Published: as a pamphlet, September 1974.
Transcription, Editing and Markup: Sam Richards and Paul Saba
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At a recent meeting of the Communist Federation of Britain (M-L) held to discuss the forthcoming election, the following majority resolution was agreed:
“The main purpose of our Election campaign should be to demonstrate the essentially overt and covert bourgeois nature of the Tory and Labour Parties respectively, based on exposing their respective records.
At the same time we should point out the tactical advantage of a Labour government in 1974.
1. In office, especially in the growing world capitalist crisis its working class supporters will most easily be aided to dispel any illusions remaining about Labour’s ability to carry out Socialist policies. It also provides the opportunity to combat reformist illusions generally.
2. Because it has been forced to accede to certain progressive demands of the labour movement, relating to Trade Union legislation, a statutory wages policy, the reopening of the question of the E.E.C., and developing opposition to private armies of the ultra-right.
For these reasons we will call for the return of a Labour Government in order to expose it.”
It is in support of this resolution that the London Group of the C.F.B.(M-L) has published the following statement.
For the fifth time in ten years there is to be another election. Over this period we have been ruled by three Labour governments and one Tory, with over a decade of the Tories before that.
Both have consistently tried to prop up the crisis-ridden capitalist system at the expense of the working people. Both have attempted to raise prices, profits and taxes and to hold down wages using the police and the courts to deal with those who fight for their rights. A ’red plot’ is the same whether fabricated by Wilson with the seamen in 1966, or under Heath with the Shrewsbury building workers. Incomes policies’ are now the norm under both governments, and one result is people eating less meat now than under post-war rationing.
Trade union rights have been, attacked viciously by both in Labour’s ’In Place of Strife’, and by the: Tories’ Industrial Relations Act’. Both have supported Britain’s entry into the European Monopolies’ haven, the Common Market. Both have stopped immigrants coming here to work or to join their families and have in the process stoked the fires of racism. Both have allowed the growth of fascist organizations like the National Front.
In fact both Labour and Tory are there to defend what they both call ’the mixed economy’: more accurately the system of state monopoly capitalism where the ruling class uses the state machine to finance and protect its ownership and control of the nation’s productive wealth.
It is increasingly clear that their system is decaying. As unemployment rises, real wages fall, and the police and army are used more and more frequently against the working people of Britain and Ireland, the spreading infection from that decay cannot be halted by any of the transparent promises contained in their election manifestos.
The same, of course, goes for the Liberals, the nationalists and all the other assorted hangers-on who are trying to breathe life back into the dying system.
Why then does the election matter? Quite a number of militant workers and revolutionaries refuse to play any part in elections, because they see that in many ways “they’re all the same”. We believe however, that there are two differences between Labour and Tory which are both the result of one simple fact. Labour depends on organized workers’ votes and support.
The Labour Party was started by trade unions who wanted to have their representatives in Parliament to help achieve certain trade union rights. At no time since then has Labour done anything to challenge capitalism, but in fact has consistently and fully participated in the running of capitalism. But when, as from 1966 to 1970, this meant waging open and frontal attacks on the working class, the labour movement was able to force the government to retreat much more rapidly than was possible under the Tory government that followed. In place of Strife was never implemented, the Industrial Relations Act was.
In the last six months the Labour government has been forced to bring in the Trade Union and Labour Relations Act which restores certain rights to strike and organize which the Tories had largely removed. A new Labour government with an overall majority will be forced to complete a process which Tory and Liberal amendments have recently aborted. Labour have had to promise not to bring the courts into the wage struggle, and for the time being therefore the dangerous Social Contract has no force of law. Repeated pledges have been given that Common Market entry will be put to a ballot and this provides an opportunity to wage a political campaign on the issue whatever attempts are made to cloud it with chauvinist slogans. The anti-strike private armies supported by many Tories have been criticised and rejected by’ official Labour spokesmen.
Of course we know full well and will untiringly point out that it is a certainty that a Labour government will try and renege on some or all of its assurances. But the opportunities of mobilizing millions of people against such obvious ’treachery’ are equally clear. Again, because of the class position of its supporters, Labour finds it particularly difficult to run capitalism. We do not pretend that this is a rosy prospect, but at this time there is no mass based revolutionary party that could lead a concerted and frontal alternative challenge to the two main bourgeois parties.
