William Rust 1942

The Labour Party Conference

Source: World News and Views, Volume 22, no 19, 9 May 1942. Scanned, prepared and annotated for the Marxist Internet Archive by Paul Flewers.

Nearly fourteen years have passed since the Birmingham Conference of the Labour Party in 1928 endorsed a bulky new programme entitled Labour and the Nation. The bulk of it was a pretentious padding out of the policy of Socialism through ‘public corporations’, with the aid of experts and business men.

Three years later the leaders responsible for this programme betrayed the movement. The second Labour Government collapsed.

Now a new document has appeared with the florid title of The Old World and the New Society. It is to be submitted to the Labour Party Conference at Whitsun.

The language is guarded, uninspiring and ambiguous. All that was known before about ‘gradualness’ is industriously repeated:

The Labour Party, therefore, starts from the assumption that there can be no return to the prewar system... The Labour Party does not ask for some sudden and overnight transformation of our society... These principles exclude no person from the full enjoyment of civil rights: they seek no acquisition of property without just compensation.

The programme is vague about the achievement of ‘common ownership’ but quite precise on the necessity for basing postwar economy on the retention of the ‘main wartime controls in industry and agriculture’. No mention is made of the fact that these controls are run by the big monopolists themselves and far from being a step towards socialism are actually a means of integrating the state with Big Business. The necessity of wresting control from the controls does not seem to have occurred to the authors of the programme.

The question of postwar reconstruction is of great importance and calls for careful thought even in these days when the paramount issue is the impending battles. The rank and file of the Labour Party will not have failed to notice that official capitalist opinion takes no pains to conceal the expectation of heavy postwar unemployment. In fact, the Unemployment Board has refused to reduce contributions precisely on the grounds that there will be heavy calls on the present huge surplus funds when the war is over.

But whatever attention is devoted to these problems it must surely be the intention of the EC to see that the Conference devotes its major energies to the central and urgent issue of how to win the war.

An EC resolution on the war is to be submitted at a later stage. Will it face the vital issue of the day, namely, the necessity for the opening of a Second Front in Europe? [1] Unless Transport House [2] changes its position during the next two weeks there is no indication that it will.

A lead from the Labour Party Conference for the Second Front would have an electrifying effect upon the workers, especially as it would also be regarded as the expression of a desire on the part of the Labour Party to achieve closer cooperation with the Soviet Union.

The leaders of the Labour Party seem, however, to have embarked on a propaganda campaign specially designed to forestall such a decision. The Daily Herald [3] has emptied the vials of its wrath on Beaverbrook [4] and has embraced all of the stock-in-trade arguments against this country taking the military initiative. It has joined forces with Lord Kemsley’s Sunday Times [5] to which Greenwood [6] recently contributed an article solemnly declaring that ‘perilous adventures, unsustained by ample reserves may be heroic, but they do not win modern wars’.

Whatever the platform does the question of the Second Front will loom large at the Conference and there is no doubt that a vigorous fight will be put up for it.


All notes have been provided by the MIA.

1. That is, an invasion of Western Europe.

2. Transport House, in Smith Square, London SW1, served as the headquarters of the Labour Party.

3. The Daily Herald was a socialist newspaper that appeared in various guises from 1912 to 1964; at this point it reflected the opinion of the leadership of the Labour Party, that is, a right-wing social-democratic standpoint.

4. William Maxwell ‘Max’ Aitken, First Baron Beaverbrook (1879-1964) was a Canadian British businessman and newspaper proprietor; he owned the right-wing Daily Express and Sunday Express, and served in British Cabinets in both World Wars, holding the posts of Minister of Aircraft Production, of Supply, and of War Production in Winston Churchill’s wartime coalition government.

5. James Gomer Berry, First Viscount Kemsley (1883-1968) was a newspaper proprietor, owning The Sunday Times, The Sunday Graphic, The Daily Sketch, The Daily Dispatch and a number of provincial newspapers.

6. Arthur Greenwood (1880-1954) was a Labour MP during 1922-54, Deputy Leader of the Labour Party during 1935-45, and a member of Churchill’s wartime coalition government.