The Labour Party is a coalition of social forces and ideas. On the one hand, there has always been a Marxist tradition which originated in the Socialist Democratic Federation (SDF). The SDF openly called for the declaration of class war and made its objectives the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange.’ On the other hand, there has always been what we would now call a social democratic element which had its origins in the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and the Fabian Society. The ILP asserted that reforms of the capitalist system were its main objective and, like the Fabians, aspired to a “socialism” based on spiritual and humanitarian grounds.
But the single most important force in the creation of the Labour Party was the trade unions. The old craft unions that had cut a niche for themselves in Victorian England were dominated by the Liberal Party and its ideology. With the emergence of the general trade unions, which organise the unskilled and semi-skilled workers, and the advance of industrial technology, which deskilled many workers in the old craft trades, there was created the basis of working class solidarity and the potential for the introduction of socialist ideas.
It was these developments that gave rise to demands for participation in the political process independent of the Liberal Party and eventually to the Labour Representation Committee Conference of 1900. At this conference, the above mentioned groupings endorsed the objectives to make plans for labour representatives in parliament, though the SDF later withdrew from the committee as it could not win support for the concept of class war. From the very beginning, the objectives of what was to become the Labour Party were defined as seeking change by parliamentary means.
This commitment to the parliamentary road was reinforced by the free hand given to the Parliamentary Party (PLP). As early as 1907, Conference decided that the PLP should be given the discretion as to the time and method of giving effect to conferences’ instructions. This vital abdication on the part of the wider party gave the parliamentary leadership, in practice, as much independence as it needed. A pattern quickly emerged which has stayed with the Party ever since, whereby verbal victories for the socialist ideas advocated by the Left won at conference have had, with few exceptions, little influence on the actions of the PLP. This is the reason why the fight for inner party democracy, such as reselection of MPs, implementation of the Party’s Manifesto (as opposed to the leader’s manifesto) and accountability is so significant. Its importance lies in the way in which, if the reforms are maintained, the consciousness of Party members and sympathisers will be kindled.
The result of the triumph of reformism was that, from very early on, the Labour Party practised the politics of compromise: on votes for women, on unemployment, on stikes and war (when it came in 1914) the Party retreated and vacillated, becoming much more concerned with upholding the Constitution and the interests of the nation than with the burning social, economic and political issues that directly affected the working class.
The Labour Party was in the grip of men who did not see the working class as being in struggle with the state. Therefore, the commitment to parliamentary democracy, its maintenance at all costs and its extension to incorporate the working class was total. This was the fundamental objective and an end in itself. By compromising with the enemies of the working class (i.e. the Liberals) in order to gain parliamentary seats and eventually to become His Majesty’s Government, they sought to reform capitalism in order to make it more hospitable and palatable to the working class, by giving them a share in the enormous profits won by British imperialism from the super-exploitation and oppression of the Asian, African and Latin American colonies and semi-colonies. It followed that the Labour Party, far from wanting to see the end of British imperialism, had a major political stake in maintaining it. It differed from the Tory Party only in its desire to increase the number of imperialism’s beneficiaries in the mother country of the Empire. It is, therefore, not surprising that the foreign policies of Labour governments have developed in the way they have. Their protection of the interests of British multi-nationals in places like Azania (S. Africa), the Middle East, Malaysia and Hong Kong, and in the case of home affairs, their treatment of the black minority and their capitulation to racism, are a direct consequence of their ready acceptance of the fruits of imperialism.
By the time of the first minority Labour Government in 1924-25, this pattern was set. The Party Chairman at the 1925 Annual Conference compared the work of that government to that of “the breakdown gang sent down the line to clear the obstructions and to repair the track before the fast express train sets out on its non-stop run.” What would have been more to the point was what kind of goods and passengers the fast express train was likely to carry and in what direction would it be going. Some indication of his own answer to these questions can be inferred from his declaration of satisfaction with the minimal reforms of that government, the absolute rejection of any revolutionary intent and his projection of the Labour Party to the ruling class as a safe alternative. In short, the leadership of the Party went out of its way to placate any fears within the establishment that it meant anything more than the better management of capitalism when it talked of socialism. This was to be the era of acceptance by the ruling class, of the Labour Party as the party they could use to dominate workers’ political ideology, to divert their political energies away from the extra-parliamentary activity of the immediate post-war years, into the futile parliamentary arena as the only means of achieving control over their own destinies.
