Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 1 no. 2 (November 1958)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009
The Tories have begun already a systematic preparation for the next General Election. Side by side with their attacks on the workers, they are trying desperately to present themselves as a party of progress and “sound finance.” That is why they, are trying to steal the Labour Party’s thunder by announcing a new pensions plan which will intensify and perpetuate the inequalities among pensioners, which reflect the inequality in society at large.
The growing unemployment is regarded as a “regrettable necessity” in order to damp inflation and stabilise the value of the pound. In reality, all these measures are neither to the advantage of the workers nor the middle class, but of the Big Business paymasters of the Tory Party, who do not turn a hair at spending £1,500 million a year on armaments, but with eagle eye scrutinise every halfpenny spent on pensions, social services, housing and education. They have cut the amount spent on all these in relation to the total budget.
The Tories have extended big concessions to the millionaire tax-payers. The Rent Act has been a gift to the landlords.
Against this background, the Labour Movement must rally all its forces and resources in order to defeat the Tory attack and win the next election. What is required is a militant, positive Socialist campaign, which will explain concretely to the workers and middle class how they will benefit socially and economically under a planned economy, where full rights and liberties, of the people will be maintained and the entire population will be drawn into the running of industry and the state.
A campaign on these lines explaining the ominous slump developments of which mounting unemployment is a symptom and showing that capitalism has no real solution to these problems except at the expense of the mass of the people would gain overwhelming support.
Unfortunately, the official programme of the Labour Movement as developed at Scarborough is not on these lines. In Plan for Progress and in Gaitskell’s speeches, fabulous promises have been made: expanding production, full employment, housing, pensions, social services, comprehensive schools, a stable pound, higher wages and lower prices—the lot. This is an excellent programme…if it can be carried out.
Following the Conference, Gaitskell has made a tour of the areas worst affected by unemployment. He has been able to expose the cold-blooded calculations of the ruling class, which wishes to hold down the wages of the employed workers by the pressure of the workers on the dole, living below subsistence level. The Tories plan to put the full burdens of the developing slump on the shoulders of the workers, pensioners and middle class.
Gaitskell’s solution to this is “an expanding economy” on which stands or falls all the golden promises which have been made by the Labour leaders. He emphasised (TV broadcast, October 27th) that to meet the threat of growing unemployment interest rates must be cut, industrial investment increased and new industries channelled into needy areas. “And if I thought it necessary to stimulate the economy, I would introduce an autumn budget.”
Under slump conditions, all these measures would be no more than stop-gaps. The rate of interest will fall anyway under conditions of slump, and the capitalists will not invest in new industry and new capital development when they cannot make profit, from the old industry and machinery. Gaitskell’s whole criticism of the capitalists leaves out of account the fact that they do not produce for the sake of producing, but only for the sake of making profits.
The amount, moreover, collected in taxes from the workers and capitalists will fall so that there will be less money to invest in the nationalised industries. If resort is made to deficit financing, after a period this will cancel out, and the position will be worse than before because of gathering inflation. At the same time, it would be ridiculous to invest in nationalised industries, which are the basic industries in the country and which serve largely the needs of private industry, because the orders from private industry will naturally fall. Already there is a surplus capacity in steel and coal. Under conditions of slump, it would be madness to invest further in coal, steel, rail transport, electricity and gas when there would be enormous unused capacities in these industries. Moreover, the money would have to come from private industry or the working class, and would thus cancel out in its effects even if it were tried.
A small amount might be gained, by building hospitals, roads and so on. But this would only be tackling the fringe of the problem. It is impossible to operate capitalism better than the capitalists.
On this programme a Labour Government could only hope for a short life before disillusionment and disaster would be facing it. British history in the last decades, as the history of other countries, has demonstrated the painful lesson that only socialist policies can serve the Labour Movement.
The Marxist Left in the Labour Party must be the most vigorous in campaigning to get the Tories out, as the next step forward. At the same time, however, while fighting shoulder to shoulder with their fellow trade unionists and Labour Party members, they must campaign for a real programme of drastic socialist measures to be introduced under emergency circumstances when the failures of the present policy will be proved by bitter experience. Take action against the capitalists, carry out your promises, and if a Socialist Plan is the only road, then a Socialist Plan of nationalisation with minimum compensation, and the running of industry and the state by the workers and their allies, must be the watchword of the Left Wing inside the Movement.