Ted Grant

Tory crisis: Labour’s opportunity

Source: Socialist Fight, vol. 3 no. 8 (October 1961)
Transcription: Francesco 2009
Proofread: Fred 2009
Markup: Manuel 2009

Labour once again faces a turning point in the political situation in this country. The policies of Tory capitalism have landed the country into a new economic crisis, where the only remedy of the Tory witchdoctors is to bleed the victim in the new economic squeeze, for the benefit of their millionaire paymasters. The wage freeze hits at the worst-paid sections of the working class, and at big layers of the middle class and professional people as well. At the same time the Tories shamelessly subsidise the rich with their lessened taxes on surtax and big incomes. The contrast of this vicious class policy is glaring, the gilt on the “affluent society” has worn rather thin.

At the same time the confession of bankruptcy of British capitalism is embodied in the abandonment of traditional British imperialist policy, in the attempt to join the Common Market in Europe.

In the field of education, production and technique Britain is lagging far behind her rivals. In a decade Britain threatens to become a backward country if Tory policies are continued. She is rapidly becoming the new “sick man of Europe.” Desperately the Tories are trying to stir the selfish monopolies of big industry with the whip of competition from the Common Market.

The people as a whole under the impact of the Tory attacks on teachers, post office workers and civil servants, as well as the general wage freeze are becoming critical of the policy of the Tories and are looking for an alternative. This is Labour’s opportunity to win the support of the overwhelming majority of the working class as well as wide sections of the middle class. Labour can gain power if the leadership presses home the advantage given by the situation.

However, a similar situation developed during the middle of the last term of power of the Tories. The passivity of the leadership in not offering the people a sharp and fundamentally different policy to the Tories resulted in their recovery and the debacle of 1959.

What rank and file want

To gain power Labour must offer positive alternatives to the policy of Tory “affluence.” If there is no great difference in policy the un-political workers and the mass of the middle class will play safe and vote for the devil they know rather than risk a change.

Only a socialist policy attacking all the evils of capitalism and its lust for profits, which is the root cause of the present difficulties, can find an echo among the workers. This is the policy which the rank and file of the Labour Party want. Gaitskell has had his victory on “defence,” where his policy does not diverge fundamentally from that of the Tories. There can be no Labour victory on this question where the policies are so much alike. But the right wing in the last 12 months has been silent on the vital question of clause 4 and the decision to popularise the need for taking over the commanding heights of the economy in the interests of the working class. Nothing has been done on this decisive question.

This year resolution after resolution from constituency parties and from the unions has emphasised the need to nationalise the land, engineering, banks, insurance and the building industry and the great bulk of industry and commerce controlled by monopolies and big business; as well as merely re-nationalising steel and road transport.

This is merely underlining the decisions taken last year which have not been implemented by the leadership. They were busily waging war on the membership on the issue of defence, instead of carrying the war against the Tories on this question.

At the same time in Parliament and in the country the leadership has presented the shocking picture of equivocation and passivity on the question of whether Britain should enter the Common Market or not. Whether this is successful or not the Tories will use the silence of the Labour leaders to devastating advantage in the next election. Not to put forward a policy on this question is to make sure of further electoral victories for the Tories, if new events do not intervene and change the mood of the people.

The right wing in reality wishes to follow meekly the Tories in their efforts to enter but does not dare to declare themselves too openly. Unfortunately the left wing has not put forward a real alternative to the policy of British capitalism on this question. In effect they are trying to maintain the position defended by the British capitalists in the past of relative isolationism which history has rendered obsolete.

Isolation impossible

The only alternative is to show the impossibility of maintaining this small island, separate and apart from Europe, but to explain to the mass of the people that only a socialist Britain linked in a socialist United States of Europe, can maintain and extend the standards of living gained by the struggle of the trade union and labour movement. Only a socialist Britain can introduce a real plan of production and integrate it with the economy of a socialist Europe.

The Tories have confessed the bankruptcy of “free enterprise” and “Conservative freedom” in their lip-service to planning. But what dictates the development of the economy is not its needs but the profitability to big business of production. If it does not pay they will always cut down production. Even at the height of the boom there was “surplus capacity,” i.e. the people could not buy back the goods which could be produced. Hence the refusal to produce the goods, in the language of capitalism, there was no market.

Capitalism impotent

The Labour leaders have not taken the offensive against the Tories on this question, exposing the impotence of capitalism to plan and organise production for the benefit of the people Socialist Fight supports the resolutions on the agenda which express the real class aspirations of the Labour workers on the question of a socialist policy at home and abroad. It indicates that nothing can change the socialist heart of the labour movement. The desire of the members for a socialist policy has become stronger than ever.

A radical policy in the climate of 1945 guaranteed overwhelming victory for Labour. Only a socialist policy on the lines sketched above can change society for the benefit of the people. It is the sole means of guaranteeing peace and plenty at home and abroad.

Gaitskell’s victory on defence will be a hollow one. More and more the workers will demand a carrying out of socialist policies and an acceptance of the will of the members as expressed in conference.