtedly be assisted by the fact that the Stalinists pursue a quasi-oppositional role to the Labour government. To the extent that discontent with the Labour government increases among the industrial workers, they will undoubtedly manipulate their policy and begin the preparation of the development of a mass base.
It is a fact of great significance that all the outstanding representatives of finance capital evaluate the coming developments in this direction. Eden, Churchill, Quintin Hogg and others foresee with dread that this will be one of the results of the coming disillusionment in the Labour government.
(1) The MWF was established by the WIL in 1943 to organise rank and file activists, especially in the engineering and mining industries, at a time when the Stalinist apparatus in the Trade Unions was using all its resources to hold workers back from struggle.
(2) Fenner Brockway was chairman or secretary of the ILP throughout the 1930s.