Chris Harman


Tribune of the People 1

(Summer 1965)

From International Socialism (1st series), No.21, Summer 1965, pp.5-15.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.


The weekly paper Tribune occupies a unique position inside the British Labour movement: for twenty-eight years it has been the focus of the official opposition. Although it is questionable whether Tribune has ever led movements to the Left in the party as a whole, or even all of the periodic retreats to the Right, its attitudes have generally provided a fair measure of the degree of opposition to the leadership within the Labour Party. When Tribune has been in revolt against the shot-gun marriage of block vote and public-school accent, a substantial portion of the party has shared its revulsion; when Tribune has embraced established authority, the rest of the ‘Left’ has not usually been overhesitant in doing likewise.

But a methodological caution is needed here. Tribune’s relation to inner-party dissent has not been that of a party organ to a party – recognition of this is fundamental to any understanding of the politics of Tribune. Its particular policies have been determined by the small number of individuals in control of it at any given time. As there have been frequent and not always smooth changes of editor and in the managing board, one would not expect it to have remained an unchanging entity. Yet what emerges from a study of Tribune is just this unexpected continuity in politics – if not in specific attitudes at least in the way in which attitudes change and develop. In part this can be explained through the overlapping influences of certain key individuals en the paper. But the full explanation lies in the constancy of its relation to the Left as a whole. The Left is in a permanently ambiguous position in British political life. It is at the same time both an integral part of official society, although a peripheral one, and dependent for its support upon the tabooed reaches beyond. The permanent features in Tribune’s politics – in particular the periodic oscillations in attitude to the parliamentary leadership – are an expression of this. The history of Tribune is the history of the Left – and of the Labour Movement – as seen from a certain vantage point. This point is a mechanism which relates the parliamentary opposition to extra-parliamentary dissent – functioning to prevent the former ever becoming fully integrated into official society and to prevent the latter developing into anything more than dissent.

1. The Left in the early thirties

The first Tribune was the response of the Labour Left to isolation and impotence at a time when Left solutions seemed the only alternative to the sweep of fascism across Europe. This dilemma was symbolised by the urgency of the situation in Spain on the one hand and the quietism of the Labour leadership on the other. Despite the undoubted justice of the Left case, and despite years of Left-wing organisation and agitation, the Edinburgh conference of the Labour Party in 1936 had supported the NEC and ‘non-intervention’ in Spain by 1,836,000 votes to 519,000. [1] Immediately following this a group of Left MPs and intellectuals, prominent among whom were Cripps, Strauss, Bevan, Mellor and Laski, met together to discuss ways of strengthening the Left. Tribune was the result of these deliberations.

Those initially behind Tribune were a heterogeneous group. Mellor had been in and out of the Communist Party in its very early days, had edited the Daily Herald and had been with the Independent Labour Party (ILP) until it disaffiliated from the Labour Party. Cripps had been a Minister in the 1929-31 Labour Government and had swung violently to what his critics described as a ‘rather crude’ Marxism on its collapse. Bevan had his origins in the militant struggles of the miners in the twenties, but even in the thirties his attitudes were tinged with a limited ‘respect’ for Parliament. Even before the events of 1931 there had been a strong opposition within the party. But since the collapse of the Minority Movement in the trade unions after its heyday before 1926, this opposition had been virtually confined to the ILP, whose importance to the party was anyway declining with the rise of the constituency party organisations.

During the period of the 1929 Labour Government its failure to take radical action did provoke some discontent. The ILP took an increasingly hard line. But within the party itself the main reflection of discontent was the formation of what has been referred to as the ‘loyal grousers’ [2] – the Society for Socialist Enquiry and Propaganda. This group, initiated by Cole with members such as Bevin, Cripps, Attlee and Gaitskell never aspired to be more than a slightly Left Fabian Society.

‘Cole had always desired that this body should engage in research and propaganda without formulating the full alternative programme and strategy which would bring it into general disfavour with the official leadership.’ [3]

Radicalised by the 1931 fiasco, the group did however merge with a dissident section from the ILP that favoured continued links with the Labour Party, to give birth to the Socialist League; it did attempt to formulate ‘the full alternative programme and strategy’ – not, however, without the loss of some of its more moderate members, including Bevin. Most of those who were to play a leading part in the production of Tribune were together in the Socialist League. Not however Bevan, who, although sympathising with its aims, did not play a leading role. He felt that he could not commit himself too much in advance, as he desired that when the time for action came

‘... he could be free to choose his own line of action ... How reluctant he was to play the rebel if the role could honourably be avoided.’ [4]

At first the activities of the League enjoyed some success. The impact of 1931 was to produce a swing to the Left – in terminology at least – throughout the party. Even Clynes could declare at the 1931 Conference that socialism had to be affirmed more than ever in opposition to the ‘crushing burdens of capitalism’. [5] Defeats and defections had reduced the Parliamentary Party to a small group directed by the ‘Left’ triumvirate of Lansbury, Attlee and Cripps. But the radicalisation was more apparent than real. Verbal utterances inside the Palace of Westminster were not accompanied by action outside. The real isolation of the Socialist League was shown at the Labour Party Conference at Southport in 1935 when all its 75 amendments to the official NEC policy document were rejected by the massed union vote.

To the members of the Left at this time it seemed that the trade-union leaders stood between them and a mass following. While the situation – particularly the recurrent successes of fascism abroad – demanded radical agitation, the trade unions were sunk in complacency. Citrine was arguing that extremism on the Right was a response to extremism on the Left. The moral was clear. Even the smashing of the non-aggressive Austrian Left did not seem to shake it. Inside the Labour Party and outside it, for the Socialist League and for the ILP, the situation seemed desperate. The activities of the Left throughout this period are best understood as attempts to evade, tear aside or at least be heard through the cloak of trade-union leadership. It is easy, from a distance to see that this cloak only hid the weakness of organisation and the low level of consciousness of the majority of the working class. But there was an important element of truth in the Left’s case. The upswing in trade of the mid-thirties did offer an alternative to the negotiated retreats which had come to be the essence of trade unionism for many leaders; the growth of fascism did produce a crystalisation of political issues that Fabian Labour leaders could not grasp. This element of truth did not however prevent a gross distortion of perspective, which was to prevent the correct things the Left did do from leaving any genuine residue to be built upon in the future.

The aim of various campaigns and activities that the Left participated in was to bring the ferment of the rank-and-file members of the working-class organisations to the boil. The lengths to which they were prepared to go to do this were, however, only one other indication of their actual isolation. Various lines of advance were tested. Bevan, for instance, at one time even formed a ‘Workers Defence Group’ in South Wales, which was inspired by the Austrian ‘Schutzbund’. [6] However, instead of military drill there were long hikes over the mountains. But the central point in Left strategy at this time was the demand for a ‘united front’ with the Communist Party (CP) and the ILP.

2. The United Front

As early as 1934 the Left was participating in ad hoc groupings with the ILP and the CP. These seemed to provide a basis for agitation among the rank and file regardless of trade-union leaders. Certainly on some issues, such as unemployment, any agitation in opposition to the CP would have been impossible. The aim at this time was not formal unity, but a growth in ‘fighting spirit’. The NEC responded to this by declaring anew ‘that united action with Communists ... is incompatible with membership of the Labour Party’.

