From The Newsletter, 24 October 1959.
Transcribed by Christian Hogsbjerg.
The process of re-thinking in the Labour Party will prove as fruitless this time, as it did after the 1931 defeat, if it does not embrace the industrial as well as the political field and grasp the connexion between them. At the 1932 conference of the Labour Party, MacDonaldism was repudiated in words and left-wing policies for a future Labour government were endorsed. But little came of it, and the 1935 election brought in the reactionary government which helped to make the second world war inevitable.
Labour’s post-1931 ‘leftism’ made but small impact, and soon evaporated, largely because it was confined to the political side of the movement. ‘It is idle to suppose that industrial retreat can be combined with political advance. If the workers in the real contests of everyday life are being continually led to the rear, if their own spontaneous efforts at resistance are always discouraged, and often definitely thwarted, by their, trade union leaders, the sounding of an advance on the political front can mean very little.’ The words are John Strachey’s, in The Menace of Fascism (1933).
We hope our friends in Tribune and Victory for Socialism circles will now rapidly come to agree with us on the need for a militant policy in industry as well as a socialist programme for Labour.
Here the lesson of 1932 is particularly apposite. Foremost in promoting the left decisions of the party conference of that year was- Ernest Bevin, who as a trade union leader was at the same time strangling militant tendencies as hard as he could go. The genuineness of any trade union leader who ‘talks left’ on political questions has to be judged primarily by his role in the industrial field. That applies whether his name is Purcell, Bevin – or Cousins.
In many a ward meeting and general management committee, Labour Party members are now discussing what happened and why. They should look deep, and examine how the turn came in Labour’s post-war fortunes, in 1948–1949, from which time the curve has tended generally downwards. At the Scarborough conference in 1948, Herbert Morrison, introducing the National Executive Committee’s pamphlet Production the Bridge to Socialism sounded the keynote of ‘consolidation’: ‘Parliament had done its job ... and Parliament having done its part, the ball was now passed back to the citizen ... Could the gains be held?’
In the following spring we had the document Labour Believes in Britain, of which the Times wrote in April 13, 1949:
‘Its main emphasis falls on consolidation ... The dispassionate elector next year is likely to find it harder than ever to choose between the contestants simply by reading their programmes.’
Sure enough, the 1950 election saw a sharp cut in Labour’s majority, and the 1951 election the end of Labour rule. The turn to the right had begun in the Labour Party itself, and inevitably it strengthened Right-wing trends in the country at large, at Labour’s expense.
Party members could do worse than look up what Socialist Outlook said at the time, during those years when the fiasco of 1959 was being prepared. Then let them reflect that Socialist Outlook was banned by Transport House in 1954, just as The Newsletter has been banned in 1959. Hasn’t the time come for reconsidering such bans, and the whole ‘keep-in-with-the-Joneses’ line that lies behind them, in the light of; what happened on October 8?
The right swing is not just a British phenomenon, either. Less than fifteen years after the end of the second world war, just as in the same period after the end of the first, there are Right-wing governments in the saddle in the principal countries of western Europe – in West Germany and France as well as here. The triumph of Adenauer in West Germany helped to prepare for de Gaulle’s success in France, and that in turn has not exactly made Macmillan’s task any more difficult.
To understand how the Right came into power in West Germany we have to look at the foreign policy of the postwar Labour government.
In his report to the House of Commons on May 15, 1947, Bevin said: ‘with regard to socialization [of the Ruhr], I have seen in the London press this morning some reports from America which indicate the powerful imagination of journalists’ minds. We adhere to the principle of public ownership of the basic German industries.’ He added, referring to the British management of the industries concerned: ‘It would be impossible if we wished it, or if any wished it, to return these industries to their former owners.’
Not long afterwards, these industries were in fact returned to the control of big German industrialists, including some who had been the bosses under Hitler. When the Parliaments of two states, Hessen and Rhineland-Westphalia, passed laws nationalizing the mines on their territories, these laws were vetoed by the occupation powers – America in the former instance, and ‘Labour’ Britain in the latter!
Thus the main basis for the return to power of the old gang was ensured (‘consolidated’?), in plain violation of Bevin’s promises.
In his article in the Observer of October 18 on the Chinese Revolution, the Indian diplomat and historian Pannikar paid tribute to the leader of the ‘national awakening” in China following the overthrow of the Manchus – Chen Tu-hsiu, who later became one of the founders of the Chinese Communist Party and led it until 1927.
Panikkar wrote: ‘His name hardly appears in the history books of the West; yet he was one of the makers of modern China.’ Now this is more than a little unfair to ‘the history books of the West.’ There are, for instance, no less than 14 references to Chen Tu-hsiu in the index to the well-known Documentary History of Chinese Communism by Brandt, Schwartz and Fairbank (1952), and the book indicates clearly enough Chen’s role in the building of the Communist movement in China.
When the Chinese workers and peasants were bloodily crushed by Chiang Kai-shek in 1927, Moscow made Chen the scapegoat. This was doubly cynical in that he had not only carried out a line dictated to him by the Stalin-Bukharin leadership of the Comintern, but had repeatedly protested against this line, though loyally restricting his protests to official channels. (There is interesting material on this subject in Isaac Deutscher’s new book).
In 1929 Chen joined the Trotskyist opposition. Chiang Kai-shek either did not know or did not care that, according to the Stalinist mythology, the Chinese Trotskyists were his ‘agents’, and a few years later he arrested Chen and sentenced him – then already in the middle fifties – to 13 years’ imprisonment.
The Stalinist-controlled International Labour Defence ignored the case of this ‘class-war prisoner’. In his personal capacity, Tom Mann, always something of a rogue elephant in the Stalinist camp, signed an appeal for protests to be sent to the Chinese Embassy, though Hary Pollit, who was also asked, ignored it.
I hope this episode will be duly recorded by whoever is continuing the biography of Tom Mann which Dona Torr had begun before she died. It was greatly to his credit. The facts are to be found in The Red Flag, British Trotskyist organ, for September 1933, October–November 1933 and January 1934. James Klugmann might find a place for it in some footnote to his keenly-awaited official history of the Communist Party.
Last updated on 13.10.2011