The only actual alternative to Labour – the Tories – have made their policies clear.’ A majority for them-would mean support for openly proclaimed and boastful reaction. The Tory manifesto provides a collection of barefaced threats to the working class that it would be hard to parallel in British political history without going back to 1931. It whips up a witch-hunt against all militants, proclaiming the danger of’ ’terrorists and anarchists’, calls for’ strengthening the police force’ and plans to increase ’control’ over demonstrations. Their amendments to the Trade Union Act revive most of their notorious Industrial Relations Act. For the first time they argue the case for a wage freeze in one of their manifestos. Social service spending must be cut and taxes increased except for the employers. Picketing will be ’regulated’ to prevent it being effective. Families of workers on strike will get less, if any, social security benefit. Councils will be forced to sell council houses, the rent freeze will be quickly ended, and comprehensive schooling again attacked. When we recall the open support of leading Tories for much higher unemployment to crush working class resistance, it becomes clear that we cannot be disinterested in the prospect of all these policies being put into practice in the event of a Tory victory.
While both Labour and Tory are certainly bourgeois parties, it cannot be said that they both offer the same solution to the growing crisis. Why is this?’ Again it is largely because the base of the Tory vote is different. Most of the employers (though some certainly prefer the softer touch of Labour), the discontented middle classes and many of those workers who do not have the experience of trade union struggle and lack an elementary class consciousness.
As Communists we believe that only by the whole of the working class ridding ourselves of the employers, their policies, their parties and their system, can the people stand up’ and in building socialism begin to control their lives in the way that has been started in countries like China and Albania.
Seven Labour governments in fifty years have demonstrated to some people that socialism will not be built through elections, and that Labour, far from aiding the- fight for socialism is in fact one of its biggest enemies. But it is also a fact that-most people do not yet see the need for socialism and revolution. Labour reflects as well as recreates the dominant belief in slow progress through reforms. The historic achievements of British trade unionism are of their nature defensive – not only protecting wages, but also the wage system itself. Those Labour supporters who believe in the necessity for socialism still think that by being active in their factories and constituencies Labour can be ’pushed to the left’. These illusions are carefully fostered as well by so-called ’Communists’ and Trotskyists, who peddle the idea that Labour if returned can be pressurised to implement policies undermining capitalism itself.
Both for the mass of Labour supporters who hope for an easier life under Labour, and for those who believe Labour will slowly become socialist, and confuse nationalisation with social ownership, Labour in opposition acquires a deeper, more dangerous attraction. Despite its albatross-like record, Labour is able with one or two kind thoughts to lighten the-burden of its past, mount high-sounding attacks on Tory reaction and construct sweet promises for the future. In power, however, the saccharin mask slips and then falls, and the ugliness of the exploitive system that it protects is again clearly visible.
But the lessons from this process are not spontaneously and naturally gained. Without effective, wide-ranging and consistent Communist political work – demonstrating both the need for and the possibility of building a genuine socialist movement, the ’lesson’ can be merely disillusion and apathy with what is contemptuously called ’party politics’. Such disillusion is not in itself a step towards a progressive alternative. Indeed such apathy is a better breeding ground for fascism than for socialism. Socialism is based on a constructive, scientific and basically optimistic view of political and social progress.
We believe therefore that the return of a Labour government at the present juncture does two limited but useful things.
Firstly it prevents the immediate and outright anti-working class attacks which would be mounted by a Tory government. Linked to this it enables the Labour movement to force the government to carry through some of the measures relating to, for example, trade unions and the Common Market, for which the ground has been laid over the last few years of class struggle.
Secondly it confronts the mass of working people, including those who believe in socialism, with the logic and reality of their own consciousness. Lenin argued fifty years ago that this kind of support resembled that of the rope which supports a hanged man. But he also made clear that this type of support could only be fatal to Social Democracy and reformism if Communists worked effectively to aid the people practically and ideologically to separate for ever from Labour’s attempts to reform a dying and destructive system of exploitation.
Things do not happen automatically, but, only by people understanding the actual conditions and consciously fighting to change both the conditions and themselves.
This election is only a small part of this continuous struggle which must be developed whatever the result on October 10th. Whoever wins we will still have to overcome tremendous challenges. No existing British party represents working people’s real interests and ambitions. But a Labour government does put us on the best terrain for the battle ahead.
LONDON GROUP (CPB ML) September 1974