CLR James 1945

The British Vote for Socialism

The Rise of British Labor

Source: New International, Volume XI No.6, September 1945, pp. 170-175, C L R James under the name of J.R.Johnson;
Transcribed and Marked up: by Damon Maxwell. September, 2008.

Few, if any, elections in modern times have had the significance and opened out perspectives on a scale comparable with the recent British election. Its evaluation can proceed along three main lines. The first is the meaning of it in relation to Britain itself. The second is its repercussions in Europe and the world. The third is its influence on the political development of the American working class movement. These three can be separated only for purposes of convenience. If, for example, at the coming French elections in October, it were made clear that the British victory had stimulated the French electorate toward a repudiation of de Gaulle similar to the repudiation of Churchill, then the repercussion back on Britain would be tremendous. For the time being, however, we shall confine ourselves to the first – the significance of the election as a purely British phenomenon.

There is only one fundamental question which has to be decided. Is the election merely an unmistakable sign of a desire for “social progress,” or a desire for social reconstruction of Britain, in a word, for socialism? The American bourgeoisie has been at pains in its press to explain that what the British workers in reality want is higher wages, greater social security, no unemployment, a vast housing program, in general, improvement on the admittedly unsatisfactory conditions which prevailed before the war; be it understood also that the workers expect some reward also for the sacrifices endured during the war. Despite the warning notes uttered by some correspondents from abroad and a few commentators here, the emphasis has been upon the mild program of nationalization put forward by the Labor Party and upon the well known, alas, only too well known, sobriety and conservatism of the British labor leaders. American capitalism also, according to this theory, has played its own progressive part in this education of the British working class. American soldiers held forth to British workers on apartments with central heating and frigidaires and the high standard of living which had been granted to American labor by American capitalism. This stimulated the British working class to demand the same and therefore to vote Labor in overwhelming majority.

All these ideas are just so much whistling in the dark. As far as the great masses of the British people are concerned, their vote is a repudiation of British capitalist society in Britain and a mandate to the British Labor Party to institute socialism. The people who think or would like to think what the American bourgeoisie is teaching in its press are the British labor leaders. But we draw a sharp distinction between the masses of the British people as a whole and the labor and trade union bureaucracy, a distinction as sharp as that which Lenin in his time and Trotsky from the days of Whither England? to his death used to draw. The first purpose of this article is to make this clear, not by speculation into the psychology of the British working class, but by a review of the development of the British Labor Party and its relation to economic and social changes in Britain and in the world at large. It is sufficient to say that our approach is based on that conception of British development expressed consistently by Trotsky and nowhere so sharply as in his History of the Russian Revolution. There he writes: “Only a blind man could fail to see that Great Britain is headed for gigantic revolutionary earthquake shocks, in which the last fragments of her conservatism, her world domination, her present state machine, will go down without a trace. Macdonald is preparing these shocks no less successfully than did Nicholas II in his time, and no less blindly. So here, too, as we see, is no poor illustration of the problem of the role of the ‘free’ personality in history.”

That was over a dozen years ago. Since then the British people have lived through tumultuous years. They are not blind men. Their vote is a declaration that they are not blind.

British Labor and the World Market

Marx and Engels knew the British working class very well. As far back as the Civil War in the United States, Marx, watching the reaction of the British people as a whole to this world-shaking event, paid a great tribute to what he called the “incontestable excellence” of the British working masses. This, he said, was the greatest strength of Britain. Over the years which followed, he and Engels agreed that, owing to the superior position of Britain on the world market, the English working class had become the most bourgeoisified working class in Europe. And this was likely to continue until Britain had lost its privileged position on the world market. In his preface to the English translation of Capital, published in 1886, Engels showed that for him a new stage had arrived in the development of the British proletariat. He said that the number of unemployed kept swelling from year to year and “we can almost calculate the moment when the unemployed, losing patience, will take their fate into their own hands.”