The Spanish Civil War gave birth to renewed calls for unity.

‘Spain cut the knot of emotional and intellectual contradictions in which the Left had been entangled ever since Hitler came to power. Suddenly the claims of international law, class solidarity and desire to win the Soviet Union as an ally fitted into the same strategy.’ [7]

The demand now was for formal unity, not just for the right of ad hoc association. A joint manifesto was produced and joint meetings arranged to propagate the message. Tribune (with a capital of £20,000 [8] supplied by Strauss and Cripps) began publication in January 1937. It was the embodiment of the United Front Campaign. So concerned was the paper to identify itself with the movement that despite the qualms of a large minority of the Left [9] the ferment of ideas and activities that the Front was supposed to produce had a somewhat monolithic appearance.

But it would be wrong to see this monolithic front as a Stalinist one. It was rather a strange blending together of Marxist, Stalinist and Fabian elements. Labour illusions joined hands with Stalinist pretensions, but there was also a concern with the role of class as a determinate of policy that was missing from the stereotypes of both Stalinism and Labourism. The weakness was that those most concerned with this reality were those in the movement who had fewest practical links with the working class – as was most clearly brought out on questions of foreign policy. The position of Bevan, Cripps and Mellor at this time was summed up by Bevan in 1934: ‘What weapon has the working class but the General Strike (against war)?’ Cripps wrote that protection for British workers could only be attained by a ‘workers’ government’, [10] and not by the League of Nations, which Cripps named the ‘International Burglars’ Union’. [11] Since Russia had entered the League in 1935 this hardly seemed compatible with continued belief in the revolutionary nature of the Stalinist regime. Yet support for the USSR and a belief in it that had an almost religious intensity, as well as practical activity in the United Front with the CP, demanded that this contradiction should not be faced. It could be overcome only by a short-term pragmatism which was able to oppose the policies and interests of capitalist Britain because it identified these with the interests of the Fascist powers. The Unity Manifesto demanded ‘implacable opposition to rearmament and the recruiting programme of the National Government, for that Government uses armaments only in support of Fascism, of Imperialist War, and of Colonial suppression’. In a similar vein Tribune wrote later in the year, ‘The murderers are in Berlin, Rome, Tokyo; the accomplices are in Downing Street.’ [12] This provided that basis for short-term unity, but not for any long-term movement against British Capitalism, if this were ever to form an alliance with the Soviet Union or go to war against the Fascist powers – both of which things it was eventually to do, in its own interests.

If the United Front had been a purely tactical alliance for the Labour Left, this would not have mattered. But the minimum programme was more than the maximum area of consensus over tactics with the ILP and the CP – it was also the maximum area of mutual compatibility of the beliefs and illusions of the Labour Left.

As if to compensate for this lack of theoretical coherence – which must at least have been reflected in private dispute – Tribune maintained a position in which unity overrode all other considerations. This unity included unity in thought. When one recalls that this meant uncritical support for the Soviet Union at the height of the Moscow Trials one can appreciate the degree of credulity demanded. Adler’s pamphlet The Witch-craft Trials in Moscow was criticised for not coming within the definition of ‘criticism indispensable’ for the development of the Soviet Union ‘towards the establishment of the rights and liberties of the people’. [13] The Webbs’ book on Russia was praised as a ‘brilliant estimate of the significance of Soviet civilisation by two of the most scientific observers who ever visited the USSR’. [14]

‘It is a mistake to suppose that the ideal of justice is banished from its (the Soviet criminal code) processes.’ [15]

If by the end of 1937 the tone was more reasoned, the conclusions were effectively the same: ‘To us the theory of Stalin as a modern Napoleon is simply unbelievable. It does not fit the the case ...’ [16] Mellor could write of Trotsky:

’one senses a very egotistical and cantankerous spirit at work.’ ... ‘I confess my attitude towards the Russian trials and towards Trotsky more nearly expressed in the Webbs’ postscript to their new edition of Soviet Communism.’ [17]

Pat Sloan was considered the person most qualified to review The Revolution Betrayed. During this period the usual adornment of almost any article would be smiling Russian children. A whole page in five successive issues was devoted to Women in the Soviet Union. If events forced some contributors to rethink a little, fundamental positions were not altered:

‘Many socialists may be horrified by the suppression of those in Soviet Russia who are critical of the regime. But who can believe that the transformation of old Russia into a socialist society could proceed without severity or without error?’ [18]

But this credulity was not yet matched by a serious distortion in policy. The centre of struggle over foreign policy remained the class struggle at home. An editorial on 10 September 1937 could attack the National Council of Labour for not mentioning socialism or the working class in relation to international policy. The conclusions drawn were clear: ‘Workers use your strength in the factories to get power yourself.’ [19]

But if the fight against fascism was really to be a class fight, those who understood this had to be in contact with the working class. Those who were producing Tribune had few direct links. Even if they had influence with many individual workers, they were detached from collective organs of struggle. They could only make contact with these through the mediation of either the Labour Party and trade unions or the CP. But the need for the Left agitation arose because of the quietism of the former; it was in order to benefit from ties with the latter that the United Front was formed. But the CP leaders, in forming the Front, were prepared to utilise the Labour Left, but were not prepared to be utilised by it – and they were organised to resist. Cripps, Bevan and Mellor might have been more able journalistically and even sounder theoretically than the CP leaders, but the latter, with an organisation built up over twenty years, were better able to utilise a smaller following. Above all it was they that led the rank-and-file struggles – among the busmen and the unemployed – which the Tribunites depended upon to undermine the power bases of the Citrines and Bevins. Failing a succssful campaign in alliance with the CP, they would be forced back to accommodating themselves aligning themselves to the trade-union Right.

When the policies of the CP conflicted with the naive but honest Marxism of the Tribunites, it was the latter that suffered. One indication of this was the lack of any serious critique of the French Popular Front. Another was the reaction to the bourgeois democratic policy of the CP in Spain. Although at this time adamant against the Popular Front at home, Tribune could support it in Spain. In part this was done by ignoring the distinction between the Popular Front with bourgeois groupings and the United Front of workers’ parties. When the Poumists and anarchists were shot down by Stalinists for trying to implement just that policy which Tribune demanded in Britain, it could write:

‘There has been no doubt that since the liquidation of the Catalonian rising Republican Spain has not become weaker, but definitely stronger.’ [20]

The most significant thing about Tribune in this period was not, however, that it was effectively the shadow of the CP, but that when Transport House demanded it, it ceased to be this shadow.

The Unity Campaign had started with an overflowing meeting in the Free Trade Hall, Manchester. This had been followed by meetings throughout the country. ‘To people on the Left it seemed to penetrate almost everywhere, only to lap in vain against the closed doors of Transport House.’ [21] Yet when the leaders of the NEC made their demands the Left complied. In March, the Socialist League, after being disaffiliated, was proscribed. At its Whitsun conference it dissolved itself. Later in the year in response to official pressure the Unity Campaign became a campaign for unity from separate party platforms and finally came to an abrupt end. The 1937 Conference of the Labour Party supported the NEC on this by 2,116,000 votes to 310,000.