Although the Labour Party was under the domination of the right, the Left continued to put forward a radical alternative, albeit one which, we would argue, amounted to no more than radical reform. Then, as now, the vociferousness of the Left was particularly heightened at times when the Labour Party was in opposition. Their argument was that the existing system of parliament should be strengthened, so as to control government more effectively. Thus, Sir Stafford Cripps, who was the Left’s standard bearer in the thirties, wrote “neither the financial interests of the City of London, nor the great industrial combinations of factory owners and employers, nor the House of Lords, have any right in a democratic country to withstand the express will of the people. .. we want a parliament that can carry out effectively the will of the people, a truly democratic assembly with full power to control ministers. .. the parliamentary system such as we have today is not truly democratic at all”. The Left’s argument was based on making the democratic system more (or truly) democratic.
We are not here criticising the principle of democratic government, that is government for and by the people, or dismissing the importance of civil liberties, but rather the misconception that lies at the heart of such argument, that socialism can be won through improving or democratising part of the system without getting rid of the capitalist system in its entirety. To believe in this piecemeal road to socialism is to make the fatal error of trusting the capitalist class to continue to abide by its democratic parliamentary rules, at a time when parliament and the whole edifice of democracy might no longer serve its vital purposes. This misconception is fundamental, because its analysis of the capitalist state is precisely that which capitalism puts forward, namely, that the state is some sort of neutral thing above class conflict. The truth of the matter is that the state is precisely the opposite, that it belongs to and serves the interest of the ruling capitalist class and will be utilised by that class in whatever way serves that class’s interest best when its power and domination are threatened. We should never fall under the delusion that capitalist democracy, contrary to all appearances, is necessarily a permanent and immovable thing.
It might have been thought that, in 1945, with a brave new world to build upon the ashes and rubble of the Second World War, that the fast express train envisaged in that 1925 conference speech would finally set out on its non-stop run towards socialism. The Labour Party had a massive majority and the ideology of socialism had perhaps a greater sympathy and acceptance amongst the British people than at any time hitherto. However, it is clear that the Labour Party was still motivated by the “national” interest, and not the class interest. The recognition of the class character of British society was never a part of the Labour Party’s propaganda – they never professed to fight for working class interests, it was always the “national interest” and “the interests of the community at large”. It was not that they did not recognise the class contradiction in Britain, it was not that they could not see the industrial conflict that existed all round them, but their solution to these problems was that they could be settled – in the interests of the “nation” – by a third party, an independent authority. That independent authority was the state.
The armaments build up and the waging of World Wars had militarised the British economy, so that the capitalist state played an increasingly dominant role in economic and social affairs. The Labour Government of 1945-51 fashioned a state monopoly capitalism at home and lay the foundations of anew, updated British imperialism abroad. The Government was soon concerned with the now very familiar demand that higher productivity be pursued in order to ensure a higher return on capital. Labour, in effect, told the working class it was jam tomorrow for them, for this was the way, according to Labour, to “beat the crisis”. Coupled with this was the equally familiar call to hold down wages, with the Government using the trade union leadership, as it was to do again in the sixties and seventies, to carry the burden of enforcing such restraint. The Party committed itself at the election to nationalise 20% of the economy and this it did. But the prime motivation for nationalisation was the requirement of the large scale injection of government money into activities that were essential to maintain profits in other industries, but were not themselves generating the profits to attract private investment. The nationalisation of coal, railways, electricity and gas represented, (as it still does) a direct, hidden subsidy to privately owned industry, and, in the two industries where it was thought fresh profit could be made, namely road transport and iron and steel making, the Conservative Government promptly denationalised after it came to power in 1951.
The Second World War had placed Britain in a completely subservient position to the United States and, far from wanting to strike out independently from Washington, the Labour Government actually ensnared this country further into the American orbit, both politically and militarily. Britain, under Labour, became one of America’s most reliable clients and in return was grateful to receive Marshall Aid and permitted to have the infamous “independent” nuclear deterrent.