What saved Britain and not only Britain but the advanced countries of Europe, was the development of imperialism. But imperialist super-profits could only keep a small portion of the working class enchained, and toward the end of the century a series of individual movements sprang up in Great Britain which in 1900 culminated in the formation of the British Labor Party. The formation of the British Labor Party coincided with the recognition by a substantial section of the British bourgeoisie that Britain was fast losing its domination of the world market. The statesman whose name is forever associated with this recognition was Joseph Chamberlain, father of Neville. At one time mayor of Birmingham and one of the most dynamic and far-seeing politicians of his day. Chamberlain claimed that Britain’s policy of free trade was leading the country to catastrophe. Reversing the traditional policy of a century, he became a protectionist and when asked by the British Prime Minister what position he wanted in the Cabinet, he chose the theretofore unimportant post of Colonial Secretary. From 1900 to the present day, the history of Britain can be summarized as follows: Consistent decline of the British economy upon the world market, increasing convulsions in Britain, uninterrupted growth of the Labor Party as a socialist party, preaching that the only salvation for Britain’s difficulties was the “social ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” Who does not understand this cannot understand the British election. This is no question of a sudden clutching at a panacea by the British people, or a psychological change in the minds of the electorate or a violent revulsion against the war. As is characteristic of Britain, the idea of socialism is permeated with constitutional illusions. But the vote for socialism is the culmination of a process which can be easily traced.

“To Dish the Socialists”

The first stage is the Liberal-Labor government of Asquith. Between 1906 and 1914, Lloyd George carried out a series of measures aimed at increasing social security in Great Britain. This was done for the specific and avowed purpose of preventing the growth of socialism. The power of the House of Lords was broken by the Asquith-Lloyd George administration in the constitutional crisis of 1911. The attack on the Lords was supported not only by the workers but by petty bourgeois liberal ideologists and sections of the bourgeoisie which saw in the continuance of the House of Lords, with its traditional powers, the surest way to encourage the growth and sharpen the attack of the socialists.

Just as in World War II, the National Government which ran World War I found it necessary to include Labor members in its personnel. In 1918, immediately after the victory, Lloyd George engineered an election in order to capitalize on his personal prestige. The Labor Party polled two million votes, a higher vote than it had ever had before. Lloyd George promised to make Britain “a fit country for heroes to live in.” Before long every music hall in the country resounded to the witticism that post-war Britain was a country in which only heroes could live.

In the election of 1923 the British people gave to the Labor Party the greatest number of seats among the three contending parties. The Liberal Party and the Conservatives together held a majority over the Labor Party which, however, formed a government with their consent. This government introduced not one single socialist measure. It had preached socialism for twenty-three years. In the campaign the Tories, then as now, had made it clear to the British people that as far as they, the property owners, were concerned, the Labor Party was a socialist party. Victory for the Labor Party, the Tories explained to the British electors, meant the substitution of a socialist society for a capitalist society in Britain. They called the labor leaders red revolutionaries, which, of course, the labor : leaders vigorously denied. Their denial was not without some justification. The British people or the masses who support s the Labor Party were and are not Marxists.

But the debate in Britain among the working class and those classes closest to it has for years now not been as to whether socialism is workable or not; the debate has been as to whether it is to be achieved by constitutional or revolutionary means. On that question, the overwhelming majority of British opinion, deeply suffused as it is with democratic tradition and British empiricism, has more or less expressed itself as follows: We shall adopt the parliamentary procedure and if afterward the Tories should attempt to prevent the carrying out of the will of the people, the Labor Government would be in a position to use the machinery of government, the army and the police against the self-exposed enemies of democracy.

The Socialists Dish Themselves

After a few short months of government in 1924 the Labor Government was thrown out of power and was defeated in the election which followed. The reasons for its defeat were two-fold: it had shown itself conspicuously unable to make any radical change in the increasing dislocation of the British economy. It had thereby alienated those middle class elements which had come tentatively toward it through disgust with the Tory Party. On the other hand, the Zinoviev letter, skillfully used by the Tories, created a stampede toward the Conservative Party as the bulwark of British stability against red revolution.

The five years which followed were years critical in the history of the development of political crystallization in Britain. Churchill, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, faced with Britain’s declining position on the world market, brought Britain back to the gold standard. What Britain needed was a reorganization of its economy. This was beyond the Tory Party and Churchill’s step fell heavily on the working class. One of its results was the general strike in 1926 and the growing hostility among the British people to the Tory Government and the perpetual crisis of Britain. That is why, in 1929, after five years of the famous capitalist prosperity, the British people gave to the Labor Party a still greater number of seats than in 1924. The Labor Party had excused itself for its failure in 1923 on the score that it was unable to introduce any socialistic measure because it did not have an absolute majority. Millions tried to give it that majority in 1929.

