Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 4 no. 10 (July 1942)
Transcription: Harry 2007
Markup/Proofread:: Emil 2007
Coming after three years of uninterrupted defeats, the events in Libya and Egypt have aroused a profound disquiet within the British people. The debate on this latest crisis is a warning and a portent to the working class.
The workers are becoming critical and disgusted at the continued incompetence of their rulers in the military and industrial spheres. After three years of war industry is still not producing the type of equipment to match that of the Germans, and the officer caste reveals itself to be utterly stupid and incompetent.
Nothing but anarchy and chaos faces the workers everywhere. The feeling in the workshops and in the army is one of exasperation and frustration.
It is this which has compelled the ruling class to stage a debate, as a lightning conductor to the anger of the masses.
One section of the ruling class is already beginning to think of desperate measures to be used against the working class, whose eyes are being opened to the necessity for a change. This was demonstrated by the censure motion of Sir John Wardlaw Milne and the extreme right wing of the Tory Party. This right wing Tory utilised the obvious inefficiency of the generals to make a “brilliant” suggestion of changes in the military leadership. He proposed that the situation could be retrieved by appointing as Commander in Chief…the Duke of Gloucester! Even in the House of Commons this was greeted with loud groans. No matter the qualities of the noble Duke, it is obvious that as a military leader he would be a joke. But the sinister implication of this proposal is all too clear. The last reserve of the ruling class, the Royal family, was to be brought forward as a cover for a military dictatorship to keep the masses down by force.
Sir Roger Keyes reflected this tendency when he contemptuously attacked the Labour leaders—Bevin, Morrison and Alexander— suggesting that their services in the government were no longer required. He clearly indicated that they could not hold the masses in check. They could not prevent strikes or other manifestations of unrest, and were therefore no longer of any use to the ruling class. They see too that the Churchill myth is ending.
Today, of course, their programme is not taken seriously by the decisive section of ruling class. Such a programme is not needed as yet. But the fact that, at the first signs of disgust on the part of the workers, already such a tendency has been manifested within their ranks, is an indication of what will happen among the basic section when a real movement begins among the masses.
In as guarded and veiled a way as possible, Churchill, in self-defence, indicated what the right wing Tories were after:
“The mover of the vote of censure has proposed that I be stripped of my responsibilities for defence in order that some military figure or unnamed personage should assume the general conduct of the war, that he should have under him a royal duke as commander in chief of the army…
“This is a system very different from the parliamentary system under which we have lived. It might easily amount to, or be converted into, a dictatorship.”
This section of the ruling class could quite easily don the robes of Petain.
And Churchill’s protestations that he would not participate in such a regime are worth no more and no less than the protestations of Renaud and Daladier in France. They too held their hands to their black hearts and proclaimed undying devotion to “democracy”. But in the hour of crisis they handed over to the Pétains and Lavals who sold out to Hitler.
The writing is on the wall. If the workers do not realise the danger, they could find themselves under a British “Vichy”. There are already candidates for this post! For the time being they lurk and plot in the background, but in times of crisis they will thrust themselves forward. Already they are cautiously airing their programme in parliament. What are they saying and preparing behind the scenes? And what alternative has Churchill to offer? The not very consoling prospect of a long and bloody war.
“I have never shared the view,” he assured us in his reply, “that this would be a short war or that it would end in 1942. It is far more likely to be a long war. There is no reason to suppose that it will stop when the final result has become obvious.”
Churchill offers a programme of interminable slaughter and misery. He admits that even when there will be no hope of victory for Hitler, that the German people will continue a desperate resistance to the end. The reason for this is not far to seek. They have good reason to fear a Churchill victory.
In face of this exposure, the Labour leaders maintained their allegiance with Churchill and his class, which tomorrow will turn on the workers as did Pétain. They insisted on giving full support to a system of utter corruption which can only lead the workers to ruin and disaster.
The profound disquiet among the working class has had its effect not only in alarming the ruling-class right-wing of the Tory party to prepare measures against it, but has had its repercussions in the Labour Party as well. One section of the Labour “left” led by Shinwell abstained from voting—this was the most cowardly position of all. Other “left” labour leaders found themselves following in the wake of the leftward moving masses in order to retain some support. It was only yesterday that Aneurin Bevan and the other “left” leaders were fawning on Churchill and pleading with this arch representative of the capitalist class to introduce socialism in the interests of the war. But no more realistic and not one whit better than this, is their present policy.
Aneurin Bevan launched a slashing attack on Churchill and the ruling class. But all this fiery speechifying, as well as the other Labour “lefts”, was so much hot air! The whole thing was staged from beginning to end for the purpose of fooling the workers. Alfred Edwards, Labour M.P. for Middlesbrough East has blown the gaff!
Speeches by Labour M.P.s attacking Cabinet Ministers were rehearsed and agreed to beforehand by the Ministers themselves! Mr. Alfred Edwards, described it as: “This shadow boxing which will bring us and Parliament into contempt.” Thus reported the News Chronicle on July 7th.
What could more clearly demonstrate the shameful hypocrisy and cynicism of the Bevans and Shinwells. Their sham statements are meant to act as a safety valve for the accumulated anger and discontent of the working class. In this sense, they play an even more despicable and contemptible role than the Labour leaders themselves. Their phrases are not meant as a means of organising and giving a fighting lead to the working class. But they are given for the purpose of preventing the exasperation getting an organised outlet.
They did not even differentiate themselves from the Tory right wing gang of reactionaries, going to the length of signing the motion of censure together with them. They offered no alternative whatsoever. Although Bevan and the left were compelled to castigate the reactionary officer caste and the inefficiency in production, they did not demand a break with these evils. They did not offer the only practicable alternative in the interests of the working class—an end to the disastrous coalition. The reason for this is that they have no desire to break from their capitalist masters, and in this they are no different to the rest of the Labour leaders.
All these staged debates cannot hold the working class in check for long.
The British workers are moving left and what they are seeking is a fighting lead on the road to independence from their exploiters—the road of class struggle.
Workers! Exert pressure on the Labour leaders to break the coalition and take power on the programme of the Socialist Appeal. This fighting policy of socialism is the only answer to all problems confronting the workers—the Defence of the Soviet Union—the defeat of Fascism abroad as well as at home—to a future of a world of peace, run by the workers for the workers.
By fighting side by side with the workers on this programme, we can convince them by their own experience that the Labour leaders do not represent their interests and that only the Fourth International can lead to the victory of the working class against the sinister forces which the ruling class is preparing to crush the workers of this and other lands.