This demise of the United Front was not all Transport House’s doing. ‘In truth there was another wound nearer the heart sapping the strength of the Unity Campaign.’ The Russian Show Trials and the suppression of the POUM were responsible for this.

‘Cripps, Mellor and Bevan did their best to prevent these events splitting the whole British Left into sectarian fragments, but they could not counter the numbing effects of the inconvenient horror on their followers, nor suppress the anguish in their own hearts.’ [22]

But they could try, and did – by omitting the truth from the pages of Tribune.

The failure to attempt to understand why their illusions were under strain could only further make the facade of unity a pretence. There was nothing concrete upon which to base an opposition to the battalions of the Right. An uneasy conscience does not form a firm basis on which to build links with the working class.

Yet there was more than this to the submission of Tribune. The political influence of its founders was derived not from any delegation from the class, but from their position in parliamentary politics. Insofar as they were linked with the working class and responsible to it, they were so in exactly the same way as the most reactionary of Labour MPs. The qualities that made them shine where so many of their contemporaries did not were parliamentary brilliance and journalistic skill. It was these that brought them into the public eye, not the potency of their ideas or their ability to fight for the class. To have broken with the Labour Party leadership decisively would have meant rejecting precisely those elements in the situation that gave them personal prominence. Within the context of parliamentary action and of struggles between alternate sets of Labour Party leaders a real break did not make sense. For the movement outside, parliament only seemed relevant insofar as it affected the parliamentary scene.

Tribune was the extra-parliamentary arm of an opposition group within the parliamentary party. The United Front had been meant to provide a base for this opposition group to fight the influence of trade-union leaders within the party. When this failed there was no alternative but to return to friendship with the nominees of these leaders. By the beginning of 1938 Tribune had virtually ceased to attack the Labour leadership. Attlee even wrote for the paper.

3. The Popular Front

The Labour leadership had not changed, and, in truth, Tribune knew it. Attlee could write in Tribune,

‘The government is actuated by what it holds to be the interests of the capitalist class. It is vitally necessary to convince the electorate that Labour’s policy of Socialism and Peace is the only way to prevent another world catastrophe.’

The party eventually came out against ‘non-intervention’ in Spain. But its underlying unwillingness to take the sort of action that the situation demanded remained. The same ultra-cautious trade-union leaders continued to hold the purse strings. The Bournemouth conference of 1937 had taken a ‘Left-wing’ line over Spain. But the implementation of this by the NEC meant, outside parliament, one meeting in the Albert Hall.

The Labour Left searched desperately for some means of producing the popular upheaval that would remove it from the dead-end: and discovered the Popular Front. A Popular Front had been suggested before. In 1937 G.D.H. Cole had published a book in favour of it. But Tribune and its co-thinkers had rejected it. Indeed, at that time those elements in Tribunite thought that analysed international events in class terms made such a rejection inevitable. But there were other elements in contradiction to these. Bevan had been able to argue that it was vital for Britain (no nonsense about whose Britain) to intervene in Spain because, ‘Should Spain become Fascist, then Britain’s undoubted power in the Mediterranean is gone.’ [23] The demand was for a ‘close alliance of a Britain controlled by a Socialist Government with the Soviet Union and with a France where Labour dominates.’ If the demands of ‘collective security’ and the League of Nations had previously been rejected on class grounds, they now began to be revived. Once rejected as the epitome of capitalist international organisation, they were now seen as ‘incompatible with the individualistic basis of our society ... (Collective Security) means a danger to the capitalist basis of our society.’ [24]

By April of 1938 the Popular Front was being called for by both the News Chronicle and Reynold’s News. It was clear that Tribune would have to commit itself. Cripps made public his own change of position:

‘The real question to be decided is whether the chance of altering the foreign policy of the country and of calling a halt to foreign aggression within a practical period of time is worth the abandonment for the time being of the hope of working class control.’ [25]

‘Any real hope of Socialism will have to be put aside for the present though a number of reformist measures of the Labour Party may be accepted.’ [26]

Only a year before he had supported the Unity Manifesto which declared that it was ‘no time for defeatism or breakaways; no time for retreat or for the abandonment of working-class unity in favour of class-collaboration.’ Bevan was also changing his attitude as ‘fleeting hope was giving way to despair’. [27]

Tribune did not initially support the proposal very strongly. Although it stressed the need for a ‘wider alignment of forces in the battle against the national government’ [28] and called for a special Party Conference to discuss this, when the NEC called upon party members ‘not to compromise our socialist convictions’, the editor opposed pressing the issue as ‘Party conditions are clearly not here, and if quarrelling and “heresy hunts” break out anew no one will benefit.’ The campaign lost momentum in mid-1938 and so the issue was not pressed. But there was another reason for Tribune’s hesitation. The editor Mellor was in disagreement with Cripps and Bevan. He was much less inclined than they to trust the CP and was opposed to unity with non-party ‘progressives’. This was only resolved when Cripps sacked Mellor. [29] Significantly nothing of the disagreement was revealed in Tribune at the time. A change in politics was disguised as a change in format. [30] The new editor. Hartshorn, was more or less an uncritical fellow-traveller. The editorial line changed distinctly. After Munich all attempts at a class analysis of international affairs disappeared:

‘Today we have a government of national capitulation; we must replace it with a government of national regeneration.’ [31]

At home Tribune began to support independent ‘progressive’ candidates, like A.D. Lindsay in the Oxford by-election. There was however no consensus as to what this entailed. Gollancz argued that while a Labour Government would be the best thing, an Eden Government would make a good second best. [32] Cripps on the other hand was still writing,

‘I cannot myself share the view that a Tory Democrat Government may in the circumstances of today be the best protection against fascism.The line between fascism and democracy in the capitalist parties is too narrow.’ [33]

He was however in private urging upon Dalton the need to approach the anti-Chamberlain Conservative MPs. [34] This change in the analysis of events and in tactics could not be accomplished without a corresponding change in and moderation of demands. The former opposition to any rearmament under the National Government disappeared, leaving hardly a trace. Instead there was a specific opposition to unconditional Labour support for recruitment campaigns. Bevan argued that support should only be given in return for

  1. a guarantee of trade-union rights,
  2. support for Spain,
  3. an Anglo-Soviet Pact, and
  4. nationalisation of the arms industry. [35]

Tribune’s general position had been that Chamberlain would not fight for peace, but might for profits. Its own impotence was increasingly forcing it to support him if it came to this. The main enemy was now not capitalism at home, but fascism abroad; only the British Government was in a position to fight this. The central task ceased to be that of fighting the class war, and became one of convincing British capitalism that its interests were in opposition to those of German Nazism. If there was distrust of anti-Chamberlain Conservatives, the demands of realpolitik called for its suspension. Opposition to support for recruitment campaigns was one tactic that could be used with others to persuade Conservatives of their real interests. Insofar as working-class demands remained they could no longer be expressed with the revolutionary fervour of previous years:

‘Supporting the normal defense needs of the country is one thing. Incorporating the Labour Movement into the recruiting machinery of the state is another.’ [36]

The Popular Front campaign, revived towards the end of 1938, became the centre of Left activity for several months. It appeared to offer a way of breaking the isolation of the Left. Whereas previous campaigns had failed even to shake Transport House, the success of ‘Progressive Unity’ candidates in a series of by-elections seemed likely to rock the Chamberlain Government.