A few words are here in place as to the stratification of British voting. In 1929, the Labor Government received eight million votes on its program of socialism. Socialism by constitutional means to be sure, but socialism nevertheless. Britain was suffering from unemployment and the Labor program as explained to the masses of the people attributed the unemployment to capitalist society and private ownership. The basis of the vote was the working class. By this time, almost to a man, those millions of the population engaged in direct production and transport were voting the Labor ticket. They would not think of voting anything else but Labor, and it is the foundation of their creed that capitalist society is the root and origin of all their social ills. They do not necessarily take this very seriously at all times. But in Sunday schools, in Labor classes, in Labor rallies, at regular Labor Party meetings, in their trade unions, at election time, the Labor Party has brought them up on the idea that capitalist private property must be superseded by socialist abolition of private property. Britain, however, is almost seventy per cent proletarianized and many millions of this proletariat is in distributive and service trades. In 1921 this number was seven million, as com-pared to the ten million of the population engaged in direct productive industry. Many of these consider themselves workers, but of the seven millions, four millions were classified in s 1921 under commerce, finance and personal service. Britain is a country with a numerous traditional aristocracy and a strong rentier class. A substantial number of the population lives, directly or indirectly, by attending to the needs of these parasites, thereby becoming themselves parasitic. In 1924, the salaried workers were nearly three million as opposed to fifteen million actual wage earners. This is a very high proportion. These people for years voted liberal or stuck to their patrons, the Conservatives. Since 1918, however, with the increasing strength and confidence of the Labor Party this vote has been shifting towards the Labor Party. The significance of the 1929 vote was that more and more of them were looking towards labor.

The failure of the Labor Party in 1929 was even worse than in 1924. Unemployment went from one million in 1929 to nearly three million in 1931. Those who believe that it is the mildness of the program of the British Labor Party which has attracted the British voter should ponder upon the following statement by the greatest British parliamentarian of the last forty years and one who has repeatedly showed his understanding of the British people and their political situation.

Millions consequently threw in their lot with a new party. To them this party was the party of the last hope. It is now rapidly becoming the party of lost hope. Speakers and agents of all parties returning from the last by-election in a great industrial constituency had the same tale to tell. It was one of the gloom and despair which had fallen on this working class district owing to the failure of the government they had helped at the last general election to put into power to bring any amelioration into their conditions and; prospects. If Labor fails this time, confidence in parliamentary institutions will for a period disappear in myriads of loyal British homes and hearts.

The writer is David Lloyd George. This is testimony, if any were needed, of what the British people expected of the British Labor Party in 1929 and their reactions to its failure. As a climax to two years of failure came the disastrous split of 1931.

The Crisis of 1931

The circumstances of that split are not at all personal or accidental. In reality they mark a stage in the development of the bankruptcy of the Labor Party leaders. At the same time, the way in which the masses took the blow and recovered from it, testifies to the “uncontestable excellence” of the British working people.

In 1931, the world economic crisis and Churchill’s restoration of Britain to the gold standard in 1924 on the basis of the declining British economy had superimposed a financial crisis upon the prevailing economic depression. It is argued that the crisis was a result of the manipulation of British financial magnates with assistance from Wall Street, a manipulation aimed at discrediting the Labor Government. The mere fact, however, that such a development was possible, shows the critical situation to which the country had been reduced. Maliciously stimulated by the bourgeois press, a feeling of near panic spread over Britain. With their record of failure behind them, facing disaster, and conscious that they had no program to solve capitalist chaos, the Labor leaders sought to save face by a display of their socialistic program. They fell back on the perpetual alibi – only socialism can save the country but we had no absolute majority. Stanley Baldwin, the Conservative Prime Minister, was quite aware of the temper of the country and the miserable record of his own Conservative Party between 1924 and 1929. He, therefore, prevailed upon Ramsay MacDonald, the Prime Minister of the Labor Government and Philip Snowden, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, to join with him in a national government. He also invited some of the leaders of the Liberal Party to join this government. The significance of this was not fully appreciated at the time, and in fact could not have been. The astute Englishman, astute in his petty party politics, was one of the first in Europe to recognize that pure and simple conservatism was bankrupt in Europe. He hid monopoly-capitalist politics behind the smoke-screen of national unity, the practice which was carried to its highest pitch by Adolf Hitler afterwards and imitated in varying degrees by every government of Europe.

