Written: August 1945
Source: Socialist Appeal, vol. 7 no. 11 (August 1945)
Transcription: Harry 2007
Markup/Proofread: Emil 2007
The general election has resulted in a smashing victory for the working class. Despite the lies, slander and misrepresentation of the Tories and the capitalist press, Churchill and his following have been overwhelmingly defeated.
Although the Labour leaders did not campaign against Churchill and expose him for what he represented, nevertheless the masses showed that they were not deceived as to what was concealed behind the Churchill myth.
In Churchill’s own constituency where the Labour leaders timidly and faint-heartedly withdrew, an unknown crank who conducted no campaign, received 10,000 votes in opposition to Churchill’s 27,000. This is an index of the changed and determined mood of the people.
A tremendous radicalisation of broad strata of the population has taken place. Especially has this been so with the young generation of voters who have grown up in the last decade and have never had the vote before. The men in the armed forces conscripted to fight in the interests of British imperialism and hardened by their experiences in the Army, Navy and Air Force, have turned overwhelmingly against capitalism and everything that it stands for. It is estimated that at least 80 to 90 per cent of the servicemen who polled, voted for the Labour Party. When it is considered that millions of workers inside and outside of the Forces were disenfranchised by the rushed election and that the bulk of these would have voted Labour, the magnitude of the Tory defeat is clear. The Tories staged the election at the most suitable time for themselves, had they waited any longer their debacle at the polls would have been even greater.
The difference between the election of 1918 and that of 1945 is very striking. The last 30 years, with its record of slumps and wars, of misery and unemployment, have taught the masses that they cannot expect anything better at the hands of the Tories. Not only the basic strata of the working class, but even large sections of the middle class have swung decisively away from the capitalist parties.
The election of a majority Labour Government for the first time marks a definite decisive turn in European, world and British history. In voting for the Labour Party, the mass of the British workers have indicated that they want a complete change from the capitalist system which has brought them such misery, poverty, and insecurity in the years following World War I.
Labour is in Power! Now the workers want radical solutions to the urgent problems which face them. Work, Food, Homes, Demobilisation, higher standards, and a different policy from that of Tory reaction both at home and abroad, is demanded by the working class. They want a fighting lead on a radical programme, and drastic measures against the Big Monopolies and Combines would secure the enthusiastic and active assistance of the workers.
A tremendously important feature of the election, and one showing the real tendencies and feelings in the electorate, was not only the defeat of the Conservative Party, but the smashing blow sustained by the Liberals. Despite the lavish promises of the capitalist Liberal Party, and the fact that they stood on an anti-Tory ticket, they lost half their already shrunken representation of 20 seats. In the seats held by the Liberals, the Labour Party vote generally increased as greatly as it had done in the Tory areas. Thus the swing from the Conservatives was no mere swing of the pendulum, but an anti-capitalist move against the exploiting class and in favour of Socialism.
The defeat of the Liberals and Tories has also meant the defeat of the “Communist” Party. Their Popular Front policy calling for a National Government, including the Liberals and such “progressive” Tories as Churchill and Eden, even if Labour were returned with a majority, has been completely rejected by the workers and even sections of the lower middle class.
In the middle of the election, because of the hostile reception accorded by the working class to such treacherous ideas of capitulation to the capitalists and their Parties, the Stalinists were forced to abandon it and adopt in its stead the demagogic slogan of a “Labour and Communist Government”! Had the Tories gained a narrow majority, the Stalinists would have pressed this policy of Popular Frontism, as they were already doing in the big Unions, such as the N.U.R. and Miners Union which passed resolutions demanding unity of the “progressive” forces at the next General Election. At the last Labour Party Conference a resolution to discuss this question was only narrowly defeated. Now, by their action at the polls, the masses have decisively rejected this policy. Not even the Stalinists have dared to revive their Popular Frontism since the election results were announced.
The Stalinists suffered serious blows. The reasons: partly because of their support for Churchill and the Liberals; partly because the masses did not see any sense in splitting the vote when the C.P. programme was similar to that of the Labour Party, except that it was more right wing. Their change of front in the middle of the election did not save them. The Stalinists lost 13 deposits out of 21 candidates, succeeded in electing 2 M.P.s only, and polled well in only a few constituencies. So well known a figure as R. Palme Dutt polled 1,850 votes. Their total vote was a little over 100,000.
The I.L.P. campaign was confused. They put up only 5 candidates—the lowest number since the last war. With difficulty, they succeeded in retaining their three Glasgow seats with lower majorities.
In Bilston, they were snowed under, receiving only 890 votes. And even in East Bradford, their votes dropped to half of what they had been in the previous election. This could be expected as it would have been difficult for the Labour voters to see any difference in the policy put forward by the I.L.P. and that of the Labour Party.
The Common Wealth has been virtually wiped out; most of their candidates where they opposed the Labour Party losing their deposits, and only one being returned where there was no Labour candidate.
