J.R. Johnson

His Majesty’s Loyal Opposition —

The British Empire’s Little Helpers

(June 1944)

From Labor Action, Vol. 8 No. 25, 19 June 1944, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for MIA.

American labor should get to know something about Emmanuel Shinwell. He is one of the big names in the British Labor Party today. He is not a member of the Churchill coalition government, and frequently attacks it. This gives him a certain popularity. For let no one be deceived. Large sections of the British workers know how bankrupt for labor’s future is a man like Ernest Bevin, the Minister of Labor, against whose labor policy there have been so many strikes. The workers have shown their distrust of Herbert Morrison, the labor leader and Home Secretary, by voting him out of the leadership at the last Labor Conference; also by the demonstrations they staged against him when he released Mosley, the ally of Hitler.

Men like Attlee, the titular head of the Labor Party, and Walter Citrine, the general secretary of the Trade Union Congress, were known pretty well for what they were even before the war. Attlee would drop out of the party tomorrow and few would miss him.

But Shinwell not only preached socialism in years gone by but has done his best to constitute some sort of opposition to the all-powerful Churchill government in the House of Commons.

What Does He Stand For?

What exactly is the policy of Mr. Shinwell today? He has recently exposed himself in a way that should be carefully noted.

Facing the miserable future of British imperialism against Stalinist Russia and American imperialism, Churchill gathered together the dominion premiers just before the invasion, first to fool the people everywhere with the idea of Empire unity and, secondly, to try to build a huge Empire bloc against the steady strangulation at the hands of his dear friends, Stalin and Roosevelt. But the job is a hard one and almost hopeless, because Canada, Australia and New Zealand know that if there are any pickings at all, they will get them in the shelter of the American Eagle and not by following the limping British Lion.

Has Shinwell anything different to propose? Not he. On May Day he writes a featured article in the reactionary Daily Mail.

“Frankly, I doubt whether we can expect more than provisional conclusions. And I shall be equally frank and say that, I wish with all my heart it could be otherwise.”

He comes out for Churchill’s policy in the crudest form:

“But give us a British Commonwealth of Nations, with resources capable of almost unbelievable development, with a territory equal to that of the United States and Soviet Russia combined, with a courage and sagacity to promote a real unity of purpose and a spirit tempered in the flames of war, and we can then enter with confidence into economic discussions with other nations, not as a junior partner, but as an equal.”

While British labor is stirring with a tremendous ferment as to exactly how its ideas for a new Britain in a new world will come into shape, Shinwell, the former socialist and present loud oppositionist, is in reality at one with the die-hard defender of imperialist Britain. He endorses all the economic policies which brought two world wars, the great economic depression and fascism, all within twenty-five years. British labor is not going to accept that easily.

Yet, is Shinwell “the same” as Churchill? No such thing. There is one fundamental difference. Churchill is a political leader of British imperialism, responsible to the Conservative Party. Shinwell is responsible to the British Labor Party. Despite his “criticism” of the government and the labor leaders in it, he is perfectly aware of the temper of the British workers. Nothing is more striking than the absence bf socialism in the recent pronouncements of many British labor leaders.

Today one of the greatest defenders of Britain’s colonial empire is Herbert Morrison. When the shameless injustice of Britain’s policy in India sent a wave of pro-Indian feeling through the British masses, the Labor Party leaders gave support as never before to Churchill, whom in less strenuous times they had denounced as one of the greatest enemies of the Indian rjeople.

It is too dangerous today to play with socialistic fire. It is clear that Shinwell has nothing to offer except the old order. And it is equally certain that the British workers do not want that old order. Shinwell is on a hot spot and that spot is going to get hotter and hotter.

Similar Developments Here

American labor can learn much from what is taking place in Britain. Precisely because he has no program except Churchill’s capitalistic program, all Shinwell’s militancy turns out to be a fake, and Churchill laughs openly at his opposition. In fact today the British labor leaders seek to protect themselves from the great crises ahead by tying themselves as closely as possible to the policies of the Churchill government.

We witness similar things in the United States. As the workers show their hostility to the strain of the war and the persecutions of the capitalist class, Hillman organizes political action of the workers on a scale never known before, only in order more securely to tie the workers to the Democratic Party. He has to hide himself there. He has no program for America different from Roosevelt’s. Like Shinwell, Hillman sees the rising tide of labor and, like Murray, he is scared to death of it. His remedy is – a fourth term for Roosevelt.

Some Variations

Yet, just as there is a difference between Churchill and Shinwell, there is also a difference between the position of Shinwell and the position of Hillman. All observers agree that British labor is bursting with anxiety to break the political truce in Britain between the Conservative Party and the Labor Party. British labor wishes to recapture its lost independence in order to work out the problems of the future in its own party, independent and purged of the alliance with the Conservatives.

British labor wants to face its leaders with the question: “Little men, what now?” More than that, at various conferences, the British workers are working out programs and interpreting such programs as the Beveridge Plan in their own way and preparing to use them for their own purposes. The time will come when not only Bevin and Morrison but Shinwell will have to explain their plans. British labor is itching to drag them out from behind the smoke of Churchills cigar and make them speak up for themselves.

American labor needs to make similar preparation. The strikes in both countries show the temper of the Workers. The rush to shelter themselves in capitalist parties and capitalist programs shows how sensitive to the workers’ growing impatience are many of the leaders of labor, particularly in America. The thing to do now is to drag them out. Put them on the spot. Bring them to a political convention of labor and face them with a labor program.

Political Action Needed

To oppose them by striking, agakist their instructions, and yet at the same time allow them to hide their political bankruptcy in the capitalist parties, is to expose them with one hand and then cover them up with the other. It will be a bad day for Shinwell when he has to face British labor. It will be an equally bad day for Hillman and the rest when they have to face American labor and explain what are their plans for a political party of organized labor. That is the hot spot they seek to avoid. That is the hot spot we must put them on.

Labor will never be able to control its leaders, or even know clearly what they really think, until it pulls them away from capitalist politics.

Last updated on 14 October 2015