How would the country react to it? The Manchester Guardian, for instance, a great leader of liberal opinion in Britain, hesitated up to the last moment before it finally decided not to support the National Government. The real blow to the Labor Party, however, was given by Philip Snowden, one of its founders, and admittedly its intellectual leader. Snowden went , onto the radio a few days before the critical election and let out a blast against the very socialist program which he more than any other politician in England had helped to create. The country, said Snowden, was in serious crisis. It faced, the possibilities of inflation and loss of the savings of the poor. At this time, said Snowden, the Labor Party comes forward with a program of socialization of the means of production, distribution, etc., as a solution to the crisis. This, he declared, was the straight road to catastrophe.

The British people were thunderstruck. The petty bourgeoisie streamed away from the Labor Party. Who, in the name of heaven, could vote for a party whose leaders had asked for power as the party of the last hope, and had now not only abandoned its organization but had repudiated its program. It this was not the time for socialism, when would be the time? But far-seeing conservative observers noted two ominous signs. The “national” election destroyed the Liberal Party as an effective political force. And, more important, the actual working class vote stood steady as a rock. Macdonald and Snowden had demoralized the petty-bourgeoisie. They took with them into the national caucus only leaders. Labor was unshaken and would henceforth be the only alternative to conservatism. The Labor Party returned to Parliament after 1 the election with less than forty seats.

The Historical Dialectic

History moves according to certain laws. These laws are f to be elucidated from the living specific concrete development. There the logical movement which they indicate is repeated in a higher spiral, modified or accentuated by the changing historical conditions. This is magnificently demonstrated by British policies between 1901 and 1945. As we look back at Britain between 1900 and 1931, the pattern is startlingly clear. The declining British economy gives rise to the political organization of labor which gradually assumes a commanding position in national politics. But Britain is still wealthy enough to make concessions. The Liberal Party makes them up to 1914 but in no way severely halts the growth of labor’s political organization. World War I is a catastrophe for Britain’s position on the world market. Between 1918 and 1931, the Liberal Party is gradually extinguished. More and more the Labor Party assumes the position of the alternative party with labor as its basis and attracting to it the restless petty-bourgeoisie under the whip of bankrupt British capitalism. The masses of the people push political labor towards the power. Socialist in name only, the labor leaders are incapable of solving capitalist crisis by capitalist methods. In 1931 their bankruptcy takes organizational form. The most distinguished of them abandon the party and join the bourgeoisie. The petty-bourgeoisie which has been coming more or less steadily towards labor abandons it in dismay and rallies behind the Conservatives. Labor stood firm because it had to and some of the labor leaders (apart from the trade unionists) remained. But a man like Herbert Morrison, for instance, moved heaven and earth to be included in Baldwin’s National Government. Only when the door was slammed in his face did he turn back to labor and “socialism.” This was the movement of classes and their political representatives. We shall now see the same essential pattern repeated on a higher plane, but within the changing circumstances of the developing world crisis.

The labor movement recovered from the 1931 crisis with astonishing rapidity. But whereas hitherto the struggle between capital and labor had been carried on almost exclusively on the national field, it was now widened to extend to every tentacle of the British Empire, i.e., to the four corners of the earth. Organized labor could not work out a foreign policy of its own and although it made heroic efforts to do so, found that its weakness here continually disrupted its renovated power on the home front. This pattern is repeated to a climax in 1935 and once more again in 1940. The victory over Germany in 1945 releases labor from this dilemma and clears the way for a victory long delayed and for that very reason all the more devastating.