The Americans were fashioning a new world order in which machinery like the United Nations, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade and the International Monetary Fund were designed to facilitate the emergence of a world economy conducive to multi-national company interests. The Labour Government initiated the process of accommodating British Imperialism to that new world order by starting the programme of decolonisation that was in the following twenty years to sweep away the old colonial empire and replace it with a neo-colonial commonwealth. This process in some cases involved coming to terms with national struggles, as in India. Alternatively, when confronted with an armed revolution of a people’s national liberation movement, as in Malaya, the Labour Government wasted no time in unleashing a bloody and ferocious “emergency” with internment, concentration camps, torture and other atrocities. The Labour Government was fully aware of the immense value of the British-owned rubber plantations and tin mines and was determined to hang on to them, no matter at what cost.
During Labour’s years of opposition, which were marked by an absence of ideological fervour, there emerged a most dangerous trend for the working class movement: an incipient corporatism, that was to be further developed in the seventies under Wilson and Callaghan. An inkling of what was to come could be gained from reading Anthony Crosland’s “The Future of Socialism” which appeared in 1956 and which argued that the growing affluence of the consumer society had radically transformed the working class which was now virtually indistinguishable from the “middle class”, a development that made the idea of class struggle irrelevant. Future political progress, so the argument went, involved the gradual reform of capitalism and the spread of equality and social welfare as consequences of continual economic growth.
The struggles in the Labour Party at that time, notably at the 1960 conference over the question of nuclear disarmament and Clause IV, arose out of such explicit attempts by the Right to abandon even the Party’s version of socialism, distorted and abused though it was and thereby dissociate the Party from the campaigning rhetoric that was so close to the hearts of the Left, to men like Nye Bevan and Michael Foot. It was this that lead the latter to such rebellious spirit at the time. But the Right, with the help of what was later discovered to be CIA money, waged battle after battle and, with Crosland as the principal theoretician of the Labour Governments of 1964-70, it was their views that prevailed.
Labour came to office in 1964 with a Master Plan that envisaged the state playing the dominant role in modernising industries and managing the economy. The Party argued that the development of advanced technology and new science based industries could only be achieved by “socialist planning”. What was envisaged was, in the words of Alf Robens, the setting up of Great Britain Ltd.
What it meant in practice was that even the most limited reforms that may be gained by workers on such matters as workers control or social and industrial benefits could only be made after developing capital into a competitive position on the world market, for it was an integral part of Labour’s Master Plan that there should be higher productivity and wage restraint. When it came down to it, for all the grand talk, the Labour Government Was dressing up old mutton as lamb: for the working class it was again going to be “jam tomorrow”.
Both Labour and Tory policies recognised that suppression of wages in relation to production were a vital weapon in their struggle to keep capital afloat and gave credence to the lie that wage rises were the source of price inflation. The task they set themselves was to attempt to arrest the falling rate of profit and, if at all possible, to reverse the trend.
At first, the Labour Government in the sixties attempted to control wages by voluntary means, holding the ring between the ”social partners” the CBI and TUC, but the TUC resisted and the Government clamped on wage freezes. In the seventies, distinctive features of a corporate state, principally a state control on wages, emerged under Wilson and Callaghan when they laid down Phases 1, 2 and 3 for the years 1975-8. So that, from an original position of being against any form of incomes policy and favouring free collective bargaining, the Labour Party, forced by the demands of an ailing British capitalism, was pushed into advocating annual reviews.
The corollary of wage control is control of the trade unions themselves. The Labour Governments made two such attempts, guided by the philosophy that if the government were to make out of the trade union leadership an unofficial cabinet and give those leaders the prestige and privileges befitting state functionaries, vertical control of the trade unions down to the shop floor would be assured: Great Britain Ltd. would posses its own “company run” unions. Initially, “In Place of Strife” in 1969 did not get off the ground, although the unions’ leadership firmly sat on rank and file activity, to the obvious delight of the Government. In the seventies, in the aftermath of the confrontation politics of the Heath Government, it was easy for Labour to appear as the friend of the trade unions, but the aim of controlling them had not been abandoned, it was only the means that had changed. The social contract, whereby the unions went along with the Government’s attempts to bail out capitalism by restraining wages and cutting social services, was bought with ’progressive’ legislative measures to make the bitter pill more palatable to the unions.