The election of a Labour Government with a majority is a tremendous step forward for the working class. Had the Labour leaders made a bold stirring appeal which would have electrified the electorate, the votes received by Labour would have been enormously increased. As it is, over the capitalist Parties together, the working class vote is only a bare majority.
But real measures against the capitalists and in the interests of the masses, would convince the bulk of those backward workers and the middle class who voted for Churchill and the capitalist parties.
The workers in the various Labour Parties, factories, Co-ops and the other mass organisations of the working class must demand that the Labour leaders should carry out their promises.
Immediately, the Labour Government must order the requisitioning of all empty houses and have a census made of the space in the houses and hotels of the rich. After a reasonable amount of space is left for the capitalists and their families, (the average rooms in which workers and their families are expected to live) homeless families and those hard pressed for proper shelter should be billeted upon them. This measure would at least relieve the housing shortage.
The Labour Government must introduce measures on the lines outlined is the programme put forward in the Socialist Appeal. A committee composed of delegates elected in the factories and technicians from the different industries, should be set up to investigate the resources of the country and plan production so as to ensure high standards of living for all. Control of these industries would have to be in the hands of the workers’ committees to ensure decent wages and conditions for all.
Any attempt by the capitalists to close their factories and thus produce mass unemployment during the re-conversion programme, must be answered by the confiscation of these factories and their taking over by the Government, to be run under the control of committees which should be elected by the workers employed in such plants.
All war factories closed down because of lack of work must be reopened and run in the above manner and converted to the production of goods needed by the workers.
In order to facilitate the nationalisation of the mines, steel industries and other industries, as promised in the Labour programme, the workers must be appealed to in order to set up committees to run these industries under the control of the miners, steelworkers, engineers, etc.
Among the first measures which the Labour leaders must introduce, is an Act repealing all anti-working class legislation, especially the Trade Disputes Act of 1927.
The last Labour Party Conference overwhelmingly passed a resolution calling for equal gratuities for all ranks in the forces. This pledge must be speedily implemented by the Labour Government.
The Labour leaders have pledged themselves to support the Imperialist war against Japan. The workers must demand that their husbands, sweethearts, sons and brothers should be brought home. The arming of the Indian and Chinese people would supply more than enough forces to achieve the liberation of Asia from the shackles of Japanese Imperialism. The power of the Mikado and of the Japanese militarists could be broken by a genuine liberation of the peoples of Asia from the exploitation of all imperialisms, and by appealing to the Japanese workers and farmers on the basis of a declaration of freedom for the Eastern peoples.
As it is, the Labour Government will be helping to get back oil, tin, rubber and other materials, plus strategic bases for the plunder and exploitation of the peoples of the Pacific in the interests of the British capitalists. Such a policy would be entirely against the interests of the British workers.
In relation to Europe, the Labour Government should restore freedom to the German people, now that Hitler is gone, and aid them to take action against the German capitalists and landlords.
Bring the boys home from Germany and restore them to their wives and families and let them help in the reconstruction of Britain. To the workers of Europe the Labour Government should offer a genuine Socialist union in a Socialist United States of Europe.
Immediately the result was announced, Harold Laski, Chairman of the Labour Party, declared that the Labour Government would not aid reaction in Europe. Discredited kings and monarchs, and fascist dictators such as Franco, could not expect support from the Labour Government. It would support the peoples against the reactionaries. The workers must take the Labour leaders at their word. Laski said this in the first exuberance of victory. But obviously, this is the elementary duty of any government claiming to represent socialism. The workers must demand through their organisations, an immediate break with the butcher Franco. No truck with fascist gangsters and monarchists—such as the King of Italy and Greece, stained as deeply as Hitler and Mussolini, with the crimes of fascism. No support to quisling reactionary regimes such as that of Vulgaris and Damaskinos in Greece! Full support to the peoples in their struggle for free elections and a government of their own choice.
Obviously, any real measures in the interests of the workers will meet with the determined sabotage of Big Business. Already Wall Street is openly preparing to exert pressure on the Labour Government according to reports in the capitalist press. No less bitter will be the sabotage of British Big Business.
The reply of the Labour Government must be to seize control of all the Banks and financial Houses.
Any attempt at obstruction by the House of Lords or the monarchy must be replied to by an instant appeal to the polls on the issue of the abolition of these feudal survivals.
A bold programme of deeds and not words would gain the enthusiasm and strong support of the workers nationally and internationally. The ruling class has no sure basis of support on which to lean against a Labour Government carrying out such a programme. To appeal to the Army (80 to 90 per cent Labour!) would be fantastic. A few generals and officers could do nothing. Even the rank and file policemen would not lift a finger in the interests of the capitalists.
How much and how easily could the whole social structure in Britain and Europe be changed by a bold Socialist programme on the part of the Labour leaders!
