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Fourth International, April 1942


Larissa Reed

Cripps: Too Little and Too Late


From Fourth International, vol.3 No.4, April 1942, pp.125-126.
Transcribed, Edited & Formatted by Ted Crawford & David Walters in 2008 for the ETOL.


Stafford Cripps
by Eric Estorick
John Day Co. 273 pages. $2.50.

The apology most frequently used, for Anglo-American defeats in the present war is that their aid has been “too little and too late.” The same words describe Sir Stafford Cripps.

Estorick, the authorized biographer of Cripps, performs one useful function in his otherwise flabby biography – he presents a few facts about the life and career of this hitherto little known English politician.

Estorick cannot explain how so weak and colorless a figure as Cripps has suddenly leaped into prominence. Such types often appear at critical junctures in the unfolding of great social catastrophes and reflect, in their neutral personalities and in their glaring contradictions, a temporary deadlock in the struggle which has yet to be resolved by one or the other of the decisive class forces In conflict. Another such figure was Kerensky, who achieved a brief hour in the political sun before the victorious masses swept him Into oblivion. Today Cripps aspires to play the leading role in the crisis of the British Empire. If he possessed clear thoughts and a strong will, he would be completely unfit for his current prominence.

Christ and the Crippses

Cripps was born in 1889; his ancestors were well-to-do, merchants and manufacturers. These “cultured Christian gentlemen,” remarks Estorick, performed small deeds of charity on their landed estates and spread the Christian gospel, while at the same time “the conditions of the workers in their factories” were “no better than the standards prevailing at the time – about the worst in English history.” Christianity served them as a cloak for exploitation.

Cripps, arriving much later in the career of capitalism, came to grief when he tried to halt capitalist disintegration with the Christian gospel. He reached manhood during the first World War which gave birth to the first major capitalist disaster – the Russian revolution. While Wilson and Lloyd George were declaiming about the League of Nations, arbitration, disarmament and peace, Cripps and his father, Lord Parmoor, tried to supplement these efforts through their “World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches.” Some centuries too late to be effective, the “World Alliance” soon collapsed.

Cripps writes about himself: “Educated as a chemist and with the prospect of a professional career at the Bar before me ... I was almost politically unconscious.” He was “assistant superintendent of a government explosives factory” during the war. When he parted from chemistry for a career in patent law, he commanded “by far the highest fees in the country” during the 1920s.

Sir Stafford and Socialism

Although, according to his biographer, the failure of the “World Alliance” after the first World War brought about the political maturity of Cripps, it was not until the 1929 economic collapse that Cripps was finally propelled Into politics. He was then about 40 years of age. Following in the footsteps of his father, who in 1923 had been Lord President of the first Labor-coalition government under the treacherous Ramsay MacDonald, in 1930 Cripps became Solicitor.General in the second MacDonald Labor government. He was “knighted, as is the custom for this position,” and a little later won a seat in the House of Commons.

In 1931 MacDonald resigned from the Labor government and together with the Tories set up a National government with himself as Prime Minister. When MacDonald coolly announced to his erstwhile collaborators that “he was in and they were out,” Cripps came to the fore in the succeeding elections as a spokesman for the “Lefts” in the Labor Party. “No more patching up of Capitalism but only a drastic Socialist policy,” Crlpps demanded; Labor should take over the Bank of England and nationalize the basic industries and the land.

During the next crisis-years Crlpps conducted a polemic against the Tories concerning the best methods for preserving the British Empire. He was opposed to their domestic policy. In a pamphlet, “National” Fascism In Britain, written in 1934, he declared:

“The worker (in England) is being and has been disciplined, not viciously and ruthlessly as in Germany and Italy, but gently and firmly as one would expect from a country-gentleman Fascism in England. Colored shirts are not necessary and are embarrassingly obvious; a special constable is much cheaper and attracts less attention. But do not let us be deluded because the signs are less obvious in this than in other countries, as to the direction Britain is following, politically and economically.”

Cripps warned the Tories that as a consequence of the British betrayals of Abyssinia, Spain, China, Munich, “the world will get tired of ‘perfide Albion’ and we shall be set upon one day and left an isolated carcass to be picked by the new imperialist vultures ... we shall indeed be the victims of a most unhappy end.” He could not understand that the serious capitalist rulers were pursuing the only course open to them under the circumstances to escape this “urhappy end.” Compelled to pay a heavy price – at the expense of other nations – each time the Tories temporarily save the British Empire.

In a pamphlet Can Socialism Come by Constitutional Methods? Cripps tried to prove that socialism could be achieved without overstepping the limits of capitalism. Again Cripps was lagging in the rear of history; the social reformism he was advocating was already being crushed in Europe under the Fascist boot.

Cripps is a nephew of Beatrice Potter Webb, in whom he found a sympathetic admirer of his political abilities. As late as 1923 Beetrice and Sidney Webb saw no great difference between Bolshevism and Czarism; a decade later they regarded the Russian revolution as quite respectable under Stalin’s bureaucracy. Cripps drifted along after his aunt toward the Popular Front movement promoted by Stalinism. His “Unity Campaign” in 1937, initiated by a manifesto to raise the embargo on Spain, was signed by the Socialist League (Cripps), the ILP and the Communist Party. By 1939, when Popular Front movements had already led to the smashing of the labor movement in both France and Spain, Cripps, writes his biographer, was an “ardent supporter of a People’s Front which should include any elements – Liberal, Imperialist, Conservative, etc.” Cripps called upon everyone to combine against the pro-fascist Tory government in England. Once more he arrived too late. Cripps succeeded only in being expelled from, the Labor Party as a result of these activities.

In 1939 the dilemma of the Tory ruling class, uncertain whether to make another deal with or go to war against Hitler, was decided by Hitler himself, when be signed his pact with Stalin and proceeded to invade Poland. Again Cripps lumbered up late; this time to set aside socialism in favor of “democracy” – at the very moment that France, one of the last remaining bourgeois “democracies,” was demonstrating its inner impotence. In his last book, Democracy Up-to-Date, says Estorick, “the solution, as Sir Stafford conceives it, consists in streamlining the democratic process so that it will truly serve as an instrument of democratic change.”

Cripps wholeheartedly supported the war when it was declared, even though it was conducted by the same Tory government he had been opposing. Estorick writes: “Cripps retired from the Bar immediately ... and offered to the Government his technical services only since he was out of sympathy with its politics. It will he remembered that he was the head of a munitions factory during the First World War. His offer was not accepted.”

Rejected by the Tories, ejected by the Laborites, the wealthy Cripps set off for a half-year jaunt around the world, visiting India, Burma, China, Russia, Japan and the United States, writing letters from afar to the weekly Tribune, a “socialist” paper of which he was editor.

A sudden shift in the international political arena raised him again to prominence. Hitler’s attack upon his erstwhile ally drove Stalin into the arms of the British Imperialists while Cripps was in Moscow. He had gone without ambassadorial rank, as little more than an observer for Britain; but the higher-ups would not talk to him unless he was given official rank; so he was appointed Ambassador; Hitler’s onslaught then made Cripps. He returned to England as the obvious candidate to succeed Churchill.

In its desperation, the Churchill government has seized upon Cripps to try to stem the onrushing revolutionary tide In India. Unlike his earlier tour, this time he is armed with his prized portfolio.

In the matter of subduing the Indian revolution, however, Sir Stafford will be once again – “too little and too late”!

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