Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 5 no. 13 (June 1943)
Markup/Proofread:: Fred, Emil 2007
The Labour Party conference met this year when a critical attitude on the part of the mass of the population towards the capitalist class and the government, has become widespread throughout the country. It met when the military situation has changed sharply in favour of Anglo-American imperialism and when the possibility of the war ending looms ahead in a sharp form. With this, the working class is beginning to ask what sort of world the rulers are preparing for after the war.
What will be the reward for all this blood and toil, tears and sweat, is the thought that grips every working man and woman. The Labour workers remember how they were fooled by promises in the last war, which were not carried out after the “glorious victory” had been won.
The real role of the Labour Party in the coalition was clearly demonstrated by the speech of one of the delegates, Alderman Luke Hogan of Liverpool.
“The Labour members of the Government had been given the most ‘sticky jobs’. Bevin, Morrison and Dalton were doing jobs that the Prime Minister knew he could not have got a Tory to carry through successfully.”
No better description of the role of Labour in the government could possibly be given. They have been given the job of doing all the dirty work for the bosses, and what have they received in return? Ask any rank and file worker in factory, mine or workshop, and the reply would be given in unequivocal terms. The capitalists have taken everything and given nothing in return. That this is so is indicated by the position on the Trades Dispute Act which was revealed at the Conference. The T.U.C. has been negotiating for months, and years, since the Coalition was formed, for a repeal of some of the provisions of the Trades Dispute Act. They have not even demanded the repeal of this obnoxious and vindictive anti-trade union and anti-working class Act, as would seem an elementary demand which should be made in what is supposed to be a 50-50 coalition. But the capitalists are not prepared to budge an inch. They are preparing systematically to attack the workers’ standards of living as savagely, or even more savagely, after the war, than they are doing at the present time. They are not prepared to make a concession with regard to affiliation of civil servants to the T.U.C., which would strengthen the unity of the working class.
Concessions can only be extracted from the capitalists when they are forced to give them by the pressure of the workers. Even the super-constitutionalist, Sir Walter Citrine, who could never be accused of being in favour of direct action, has been pushed from behind by the postal workers and compelled to recommend “unconstitutional” action and to support the defying of the law by the postal workers in applying for re-affiliation. Because of the bold stand of the postal workers, it is possible that a section of the Act may be repealed. The capitalists may fear complications if they do not retreat on this question. But this in itself is an indication of what the coalition is worth to the workers.
The first item on the agenda was the most important one for the Conference — the Political Truce. The resolution for its ending was defeated by a big majority: on a card vote 2,243,000 votes to 374,000 votes. A large number of trade union representatives and individual Labour Parties abstained from voting. At first sight this may seem surprising, compared with the result of last year’s conference when the truce, despite all the pleas of the Labour leaders, was only upheld by the narrow majority of 66,000 votes. What has happened in the meantime to make this big difference?
In the ordinary course of events, with the extension of discontent with the government, it might have been expected that the truce would have been ended this year. But it must be remembered that only in an indirect and distorted way are the feelings of the workers reflected at a conference of this sort. The bulk of the delegates were old men, who in many cases have lost touch with the working class and have ceased to reflect their moods. Not only that. The vote last year reflected the frustration and the feeling of resentment which pervades the workers. But they did not understand the need for a bold fighting programme on which to appeal to the workers. Those delegates who voted for the ending of the truce last year, at the same time voted their support of Churchill. Such was the confusion.
This year, the leadership used as their main argument for the continuance of the truce, that to break it would mean the end of the present government. This of course is perfectly correct. But instead of accepting the challenge and putting forward the demand for a general election, which could be contested on a fighting Socialist programme of struggle against reaction and fascism at home and abroad, which would gain them an overwhelming majority at the polls — the “Left” wing argued in favour of ending the truce and staying in the government simultaneously! You can’t have your cake and eat it! Better frank capitulation to the capitalists than an absurd and dishonest position of that sort.
The only expressed opposition to the war, came from Rhys Davies, who spoke demanding the end of the truce and put a purely pacifist case. The Labour bureaucracy seem to like getting him to speak at conferences, as they apparently look on him as a useful Aunt Sally. Delegates will obviously not be won over by his sterile and utopian case.
The oppositional pressure of the workers has not yet reached the stage of forcing the Labour Party, even the demagogues of the Left, to an open break with the Tories. But this year’s vote is not a reflection of the feelings of the rank and file of the Labour workers. The Labour and TU bureaucrats can manipulate a vote. But the final decision does not rest with them. The question of whether the truce will continue or not, will be decided by the events of the class struggle in the near future. Any big movement of the workers would put a strain on the coalition which it is not likely to survive. It seemed unlikely that the coalition would survive from the last conference to this. It is even more unlikely that the coalition will last until next year’s conference, despite this year’s big vote. The workers have not yet said their last word.
The real position of the Labour leaders is shown by the fact that not only are they opposed to a Socialist programme now, but in actual fact have indicated their position in advance for after the war as well. In his speech Attlee said:
“We reaffirm our view that over s great field of activity there must by public control. In other fields private enterprise will continue to operate, but in conformity with the well-being of the community.”
Unanimous decisions on increases in Service Pay and Old Age Pensions were passed. None of the delegates was so rude and awkward as to enquire what had happened to the resolutions which were also passed unanimously on the same questions last year! It would have put the leadership on the spot. Immediately after last year’s conference Attlee in Parliament stated that the government could not consider a rise “at the present time”. Only after a long period was a rise given, the magnificent sum of 6d a day. The fate of the demand for Old Age Pensions increases has been similar. The debate on the Beveridge Report revealed the position on reforms and fundamental changes better than anything else. An amendment on the Beveridge Report was moved by Sidney Silverman, Labour MP for Nelson and Colne, expressing according to the Daily-Herald report,
“profound distrust at the government’s attitude to the Beveridge Plan in Parliament. It called on the Parliamentary Labour Party to continue its efforts to secure ‘immediate legislation’ to implement the principles of the scheme”.
This amendment was rejected by 1,715,000 votes to 955,000 votes and the Executive resolution on the Report was carried. This indicated rather vaguely and ambiguously in the words of the Herald report that:
“While recognising the need for further examination of some of the proposals, the resolution called for speedy preparations of the necessary legislation, so that the scheme ‘should be ready to be put into operation at the end of hostilities.’”
Thus even the meagre proposals for social reform envisaged by the Beveridge Scheme were not to be demanded from the capitalists as a condition for co-operation. The Labour leaders could gain a majority at a general election on this issue alone, if they repealed the real position of the government of capitalists and bankers.
The Communist Party Affiliation was rejected by a vote of 1,951,000 votes to 712,000. The main argument of Morrison against it, was the false one that the CP based itself on a revolutionary philosophy. This of course is incorrect, as today the CP is far to the Right of the LP itself. Even if true, the Labour Party as the party that claims to be the political expression of the organised workers, should have room in its ranks for all tendencies to express themselves. The entry of the Stalinists would have been the means for facilitating the exposure of both Stalinists and Labour bureaucrats in the eyes of the workers.
At the time of writing this (Wednesday) article, some important questions remain to be discussed including the Post War World.
The basic need for the workers in the next period lies in the demand that Labour should break the coalition with the bosses and wage a struggle for Power on a Socialist Programme. Workers’ International League will fight side by side with the Labour workers to achieve this aim. On this road lies the next step forward to convince the workers through their own experience of the correctness of our ideas and the necessity of a revolutionary socialist organisation to lead them to workers’ Power and Socialism.