Duncan Hallas

Workers’ power – the only alternative
to the Labour/Tory run-around ...

(8 May 1969)

From Socialist Worker, No. 121, 8 May 1969, pp. 2 & 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

WHY DID THEY do it? We have a Labour government and the Labour Party is supposed to be the working men’s party, the trade union party.

And now they are whipping up a real hysteria against the unions, against stewards, against strikers, against the very people who have been the backbone of the Labour movement.

Politics is about power. Socialist politics is about workers’ power.

These are the facts that the Labour Party, including even the best and most sincere of the Labour ‘lefts’, has been dodging for years.

In a capitalist society most of the power is in the hands of the big business bosses.

It has to be taken from them. They can’t be talked or tricked into giving it up.

And this can only be done by a working class organised and conscious of its position in society and determined to liberate itself, and the rest of the people, by taking power – the power to decide about everything that affects their lives – into their own hands.

To educate, agitate and organise for workers’ power – for that’s what socialism means in the first instance – is a tough job.

How much easier to concentrate on building an electoral machine, to win a parliamentary majority. Instead of telling workers to get off their knees, to learn to think and fight, you can use the prejudices created by the capitalist brainwashing machine.

You can ridicule the Tories for being ‘inefficient’. You can talk about ‘the white heat of the technological revolution’ and ‘fairer shares in expanding prosperity’.

You can win friends and influence voters and when you win a general election you can, you hope, introduce all sorts of reforms which will somehow change the system.

Well, it has been tried. We are now in our fourth year of the current instalment.

The bosses are richer and more powerful than ever. We are no nearer a democratic, humane, classless society than we were under Macmillan or Home.

Lesser evil?

What about the lesser evil, better half a loaf than no bread? A good test is that proposed by Mr Harold Wilson (in opposition of course).

‘Given a Labour victory,’ said Harold, ‘the test is this. Will there be, 12 months from now, a narrowing of the gap between rich and poor, quite apart from any general upward movement there may be as a result of increased national production? The answer is, quite simply that there will.’

This is the same man who refused to permit an increase of 14s a week for agricultural workers while accepting increases of up to £145 per week for the bosses of nationalised industries!

Not that he can really help it. Once you accept that the job of a Labour government is to keep the capitalist system going so you can introduce reforms, you are caught up in the logic of the thing.

The capitalists must be kept happy so nothing fundamental can be disturbed. Reforms are easier to carry through if there is plenty to go round, so profits have to be kept up.

To keep up profits the workers have to be kept in line and the rich given ‘incentives’ – in plain words more swill in their trough.

Fed up

The rich get richer and the working man gets fed up. Then the aim becomes to win the middle-class vote and the votes of the most backward elements in the population. We get In Place of Strife, adventures in Anguilla, immigration control, lofty rhetoric about the ‘national interest’ and all the old Tory run around.

There is no way out of this by increasing productivity more output and the rest. The point was well made by H. Wilson (in opposition again).

‘In any period of economic expansion, there is a law of increasing returns to the rich; of an increased proportion of newly produced wealth accruing to the owners of property whether in equity shares or land.’

In short we get further away from the classless society instead of nearer to it.

Of course the Labour Party is not and never has been a real socialist party.

At best it has been a party which has accepted the capitalist system, in fact if not in words, but has tried to tilt the balance within the system slightly towards the left, towards the interests of working people.

Not any more. Wilson, Castle and the rest are now appealing to the most backward and reactionary prejudices against organised workers.

They are doing the Tories’ work for them. They have gone over to the other side.

Why? Are they rogues?

Lord Brockway, in the days when he was still plain Mr Fenner Brockway, once wrote ‘I have spent three years in prison and three years in parliament – and parliament was a far more demoralising experience’.

There is something in this. The weak brethren in the parliamentary party have no doubt been corrupted by the subtle and not so subtle pressures to conform. Jobs or the promise of jobs, company directorships for ex-ministers, fat salaries, soft living, all these things have their influence.

One of the first things the newly elected Labour government did was to raise the salaries of MPs – and ministers!

Many of the Westminster Labour crowd were opportunists and self-seekers from the beginning. But as an explanation of why the Labour government has become the spearhead of the big business offensive against the workers, this sort of thing is not enough.

Thick and thin

There are rotten apples in every barrel. For nearly the whole barrel to be rotten there must be something fundamentally wrong.

Take for instance Mr Michael Foot and his friends. They are not careerists. And yet they supported Wilson through thick and thin until the latest anti-union proposals stuck in their throats.

Even now they can’t quite get rid of the idea that Harold and Barbara are left-wingers of some sort or other. They still have the same fundamental approach to society and politics as their friends of yesterday.

Right-wing forces and attitudes are reinforced. After all, the richest place on earth is the State of California – and they’ve got Ronald Reagan in power!

What is the alternative? The only way forward for socialists is to base themselves on the actual struggles of workers, tenants, the homeless, the poor. We have to fight in any and every battle in which the interests of working people are involved.

We have to recreate the authentic socialist tradition and develop it in the course of these struggles.

There are no short cuts. Voting for Bloggs will not solve the problems.

Out of the growing conflicts that are now being forced on working people will come the rebirth of the British labour movement.

Harold Wilson is succeeding where Ramsay MacDonald failed. He is destroying once and for all the credibility of reformist, labourite politics.

The revolutionary socialist alternative is the only road left for militant workers./p>

Last updated on 14 January 2021