The peak of agitation came after Cripps published a Memorandum that he had presented to the NEC in January 1939. He was expelled from the party almost immediately. At first sight the situation that followed seems like a strange reversal of roles. The NEC claimed to be the defender of socialist purity, and the Left the upholder of opportunism. But on both sides the argument was based mainly upon electoral considerations. The NEC as much as the Left had by their participation in discussions with anti-Chamberlain Tories shown their willingness to compromise what faith they had. At least the Left was trying to do something. Quietism and bureaucratic inertia were more important than principle in determining the position of the Right.

After all it was quite willing to support the recruiting campaigns of the Chamberlain Government. If anything the Left’s position was less dominated by purely electoral considerations than that of the Right. It could have been a break with the class traditions of Labourism, but it could also be a call for working-class organisations to take a lead in rallying discontented elements from the Liberal and even the Conservative Party. [37]

Unfortunately the Left was not clear as to which it wanted. If verbally it repudiated Churchillian Conservatism, the logic of its position led it to support. This was not a result of just a mistaken understanding of reality. The fact was that if it had the audience – through Tribune and through the Left Book Club – to influence it did not control any working-class organisation that could take the initiative and lead such a Front. The initiative for the formation of the Front came from individuals who stood politically between the various tendencies participating. It was upon these and upon the CP that the leadership of any Popular Front would have to depend. But such a leadership could never attain any practical or theoretical clarity. Even its terminology was dictated from the Right, in terms derived from traditional liberalism. The Cripps Memorandum saw its basic demand as being ‘the protection of the democratic rights, liberties and freedom of the British people from internal and external attack’ – phrases that Chamberlain Conservatives could agree with. In foreign policy it looked back to the League of Nations: ‘a positive policy of peace, by collective action with France, Russia, the United States of America and other democratic (sic) countries for the strengthening of democracy against aggression ...’

With a programme that in no way went beyond that of the Labour leaders, once again the Left failed to disturb the apathy upon which Labour’s power was based. Even in the period immediately after Munich, the percentage of voters in by-elections did not top 50%. At the 1939 Labour Party Conference, while Cripps only received 420,000 votes on the question of his expulsion, the NEC received 2,100,000. [38] The Left’s defeat over the question of the Popular Front was even greater. Cripps held discussions with Churchill over the possibility of forming an ‘all-in’ government. When these came to nothing, he gave up the fight: [39] ‘As far as we are concerned, this must mean the end of the Popular Front Campaign.’ [40] As with the United Front before it, all that was needed was a few harsh words from the NEC to turn a triumphant beginning into a headlong dash for oblivion.

4. An end of fellow-travelling

Through the period of the struggle for a Popular Front and immediately after, the central plank in Tribune’s foreign policy was that the government should establish a genuine alliance with France and Russia. This demand was not argued on purely rational grounds: in part it tried to imply that it was in capitalist Britain’s own interest to ally itself in this way, but it was also infused with an emotionalism derived from the traditional Left support for the Soviet Union. The alliance with the Soviet Union could not be just a means to an end, but was also a good in itself.

Attempts to analyse international affairs were usually accompanied by revelations as to what Russia’s real motives were. One way of doing this was to reproduce speeches by Russian leaders and take them at their face value. For instance: ‘Stalin Speaks ... The capitalist press either suppressed or wholely distorted this vital speech.’ [41] A typical article was called The Ally that awaits us in the East. [42] ‘Peace has always been the aim of Soviet Policy’, wrote Konni Zilliacus. In the same issue speeches delivered by Stalin at the 18th Congress of the CPSU were described as proving ‘beyond doubt that Socialism works’. [43]

The few criticisms of the USSR that had appeared in 1938 (for instance when a well-known member of the CPGB, Rose Cohen, was arrested while in the Soviet Union), were no longer to be seen. A key role in this cult was played by the book-page. ‘This is the book of the hour ... I doubt whether Tribune readers have ever had the chance of such a valuable eighteen-pence worth’ one reviewer could write of that unreadable collection of falsifications and slanders, the History of the CPSU(B). [44] Predictably Trotsky is described as ‘the madman in Mexico’. [45] At other times and in other circumstances all this would not have mattered. It would perhaps always have been detrimental to the domestic struggle in that it gave illusions of strength abroad. But in the situation that existed in mid-1939 such convictions could hardly fail to result in experiences best described as traumatic.

The immediate cause of the clash between illusion and reality was the Russo-German pact. But its effects were not uniform throughout the Left. For some it was just another change of party line to be followed blindly. For others it was explicable in terms of existing beliefs – for a time at least. And for yet others it precipitated a startling change in political attitudes and direction. Tribune reflected this shattering of the monolith of Left thought acutely. Its editor remained attached to the party line. But those who controlled the Board of Management and financed the paper increasingly broke with it as previously existing moral attitudes developed into alternative perspectives. The initial editorial reaction was that ‘Soviet Peace Move exposes Chamberlain ... A Pact of Non-aggression between Russia and Germany will be a great reinforcement for peace in Eastern Europe.’ [46] The pact was seen as a recognition by Hitler of Russian strength. Further ‘the fascist aggression axis (was) smashed into ruins by one decisive Soviet stroke’. [47]

The USSR had shown that ‘they know how to conquer the Fascists by diplomatic means’. But the very aggressiveness of the argument betrayed a defensive posture. Zilliacus indicated this when he admitted to reservations, although he agreed that ‘(the USSR) have a powerful case, based on realities’.

The very development of the pact was to refute many of the arguments used in its support. For instance, the argument that the Soviet Union was giving Germany a free hand in Poland was called a slander – within weeks Russia and Germany had participated in joint conquest of the country. On 18 September an article discussed why Russian troops were massing on the Polish border. But the reason revealed a week later – to invade Poland – was not even considered. After the event the invasion could however be justified. ‘Why Blame Stalin?’ asked Cripps. A cartoonist showed Stalin rapping Hitler’s knuckles. But if the traumatic experience of the Stalin-Hitler pact could be absorbed, its reinforcement by a war in which Stalin gave considerable non-military aid to Germany could not. A behind-the-scenes struggle for control of Tribune began.

Although the war was formally supported, this support was blunted by demands for a treaty with Russia and, when Russia and Germany suggested it, for peace negotiations. Copious articles and quotations justifying the Russian position still appeared. It took the third trauma of the Russo-Finnish war to remove these and, with them, the editor.

By 8 March the paper was able to admit that ‘The former policy of the Left – building up a peace bloc composed of the USSR and the Western Democracies to resist fascist aggression – now lacks almost any basis in reality.’ When on 15 March, Postgate replaced Hartshorn as editor, the Stalinist shell within which Tribune had operated for about two years was finally shaken off. But there was continuity with the past – in particular the failure to discuss and argue out differences in theory and tactics. Typically it was to be two years before the reasons for the sacking of Hartshorn were revealed. Once again a change in format was the cover for a change in politics.

