Max Shachtman

British Labor Goes Left!

(6 August 1945)

From Labor Action, Vol. IX No. 32, 6 August 1945, pp. 1 & 2.
Transcription & mark-up by Einde O’Callaghan for the Marxists’ Internet Archive.

The sweep into office of the British Labor Party is the most spectacular parliamentary victory of labor in modern history.

Here, and not in the hollow eloquence of Churchill, is history in the making. After years, during which a well-oiled international propaganda machine was at work building up the reactionary Tory government and its spokesman, Churchill, as the savior of England, the British working class – and not only the working class but all the “little people” of the country – united to turn Churchill and his government out of office in one of the most decisive and humiliating defeats ever suffered.

Churchill and the Tories completely misjudged the sentiments of the British working class. They thought that the working class would continue to support, or tolerate, them in the postwar period the way they did during the war in Europe. The opposite proved to be the ease. If the workers tolerated the Tories in the government during the war, it was not because they wanted to preserve the rotten British Empire, as Churchill did and does, but because they had a healthy working-class hatred of Fascism and the reactionary monstrosity it represented. But the minute they felt that Hitlerism was no longer a menace to them, they showed their true feelings and aspirations at the first opportunity, namely, at the long-overdue national election.

What do the British workers want? Even the capitalist press is forced reluctantly to give us an idea. The British workers are outraged at the brutal attempts by Churchill to assassinate the Greek people, The British workers have not an ounce of confidence in the shabby promises of the Tories about a decent Britain after the war. They know that under the Tories there is not the slightest possibility of guaranteed work, guaranteed wages and. a decent living standard, of a big housing program. And it is a guaranteed job which the British workers want, for they remember the long and dreadful years of mass unemployment which British capitalism was able to end only when it became necessary to produce for mass slaughter. It is a decent standard of living they want, and not the nightmare of wage cuts and a declining living standard they had before the war. It is homes fit for human habitation they want, not the hovels and slums to which they were confined in the past. It is peace and progress they want, instead of insecurity, war and reaction which prevailed under the governments of the past.

Churchill shouted himself hoarse that the Labor Party in office would mean Socialism. The answer given him by the masses was unmistakable: “That is what we want; the things you stand for, we don’t want – not any longer.”

To make sure that it is Socialism they would get – and all that Socialism means is security, peace, abundance, and freedom – they gave the Labor Party a mandate that allows of no two interpretations. The Liberal Party was smashed to smithereens – so that it could not hold the balance of power as it did in the two previous Labor governments. The rising Common Wealth Party, which attracted a good deal of support in the past because of its apparent radicalism, was given no support to speak of – not because the workers are afraid of radical solutions, but because they wanted to make sure that nothing would stand in the way of a clear-cut majority and a clear-cut mandate to the Labor Party.

The solidarity of the British working class was magnificent, from this point of view. And the fact that it was able to swing the support of millions of members of the middle classes, of farmers, and the overwhelming majority of soldiers in the British Army, shows that labor, in every country, can easily get the support of these groups, can easily break them away from the reactionary capitalists and monopolists, if labor itself is firm, bold, determined and united. The lesson contained in this is invaluable to the working class of this country, which does not even have an independent political party of its own but continues to beg for handouts from the capitalist parties.

International Results

The tremendous victory of labor in England will have far-reaching repercussions, not only in England but throughout the world.

Labor on the European continent will take courage and gain new confidence in itself when it looks across the English Channel. It will be animated by a new spirit. It will resolve more firmly to reach out for government power and to carry out its own program for reorganizing the nation. No question about it, too, that every reactionary force on the European continent is mightily disturbed by this demonstration of power of the British workers. The Spanish workers, for example, are without a doubt as jubilant now as Franco and his Fascist thugs are despondent. The Greek people are exhilarated by the victory, as they showed by their great outpouring in the streets of Athens upon the announcement of the defeat of their traducer, Churchill.

The victory of the Labor Party in England will have an even greater effect, we may be sure, upon the subject peoples of the British Empire. Already there are stirrings in Egypt. Tomorrow we will see them in India and in all the other colonies of the Empire. These colonial slaves are vastly encouraged by the election outcome. They will now prosecute their fight for national independence and freedom with hundredfold vigor, in the belief that the British workers will regard their fight with sympathy and lend it their solidarity.

In the United States, the idea of an Independent Labor Party of the American workers will undoubtedly receive a tremendous impulsion. All this nonsense we have heard from our labor leaders: about how wrong it is to organize labor into a “separate class party” has received a thunderous repudiation in England. All the other nonsense heard from the same source that a class party of the workers cannot possibly get the support of the majority of the people, has also been blown high by the British working class. The fight for the organization of an Independent Labor Party, based upon the American trade unions, must be redoubled. It is Point One on the agenda of the progressive, militant, thinking worker. It must be made Point One on the agenda of every labor organization in the country.

The victory of the Labor Party is only the beginning of the fight in Great Britain, we have not heard the last of it, by any means. And what we in this country, as well as the workers everywhere, will yet see and hear, will be of irreplaceable value, what we will be able to learn in the coming period will be among the most precious treasures of labor in its fight for freedom.

Meaning of Victory

The victory of British labor is a tremendous one. But that is only one side of the picture. The other side of it is not less important. The election outcome is also a victory for the leadership of the British Labor Party. And nobody who knows the record of this leadership and understands its role in politics and its intentions, can have the slightest confidence that it will realize the great aspirations so clearly indicated by the British working class. It is no accident that this leadership sat silently in the same Cabinet’ for five years with the very same reactionary Tories whom the British people have so crushingly repudiated – and spoke up only to echo Churchill, Eden and Co.

The mandate of the British workers reads: Break this alliance with the Tories! Go after them and all they stand for!

The British Labor Party leaders are reformists. They want to put a few patches here and there on the rotten, collapsing capitalist order of Britain. They are afraid to strike at its reactionary social foundations. What the workers want is a fundamental change. They don’t want to allow the capitalist class and its profit-interests to stand any longer in the way of that basic change that would make the country a fit place to live, work and prosper in. They want to see a radical program put

into effect. They want action, not words and unkept promises. They will see to it that this is what they get, for they are not in a mood for the shilly-shallying so characteristic of their leaders.

It would be a mistake, therefore, to think that the future of the British working class and of socialism in Britain (or anywhere else) lies in the hands of the conservative and reformist labor leaders. It lies today where it has always been and will always be: in the hands of the organized, conscious, militant working class, equipped with a bold program of fundamental social change – the program of Socialism.

Workers on the March

The capitalist press is anxiously picturing the British workers as “conservative.” They are trying to present British labor in the dress and features of a typical John Bull. They want us to believe that anything radical or revolutionary is alien to the British “soul” – in the hope of keeping radicalism and revolutionary ideas out of the minds of the American workers.

That picture is false. The British working class has a rich history of militant struggle, of revolutionary struggle. It fathered the great and magnificent movement of the Charter in the last century. It fathered the great upheaval of the British General Strike of 1926, which sowed up the whole country, which showed labor’s invincible power – and which was thwarted and crushed by the same conservative labor leaders who are now at the helm.

What the British workers did once, they can and will do again, and do it better. Woe to those labor leaders who stand in the way of the fulfillment of the aspirations of the workers? Woe to the workers if they let the conservatism, timidity and “respectability” of their leaders stand in the way!

The British working class is on the march. The great battle of the classes for control of Britain is on. All our sympathy, all our solidarity, all, our most fervent wishes for a complete triumph over capitalism and reaction, by the rising forces of socialism, go to our working-class brothers across the sea!

Max Shachtman
Marxist Writers’

Last updated on 14 December 2017