Abroad, the Labour Governments continued their Tory predecessors’ policies. They continued the process of de-colonisation (with the important exception of Hong Kong) which the 1945 government had set in motion. They continued to allow the subordination of this country to the United States, supporting the American genocide in South East Asia and Zionist expansionism in the Middle East. While endorsing the United Nations resolutions on arms exports to S. Africa, the Labour Government allowed British investment in that country to go on steadily increasing throughout the sixties. It imposed sanctions on the Rhodesian regime, but allowed BP, a government owned company, to promptly break them, and it was the Labour Government who put the troops into Northern Ireland in 1969.
By taking Britain into the EEC in 1972, Heath’s Tory Government acted as the hatchet men of monopoly capital, which was after an open market of 250 million consumers in Western Europe as well as the extensive neo-colonial markets the EEC had secured for itself in the African, Caribbean and Pacific countries. Monopoly capital was not concerned with the devastation that entry brought to the British economy and, in particular, to British manufacturing industry or with the repercussions of the agricultural union, on the price of food in Britain.
In the face of this blatant fleecing of the people, the Labour Party blew hot and cold about entry into the EEC and decided to stay rather than upset the boat, and it was Wilson’s political manipulation that provided the Party with the face-saving device of the referendum – a foregone conclusion, thanks to the media.
By 1979, the Labour Party had demonstrated both its inability to “manage capitalism” and the consequences of projecting itself as the party most fitted to govern in the national interest. The creeping corporatism that had sucked the trade union bureaucracies into government and the desperate attempts to hold down wages for the benefit of capital in its crisis had disillusioned the working class. It was a recipe for a right wing backlash which came with a vengeance when the Tories won the 1979 election.
But the Labour Party was not alone in being in decline; the seventies had also seen that part of the Labour movement to the left of the Labour Party in hopeless disarray and ideologically drifting. The Communist Party had long gone openly and irrevocably over to social democracy. Revolutionary groupings had shown themselves incapable of using language and adapting theory to political practice in Britain. There was disarray on the left and an emphasis on ”issue’ politics”.
All of these developments combined to shatter any ideological credibility that the Left might have laid claim to. By the late seventies, the ideological debate was decisively won by the Right and, in particular, by Thatcher and the new ’hard right’ of the Conservative Party. The Right had managed to monopolise the word “freedom” so that it meant the opposite of the closed shop: it meant freedom of choice in business enterprise and education, and supporting “human rights”, provided it did not interfere with the vested interests in Third World Fascist regimes; and was against taxation and ’too much government’. Unlike the Labour Party Left, which had failed to put forward the perspective of socialism, the Right was able to put forward the idea of a “free enterprise system” unshackled from “trade union domination” and “interfering government”. The free market economy would produce free men and women, or so the argument went.
However, by bringing ideology back into the political system the Right has done us a service, in that politics are today projected more clearly in terms of capitalism versus socialism. And in this lies the danger to capitalist hegemony – the danger of a widening polarisation amongst the people which could endanger capitalism’s political stability. It is therefore hardly surprising that “enlightened” capitalists at the centre, the Liberal Tories and right wing social democrats, should be worried that the middle ground in British politics, which has been the key to political stability in this country since the Second World War, may disappear. This fear of polarisation explains the rise of the Social Democratic Party who project themselves (and are projected by the media) as such nice men and women. They appear to be epitome of moderation and drawing-room politics – not an extremist amongst them and not an ounce of ideology between them. Theirs is the old worn out welfare consensus and creeping corporatism. But, if Thatcher and her overzealous ideologues go too far, monopoly capital has the Alliance waiting in the wings, to scotch any attempt by a “Left” Labour Party from coming to power.
 “The representatives of the working class movement in the House of Commons would form there a distinctive party based on the recognition of class war and having for its ultimate objective the socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange.” SDF Resolution – The Labour party Foundation Conference & Annual Conference Reports 1900-1905 (Hammersmith Bookshop Ltd. 1967.)
 Resolution of TUC conference 1899: “a special conference of trade unions, co-operative societies and socialist bodies, in order to make plans for labour representation in parliament.”
 The decision of the 1907 Annual Conference: “Resolutions instructing the PLP as to their action in the House of Commons to be taken as the opinion of Conference, on the understanding that the time and method of giving effect to those instructions be left to the Party in the House, in conjunction with the National Executive.”