5. The war years

If the new Tribune of mid-1940 broke with its past illusions about Russia, there was continuity in some aspects of policy. In 1937 the paper had opposed all rearmament under a capitalist government. In 1938 it conceded the right to arm, but demanded policy concessions for the Labour Movement. In 1939 the war was supported, but the right of the working class to resist conscription, dilution, etc, maintained. In 1940 the apparent inconsistency in this position was removed when complete support was given to the Government once some Labour ministers had joined it.

Tribune could justify its support of the government on the grounds that it was now resisting fascist aggression as Tribune had urged years earlier. But this must not conceal the basic point that it had failed to develop a working-class strategy that would realise the true content of its demands. It had demanded – and was still demanding to some extent – a socialist, working-class struggle against fascism. It was now supporting a struggle against some of the fascist powers by all the leaders of British capitalism. This was not affected – as the outcome of the war was to indicate – by the inclusion of some Labour ministers in the Government, or by public rhetoric adopting some mildly reformist terms.

We have argued above that this failure cannot be solely ascribed to the ideas of tactics of the Left leaders. They were isolated men. Their contacts with the class for whom they were trying to design a strategy were few, and mainly of an intermittent, parliamentary electoral kind. Their main aim was to increase these contacts. But instead of trying to make contact with the workers by attacking the illusions that the existing leaders of their organisations spread, they rather tried to do it through the mediation of these leaders. Instead of weakening the ideological inadequacy of the class, they strengthened it. If they were unable to form the sorts of organisations of the working class (of say the Schutzbund sort) that could have enabled it to fight Nazism independently of Churchill – even if in short term co-operation with him – they could have carried on agitation for these. This would at least have strengthened hegemonic tendencies within the working-class organisations, while maintaining the ideological identity and the organisational cohesion of the Left. Instead the Left emerged from the thirties weak and disorganised. The inheritance it received from the ‘entrist’ group of the ILP was squandered. What survived through the war was not to be the independent Marxism (however crude and unrefined) of the ILP and Socialist League, but a cadre of Stalinist Labourites that by their predominance divided and confused the Left through to the middle fifties and even beyond.

For a short time the new Tribune followed the same central line of attack as the old – the major target was still the Chamberlain Government. But it was no longer any imperialist or fascist tendencies that made it unfit to govern. It was rather that ‘Chamberlain is losing the war’. [48] ‘This is a gloves off fight with Fascism with Britain weakened by catastrophically bad leadership.’ [49] By this time the CP was also being criticised for playing the same role as the POUM in Spain. [50]

When Labour ministers were taken into the Cabinet, Tribune was almost bound to support their acceptance of positions. ‘May we never find that our trust has been misplaced,’ wrote Ellen Wilkinson, and ‘If we start carping and criticising, then this government will be weak where it should be strong.’ But this did not prevent Tribune criticising the composition of the government.

The presence of Labour ministers was bound to change the political environment in which Tribune operated. Although its ideas were as far as ever from being adopted, it at least seemed to be closer to the centre of power. If it was still an opposition group inside the Labour Party, the party itself was no longer in opposition and the tenor of official society seemed to be moving leftwards – if only in a demagogic, rhetorical manner. After the entry of Russia into the war this quasi-leftism was further intensified.

This period is often presented as being the heroic period of Tribune and of Bevan. There is a certain truth in this. The pressures to move with the current were resisted. The general sycophancy for Churchill that spread from the far Right to the Labour leadership and the CP was condemned. Nor did Tribune participate in the renewed bout of Stalin worship. If Laski referred to Russia as a ‘socialist commonwealth’ [51] and Cole suggested that ‘the best solution for Germany might be incorporation’ in an enlarged USSR’ [52], Tribune was by no means uncritical of Soviet policies.

But Tribune’s attitude still lacked those elements of a total critique of capitalism it had possessed at its inception. Instead the criticism tended to be of specific government actions treated in isolation. These were no longer seen as reflecting (however crudely) the economic dynamics of a system. Condemnation of a measure was in terms of its being against the national interest or the desire of the people. The major sin of the ruling class was not exploitation, but ineptitude. Capitalist leaders were not representatives of a system that drives towards war, but products of a system incapable of waging it. Criticisms of Churchill were criticisms not of his role as a defender of ruling-class power, but criticisms over questions of tactics, efficiency, etc. Significantly Michael Foot in his book on Bevan defends this position on the grounds that the criticisms were similar to those that Churchill’s allies and Generals made. If his class background was mentioned, it was seen solely as diverting him from following the ‘national interest’. The Churchill criticised in the war was only marginally related to the Churchill of Tonypandy and the General Strike.

Class issues remained. But these were no longer presented in a class-based theoretical and agitational framework. Freedom for India was demanded to ‘Make India an ally’. [53] Government control of the mines and nationalisation of the railways was to increase the efficiency of the war effort. [54] In a similar vein Bevan called for the closure of the public schools during the war, [55] and attacked the ‘rats’ who made a great profit from the war.

In this identification of capitalism and weakness in the war effort there was a strong element of truth. Any total Marxist critique at that time would have had to take into account the similarities in outlook, attitude and interest of the leaders of British capitalism and their fascist opponents, and of the way in which these must impede the fight against fascism. If a Marxist argued that the working class did have an interest in the defeat of the fascist powers, even by other capitalist powers, he would also have to admit the imperialist roots of the war and their effects on the method of waging it. In fact the various Marxist groups in existence did not differ so greatly in their practical demands from Tribune. But for Tribune the elements of short-term compromise involved in giving some support for an imperialist war had to be developed into a theoretical framework. So socialist demands that criticised the imperialist war against fascism as inadequate had to be partial criticisms within this overall compromise theoretical framework. The real danger of this method was that it left the central feature of capitalism untouched. The attacks Tribune wished to make went further than their method allowed, producing rationalisation. Superficial and unconvincing criticisms from the point of view of bourgeois goals would be made, where the fundamental criticism was at a much deeper level. This disguising of socialist criticism led to an inconsistency in action: any action that weakened the system had to be deplored – even if taken to rectify a long-term fundamental weakness. The Tribunites, caught between accepting this argument and rejecting it, were never able to resolve their problem.

Given the parliamentary base on which Tribune continued to be erected this was almost inevitable. Bevan, the leading Tribunite at the time, and editor from 1942 to 1945, derived his prominence almost entirely from his position in parliament. Here he could not only be heard by the nation, but, if he used the right arguments, could convince his opponents. And often this seemed more important than rallying extra-parliamentary support. Bevan accepted the logic of this situation when he used parliamentary privilege and the inaccessibility of members to those who elect them to prevent the Miners Federation from trying to influence his actions. [56]

This parliamentarianism did not prevent Tribune from taking principled stands. When benefits for injured miners seemed likely to be small and despicable in 1943 Bevan threatened, ‘... I would stamp the coalfields and get the men out on strike in a fortnight.’ [57] He risked expulsion from the Labour Party by his action in voting against Regulation 1A(a) – a measure directed against Trotskyists who had been agitating among the miners. [58] But these stands appeared isolated and in many ways inconsistent with the position taken on other issues. Tribune’s particular policies in the war were made up of a few major themes. The first was the demand for an alliance between the major powers that would both win the war and shape the peace; an alliance between the Western democracies and the Soviet planned economy offered the possibility of ‘constructing a society that is sane and free’. [59] The four allies (Britain, US, USSR, China) were referred to as the ‘four pillars of the Earth’ [60], without discussing how such an alliance was to provide the fusion of ‘principle’ requisite for ‘sane and just’ peace. Practical proposals were usually a tribute to credulity:

‘An agreement in the near future between the only two surviving workers’ parties with any influence in world affairs, namely our own Labour Party ... and the Soviet Communist Party, would be a tremendous weapon in winning this war and a tremendous lever for overturning the old order and putting International Socialism in its place.’ [61]

But this first theme was modified by a second. This emphasised the importance of a revolutionary war against fascism. Those who talked of ‘unconditional surrender’ or the war guilt of the German nation were criticised not only for being wrong, but also for making victory more difficult. Consequently when the allies began to fall out over the division of the spoils from 1943 onwards, Tribune had to denounce them. If a general class analysis of international relations was no longer utilised, the existence of class antagonisms on an international scale could not be ignored. Tribune had in fact seen from the beginning of the war that the British Government would not hesitate to oppose popular liberation movements. For this reason it had made the publication of war aims one of its principal demands. When the Soviet Union was to support the British Government in its actions, Tribune did not hesitate to criticise it as well in similar terms. Their actions were ‘mistakes’ rather than crimes. When Russia suggested that part of Germany be given to Poland after the war Tribune wrote that ‘Peace with indemnities ... will not be peace’, although Soviet intentions were still basically good:

‘The Red Army has vindicated the Russian Revolution after an ordeal surely without parallel in recorded history. But it would be wrong for it to enforce its form of socialism on liberated areas.’ [62]

Russia’s actions on its frontiers were criticised but ‘their fears’ understood.

By 1944 Tribune was writing that ‘She (Russia) has travelled a long way from the enlightened principles of Lenin to the recent pronouncements of Molotov.’ [63] In the same issue Labour ministers were criticised for accepting a fascist-appointed government as ‘constitutional’. In March, 63 Labour MPs who put down a Commons motion opposed to annexations of German territory were supported. [64] Naturally Claude Cockburn of the CP linked this with a fascist plot. A week later, after the recognition by Russia of the Badoglio Government (deriving its authority from a Council of State appointed by Mussolini) Tribune wrote: ‘The Commissariat of Foreign Affairs has unequivocally aligned itself with and not against Wall Street and the City.’

In the light of this enforced recognition of reality earlier talk about ‘the four pillars of the Earth’ was modified. The future was still seen in some sort of synthesis of Russian ‘Socialism’ and American ‘democracy’ – but this synthesis was no longer to be achieved through international treaties, but by the revolutionary outcome of the war. Bevan said only a unified Europe, led by Labour, could prevent the US and USSR arguing over zones of influence. But even here the moral was not unconditional opposition to the rulers of all the major powers. An element of the previous line of ‘Both Washington and Moscow’ remained, but it was modified. The need to associate smaller powers with the Big Three in the United Nations was stressed. A third theme of importance in determining Tribune’s wartime policies was the continued campaign for Labour demands at home. While the official policies of increased productivity, a suspension of restrictive practices, and opposition to the use of the strike weapon were supported, a clash of interest between ruling class and workers was still recognised. Tribune would support workers’ demands, if it would not encourage them to strike in support of them. It opposed the political truce (although not a short-term coalition) and urged the Labour Party to prepare a postwar programme.

But if Tribune supported the miners’ demands in 1944 and pressed the need for Labour independence, it did not participate in the rank-and-file agitation that brought the miners’ grievances to light or in the electoral activities that forced the Labour Party to prepare to end the political truce. The most important organisation involved in the latter – Commonwealth – was different in origin and attitude from the Labour Left (its most prominent figure – Acland – was an ex-Liberal MP).

This is not to say that Tribune did not do a great deal to prevent the assimilation of the Labour Party into a new postwar ‘National Government’, something which was certainly possible (after all groups as diverse as the Churchill Tories and the CP, as well as some Labour ministers, were for it). Tribune must also have been quite important in the current of opinion within the Labour Party that forced support for extensive nationalisation at the party conference in 1944. But it gave no organisational form to this current that would sustain it and enable it really to force the Labour leaders to act. When it came to the organisation of popular pressure Tribune was as dependent upon the other groupings as it had been during the United and Popular Front periods. Despite its influence and correctness on many issues, Tribune did nothing during the war that would enable it to act with independence and influence when the peace came. And without these prerequisites its prewar habit of shadowing either the Stalinoid ‘Left’ or the trade-union Right – and sometimes even both at once – must return.

6. Brave New World

The themes outlined above laid the basis for Tribune’s post-war policies. The attitude on any particular issue blended these elements – often in contradiction to one another – to produce a formulation that at least seemed to correspond to the problem. A strand might be relegated to a less important position as reality overtook it, but would never be entirely forgotten. Hence the strangely consistent blending of continuity and discontinuity in Tribune’s politics.

The wartime criticism of power politics and secret diplomacy continued after the war. When the antagonisms of the allies began to emerge with the occupation of Europe, Tribune spoke of ‘the bitter fruits’ of the division of spheres of influence. It did not – as did so many others – see this as being merely the result of misunderstandings.

‘Faced with this situation it is nonsense to assume that all will be well if only Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill get together once more in yet another secret conclave.’ [65]

But the alternative was still seen as one of changing ‘principles’ – as though these existed apart from structures of interest and power. Tribune’s alternative to the ‘secret conclave’ was to ‘educate people about the sane approach’ and to call for a conference of the long moribund Second International. When Russia put ex-Horthy supporters into the Hungarian government they were criticised but when they claimed to be establishing political freedom in East Germany they were believed. Similarly the moral drawn from discord among the ‘United Nations’ was that it should be supplemented by non-governmental organisations. [66] The role of a socialist Britain was not that of exposing the farce of capitalist peace pretensions, but of providing a country that both sides could co-operate with peacefully. [67]

But illusions as. to the possibilities that are actually present can only exist in a vacuum apart from concrete political action. Two events occurred in mid-1945 to bring Tribune down to earth. Unfortunately the destruction of illusions led to their replacement by, on the one hand, an uncritical approach to reality in which possibilities of transcendance were ignored, on the other by an even less critical acceptance of Utopian aims. The first of these events was the election of a Labour Government and the entry into the cabinet of Bevan, until then editor of Tribune, and G.R. Strauss, a member of the editorial board. The second was the A-bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Greater possibilities of a certain type of political action were given to individuals closely connected with Tribune, while the urgent need for action was demonstrated in a striking and terrifying manner.

However, instead of questioning the possibility of peaceful collaboration between capitalist governments, Hiroshima prompted Tribune to drop its hesitation about the feasibility of such collaboration. Talk about the Second International no longer appeared as a panacea. Instead the ‘Security Council’ (the ‘secret conclave’ of only a few months before) ought to take over all uranium deposits and, with the veto removed from its members, carry out international inspection. Having previously opposed the zoning of Big Power influence, by March 1946 Tribune was deploring the breakdown of the ‘Potsdam spirit’. Ironically this conversion to the wartime system of division of influence occurred just as that system was breaking down. What Tribune did not realise – although it ought to have, on the basis of its earlier pronouncements – wds that conversion to the wartime system would entail conversion to its eventual breakdown. The wartime alliance had been based upon cooperation between the major powers in defeating Germany and in sharing the spoils of victory. The United Nations was intended to be the embodiment of this cooperation. The breakdown of the alliance followed inevitably from its exploitative nature. The division of spoils was bound to result in arguments over the sharing of the loot.

