The Labour Party, particularly its ’left’ wing, claims to stand for the workers’ interests and for socialism. As a social-democratic party, Labour claims that socialism can be introduced gradually through a series of reforms using parliamentary means. In the early years of the Labour Party many workers voted for Labour, believing that they could vote in socialism, but the experience of various Labour governments has brought disillusion. Today no-one believes that Labour will establish a new and better political and economic system. Even Labour politicians themselves ask for votes with the claim that they can make capitalism work better than the Tories.
Once the service of social democracy to capitalism consisted entirely in directing working class struggle into safe, reformist parliamentary channel so that it could be easily defeated. Today social democracy still plays that role, but it is of even wider service to modern capitalism, monopoly capitalism-imperialism.
The economy of Britain is now dominated by a few huge monopolies with vast investments abroad. The old system of free competition between a large numbers of capitalists no longer exists. The contradiction between private ownership with production solely for profit and the immense forces of social production is extremely sharp, as is the contradiction between imperialism arid the colonies which are rising in wars of national liberation. These contradictions have led to a continuing spiral of ever-deeper economic and political crisis. Certain industries can no longer be run at a profit by individual capitalists but are still necessary for the whole capitalist economy. In the era of imperialism, capitalism has had to use new methods. In particular there has been a great increase in state interference in, and control of, the economy and in mergers between the giant monopolies and the state.
It has been through the use of the social-democratic political and economic programme that the measures required by imperialism have been introduced and presented as ’socialist’ measures. These measures include the ‘nationalisation’ of coal, power and transport. As a further step in the centralisation of the economy these measures help to prepare the way for socialism, just as the development of monopoly capitalism itself does. But these industries remain controlled and run entirely in capitalism’s interests, on a capitalist basis.
The monopoly capitalist state has also been forced to adopt the type of economic policies advocated by J. M. Keynes, such as heavy state deficit financing, the payment of social security benefits and so, in order to keep spending going and the market for goods developing and to escape depression in the economy. (l) This has resulted in the constant tendency towards inflation. Such measures have been represented by Labour as the triumph of socialism and of the ’welfare state’ in Britain. This is coupled with the line that class struggle is no longer necessary arid that capital and labour must unite behind the ’national interest’. But the ’national interest’ is really monopoly capitalism’s interest.
In so far as such programmes have any anti-capitalist content, it has been against small capitalism in the interests of monopoly capitalism. These types of economic measure have generally been introduced by social-democratic governments in the various imperialist countries. Where this has not been the case, exactly the same sort of economic measure’s have been introduced by fascist states like Nazi Germany. This similarity between social democracy and fascism in economic programme and in the political line of subordinating class struggle to ’national unity’ or the ’national interest’ is ample justification for describing such parties as the Labour Party as ’Social-fascist.’(2)
This characterisation of the Labour Party is also true with respect to the identity of Labour with the aims of imperialism abroad. The whole economy of Britain rests on the super-profits obtained from, investment in Africa, the Middle East and other areas. As a junior partner of US imperialism it shares in the oppression and exploitation of people all over the world. The Labour Party has consistently, equally with the Tories, been a mouth-piece for imperialist foreign policy and for spreading the imperialist ideology of racism and big-power chauvinism among the people.
Real power in imperialist Britain rests with the monopoly capitalist class and its state. ’All’ governments, Tory or Labour, represent this class. Parliament and, the ’struggle’ of opposing political parties is merely an elaborate propaganda exercise to conceal this reality. In this deception, Tory and Labour work consistent as a team. We are all familiar, at least from television or films, with a certain police interrogation method; two policemen conduct the questioning,, one copper following his natural instincts and savagely bullying, beating or threatening the prisoner, and the second copper being ’friendly’, pretending feebly to defend the victim and giving him ’fatherly’ advice that ’he should give in’ for his own good. The pressure thus created is aimed at manipulating a confession or obtaining information. This is just the way that Tory and Labour political propaganda work together in capitalism’s service. To halt inflation in the national interest we must smash trade union militancy, say the Tories. Labour says, ’It is true we must halt inflation in the national interest, and the workers must not struggle for decent wages, but we will be more fair in our policies than you’. The Tories say, ’We must prevent this country from being taken over by non-partials (blacks) and halt immigration’. Labour says. ’We agree that coloured immigration must be cutback. After all, we introduced the first Immigration Act. But some of your chaps are too open in their racism’. Both parties in their phoney struggle agree that the main economic problem is inflation brought on by workers’ struggles for a living wage, and both agree on a racist policy of immigration control. These bourgeois ideas are thus more strongly advanced than if capitalism had only one spokesman.
The Labour Party represents monopoly capitalism and no other class. Its main base of support in the population is the labour aristocracy, those sections of the working class bought off with a small share in the super-profits of imperialism. The mass of the working–class no longer holds any illusion that the Labour Party represents its interests or will bring about any real change in the system. At best, the Labour Party is seen as a lesser evil’ than the Conservative Party.
The mass of workers knows that Labour is a capitalist party. If so-called ’revolutionaries’ support Labour in election campaigns, even as a ’lesser evil’ or with all sorts of qualifications to their support, they are betraying the working class. This support amounts to an attempt to preserve, or re-establish, workers’ illusions about parliamentary democracy, illusions that if only Labour had a more ’left’, ’socialist’ leadership things would be different. No party, however ’left’ its leadership, can effect important changes to the imperialist system through parliament.
The Labour Party continues to maintain influence through the presence of its agents, the labour aristocracy, in working class organisations such as trades unions. It is the ’availability’ of these Labour party representatives in organisations of workers that spreads the illusion that the Labour Party can be ’pressurised’ more than the Conservatives, into making concessions to workers. In practice, efforts to ’pressurise’ the Labour Party lead workers’ organisations into compromise and sell-out policies again and again. Wherever workers organise, social democrats will be present. Their influence must be constantly fought at this level, and they must not be opportunistically co-operated with for some imaginary gains in influencing the national Labour Party.
A more subtle argument is that a more subtle argument is that we should work to expose Labour by voting it into office. Lenin’s advice in 1920 that British communists should “support Labour as the rope supports a hanging man” is the only piece of Lenin’s advice that some people can ever remember. The whole essence of his revolutionary outlook is forgotten. When Lenin said this, the Labour Party was just growing in strength and had never been in office. The illusion that it really, could bring socialism through the ballot-box was wide-spread. This illusion no longer exists today. Workers have experienced several Labour governments and know it to be a bourgeois party. Lenin maintained that the workers’ belief that it was their Party had to be shattered through their own experience. He never advocated supporting one bourgeois party rather than another because workers retained some vestige of illusion that one or the other was a lesser evil.
Today, to wage any support for Labour is to directly contradict the fundamental task of presenting the working class with a clear alternative to all bourgeois parties, to the bourgeois parliamentary system and to the whole system of capitalism. Through bitter experience the mass of workers has become cynical about any leadership claiming to support its interests. A party must be created which presents a clear alternative to the capitalist parties, and which is able to prove in consistent struggle that it really represents proletarian class interests.