Foreign Policy Intervenes

It used to be a commonplace in Britain that elections are never decided on foreign policy. From 1931, however, the depths of the British crisis was shown precisely by the repeated crisis in foreign policy and the impossibility of separating it from home policy. In 1931 came the crisis over the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. In a League of Nations session that attracted the attention of the whole world, Sir John Simon, then British Foreign Secretary, made a speech giving the British point of view. At its conclusion Matsuoka, the Japanese delegate stated that Sir John Simon had said in a few words what he had been trying for days to tell the League. A roar of protest arose in Britain. The British Labor Party, meeting in congress at Hastings in 1932, passed an almost unanimous resolution that British labor would never support British imperialism in another imperialist war. On the day after the conference, the British Labor leaders outvied themselves in explaining that the resolution did not mean what it said. Perhaps the resolution and the labor leaders did not. As far as they understood the resolution, the British workers most certainly did as would be abundantly proved before long. Even before the National Government had been formed, the series of Round Table Conferences on India had begun, and in them much of the Indian question was laid bare before the British people to their shame and confusion. Gandhi was warmly welcomed in Lancashire of all places.

The National Government decided on a protectionist policy at last and this was trumpeted forth and sealed at the Ottawa Conference in 1932. It brought no relief and only precipitated a series of colonial revolts, protesting at the rising prices for manufactured goods and the lowered prices for raw materials which Ottawa imposed on the colonial peoples. The risings received a hitherto unexampled publicity in the British press. In 1933 came another much trumpeted panacea – The World Economic Conference. It collapsed dramatically within a few days of its opening session. Meanwhile, the wrath of the British people at Tory helplessness before the crisis grew There was a sense of social crisis in the atmosphere. Hitler’s accession to power gave Sir Oswald Mosley his chance Lord Rothermere of the Daily Mail placed his paper, with nearly two million circulation, at the disposal of Fascist Mosley, and for months the Daily Mail was a Fascist organ. In the middle of 1934, the June purge in Germany broke the alliance between Mosley and the Daily Mail. It was this period of disillusionment with British capitalism which preceded a wave of sympathy for Stalinist Russia and the skillfully propagandized “successes” of the Five Year Plan. The British worker remained invincibly opposed to the British Communist Party, but the Stalinist “planned economy,” as the antithesis of capitalism with its unemployment and distressed areas, made great headway among British workers. Under cover of Russian popularity and Russian endorsement of the League of Nations, the British Labor leaders, still keeping up a great show of hostility to imperialism, revoked the Hastings position, and adopted the doctrine of collective security. But the miners, 700,000 strong, reaffirmed the original stand. Baldwin took the opportunity to deliver a blast at the whole concept of collective security. The November municipal elections of 1934 showed how far the Labor Party had recovered the confidence of the country. Labor won sweeping victories and as far back as 1934, constituencies which had been Tory for fifty years, went Labor. Everything seemed set for a great victory at the coming parliamentary elections. What smashed Labor’s chances was foreign policy – this time the Ethiopian crisis.

As war with Mussolini grew imminent the British workers reacted strongly. Lord Robert Cecil, a League of Nations t maniac, instituted a private poll. It gathered over eleven million votes for collective security and over six million for an armed League of Nations. Thus the British workers expressed their distrust of British Tory foreign policy. Baldwin was pursuing an anti-League policy. But British indignation ultimately broke Sir Samuel Hoare who had replaced Sir John Simon as Foreign Secretary and nearly broke Anthony Eden who replaced him. The Labor Party leadership found itself in an impossible dilemma. It had, in traditional Second International fashion, opposed all credits for the war budget. Yet in an official resolution it shouted war at Mussolini even before Baldwin did so. With remarkable skill and promptitude, Baldwin went on the radio and endorsed the League of Nations and collective security wholeheartedly. The election was a war election if ever there was one. The Labor Party added well over a hundred seats to its miserable thirty. But the British electorate (with the British and Italian fleets facing each other in the Mediterranean) and listening to two major political parties saying much the same thing, gave Baldwin the support he asked for. People do not choose the eve of a war to start a social experiment. The decisive middle classes hesitated and chose Baldwin. It was openly stated in the Commons that Labor had lost the election by its apparently inept resolution, declaring war on Mussolini. It was not the Labor Party leadership which was inept but the short-sighted commentators. In essence the Labor leadership had done in the international crisis of 1935 precisely what it had done in the national crisis of 1931. It had betrayed its incapacity to produce a policy of t its own and it had gone over to the side of the bourgeoisie.