 “The violent methods .... are wrong, and in their nature reactionary and anti-social, quite irrespective of vote or not vote .....” Ramsey MacDonald at 1912 Conference.
 “To protect the conditions and existence of democratic government is just as essential to the building up of a Socialist State, as is the solution of the problem of unemployment. The party that proposes to strike at the heart of democratic government in order to make a show of earnestness about unemployment will not only not be tolerated by the country, but does not deserve to be.” Ibid.
 Ramsey MacDonald wrote in 1913: “the trade union conflict has become the national conflict, the field upon which it is to be fought out is the state, not the workshop, and the weapon is to be the ballot box and the Act of Parliament, not collective bargaining.”
 J McGurk, Chairman of the LP Conference 1919, referring to the movement for the nationalisation of the mines: “that was already afoot to employ the strike weapon for political purposes” and “this would be an innovation in the country which few responsible leaders would welcome ... We are either constitutionalists, or we are not constitutionalists. If we are constitutionalists, if we believe in the efficiency of the political weapon, then it is both unwise and undemocratic, because we failed to get a majority at the polls, to turn around and demand that we should substitute industrial action.” And Arthur Henderson: “To force upon the country by illegitimate means the policy of a section, perhaps by a minority, of the community, involves the abrogation of Parliamentary Government, it establishes a dictatorship of the minority that might easily destroy eventually all our constitutional liberties. ”
 See A Sivanadan “Race, Class and the State: The Black Experience in Britain” Race & Class Spring 1976. (Note Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1968 brought in by the Labour Government outbid the Tories. The 1968 Act made no secret of who it was excluding from the UK.)
 Chairman’s Address at the Labour party Annual Conference entitled ’Labour’s Creative Task’. J McGurk 1919.
 “It did much in 9 months to alleviate the worst effects of the crisis in trade and industry, to relieve the unemployed, to lighten the burdens of the great mass of taxpayers and to promote industrial stability. But I am willing to admit that it did not overthrow the Capitalist System, or even try to do so; it did not bring about the millennium, and probably never thought about it, it worked patiently, persistently, and with a single mind, to clear the ground upon which the foundations of the Co-operative Commonwealth are to be laid. It brought a new spirit, a wise and creative impulse, into public affairs. It demonstrated to the people at large, as no amount of platform speaking could do, that Labour stood for the interests of the community as a whole, and that the Labour government acknowledged its direct responsibility to the people as a whole.” Ibid.
 To speak very frankly, I believe the position of those who apply methods of force to the affairs of this highly developed Capitalist State, with its huge population and its present inability to feed its people, is a position very much the reverse of “advanced”, is in fact about 100 years behind the times, and should be scrapped as antiquated and out of date.” Ibid.
 ”Let the possessing classes beware of the consequences of destroying the faith of organised democracy and the possibility of the peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism; let them beware of driving a wedge between the politically and industrially organised movements by undermining the confidence of the workers in the utility of political and parliamentary methods.” Ibid.
 The Ultimate Aims of the Labour Party. Cripps 1933.
 “These are the kind of ways which party members can beat the crisis. It is no use passing the responsibility to the Labour Ministers in charge of the government. Obviously they cannot come down to the factories, farms and mines and speed up the machines, plough more acres and hew more coal. But the members of the party can help to do all these things. Get down to the job now, beat the crisis and prepare the foundations for a better future for all.” From a LP pamphlet 1947. “In present conditions and until more goods and services are available for the home market, there is no justification for any general increase of individual money incomes. Such an increase will merely raise costs of production without making more goods available and so can only have an inflationary effect. Unless accompanied by a substantial increase in production, it would drive up prices and charges, adversely affect pensions, children and the other recipients of social services benefits, increase the cost of exports and reduce their saleability.” Govt. White Paper on “Personal Incomes, Costs and Prices” February 1948. And again: “There is increased danger of inflation and there is as much need as ever for restraint on increases of personal incomes ..... I recognise how much restraint has been shown and how greatly it has helped us. That policy has stood this country, and not least the workers of this country, in good stead.” Clement Attlee speech, September 1950.
