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International Socialism, Autumn 1962


Notes of the Quarter

Rocks at Brighton


From International Socialism, No.10, Autumn 1962, p.1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.
Proofread by Anoma Cartwright (May 2008).


Little is now left of the tide of unilateralism that flowed through the Labour Party two years ago. Runaway trade union leaders have made their peace with Gaitskell; even Cousins, the Left’s sheet-anchor and vote millionaire, has been prevailed upon to put party unity – the Right’s fetish – before a restatement of policy or principle. The Left is where it was before Scarborough – a minority in the Constituencies, unimportant in voting terms and unsure of the future.

It is easier to see what went wrong than to put it right. The Left set too much store by bloc-vote arithmetic and did too little to reach the rank-and-file of the party and trade unions. This it now admits. More important, the Left did not break ideologically from the basic Gaitskellite assumption that ‘defense’ is a national, not a class issue, and that the Bomb and the Boss are separate themes. This it has not, so far, admitted.

Unilateralism will almost certainly remain the rallying point and symbol of the Left. But three other issues to be debated at Conference, promise to become almost as important. These are the Common Market, the Tories’ attempt at planning through Ned and Nick and party democracy.

The Right will try to use the first two to crowd out debate on the Bomb. They are issues on which the Left is confused; the lines of argument are still fluid; and conflict around them is not likely to be as hazardous electorally as the inner-party debate on unilateralism. It is up to the Left to see that they do not succeed, by reiterating that the Bomb is the issue of our age, and by refusing to budge from the debate on unilateralism ; but also by working out a common policy on the new themes.

The active rank-and-file of the party are almost unanimously opposed to Britain entering the Common Market on the grounds – latterly, the sole grounds – that entry would hamper national planning by a ‘ socialist Britain.’ Of the 51 original resolutions on the subject to Conference, no less than 45 oppose entry, most of them vehemently.

It is an unfortunate unanimity. Not only does it harbour an illusion that Britain, even a ‘ socialist’ Britain, can plan effectively in isolation from the rest of the world, but – and this is where it plays into the hands of the Right – it assumes the validity of the present leadership’s planning credentials. Surely it is clear by now that Gaitskell and his team are not planners, not nationalizers, not socialists – that their growing opposition to Europe has nothing to do with principle, but everything to do with what they think might hoist them back to power. Once again, let us state as we did exactly one year ago ‘for us the move to Europe extends the scope of class struggle in which we are directly involved. It worsens its conditions for the present. But it makes ultimate victory more secure.’

The same general attitude – opposition to organization arrangements over which we have no control coupled with active pursuit of class aims where we can – should govern our approach to Macmillan’s planning cart-horses, Ned and Nick.

Deprived of power, and even voice, within the party, the Left is not in a position to choose whether or not to associate with Capital on these bodies. Ultimately, we know, the Right will try to latch us on to them, whatever their present protestations to the contrary. (Where else will they share an element of power if not in the administrative bodies which are becoming the centres of decision-making to-day?)

While they manoeuvre, the Left’s job is to point the dangers of digestion by the state and to build up such impetus as we can in the planning-proof lower reaches of party and unions, in the hope that it will either push the ‘leaders’ well beyond the limits of their own demands and to the foothills of our own, or break them while breaking through their restraints.

Party democracy is a different sort of issue, one on which the Left is clear, united and aggressive. Conference’s bitterest struggle will probably turn on the leadership’s current attempt to naturalize ‘association with proscribed organizations’ as grounds for expulsion. Nor is the outcome of this struggle a foregone conclusion: guilt by association smells foul even in bureaucratic nostrils.

The Bomb, Europe, planning and democracy within the party are one. If we fudge any of the others, the case against the Bomb will go by default.

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