The climax came with the Hoare-Laval pact which followed closely upon the election. It was a typical imperialist instrument for the division of Ethiopia and it was initialed by Anthony Eden. It fell like a skyful of cold water on the deceived and cheated British electorate. It was not for this they had voted. Labor had been impotent to produce an alternative and thus the masses had lost both at home and abroad. From that moment the National Government was distrusted in its foreign policy as much as it was hated for its home policy.

Economic Bankruptcy and the Cliveden Set

The years 1936 to 1940 were the years in which the British petty bourgeoisie came to the conclusions which the war crystallized and concentrated explosively. In that period there was not one single measure taken by the National Government to give anyone the belief that it could solve the economic decline of Britain which was so long patent to the British people. Roosevelt in the United States initiated a New Deal and Blum in France headed the short-lived experiment of the Popular Front. British Toryism did nothing for there was nothing that it could do. In foreign policy, however, it demonstrated to the full its hostility to democracy and its readiness to collaborate with Hitler and Mussolini. The British people knew in their bones that the National Government had pursued its own narrow class interests in Europe, the Mediterranean and the Far East and thus precipitated the war of 1939. This is not wisdom after the event. The Labor leaders for three solid years inside and outside Parliament kept up a ceaseless agitation against Chamberlain on just those grounds. The lesson, easy enough to read in life, was dinned home by these politicians from the safe refuge of opposition. Thus both on home policy and foreign policy the bankruptcy and treachery of the British ruling class was revealed. “The Cliveden Set” was in reality not a set but the capitalist class of Britain, which almost in its entirety supported Chamberlain until the break-down of his policy opened the abyss before their feet. Once more as the election due in 1940 approached the British working class and its allies were baffled and torn by the approach of war. This time no election took place at all. But the internal tension was far greater than in 1935. The British workers and the population as a whole were deeply hostile to the war and far more distrustful of Chamberlain in the crisis of 1939 than they had been of Baldwin in 1935. But the switch from Chamberlain to Churchill and the terror inspired by the early German victories enabled the Labor leaders to repeat their usual performance – join up with the bourgeoisie.

There is no need to recapitulate the social consequences of the war. The fatal error would be to see it as anything else but a continuation and concentration of the tendencies which we have traced since 1918. The war has made final that recognition of Britain’s decline which has steadily grown among the British people since 1918. It has made final that recognition of the hopelessness of capitalism which has steadily grown among the British people since 1918. It has made final that recognition of the ineradicable treachery of the British ruling class which has steadily grown among the British people since 1931. Britain can no longer go on in the old way. Capitalism is bankrupt. The Labor Party claims that it is a socialist party, the party of a new society. The petty bourgeoisie and the rural constituencies have made up their minds, or rather have had their minds made up for them. The Labor Party claimed that it could not act in 1923 because it did not have an absolute majority. Again in 1929 it did not have an absolute majority. In 1934 it was getting ready to do better than in 1929 but the war scare of 1935 frightened these fluctuating classes away. The war in 1940 and the acceptance of the coalition by official Labor robbed them of the opportunity of expressing themselves. Now in the first chance they have got, in their quiet, parliamentary, unspectacular, sober, but infinitely determined British way, they have spoken their verdict. They have voted for a socialist society. In their eyes the essence of the change is the nationalization of the means of production, destruction of the power of the capitalists and the landlords, an economy planned for the use of the people and not taking its anarchic way for the profit of the few.