 “All that the Government has done is to ask the TU’s to restrain demand for wage increases except where these can be justified from the national point of view.” And USDAW’s then President endorsed such a policy: “Let no-one deceive himself that a return to indiscriminate sectional wage bargaining backed by guerilla industrial warfare is a better method of raising the real living standards of our members than the policy pursued during the last 3 years.” W. Padley USDA W President at USDA W Annual Conference 1950.
 “Amalgamation under public ownership will bring great economies in operation and make it possible to modernise production methods and raise safety standards in every colliery” “These socialised industries, taken over on a basis of fair compensation, to be conducted efficiently in the interests of consumers, coupled with proper status and conditions for the workers employed in them.” From “Let US Face the Future” LP Election Manifesto 1945. “The public corporations were to be set up and made responsible to the government, they were to be free both of the bureaucratic control of Whitehall and the handicap of political interference. At the same time, it was thought that this form of organisation would encourage efficiency, as the public industries would be judged in part by normal commercial standards.” Ibid.
 “Exports to the US’ were valued at US$ 215,426,831 in 1948 and US$ 82,809,000 in 1949. The area is the largest net dollar earner in the whole sterling area. Malaya’s exports, especially of rubber and tin, to dollar markets are of critical importance in the effort to achieve a balance of payments between the sterling area and the dollar area. Without these dollar earnings, the UK would have to depend much more heavily than at present on financial aid from the United States or face a noticeable reduction in its already austere standard of living. Malaya’s imports, which come primarily from the United Kingdom, provide important markets for sterling area production, helping the United Kingdom maintain its arduously achieved overall balance of payments. Economic deterioration in Malaya, resulting either from terrorist activities, or from a decline in world demand and prices for its chief exports, would adversely affect the UK, both in its overall balance of payments and in its dollar earnings.” “Malaya: The Making of a Neo-colony” Spokesman 1977 p.248
 The Future of Socialism. Anthony Crosland 1956.
 Richard Fletcher “How CIA Money took the Teeth Out of Socialism” 1977.
 “Two giant tasks now await the nation: first we must energise and modernise our industries –including their methods of promotion and training – to achieve the sustained economic expansion we need. Secondly, we must ensure that a sufficient part of the new wealth created goes to meet urgent and now neglected human needs. The aims are simple enough: we want full employment, a sensible distribution of industry throughout the country an end to the present chaos in traffic and transport; a brake on rising prices and solution to our balance of payments problem. As the past 13 years have shown, none of these aims will be achieved by letting the economy look after itself. They will only be secured by a deliberate and massive effort to modernise the economy; to change its structure and to develop with all possible speed an advanced technology and the new science-based industries with which our future lies. In short, they will only be achieved by Socialist planning.” LPs 1964 Election Manifesto.
 “For a Labour government, no less than for the Conservatives, success or failure in the battle against inflation will depend on its ability to secure an understanding with the unions which would make wage restraint possible.” Harold Wilson in 1957. “Remedies for Inflation” (Labour party publication).
 It is “a question of creating a new climate in industry, a new mood of common purpose, and a readiness to accept and not to fear change. For us workers, the challenge is also ..... to a new attitude to making wage claims, a new awareness of the advantages for all of us of a planned growth of wages . . . . This does not mean another sterile wage freeze, it does not mean an end to free collective bargaining. The essence of the challenge is how to plan for the fullest possible growth of the economy and the fullest growth of wages and salaries within that, together with the fairest distribution of the growth of wages that can be managed, and to do it on the basis of our existing free system of collective bargaining.” George Brown at LP Conference 1964.
 “I’m a great believer in the view that the Trade Unions have too little power, not too much; too little in the sense that Trade Union executives and reasonable leaders are being increasingly thrown over by shop stewards and people who go on the streets and picket and so on.” Harold Wilson.
 “In the last few months of the Labour Government following the agreement with the TUC, the “solemn and binding” agreement, there was a different attitude. I was sitting at the heart of the Dept. of Employment and Productivity and I was finding that if some unofficial strike was breaking out and it was going to have wide consequences for thousands of other workers, to say nothing of the national economy, I got on to Vic Feather, Vic had his “fire brigade” down there. That was new, it hadn’t happened before ...” Barbara Castle, “Looking Back”.
 British Road to Socialism 1951.