Tribune tried to resist the logic of this situation by reaffirming its premises. When the breakdown proved complete, the only position left to Tribune was to take one side or the other in the ensuing conflict, despite its attempts to resist this outcome. Of central importance here was the demand for a social-democratic ‘third force’ led by Britain and France, to influence world affairs not by its revolutionary opposition to the major powers, but by mediating between them. This presumed of course that the differences between the powers arose from an inability to comprehend each other’s situation. Typical of this approach was the demand that the British Government point out to the Americans their ‘error’ in keeping a monopoly of the atom bomb.

But the central mistake in this argument was that there was not even an independent socialist Britain willing or able to participate in such a third force. At first Tribune managed to persuade themselves that this was not the case:

‘Ernest Bevin’s speech in the Commons last week marked a turning point which future historians might well describe as the moment at which Britain broke the continuity of her foreign policy.’ [68]

Such beliefs might have arisen from an excess of faith or from bad faith; they did at least accord with Tribune’s attitudes towards the Labour Government’s home policies. What was remarkable was that Tribune hardly questioned Government policies for the first three years – and has hardly questioned the policies of these years since. The Tribune view was summed up in October 1945: ‘Mr: Dalton has opened a new chapter in the economic history of this country – a chapter full of promise to the common man.’ [69] Crippsian Austerity was supported as the only answer. Devaluation was opposed, not because of its effects upon living standards, but because ‘Socialists don’t default’. [70]

This lack of criticism of domestic policy is understandable. From the point of view of reformism – even Left reformism – the nationalisation measures taken by the Labour Government constituted steps towards socialism. Other policy acts could be seen as subordinate to these. There was to be no rumbling from the Left over home policy at all until 1947 when the Cabinet hesitated briefly over the question of steel nationalisation.

In foreign affairs however there was much more clarity about government departures from a Left policy. It upheld a reactionary regime in Greece, failed to oppose Franco’s hold on Spain, broke promises in Palestine, and delayed giving independence to India.

But a critique of Government foreign policies without a corresponding critique of its home policies was bound to be fragmentary and weak. It could not be rooted in the government’s involvement in the running of an imperialism. Instead it tended to be based upon the criticism of one individual – Bevin. He was above all blamed for accepting the arguments of Churchill’s Fulton speech and participating in an alliance against the USSR. That such decisions were taken by the whole Cabinet, and were in fact inescapable for a government with a reformist home policy, did not occur to Tribune. Its failure to recognise this permitted it – albeit reluctantly – to follow the same policies within a few years.

The early post-war years were bound to be trying and disillusioning for anyone attempting to work out a social democratic foreign policy. The inherent aggressive and expansive nature of capital was again revealed and the antagonisms between nation-blocs necessarily increased. The Left however was traditionally opposed to those forces making for national antagonism, and could not accept capital expansion per se as a good thing (except possibly in the case of the USSR). But because this opposition was seen as having to be ‘realistic’ – ie, opposition that would have an effect immediately, without waiting for the destruction of capitalism – misery and violence could never be traced to their roots in the class structure.

When the cold war developed the European Left was unable to support it —or at least its extreme manifestations – yet unable to argue for revolutionary opposition to the forces producing it. The British Left in particular found itself in a difficult situation, since it supported the continued operation of a capitalism – to give, of course, maximum possible benefits to the workers. This was only possible if this capitalism was growing and was protected from the consequences of international instability. But it was precisely the attempt by each bloc to obtain optimum conditions of capital growth and protection of investments that was the cause of the cold war. Reformism at a national level was reaping its fruits at an international level.

The dilemma was focussed by two complementary series of events. The first was the expansion of the Soviet Empire. As Russian domination of the satellites became more open, the likelihood of a clash with the US grew, while it became more and more difficult to believe in the ‘socialism’ of Eastern Europe. This extension of Russian power occurred while Europe was still gripped by an economic breakdown that threatened even those few reforms already won by British workers. Loans from the US alone kept the economy stable enough to continue to provide these. Only a major revival of economic activity on the continent could provide a basis for long-term optimism, and it was to the US that the Left had to look for the impetus for this. Marshall Aid and extensive American investment produced the industrial revival that made safe the gains of the Welfare State. But these were part of the process of capitalist competition on an international scale that constituted the Cold War.

In this situation the reformist Left, for the sake of its reforms, had no choice but to choose sides. Its history for the next few years was the history of its deciding. Although, ‘the revolutionary spring of the European revolution (was) over’, [71] for a time the idea of the third force enabled the Left to evade choosing sides. When in 1946 several Labour MPs revolted against the government it was on this issue. But it must already have been clear to them how impracticable this ‘practical’ reformist policy was. When it came to the vote, despite the government’s huge majority, none of the rebels opposed the official line. [72] As the demand for a ‘third force’ became less and less realistic, the process of taking sides began. A division within the Left occurred – never formalised as a complete rupture – with Tribune coming down critically but firmly on the Western side, and the New Statesman coming down neither so critically nor so firmly on the Russian side. The ground between the two was occupied by pacifists such as Emrys Hughes.

As might be expected from the history of the Left in Britain this split did not take place at one particular moment, nor was it ever finalised. It was not a case of two world views facing one another and fighting it out, but rather of two disparate groups made up from the themes that had emerged during the war. Much overlapping in both personnel and argument occurred. Tribune talked distastefully about ‘crypto-communists’ but it still employed many of their arguments. In particular the two groups shared a belief in the need for more international collaboration. The United Nations provided a screen with which the two could from time to time hide from themselves their basic disagreements.

But the basic disagreement continued. The first clear expression of this was in 1947, when opposition arose within the parliamentary party over the question of conscription. One group affirmed its complete opposition to the government’s foreign policy by voting against any conscription. For the most part this group was made up of fellow travellers, although some pacifists and a few traditional Liberals joined them. The other group, led by Foot, Grossman and Wigg, supported conscription, but wanted it to be 12 months not 18.

In 1947 a pamphlet was produced by the New Statesman, in which members of both groups participated. This is worth discussing at some length, for it was the last advance of the ‘third force’ idea in the forties, and laid the basis for Left arguments through the fifties and beyond. The main authors of Keep Left were Foot, Mikardo and Grossman, but other supporters were Bing, Bruce, Harold Davies, Hale, Fred Lee, Benn Levy, Mackay, J.P.W. Mallalieu, Millington, Swingler, Wigg and Woodrow Wyatt. The argument of the pamphlet, that more socialism, not less, was needed, was justified chiefly in terms of Britain’s economic needs if both unemployment and complete dependence upon the US were to be avoided. At home this implied more planning to cut the costs of production and prevent the export drive from failing. The basis of a world economy in which ‘export drives’ matter was not questioned. Instead the emphasis was on producing ‘socialist measures’ (such as differential wages and negative direction of labour) that would enable British exporters to undercut their competitors. Central to the pamphlet was its demand for a curtailing of military expenditure. The length of military service was criticised ‘for keeping far more men under arms than we could afford’ – Britain’s commitments (i.e., the defense of her colonies) could be maintained with a much reduced army.