The Perspectives of the Labor Leadership

It is impossible here even to examine the outlines of the dreadful economic and international political situation in which Britain finds itself today. It was necessary first of all to clear out of the way the motivated illusions which the American bourgeoisie has been trying to instill into the American workers. Some of these scoundrels have even tried to attribute Churchill’s defeat to his stupid political campaign. Churchill’s campaign was in fact the most striking demonstration of the helplessness of the British bourgeoisie. He had no program because he could have none. It would be interesting to see one written by his critics. Churchill said that socialism was the issue. He knows Britain too well to have thought that after 1924 and 1929 the issue of socialism could be camouflaged. Neither could Churchill attack the idea of a planned economy per se. His whole war administration would have been a refutation of the argument that private enterprise was the only feasible method of reconstructing the country. What he did do was strictly in character with our times. He took the position that socialism meant a British Gestapo. In other words, he could only agitate against Attlee’s “socialist” economic proposals by building a bogey of their political consequences. Exactly the same type of argument is being used in Europe and in the United States against socialism. It is a long, long way from 1918, when the very idea of socialism as a type of economy was denounced by the bourgeoisie as ridiculous and Utopian. But it is precisely here also that the fatal weakness of the Labor leaders is already revealed. Their campaign was the quintessence of ineptitude. They had a program. They could have put it forward like the confident builders of a new society. Instead, every statement, modest as it was, had a qualification. The same petty bourgeoisie whom they were trying not to “alienate,” the farmers, reputedly so conservative, were the very ones whom the election shows were only waiting for the chance to give Labor an unmistakable mandate. And what is Attlee’s program, as announced in the King’s speech? Labor will nationalize the coal industry. This measure, it you please, was recommended by an all-party government commission over twenty years ago. They will also nationalize the Bank of England, which already functions as a semi-public body. They will repeal the Trades Disputes Act, i.e., they will repeal what is a stiff version of the American Hatch Act. The election program promised to “nationalize” electric and gas utilities. But now that they are in power they propose only to “co-ordinate” them. They are the same people of 1924 and 1929. In his first speech to the Commons, Attlee told the people: “Before the war there was much that was in our view wrong in the economic and social conditions in this country.” So that is it. In “our view” much “was wrong.” Also, “We must set ourselves resolutely to the task of increasing our exports.” The reorganization of the economy, as an indispensable instrument – the mobilization of the people who supported him, this cannot even enter the vision of this petty clerk of the bourgeoisie. Today the Labor leaders can do what they want with Britain. If they were to tell the people what is required, call upon them to sacrifice, yes, to sacrifice themselves to build a new Britain as they sacrificed themselves to save the old, the British people would perform prodigies of reconstruction which would put their great war effort to shame. The bourgeoisie is today powerless. The army, a non-professional army, overwhelmingly supported Labor and if, in response to a genuine socialization, any reactionary elements showed opposition, Attlee can be certain of the support of the overwhelming majority of the workers and soldiers. But no! He will “resolutely” increase exports. Circumstances may lead these opportunists to sporadic adventures, but isn’t it clear that they are, in essence, as helpless before the creaking structure of British capitalism as the Tory leaders have shown themselves to be during the last quarter of a century? All questions of policy are subordinate to the fact that only a social revolution can save Britain from catastrophe and the Labor leaders are not revolutionary. It in Trotsky’s opinion Macdonald prepared the catastrophes which awaited the country, on the high plane to which he had been pushed, Attlee will prepare them still more and still faster. Today history is in no waiting mood.

Is the British working class revolutionary? No serious Marxist can ask that question. Their historical development has not ceased with the election. The bankrupt British economy, the helplessness of the bourgeoisie have led the workers step by step to a situation where they have won over the middle classes and placed the Labor leaders in a situation where they have no bourgeois political party to run to, where they cannot blame anything upon the absence of a majority. The election is the climax of one period and therefore the beginning of a new. If Attlee and his colleagues meant business the first thing they would do would be to mobilize the creative energies and aspirations of the British people as a bulwark for a revolutionary program. But that they will not do. The revolutionary manifestations of the British workers and their allies will therefore come from some other sources-the whip of the counter-revolution, seeking to gain outside of Parliament the power that it has lost inside. The response of the British people will be tremendous. Let no one have any fear of that. Or disillusionment with the Labor government will open up a new period of clarification and a struggle for new ways and means to achieve the goals they have pursued since 1918. On our British comrades of the Fourth International, who have acquitted themselves so manfully during the war, falls the heavy burden and the proud privilege of being the spearhead of the revolutionary reorientation. To look back and learn the lessons of the past years, which reached their climax in the election, can be the source of an inexhaustible confidence and energy in teaching the British workers and learning from them the revolutionary demands of the new period.