From Workers’ International News, Vol.2 No.3, March 1939, pp.2-4.
Transcribed by Ted Crawford.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
The expulsion of Sir Stafford Cripps from the Labour Party for his insistent agitation for a coalition of “anti-Chamberlain forces” indicates the nature of the plans of the Labour leadership for the General Election universally anticipated within the next few months.
The political career of Cripps has been marked by a series of abject surrenders. His famous declaration that the defeat of British Imperialism in war would react to the advantage of the British working class was repudiated by him at the first protesting squawk of the reactionaries. When the Labour bureaucrats countered the Unity Campaign by banning the Socialist League, he hastened to dissolve the organisation. Backing down has become second nature to him, and if this weak-kneed hero of capitulation now startles the world by making a firm stand for the Popular Front, it is because the Popular Front is in its essence a capitulation to the capitalist class. “Any idea of real Socialism would have to be put aside for the present,” he wrote last year, indicating his firm determination to give up the luxury of possessing principles, for the sake, of an alliance with the “liberal” capitalists. This fake left-winger, firm only when he insists on surrender, is thereby fitted by nature to be a leader in a Popular Front.
His counterparts in the Spanish Popular Front have played out to the end the role upon which he is now embarking. A single incident in the fall of Barcelona epitomises in itself the whole nature and function of Popular Front leadership: the evacution of the Telefonica, the principal telephone exchange building, nerve-centre of Northern Spain’s communications, commanding the centre of Barcelona. It was surrendered in the first place by the Government Assault Guards to the fascists on July 19, 1936. Recaptured by the anarchists at the cost of many lives, it was held by them and operated under workers’ control until the Popular Front government provoked the May 1937 uprising in order to regain possession of this and other key points. The Government held the Telefonica in trust for Franco, and handed it over to him intact, together with the rest of the economic, military and transport facilities and supplies of Barcelona, when the fascists entered the city last month. The history of the Telefonica shows up once more the role of the Popular Front as the custodian of capitalist property right, protecting them from workers’ control so as to turn them over to the new guardians, the fascists, when the relief guard arrives on the scene.
But if the Labour Party leaders have expelled Cripps and continued their fight against Popular Frontism, it does not signify that they recognise and oppose the anti-working class function of the Popular Front. Indeed, they contemptuously dismiss any criticism based on the experience of Spain as “ideological,” and while they mouth phrases about their Socialist principles they are careful to point out for the benefit of the careerists in the Labour Party, the “practical” reasons for opposing the Popular Front.
Their calculations of votes and seats, all confined within the framework of parliamentarism, are convincing enough to soothe the climbers on the lower rungs of the Labour Party ladder. But the real reason why they maintain their stand against all change is that they are well satisfied with things as they are. To take office means for them merely to place themselves in a glass case for public scrutiny, and they fear more than anything else in the world the too penetrating eyes of their supporters. Not believing themselves even in the mild reformist programme which they advocate, to take office would mean to reveal to their supporters the fact that they are incapable and unwilling to carry out that programme.
The Popular Front agitation has been carried on in the Co-operative and Constituency Labour Parties through the collection of petty bourgeois “democrats” and patriots recruited by the Communist Party from the Left Book Clubs and turned loose onto Labour to clamour for “a people’s movement”.
But the main strength of the Labour Party rests of course on the trade unions, and, precisely because the Popular Fronter’s are middle-class pseudo-intellectuals and not workers, they have no strength in the trade unions and therefore no weight in the Labour Party as a whole.
The bureaucrats who head the unions are able to swamp the vote of the entire constituency and co-operative sections at conferences by a mere wave of a card. As long as the workers in the unions do not proceed to any broad movement on militant demands, they are well satisfied with things as they are, and dispel the Popular Front spectre by waving the magic card.
But the demands of the unparallelled arms programme imposes strains on the economic system that are rapidly making themselves felt, and the Times voices the policy of capitalist Britain when it speaks openly of “a restriction of consumption all round”. The general attack on workers’ conditions of life which is now being prepared, bringing increased food taxes and speed-up in production, will set the masses in motion against the new burdens laid on them.
It is then that the Citrines will do what the Jouhaux did in France under similar circumstances. They will swing over to support of the Popular Front as a means of checking and holding back the mass movement. As in Spain and France, the Popular Front will arise in this country as a halter on the mass movement. But until that mass movement is under way, the bureaucrats will sit tight and spout about their “Socialist principles”.
Sir Stafford Cripps announced a year ago the need for postponing any thought of a socialist programme. The programme of the “people’s movement” which he advocates is the old familiar fly-specked programme of Liberalism. This document is now dug out of the archives and decorated with a new “Popular Front” label to serve once again its old purpose of deceiving the people. As in France and Spain, it consists of a list of grandiose plans of which not a letter, not a comma, not a fly-speck will be carried out.
Within the Labour Party the militant left-wing worker is offered a choice between the bureaucracy complacently holding on to its privileges and declaiming its pure socialist principles, and on the other hand, the Popular Front which he knows worked out disastrously in France and Spain, but at least offers something different to the petrified smugness of the official leaders who tell him to stay where he is.
It is small wonder that militants in the Labour Party, feeling that any change would be a change for the better, are tempted to follow the only other alternative that seems to offer itself – the Popular Front.
But there is another possible path – the path to the left. Neither to remain His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition nor to link up with the class enemy in the Popular Front, but to strike out boldly for a Majority Labour Government.
A programme based on the class needs of the workers would win support and place into power a Labour Government with a majority. To agitate for such a programme, to rally militants around the demand for such a programme, this is the first task for the socialist.
A majority Labour Government would place the present leadership of the Labour Party in the glass case which they dread. In action they would be exposed to the full view of the working masses as the lackeys of capitalism. And in the awakening of mass consciousness to the real role of these traitors, the last barrier would be removed from the path of the workers in their struggle for political power.
Neither in the present leadership of the Labour Party nor in the Popular Front will the guide be found to lead the masses out of present miseries. The fight for a socialist programme to initiate the majority Labour Government is the first battle in the campaign for workers’ power.
Last updated on 12.10.2005