But much of these forces would not be needed; war was unlikely, ‘collective security’ against communism unnecessary: ‘The USSR has no similar economic motive (to Hitler) for expansion.’ But the building up of a defensive alliance would make them ‘assume the worst’ and rearm. Besides, it was argued – as if it was an argument in its own right – this policy made it ‘a mockery of the United Nations’.

‘The task of British Socialism must be, wherever possible to heal the breach between the USA and the USSR. But we cannot do this if we take sides with either a Communist bloc or an anti-Bolshevik axis.’

The real way forward lay in a third force. In reaction against Molotov’s ‘diplomatic folly’ in 1945 (’including a blatant attempt to exploit Persian politics in order to disrupt our hold on the Anglo-Iranian oil field’ [my emphasis]) Bevin had formed a defensive alliance with America. This had to be replaced by an Anglo-French alliance as the basis of a ‘European security pact’.

The basic arguments of this document were to dominate the Left for years to come. But its short-term effect was small. At the Labour Party Conference of 1947 the policies it demanded were heavily defeated by the trade-union vote. And within a year its authors were quarrelling among themselves. The immediate occasion for opposed Left interpretations was the US offer of ‘Marshall Aid’ to the European economies. Tribune, accepting the need for building up the economy, ‘paying our way’ and getting welfare benefits, supported acceptance, although warning that it was not being given for altruistic reasons. The New Statesman opposed the Marshall Plan. But this still did not mean complete disaccord. Support for a ‘third

force’ remained common property.

The Prague coup of 1948, when the Stalinists seized power in Czechoslovakia provided the breaking point. While Tribune condemned it, Grossman in the New Statesman warned against seeing this as an expression of Russian foreign policy (as did Driberg and Wigg in Reynold’s News). [73] Again, when Platt-Mills MP was expelled from the Labour Party for sending a telegram supporting the Nenni Socialists after Morgan Phillips had written for the NEC in support of the ‘Italian List of Socialist Unity’ dissidents led by Saragat, Tribune supported the expulsion, while the rest of the Left, such as New Statesman, Forward, and Reynold’s News opposed it.

This basic division within the Left continued throughout the early years of the cold war. Tribune eventually came round to supporting the Western position on most things. It supported the Western stand in Berlin and by spring of 1949 had come round to supporting the Atlantic Pact. But the attempt to find alternatives continued. It dropped the demand for a ‘third force’ reluctantly, and still continued to call for fresh Great Power discussions. When it did come out in favour of NATO it was unable to do so without dissension on its own Editorial Board. Ian Mikardo resigned. [74]

By the time the Korean war broke out in 1950 the division within the Left was such as virtually to rob the term of any utility. To many at the time it must have seemed that Tribunism as a separate current of opinion was finished. The contradictory attitudes previously united behind the concept of the ‘third force’ were now in open opposition to one another. When a successor to Keep Left was published many of the supporters of Keep Left no longer backed it and it received scarcely a mention in Tribune. If the fellow travellers were to appear increasingly as mere shadows of Moscow, the metamorphosis of the wartime radicals into shadows of Washington also seemed near completion.


1. Miliband, R., Parliamentary Socialism, Allen & Unwin, 1961, p.245.

2. Foot, M., Aneurin Bevan, MacGibbon & Kee, 1962, p.134.

3. Ibid., p.153.

4. Ibid., p.154.

5. Estorick, E., Stafford Cripps, p.101.

6. Foot, M., Op. cit., p.165.

7. Ibid., p.218.

8. Ibid., p.245.

9. The Socialist League supported the United Front by only 56 to 38 with 23 abstentions at its Conference.

10. Cripps in Tribune, 12 March 1937.

11. Cripps, quoted in Krug M., Aneurin Bevan, Thomas Yoseloff, 1962, p.52.

12. Tribune, 27 August 1937.

13. Ibid., 1 January 1937.

14. Ibid., 8 January 1937.

15. Ibid., 5 February 1937.

16. Ibid., 18 June 1937.

17. Mellor in Tribune, 12 November 1937.

18. Mellor in Tribune, 18 February 1938.

19. Cripps, quoted in Tribune, 19 March 1937.

20. Tribune, 21 May 1937.

21. Foot, M., Op. cit.

22. Ibid., p.264.

23. Ibid., p.219.

24. Laski in Tribune, 10 September 1937.

25. Cripps in Tribune, 10 April 1938.

26. Cripps, quoted in a letter to Tribune, 22 April 1938.

27. Foot, M., Op. cit., p.282.

28. Tribune editorial, 22 April 1938.

29. Foot, M., Op. cit., p.279.

30. See Tribune, 16 September 1938.

31. Tribune, 23 September 1938.

32. Ibid., 11 November 1938.

33. Ibid., 6 January 1939.

34. Miliband, R., Op. cit., p.262.

35. Tribune, 9 December 1938.

36. Bevan in Tribune, 9 December 1938.

37. The best general discussion of the Popular Front is probably that in Trotsky, L.D., Whither France?, Lanka Sama Samaj Party, Ceylon, 1961.

38. Labour Party Annual Conference, Report, 1939, p.236.

39. Miliband, R., Op. cit., p.267.

40. Cripps in Tribune, 9 June 1939.

41. Tribune, 17 March 1939.

42. A double page spread by Strachey, Tribune, 6 April 1939.

43. Tribune, 14 March 1939.

44. John Morris in Tribune, 24 April 1939.

45. Tribune, 24 February 1939.

46. Ibid., 25 August 1939.

47. Ibid., 1 September 1939.

48. Ibid., 10 April 1940.

49. Ellen Wilkinson in Tribune, 10 April 1940.

50. Ibid.

51. Tribune, 1 August 1941.

52. Cole, G.D.H., Europe, Russia and the Future, Gollancz, 1941.

53. Tribune, 17 October 1941.

54. Krug, M., Op. cit., p.63.

55. Ibid., p.66.

56. Foot, M., Op. cit., p.462.

57. Quoted in Krug, Op. cit., p.70.

58. Foot, M., Op. cit., p.457.

59. Tribune, 11 July 1941.

60. Ibid., 2 January 1942.

61. Diplomatic Correspondent, Tribune, 19 June 1942.

62. Tribune, 7 January 1944.

63. Ibid., 17 March 1944.

64. Ibid., 24 March 1944.

65. Ibid., 5 January 1945.

66. Ibid., 6 April 1945.

67. Ibid., 4 May 1945.

68. Ibid., 30 November 1945.

69. Ibid., 26 October 1945.

70. Ibid., 23 November 1945.

71. Ibid., 7 June 1946.

72. Meehan, The Left and Foreign Policy, Ph.D. Thesis, London School of Economics, p.199.

73. Meehan, Op. cit.

74. Tribune, 20 May 1949.

Last updated on 15 November 2009