J.R. Johnson

One-Tenth of the Nation

British Labor and the Colonies

(2 September 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. 9 No. 36, 3 September 1945, p. 3.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The American Negro press in particular has come out in very gratifying jubilation over the victory of the British Labor Party in the elections. The victory – and a very great, victory it is – seems to herald independence or self-government for colonial peoples. And in recent years the Negro people in the United States have shown a serious interest in the fate of the hundreds of millions oppressed and exploited by British imperialism.

True, some of the more experienced journalists, like George Schuyler of the Pittsburgh Courier, are skeptical. Schuyler, in fact, states bluntly: “After all, British Labor has a stake in imperialism.” This is the crux of the matter and illustrates a fundamental problem in all Labor politics.

Has British Labor got at stake in imperialism? The answer depends upon the definition of the term British Labor.

The British working class, in the majority of its millions, has no stake in imperialism. A very small section has shared in the profits that British capital sucked out of the Empire. These few received higher wages than the average and formed the British aristocracy of labor. They were the social basis of the parliamentary Labor Party and dominated it.

The British labor leaders and the trade union bureaucrats express the aims, wishes and ideas of this section of labor. In alliance with them are the parliamentarians, municipal councillors, journalists, school teachers and other white collar workers who turn away from the regular capitalist parties and embrace the labor movement.

All these form a tight caucus sitting on top of the labor movement. They certainly have a stake in imperialism. They cannot help it. They

do not want any radical change in the Britain of today. Despite their socialistic words, they have much the same type of political mentality as Hillman and Murray. Their socialism is merely a decoration, for a program of large public works, government intervention in or control of banks and bankrupt industries, more social security, better educational facilities for workers, etc.

This means reforming the capitalist system in Britain, but giving it a new name – socialism. It sounds better.

Every child knows that capitalist Britain is bound tight to the Empire. Without India and the African colonies the present economic structure of Britain would fly apart into a million pieces. So that the Labor leaders by leaving capitalist Britain virtually intact are thereby compelled to retain all the links of empire.

But the large majority of the British workers, eighty per cent at least, if not more, would support freedom for India and the African colonies tomorrow. They want a new Britain – a socialist Britain. They are not very clear in their own minds as to how this socialist Britain will function. Roughly, they think that if capitalist property were taken over by a socialist government, if the land, were nationalized, and if the economy was planned, Britain would get a new-start.

Real Change Needed

They are perfectly right.

What is required is a total reorganization of the economy of Great Britain AND a total reorganization of the economy of the colonies. Instead of a relationship ox exploitation between capitalist Britain and the colonies, what is required is a relationship of co-operation between socialist Britain and emancipated colonies.

But so long as the Labor leaders hold on to the essentials of a capitalistic Britain, with a camouflage of socialism, so long they are going, to hold on to the colonial Empire, with a camouflage of freedom.

Fortunately, the crisis in all fields is so sharp, today that camouflage is on its last legs. The British masses are on the alert. They mean business. The. colonial masses are on the alert also. They also mean business.

The struggle for a socialist Britain and emancipated colonies has just begun. It is not going to be easy. When the Workers Party and revolutionary socialists celebrate the great victory of Labor in the elections, we do so because we rejoice at the fact that the great body of the people have placed the power in the hands of their own party. There can be no more excuses. The Labor leaders have the power. The masses are waiting impatiently. The leaders either must act or expose themselves.

Support the Masses

The American Negroes, therefore, must cultivate no illusions about immediate emancipation for the colonies. At the same time they must not encourage the slightest cynicism. The thing to do now is to encourage both the working masses of Britain and the colonial peoples to demand genuine socialist politics from the Labor leaders. If American Negroes, through their organizations, can make their desires for colonial freedom known to the colonial peoples, to the Labor government and to the British masses they would be doing a valuable work.

Britain and the colonies are in a ferment over the great victory. The progressive intervention of American Negroes could add to the ferment, would: have a dramatic effect and push the whole movement forward.

Last updated on 2 August 2018