The mood of the advanced workers is one of jubilation at getting rid of the Tories, but one of watchful waiting and scepticism at the ability of the Labour leaders to deliver the goods!
The attitude of big sections of workers in the advanced areas in Labour strongholds of many years is “Give them a chance—but no excuses this time! They’ve got everything they asked for in a big majority!”
This thoughtful mood of the workers is an indication of the tremendous advance in mass consciousness in the last 25 years. The workers mean business. They want improvements and they intend to get them. But already Big Business is confidently calculating on utilising the Labour leaders against the workers!
The Daily Mail, rabid and bitter organ of reaction, in its editorial of 30th July, cynically remarks:
“A large majority implies great expectations on the part of the people. They will certainly look for a vigorous exposition of what the Government intend to do, especially in the realm of social reform…
“Little has been heard of nationalisation since the election results were declared, but this economic experiment is still the main plank in the Socialists’ programme. The time has come when they must abandon generalities and get down to details.
“Whether the Government will succeed in nationalising all the industries they have named remains to be seen. It is a lot to do in five years, even if there were no other problems.
“But there will be plenty. The strike of the locomotive engineers which has stranded holiday-makers at the Kentish seaside resorts is a small but sharp reminder of the troubles ahead.
“Foreign policy, home affairs, and economics will present the Labour Government with a series of hard and unalterable facts. They will find that £.s.d. are not meaningless symbols, and that the change-over from war-time to peace-time wage scales will be no more popular because it comes from a Labour Government. They begin their great tasks with general good-will and not a little curiosity.”
This is really a veiled threat on the part of reaction, in spite of smooth words, to cover the preparations of the boss class offensive against the workers, and to utilise the situation to discredit the idea of Socialism.
But nevertheless, that there is a basis of fact in the attitude adopted by Big Business in the editorial quoted above, is shown by the report of a discussion between Bevin and a Swedish Trade Union Leader quoted in the Daily Express of July 28th.
In an article ironically headed, “The Problem”, it says:
“Mr. Charles Lindley, Swedish trade unionist said today: ‘When I spoke to Bevin at the Blackpool congress he rather doubted a Socialist victory.’
“He said: ‘Even if we win we shall have hard times before us. To convert industry to peace production with lower wages as a result will be an enormous problem.’”
There is no reason to doubt the authenticity of this report. Bevin has not denied it! All the more reason, therefore, for vigilance and watchfulness by the rank and file of the movement. But that many sections of the working class realise this already, is shown by the movement of the railwaymen and dockers. They want action, and action in their interests against the bosses.
The Daily Telegraph of July 30th reports:
“Officials of the railway trade unions were howled down when they appealed to 1,000 ‘Sunday strikers’ at Liverpool yesterday to abandon their threat of a Bank Holiday strike…”
Delegates at both meetings called for nationalisation of the railways.
At Liverpool, a Birkenhead representative declared:
“If we continue our present action the new Government will be able to turn to the companies and tell them they cannot manage their business. It would then be an easy step towards nationalisation.”
Sensing the mood and the determination of the railway workers, Binks, the president of the National Union of Railwaymen openly threatened national action and proclaimed at the very dawn of the new Government:
“Before our new Government can nationalise the railways it must first give them back to the companies that own them and then do what it says, it is going to do. Until then it is the companies we have to deal with.
“But although we now have a Government of our own liking and choosing it may be in the future—time will tell—that we of the trade unions will have to fight them to get what we want as we fought the Government in the past.” (Reported in the Daily Express of July 30th 1945.)
The need for pressure to obtain the demands of the workers could not be expressed better than in the latter part of Binks’ statement. Coming from one of the top leaders of the Unions it obtains added weight. But the railwaymen will expect deeds as well as words from him too.
The workers must exert pressure in an organised fashion. Committees should be set up composed of delegates from the unions, factories, housewives, Co-ops, even small shop-keepers and middle class people in the localities, to push forward the demands of the masses and to exert mass pressure against any attempt of the capitalists to sabotage or disrupt measures under-taken by the Labour Government,
Real assistance and moral support could be given to the Labour leaders if they introduced measures in the interests of the workers. Perhaps the trades councils, extended and broadened to embrace other sections of the population, could fulfil this function.
The R.C.P. declares to the workers. We fought with all the forces at our disposal to help put Labour into Power. The workers have achieved this wonderful advance. But again we warn you, you can rely only on your own organisations, strength and solidarity to achieve any real gains. We will fight side by side with you now to insist, and endeavour to ensure, that the Labour leaders take adequate action against capitalism and in the interests of the workers, and to watch carefully all the manoeuvres and intrigues of Big Business against the Labour Government.
Actions against capitalism! Put into force a Socialist programme in the interests of the masses!
Watch the intrigues of Big Business!
Form Committees to help and exert pressure on the Labour Government!